The Silk Trap


“Mommy, mommy!” The little bug ran towards her mother.

“I’m not going foraging!” she cried.

“Budku! What have you told Chitkoo now?”

Budku chuckled to himself and flew swiftly away from his mother.

“Mommy! Budku says there are spiders out there! And they chase gnats into their silk traps! Is it true?”

Mommy bug let out a deep sigh. Budku had always been mischievous. But this time, he had been partially right.

“Come here, sweetie… don’t think too much about it… It’s too early to be thinking about foraging.”

Chitkoo hugged her mother and calmed down.

Mommy bug glared at Budku as he peeped from behind the fungus, even as she kept Chitkoo close to her. There were spiders, yes. But Chitkoo was in deeper danger at home than out there. Just yesterday she had spotted a web close to their home. It was Budku’s first day learning to fly, and he’d had quite the adventure.

“Out there, is a wonderland, my dear.” Mommy bug said softly.

“In a few days you’ll be ready to start flying on your own. And it will be fun. There are peels of fruits and vegetables all over the ground. And there are fungi. So many different types than the ones near our home. And there are seeds too. They are much harder to forage, but they are the ones that have the most goodness – the reward is worth the effort.”

“Yeah, and there are fruit flies,” added Budku. Mommy bug’s glare had had its effect. Budku changed his tone.

“They’re just the cutest – brown and round, floating slowly. You’ll really get along very well with them.”

“What about spiders?” Chitkoo asked, without looking around.

Mommy bug sighed. “Yes, dear. There are spiders,” she replied.

“But they are fewer than us gnats and flies. And they can’t fly. No! They crawl and spin webs, but we have wings and we can fly. Budku was chased by one today. And he was so scared. But he flew away. And you will learn to navigate the alleys.”

Mommy bug didn’t dare tell Chitkoo about how close Budku was to being spider-meal. But Chitkoo would have to fend for herself. Spiders weren’t the only threat.

Chitkoo looked up and caught her mother’s glare. She turned around to see her brother sitting next to the fungus. He loved fungus, and was always nibbling at it. But today he just sat there, too scared of his mother to even look at the white goodie.

Above the ground, the other gnats and flies were busy going about their foraging, when the heavens above opened up. “Giant alert! Giant alert!”

Bright light filled the the sky, and it began raining. The gnats and flies flew, as far apart as they could. The spiders ran for their lives. The giants were notorious for squishing the spiders, purely for game, it seemed. They sure didn’t eat the spiders.

It was all over in a few minutes. As it always did. The rains were always heavy, and buried the slower flies and gnats. But once the sky closed back, it was a feast. A fresh pile of food, and the spiders away for some time.

To be continued.

Cover image by Atul. (@chitraakriti)

“We’ll draw a green thumb”


“Why can’t I have green fingers?” I asked my unsuspecting friend, one day.

“It seems everything I plant just refuses to grow. Everyone in my family has green thumbs. Why am I not able to grow even the easiest of plants?”

“Oh, is that all?” said my friend. “Don’t worry. One day, you and I will sit together and draw a big green thumb!”

I eventually married my reassuring friend. And sure enough, we began growing a few plants, most of which survived! One of my wishes had been fulfilled. But in my heart, I knew there was only one way my garden could be complete. If only we had a real garden.


A real garden, to me, was what my grandmother had at their house on the outskirts of Chennai – a lawn in the front, with three hibiscus trees, a car shed with a guava tree as a roof. Papaya on one side of the house, bananas on the other. The mango and lemon trees were in the backyard. There was even a pineapple plant, and two coconut palms – my father had brought coconut sprouts all the way from the Andaman Islands. There were numerous flowering plants and cacti too.

Almost every time that we’d visit, we’d carry a pineapple, mango, coconut or some lemons back home. Once, I saw my grandfather climb up a tall stool to harvest a bunch of bananas, while I stood nervously on the ground praying for his safety.

Having lived in apartments all my life, I had made peace with the fact that we probably wouldn’t be able to have that sort of an area for growing plants. But the one thing that completed the garden, was a compost pile.

At a very early age, we were initiated into composting by my grandmother. There was always a separate bin for kitchen waste, which she’d dump into the pit in the backyard, near the fence.

