Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Dress like a Mommy Once your Daughter turns Teen

It wasn’t too long ago when I had a conversation with a friend about the clothes I wear; we would meet often at a club, restaurant or a party and she’d comment on how well I carried what I wore “at my age”; which simply meant, early 40s, not a thin woman by any standards, and definitely not shy.

A short tight skirt has been a standard fixture in my wardrobe since I was 16 years old. I love my skirts – and while the midriff has become fleshier as I have advanced in age, I work very hard to keep the butt and legs in shape.

My children (daughter in particular) were used to seeing mommy in such clothes when they were younger. I maintained decorum and never wore a skirt to school, but could never wear kurtis as most mothers do at school events. Back then, my daughter would show me off. “My friends love you because you’re so cool,” she’d say. “Their mothers don’t dress like you, mama.”

But all that changed when she turned 14 and suddenly became aware of what ‘mommy wore’.

Suddenly I was dressing too loud, too bold and ‘not my age’. My distressed jeans raised eyebrows (not in appreciation, let me quickly clarify), and so did dresses and skirts. Seeing my teen’s reactions, I began dressing down and tried hard to change my wardrobe to start dressing ‘like a mommy’ when we hung out together.

The next two years were tumultuous because it mattered to me to consider her feelings. I could not be insensitive to her even though I knew that it was the roller-coaster ride her hormones were on that governed her moods and responses. And so I did what was needed.

So here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for all you mommies whose girls are soon going to be at the mercy of their hormones:

  1. Don’t wear spaghetti straps unless you cover yourself with a shrug or jacket. (They’d prefer you wore a veil but never mind…)
  2. Distressed jeans and butt-hugging skirts can be stored away for a few years.
  3. Do NOT show off that tattoo; if it’s on your wrist, wear full sleeves!
  4. You can wear kurtis and long tops; in fact, the longer, the better.
  5. Bid goodbye to low-back and backless shirts. You’re a mommy now!
  6. They love you in saris but will complain about the navel-baring, deep-back blouses and sundry other oversights.
  7. You’ll often hear: “Why can’t you just dress like other moms! Sheesh!” You must respond, “I’m trying!”
  8. If you have a piercing, then God help you!
  9. Do NOT dress in your own genuine style especially around a boy they have a crush on.
As mothers of teen girls we will realise that it is a passing phase and the easier we make it on them, the easier, in turn, we make it on ourselves.

Two years hence (she’s 16 now), we are both comfortable with what the other wears (I am not a fan of her flaunting the midriff in a western outfit, but then, it’s her style) and she has grown to accept her mother’s quirkiness. Peace and harmony have been restored on the wardrobe front.

The small sacrifice in toning down our dressing style pays rich dividends… because one day, when you discuss the issue with her (and seek her permission to write this personal account), she will, in her nonchalant way, tell you, “But I’ve always loved your sense of style!”

Outwardly you’ll say, “Thank you,” and inwardly, “Hallelujah!”

This post first appeared on

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ashaji you're a hero

Dear Ashaji,

We have never met and perhaps never will. Unbeknownst to you, I was just one of those millions of women in India who followed your daughter’s ordeal. 

I was one of those who felt your pain – as a woman and more so, as a mother.

But the predominant feeling was one of anger, intense anger.

I was angry with those rapists, with those unknown passers by who didn’t stop to help, with all those men who have no value for a woman’s body and her wishes, who think nothing of throwing acid on a girl’s face...

But most of all, I was angry with the patriarchs in my family who had let their daughters down time and again; by marrying them against their will, for killing their female babies in the womb, for conveniently overlooking the reality of marital rape...

Yesterday, you were quoted as saying that if the juvenile walks you will feel that you have failed your daughter.

I want to tell you Ashaji - you will not and have not failed your daughter.

WE have failed you both.

Those lawmakers who did not bring the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act up for discussion and debate in the parliament for three years, failed you.

Those putrid politicians who lost no time in turning your nightmare into a gimmick and photo op, failed you.

