Sunday, December 27, 2015

100 Books Pact 11-20

11/100 The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelley.
This is one of those books that make two voices scream in my head, each louder than the other. "I want to write like that!" and "I want to read more books like this one!" This is a sequel to "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" which I enjoyed equally. This is a book for children, actually, but Puttachi is not old enough to understand or appreciate it. I can't wait for her to discover these two books when she is a little older. A must-read!

12/100 "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
This book has jostled its way into the top ten list of my favourite books of all time. But what is it about this book? The format is unique--written entirely in the form of letters. The characters--Each one so clear and well-defined, that they are etched into my mind, and I feel that I know each one personally. The theme--one that I find endlessly fascinating--stories of what wars do to common people, and how they inevitably rise above tragedy and resume their lives, scarred, yes, but alive in every sense.
After a long time, I shed tears because a book ended, and I felt a sense of loss!
Can't recommend it enough. 

13/100 "The Mystery of the Runaway Ghost" - The Boxcar Children series - by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I had asked around for recommendations of mystery books for kids, in the Famous Five genre, and had been recommended the Boxcar Children Series. Had never heard of this series before. Puttachi found some titles in the library, brought them home and loved this one. And naturally, she held it at my throat until I read it. This is a good alternative to Famous Five/Find-outers, especially when one is *sniff* missing Enid Blyton books (Why, again, isn't Enid Blyton known at all in the US?)

14/100 Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins.
This book literally fell into my hand at the library. I was trying to pick up another book from the shelf, and this one slipped and I had to catch it to keep it from falling down. When I read the title, I did a double-take--I had just read that Duckbill had published this book in India, and this was the US edition of the same book. Of course, I had to bring it back home.
Puttachi read it first, and liked it. She gave it to me to read, saying, "The first two chapters are boring, but don't give up. You'll like it. It's a good book." I dutifully followed her advice, and she was right.

15/100 Beagle in a Backpack by Ben M Baglio (Animal Ark series).
I had only vaguely heard about the Animal Ark series before Puttachi brought some books home from the school library. It is about a girl whose parents are vets, and their clinic is called Animal Ark. Perfect books for kids who love animals - simple, engaging reads filled with action, adventure, and overflowing with animal love. One thing that stood out about this book is that the author doesn't hesitate to describe an animal's condition, and its treatment/surgery/diagnosis in detail, complete with technical terms.

16/100 Geronimo Stilton - Creepella von Cacklefur #4 - Return of the Vampire
The fascination with Geronimo Stilton still doesn't make much sense to me. In Puttachi's school library, a condition is imposed upon the children, that when they check out two books each week, only one can be Geronimo Stilton. That itself speaks for its popularity. Puttachi regularly brings one Geronimo Stilton home each week. She knows that I don't care for it much, but she pressed this book in my hand and said, "I won't ask you again, but please read only this one, please. There are some cute monsters in this story. I just want to share them with you." How could I say no? I read it. The things we do for our children! :)

17/100 Cinderella ate my Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
A study into the girlie culture that has gripped our society. Deals with all those things I've been fuming about ever since I had Puttachi - the early sexualisation of little girls (including item girl frocks in shops and provocative dancing on talent shows) and the Pink madness, and the Princess craze and beauty treatments for little girls. Different packaging and marketing for little girls, separate aisles in shops with "girl stuff" and "boy stuff"... The book didn't really give me answers - it just told me that the situation is much worse than I thought! It scared me a little.
It is a good read. I recommend it to all parents of little girls.

18/100 Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
They call it literary crime fiction. This book is a series of seemingly unrelated cases, all of which come together at the end. (Kind of.) If not for the deep sense of mystery in the beginning, I am not sure I would have finished this book. That is, it had some good writing, and some compelling action, but it didn't grip me. If it hadn't been a crime thriller, if I hadn't been keen to know what would happen, I would probably have abandoned it (like I do so often with books these days - yes, the ones that make it here are the ones that haven't been abandoned).
So do I recommend this? Yes. I have a strong feeling that I would have enjoyed this book much more if I'd read it some other time, in a more receptive mood.

