More (मोर) on Sherbat Gula

This post was also published on May 30th 2017 in India Currents Magazine.

Let’s take it easy and go eat at some place nice for a change, I said one lazy Saturday morning. You know, just spend a relaxed, agenda-less morning. Some place I can wear this to. I was fondly looking at my new dupatta, carefully embroidered with dancing peacocks.

The kerfuffle just to spending a relaxed morning doing nothing I tell you! There was hectic activity everywhere: feverishly looking for things, toddler shoes worn on wrong feet, missing cell phones, cell phones without charge all needing urgent handling in a 10 minute interval.

I ignored the daughter as she took charge while throwing me a disdainful look . The little fellow was bossed around, the big fellow was bossed around, the bosser and bossees felt the charges of love and tension squirt back and forth.

Appa! What are you doing? That’s it!

Time for me to take charge around here, she said. Amma, stop dancing! Why are you wearing this fancy dupatta-thing-y now anyway?

Because I can! Dance! Dance! More! I said in a smart repartee and chuckled. Completely lost on them of course. (For the Hindi challenged ones: ‘More’ (मोर )means Peacock in Hindi)


The husband meekly looked up from his game of chess and sighed yet again.  I heard him murmur something about Men’s Freedom as we headed out.

Pretty soon, we found ourselves in an Afghani restaurant sitting quietly. I turned the menu card over and the back of the menu had a picture of the girl taken by National Geographic magazine and became famously one of the pictures that defined the turmoil of war world over. It was the cover picture of National Geographic magazine in 1985


Sharbat Gula (meaning sweetwater flower girl in Pashtun)

That was enough. The husband and I got a professorial gleam in our eyes and we tripped over ourselves trying to open the daughter’s eyes to the plight of women the world over.

Not everywhere can women boss men around like it happens in our home, said the husband. The daughter and I chuckled.

We had not even started on the political turmoil with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan when the pesky waiter came and took the menu cards away. I tchaa-ed with feeling at this tendency of waiters to hoard the menus. The restaurant is empty – what do they want to do with the menus? I am sure they don’t have to read it!

’You finished ordering and what are you doing reading the mutton and chicken section anyway? You are a vegetarian!’, the daughter said in what she thought was a scorching debate point. She thought I would fumble and drop my eyes in repentance, like a puppy told to snuff it while trying to oil the moth eaten rag doll through the door. But she under-estimated my power of repartee: She was talking to the author of the (why-are-you-dancing-now? Because I can! ) response (scroll up).

I caught her eye and took her on a wild ride through the streets of Kabul selling spices and the perils of grocery shopping in times of turmoil, past the beautiful poppy fields and the orchards of apricot, gasping through the crevices of  the Tora Bora mountains and finished with a comparison of Indian, Pakistani and Afghani cuisines.

I got to admit, I like to traipse through the menu even after I’ve ordered. Especially after I’ve ordered. I enjoy reading all the entrees and getting a feel of the cuisine, the culture, the spices and a dip into life in the normal households in the area. I like to imagine their grocery lists, their dinner tables, their lunch boxes and so much more.

The daughter rolled her eyes. I rolled mine.

By the time the food had arrived, we had sent a prayer for World Peace and a goodwill message to Sherbat Gula and hoped her daughters would have a chance at peace and happiness in a strife ridden world.

I read yesterday that Sherbat Gula is now married with three living daughters and is facing deportation from Pakistan back to Afghanistan:

That evening, I casually left a copy of the book : Because I Am a Girl: I can change the world, in her room. A book that tells the story of girls from different parts of the world, and how we as women can and should play a part in changing lives for the better.


Subtle as a peacock.

Who Am I Revisited

I have been featured in The Times of Amma.
The editor , Shweta Ganesh Kumar, an author and a former CNN correspondent, sent me a questionnaire in interview format to fill out – all very official and intimidating it was, till I applied my usual tactics.
Parts of this ‘Who Am I’ answer is also there in my Who Am I ? post which was easily accessible before I changed the blog format in a stroke of brilliance.
The Times of Amma says: Today we feature Saumya Balasubramanian who blogs on Life, Humour, Books, Nature, Children, Adventures and Travel.
She also sent me one of the most interesting bios, I have read when I asked her for one. I usually edit bios when they come in the first person, but this was written so engagingly that I am publishing it here, as is.

Isn’t life a quest in finding who you really are?
Sometimes, I am a nefelibata and a pluviophile and a bibliophile and a logophile. There are dreams, passions and words floating up there in my mushroom shaped head. I love my family and friends, so when someone asks me who I am, I can barely stop myself from having this conversation:So what do you do?

