Rare Flowers

All of us have certain tasks  in our lives for which we have to fight some internal resistance to start the action. For me, vegetableone such task  is  going to the vegetable market. It is something I keep putting off until the fridge is bare. But once I get to the ulavar santhai, then the sight of the heaps of fresh vegetables is invigorating. I invariably buy more than we can eat in a week and stagger back with loaded bags.

This morning, I made the trip early, by scooter which is the easiest form of transport as Ooty gets busier in summer. And I had two interactions which stayed in the mind.

One was talking to Ibrahim who was selling cauliflower and broccoli. Just finished with his plus two exams, he is working at the market in the holidays. I told him about the program to be conducted by Hotel Sullivan court – a 2 week program of internship at a 3 * hotel, with food, stipend and a certificate. We are finding it hard to get students who want to make us of this opportunity!  Boys would rather wander around with cell phones and taxis driver friends and if possible,  girl friends, than go to work.  And like rare wild flowers we have boys like Ibrahim and Nallendran .  Nallendran, is studying in  the 10th standard. Before and after school, he works in a milk booth where he also sleeps at night.

Then I was buying oranges and I didn’t have the money to pay for them.  The lady vendor, with whom I was not familiar, said pay next time. I was so touched and gladdened.


As we are so quick to complain, I thought I must appreciate the  new Passport Seva Kendras which have taken over from the government.

They are organised, quick, helpful and efficient. As my father put it, ‘They want to process the passport as opposed to the old government officials who wanted to find reasons to stop you getting one.’

I remember going through the process thrice for Darshini just a couple of years ago. Each time , there was a tiny flaw in the spelling or a dot in the wrong place and her application was rejected.

This time, although the name of the street in my father’s address had been changed thrice over the years, the girl at the counter  was helpful and we managed to find two identity cards with the same address and she passed it.

Getting my 88 year old father ready with his documents was my major battle. He couldn’t decide in which photograph he looked best. Finally, they took the photograph at the Kendra and fingerprints too. Although I landed up in Coimbatore to get his documents processed 24 hours ahead, he would hand them over to me only two hours before ! :-0

My ordinary, non Tatkal passport reached me on the third day after the interview!

Women’s Day

‘What Does It Mean to be a Woman Today to You’

One of 6 speakers,  I was given 5 minutes but it is hard to be brief ! I  wanted to talk about the differences in the lives 1904042_10152343599708833_1255281752_nof my mother, myself and my daughter on a few aspects.

About 30 years ago, when the serial Mahabharata was all the rage and everyone gathered around the TV on Sunday mornings, my mother would get excited too. She would have everything ready and be set to watch it when my father would appear and announce ‘ Im ready to eat’. She would depart very sadly to make breakfast for him. She couldn’t even say ‘ Why don’t you eat before or after?’ Her needs were never considered important enough.

Now I can say that to my husband. And as for  my daughter, my heart stops when she says to her husband on the phone ‘ Hey loose’.

The balances in marriages are changing . There is more equality, friendship and intimacy vs the respect for age. And all for the better.


That was the way I began and somehow this seems to have touched the hearts of many women there. Many of them came up to me and said rather bitterly, ‘ It ‘s still the same. I have to drop everything when my husband wants to eat’.

zumbaAs this event was organised by the Doc who runs my Fitness class, the talks  were followed by a short  Zumba routine and then a healthier tea than usual :-)

I had a good feeling about myself later.  Good with the long talk but still short on the Small talk :-)

Act now!

Why is it so hard to carry on  with routines  when disaster happens to a friend or member of the family?    Even sitting down becomes a little hard. It seems good to pace up and down or better, take some action which most probably, does not help anyone . Talking with other concerned people helps a lot. But the best remedy is to pack a bag and head for the disaster area.

The best remedy for me, I guess :-) Probably there are Freudian undertones of importance and ego stroking which I don’t care to explore.

