Friday, October 28, 2005

Horoscopes - Why Do We Need Them?

Somebody please explain to me how horoscopes work. Or if at all they work.

If all the 64 factors in the horoscopes of the bride and the groom match, does it mean that they will never have a fight in their marriage, that they will never have financial, familial, emotional trouble as long as they are married to each other?

If none of the 64 factors matches, then does it mean that their marriage is doomed, that they will never have children, and if they do that the children will turn out lousy?

Is the amount of misery or happiness proportional to the number of factors that match?

Was it in the horoscopes of all those people that died in the tsunamis, the earthquake, the floods in Mumbai and New Orleans, the London tube and the double decker bus, the twin towers, and the planes that crashed into the twin towers, that they would all die that day?

Was it written in their horoscopes that they would all die together, terrorists and passengers and people on the ground alike, in a fire ball, in the company of strangers, away from the protective embrace of their mothers and fathers, children in schools with concrete crushing their bones to powder, fishermen in rickety boats, on beaches, and city-dwellers in ditches and drains?

Was it written in Senthil's horoscope that he would die trying to cross a New Delhi street? If he had known that, would he be alive today if he'd stayed home?

Was it writtein in Vaishali's horoscope that her own father would ask for sex from her and that she would be raped by her own son, twice? If someone had told her that, would she have escaped what happened to her?

If your horoscope says you'll be successful, does that mean that you don't have to go to school or work?

What is a horoscope if not a convenient crutch, something to blame when things don't go as planned, as you want them to?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Blogs Run by Women and Feminists

Neha of Global Voices (and Desipundit) is calling for blogs run by South Asian women and feminists for a feature she plans to do on Global Voices. If you have any suggestions please drop in a link at her site.

Earthquake Relief - Time is Running Out

I had hurriedly linked to Desipundit's post on Blogquake Day yesterday. They provide excellent links to organizations engaged in earthquake relief.

Here are some more links today. The situation seems dire, particularly with the impending onset of winter.

Uma has a post on the worsening situation which has links to relief organizations. Here is part of an article that Uma has linked to that delineates the risk that children are facing right now:

UNICEF warns thousands of children are at risk in mountains of Pakistan

In A Second Wave of Fatalities, Children Will Be First Victims

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 19 October 2005 – UNICEF warned today that tens of thousands of children are in peril in remote earthquake-affected parts of Pakistan because of deteriorating weather, injury, and illness.

The agency said that immediate steps must be taken to boost the number of children being reached if a second wave of deaths is to be averted during the harsh winter months now arriving.

UNICEF said that as many as 120,000 children remain unreached in the mountains on the Pakistan side of the line of control, of whom the agency estimated some 10,000 could die of hunger, hypothermia and disease within the next few weeks.

“The relief effort is becoming more complex with each passing day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, speaking from Copenhagen where she was visiting UNICEF’s global supply warehouse. “There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with life-saving supplies that children urgently need. Where we do have supplies on the ground, we have too few humanitarian partners to deliver them to those most in need.”

“Temperatures have dropped and weather conditions are getting worse,” Veneman said. “Access to affected areas has been badly affected as roads have become clogged with mud and people fleeing the mountains with their injured. Tens of thousands of children are at risk.”

The rest here.

The UN has almost doubled its quake aid appeal from about $300 million to about $550 million.

Paul Danahar, BBC's South Asia Bureau Chief has this write-up in the current issue of Outlook magazine on the situation in Pakistan. Very distressing.

Karrvakarela links to this post on what not to do when an earthquake hits. Flies in the face of what most of us have been taught. Must read. May not help those who are suffering right now, but it's a good thing to know for the future if, God forbid, something like this should ever happen again. He also has links to organizations accepting relief donations.

South Asia Quake Help
is an excellent resource as well.

Please give and please give generously.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Catching Up...Blogquake Day and Arka's Post

Finally surfacing from travel, a wedding, and a draining cough and cold.

Couple of things of note while I've been MIA...

Desipundit has designated October 26th as Blog Quake Day. If you follow this link, you will find a list of organizations that will accept donations for quake relief. Please do visit and contribute. Despipundit is becoming quite the expert in harnessing the power of bloggers!

Speaking of the power of bloggers, if you haven't already checked out Arka's post consolidating the IIPM write-ups and about the protest in Bangalore, please do check it out. It's here and here.

I thought I sounded pretty pathetic on the air yesterday, hacking my way through my shows on radio, but was told my sinus-clogged voice sounded great. All that coughing must have thickened my vocal cords and suffused my voice with a well-rounded richness. But what to do? The cough and cold will not stay around for long....

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Alibi - Parts IV and V are up

I've posted the final parts of The Alibi (Parts IV and V). They appear below Part III.

If you want to know what all this is about, please read this for background on this series. Thanks!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Parts II and III of the story are up

I've posted parts II and III of the short story. Parts IV and V in the next couple of days. Ciao!

Please see below Part I.

P.S.: Missing blogging terribly!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Short Story - The Alibi (Part 1)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi


The ancient wooden gate creaked. Chandrashekar Murthy looked up from the newspaper he was pretending to read. He waited anxiously for Ravi and Suman to make their way up the driveway and through the front door to the huge verandah that he spent his evenings in. The doctor’s clinic was only a short walk away from the house, so Ravi had not bothered to take out the car.

Chandrashekar folded up the newspaper with studied concentration, all the while trying to read the expression on his daughter-in-law’s face. She removed her slippers at the door and placed them on the rack to the side before climbing the stars two at a time to her bedroom on the floor above. Chandrashekar felt his heart sinking, and the look on Ravi’s face confirmed his worst fears.

“What did the doctor say?”

Ravi said nothing. He could tell his father knew. He sank into the deep sofa that lined one side of the wall across from the easy-chair that his father reclined on.

“Why don’t you get a check up for yourself and Suman and see if everything is all right? May be you should get a second opinion, see another doctor. Someone more experienced in these matters. You’ve been seeing the same one...”

