Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sex determination Indian style

'The gods would not punish us with childlessness,' Geeta said.'You must go and see the doctor. It is already more than three years since you've been married.' (P.108)

Childlessness in India is a big issue. The minute a girl gets married, people glance slyly at her stomach hoping to see it get bigger within days of the wedding! A year of Sneaky Glances later, the stares become quite obvious and after a year of Obvious Stares, people don't hesitate in asking The Question outright: How come you have no children?

It is strange how no one seems to think it inappropriate, rude, intrusive or even hurtful - the probing questions that a childless young woman is put through. Very often complete strangers come up to you and ask you this question and worse still give you unsolicited advice on how to put things right!!!!

They recommend doctors and charlatans without hesitation. Give you their own homespun advice on how to go about getting pregnant. They fix appointments with astrologers and soothsayers who will be able to predict your future and tell you how to get that longed for child and more specifically that Golden Boy who will carry your family name forth into the future.

So obsessed are Indians with the boy child that they automatically assume that every woman is desperate for one. I remember once visiting a shadow reader with a friend of mine. This person could foretell your future after measuring your shadow and we had visited him just for a lark.

After measuring out her shadow, the shadow reader made some calculations and picked out a sheet of parchment from a heap of papers.

"This is your whole life," he told her, " your past, your present and your future. And not onlyis this your present life but all the lives you've had so far!"

After telling her a whole load of stuff, he asked about her children in this life. My friend told him that she had two girls.

"Tsk,tsk,tsk," tutted the shadow reader."See you have some bad karma. Your second child was actually a boy but in the seventh month someone cast a spell and your boy became a girl."

By now, we both knew that this man was an absolute humbug and were about to leave when he said, "The next time, if you want a boy, you should tie a lime and three green chillies above your bed so that all the evil spirits are kept away. And then, when you conceive, you should go to the seaside in the moonlight and put three drops of sea water in your left nostril. That's how you will get a boy!"

Needless to say, we ran out before he came out with more mumbo jumbo.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hutoxi's Stroke of luck?

The next morning Lucky got a call from Abdul. ........Lucky called for an ambulance and she and Viki rushed to the
Breach Candy Hospital
( P.106)

Lucky finally confronted Viki about his infidelity and predictably, he denied it. Hutoxi''s sudden and fatal Stroke
proves to be a blessing in disguise for Viki because before Lucky could take things to another level, she has to cope
with her mother's death.While one feels sorry that Lucky had no time to be with her mother or have time to deal her
emotions, one cannot feel happy that for Hutoxi at least her end was quick and painless.

A paralytic stroke is not only debilitating but can also finish off an entire family both in terms of money as well as
physically. And while the days go by, there is the ethical question of Euthanasia. Do you think it should be permitted?
Or will it be abused?

Do let me know your views on this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Lucky a hopeless romantic?

Lucky was feeling exhausted - but when she heard this she sat up and asked him how he knew. He shrugged his shoulders and said,'My cousin works in the house now. He saw her. Geeta-memsaab had called Mandira-ji to the house and when she left, she was crying. They say she was accompanying Viki-saab in all his travels. Apparently, memsaab gave her some money and offered her another job.' ( P.104)

Why is it that wives are almost always the last to know about their straying husbands? Is it because we are foolishly trusting? Or is it because we are hopelessly romantic?

Most women are like Lucky : hopelessly romantic, whose hearts are swayed by "Viki" and all that he represents - strong, romantic, mysterious and quickly pass up "Amay", the old, trusted buddy of their childhood.

Find out if you are a hopeless romantic by taking the Quiz I've posted below. This is taken from


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Perfect Husband

Lucky stayed by the window, trembling. What's happening here? What is this all about? Why should I have to choose between my job and my husband?(P.101)

Women have always had it tough: the choices they have had to make. No matter how well qualified professionally, no matter how well placed financially, they have often had to make a choice between a job and a husband.

