Friday, September 08, 2017

Hairstylists, Those Unsung Magicians

Hairstylists are like the Dark Knight. The heroes we deserve, our silent hair guardians and frizz protectors. Now, there's no need to chase them down and hunt them, thats being a bit dramatic. I'll get straight to the point now, (after my failed attempt at humour), finding a hairstylist who understands you, every inch of your hair and your innumerable "beauty insecurities", is equivalent to finding a pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow.  

A good hairstylist is like Pablo Picasso. They can create magic, faster than you can say abracadabra. You will walk out of their salons looking and feeling like a diva. My tryst with hairstylists started off rather unpleasantly, with my mother calling all the shots. (I don't blame her of course, how can you trust a 4 year old to make sane haircut decisions). To cut a long story short, I was made to look like a boy till I was 12 years old. 

By the time I was 13, I announced to her adamantly, that I wanted the Nick Carter haircut. So off we went, mother and daughter, to the nearest Chinese salon with exotic looking helper girls. I sat optimistically on their plush children's sofa/chair, as one of their hairstylists began to furiously chop off large chunks of my hair. 

In 10...9...8...7 seconds, I began howling like a wounded puppy. My mother sprung up like a Cheetah, from the guest sofa and ran towards me. "I..I...want to look a girl mummmmaaaaaa", I wailed red faced and rather incoherently. She pointed an accusatory finger, at my helpless hairstylist and gave her a verbal thrashing of a lifetime. Before the dumbstruck woman could say anything back to my warrior mommy, she yanked me out of the chair and walked out of the salon in a huff. I kept wailing, throughout the 30 minute car-ride home, as my mother profusely apologised to me.

Fast-forward to 7 years later, we found another Chinese hairstylist. Thankfully, she was amazing. Mum and I visited her every month. Even today, my mother trusts no one else (except Susy aunty of Liu's Beauty Parlour) with her hair.

I relocated to Bombay in 2014 and was in a fix once again. I was clueless about where to go, to cut my hair. I tried all the overly hyped, wallet-ripping, Bollywood-type salons only to discover that I missed Susy aunty more than anyone else in the world. A great hairstyle is everything for me. It builds my confidence and makes me believe I can do anything. Without that, I feel invisible, ugly even.

Slowly and steadily, I discovered two gems. My personal Sweeney Todds! Unfortunately I had to discontinue my sessions with both, as their salons are at the other end of town. I now visit a salon closer to home. The hairstylist is an enterprising young man, who is an animator turned hairstylist. He left his successful animation career, to pursue his passion of being a hairstylist. One of our topics of discussion today, was about short hair. He is an expert in blunt cuts, under-cuts and every imaginable hairstyle designed for women who love short hair. 

We both agreed upon the fact that, Mumbai (supposedly one of the most developed metros in India) is still quite unaccepting of women with short hair. Both, his wife and I, are subject to the most peculiar stares, thanks to our choice of hairstyle. We laughed over the fact, that most of the stares are received from women themselves! If I'm found walking hand-in-hand with my husband in my own apartment complex, I'm stared at. If I colour my hair an elegant burgundy, I'm stared at. If I wear shorts, I'm stared at. If I wear a saree, I'm stared at. 

What exactly are you looking for? Do you want to compliment my hair? The credit goes to my awesome hairstylist. Do you want to compliment me for my choice of clothes? The credit goes to my mother, for teaching me to dress elegantly at all times. Staring just for the heck of staring is really rude and to be brutally honest, very country bumpkinish. Snap out of it. Preferably, now!

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy 378th Birthday Chennai

Chennai, Madras, Madrasapattinam. The capital of Tamil Nadu. Home to the first shopping mall, Spencer's Plaza in 1863, home to the first technical college, Guindy Engineering College in 1794. Land of filter coffee and home to people sweeter than the sugary brown concoction. My Chennai, is all this and more. My Chennai, my singaara Chennai. You beautiful, humble, modest, down-to-earth, non-flashy city.