Ravi winced. “Appa, you know you’re just saying those things. You don’t mean them. The doctor says Suman and I are fine. This whole thing is beginning to get on my nerves! Suman is upset, you’re upset and I’m just fed up. I feel like a fool every time I go to the doctor.” Ravi buried his head in his hands, unable to meet his father’s eyes.

“Ravi, go to Suman. She must be feeling terrible. We’ll talk about this later.”

* * * * *

Suman bounded up the stairs two at a time, dashed into her bedroom and closed the door behind her, thankful that Ravi had remained downstairs. She leaned against the door and forced herself to take deep breaths. Her heart had been racing and she had felt out of breath all the way from the doctor’s clinic. When she felt a little steadier, she pushed herself away from the door and slowly made her way to the sink in the adjoining bathroom. Her flushed face welcomed the splash of cool water. She looked up and saw her face in the mirror hanging over the sink – the face of a distraught woman. Tears came hot and wet into her eyes. The mirror dissolved in front of her as she was transported to another time, another place – ten years ago, the operating room of the Darjeeling General Hospital.

* * * * *

Ravi climbed up the stairs slowly, one at a time. He wanted to make his getaway from his father, but was in no hurry to get to the bedroom. He reached the door and found it closed. He pushed at it gently and heard the splashing of the water in the bathroom. Suman must be washing up. It was almost time for dinner. He backed up and closed the door gently, thankful that he did not have to see her right then. He made his way to the spare bedroom that they used as a study. He sank into the large leather chair, stretched his legs out in front of him, let his head flop on the headrest and closed his eyes. He willed them to come, the images that haunted him.

They were there, ready, simmering just beneath the surface, and at times like this, when he did not try to push them down deep to a place where he would not have to acknowledge them, they swam up and roamed freely right before his eyes. It was a relief not to fight them.

The images were never the same. Sometimes, it was Amma on her bed, lying still, except for those rasping breaths that seemed to suck what little life there was out of her rather than sustain it. Along with the images came the smells. The smell of the chemicals that were coursing through her body, trying in vain to vanquish the marauding cancer cells. The smell of her room, a strange but comforting mixture of furniture, her clothes, her favorite talcum powder and her hair oil. Sometimes, when the images were of Amma in the kitchen, all those years ago, as he came running home from school, it was the smell of some delicious snack she had cooked up to cajole him into eating before he ran off to play.

But always, whenever Amma came to him, she left him with the image of her laid out in the verandah, waiting for the van to arrive from the crematorium, covered with a white sheet, the smells of fresh flowers and incense sticks trying to overcome the smell of death.

At other times, it was Appa, always aloof and stern, fiercely immersed in work, out of reach and unavailable, his demeanor as starchy as his crisply ironed shirt and dhoti. As Ravi grew older, Appa seemed to add layer after layer to the wall that he was putting up between them. What had gone wrong and when, wondered Ravi. He could not put his finger on anything he had done or said that had made Appa particularly angry with him. Ravi had begun to think he was cursed. The distance seemed to have crept between them and had made itself at home, refusing to budge. The first time Ravi felt it, it had caught him by surprise.

* * * * *

Part II will be up in the next couple of days.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part II)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi...(contd.)

Every visit that Suman made to the doctor brought back memories of those few months spent at the Darjeeling General Hospital all those years ago. Memories of the doctor assuring her and her parents that following the procedure, she would be perfectly normal. Memories of the procedure going horribly wrong and a contrite doctor telling her that she might never be able to conceive again.

The pure terror she had felt when she had first found out she was pregnant had never abated. Suman could still feel the room spinning around her, her legs not able to support her any longer. She clutched the sink for support and raised one hand to her cheek. Ma had not said a word when Suman had told her. She had stared at Suman silently. Suman felt the stinging slap on her cheek before she realized Ma had even raised her hand.

Suman was sixteen at that time, brought up in a well-to-do family, respected in their community. Ma and Papa had panicked. They had pulled her out of high school and taken her away from Raghu, to far away Darjeeling. Nosy friends and relatives were told that Papa had a medical condition that required a long stay in the cool climate of Darjeeling. Suman’s lips quivered at the memory of the anguish. She and Raghu had been so happy, madly in love. They had wanted to get married.

Her feelings had not stood a chance. Papa had been ruthless and Mama had stuck by him. They had had dreams for her, they said. She would finish high school, go on to college, and become a doctor. They were ashamed and mortified that she would bring this upon their family, they said. Where had they gone wrong, Ma lamented. Which respectable family will want her as a daughter-in-law, she fretted. He will break that boy Raghu’s knees if he ever saw him on the street, Papa threatened.

By all accounts, the procedure was meant to be quick and uncomplicated. The doctor had even declared the procedure a success right after she was wheeled from the operating room into her recovery area. The next day, they had performed a routine ultrasound to confirm that there was no lingering pregnancy tissue in her uterus. The doctor had become agitated. He pointed to two tiny gray grainy circles – something about holes in the uterus. Ma seemed to understand immediately.

Suman’s vessel of life was a sieve.

Ma gasped, the color draining from her face. Suman’s uterus had been punctured as they cleaned it, the doctor continued. Papa seemed to wither and shrink right before her eyes, suddenly looking powerless and deflated. He never spoke to Suman again.

When the family returned home a few months later, Ma convinced Papa to let her go back to school, if only to preempt probing relatives. Papa did not protest; he did not seem to care.

Suman’s head was throbbing now. Suman shook her head to banish the images in her head and stared at her dripping face in the mirror. She reached for the towel and wiped her face. Where were those painkillers?

* * * * *

Ravi could remember it now, the time when Appa had seemed to have lost all his ability to reason; it was right after his 10th birthday. Amma had come back yet again from the hospital, but this time, after an unusually long stay. She was resting in her room. Ravi was not sure why she had gone to the hospital this time, but he wanted to find out. He crept into her room when he came back from school and snuggled up to her. She winced when his knee rested against her stomach and gently pushed his knee down and pulled him closer.

