Please, not so fast..

When I lived in Sabah, there were very few furniture shops and those that were there were owned by Chinese. There was no competition and the customer just had to cough up whatever price they demanded.
In 1994, I paid 700 RM for a cupboard! ( my lovely salary was 1080RM)

What a change it was to move to KL and find IKEA !! I loved Ikea’s storage solutions. I remember the first shelf/cupboard I bought for 200RM andthe excitement to own a shelf paying 1/4 the price I paid for in Sabah.

For me the best part of visiting Ikea was their children’s section. By then I was already told by my Gynae that I will never be able to carry a child. But when you walk through the children’s section you will first walk past the ball pond. Little girls in pig tails jumping amidst those colourful green, blue, red and yellow balls. Watching the kids gave me hope, that the Dr’s be damned, that one day I will have a child, to hold and cherish and I will bring my child to Ikea and let her play in that ball pond!
As I walked through the children’s section, I used to touch all the baby cots. the soft toys..the little cupboards..because one day I was going to furnish the second bedroom of my house..for my baby..
I had left the second bedroom was meant for my baby and I wasn’t going to give the room to anyone. ( It used to bother my mother a lot that she had to use the smaller 3rd bedroom when there was a perfectly fine bigger 2nd bedroom)
And then one day, after driving off road from KL to Kuantan, I came home to find that I was 7 weeks pregnant. I was asked to take complete bed rest. I did. With the ikea catalogue. A part of me was scared to take a deep breath..what if I lost the baby..and the other part of me wanted to be in Ikea, so I could buy all the furniture..and then there was the fear of jinxing..that something will go wrong if I bought the furniture and clothes before the baby was born.
I waited patiently for 34 weeks to be over ( I still don’t know how I survived bed rest for that many weeks).. and then I went to Ikea.. proud of my waddling gait..the baby kicking in my belly..I wanted everyone to see my belly.. to tell the world that I got what I wanted.. against all odds..
I bought the cot, the mattress, changing table and the long green snake..
I have an aversion for snakes..but that snake soft toy was part of my dream.. and I had to buy it for my baby even when I knew it would take years before my baby will play with soft toys.

Yesterday I went to Ikea..they have a lot more new stuff in the kids section…and I was looking for furniture for my son in the adult section..

oru fencum, oru can paintum, oru brushum, pinne Sarahyum!!

I built a fence to keep my chooks away from the garden and pergola 2 months ago. ( First of all I kill any plants by mere association and then to find that my chooks dug out my curry leaf plant..the one that somehow survived my gardening jinx was the last proverbial straw)
I bought a can of paint 2 months ago.
I have been wanting to paint the fence before the wood start to warp and never had time.
I had to take the panels and unwarp ( is there such a word?) few days ago and today I am going to paint the fence before the wood is damaged anymore.
Off from work and on to more mundane work.

Madi, Kottayam style.

I wish there was a better word in english to translate Madi.. Laziness sounds so simple..

Let me explain.

Amma has been a single mother most of her life, We did have a maid when we were little, But after Akkachi got married, we didn’t have a maid. Amma did all the chores.

I have been fortunate to grow up in a very tidy and neat home. There was not even a speck of dust anywhere in our house. No doubt my mother was a lousy cook and the yogurt had worms in it. But the floor was spotless, our clothes were always clean and the house was always tidy. Everything had a place and everything was in its place!

Last time when I went to Kerala I stayed at a friend’s house. I was warned in advance not to eat anything at home because no one knew how long the food had been hibernating in the fridge.
I love to cook, so I decided I might as well cook lunch.

The fridge was the latest model..gulf import..
The door was covered with grime.
I couldn’t even open the vegetable crisper. It was stuck!
The egg tray had eggs..all coated with chook shit.
There was food remnants all over the fridge trays..all dried and it was stinking.
Meat was kept open in a steel bowl in the freezer.
On top of the meat was a plastic packet of milk..part of the plastic packet is stuck..on the exposed meat..and you could see the dirt caked on top of the plastic packet.

