Monday, October 20, 2008

The Smile of Murugan

Is it cold there, S Maami asks?

The winters must have set in there
, Iyengaar Maami adds knowingly.

I heard that there was a frost warning two weeks back, Alacrity Maami announced.

Amma has returned and the T Nagar Maamis seem to be under the belief that Amma is some kind of a weather satellite that they had sent out to monitor the global climate. The burning question in their minds is, did the investment on the thermal-wear from Naidu Hall pay off?

Amma looked overwhelmed and tired as a result of all the attention. Six months have aged her considerably. She is surprisingly quiet. She chooses her words carefully and all her movements seem to be deliberate and in slow-motion. The suitcase is yet to be unpacked and the boxes of Ziploc bags and assorted stuff manufactured in Asia and retailed in discount stores in America are yet to make an appearance. So, I remain unsure how successful the trip has been for Amma. Yet, I would like to hazard a guess, and say that, the American Dream doesn't seem to have worked for her.

Six months is a long time. Appa, who had been at the receiving end of my domestic experiments will vouch for that. But, it must have been longer for Amma. Six months of vacuuming a large and empty house must be tiring. Six months of doing cleaning and assorted household work must be boring. If the only outlet to unwind is a visit to the local library, six months must indeed be a long time. Six months of religiously playing the sport of fattening your children must be tiresome. Six months of waiting for weekends to meet them, must be pathos inducing. And most importantly, six months away from T Nagar must be heart-breaking.

How is M Manni, G Periamma asks Amma, in a gleeful tone. Everyone looks at Amma with some interest. Now, that should get her talking. There must be a dozen reasons at least, why M Manni is not good enough for the precious T Anna. Amma surprised G Periamma and me when she said, M Manni is an affectionate girl. Amma stresses on affectionate, the way she does when English words slip into whatever she says.

Did you know M Manni wears contact lenses
, Amma asked me suddenly? Deceit, I think, I wonder how Amma would have reacted when she saw M Manni with glasses for the first time. I would have liked to have been there. But it seems, that is not enough reason to launch an attack against the daughter-in-law and Amma said, nowadays you get disposable lenses, they are very comfortable, you know. She adds further, it stablises the power. She is trying to convince T Anna to get one too. Amma sounds satisfied, like her son is now in good hands. I am just a little shocked. I am also happy and a little jealous. I don't get that kind of approval after twenty-five years.

Where all did you go, S Maami asks. Did you go to the Coca Cola factory in Atlanta, 106 Maami asks? What about Lake Tahoe, another Maami almost breathlessly asks, lest some other Maami beat her to it. What about the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, G Periamma asks, as she tries to remember some photographs that her brother had shown her some years ago. I hope you went to Boston and saw Harvard, Alacrity Maami said in an almost indignant tone. What about Las Vegas, S Maami suggested playfully.

I rolled my eyes as the Maami's questions traveled effortlessly across coasts and with scanty regard for distances and T Anna's financial ability to fund this wanderlust. All of this, just so that, they could show off their own knowledge. I decide that I couldn't take this anymore and got ready to leave the room. It was Amma's response that made me pause, as she said, we didn't go out very much. T Anna is having some tension at work.

N Chitappa who was watching the TV on mute (he believes that TV is merely a visual medium. Though the theory floating around in the family is, he is partially deaf and cannot listen in to the conversation among the women-folk, usually gossiping in the next room if the TV is also on.). Anyway, he perked up at Amma's statement and asked her, Recession aa, clucking his tongue like he was biting into a juicy and sweet jangri from Suriya Sweets.

Apdi ellam onnum illai, Amma said,just a tad too quickly. Some general tension only, she offered in manner of explanation of her earlier statement.

At least, he didn't shoot you and M Manni, G Periamma added, rather unkindly, as the colour drained out of Amma's face. The Maamis got into a discussion on how shocking it was that a Tamil Brahmin boy that too from IIT would be involved in something as macabre. Personally, I am glad. Not glad that people got killed or that people are moved to such desperation. But, at least, T Anna and his friends will not get into a match-the dormitory/hostel-game, Over the years, I have noticed, every occasion when some IIT alumni has achieved any success, there is an almost pathological need to match dormitories or hostels that they might have shared, even if it was twenty-five years apart. Notorious alumni, don't make you do that. Yes, I am somewhat pleased.

Too much pressure in IIT these days, 106 Maami says, as she thinks about her own son from the hallowed walls.

Yes yes, N Chitappa offers. You can't be that smart and not be a little insane, hanh. All boys and girls who go to IIT must be at least 10% insane.

I can't suppress the giggle and wonder about several things, like – how did N Chitappa arrive at this figure, what is the upper limit of this insanity percentage and what level does he peg T Anna and S at. N Chitappa suddenly notices me and asks me to come and talk to him. I know it is not going to be very pleasant, but with little choice, I go and sit next to him. So, what does the Indian media think about this global financial crisis, hanh, he wants me to tell him.

