Why you should turn your husband into a runner


Doing repetitive monotonous things are meant for machines, robots or ‘servants’ (if you are part of the Indian middle class).

I find some of these activities highly therapeutic and enjoyable.

Allow me to explain.

Let’s start with running. Who wants to keep a rhythmic motion minute after minute for hours together? Especially when the alternatives are an electric duet of squash or a languid stroll masquerading as a sport (yes – it’s golf I allude to).

After years of persisting with this particular monotonous activity, I have the answer to Why oh Why.

Every runner likes a fast time (PB in our lingo) every now and then but a particular class of runner is not single-minded about PB’s to the exclusion of everything else.

Why does this class of runner keep running when there’s no race in sight or when he’s not necessarily training for one?

Running, for this obsessive runner, is akin to meditation. In fact it is meditation. He runs to still his mind because he can’t (or won’t) meditate by physically sitting still.

If you are one of those types who just can’t sit still for protracted periods and have always wanted to meditate, well… running is just what the guru ordered for you.

No need to signup for that mindfulness workshop with gushing reviews from the resident startup czar or Arianna Huffington. Find yourself a nearby trail or a safe road (heck, even a treadmill will do)and you are sorted.

What about group meditation, you ask? We call it the weekend long run with a local running group. Finding a group is so so easy. And there’s no such thing as an obnoxious ‘group’. Sure.. there are self-absorbed, self-centered runners in every group but they are few and far in between and, as is running’s wont, the activity inexorably works its smoothening magic on them too.

There are other monotonous activities I find soothing as well.

Night driving on American interstate and county highways. Dark cabin with a lit dashboard. Twin lights spraying the black asphalt ribbon. Cruise control on. Classic rock station on. Only steering with a modicum of alertness required. Awake passenger(s) optional.

Doing dishes. Soaping the disparate dishes in a structured way. Set the faucet to just the optimal flow before rinsing. Arranging the dishes in just the optimal way to maximize draining and drying. The right music can be an experience enhancer for this activity.

Putting clothes out to dry.

Folding washed clothes.

Droning on the didgeridoo.

In one of Murakami’s novels, the protagonist would start ironing anytime his mind was disturbed. I can see ironing’s potential as a wonderfully soothing activity but it happens to be one of the few household chores we’ve outsourced – alas!

Closing note: Original title of this post was All the monotonous things. New title is supposed to maximize link bait. Did it work?

Every new beginning starts with a grand farewell


I’ve been around the block, as they say. Across continents and geographies. 

Jan 5, 2018 was my last day at Yatra. And my team gave me the grandest possible farewell I could ever imagine. Scratch that. I couldn’t possibly have imagined the kind of farewell they gave me.

A year and six months is not a long stint but that’s a misleading number. The mGaadi journey started in Jan 2013 so it was really a five-year journey. The team doubled and the fun quadrupled in the past 18 months. The new entrants were no different.. they just had to hear some of the old “war stories” all over again.

So how exactly did the team make me feel special?

First, they made me cut this amazingly designed cake (if you know the kind of runner I am, you’ll see the attention to detail this cake has captured!). Then they embarrassed me by gifting the largest and heaviest bouquet I’ve ever seen. And this was just the beginning apparently.

There were a series of unsigned “We’ll miss you…” notes being left on/near my desk, all of which were to be retained and would play a critical role in a game we’d play later in the evening. 

You’ve seen how basketball stars get introduced at the start of NBA games? Well, as I was leaving the office they formed a cordon-of-sorts and did something similar.

And a lovely evening at Harry’s Pub where the conversations, spirits, and emotions flowed and ebbed.

Thanks guys! I really REALLY loved it. And it’s been an absolute pleasure working with you all.



What Kubera can teach us about the miser philanthropist


Another Mahabharata story excavated from the tendrils of my Amar Chitra Katha memories. Specifically, from the period after the Pandavas had decimated 99% of the Kauravas clan.

The Pandava kingdom was in the grip of a famine and were desperately in need of food grains, having exhausted the royal granaries.

Yudhishthir the Wise (who always seemed to know what to do except when playing a game of dice) sent Bheema to Kubera for help.

The Hindu mythology dilettante would know Kubera as the God of Wealth, which means he held about 99% of the world’s gold bullion (by world, we mean the three worlds and let’s not get caught up in spatio/Cartesian coordinates).

A lesser known fact about Kubera is that he was also an amasser of commodities. It’s not clear whether he was a commodities trader or whether the grade of commodities he amassed were of the most premium (heavenly) kind which had an infinite shelf life. But I digress.

The Pandavas needed a few thousand cartloads of grain and Kubera had it (several times over).

Bheema’s mission was to seek the mother of all loans or the mother of all extraterrestrial aids.

Bheema was rather reluctant. He had heard very many stories of Kubera’s stinginess. The kind of miser who might well have inspired Walt Disney to create the Scrooge McDuck character a few millennia later.

But plod along he had to.. since elder brother Yudhishthir could not be refused.

When I say plod along, I mean metaphorically of course. Kubera lived in the Heavens and the Pandavas were (still) in Bharat on Earth. The nice picture book I read many moons ago had no account of how Bheema made it Kubera’s abode. I’m sure some super powers were involved.

Bheema found himself outside Kubera’s vast and majestic palace. He started to loiter.. he had not shaken off the grim foreboding that he had come on a fruitless quest. It’s hard enough to prepare oneself to “ask for money” when the potential benefactor is a certified lender. Believe me, I have some experience in this regard.