“Amma, what happened at the hospital?”

“My stomach hurts” she said, caressing her belly.

“Why?”

She looked at him. She was searching his face for something. After what appeared to be a long time to Ravi,

“Ravi, Appa and I haven’t told you something. I wanted to wait until you were a little older, but…”

“But, what?”

“In a few months, you were going to have a little brother or sister. But…”

“Amma, but what?”

Amma’s chin wobbled. “The baby died.”

Ravi couldn’t remember the details of what happened next. The next few images were always of Amma starting to sob uncontrollably, Appa striding into the room and yanking him out of Amma’s arms. That was the first and only time Ravi could remember his father spanking him. He was in a rage and was screaming something about leaving his mother alone and not bothering her.

After that day, Appa never seemed to be the same again. He never looked Ravi in the eye when he spoke to him. He never asked how he was doing in school. Amma tried to make up for it. She tried to console him and told him over and over again that it was nothing he did that made Appa behave this way. Appa took the miscarriage really hard, she said. The miscarriage came at the end of eight long years of wanting and waiting to have another child. Amma had always been too sick with something or the other. To make matters worse, the doctor had forbidden them from trying again for another child. It was too risky for Amma’s health.

There was something else about the way Appa behaved with him that bothered Ravi. He shifted his head slightly to the right, as he lay stretched out on the leather couch in the study, as if he could will the order in which the images streamed into his mind. For all his indifference, Appa was desperate to keep Ravi at his side and Ravi always felt he was being watched.

Like the time Ravi had insisted on going away to college in a different town and Appa had insisted he stay, his pleas bordering on desperation. Ravi was taken aback. Why, he wondered. He had not expected this resistance. But Ravi had gone anyway, not wanting to come back home for a long time. Or like the time Ravi had brought a friend – a girl – home. Appa had wanted to find out everything. Did Ravi want to marry her? How many children do her parents have? Are they all married? Do they have any children? Ravi brushed the questions aside. She was just a friend; he did not want to marry her.

Appa’s demeanor seemed to change when Ravi and Suman were married. He seemed a little more relaxed. He even smiled when Suman came into the room. The marriage was arranged through one of Appa’s colleagues. The colleague had known Suman’s family for a long time.

Ravi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. If only Appa’s happiness had come a little earlier. Maybe he would not have felt so wretched all his life. Maybe he would not have gone down this cursed path.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part III)

The Alibi (contd...)

Chandrashekar watched his son climb the stairs and sighed. He grimaced at how hard he had tried to push Ravi away. Not a day went by now when Chandrashekar did not rue those lost years when he so foolishly thought that he could push Ravi away and therefore not feel this hurt Ravi was feeling now. He had been selfish, but Chandrashekar realized over the last few years that his aloofness had been futile. He could still remember the pure terror he felt when Ravi had asked to go away to college. He had begged Ravi to stay. He could not afford to lose him too…

Chandrashekar had not intended it at all, but Ravi had ended up suffering more than the share of his pain – the loss of his mother, the loss of his father’s affection, the loss of an unborn sibling, and now this greatest loss of all, the inability to have children. Ravi’s pain brought back memories. Memories he never succeeded in repressing. Memories of his own father explaining to him why he was adopted, and why Ravi would never know the pleasure of fathering his own flesh and blood. Chandrashekar had not believed it when he first heard it and he could not now. This was the 21st century for heaven’s sake!

He got up from his easy chair and walked over to the mesh that enclosed the verandah. He laced his fingers in the mesh and let his body rest on the strength of his fingers. He looked like a flea plastered on the wall. He stared out into the garden, his eyes taking in everything, but his mind seeing nothing. What should he do? Should he tell Ravi what his own father had told him? What purpose would that serve, wondered Chandrashekar.

* * * * *

She walked back into the bedroom and sat at the edge of the bed wondering how she had gotten herself in this predicament. Ma and Papa had relived the pain when it was time for Suman to get married. The marriage proposals came, unsolicited, from well-meaning friends and family. No one knew. Suman remembered how scared she had been. What if someone found out? Ma and Papa seemed to be at a loss. Should they entertain these proposals? Should they put them off? But for how long? Tongues would start wagging if Suman was not married soon.

When Papa’s close friend came with a proposal, Suman had wanted to go forward with the process if only to change her surroundings. She had wanted to put an end to this. She was tired of walking on egg shells. Living in the same house with Ma and Papa never allowed her to forget. For Ma and Papa, she had turned into a constant reminder of an ugly episode in their lives.

Suman let her body fall on the bed and closed her eyes. She had been naïve. Forgetting had not been that easy. The egg shells were all around her, challenging her to navigate them. Now, she had two other lives to worry about. Two lives she was about to crush with her story.

She knew it was time. Ever since she and Ravi had tried to start a family, she had approached every visit to the doctor with a combination of trepidation and hope -- afraid that her secret would be revealed, and hopeful that the doctor might give them the good news that she had conceived. It had to be done. Ravi had to be told the truth.

* * * * *

The visits to the doctor always drained him. Ravi had been thankful to have found a doctor that didn’t seem to find anything wrong with him. He resisted Appa’s attempts to have them switch doctors. But Ravi could no longer bear the crushing disappointment he was sure Suman and Appa must be feeling. He could see it on their faces. He felt responsible. He could not find any other explanation. The doctor said Suman was fine. She was young and healthy, and there was no reason she could not conceive. Ravi felt certain he was the cause. Another doctor at another place and another time had been certain too.

Fifteen years of keeping that secret was fraying his nerves now. Even at the height of the crisis, he had not told his parents, relying instead on his friends to pull him out of the morass he had found himself in. Amma’s illness had made things worse…

Ravi pulled himself off the back of the chair and bent forward, hiding his face between his knees and hugging his legs. His best friend Shekar – had he been a friend or a curse? In high school, where Ravi first met him, he had seemed like a god send. They had moved on to the same college. Shekar was self-assured. He never seemed to feel any of the inadequacies that Ravi always seemed to be feeling. Ravi leeched on to him. Shekar didn’t seem to mind Ravi tagging along. They did everything together – or, Ravi thought disdainfully – Shekar did everything and Ravi just followed. They studied together, they went to the movies together, they played together, they drank together, did drugs together.