19/100 Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
I picked this up because a friend recommended it. I just finished it five min ago and I wanted to put this up when I am still feeling the buzz of the book.
This is the story of Japanese Picture Brides, who came to the US in the early 1900s. It is not a story in the sense of a set of characters going through a series of experiences. Written in the First person plural (We, us) (Think of it as a bunch of narrators, but no narrator st...ands out, we don't know their names) it is a series of scenes, each expressed in a single, concise sentence. Almost like poetry. And so vivid and compelling. Each scene is so clear that I felt like I was in it. Like it was happening to me.
Another thing about this book is that it is set in California, and it is more or less about the American Dream. So it hit me on multiple layers.
Reading the first sentence of the book was like being sucked into a whirlpool. I found the book really hard to put down, and read it more or less at one go.

20/100 Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham
I have read lots of short stories and novellas by Maugham before, but hadn't heard of this one. Yesterday, at my sister's place, I was unexpectedly faced with a few minutes of time and no book in my hand. So I raided her bookshelves for something small and light to read, and came up with this. After a mini-panic-situation when the book went missing (and was found neatly placed at the bottom of my niece's tub of toys, still in great condition) I finished it. A simple story of a woman and three men, all very different from each other. Contains many truths and spot-on observations of life and love.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Growing up, Toblerone was one of the highlights of our lives. Back in a time when chocolate itself was a rare treat, a bar of Toblerone was right up there, at the pinnacle of all our wishes and desires.

A bar would make its appearance every once in a while at home, mostly as a result of my father's official trips. We would watch with bated breath, waiting for the gold and yellow triangular pyramid to slide out of his suitcase. My sister and I stored it with great care, eating only one little triangle at a time, sometimes breaking each triangle into two to make it last longer. And when only one piece was left at the end,  we would offer it to everybody at home, and gape in wonder and pleasure when our parents said, "We don't want it. You can eat it," and shake our heads over how anybody could even refuse Toblerone. And then we would break it into two equal pieces (we would have weighed it to ensure fairness if we had measuring scales) and then we would savour it till the last chocolatey crumb.

So, when I saw this, I chuckled, imagining how Child-Shruthi would have reacted at the sight.

The sad part is this. As it is with so many things in life, now Toblerone is within my reach, but I don't have any particular craving for it. The irony!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Bangalore - Nostalgia

Two or three years ago, I wrote a piece on Bangalore, overcome by nostalgia for the old  Bangalore. It was lying in my folder, until now. Spark Magazine has published it in the Dec 2015 issue.

Do read.

The 100 Books Pact

There was a hashtag going around on Facebook, called #100sareepact where people wore sarees, and took pictures of themselves and posted them, with a little backstory about that particular saree. The idea was to make sarees popular for daily wear again among urban women. Taking a cue from that, someone else started a #100bookspact, for the book-loving population on Facebook.

I'm taking part in it, and just so that the list doesn't fade away into oblivion on Facebook, I'll be posting the list on my blog also, 10 books at a time.

Here are the first ten:

1/100 Jumping right into the ‪#‎100bookpact.‬
I'll start with Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah. Because I just finished reading it. And because I wish there were more books out there like Americanah. And because Adichie is my favourite author. And because I want to write at least half as well as Adichie does.

2/100 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling.
When you have a voracious reader for a child, most of the books in your reading list will be children's books--books that the child has finished reading and forced you to read. And some of them will be books that you've been reading out to the child. And the current book falls into that category.

3/100 I finished reading The Lighthouse by PD James last night. Anurupa Rao, thank you for lending it to me. It turned out to be educative for me.
I've read only 2 Adam Dalgliesh books. The first one was The Black Tower, and it was set on an isolated, forbidding island with a few cottages, and featured a tower as the scene of action. The second was this one, The Lighthouse, and it is set in an isolated, forbidding island with a few cottages, and features a lighthouse as the ...scene of the action. So yes, they were far too similar, and yet, because these books were written 30 years apart, it was interesting to see how the author's style has changed, and how the popular culture references and settings are dealt with differently in each book.
However, I don't see myself reading any more PD James, in the near future at least.

4/100 The book with no pictures by BJ Novak.
Puttachi's teacher read this to her at school. And then their librarian read it to them during library hour. When the kids told the librarian that their teacher had already read it out to them, the librarian said, "See how different it sounds when I read it out." And it was.
The next step for Puttachi, was, of course, to check the book out from the public library--she read it out to me, and then I read it out to her, and each time, she laughed non-stop. The book is just a bunch of nonsense words, really--and kids love it. I think this is good for kids (and adults) of all ages.

