Appa used to always quote, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”. We understood and appreciated its figurative meaning. As children, it did not have much literal meaning. In those days it was more like we were pinching footwear, especially chappals. When in a hurry, we quickly wore anyone’s footwear that fitted and ran. More often, we ran barefoot and hardly felt the rough gravel when we played or ran errands in the neighbourhood.
For formal occasions like school, we wore leather shoes (or rubber, in the rains) which also we easily exchanged with siblings, cousins. But soon we grew too big for our shoes and then it was a problem getting the right fit – especially the leathers prescribed by the school. Fortunately, there were no strict rules and we managed to finish the final years of school in cheap canvas with hot and smelly socks which we stuffed into our bags on the way home.
School over and childhood as well. Some more years went by in the scramble for college and jobs. Some joys and much disillusion as we settled into the realities of adulthood. Many were or had to be reconciled to, but one hunt for me has never ever ceased – the hunt for the perfect footwear.
If the size fitted (which rarely did) the design was inappropriate or the colour too odd or it was totally weather-unfriendly. What had beauty did not have utility or durability. When everything else fitted, the shoes really pinched the wallet! Sometimes I did find the perfect fit. I would try a few steps in the shop itself. And a couple of days at home or at work. By day 3, there would be blisters, bites and then it went into cold storage, along with many of its ilk, and I was back to my old footwear – relative comfort!
There were shopkeepers who told, rather sold, me that the shoes would widen a bit with wear. I didn’t need much convincing – one of my sisters once made this profound observation – “Have you noticed, how after a time, there is a resemblance between the shape of footwear and the wearer’s face?”
Oft have I stood outside wedding halls and temples, admiring such handsome footwear and envying the fortunate people who are able to wear them. Oft have I contemplated exchanging mine for one of these and would have executed the plan, had it not been for the ‘pinch’ of conscience or of late, the fear of CCTVs. A person’s footwear attracts my attention more than their sari or dress. And I continue the search for this elusive pair of shoes or sandals.
One seller, after many trials, finally told me that my feet were irregular size. What is new, I thought, I have known this since my teens. “No madam”, he says, “your left foot is bigger than the right.” Much like Stephen Leacock’s photographer, who after much camera and lighting adjustment, declared that everything was wrong about his face. Should I now go for plastic surgery, I considered. But a friend had the perfect solution. “Footwear, like readymade clothes, are designed to approximation. What you need are custom-made shoes.” She takes me to this shoemaker who measures feet and then makes the shoes. His shop was more like a clinic than a shoe shop with lot of posters about caring for feet, proper posture etc. A very smart technician made me stand on various footstools, scales, made a sketch of my feet, measured my height, length of my legs. I was very impressed. The diagnosis – my left leg (not foot) was longer than the right. I needed corrective orthopaedic designer shoes. Needless to say, the cost threw me off balance.
I remembered my mother telling me when I was young that I walked with a slight tilt towards the right, like my father. Finally I got it. I was born into a family with foot problems. My younger sister is dead against the modern smooth flooring in homes, malls, schools. They put too much pressure on the feet. She wears some special shoes to manage the pain. A brother of mine, wears only one particular brand of oversize chappals, rare to get, and which the shopkeeper reserves for him. My grandmother, great aunts in their pristine white saris, spent all their lives barefoot. When they could be persuaded in their old age to give up superstitions and protect their feet, they could only wear cheap, loose, ill-fitting ‘Burma’ chappals. The fault is indeed in my stars.
Late Appa comes to my rescue with yet another pet quote : “I cried for shoes, until I saw a man with no feet.”
(Dedicated to my father on his death anniversary)

The teacher taught

After putting it off for ages and ages, at last one gets down to cleaning that attic/bookshelf/wardrobe to accommodate new acquisitions that cry for space.  And what joy – when one finds amidst all that junk, such treasures that cannot be parted with!

An article written ages ago, newly discovered among old papers, thus claims its space in this blog. Here it goes –

A student whom I cannot forget

In my early forties, I made a career change – from that of a secretary to a teacher.  Uncannily, the first job I landed as a teacher also included the responsibilities of warden of a hostel of 65 girls in the age group 16-20, in various classes of junior and senior college.

