Friday, September 22, 2006


Is it a smart move to italicise Indian words when writing in English? When we do so, are we emphasising our otherness from English? Or are we conceding that not everybody is aware of Indian terms and words, and so are making things easier for such readers?
Whatever French I know was gleaned mainly from Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and it was all in italics----which was how I knew it was French, in the first place! However, they were English writers. I presume the English use that much French in their everyday conversation.
By italicising, are we consciously writing for non-Indian readers? Are we trying to sprinkle some exotica? Or are we apologetic for having to use non-English words? But then, some Indian concepts just do not translate into English words. After all Indianness is not just Karma, yoga, tandoori, guru, basmati and nirvana!
What did R.K.Narayan do?

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Little boy comes home from school on a Monday. Mom checks his tiffin box. It is empty.
“Wonderful, you finished it all!” she exults.
“Er, actually, I didn’t finish it, I shared it with my friend----“
“Why, did he forget to bring his?”
“Did he drop it or something?”
“No,” says the boy. ”He had brought idlis, but they were smelling horrible.”
“Well, maybe they were a bit over fermented. It happens sometimes----“
“No, these were actually leftovers from Saturday night.”
“Whaaaat? Who packs his tiffin?”
“The servant. His mother works.”

This is a true story. I felt very disturbed. Don’t we all try and take the greatest care of our children? Aquaguard water, mineral water. Admonitions to stay away from the school canteen. Dire warnings about roadside vendors. I tried to analyse what had happened. Of course, the mother must not have known. When she does come to know, will she ever be able to go off to work secure in the knowledge that her child will be well-cared for?

Another household, another family. The mother does not go out to work---she is a homemaker. Her teenaged daughter brings bread topped with mixture to school everyday. Sometimes, it is biscuits. Her friends ask, “Hey, why do you get these every day? Do you like it so much?”
She replies, “Well, this is what the cook gives me.”
The mother is not ill or anything. What helplessness is this?

At the paediatrician’s: One ill child, accompanied by Mom, and servant. Servant is holding the child. The memsaab says to the servant, "Get some water". Maid struggles at the water dispenser, holding the child in one arm, trying to fill a glass with the other. Mom/Mem has not moved. Why does she not hold her ill child? Is the child too dirty for the mother to hold, or is the maid cleaner than the mother? Does not an ill child deserve a mother’s lap, her hug?
Why doesn’t she get the water herself? Why is the maid here at all, unless the mom was driving, and needed her to hold the child in the car? But most probably, Mom/Mem has a driver, no? After a while, it is, “Take out the baby’s test reports and other papers from the bag.” Again Maid tries doing it, holding the baby all the time. Cannot Mom/Mem do this even? Is the maid more literate than her?

At any fast food joint, you can see families with small children accompanied by maids. The children and maid sit a little away from the adults. The maid feeds the kids, and eats. It is a good life for her, I suppose. And the mother can have a relaxed meal too. Well, well, well! How old-fashioned I am, to think that we go out with our kids to have a good time with them, not in spite of them!

A high-achiever couple has a kid, two full time maids and a part timer. The couple is away on tour most of the time. The house is therefore lived in mostly by the servants.
Another family has a senior couple, and their son and daughter-in-law, all working. There are one or two kids. The household has four drivers, one full time maid and one part timer. A cook comes in to prepare meals for everybody else in the house.

Everything is hunky dory. Or is it?