Ravi quickly learned the comforts of drinking and doing drugs. It didn’t seem to matter anymore that Appa was distant, nor that Amma was sick all the time. The images were all fading into one another in Ravi’s mind. Nothing else mattered but the next snort or the welcome pain of the syringe.

The trip to Ooty during his final year of college brought the starkest images to Ravi’s mind. Maybe the drugs were spurious or maybe it was the fact that they had mixed alcohol with drugs, but Ravi and Shekar found themselves at the hospital the day after they arrived in Ooty. A hotel attendant found them passed out in a corner of the garden.

The doctor at the local hospital there had not minced his words. “You’ve been at this a long time, haven’t you? Do you know what drugs do to you?” Ravi turned his gaze away from the doctor. The doctor had launched into a lecture anyway. He talked about how drugs ravaged the body and the mind. He talked about impotence and sterility. Ravi just wished he would go away. Did any of this really matter?

Now, he was tired. He just wanted it to stop – the visits to the doctor, the dread that invaded his days and nights before the visits and the guilt that followed. He did not know what coming clean would do to him, or his marriage, or his relationship with Appa. But, surely, anything would be better than living like this! It had to be done. He would tell them today. After dinner.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part IV)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi (contd)...


Suman gulped down the painkillers and walked into the kitchen to see what Kamala Bai had made for dinner. Kamala Bai had been a god send. She had been in charge of the kitchen ever since Ravi’s mother had passed away ten years ago of cancer. She arrived early each morning and cooked that day’s breakfast and lunch, and came again around four in the evening to cook dinner. She originally delivered milk to the Murthys everyday, when Ravi’s mother was still alive. She had started bringing food to Ravi and his father in those first few weeks after her death until all the rituals of the funeral were complete. As Ravi and his father grew comfortable with her, she saw her role being expanded into that of a full-time cook and had stayed on that way even when Ravi got married. Suman loved having not to worry about cooking on top of her job at one of the clothing manufacturers in town.

Suman found chapathis, potato curry, rice, carrot and onion sambhar, and cucumber raitha. On most days, her mouth would have watered at this spread and she would have excitedly called to Ravi and her father-in-law to come to dinner. Today she silently picked up the dishes and took them to the dining table in the adjacent room. She brought the steel thalis and set them out, Chandrashekar’s at the head of the table, and one each for Ravi and Suman on either side. She knew she was forgetting something, but she sat down wearily at her chair.

Ravi came down the stairs and heard a noise in the dining room. He found Suman at her chair, head in her hands.

“Suman…”

“Oh, hi! Sorry, don’t know what I’m doing. Can you call your father, please? Its getting late for dinner.”

“I will… Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Suman turned to look Ravi in the face.

“Ravi, we need to talk. After dinner.”

“What is it? Is everything all right?”

“No, you know its not. But I don’t want to get into this now. Could we please wait until after dinner?”

“OK… Suman…?”

“Please, not now.”

“No, not that. I need to talk to you too.”

Suman looked at Ravi, searching, trying to recognize the expression on his face. She couldn’t.

“Sure, OK.”

Ravi put his head through the doorway connecting the dining room with the verandah and found his father leaning against the mesh, staring out into the garden.

“Appa! Dinner is ready.”

Chandrashekar turned. “I’ll be there in a minute. Did Suman come down?”

“Yes, she did.”

“OK, I’ll be there.”

Chandrashekar pulled himself away from the mesh. He washed his hands and face in the little sink in the hallway and walked into the dining room. Ravi was pouring water into the steel tumblers. Suman brought in the butter milk from the kitchen and sat down at the table.

Chandrashekar looked at his son and daughter-in-law. They seemed to be distraught. Suman looked like she had cried. Her hands shook as she silently served her father-in-law and her husband before sitting down at her plate. Ravi had a faraway look on his face. For the tenth time that day, Chandrashekar wished his wife hadn’t left him alone.

He gave up pretending. He stood suddenly from his chair. His plate was untouched. Before Ravi could open his mouth, he had walked to the sink and washed his hands. “Appa?”

Suman looked at her father-in-law, bewildered. In many ways, Chandrashekar was an orthodox man and true to Hindu tradition, he never let anyone or anything interrupt his meals. Chandrashekar came back to the table, wiping his hands with the towel that was a permanent fixture around his neck. “Ravi, I need to talk to you.”

Ravi got up to wash his hands, as Suman sat frozen, unsure of what she should be doing. Chandrashekar motioned to her to follow him into the verandah. “This is for you too.” He sat down in his easy-chair, seeking comfort in its familiarity.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell you this.” Chandrashekar’s eyes welled up. He dabbed at the edge of his eyes with his towel as Ravi and Suman exchanged concerned glances. Ravi and Suman sat together in the sofa across from Chandrashekar.

He took a deep breath and turned his face to them. “This is very painful. I had no right to do this to you, especially to you, Suman. But you have to understand, I did not believe a word of it when my father first told me and I don’t believe it now. That’s why I did not say anything to your parents when Ravi and I first came to meet you. Who can believe in a curse? Tell me! I wish your mother were here now. She would know what to do. It’s just like her to leave me and go away. I wish I had died first. Now I feel responsible for the pain you two are suffering…” Chandrashekar got up and started pacing the floor.

“Appa, will you tell me what’s going on? You’re not making any sense. Suman, get him a glass of water. Appa, calm down! Here, sit down and relax.” Ravi held his father by the arm and brought him back to his chair.

Suman rose to go to the water filter in the dining room. She was bewildered. For the moment, her turmoil was forgotten. She was concerned for her father-in-law. She had never seen him like this before.

Chandrashekar gulped down the water gratefully.

The Alibi - Part V (Final)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi (contd.)...


