Friday, September 8, 2017

A Warrior in Life and Death

Warrior tales always lure. They infuse a spirit that compels you to take up cudgels against all odds. I don’t know if they always motivate you to win but I’m sure they do propel you to fight. For that’s what every warrior is- a fighter. This warrior tale that I now pen has been long due. But there are certain fighters of life, who you feel, you might fail even if you pen from the depth of your heart. There are facets of their life that you are unaware of. Yet you wish to speak of them from your perspective and hope they can ignite courage in the hearts of many other people. Definitely  their fight deserves much more than a plain eulogy because in taking up arms against life they made sure to leave pertinent impressions on countless minds. Here is my tribute to the bravest warrior woman I’ve ever known.
It was the summer of 2013 when I moved to the Nilgiris for a year. Rekha was a neighbour. Fiery, loud, cheerful. My first meeting with her was at the parking lot. The usual pleasantries shared by new neighbours and we went about our businesses. Later that evening I learnt that Rekha had just won a battle against breast cancer. She didn’t leave my mind thereafter. You often get embroiled in such stories and the why’s and how’s trouble you long enough.
We were four of us in that building and I was the one who was most aloof. As each one of us settled down making the most of our new environment, one morning I heard this gale…peals of laughter from the apartment underneath. Curiously enough, I ran up and down the house trying to fathom the goings on. Undoubtedly, Rekha was leading from the front. But my titters were no match for her. Nor was I one of those who rushed into company soon.
What finally broke the ice between us is a rather long tale that would take away the purpose of this writing. But it will be enough to say that she held out her hand first and firm. Besides a common neighbourhood and daughters of about the same age, there was one thing that most prominently brought us together. Rekha was a dentist, a trained classical dancer and a zumba instructor. Her enthusiasm about zumba was infectious and I decided to go for her trial class. What I witnessed that morning was a combination of spirit, zest and exhilaration! She was a fire performer. She had turned the tables on chemo and was ready for a second session with life.
Thereafter, our meetings became more frequent. I was a student and a neighbour. We were also co learners at a cooking class. So naturally we crossed each other innumerable times in a day. I was doing a handful of courses and was mostly drained out. She was working double. As I would lie down for an afternoon nap, I would hear the onomatopoeic vroom of her black scorpio as she would leave for the rehearsal of an on stage performance. Her final sessions with the doctors at Bangalore were probably the only breaks she ever took. And it was just after one such session that she picketed against fate for the umpteenth time and emerged victorious in her own right. It was also during that time that she left everlasting impressions on the hearts and minds of countless people as she shunned longevity of life and embraced its worthiness in her own idiosyncratic way. And that is precisely where the story of this warrior woman takes shape.
Rekha was certain that it was going to be her last session with the doctors at Bangalore and this time when she returns she would come with a clean chit. She had an array of activities planned out. She was starting zumba for kids, had a session lined up in Chennai for breast cancer awareness and was preparing to join her husband Prashant in the talent hunt at the academy besides a trip to Goa in the one week break.
“This is going to be my last visit to the doctor. Thereafter no more breaks from zumba classes for you guys!”
I was keenly waiting for her to get back. She did with some heart rending news. It wasn’t a relapse. But they weren’t sure she was through with it. There were chances of cancer ripping other parts of her body and they needed to check before giving her a report. That she was distressed a,nd worried would be an understatement. She was hopeful, yes, but fear lurked somewhere in there. However we resumed zumba classes. And all other plans stayed very much in place. In between reports of a stubborn disease, life moved pretty fast for Rekha. Quick decisions and a different plan from last time was ensued.
This time round she adhered to old weapons of self defence. The aim was healing from within. Chemo was a loser. So in came yoga, meditation, vipasana, detoxification.
Its funny with time. When you have the most of it, you usually while it away and its paucity makes  you fill it up even more. Zumba never came to a standstill. And it was more vigorous than ever before. More stamina and more power. Sometimes I wondered if she was trying to prove a point to Him. After all she was fighting fate that He randomly allocates. Her depleting energy was probably observed and spoken of too. You see, people come in all shapes and sizes. And compassion is a rare size. Doesn’t fit all. And vibrations reached her soon enough. Yet, I saw this woman never say no. I did see Rekha lose oodles of weight. And I recalled how once she had given me a theory about putting on weight when you beat cancer at its own game and losing it when cancer has the upper hand. I’m sure she remembered this as well. But none of these stopped her from starting Zumba for children. The zumba breast awareness camp in Chennai was attended with zest and preparations for a dance performance in the academy Biannual affair started with full josh.
In between, one evening, she walked up to me with a pamphlet from Oriflame. She had just become a member and asked me if I wanted anything. I stared at her in disbelief but failed to utter anything. I ordered a few things- a lipstick among them that I still have. Most things were there on time but one, which she promised to get soon. An annual fair at the academy was lined up soon enough and Rekha, yes the eternal warrior, had a stall put up. She got these lovely skirts that I regret not buying. Not because it was a beautiful dress but because picking it up would have been my way of appreciating this woman’s fight against cancer. I did pick up a pair of earrings though. But my apathy left me restless. I wonder if it scarred Rekha in the process. Maybe not. She didn’t have time to carry grudges or scars.At the last zumba session before the close of the year, we were all gifted zumba wrist bands.
With time Rekha needed more care and treatment. So the performance never happened as she moved back to Bangalore and was made to stay put in the hospital. WhatsApp was never popular then. I frequently wrote to her on messenger and she responded whenever possible. Just a few days before we were to wind up from the Nilgiris, I received a message that read, “Dear Sonia, I have managed to get your product from Oriflame. Am sending it through Prashanth.”
Even as I had been assuming her to be lying helplessly in bed, Rekha had been busy living life. This is the greatest quality of a warrior. One who never gets defeated even in the face of a defeat. The product did reach me and I remember handing over a letter for her to Prashant. I still wonder if she ever got a chance to read it. I just wanted to tell her how she had taught me to brave out every single day and turned a cynic into a lover of life. Before we bid goodbyes both Prashant and Rekha received a well deserved commendation for their feat on stage. And that was the last I heard from her. On my way to Delhi from Coimbatore I received a message informing me that Rekha had now decided to take on God in the Heavens above. I am sure she must have given him a tough fight. She was a warrior in life and death.