Since there was no way I could bring myself to use any food from the fridge, I thought I will make mooru  and rice.
I bought yogurt from the corner shop and had to use the blender. ( why such a simple thing as whisk can never be found in a mallu kitchen is still a mystery)
The blender was Braun.. the latest..
The rubber gasket on the lid was a black mass that can’t be described. It was never taken out to wash and was stuck..but it no longer looked like a gasket. Just a mass of something in black lining the top of the jar. ( I think the oil from coconut has reacted with  the rubber over months of not washing?)

That evening,  the mother of the family decided to slaughter the resident rooster and I thought I would help her to cook. She told the me the meat is all washed and ready and all I had to do was to cook. ( I am a vegetarian and I only buy cleaned skinless chicken breast!! so I don’t have to deal with gore and bone!) I cooked the gravy and was just about to put the meat in to the pot when I noticed the presence of colourful feathers on the meat pieces!! Revolting doesn’t even come closer to what I felt that moment. I turned off the fire and spend the next hour removing feathers.I washed the meat, but I did notice that the were something brown crushed black pepper stuck on the meat. I assumed the mother must have marinated the meat with black pepper..
Only after I put the meat in to the gravy and upon asking the mother if she had already added salt to the meat along with the black pepper did I learn  that it was not black pepper..those specs were actually wood chips..from the cutting board. I was told not to bother..wood is organic and healthy and yes everyone loved the chicken curry!

My aunt even knows how to pile all the dishes in the sink in her kitchen  in neat rows, for you see, her part time maid only comes once every 3 days! and yes my aunt has 3 sets of dinner plates.

An Indian colleague of mine told me recently she dreams of going back to India, so she can live like a queen. her idea of living like a queen is to have someone else to cook and clean, while she could just watch TV all day.
I don’t have a maid and I don’t see the need to have maid when I have two hands that are perfectly functional!!
I clean the stove and the exhaust everyday and the exhaust filter once every week. I also wipe all the kitchen cupboard doors every day. It takes me 15 minutes to clean the kitchen  before I go to bed. I hate to see dirty dishes in the sink and always wash the dishes the moment I finished using them. The fridge is cleaned every saturday. I sweep the floor while my children are getting ready every morning.
Yes, I do have my days when I don’t feel like doing chores. But there is no way I can live in a dirty house. And I thank my mother for teaching me not to be lazy. And trust me, it really is not too much work to keep your house clean.

Honestly speaking..

Honestly, I never did much work at home when I was young.

My grandmother ( maternal) was the oldest child to her parents and had to do all the chores at home( extended family of more than 30 people) because according to my great grandparents, my grandmother was a dunku rani ( idiot) and there was no point sending her to school. Her parents felt,since she wasn’t going to school, she might as well be useful at home and got her to do all the cooking and cleaning. After all isn’t it said somewhere that idle mind is a devil’s workshop.

My mother didn’t do much work in her home because she studied in a boarding school. However, that didn’t spare her from her mother’s wrath because my grandmother hated the fact that Amma had a rather easy life. She was allowed to study, she didn’t have to do any chores at home and led  a very carefree life.
Amma still has a burn scar on her chest courtesy of my grandmother. Amma was asked to fry pappadam and didn’t do a ‘good’ job, so my grandmother in her anger grabbed the kudakkambi (stick)  Amma was using to flip the pappadam along with the hot oil and poked amma’s chest!

When we were little, we were never asked to do any chores at home because my mother felt being girls, we will be doing all the chores in our in law’s house eventually and she didn’t want the 4 of us to complain bitterly about how unfair life is..( in other words, she didn’t want us to complain like my grandmother did, who always said, I did all the donkey work in my parents house and I have to do all the donkey work in my in law’s home and my daughter who is supposed to help me was enjoying her life at the boarding school)

When we didn’t have a maid, I did help Amma to sweep the courtyard and stopped doing so because Amma told Akashavani and that her daughters are all lazy and don’t lift their little finger at home. I felt if amma was playing the role of the martyr, then she might as well do all the jobs herself!