5/100 Gargoyle Hall (Araminta Spookie) by Angie Sage
Since Puttachi is a fan of Angie Sage, thanks to Septimus Heap, it stands to reason that the moment she heard of the Araminta Spookie series that Angie Sage has written for younger readers, Puttachi had to get her hands on it.
And of course, since she loved all the books in the series, she had to get me to read them too. Ages: 6+

6/100 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Considering that this is the kind of book I love to read, and considering how famous this particular book is, I have no idea why I had heard of neither the book nor the author until recently.
(I like to read books that tell me how people live, and so I am partial to books set in places like Africa, South America, Japan, China, Eastern European countries, etc, in addition to books set in lesser heard of places and communities of India.)
Things Fall Apart checks all the boxes for me on how a good book should be. Subtle, smooth narration, unpretentious, a gripping story, great characters.

7/100 When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.
Puttachi read "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry a while ago, and asked for more books that talk about the holocaust. She was already clued in to WW2, thanks to the latter half of The Sound of Music. Anu Jagalur recommended When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I read it first, and then Puttachi read it. It is gently told, and though it doesn't shy away from telling the child about reality, it does it in a way that a child can understand. This, and Number the Stars are good books to introduce a child to the holocaust.

8/100 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
It's been a while since I read a book that made me laugh out loud and squirt beverage from my nostrils (The last ones that had that effect on me were Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods and Neil Patrick Harris' autobiography.) It had also been a while since I read a book that made me want to grab every single minute I could get to continue reading it.
It made me laugh and cry and think. Thanks.

9/100 Beastly Tales from here and there by Vikram Seth.

10/100 - Diary of a Wimpy kid: The Long Haul - because Puttachi's recently discovered this extremely popular series (and was upset with me because I hadn't told her about it before even though I knew of its existence) and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Well, it is a fun book, but I don't see myself reading any more in the series.

Want to join? Here are the guidelines. Please copy into your first post as a participant....
-To show case your love for reading.
-This is not a competition.
-There is no strict timeline.
-As you read, you post the picture of the book you read with hashtag #100bookpact.
-You get to know what your friends are reading and pick up recommendations. Yes, we do have apps and websites with the same intent and purpose, but hopefully this is something light and motivating as FB makes sure that it is right in your face all the time.
-You can include books that you have already read too. It does not have to be, from now on. If so make sure that these book have been something that fundamentally touched you in some/many ways.
-If you have a child, you can post your child's reading updates also.
In that case there can be repetitions too. My children take pleasure in reading the same book again and again and I believe that they dig deeper with every repetition.
-Here is the format(1)add #100bookpact mark the book as 1/100, 2/100..etc(2)Post front cover of the book(3)Add review - optional(4)Tag people who you would think would enjoy the book - optional(5)If it is your child you are posting for do #100bookpact 1/100 nickname/name of child. ‪#‎100bookspact

Thursday, December 03, 2015


One morning, on my walk, I happened to walk under a tree and look up at it. Autumn (or Fall, as the Americans call it) was here, and the leaves of this tree had started changing colour. It looked striking in contrast with the bright blue sky, and I whipped out my phone and took a picture.

A few days after that, I walked under the same tree again, it occurred to me that I could document the change in colour of this same tree as the days pass.

So here are the results:

October 13

 November 3:
Add caption
 November 11:

November 16:

November 18:

December 1:

And here are pictures of the same tree in Spring

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beastly Tales - and a poem

I read out Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales from here and there to Puttachi recently. We don't read much of poetry together, and this was a change. Some of the stories were familiar fables, from Panchatantra or Aesop,  with a different spin on it, and we didn't know the others. Initially, all the stories ended not very pleasantly, and though we were having fun with the reading, Puttachi wasn't very happy.

But by the time we reached The Cat and the Cock, things had become better. The repetitive nature of some stanzas in The Cat and the Cock caused us great enjoyment, and we repeated them together and swayed to the rhythm and the cadence.

At about this time, we started speaking in couplets in general conversation, taking care to rhyme the last two words, resulting in a lot of merriment.

The Elephant and the Tragopan was my personal favourite, as it beautifully explained real-life problems of the world - about man assuming that the earth and everything in it exists only for his benefit, and not caring about animals and their habitat. I think this will be a great introduction to children about the danger to ecology due to human greed. It didn't have a very happy ending, though.

Also, some of the humour and the issues in all the poems were a little too much for Puttachi to understand. I explained what I could, but I think that an adult or an older child will enjoy it better.

Anyway, the greatest achievement of this book, for me, was that it inspired Puttachi to write her first poem. Here it is:

At the Sea

My hair
Rustles in the air
I am sailing into sea
As blue as can be.