But why does this have to be so? Why can't a man help around the house and make life easier for his wife like this husband in the video attached below?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Diamonds are a girl's best friend

A year into her marriage and Lucky begins to feel restless. With the novelty of being a new bride wearing off, she is itching to get her hands on to some real work. So Vicki gives her one of the lame duck family companies to run hoping that she would soon get bored of it. Unfortunately for him, Lucky is made of sterner stuff and actually wants to get the business up and running. But Lucky runs into stiff opposition from Vicki and finally it is Arun, her father- in- law who gives her the support she wants ( P.90-92). So Lucky begins a new stage in her life..........the revival of Fairdeal, a company dealing in gems and jewelry. Karsan Kaka, one of the suppliers helps her with the supply of diamonds from a unit in Khandesh.(p.95)

Diamonds have been mined in India since time immemorial:in fact, it is one of the earliest places in the world to have mines. Golconda near Hyderabad has long been famous for its diamonds particularly the Koh-i-Noor, a humongous oval cut gem which is now found in the Monarch's State Crown kept with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

There are several other famous diamonds from India - the Nassak which was originally adorned Shiva's statue at the Trimbakeshwar Temple near Nasik ( hence its name)

The Orloff which was a whopping 300 carats when it was originally found also came from India and somehow found its way to the imperial crown of Russia via Amsterdam!

Another famous Indian diamond is the Regent which found its way to the Crown of France. Once again this was discovered by a slave in the Golconda mines who took it out of the mine by hiding it in the bandages of a self inflicted wound on his leg! Hoping to buy his way to freedom, the slave sold it to a seafaring captain. Unfortunately greed got the better of the captain who ultimately killed the slave and sold the gemstone to a diamond dealer. Eventually this stone was sold to Governor Pitt in Madras who sent it off to London to be cut into smaller stones. One of these stones was sold to Phillip II Duke of Orleans, then known as Regent of France ( hence the name). Today this diamond can be seen at the Louvre.

There are several superstitions associated with diamonds and jewelers sometimes advise a prospective client to keep the stone under his/her pillow for a week to see the effects of the stone.

But there is no denying that diamonds are a girl's best friend.

All photos have been taken off the web

My Mumbai - My City

Day break from my window

Lucky begins her married life in Bombay where Vicki has his family business. (Chapter 6)

Bombay aka as Mumbai has captured the imagination of several people thanks to the recent Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire".

Unfortunately for my city, its darker aspect has been romanticised and publicised and very few people actually know that it has a beautiful, more gracious side.

Starting out as seven mosquito ridden islands, it has developed into a modern metropolis. Of course it has its drawbacks like the hot, sweltering summer and wet, squishy monsoons but driving past Marine Drive, watching the sunset from Malabar Hill, sitting on the lush green lawns of one of its spiffy private clubs, walking briskly round the race track at the splendid old Race Course.......there is nothing in the world that can compare with all of this.

A vintage beauty to cruise down Mumbai's coastal roads

City life has a special feel to it and my city has a special feel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dinner on Sunday night

The wedding was held on a hot August evening at the Bombay Turf Club. The podium overflowed with exotic orchids flown in from around the world. Nearly five thousand invitations were handed out. The guest list included actors, actresses and film-makers, politicians, bankers, industrialists, senior officers from the army and the navy, foreign dignitaries, businessmen and their wives, poets and writers and an assortment of priests and holy men. ( P78)

This wedding reception is a not imaginary nor is it singular. All Indians save to have that one big block buster of a wedding reception and the Bombay Turf Club or Royal Western India Turf Club is one of the larger and posher wedding reception venues in Mumbai. Particularly on a winter evening, a reception here is almost magical especially if there are twinkling fairly lights and a live band playing in the back ground.

But there are several other locations for such lavish celebrations : hotels, clubs, wedding halls and even open playing fields . One very popular venue in Mumbai is one of the gymkhanas on Marine Drive, a scenic road along the coast line . These large open spaces which are normally used for cricket are let out during the wedding season for receptions. Within hours, these barren fields are transformed into fairy tale settings - with fountains, ice sculptures, tented pavillions, grecian pillars, exotic flowers, carpeted walkways and lights creating rock temples, tropical islands, Disneyland magic, simple elegance or gaudy kitsch- each setting unique and beautiful. Standing at the entrance would be a reception committee welcoming the hundreds of guests streaming in.

I have often wondered how gate crashers are identified at such functions because the guests are never asked for an invitation card . Discussing this with some friends, one of them told me that during his college days, he and a group of friends were frequent gate crashers especially on the last Sunday of the month......

At the end of the road are two student hostels which give their cooks the night off on Sunday leaving the residents to fend for themselves. So, my friend ( who was a boarder at one of the hostels during our college days) told me, the whole week they tried hard to get a dinner invitation to a friend's home for Sunday night, failing which they had no option but to try out the tiny restaurants in the neighbourhood. But on those Sunday nights when their desire for gourmet food was particularly strong and when their pockets were particularly empty ( the last Sunday before pay day) , they couldn't help but get into their suits and walk down to one of the wedding receptions at Marine Drive!