Late last night, after I heard a niece has been admitted in hospital for an ectopic pregnancy, my instincts have been to go; be there in hospital with her and her mother, my sister. My sister probably needs more support. But, we have a meeting today of Our library society  for which I have been planning for a week. After thinking of relative importance on the scales of life, I thought  I would skip the meeting and sent out a message immediately and rescheduled my classes. Immediately, people called to say they would postpone the meet. Then I called my sister who said, there is a period of waiting so its okay if I come a bit a later. So I called back again and rescheduled the meet.

Meanwhile, it is hard to mark time.

Im sure there are many people for whom waiting is as hard. In the movie ‘ Home Alone’, when the Mom finds out her son has been left behind, she catches a series of planes and buses and cars and gets home at the same time as the rest of the family who caught a straight plane home after her. That’s me.

Hospitals and parents

Im in Coimbatore. Its 6 am and still dark outside. I go downstairs and the front doors are wide open, kept ready for me to sail out on my walk. Athai says with a sniff, ‘ what you are just going? I thought you have come back from the walk. ‘ I wonder if the next generation feels as much parental pressure as we do.

My father and his sisters are hardy village folk. Hard working, independent, uncomplaining, undemanding yet demanding in very subtle ways which makes it harder, disciplined,  morally upright and judgemental… they are a little hard to live with. Tick all the opposites and you have my mother’s family.

Chinna athai has been here for two weeks. She came for a wedding from Trichy where she lives alone a

nd is staying on hoping for medical treatment.  We’ve been hoping her son, who lives in the same city will take her but he hasnt. Today is hospital day. There is some discussion about hospitals and doctors. I call my sister in chennai. She promises to fix up with a colleague in Coimbatore.  She calls back. Go before 8.30, otherwise the doctor will leave for rounds. Its 8 a.m. Ten minutes later I have the car out and go to fetch Athai. She has draped a rich maroon pattu saree and looks beautiful.  I tell her that and she glows. She slowly combs her hair, cleans the comb, washes her hands and takes leave of the gods.

We reach the hospital at 8.30. I have no idea of the medical history or her records. My sister has given the wrong name. I give the wrong age. The doctors are going to sigh impatiently and give me loathing looks. Ive been there before.

We get to see the doctor at 9.30, jumping the queue some of who have been here since 7 a.m. and will continue to wait till evening. With a 86 year old woman to take care of, I sit strongly on my moral misgivings. Athai tells of her falls, the blackouts,  the pain in her arm. When we walk out, she can barely stand. We sit down for a while. Why didn’t you tell the doc about the pain in your hip I ask? That is because I havent been very active these last two weeks she says. I can hardly go back to see the doctor.

I call my sister.  She recommends a wheelchair.  Athai refuses. We make our way slowly through a battery of tests. Too bad, she’s eaten, now wait for an hour, says one technician . Ive had a hard time persuading her to eat in the canteen . Too bad, there is oil in her hair. Shampoo and come back says the Eeg technician making it sound like a beauty treatment. With pressure, he unbends after vigorous wiping with a hanky.

A few hours later we go home to wait for results.  Go back and get a couple of xrays for that hip and back orders my sister. Back again in the hospital and then we are in the queue to see the doctor.  There is something wrong in the Eeg and her back is bad. Take these tablets and come back after 15 days. He is dismissive. Do doctors these days stop with such simplistic explanations?  Dont they owe us some more however busy they are?

I go in search of my sister’s friend. She gives more details. At home, my father says with dissatisfaction,  she should have written out her diagnosis.  I retreat to a book. Tomorrow it is going to be a day with the ear doctor and him.

Ah, well, the life of a middle aged woman can be taken only one day at a time.

Feeling The Earth

IMG_2942This is one of my favorite days of the year – the day when we re-pot the plants.  We sit in the sunny garden the whole day and go through a cycle of replenishment  and planning and hope. The pots are emptied, scoured out, washed and then filled with a happy  mix of manure, sand and soil.

