Last night while surfing channels I heard a lady drop a pearl of wisdom in some program on a Hindi Channel. She was telling her daughter that since women tend to age faster, they should always marry someone older than them. When the girl tried to protest she authoritatively dismissed her saying “Now you won’t realize it. Twenty years down the line you will regret this.”
Memory flashed back to a time 40 years ago when we would receive letters from families of prospective brides for my uncle. Post-lunch we would open the envelopes, pass the photos around while one of us would read the letters aloud. Then the analysis would begin.
‘Girl’s features are lovely even though she is only wheat-ish” mother would begin
“Girl seems tall enough for the boy. 5.6 is a good height for a girl even though the boy is 6.1” an aunt would add.
‘Educated but not more than the boy which is good’ another relative would add
“All that is fine but she is just one year younger than the boy. That is a problem” grandma’s voice dripped disappointment.
“Why is it a problem Paati. She is still younger no even if it is just one year?” I asked.
“Girls tend to mature faster than boys. In a few years she will look older than him even though they are about the same age.” grandma explained.

It was a time when people did not attempt to defy age. They let nature take its course. They gained weight and wrinkles without worrying about them. By their mid thirties men were bald and paunchy and women gained a matronly frame and wore a silver crown. So they did not want a woman looking even older than her husband and ensured this through adequate age differences between the spouses.

There were also other reasons. Traditionally among Indian marriages, the wife was expected to look upon her husband as her ‘lord and master’ and our ancestors must have felt that this would be easier if the girl was younger than her husband. Men possessed more authority and wielded more power – all this was more easily achieved if the woman was younger and more quiescent. They tried to make sure that the woman was less qualified, younger, more docile. My father had a friend who had 3 sons and he and his wife were keen on finding brides who were not more than eighteen years of age. Their reasoning was that it would be easier to mould the girl to fit into their family structure if the girl was young. Those were times of joint families and the brides had to live under the same roof with their in-laws of various generations.
An aunt who is a gynecologist finds medical sense in this arrangement based on the psychological and physiological structure of the male and female of the species. According to her, emotionally women are capable of motherhood even by their late teens while men are not ready to accept fatherhood until their mid twenties. They also need this time to become financially self sufficient. A healthy age difference also ensures that their sexual drives reduce around the same time thereby avoiding the possibility of infidelity and associated mess. Apparently women lose their sex drive by the fifties and men around their sixties.

One of my aunts is 10 years her husband’s junior. At 80, he still considers her young. The 70 year old aunt complains “when do I get to be old?’ while she rubs oil on his feet for his arthritis. :) I wonder if she would have been happier to have been the older one and have a younger husband attending to her needs in her old age.

In today’s time the structure of family, the power balance between the man and his wife have changed considerably. They live together more in mutual respect than as a protector and protégé. Women take good care of themselves and there are enough aids to mask their age and look younger than they really are. In any case many women do not opt for early motherhood and usually have children only in their early thirties. They need to look at their career demands first and then fit in motherhood at a convenient time. Many opt not to have kids too. Marital relationships are more open and less inhibited in every way.

In this changed scenario, does age difference between a man and his wife still have any validity? Except for the wisdom from experience, a man or woman of 25 is as mature as a person of 40. I know a couple where the man is balding and out of shape at 30 but the woman is svelte and fit at 40 but people still have problems accepting their union and keep waiting for the day when the man would cheat on her and the marriage would fall apart. Terms such a Cougar and toy-boy are used cattily with reference to the relationship. But in my opinion they are a very happy couple who seem quite made for eachother. if at all anyone has a chance of finding another mate in this case, it is the woman and not the man. So all their predictions are simply born out of an inability to accept a reversal of an age-old tradition (pun intended)

So what are your thoughts? Is the difference required? Is it already changing? Are younger men marrying older women? Is age difference a consideration at all in today’s spousal equations?
A month ago I was contemplating a quiet vacation at a resort near Coimbatore and my cousin was looking for an exotic vacation. Somewhere during our conversations, the plans converged and we ended up booking tickets to Bali, Indonesia. (That should tell you a lot about me – starting toward Coimbatore and ending in Bali.) The travel agent proposed a package that included local sight-seeing which is always a sensible option to get a flavor of any new place but we decided against it. Because I don’t much care for running all over the place trying to see the important tourist destinations and my cousin is more of the lonelyplanet -type traveler. So we were on our own to find a place to stay and we decided to go with le Meridien’s Nirwana Golf & Spa resort based on some rave reviews on the net. And that wasn’t a decision I regretted.
I strongly recommend the place for two reasons : 1)It is right next to one of the must-see spots of Bali, the Tanah-Lot temple. You can simply sit in the lobby of the Hotel and watch the famous sunset that tourists to Bali travel all the way to see.
It is just a few minutes’ walk if you want to join them on the beach and watch the temples of Tanah-lot and Batu Bolong during a glorious sunset. Thereafter you could just walk around the place for a Kecak or Barong performance or shop in the local market or eat local food in one of the restaurants which is more authentic and way cheaper than eating at the resort.
2) The resort is very beautifully constructed – the buildings blend well into the natural background, every room has a beautiful view of the greenery all around and every spot is done up with great taste. Whichever spot you are, it offers a lovely view either of the sea or the trees or the pools or rocky ponds or the golf course. It is a perfect get-away for those who want to spend some quiet time alone with nature watching the sea change color from morning till night.
It boasts of one of the country’s best 18 hole golf courses and has won quite a few awards for the same. The restaurants are good, staff are very friendly and helpful. It is expensive even at the off-season rate of $105 per night (incl. taxes but excl. breakfast) but that is probably the price you need to pay for all the beauty it offers.. And if you can get your company to pay for this it is a win-win all the way! As the name indicates, it also has a well appointed Spa with professional services.