Those from the media, the purported watchdogs of society, who failed to create the required furore, failed you.

Those of us for whom Nirbhaya never became Jyoti Singh, failed you.

We, Indians, collectively, as a Nation, as a humanity have failed you.

In the last few days I’ve heard you talk to the media and I hear the voice of a mother who is still living the trauma, your pain is palpable. You’re up against the mighty judicial system of this vast country and it is going to be a long battle. But you rage on, despite the hurdles.

That makes you a hero Ashaji. Jyoti is lucky to have been born to you.

Friday, November 27, 2015

T for Tuesday. T for Tolerance

I’ve read every argument for and against the comment Aamir Khan made. My consternation is that those who support his right to free speech haven’t asked the relevant questions. Did he personally face any intolerance? Were his rights (free speech, free movement etc.) violated before he made this irresponsible and highly generalised remark that got the Twitterati gunning for his backside?

Answer all likely is ‘No’.

Now read a story on tolerance …

My father was a young man of 20 when he moved to Kerala in 1967 – straight from a tiny village in Haryana. He worked hard, set up a miniature business and built his dream house in Kochi in 1990.

When we first moved into the house, the tiny chapel across the street from us was one of those typical ‘tiny’ chapels, where devotees would come, light candles, pray and leave.

No one can remember when it became popular.

I’d left to pursue higher education by ’91 and my parents cannot remember when the chapel began having their Tuesday Mass on a loudspeaker (these days they have a few rounds of cracker bursting after every Mass), or when they collected enough money to buy out the ‘Ice Factory’ next door to us, demolish it and construct a huge building in its place.

The crowd at the church is so huge during their Mass, especially the two that are held in the evening, that the crowd spills on to the road. Members of the congregation park their vehicles haphazardly, and increasingly in front of the gate that leads into our house.

My father, who is now in his sixties, has to go out and request people not to park their vehicles in front of the gate. For, if he is returning a little late from office, he cannot get in to his own house, or if he wishes to step out, he cant until the Mass is over.

On many occasions, he has been abused by the ‘devout’.

“You’re a Hindu so you can’t understand.”

“You are an outsider, don’t interfere.”

“I will park my scooter here. Let me see what you will do.”

He met the main priest and requested him to intervene because father is a heart patient (had a bypass surgery in 1999) and would need to access the exit to his own house to go to the hospital if something were to happen. The only thing the priest said he could do was ‘request’ devotees to maintain civility. Nothing more.

It didn’t work.

Last year, the whole family had gathered up for Diwali when on one such Tuesday evening, my brother and his wife were stuck outside due to the vehicles parked in front of the gate, blocking access completely. In fact, they were stranded in the middle of the 40 feet road because vehicles were double and triple parked.

We coaxed our father to call the cops. Meanwhile we stood outside the gate, waiting for the Mass to end and congregators to come back to their vehicles. Two young men who claimed their scooter apologised when we asked them why they’d parked in front of the gate and scuttled away.

Within minutes, several of them returned to pick their vehicles. Some smirked at our outburst, some argued with us, some abused us. That evening, we experienced what my father had experienced several times in the past.

The cops (like a Hindi film) came much later and after listening to us had only this much to say – We will send our patrol vehicle next week and please put a ‘No Parking’ sign on your gate.

Father told them in chaste Malayalam that the previous ‘No Parking’ sign had been stolen by someone. But he heeded their advice, and a few weeks later, he had a sign painted on the metal gate.

Hasn’t helped.

Intolerance is everywhere – from residential complexes that deny homes to persons of certain religions, to the clarion call Raj Thackeray gave a few years ago against North Indians living in Maharashtra. None of it perturbs us until we see intolerance up close and personal…

It instills fear…

…. when the local councillor tells my father to stop his ‘campaign’ or it would become a ‘communal’ issue….

…when my father, who has lived 48 years in a State, made it home, learned its language, adopted its culture and cuisine, is called an ‘outsider’….

