Shifted blog from WordPress

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Hi All!

Thanks a ton for following my blog and sharing some wonderful comments on each post! 🙂

I’ve shifted my blogging platform from WordPress to Medium, where I write short stories often. If you would like to get continued updates about my posts, please follow me there.

The link is: https://medium.com/@Madhumita

Thanks!

Iyer and Iyer we went…

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The objective was quite simple. Find the nearest mall, buy a pair of shorts, and head to the NH7 Weekender. But, what ensued was a series of incidents that could potentially lead to a marathon of ‘What happens when three Iyers walk into a bar’ jokes.

Scene One: Outside the apartment

We rent out an apartment in Hebbal, or as we fondly call it, almost Andhra. And, this is what we see; a scene out a movie set in Texas where land is barren, there are plastic covers flying in the breeze and there is not a single soul as far as the eye can see. We contemplate booking an Uber, but from nowhere Iyer No. 3 spots an auto at a distance and convinces us that that’s a cheaper alternative.

As the auto heads closer, we notice that the autokaran is finding it quite overwhelming to drive in a straight line. But, a large hearted clan that we are (at the most avoidable times), we pity the old, shrunken man driving it and decide to join in.

10 minutes later, we’re three metres away from the apartment gates, still waiting for the auto to start. We remain large hearted.

20 minutes later, we’ve moved 300 metres. Just as we begin to demand God to add this gesture to our good Karma, speed-breaker happens and the auto stalls, half on each side of the speed-breaker. We get down to help push the auto but well, our man, our funny, funny old man starts the auto at ease and moves forward, as though trying to show us that the problem is not with the auto but with our collective weights.

We remain large-hearted and enduring.

30 minutes later, we’ve covered 2 kms and stop to ask a few pedestrians where ‘Esteem shopping mall’ is. A fellow autokaran pops out of nowhere and says, “Madam Helmet shopping mall?” And, Iyer No.2 goes into intellectual mode.

Iyer No. 2: No sir, E ’lement’ shopping mall. We don’t want helmets.

Autokaran: Madam, there is only Helmet mall. Which area you want?

Iyer No. 2: (trying hard not to read too much into his words): I want to go to Esteem Shopping Mall near Hebbal.

 Autokaran (relentlessly): Take right, straight and Helmet mall. New mall. Shopping only no?

Iyer No.1 to Iyer No.2 (encouragingly): Let’s check what’s there. You can also wear a helmet to the concert. You’ll still get noticed.

And so we take a right, go straight and land up in front of what was, in reality, ‘Elements Mall’.

Scene Two: Inside the mall

What’s common between Puma, Domino’s Pizza, Derby and Levis? They’re all opening shortly.

But, we don’t give up. We spot Lifestyle and head into the western wear section.

Iyer No. 2 to the sales lady: Where can I find shorts?

Sales lady (with a straight face): We don’t sell shorts here.

Iyer No.2 (having slight Amma flashback): Err do you have three-fourths?

Sales lady: Yes, we have animal prints and cargos right there (Points straight ahead).

So, we gleefully go and search the whole rack to find one cream coloured three-fourths, naturally, in a size that one can only dream of fitting in.

Location two, Spar (yes yes, the hypermarket only). When Big Bazaar has a clothing section, why can’t Spar? What we found (or didn’t find) there is a different question altogether.   The closest we could get to shorts was a komanam designed like pregnancy pants (you know, like the one Phoebe lends to Rachel when she’s pregnant?)

Disappointed and rather shaken, we head to the food section (which is actually what the place is meant for) and buy lays.

Iyer No.3: I know how to steal this pack of Lays out of the hypermarket without getting noticed.

And so, all three Iyers huddle up in curiosity.

Iyer No. 3 (continues): When you walk out, just stretch your hands up and hold the food packet in your hands. The detector won’t recognize it as you walk out!

Enough said.

Scene three: Outside the mall

Iyer No.3: What do we do now? 

Iyer No.1 (points out to a T-Nagar style fashion boutique): Maybe we should try there; the mannequin has short clothes on it. 

Iyer No.2 (bewildered): Or, there’s an Adyar Ananda Bhavan right down this road. Let’s head there.

