Saturday, September 19, 2009


I love reading. I've never wondered why. But as with all other things, I vividly remember the beginnings of my oldest and favorite hobby.
My dad's brother used to be an avid reader. When I was 5 and he was in high school, I tried to tear open the crisp newspaper with which he had carefully wrapped the James Hadley Chase novel he was reading. He seemed to have prepared wisely to avert the scandal that would erupt if someone at home saw the buxom babe in fishnet stockings and nothing but a rifle to cover her chest. And I, with my curiosity and loud mouth, almost ruined it. He decided it was time I read literature more suited to my own age. And that is how I got my first library membership. I still remember handing over a deposit of Rs.25 to the library owner and getting a bright yellow card with my name and address on it in return. My very own library card!
My initial days of reading were filled with Enid Blyton. I had a club of my own, just like Secret Seven- replete with cookies and pitchers of orange juice, with the kids in the neighborhood. I even had a bonfire in our garden, which my mom put out before we could burn down the house (far fetched I know, but I must admit it made me feel all powerful). Then I discovered Fairy Tales and Arabian Nights. For months I longed for a gingerbread house or a lamp I could rub on the eve of my exams. I slept dreaming of princesses and dwarfs and mermaids and witches. I sat at the back of my Carnatic music class and read Archie comics for the entire hour, which explains why I am only a bathroom singer. I spent many a night snickering at the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I blushed everytime Ned Nickerson kissed Nancy Drew and I read most of Sherlock Holmes on school nights with a flashlight under my blanket. I remember the name of every single Sidney Sheldon heroine. I've had my knuckles go white from gripping a Jeffery Archer novel too tight, unable to bear the suspense any longer. I spent most of my pocket money and every penny I ever got in gifts to buy books. I still read Wodehouse and the Classics. When I entered college my reading took a quantum leap. Maugham, Salinger, Rand, Shaw, Hesse, Eggers, Tolkein, Adams, Nabakov, Steinbeck, Stone, Irving, Pamuk, Joyce, Seth, a neverending list of writers entered my life to delight me. Some left in a hurry, some faded to the background, some endured.
I sometimes wonder if I would have been a different person if I didn't have an obsession over reading. I think so. Books ensured I never missed having a sibling. I am never bored. I am never short of a way to spend my money and my friends are never at a loss for gift ideas for me. Books have made me the restless insomniac that I am. I can, and would even prefer to, learn practically anything from a good book. I connect instantly with people who read. My mother would have liked me a little better if I didn't read ( read: completely ignore her whenever I did). If I didn't read I might be more willingly social. I might have no opinions. I might be less of an idealist. I may not be able to write.*Shudder*
PS: Thanks to Gradwolf for triggering this train of thought and bringing back countless fond memories!

Friday, September 11, 2009

On cyber buddies

Friendships that sprout on the internet turn out to be as good as or sometimes even better than those that have lasted several years. Is it that our vetting skills of faceless folk have reached an evolutionary high? Is it that we self-select ourselves into like-minded cyber-circles? Or is it just me?

In the books I read, no matter how intricately the author sketches a character, there is much left to my imagination. I suspect I enjoy what I imagine a wee bit more than the starkly evident. Maybe people I cross paths with in the virtual world have a similar allure too. In fact I attach a certain personality to most regular readers of my blogs- just an intuitive picture drawn from their comments, which makes them a little dearer and makes me anticipate their visit and second guess how they are likely to react even as I write a post. Sometimes I feel I take comfort in the extent of choice virtual friendships give me in deciding how much of myself to bare, how quickly and to whom, which is rather absent in settings such as schools and workplaces where we are slaves of situation. I am well aware that what I get in return is not a complete picture of a person either. But that is the beauty of cyber-friendships- no expectations, no pressure. Just a picture vivid enough to feel secure or hazy enough to delude, whichever we choose.

Whatever be my motivations, my luck (for lack of a better word) in cyberspace has been exceptional. During my b-school application days I read Iday's blog for 2 weeks, chatted with him online for the next couple of weeks and then we exchanged applications way before we met in person. We built, read, critiqued and obsessed together over our applications for 6 long months. The distance between Madras and Bangalore was hardly a hindrance. It is a time I cherish. And we both admit that we had a tremendous positive influence on each other. Such trust is hard to find, especially considering that we were competing for a spot in the same 5 schools. Today, after 3 years of great times and terrible times, we are still great friends, confidants, sounding boards et al.

About a year and half ago I discovered that Arun, a regular reader of my blog and vice versa, lived in Philadelphia through a very random post on his blog. We met, became travel buddies and zoomed across the United States in a car. Our story thereafter is well documented in our joint blog- Footloose on the Freeway. Today he is my biggest source of support and the calm hand of reason every time I reach new lows.