Hands folded in greeting and bending forward ever so slightly, they would flash their best smiles and be warmly welcomed by both sides (each assuming that they were invited by the other party!).Then, they would casually stroll in and swiftly make their way to the buffet tables , grab a quick bite and make a hasty exit before anyone caught on that they were uninvited and unwanted guests!

Friday, August 14, 2009

How I got my first computer

I can never forget a small piece of card with punched holes, almost like a bit of Braille that my friend got back as a souvenir for me from a Defence establishment at Kanpur. In those days only big offices and Government departments had computers - big, bulky machines that hummed and hawed in cold airconditioned rooms, designated as out of bounds for "unauthorised personnel" and access to which was closely monitored.

How different things are today when almost every Tom, Dick and Harry has one.

I remember the first time ever that I got a computer, it was purely by accident. I was actually looking at writing my great novel and wanted an electric typewriter. My first electric typewriter was a cute little Brother that had a small display unit where I could read about 20 words at a time. When I wanted to upgrade to a model that would let me read at least a paragraph at a time, the salesman suggested I go in for a PC or Personal Computer.

"What do you want a computer for?" I remember my five year old niece from America asking me in her nasal drawl.

"To write a book, " I replied defensively.

" Duh -uh , " she went in her American way and rolled her eyes the way she'd seen her mother do.

Knowing that this little twit had her own computer made me even more determined to get one!At that time I didn't know what a computer really was, and tried to sound knowledgeable when I went to a shop even though I thought Apple was a fruit and IBM a ballistic missile! But when my computer guy told me that he could make one specially for me, I began to get a bit interested. Wow! This was like getting a dress tailor made, something I could understand.

"Madam," he told me, " see, you can get the best mother board, the best monitor, the best tower, the best hard dick ( yes, it's true all computer guys call them hard dicks) and then you get the best computer!"

Of course when I told my Dutch friend who was a computer geek and was doubling up as my unofficial consultant ( second opinion) about this, he laughed his head off : Listen he told me, if you get the machine of a Mercedes, the body of an Alpha Romeo, the tyres from Michelin what kind of a car would you get? I'm telling you, go for a regular company piece from a reputed company. Decide what features matter to you and go ahead and buy it.

What stupid advice, I thought. I didn't even really want a computer. I just wanted an electric typewriter!

Nonetheless, I decided to go ahead with the assembled piece and when it was delivered home, we didn't even know how to put it on. For the first few hours we just gaped at it in wonderment, hoping it would start on its own. Finally, when nothing happened, I pressed the round knob in and watched the screen light up. Then, I was stuck. I called up a teen aged nephew and went through the drill of what to do next running from the phone in the next room to the computer on my desk. ( This was in the days before the mobile / cordless phone).

All this running between phone and computer left me pretty exhausted and I realised that key to operating a computer is a teen aged boy. Somehow these young and reckless people are born with the knowledge of what to do when the screen goes blank, when the computer gets infected with a virus and above all who to call and from where to buy which part !

I also finally understood what Indian mothers meant when they lovingly referred to their sons as being into computers. It is no wonder then that so many Indians went into software and developed all kinds of wonderful stuff that made them tons of money in the Silicon Valley Boom like Amay did( P.48).

The evolution of the Arranged Indian Marriage.

In Chapter 4 of my book, we meet yet another character Viki, Lucky's future husband. Lucky doesn't really know why Viki wants to meet her but none the less agrees to do so and with one thing leading to another gets married to him in the end...........

I don't know if this is true the world over but definitely in India, there is a subtle pressure to get married the moment one is "settled". The concept of settled has changed from the age of 16-18 for girls in pre-Independent India to a post doctoral degree for both boys and girls in modern times. In fact, the whole Arranged Marriage scene itself has evolved.

Arranged marriage pre-Independence:
Village barber would bring news about potential groom or bride to father/uncle or head of household while cutting hair or giving an oil massage. Both sets of elder statesmen would meet to discuss details about wedding ceremony etc etc and marriage would be solemnised. Bride and groom would only get a glimpse of each other (if lucky) prior to marriage.

Arranged marriage post-Independence:
Village barber, community busybody or any well placed relative would suggest potential groom or bride and once again family elders would decide details of wedding etc. Groom and bride may/may not be allowed to meet each other before the wedding. This largely depended on the level of education of both families.