The loitering Bheema soon got transfixed by a sight. Inside a vast well-lit hall scores of Kubera’s men were assiduously at work.. doing some kind of ‘final sorting’ of food grains. Some small pebbles, sand and husk were being manually separated from the heavenly grains.

As Bheema watched, Kubera entered the hall. With the air of a seasoned Total Quality Inspector, he scanned the rows of workers and the piles of sifted grain and immediately spotted something that drew his ire.

One of the workers (in his zeal for speed) had accidentally tossed a small quantity of grain in the impurities pile. Not content with merely berating the worker’s shoddiness, Kubera sat down and personally did the re-sifting.

The episode, to Bheema, served as the final confirmation of Kubera’s miserly credentials and the cue to slink away, with the certitude that Yudhishtir would not admonish him.

To Bheema’s surprise and embarrassment, Kubera spotted him and rushed to welcome him.

After showering Bheema with heavenly hospitality, he quized him on the reason for his visit. Kubera immediately acquisced. As the dumbfounded Bheema looked on, Kubera started barking orders to his underlings to prepare for the mission of mercy.

Bheema would be surprised a few more times that day.

Kubera also offered to accompany Bheema with the convoy of grains.. presumably till the edge of heaven where a teleportation zone would safely and swiftly transport Bheema and his newly acquired divine bounty to earthly shores. (The problem with allegorical stories is that it’s hard NOT to take certain things literally)

So picture this. A convoy of 100+ carts drawn by bullocks laden with grain moving in heaven. On a single lane road. Heaven, in that era, did not have any Autobahns. Far from it. It seems India’s finest PWD engineers and BBMP’s most capable administrators were running heaven, at least in Kubera’s neighborhood.

It gets better.

The convoy starts to cross a bridge.. a bridge that was clearly not built with these kinds of loads in mind. As the fourth cart reached the middle, the timeless bridge collapsed. The driver and the animals escaped with minor injuries.

As Bheema morosely watched an assured victory turning into a wet defeat, Kubera sprung into action. He seemed to instinctively know exactly what to do. He started barking orders to his men and they responded quickly. The broken down portion of the bridge was being fixed using the grain from 2-3 carts.

Bheema watched dumbfounded. As the convoy resumed its mission of mercy, he asked Kubera “Back there at the palace, you were berating the worker for wasting a handful of grain yet here you scarcely hesitated in sacrificing a few cartloads of grain. Why?”

Kubera answered, “One should never waste anything, be it a single grain or a single mohar (unit of money) but when required, one should not hesitate to spend. Getting this grain to your kingdom on time is the need of the hour. What will I/we gain in being miserly now?”

Anatomy of a pilgrimage (Sringeri edition)


[Editor’s Note: My mother is a late adopter of the Internet. In the pre-Internet era, she used to write the loveliest of letters to her children. The letters stopped after I returned to India. In the past year, after she got comfortable with connectivity and gmail, the letters resumed as emails to her children. This is email #3, the earlier ones were A marriage in the winter of 1962 and Ravi Varma in a Vijayawada home.]


A good friend and ex-colleague is a certified atheist with a problem. What is his problem, pray? When he travels to places involving religious excursions, he’s utterly fascinated by the devoutness of pilgrims. I suppose he’s not unique in his fascination (or curiosity) about what goes on in the mind and heart of a true believer on a pilgrimage. Since none of us are blessed with the powers of Asimov’s mentalists (circa Foundation Trilogy), all we have is a pilgrim’s body language and the look of piety and peace on her face. My mother’s letter below, where she writes in some detail about her pilgrimage to Sringeri and beyond, is the closest I’ve come to understanding that which I have not experienced. My comments/translations are within “[ ]” and her comments are within traditional “( )”. All Telugu/Sanskrit words are italicized.


Dear ones,

This is about our Sringeri yatra. It was either in 2003 or 2006 [the year was confirmed to be 2003 because my parents only got a cell phone in 2004]. We originally planned to go to Srisailam and Mantralayam and return to Vijayawada in the month of September. On our way back we wanted to visit my cousin (Sarma bava) at Vinukonda.

Sringeri Temple

Temple in Sringeri

Srisailam is 5-6 hours bus journey from Vijayawada. Also known as dakshina Kashi (Kashi of the South), Srisailam is famous for the ancient temple of Siva (Bramarambha, Mallickarjuna) which is situated on a hill amidst Nallamalai forest. We started at 8 am and reached around 2 pm. We got decent accommodation. People are not permitted to travel in the night hours. All the vehicles are stopped at the foot of the hills for several reasons – the ghat road makes it unsafe, the dense Nallamalai forest is the abode of naxalites and wild animals.

We had a brief evening darshan the day we landed. Next morning we did abhishekam [a devotional activity/special worship usually performed by a priest] to the Lord and kumkum pooja [special worship] to the goddess.  In the evening we went around to see important places. Near devasthanam bus stand we visited Sakshi Ganapati who (as the legend goes) will take note of the devotees and report to his parents. We climbed up the tall sikharam (tower). The faithful believe that once you are there you will not have punarjanma [no more rebirths]. We climbed down the steep steps to see the patalaganga, the waterfall, and finally the Srisailam dam – the main water source to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Adi Sankaracharya did penance on this hill. They say even now saints perform tapas [penance] in the area. We of course didn’t come across any such saints.