The first thing you notice on arriving at the Ngurah Rai international airport is the long queue at the immigration and the fact that the officials don’t seem too worried about it. There are just 4 officials on duty although there are 16 counters. (Of course if you are like me the first thing you would notice would be the name of the airport and how you pronounce ng at the beginning of a word.) For an island that thrives on tourism you would expect a little more enthusiasm about welcoming tourists. Or perhaps this is a typical Hindu approach to life as 93% of the people in Bali are Hindus.
Visa is on arrival (for most countries) and the fee for 7 days’ stay is 10 dollars. We handed in a hundred dollar bill and received a balance of 7,20,000 rupiahs. Yes the exchange rate is about 9100 rp to the dollar and I instantly knew I was going to have trouble handling this money for the next few days. And I was right. More about that later.
It was a long ride from Denpasar to Tanah-lot which gave us the opportunity to get used to the island. On the way we saw a few large sculptures depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha and many Hindu temples blending Hindu and Buddhist styles of temple architecture. The pillars looked very Hindu while the roofs in many places were like the Pagodas in Buddhist temples. Bali has many skilled sculptors and along the way we saw shops with huge statues of Buddha, Ganesha, Shiva, Brahma, wishnu and Saraswati. They believe in the trimurtis but the variety of Hinduism practiced in Bali is quite different from its Indian parent as it is a mixture of myths, rituals, ancestor worship and belief in black magic. Native animism is interwoven with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. You must wear a sarong and sash while visiting a temple although you are permitted to go in with footwear, Mensturating women are not allowed inside and you cannot enter the temple when you are 'Impure' (?)
Every house has an ornate pillar called Padmasan with a niche for offerings which are done three times a day. Daily offering consists of flowers, cooked rice and meat on hand made coconut leaf trays On special days the offerings are more elaborate. Additionally they also a have a temple within the family compound with several Padmasans each with a designated purpose – one for storing the ashes of ancestors, one for offering to gods, one for offering grains after harvest and so on. Birth, death and marriages have special rituals as do special festivals like the new year and harvest festival. Galungan is an important festival which celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil. This seems the theme of much of their culture as their various dance forms like Barong and Kecak are also based on the same theme. These folk dances are very beautiful and performed in the temple complexes. The stories are a bit difficult to comprehend with their symbolism and mysticism but the performances are very elegant and captivating.The hotel runs shuttles two times a day to Kuta, Ubud and Semanyak from where one could take private or public transport to other places of interest. We tried to look for the government tourism office in Kuta and many sounded like they heard the name for the first time and ended up directing us to private tourist operators. It is a good idea to ask for directions at the polis (police) stations and when they say traffic signal it could just be a junction with no signals. Most people speak a form of broken English which is easy to follow once you use common sense to fill up the gaps. After a relentless struggle of about 45 minutes in the hot mid day sun we did manage to find the tourism office. They gave us maps and some information on important places to see but there are no government operated tours. All tours are organized by private operators or you could hire taxis on an hourly or daily basis.
The hotel charges 84 dollars for 8 hours for an air-conditioned car with driver. If you need a guide that would be charged separately. If you are lucky you might have a driver who can double up as a sort of guide. This is why it might be a good idea to sign up for a package which might work out cheaper and would cover the important places of tourist interest.
Alternatively you could choose to visit the important temples, the botanical garden, volcano Batur and Batur lake, Agung mountain, the monkey forest or the terraced rice fields at Tegallalang.
Wherever you go you are assured of a great view of the lush greenery either from the rice fields or the tall dense trees that line the roads all the way to the destination. Completely free, no extra charge!!There are plenty of options for water sporting activities. After all of which, you could relax with a nice body massage or foot reflexiology; Or you could just sit quietly on the beach and communicate with the sea if you do not want to go anywhere.

Markets are best avoided as you could get lured to see some of their wares and end up getting terribly overcharged. Handling prices with so many zeros is a huge problem for me and I realized that I had paid 70 dollars for stuff that I could have got at an equivalent of 1000 rupees. The story repeated every time I tried to buy something. And there were times I was happily handing over a 100000 rupiah note where I was required to pay 10000.

A note on private money changers. You find them all over the markets offering you higher rates of exchange than Banks and the likes of Western Union. At one place in Kuta the guy managed to swindle 200000 (20 dollars) from the payment due to me by cleverly distracting me. Luckily I noticed it and when I returned to confront him he gave me the money without denying too much saying “ It is a mistake uh Sorry uh. You Hindu. Me Hindu. I don’t cheat you uh.”
Ok, whatever… as long as I get my money back.
They are very good at selling things, these people. Women will tell you “just look. I make good price for you” and quote you a price 5 times the value of the item. Or they will say “Morning price for good luck. Very cheap”. Small kids will sweetly ask you “will buy something from me?” Make sure that you never buy anything without bargaining and usually they will come down to about 1/5th of the price originally quoted. That is wisdom for you from a shopper who lost about 60 dollars in stupid shopping for unwanted stuff. There are many artists around Ubud practising sculpting, wood carving, painting, batik printing, jewelry making etc. They are exquisite and expensive.
Food is good and cheap in the smaller restaurants but choice is limited if you are vegetarian. Nasi campur vegetarian and Gado gado are good. Try the Balinese Bumba vegetarian platter if you get a chance. They have a great variety of tropical fruits which I tasted for the first time – Salat, dragon fruit, passion fruit , Rambutan, mangosteen and Cocoa fruit. Food at the resort is good but very expensive. It is a more sensible option to have the buffet breakfast at the resort and have lunch and dinner at the restaurants in town.

The weather was hot and humid with temperatures hovering in the early 30s and a humidity level of 55%. It might have been beautiful had it rained but rains are not expected this year until December. Island rains are just beautiful exposing you to the full fury of the elements.
Houses have elaborate carvings on the outer walls, wooden doors and pillars. There are several wings within the same compound with a common courtyard. Each couple have a separate wing for their beds and belongings with the common kitchen and dining space forming one wing. There is a common family temple within the compound with several pillars designated for different purposes. Agricultural families also have a granary called Lumbung within the compound.

Balinese Hindus have a caste system with 4 groups : Brahmana, Satrias, Wesiya and Sudra but there are no social discriminations and intermarriages are common. But there are different temples for each caste group. Local communities have a lot of power in social and religious matters. Partha, one of the bearers at the resort restaurant had a red thread around his waist. When we asked him what it was for he said that someone had stolen something from their local temple. The community believes that the Gods have been angered by this and so all members have a red thread tied around their wrists for their protection. They have many such superstitions. The Padmasans in the houses and temples are dressed in sarongs with black and whiye checks as a protection from black magic or evil. Holy water is used for protection and purification. The temple performances of Kecak and Barong which we watched started with prayer and ended with the priest appearing and splashing holy water on all the dancers.

Strong religious beliefs and superstitions keep the people in smaller towns tied to traditional ways of life while cities like Denpasar are more drab and dull wearing the commercial look of modern cities.We noticed the same kind of lethargy and lassitude in the airport procedures on the way back. The airport facilities are rather basic reminding us of some of our own airports. There is a departure fee of 150000 rp. per person which interestingly is more than the visa fee of 10 dollars.
There is a lot that you do not understand in Bali but if you don’t try to, it can be a very beautiful and relaxing experience.
Unfriending just got formal recognition – The new Oxford American Dictionary has announced it as the word of the year. For the uninitiated,
unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.
Although the word may be new, as a concept ‘unfriending’ is not something new, at least not to those who grew up in India. The Tamil word for it is ‘Kaa’. Children unfriend each other by simply telling them ‘I am Kaa with you. You are not my friend anymore.’ I think Hindi-speaking children use “katti’ for this. Kaa or katti is the most dreaded word I remember from my childhood. Imagine your best friend or a group of classmates declaring ‘kaa’ on you. It is the children's version of imposing sanctions - they won’t speak to you and you cannot play with them, share crayons or books or snacks and you are left out of all their secrets. For me and my friends there was no fate worse than being told ‘kaa’ by one’s best friend. It was the end of the world.

In primary school, breaking news usually took the form of hushed whispers about who was ‘Kaa’ with whom. And we had to choose our loyalties and keep to that side. Fence sitters were disowned by both groups. If our friend was ‘Kaa’ with another girl, the entire group was ‘kaa’ with her. It did not matter that we were not part of the fight. What mattered was loyalty and at that age friends ranked a notch above family, society and nation. If any girl violated this code and had any dealings with the other camp she was promptly unfriended too.
Sometimes unfriending was the result of a personal quarrel or the fact that a girl was ‘too proud’ or if she refused to share something with you. At other times it was a group decision because the subject had offended someone in the group. Once in the 5th standard we had unfriended a girl who happened to be the niece of one of our teachers. After a few weeks of this, the girl could not stand it and went crying to her aunt about our ‘meanness’ and so the teacher instituted an inquiry. She called each one of us and asked us why we had unfriended her niece and none of us knew why. Someone in our group had unfriended her and so we all had. And even the girl who had started it had forgotten the reason by this time! So we were all given a lecture on our shameful behavior and asked to ceremoniously ‘refriend’ the girl by shaking hands. We still continued to unfriend whenever the situation demanded it but were careful not to get caught.