And so, we do. After a round of masala dosai, oothappam, steaming hot sambaar and chutneys, we decide to head back to the apartment.

Did we find shorts? No. Did we find our way back? Yes, in a brand new auto with a smart young man who chose not to strike a conversation with us (even to check for directions).

The end.

Past, forward

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In the past few years, there have been several occasions when I’ve visited children’s’ homes (as a patron), and spent a few hours with children of varied age groups. Almost everywhere, there was a certain experience I was habituated to. One, the children yearn for attention. So, when we visited them, though we were absolute strangers, all it took them was a few minutes of observation to warm up to us. And two, at most times, they showed unconditional affection, interest, and curiosity. Often, they’d ask a multitude of questions; where are you from? Have you finished school? (They’d be awestruck when you say you’ve finished school AND college, almost as though you’ve shown a ray of hope to them). What work do you do? Are you going to join as a teacher here? And then, the conversations would drift towards their interests; their favourite actors, colours, their best friends, their favourite subject and what not. As the hours pass by in peals of laughter and amusement, and the time comes to bid goodbye, all of them would have just one question to ask; will you come back next week? And, when we see the eagerness and innocence with which they ask, to not disappoint them and on the spur of the moment, we’d blurt, ‘Yes, I will come and visit you next week too!’ only to never turn back, at least, for an extended period of time.

Yes, at times I’d feel guilty for not keeping up my word, and I’d wonder if the children really did look forward to seeing us next week. But amidst the daily routine, that thought would remain a passing cloud, until one day, when it turned into something more.  

A couple of months ago, I’d joined an NGO to teach for small children during weekends. When I signed up, I was looking forward to finishing my intermediary training and visiting the school.

And, that day did come. As I walked into school on the first day, tall and short, young and old, skinny and healthy, outgoing and shy children ran to me at different times, introducing themselves and asking me for my name. And, just as I did earlier, (as a patron) I struck chirpy conversations with them, and spent the next two hours organising learning activities for them, with my co-volunteers.  Then, as I was packing my bag and leaving for the day, a girl I’d met earlier came and asked me, ‘Will you remember me the next time you come?’

Of course I will, I said unflinchingly.

‘Do you remember my name?’ she asked.

I fumbled and tried to remember from the many names I’d heard that day, just to realise that she was already crestfallen.

‘Can you tell me once more? I promise I will remember this time,’ I said.

‘Kiruba,’ she said bluntly. Then, I tried to make up to her by telling her how she shared her name with a popular blogger, eventually, bringing that smile back on her face.

Reeling off to the present

Though it was a small incident, that first experience set sail to a series of learnings. Today, it’s been well over a month since I’ve started teaching at the school and during every visit, I learn something new; about how to teach better, how to hold a child’s interest in the subject, about where to draw the line in upholding a relationship with them, and so on.

But, amidst all this, there’s one lesson that remains entrenched in my mind; for a child, an expectation (that you set) is not a mere gesture, but is a promise that you’ll live up to it. 

 

 

 

 

Two Baileys, Utter Chaos, then a note

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A week before I was due to turn a year older, I felt a slight churn in the pit of my stomach. More so than earlier, because this year, I was due to hit the quarter century milestone.

Age is just a number. And 25 is certainly a hype created by people around us,” said a friend. While a cousin said, “25 will be the most memorable year of your life. Make the best use of it!”

I listened and tried, like a child, to blindly soak in an ideal world where turning 25 was synonymous to pomp and galore. But that hardly happened. Because, on the night of my birthday, I downed two Bailey’s and put on the party pooper hat.

In no time, my mind started racing with a million questions. Only, the questions became more specific and the anxiety more prevalent.

What’s the purpose of what I am doing right now? Okay, what DO I want to do right now? What gives me happiness? More so, being an Indian and being single, there was the threat of attending family occasions and being interrogated about why I was being so pricey about “choosing a boy”, much like in a flea market.

An entire week went past, with not a hint of sunshine. And then, a week later, I found a note on my desk, written by my mom, which, if not gave me the answers to my questions, at least gave me the strength to face the curve balls that life was preparing to throw at me.

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And then, I remembered a post I had read a year ago about ‘25 things I want myself to know at 25.’ One of them was; Enjoy getting to know your parents, as their adult child and realize that they still have a lot to teach you.