There are others- Ganja Turtle, my friendship with whom started off with a 12 hour long delightful discussion on poetry and books over Skype. There is "the Being" who I've met all of 3 times but with whom I share an impossible optimism which we call each other to reinforce now and then. And then Meera and Anuradha who were nothing short of academic rivals at school, who I rediscovered through their blogs years later and found them to be wonderful writers and extremely like-minded people.

I guess this is just my customary verbose way of saying I am really glad I did not shy away from looking to the blog world for friends. Till a new thread of thought beckons...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My Mother...

When I was a child, I was always daddy’s little girl. I could never grasp why my mother insisted that I had to be back home at the stroke of 6pm every day, or why I had to score only 100 in math, or why I had to leave the room when the grown-ups were discussing things that did not concern me. Being the only child, the only girl child in two generations of my family, I naturally ran to my father or my grandmother for sanctuary every time my mom tried to be a mother. But despite being thoroughly spoilt and despite my best evasive efforts, to this day I’ve never been home 5 minutes late without informing my mother, even before cell phones existed. To this day, I stop dead if my mom is silent and cannot be at peace until she herself tells me why she is angry.

My mother had a queer way of raising me. Every time I fell down and hurt myself (I used to have sutures twice a year) she would rebuke me like I had committed a crime, but not without torrents of tears streaming down her eyes as she rushed me to the doctor. When I was ten she bought me a bicycle even before I asked for one, because all the kids in the neighborhood had one. But she didn’t let me ride it the 3km to school for three whole years. “There will be big buses on the way,” she used to say. When I was 15 she bought me a scooter and allowed me to ride it to my gazillion coaching classes without a driver’s license, but would stand in our balcony with bated breath till I came home every night. I could never understand why she would voluntarily put herself through such trauma.

When I was sixteen, my relationship with my mother changed permanently. On an uneventful Monday afternoon, as I hovered around the kitchen talking to her about this and that, she taught me about choice. “Everything in life is a choice,” she began. As a girl from the average Indian middle class family, I could choose to do well at school, etch out a career of my choice, travel the world and never know what a budget meant. Or I could squander away the next few years, pursue whatever education my academic prowess afforded me, get married at 20 or 21 and, in the worst case, lean on a man for financial support for the rest of my life. Then she drew out some personal choices for me. I was at an age where I had an uncontrollable urge to rebel, she explained. If she restricted me, I would do things without her knowledge that would prove to be far more unfortunate than doing them with her consent. So she awarded me complete freedom. She would not stop me from doing anything. Instead she would offer her opinion and possibly explain the consequences as she saw them. Essentially it was up to me to tell her the truth or to lie.

That is how my mother dealt with my adolescence. She did not once try to make my choices for me or to nudge me towards the right one. She just left it to me. And her method worked like a charm. By giving me the freedom to screw up my life, she ensured that I never did. That Monday afternoon, I left the kitchen a little bewildered. But my mother had become my friend. Today there is nothing I cannot discuss with her. Boyfriends, crushes, alcohol, parties, my insecurities, my aspirations, my confusions, nothing is off bounds with her. She shields me from judging relatives. She debates with me about my decisions. She indulges me and my profligate ways. She eggs me on when I'm feeling down. She brings out the idealist in me when I struggle with bouts of cynicism.That clueless sixteen-year-old has come a long way today because of her mother's attitude and unrelenting support.

When I think about it now, 10 years later, I realize that she probably wanted me to have the childhood she never had. My mother was blessed with an untimely maturity. At the tender age of 8 she used to help her slightly ill mother cook before she left for school every day. At that age she never let me enter the kitchen except to throw dishes into the sink. When she was 16 she would wake up at 4am to study for a couple of hours before she cooked for the whole family and got her little brother ready for school before she left. I, in turn, slept for 15 extra minutes while she ironed my uniform for me. When she was 18 she graduated at the top of her school and got admitted to an Engineering program. Instead she gave in to family pressures and married my father and had me when she was barely 19.

She may have given up her academic dreams. In fact for a very long time I used to complain to my grandfather about his misdeed. "Look at her family. What more should she achieve?" he would ask. I daresay he is right. She is a success in every undefined sense of the word, on numerous immeasurable counts. She has always been a success in ways I have never understood. I call her every day. For five years now, every single day I’ve found her excited and waiting with some new story to tell me. Ever the social butterfly, she is always buzzing with activity and fussing over people and flitting around with her bubbly energy. Even our extended family brims with her fans. People cannot shop for weddings without her. People called her with their problems even when she was visiting me in the US. My friends who I don't see more than once a year, visit her every time they are in Madras. She takes care of her parents and, until recently, her parents-in-law. She single-handedly manages the finances and investments of all my dad's siblings who don't even live in India. She is the omniscient, omnipresent super daughter, super wife, super mom!

To people, I am always Veena's daughter and I would not have it any other way. Some day in the distant future I hope I become my mother.

Happy Birthday Ma!