Arranged marriage post-60's:
With more and more girls going to college, potential grooms/brides would be suggested by larger network consisting of family, friends, employers, community busybodies and even marriage bureaus. More interaction between potential spouses was allowed but still with adequate chaperoning.

Arranged marriage in the 80's:
After both sets of parents checked out compatibility etc, groom and bride were allowed to meet alone from the first meeting itself!

Arranged marriage in present times:
Grooms and brides both register themselves on Internet websites and arrange to meet each other after several Internet exchanges. Then if they like each other and find each other compatible, they get the parents involved and go ahead with the wedding details etc etc.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My people - the Parsis

I am a Parsi, part of a unique Indian community who trace our ancestry to a ship load of Zoroastrian refugees from far off Persia. Thse people landed on the shores of Gujerat over 1000 years ago, seeking a safe haven to practice their faith. The Hindu king Jadi Rana was at first reluctant to give shelter as there was just no place in his land for more people but one of the Parsi refugees asked the king for a bowl of milk filled right to the brim. He then stirred a spoonful of sugar without spilling a drop!

He explained to the king that this was the way his people would co-exist with their new neighbours - seamlessly and in complete harmony.

The king was impressed by this analogy and allowed the Parsis to settle down in a place they called Sanjan, on condition that they adopted the dress, language and customs of the local people allowing us to retain and practice our ancient religion. This is how we became one more part of the beautiful rainbow that is my country - India.

Parsis have been loved and admired for their contribution to India, a feeling that is captured so well by Jerry Pinto, a well known Mumbai journalist.

Pinto on Parsis

By Jerry Pinto

In the 1970s, Victoria High School, Mahim, was a melting pot as state-aided Roman Catholic schools tended to be. The majority of the students were Hindu, the second largest group was the Christians, then came the Muslims. So far, so ordinary. But we had some Parsis and three Jewish boys too.

I didn't think much of the heterogeneity of the school. It was a fact of life, like knowing that the class would split up for religion period, with the Roman Catholics going in one direction and the others, including our Protestants, going off to learn Moral Science. I think I realised who the Parsis were when I got to college.

I went to Elphinstone College as a way of getting away from Mahim, where I had been born and raised and where I felt familiarity was blocking out the sky. St Xavier's had fourteen boys from Victoria High School; I would never get to meet anyone else or talk to anyone else. At Elphinstone, I made my first friend, Jehangir Palkhivala. It occurred to me that he was Parsi but then everyone seemed to be. There was the delectably named Tehmtan Ookherjee and the delicious Lyla Lalkaka. There was Goolrukh Damania, who sang 'Cherry-ripe' at our farewell party. The principal was a battleship called HMS Homai Shroff and the head of the English department was an even more magnificent battleship called HMS Mehroo Jussawalla.

The English department, and a star department it was in those days, seemed dominated by Parsis. The college heart-throb was Shireen Vakil; but those who liked legs swore by Zarine Mirocher-Homji Pinto. There was also the utterly delightful Soonu Kapadia who loved the Romantics with a deep and lonely passion in an age where the Modernists had crowded them out and the Post-modernists were beginning to bay at the text.

Parsis getting extinct? The tribe vanishing? I laughed incredulously whenever I heard that. My life was saturated with Parsis. I was even studying in a building that had been donated to the Elphinstone College by Sir Cawasji Jehangir. Across the road, the same gentleman had donated the space for the Jehangir Art Gallery. The area was riddled with his donations or the donations of his kind. If you started from Colaba, there was the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Homi Bhabha auditorium. (This auditorium is a class conspiracy; I do not own a car so I cannot go there unless someone promises me a ride home.) You come out of the Colaba Causeway and there's the Taj Mahal Hotel which was started by a Parsi who was refused admission into a British hotel. You walk down a little and you'll come to the Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art where almost everybody who matters in India's art world has learnt their technique or rebelled against learning technique. Further down there's what was once called the largest hospital in Asia, the Sir J J Hospital, same man. I had visited it when many family members had been there and watched as people lit agarbattis and prayed in front of the large stone statue of the old entrepreneur.