This post is for a Blogathon titled Warrior Women @Women’s Web. I chose to write about Rekha because I truly believe that she is an example of exemplary courage, a fighter who left an impression on my mind and soul and I hope that through my story Rekha can continue to give courage to other women.

When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve year old girl, Aremis. Check out this historical novel Empire ( with a warrior woman at the heart of the novel.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Letter to Her

Dear Maithili
Wondering why I chose that name for you? Because you are the quintessential Indian woman, a shadow of the one you derive your name from-Sita! Yes, the one who was the epitome of sacrifice, of the strength of a woman so misconstrued by society for years together now. Because you have been made to believe that sacrifice is the virtue that makes you a Goddess. Who are you then, if not Maithili( princess of Mithila) or Janaki( daughter of Janak) or
Ramā( wife of Rama), a woman whose name too is seeped in patriarchy. And so when you choose to look away when abused, I know not any other name by which to call you.
Don't be disheartened by my harsh words. I only wish to ignite the fire in you. I only wish to tell you that a man who torments you physically or emotionally or psychologically does not deserve your silence. There is no merit in saving the face of one who sends you into exile or demads an "agni pariksha" from you. Unmask the misogynistic abuser and set yourself free.
I have often spotted you late in the night, under the covers with swollen, red eyes. Sometimes it' s a phone call, sometimes a scar on your face...a deeper one somewhere inside. At other times its dowry or a loose remark, a slight push when your man is inebriated and intoxicated. That "not in his senses" excuse to forgive him another time; that preposterous comparison asking you to bring him back from the abode of another woman..." after all Savitri brought back her husband from the clutches of death"... and give him just another chance. I have often seen you battle it out on pitch dark nights when you know best that the world will be unable to trace your tears. And yet you have found reasons to hang on a little longer maybe. Suffering in silence is the quality of your Goddess afterall.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Look at Yourself!!

Hello everyone!

Well well's such a day today! I'm practically done with my morning chores and I'm out of work....just figuratively, mind you. A steaming cup of coffee to kickstart the rest of the day and a drizzly, misty morning right out of my window to give me company here. Couple with that the burden of penning my thoughts on the 8th of March. Deadly combination you see!

