Naan fiction

The story of my life
What is a blog without a space for some gossip, joys and frustrations of one’s life? It is not that tit-bits from my life are of interest to you or that it matters. Writing in a blog is like singing in a bathroom – it is a place for self-expression. It is written for the sake of writing, with no expectation that anyone will read it. Like bathroom singing, at best it amuses those who happen to hear it and at worst it annoys. I recognise that you, my reader, have reached this place in your journey to somewhere else and while you are here, I hope to amuse more than annoy.

P.s. You must be wondering why this is called “naan fiction”. Naan in Tamil means Me or I; welcome to the story of my life.

Death needs preparation. Preparation, especially for those who will be left behind, and I have started preparing for the death of a close one. She has been my bedside companion for many years, and the holder of my most intimate thoughts. She has been a part of my conversations with friends, my work and my leisure. She is the one I turned to when I woke up, and she put me to sleep for many a year. It looks like she may die soon. When she dies, she will take with her a part of me – naturally. A friend […]

Preparing for the death of a close one

Grandma reminds me of the “grandma proof” Lenovo ad these days. She uses my laptop screen as a prop when she wants to lean, and sprinkled water all over my screen earlier today. I am not sure if this laptop is going to survive my summer… — It’s summer and my cousins have been playing Thayam a lot (a dice based game) with grandma. I am surprised at how smart her moves are at 83. She would be a force to contend with if she remembers which coins are hers. — Grandmother believes that attack is the best form of […]

Grandma diary

For the purpose of this post, I’ll call her Dr. K. She is not one of those real doctors, the kind that I will be. She is the kind that deals with medicines and treats people one-by-one. Her speciality, I am led to believe, involves slashing people’s throats regularly and whipping people’s faces into shapes that she desires. In fancy words, she is an ENT and facial plastics surgeon. She is an avid reader, a pilot, compulsive shopper and (to borrow her friend’s words) her sunscreen budget rivals the GDP of small nations. Despite her sunscreen budget and a thousand […]

Dr K

Last year Joe the plumber prophetically announced that if Obama were elected there would be socialism in the United States. Looking back at 2009, I am convinced that socialism has arrived. Consider the following: I post on facebook that I misplaced my house key and I get a couch to stay in. I need to go shopping, and I get free shuttle service that too with charming chauffeurs. I wish for food and my housemates respond, and I feel like drinking and I get invited within two minutes of writing it on facebook. Cupcakes and cookies appear magically in the […]

2009: Towards socialism

It is often assumed that Teaching Assistants are powerful, vested with institutionalised power to instruct, monitor and evaluate. No doubt, these represent power over the students. But this is nothing compared to the power that students have over the TA; a kind of power that is silent but brutal. When a hundred notebooks close silently, it can bring the mightiest professor to a halt. A few glances at the clock or one row of blank expressions can freeze the vulnerable TA and crush his ego at the same time. There is no experience more humbling that the knowledge that you […]

Reflections of a retiring TA

My hair-stylist this time was a veteran soldier who had just returned from the war in Afghanistan. It was his fourth month at the hair-styling school and he was learning his skill with volunteer-customers like me who went there for low-cost haircuts. Learning that I was an Indian he said, “I was near there man”, and he told me about his experiences in Afghanistan as he washed my hair preparing it for the job. Our chat was mainly about big guns. I was in the areas bordering Pakistan and we often had issues with Pakistani soldiers, he said. “Did that […]

A soldier turning hair-stylist

It was a beautiful girl from Europe this time. She eyed me curiously as I sat down with an uneasy comfort watching her examine me carefully. She went around me and slowly ran her hand through my hair and said softly, “Oh my god, it’s so long”. “Chop it”, came a chorus of voices from the side in a unanimous agreement. She nodded and they came to an agreement on what to do with my hair. I was reduced to a bystander in their decision about my hair, but not for long. In seconds I stopped feeling like an unwanted […]

Yearning to play

Thanksgiving was originally celebrated in New England when European settlers were helped by Indians to raise native crops that helped the settlers to survive the harsh winter of this region. Two white American friends of mine decided to remember the original spirit of Thanksgiving this season by inviting Indians for dinner, and we responded in style. Two carloads of us joined Melody and Chris, invited by the prospect of a truckload of yummy food. The duo had made so much food that I (a foodie) ended up trying more new varieties of food in one day than I have done […]

Thanksgiving dinner in its original spirit

Madras is one of those conservative cities that likes to keep its boys and girls at a safe distance. Parents clamour to get their children enrolled in colleges that are rather strict about this, and colleges have responded to this with enthusiasm. One famous college made a rule that girls will sit at the front of the college bus and boys behind and there will be a firewall of teachers in between. To counter this attraction other colleges have come up with separate roads and staircases inside the campus for boys and girls. In this context of competitive conservatism, I […]

