Wednesday, 22 June 2016


(with thanks to facebook for unearthing this gem)

I think when you are 42 years old, you spend a whole bunch of time thinking about the past. I recently met with some friends - girls err women - I went to college with. We had a nice lunch - chat - exactly like we would have in those days in the early 90s'. Well, except for small differences. You know, one of the kids came along, one of us drove, the other brought her bike, Ola cab was summoned. We talked about calories. And uteruses.

But mostly, we talked about - and thought about in between sentences - about our life in those days. The fun days in the hostel. That old tree outside the library. Boys. Rules. Life lessons. How we thought we knew everything there was to know. We laughed at ourselves - our naivete, the confidence that we had in those days.

In many ways it was wonderful. We have been in touch for the most part, we know a lot about what our lives have been in the past 25 years since that day we all first met, back in 1991. We understand each other without having to say much. We can talk about the others without having to give the whole back story or explain things. We are happy, secure, and life is just generally awesome in one's forties no?

But then there are always those lingering moments - sometimes during our meet-ups, but most times afterwards when I think about it. It's a sadness, for what has clearly been left behind. And a regret that I didn't do that or say this. For me, these are not about the big things - career, husband, family. It's the small things. Not understanding someone's cry for help. An unnecessary argument I still recall. A small meanness I once displayed. A jealous feeling I had. A callousness... Taking someone for granted at times...

Oh I was young, I tell myself. I couldn't have known better. I was grappling with a ton of things. I was working myself to the bone on so many things. I justify it, in my head. I wouldn't call it guilt - not like there are that type of big old skeletons in my college closet to make me feel guilty per se. I guess it's an inescapable feeling that I should have been a better person, and a fear that even now, at 42, I may not be as good a person as I want to be.

Overall though, I clutch jealously to my old friends. They give me a peek into my old self, they remind me of the firebrand I used to be, they tell me the stories I have forgotten, and the best of it all is that they have grown meanwhile, into lovely women. All the edges rounded, a really peaceful aura around them. Of course, I can stay 'Hey BSA, Can I borrow your SLR?' and they will laugh, and we will talk about the godawful common room where the TV was located... 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Again about Gulmohars

I used to love the summertime back then. There was the whole last-day-of-school ritual. We would just go crazy. I would warn my family that I would be back home late. And we would get up to something or the other in school - just silly things - like playing a lot. That one time we challenged each other about using the teacher's bathroom; or to throw something into the staff room and escape before we were caught... Random stuff.

Once that was taken care of and all the sundry people we would not really see through the summer vacation dispatched, my friend & I would return home slowly, on our cycles. Weaving in and out and trying out any cycling tricks we had mastered. And then, reluctantly, with regret, we would separate and go to our individual homes (that were two streets apart, so not like miles away or anything).

The evening brought much excitement as my sister & I ran to the library and checked out as many books as the guy would allow. He was always very wary about us, I guess he was convinced that between the three of us (my mom, sis & I), we were capable of making him go out of business! Which was rather silly 'cause mom was one of his biggest supporters and always paid him extra. IF he had shut shop during our Mysore years, we would have been devastated, so seriously, he needn't have worried. [Last month we walked past and yes, he has gone out of business now, surely].

I would make grandiose plans for the rest of the summer. It involved things like: borrowing all the books my friend Anu's parents would allow from their collection (mostly, P G Wodehouse, Agatha Christie); & checking out all the arts & crafts books from dad's college library (all those special things I imagined I could do, if only I lived in the U.S., and had access to pipe cleaners, double sticky tape, craft paper, & what not). I signed up for several hours of basketball. I walked over to houses of my seniors and begged them for text books and work books (seriously).

May in Mysore is really wonderful. It's boiling hot - something that didn't used to bother me as much in those days as it does now. The large number of Gulmohar trees in the city are all in bloom (they were, this year as well, no worry). The koels and other birds are in fine form. And the general atmosphere of laid-backness is only amplified. I barely noticed that people in jobs continued to rush over to their various destinations in the morning. There is a fresh smell that used to hang around in the air - and believe me, I have tested the air right from early morning hours (basketball) to mid-afternoon (cycling expeditions here and there), to early evening (play time with friends).

Most of all, it was time for renewal and to do all the things I wanted to do in my life, which the regular schedule of school & homework & exams and so forth didn't allow me to. Over the years, I have become rather attached to this, which is why it's a good thing that I am in an academic job. Whatever else it is or isn't, the summer is awesome. Except that over the years, it is losing it's charm. One year it's a house move, the other a school move, or it's house painting or a family function. It's some unanticipated travel. Or that pile of things left over from the semester.

