That is one of my favourite words.

Years ago when I came back to Malaysia after doing my master’s degree in England, my sister was going through some personal issues and came to stay with me. I had only been working for a few weeks when I had to send her the money for the air ticket. Technically I was broke ! and on weekends, our choice of entertainment was to take the LRT, go to Sogo in KL and walk around there. My sister too was crazy about Bikes and we sat outside Sogo, near the Baskin and Robbins outlet and spend hours watching the guys on Ducati zipping down the road in front of Sogo. ( Ps, I am really growing old, I can’t remember the name of the road!)
And often we were hungry and thirsty..and money was tight. But still we walked to our favourite Samosa shop ( Jai hind, owned by a sardarji, near Semua house) and bought samosas and walked back to Sogo. The walk and the spicy samosas made us thirsty and we had just enough money to buy one drink. We went to the food court and bought one jus oren ( cheapest!).
After we finished the drinking the juice, we were still thirsty, so we waited for the ice in the glass to melt, so we could drink that too..We were that thirsty! And you know how long it takes for the bloody ice in a cup to melt?? So we went and occupied a table at the McDonald outlet ( the only place we felt we wouldn’t be thrown out).
And since we had to wait for the ice to melt and had nothing else to do while the ice cubes were doing their thing,  we watched the shoppers.
Soon enough we noticed this lady, Chinese Tai Tai..
She came first to the shop, like a general waving the latest Luis Vuitton, followed by three Filipino maids, two pushing the prams and third one carrying the oldest child ( must have been around 4 years old).
In those days, having a Filipino maid was a status symbol. ( Each maid earned a salary of 1200RM/month, something average Malaysians couldn’t afford  to pay because most of them earned between 3000 to 5000RM)

Our Tai Tai was decked top to bottom in Designer gear!. I watched her opening her Louis Vuitton bag, taking the Louis Vuitton coin purse to take the money to pay for the food. She bought One happy meal to be shared by her three children ( chicken nuggets, each child got two nuggets!) and one burger meal for herself. Nothing for the three maids! And after she ate her meal, she shared the leftover fries with the maids and her three children!
Meanwhile, my sister and I were busy identifying the designer brands she wore. We couldn’t see her shoes, so we waited for her to leave the shop. And when she did..We burst out laughing !
There on her feet were the most expensive Jimmy Choo..and the soles of her feet were cracked and caked with dirt!
Discerning..not so.

The standard

George’s house in Mysore was constructed in 1826 by the British. It was like most colonial buildings constructed at that time with huge halls, high ceilings and bay windows. At the back of the house was a separate servant quarters and it was connected to the main building by a paved pathway. On one side of the pathway was the thulassi thara .

Since Amma didn’t have to cook, she woke up late. I didn’t have anything else to do when I woke up, so I used to drink my tea ( perfectly brewed each and every time) and sit on the steps at the back of the house, facing the servant quarters and the thulassi thara to my left. I could see the Chamundi hills in the distance. There were occasional horse riders going up the hills for their morning ride. But other than that, all was quiet.
Servants haven’t come back from the market yet, the gardener should be coming out from his quarters any time now to cut the flowers for the vases kept in each room. His wife too would come shortly, tying her long hair in to a bun as she walks to iron George’s clothes, while her son would polish the the shoes for the master!

It was the perfect lull before the storm moment and for a 16 year old, more than the tranquility the early morning offered, I was impressed. It was as though someone opened the doors to  a fairy castle. A world that was within my reach..

Until then life with my mother was all about saving money. Amma owned a beautiful dinner set, but we never used it, because it was saved for the “right” occasion that is bound to come in the future. We had two Godrej cupboards full of electronics and kitchen gadgets that my father brought from overseas over the years. All saved for the future.
She even took all of my dad’s collection of books to Chengannur. It didn’t matter to her that I was still reading them. ( She had the audacity to tell me that she was saving them for the future!)

While my mother was on a mission to  ensure that our life was in a ‘ pause’ to be activated to ‘ play’ at the ‘right’ time in future, George was living each day to the fullest. But not like most Nouveau riche gulf Mallus. When the rest of my family were decorating their newly built concrete mansions with Kerala junk ( brass para, nilavilakku etc, that kept getting bigger in size over the years to symbolise the prosperity of the owners), George was collecting paintings by M.F Husain! He even travelled to Kashmir to buy the carpet, so he could ensure that it was silk on silk and yarn was mineral dyed!

I realized then that my mother was wrong..If I was going to live, it is going to be NOW.
George raised the standard..very high..
and I paid a price..very high.

Like the salmon that  hovers at the estuaries for days  that signal from the unknown, to swim upstream..to spawn and die, I have been delaying to type something that I have to write.
I still can’t.
may be tomorrow.
Today, I leave you with Edith Piaf.

Ah, the love of tea!!