“Do you want to rest now and talk later? This is not good for your heart. You know what the doctor said.”

“No, Suman. I’m OK. I have to do this now. It has gone on far enough.”

“Ravi, our family goes back ages into history. You know that, don’t you? We can trace our origins to the royal family of Saurashtra. Our ancestors were kings. They ruled large kingdoms and fought bloody wars to conquer other kingdoms. The legend is that one of the kings who ruled in the early part of the seventeenth century fought a war against the neighboring kingdom. He thought that the conquest would be easy. As it turned out, the war was prolonged and it took a lot of lives. Eventually, he won...

“Appa, are you telling us a story now? What has this got to do with anything?”

“Just listen to me! Don’t interrupt. In the course of the war, the enemies lost not only their king, but also the future heirs, leaving the queen widowed and childless. She laid a curse on our family. Our bloodline would never be passed on.”

Ravi stared at his father, his mouth suddenly dry.

Chandrashekar paused and looked at Ravi and Suman. Convinced he had their attention, he continued, “Sure enough, the king’s son, the prince, who eventually got married, was childless. He was forced to adopt the son of his sister so that the throne would have an heir. Later, it turned out that the adopted son fathered two children. Everybody was relieved, believing that the curse had worn off. But then, a strange thing happened. The next generation went childless again. This pattern has been unbroken for the past two centuries. Every alternate generation has to adopt.”

“So what you are saying is that you were adopted? And…I’m not going to have any children of my own? Because of a curse?” Chandrashekar countered the beseeching look on his son’s face with a slow nod.

“Suman, I am very sorry. Nothing I can ever do or say will ease the hurt we have caused you. I had no right to keep this from you or your parents. May be you would have had children of your own. This family is cursed. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Chandrashekar sank into his chair, the weight of his guilt – heavier than the relief he felt at not having to hide the secret any longer – buried him deeper into the cushions, making him appear smaller, more frail.

Ravi sat back from the edge of the sofa, resting his suddenly aching back against the back cushion.

Suman lowered her eyes to the gleaming red oxide floor.

Silence descended on the house, broken only by steady ticking of the old grandfather clock.


The End

Blogging Break and Short Story (The Alibi)

I'm off on a little break.

Although I know I will have plennnnnnty of inclination, I may not have the time or the technological wherewithal to write new posts.

So, I request your induldgence as I leave you with one of my longish short stories, The Alibi.

Today, I'm posting the first part.

Over the next few days, parts II to V will appear, but I will post it as the story would read as if you were reading it from the beginning, i.e., the second part will appear below the first part, etc., so if someone comes to the blog without having read part 1, they will not see part 2 first.

Here goes...

Taking Stock

In a little over three months of blogging, I've come across beautiful, brilliant, evocative writing, insightful commentary, throught-provoking essays, posts about books, places, movies that I'd long forgotten or had never heard of which the posts made me instantly want to go and get so I could relive the blogger's experience, posts about news from all over the world that I would never have made my way to if left to my own devices, and poignant posts about family, children, friends. I've come across bloggers whose writing I enjoy, whose comments I value, whose feedback is much appreciated, and whose take on an issue I've written is sometimes very different and for that reason very welcome.

Unfortunately, I've also come across ugliness.

There are always two sides to a story. There are as many opinions on an issue as the number of people who have the slightest knowledge about that issue.

That said, the only way to make any progress or to achieve desirable results is to engage in civil discourse. Making personal attacks on the messenger takes away attention not only from the issue being fought over but also from any serious consideration of ways of resolving that issue.

And, most importantly, I might add, personal attacks take away from the credibility of the person making the attacks.

For the latest example of erosion of civility in the blogosphere, and to see what our fellow bloggers are doing about it, head over to Desipundit. Kaps, Patrix and others have taken up arms over personal attacks aimed at bloggers and have aggregated all the relevant posts and comments. I don't know much about the issue that's being debated (merits of claims made by some of the new management institutes in India), but I do know that bloggers need to band together and make our voice heard against personal attacks.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

October Bangalore Bloggers' Meet

Some fifteen odd Bangalore bloggers congregated at Infinitea on Cunningham Road on Saturday, October 8th for the Fourth Official BlogBang Meet. For the lowdown on the Third Official BlogBang Meet, see here.

The upper floor of Infinitea holds seven tables which can accomodate about 25 people, but when the venue was being chosen, none of us accounted for the non-Bangalore Blogger patrons of Infinitea. Suffice to say that when I arrived, I found six of my fellow bloggers huddled together around a table meant for four and the rest of the place packed.



The first to arrive was, of course, Eager Beaver Mandar, who sent me an SMS at, mark this, 4:29 pm to say he had arrived and was waiting! He was a full half-hour early, but did not bring a placard to identify himself despite exhortations to the contrary. So after wasting some time sitting by themselves, not knowing who the other bloggers were, etc. Pradeep Nair, Aditya, Surjo, KVK, Mandar and Swar found each other and contemplated various ways to encroach on the available real estate.

Right next to our table was a couple (a Knight in Shining Armor and his Lady Love) who must have thought they had a cozy corner of Inifinitea to themselves. Until the cozy corner was invaded by a noisy bunch of bloggers, that is. We gave them sidelong glances, trying to figure out what stage of the whole Infinitea experience they were in - the beginning, middle or end. They must have received the vibes we were sending over, because soon, the Knight asked for the bill. Unfortunately, however, our quest for more space wasn't going to end so easily or quickly. The Knight had trouble paying the bill because he only had a debit card and Inifinitea had trouble with their debit card swiping machine. So he went down to the billing counter to figure out an alternative leaving Lady Love alone, cornered and feeling antsy.


Finally, about 20 minutes later, during which time Ambar, Akash, Sunu, Veera, Arka, Anurag and Arvind had arrived, Lady Love wiggled out of her corner and made her way down. We promptly had the table cleared and joined that and one other table together. Just as we were settling down, we noticed a wallet on the sofa, found twelve claimants for it (all in good jest, of course), but upon closer examination of the wallet, found a picture of a younger Lady Love inside. We all looked around wildly for Lady Love, and thankfully found her Knight still at the billing counter downstairs. So we threw down the wallet to him (may be that solved his bill paying woes) and finally settled down to business.