Your dignified silence is sometimes misinterpreted as helplessness, your ever helpful, good-samaritan nature is also taken advantage of. So what if you have fewer restaurants, shopping malls and discotheques to offer as compared to other big cities? So what if residents can never get a hold of first-day, first-day movie ticket for the latest Spiderman or Ranbir Kapoor movie? (Nope, I'm not exaggerating, I've lost track of the number I walked away dejectedly sans a movie ticket, from the Satyam cinemas ticketing counter all through my school and college years. BookMyShow and online reservations you say? We didn't have those luxurious in the mid '90s.)

So what do Chennaites do for entertainment you ask? We chill at the world's second longest beach, Marina. We take slow, long, lazy laps at the Olympic-sized pool, housed by the 133 year old Madras Gymkhana Club. We enrich our literary knowledge by visiting Higginbothams, which also happens to be the first big book store, that was set up in the country. We indulge our culinary cravings with massive paper dosas that can feed an entire army of famished footballers at Sangeetha, Saravana Bhavan and Murugan Idli. If we're in the mood for sizzlers, we head to Tangerine. If Thai is on our mind, we head to Benjorong. And for Biryanis we head to Dindigul Thalappakatti, Karaikudi, Anjappar and Samco.

Chennai for me is an emotion (trying my best to not sound cliched, but what to do). It gave me my identity, gave me the best education, empowered me by showering me with some interesting professional experiences and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.

Like every true blue Chennaite, I voted for my Amma, Dr J Jayalalithaa in 2001. I cried each time she went to jail and felt my heart-breaking into smithereens, the day she died. She took a huge chunk of my childhood along with her death.

Each time I took a flight back to Chennai, I would peer down eagerly from the ovular airplane window to catch a glimpse of the larger than life, movie posters of Rajnikanth, Vikram, Surya and Ajith, until it got banned by the Supreme Court in 2008.

Elliots Beach or Besant Nagar Beach as it is popularly known by the locals, was my refuge each time I bombed my Maths or Chemistry exams. Visiting the famous Thirumalai Thirupathi Devastham Temple in T.Nagar, (which is a replica of the famous Tirumala Tirupathi Temple) was just an excuse for me, to gobble down their gigantic, sinful brown laddoo laden with an overdose of cashew nuts, cardamom, ghee, sugar and raisins. Freeze Zone and Milky Way made our sultry Chennai summers bearable, by dishing out the softest, creamiest softy ice-creams topped with chocolate sauce, candies and nuts.

So why do Chennaites go to bed as early as 9pm if the city is filled with so many activities, you wonder. So that we can wake up early, take a long walk/jog on the Marina and dip our faces in ghee laden Pongal. Duh!

Filled with abundant rich cultural history, enthralling musical programmes (Kutcheris) and shopping spots (both on the streets and in malls), Chennai will never fail to amuse you. Having lived away from the city for close to 4 years, I deeply miss it's warm embrace and the comforting smell of "tiffin" in the evening.

Chennai, my small big city, with an even bigger heart.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Growing Up with Boys

My brothers and I do not celebrate Raksha Bandhan. But that does not mean, we don't understand the importance of sibling bondage. Having a sibling means, having someone who will whack you on the head forever, every time you do something stupid. It also means, having someone who will watch over you like a guardian angel.

Thanks to my bronchial asthma attack in 1990, I was shipped from Calcutta to Trivandrum, to stay with my grandparents. In those seven years, I was excessivly molly-coddled and pampered by them, their relatives and my siblings (cousins and my brother) whenever they passed by, during summer vacations and school holidays.

Those were simpler times. All I had to do was cry or bite one of them, to get a hold of the toy car, gun or doll which held their fancy. Being the youngest, no one wanted to play with me. Conversations would be hushed and hand-held video games would be hidden, each time I entered a room. To be honest, there were times, I felt unwanted. 

As I grew older, I realised I had a huge identity crisis. Growing up with boys, made me presume I was a boy as well. I preferred playing with toy guns over dainty looking dolls. I wore silky boxer shorts instead of flowery dresses and skirts. I absolutely abhorred getting my hair-combed and oiled at night. Until I was 21, I had no idea about the existence of beauty parlours or salons. In my head, salons were evil places, that chopped off large chunks of your hair and made you look like an unshapely Rasgulla

As I grew older, my siblings grew more protective of me. Every friend of mine from the opposite sex was looked upon with suspicion. Each time I broke a bone (which was quite often), I would guaranteed get a worried phone-call from my brother, enquiring about what mischief, I had gotten into at that point in time. The night before my wedding, my fiancĂ© was found hiding behind me, because my well-built, 6-foot-something cousin wanted to "speak to him alone". 

