A Rumour Sir?

Dear Mathrubootham Sir,

I am deeply hurt. Let me not go around asking you how is Singapore, and how much kaya have you eaten so far. Whether you have taken the metro to the Botanical garden and bird park or whether you are only visiting in the Little India area and seeing more and more Indians and wondering why you ever thought of going to Singapore and not to Mars. I believe we still do not have Unnikrishnan Chai Kada there. Not yet.

Ok, so here I am, writing to you feeling very hurt. After waiting every Sunday, when I make alu paratha or appam for breakfast, listening to Rangoli, and waiting to read your section, first thing, every sunday. It is not very good anymore, this Rangoli, but we are all creatures of habit. And we live with hope that it will get better, like our country, someday.


How could you, dear Sir, call my land, my mathrubhoomi a rumour (though in Odia we do not have that ‘h’ and the ‘oo’, we say and write matrubhumi)? But I never made fun of your spelling or pronunciation. Pronunciation again, is another raw spot. For us Odias and our fellow neighbour Bengalis. As if all other states speak English as spoken by God. I mean if God spoke English. That topic has not come up yet in #SayItLikeRevolution).

You said once earlier as well. On January 18, in the New Year, you wrote about Sambalpur. And you mentioned Vicks Action 500. That was not nice. But I ignored it. I was overjoyed that you know there is a place called Sambalpur. And you had the spelling right. Not Sambhalpur.

But this time, I am very offended. And sad. That you would think of Orissa as a rumour on the map? (by the way, changing names, when there is so much more that needs to be changing, is what our politicians and political parties spend a lot of time on. Orissa is now Odisha. Does it make any difference? To anyone? No, but we the naïve and the gullible can argue for your entire train journey from Alleppey to Bokaro about how relevant the change from ‘r’ to‘d’ is! The country may go to hell, there may or may not be a school or hospital or toilet or rice from PDS, but we must say Odisha and not Orissa. You please make sense of all this during your holiday. You may get some bright bulb come out from inside your brain).

Rumour on map, Sir? What kind of an expression is that? Maps are maps and rumours are rumours. So and so’s daughter is dating so and so’s son, so and so is already married or divorced, are rumour worthy subjects Sir. Not a map. Why only last week, a big company selling everything online got a map incorrect. How is that possible? And anyway, the upper part of our matrubhumi and its lines are always inviting some controversy or other. May be you can write on that and put a stop to all rumours.

Sir, we are humble, Sir, we may not have a lot to show off. We are affectionate, simple and soft spoken. By and large.  Our food does not have twenty two ingredients and spices, Sir. But you will like our chenna poda pitha, chakuli, guguni, pakhala, badi churra and alu-chatka. Since you have never written about any non-vegetarian food, I would not give you that list. I do not want you to have to take Vicks Action 500.

We are often told that we are laid-back. That we do not have aspiration for growth. Tell me Sir; is it a crime to be content with less? Is it a crime to nap in the afternoon? You must have heard that story of a man sleeping under a tree when a gentleman, Mr. Shatrubootham, comes and asks him why he is not working? He says he has finished work for the day. Mr. Shatrubootham advises, if he worked some more, earned some more, bought some more things, would he not be happier? To which, our sleepy man replies “what do you think I am now?”

You live in Madras, no Sir? Sorry, Chennai. When next time you are having dinner invitation from Dr. Shankaramenon and Masterchef Gummidipoondi, please ask if you can meet the cook. You will realise, that many of the cooks in Chennai are fellow Odias, Sir. They may not have studied a lot, but they will put a stop to all rumours of where Orissa is on the map Sir. And if you are travelling to Bangalore Sir, and you are at Majestic bus stop, you will recognise our language. You will wonder whether you are in Bangalore or Sambalpur or Bhubaneswar. And if you are staying with a relative in Bangalore, ask the security guards of the housing complex. You will find Odias there as well.

We don’t have many jobs. So the young people leave reluctantly. If only we are recognised for our love for the forests, for the woven wonders, for the crafts, for being the caretakers of a land that changed the violent king Ashoka, we would not be a rumour, Sir.