Obviously, as a full grown (ahem!) adult, it's incumbent upon me to finish all those tasks. To use the summer, when there is no teaching, to check all those boxes. To make sure that, by the time the undergrads come back to the campus and life goes back to insane busy-ness, I am ready to give my undivided attention to just juggling the usual teaching-research-home-parenting-other stuff stuff. So no more dreamy lists and fun "projects"; no more 3 hour basketball sessions (or whatever). No origami. No writing. Just Nose To The Grindstone again. Fine, I will do it. But I am under no obligation to like it. Mind it. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

London Marathon and So On

Thank you random google searchable website with such cards. It captures the essence of my relationship with my daughter perfectly! Though the visual is quite off. She is about an inch taller than me now, and it may interest you to know that recently, she outgrew her crocs, passed them on to me, and bought the next size. 

It has been an interesting summer, for sure. Last summer, in one more of those incessant food battles at home, I had thrown her a challenge. I asked her to grow taller than me by the end of the summer, and Show Me. It was awesome for me that she didn't manage that last year, but then the time to gloat has passed, and I am officially the shortest person in our house, plus have the smallest feet.

We had a great trip to London. I ran the Virgin Money London Marathon, it was amazing. It was my dumb luck that the day of the marathon turned out to be a super cold day. I barely sweated, and held together very well for a long while, running even Kms. The last few Kms were tough, I was still a bit cold, but no big. Met the family at 40th Km, gave me some mojo, finished in decent spirit and time (4:24), felt strong but was very cold. By the time I settled down near the other Indian runners, my lips were blue and all the clothes I wore were of no use. Thankfully, after a coffee and a hot bath, I felt fine!

The week long vacation we had after that was really fantastic. We did a walking Harry Potter tour (Muggle Tours) which was incredible, 'cause it was super geeky (so child lapped it up and answered all the questions before they were even asked). We did the Universal Studios thing also, which was alright. Butterbeer was terrible. Ugh. SO SWEET. We went on a Beatles walking tour (cute), saw Matilda (amazing), Mousetrap (super), rode everywhere in the tube, went to the Lord's Tavern (glug), drank some awesome beers (mmmmm...), cooked in our apartment (why not, dammit?), lost a scarf in Hyde Park (but found it again), & stood on the Prime Meridian. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The end of an era

I have been meaning to write about her for a while now. In fact, for the past year, whenever, in brief snatches, I met her during my travel to Mysore, I have wanted to say something, many things. She was born in 1925, and the kids & I had great fun calculating her age every year. For the past several years, she has claimed that she is 86 years old. As if time had stopped there for her. Although my sister, her eldest grandchild, always enjoyed a much closer relationship with her than I ever did, I have such rich memories of her.

My dad used to take me to school on his scooter everyday. It was a source of plenty frustration for me 'cause he was not to be hurried. And I wanted to get to school as early as I could, so I could play with my friends. On the way to school (and his college, which was next door), we would stop off at Paati's place. She would have a small cup of coffee & a bowl of milk cream ready for us. Though why one should stop literally 3 minutes after leaving home, I don't know. But that milk cream with sugar - which I love loved (still do), was amazing.

I wanted a salwar kameez for my birthday when I was 10. My mom would have none of it. I was a pint sized runt and she was convinced it would look terrible. Paati stitched me a pink and white thing. It was pretty awful actually but I enjoyed it nevertheless! She was super duper crafty - her crochet-ed pieces are still all over all our homes, I have jealously guarded it from marauding hands, and transported it through all my various moves. She converted all our old school uniforms into sturdy bags, which were so handy- back when plastic hadn't overtaken our lives, this was. (I have valiantly tried to do this... but my skills - both on the machine and in time management - are poor).

Somehow I remember this slightly dark place they lived in in Bangalore, where they had no fridge. She used to boil milk several times a day to ensure it wouldn't spoil. And she would describe all these recipes - many of them ways and means to stretch out the monthly budget a bit more, feed the hungry mouths somehow. Like her paruppu urundai kuzhambu - which, under her slightly garbled instructions, I made in my mom's house a few years ago, making my mom break out in hives thanks to the mess it created.

Slowly, over time, as her memory started to fade, we got into a routine where she would ask the same set of questions every time she saw me. She would take a nap and come out, having completely forgotten I was there, her eyes would light up in happiness (I don't recall her being too happy with me in the growing up years, but now, she was super duper proud of me and the kid, somehow, don't know  why!).
* When did you get here? (Just now, Paati)
* Are you staying long? (No Paati, have to leave tomorrow/day after/next week)
* What time do you leave for work? (9-ish)
* Do you finish off the cooking before you leave?
* How about the child's dabba?
* Are you home when she gets back from school?
* She is very smart like you, isn't she?
& repeat.
She would get very very worked up if I visited without the kid. Like the last time I saw her, in February. Where is the child, how can you leave her alone there, she kept asking me. I tried telling her that her dad could handle her, but she was never satisfied with that. Finally I cottoned on and said my mother-in-law is home. That made her happy.