Next morning we started for Mantralaya, home to the famous madhwa saint [saints from the sect started by Swami Madhwacharya who started one of three dominant Hindu belief systems – Visishta Advaita] Sri Raghavendra Swamy in the 15th-16th century. His samadhi [in Yoga, state of intense concentration achieved through meditation at which union with the divine is reached before/at death; tomb of Hindu saints] is on the bank of river Tungabhadra bordering Andhra and Karnataka. Annual birthday celebrations for the Swamy were underway and we stayed in Mantralaya that night. It is believed that one who stays there overnight will be blessed with good and positive vibrations.

It proved to be very true in our case. The long cherished desire to visit Sringeri was fulfilled by HIS grace – we were almost pushed to our dream place. It happened this way. We were waiting at the bus stand to return to Vijayawada as per our original plan. Nanna [my dad] was walking up and down and he learned that there was a direct bus to Sringeri at the same time. We were so happy. We checked for 2 M’s (money and medicines). They were sufficient so we called Srinivas [my older brother] and informed him about our changed programme.  We got into the bus to Sringeri. It was a 16 hour journey but we never thought about the strain.

As usual I occupied the window seat. The landscape was not interesting – dry land with no greenery.  I remember a few places that we passed through – Bellary, Chikmagaluru, and Shimoga. I was still wondering about our present trip – why this much urge and desire to visit this place?

Nanna wanted to go there since 1993 when Srinivas was in Bangalore. Since his health didn’t permit, we just went to Nandi hills and Mysore. His bent of mind is different. Frankly speaking I didn’t know anything about Sringeri till 1998. Some of my Chinmaya Mission friends had been there for 10 days sadhana camp [penance/devotional camp]. When I heard their experiences I was very much impressed and developed a strong desire.

Let me tell you some things about Sringeri which I know. Adi Sankaracharya established 4 spiritual peetams [spiritual seats] for the spiritual welfare of mankind. Four peetams in four directions: Badrinath in the north, Puri  in the east, Dwaraka in the west, and Sringeri in the south. Adi Shankara chose suitable gurus to head each peetam. The guru parampara [tradition] is continuing without any break till now.

Sri Bharati Tirtha maha swamiji is the present guru and head of the peetam which covers four south Indian states.

We reached Sringeri early in the morning. After much difficulty we could get  accommodation. After taking bath etc, we went to the temple (Sharada devi is the goddess). After that we went to see the Swamiji. His ashram is on the other side of Tungabhadra river and we crossed by a small bridge. The place was simply beautiful; we passed through an arbor of paan [betel leaf] creepers and finally we met guruji. Nanna introduced himself as Narasimha Yogi garu’s disciple [Narasimha Yogi was my father’s spiritual guru for over 30 years] and also mentioned his maternal uncle’s name. Since it was ekadasi, Swamiji was observing mounavratam [maintaining silence]. [Ekadasi is the 11th day after the full moon and is widely believed by Hindus to be cosmically favorable for spiritual rejuvenation. Fasting on that day is supposed to help spiritual seekers. Advanced souls like the swamiji apparently raise the penance a few notches higher.]

The temple area was reverberating with lalita sahsranamam [considered as one of the more powerful hymns to the feminine principle]. Homams [rituals involving offering to fire] were being performed by Vedic pundits on one side and suwasini poojas [special prayers] were being done on the other side. We both were feeling very good.

We came out of the temple to have lunch. Surprisingly all the hotels were closed – as it was ekadasi most of them were keeping fast. One couple in a house agreed to cook for us. They served simple delicious food on a banana leaf. After lunch we proceeded towards Udupi. It is an unique experience to travel in the Western Ghats. We had darshan [seeing God and.. God seeing you] of cute Udipi Krishna through a window.  I very much wanted to taste udipi food… unfortunately it was an odd time. We saw the big Geeta Bhavan where all the 700 slokas [verses] of Bhagawat Geeta were engraved with pictures. Our next halt was Kollur Mookambika. We passed through Manipal (little did we know that our grandson would be studying in that prestigious institute a decade later).

We stayed in Kollur (the town borders Kerala) that night. The water was cold! Sooo cold! It was ok for nanna though. I couldn’t get hot water – no amount of begging or bribing worked. Finally I closed my eyes and jumped with a cry “Jai mookambica!” I took bath. Till today I pour the first mug of water with jai mookambica’s name.

Dharmastala is the Siva temple. It was very peaceful and quiet. We were travelling towards Hornad (our last place in the list). It was the best! The landscape was so beautiful. Each one of you should visit. If you are not interested in temples you can devote less time to temples and more time to sightseeing. Nature also is God.

We passed through coffee plantations and paan [betel nut] creepers. I could see bunch of coffee seeds hanging. I enjoyed to the brim. We had comfortable and happy time in the temples. We could get decent accommodation for just 100 rupees per day with attached bath room, two beds and a fan. Actually they serve free food to all the pilgrims; there were big dining halls with marble floors and all well maintained. We didn’t take food because the timings were not suitable to us. We never used to have breakfast before temple darshan so by the time we were done we were too hungry to wait for temple food. Wherever we halted for the night we tied a rope to 2 windows and dried our clothes. There was no pushing in the temples. On the whole Karnataka people were soft, friendly and polite.

Let me conclude by relating the best and last experience – Annapoorna temple of Hornadu. The temple housed a beautiful four feet tall idol and we spent 6 hours from 4 pm to 10 pm. I wanted to eat dinner in the temple at any cost. Nanna waited outside. The food was simple yet it was such a thrilling experience I almost cried. I felt as if I was directly being fed by goddess Annapoorna. The concluding item for the day  was lighting the lamps followed by arati [Hindu worship in which light from wicks soaked in ghee or camphor is offered to deities]. The entire premises were full of lights. We were also allowed to light lamps. The whole town was present – shopkeepers, drivers and others. A lifetime memory.