The waves splash against the ship
Seagulls squawk and nip,
Oh, wonderful is the sea,
As blue as can be.

The waves are so high,
So high! Oh my!
Darker and darker gets the sea,
But it is still as blue as can be.

The ship sails to land,
I swing down onto the sand,
I look back at the sea,
As blue as can be.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Two things that made me do a double-take

So you think that I'm exaggerating, huh, when I say that living in the Bay Area is like living in India? Yesterday, in the Target parking lot, I saw a car, with the words "Ati vega, Tithi Bega*" written on its bumper - in Kannada. I didn't miss autorickshaws at all :D

*Loosely translated, it means "Excess speed (on the road) will lead to your funeral rites being performed early."


I had been to a social gathering last evening, where I was given the ele-adike (betel leaves and nuts) and arishina-kunkuma (turmeric-vermillion) and fruits. But when I laid it all out after I came home, something looked very off. And then I realized. The dakshine (a token amount of money) given to me along with all that, was a dollar. If it had been a rupee coin or note, I wouldn't have felt that anything was amiss!

Thursday, October 15, 2015


The weather today is like, if this had been Bangalore, I would have thought, "Hmm, it is going to rain today".

There would be a faint hint of petrichor in the wind, and a distant rumbling of thunder. The sky would be that beautiful shade of purple-grey. The wind would make the door slam loudly in someone's house. The household help of the aunty next door would hurry to the terrace to bring the clothes in from the clothesline.

Puttachi would call me from the clubhouse and sa...y that she felt a raindrop on her nose. S would call and say that he is on the bus and it is raining cats and dogs and that he is stuck at Silk Board. My mom would call and say, "I hear it is raining in your area? Not a cloud in sight here."

The house would darken suddenly, as if it were 7 pm, not 5 pm, and the skies would open up. I would make myself a cuppa and watch the rain.

But it is not Bangalore.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Reading out Harry Potter to Puttachi

In summer of 2014, Puttachi and I started something momentous--me reading out books to her. Until then, I had not read out full-length books to her, and I had definitely not read any to her after she started reading on her own. Even when she couldn't read yet, I narrated stories to her--hardly ever read out to her.

So when we started with the first book in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage--Magyk, we didn't know that we were launching ourselves into a lovely journey, one that I hope goes on for a long long time.

We finished the seventh and last book of the Septimus Heap series a few days before we left India. In fact, on the evening that we finished it, we went to the bookshop and bought the first book of Harry Potter, because both of us were feeling empty-ish and we wanted to jump into the next experience immediately.

I started reading Harry Potter to her on the day before we left India, and then read quite a bit of it in Hong Kong airport. We finished the first book a couple of weeks after we came here to the US.

There were many differences between reading Septimus Heap and Harry Potter. For one, both of us were discovering Septimus Heap together, and so we were walking hand in hand, peering around the corners, discussing heatedly about what is going to happen. And experiencing the joy of discovery together.

But it is different in Harry Potter. I have read the books, and watched the movies. I am in the know here. And I think Puttachi is not entirely happy about that. One more thing about my reading Harry Potter is that unconsciously, I read dialogues in the style of the actors in the movies. I realized this when Puttachi once told me, "Say this dialogue like Snape, amma!" So unfortunately, I've been doing a Hagrid voice and an Hermione voice and a Ron voice, and a Prof McGonagall voice complete with the British accent. Puttachi really enjoys it, but I'm feeling bad that I'm not allowing her to imagine it by herself!

We are now three books down--finished Prisoner of Azkaban a couple of days ago. And she loves it. But Septimus Heap still rules her heart--after all, that was her first foray into the world of fantasy. (Btw I think that Angie Sage deserves more recognition. She is in no way a lesser writer than Rowling is. Her world is as detailed and mesmerizing and real, if not more, than Rowling's world.)

Anyway, back to Harry Potter--since I know the story, it is hard for me to keep a straight face and not react when Puttachi wonders aloud about whether a character is good or bad or what his or her fate is, or what the point is of an incident.

It is all I can do to maintain a poker face when she says things like "Amma somehow I feel Snape is not a bad man. I think he just doesn't like children, and doesn't know how to behave politely with people that's all." And I go, "Mm-hmm."

I told her that I'd stop at Book Three and read the rest next year because it is going to get darker, but she is not ready to listen to me. She wants to read on. And her justification is, "Even Septimus got scarier with each book. But you read on because you didn't know what was going to happen, and you also wanted to know. In Harry Potter, just because you know what is going to happen, you are not reading further. How should I feel?"