I still wish you good time in Singapore.

A humble Odia, living away from Odisha.









The November Nightmare

Two major screw ups, this time, last year.

Don’t mind my language. I find screw-up the most appropriate for what happened. I am usually not so coarse in my language.

One was scheduled. The US elections.

The other was not.

I was working past mid night when I got a sms saying the cash in my wallet is as good as nothing. I should start counting my small change. I did not believe it. Somebody is just joking. Within an hour on my way back, the ATMs had serpentine queues. This became the usual sight for a very long time.

Some initially took it as a fun detour in the night, like a paan or ice cream or a late night snack or a night picnik.

But soon it was not so fun anymore.

Majority in the social media were ecstatic and thought it was a master stroke to bring back hordes of black money stacked outside the country.

Anyone uttering a slight word of doubt was thrashed. Was told to bear with the “slight inconvenience”. Openly told that you are the born cynic, the pessimist, the anti-national, the loud mouth, the misplaced socialist, and the unnecessary secular.

And I wondered how they could be so oblivious. All those good people, my family and my friends. People I have known all my life, have shared the same childhood, education, landscape and realities.

So disconnected….

To the plights of people who do not have credit cards.

To those three daily wage labourers who were paid Rupees five hundred for the day and they were still looking for a shop that will take the money and give them one meal. It was almost early morning of the next day. What percentage of our country depends on daily wage?

To that queue of senior citizens who stood for hours, some crying, some sat down, their eyes full of desperation, helplessness.

The mother at the hospital who had money but could not pay the bills for her child’s treatment.

To the plight of a retired man with a heart ailment who kept his pension at home.

And some died (what is some in the land of billions, they said.)

For the greater good, they said.

And lastly, even if you could not see the plight of others, our own, your own hard earned money in the bank, and am assuming you and I are honest and tax paying, and you could not get your own money and give it to your parents, or your driver, or your dhobi, or your house help. You gave them their salary in instalments. You asked them a surface level question and they gave you a surface level answer. And you concluded all was good. Ram rajya is here, finally. end of corruption.

And a five crore wedding happened at the same time, a politician’s child. What was that money? All those who went to buy gold and the gold stores that did roaring business? What was that money? Touts caught offering to exchange money for the hoarders. What was that money?

And what was their inconvenience? Oh yes, I forget, they had to load those bundles into cars and pack them in suitcases. Too much work, sure.

Are we seriously so easily hoodwinked?

Over 30% of the population of India, nearly 230 million people live with less than 150 rupees a day.

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man (woman) you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him/her.” (MK Gandhi)

Still a good yardstick.

I now live with a nightmare which will never cease.

What if I cannot access my meagre savings in the bank? Internet doesn’t work, credit card does not work, bio-metrics does not work and all is frozen.

The November Nightmare.

The never to die, recurring, November Nightmare.

And the other screw up? Need I go on? I don’t even know where to begin on that one.


The Arrogance of Giving

After walking many paths, through the debris and rubble, seeing bodies being pulled out even after thirty-five days of the earthquake, watching people returning to their houses, the greetings of tears. They had fled to someplace else looking for safety, wanting not to see the flattened houses, beneath which lay someone, dead, flattened by the same roof that was to be there to protect. To protect from the sun and rain. Who thought it will be the earth?

She suddenly felt tired, fatigued. She needed to eat. She spotted a food shelter, numerous men and women were camping in groups, organising food for the ones left to be living. Few tents were working as kitchen, chopping, cleaning cooking in huge vessels, food for everyone. Good Karma, she thought, in that heat and dust and air filled with the smell of burning, many things burning. Good of these people to travel all the way, they need not have, they could have written a cheque.

She reached near one of those tents. There was a make shift bamboo log, working like a gate. There were some women standing there, all clad in black, the colour of the locals. She heard someone yell at them to wait a while.

She ducked the barricading log and stepped inside tentatively. There were rows and rows of people sitting down and eating, what looked like a pretty elaborate meal for that time. They looked like visitors to the place, people from the cities, may be looking for their families, may be government officials, corporate officials taking stock of the damage, volunteering, people like her. Someone showed her a place, she sat down, took off her shoes. She was wearing her regular clothes for field work that involved walking under the sun, shoes, backpack, bottle of water, packet of biscuit, a bandana to keep the head cool, keep the hair covered, so that she won’t have to wash it so often, where is the water to wash your hair?