Growing up with boys and being the youngest, was truly a blessing. I was showered with expensive gadgets (digital cameras, iPods, watches and snazzy mobile phones), that were yet to be launched in India, throughout my teen years. 

Thanks to my brothers, my brain will forever function as half man and half woman. Lastly and most importantly, having big brothers mean, having someone who is half you and that is most precious, irreplaceable feeling in the world. Your failure is theirs and their victory is yours. Your happiness is theirs and their sadness is yours. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington Crushed A Million Souls Today

I was 13 years old when Hybrid Theory released. I heard the album every single evening, after coming back home from school. I listened to it insistently, day in and day out, until the next album, Meteora released in 2003. School got even tougher by then. I was about to write my 10th board exam. 

It was the worst year of my life. School was nothing short of miserable. I wrote 20 mock-board exams before the main board exam. After every exam, my parents were called to school, where they were subject to taunts of "Your daughter is scoring so less", "Her  Maths is terrible", "We are going to keep her for extra classes, just before the boards" and "No one has scored below distinction from our institution. This is a shame for us" 

Even though my parents stood by my side and encouraged me to keep working hard, I was depressed. I felt helpless, stupid and my self-respect took a solid, irreversible hammering. No amount of cramming was helping me score over 60%. That was the first time I fell back on Linkin Park's music. Their music gave me solace and Chester Bennington's soulful, agitated voice felt like a bam for my open wounds. 

Each time my Maths or History teacher taunted me for my barely there marks, I went home and blasted "One Step Closer" in the highest volume. Each time a "bright student" rubbed her 90% scoring answer sheet on my face, I turned to "Somewhere I Belong" for comfort. My parents and perhaps my neighbours, knew all the songs from Meteora and Hybrid Theory by heart. A loud, agitated Chester Bennington from my bedroom's stereo system indicated I was home, from yet another crappy school day.

I loved Linkin Park and Chester Bennington so much, that I decided right then, as an awestruck 15 year old, that if I ever got married, I would only marry an angry, tattooed, pierced, long haired musician. Chester helped shape my personality in those formative years, made me overcome my fears of being an average student and even urged me to listen to more of that kind of music. After 3 glorious years of listening to Linkin Park, I slowly moved onto Iron Maiden, Metallica, Green-Day, Within Temptation, Slipknot and Evanescence. And even then, I faithfully slipped back to Hybrid Theory every now and then.

You've touched lives in more ways that you can imagine, Chester. You've killed a million lives along with yours today. You've taken away our hope, our childhood and our confidence. And for that, I can never forgive you.

I cannot take this anymore, 
Saying everything I've said before,
All these words they make no sense,
I find bliss in ignorance,
Less I hear, the less you'll say
You'll find that out anyway

(Image Source :

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Mumbai Monsoon

For the past three and half years of my life, I have thoroughly dreaded this awful time of year, the Mumbai monsoon. A normal 1.5 hour car or auto ride to office in the morning, takes 2.5 hours and let's not even get started on how you plan to go back home in the evening. The "high and mighty" attitude of the auto and cab-wallahs are legendary during the rains. You're left to beg, borrow and even steal rides from unsuspecting commuters.

The entire city comes to a standstill. Vehicles crawl along at snail's pace and trains just give up. Despite these difficulties, Mumbaikars never fail to upload a million dreamy pictures of the rains on their social media accounts. Each romanticized picture of the rain, would drive me mad. "What is wrong with these people?", I would wonder.

Middle-aged aunties "forget" to open their umbrellas in the middle of a torrential downpour, the sabzi mandi-wallahs are busy haggling prices with the neighbourhood aunties and the samosa-vadapav wallah is busy selling his freshly fried dose of jaundice, to hungrier than usual customers, who believe in "Thoda chai peete hai, aur baarish ka mazaa lete hai, garma garam kaanda aur batata pakode ke saath". It's business as usual, while the city literally melts into the sewers.