We decide which plants should be split and which goes into which pot . We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, Dhanraj , who came to help as a young teenager and still helps part time, and I. I have the book learning and he has the experience of his years in the fields with him. We’ve both learnt on the job; he to act as if he was bowing down to my superior knowledge and me to trust his green thumb even when he chops the roots rudely and shoves the plant carelessly into the soil.

The pots recall a number of stories. Some of them are from the times long ago, when as a green girl,  I used to go to the market and buy the pots and lug them home anxiously in  a bag.  Some from a time when the house was newly built and money was very tight but a visiting niece persuaded me to buy all, all the pots a vendor was carrying on his head right on our road. A couple of tiny pots from a train ride up north when Laloo Prasad created an outlet for potters by selling tea in terracota  cups on trains. A bunch of small pots used for serving kulfi when my brother in law and sister ran a take away catering service. Some rounded pots used for the children’s wedding ceremonies. A couple painted by my sister and filched from her, when she wasn’t looking.  Some gifted by a friend who was leaving town. It is like looking through  a photo album.

The process usually takes place in January; the feeding of the soil and the planting of new seedlings so it will all burst gloriously into flower in May – the Season. A British relic, of course, that all we Ootyians  embrace.  Some of the more serious gardeners will compete in the Flower show. We have no such ambitions.  Enough if the plants flourish and flower and amaze us and our visitors .Till then we will anxiously water and potter and nourish the garden.

In June, when the rains set in  and we are driven indoors, we let ourselves be enveloped by other concerns and allow Mother Nature to  take over. Slowly , all those boundaries and edges and demarcations disappear  and the garden settles into a green wilderness  which is relaxing and restful. We  make occasional forays into weeding  and pruning but our hearts are not really there. The work will begin once more, truly in January when the compost rots to the perfect pitch in the shed of the cow herd.

Panniyaarum Padminiyum

A good friend who is now touching 70 but still leads  an active working life was talking about his assistant ; the kind of person who says  ‘I will take care of it ‘.   The kind of person we want around as we get older. The assistant has a brother in America who is asking him to come join him. My friend said “I told him, L…….., if you are going, take me with you because I cannot manage here without you “

When our children leave home, the people immediately around us who serve and help us become our family. We become dependent on them to remove the burrs of daily life.  We share more than food and money – day to day happenings, jokes, sad stories.  It becomes more than a paid employer – employee relationship. There is mutual concern and a sense of wellbeing when they are around.

padmini3We see such beautiful relationships in the life of the Pannaiyaar and his wife in debut director –writer Arun Kumar’s movie, Pannaiyarum Padminium . The panniyaar is not the tough macho man of movie style, but   a benevolent, easy going patriarch. He and his wife Chellama treat the whole village as their extended family. The pannaiyaar introduces the village to each modern instrument as a proud father. A radio. A  TV . A toilet. Everyone gathers around to watch in awe, even as he enters the toilet! One day, the Pannaiyaar sees this wonderful thing at the house of a relative – an automobile.  A blue Fiat Padmini.  And he cannot get over it. Seeing his obsession, the relative kindly leaves the car with him when he goes away to visit his daughter. The pannaiyaar gets transformed into a younger man in love.  Watching him as he wipes and cleans and pats and saunters over jauntily to look at the car with love is a treat. But he cannot drive the car. Murugesan, the tractor driver is taken into service. Murugesan too becomes obsessed with the car and regards himself as part owner.  The car becomes part of the life of the village, pressed into service for deliveries and functions and sickness and death. The panniyaar’s wife won’t travel in it unless he drives it himself. Will he learn? How will they cope when the rightful owner turns up to take the car away? If the pannaiyaar learns to drive, will he send away Murugesan?  These are the questions that engage in this gentle, sentimental bit of life in a small, far away village.

Vijay Sethupathi is superb as driver Murugesan, expressing emotions with his eyes and face.  Jayaprakash is the genial  landlord and Tulasi, looking comely and sweet in slightly oversized blouses and cotton sarees is perfect as the loving, feisty  wife . Comedy is light and flows through the movie. There are moments when we laugh out loud like when the boys cover the car in hay so that the rightful owner won’t see it.