Someone placed a leaf plate in front of her. A kindly lady approached with a bucket containing may be rice, as that usually comes first, followed by daal poured on top. She stopped in front of her, took out a ladle full of white rice, paused mid-air when she noticed her bandana, no jewellery, no spot of colour on the forehead, looked into her eyes and said, “sister, would you chant the gayatri mantra?”

She looked back at her. She wanted to get up and leave. It’s not that she did not know the gayatri mantra, it’s being asked to chant it at a place which was supposedly there, to help people through their grief and trauma. Not to cause more grief, not to discriminate, and to choose which grieving person is entitled food, entitled to recover and live, and which ones could die, or be humiliated, humiliated in the act of compassion. The arrogance of giving, she thought.

She wanted to leave, but she was hungry, the woman had left after dropping some rice on her plate from a height. There was no touch, so she had not committed any sin after all. Tears were welling up in her eyes. It had been a long day of tearful moments and they needed to roll down.



This Women’s Day…

The Grown Girl

“The world is a dangerous place for little girls. Besides, little girls are more fragile, more delicate, more brittle than little boys. ‘Watch out, be careful, watch.’ ‘Don’t climb trees, don’t dirty your dress, don’t accept lifts from strange men. Listen but don’t learn, you won’t need it.’ And so the snail’s antennae grow, watching for this, looking for that, the underneath of things. The threat. And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to quelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.”

― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback.

Never have I been more aware of being a woman than when I travel alone. It begins with which train or flight to take, what time does it start and what time does it reach, which always has to be much after sunrise and much before sunset. If that’s not an option, a whole lot of logistical coordination and planning becomes necesssary.

My parents were non-discriminatory. No matter how much the world used every opportunity to point the differences between me and my brother, they never made me feel I am less because I am a girl. They didn’t tell the others off, perhaps realising the futility of it and being mild mannered, but they did not change their ways of treating their two children, and all other boys and girls, the same.

The first time I realised I was differently vulnerable was when one late evening, my mother and I took a cycle rickshaw to a wedding. There were stretches on that road which were not lit, empty and unknown. I was loving the quiet and excited to be at a wedding. At the most my fear was what if there are thieves! But as soon as we reached, I heard my mother tell someone, sighing in relief, how scared she was since she was with me, that am a grown girl now.

Since then, the grown girl concept made an appearance all the time, almost in all occasions and all decisions that required me to be on my own. Travelling to Bombay to study, unearthly hours of the trains, someone to drop and someone to pick. All the usual unsolicited advice and suggestions, someone should accompany her. How many times one heard it’s a bad world outside?

What makes the outside world bad? Who does it? And how is the inside world? Is it better or is it worse?

One time when I was abroad in a university town and truly enjoyed staying at the library till way past mid night, walking back alone in the rain and chill, listening to music, thinking how much I would miss this back home. A woman acquaintance had said “you won’t need to be in a library till 2 am back home!”

She perhaps meant well. But that certainly is not the point.

We are so overwhelmed by the possibility of assault, that we are not even able to imagine what it would be like…to be able to walk a forest alone, walk a city alone, travel the world alone…just the possibility, the option, the choice!

I have worked in the development sector all my life. It gives me many opportunities to travel to interior areas of our country. I love it. But the grown girl concept is always there. Not just at the back of our heads, but at the front, all-over actually. There are very few hotels in these remote areas so we have to take what we get. Even in cities, we are so fund crunched and so little money to cover overheads that we end up staying in cheap hotels. I have never wanted fancy, but what I have realised over the years of travel, is cheap also means cheap fixtures, the latch is of poor quality, the windows without railings or panes, bathrooms with an open square for ventilator. Unsafe unsafe scream the grown girl. So many of my women colleagues and friends have shared our notes on how we have pushed chairs and sofas and our suitcases all piled against the door and have spent sleepless nights when on our own. Taxi rides, auto rides, taking a bus in the night with a man in the next seat, tell us about it! Safety pins, red chilli powder, pepper spray or even a kitchen knife…and all kind of “real” travel tips!