Ummm, I say. I hate it when my views are supposed to represent a group of individuals, more so when they don't know that they are being represented. And especially my views on a subject that I have very limited knowledge about.

All the Maamis now turn their attention to me and for the first time in the day seem to notice my presence in the room. I strain to think back about all the news reports that I might have read or the snatches of conversation thread that I might have heard but not really listened. But, I draw a blank and all I can recall is how M and I discussed about the Mangayar Malar's hundred Deepavali sweets. Hundred sweets made up with the ration shop sugar, Aaavin cooking butter and cheap cashews bought from Burma Bazaar in Trichy don't suggest a recession, do they?

It is terrible, I say finally. Rather stupidly. The Maamis look a little disappointed and mostly satisfied that they need not re-evalaute their opinion about me. Oblivious to my misery and not wanting to lose his captive audience, N Chitappa continues, it is worse than terrible, do you know Iceland has become bankrupt. The knowledge of an an entire country going bankrupt makes them feel horrified and strangely excited at the same time. So, what is this recession about, S Maami asked?

And so, N Chitappa launched into his idiot's guide to the sub-prime crisis. I am not sure if N Chitappa had ever had such large bunch of captive women audience. Madras Thatha, had come into the room by then and we couldn't help but exchange a smile as N Chitappa spoke about Ninja borrowers, Federal Reserve, Washington Mutual, confidence crisis, bankrupt investment banks, government bail-out and the works. The Maamis are agog with curiosity and questions tumble out. Some are logical. Aren't the banks legally bound to pay the investment banks even if their customers defaulted, Alacrity Maami demands to know. Some are merely trying to get their voice heard and will ask any kind of question. Who is a Ninja Warrior, S Maami wishes to know. The Japanese Kamal in Dasavatharam of course, 106 Maami says. After a minor digression that involved discussing each of the avataarams, it was concluded that Japanese Ninja Avataaram was clearly the worst. G Periamma had only one thing to ask, so why did Karthik kill himself and his family? That too a Fulbright scholar son, Amma said in an offended tone. All the Maamis agreed that it would be quite alright if stupid children were killed. Not liking the way the conversation was going, I decided to leave the room.

In my room, I Googled for stuff and found this, it was less dramatic and more informative than whatever N Chitappa was getting at. And most importantly it didn't establish a relationship between loan defaulters and inevitable death.

I wonder, why would any of this impact T Anna. He was not an investment banker or any other kind of banker. The only explanation I can think of is that, he is probably one of those debtors who didn't pay back the money and was in some way responsible for this crisis. He had bought a house recently, hadn't he?

Amma comes to my room and her blank expression is now replaced with the I-don't-like-what-I-see expression as she looks at my hair. I think, for six months you must not have applied any oil, she pronounces disgustedly. I want to protest and tell her that, I have been religiously following the oil and Meera herbal powder routine with poor results to show for. But, I hold back. After all, she has just traveled time-zones, have a dream shattered and a global worry in the back of her mind that refuses to go away.

We should go to the Vadaplani Kovil tomorrow. It is only Asthami but that is okay, she says peeping into the day ahead on the Rani Muthu calendar. Yes, I agree meekly. Also go and get that bottle of oil, let me see what you have done without me, she says in her assured tone. I can see that it is already working. And probably a god seated on a blue peacock, 10 ml of oil and few days of the T Nagar air is all that she needs to convince herself about her infallibility.

After which, she will forget about a global crisis and tell us the real story behind the horrific discovery of her daughter-in-law's glasses and the likely impact of this on the eye-sight of the grandchild who might someday be named after her.


Jupe said...

Am I the first to comment? I don't believe this... Been reading this blog for a year and a half now and never commented once before.. but your writing is awesome.. and this post was no exception.

Btw, the contact lens episode happened as you narrated in my house leading me to seriously consider for a minute if your stories are 'inspired' by real incidents and secret sources :-) But then, Tam Brahm families aren't too different, are they?

So any chances of writing a book? Nilu seems to think you're the best hope ever for a Tamizh Booker winner and I (for once) completely agree..

Keep penning !

idris baxamusa said...

its being a looong time that u wrote ... its always nice to read the subtle humour in yr blogs. my only request is ( i know it wud kill the fun for u but) pls do translate the tamil that u use in yr writings (google still dosent offer that) it wud be more fun to read...

Anonymous said...

so you too bitten by the sub-prime crisis tag!

RukmaniRam said...

ah, after long. the ending was neat. perfect.

viswajith.k.n said...

good work ATP...hope u r mom returns to her normal routine soon

Amrita Bhashyam said...

I don't know about Athai, but you would make an excellent satellite. :D

Ann said...

Oh..ATP...Vah Vah Vah...I love how you are the best!!!!!!

DivSu said...