‘unfriending’ through “kaa’ was left behind as childhood ended and adult life began. In adult life friends stayed on in your life no matter what. You quarreled, stopped talking but then ran to their side the moment you heard they were in trouble. They did the same too. And then came the internet and changed the whole meaning of friendship.
You meet people in a chatroom or leave a comment on their blog and the next thing you know there is a request from them to add you on Gchat or yahoo chat. You are confused but you accept the invitation anyway. They want to chat with you every time you are online, send you jokes, event notifications, cute forwards, discussion threads from them and their friends as you are part of their group mailing list. And then one day they stop. Just. like.that. And they become invisible on chat too. I have never figured out why I keep getting thrown out of these groups. While I’d have been perfectly happy if they hadn’t made me part of their group, it hurts just a little bit when they suddenly decide to unfriend without so much as a goodbye as memories of childhood "kaa' come flooding! When I wondered about this to a young friend he said that it is very normal among friendships in the virtual world which tend to die down fast. People move on, they lose interest and form other groups and it has nothing to do with me personally.
I was not totally convinced and he forwarded me this article
In dec 2008, Burger king offered free whoppers to people who unfriended 10 of their friends on facebook and thousands were willing to grab the offer. As this article pointed out
At a suggested retail price of $3.69 for the Angry Whopper sandwich, customers are trading each deleted friend for about 37 cents’ worth of bun and beef.

I asked someone the other day if X was her friend. She said, 'hmm, ya but not a friend-friend but just a facebook friend."
Friend – there was a time when this word invoked images of undying loyalty, true understanding an unconditional acceptance. Friendship once ranked at the top of the relationship chain as the most enduring value immortalized in stories such as those of Damon and Pythius, Duryodhan and Karna, Krishna and Arjuna. It seemed that a friend would be that person whom you could turn to when everything else is lost. I wonder if such friendships are ever possible on such social networking sites. Perhaps it is time they found another word for a facebook acquaintance rather than devaluing the sanctity of the word friend – how about the term Facebooker? Then you can become friends by facebooking and ‘unbook’ them when you lose interest.
Or is unfriending here to stay as a sign of our times?
I remember a scene from a Tamil film I had seen some years ago . Two friends get off an auto and one of them takes out a 500 rupees note and the auto driver graces him with an expletive he has developed precisely for such people indicating he cannot exchange it. So the other friend pays. Then they stop at a roadside tea shop for tea and bananas where again friend A flashes his 500 note and friend B pays. This is repeated several times in various places and friend B ends up spending more than 500 during the scene while the man with the 500 rupee note smiles smugly, offering to pay everywhere absolutely certain that his note would be rejected in favor of smaller notes. The scene was funny but I thought it was far from reality. Until this Sunday …
This Sunday I decided to spend a few hours in the garden re-potting my plants. Since I was alone in the house, it seemed a good idea to pack breakfast from a Darshini restaurant nearby. Tempted by the smell of assorted items of South Indian breakfast and drooling at the thought of a vada, dosa and steaming tea for breakfast I extended a 500 rs note to the cashier who promptly returned it demanding "40. No change”. And he quickly moved to take the next order. Not having any other denominations, I had to go away savoring just the thoughts of what could have been a delicious breakfast on a wet, wintry Sunday morning in Bengaluru. Banishing the dosa from my thoughts, I walked into the neighborhood bakery to pick up some bread and eggs . Again my 500 rupee note was rejected with contempt but the owner knows me and so he packed them asking me to pay him later.
I can understand when very small business people like vegetable vendors and flower vendors do not carry change with them as their daily sales is often just enough for them to feed their family and replenish their stock, if it is a good day. So they normally start business every day with their stock and an empty cash box. But I don’t see why we should be turned away for lack of change from restaurants and bakeries. Judging from the crowd at the said restaurant I am pretty sure that they do a few thousands worth of business in a day. Perhaps it was too early in the day to change 500 rs notes. But it does not make any business sense to turn away customers because they do not have smaller denominations.

It is the same in buses, auto rickshaws, counters at railway stations – they never have change and in some places there is even a board saying “please tender exact change”. It is not the seller but the buyer who has to carry change and smaller denominations. I suspect that it is not because they cannot change larger denominations but it is to avoid the possibility of errors in the transaction resulting in loss of cash. Having to count and recount the balance to be returned also means extra time for the transaction which they seem to want to avoid especially in crowded counters like the ones selling platform tickets at stations.

Collecting smaller denominations, particularly coins is a challenge too. There is a general reluctance towards returning smaller change even in supermarkets as they have started rounding it to the lower or higher rupee. Auto rickshaw drivers round it to the nearest 5 rupees in Bengaluru. If the meter displays 25 and if you hand over thirty , the driver would happily drive away unless you insist on the balance. And even when he does, he would do so with obvious unhappiness and definitely not without one last bid at retaining it by grumbling that he would have to go empty till the nearest auto stop. Suggesting that it is our fault that we don’t live next to the nearest auto stop. I have heard it so many times that these days I stop at the auto stop and walk 200 meters to my house.
Then there are people who don’t expect to keep the change but they’d rather pay it in kind. My vegetable vendor would give me a lemon or some coriander if he has to return 2 rs, my baker would give me 2 candies instead of 1 re and the flower lady would add a few inches to the string of flowers to round it up; or she would give me a rose.
Unless one uses cash at the supermarkets, it is not easy to collect smaller denominations. Most ATMs also dispense only 100s or 500s. I have tried asking shopkeepers to change a hundred rupee note without buying anything and they refuse to entertain such crazy requests. Other than going to a bank where I hold account, I cannot I think of a way I can change a 100 or 500 rupee note. As for coins, I still don’t know how people manage to collect them unless they have some deal with the priest at a temple nearby.

I have been surprised at how cashiers in supermarkets abroad always give the exact balance without complaint and without short changing. Is it because they value the penny as much as the pound? It is more likely that there is some legal implication if they fail to return exact change. I am not sure if I can drag a shopkeeper to court in this country for refusing to give me change. Even if there is some law in my favour, the whole legal battle might leave me short changed in the end. More importantly, does anyone care about small change? A college girl told me the other day that she did not mind not getting it back as long as it was less than 5 rs. No wonder the auto driver gives me a contemptuous look when I demand my 5 rs back. He doesn’t realize that I need to stock up on smaller denominations if I want my dosa next Sunday morning apart of course from the fact that it is my right to have the balance back.