Amma did everything. Each morning she folded all our blankets, ironed our uniform, cooked breakfast, packed school lunch. Each evening she cooked dinner, washed the dishes. Weekends were reserved for bulk cooking ( one chatti meen curry, one pana erachi curry, etc!) laundry ( imagine family of 5) and cleaning the house. Amma did all the chores mentioned previously and I hid in my room and read.
It isn’t that I didn’t want to help Amma, but there was no way I could match up to Amma’s expectations. She didn’t like the way I hung the clothes or the way I ironed her blouse. She complained bitterly how badly I did whatever she asked me to do and always said ninnodekke vellathum cheyyan paranja enney venam thallan ( I should get my head examined for asking you to do something) So it was better not to do anything.

I sometimes wonder if I am being mean to my children because I ask them to fold their blanket, iron their clothes and vacuum their room. ( especially because I never did any chores in my own home)


Thumbi (dragonflies)

The parapet in Chenggannur house extended all the way to the side of the house. If you stand on the parapet and hold the pillar for support and lean forward,  You can almost reach the branches of  the chamba (rose apple).

Being a female, I was not allowed to climb the tree. So I had to resort to standing on the parapet and do  death defying acrobatics ! often gravity worked against me and I landed on the gravel with a mighty thud.
If Ammachi was in the house, she would come out to check what was ‘that’ noise and I get caught. ( too much of anything was too bad, so even though the tree was laden with rose apples, I was not allowed to eat to my heart’s content)
So much as I need to check and see if I still had all parts of me in working order, saving me from Ammachi’s wrath was the priority.
As soon as my butt hit the gravel, I get up and run to my hiding spot.
A little further from the rose apple tree was this huge hole in the ground. When my grand father constructed the  house, the stones used for the construction were excavated from our own land, which resulted in a mini mine shaft, my hiding spot. Every time it rained, the water puddled in the middle, green slimy foul smelling water! but still it was the one spot I could hide and observe Ammachi.

We were told never to go anywhere near that place because it was full of snakes and scorpions. Snakes in comparison to my grandmother was less harmful and even though I am petrified of snakes, I would run and hide there amongst the snakes and deadly scorpions.
I  now think my grandmother knew all along that it was me who fell down and where I was hiding. And to teach me a lesson, she would sit on the parapet, patiently waiting for me to get out from my hiding hole!
And in a game of patience and perseverance, I won. ( at least I think I did, cause eventually ammachi did go back inside the house)
While waiting for her to go inside, the only thing I could do was to catch dragonflies. There were millions of them hovering over the water.
I spend a lot of time holding the crispy transparent wings of the dragonfly and getting it to carry tiny rocks. It was amazing to see how much weight those 6 legs could carry..

thumpeeneyum kondu kallu edupikkuva ( getting a tiny dragonfly to carry a big rock) was a saying in Malayalam.

When Yaya was about 4 years old, Amma was with me. That particular day I was teaching Yaya how to fold her clothes and amma grumbled and mumbled  saying thumpeeneyum kondu kallu edupikkuva.
She obviously thought I was a horrible mother to have taught a 4 year old daughter to fold her own clothes.
Yaya is currently working 8 hours a week at a friend’s cafe. ( and of course it is hard on her, it takes her an hour to get back home from school, she has so much of home work etc etc) But then again she will have to learn that soon she will be in Uni and she will have much more to study and that her mom expects her to work and self finance her education.
Horrible, cruel mother eh?


The hardest part of being the mother of a gifted child is to watch them making choices based on their perceived notions.
I wish it would be simple like this.You get the offer letter from the school, you accept the offer and done. You are all set to study in the most prestigious school on a full scholarship.