Well, at least I’m sure of one thing.

 

Entrepreneurs are not born. They are made.

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6.43 P.M, Wednesday, July 17, 2013 (IST)

It was rush hour at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport.  Almost all the seats at the lounge and at the Café Coffee Day outlet were occupied, at least, that’s what it seemed like, as 20-something Tara glanced around for a few minutes. She wasn’t disappointed though, because the day’s events kept her in high spirits and standing for a few minutes for her boarding call didn’t seem like such an ordeal. A promotion with a sizeable bonus, an alluring red Burberry handbag gifted by her parents and of course, a sense of achievement, all of which she was planning to carry along, to her much awaited trip to Thailand.

Two hours later                       

“Do you have any information?” asked Tara frantically, as Airport Authority spoke to a security personnel at the other end of the receiver. She had lost her handbag. Stolen? Maybe.

How often do we come across circumstances where we have lost our wallet, mobile or credit cards during travel, even if it was just travelling a few kilometres? What do we typically do when we are faced with such a circumstance? Call the bank and block the card? Report at a nearby police station about the theft? How about just making one phone call for significant damage control?

That’s right. Just one call, to OneAssist, a company that provides cash assistance and data security in the event of loss or theft of mobile or wallet, when in any part of the world. The company immediately blocks all your bank cards, provides a cash buffer for paying hotel bills, booking travel tickets or buying a new phone, erases data on your mobile and install backup data on new phone (provided you backup your data in their systems), organises for copies of vital documents such as Pan card and Passport et all. Of course, the servicescape depends on which membership plan you register for.

On another note, PickMe eSolutions, a company founded by three young entrepreneurs, offers a doorstep concierge service for servicing gadgets such as mobiles, laptops and watches. When I say doorstep, I literally mean, they knock on your door, pick up your gadget, deliver it at the service centre, share the complaint number with you, and allow you to track the service status online, and have the gadget dropped back home once it is serviced. All this, for an annual membership fee of less than Rs. 200.

What’s peculiar about these business ideas is that they have emerged out of smallest of gaps between two existing services or a product and service that we use every day. And that is the beauty of entrepreneurship. It is born out of simple needs (or should I say wants?).

Let’s take the story of how Ben & Jerry’s came into being. Turns out, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were the slowest and fattest kids in class. Later in life, when Ben failed to crack a med school seat and Jerry’s pottery business went downhill, they decided to turn entrepreneurs, and do what they love most. To start an ice cream joint, given their love for food. Following several hiccups with respect to choice of location, sale fluctuations during winter and size of scoops in their ice cream (yes you read that right!), today, the company (which is a part of the refreshment arm of Unilever) contributes to an overall revenue of $ 9.75 billion. You can read more about their whacky story here.

Meanwhile I would also recommend you to go through this interesting article, which talks about how famous entrepreneurs got started.

After reading all these stories, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a social media evangelist recently and the business idea that emerged out of it. He said, no matter how much we market our products or services, none of us have figured out yet if that hoarding on the busy highway led to a sale, did the witty TV advertisement do the magic or did the one-to-one interaction with customers on Twitter ring the cash register. And that’s precisely what he is working towards; taking companies closer to the sales funnel through social and online media activities and analytics tools. As for me, I’m thinking of writing my next post about how far marketers have gone, to identify where the sale came from. Maybe, as I research for my post, I’ll even ponder further about my business idea.

Not just a note for Father’s Day

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Every year, Father’s Day comes right after Appa’s (meaning father, in Tamil) birthday. And, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had endless discussions with my mother and brother about what would be the perfect gift for him. A wallet? A tie? An iPod loaded with his favourite songs? We gave it all and more, and every year, he securely wrapped it in a box and kept it in one corner of his wardrobe, to be taken out when needed and to be kept back in the exact same place every single time.

This year though, there was no hullabaloo at home as Father’s Day approached. Everybody seemed to be oblivious to the fact that a celebration was around the corner. Then, one day, I came across a few beautifully written posts about what each person’s father meant to them. Upon reading them, I had my Eureka moment. I wanted to write about Appa too. Not to show him how much I loved him, but to tell the world that, to me, he will always be the first man I fell in love with.