An interesting article here on the coin crisis in Argentina leading to an ironic situation. Thanks Sid!
A couple of years ago I met a lady from France who was visiting India. It was a journey in search of her roots as her mother is a third generation Indian from Mauritius and like most Indians outside the country she preserves, cherishes and values her Indianness and takes great pride in our culture. This girl had just been through a personal tragedy which had led her into a phase of introspection. This trip was a quest in search of answers to some of her personal questions and re-evaluation of her priorities. Having heard her mother talk about the values and ideals central to Hinduism and the principles that governed a Hindu ways of life, she was keen to find out if business gurus and corporates in India had evolved standards and practices rooted in this culture. According to her, western business models were rooted in greed and lacked principles and their only standard was success by all means at all times. Having headed a company herself, she felt that it was a defective model where success did not always guarantee happiness. She had been highly successful in her career but that hadn’t given her true happiness, she said.
In the short time she was here, we had many enjoyable conversations comparing the western and Indian ways of life. She mentioned a report with the finding that nearly one in four French people are on tranquillizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics or other mood-altering prescription drugs. I found this disturbing but I was a little confused when she attributed it to the loss of belief in God. She seemed to suggest that Faith could be an effective substitute for tranquillizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics and I found it difficult to make the connection.

I finally understood her point only a few days ago when I heard this lecture by eminent author Alain de botton:

in the middle ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an "unfortunate." Literally, somebody who had not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate. Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of society, they may, unkindly, be described as a "loser." There is a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser. And that shows 400 years of evolution in society, and our belief in who is responsible for our lives. It's no longer the gods, it's us. We're in the driving seat.
That's exhilarating if you're doing well, and very crushing if you're not. It leads, in the worst cases, in the analysis of a sociologist like Emil Durkheim, it leads to increased rates of suicide. There are more suicides in developed individualistic countries than in any other part of the world. And some of the reason for that is that people take what happens to them extremely personally. They own their success. But they also own their failure.

Is that why people need God? As someone who has the power we lack – to make things alright, to work miracles, to make possible whatever seems impossible to us? So that we can still have hope even when Reason tells us that nothing more can be done to make the situation better? Is that why it was necessary to invent Him in the first place? To help us handle our success and failure with equanimity by shifting responsibility?
Today we have a lot more in terms of possessions, comforts and avenues to be happy and yet people are more discontented and unhappy than the earlier generations. Success and happiness seem like mirages which people keep chasing until eventually they die unhappy. Is God the answer? What about those who have outgrown belief in God that it is impossible to go back? In matters of faith, once doubt creeps in however slight, it is never again possible to go back to unquestioning belief.

Botton’s answer is different. He argues that we simply need to re-evaluate our definitions of success and failure.

And one of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. If I said to you that there is somebody behind the screen who is very very successful, certain ideas would immediately come to mind. You would think that person might have made a lot of money, achieved renown in some field. ...
Here's an insight that I've had about success. You can't be successful at everything. We hear a lot of talk about work-life balance. Nonsense. You can't have it all. You can't. So any vision of success has to admit what it's losing out on, where the element of loss is. And I think any wise life will accept as I say, that there is going to be an element where we are not succeeding.
And the thing about a successful life, is a lot of the time, our ideas of what it would mean to live successfully, are not our own...
And we also suck in messages from everything from the television, to advertising, to marketing, etc. These are hugely powerful forces That define what we want, and how we view ourselves. When we're told that banking is a very respectable profession a lot of us want to go into banking. When banking is no longer so respectable, we lose interest in banking. We are highly open to suggestion.
So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas. And make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it's bad enough, not getting what you want. But it's even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn't, in fact, what you wanted all along.

I found it a truly inspiring and insightful lecture. Things they don't teach in the universities but ought to.Ideas that young people should consider before they get sucked into the rat race. Perhaps they could then find a way to be successful and happy as their struggle would not be to meet someone else’s definition of success but their own.
Food, for me, was Tamil Brahmin cuisine for a very long time. In my family, the people who claimed that they were not very rigorous about their food preferences only meant that they even ate Bisibelebaat or Palakkad cuisine sometimes. In this milieu, I felt like a radical extremist since I enjoyed 'north Indian' food and was even willing to go without rice for a couple of meals. If you are younger than 30, I must tell you that this was a huge step for a Tam in the seventies. Of course I have written about this before.

And then I boarded a Pan Am flight in 1986 for my first ever trip abroad lasting two and a half months. Just the American accent was enough to intimidate me those days; it was worse because on this flight, for the leg till Frankfurt, the flight attendants were mostly European. They hardly smiled, spoke English like German and looked like they would throw you out of the window if they didn't like you. And it was pretty clear they didn't like anyone on this flight full of noisy, unruly Indians. Seated next to me was a couple from Gujarat . They seemed like seasoned travelers. At meal time they were served an Indian meal while everything on my plate looked unfamiliar except large leaves of cabbage (actually lettuce). I couldn't believe that this passed off as lunch in any language. I timidly requested the flight attendant for the same meal as the Gujarati couple.
'Sorry ma'm, it's all we 've got.'
My travel agent had missed to mention my meal preference!

I did not realize that this was just the beginning of the horror story until I had to suffer meal after meal of burger (with the meat removed), French fries and coleslaw on the days we traveled. I had a choice of staying in the apartment and having rice with baked beans or yoghurt or stay hungry and travel. We traveled and took pictures before every monument and tourist attraction until finally I was happy to come back home to proper meals. No wonder I only have hazy memories of that trip and don't recognize the monuments I am standing in front of.

Twenty years later I traveled again to this country and this time it was all very different. I was prepared to try exotic food ( as long as it had no meat) and they served me Pulao and Rajma for dinner and idli and upma for breakfast on a Lufthansa flight. In Seattle I stayed with my cousin who made sure that there was Sambar and curried vegetable at every meal. When we went out we ate at Udupi restaurants serving Puri/bhaji and Masala Dosa!
Thanks to the IT revolution and Y2k problem in no small measure I suppose! India had arrived - it was now a real country with real people and real food and not just some land of sadhus and snakes, where people had OM for breakfast and meditated! Airlines cared for the Indian traveler and his meal preferences. You didn't have to suffer Air India just for their food. You could buy and make Indian food right here -it was available and affordable.

But still there was one thing that I missed - Tea. Starbucks had one type of sweet tea and in the tearooms we were presented with a menu of several choices of herbal, green and black teas. While they had great snob value and assured ego-satisfaction, all I craved for was a nice Masala Chai. I was even willing to try Coffee with little luck. Yes, in the land of Starbucks we missed COFFEE - South Indian coffee. Starbucks gave us choices like we never had before and they were willing to make it all just the way we wanted. Only we didn't want any of it because they were either too strong or too watery, or too frothy or too hot. In every case it was too much - even the smallest cup ( whose idea was it to call a small cup 'tall'?) was a lot and we always ended up wasting more than half. Something was missing and it did not feel like the coffee back home even when we picked up coffee powder from the Indian shop. May be the chicory content.

How do the South Indians manage without their daily dose of South Indian Filter coffee, I wondered. My cousin did not care for coffee or tea but I am sure that is not the case with the other million or two out there. You can take a Tamilian or a Kannadiga to Starbucks but you cannot make him drink the coffee for sure? Or had they resigned to their fate, admitted defeat and prepared their palates to an acquired taste for one or other of the Starbucks coffee? Or were they getting their coffee supplies from India regularly? It was a mystery till the time I boarded the flight back to Bangalore and I made mental note to pack a few boxes of Lipton tea if I traveled to this country again.