…when raging ‘devotees’ threaten him all because he wants access to his own house…

Even when we fear for my parents’ safety in the light of such threats, all my father has ever said is, “No beta. People are not so bad.”

I ask Aamir Khan if he has ever had to face an iota of what my parents are facing to this day.

And yet, they’ve never discussed even in a passing conversation, “Should we leave?” On the contrary, the question my mother often asks is, “Why should we leave? This is our home.”

And that my dear Aamir is how an average Indian thinks. India is home. To my parents, Kerala is home. (Forget leaving India, for people like us, moving out of Kerala is unfathomable…so rooted are we in our identities!)

What you said is your opinion and you have every right to it. If only you had not generalised the intolerance faced by ‘Indians’. Who are these Indians, and are you one of them? Do they all want to move?

Just as you used diligence and research before every episode of Satyamev Jayate, I wish you’d made a well thought out statement, based on facts, not sentiments, and certainly not based solely on the ‘news’ we are fed by media houses.

If you had voiced your opinion and followed it up by saying something that conveyed this >> Yes, Kiran and I discussed the issue, BUT, India is our home and we have no intention of moving - you’d have given people like us more strength.

We are dismayed because you did Indians a disservice and reduced the intolerance debate to a mere generalisation. You are not anti-national, but you’re an irresponsible celebrity who had no qualms using a platform to voice your generalisation, that is neither based on a personal experience nor ground realities.

To conclude the tolerance story - last year, on this very day (26 November), my father suffered a massive heart attack. Due to timely intervention, he was virtually brought back from the dead.

Luckily for us, it was not a Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Are you from Kerala? Killer!

I first wrote this as a status update on Facebook but decided later that the subject warranted a blogpost. So here it is - 

I was at a Vegan Fest over the weekend, a flea market in its second edition in Pune trying to promote handmade soaps made in Kerala, when an 'educated' family stopped by at the kiosk. They picked the soaps, and I saw the young, 20 something daughter's eyebrows touch her hairline. She promptly put the product back and informed me rather flamboyantly, "We are boycotting Kerala because they are killing dogs." 

You may have heard about the controversy of dog culling in Kerala - if not, then read all about it here... 

I took the pains of explaining to the family that most regular citizens of the State neither supported the culling of dogs, nor did they step out of the comfort of their apartments and bungalows to go around killing stray dogs themselves. At this point, I imagined my parents, both in their 60s, running after dogs on the street outside our Kochi home and just the thought was ludicrous!

Since they looked at me as if I had personally caught and killed a few myself, I assured them that I was an animal lover and had adopted a dog from a laboratory (that had conducted numerous pharma tests on him), giving him a home when no one wanted to and despite all his health issues.

They raised their eyebrows again and asked me questions about his breed and age etc. They said, "We are vegans, so we cannot support this..." By 'this' I understood that they meant that they cannot support the purchase of a product from Kerala. 

At this point, my 16 year old who was standing behind me whispered to me, "Mom, they actually think all Keralites are killing dogs?" I had to answer her question too because she is a dog lover and one of the reasons why we adopted ours.

I assured them that the culling of dogs was a massacre and it is certain that not EVERY Malayali or EVERY Keralite endorsed it. 

But this educated family was firm.

"We went to Kerala in February. There was not a single dog on the streets! Kochi was the worst" and saying so the girl made that 'I'm going to throw up now' face.

They didn't buy the soaps, and that did not perturb me as much as their sweeping generalisation about all the citizens of the State did. I was also quite astounded at how the 'educated' in India think! This family actually thought that the WHOLE STATE, men, women, children and the elderly, each citizen was out there - murdering dogs!  Like, we wake up in the morning and decide that today we'll kill 3 strays for breakfast!

It was so grossly unfair! For an inhuman act by a few, can an entire State be branded killers, (which includes my 2 year old niece)? Isn't it is unfair to blindly label the other peace loving citizens of the State as killers and mass murderers? 

Stray dogs are a menace that are going to become a bigger problem than garbage in our cities and towns. Killing them is not a solution and we all know it. But branding everyone from Kerala a killer is not a solution either!