We got into the Bangalore bus and were back to Vijayawada. Our Sringeri trip was memorable. That’s it.

Your loving amma,


The Salmon Experiments

How do they DO this?

How do they DO this?

Among marine life, salmon probably lead the most interesting lives. Born in freshwater rivers, they migrate to the ocean where they live most of their adult lives and, when it’s time to spawn, they start the reverse migration process swimming upstream all the way to their natal river, often to the exact riverbed area where they were born. They use chemical cues and magnetoreception to pull off this incredible feat.

The tragedy is that the reverse migration takes so much out of them that they die soon after spawning.

Or maybe it’s a tragedy to us human folk who look at their life cycle and say “Oh! What a crying shame!”

They could be fulfilling their life’s purpose exactly per plan: the salmon run and the spawning ritual capping a life well lived.

But why couldn’t the salmon live an easier life? Why does every salmon, when confronted with the R Frost choice, choose the direction less traveled?

Something to do with free will I bet.. what that they don’t possess but we humans do.

For strange and largely inexplicable reasons, I’ve been making salmon like decisions in the past decade. Rather deliberately of course.

I’m calling these decisions as my own personal salmon experiments. Some have lasted a few years, others have become pseudo-permanent, and still others are a bit like a sustained quit smoking campaign.

Here’s the list so far:

  • Why take a hot bath when one can take a cold water bath?
  • Why take an Ibuprofen when you can just wing it and ride the pain waves?
  • Why eat more when you can eat less?
  • Why remain vegetarian when you can be vegan?
  • Why eat cooked food when one can eat raw? (Treading this path gingerly as marital and progeny threats are being brandished)
  • Why drink coffee?
  • Why take the elevator when one can take the stairs? (I’m blessed to have a son who shows the way whenever I weaken)

The good biwi has come up with the expression ‘joyless life’ to describe my gastronomic idiosyncrasies.

In my defense, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Really.

Every experiment is a new challenge that brings with it the satisfaction of continuous summiting. Who said there’s only one type of mountain?


The Real Indistructibles


Editor’s Note: There were middle class values in the 60’s/70’s/80’s and there are middle class values now. Big big difference. The old adage used to be “if it’s not broken, why fix it”. And if something does break, well.. repair (don’t replace) it. My parents have taken these adages to heart.. for 50 something years. I present to you an important subset of the Real Indistructibles from my parents’ home. If you are wondering about the blog title, it’s sorta related to this one.]


Center table (circa 1971-72). It earned a fresh lamination top sometime in the late 90’s



1968 vintage. Black spot at 4’o clock? A candle left unextinguished when the family went for a post-prandial walk.


1964 vintage. Upholstery probably changed once and multiple seat cover changes but the timber stands proud. I recall one coat of varnishing that we kids fought over.


Usha sewing machine purchased for Rs. 300 in 1971. Mom wanted the foot operated model (which would release later) but that didn’t stop her from churning out masterpieces over the ages. Delightful designs for infants & toddlers her specialty. Still going strong.


Purchased in 1964. This stool’s twin (click omission) required some props.


Godrej almirah (1975). Did anyone from that era NOT own this?

A proposal in Lincoln Park, Chicago


I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. – Algernon: The importance of being earnest

My friend Vikrant shared this on Facebook and it triggered a 20 year old memory.

First of all, I don’t entirely agree with Algernon. I’m in vehement agreement with his last sentence for sure. Nothing romantic about proposing? Now that’s a bit unfair.

American men have a fine tradition of proposing to (and often surprising the living daylights outta) their better halves. I happen to know two such proposals.

My ex-colleague and friend Laurie was ambushed at the finish line of her first marathon. Soon after her fiancé hugged and congratulated her, he quietly muttered “Are you ready?” to his buddy and, upon getting confirmation, went down on his knees and proposed. Laurie, already flush with post-race endorphins, would have one more memory attached to an already momentous day. And there was no need for a payment to Marathon Photos.

Our friends Jason and Julie had a long relationship before they tied the knot. Along the way, Jason did a 6-month teaching-English-in-China gig. Along the way, they did TWO around-the-world backpacking vacations. During their second soirée (chronicled beautifully here), against a picturesque backdrop in some exotic island, Jason proposed to Julie. There were no selfie sticks back then and no friend in tow but I’m sure that moment is forever etched in their memories.

My story is a bit different.

How I recall Lincoln Park ‘hood

Met this gorgeous girl on Jun 15 at a networking event in an art gallery in Chicago. I was deeply smitten. By the end of the evening I had made enough of an impression for her to acquiesce when I casually closed with “Hey,  I enjoyed talking to you. Could you share your email address so we can catch up sometime?”

Six weeks later we were on our first date. Later that month (after date #10 or so), I was announcing to my Evanston friend “she is the ONE and I would propose to her one of these days”.

My friend predictably responded with “What’s the hurry? Take some time before you pop the question.”

Of course I ignored him. Which is not to say I proposed to her on date #11.

Dinner at Copper Chimney. Nicholas Payton concert at the Jazz Showcase. Dinner at Shrees in Downers Grove. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan concert in Downtown. Dinner at the Indian Monsoon. Fareed Haq and Rudresh Mahattappa concerts at the Green Mill. Bike rides down Lake Shore Drive on the GS-700ES. Walk from Grant Park to Field Museum of Natural History to catch R. Carlos Nakai in action. Chicago city orchestra. Dave Brubeck with Bobby Militello. An all-night road trip to Wisconsin punctuated by a 4 am stop at Denny’s.