Last month I was packing again to come to this country when my son asked me to get a coffee filter. He said he was tired of Starbucks coffee and wanted ‘our coffee’ in the mornings. So I asked him if he wanted some coffee powder too. He said “No. My friend Soundari has experimented with the coffee available here and discovered that a combination of Ethiopian Sidamo and Sumatra coffee (1:1)from Starbucks ground to a fine blend ("Turkish" grind for electric filter) tastes exactly like the coffee you get in Chennai.’
JUGAD, wow! I should have known – the true Indian spirit! I should have guessed!
And to answer your question, yes she is right. I even wrote this post while sipping on a strong cup of the blend that tastes just like the 'one shtrong filter kaapi' at my local SLV restaurant. Thank you Soundari.
So what is your favorite blend to get your coffee just the way your mom makes it?

Half-saree was still the official dress for most teenagers in Madras in the early 70s. (Pic courtesy:Kenny Wordsmith.)
Girls from liberal families wore western clothing. Salwar-kameezes were still not very popular. Mass produced salwar sets hadn’t begun flooding the market and local tailors lacked the skill to stitch them. Plump heroines in Tamil films sported tight versions of this 'north Indian' dress in duet songs which emphasized their fake breasts and fat thighs so much that they were definitely not a favorite with middle-class parents. I am pretty positive that I could have persuaded my conservative parents to let me wear a loose kurta over jeans rather than one of those salwar suits.

When I was growing up, middle class parents had just one rule by which they decided what their girls could wear. Anything that did not show off their shape in a flattering light was acceptable. I am reminded of my friend Anuradha who was an irrepressible rebel. When we were about 14, she wanted to wear tee shirts over her trousers which set off a volcano in her house. After losing the fight she told us “My mother thinks it is my fault I have breasts”. We laughed but soon I began to notice a similar subtext in the statements that my grandmother or mother made about how a woman is supposed to carry herself or walk. ‘Don’t push your chest outside. walk modestly’. When we were in class 7 and 8, the class teacher would have a talk with some of the girls and a few days later they would come wearing half-sarees. This went on till we reached class 9 when half-saree was compulsory for everyone. We experienced freedom only on the games field where we were allowed to wear divided skirts and a loose shirt. Otherwise we hid the contours of our frame behind 3 metres of cloth which covered us over the long skirt and long blouse.

When I was about 18 an older friend asked me if I had ever seen myself in the mirror without clothes and I was shocked that she could talk like that. Of course I had not. And I was not sure I could even do it because there was a kind of shame and fear associated with one’s body . It was safer behind those layers of clothing. But in college there were many times that I wished I could wear western clothing and ‘belong’ to the hep crowd. Many of us wished we were flatter so we could venture beyond the half-sari and wear smart western clothing. Like Anuradha said it seemed that it was our fault that we had breasts.

Looking back I can laugh at these memories. There was a time when I would have cringed to use the word ‘breast’ in public and here I am writing about it in a public blog. Our perception of our body and exposure norms have changed a lot in these 3 decades. Today people have no hesitation about flaunting their cleavages or wearing tight clothing to show off their shape and size. Breast implants and enhancement procedures have become as common as laser treatment for excess hair. I laugh thinking of the time when we would have been happy to delay the growth of mammaries just to be free from the restrictions that society around us imposed on us.
The dhavani or half-saree symbolized our suppression or lack of pride in our forms.
I didn't realize that there would come a time when I'd actually be grateful for the concept of a half-saree.

On friday, there was a documentary on national geographic channel on body modifications in different cultures and times . They showed the neck rings used by the Kayan tribe of Tibeto_burmese origin now living in Thailand.
and the footbinding custom that was prevalent in China for a long time.
While the former is largely voluntary and footbinding is not prevalent anymore, I was shocked to learn hear about a practice called breast-ironing practised in western Africa.
Breast ironing is exactly what it says - the flattening of a young girls’ breasts with a hot and heavy wooden rod or stone to push the breast muscles back in order to delay their development. YOu can see in the picture some of the tools used in the process and they are usually heated before applying on the breast
But why this brutality? Mothers subject their daughters to this barbarity in order to delay breast growth in their daughters in order to prevent rape and early marriage. Even when they feel their pain, they think it is for their own good in the long run.

"Before this breast band, my mother used the grinding stone—heated in the fire—to massage my chest. Every night my mother examines my chest (and) massages me, sometimes with the pestle," Matia adds. "Although I cry hard because of the pain, she tells me: 'Endure, my daughter; you are young and there is no point in having breasts at your age'."
Josaine Matia, 11 years old
Yaounde, Cameroon

This is precisely what I saw in the visual in the documentary and the victim didn’t even look like she was 11.
Read on more here:

The study also gives the following facts:
Some 24 per cent of girls in Cameroon, about one girl in four, undergo breast ironing.
Breast ironing occurs extensively in the 10 provinces throughout Cameroon.sample survey published in January 2006 of 5000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 in Cameroon, estimates that 4 million women had suffered the process.
Today, 3.8 million teenagers are threatened with the practice.
Up to 53 per cent of women and girls interviewed in the coastal Littoral province in the southeast, where the country's main port, Douala, is situated, admit to having had their breasts 'ironed'.
More than half (58 per cent) of cases breast ironing were undertaken by mothers. Other relatives also participate

The documentary was traumatic. It brought back memories of my own childhood and the difficulty in coming to terms with the changes in one’s own body made more difficult by the society’s ideas about a woman’s body at that time - that the more attractive it is, the more vulnerable it made its owner to predatory males. Men could not be trusted to obey rules so it was the woman’s responsibility not to attract their attention.
The ideas themselves were not very different from those of the Cameroon mothers. And I am grateful that in my culture they came up with the half-saree as the solution even though a wooden pestle was readily available in my ancestor’s backyard too.

Here's a video on the subject:
(Thanks Praveen.)
It was around 8:30 a.m yesterday. I was making the second cup of tea of the day for me. This tea needs be absolutely perfect for my day to go well. You see the first cup is like a quick fix after 14 hours of caffeine withdrawal and it is required to get the brain cells started in the morning. I gulp it down while multitasking – getting things ready for breakfast, boiling milk, cutting fruit or glancing through the newspaper headlines. But the second one – this follows breakfast when the morning chores are complete and I have the house entirely to myself having seen people off to work.. Now no compromises on this one. The colour has to be the right shade of brown – a little darker than ochre and a shade lighter than russet to be precise - with the right amount of sugar to set off the bitterness of the tea and enhance its taste and the temperature has to be perfect . Total ZEN. Ask me for anything after this and it is yours.

So it is important that I stay focused while making it because even a few seconds this way or that way can spoil it all and ruin my day. Now my architect was thoughtful enough to place a couple of windows in my kitchen in strategic angles so I can get a view of what goes on in the street while I am in the kitchen. So I was making tea and looking through the one that gives me a clear view of the crossroad junction at the beginning of my road and presently a young girl came in view – jeans, a short red kurta and red stole. About 19 or 20, definitely in college or just out of college. I saw her glance in all directions as she approached the junction and I thought she was looking for an auto to hire. The road was quite empty at this time on a Sunday morning. And she turned toward the pavement. Now I am familiar with men doing it all the time in preparation of using the road as a public toilet but this was a girl, a well-dressed young one and I decided that this can’t be her intention. I kept watching as she took out a plastic carry-bag from her purse, pulled out a coconut and broke it on a stone on the road. I have no clue what this was about as I have only seen people break coconuts outside temples. May be some kind of superstition – a way to get rid of evil spirits. No problem. Coconuts are bio-degradable. A cow might even eat it for breakfast. So I had no issues with that.