And then she goes on, "Your imagination is probably scarier than mine, and so you think it is scary. Or it is because you have watched the movies and have got scared by it. See, you and Harry are so scared of the dementors, but I didn't find them scary at all. In the same way, I'm sure I won't find the rest of the books scary."

I think she has a point. I'm on the verge of caving in.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


A friend had once told me, a few years after she moved to the US, about how different she found the skies here. I remember thinking, "Whaaat? Isn't it the same sky?"

No, it isn't. Or at least, it doesn't seem like it.

The blue is bluer here. More striking. More intense. The clouds are different. More scattered. Feathery, dotted. (Once I look up their names, I'll come back and edit this post and sound more scholarly.)

The sunshine itself is more intense. It makes me want to shut my eyes (or wear sunglasses).

The night sky too, is different. I look up and search for Orion, the constellation that I know best. And I don't find it. There are other constellations, of course, and there are some good apps that help me learn to recognize them. But yet, the three stars of Orion's belt has always been there in the sky, and to not find them is disconcerting.

The moon is brighter. As if it is a lamp of a higher wattage. And I think it looks bigger too.

Also, in the part of the world I am in, I can see more of the sky. In Bangalore, my line of sight was usually interrupted a short distance away by a high-rise building. The vistas are more sweeping here, and I get to see a greater chunk of the sky.

And another thing. It is a strange feeling to see 5-6 planes in the sky at the same time.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cause and Effect

Me: So there was this man who....

Puttachi: "So" is only used when there is a cause and an effect. There is no cause here, so there is no effect. You cannot use "so" to start your sentence. Ok, now, what about that man?

Me: *Speechless*

Also, half the posts on my blog starts with "so". How many more lectures do I have to hear once I start letting her read my blog?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Puttachi stories

This is one of those posts where I make notes so that I don't forget.

Puttachi is "working on a novel". She asks me to read the latest chapter that she's written. I'm doing something else, but pick it up and try to read. After the first two lines, I realize I'm too preoccupied.

Me: Puttachi, I'm thinking of something else right now. I'll read it in a few minutes, okay?
She: *in a dramatically wounded voice* My mother doesn't want to read her daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes* Puttachi, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma will read your book.
She:*in same wounded voice* My father doesn't want to read his daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes a little more* Ok, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma and Papa will read your book.
She: My grandparents don't want to read their granddaughter's book!
S and Me: That's enough!
She: Hehhehheh!


I just wanted to make a note of this. At least 4-5 people in the last one month have told me how weird it is that Puttachi is such a mixture of extremes. On one hand, she spouts wisdom and asks incisive questions that surprise people, and one person said that it almost makes her feel silly to explain some things to her because she would already know it. On the other hand, she plays like a two-year-old, loves dolls and toys, makes them talk, she actually enjoys pulling her 1-year-old cousin's pull-on-a-string toy. In fact, when the said 1-year-old got a dinosaur toy gift, this 8-year-old was more interested in it. And what a weird obsessive interest!


She just doesn't care what she looks like. She knows when she looks good, and enjoys her reflection in the mirror, but if she is looking silly, that's also okay with her. She says, "So what?"

Two days back, we were walking home from the bus stand when she started walking in a weird way. Her feet held at 180 degrees to each other, but walking in a criss-cross way. As usual I barely noticed, because she is always doing silly things like this. But her friend's mother who was walking behind us, came running to me and said, "Oh my God!! What is happening to your daughter?? Is she okay? Does she need to be taken to the doctor?" The poor lady must have thought Puttachi was convulsing or something. I couldn't stop laughing, and Puttachi didn't understand at all what was happening.

Me: D's mom thought you were hurt or something, the way you were walking.
She: Just because somebody thinks something, you're not going to make me stop walking like that, are you?
Me: *as if I have a choice!* No.


Thanks to the nights being unpredictable and varying a lot in terms of temperature, I have placed two sheets on Puttachi's bed, so that she can wear one layer or two layers when she goes to sleep.

A couple of nights ago, she called out to me before going to bed.

She: Amma, are you feeling cold?
Me: Yeah, kind of, why?
She: I have to decide whether to cover myself with one sheet or two.
Me: Why are you asking me, then?
She: Because annnyyyyway you make me cover myself with sheets depending on how YOU are feeling.....

[Reminded me of that definition of Sweater - a garment the mother makes a child wear when the mother is feeling cold. Couldn't be truer.]