As a mother, I wanted to tell my son that he is making the biggest mistake in life by not accepting the scholarship. You don’t throw away such opportunities!

But then again, am I not the one who taught the same boy
that you learn from the mistakes you made?
that money isn’t everything?
that money shoudn’t be the motivating factor for the decisions he makes in his life?
that I will stand by him and hold his hands if he ever feels he is alone?
that I will always respect his decisions if he gave me valid reasons?

If my son, at the age of 12 can walk away from 100,000AUD, because of something he believes strongly in, then I guess I will stand by him.

All I ever wished for my children was that they will be happy and that they will wake up each morning being grateful that they are alive and the world is theirs to conquer.

And even before I gave birth to him, I had hoped that one day I will have a son so I could teach him Kipling’s if.. 

When I was doing the 3rd year medicine, I had read an article in the newspaper about puthra kameshiti yagam  being conducted somewhere in Kerala and how popular it was.
My mother gave birth to 4 children each time hoping for a son to carry the family name.
I never understood why parents felt compelled to do poojas just to have son and why a daughter can’t carry her family name?
However, That being said, I had hoped that I will have a son, not to carry the family name, but just to teach him ‘if’

Today, I woke him up..with a smile on my face..because I know in my heart that my child didn’t sell his soul for 100,000AUD..and that knowledge makes me a proud mother. ( may be his decision was the wrong one, but  then again…….)

If  by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you  

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

My son

I am still in shock.
I am to hand in the completed application form to the school where my son has got the academic scholarship this friday. But my son has refused to accept the scholarship.

There were more than 200 kids who wrote the test and only 2 have been given a scholarship and total amount over 5 years (grade 8 to 12) is 100,000$. That is a lot of money.
But more than the money, the school is one of the top most school in Australia. They have a huge waiting list and most paretns register their child at the time of his birth to ensure that he gets admission when he is 6 years old.

There are two conditions for the scholarship.
One, my son is expected to get A’s in all the subjects, all the terms.
two. he needs to complete grade 12  and can’t leave the school before grade 12.

My son has no issues getting A’s. It is the second clause he has a problem with. According to him, it violates his CRC ( convention on the rights of the child) core principles

Best Interests of the child

He says, he can’t let the school dictate where he should spend the next 5 years of his life. His reasonings are simple. He wrote the test, he got the scholarship and it should come without a clause because at the time he wrote the test, nothing was mentioned about such demands.
He says he should be allowed to leave in the event he is not happy with the school, because the ‘best interest of the child’ should be the governing factor. ( the school allows you to leave, but I must pay back the money they gave as scholarship, which my son feels is wrong)

I have tried everything to make my child understand that he is really stupid to give up a scholarship to a very prestigious elite school. But he won’t listen.


It all started with my niece ( step) posting a vidoe clip of John Gaisah on my Fb wall and telling me that she wished she could hear me sing!

The truth is, I can’t sing to save my life. However not being able to sing doesn’t stop me from singing.
A bottle of Tapai ( rice wine) and I can practically ‘ outsing’ any Kadazan singers, or so I believe.
So at every (family) gathering, I volunteer to sing and even though I am not home any more, apparently everyone remembers my performances..even after 2 decades.. and the legend of my beautiful singing is now passed on to the next generation and they are dying to hear me sing!!

And that brought me back to my youth, (and No, the previous statement didn’t mean that I am old now)

We were staying in my mother’s ancestral home in Kottayam. The house was very unusual. It had the usual pathayam ( granary) and thattumpuram ( Attic) etc that you would see in old Malayalee homes, but in this particular house the kitchen was the most unusual.
It had three doors. One door lets you enter the kitchen from the dining room, then there are two doors that allows you to leave the kitchen to either side of the house. It was the only house I have seen other than chengannur house that had saksha on the doors. A wooden device that is intricately carved at the ends and functioned as a latch. The kitchen had one small counter and on top of that was the wood stove. We stored  firewood underneath the counter. We didn’t really need to use the wood stove, but my mother was on a mission to save money for our dowry! So it was my duty to guard the fire.
When I said guard the fire, it meant that, I now held the wand ( ie a long metal pipe) and must constantly blow in to the fire, so the fire won’t die out and the food won’t taste of smoke. ( My mother was a lousy cook and you really didn’t want to make it any worse)