But what she did next, that was unpardonable. No less than all those crass men urinating on the roads. She started crossing the road pretending that someone else had broken the coconut there and casually tossed the plastic bag on to the middle of the road . Now this really got my goat. An 'educated young girl' throwing a 'plastic' bag in the 'middle' of the 'road'. Too many unforgivables. And the nonchalance with which she did it suggested that she was n’t even aware of what she was doing. As if that was just the way one is supposed to dispose bags after their utility is over!
I wanted to catch her by her red stole and drag her back and make her pick it up. But unfortunately, by the time I turned off the stove and managed to reach my gate she had gone past two houses. I clapped my hands and shouted ‘hellooooooooo’ but she did not hear it or ignored me leaving me to seethe over my second cup which was ruined in any case.

I do not know if I might have been less angry if she had at least shown some signs of guilt while throwing the bag in that manner or tried to do it stealthily like the way she looked around while breaking the coconut. No, she tossed it confidently as if she was flicking off a leaf from her kurta and walked on. This apathy is more dangerous. And this apathy from a younger, educated person is even more disgusting.. When I take a walk in our neighborhood park, sometimes I see small kids throwing biscuit wrappers around. They don’t know better, so I tell them to use the garbage basket. Usually they are brought there by young girl-maids who take care of them and they don’t know better either due to their lack of education. But at least they comply when you tell them a couple of times. But what do you do with people who know that they are not supposed to do it and still do it because they could not care less or there is no real penalty for doing it. Perhaps it is a good idea to have fines for littering the way countries like Singapore have. You try to reason with our ‘educated’ people and tell them why it is important to preserve our environment they don’t care. They always want someone else to do it all before they can do their bit. But tell them that there is a fine and they will fall in line. But then again enforcement of any rule or law is always a problem in this country.

Is it something new or is it part of our psyche – a part of being Indian? Was this the reason why our ancestors invented punishments by Gods when you violated rules and codes of conduct?
‘You are to keep your surroundings clean – otherwise the Goddess of wealth would be annoyed and decide against living in your house.’
‘You are not to waste food because it is an insult to Goddess Lakshmi who would curse you to a life of hunger.’
I thought that all this was to instill a sense of discipline among people who lacked the privilege of education and the ability to reason. But education doesn’t really seem to make a difference especially when people are so selfish and apathetic and cannot see beyond the tip of their noses. We need culture-specific solutions to these global problems. Tell an average Indian that it is bad for your environment. he can't understand why it concerns him/her. But tell him that it is bad for his family and fortunes, he will sit up and act."Only a threat to them and theirs and their material well-being will work with these people to shake them to do something for common good.

I am sure that is the thing that a crossroads-coconut-breaker would relate to. Had someone told her that there is a ’dosham’ for using plastic or throwing it on the street, she might have be terrified about throwing it. I have always lobbied for getting rid of superstitions but if that is the language people understand I am all for inventing and popularising a few of them – some dosham for indiscriminate use of plastic and bad karma for littering and for spitting which would follow you up to seven births or some such thing. I am sure the message will hit home. We just need to get a few swamijis to collaborate and we can have a clean country in no time.
We have so many of them already – a couple more can’t hurt especially if they help to save this planet. We seem to have so many rituals for pleasing other planets which are supposed to control our lives while forgetting the only planet that matters, this mother earth which is our home.
My uncle lives in a community of, for and by retired people in South India where they live in private apartments and all their daily needs such as food, housekeeping, and medical care are provided by the community and charged for. He is 72 and suffers from severe hip and spine problems that force him to be confined to his bed for weeks at a time. Rest of the time he is well enough not to depend on anyone to get by. His wife is 64 and has bronchial problems. Her mother who is 94 stays with them. She is perhaps in better health than both of them except that she is weak due to her age. It is a sensible arrangement they have chosen as both their sons work and live abroad and here their days go by without having to worry about daily irritants in terms of house help and other logistics. But then there are times when they could do with some support from younger members of the family and their non-availability hits home hard.

Last month my aunt had to undergo Coronary artery by-pass surgery and she almost decided against the operation because there was no one around to help her during the post-operative phase and she was worried about leaving her mother alone without any help. Given the economic conditions and job losses, they did not want to ask their sons to take extended leave. And the sons did not insist on coming either. I am not judging them as this is perhaps just illustrative of how relationships have become secondary to employment interests. I almost wrote family ‘responsibilities’ there instead of relationships but I am no longer sure of how much responsibility the children have toward their parents. It seems that , like in the west, we have also come to believe that parents bring their children into this world so they need to accept responsibility for them while children owe nothing to their parents and so filial responsibility is probably an outdated concept.

She finally went through the surgery with help from extended family who gave her post operative care and made sure that her mother was not left alone.
While I was with my aunt she said something that made me think:
the doctors tell me that I have got another lease of life, at least another 10 years with this operation. But tell me what do I want another ten years for?” Perhaps it is the pain that she was going through that made her say that; or perhaps she meant it because she really doesn’t think she needs another 10 years. And she is a person who is highly educated and has varied interests such as books, music and crosswords. It is not lack of interests but a sense of purposelessness that made her say this.

Improvements in health facilities have given us extra years to live but neither our social system nor our infrastructure have changed enough to help us use these extra years purposefully. Traditionally old age was a period spent in pursuit of religious activities, accumulating good Karma away from the demands of the material world. But what about those who are not interested in such pursuits? They have a choice of baby sitting their grandchildren or watching unlimited hours of soaps, cricket or news. If one is an out doors person opportunities are restricted:
In cities like Bangalore, many new residential colonies do not even have proper footpaths and it is quite unsafe for the elderly to venture out on these roads even for a walk.
Very few areas have even a tiny park for these people to meet and spend the evening.
Concerts and plays mean commuting long distances for which transport is either unavailable or unaffordable in retirement.
Even public libraries are few and far between.
Most activities for entertainment and amusement are, in any case, aimed at a wallet-share of the young with a high spending ability and willingness.
Confined for the most part within the four walls of their homes, it isn’t a surprise that they do not have much to look forward to.

These are reflective of our attitude toward old age. Maami ,in a very interesting post here calls this attitude ageism. Such attitudes have been ingrained in our collective psyche as our culture and more specifically Hinduism imposes 'borders' on the ageing process. It clearly defines the stages of one's life, and people seem to take it that they cannot do certain things at certain ages, whereas the reverse in fact is true in today's economic, globalised world: feel free to do the things you always wanted to do, and if you can afford it, enjoy the best of what is available, don't care about what the world thinks of you as long as you think it is the right thing to do.
Spend your day at a satsang by all means if that is your idea of finding meaning in life but do not judge someone else who prefers to spend a day at the mall or who likes to relax with a pedicure or a facial. Finally they are at the age when they can make informed choices without being told what is the ‘thing to do’ or the ‘way to be’. Both airlines and railways have concessions for senior citizens. People should make use of these and travel to places together if their health allows them to. Above all, they must accept responsibility of ageing on themselves, i.e. not be fatalistic, exercise regularly, be disciplined in one's dietary habits, and search/reach out for those habits that reinforce critical requirements in healthy ageing, such as socialising with similar interests-seeking peoples, joint activities/outings, charity work,. Markets will keep up with their demands once they know that their wallets are available to plunder.