She never had  homework at her school in India. Here, she has homework everyday, and she actually likes doing it. Most of it is not boring, she says. No surprise, because you get to be creative and think up many things. And the funny thing is, since there are some pieces of homework where she can choose what she can do, it would have been easy for her to choose an option that gets over within ten minutes, but she doesn't do that. Yesterday she chose to write a story out of the 20 practice words that they have given the children this week instead of just doing something easy with them--not only that, she could have used the words in any order in her story, but she chose to challenge herself and use them in the order in which she had written them down. She did mix them up slightly in the middle, but she largely stuck to the order. And it took her 2 hours to write this story!


The public library is really spoiling us. And Puttachi's love for books has gone to another level.

She says: "I think books are my best friends. With real friends, sometimes I have to play what my friend wants even if I am not that interested. Sometimes my friend might not even be able to play with me. But a book - I pick it up and it is there. I don't have to worry about anything else."


Puttachi's expression when she realized that my 1-year-old niece is calling her Akka - Delightful.
The change in her expression when she realized that the kid is actually calling her Kakka - Priceless.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Appraisal - Story in Reading Hour

My story "The Appraisal" was published in the Jan-Feb issue of Reading Hour. Since the requisite 6 months have passed, I'm reproducing it on my blog for you to read.

The Appraisal
Ningavva walked with unsteady steps down the road, scanning the houses on either side.  Her worn rubber chappals made a clip-clap sound as they slapped the cracked soles of her feet.

It wasn't dark yet, but the streetlights had already been turned on. The distant hum of peak-hour traffic formed a background to more domestic sounds – the clang of a steel vessel, the whistle of a pressure cooker. The road was lined on both sides with houses set close to each other. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one house ended and the other began. 

Ningavva hesitated in front of a house with a jasmine plant spilling over the compound. She walked up to the iron gate and rattled the hasp. 

A man came out of the house. "Yes?" 

"Is this Shekhar-daaktar's house?" asked Ningavva.

"Yes.  You want to see him?"  

Ningavva nodded.   

"You're early. He sees patients only after eight." 

"Yes he told me, but if it won't trouble you, perhaps I could wait here..." 

"Come in," said the man, and opened the gate.  

"Are you Krishna?" she asked. 


 "Daaktar said you'd let me in."

 "Where did you meet the doctor?" asked Krishna. 

"At the hospital," said Ningavva, and came in through the gate. An unpaved pathway led from the gate to a garage converted into a clinic. Red plastic chairs were arranged on either side of the path. Ningavva sat down.   

She wiped the exhaustion off her face with the edge of her saree.  

"Water, son," she said, and touched her thumb to her lips.   

Krishna nodded. He looked over his shoulder at her as he went into the house. She's from the northern part of the state, he thought. The dialect of Kannada she spoke told him that, and the way she had covered her head with the end of her faded saree. Her features too, and the heavy nose-ring. What it was about her face, he couldn't say. Was it the dialect and her dress  that lent an identity to her face? Or did her features with the creased forehead, knitted brows and small eyes reflect generations of squinting in the harshness of the sun in those hot and arid areas? 

Overworked, he thought. Her feet are bent out of shape – the kind of misshapenness that comes from having constantly carried heavy loads. Both physical and emotional. Bewildered eyes. Bet she's never travelled this far alone in all her life. Poor woman. Wonder what brings her here. 

Krishna brought a jug of water and a paper cup. He filled the cup and handed it to Ningavva, who tilted the cup and drank it all in one go, without touching the cup to her lips.  

"Are you daaktar's son?" she said. 

"No, no, Ajji, I just work for him." 

"Doesn't daaktar take fees from patients?" 

Krishna shook his head. 

"I went to the hospital in the morning. There they said he takes fees," said Ningavva. 

"Yes, only at the hospital.  From people who can afford to pay." 

The old woman's face relaxed.  She nodded.   


"Tch, Ajji, what is this? Can't a man have some peace? Ever since you came in, you're going vata-vata-vata..." 

"Forgive me, son, I've come from very far.... I asked in so many places, such a long time it took to find Shekhar-daaktar.... son, do you know him well?" 

"I was fifteen years old when I first came here, Ajji. I have been his helper, watchman, gardener, everything for ten years. So yes, I know him quite well. Why?" 


"My name is Krishna, Ajji." 

 "Krishna, son, they say he is a good man, is it true?" 

"A pearl. A pearl among men. That's what he is." 

"Does he see a lot of poor patients?" 