I was 11 years old.
Nazia Hassan’s Disco Dewanee had just been released and Appa had already bought me a copy and on Sunday morning while my mother cooked meen curry (fish curry) I played the song and sang along at the top of my voice …
Disco dewanee.. aha aha then poof poof  I use the metal pipe and blow in to the fire, breathing in the smoke and desperately hoping that Amma won’t notice that I killed the fire. Once in a while I get carried away and use the pipe as a mike and pretend that I am the most famous singer and my hallucinations end rather quickly when my mother uses the mike or in this case the metal pipe and hit me while muttering avaldey oru disco dewanee.. and I talk back something very nasty to her and make a quick run outside taking the door closest to the stove and forgetting that Amma can and will go out from  the other door and we met each other somewhere in the other end of the house! Often, Amma just waited for me to run in to her!
And then the beatings begin..she hits me in tune to Disco Dewanee..

Those were the days.

Female the indian context.

I spend part of the first two decades of my life in India.
The same India where Kamasutra was written, where you can find erotic sculptures in temples.

Yet, as a female child, the patriarchal society had established set standards I must follow to be part of the society.
I was a female only in my chromosomes. The rest of me was expected to be asexual.
The rules of my asexual behaviour was written from the time of my birth.
My vagina was ichichi (untouchable!!) I was not supposed to even look at it, let alone allow anyone to see it.

Looking at a boy was considered the biggest crime against humanity. if the look progressed to touch, consider yourself banished from the kingdom ( or hastily married off!)
The older females in this asexual kingdom also played a huge part in continuing the tyranny. They established this huge network of gossip and malingering. The ultimate goal is supposed to “ensure the chastity and purity of the girl who might marry their son” And no, they didn’t so much worry about their sons screwing around. The virtue is only a female right.!

Once in a while, there comes a writer who could write confidently about sex and the men hide in the washroom to read the said book and the women meet at coffee club  or the mahila smajam to find ways to shut the new writer. After all how could they allow a female with sexual desire in to the kingdom? Won’t she corrupt the minds of the innocents?

My childhood also involved watching malayalam movies. Family movies!! often there are few scenes of rape..The guy running..the deer running.. the girl running.. all running.. and the rape happens. Not in the real sense. But getting raped is part of a good family movie..

Mallu movies also teach us that falling in love is all about a song and dancing around a tree. But  you must also learn that only in the movie people fall in love. In real life, you must wait for your parent to find your ideal mate when you are old enough!! And for a female, her virginity is a prerequisite to be considered as an ideal partner.

Going out with a boy is a crime. Even if you only went to the coffee shop with a boy. Somehow the act of drinking a cup of coffee with a member of the opposite sex is a prelude to having sex and( god forbid) orgasm.

This way of upbringing also creates a new breed of men. The ones who thinks it is their god given right to own a woman and her body. Most don’t even know how to kiss, yet they consider themselves to be the Casanovas.
They ogle at anything in a skirt, love to pass lewd and vulgar comments, loves peeping when a mother/sister/neighbour showers and once they tie the thali, they want/demand the whole Kamasutra from their partner, not even taking time to read the whole book and understand that a woman is actually a sexual being and that she has feelings..

If you are an unmarried female…living in India, you are expected to learn and believe that ” I feel no sexual desire, I never felt it, I will never feel it till the day I get married, only then I will  switch on that part of me and I am worth this thali on my neck because I am pure!!”