Self: I think, I write, I play, I dance in the kitchen/fields/lawns/woods, I enjoy nature, I exercise, I plan, I am not scared of using my imagination, I analyze data, I code and design in the ever-changing software world, I teach, I experiment, I cook, I enjoy the company of family and friends, I sometimes talk to myself, I laugh and smile a lot.

I mean what do you do for living?

Self: I breathe. Try it. It is very good. One deep breath, fill your lungs and exhale and empty your stomach. Now try again.

I mean what do you do for A living? One thing please.
Me beaten: Fine. I am a Software Engineer and a Writer and a * Person loses interest and walks away *

I smile again.

There is always a state of flux and a number of articles, novellas, novels, children’s books in progress. It is what keeps me going, and if you are interested in reading anything of more length, please get in touch with me.I hope my readers enjoy my writing as much as I enjoy the process of writing them.

Please visit for the complete interview.

What The Mango Seller Can Teach Us About Voting

This US election season has been a wearying one. I don’t think any other election has been discussed this feverishly and with this much passion for so long by so many people. I have watched as the media fanned people’s guilty pleasures by trumping up Trump – he has given them lots of material and far from ignoring him, the media and the audience have helped boost his megalomania.

Now this is when people look to me like I am going to let drip my own electoral analysis and stump you all with my keen insights and well reasoned theories. The Economist, The Political Strategist, The Clairvoyant you think and look at me with your ears hanging onto my every word. I feel like I am back as a girl in history class in sixth grade again when I could not for the life of me answer why the Mughals had an interest in India, though the teacher held me with an expectant eye. My elder sister had blazed on ahead of me, and consequently many teachers spent their time giving me expectant looks to see if their polite gleam would nudge my hereditary brilliance, but every time I gave them an answer like the blog post below, and had them head to a corner cradling their head in their arms and moaning gently that my poor sister could have been blessed with someone brighter for a sibling.

Anyway, here goes:

The journeys across Tamil Nadu in South India to visit my grandmother in Trichy were affairs filled with anticipation and joy. There were a number of different routes one could take, and a number of different methods in which to travel. Some routes passed through the poorest sections of Tamil Nadu, where female infanticide was rife, education was trying to make its dent, but making no headway etc. Daily life in these belts was and is a struggle.

Frequently, we were on local buses with folks piling in from the local villages and getting off at the nearest town to sell their wares. One journey stands out in my mind in the light of this long drawn election drama between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The bus stopped at a local stop and several folks clambered on. One was selling fish and the other mangoes. The one selling jasmine was sitting two seats ahead of us and the smell of fresh jasmines was wafting welcomingly with the breeze that a moving bus with open windows entails. The fish and the mangoes would soon be added to this and one wondered what the experience would be like.

My father and I were sitting stretching somewhat luxuriously on a three seater, when the mango-lady eyed us. She had on her broad forehead a large bindi, her ear lobes sagged with the weight of her earrings and her hands were liberally tattooed. She gingerly balanced on her head a large wicker basket of mangoes. She was accompanied by her ten year old grand daughter and the pair of them squeezed themselves, the wicker basket and a bag on a three seater where two of us were already sitting. One she had squashed everyone and everything but the mangoes, she turned and gave us a radiant smile. We smiled back, knowing that mangoes were better than dead fish as neighbors. Life teaches you to look for the silver lining in many ways.

As the bus bumped its ways along the tree lined roads, the mango seller started talking. She was not one to hold back her opinions, a trait that must have stood her well in the realm of mango sales no doubt, but one somewhat constricting on a three seater with 3 adults, 2 children, a bag and a comfortably seated basket of mangoes. She roundly abused the Chief Minister of the day, Jayalalitha, and had several things to say about the policy regarding Farmers Markets, raise in bus fares etc.


My father was listening to her rant on how politicians were out to drown the daily lives of honest hardworking folks like her. He then asked her if she voted. “Of course!” she said.

Would you vote for Jayalalitha? he asked.

She looked shocked. I would not sully my lips with that, she sputtered ominously stewing her betel leaves juice. She then leaned her bulk over us and crushed several co-passengers bones before she spat the betel juice out of the bus window. She settled back in and went on about the various ways in which she thought Jayalalitha was a bad choice for her.

So which symbol will you vote for then? asked the father.

“Why the errata elai (இரட்டை எலை – two leaves) of course!” she said. I gasped. My father then said to her as gently as he could, that by voting erattai elai (the symbol for two leaves), she was in fact voting for Jayalalitha. She looked confused.

