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A Nonchalant Admission of Having sought Psychiatric services to a complete stranger

I was blown by this bit of conversation at the swimming pool.

Context : Me still learning to swim, but gaining basic proficiency (by that I mean, I was floating well and easily swimming across the pool), a newbie in the pool (who was at least 60) and a regular swimmer (again someone who was over 50 at least).

Regular swimmer is giving me and the newbie tips. His advice is good, though slightly patronizing (I learnt on my second day in the pool, why are you still just swimming across, learn to control your breathing and do a lap). His advice to newbie (be regular, you should get to a stage of doing 40 laps if you need to shed that belly of yours). I cant help mentioning that regular swimmer also had a pretty Healthy Belly.

We got around to discussing what we do for a living otherwise and regular swimmer asks newbie, you must be in business too. Newbie replies, “No, I am a doctor.”

Regular swimmer removes his goggles and looks closesly, recognizes him and says “wow Doctor, didnt realize it was you. You may not remember me, but I was one of your patients.”

Normal enough conversation, you may think.

I decide to contribute and ask Doc, so what is your practice doctor, are you a specialist. I expected cardio, or diabetes, or I dont know, maybe opthalmology.

Turns out he is a psychiatrist, running a psychiatric hospital in town.

Regular swimmer adds, “He is a great psychiatrist. Helped me a lot. You should go to him if you have a problem. He also does good counseling. ”

Now this conversation is surreal at so many levels.

For one, in a country like India where it is still rare for people to seek psychiatric help unless driven to it , in a relatively small town (Tier 2 city) like Trichy, where one presumes messages of Therapy is good for you may not have permeated, here is a man openly talking about having sought psychiatric services, to a complete stranger. What is more, he even recommends the service, just as non chalantly as he would a hotel. And considering that till about a moment before in the conversation, this guy was trying to be a total alpha male who was trying to impress us- accomplished swimmer to our bumbling ineptness- this acknowledgement of his vulnerability was surprising. Nay, he did not even think of it as a vulnerability, just stated it in a complete matter of fact way, like he would have if this doc had been any of the other specializations.

I learnt a lot from Regular swimmer, many of it swimming related. It got to a point when he was so judgmental about my efforts that I started going at an alternate time, simply to avoid him. He is definitely not my favorite person, but his casual acknowledgement of his mental health issues thought me a lot. I dont know the precise nature of his problem. I know there are different kinds of mental illness and people sometimes acknowledge a few but not others. But I am simply not bothered. In a situation where he never need to have acknowledged his issues, he tossed it in so casually, and thought me a valuable life lesson.






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The Waiter at the Hotel and his blow for Women’s Rights

I have blogged earlier about the feminist audit of restaurants, a practice of looking at how restaurant staff treated the women customers, what were the roles they were expecting from men and women and how equitable was this.


I think at this point, the undoubted winner on my feminist audit is a little roadside stall in Coimbatore. I was there a few months ago with my husband. This  is a little shop with just maybe four tables, but he does roaring business. We were staying for a couple of days at a nearby lodge and we pretty much had every meal with him.

Like many little places in South India, food is served on banana leaves. Some of the restaurants also insist that the customer clears away the banana leaf themselves. Its probably a labor saving practice, and also the concept of ‘Ecchal (or Jhoota) is very powerful in Tamil Nadu, and some places may therefore feel that everybody clears up their own plate and food remains.

As customers, sometimes we forget to do this, not because we think it is wrong, but because one generally never thinks of cleaning up the plates in a restaurant. I had myself forgotten one morning during breakfast and he had to come and remind me as I was washing my hand, that I had to put my plate away.

This is what happened when my husband finished eating and walked away to wash his hand. He forgot to pick up his leaf. Two waiters were standing nearby, and one of them called after him to pick it up. Even as my husband was turning, the other one indicated to his colleague that I was at the table and I would probably clear up both our plates. But the first waiter gave a sharp rejoinder. Its his plate and he clears up. We cant expect her to clear it up for him.

I am not saying this man is a great feminist. I dont even know what he does at home. Does he wash his own plates or expect the women in the family to do it. And I have also seen men who may be doing all household work and not expect anything from the women, but still have their own notions of patriarchy and male superiority. But it was nice to see a public upholding of men and women having to take up equal responsibility.

Reflections of a almost five year old on Fairy Tales

I have recently introduced Migu to popular fairy tales and now our bed time reading as well as meal time stories are generally Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

As I have blogged in the past,here and here  Migu does not like to consume stories in a docile way. She has to constantly comment or critique a story. So this is how our story telling session on Snow White went.

Snow White had a step mother who had a magic mirror.