I don’t think there will ever be a day when the Indian society will accept that women are not to be hidden..that she is alive and has feelings..that she has a right to go out with a guy and if she wants to she has a right to sleep with a guy. No one, but her owns her body.
But that is a dream isn’t it?
And you still find girls killing themselves even when they have done nothing wrong because the so called custodians of chastity don’t leave them alone..And even in death, they still try to tarnish a woman’s name by unnecessary gossip. ( How sad it is that a postmortem report is needed to clear her name!)

Ela vannu

When I was in my teens,Amma often used to say
ela vannu mullel veenalum, mullu vannu elel veenalum, kedu elakku thanney” ( If the thorn falls on the leaf or the leaf falls on the thorn, the damage is always to the leaf.)

I didn’t particularly raise my children as “Indian”. My reasons were simple. I didn’t want to raise them with prejudices. But beyond that, I also felt, I am the one who chose not to live in India/Malaysia and I had no right to force an alien culture on my children in the name of continuing tradition.

I didn’t want to be like the mother who send rice and curry to her son everyday for his it is in Kerala. But this boy was in US, in the mid west..and he never ate lunch all his school life. His mother woke up faithfully every morning to pack a proper chottu pothi ( lunch) and I have often wondered what would be her feelings if she knew that for 12 years, her precious son, whose every step in life was carefully orchestrated as per Indian tradition never had lunch?

I thought nadu odumbol naduvey odanam ( when in Rome, be ..)

Some days, if I come back home early in the evening, children and I go to the local shop to buy ice cream. We then walk to the nearby park and spend the evening there.
Yesterday, the younger two didn’t want to come. Both had borrowed new books from the library and both wanted to read their book. So only Yaya and I went.
And soon enough those questions started..
If I had brought “everybody” home any time I wanted something from my mother, Yaya asks questions..that pits me in a competition with “everybody”

“Mom, would you let me go out for a party?”
Oh, yes, I knew where this questions are leading to..and I have to be very careful.
so I replied
“Sure, but it depends on where, why, who, when”
“What if it is a late party?”
“What do you mean by a late party?” I asked
“You know late night, 9 to 12”
9 to 12? my almost 14 year old child wants to go out partying till midnight? Over my dead body.
But think what would happen if I tell that to my child?
“Well, I think it depends on whose house the party is held at, for eg, if you are invited to B’s party I don’t have any problem”
B’s mother is a doctor and is a very close friend of mine and there is no way she would allow her child to have a late night party!
” You know something mom,Salma’s ( not her real name) mother is so mean, She won’t let Salma go to any parties after 5 pm. Her mother thinks bad things happen to girls after 5. Salma is planning to sneak out from her home to go for a movie. She has already been to Kathy’s ( not real name) party by lying to her mother. she told her mom she has basketball practice !!”
I didn’t say anything. It isn’t my place to judge Salma’s mother. At the same time, I want my children to tell me the truth at all times.
“Mom, would you mind if I date someone when I am in Spain?”
I wanted to cry.
This is the first time my child is going to live away from me for such a long time and now I also have to worry about her starting to date?
“What do you mean by dating?” I asked, hoping against hope that her def of going out for a date is something simple.
“You know, going out with a guy, you know how hot Spanish guys are”
Honestly, at that moment, I wanted to run back to Kerala, back to the safety of Chengannur society.
I could picture myself..constantly checking on Yaya, going through her books to find hidden love letters, not having to worry about going out with a guy.
But again, I chose to live outside. All this is part of my living outside India. I could be like Salma’s mother and not know what my child has been doing behind my back or I could just be forthright.
With a very heavy heart I told my child
” Yaya, you are old enough to make decisions that affect your life” ( and no, I am not ready to let her make decisions that affect her life. But what am I to do?
She probably saw my rather ‘pale’ face and told me
“mom, don’t worry, my teacher has been drilling in to us about facts of life. He even said, He wants to bring back the same number of kids he took to Spain and why he really doesn’t want to bring back an extra child!”
And I keep thinking how am I to handle all these new ways of living..