As a child, there were things that I learnt by observing him, and then, as I grew into an adult, there were those that he passed on to me during our long walks across the beach, every Sunday. I probably can’t write about every memory here, so I’ve captured a few that are close to my heart.

When I was a child, tall as a television set, every time Appa came back from work, upset, he quietly sat in the courtyard and sang to himself. To keep himself at peace, I told myself then. Today, I subconsciously sing or hum a tune when I’m upset or low. It puts me at peace.

During my first day at a new school in a new city, as I nervously held my father’s hand and walked into a class full of strangers, he stepped forward, struck a chirpy conversation with my classmates-to-be, cracked a few jokes, and left. He broke the ice for me. Today, I thank him for teaching me to be laid back.

When I reluctantly began my music classes, my parents insisted that I practice music every morning. An adamant child that I was, I sang carelessly, out of tune. And, my father sat in front of me, eyes closed, nodding in appreciation. Eyes welling with tears, I practiced all songs to perfection. Today, I owe that discipline and love for music, to him.

As I grew older, when life lead me at crossroads, be it in my academics, career or life altering decisions, while my family took decisions about what would be right for me, my father said, “You choose what you want to do with your life and you face the consequences of it. I promise you, I will stand by you through every mistake and every difficulty.” Today, I thank him for giving me a chance to build life of my own. I have no regrets.

Today, I’ve come to an age where society demands that marriage be on the cards. In fact, most of our Sunday walks comprise deep conversations about life and destiny.  But, once in a while, he keeps asking me a question, “What kind of a person are you looking for?” And I wish I could tell him, someone like you. Because you were the first man I fell in love with, and it’s another such man I would want to spend the rest of my life with.

 

5 reasons why lists can be a form of writing, and can be useful

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A couple of days ago, I had come across a post by an author who’d written about ‘10 reasons why making a list is not writing.’ To sum up his views in a line, he believes that a list is an easy escape route for the video game generation, and that it discourages a reader from actually reading.

Being a writer myself, while I agree that it can’t, by any means, be compared to literary writing or to the passion and effort taken to come up with even a 500-word piece, I do beg to disagree with the generalisation of his views. So, here’s my list of five reasons why making a list can, in fact, be a form of writing, and can be useful too.
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1. What you want is ultimately the same: Whether you’re an author writing a mind boggling crime thriller, a blogger plotting a clever twist in a 500-word tale or a ‘list-writer’ sharing some guidelines, your end objective is to capture a reader’s attention till the last letter of the last word.

 

2. It gets someone who’s never read a book to develop (remotely, at least) a reading habit: Even if every single word in the list has been dumbed down to an easy-to-understand language, is simple, straightforward and requires no effort on the reader’s part, if it captured the readers’ attention for a few minutes, it has at least sparked a reading habit in them. If that continues, you never know, their interest in reading might grow and someday they might be spotted in a park bench burying their nose into an Ayn Rand or a Jane Austen.

 

3. You can’t complain about a bunch of list-writers telling you what you should do when there are self-help authors who write an entire book about How to be not just cool, but Awesome, or How to Twitter your way to better life, or well, How to write a how to write book.

 

4. On the contrary, certain topics bode well with lists and can be used as a reference point for further research or for leads; like 10 useful Windows commands you should know, or 10 drugs to carry when you’re on a road trip (at least this can be a reference point before you head to the Chemist’s), or 10 do’s and don’ts when on a tour to China (P.S. Did you know that gifting a clock is a sign of attending a funeral, and gifting a book is like delivering defeat?)

5. It’s not easy. It took me an entire hour and careful consideration (ironically, as the author put it too) to make this list. So don’t undermine the effort.

Lastly, you have a choice. You don’t have to read everything that’s on the web. If lists don’t go down well with you, ignore them.

Tamil New Years – the day that was, is, and will be…

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Source: www.walkthroughindia.com

“Do you know what they do on Tamil New Years day?” asked my mother, as she held a mirror in her hand and looked at me questioningly.

After several minutes of desperately trying to recall the connection between the mirror and what she did with it the previous year, I meekly said, “Offer our prayers to God…?” just to regret it immediately.