Why do you call your daughter that - doesn't she have a proper name, she often asked me. This 'cause of the nickname we use at home for her - we have actually named her after our two grandfathers, one of whom is her husband, but she never recalls that. Sometimes I would explain this to her, hoping I guess, for some approbation. But she just said hmm, must have thought we are totally random, we 'modern' people.

She wasn't the type of grandma that was overly affectionate and coddling. In fact, when we played games with her, all those olden day games with dice and shells and stuff, she cheated quite rampantly :-) But 91 years is a long time, and especially in the past decade, unfortunately even as she was losing her memory rapidly, I had grown so close to her. It's hard to put into words. And it surprises me very much at times, I have always assumed that I preferred my simple & straight forward grandfather over her. But lately, I would find myself appreciating how very smart this lady was - I mean she was seriously intelligent - much more than others in the family.  I miss her very much, and I am deeply sad about the end of the era.

At more or less the exact time of her passing (in Mysore, in a hospital, a few weeks ago), I was eating a delectable basundi at Woodlands here in Chennai, a sweet I loved with all my little heart in my childhood. I haven't eaten it in a very long while. I really enjoyed it that day, almost as much as I used to enjoy the milk cream and sugar that Paati saved every morning for me...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The room on the roof

I have occasionally spent time in this guest room in our house, in the past. It's a nice one. It's all the way up, and is kind of cosy. It has a balcony, which holds much attraction to me especially in the morning after my workout when I want: cool tiled floor & good air circulation as I dry off and try my various experiments. So yeah, I am back here for a bit and it has been quite nice, after I did a round of nagging and got all the clutter cleared up.

It's a room that - as long as no one else is breathing nearby - is ideal for writing. The weather in Chennai in May/Jun/Jan/Whenever being what it is, you can't expect much other than what a good air-conditioner can provide to you. Yes, a certain coconut tree swaying in the distance, cool fresh air finding its way in through the door & out through the wide-open window, would be nice. But aside from a few early morning minutes, not practical.

So I sit. My usual pose - back against a propped up pillow - on the mattress which is on the floor (since we gave away the bed) - conditioned air in my face - a certain rumbling noise that the fan makes (which, late at night, feels like someone climbing laboriously up the stairs) in my ears - and open up my dearly beloved but sadly neglected blog.

Sometimes, there is no specific plan or theme in my mind as I type. Over the past year or two, I have ached, longed and craved for this 15 minutes of time and space. To allow the fingers to roam over the keyboard, free. It has been difficult. Remembering your to-do list is a bad thing, I have routinely scolded myself and moved to more 'useful' ways of spending time, than.. just.. rambling.

Yesterday my friends and I had a cup of coffee. It's what we do, on a sort of routine basis nowadays. Long hours are not spent. Far distances are not covered. Major culinary explorations are not indulged in. We have 3-4 standard haunts and  our standard order of South Indian Filter Coffee. A quick download of anything of importance happening in our lives. A joke or two. A selfie. It is amazing how much it recharges!

I came back up to my room on the roof after coffee, and despite working with a not-very-reliable dongle (since my Fibernet wifi doesn't reach too well up here), I managed to get so many things done. I am particularly proud of some writing I did, which should be ready to be read in a week's time. The flow was great, and I was "in the zone" - a place I haven't been in, in a while.

I was sure it was momentary, and that the myriad compulsions I find myself in through the day, the unending lists of tasks in my mind and on the lists I make on Evernote, would quickly put an end to it. Am glad to find myself here, again. A few snatches of conversation with my family downstairs. A nice cup of coffee. A climb back up to my haunt here. Yes, this is it.  

Friday, 15 April 2016

Birth Month Update

It has to be most lame birthday I have had in my 1000 year life on earth. First of all, I bought a bucketload of things earlier in March. Like, an iPad (admittedly, I have barely touched it up to now), and a Garmin (Love It), boots, and clothes, and things. Not to mention an inverter battery, and new tires for my car, and stuff like that. When some NGO called me repeatedly and emo-blackmailed me into donating some money, I sort of did that too.