At some point the biweekly trysts turned into daily sojourns. We couldn’t spend enough time with each other apparently.

Having a 700cc Suzuki bike as the sole form of transportation added to my courtship cool quotient (I reckon). My Evanston friend’s Saturn and my Park Ridge friend’s Accord came in handy for some planned dates. Chicago’s public transit network bailed us out rest of the time.

But winter was approaching and I wanted 4 wheels.

Oct 11 dawned. I bought a Saturn SL2.

That was the evening I would propose to my girlfriend but even I didn’t know it until the precise moment.

It was a Friday evening and we were watching an 80’s era Hindi movie in my apartment.

I wish I remembered at which point in the movie it happened. All I recall was that there was some kind of whitespace (it was a VHS tape so couldn’t have been a commercial). A rare flash of deep certitude overcame me and I knew it was time.

I popped the question.

The beautiful face with perfect eyes and exquisite nose became suffused with incredulity and spoke.

“Oh my God! Are you sure?”


“Can you give me some time to think about it?”

“Of course. Take your time.”

(A few minutes later)


Bingo Little had found his Rosie M Banks.

P.S. For the next few days, she’d keep asking me “Are you sure you meant it? Because if you aren’t.. or have any second thoughts, I won’t hold it against you.”

To which I’d keep replying “I couldn’t be surer.”

P.S (2). So there you have it Vikrant.

Ravi Varma in a Vijayawada home


{Editor’s Note: My mother is a late adopter of the Internet. In the pre-Internet era, she used to write the loveliest of long letters to her children. The letters stopped after I returned to India. In the past year, after she got comfortable with connectivity and gmail, the letters resumed as emails to her children. She’s harvesting from the oldest tendrils of her memory which is making the reading so so enjoyable. In this email (Sep 29, 2016), she’s relating a chance encounter with an art connoisseur rich lady during her Vijayawada walking years. The email has gone through a minor editing lens without changing my mom’s tone and voice. I’ve italicized the Telugu names – fewer references compared to the first story – A marriage in the winter of 1962. My mom’s sub-text/commentary is “italicized within quotes.” My comments are within “[ ]”}

Dear ones,
    Some time back I saw portraits of famous painters on TV. I thought about Ravi Varma’s paintings. By now you know that I take a long time to come to the actual point. I don’t do Précis writing.
    I started walking as a mere excercise, probably in 1992. Slowly it became enjoyable, a habit, and part of my daily routine. I needed no other entertainment or company. Walking along the Vizag beach from from our Kirlampudi house, 6 am to 7 am, was the best.  It was continued in Vijayawada. In those days Nannagaru [dad] was not tensed up, he started worrying after Lakshmi’s accident. [Years ago, my dad’s sister (Lakshmi attaya) died on her way to a neighborhood store when a rash auto rickshaw driver ran her over in Hyderabad.]
        Walking  was like eating gulab jamuns (an Indian dessert). I surveyed all the places. Once I walked to Kanakadurga temple [a distance of 5km that undertaken as a mokku (aka mannat in Hindi) – a sacred pledge]. Anandamayee and Siah garu moved to Abhilash in 1999 [retired couple who became our parents’ neighbor]. Both Anandamayee and I started walked together. She was not in favour of freelance walking [freelance as in, changing the route every day at will]. So Siddhartha college ground became our new walking venue. She was a good conversationist. They had lived in many places like us – Calcutta, Bombay, Jamshedpur and and even Srilanka. We knew a lot of common people – Seeta pinni, Rama of Calcutta Kasturi garu (Anand’s attaya) and KCP Reddy garu. Very strangely she knew my mavayya [uncle] when he was in Samalakota [a town in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh] many years ago. Moreover their Susarla [a Telugu surname] family was very big and she had enough material to share with me [my marathon friends will relate to material]. It went on smoothly for quite some time. One day we decided to wear salwar kameez [North Indian dress that rivals the sari in popularity] as our new walking dress code. A latent desire previously expressed meant I already had Prashanti’s [mom’s niece] dress. Anandamayee had to buy.
Shakuntala in the forest - a famous Ravi Varma painting

Shakuntala in the forest – a famous Ravi Varma painting

We stepped out in our new attire [you’ve got to imagine how big a deal this is for two South Indian women in their 50’s wearing a new outfit for the first time in their lives in public]. For the first 100 feet I concentrated on the road only. After crossing 2-3 buildings I could notice raised eye brows and slight smiles. We reached the ground. Some walked away without any expression [Indians can rival Jeeves’ stiff upper lip]. Lolla Sarma (my cousin) opened his mouth but immediately closed and walked away. We finished our walk, re-entered our building with a sigh of relief – first day was over. Next time when we visited  Lolla Sarma’s house he told his wife “Mythily Akkayya [i.e. the protagonist] and her friend vesham vesukuni [translates to costume or disguise] walking ki osthunaru.” [translates to coming.]