For someone who carries an umbrella even on a hot sunny day (I'm a Malayalee from Chennai, hence the umbrella, don't judge me), I find it very odd to find aunties, uncles and children taking slow lazy walks in the torrential downpour. The odd aunty and uncle even invest their time in scolding me, for accidentally poking them in the eye with my half broken umbrella. "Abhi baarish thodi hai, bandh karo chaate ko. Paagal ladki!", they yell.

Last November, I decided to take a break from the routine office rigamarole and began working from home. I now enjoy the "beauty" of the rains, by sitting in front of my half french window. I sip on my cup of warm morning coffee and watch the world go by. Excited children, morning walkers and Yogaholics, splash around in the puddles of muddy brown water, formed inside a gigantic rectangular park right opposite my apartment. Their energy levels somehow spike up during the rains. The walkers, walk even faster on the slippery red tiled park pavement, the Yogaholics laugh even louder at the end of their body-wriggling session and the kids are just jumping around, splashing water into everyone's eyes.

I suppose there is something magical about the rains, despite it's numerous pitfalls. The cobwebs in your mind begin to lift, you begin to appreciate the confines of your cozy home a little more and perhaps the poet in you comes to the fore. 

Mumbai rains, you have to experience it, to understand the madness. It's more dramatic than the saas-bahu soaps, more tragic than Romeo and Juliet's love story and more magical than Tinker Bell's fairy dust. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Woman and Machine

Call it peer pressure or the chance to play God, owning a bike as an 18 year old, college freshie, was an absolute thrill. I wanted a Harley Davidson, but my parents turned a deaf ear. "How can you get a bike for her when she is just starting college!? You bought me the Yamaha, only when I was in my final year", my brother protested. Thankfully, my parents chose to listen to my pleas instead. 

A Scooty Pep, was considered appropriate, for a young girl in 2005 and before my first semester of college ended, I was gifted a spanking new purple pair of wheels, that would forever change my life. There was some amount of hesitation initially, to let an untrained, overenthusiastic rider, travel 8.7kms back and forth from Sringar Colony in Saidapet to M.O.P Vaishnav College in Nungambakkam, especially during peak traffic hours. So, my father plonked himself behind me for 2 months. The minute he was convinced that I wouldn't kill anyone on the road, he let me take her (yes, my Scooty Pep obviously had to be a "her", a very pretty "her" at that) on my own.

I lost track of the number of minor mishaps I had, while riding. I didn't tell my parents, fearing they would ban me from taking her. But one morning, a huge Chennai MTC bus rammed me from behind just as I left home. The entire incident is still very blurry in my mind. I felt like Keanu Reeves from the Matrix. My bike flew from right under me and I was violently scrapping the tarred grey main road with the right side of my arm, face and leg. There was some crying and howling involved (from me of course), right before some helpful strangers gathered around me, lifted me up and took me to a local government hospital (which was close to the scene of the accident). I vaguely saw the worried look on my mother's face at the hospital, before throwing up and falling unconscious. When I regained consciousness, all I was worried about was the condition of my Pep. "Is she okay?", I asked my annoyed parents.

Of course, I got back on my Pep within a week (much to the horror of my parents). My college professors were also bewildered looking at my accident ravaged face. Bruises and cut marks were visible on the right side of my face, arm and leg. I still considered myself to be a pretty good rider. Pillion riders and my mother's house-maid strongly disagreed to this notion. "Please slow down", "Watch out for that man", "Stop right there young lady" and "Paapa romba speedle ottikire aama" (Baby, is driving too fast ma) were some of the mild complaints thrown both mine and my parents way, each time I took her out on the roads.

I was unperturbed. My love for riding and the independence it gave me, to go out anywhere, anyplace, anytime (before 8pm of course, I had curfews like any Chennai girl, who stayed with parents) gave me a kick like no other.

Then came 2012. The year which gave me the biggest riding shock. I had the most random accident, ironically on a road that I knew like the back of my hand. This accident too is quite hazy in my mind's eye. I dislocated my right shoulder. I had to undergo a pin-hole surgery and was bed-ridden for a good 2.5 months, with two metallic pins firmly lodged into my shoulder, to keep me company on warm summer nights. After one more month of vigorous physiotherapy, my right hand slowly began to resume to normalcy. I was allowed to swim and brisk walk as per doctors orders. After each swim, I could feel a million bees biting me viciously inside my swollen right arm. As for the walks, I hated them. From being an avid gym-goer, who had just reached her ideal body weight, I was once again looking like a ball of mush. I was feeling frustrated and helpless.