So, all in all, it was no time to treat myself to an iPhone (like I did last year) or anything. & I went off to the holiest of holy places - Tirupati. Though I couldn't walk up the steps, go stand in the Serpentine queue, and get darshan of Lord Venkateshwara, I was happy that I could visit there and see a whole new bunch of students!

First up I met up with some 200 girls in the Engineering stream at Padmavathi Mahila University. It was a great experience to be in a room of enthusiastic, well dressed, neat and tidy students! It was great that it was all girls - strange as well! I spoke about a bunch of things and threatened to ask Chemistry questions if they didn't interrupt me. So, interrupt me they did!!

"Who is really your inspiration" they asked - after I had rattled on about Tessy Thomas and Kathrine Switzer and Lijjat Papad. I hmmed and hawed and said this and that and finally the bulb clicked and I said "MOM" - and they all nodded happily at that. And I nodded inside as well, because, well, that's epiphany in public.

I then spoke in the weirdest shaped room in all the civilised world! I mean it was a super wide room - how to cover that much ground? I walked everywhere and had them swivel their heads like that horror movie child thingie, but still, it was weird. This was in IIT Tirupati (temp. location). I spoke about adapting to change, and marathons, and stuff like that, and it was good fun though the bunch was pretty rowdy and noisy.

We ended the session with a loud karaoke rendition of Lungi Dance, and I resisted the temptation to Dance Like It Was My Birthday. After all, 42 is no joke. Yep, that's me, the forty-two year old who rode a train and took selfies and resisted the temptation to eat Masal Vada in the train station. 

Meanwhile, the child has, in a moment of inspiration, and in an attempt to avoid learning html coding that the school wants her to, started to blog. I mean, she has started today, just hope she keeps it up. I will be fine with all the hazing-the-mom activity if she keeps it up and practices writing or vents her thoughts, or whatever it is she wants to do with it. Here, read if you want to:

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New Year 2016

Resolutions 2015 2016

I guess it's as good a time as any other to talk about all this stuff. What happened in 2015. What to look forward to in 2016. Stuff like that. Maybe in bullet points? In images? In nice colours? Let's see.


  • Moved to a new office. It has blinds. But the door lock doesn't work properly. I like it. 
  • None of my MS/PhD scholars graduated. Didn't feel like attending convocation.
  • Taught my usual two theory courses and ploughed through a new laboratory class. Was hectic.
  • Child moved schools. Adjusted well. Made friends as well. Grew extra attitude. 
  • Child started basketball, quit music, reduced swimming, grew to my height, wears all my clothes. Is frustratingly lovable and annoying all at once. 
  • Changed tactics with running, avoided all races, tried to train for one race, got injured. Don't regret anything, learned a lot, moved back to Nikes. 
  • Enjoyed all the geeking out on nutrition and so forth. Did lots of home workouts as well. Feel in a good place generally with exercise and fitness. 
  • Read a decent number of books including a recent in-depth foray into Agatha Christie (with child). Marple or Poirot, Poirot or Marple, jury is still out. 
  • Watched a lot of TV (mindless stuff, admittedly) this year. After spending so many years avoiding it, it has been relaxing. Worried about age appropriateness of Modern Family (for child). 
  • Broke my iPhone. Felt devastated. Bought new one. Not happy with it. Need to bide my time. 
  • Went on a dumb-ass vacation weekend to Fish Cove. Food sucked. Swimming was fun. 
  • Went on a trip to Mysore, Bandipur and Coonoor. The last one sucked. 
  • Went on a fab trio to Ooty and played and walked and trekked and ran. Was great fun. 
  • Did the 100SareePact with much enthu. Hit saree wearing PB time of 12 mins. :)
  • Child was on a series of stomach ache, fever, viral fever, head ache, routine for a couple of months. Frustrating and I have to yet get her immunisation thingie done which is postponed. 
  • Did a billion things for Chennai & running & so forth. Beginners programs. Running form workshops. Lectures. Marathon organisation. Interviews everywhere. Busy as hell.
  • Survived 4 full days of no power at home. Lived in fear. All old suppressed fears of water have resurfaced. Felt like a different person after we emerged from the Chennai Floods hole. 
  • The December 13th Clean Chennai campaign was wonderful (even if I stressed immensely for it). Hope we can do more. Slowly maybe people's attitudes will improve. 

  • Remember: Clean up starts at home (& office)
  • Delegate better
  • Get more sleep
  • Train hard for London
  • Finish book
  • Get household jobs completed
  • Make some investments
  • Blog
Well that's that from me. I leave with this photo of me that I think says a lot. PC: Hari from Chennai Trekking Club (I think). Taken on December 13th at Kotturpuram during our massive city-wide cleanup initiative.