Old’ should stop being a bad word. I heard from a friend that in Singapore, it is now quite common to see large numbers of 50+ Chinese going to bangra classes, as they have learnt that it is very good for their bones, keeps their muscles toned , and is a good way to meet other people! People in the west talk about beginning life at 40 and even get married at 50 and 60 when they find their ideal companion for their sunset years. It may be a long way before we begin to accept such ideas but I think if people could liberate themselves from thinking and feeling ‘old’ there are still many ways in which they could make their old age enjoyable. The best age-defying mechanisms come from our thoughts and not from applying creams and lotions. I do not mean to over- romanticize old age as the high point of one’s life which it certainly isn’t; but my point is just that when you know something to be inevitable you might as well be prepared to face it with grace. It just seems the smart thing to do. There is a very thin line between dying alone and living free and it is completely decided by the way you decide to look at old age.

*Vanaprastha - is the third stage in the 4 main stages of life classified in Hiduism - Brahmacharya( student), grihastha (householder) Vanaprastha (retirement from worldly attachments) and Sanyasa (renunciation)
Deccan Herald mar 6 2009:
A bank employee committed suicide by hanging herself at her house in CK Achukattu police limits on Thursday.
The deceased Priyamvada (27), an employee of IndusInd Bank, took the extreme step after she was reportedly told by a doctor that she had remote chances of conceiving.

According to sources, Priyamvada was married to an employee of a private bank two years ago and the couple had no issues. She recently met a doctor who is said to have told her that she might not conceive.
The incident came to light when her husband returned home in the evening. She has left a suicide note asking her husband to marry another girl.

In one of my earliest posts I had spoken about this craving for children among humans specially women. Last week someone had left a comment there asking me if I had any of my own. I could not make out if the person agreed or disagreed with me or if he/she was trying to see if I knew what i was talking about. I love kids, my own and those of others - I'd any day prefer to spend time with them than in the company of adults. I do not mind the demands on my time, energy and emotions but I don't think I'd have been shattered if I could not have one of my own. A child doesn't have to have the stamp of my genes for me to love him or her. And more importantly, I do not define myself in terms of my role as a mother.

In spite of their refusal to be stereotyped in many ways, it seems that many young women still feel inadequate when they cannot bear a child. One woman even told me that she saw it as a kind of personal failure. I responded: 'What is the big deal? You cannot paint, you cannot sing, you cannot have a child. have you thought about adoption?'
She thought I was joking or even a bit insensitive perhaps.

I am quite aware of the stigma that used to be attached to a woman who was not 'fertile'- there is even a specific word for a barren woman in Tamil. It is also interesting that there is no male equivalent to the same word!
A while ago a young girl wrote to me about the kind of insults that were thrown at her by her in-laws because she hasn't been able to give them a grandchild three or four years since her marriage. It was even more unfair because her gynecologist had cleared her of any possible problem and her in-laws refused to believe her. And the husband preferred to let her deal with his parents and did nothing to stop his parents or be emotionally supportive to the young wife. And all this was happening not in some remote village in India but in a country in the western world where they had made their home. And the girl herself is a well-educated woman with a career.
In her story I was not surprised by the attitude of her in-laws given their age and background. But I was surprised that the girl and her husband were affected by the criticism to the extent their marriage was in trouble.

The ability to create a life is a special gift that nature has bestowed upon most women but there is no reason to feel worthless if your body is not fit for the same. There are still ways to create meaning in life. It is not a handicap. You are still a perfect person.
This women's day my appeal my sisters would be not to allow others to define them in terms of roles. For this we have to first stop seeing ourselves as these roles. Being a mother is just one part of your life. If you cannot have one of your own, give vent to your maternal feelings by adopting a child or supporting one. Your life is too precious to be given up for this.

Happy women's day!
I received mails from some young friends urging me to join the protest against Sri Rama Sene chief Muthalik on Valentine’s day by sending him pink underwear.
Before people begin to paint me with the same brush as Muthalik let me openly declare that Muthalik and his ilk irritate me. If there was a campaign to tie him to a tree and throw pink marbles at him I’d be happy to participate with gusto. Or participate in a march to have him declared a known goonda and disturber of peace and have him arrested under some act similar to the TADA.
But send him my precious lingerie? No way. Actually I do not own any in pink but if I did I assume they’d be lovely with laces and all, and why on earth would I send it to Muthalik? Even the thought makes me sick.What is the point anyway?

I have a better idea. He calls himself the leader of the Shri Ram Sene and as far as I remember the most famous Sene of Shri Ram, the one that he led to defeat Ravana, consisted entirely of Vanaras or monkeys. Now that explains it all, doesn’t it? So let us send them pink ribbons for their tails or lots of bananas. Peanuts? Pink Monkey caps may be? Send him pink dupattas with detailed notes on how he can use them to hang himself.

Why isn’t that guy being taken into preventive custody after he has public announced his intentions to disrupt peace on Valentine’s day?
How come our police and administration become so meticulous about observance of rules when it comes to such people who have backings of political parties. My maid’s son is routinely taken for investigation and kept in the police station for a few days whenever there is a theft in their area. Reason: he has a previous record of petty theft. There are times when he is kept there for days and beaten up for no crime of his. The police inspector does not seem to remember the rules in these cases but with people like Muthalik, law is followed to the last letter.
WHY? Here is a guy who beats up women, makes threatening noises about causing trouble to private celebrations, pokes his nose into people’s private affairs and he is not considered a candidate for a few days of lock up and some police hospitality? WHY?
If nothing he should be locked up for defaming Rama’s name – what gives him the right to indulge in his goondagiri and use Rama’s name to justify it all. Valmiki’s Rama was a hero who hesitated to use force even against evil demons like Tataka because she was a woman and a true warrior was not supposed to use his force against a woman. And here in his name this joker goes and beats up women. Where are the other custodians of Rama now – the Dals, Parishads and Hindutva champions-? And why aren’t they raising their voice against this defamation of their God?

There are two reasons why such people get away with their interference with the liberties of other people. They are backed by powerful lobbies whom the party in power is scared to antagonise. And their victims’ cause is not considered important enough, worthy of protection. Women’s freedom and rights have never been considered serious enough by people entrusted with enforcing law.. Complaints of eve-teasing , molestation, sexual abuse, wife-beating are low priority – not worth the same kind of attention as political crimes, dacoities, murders and now terrorism. How many women even know that they have legal rights? And if you do try taking such a case to the police station, most of the time the woman is told to go home and behave herself and not infuriate the men of the house. Or tempt them. When the perpetrators know that their victims enjoy such low levels of protection, naturally they indulge in these acts with impunity.