Migu : Wow step mother and magic. Is she like the fairy godmother? Will she wave her want?

Me : Well, no step mother and fairy godmother are different, sort of very opposite to each other. Will you let me continue?

As I continue we come to the bit about the mirror.

Me : The step mother asked the mirror, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

Migu : Wait, wait, I am the mirror, you are step mother, now ask me.

Me: Ok, Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Migu : Goldilocks

Me : Not Goldilocks, Snow White.

Migu : But that day you told me Golilocks was also beautiful.

Me : Never minds, its another story. Can we continue.

After some time, as we come to the bit about Snow White falling after eating the apple

Me : How do you think she revived?

Migu : How? How?

Me : A handsome prince came and saw Beautiful Snow Whites Body. When he kissed her, she revived.

Migu : Thats not fair. Thats what happened to Sleeping Beauty. You are simply saying this.

Me : No that is the story.

Migu : Why is it always the prince?

Me : I dont know, can I continue?

Migu : Ok

Me : The prince and Snow White got married and lived in a castle

Migu : No, that is what happened to Rapunzel

Me : So its a different prince, and it was perfectly OK for him to marry Snow White.

Migu : Getting irritated, there is always a prince (She said it in Tamil, so all who follow Tamil can truly understand the impact of a line like Eppopathalum Prince, Eppopathalum Prince.

After some time,

Migu : I dont like these stories, I only like Red Riding Hood.

Me : Why

Migu : There is no prince, only a wolf.

The Feminist in Me : You go girl, yes you dont need a prince.

Like I have written before, I didnt really question any story while growing up. I dont not always fantasize about a life similar to the one which I was reading about, but I accepted it and never thought to challenge their choices. I am glad Migu is growing up, questioning stories, and maybe unconsiously breaking stereotypes and challenging possibilities and choices.

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Adventures in Trichy # 1 : Trichy Paruthi Paal

Paruthi Paal refers to cottonseed milk. Its a mix (like horlicks or bournvita) which you can add to milk and consume. Its considered a very healthy drink.

I never knew about paruthi paal before. Frankly the thought of cottonseed milk is a bit disconcerting. Particularly when Paruthi Kottai (cotton seed) has always been seen as livestock feed. When I first heard of it, I was like, can humans even eat this.

But I have grown to really appreciate this drink and I even have some packets of the mix at home. My daughter adores it. She sometimes prefers it over her usual milk drink.

Though I got familiar with the drink, I never realized this was a Trichy special. Untill I heard an adorable PA announcement next to a cycle vendor who was selling Paruthi Paal for 5 bucks. The announcement translates to something like this,

Trichy Paruthi Paal, made from pure palm jaggery and cotton seeds direct from the villages. Only at 5 rupees, you will wonder how we can afford to give it to you so cheap.

Just like Rockfort temple (a famous landmark in Trichy) symbolizes the spirit of Trichy, so too does Paruthi Paal.

Just like Jigar Thanda is for Madurai, so too is Paruthi Paal for Trichy.

The announcement had my heart. A city which wants to define itself with its food. What more do I want.







Iftar parties and religious pluralism : Why Ahmedabad amazes me sometimes

Being vegetarians (or the more than ocassional egg eaters), it is pretty funny, that my husband and  I really long to taste Iftar food. Iftar is the meal taken by Muslims, during the fasting month of Ramzan, when they break the fast at sunset. Iftar specialities are most certainly non-vegetarian, and I am sure many squeamish vegetarians will totally avoid certain localities during Ramzan because of the sight, smell or even the knowledge of the meats around.

But we are not squeamish, and so we set out to explore the special street food places in Ahmedabad, to get a sense of the festival. We passed the famous Sayed Siddhi Mosque, went through Teen Darwaza and Lal Darwaza and all the landmarks of the old city of Ahmedabad. And we could sense, could smell the lovely biriyanis and the cooking meats. Surprisingly, for vegetarians, we find the smell very pleasant. Like my husband says, we enjoy being ‘passive non-vegetarians.’

When we asked a passerby to direct us to ‘Batiyar Gali’, he almost looked surprised. Maybe we just didnt look like the kind of people who would go to the most happening street food place of Iftar.

After seeing and smelling to our hearts content, we finally went in for dinner. While we still wanted vegetarian food, we did not want to eat in any of the exclusively vegetarian gujarati dining places which abound. We wanted to eat veg food in a non veg place. We find such food has a faintly exotic flavor to it.

And so we went into a restaurant advertising Iftar special, but also having a small sign saying Veg Food attached below. And then we come across a surprise in the menu. Under vegetarian section, there were some kebaba : hara bhara kebab, Veg kebab etc, and then there was a Jain Kebab.