Too good a post!

I agree with parents' plight when they travel to the US, it gets too boring for them. My parents enjoyed it but my husbands' parents didn't so much. No one at home, alone all day, it must be terrible.

I hope your mom gains back her sense of authority soon enough :)

Karthik said...

tell us the real story behind the horrific discovery of her daughter-in-law's glasses and the likely impact of this on the eye-sight of the grandchild who might someday be named after her.

LOL! I think all the Maami's should be made to participate in the 'Big Fight' programme on NDTV :-)

Unknown said...

you weave a tangled web.. you do

that was a real nice post..

you must coin a name for the syndrome where first time visiting MIL's suddenly like their DIL's on return


Abishek Goda said...

Nice one, globalized.. :)

Unknown said...

Do the people you write about read your stories? I wonder how they react...

Manasi Subramaniam said...

ATP, I discovered your blog 2 months ago and I'm officially a fan. I have 3 aunts, 2 parents and a grandmother hooked to it as well. :-)

mad-scientist said...

Excellent post! As always!

Anonymous said...

Well written. Kept checking everyday for a new post. Rubbing my hands in glee, settled down to read this one.

Lens and the kannaadi variety in one's own family was a sign of intelligence, sophistication and so on.. But in alliances, it's always looked down upon. Strange theory, ppl come up with. Good observation.

K.Prasad said...

"...a god seated on a blue peacock, 10 ml of oil and few days of the T Nagar air is all that she needs to convince herself about her infallibility" - was looking out for a signature line in your story (newspaper parlance) and I found the above!!

It's amazing to see how to weave a nice story (in literary sense) out of simple, little happenings.

And it's just heartening to know that 'foreign-return' people are disillusioned and not awe-struck.

K.Prasad said...

Some little errors (are they?) that I couldn't resist point out....
"It is terrible, I say finally, Rather stupidly. The Maamis look a little disappointed and mostly satisfied that they need not re-evalaute their opinion..." - Why a capital 'R' for rather? (Ok! Perhaps used for better emphasis).

"..disappointed and mostly satisfied.." - somehow two antonymous clubbed together in a single sentence to describe one behaviour.

King said...

i dint like it!!

buddy said...

and you're back!
good at places, funny and orey the irreverance!

Kadambari said...

Yours (mine) must be the only family in the world that has some special love for Jangri. Such a hideous sweet too. I remember the number of uneaten jangris in all the ellais during T Anna's wedding. Think of how we can fight the recession if only we have a - No Jangri Policy. :D
It is good to see you posting again. Though, one does know the reason why.

The Dog Philosopher said...

My manni's amma has jet lag from the time she comes from my bro's house in East cost till she goes back to my manni's sister house in West cost briefly blessing India. ( So much for 6 months at a time visa rules)

Enjoy your Hershey Kisses (One with almond in it reserved for close relatives) and and watch the face when you tell the oldies kootam at home that "Toblerone" has got muttai in it ... HA HA HA

B o o said...

I HAD to delurk for this post, ATP. Loved it.
"All the Maamis agreed that it would be quite alright if stupid children were killed. Not liking the way the conversation was going, I decided to leave the room.
" - I hear ya, Sister! ;)

sandyetti said...

Nice post that touched on several different aspects tied to a central theme! I have been a fan for quite some time and got hooked to reading blogs because of you and the bloggers linked to you (Krish Ashok et al...).

Thanks and please do post often!

Rema said...

Been following your post for quite a while...Its neat, and its so true - mom finds her rhythm in the most mundane things. her home is the one place where she's in control.
keep posting :)

PRS said...

nice post. after all... what is global cannot be controlled... it has to come down to being local!
the t-nagar air will definitely work.

tris said...

Your mother really shouldn't have parked herself in the house of newly-weds for SIX DAMN MONTHS!

what was she thinking, girl? I know the visa is for 6 months but travellers have the option of going back sooner you know.

Mudra said...

I'm not South Indian, but I can still identify with so much of your work... the sentiment and the feel is so Indian! Love your writing. :)


Very nice one. The pathos behind the brave exterior is brought out in style with humour. All maamis will agree with your mother's unsaid (in your post) words - West is West, but home is best.

Unknown said...

ATP, I confess I have been waiting for your post after the mother returns. I like the way you weave many strands together & yet not lose any authenticity in the emotions. This is a very good blog but to achieve greatness, more tautness is needed. Examples being (1) the jangiri & japanese Kamal comments are distracting.
(2) every post refers to your not being intelligent; you write better than 99% of us & we can only say, "Oh she is so humble" so many times. :)

Kalasbhojanam said...

Your writing so good. I enjoyed reading ur posts..

Anonymous said...


Since its just 20 comments as yet, thought I'd swallow all that nervousness and let you know that your writing is very difficult to describe. (for me)

But i love how you can write about your present in the same way that most people can write only about their memories.