My parents were coffee drinkers. Amma was even more in to coffee because in those times Brooke bond green label coffee came with “free” stuff.
I think the fascination with “free” stuff / reduction sale is a Malayalee phenomenon. If you actually think about it, which business owner would want to dig in to their profit, just so they could give you something ‘free’ for buying their product? I have tried to explain that simple truth to my mother. But nothing worked. She would jump in to an alien space ship if they told her the trip is “free”

So we bought brooke bond green label. Few of the free gifts we got were, a tiny sewing kit ( kind of the ones you used to find it 5 star hotels, few skeins of thread, a needle and few odd buttons), a black comb ( which my mother might still have) and a pencil !!

In Chengannur house, my grandmother had 2 coffee plants and she made her own coffee whenever she could. And on a good day if Amma wasn’t home, Ammachi gave me kattan kappi and ghee (black coffee with ghee). Ammachi didn’t own any coffee mugs. She only had drinking glass. Because I was a child, she waited for the black coffee to cool a bit before serving me. She put the sugar and ghee in the glass first and then the coffee. I loved to see the ghee melting and floating to the surface and then I had to gently stir the coffee, so enough sugar would dissolve and I could enjoy the drink. ( it was a a bit tricky. I loved to drink the last bit of thick, almost dissolved syrupy sugar at the bottom of the glass! First you tilt the glass and suck in as much of the thick sugary syrup that would slide down the glass and then you use your finger and start licking the left over and how much I struggled to get the sugar stuck at the bottom of the glass that couldn’t be reached with my fingers..tilt, shake, slurp…ah, the joy..) 

The first time I remember reading about tea was in one of my dad’s novels. It must have been a travelogue translated to Malayalam ( I couldn’t read in English then). It was mentioned that this dude after escaping from some jail in Siberia, walked to India and arrived in Kashmir and the locals gave him Saffron tea. ( to this day, I don’t know what book it was or who the hero in the book was, all I remember is the saffron tea!) I didn’t know what saffron was, but I had promised myself, one day I will have saffron tea! I had to.

Then my father started bringing Lipton Yellow label tea bags from mid east. And my mother in her eternal quest for saving money, used to split open the tea bag and make tea for 5 using the tea dust from one single tea bag. Needless to say, I was never a fan of tea!

The first time I had “real” tea was in George’s house in Mysore. His chef made a proper tea in a teapot ( following all the protocol like warming the tea pot first, one tea spoon for each and one for the pot, cover the pot with tea cosy, brew for exactly 4 minutes etc) and served it in proper tea cups ( royal doulton!). May be it was the novelty..but I was hooked. He was using orange pekoe tea (Kotada). I didn’t even know there were actually different types of tea. I felt kind of ‘small’ that I didn’t know anything about tea ( what with having a family member who is a well known tea tester!!).
So I was going to learn about tea..
more tomorrow!


That is growing old gracefully.

It isn’t very often I spend time to think, should I write what is bothering me or not? usually I write exactly what I feel in my heart. But I am also one who believe in live and let live and I did spend some time thinking before I typed this post.

I have written about my mother’s fear of growing old. A single facial hair was sufficient for my mother to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Her dermatologist was handpicked, He was working for the royal family in a certain country! ( in other words no ordinary dookkiley dermatologist for my mother!)
Yet,She wore ‘ugly’ bata slippers  and cream colour blouse with all her sarees. It wasn’t that we were poor that Amma could only afford to buy Bata slippers, it was that, Amma never understood the concept of dressing up properly. So long as there was no grey hair, all was well in Amma’s world.

My first Anaphylactic case was a 46 year old woman who developed severe reactions ( near fatal) to the hair dye she used. I was working under a very handsome, well dressed Parsi dermatologist with gorgeous hazel eyes to boot. (obviously I never missed a single rounds).
Digressing a bit here, how can I write gorgeous hazel eyes and not elaborate any further? Imagine this, Black pupil, surrounded by a tiny light brown ring with a tinge of green, blue and brown in the periphery. I loved to see the change in the eye colour with each different colour shirt he wore!  ( I did spend  many hours looking at those beautiful eyes!)
What I remember the most about that day was, after we stabilized the patient and as we were leaving the ICU, my handsome  consultant mumbled to no one in particular ” When will women learn to grow old gracefully?”
Those words made a huge impact on me. First of all I was living with a woman who feared growing old and I just had a patient who almost paid with her own life for getting rid of some grey hair! ( and not to forget her hospital bills after few days in the ICU, all for wanting to look younger!)

I wanted to grow old gracefully. I still do.

Before I cast the proverbial rock, let me mention here that I wear shorts, short skirts, and figure hugging jeans. I am 41 years old, I weigh 52 kg. Although Andie Macdowell’s advised older women to ditch short skirt ( Here) I don’t foresee myself not wearing short skirts for a very long time! I hate trousers and at work the choice is skirt or trousers. So short skirts it is!