"Just wait till you see the line. He sees them late into the night, sometimes skips dinner." 

"His wife? Doesn't she mind?" 

"What wife? He's unmarried." 

"Is he a good doctor, Krishna?" 

"Top-class. No one goes away uncured. Why ask me, ask his patients. He's no ordinary person."
Krishna paused. "He's blessed, I tell you." 

"Why do you say that?" 

"So many times in his life, Ajji, when it seemed that he had nowhere else to go, he received help from unexpected places." 


"Yes. When Doctor was a small boy, he fell into a flooded river. They thought that his story was over, but a man jumped in and saved him. And after Doctor's  parents died, his grandmother couldn't afford to educate him. So the village school teacher, himself poor, with nine children, practically adopted him and educated him, because Doctor was a brilliant student." 

Krishna waited for Ningavva's reaction, but seeing as she didn't respond, he continued.   "And then he got a seat in the medical college, but had no money to join. So the headman of his village personally went from village to village, until he found a rich, generous man who funded Doctor's entire education. Whenever Doctor is in trouble, a solution comes looking for him. Like I said, he is blessed."   

Ningavva was silent.   

"What Ajji, lost your voice?"  Krishna grinned. "I'll be inside. Call me if you want anything." 

Krishna turned to go, but stopped.  "Ajji, sit on this chair. Less wind this side. It's getting cold. I'll ask my wife to bring you some coffee." 

Krishna left. Ningavva sat for a long time gazing at the ground, while her restless fingers twisted and untwisted the pleats of her saree. Then she looked at the small house, the overgrown garden with its jasmine plant, the lemon tree, tomato plants and a healthy Tulasi plant. Then she concentrated her attention at the road, and watched the few people and vehicles that passed by. 
In a while, Krishna's wife came out of the house with coffee in a steel tumbler. Ningavva cupped the tumbler with both hands, sipped the coffee and waited. 

The doctor's patients started arriving. Old and young, alone and with their families, they were thin, ragged, with hollow, sunken cheeks. Some talked quietly amongst one another. Some stared at Ningavva. Mothers spanked children who dared venture too near the tomato plants. Men clustered at the gate, talking in low, guttural tones. 

A skinny, voluble woman with a bindi the size of a two-rupee coin  sat down next to Ningavva. "You don't seem to be from around here," said the woman, opening a small cloth pouch which hung from her waist. From it, she extracted betel leaves, rubbed them with slaked lime, put some areca nuts on it, rolled the leaves up and offered it to Ningavva. When Ningavva shook her head, she popped it into her own mouth.   

With the roll swelling one side of the mouth, she kept up a barrage of words praising the doctor and how he had cured her and her entire extended family from various ailments over the years, and how he even gave them medicines himself.  

She showed Ningavva a small bag of gooseberries. "He doesn't take money. Not that I can afford to pay him," she said. "So I always bring something for him." 

She put away the gooseberries. "He is the poor man's saviour. How many good doctors do you think there are in the city? And how many care about the poor?" 

"If he really cared about the poor," said Ningavva. "Why doesn't he work in the villages? Why does he live in the city?" 

The woman drew herself up. Her nostrils flared. 

"How dare you say such things?" she said, chewing her betel leaves ferociously. "Do you know, every Sunday, he goes to a different village on the outskirts of the city, sits in a primary school, and sees patients there?" 

The woman wiped her mouth with her saree. "Sometimes he doesn't even sleep at night – that many people come to see him.  

"And do poor people live only in villages? Is there no poverty in the city? If all doctors go to the villages, who will look after the poor of the city? And tell me," she continued. "If he doesn't work in the city hospitals and take money from rich people, how will he eat? How will he give free medicines to people like us?" 

She frowned. "Think before you speak about the doctor," she said. "I am being polite to you because you are older than me, and you have come from afar. Otherwise..."  the woman turned away, making it clear that the conversation was over. 

But Ningavva's features arranged themselves into an expression which people who knew her would have recognized as a smile. 

The doctor arrived a little after eight in an old car that he drove himself. There was a scramble as everybody stood up and joined their palms in respect. The doctor, his dark face unlined, and his temples tinged with silver, smiled, nodded and exchanged pleasantries with his patients. He patted a man on his shoulder, ruffled a child's hair, and nodded at Ningavva. He then went straight into the clinic.   

In minutes, Krishna came to the waiting crowd and picked out Ningavva. "Ajji, go in, you arrived first," he said. 

"I'll go last," she said. 