I really want to write great stuff today. Like all those messages I received this morning. I quote one...Look at yourself...energetic, radiant, efficient, terrific...
 I wonder how they manage to make it all so glossy and furbish it all up. Makes me feel on cloud nine. So I literally turn to look at myself in the mirror. Still in my pyjamas and trying to fight early morning blues, I'm certainly the opposite of energetic. Never mind, I tell myself and turn over to my visage. I'm trying to see the wonders of the age reverting, exorbitant emollient that I'd applied just before slipping into bed last night. It seemed to have worked for my neighbor who happens to be a year older. In my case radiant???....nah...not really.  That's okay. I still have a few more adjectives to validate myself. So I rush into the kitchen to do those endlessly chaotic morning routine tasks, ones that I need not elaborate, for they are most common to almost all women. As I shuttle from one corner of the house to another, there's a pot of milk that spills over, a glass that almost breaks, a five year old whose piggy tail waits for a lost ribbon and a sock that hopelessly looks for her lost partner. There's little hope so I quietly strike off efficient. While I'm on the next adjective, there's a channel that is showing some of these phenomenal women. There's this sports person and an actor, a politician, an entrepreneur and a Nobel prize winner! I'm nowhere close. So I simply delete the message from my chats. I hurry in for a quick shower and then sit down to do what I do best...share my thoughts with you all.

If you ask me, whats that one thing that we women do to make life tougher for us, I will say that we continue to look down upon ourselves. Each time life gives us a reason to celebrate who we are, we let it drown in those countless expectations that we have from ourselves. There is always a nagging pain about not doing or being who someone else is. There is this constant tussle about choosing a way of life and then wondering if it is the best choice. There is this continuous proving of yourself to yourself that women suffer from. And so if I were to say why women must celebrate today, I would say that they must to remind themselves of the multifarious probabilities that they are, to remind themselves that they are much more than a pay hike or elastic skin or awards or motherhood or whatever. 

And so as I close this piece can any one of you resend that message to me. I want to keep it. I want you to keep it...
Look at yourself...Energetic, Radiant, Efficient, Terrific..... 


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yellow Stains

There were those yellow stains on his shirt
She couldn't get them away
The detergent didn't help much
She tried anyway.

They saw the yellow stains
Nothing could be worse
His honour was at stake
Couldn't she have rubbed enough.

Those yellow stains would stay
As long as she chose her ways
With life invested in office files
Blotches would forever stay.

Yellow stains are irresponsible
Exhibit promiscuous ways
Those appraisals hardly mean a thing
Until you get those stains away!

And so they hang the yellow stains
On the right most shelf with the appreciation card
So the next time you walk into her house
You don't miss
The Yellow Stains.

Two Lives

I do own a time machine.
And I often use it to travel back
to my other life…
I live two
One here, today
And the other, that I left round the corner
and  conveniently call it yesterday.

On rare occasions when I wish to holiday
and feel the need to breathe
I sit in my time machine
to go back
to tresses with shades of grey
and wonder how they became this colour
since I saw them a few months away.
I go back to grooves
and can make out those dimples gone astray.
I go back to puffy eyes
that hide behind horn rimmed glasses
only to find them a little weaker than they were
on my last holiday.
And then I sit in my time machine once again
to travel back into today.

That morning my phone buzzed unusually.
There was a call from that side of life called yesterday.
It had a new address
Ward fifteen at a place called Healthcare.
I paced for a while
and thought if it was urgent in any way…
I sat in the time machine
but it refused to budge
I tried hard
Checked for power failures,
battery woes
and other technical slows…
I summoned the engineer
only to know
 that I'll have to wait until the weekend
 before I can go.

Alas! The time machine
held me back
Wasn't really my fault you see.
I made a few phone calls though
Even tied up for somebody
to run errands all through.

Coming Saturday I travelled back
to see another strand of grey
troughs on cheeks deeper than ever
and puffy eyes tired like never.

Next morning, it was time to move.
I wished the time machine
to give up once again.
A snag, a lag
anything that would make me stay.
But it never breaks up when I travel into
this life called today.
So I sat down once again
as I chose one life over the other
that day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Lady with the most Unkempt Hair...

Hey! You...
The lady with the most unkempt hair
Did you just brush off layers
from those medallions up there?
I'm talking to you....
My lady...with the most unkempt hair.
Can you put aside
your ladle for a little while
and lend me an ear..
A stolen moment...
What?Don't tell me now
that the maid is already there!
I hope you read through
your citations too!
How long have they been up there?
I guess, a year or two...
Fifteen years!Is that what you said?
Oh, yes! I do hear the doorbell ring
But I need to know
how a dancer clipped her wings??
Let the boss's mail rest in the box a while
And put aside your chat box
It's only vile
You can let the curry be
Just sit down and answer me...
Oh! The grocery can do alright
But those honours up there
Hope they're within your sight
Even if you didn't do the laundry
I'd know you care...
O my beautiful one with the most unkempt hair. .
Believe me,
I know the bills must be paid
Home works finished
and dinners made.
I know the piles
of those office files
and phone bells and lullabies. ...
Those prizes will gather some dust again
But before you mop your laurels up there
Be sure you know
what's tougher dear
To win a dime
or wipe off the grime.
Don't turn off the lights
Lend me an ear
O lady with the most unkempt hair!!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A View From Five Ft No Inches

A humble exaggeration, a harmless lie, a saving grace- call it as you please. For a little 'truth-less-ness' at the beginning of this scribble should not annoy you. Yes, I'm not five feet tall-that is if five feet is at all tall!