When people talk of women's rights in this country, it is more in the tone of trying to assimilate the weaker sections in the mainstream rather than with the kind of outrage that a human rights issue is accorded. There is that patronising attitude as if concessions are being granted, as if it is an act of generosity. That people like Muthalik walk free on the other side of prison bars and enjoy media limelight is a manifestation of a larger problem with our society and governance. Unless we have laws that deal with those elements firmly and the law enforcers exhibit a willingness to enforce our constitutional rights in spirit and in letter, these problems will exist even after we run out of pink chaddis in the world.
There are a few things you don’t ask a woman about : one is her age and the other is her weight. Everything else – her salary, her husband’s salary, how annoying he is, how pathetic their sex life is and her favorite fantasies – Ya sure, what do you want to know? Everything is alright to talk about but her age and weight, a strict NO. It seems like all the people in my life missed the memo as the first thing they would talk about when they meet a person after a while is about her weight.
If it is someone from the family-tree they would almost always say that I look famished, /stick-thin/ anemic and wonder if I had been ill recently. I feel touched by all this unconditional love that considers my 68 kg frame as underweight and thin.
On the other hand are the ruthless friends who are worse than a personal trainer. They seem to keep a tab on every gram and millimeter I gain and they critically examine me from every angle every time and tell me all the areas where I need to lose some more to get that ideal figure for my height. There is no point trying to tell them that I have no desire to achieve that level of perfection – ‘come on yaar’ , they’d say, ‘don’t give up that easily’ and then they’d tell me success stories of those who lost 10 kgs just living on sprouts for 6 months and someone who lost 10 pounds by walking. ‘I have done that too’, I’d say, ‘I once lost a 10 pound note too while walking in London’ and all I’d get is a look people reserve for pathetic losers.

Now this must give you a clue why I resent occasions involving meeting these two categories of people. Weddings are the worst because they are filled with specimens from both categories. I usually come back feeling crushed from these but over the years I have developed some retorts for weight-watchers – that is the people who watch your weight. You use the appropriate number depending on the type of person you have to deal with. Of course there is not an iota of truth in any of the statements but this is not about truth but about killing the topic effectively before it gets out of hand:

1. For the Bhartiya Naari types here’s a totally unbeatable response:
My husband doesn’t like thin women.
End of story. Case closed. No one argues with that one. After all, isn’t it the supreme duty of a woman to be how her husband wants her to be!

2. This is for the health freaks and medical maniacs:
I have a medical condition called Parumanitis which affects my memory if I go less than 65 KG. Apparently it is a very rare kind of illness found in one in a billion.
Of course medical conditions , real or feigned, are valid reasons to be as fat or as thin as you want to be. And the fancier the name the better.

3. For the fashion-conscious:
Oh I just had a whole new wardrobe designed by Arun Ahliani . I don’t want to lose weight and spoil the fit.
Oh, the sacrifices one has to make for the cause of fashion – people will understand this and even sympathise. You might even find them viewing your weight with respect now that it is draped in Arun Ahliani outfits! (They will never know that Arun is actually the name of your street-corner tailor!)

4. For the ideology-oriented::
This is a one woman movement against body-image slavery . I defy any attempt to reduce me to numbers. Underneath these layers of fat is the person who matters!
And I stand up for my freedom to consume as many calories as I want and my liberties shall not be curtailed by anyone who dictates how fat or thin I should be.

5. For the Bindaas types:
Who cares yaar! Life is short, enjoy and be happy! Let us have another slice of that Blueberry cheese cake.

6. Then there is always the genes card:
In our family we have always been plump. There is only so much you can do to defy your genes.

It usually works for me. If you are surrounded by clones of my friends and family and please feel free to use any of these tips. Absolutely free - see, fat people are usually very generous!
And once you have dealt with them effectively, you can go home to the privacy of your bedroom, curl up in fetal position and cry over your weight. Very cathartic I tell ya!

Added after 15 comments:
Here are a few more valid excuses to ward them off:
1. Rads has a regional angle - Telugus are trim while Tamils are like this only. Judging by the number of Southern film stars who have telugu origin, it seems possible. Possibly something to do with our diet? The paruppu sadam dripping with ghee and thayir sadam may be. Like the other day someone told me that people from Andhra are extremely good at math - perhaps because of all those chillies they consume.

2.This from a friend who says:
'Don't worry about the number 68. Sixties are the new 50s.'
Well, so I am only 58 - No wonder my dear ancestors think I am underweight.
A friend sent me this link and asked me what I thought about it.
For those of you who are too lazy to follow the link it is the story about a 22 year old woman from San Diego calling herself Natalie Dylan who is auctioning her virginity at
I had read about this a few months ago and thought that this was one of those publicity stunts backed by some TV reality show. I was a bit surprised that the story had not yet seen its natural death. I was asked for an opinion and being the ever-conscientious opinion-giver, I went online to read the details.
OK why is she is doing this? To finance her studies. Excellent motivation I admit.
How did she hit on the brilliant idea? From her sister who had worked as a prostitute to put herself through college. Hm, looks like a disease that runs in the family.

According to reports the bid has reached $ 3.7 million which has even surprised Natalie.
"It's shocking that men will pay so much for someone's virginity, which isn't even prized so highly any more. It's become some kind of competition between all these men that they all want to win," she said.
The newspapers also quote her as having said:
"I am not being sold into this, I'm not being taken advantage of in any way. Me and the person I do it with will both profit greatly from the deal."

My initial thoughts were that it is her body and what she wants to do with it is her problem. But then I was quite intrigued that someone would want to pay 3.7 million US dollars just for sleeping with a virgin and just once.
Obsession with virginity is characteristic of patriarchal societies where women are held subservient to men. Liberal societies do not place such a premium on it and virginity is not associated with issues such as morality and honour. In traditional societies one reason why men want to marry virgins is a perceived and accepted sense of Masculinity about being the one to 'deflower' a virgin. Of course the other and more important reason is to ensure the purity of the bloodline for the offspring. Hence the practice of honour killings etc. in traditional societies even today.

Going back to the story, this report
says ‘she had no moral dilemma with her decision and found it "empowering".
Empowering? It is one thing to be in control of one’s body but is it really empowering to have to sell your body to the highest bidder?
Allowing one to be treated as a commodity – is it empowering or demeaning? I have heard the argument that if a woman decides to use her body as the stock for her trade, she should have the liberty to do it and should not be treated as a criminal. I agree, but is it the same as saying that prostitution empowers a woman?

What is interesting is that she did not offer just her body but used the virginity card. Obviously she was pandering to that secret desire of men to be the first man in a woman's body which gave them a sense of dominance. So this whole experience is not going to be about her own sexual pleasure but about making man feel important and special and for him to 'own' her albeit for that short period. He is paying for it isn't he? She is going to sell herself to him for him to use her- What is so empowering about it?

Considering that this woman is a student of women’s studies , I only hope that she is doing this as some kind of an experiment for some project related to her course.. Perhaps she is trying to expose the hypocrisy among U.S. society which claims not to place too much emphasis on a woman’s virginity. Or am I giving her way too much credit?

And what about the bidders? Something seems fishy when in a sexually free society, someone is willing to buy sex with an inexperienced person at a phenomenal sum of 3.7 million. Why? Is it a statement about the importance of virginity as a valuable possession for a woman to have? Aren't there enough honour killings already based on this belief? And aren't there enough crimes against innocent virgin women and girl children in parts of Africa based on the myth that sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS?

Or is it simply that there is too much money in the hands of stupid people?