Jains are an ultra strict vegetarian community in India. In fact, not only are they not supposed to eat meat or eggs, they are not even supposed to eat onions, garlic, potatoes and a whole host of other things. It is because of the influence of Jains (and some other strictly Hindu vegetarians) that Ahmedabad has a reputation of being a ‘non-veg’ averse place. This is the city where KFC opened a veg only outlet, where lots of the popular food franchises have veg only outlets. In fact it is a bit difficult to even buy eggs here, because one needs to go to ‘egg only’ shops.

But within Ahmedabad, it is understood that while the newer city is largely vegetarian, the Old city, which has historically been heavily influenced by Islam is definitely a non-veggie’s dream destination. My explorations on the Iftar walk had  definitely convinced me of this.

But still, here was a restaurant, almost exclusively catering to the non-vegetarian, who had taken the pains to add a Jain item to their menu. It was just one dish. It was probably sound business strategy to ensure that mixed crowds came in to the hotel. And most strict Jains may not even step into a restaurant which serves so much meat. I know a lot of my conservative Hindu relatives would not have stepped in there.  But to me it seemed like a delightfully inclusive gesture. It truly showed me how different communities continue to live together.

A to Z Blogging Challenge G is for Gadgets, children and discipline

A to Z Blogging Challenge April 8 G


I guess this is definitely the biggest challenge of parenthood. How to control your child’s time with gadgets. I have seen plenty of kids pretty addicted to gadgets. I mean I even saw a little girl continuing to stare at her i pad in an icecream parlour. She was least interested in what was being ordered for her, just wanted to be left alone to continue what she was playing/seeing.


In the beginning, with my daughter, we decided, absolutely no gadgets at all. So although we owned two laptops, two kindles, two smartphones as well as a Samsung Galaxy tab, we tried to keep her away from everything. We wanted her to interact with the real world and not get lost in the virtual.


I also read a lot of articles which spoke of the need to protect children from too many gadgets. It was supposed to lead to all kinds of repercussions. ONe article even earnestly urged to you to forbid use of any gadgets and get the child out to play, no matter how much she hates you for it. For a little while, I thought that was the way to go.


The problem with that was that what we perceived was virtual, was still a part of her reality. How could we really deny gadgets to her, when we were ourselves so immersed in them. And it was not realistic to expect her to not look at them, since her world is very much about gadgets. It would be unrealistic to expect that she would not pay attention to them.


And so slowly and surely, the tablet became one of the instruments of daily play. And it does have its uses. It does engage her attention for a decent length of time. When you want her to sit quietly when the aircraft takes off or take a breather in a long train journey, the gadgets are useful.


And it is not like Migu is overly addicted to it. Yes, she expects to use it while having her evening fruit, but that is a routine we got used to because it was convenient for both of us. Sometimes when she wants to use it, she pretends she is hungry and wants to eat fruit so that she has a legitimate excuse to use it. And most times, when we tell her to put it away, she does put it away.


I think the problem with gadget addiction is not for the child but for the parent. There are times when she is so bothersome that giving her the tablet seems to be the best way to manage her. And when she has that, then she does not demand attention, which leaves you to do what you want to do. There are days when I have managed to finish a story I was reading or catch up on some other work, after handing over the tablet to her. And I realize I am getting into a bad habit here. Like I said it is not her getting addicted to it, it is me getting used to her getting dependent on it.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge E is for Equal opportunities to work at home and sharing of burden with partners

A to Z Blogging Challenge April 6 E

I have blogged in the past about the need to share child care responsibilities with husbands/male partners, not as a favor to women, but because it is the right of the man to be involved in nurturing the child. By keeping them away from the role, we are denying them a significant experience in life.


The same is true not just for child rearing but any household responsibilities. There is a certain ‘learned helplessness’ when it comes to men and household responsibilities, because somewhere it is just not expected of them to do it. Even when partners expect men to pitch in, within joint families and extended families in India, somehow it is still not acceptable to see the man doing any household work, and it is considered to reflect badly on both the man (who is a pereceived to be a bit too soft and allowing his wife to boss him) and on the wife (who is perceived to be either ‘incompetent to do all the work herself’ or a ‘shrew who makes her husband work for her’).


Such perceptions are obviously unfair to women. But they are more unfair to men. While we women have now had opportunities to work outside, to overcome so many of our ‘learned helplessness’, and to enrich our lives through our dual roles, why then should we restrict the men to their traditional roles. Should they not have a chance to balance dual responsibilities. Our lives are so much fuller and colorful because we face different challenges : how to prepare a healthy tasty meal is as much of an intellectual challenge as pitching an idea to a client. We allow our brain to do all these exercises, shouldnt our partners now have this chance.