I was born with genes hard to pull and a lineage not very proud of having 'scaled heights.' Yet I had a determined mother who had decided to battle the the wrath of God and 'pull' me out of the injustice hurled by Him on our entire clan. And thus grew my story 'inch by inch.'

Just days after I set foot into this world, began elaborate sessions of oil massages- sesame and apricot, the right proportions of castor and almond; not to forget granny's practice of using 'ghee' from a lone cow's milk. It was all done, coupled with the right movements of fingers and hands for not less than three long years. But it was too early to predict and efforts could not stop at this. From bournvita to horlicks, skipping ropes to high jumps- nothing was spared, neither was I! The most tedious task was the tip-toed morning walk from one end of the room to the other with my hands out-stretched to the sky almost in pleading. Lengths of iron rods across the doors of the house, basket ball sessions and homeopathy wonder pills- you name it and I did it. But I grew faster in years than in inches. With her efforts seeming all in vain, what added to my mother's woes were the constantly rocketing heights of cousins and friends. She was never spared without a tip or two-"Try giving her bananas on an empty stomach" or "Why don't you help her with works wonders!" To top it all was the perpetual concern of a maternal aunt who thought I would never find a all this the only person I pitied was my mother, for reasons so obvious.

Between all this my certain short stature never bothered me except on a few hilarious occasions. While in school I was once enthusiastically preparing to audition for the beautiful "Snowhite and the Seven Dwarfs." Needless to say I dreamt of being Snowhite, only to be dismayed by my selection as the seventh dwarf!

By the time I was out of my teens, my mother had invested too much in me and probably accepted her defeat at the hands of my genes. However, one can never underestimate the will power of a woman. She went on to try the very same formulas( along with a few others she had garnered with experience and time) on my younger sibling. And this time she did succeed. My sister happens to be an inch taller than me.

With time I had multiple experiences with my height- being pulled out of dance performances, being adjusted and re-adjusted in choirs to being given a children's ticket at a fun fact, there were many an imbroglio that made my life a fabulous roller coaster.Of course my due apologies to those who really  fretted over my height but believe me all their concerns were well taken and God did listen to some of them. My aunt for one could heave a sigh of relief for I eventually did find a groom.

As for me, this matter bothered me only as much as it could have bothered both Napoleon and Tendulkar. If I ever stood troubled, it was only in the kitchen trying to get a pan from the top shelf. My mother does keep calling with tips to pull up my tiny tots....she has ample examples of genes gone wrong.

And at last for all those who stand as tall as me, a gentleman once asked me, "How does the world look from five ft no inches?"

I simply replied, "As beautiful as ever!"

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Every Woman in Me


I had a fun day today.
A movie, some shopping and all you please,
yet my mind is just not at peace.

My heart is heavy
trepidations many.
I was shot down today
for speaking my mind.
Threatened by me
some men failed to see
my love for humanity.

Some others tore me apart
for wine or lust
(hard to say in order what)
weighed heavy.
And I paid the price
for boarding a bus
late in the night.

Humiliated in death and life
I wonder
how to survive.
For my prowess on the tennis ground
wasn't enough
to make some proud.
They mocked at my physicality
huge and loud,
I pity him
who drops a jaw
at mortal beauty!

I'm not a Sushmita, a Nirbhaya or a Bartoli
and yet they are me
and I am thee.

A chapati maker(sigh)
trying to rise above shopping sprees,
there's ire and fire within me.
I am every woman
and every woman is me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The First Goodbye

It was not the only time and certainly not the first one. Yet,as I bid goodbye to my younger one on her first day to kindergarten, my heart skipped many a beat. My son, now seven, raised quite an objection as he recalled how apathetically he had been pushed into formal schooling at a much tender age. Sibling jealousy is not new to me. I myself have witnessed, or so I feel, unfair treatment, being the elder one in the family. The perks, privileges and pampering are not for us. But here I was,with all my personal experiences way behind me, helpless yet determined to send a two and a half year old to school.