The story too flows on peacefully in no hurry.  This is a story that has been expanded from a short film. To fulfill expectations, a romance between Murugesan and village belle Iyshwarya Rajesh has been woven in. He is asked to help with a funeral in her family and he falls in love with the sobbing girl right though a song. Better is the warm love ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????that is outlined between the pannaiyaar and his  wife Chellamma, given shape through the popular  song,  unnakaga  poranthen. There are other characters – the mini bus driver and conductor with whom Murugesan races. The scruffy odd job man, Pidai alias Peruchaali who bestows ill luck on anyone he wishes well, is very comfortable in his role.  Sneha, looking more beautiful than ever makes a guest appearance. The daughter who is mean and avaricious provides the necessary tension.

An unusual story, fine actors who live their roles, the rural background, understatement – all keep us in our seats to the end. The close-ups of the old women crying loudly in dirges, the children of the village, bare-chested and brown, running behind the car, all fit in perfectly. Nowhere does the background or music jar. At times, the story does seem to drag slightly but after the interval, the pace steps up. The feel good feeling keeps you remembering the characters and situations with a smile.




Colours in The Belfry

Some homes attract people in spite of being cluttered, full of furniture, no design scheme, dust on ledges; homes that got shaped by the needs of its inhabitants and time. We all know such homes because that is the home of our grandparents. The welcome is very warm. The sense of ease is great.

I grew up in such a house. There were at least 20 people in it at any time. No one had a room of their own, except maybe the master of the house. And God. The best you could hope for was a table in some corner of the house that was exclusively yours. People slept wherever there was space. Bedding was rolled away in the daytime. Clothes were kept in a tin box or suitcase.  There were a few chairs for visitors. But mostly people sat on the floor, on the steps to chat, on the verandah to play games, on the parapet walls of the terrace to study and chat and peer into the neighbour’s garden. There was one bathroom. The toilets were at the back of the houses. Nothing was ever thrown away.

Possibly in reaction to all that I wanted to have a house of my own where things had a place and the overall effect was neat and nice. I started off in a small house where the rooms could barely accommodate two beds. We moved every year to a slightly better space. Each one I arranged to the best of my ability and learnt while making do with limited resources.

I’ve learnt that my taste changes with time. So I don’t feel too sad that I can’t afford something. For instance, I badly wanted a deep maroon bathroom when we were building (yes! it was fashionable to have a crimson bathroom).  But not being able to afford it, I put in a single row of maroon tiles between rows of white and boy, am I glad now. These days I keep a wish list. Small items have to wait for a month and larger items, even a year.


Divans are great when you are short on space and money, adding sleeping space and a great deal of cheerful colour. It was one of our first pieces of furniture and is still with us now. But I do have to curb my urge to buy too many cushion covers because they are cheap and attractive

Polished wood, brass, gleaming floors  are all elements that make a room look great. Especially when there is a window that lets in golden rays of sunshine to highlight them. But when I look at those wonderful brass lamps or multi tiered chandeliers on sale, I think of the maintenance involved and pass. I prefer pictures that I like to hang on the walls. All they require is an occasional wipe.

Every six months or so, it gives me pleasure to clean and rearrange and give away at least a few items.  Something that I heard Sudha Murthy say in an interview, ‘When I buy one saree, I give away another ‘has stayed with me and I try to follow the principle.

Keeping surfaces free gives a great sense of space whether it is floor, table or shelf. Something that doesn’t always happen in the clutter of living but a standard to look up to.

Living in rented houses was good preparation for building my own. Ten houses later, we started building a house high on a hilltop. Initially, there were three rooms, a makeshift kitchen and bath. A few years later, we added an upper floor. And further on, we painted. Six years later, most of the rooms still look good. Only the kitchen has been repainted.