This fear that we have to live with is a creation and responsibility of every one.

So this women’s day, can we even attempt to visualize a world of true freedom for women, freedom from this fear!

Not many years ago, when I lived in Bangalore, a front page picture of a man laying down with his backpack for pillow and reading a book at Lalbagh made me so wishful! The caption said something about it being beautiful weather outside.

A book and a backpack for a pillow and a grass bed, to look at trees and clouds when I look up. I want that. In this life.

Many women whether by choice, by situation, by circumstances, are single or live and travel alone. Whether we make do with it or we enjoy it, is up to us…but for us to be free of fear and pursue ourselves to the fullest, in this one life…is the real challenge for the rest of the world. Not your hand outs, not your discounts, not diamonds, not the ice-bucket challenge…we want this freedom from fear.

The fear that is created by all of you.

A walk in the rain, a walk in a beautiful dense and aged forest is all I ask.

A walk without fear.

Letter from a daughter

Seems like everybody writes to daughters (or grand-daughters). Is it because the relationships with daughters are more emotional? Or is it because daughters value letters? Or is it because they are special or is it because they need to be protected, cautioned, prepared, coached for a life to come? Or that they need reassurance, to dream, to live and to not bother with the world. Assuming sons do not need any emotional connecting or advice of that kind. They have their lives made as soon as they are born. They do not need a letter on dreams and inspirations or length of their knickers.

We have had a tradition of this. From mothers, fathers, grand-fathers, politicians to corporate leaders to actors, they write to their daughters, grand-daughters. It’s well intention-ed. It’s a lot of dos and don’ts. Its life’s learning made crisp for a quick “do-not-reinvent-the-wheel” crash course.

I am a daughter. And I used to be an avid letter writer. Am known in my family for writing letters. When I went to study from a small town to a place as big as Mumbai over two decades back, I missed home, I missed friends and I wrote letters. So much so that the despatch section would tell people who complained their disappointment in not getting letters, “write like her. Then you will get letters like she does.”

So here is a daughter who wants to reply, to all those mothers, fathers, and grandfathers.

Thank you for writing. I may not have seen all your struggles when you were bringing me up and am grateful for you so eloquently, poetically, writing to me. And publishing it, youtube-ing it, letting the world know that you wrote a very important letter.

When I look back at my childhood and what I struggled with while growing up, I could have done with some more conversations. Some topics which you, and only you could have spoken to me about. This is not a complain, but an honest request. I am old enough not to blame my childhood upbringing for anything.

I know, for most parents their daughter is the most beautiful. Princess, we are often nicknamed fondly. While that was lovely, it would have been good to know that the world wears different lenses to scrutinise beauty. That the world follows a different standard of measurement to judge you by your skin colour, the built of your body, the length of your hair, the shape of your eyes, nose, teeth. You were wonderful as parents, to never discriminate or make me less in your eyes, but I could have known what the world thinks. I could have known how to handle how the world thinks.

It’s likely that you would have figured out my academic and other strengths. You were wonderful to encourage me to work hard, study hard, reach for the stars. I would have liked to know that am average. Am good at some things, great at some and just average in some others. I can and I must always try my best. Instead of discovering later that am not the brightest, we could have talked about being average and to make the best of every opportunity that comes my way. I may try very hard, but there would be failures. I would not get everything I want in life. And that’s not a very bad thing. That am still very privileged. There would always be people much better off than me and much worse off than me.

That honesty, truthfulness in its absolute sense would not work. While I must be honest with myself, and value honesty in others, I could have known honesty is often not appreciated, and it’s often not necessary. That there is a need to gauge a situation and its requirement of the truth. Somebody stole and ate a friend’s chocolate and I saw it, or a parent lied about her child’s achievements, or a relative’s discriminatory attitude, or someone’s anti-minority communal views. All of these require different levels of honesty and truthfulness.