I don’t know how much she got of the explanations the father was giving her about symbols, party nominations and such, for as the bus stopped at the town and she heaved herself out, she said doubtfully, “But we have always voted for erattai elai”.

Once the mangoes, fish and jasmine ladies left the bus, we fell to discussing the recent bizarre turn of events. It is the lack of education in these belts that is the problem, said the father sadly. They realize that electing Jayalalitha is bad for them, but they will go on voting for her symbol. Unless education spreads, there is no hope. That ten year old grand daughter of hers stands a chance, if she is sent to school, but look at what she is doing? She is helping her grandmother sell mangoes and listens to her say that erattai elai is the way to go. I wish formal schooling can be extended to everyone, he said and I agreed sadly.

Watching the long drawn election drama between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump makes me realize that formal schooling may not be the solution after all. I watch people head into rallies saying things like ‘Even if we don’t like Trump very much, we will still vote Republican.’

If we continue to vote based on what we have always done, we are no better than that poor, uneducated, old lady selling mangoes and hoping her lot will improve, are we? In the words of Maria Popova: Allow yourselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

P.S: Given that the Tamil Nadu electorate has flip-flopped between electing the rising-sun or the two-leaves many times since that conversation, I am sure a good many mango sellers did change their mind over the course of time.


The 7E Diagnosis

But Amma you are not a lady! yelped the toddler son.

The conversation regarding who is a lady and who is not was an amusing one that lilted with the gentle evening breeze rustling over the early October trees still in bloom and blew all over the place before finishing on the note that I am no lady.

Paati (Grandma) is a lady. You will be a lady when you become a grandma. Now, you are a mom, just a mom, he says firmly.

All these mind altering conversations happen the evening prior to the sixth visit for repairing the despairing spirits who own the dishwasher. The dishwasher itself is beyond repair.

I know what you are thinking. Has the girl (or lady) lost her marbles completely? I thought she filled every available nook and cranny of the blogging space available to her years ago with this dishwashing lark of hers. As if her tales weren’t enough, we also endured those horrendous diagrams.

Dishwasher Chronicles: Do Birds Roar Like Lions?

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 1

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 2

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 3

Not again, you moan. I understand you, and as much as I would like to say that I travelled down a time warp tunnel, it is not so. The pesky d.washer gave up a few months ago. The husband and I tried avoiding eye contact with it for a couple of months to see if rest would jog things along, but we had to finally agree that it was gone. 7E was something even the great wide internet space threw their hands up with. Picture the doctor in the Indian movies taking their glasses off and nodding sadly. I am doing that now. I have my glasses in my hand and I am nodding sadly. But 7E it is and shall be.

The dishes have been flopped and propped about all over the counter every time they are washed for months now. When folks accuse me of slacking off making idlies or critical grandmothers  look the children up and down and say, “Oh how thin they look. Do you feed them enough?” I’d like to invite them over to the sink. Barring the slightly bizarre notion that I revel in washing clean dishes again, how can this many vessels be dirty if I was not feeding them enough?

Anyway, the next day, the technician is downstairs on the call with Samsung technical support.  A mellow fellow whose name I am unable to sing no matter how many times he says it. Each time it sounds different. Tsung or Tshawng. There have been days when I have walked into the kitchen to see the husband crouching next to this fellow and peering into the depths of the dishwasher looking like microbiologists looking for life on Mars.

Twang looked miserable at the thought of picking up that phone to get on with his technical customer support buddies and took a long gulp of water before calling. Every time he sees 7E, he looks like lightning struck again. The husband and I exchange a look that says (Gandhi-died-in-1948. 7E-started-months-ago. Deal with it.)

dishwasher_7e I heard the static from the phone line, the clipped tone in which the customer service rep recognized him, and I heard the faint groans from Tsung and the dishwasher. After what seemed like an hour, I went downstairs to give him (the repair guy not the dishwasher) some moral support. Tsung had the customer service rep on speaker. At long last, I asked him if I can talk to him instead. He nodded and asked him, “Customer wants to talk to you.”

“No. No! I don’t want to.” responds this technician on the other side quite unaware that he is on the speaker.

What a useful device the phone must be in these situations. If the fellow was fumbling along with instructions in Isting’s ear in person, he would have found it a dash sight harder to avoid my piercing eye and my necessity to ask him man to man, I mean lady to gentleman, I mean mom to man (for I don’t know whether the guy on the other end is a dad.)

Ysung ties himself  in knots and is deeply embarrassed by his colleague and tells me that he will have the service desk call me again.