Back home, my mother did what she could, to use the kitchen waste for the flowerpots – the coffee grounds and tea leaves almost always ended up going to the flowerpots in the balcony. And that was the closest, I thought, that we could get to reusing kitchen waste. Up until recently, that is.


“What are you doing?” I asked my father-in-law. He looked mischievously at me, and picked up the screw driver from the kitchen.

My father-in-law, I found out soon after I got married, loved plants. Our garden was minuscule compared to his large terrace garden. And when he first saw the small take-out containers I had re-purposed into planters, he remarked. “They need a bigger area to grow roots! These are too small!”

Perhaps he saw potential in the garden, or recognised our shared love for plants – he quickly warmed up to the idea of a small garden. He procured a few more plants and helped grow the garden – even helping me repurpose more food containers!

It wasn’t unusual for him to tinker around with the plants. But on this particular day, he busied himself with something new.

I followed him to our tiny balcony.

“I am making compost,” he declared.

Read part 2: A whole new world

She grows, gathers and gives


In the capital of the North-Eastern Indian state of Manipur, thousands of women defy all odds, to keep the Ima Keithel from being devoured by modern markets. It is a symbol of the strength of the women who have fought for their rights, and are fiercely independent.

I came across this article in the morning newspaper, and wished to share it. I hope you enjoy!

The Hindu : Today's Paper / MISCELLANEOUS : She grows, gathers and gives.

From Grandfather, With Love


My grandfather was the eldest in his family. We were his youngest grandchildren. The age difference between us is almost nine decades!

My grandfather’s life was very eventful. It could be said, that he lead a full life. He was a professor in the Burmese University, joined the Army during the world war, served in the foreign service thereafter. Then he helped establish one of the leading heart institutes of the country, where he worked till his last breath.

He had several hobbies. He occasionally undertook carpentry, and even tried his hand at bee-keeping. But the one hobby that lasted the longest, was photography.

None of his photographs prior to the second world war survived – the family had to leave Burma (modern Myanmar), and several possessions were lost.

All his photographs from 1945 onwards, however, were carefully pasted in a book – thick black pages bound together, with beautiful photographs chronicling the life of his children, and even some important people of the times . He developed most of his photographs himself. And he took great pains arranging them in the album, and putting captions for them. He had the foresight to know that other people will one day look at the album with no clue as to who’s in the pictures! The album is showing signs of ageing, and rarely comes out of the cupboard. But when it does, it takes us back in time, to another world.

My grandfather’s love for photography was inherited by my father, who bought a range-finder – spending almost a month’s salary on it. Point-and-shoot or compact cameras never entered our house. From our father, that passion passed onto us. Like our father and grandfather, my brother’s love for photography is serious.

Digital photography had begun entering the market by the time I was old enough to be trusted with the film camera. And my father’s old range-finder was the only one I ever used before my brother’s DSLR entered our lives.

“Extend your palm,” said my aunt to my brother during one of our visits. “I’ve been wanting to give this to you for a long time. It might be useful to you. It belonged to your grandfather,” she said.

She placed a cylindrical leather pouch in his outstretched palm. Like a child unwrapping his gift, my brother’s face lit up with excitement, when he realised, what it was, that he had inherited.

It was my grandfather’s tripod.

“It looks absolutely new!”

No one knows how old the tripod is, but it is, at the very least, seventy years old! And we know that only because the tripod features in one of the pictures my grandfather took of his youngest son – our father.

I have no living memory of my grandfather, and I often wish I had been born earlier – or he had lived longer – so that I may have been able to converse with him. But every time I take a picture, or look at that tripod, I can’t help but think he’s around us – always encouraging us to continue documenting life.

Related links:
Free Bird – A story I wrote in memory of my grandmother (featured in the SHEROES #SheWrites Anthology on Juggernaut)
R. Karthik’s Flickr Photostream

Patterns On The Floor


As the sun prepares to visit this part of the world, a few of its rays have jumped ahead, trying to take a peak at our front entrance. While most of the city is either asleep, or busy getting ready to take on the day’s work, my mother opens the door and thoroughly cleans the floor with water. She then opens a small box and picks up a pinch of the white powder that it contains.