I had to part ways with my Pep. I looked at my battered helmet and knew that it had saved my life. Seven years later, I still miss my Pep and the feeling of having a pair of wheels under me. Each time a purple Pep whizzes past me on the roads, I feel a distinct pang in my heart. 

While Harley Davidsons and Bullets continue to capture my imagination and excite me, my soul forever belongs to a certain purple Scooty Pep. I miss washing her on the weekends, readying her for the fresh new week ahead. I miss dodging cows, people, autorickshaws, cyclists and cars. I miss
having a petrified pillion rider behind me. I miss taking off for the beach on a whim, with only my Pep to keep me company. Mostly, I just miss being a rider. There is no purer love in this world, than that of a woman and her machine.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fat Kid Forever

It all began in the summer of 1994. I was all of 7. A healthy 7. When I say healthy, I mean I was rounder than your average 7 year old. My passion for food had no bounds. My partner in crime and connoisseur of fine food, was my grandfather. Our evenings were spent munching on medu vadas, onion bajjis and puffs of all varieties comparing each snack in grave detail. We knew the best bakery for chocolate cake, the best thattu kada (roadside shop) for onion bajjis and the best restaurants to gorge on burgers, biryani and kotthu porotha. 

I was happy. Life was simple. Until, that doomed summer evening in 1994. I was sitting on my grandparent's solid teak rectangular table with my skinny, leggy cousin. We were both munching on our evening snack, when my father walked in. He looked at both of us relishing on our egg puffs (me a bit more than my cousin) and he said, "Enough Gayatri. Give the rest to Sowmia." With the puff still dislodged half way through my mouth, I gave him a dubious stare. Was he mad? I wondered. Which sane person disrupts a good meal, however small it may be.

"Come on. Stop eating", daddy ordered. After much hesitation, I nudged the remainder of my puff towards my cousin and walked out of the dining room in a huff. I went upto my grandfather (who was as always, busy taking his all-day nap on his cushiony recliner, with the television switched on in full-blast) and poked him on the belly. He woke up with a grunt. "I'm hungry, appu. Can we go out?" I announced. He gave me a puzzled look, scratched his head and yelled out to my grandmother, "Indire, INDIREEY, ee kochunnu endengillum kazhizyan kodukku" ("Give this child, something to eat, Indira", for those who can't read Malayalam)

Over the years, aunts and uncles of various sizes and shapes (yes, you read right, none of them were shapely, but had tongues wide enough, to cover the circumference of the earth), repeatedly announced how round I'd become over the years.

While my ego, took a severe battering, I continued gobbling down anything and everything I could lay my hands on. Finally, in 2006 (after receiving a mild form of verbal whipping) from my brother, I shed 12 kilos. But in my head, I was still that fat kid who everyone called "round", "chubby", "gundu bedalam", "fatty fatty boom boom" and much worse.

The scars remain even today. I'm 30, somebody's wife, a homemaker, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a passionate PR professional, a loyal friend and much more. But nope, none of the above make the cut when it comes to having the "perfect body". I'm still "fat", in the eyes of my trainers and the gazillion aunties and uncles I meet, each time I make a trip back home. Thank you for making every single woman in the world feel like a beached whale. Are you in shape? No. But you still want to make that pretty girl in the blue dress feel less confident about herself, by announcing to her that she is fat? Okay then. 

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My Little Vivi

You were a bundle of blue,
When I first laid my eyes on you,

I had to tip-toe around you,
So that you wouldn't let out an angry coo,

You will always be my first child,
This I knew, from the moment you smiled,

I'd like to believe, I was your favourite aunt, 
Even before you could say the word plant, 

I miss your baby gurgles,
And the way you wobbled around in circles,

You prefer playing with uncle Raj now,
But forget me never, yours forever, aunty wow. 

Writer's Note : This cheeky poem is on my nephew, Vivaan. We've spent countless precious hours playing, conversing and coochicooing with each other. In the recent past though, he prefers the company of boys and children his age. He finds me (his ancient aunt) to be rather uncool and boring.