Images of harassed matrons from umpteen movies and stories came to mind – myself, a strict middle-aged spinster, and these monstrous girls constantly upto tricks, imitating and mimicking me at my back.  But how contrary real life often is!  The girls in my charge were simple and sweet girls from small town middle class families.  Having left home for a purpose, they were full of dreams of higher education and bright careers.  In a couple of years I settled down  to a most enjoyable routine.  There was, of course, the occasional runaway, the instances of ragging, regular fights in the bathrooms and Mess, but nothing that could not be handled with some counselling and some retribution.

Now when I look back at my short stint, I find it crowded with a lot of memorable events.  One that stands out, happened in my third year.  At the start of a new session, I had to send to the Mess, a list of the new entrants to the hostel indicating the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians.  On Wednesdays and Fridays, there would be a sweet dish for the vegetarians and some chicken/meat for the non-vegetarians.  On the first Wednesday that term, there was one sweet dish short.  I was sure one of the senior girls might have cheated, but on checking and re-checking, I could not find fault with them.  Next, I lined up the new girls and confirmed the Mess list.  The ‘vegetarian’ list went off without a hitch.  Then as I reeled off the names on the ‘non-veg.’ list, one girl interrupted me.  “Ma’am, my name should have been on the ‘veg’ list.  “But I thought, since you are a….” I could not have completed without saying something stupid and insensitive.   Generations of pre-recorded Brahminic data in my head said – weren’t all Muslims meat-eaters?  I had not even bothered to cross-check Aliya’s admission form.  “No, Ma’am,” she corrected me, “We are Mulla’s….pandits…we are vegetarians.”

Curious to know more about her, I called Aliya Mulla to my room at night.  “Are there many people like you?”  I asked.     “I don’t know that there are many people like me, Ma’am, but there are certainly many like you who ask this question,” she said, a little aggressively, and then added softly, “Perhaps because you are from a city you tend to box people in convenient slots.”  (I did not see any connection   and hitherto I had prided myself on my cosmopolitan, urban or rather, urbane, rootlessness).  “Back home where I come from,” Aliya continued, “we do not know such distinctions.  My father is a respected scholar in Marathi and Urdu, and in our ‘mohalla’ Ganpati festival, my parents offer the first ‘aarti’.  Our entire village is like that, Ma’am.”  The heart of India, I thought, lies not in its villages, but in its villagers.

“Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls…”

How many times I must have taught this!  Still at 40, one’s mind is a solidified rock of indelible knowledge and little nuggets of unlearning must find narrow, slippery crevices to hang on to!


The Gods have turned Deaf


Often I have heard ardent devotees cry in frustration, “My god does not hear my prayers. He has turned deaf.” I would feel sorry for their plight. But there are times when I think there is much truth to this.
Come Ganapati, and the neighbourhood is gearing up for the 5-day festival. In our housing colony of around 72 flats, one pandal is just below my house. A breakaway group has another a few metres away. Outside the gate, to right and left, are two ‘sarvajanik’ (public) mandal ganapatis. There is one more in the temple grounds behind our colony.
History says that this Ganpati festival which is usually celebrated in Maharashtrian homes by bringing home a clay idol of Ganesha to be installed and worshipped for some days before being immersed in water, was mobilised by Lokmanya Tilak into a community activity in order to bring different sections of society together during the freedom struggle. But what purpose does History serve if not distorted? And so this activity has now assumed gigantic proportions to become a public disturbance, obstructing traffic, creating loud sounds and generally turning worship into a frenzy of noise.