Across the city, I had friends studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences or sitting with family members at the cancer hospital or applying for Parsi-owned and driven scholarships or jobs. And when I wanted the budget decoded, I went to listen to nani Palkivala do it for me. Across the street Jehangir Sabavala showed his paintings. I couldn't believe we didn't have enough Parsis. Every European consulate in town had a Parsi trying to stop you from going abroad. The British Council Library was guarded by a ferocious old bat whom we called, 'No please' because that was what she snarled at you all the time, whatever your request was. All the pursers in Air India were gay or Parsi or both. All the lawyers in Mumbai were Parsi. All the old cars were owned by Parsis. There were Parsi baugs almost as frequently as there were Roman Catholic churches. You could go to the Ratan Tata Institute and watch the old ladies have food fights—I swear, they used to throw things at each other, small things, dhokla-sized. The poets were Parsi: Adil Jussawalla and Keki Daruwalla and Gieve Patel. The theatre was overrun by Parsis: Hosi Vasunia and Adi Marzban and Shernaz Patel and Nosherwan Jehangir and Khodaai, you mean to say Alyque Padamsee is not a Parsi? The journalists were Parsi: Bachi Karkaria and Hutokshi Doctor and Behram Contractor. The Tatas made our trucks, the Godrejs made out tana-tan cupboards and lived in Vikhroli where my aunt, Celine Coelho, taught in the Godrej school. There is an old joke about Parsis and RCs but I have forgotten it.

One year, in the early 1980s, a tall figure began to stalk the corridors of Elphinstone. He had the look of intelligent life but he wore his kurtas tucked into his jeans. Shiraz Rustomjee had come from Sri Lanka.

'There are Parsis in Sri Lanka?' I asked. I had thought of Parsis as a Bombay thing like, like, like, Bombay ducks and Goan coors where boys from Goa's villages could doss down.

'Just fifty of us,' he said, 'But mark you, it's an influential community.'

'Forty-nine, now,' I said.

'Forty-eight,' he returned evenly. 'My mother's here too.'

It was the first time I ever thought about their numbers.


I was freelancing for The Free Press Journal when its editor Janardhan Thakur asked me if I would do a story on the Parsi Sena. Delicious, I thought. The Parsi Sena? Like the Shiv Sena? Where the Shiv Sena would destroy the property of the South Indian restaurateurs they saw as outsiders, the Parsi Sena would…would…take Victrolas and play Debussy loudly under the windows of the enemy. Where the Shiv Sena would badmouth the Muslims, the Parsis, who share some of this antipathy, would ask for Persia to be returned to them so that they could all marry Irun girls.

I never did the story because the Parsi Sena disappeared from the news but it still fascinated me as an idea.

What would a Parsi Sena do?

Well, for one, if they wanted to emulate the rightwinginess of their namesake and get the Parsi community all worked up, they would have to concern themselves with racial purity. This is one of the ugliest things about a community that we have all learned to love thanks to films like Pestonjee, Baaton Baaton Mein, and Being Cyrus. There is a deep streak of otherness that some of the less bigoted ones say, reaches back to the time when they escaped Islamic persecution and came to India in a boat in the 11th century AD. The king of Gujarat would have none of them. He did not want to turn his guests away rudely so he sent them, so legend maintains, a glass of milk that was filled to the brim. The community fathers put their heads together, added sugar to the milk and sent it back. They were saying they would improve the community, they would sweeten it, but they would take no space. They also promised they would not try to convert people and would learn to speak the language. This they have done.

But from an innocent story—and no one has shown me convincing proof that it is anything but a story—a strange obsession with race has begun. It's an ugly thing but there are many Parsis who think that there is something called the pure Parsi and that this should be maintained at all costs. I once talked to a fairly lunatic dastur. He said to me, 'We are the true Aryans.'

He also said, 'How can anyone say all Gods are one? His God says don't eat beef and his God says don't eat pork and my God says you can eat what you like. How can that be one God speaking?'

This was a completely new spin on the whole divinity thing: God the dietician.

You'd think this was a harmless thing that does nothing more than cause many slammed doors and spilt tears. But in a rich community with huge assets that are held in common for the good of the community, it translates into discrimination.

Thus the Parsi Panchayat will sponsor the education of a third child as long as both father and mother are Parsi. Parsi women who marry outside the community and have children cannot bring up their children as Parsis, nor can they be offered to the vultures (none of whom care to dine these days, anyway) at the towers of silence. There are things one can forgive. None of them like to be reminded that the bulk of the great fortunes came out of the opium trade. But then the drug trade funded even the great colonial enterprise that was the Raj. Nearly 30 per cent of its gross came from pushing opium at China. And who were the guys who built the ships and went to Shanghai and made pots of money and brought home chinoiserie and carved screens and Ming vases? That they'd like to forget is understandable. That they want to inbreed until they die out?