He shrugged. "Your wish.  Such strange people in the world..." 

Ningavva waited for two hours until the doctor had seen all the patients. She watched with eagerness everybody's face as they came out after their consultation. And then it was her turn. She stepped into the clinic. 

"Come in, Amma,"said the doctor. "You've been waiting a long time." 

"Yes, daaktar, I have come from far to see you and talk to you." 

"From where, Amma?" 

"From beyond Davanagere." 

"But why, there are good doctors in Davanagere." 

"I wanted to see you, daaktar." 

"What is the trouble, Amma?" 

"My knees ache, I can't walk sometimes, and my knuckles..."  She held out her hands, gnarled like the branches of the gulmohar.

The doctor examined her. "You've led a hard life, Amma." 

"My husband died very early, daaktar. Left me with two children.  You can't imagine how difficult it was... I was young, widowed...." She passed her palm across her eyes, as if erasing the unpleasant images that appeared before her. "My brothers were too poor to take me in, nobody else was there to help me. God knows how I managed, cleaning other people's houses, cooking for them... moving from village to village... But I sent both my children to school, daaktar. I got the girl married. The boy, he is slow, but he is a good boy, looks after me well – he keeps a shop in the village. I am not able to get him married. Girls of today, they are particular, not like in our days..." 

Krishna, who was hovering about, butted in. "Ajji, enough of your life-story. You think doctor has time for all that?" 

The doctor waved Krishna away. "Krishna, please go and tell Vimala to make some dinner for this lady too... where will you stay tonight, Amma?" 

Ningavva looked confused, as if the thought hadn't even occured to her.   

"I might get a night bus back to Davanagere..." 

"No. It's very late. Sleep here in the outhouse, you can leave in the morning tomorrow. 

"Amma, your knees are weak – due to abuse, and old age. Take rest, don't work too much. You said your son takes good care of you? Good. Take this oil and rub it on your knees at bed-time, you might find some relief.... what is it, Krishna?" 

"Vimala has already rustled up something for Ajji." 

"Good, good. Krishna, the lady will sleep in the outhouse. Go, Amma, take rest." 

Ningavva drew out a patched cloth purse from between the folds of her saree,  put the bottle of oil carefully into it and tucked it back at her waist, away from sight. She followed Krishna to the back of the house, squatted near the back door and waited. Vimala, Krishna's wife, gave her a plate heaped with uppittu, and two bananas. Ningavva ate, and finished with a tall glass of buttermilk. 

"What will daaktar be doing now?" she asked.  

"Reading," said Vimala. She led Ningavva to the outhouse. It was a small, unfurnished room with an unused kitchen and an attached toilet. Rolls of mattresses stood in the corner, and folded sheets and blankets were placed above them. 

"Make yourself comfortable, Ajji," said Vimala. "Here is a pot of water. Let me know if you need anything else. We sleep in the house, but if you knock at the back door, I'll hear." 

"I'll manage, child. " 

Ningavva made her bed, turned off the lights, and was asleep in seconds.


Ningavva awoke just before dawn, washed, and stepped out. She shut the door of the outhouse, shivered a little, and drew her thin saree tightly about herself. 

As she approached the gate, she heard the doctor call out from the verandah. He was sitting in a yogic posture. She waited until he got up, threw a woollen shawl around his shoulders, switched on the porch light, and came out.    

"Daaktar, I'm leaving. Thanks for all that you've done..." 

"Amma, something is bothering me. Why would you travel three hundred kilometres just to see me about your knees? Tell me the truth, Amma. Why are you here?" 

Ningavva looked up. The lamp on the porch threw its light on Ningavva's eyes. The doctor saw them fill up with tears.  

"My husband, daaktar... he died young.  He...he gave his life saving a small boy from drowning. My life was very difficult, daaktar. Many nights I have lain awake wondering how different life would have been would have been if my husband hadn't bothered saving someone he didn't even know. Very often I have cursed that boy... and wondered, always wondered.... if my husband's death was worth it..." 

The doctor stood very still. 

"Now I'm satisfied, daaktar. Finally... last night I slept in peace for the first time in many years...." 

The doctor tried to say something, but made a choking noise.   

"You're doing good work. I've seen it now with my own eyes – I can go back to my village with my heart full. God bless you, daaktar."  

The doctor took the shawl from his shoulders, and put it around Ningavva. She hesitated, and then wrapped it closely around herself. She opened the gate, hobbled out and disappeared into the mist.
The doctor stood at the gate for a long, long time.


- -