The Hrydayakamalam
The Hrydayakamalam

She rolls the powder between her thumb and index finger and makes a series of dots. They are perfectly arranged in a symmetrical pattern – drawn with pin-point accuracy. She picks up more powder and with a steady hand, draws several even lines – some connecting the dots, others, encircling them.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has performed this fascinating ritual, every single day, without fail.

Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair
Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair

Earlier, the only source of obtaining the kolam podi*, was relatives who visited us. Our trips to Chennai would be incomplete without buying the white stone powder, which she used for making the designs. Now the powder is available more readily. Kolams are not common in Delhi. Here, elaborate ‘rangolis‘** are made with colourful powders and flowers, that too only on Diwali, or special occasions. Some other migrants like us make the kolams with a more long lasting wet ‘paint’ made using rice flour. Others use ready-made stickers.

Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone color
Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone colour

Visitors often ignore the kolam at the entrance and sometimes step over them. Some mischief makers deliberately destroy them. And on several occasions, the sweeper sweeps them away. It infuriates my mother… “Kolams are swept away only when the family is in mourning… Wiping it away is a sin”, she would shout. But nothing has ever deterred my mother from starting afresh the next morning.

In Chennai, though, kolams are found everywhere – at the entrance of every house, temples, and even public buildings. Friday belongs to Devi, and so, the kolams are extra special on these days. On festive occasions, the red stone comes out of the shelf. The stone is dipped in a little water and the kolam is painted with a deep red colour.

A small temple in a hospital (Chennai)
Kolam in a hospital (Chennai)

Celebrations like marriages present a much larger canvas for the ladies. Rice flour kolams are prepared the night before the auspicious event, and, covering large areas, they are grander than what one can imagine. That they will be hidden beneath the holy flame, does not matter to the artists.

As the years have rolled by, my mother’s kolams have evolved. They are no longer limited to the strict geometrical patterns. Nor are the materials restricted to the traditional ones. The kolams are now more abstract, and created spontaneously. On special occasions, she adds more colour – something that she has adopted from the North Indian rangolis. There are times when she is unable to make it early in the morning, but even today, she does not allow anyone to step out of the house before the kolam is drawn. And we don’t mind – the entire process takes just a few minutes – the years of practice have made it second nature to her.

The neighbour's kolam (Chennai)
The neighbour’s kolam (Chennai)

It is this art form, and my mother’s interpretations and designs, that inspired me to create something of my own. Based on the traditional paisley motif – the  ‘aam‘, or the ‘mangai‘***, it is a tribute to the millions of women who practice traditional art forms as part of their daily lives. It is a tribute to the art form that encourages everybody to become an artist.

But above all, it is a tribute to my mother – who expresses her creativity and skill through patterns on the floor every single day, only to sweep it away the next morning.

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* * *

* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango

Free Bird


I owe inspiration for this post to Saronai.

I started this blog on the 19th of February… It happened to be the day our late grandmother (father’s mother) was born… Like all little children, I loved our grandmother. We called her Delhi pati (as opposed to my mother’s mother, whom we call Madras pati, whom, I may add, I love equally).

Pati came to live with us when we moved to Delhi, and I had the privilege of sharing a room with her. Pati had a very amazing life story. Due to the nature of our grandfather’s work, she spent a lot of time in Burma (now Myanmar). She lived through some of the most important phases of our history…

Married off at the age of 16, Pati didn’t study much… She could read and write fluently in Tamil but not much in English or Hindi… She had a special interest in politics and could recognise fragments of words from the English newspaper we subscribed to. She would point to it and ask us to explain what it was about. She would tell us stories about the War, about our Independence, about Nehru and Jinnah. I neither had an interest, nor did I understand any of it… I always thought she was being nostalgic about the past and wanted to let it out. I wish I had paid more attention, and asked more about our history. I’m sure it would have been more interesting to hear it from her perspective.

At night she used to narrate stories – some mythological, some folk and perhaps even some that she made up – to put me to sleep. She would begin the story, and before it would have reached even the middle, I would have been fast asleep… As a result, I don’t remember any of those stories…

My mother told me about Pati’s children. Her first-born died within a year, in a train. Fearing public outcry, they hid the death of the baby girl throughout the journey. Thereafter she gave birth to six children. I was told that she would have given birth to twins too… Once a thief broke into their house and threatened to kill her with a knife… Out of shock, she miscarried.