    Somehow our relationship got spoiled and we stopped walking together. She started walked on the terrace and I walked in the colony [back to freelance walking]. I walked up and down the street parallel to ours. It was a chukki walk – just like a bull goes round and round a chukki (ganuga) to crush til into oil, so was I walking. Now the topic story starts.
    A woman of my age stepped out from a palatial house. She was in walking shoes and all. She said she will join me in walking. [Note the use of “said she will join” as opposed to “may I join”] She introduced herself as Siris Rajugaru’s daughter, Annapurna. Siris Raju was one of the richest men of Vijayawada – sucessful industrialist, owner of Siris pharma company, Raju of Bhimavaram (which is the most fertile land of West Godavari). So my new walking companion was seriously rich lady.
Shakuntala and Dushyanta in the forest - another Ravi Varma painting

Shakuntala and Dushyanta in the forest – another Ravi Varma painting

In the first round of our walking, she told everything about herself and her family, then she narrated stories of the other bungalow owners. She suddenly stopped in front of a new apartment and said “I will show you something.” It was a 3 bedroom apartment on the 5th floor. When she opened the front door, I can’t express the sight that beheld me. An apartment with very minimal furniture but otherwise it was an absolute feast to my eyes. Room after room was filled with paintings – some original Ravi Varmas paintings bought by her from different places and exhibitions, portraits of Rama, Krishna, Yashoda Krishna, Nala Damayanti, Shakuntala Dushyant bought in various auctions. There were some statues as well. I was so happy, so happy, I wanted to share with others — Anandamayee, Udaka [my mother’s sister], and Seenu [my older brother]. She said I can bring anybody – to give them a similar tour. She gave me her phone number. I was so much thrilled. I took 2-3 rounds. She showed me the difference between original and others (as if I understood]. It was like drinking rasagulla juice [can you tell my mother has a sweet tooth?] It was an unplanned trip..  Nanna [my father] would be anxious as it was past my usual walking duration.. so I returned home. I thought to myself “will come again and do detailed survey” but opportunity comes only once.

    Next day she was waiting for me near her house. After one round of walking she invited to her house. She showed her well decorated and well kept house – turned out to be one more museum. However, I was not that much impressed… it was ok with all crystal and marble things, the kind one sees in airports and malls in USA. She had a separate studio where she paints and employs others to paint for her. After a cup of tea I left.
    Next day onwards she was not to be seen. When I asked her maid servant, she said she was sleeping. Later, when I happened to meet her she refused to recognize me. Anyway my childhood desire to see original Ravi Varma paintings was fulfilled.
    Rasagulla freelance walking came down to walking in the school ground then to chakki walk and finally to corridor and drawng room walking. Eventually I stopped it completely after I started and became regular with the Art of Living routine. Thank you for reading my thoughts.
    Yours loving Amma
[Closing note: the apparent amnesia displayed by the lady reminded me of a Vikramaditya/Raja Bhoja story. If your childhood reading involved a healthy diet of Amar Chitra Katha, you probably recall that story too?]

Let the ass kicking begin…


squash_player_quoteSanta Cruz squash club (circa 1999)
It was my second year of playing squash seriously. ‘Seriously‘ doesn’t mean I was any good yet. I was at that rookie stage of a squasher’s evolution when I was constantly looking for easy winners (read “low percentage drop shots or optimistic boasts”). I had signed up for a squash tourney at the Santa Cruz squash club.

I have little recollection of the two games I played – quick embarrassing losses I’m sure.

On the bright side, I got to watch several great games. The standout memory (and the trigger for this post) was the matchup between the club pro (Alex) and a sturdily built bloke (let’s call him Blake since I don’t know him).

There was no danger of Blake being picked from a which one of these is a squash player lineup. This is not to say that he was unfit.

As the players warmed up with rails and crosses (and the occasional boast), it was evident that Blake had talent. There was an elegance and efficiency to his on-court movements that belied one’s cursory examination of his physical profile. But my money was still on the athletic squash pro Alex.

Game 1 score: 9-5

The game was close for the first 2-3 minutes. Blake had gotten Alex’s measure by then and started putting him through his paces. An array of accurately deep rails laced with a perfect blend of drop and boast winners. This was a pattern he oft repeated. And as though to remind Alex that this wasn’t his full armoury, he’d throw in a clinically precise edge smash winner… seemingly at will.

I watched Blake as he nonchalantly took his break, changed to a new tee and entered the court before Alex.

“Let the ass kicking begin”

This was the message on the back of his game#2 tee!!

The programmer in me wondered whether he had different tee shirts ready based on whether he won the first game.

I concluded that this was the perfectly appropriate”mind games” message to an opponent in both scenarios.

If it was a close first game that he had lost, the taunt could have inserted a doubt in his opponent’s mind. 

In this case, however, Blake was openly taunting Alex.. just getting warmed up buddy. I’ll now wipe the floor with you.

Blake then proceeded to do just that. Game 2 score was either 9-2 or 9-3.

Beyond the cheekiness and mind game evoked by Blake’s tee that day, the message stayed in my consciousness. 

Strangely my runner persona can relate to that message.

Like many amateur runners who will never be podium finishes (in the open category), my ‘opponent’ is me. The current me is constantly competing with the previous me. 

If I ran an FM in 3:48, great. Let the ass kicking begin.. to get to the 3:30 to 3:45 quadrant.

If I’ve run 75k multiple times, great. Let the ass kicking begin for a hilly 80k or a 24 hour ultra.

If Dr. George Sheehan can get his PB at 60 years, surely I can try my darnedest in my late 40’s.

A marriage in the winter of 1962


[Editor’s Note: My mother is a late adopter of the Internet. In the pre-Internet era, she used to write the loveliest of long letters to her children. The letters stopped after I returned to India. In the past year, after she got comfortable with connectivity and gmail, the letters resumed as emails to her children. She’s harvesting from the oldest tendrils of her memory which is making the reading so so enjoyable. In this email (Aug 4), she’s relating the story of her marriage in the winter of 1962. If I were to design the wedding brochure, I’d title it as Ooty ki kali weds a Guntur boy. The email has gone through a minor editing lens without changing my mom’s tone and voice. I’ve italicized all the Telugu names (and there are MANY). My mom’s sub-text/commentary is “italicized within quotes.” Editor’s comments are within “[ ]”. The bare boned Telugu cheat sheet is here: Tatayya (grandfather), ammumma (maternal grandmother), mamma (paternal grandmother), Kakki (mom’s younger sister), pellichoopulu (seeing the bride), akkaya (elder sister), Nanna (father – my father in this case), guruvagaru (my father’s spiritual guru), mavayya (uncle). Rest of the glossary is at the end.]