After being brought to the place with lot of clamour and clanging, all through loudspeakers, the ‘aarti’ in the morning and evening must be sung to drums and bells on the loudspeaker, in addition to cultural events in the evenings. The time limit for high decibels is extended by the State during festivals, but what is the constraint for so many loudspeakers in the same area to vie with one another – who is the loudest of them all? So it is a cacophony of ‘aartis’ following one another and the announcements and songs in the evenings, assuming that the God’s huge elephant ears will take in all these sounds. A loudspeaker may be justified in the evening programmes, but why do ‘aartis’ and bhajans need to be amplified when there are so many people singing together?
The ’azaan’ and prayer in the masjid must be on the mike daily, that too 5 times. Weddings and inaugurations are also incomplete without treating the entire neighbourhood to the sounds of the proceedings.
When our family shifted to Ahmedabad in the early 70s, the ‘garba’ was a novelty for us. After finishing household chores and dinner as well, people would come to the open space in their colony, where an idol or photo of Ambe Mata would be placed and perform the ‘garba’. Either the dancers sang as they danced or a few people sat aside and sang while others danced. This went on till a little after midnight. On Ashtami, Navami towards the close of the festival, people danced till early morning. No mike, no dress code, minimum lighting. Sober, graceful and a great community feeling! Over the years, this same celebration has turned into the extravagant ‘Raas Dandiya’. Now there are dress codes, tickets for participation and of course, the loudspeakers blaring all night!
About Diwali, the less said, the better – there is too much sound for anything to be said or heard.
During all these festivals, there are small children, the elderly and the sick whose sleep is disturbed? Then there are others who are sensitive to noise. They are left to their own devices and the mercies of God.
So go on, festival after festival – no dearth of them – ‘navaratri’ ‘tajiyas’ Christmas, ‘rath yatras’. Is it surprising then, that the Gods have turned deaf?

Press 1, Press 2….


My Water filter does not work.  I call the service number on the contract.  The recorded voice goes –

Press 1 for English

Press 2 for Hindi

Press 3 for Marathi

I press my preference.    It continues – Press 1 for Vacuum Cleaner, 2 for Air Conditioner……. Water filter is at Press 5.  Music

Again Press 1 for new product, Press 2 for upgrade, Press…..7 for complaint

When I think I am there, she tells me to hold on while she connects me.  Music again.  Follows an ad with many children squealing and shouting and the Mother says, “Do not drink any water.  ‘X’ filter water is the healthiest.”   Then a jingle -“We Guard your health”.   Some more music.  I must have been holding the phone for about 5 minutes.  Again, she says, “Thank you for holding on.  Please wait while we connect you to Customer service.”

It is 10 am.  Workday must have just started.  I wonder how Customer service can be busy this early unless they have a backlog of complaints.  Whatever.  Now I disconnect and call the man who had left his mobile number when he drew up the service contract.  Fortunately, he answers, but tells me that he cannot take a complaint.  I have to dial the toll-free service number which has already taken a toll on my patience.  My hand has got enough exercise, transferring it from ear to hand for pressing. I give up.

From time to time the same company calls me offering a new version of the filter machine.  “Ma’am, your machine is more than 5 years old.  It is better you upgrade.”  When I tell him about the poor after service, he gives me another number and name, telling me to call there.  Back to square one.

I rarely call my Bank, but when I do, it’s again Press 1 for Hindi, Press 2….

After 2-3 such series, at number 9, I am told I will be connected to a representative.  There is music and more music till I give up.  No person ever comes on the line. I finally go personally to the Bank.  If I have some balance worth investing, 3-4 people come up to me and say they are my ‘Personal Banker’.  They even give me a card with their name and mobile number.  I have rarely seen a ‘Personal banker’ in the same branch after 2-3 months.  When I narrate my woes with their toll-free numbers, they say they’re sorry, it’s the system.  Not in their hands.  If I still persist, then they tell me, “Could I please go to that table?” – the farthest one!

It is the same with the mobile service provider, the DTH services and so on.  Press 1, Press 2.  Sometimes when I am not too frustrated, I actually enjoy the music, even though the services are never delivered.  So much for the computerised and digitalised world!

When I was young, my father had read out an article, “The tyranny of things” which described how the gadgets and machines we acquire for our comfort, gradually enslave and tyrannise us.  This, with an army of smooth-talking salespeople, great promises of after sales service and how life is incomplete without all these frills.

I know some people who have with families, formed groups and live in remote areas, ‘far away from the madding crowd’ – a civilised life, but without the trappings of technology.  They work the land, enjoy the bounties of Nature as well as face the hardships and educate their children to live a simple yet full life.