To apologise for a mistake I made, is a must, you told me. You could also have told me that most people would not think of it as a great thing to do. They are likely to make use of that mistake and that apology and cite it as an example forever.

And that I will be misunderstood. No matter how much I try and what methods I try, written, vocal, or by doing things to clarify a point, there will be times when all these efforts will fail and there will be misunderstandings. I could have known that’s okay too. It would be a sore spot but it is not the end of the world.

That I would be able steer my own life. Whether in my education, or my work or my relationship, I must have the confidence to take it in the direction I want to. That I could live some bit for myself and that is not being selfish.

That I would evolve as a person. My understanding must always be open to layering as I grow, I see more, I travel more and as I comprehend complexities, my sensitivity must always grow and not decline. I must never give in to “that is how it is.”

And now a most delicate one, since for many of us our parents are infallible, you could have told me about times when you were unsure, told me that you thought it was a mistake, that your judgement of a person or a situation might have been wrong. Being able to say that is a victory and not a failure of a parent.

In your attempt to present a world to me in the binary of black and white, I could have done with some grey. Which I later found out, in bits and pieces, through my struggles that a large chunk of life is about grey.

Whatsapp groups: The agony and the ecstasy

You get a message “+91………. added you”. Followed by a flurry of welcomes. And then you slowly, very slowly realise what have you gotten into. You mute, you stop it from blinking, but there is no stopping. More or less, everything gets discussed, everything happening around us, in the world that is, in every group! if its a Rajnikant joke, you are doomed. not just the groups, every contact may just send you that. Jokes, videos, election, wildlife, selfies, selfies at meetings, selfies at exotic locations, selfies with famous personalities at airports. Food, roads, signboards, flowers, pets, clothes, after all, all cameras have a phone and have internet and have whatsapp, and pictures speak a thousand words, so why not?

I am currently part of about eight whatsapp groups. I successfully, without guilt, left three.

I believe there were questions, hurt, sentiments expressed. Like when someone leaves the groups am still in (+91…….has left the group messages pops up, followed by: who left? Why? Get her/him back? We are having so much fun?). Sometimes there is also “is she the only one so busy?”

The day begins with “good morning”, a most unreal looking electric blue rose wishing you a wonderful day. A namaste. Or a quote “every day is an experience. This is life…enjoy your day”. Right. We begin as early as sunrise and morning tea. We talk about who likes which tea. Then we discuss when would we have tea together, when is so and so inviting everyone to tea. Followed by smiley faces.

Some of the groups I left (sigh), even though I was advised “just clear the messages, you don’t have to read them all. Stay in the group.” Those were early days of whatsapp grouping and I either felt bad that am not reading and responding, or annoyed, even after muting the group, keeping mobile data off and seeing 42 messages when you switch it on, bothered me. So I left. But looks like that should not have been a big deal. You don’t miss much if you did not read. It’s something like our saas-bahu serials, you can stop watching anytime and when you resume, you would still understand the story. Easy. they are made to accommodate, you see.

A simple statement like “I have a little cold so skipping office today. At home watching cricket match.” Results in “please take care bhai”, “drink ginger tea”, “go see a doctor”. “am praying for you”. And am like, he is well enough to watch the match, ask for the score buddy!

One group that I was excited when it started was the primary school group; we were all 12-13 years of age in that school. Changes happened after that, schools, places, no education, such changes were made and decided mostly after that crucial class seventh since it meant going to another (high) school. Someone started that group. And then the nightmare, I was trying to put faces to names and names to faces! On my defence, we were a class of 60+ students in one section, at least 4 sections and I was only 12 then. I left.

Groups with a purpose. The groups that am still in:

My apartment group, leaking pipes, common facilities, maintenance, parking space all gets discussed. No choice. They may just decide to paint the campus the new 2000 rupees pink, so I better stay in if I don’t want that.

A group that discusses access to organic food/ grocery. All exciting people (some may say eccentric, hippies) each following their passion.

A large group of people who are recipients of a specific fellowship. Very large. Some may know each other if they were together for that fellowship. Most don’t know most. But it’s assumed that the fellowship has tied us together like a multi coloured beaded necklace of the Queen. People are tapped from remote corners and added to the group. Flurry of welcomes everyday. Followed by flurry of thank yous. The purpose is to share ideas and enable each other, the brilliant people, chosen few of the prestigious fellowship. We could together change the world.