As promised, the day after Tsung mopped himself out of the house, I got another call from the Samsung Service Desk. I crackled and bristled a bit. I told the voice on the other end of the call that we are very busy folk who have important places to be with important things to do. I asked them what it would take for them to just replace the unit since nothing but the outer casing is the version of what we bought two years ago.

This is where I have got to admire the gall of the person on the other side. The sheer cheek. She said, “Can you hold”, and before I could answer, smartly switched on the hold-music designed to extract ear worms through your nostrils. Just like that she had un-bristled me and un-crackled me with one brilliant stroke.  When she came back on, I felt like telling her off and asking her a crisp question or two  on what she meant by putting this infernal music on when she was the one who called me, but I used her tactic on her. Brusque. And I asked her to call back when it is convenient for me and hung up.

The son is right: I suppose I am not a lady yet.

The Cry of Natural Symphonies

Regular readers of this blog know what a pesky cricket I can be when it comes to babbling about nature. If I see one of those news articles about hippos dwindling in number, I grieve.  The day I saw a ninety foot tree logged in our neighborhood, I grieved. I had seen the number of birds that roosted in the tree every evening as dusk fell, and I felt that we lost out on all that natural chitter for no good reason.

I moon about hills and flop around pictures of beautiful Mother Earth and all that in spite of negligible botanical and zoological knowledge. Ducks and Canadian Geese I will bucket as one, hippos and rhinos I draw about the same (one with a horn and one without).

I am also one for natural sounds – I like to listen to the cascading brook or the patter of the rain. I like to be able to say, “Coo! Did you hear that blue kingfisher? Easily distinguishable by that rich guttural sonic burst.” So, one can readily imagine why I picked up a book called ‘The Animal Orchestra’ by Bernie Krause. I must say the book was a revelation of sorts.


Most of us have an idea about the damage we are wreaking on Earth. We are aware of over population, we are aware of shocking deforestation and we are aware of global warming. What this book gives us is another perspective to the problems that face Earth.

Bernie Krause is a musician who has since turned to recording the natural sounds around him. He has recorded the forest areas before and after selective logging operations, he has dipped his receivers into a coral reef to hear the natural sounds, he has recorded in the depths of the rain forest, and the great barren deserts and the frozen tundra.

I have written about Biophony before with a link to Bernie Krause’s recording on NPR before:



What Bernie Krause finds with his recordings is that the human touch affects biophony in unimaginable ways. You can hear some of his recordings at Even if unable to read the book, please try to listen to some of the sound tracks on the site. It makes for an enriching experience.

There are a number of passages in the book that I can go back to re-read any number of times. One such passage is the one where he refers to a beaver recording. In a remote lake in Minnesota, some wardens of the preserve, blew up a beaver dam killing most of the beaver young and females. The recording was taken later that evening, and describes the sounds of the grieving beaver male. He says that to date it is the most heart-rending sound he has ever heard made. A poignant sadness to it that the most heart-rending human music cannot even come close to.

Or of the time he describes the sonic variances between the sounds of orcas in captivity and the sounds of the pod from which the orcas were captured in the wild. The ones in the wild were always “filled with energy and vitality”. While the captive vocalizations were “palpably lethargic and slow”.

He talks off a recording he took where a logging company resorted to selective logging i.e. deliberately taking a few trees here and there so as to not disturb the ecosystem much. However, the sounds recorded before the logging operation and after have perceptibly changed. The pictures taken later show a fairly decent rebound of the wilderness, but the biophonic recordings  give us a different perspective – the more disturbing and truthful perspective. Though the area looked wild enough, the great natural symphony never bounced back.

From a BBC program titled ‘A Small Slice of Tranquillity‘: There were certain sounds such as breathing, footsteps, a heartbeat, birdsong, crickets, lapping waves, and flowing streams that people described as tranquil. Researchers demonstrated that such sounds stimulate the limbic system in the brain, resulting in the release of endorphins and a feeling of serenity. The program says that tranquillity is an elemental acoustic foundation upon which we can rest our mental processes.

By definition a tranquil area is one that is this many miles from the nearest road, away from the sonic boom of aircraft etc. In the 1960s UK had more than 40 tranquil areas, now there are less than 5.

Bernie Krause concluded that  the book on a note that I cannot help agreeing with. He says that he is asked almost at the end of every lecture what we can do to help preserve our remaining natural environments. He says: “It’s easy: leave them alone and stop the inveterate consumption of useless products that none of us need.”