What business you ask? Ordering tea, of which the choices were mind-numbingly complicated (at the end of one perusal of the menu, you actually need some tea to snap out of the befuddlement), introducing yourself and finding out who everyone else is, carrying on side conversations, and conversations across the entire length of the table from one corner to the other while a couple of others are trying to do the same on the other diagonal. Four of us finally settled for some Masala Chai (on Sunu's recommendation), Ambar got some green concoction (what was it Ambar?), Arka got some Darjeeling tea, and the guys at the other end of the table got a pot of tea which steadily got bitter as the seconds rolled by.




As the conversations were chugging along, Swar and Sunu left to catch a showing of Spirited Away, Pradeep and Anurag went back to work (or so they told us, may be they were getting the hell away from the rest of us as quickly as possible) and KVK and Mandar went out for a smoke. By this time, it was p-o-u-r-i-n-g.

I really don't know what's going on with Bangalore. Over the past few days, we've had downpours of the heaviest kind - the kind where the sky just opens and dumps rain. No drizzle to give you a hint that there may be rain on the way. No siree! Apparently, the clouds have no time to be polite.

Of course, every time it rains, the power has to go. The combination of hot tea, no fans/AC, and an over-crowded mezzanine floor was most unpleasant. Thankfully, the company was good.



For those who were not at the meet, these are the points to note:
  • the plan is to set aside a specific day of the month for furture meets. Henceforth, the Bangalore Bloggers' meets will take place on the second Saturday of every month;
  • venues will be decided during the week before the meet. The alternative is to pick a venue and stick to it for every meet. At least that way, we know what we're getting in terms of available space, etc.; and
  • everyone is excited about doing something as a group, and volunteering time at Akshara, in particular.
The meet finally broke up at 7 pm. With the skies still coming down in buckets, we all made our way down considering plans for the next meet.

Note: The bloggers for whom I don't have the links, please send them to me and I'll update the post. Thanks.

Crossposted on Everymanscity.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    In the Land of the Tulips

    The thing that struck me the moment we got out of the plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport - well, other than the fact that all the women were blond, statuesque and at least a foot taller than me - was that the airport did not look like an airport at all.

    We came down a few steps from the gate and found ourselves in the middle of a mini city, hustling and bustling with restaurants, eat-outs, shops, supermarkets, escalators going down to the train station and up to a long promenade with more restaurants, eat-outs and a hotel.

    Which was a complete relief! We were booked at the airport hotel and had been dreading having to stay away from the city at one of those Howard Johnsonny types with nothing around for miles except the airport.

    We wheeled our luggage on to the escalators going up (the escalators had no steps, it was like a long conveyor belt, but on a slope) and within a hundred steps had reached our hotel. Ah, pleasure! It made such a difference not to have to get out of the airport, get a cab or a shuttle and drive out to a hotel far away from the aiport, especially after two flights totalling close to 13 hours. The airport had a Burger King to boot, which we hadn't gone to in close to nine months. After freshening up quickly, it was back to the airport again for lunch!

    Staying at the airport had its other plusses which became evident during our stay - when N got an ear ache, the airport medical center was very handy, and the airline information desk was within walking distance when we had to make some inquiries about our return flight.

    We headed out to the city by train the first day.

    There is always something exciting about train journeys - buying train tickets, looking at timetables, heading to the platform, waiting for the train to arrive and looking at maps of train routes. Train maps are very reassuring. At a single glance, you have the entire city and its suburbs mapped out right there on that board or in the palm of your hands. If you've just landed in a new city, unfamiliar with your sorroundings, unsure of where the places are that you want to see, grab a train map. You will know exactly where you are in relation to your surroundings, and how to get to where you want to go.

    Road maps are never the same. They don't give you an idea of an entire place. You look at a road map and you will know, may be, where you will be for the next 10 minutes. Beyond that, you would have to flip a page or open another flap to go on.

    We got off at Centraal Station and headed to the city center. The sun was getting ready to set and as the sky darkened (must have been around 5), within minutes, the entire city seemed to be headed in the opposite direction, towards the Centraal Station. This seemed strange, especially after having heard so much about Amsterdam's reputation as a city of the night.

    Shops were shutting down and so were the restaurants. Which was a good thing considering we had some jet lag to get over. So we made a quick trip to the Dam, the city's central square, looked around at the lovely 17th century buildings including the Koninklijk Paleis, originally built as the town hall, but now ocassionally used by the Dutch royal family for state functions.

    The Koninklijk Paleis (Dang it! Those trams are quick!)

    In an effort to discourage driving, parking spaces are few and far between and rates in the city are prohibitively expensive. As a result, roads are jam packed with pedestrians, trams and bicycles.

    Bicycling is the preferred mode of transporation in Amsterdam.


    A quiet, tree-lined, residential street

    Quiet, tree-lined, residential waterways


    Amsterdam is a city of concentric rings of canals and townhouses (long, narrow but deep houses that share walls with their neighbors). It started out as a small town in marshland. It's still on marshland, but it is neither small nor is it a town. As the population grew, and as the demand for real estate grew, the canals just rippled outward spawning more waterways, bridges and housing. An hour-long boat tour took us through the major canals.

    Some of these townhouses have fantastic histories and a few of them have been preserved as historical monuments and museums. The houses along the Golden Bend (a stretch of canal), for example, were home to some of the richest shipbuilders and merchants of the 17th century.

    The townhouses are built to lean forward a little bit so the rain water would flow down away from the walls of the houses. Because of the narrow entry-ways, steep stairs and multiple floors, most of them also have a sturdy hook at the top to move pianos in and out of the houses.