So that brings to my issue of the day. I keep seeing this lady..She is in her mid 40’s,She is 5 feet 2 and weighs well over 95kg.  She wears “really” tight capris..and I wish I could say we live in a free country and everyone has a right to wear what they like..Yet, I feel so uncomfortable seeing her.

Top schools and top results!!

Do the schools play a major role in how your kids turn out?

Imagine this.
Inner city school.
More than 500 students.
55% of students attends ESL.
School serves emergency breakfast ( because a lot of students come to school hungry)
Some mothers pack extra sandwich in their children’s school lunch ( because there are kids in their children’s class who doesn’t bring lunch)
Some kids come to school in full goths attire
Some kids have two inch long multi colour mohawk
Some of the kids have parents in jail ( drug offences)
Some of the parents have full body tats.
Some kids have siblings in the same grade, sometimes in the same class ( kids born to different mothers, but same father..same time!)

That is the school my children studied when they were in Canada. Yaya from grade 2 to grade 5, toothless from Kindergarten to grade 3 and baby from kindergarten to grade 1.
My children still talk about how much fun their school in Canada was.
They had the most dedicated teachers. They learned not to look at life through a rose tinted glass. They learned to appreciate the little blessings they had.
Most of all, they still learned all the subjects kids in private school learned.


I have been wanting to write about my obsession with tea..but the prevailing mood is my fear of screwing up my role as a mother..
In continuation of yesterday’s post..

The word that keeps coming to my mind is Dissociation.

Most are lucky to have a ‘good’ mother, a role model that they can lean on and to emulate.
In my case I try really hard not to be like my mother, and therein lies my dilemma. Where is that line that stop me from being like my mother?

My mother was a walking instruction manual. She always said what I should do. Be it the way I combed my hair or the way I answered the exams. She walked in front of me, cleared the path for me to walk and didn’t even let me look on either side. She was on a mission to create 4 super successful children, her pride and joy, her reason to live and not least her crowning glory as a mother.

I have a little scar on my wrist. I got it when I was 20 years old.
The house in Bangalore had built in cupboards and there was a gap on top of the cupboard as a storage for larger items. Every time when I came back home for long breaks, I kept my bag there.
Every time my mother stood there, right next to me while I stood on the bed to keep my bag in that storage space with her hands outstretched,ready to hold me, just in case I tripped and fell down. But not before she turned off the fan and the blades stopped moving and came to a standstill !!
And then one day, I was in a hurry to get my bag and Amma was in the kitchen. She must have heard me trying to get the bag and two things happened simultaneously
Amma asking me “Did you switch off the fan?”
And the fan blade hitting my wrist..( Bhagyathinu thala poyilla!!)
It was the moment I realised how much damage my mother’s constant instructions have caused me, that I, a final year medical student was incapable of thinking before I did something.
I promised myself then that I will never do the same to my children.

Recently one of the parent I knew came over for tea and the topic of Naplan came up. Her daughter and my son are classmates. She asked her daughter who among her classmates didn’t write the tests.
Two things I learned in that conversation
1. When the daughter said the names of children who didn’t write the test, I didn’t know any of those kids. I know who my son’s friends are, but not all the kids in his class.
2. I would have never asked my son who didn’t write the Naplan. Why would I need to know?

Have I dissociated so much from my children’s life?
My mother knew the names of all my classmates. She even knew their family background ( even my medical college classmates). She knew who failed what subject each term. ( She had to know that because she was comparing me with them)
You see the dilemma? Where do I stop being like my mother?

Mother’s and exams!

Yesterday evening when I picked the kids from school my son was looking a bit grumpy, scratch that and make it really grumpy!
And as usual, I asked my youngest how was her day, just to give my son enough time to talk!
Eventually it was my son’s turn to tell me what is going on.
“we had a surprise sose ( history test) today” He said
“And?” I asked
“I didn’t do well, How was I to know what King John signed in 1215?”
“Magna Carta” I replied
The look on his face was priceless! that his Jurassic park mom who didn’t know anything about the Christmas gamma ray burst knew what King John signed in 1215!! ( ok, to be fair, I love history and I know the dates)
This post isn’t meant to blow my trumpet ( ok, may be a little)
My son was upset that he wouldn’t be getting 100% marks because the teacher didn’t tell the class in advance that there would be a test and he didn’t read and therefor he didn’t know what happened in 1215.

I have never encouraged my children to study for the exams. I didn’t want them to learn just to get an A,
Anyone can get an A. What I wanted for my children was that they understand what they are studying and use that knowledge.
So, much as I felt sorry for my son ( his world collapses when he doesn’t get 100% marks), I felt it was a good lesson for him, that he should always be prepared for everything.