My dear loving ones,

Some interesting flashback. I just finished my final B.A. exams. My ammakkayya, her daughter (Satyavati akkayya), and her family visited us for vacation in Jun 1962. Ammakkayya stayed back and others went back to Guntur. Satyavati akkayya sent Nanna’s match on Savitri ammumma’s suggestion. Communication went on between both the tatayyas. It was decided that pellichoopulu will take place in Tenali where my grandfather was staying with Viswapati babai. The three of us (Tatayya, Ammumma & I) along with ammakkayya started for Tenali. Kakki had to stay back with our neighbours as her 11th standard classes had started.

Post-marriage studio pic in Guntur

Post-marriage studio pic in Guntur

We halted in Madras at my mavayya’s house. All five elders discussed the match. My father was not that happy about Nanna’s complexion. My athayya expressed her view that if both the couple are short, children also will be short. My mavayya and ammakkayya had made the final decision: All the other things (raised by people) are petty, the boy is qualified and buddhimantudu, family is well known etc etc. I think my mind was set without knowing myself. We three proceeded to Tenali.

The day came. Ambu kakki and Satyam kakka came from Kolluru on my father’s request. They made me wear pinni’s blue pattu sari with big border (“I don’t like big borders”). Ambu kakki made my jada – I was not satisfied that much. I was used to ammumma’s  jada (I used to take papidi and hold the hair and  she would braid). Moreover I missed Kakki very much. On top of it there was no big mirror. [mirror in the Ooty house is a story for a different day]

Mamma and Nanna arrived. Tatayya suddenly called me to come out. I didn’t know what to do next so I went to my grandfather, bowed down and touched his feet. He made me sit by his side. This gesture made a great impression on Nanna. I liked his face (“if you like somebody’s face other things will not come in the way”). Neither of the two (Nanna or Mamma) asked me any questions. Ambu kakki sat near Nanna and conversed comfortably. We were just listening. I don’t remember about the snacks but something was given. Finally I went inside. The event was over.

Next day myself and tatayya had planned to go to Guntur. On finding out Nanna requested tatayya to drop mamma in Savitri ammumma’s house so that he could proceed to his work place (Rourkela). I travelled with mamma to Guntur. I was comfortable in my checked sari. Most of the time she spoke about the time spent with her cousins in her childhood, what songs she learnt from ammumma (Ammumma and she were cousins).

She asked me 2 personal questions. First one was very funny, second one not exactly.

  • “Do you eat rice thrice daily?” I nodded.
  • “Do you have 2 pairs of gold bangles?” I nodded this way and that way. [The great Indian head shake]

We didn’t have gold bangles till then. On the previous day drama, either pinni or Ambu kakki had given me 2 pairs of bangles, which meant that she had noticed them.

We came back to Ooty. It took quite some time to say “yes” because Nanna had to show my horoscope to guruvugaru and get his consent. The two tatayyas were not particular about jatakams. Ammakkayya expressed her doubt about guruvugaru but my father okayed it saying “what is wrong? I too have Baba (Sathya Sai Baba) as guru.” So marriage day was fixed for 18th Oct with a muhurtam time of 4 am. Two months time for preparations – it was quite a tough time for my father as he had not made any plans till then. He had to gather 10,000 Rupees – a very big amount in those days – somehow he managed with my grandfather’s help whose chief complaint against my father was how much money he spent on travels.

Our marriage shopping was very simple – one pattu sari (parrot green) for ammumma, one pattu sari (sky blue) for me, parikini onis (not pattu) for Kakki. We usually bought our clothes from a brahmin’s shop called Seed Depot. His main business was selling seeds. Because of my foolish criss-cross nodding [aka “Great Indian head shake”], my parents had to make two pairs of bangles (instead of one). One should be very careful before nodding.

I was chosen by Kuruganti family 70% on account of ammumma.  I was Ratnamala’s [same as ammumma] daughter! Nobody thought much about her eyesight [Ratnamala was nearly blind when she got married]. My mother-in-law gave points to my complexion and roundness (“I was not this fat then”). My father-in-law was impressed by our lineage – my grandfather and great grandfather were both great scholars in their times. The latter was called yerra panditudu [red complexioned pandit] in Bandar. Moreover, he was impressed by my B.A. degree. My husband was happy because my jatakam was approved by his guruvugaru. [The stars had all aligned.]

Sometime after the muhurtam

Sometime after the muhurtam

Marriage was to take place in my grandfather’s house in Guntur. We four (Tatayya, Ammumma, Kakki, self) started with Tirupati visit – there was heavy rush due to brahmotsavams. Our next halt was at Puttaparti – due to dasara there was a large crowd.  Luckily (and because of Tatayya’s strong will and faith), we got interview and blessings [interview refers to personal audience]. Sai Baba (Baba) asked us to come after marriage. We reached Guntur where my ammakkayya had already arrived (having travelled from Kolluru).  In those days there were neither kalyanamandapams  (marriage halls) nor catering services so everything had to be arranged on our own. Ammakkayya brought gongura, kandipodi, appadalu, odiyalu, and other pickles prepared by her with Ambu Kakki‘s  help. My tatayya was the local support. Anantalaxmi pinni and Nagalakshmi were the other people. We have to really appreciate our pinni – she believed it was her duty and responsibility to help her bavagaru so she left (Viswapati) babai and her two children to manage by themselves for 15 days. My ammakkayya and pinni were two strong pillars who supported my father. Marriage took place in front of the house. Pandiri was laid out, a raised stage was also constructed, and all the decorations were done by aunties and cousins. Cooking was done in the back of the house. My Vishwapati babai’s childhood friend and all-round reliable person took charge of the storeroom.