    A Chinese restaurant on the water


    Bridges over the canals

    A couple of days later (during which time we'd driven out to The Hague and had taken a day-trip by train to Belgium) we were back in the city for a look at the van Gogh Museum.

    Yes, the building is extremely uninspiring, but the exhibit more than makes up for it. With more than 200 of his paintings, it is the world's largest collection of van Gogh's art. We had seen a traveling exhibition of his paintings in Washington, DC, but that pales in comparison to the richness of the exhibit in Amsterdam. The paintings are arranged in chronological order and you can almost hear his brain working as you walk from one chamber into the other, see the works of the artists that he admired (Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat) and then see their influence on the progression in his ideas and his art.

    We also went on a walking tour from the van Gogh museum up to the Albert Cuyp open-air market about twenty blocks away. On the way, we passed the Rijksmuseum (which we did not go into; we'd had enough Dutch artists for one day), quiet, residential streets, and an awesome pastry shop run by two old ladies who were as made up as their pastry exhibits. We made a mental note to get something on the way back.

    The open air market was busy, lively and an absolute delight in terms of the wares it had for sale - there were fruits, clothes (including a stall with ghagra cholis), cheeses, mattresses and home decoration items. We quickly went from one end to the other, bought some oranges and headed back. The pastry shop beckoned.

    The Rijksmuseum

    One of the road trips took us to a model working farm at Edam, a couple of hours away from Amsterdam.

    Old-fashioned, but functioning wind-mills on a model working farm


    A pastoral scene from our train to Brussels


    The tulip gardens at Keukenhoff

    Tulips are my favorite flowers and I was praying that the season would not have come to a close by the time we went there. Although the tulip fields were already being shorn of their blooms (any picture like this always reminds me of Hindi movie songs, but most often Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsilay huye from Silsila)


    the Keukenhoff gardens were still open. The clean, litter-free, well-maintained gardens were a sight for sore eyes.




    A tool shed in the gardens.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    In the Driver's Seat

    As Vice President and CEO of Reston Limousine Service, Inc. in Sterling, Kristina Bouweiri sits at the helm of a $6 million business, overseeing a fleet of 93 luxury sedans, limousines, buses and vans (the fleet size is ranked 35th in North America by the industry’s trade publication), 200 employees, and a high-profile clientele including AOL, the Department of Justice, the IRS, Fannie Mae, and the Hyatt-Regency of Reston.

    But as a kid growing up, she fully expected to follow her parents into the Foreign Service. She got a degree in International Affairs and promptly moved to Africa to teach women entrepreneurship skills.

    Her journey – from training other women to start their own businesses to becoming a successful entrepreneur herself – is a story of a woman negotiating a male-dominated industry with a lot of hard work, astute business smarts and a few lucky breaks along the way.

    She was first introduced to the limousine business by her husband (who had started it in 1990), when they were dating. As their relationship grew, she took up his offer to join him in running the business – for no pay (except she could draw her living expenses). It did not matter to her that she was not making any salary she says, because she was working for herself and “working on building the company.”

    At that time, with five cars and $300,000 in annual revenue, the company mainly served corporate clients and pursued “high dollar jobs”. While that game plan had worked initially, by 1991, with the economy in recession, business was suffering.

    When Kristina came on board, she pushed for a change in strategy and pursued the wedding market. She bought lists of brides and sent out postcards about wedding specials. That was a turning point. Soon they were handling 20 to 40 weddings a weekend. “You could say that one of the things that really built this business was weddings…. We were so busy that we were giving all the other limousine companies in town work,” she says.

    Things took an unexpected – but not unwelcome – turn when two business opportunities, in the form of shuttle service contracts, practically landed on their laps. “We kind of fell into the shuttle business…totally by mistake,” she says, her expression joyfully animated as she recounts the story of the shuttle contracts.

    They were tipped off about the problems the manager of an apartment building was having with her existing shuttle service operator. Following a meeting with the manager, Reston Limousine took over the shuttle service contract. The manager referred them to other apartment buildings in the area and Reston Limousine established itself in the shuttle service business.

    Luck also played a major part in Reston Limousine breaking into government contracting for shuttle service. They were approached by a driver looking for a way to see his wife, who worked at the US Geological Survey (USGS), more often. He offered to get the company a copy of USGS’ request for proposal for shuttle service in exchange for a job driving that shuttle if Reston Limousine won the contract.

    Suffice to say that the driver got his wish.

    Reston Limousine soon got on the list of government contractors and now nearly 25 percent of its revenue comes from government contracts.

    With the trend moving away from limousines to group transportation, shuttle service accounts for nearly 90 percent of the company’s annual revenue. “We don’t have any clients that say, ok, we want a limousine for three days. That just doesn’t happen anymore.”

    Kristina has been successful in growing Reston Limousine, in some cases because she is a woman and in other cases, in spite of that.

    She is accustomed to going into meetings inviting bids and finding that she is the only woman there. “People think I’m very odd. They don’t understand where I come from…” There have been many instances when she has not won a contract and “I could swear to you that the only reason we did not get it was because of the old-boy network,” she says. “Because it’s a male-dominated industry, a woman has to work a lot harder to get business.”

    She is also quick to point out the advantages of being a woman in this business. “We’re natural event planners. Women tend to treat each reservation like it’s a special event. Women tend to be more organized…[pay] more attention to detail.”

    Kristina also believes that “clients automatically trust women more than they trust men.” Twenty-five percent of her drivers are women, and she finds that they are well-liked and more popular among her clients. And she has no complaints either. “They maintain their vehicles really well,” she says.

    When asked what advice she would have for women who are thinking about starting their own businesses, she says, without hesitation, “It’s a lot harder than you can ever imagine. So be prepared. And always think positive.”

    She taught herself to remain positive in the face of adversity, she says, particularly after September 11, 2001, which she describes as her worst memory in all of her 13 years with the company. She faced $1 million in cancelled contracts and a four-fold increase in insurance premiums and deductibles. For months after 9/11, she had vehicles sitting idle with no work. “Thousands of lease payments had to be made, and yet we weren’t bringing in the revenue.”