Salsa in Madras: Social dance in a conservative city

Rumblings of an ex-activist in his early thirties Why have I ceased to care about the world? Why is my commitment vanishing? Fifteen years ago if I saw blind person struggling to cross the road, I would jump off my bicycle to help him cross, and make a mental note on how I will change public transport. Now I watch my watch and glide away hoping someone will do my job for me. I wonder today if I cared then since I did not have a care in the world. Caring parents, carefree friends and a careless school set the […]

I cared because I did not care

Rumblings of an ex-activist in his early 30s It seems like a short while ago when no dream seemed like just a dream. Making a billion, changing the world, ending poverty, peace and a few such things seemed pedestrian and utterly possible. There was a fire in me to go and be a part of the action, with merely passing doubts about what’s possible. Nothing seemed big, and I wanted to be everywhere. The thirties have come and my dreams have become smaller. A comfortable bed excites me more than a peace march, and jobs more than work. I fear […]

Age is the greatest fire extinguisher

At one point I used to think that mothers know us the best.  Today there is someone to beat mothers thumbs down in how well they know us – the advertiser.  Unlike my mother they seem to have the access to my innermost thoughts, conversations and moods with access to my mails, facebook, search histories, and what not.  With the advent of targeted advertising I have started learning what they have learned about me. Last week almost all advertisements carefully picked for me were buxom women, enticing me to join a dating service. These advertisements seem to suggest that the […]

On being the target of targeted advertisements

The husband of my most admired cousin died today. It was sudden and completely unexpected by any of us, and he was just 44. I am told that she has taken this bravely; courage has been the story of her life. Nine years ago she had a child with severe CP. Through these years, I have never once seen her complain, and was touched every time I met her to see her cheerful dedication to give the child a good life. She trained herself in special education and became a teacher in the school that her child goes to. Special […]

To a brave cousin

My relationship with sex could be summarized in the following terms: ignorance, followed by awareness, followed by an absolute unwillingness to engage, academic engagements, followed by willingness (accompanied by lack of opportunities) and finally now, the curious sexual turn.  After having had a fairly pristine life – sexually speaking – sex has now become an integral part of my life: they are always making love in the room upstairs.  The charm of living in old wooden houses in America is that it gives you a sense of community.  If (concrete) walls have ears in India, the wooden walls here have […]

My sex life

It’s difficult to imagine that the suave Bombay girl and I will have a common attitude to clothing (see note on cloth shopping). In my recent trip to Bombay, I discovered just that. Priyanka and I both prefer loose cloths. We just seem to do it from different perspectives. I do it conscious of my expanding waistline and she does it so that she can brag to her friends about having lost weight!

In our own styles: Priyanka & I

Joie de vie could just be another name for Jubeet. Even in the exam season of D.School, you could count on her to see a perpetually cheerful person…and it was infectious. “Oh Vivek, I should tell you about this”, she’d often start, her face brightening as she broke into mild laughter – and thus she started delightful stories of sweet little things in her life. When I met her and Rukma some years ago, they were besides themselves with joy, and I knew that they had a story to say. “Ohhh Vivek, I MUST tell you this” started Jubeet as […]

The umbrella

A Panchayat president I interviewed recently told me sweetly that people listen to her because she’s plump.  Two years and twenty additional kilos earlier, I would have missed the import of the statement, but now I don’t.  Let me give you a quick background before I start. I was very thin and was often called a skeleton, stick of a coconut leaf and other colourful adjectives. I left to the US in 2005 and after two years of Americanisation I got on the weighing machine. I pushed the scales to a familiar position and it remained upright.  I nudged it […]

The importance of a pot belly

2007, like never before, has been a year with friends It started with Lindsey who decided to fly in on a New Year day to get a discount. I spent two wonderful weeks in company of this charmingly vivacious girl. There have been trips to Delhi to catch up with many a friend and colleague. The cream of it has been my time with friends at Syracuse and at Madras. The partner of a friend’s “driving teacher” at Syracuse (of all places in the world) turned out to be a guy who had worked with Colin Gonsalves in India (I […]

2007: An year with friends

Frustration is all about small things Frustration 4444i4s a4l444l44 4a4bou4t 44small thin4gs444 44 444444444444444444 444444444444444444444444444444444444444444. For example your key board going bonkers and typing 4 as and when it pleases. Perhaps from a stress of travel, my 4 wireless keyboard started automatically inserting number 4 now and then driving me absolutely nuts. I got mad in a way that 4i normally do not, even 44444in44 fa4i4rl4y 4adverse4 circumstances such as loosing my passport. 44it’s then I landed on the brilli4a4n4t 44p44lan 444444444o4f 44w4ri4ti4ng 4th44i4s bl44og4 4p44o4st444444444444444444444 just to share with you what it’s like writing with the keyboard going totally […]


I was sauntering around in Toys R Us at Time Square in the Christmas season. Anyone who has been there around this time knows of the incredible amount of crowds that come there. Most people sport a wonderful festive attitude – even New Yorkers. I was there just to enjoy this atmosphere and was happy to look around and talk to anyone who cared to.  I sustained myself with some wonderful small talk. I started having a conversation with a latino family from the mid-west. They had come to the ground floor so that their 17 year old son can […]

Child care – American style