I have not joined them yet, but cut out on gadgets. I boil the tap water with a few herbs and drink, like my 85+ cousin and his wife, who are still so healthy and hearty.  I watch movies, news on the Net, or in single screen theatres.  Or, I read the book. I go to the bank personally.  It is good physical exercise and good to deal with people face to face. I don’t have AC or washing machine.  A phone, I still retain, to be in touch.  But I no longer go for the Press 1, Press 2 mode.  Back to the future.  Minimum technology, Maximum Life – is ‘simply’ better!











“All of us light up a room – some when they enter, some when they leave.” 

Over the years, I have been fascinated by how people enter – home, office, room or just about any space.  It must have been at the back of my consciousness always, but now that I am much like an old cow, chewing the cud, literally and figuratively, I ruminate on this behaviour a lot and have evolved a fond theory that if you observe a person’s entry closely, you understand them much better.  Having done that, I must now support it with evidences.  So much so, that I think you can learn much about a stranger from their entry – whether it is a doctor’s waiting room or an interview panel, an investor/broker or just about anybody.


I have a sister who, when she enters, looks around for people, beams at everyone and they start talking to her.  Even if you are in another room, you can guess her arrival by the buzz around her.She is very social and is in her element when she has people around her.

Some people enter as quietly as a mouse.  They go through life just as shyly and unobtrusively.  Not that they fall short of achievements or accolades.  A very young Manager of mine used to enter so soundlessly that he has often caught my colleagues and me, napping at our own desk or loafing at others’.  He rose to become Director at an equally young age, leaving competition napping.

A friend of mine always enters like the prequel to a suspense film, “Guess what happened today?” The incident can be as trivial as a tiff with the conductor over change or a grave accident on the road.  Drama queen.

Not all quiet entries, though, are so harmless.  Some enter a room, noiselessly, but with a suspicious look.  You never know what they have taken in, until they later express their displeasure at something or the other.

A guy in our circle would enter howling and hooting.  So boisterous that even the furniture would jump up.  But an aunt of mine, would actually bang chairs or stools herself with a bull-dozer entry.

Apart from that, her eyes would swim all over the house, looking for unfinished tasks, messy tables or kitchen and declare mournfully, “Nothing is taken care of in this house if I go out.”   Her family and maids now laze around when she is not there.  “Anyway she is going to complain and find fault when she returns.”  Predictably, she is never content.

Our school life is incomplete without the memory of the teacher’s classroom entry.  One bangs the duster on the table, “Keep quiet, class.”  As if on cue, all the children raise their voices a few decibels and more pandemonium follows until she changes her strategy.  Another teacher looks enquiringly as she enters.  The children wear fearful or guilty looks, not knowing what incompletion she is going to bring up.  The list is long.

In a selection rehearsal before the great Annual Function, our College principal would watch all the items.  Particularly, for group dances he would ask, “Entry kasha hoyil?”  meaning, ‘how is the entry?’  The item incharge would explain how the groups – split or whole – would make entry from this wing, another wing etc.  Then the dancers would demonstrate.  Corrections were made, logistics taken care of accordingly.  At that time, I used to wonder why this focus on ‘entry’.

Then I paid attention.  In theatre, cinema, public events – the main protagonists’ entry sets the tone for their role and audience involvement through the show.  Who can forget Gabbar’s roaring entry in ‘Sholay’ or Mogambo’s menacing introductory look in ‘Mr.India’? Lot of thought goes into the entry of the hero/heroine in a film/scene/song even as the audience waits, often with bated breath.  Politicians – a lot of homework goes into their entry and they present a carefully cultivated style.

In guidelines laid out for competitive exams, there are lot of suggestions on how to enter the personal interview room.  Attention is drawn to the smallest detail like how you should brush back your hair as you enter, apart from how you look at the panel members, which direction to smile, how to hold your shoulders and so on.

I wonder what others think of my entry?  Only they can say.  Meanwhile, I exit.


Lucy Rebello, my first standard teacher.  In my Orals test, I stood painfully shy and dumb.  She still gave me Pass grade.

Zorina Miss.  Std.3 My English is very rudimentary.  “That is mine’s”, I said to my friend, after school.  I don’t know how she heard me, but she has corrected me for a lifetime.

Std. 4, Suman teacher.  One afternoon, she gave each one of us individually one whole, big ‘boondi laddu’.  Even in our homes many of us never got a whole laddu to ourselves.  We giggled when she shyly told us that she had got married in the vacations.