I love colour. Bold bright solid colours. And that shows in the rooms of my house. Living in Ooty where it rains often and the weather is cold, depression can come down heavily. So I painted the rooms in bright colours and used warm yellow lighting.  And before you gag, most of the rooms have one or two walls of white to break all that colour.

For the living room I wanted a mango yellow, bright and warm.  I did manage to find it in a shade card of Asian paints. After the first coat I was a little taken aback because it was so orangey and bright. We had been living with the white of the primer until then. But it did settle in and is a great background for photographs.


There is a little alcove in the living room which actually is the result of a mistake when the house was being built. We had some glass shelves put in and a light above and it now forms a display corner. This alcove needed a different colour because the surrounding wall is white and I used the crimson (used in the puja alcove) behind and orange (from the dining room) on the sides.


The dining room cum kitchen began with walls of bright orange and yellow and white. It has a small niche and to give it a different texture, I covered the area with coconut fibre by mixing it with a paste of fevicol and putty. We had to try different colours in this space before we settled on white which contrasted well with the orange wall. The white of the alcove remains and is a good background for the little things that gather.



Bedrooms are to be a restful, cool blue say all the guidebooks. So blue it was. But there was one wall which rises high to the peaked roof.  And I had to liven it up. On the Asian paints website, five years ago, I found a pattern of panels painted alternately in 3 shades of the same colour. I debated between triangles and straight lines and the former won. The painter took it as a challenge and did a great job with it a long piece of wood, a pencil and a very steady hand.


The girls’ bedroom was of course pink but a deep shade of pink on opposite walls. The pink now forms a nice background for a collection of photos in black and white. This bedroom also has a cupboard whose doors have been fitted with a piece of lacy cloth sandwiched between two layers of glass.  And a window seat which is one of those carried over dreams of childhood.



A friend was talking about old houses which were decorated with a row of tiles in the centre. And that inspired the guest bedroom in two shades of green with a little decorative band in between which I painted myself with a simple pattern in orange.


One bathroom which I thought was rather boring has the ceiling painted in green. Another has one wall in a textured surface painted orange. The texturing was done with a layer of putty and fingers! The puja niche is rich in panels of maroon and orange, another combination which I found on the Asian paints website. We’ve further enlivened it with two bands of figures painted on yellow.




The outside walls became a light mint green with windows and doors highlighted in light blue. A combination I found in a book.


Being housebound for more than three weeks while the house was being painted, I started a little project of my own. On the outside wall I drew and painted a Sun God over the three weeks using all the colors used inside the house.  It kept me happily occupied and took away some of the stress.


The mural, the house and walls still look good after six years thanks to Asian paints. Painting is the most economic and spectacular way to transform a house.  A freshly painted house gives off so many good vibrations however big or small it may be. Some years later, I hope to do it all over again.

Now looking at the Asian paints website, I see it cuts down on a lot of the homework and research involved in painting a house or a room. There are lots of pictures and inspirational ideas. One can even create a project right from collecting pictures on My Inspiration wall and managing the whole project step by step.  And then play around with the rooms using tools like Screen Test, trying out shades and effects. With Experience Magic, one can have fun with stencils. And their stencils which I have seen in several houses are very good.

There are advice columns and Paint Selectors and Budget calculators. Paint can be selected according to the material on which it is to be painted; by budget, shade, coverage, ante- fungal, wash ability and many other factors. The best part is they have a paint service where you can just tell them what you want and then let them do the rest. While I live in a small town and have had to deal with painters working for daily wages, I would prefer something like Asian paints Service who ask you want you want, draw up a contract and get down to it.

A house which reflects you and looks fine is a good place to come back to. But like housework, it never is done. One can keep adding, deleting and keep up the interest in the house. Whatever the decor, I only wish my house is half as welcoming as that of my mother.

This post is an entry for The Beautiful Home Blogger Contest run by Asian Paints and promoted by the comprehensive website for women, Women’s Web and Ripple Links

So  good reader, be kind and leave a comment!