I have seen all, but one of my father’s siblings… One of my father’s brothers disappeared at a young age… He was thirty… He had gone for a picnic with his friends to a lake. She had packed a huge bag of home-made potato chips for them… But he never returned. Nor was his body ever found. Till her last breath, Pati hoped her son was safe somewhere and would return one day…

She had once suffered very serious burns and her skin had been damaged badly. She told us that the burnt area had to be grafted  with skin taken from her thighs. It would burn badly when they did that. They had no anaesthetics.

My memory of Pati is hazy now. It’s both surprising, and sad. I had always thought I would have very vivid memories of her. There is one thing that I remember very well… She always had a smile on her face. In everything that she told us, there was never any sign of bitterness or hatred… She was like a child. Her innocence still intact. Despite all that she had been through, she seemed very happy and content.

But she would often say, ‘In my next life, I will study… I will not get married… I want to be a free bird…’

Holy water!


Imagine that it is the festival of holi. You’re walking down the road and someone throws coloured water at you. How would you react? Right now, I can think of two broad possibilities. One, you take it in good humour and continue playing in the spirit of holi. The other option is that you get frustrated and angry and try to take revenge on the person who threw water.

Well, you could argue that there is a possibility that the stranger was actually not a good person and that there was some really bad intention involved. But for now, let’s just assume it was in good humour.

The point I’m trying to make is, our life and our happiness depends on our perception. If we choose to look at life quite literally and seriously, and choose to look at only the sad aspects of our life, then our life will only seem sadder.

Right now you’re probably wondering where all of this came from! Well, this morning when I was brushing my teeth, an overhead pipe cracked and sprayed water all over my head! Fortunately it was clean water 😛 Is it time for Holi already?

The special ones


A couple of years back, I joined sketching classes. The classes included study of still life, perspective as well as the study of human anatomy. But I kind of got stuck at still life!

There is something about putting pencil to paper, and just looking at an inanimate object. Its just sitting there, patiently waiting for you to make its portrait. It doesn’t feel conscious of your presence, it doesn’t move about, and it definitely does not need breaks.

Like I mentioned earlier, every sketch has a story behind it. Here’s one of them:

Our sketching batch was wound up within a couple of months and our faculty member had told us to continue sketching and show him our work. But, as it turned out, I had stopped doing anything. As the months rolled, I began getting negative thoughts. I was sad most of the time and maybe I was on the verge of depression. I felt like I had nothing to do, a feeling of utter uselessness. I remember crying miserably on my mother’s shoulder and telling her how I felt.

She somehow consoled me, and although my tears had dried up, I was still sad. So, out of sheer desperation, I picked up my sketchbook, emptied a little ‘kullad’ (a small earthen pot) and began drawing. It was late at night and everyone had gone off to sleep. I stayed up till midnight and completed the sketch.

A Kullad and A Seashell
The Kullad that saved me

The very next day, I attempted to sketch a rare, odd-looking seashell right next to the mud pot. Soon I felt my self belief returning.

My mother remarked that the sketch looked sad. But I will always respect it. It’s not the best, but it is the sketch that saved my confidence.

First Step!


I’m still trying to figure out how to put up stuff here… Late last night I managed to set up a page for my sketches. I also created a page describing myself (looks more like a summary of my Resume :)).

While writing this post, there is an advertisement that comes to my mind. Its for a wall-paint and the tag line roughly translates to ‘Every house has a story to tell’.

That’s precisely the feeling I get when I see my sketches. The photographs you see on the sketches page were all clicked by my brother and then they were digitally edited quite a bit to make them look presentable :P.

Sadly, I realised that I had actually misplaced one of the sketches. 😦 While I have its photograph, I don’t have the original. My mother consoled me, saying that it could always be made again. So it’s a lesson for me to be careful. At least I realised it before any of the recent ones disappeared.

So that’s one story. There are so many more stories to tell… Will try to post the details of the sketches soon. That’s it for now.

A big thanks to my friends for their comments 😀

Cheers!