The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

A Version of this article appeared in India Currents Mar 2017 issue titled ‘Muse, Tweens & Teens’

The husband may not be able to carry a tune to get the car parked, but you can’t fault him with lyrics. In fact, he once won a singing competition.  The judges pleaded with him to not sing, but to simply recite the beautiful words in the song, and their team sailed home with the cup (or whatever it is these college competitions have the budget to give).  He won it solely on the strength of his lyrics. For being able to appreciate the beauty of the poetry in the lyrics. The husband’s Antakshiri prize is rather like Bertie Wooster’s Scripture prize, and is much bandied about in our home.

It is also the husband who stops a song from lilting and mesmerizing and repeats the words – his eyes shining with the hidden meaning in the rhythmic poetic delights of the verse. I must admit some of the songs have such a beautiful lyrical quality about them, that had he not stopped and replayed them, I would have been completely lost in the melody of the piece. When your breath produces a rainbow or the mists clear to reveal your innermost thoughts or whatever it is, it makes you smile a little at the metaphor. Things you would not ordinarily stop to think and appreciate.

முன் அந்திச் சாரல் நீ
முன் ஜென்மத் தேடல் நீ
நான் தூங்கும் நேரத்தில்
தொலைதூரத்தில் வரும் பாடல் நீ
பூ பூத்த சாலை நீ
புலராத காலை நீ
விடிந்தாலும் தூக்கத்தில்
விழி ஓரத்தில்
வரும் கனவு நீ..

Incidentally, the guy who waxes lyrical at hidden meanings in poetic songs is also the guy who listens to ‘Why this kolaveri kolaveri dee?’ and introduced me to what is known as ‘Gaana’ songs. Viz. stuff that makes you want to sit down and pull out each strand of hair one at a time.

One day the daughter set out to make me listen to some of the songs that their generation listens to. You know the cool stuff?  So, we did, and I was wondering when the husband who usually listens with her, will stop the song to appreciate and discern inner meanings and things, but he did not find the need to:

Won’t you have a cup of coffee with me? We used to drink coffee together, but don’t anymore. I miss you when I drink coffee these days.

There was no hidden meaning – could the coffee refer to life? But still there was no building on the coffee theme. Hardly the kind of stuff that needs the brain cells to stir.

“Are there any other songs that we can listen to – you know where it is not a guy yearning for a girl, or vice-versa”, I asked. “Or with those wonderful hidden meanings like in poems?”

The daughter shook the head. “Well, teenagers mostly listen to stuff about love”, she said rolling her eyes. “Especially famous songs ma – it is like you are just talking with a guitar strumming in the background.”, said the daughter scornfully.


I am not a teenager anymore, so I can’t say whether the teens today are happy with the fare laid out in front of them, but I would have liked some variety. Sure, it is the time for the stirrings of the teenage hormones and what-not, but that is not the only awakening one finds in the teenage body and mind is it?

It is also the time for confusion about life and career choices, the time when it truly feels like you can tap into your reserves and see how well you can perform in that game, or how competitive you can get on that track. It is the time the mind is grappling trigonometry and unraveling the beautiful complexity of organic chemistry, the time you are surprised at the lucidity with which artists can tap into their inner stamina and creativity and unleash things on canvas or on stage. It is the time for broadening of our intellectual horizons, and the time to goof off and make questionable choices with friends. It is the time you freak out after lighting candles on the Ouija board.

It is the time you read Dostoevsky and ponder upon life. It is the time you make fun of soppy love stories, but secretly hope for your own Prince Charming one day. It is a time of intense moral learnings and the time when crushes are a part of life.

You know how we see these caricatures in cartoons, with an abnormal potato sized head tottering on pea sized bodies? It seems the song industry is like that when it comes to love. Sure love is a potent force, but is all love of the sexual kind? Surely not. Why not write a beautiful song about friendship, why not write about abrasive teachers and the camaraderie that goes on with the children while dealing with it? Or a funny song about goofing off PE.

Teenage angst is a whole package, it does not just mean broken hearts and tears when people fall apart. If song lyrics are stuck in teen brains all day long, why not give it some work and smile inwardly when you get that hard metaphor?

Here is a call to all you smart teenagers, pre-teens out there. Dazzle us with your breadth and depth of your making sense of the world. For as adults, we still don’t know, but most of us have given in to the familiarity of routine and the rigmarole of paying bills. What we need is the thirst and energy of youth, and that you can gift to us with your poetic lyrics, your songs and your view of the troubled world.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
 How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
 How do you find a word that means Maria?
 A flibbertigibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
 Many a thing she ought to understand
 But how do you make her stay
 And listen to all you say
 How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
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