Infact it was quite a battle-deciding the grade of my little one. Playgroup or nursery-while the school recommended nursery for her age,the mother in me could only agree to playgroup. It would be unfair to burden those tiny shoulders with the insipid sleeping and standing lines. I'll not indulge into comparisons with my "genius" son (reason cited by me) who had finished nursery before he was three!

So, the unavoidable journey began. The little girl did all that was needed-she howled and screamed, clung on to me and refused to let me go until I firmly pushed back her hands and rushed out of the gate leaving her to the care of the school staff. But not to tread back home. I spend the next two hours on the road right outside, so that I could be available at the shortest notice, if need be. This became a routine of sorts putting all my other chores to hold until the principal finally told me to send her off in the school van and wait at home for her to be dropped back. It was a difficult decision, finally taken.

However, this did not reduce the complexity of the situation back home. When all the pleading and cajoling with me failed, my daughter turned to her father, who assured her that she wouldn't be sent to school. only to her dismay he was already off to work before she woke up the next morning. and her mother was relentless. While she failed to settle down with the idea, there was another heart rending experience added to my kitty. My cuckoo bird suddenly became "papa's doll"-from now on only her father could feed her,play with her and put her to sleep. Mommy was the quintessential enemy who sent her to school. Those few days that she chose to be thus, I felt a queer vacuum, a loneliness I don't remember having experienced ever before. I would fiddle with her little fingers after she slept wanting to pull her close to me but didn't do so from fear of disturbing her sleep. And so passed a few more days and I continued to send her to school.

Now its been a month since we started this journey called kindergarten. Yes, my daughter continues to go to school.She jumps around the house waiting eagerly for her van, joyfully recalls the events at school, sings rhymes for all of us and once again she tells me to feed her, to play with her and to put her to sleep! I still say 'goodbye' to her each morning, but it certainly does not have the pangs of the 'first goodbye'.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012



My grandmother, for the second time today, is the subject of my writing. The first time I wrote a few lines on 'ammaji' (that is how I, and almost half of the world addressed her), was almost twenty years back. She was the subject of my poem in class eight and I vividly remember the pen portrait I had created. And twenty years down the line, I sit to recreate her memories once again. 

As an infant I probably spent hours in her lap, was lulled to sleep by her endless crooning-none of which I remember. But I do recall the aroma of those hand made sewaiyas that she dried in the sun and packed in little plastic bags for us to carry back at the end of our holidays.

I do remember how she filled ladles with oodles of 'ghee' to be served with hot paranthas and how my father loathed the very idea of adding so many calories to the already oil-drenched paranthas. Ammaji never got tired-of showering love and food on her sons and her grandchildren and of picking on her daughter-in-laws in her typical manner.
"Oh!What a ruthless mother she is!", she would scream every time we were given a handful for a little mischief here and there. But most of all I remember her for that one slap that she instinctively gave me when I put my finger in an open fuse to see how an electric shock felt!That was the first and the last time, I think, she hit me, for I remember no other incident. Was she repentant? I was too small to know, but wondered always. As years passed by, I remember my efforts at teaching her English, all of which only ended in a lot of no sense and zero results. But among all the episodes, I must mention the one in which,while in college, I was a die-hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar, and had a book mark of the master, which happened to be seen by ammaji. She was instantly on high alert and bombarded me with questions on this one 'photo' of a boy in my book! To add to the fun, I told her he was the one I had chosen to be her grand son-in-law. She turned around and adjusted her bun, " Is he a brahmin?" 

What ensued , need not be mentioned, for I'm sure, the hilarious turn of events is much predictable....So, in all these years ammaji never grew old. Or so I thought. She still had the energy to nurse me for a week when I was sent home from hostel on contracting viral. But she did grow old, on the day my grandfather passed away. She never remained the person she was. For seven years, hence, she battled to tell the world her tales. But listeners were few.

Even as her physical capabilities diminished, she managed to find her piece of joy in my marriage and in the birth of my son. She continued to grope for herself, as she fought with forgetfulness, a possible alzhiemers. In one of my visits just before her death, I had an argument with her, a sort of a fight-a fight with an old woman who couldn't remember much. On my next visit, she could hardly recognise me and before I could pay her another one, she was gone. She died even before she could witness the realization of one of her dearest dreams-the marriage of my uncle's daughter whom she loved so much.

Three years since she snapped all ties with our World,I move on. I remember a lot of her, but most of all I remember that one big fight I had with her towards the fag end of her life. I wonder if she forgave me for that-I only wish you have....ammaji.