You can say what you like. I think it's ugly.


At the end of my third year in college, the aforementioned literary delight, Dr Soonu Kapadia threw a party for the students of the English department. She invited me although I wasn't an Englitcritter, on grounds that I had attended almost as many lectures as any of the students. She also invited the head of department, the aforementioned Dr Mehroo Jussawalla.

This was kind.

Mehroo, as everyone knew, was a wonderful scholar. Her notes on the Faerie Queen were being used in Oxford. She was also a barking loon, who was paranoid. Just three months earlier, she had failed everyone in the class in her paper. Then she had returned to class and said that an impostor had taken her papers, corrected them, and handed them back to the class. She would now correct the papers and return them.

Into the startled silence that greeted this announcement, she said that it was all of a piece from the time she had been a scholar in Oxford and ambulances had chased her around the town, with young dons in them waving fig leaves at her.

No one laughed. You didn't if you knew Mehroo and you wanted to live.

But Mehroo was also sure that the teachers in her department were also aligned with the fig-leaf-bearers. Soonu Kapadia, she was sure, was the head of this conspiracy. And here she was, dining at Soonu's table. Lunch passed quietly with only Phiroze Palkhivala disturbing the peace a little by telling Mehroo that there was no proof that God existed. Phiroze was much younger but he had put in a sterling performance as the junior secretary of the MacDougall Literary and Debating Society of which I was the senior secretary for an unchallenged three years.

'In Jewish belief, Phiroze,' said Mehroo, 'The angel of the Lord takes the soul of the faithful to be weighed in the scale and if it is found wanting…'

'Whatever that angel does, it's still not proof,' said Phiroze.

Mehroo began to fulminate.

Soonu said, 'Dessert anyone?'

The combatants disengaged and everyone went off to scoff some sweets.

'Is it a felicitous combination, young Jeronimo?' Mehroo asked me. 'Lemon soufflé and strawberry fool?'

'Love it,' I said, aware as ever of my Roman Catholic Goan pao accent. She served herself and turned to go back.

'Did you come by car, Miss Jussawalla?' Monaesha Pinto asked. She was a girl with an accent so refined it had to be bad for you to even listen to her speak.

The storm broke.

'No, I did not come by car,' said Miss Jussawalla. 'I could not come by car. I cannot use my car. I will not use it. Someone has broken into it and despoiled it most horribly.'

My mind began to whirl. I put down the plate. Surely, no one had broken into Miuss Jussawalla's magisterial old Ambassador and…

But Mehroo was not going to give us details. 'I will not use it until the miscreants are brought to book.'

'So you know who the miscreants are,' Phiroze said. He was very young and he had the fearlessness of the very young.

Mehroo exploded. It was a quiet explosion but it was a venomous one. She set her plate down. She said her bit. She never looked at Soonu Kapadia though she implied her each time she said, 'some people.' Soonu Kapadia stood as if made of stone, her lower lip clenched between her teeth.

When it was time to go, they bade each other farewell as if nothing had happened. It was a perfect pas de deux of paranoia and politeness.


Many years later, I met Dr Soonu Kapadia on the bus. She lived on Nepean Sea Road but she took the bus. She was putting the finishing touches on her thesis.

'Ah Jerry,' she said, looking relieved. 'What do you think of monophysitism?'

I wondered what it was but Dr Kapadia was already away on the nature of heresies in the Catholic Church. After she had told me all about it, she cracked a small joke about Gnostic-Docets. I determinedly turned the conversation to old MCJ.

'How did you bear it?' I asked.

'She was a very fine scholar,' she said. 'I would have you remember that, Jerry.'

Two weeks later, I was in a taxi going up Altamount Road. And sitting on a heap of rubble that had a plastic chair on it was Dr (Miss) Mehroo C Jussawalla. I ordered my taxi to a halt and leapt out.

'Miss Jussawalla?' I asked. 'What happened?'

'Jerry,' she said. 'How very pleasant to see you.'

'Miss Jussawalla?' I said. I wondered if the shock had not broken her.

'One takes one's cue from Richard Sheridan,' she said and laughed, inviting me in to the joke.

'Miss Jussawalla?' I asked again.