With a disenchanted look on her face, she placed the mirror on the kitchen slab, walked over to me, yanked the book out of my hand and said, “This time, you will take over the festivities, including the cooking and preparation.”

What ensued was a long-drawn discourse about how a to-be-married girl should be well-aware of what ritual needs to be followed for what festival, what suthu kaaryam (miscellaneous work in the kitchen) needs to be done and how otherwise, the future mother-in-law would venomise not the girl, but her mother, for not raising a well-cultured daughter.

Having learnt over the years that reasoning would yield no result, I silently took the mirror in my hand, and upon her instructions, placed it on a palahai (a wooden slab), adorned it with a gold and pearl chain, and placed a Taambulam tray (which usually consists of bananas, beetle leaves,  areca nuts, coins, and turmeric) in front of it.

“Even Kanchi Maha Periyava used to wake up to a mirror on Tamil New Years,” she added, reassuringly.

As the next day dawned, instead of slipping into a comfortable pair of tracks and an over-sized t-shirt, I dressed up in a red and green pattu (silk) salwar suit (a must have in every Tambrahm wardrobe, I must say), adorned a string of malli poo, and, contented with my attire, stepped into the kitchen, just to be asked, “Why is there no kungumam on your forehead?”

As time passed, under the watchful eye of my mother, I stood near the gas stove, lost in the sweet aroma of raw mangoes mixed with paagu vellam ( a jaggery that’s used for preparing sweets). It was the last dish to be prepared, before I could indulge in the festive meal I took utmost pride in preparing.

As the last of the dishes found a place in front of God (for the first offering), my phone rang.

“Did your mother remember what she has to do for the festival?” asked my grandmother, after we exchanged festive greetings.

Laughing, I glanced in her direction and thought, maybe I’m a reflection of what she was, a long, long time ago.  For now, I would save that story for another day.

 

 

The other side of life

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As the first signs of dawn lit up the city, 12th Cross Street, or the Island street as the localites called it, came to life. No, it wasn’t because it showed any signs of water and land, but because, the stretch was surrounded by a slum dwelling with just one bungalow in a corner.

The first to arrive at the scene was Senthil, the vegetable vendor. His daily routine began with collecting the first lot of fresh vegetables from the Koyambedu market, and stocking them up before the first customer arrived. Having been in this business for several years, he prided himself of being an efficient worker, because more often than not, by early noon, the best stock would be wiped clean.

As he began stocking up the raw mangoes on a plank, his mobile rang, with an old-style Nokia caller tune.

“What?” he asked, grudgingly.

Seconds later, his face lit up. It was his daughter, Selvi. Her 10th standard results were out today, and she’d passed. As Senthil continued to listen in on the conversation, Muthu, the tea-stall owner arrived and gave a shout to him. “Senthil! All fine? He asked. Senthil absent-mindedly gave a nod and resumed his work, with the mobile glued to his ear.

Muthu turned back and with tremendous effort, lugged himself into the store room, to bring out the tea bags, tea stand, glasses, and water cans. The alcohol hadn’t done him well. He had a pounding headache, and to add to that, the heat wave in the city was making him feel quite sick. As he carried his things and walked out, he realised that something was amiss. There was a Rs.20 note on the cash desk and one water can was missing since his last count before the first drink last night. After several minutes of scanning his shop for any clues, he noticed that his green water jug was missing as well.  Puzzled and exasperated, he slumped on the plastic chair, cursing himself for being careless, yet again.

“Given up already?” asked Shanthima, as she and her son Murugan stood beside his stall, carrying a baskets of fresh flowers.

“It’s none of your business!” snapped back Muthu, and made a yet another herculean attempt to get off the chair.

She shrugged and turned to her stall, waiting for her son to pull off the blue plastic sheets. Shanthima, as she was fondly called by the localites, was a popular flower vendor in the locality. Be it for weddings, festivals or any family occasions, customers would swarm into her stall and make small purchases or place bulk orders. On days when her customers complained of high pricing and insisted that she pick and give them the best flowers, she’d charm them with her usual, “Be it any occasion, it’s flowers meant for the Gods. Would I be careless and give you the spoilt ones? Don’t you trust me?” And they’d give a defeated smile and readily succumb to her words.