As soon as I reached home I received a call from the mother of one of my son’s classmate.
She asked me if I had any advance notice about the SOSE test they had and I replied No, I didn’t.
( I think she would have thought of me poorly if I had  told her the truth that my kids never tell me when they have tests )
She was upset because like my son, her son also didn’t do well because he also didn’t study.
She felt the teacher is wrong and is planning to write to the school to complain.

I am not blogging this post to paint another mother in a bad light. Every mother wants the same.
“Give the child the best opportunities and help them to achieve their goals.”

What worries me is as the mother of my children is, Am I doing it the wrong way? Am I failing them because I don’t check their work, I don’t sit with them, I don’t teach them and most of all I don’t even get them to study for exams?
I am so scared of screwing up my children’s life.

still shocked

I am still in shock.. that someone cared enough to spend 449RS as postage to send two packets of tea to me.
 I have not met any of my medical college friends since I left India. I am not good at keeping in touch. I am good at walking away.

All my life I struggled being the unwanted child to my mother..and sometimes I think I miss the forest for the trees.
Amma never let me have anything from my home, no family photos, not her dinner set, not the silver cup she kept in the middle of the cake pan to make ring cake, not her recipe book, not even a piece of her jewellery..All I have is memories..

I am a recipient of lots of unusual gifts.
My children’s grandmother send a can of pumpkin puree ( 2$) and paid 40 $ for postage two years ago because I couldn’t find any pumpkin here to make pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving dinner.
A friend once send a dalda tin full of walnuts from Kashmir to me when I was in Malaysia. It made so much din when I tried to open the parcel and how much I laughed when I saw the walnuts!
Someone left a box of books outside my door few months ago.

And I have a friend who cared enough to remember me and do something so simple, yet so profound..
It feels so good to be remembered! to know that I am not the only one with memories, that I am in someone else’s memory too!

For the love of….

Imagine a cold winter morning in Bangalore.
As I have lived outside India where I was exposed to real winter, I think I will explain the winter morning in Bangalore through the eyes of a Kottayam lass!

In Kerala  the temperature usually never dropped below 20 degrees and once when it did, it was the breaking news story in Malayala Manorama. “fog in Kottayam” was the title ( 1983). I remember feeling despondent after reading the paper that I, who lived in Kottayam missed the early morning fog the previous morning. I made an effort to wake up early for weeks so as to not miss a chance to see the fog. But fog was always elusive.
It was such a thrill to go on a school trip to Kodaikkanal..the way the mist wraps around you like a blanket..and to stand at the suicide point and watch the clouds coming up to swallow you while sniffing the fresh smell eucalyptus oil..those were magical..more so because you never experience anything similar in Kottayam.

And then I went to Bangalore and the winter, oh so lovely!!
Of all the 4 seasons, I love winter the most. There is something so magical about cold crispy winter mornings!

In Bangalore,the morning  rounds start at 8,
I wake up at 7.45 and as I run to the washroom, holding the mug, bucket, toothbrush, towel etc, I stop near the window facing the boys hostel. Most of the time the fog is thick and I can’t see anything, but I knew without any doubt that the bike and the rider is waiting there..The rider in a black leather jacket and while brushing my teeth and trying to wash my face using the ice cold tap water, I try to imagine the shirt he will be wearing. sometimes even send a plea to the unknown, “Oh, please let him wear the sky blue shirt”

Exactly at 8 am, the prof would take the attendance and I will be just locking my room door.

The ride to hospital depended on what dept I was posted to. If I was posted to a dept I liked ( medicine), the rider will ride the bike fast and I held on to him, to keep me warm and safe.  And I rest my chin on his shoulder and sniff the kouros as well! ( Imagine feeling breathless because it is so damn cold and still trying to breath in and hold on to that smell!)
If I was posted to a dept I hated(community medicine) and I had no intention of attending the rounds, we went to the tea shop behind the hospital. The shop was run by a husband and wife team who knew to warn us if they saw anyone in authority ( profs/lecturers/ward boys etc who can and will snitch about us) coming to drink tea at the shop! When that happens, we will be sitting there with few books opened and discuss the case we just saw during the morning round and will be arguing about the ddx ( differential diagnosis)

The tea served there had a reddish hue. ( to this day I don’t know what tea it was) and it was the best tea I ever had. Sipping the tea, while trying to keep myself warm, sitting down in front of a guy who meant the world to me while he talked about his childhood, his youth was priceless.

Eventually many students began to hate community medicine ( and other subjects) and we had a huge gathering of friends most mornings.
They all knew how much I loved drinking tea. ( The best tea estates in India, the difference between ctc and orthodox tea etc were our topics of discussion)

I never went back to the tea shop after the accident.

Last friday, I came home to find a parcel outside my door.

22 years later, one of the early morning tea party discussion member send me two packets of tea..no letters, no messages..just tea.