'Oh don't you know? When Richard Sheridan's theatre, The Drury Lane, burnt down, his friends knew that he would be a pauper. But they found him sitting by the blaze, stretching his legs out to the fire with a glass of wine in his hand. They asked him what he was doing there and he said, 'A man may surely take a glass of wine by his own fireside?' I ask you now, 'A woman may surely take a cup of tea by the ruins of her home?''

I wished I could think up some apposite literary allusion. I could only ask again, 'What happened?'

'I was on the telephone, explaining the nature of Shakespeare's hero to a student, when suddenly, KABOOM,' and here like Father William, she shook her greying locks, 'one side of the building came down. Luckily no one was hurt but we cannot stay there until we are assured that it is structurally sound.'

When Dr (Miss) M C Jussawalla's sister turned up, I left. And I knew then that whatever else they were or they were not, whatever they are or they are not, there is something to this bunch, a tenth of whom are the most civil and intelligent people you can encounter on the plane, half of whom are apolitical fun-loving people who run schools and colleges and banks and everything else with considerable devotion to duty, a tenth of whom want to go abroad and leave this ratthead country called India, (my god, so filthy these people, no etiquette, when you Go There, my so clean and everyone so polite); and the rest of whom are lunatics.

I think it's called class but you didn't hear it from me.

A Parsi Wife

On p.42 we are introduced to yet another character - Amay, Lucky's childhood friend . Amay had once proposed to Lucky but since she had declined, had moved on and, as he qualified,was now happily married to Laila, a Parsi girl . This reminds me of a joke which I once heard .

Three men were sitting together bragging about how they had given house-duties to their new wives.

The first man had married a Bengali girl, and bragged that he had told his wife she was going to do all the dishes and house cleaning. He said it took a couple days but on the third day he came home to a clean house and the dishes were done.

The second man had married a Tamil girl. He bragged that he had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking. On the first day he didn't see any results, but the next day it was better. By the third day, his house was clean, the dishes were done and he had a huge dinner on the table.

The third man had married a Parsi girl. He boasted that he told her that her duties were to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry washed and hot meals on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything but by the third day most of the swelling had gone down and he could see little out of his left eye!

Of course this is not exactly the case! Parsi women make wonderful wives - they are good home makers as they are known for their organisation, hard work, diligence and above all a fierce loyalty to their families.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ticket woes

On the way home from prison Lucky takes the wrong turn and gets lost. Hoping to right things, she finds an opening in the traffic and takes the road only to find that she had made a left from "NO LEFT TURN" lane. Consequently , she was caught by a policeman and
she tried to talk her way out by attributing this to her being in New York only a month, but the policeman hands her a ticket "welcoming her to New York!" ( p.42)

This reminds me of the many times I've been caught by the policemen in Mumbai for skipping the signal. Of course, this was never done intentionally - for instance the first time I was ever caught was because the signal changed just as I took the turn and the cop who was hiding behind a bush came up and asked for my licence. I gave him the licence and wondered why he looked at all the pages and then at me and then again at the licence !I wondered what he wanted but before he could do anything, I prodded my four year old in the car( who was already gripped by panic) and he prompty threw up on demand! Happy to get rid of me and my stinking car, the cop forgot about the ticket and let me off.

But another time I was not so lucky. This time, I didn't see the signal change and when the cop pulled me over to the side, I promptly handed my licence. This time he didn't so much glance at the licence but at the Pollution certificate stuck on the wind screen. He pointed out that my environmental pollution check was long over due and made me pay up the fine for both offences - jumping the signal and not getting my car's pollution checked.

Yet another time, I was in a rush and was stopped by the cop for speeding. Once again he asked for my licence and he looked at it carefully, page by page. Then when I explained to him why I was speeding ( I had to deliver some birth announcements and chocolates on behalf of my sister) I was let off. That night while talking over dinner, when I mentioned that the cops seemed to bequite eager to inspect every page in the licence given to them, I was told that when one hands over the licence, one is supposed to slip in a suitable denomination of currency which would then be discreetly taken over and the ticket and offence happily forgotten!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tattoo Art

Steve, one of the main characters in my book sports a tattoo ( p.10).

The Tattoo as a form of body decoration has been around for centuries now and especially in rural India you can still come across women have squiggly blue tattoos of their names inked in unlearned letters or religious symbols like snakes, swastikas, dots, lotuses or crosses to keep away the evil eye drawn out on their forearms or feet. So I find it amusing that this art form once considered primitive and tribal is accepted as "uber" cool by modern day celebrities!