One common challenge. To focus on the PURPOSE. Political issues come in, right or wrong or left or centre comes in, views and opinions on what is happiness (or something as challenging as that) and then begins the yes and no. Most of us in these groups do not know each other, at all, and we expect to connect on very difficult or very trivial topics. We don’t even know whether something trivial for one is most challenging for the other or vice versa!

I have been termed class monitor in some of these. Am not proud of it. But I don’t want to exit. I want to stay and listen and contribute. Yes I do.

My post-graduation group. That time when you finished formal education and hopefully got a job after that. Shared hostels, shared food, shared campus, many love life blossomed, many heart breaks, many close friendships. Every now and then someone shares a sexist or racist joke and gets butchered. We never agreed then, we do not agree now. But that’s understood.

Work group, good gossip, some work some general, some debates, plans for movies, restaurants etc. Nobody takes up any serious argument. All contentious topics are posted. You may choose to respond or not.

Few small groups of friends. Either because we did a fellowship together and got to know each other over a period of time, travelling, laughing, walking cooking, planning visits together, discussing the course and found ourselves honest with each other, and have stayed in touch, even without whatsapp.

Another group where we have worked together, typically first jobs. We share the experiences of first job, a common place, shared nostalgia. We have stayed in touch from a time when computers were making their debut, followed by mobile phones, and even though everyone is now scattered all over the world. We would tease and annoy and love and care, the same way!

Whatsapp just happened to happen here!

Let me stop at that, the agony and the ecstasy. And post good night to all those eight groups with the picture of a bright sunrise.

And quickly switch-off the phone 🙂

When the eyes swell up…


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tearing (/ˈtiərɪŋ/), lacrimation, or lachrymation, (from Latin lacrima, meaning “tear”) is the secretion of tears, which often serves to clean and lubricate the eyes in response to an irritation of the eyes.[1] Tears formed through crying are associated with strong internal emotions, such as sorrow, elation, emotion, love, awe or pleasure. Laughing or yawning may also lead to the production of tears. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tears)

One emotion not listed here is anger.

Yes, anger causes some of us to burst into crying, tears roll down from our eyes. It often surprises the other person or group of persons. “What is there to cry” we are asked? (Likely to be women, because men don’t cry you see! I cringe every time I hear a parent tell the male child, why are you crying, you are not a girl? Why are you scared, you are not a girl?)

Anger has many causes. Not all of them cause tears. They manifest in other forms, violence, argument, stamping your feet, banging a door etcetera etcetera etcetera

Crying also is a manifestation of anger. Anger combined with frustration.

It is a different kind of anger. When your close family members, most trusted friends, do not understand you. Or say something most insensitive. That anger when you get unsolicited advice to be brave in the face of a life altering situation. It’s when you were expecting unconditional support from your closest friend or partner and she/ he gives you a flimsy excuse.

It’s when you see partiality at work place. The subtle biases at workplace, those tiny but visible issues that do not have a platform to talk about. They exist nonetheless and continue. That frustration turns into anger.

It’s when your integrity is questioned.

A clichéd example, but Ram asking Sita to undergo the agnipariksha. Is that how much you understand me? Is that all that matters to you?

It’s when you see how people pity the differently-abled. As if pity is still better than indifference. It’s when you ask for fair wages for men and women and you are told, women are still getting something right, as against nothing? It’s when you see rich and educated serve their house-help food in plates kept separately for them. We are still giving them food right?

It’s when you have to keep saying things over and over and over again over decades. It’s exasperating, frustrating.

It’s sometimes an anger of helplessness. Not to be confused with weakness.

It’s when with all forms of modern communication, there are these things that one finds it hard to tell.

So don’t simply say “why don’t you tell me?” The deeper a person feels, the harder it is for them to start to explain, what to them is the basis of understanding, the basics, the foundations.

As I write, I expect “what a vague piece of writing.”

And I know that few people will be nodding in agreement.