    She would also advise women “to promote other women’s businesses more than they do. Women are still spending ninety-six cents out of a dollar on men’s businesses. I think women would be more successful if other women really, truly would give them more business, and help them and mentor them.”

    In spite of all the “headaches” of owning a business, the business is what gets her going in the morning. “It’s very, very exciting. Running a business is challenging, I think I like to be challenged. I enjoy all my clients and employees. I couldn’t be happier with my career.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    This is the second in my series on women entrepreneurs in Northern Virginia originally published in the Times Community Newspapers. The first appears here.

    Shameless Plug Alert: Indian Recipes Blog Updated

    Finally got around to posting more recipes at Indian Recipes. Check them out! More importantly, do let us know how, if at all (!) they worked out. Thank you.

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Why Are The First Steps The Most Difficult?

    I carried my son, cradled in my arms, out of the house and into the garage. I had his "diaper bag" (a backpack, really, because we were "cool parents" and did not want to be seen carrying a diaper bag in public) with diapers, baby wipes, a changing pad, a change of clothes, plastic bags for soiled clothes, and milk bottles, slung over one shoulder.

    I put him in his infant seat in the back of the car and his diaper bag next to the car seat. I got in the driver's seat, started the car, put it in first gear, let it inch forward a little (old Indian habits die hard), then backed out of the garage and headed out.

    We were going to the baby sitter's house just fifteen minutes away, but my baby and I were taking our first, faltering steps in a long journey.

    We knew our baby sitter's family for years before we had our son. I had met her husband first at the bus stop when I was still a student. They were our neighbors. They had two grown daughters of their own, and my husband and I might quite easily have been their children. Just four months before my son was born, they had become grandparents. We got to know them a little bit and they had teasingly asked us when we were planning to have children, in that unabashedly familiar way that the older Indian generation seems to treat the youngsters. "Don't worry", they would say, "we'll take care of your kids when you're both at work".

    So there we were, at their doorstep, my son and I, four years after I'd first met them. I rang the doorbell, baby in my arms and diaper bag over my shoulder. She opened the door with a warm, welcoming smile. Smells of dal, chapati and curry wafted out of her kitchen and hung around the house.

    I slipped my sandals off my feet and followed her through a short corridor next to the kitchen into her living room.

    Toys and books were everywhere, a cradle off to the side along a wall, next to a maroon sofa. Light streamed into the room from two sliding doors that opened to a balcony overlooking a wide, empty, green space. She spread out a small blanket on the carpeted floor, inviting me to lay my son down.

    His eyes were on my face which was hovering over him as I lay him down on the blanket. Then they wandered off to check out the unfamiliar sights, his neck craning so he could see where the unfamiliar voices were coming from.

    I was preparing to return to work after my maternity leave. That was the first day of a week of dry runs to see how my son would do with the baby sitter, away from me for a period of time. The plan was to drop him off at the baby sitter's just as I would if I were going to work, but then I would go back home. She would call me if he did'nt do well. The first day, I would leave him for a couple of hours. The next day for a little bit longer, and so on, until we worked up to a full working day (which, for me, as a lawyer, was long and unpredictable).

    I settled down on the carpet next to my son. He had his eyes fixed now on a rattle that the baby sitter was jingling. She slowly moved the rattle away and replaced that space with her face, making gurgling sounds, talking baby talk in heavily accented English and broken Kannada (they had lived in Nanjangud for a while). A slow smile spread across my son's face, his hands trying to find each other for a clap, his legs kicking.

    I didn't know where to look or what I was supposed to do. I looked around the room, at the sofa that was not my sofa, at the books that were not my books, at the toys that were not my son's, at the cradle that was not my baby's, at the kitchen that was not my kitchen, and through a film of sudden tears, at the baby sitter who was not me.

    A wave of sadness washed over me. Something that started at the pit of my stomach made its way up through my chest and my throat and out my mouth. She looked at me, startled. Then reached out her hand and squeezed mine. "It's ok. He'll be fine here. I'm there, na? See, how he's smiling?" she said, in the same voice she'd been talking to my son in. Her husband came down and realizing what was going on, sat down on the sofa to tell me over and over that it would be all right. The kind, gentle, understanding tone of their voices just made it worse.

    I sat there and bawled. I was the baby and I was the one that needed consoling.

    A while later, I stood up, made my way to the car and left. It was the longest fifteen-minute drive I could have imagined. I went back home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did.

    I realized I needed that trial week more than my son did.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    When you are getting ready to have a child, you discover many things.

    You discover that a healthy diet during pregnancy requires that you eat at least 68 gms of protein a day. You learn about folic acid and how important it is for the baby's spinal cord. You pay attention to the nutrition content of every single thing that enters your mouth. Did you know that even milk and yogurt contain sodium? You learn to control salt in your diet because high blood pressure during pregnancy is a no no. You learn that you need to supplement your diet with calcium because the baby takes all the calcium it needs from your food and if that's not enough, from your bones.

    You learn all you can about childbirth so you are prepared for the hours of intense, mind-bending labor your body will go through.

    You discover what a miracle pregnancy and childbirth is. You develop a new-found respect for the human body when you finally wrap your mind around the fact that it is capable of nurturing and nourishing a whole another human being - one that will soon be born, one that is capable of living and breathing on its own, one that is capable of growing, laughing, crying, and loving.

    You realize, quite suddenly, that your mother too, once upon a time, was pregnant, and that she too delivered children and raised them. You realize that there are a whole lot of ideas, issues and topics that you never had the need to discuss with your parents but now you can't stop talking to them about.

    You discover that marvellous invention: the breast pump. No other thing in this world can make you feel more like a cow than a breast pump, but when you have a baby, feeling like a cow is not a bad thing.

    You find that there is this whole other genre of writing - magazines, how-tos, novels, essays and websites - specializing in pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing during the infant years, the toddler years, the kindergarten years, all the way up to the teenage years.

    But none of this prepares you to be a mother.

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