I urge you all animal lovers and vegans out there -  Stop this discrimination and stop judging a fellow human being merely for belonging to a certain geographical area. We are also 'living beings', aren't we?

Friday, October 16, 2015

A conversation with Dad

Dad called me the other day, as he usually does. I was sounding tired and truth be told, I have been working long hours lately. We had the following conversation, produced verbatim:

"You're sounding tired. You should take it easy."

"Yes Pa, I will."

"You're not young beta... By the time you get to my age, you will be burned out."


"You're already 42. At your age, you should let up."

"Im not 42!..."


"My birthday is in January, and until then no one can say Im 42. Im 41 till then..."

"Oh ho... (laughing uproariously).. Ok... You're 41 but you have to learn to take it easy."

This conversation is so special to me because my dad is not the kind who likes to 'encourage' laziness or tardiness... To him, work is worship and it surprised me to hear him tell me to take it easy...which also means I am doing something right... 

From being reprimanded by him as a child for reading too many books and having too much fun, I have finally graduated to being his prodigal daughter. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dear Women, Stop being Hypocrites...

Personally, I have nothing against Ms Kavita Krishnan. But I do not agree with her methods.

The one thing feminists across the world fight for is equality. To demand equality is to accept that we want to be treated as fairly as possible or as is commonly assumed, we want to be treated like men. 

There should be no discrimination of any kind against females. If I can put in as many hours as my male colleague at work, I deserve to be paid as well as him. Since I am an equal stakeholder in raising a family, whether as a homemaker or not, I deserve to have equal rights as a wife and mother. I should also have equal rights in inheritances, and must be treated at par with a male counterpart (father or brother) for the same. Many of these rights are granted to us under law but there are many rights we still fight for – the right to raise a female child, the right to her education and future, to make marital rape recognisable under the law etc.

Rights are good. Equality is good. The problem arises when we want equal rights but don’t want to accept responsibility. 

So we want to have the right to free speech on a social media platform, but we don’t want the baggage that follows. We want the freedom to use abusive language against another person (because we are ‘right’), but don’t want reactions. We want to have the freedom to make insinuations, but once the volley of abuse begins, want respect and dignity because we are women. We want the freedom to voice our outrage/accusation, but want immunity from the backlash ‘because’ we are women.

Many so called feminists and supporters of women's rights especially in India are caught in this quagmire of hypocrisy, where equality means bashing up men on a public forum, indulging in name calling, making insinuations and resorting to the use of abusive language and then asking complete strangers to show restraint because they are women.

Freedom of speech and expression is never absolute. It comes with great responsibility. And at a price. Gender abuse is one of them.

Abuse in any form is condemnable. But it is a reality we know has existed long before social media was born. When we raise a voice, the only way our voices, as women can be smothered is by threats – of violence against us, of rape, assault and worse, even murder. 

A very renowned child rights activist from Pune who has uncovered several adoption rackets in the city and the state of Maharashtra, receives threats frequently. Once during an interview she opened her wallet and showed me a pack of condoms that she carries with her at all times. “The worst they can do is rape me” she said stoically. If they killed her, well, that would be 'it' she believed. In an ideal world, children would not be put up for sale and a woman like her would have had to find another cause to fight for. But this is the real world and she is aware of the pitfalls of her life’s calling.

The Internet is not a safe place for women. Of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organisation Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Since the number of women users has grown exponentially since then, this number is also bound to have grown. (There are no figures for India.)

Just because we get trolled or pilloried on social media doesn’t mean that we stop expressing ourselves. On the contrary, we must make our presence felt even more, raise our voices individually and collectively, fight for causes, for our rights etc.

But we must be aware of the responsibility that comes with it. If we use the keyboard to express our views or opinions and rant or vent, we must stop asking for privileges due to our gender, stop crying wolf and stop expecting the world to be nice to us. 

We must also remember that ultimately, 'niceness' is also a two way street.