So many of them surface in the memory – like waves, cresting one another – in no order, but some rhythm all the same.  Mrs. Moses, who taught us Maths and kind love.   In recent years, I came to know that she died in her native Israel.  Many of my beloved teachers have now ‘crossed the bar’.

We had quite a few nuns and Jesuits teaching us.  Sister Charlotte, gentle-faced and demure.  My hair stood in thrill, because she recognized me by name.  I knew I was someone.

There was this history teacher, Mr. Raphael, who regaled us with such stories.  He told us more stories than he taught history.   His one hand was crippled.  (Polio?  Maybe)  The boys nick-named him ‘Ek Haath ka Rifle’.  He was much feared for his strictness.

Another teacher also told us many stories.  This was a PT teacher who wrote detective stories in Hindi.  His detective was the same in all the stories.  We called him by the detective’s name.  And a lady PT teacher whom we coaxed to sing ‘Naina Barse’ every rainy PT period.

Margaret teacher had dimples and Akila teacher looked like actress Nanda.  Did we love them for their teaching?  Or their beauty?  Or their sarees?  In those days, male teachers wore pant-shirt, some even carried an Englishman type hat.   The women were mostly in saris or skirts.  As our heads were mostly down, we also assessed their heeled or flat footwear.  Some Nosey-‘Parkeris’ went beyond that.  They would, in long afternoons and evenings, train their spy-glasses on these teachers and tell us about their boyfriends. Some of us invited ourselves over to view Akila teacher’s trousseau.  Now, I realise that many of our ladylike teachers were still young girls.

The Marathi and Drawing teacher were top of the charts in our jokes and mimicry sessions – in class and outside. Some children drew cartoon images of Sheikh sir, instead of the pot or vase he told us to draw.  I’m sure they cried in the staffroom.

Our high school English teacher, Alexander (the Great, titled by us) ‘daffodilised’ our youthful ‘inward eye’ and now fills our aging hearts with ‘thoughts that lie too deep for tears’.   When I taught grammar in later years, I filled the blackboard from my visual memory of Alexander Sir’s blackboard.  He earned me the title of ‘the Great Grammarian’.

Mrs. Bharde.  Her voice scarcely rose above a whisper.  She taught us the power of words.   She could use the power to teach, to influence and even quieten the rowdiest of boys.

Aloo teacher gave us 25 problems in Algebra as daily homework.  We groaned.  She never asked us if we had done our homework.  Next day, she would solve or ask students to solve on the board.  Those of us who had done HW participated, those who hadn’t felt left out.  Most of us never failed to do the homework. She was Maths, Maths, Maths.  So we thought until one day she corrected a student who prepared a circular – ‘the library will be open between 9 to 11 am’.   ‘Shouldn’t it be ‘between —–and —–‘?

she asked.  I have never forgotten ‘between —–and —–‘ when I taught Prepositions.

In our humble State board syllabus, Karunakaran Sir, familiarised us with the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Aldous Huxley – so much so that even the ICSE or IGCSE students that I teach, cannot claim the kind of foundation he gave us.  Above all, he discovered me my hidden talent for writing.  I pray I never let down his trust.

There are many more names – the list is 11 years long; too much to capsule in a single post.  They are not less remembered or honoured.

Did they just teach us languages, social studies, maths and science?  Much more, they kindled in us the ability to tell stories, to show compassion.  They gave us the expansiveness to be laughed at and mimicked.   They taught us the skill of scolding with ownership.  They awakened our third eye to surprise the cunningest of truants.

In later years, too, we had many trainers, gurus, leaders, teachers – but the teachers of our childhood, walked tall, literally and figuratively.  Most of them are now below the earth, but enshrined in our hearts to immortality.

Having worked as a teacher for several years, I wonder – will I be remembered by my students the way I remember my teachers?   I face tough competition from super-teachers like Google Sir, Brilliant Sir, Maheshes, Raus and Singhals.