Our house was in the 18th Cross road. Savitri ammumma fixed an accommodation in the 14th Cross road for Kurugantis. They had planned for Satyanarayana vratam in Guntur itself. Cook also was arranged as they stayed for 10 days.

Baba’s big portrait was kept on a decorated chair. Guests started coming from 16th onwards. There was 100% attendance on both sides of the family. After the muhurtam was over we went inside. Ammumma broke down all of a sudden. We had never seen this before. All these years she never complained or grumbled about her defect [she was fully blind within a few years after her marriage to Tatayya]. She held my husband’s hand and cried like anything. She said “I can’t see anything. I don’t know anything. Look after my daughter.” It was too heavy a scene for everybody.

I changed my sari & wore the white sari for mangalyadharanam.  I came out and saw my father standing under the bogada tree in our compound. Now that kanyadanam was over he was quite relaxed. On seeing me he was SO happy! Till today I remember those sparkling eyes full of contentment and appreciation. He was my mother too.

Our guruvugaru purposely didn’t attend the marriage. He was staying in a nearby peetham. Instead Guruprasad (his elder son) represented him and was well taken care of by Bhaskar babai (my brother-in-law). Later, with my father’s permission, Nanna took me to the peetham. We got his blessings. (Laughing) he said “Kurugantis don’t need tube-light anymore.” [referring to her white complexion]

By god’s grace everything went off well. We started for Puttaparthi. My ammakkayya and Sudheer babai accompanied us. We got interview with Baba – he materialized a locket and gave to Nanna and asked us to return with the baby child [the one who would be my older brother]. We proceeded to Secunderabad. Guntur Tatayya (Nanna’s father) was still in service (with Central bank). The house was near general bazaar. We celebrated first diwali amidst athayyas, babais, pedananna, and doddamma. Mamma very happily took us to Kali temple, to her brother’s place, sister’s place, and other relatives.

Our marriage was given good report, notable quote being “bride’s sister is more good looking than the bride!” Proposals came for Kakki but Tatayya brushed them aside. Our next destination was guruvugarus place – it was a very small village Narendrapuram in East Godavari district. Mamma came with us. After getting down at Rajahmundry we had a dip in the Godavari river on mamma’s wish. We crossed the river by boat, then took a bus and finally reached their house on a bullock cart via a kacha muddy road. We were given a warm welcome. Since it was a village, all the people gathered. Next day was 16th day so they prepared special items (kandabachali koora was a must for newly married couple it seems). Seetamma (guruvagaru’s eldest daughter) was very friendly and lively, others were too young.

By the end of Nov 1962 we were in Rourkela. I was impressed by neat well laid roads and similar looking houses. Mamma used to cook for us. Nanna took us to his friends’ houses. Mamma knew a friend’s daughter in Rourkela. Mamma and I used to go to the nearby market – it was so strange walking without holding her hand. [Context: my mother or her sister would always hold their mother’s hand while walking since she was blind]

On receiving first letter from Tatayya I read it out to Mamma and immediately cried. She consoled me by stroking my back – those were the innocent days.

Three of us went to Calcutta where Ramudu babai was staying in shared accommodation. He took us to Ramakrishna Mutt, Birla Planetarium, New market, and other well-known places. Babai found it very funny when I started crying on Mamma’s return journey. She also advised Nanna on so many things.

That’s it. [See note below]

Marriages are made in heaven it is already planned by HIM. Happiness and success depends on one’s partner. It is one’s own luck and destiny. I thank GOD for everything.

A gift to my parents on their 28th marriage anniversary

A gift to my parents on their 28th marriage anniversary

[Note on “That’s it”]: this is my mom’s signature two words to indicate that the long story just related has finally come to an end. When we were young (before we had started reading classics), I have memories of her storytelling Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Every night she would relate the content of whatever she had read that day. She’d always end those episodes with “That’s it!” On my parents’ 28th wedding anniversary, I presented them with a copy of the same book.

Dear Amma and Nanna, HAPPY 54th Anniversary from your dear loving ones (Srinivas, Janaki & Vishwanath)!!!!

Glossary of Telugu words

  • Buddhimantudu – intelligent
  • pedananna – father’s elder brother
  • dodamma – father’s elder brother’s wife
  • attaya – father’s sister
  • pinni – father’s brother’s wife
  • Pattu sari – fancy brocaded sari
  • parikini oni – aka “half sari” worn by young unmarried girls
  • jatakam – horoscope
  • jada – braided hair; papidi – hair partition and a key preparatory step before braiding
  • pandiri – trellis structure used for marriage ceremonies
  • Satyanarayana vratam – an important religious puja in conjunction with most life change Hindu events
  • mangalyadharanam – tying of the sacred mangala sutra around bride’s neck
  • kanyadanam – marriage ritual (donating the bride to the groom)
  • peetham – ashram
  • gongura, kandipodi, appadalu, odiyalu – yummy Telugu savories