Postscript: I sent this opinion piece to several online journals and sites, a couple through contacts as well, but no one responded. Perhaps as a dear friend told me, trolling of women is far more dangerous, rampant and sexist than it is for men could be the reason no one wanted to carry it. But I think that is one reason why women ought to read this.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Clothes Make a Man, But a Woman is Damned Whatever She Wears

So Smita Sabharwal, an accomplished IAS officer from Telangana, known for her “ethnic style” wore “a trendy trouser and frilly top at a fashion show” and grabbed eyeballs.

The story first appeared in a column titled Deep Throat in Outlook magazine recently and sparked a controversy because it made derogatory remarks against the lady. It said that she makes a "fashion statement with her lovely saris and serves as 'eye candy' at meetings." The caricature carried by the magazine is distastefully sexist and, quite rightfully, the IAS officer has slapped a legal notice on the magazine.
This is the caricature carried by Outlook 
The problem is not just that the column sought to insinuate that the lady held a position of favour with the Telangana chief minister, it also made crass remarks about her having worn perfectly acceptable attire to a fashion show – trousers and a top – which, the officer clarified in her legal notice, she attended with her husband and not in the capacity of a civil servant.

The episode serves to highlight the conundrum for many of us – what should we wear to suit the occasion? Working women who often have to juggle other responsibilities (such as raising kids and having a ‘real’ life, which could mean catching up with friends after a hectic work day) must spend a lot of time each morning deciding what to wear depending upon what their plan for the day is.

A linen kurti with jeans if you’re teaching in a college is acceptable, or a tee with the same blue jeans to go grocery shopping. But you surely can’t wear a tee with jeans to college because you’re a ‘teacher’ and have to set the right example!

You would be gawked at if you wore a western formal suit at a civic body meeting (aren’t journalists ‘supposed’ to dress fuddy-duddy?) and would perhaps be confronted with questions like, “What’s the special occasion?” if you wore a sari to work one day instead of the usual salwar-kurta. A linen skirt wouldn’t work at an evening party, or at a seminar. But a shirt with jeans or trousers would probably work for both.

Most often, the confusion exists because working women want to be seen as serious and professional in the workplace and so the way we dress becomes important. We can’t be seen as being provocatively dressed (sleeveless tops, a skirt shorter than ankle-length, or tight-fitted trousers would fall in this category) or dressed too well (the silk sari falls in this category). As long as we wear the kurti that covers our butts, a dupatta that covers the bosom and a salwar or trousers to hide our legs, we have a chance at being considered ‘decently dressed’.

In the case of Sabharwal, it seemed like a double-edged sword because the saris she wears to work and the trousers she wore to a fashion show, both became talking points for the magazine.

Sadly, hers is not an isolated case. In the recent past, Malayalam writer and secretary of the Kerala Book Marketing Society, Babu Kuzhimattom wrote a Facebook post saying that the leggings women wear are provocative and ‘arouse’ men.

It seems that the freedom to wear what we choose is a Utopian ideal confined to the Page 3 sections of newspapers and websites. In real life, a woman will probably get undue attention and unwarranted observations for wearing a swimsuit to a pool.

This post first appeared on 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Brown Building

a new brown building has come up
close and yet not
I can't see who lives there
although the occasional blue tee
drying out on a line
in the glass edged balcony
catches my eye

who lives there...
someone like me?
a person much loved
yet sad and melancholy?
who has wings
that take flight
every once in a while
only to be clipped
not by winter
or the need to find a home
but by her own self
and the lack of wind
to hoist her up
far away

does she want to run
but not too far?
be happy but not delirious?
be content and yet want more?
be an achiever and ordinary all at once?
be a lover, a mother
a partner and a worker
and yet not 'be'
any of them at all?

has her heart been broken?
has she lost friends?
loved ones?
has she forgotten
the hurt?
overcome the pain?
made peace with the demons
that inhabit the innards
of her fickle soul?

is she alive and happy?
or happy to be alive?
or just living and hoping
that someday
will mean more
than just
a smiling face,
or a hug...
when happiness
will mean
contentment and ease
peace and silence...