The three shops, that of Senthil’s, Muthu’s and Shanthima’s, acted as gatekeepers to the small slum dwelling that lay right behind. Over the years, each of their lives became intertwined with those of the families’ that lived behind, and their role went beyond just taking care of business. Take Shanthima for instance. When the women at the slum are busy doing household chores, she would keep watch over their children, lest they run amok and hurt themselves. Or take Muthu for that matter. His shop was more often an open psychiatry centre than a tea-stall, where the men slumped on the wooden benches and complained to Muthu for hours together, about their demanding wives or unreasonable labour compensations.  Senthil was different though. He made no unnecessary remarks. His only contribution was to hand over any leftover vegetables of the day, to the families living behind. On such days, the aroma of chilli powder and boiled rice would be replaced with that of a sumptuous meal.

By now, the Sun was up and showing its prowess to the entire city, and, the street was abuzz with activity. Senthil’s daughter, Selvi too had arrived, to help her father at the shop, and the next few hours passed in each of the vendors’ serving what seemed like an entire village of people.

By late afternoon, as the last of the customers walked out with a bag of vegetables, Selvi found the golden opportunity to take a quick glance at Murugan, Shanthima’s son. For long, his tall, slender build and sharp features had attracted her to him like a morsel of sweet would to an ant. A bit of a movie buff that she was, she imagined her encounters with him to be a scene out of a romantic movie, where, one day, he would sweep her off her feet, and take her away from her misery.

“Dreaming is not going to fetch you any money! Now, step up and tally the day’s expenses!” instructed Shanthima, snapping her out of her wishful world in no time. When Senthil was not in the shop, Shanthima took it upon herself to watch over Selvi.

It was when the sky turned an orangish-hue that the first signs of calling it a day began. As the children from the slums fought over who would play the last over of gully cricket, a strong aroma of kerosene began spreading in the air, and Senthil, Muthu, and Shanthima began wrapping up their last orders.

Soon, it was time to bid goodbye to their second home, on the left stretch of the 12th cross street, I wrote. Then, I placed my pen down, and longingly gazed across the street, at the scene,  from the French windows of a bungalow, that showed no signs of life, except of the clock ticking. 

Think again, before you toss that money to the poor.

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Source: Sulekha

As Mylapore embraced a swarm of people during the two week-long Panguni festival, there I was, seated in an auto right behind the Kapaleeshwarar temple, surrounded by vehicles in what seemed like a 500-piece puzzle jam. The first few minutes passed in an oblivion, as I listened Chris Martin (from Coldplay), sing about a girl who dreamt of a Paradise. As time passed, I couldn’t help but come back to reality and look around to see how long more I had to wait to get home.

That’s when I noticed a house.  It wasn’t a tastefully decorated one. Neither was it one of those sophisticated high rise apartments. It was probably less than a 10/10 space, with a chipped wooden door and dry palm leaves for a roof. Inside, there was a small wooden bed, a handful of aluminium vessels neatly stacked up in one corner, a single stove and a three and a half legged plastic chair.  In all, as meagre a living as could be. I thought to myself, if the occupants had to give directions to their home, they’d say, lookout for the poster of MGR’s Aayirathil Oruvan stuck on the wall of our house, and inside, of people filled with warmth and selflessness.

Here’s why I said this. Moments later, an old man appeared beside the auto I was seated in, and held his hand out. Instinctively I took out a Rs. 5 coin and placed it on his palm. Just then, a woman, with unkempt hair and loosely clad clothes, walked out of the house and handed him a plate of rice. It took a while for me to realise that the woman whose house I was looking into was my maid’s.

The next day, when she came home to do her daily chores, I had so many things to ask her; don’t you often say that you have enough money to eat just once a day? Don’t you have the responsibility of educating two daughters? Doesn’t your husband demand a chunk of what you earn, to drink? Why then did you give away the last morsel of food you had stored for the night?

She looked at me, and said without asking, “Often, for some of us, the question is not of earning money, because we are hardly allowed to enter a hotel and pay for the food. Rather, it’s about finding a way, any way, to curb that deathly pain when hunger strikes, and living to see another day. All this, in the hope that tomorrow, it will be a better day.”

And, I just stood there, ashamed at having handed out money to the old man, instead of asking him how I can help him.