And going by the artists and their designs featured on Nat Geo, it does seem to be a fascinating art form. Be that as it may, I still can't understand why anyone would want to subject oneself to the torture of getting one's body prodded and poked!

Probably this queasiness is due to the wizened old slave, woman I saw during a visit to my mother's friend in Hyderabad when I was just a little girl. Even now I can never forget the liveried chauffeur who jumped to open the door of the car sent to pick us up from the hotel we were staying in. My eyes became bigger and bigger as I saw the huge rambling palace, the immaculately kept gardens, the well appointed rooms with their carpets, paintings and fascinating bric a brac. Marium was the consummate story teller and I was enthralled by her tales of her family's opulence and grandeur. What finally made my jaw drop was the story of the twenty palace maids that came as part of her grandmother's dowry.

When my mother protested that this couldn't be true Marium clapped her hands and out stepped an old lady who came forward doing the traditional salute. When Marium asked her to lift up her her sleeve, I saw on her forearm, her name and the same palace insignia that was inscribed on the tea set!

Are we really free?

"Really , does all this ruuning around like a hamster in a cage get you anywhere? See things as they are, Lucky. Look at the bigger picture. For you, life is a prison. You're always responding to things, never directing them. Learn to live free. When you give other people the power to do what you ought to do yourself, you make them your jailor."( P.31)

Just before she had left Bombay, Lucky's friend Shanti had told her these words. It would seem that by leaving Bombay, Lucky was running away from her old life and breaking free of the prison that it had become. But was she really free? Are we ever "free" of all the shackles that bind us?

Pure freedom is an illusion because there are societal pressures, filial pressures, personal attitudes and experiences that make it hard to really live life without any accountability or responsibility to anyone.

Shanti tells Lucky to direct things but is this really possible? Aren't we all living creatures essentially responding to external stimuli?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An arm and a leg

Lucky returns to her room in the cottage and while looking around in the Yellow pages, is distracted by a jewellery box on the bedside table. Opening it, she finds a slender platinum ring set with a gaudy heart shaped diamon surrounded by smaller, glittering rubies arranged along its edges..
When her hostess Susan comes in, she tries to slip it on but finds the ring too small for her. She advises Lucky to get a safe-deposit box. When Lucky asks her why she replies :
"This will cost you an arm and a leg to insure".( P.30)

How strange is it that this morning, I get a mail message about how this expression came about. I would like to share it with you.

In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are 'limbs,' therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, 'Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg.' (Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)

How far fetched do you think this story is? Well, it makes for a good read at any rate!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


In the second chapter of my book, Lucky introduces the inmates of the prison to the fundamentals of Yoga. Like most people, they are ignorant of this ancient Indian practice and imagine it to be a series of poses where people either stand on their heads or on one leg, with arms folded and eyes closed.

Last week I got an email which said that there are two kinds of Yoga ................

The Indian one which requires a lots of patience, practice and dedication. This was
demonstrated by the great Indian Yoga Guru doing a perfect setubandhasan - or a backward bend pose, with the help of a prop.

The second kind of Yoga is the Irish one, went the mail and had the picture of a drunk Irishman doing the same pose, flopped dead drunk on a chair!

Find out what kind of Yoga Lucky teaches the inmates!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reaching out to the light

Water lily reaching out to the light

Light in my life. It's always there. Only, she had to find it.(p20)

Unlike Lucky, most of us don't realise that the answers to our questions are out there in the Universe. We just have to be aware that we are looking and only then we will stumble upon the truths we are seeking.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Marriage and Divorce

'Are you married" Rooster asked
"Just wondering."
"I'm divorced."
"Bummer. For him. I mean. Any children?"
" children,"
"What happened?"Rob queried.
Rooster's eyes opened a little wider as he leaned closer to Lucky. "Nothing? People don't divorce for nothing. Was he fooling around on you?" (P.14)

In this preliminary exchange between two very important characters in my book, Lucky reveals that she is divorced. Coming from an Indian background, this fact is pertinent because so far at least, the Indian divorce rates lag behind the divorce rates of the developed world.

This is not to say that there are no unhappy marriages in India - there are lots and lots of them at various levels. Some women actually walk out, especially in abusive relationships but a large majority simply stick on stoically, either for the sake of the children or because they have no option but to stick it out.

So what made Lucky actually walk out on her husband? Or did he walk out on her?

Find out why Lucky divorced her husband.........Find out how she married him in the first place!


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