its funny how
when the world celebrates
the onset of a weekend
I curl up in my bed
and stare
the old dilapidated apartment
where the parrots perch
every morning
a dash of green
in the greys of the walls'
cracked and peeling facade

sometimes I wonder
who lives behind
those heavily draped windows
on certain evenings I know
no one's home
because the lights don't
switch on
at all...
some mornings I see
the fancy air conditioner's
outlet leaking water
indicating that she was home
slept the night
in her bed

does she sleep alone?
does she pile up the pillows
on the side of the bed
that is never slept in?
or does she squeeze one
between her legs
choking the loneliness
to temporary bliss?

does she remember being in love?
being happily ignorant
of life's travails?
or being high on the stuff
that blocks out memories and sadness
turning life into a haze of
welcoming euphoria?

does she feel regret, remorse
repugnant rage when she is cornered,
cheated, lied to?
or is she that person you see
standing in the line ahead of you
at a grocery mart, the one
who hides behind an easy smile,
and mouths 'thank you' for every
little gesture of kindness;
the calm, happy woman you wish
you could be?

does she live in a created cocoon
of self preservation
denying herself love, attention,
adulation and true affection?
does she desire?
or does she wish she could desire?
is her loneliness a symptom
or the cure?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

It rained down on me

It rained down on me

like a thunderous applause from the sky

soulful and strong
intense and poignant
like a bridge being built
on a new paradigm;
a newfound freedom
in expression and bond

warm and welcoming
words do flow
o'er wine or scotch
heaven knows...

calm insides
peaceful smiles
happy songs
the heart doth know
since it rained down on me
like a thunderous applause from the sky....

Sunday, January 18, 2015

when will it be
when will it come
when will the darkness of this soul cease
when will it rain
when will clouds disperse
when will be release

when will faith shine
when will comfort rise
when will the strongholds of negativity fade
when will it feel right
when will this end
when will peace be made

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sometimes I hate my job...

We all live in our own private hells. 

As I spoke to a gentleman this evening I was left pondering over the following questions: Can parents ever get over the loss of their child needlessly - to a road accident? Dreams, hopes, all crushed?

And what is worse? 

That someone from a newspaper calls you to talk about your decision to donate your child's organs and she may also need a photo? 

Or that she may be so sickened by the thought of even asking those questions and noting their answers down in a note pad that she may want this story reassigned to someone else? 

How is this reporter going to talk to the mother of that 18 year old tomorrow? 

Sometimes I hate my job. And I live in my own private hell knowing that I have stoked wounds that are still fresh.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

When Life ends...

And this is how it ends. 

A body we take pains to keep fit, beautiful. A body that we take pride in as we adorn it with the best money can buy - clothes, shoes, jewellery...

A body that helps us achieve happiness - experience the joys of love making, of intimacy and physical proximity; that helps us give birth to our babies;  that helps us become who we are as we travel to work, to achieve our goals, pursue our passions, rise above our own expectations; helps us climb mountains, surf the waves, dive deep underwater, fly high on the wings of a glider....

A body that we think is ours - our genes playing a role in what we look like, how we smile, how we frown, how we laugh; that makes us different from our siblings and yet alike in so many idiosyncratic  ways; that either makes our children from 'my side' or 'his side'....

A body that we protect, preserve, use or abuse...

A body that transcends its physical form and makes us a person - with a name, an identity and a form...

And when life ends, the same body becomes what it is meant to be - a 'body'...

Hospitals refer to you as 'the body' because you cease to be their patient. Your loved ones who are awaiting the arrival of your physical remains also refer to you as 'the body' because suddenly you're not a living being with a name, you're the recently deceased, the 'body'...

Not only are you that lifeless mortal remains of a once thriving human being, your remains are also tied up to a stretcher/bed with ropes, tightening your frame against this metallic structure without a care for your comfort, because you're no longer're just a 'body'...

So much for the illusion of owning our bodies; once life ends, we are just a lifeless rag doll waiting to be picked up and taken for that final journey....