Be that as it may, I can say one thing for sure – Being a teacher means never having to be alone.  Once I ended touring Allepey (Kerala) all by myself because I could not locate my friend’s house.  No mobile, no useful clues, I still took in all the backwater boat rides, sightseeing.   But then I was hungry and though the aroma of food across the road was relishing, the thought of eating alone was not.  Suddenly, this young man in tie and briefcase wished me.  I did not recognise him, but he said he was in the boys’ hostel in a college where I taught.  He was travelling on work and that day, my companion for lunch.  In many strange places, at home and abroad, some student pops up offering help, ride or a tour.

A teacher who has occupied a niche in a child’s heart has not lived in vain.  And in the mindscape of a child, becomes a moon that will never wane.

Purnima, uninterrupted!

New Age Babies


My mother was married at 15.  By 16, she had her first child, followed by 7 more at regular intervals of 3-4 years.  All normal, healthy as horses.

When we were growing children, our mornings started like this – Amma would take a bath in cold tap water as soon as she got up, no matter what season or weather.  Then she would draw a ‘kolam’ (rangoli) outside the door, even as she chanted some prayers.

Now would come the best part of the day – ‘KAAPI’.  We would sleep or pretend to sleep until we heard the tinkering of stainless steel vessels and smelt the aroma of the coffee – the elixir of all normal Tamils.  Only the older children, above 6 or so, would be allowed coffee.  After this energizing drink in tumblers of certain sizes and shapes over which we had, over time and use, established proprietorial rights, we were charged for the day.

What about the under-6 of which we had one or two for almost 21 years?  Amma would prepare some formula or cow’s milk, transfer it into an arc shaped glass bottle with nipples at both ends and the older children had to fix it in the mouth of the youngest one or two.  Some kid would be able to hold it with both hands (like a ‘nadaswaram’ Appa would say); for another we had to hold it because if it slipped, the bottle would break.  With some drooling and dripping, this chore would be over and these babies would be charged for another day of adventure – crawling, running, tearing newspapers, school books, chewing shoes and slippers, putting buttons or tamarind seeds into most convenient holes – mouth or nostrils.

Days were full of activity and excitement – playing, reading, seeking ghosts, quarrelling, hiding results from Appa,  stealing sweetmeats from ‘dabbas’.  When these days passed, we moved into jobs, marriage, parenthood – who knows?

But in one distinct area, as in many others, we could never match our parents’ achievements.  Our generation could not or would not deliver more than one or two children.  Our Appa, would dream of enrolling each of us in different classes – like music, painting, art, cricket, foreign languages – after all, he was only one short for the ‘navarasaas’!  But we had to rotate one or two children into all these ‘rasaas’.  So we ended up shuttling the one kid to various classes.

What happened to the coffee, the bottle?  The coffee is still going strong.  Sippers have replaced bottles.  And to keep Amma’s tradition alive and the family growing – there is a baby being delivered every now and then.  We start the day – there is an ordinary functional mobile phone.  Its charger has a round pin.  A smartphone with a flat pin.  The laptop with its 3-pin.  Then there is the broadband and the Wifi hotspot. When these get older, newer models take their place.  All of them have to be attended to every morning even before we wish the people we live with.  Then they have to be plugged in and charged for the day – like our young baby siblings of yore with their feeding bottles!

Most people cannot even go for a morning walk without a phone – the excuse being, listening to music.  No wonder, the birds don’t chirp any more nor does the wind rustle. We look for groups, messages that tell us what to eat and drink, challenge our beliefs, introduce some new fundas everyday about health, science, religion everything.  Information or misinformation is supported by photos and videos.  We scroll, talk and laugh alone, like mad people.

 “People who smile while they are alone used to be called insane, until we invented smartphones and social media.” 

Mokokoma Mokhonoana

The children manage to get hold of some elder’s phone and read jokes, look at funny videos, listen to songs.  I think after a couple of centuries, children will be born with mobile phones in place of ears!  You sit at get-togethers, ride in a car with family or friends and no one looks at the other or the view – the phone occupies all our attention.  Gone are those times when we talked even to unknown fellow passengers in buses and trains.

You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!” 
Dave Eggers

Some years ago when the first child was consulted about the planning of a sibling, he/she would ask for a pet.  I think now they would ask for an i-phone. Or an Alexa.  Or an Echo. The new age babies.