Bombay Diaries

Pachi* found my diary once. It was a white spiral bound notebook that said ‘My Diary’. She said she wanted to read it. When I gave her a dirty look, she promised she wouldn’t tell ma about it. After I handed it over, she scratched the ‘Diary’ out and wrote in bold, confident letters ‘Dairy’.

She wakes up at 5:00 every morning to do Pranayama and Yoga. It all began with Baba Ramdev 10 years ago. That evening after he demonstrated how to grow hair—ma, aunty and everybody else at home sat and rubbed their finger nails. They have been doing it since. They do it while watching TV, in the theatre while watching a movie and in restaurants while we wait for food. Dad joined in when he realised that all the ‘grow hair in one week’ medicines were failing him.

Pachi lives in Andheri, Mumbai. She has lived there since Mumbai was Bombay. A man who lived in her building used to be secretary to Juhi Chawla and then later to Hrithik Roshan. When they got Juhi Chawla to come to aunty’s home one day, my cousin L – Aunty’s son, picked a strand of Juhi Chawla’s hair and put it in a plastic cover. He hid it in his cupboard and never showed it to us.

Because of the secretary connection, she claims that her gossip about Bollywood movie stars is 100% pakka. She is convinced that Rani Mukherjee drinks and smokes; that Aishwarya doesn’t; and that there really is something between Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. Her maid who has connections too, tells her some of these things. When my sister and I were 13, 14, and 15 – we listened to all these stories with envious interests. We had to know if L had really hugged Hrithik Roshan or if Shah Rukh’s son was really promised to Madhuri’s daughter or if Salman really stood outside Aishwarya’s door every night, threatening to break it down, miles apart from how Amitabh stood outside Rekha’s apartment (My mother and pachi swear by this. They say that in all the award functions, they have seen nothing but true love for Rekha in Amitabh’s eyes)

When we became 21, 22, and 23 – we resisted these stories like we resisted everything else at that age. We were rude to pachi and back-answered her at every chance we saw fit. Somehow we were more vulnerable then than we were at 13, 14 and 15. We refused to believe that she even saw these stars close-up—let alone knew them in person. We were mad at ourselves for having believed the stories in the first place. At 25, 26 and 27 – we forgave her because we had learnt a lot about her life by then.

She is a mindless exaggerator of details, almost to the point where she knows nobody is going to believe her but she continues anyway – I have never been able to find out why.

When I was in Mangalore for summer vacations some years ago, she thought it was a good idea to drag me the Government College that she had studied in- to pull out some really old records. I tagged along hoping it would be an interesting expedition. We took a bus and at the college I witnessed what my aunt is really famous for – her negotiations. All the women in my family from my mother’s side bargain beautifully. Neither my dad nor anybody from his side of the family knows how to bargain. I think I have his genes. I sat at a long, oval brown table and watched as my aunt had them pull out record after record from the 70’s.

Innu swalpa nodi, tumba problem aagtade illa andre. Nanna maganige interview untu americadalli. Nanna doucuments sikkilla andre avanige visa illa.

In the train, on their way back to Bombay – my aunt sat in somebody else’s seat the first half of the journey. Neither of the four of my family members that were on that train had a ticket. They just got on the train and left. My aunt- her son; my other aunt and her son. When the man whose seat it was boarded the train and asked politely to see their tickets, she fought with him.When the poor thing kept showing his ticket to her, saying that he had paid for it, my aunt only said – Toh hum kya phokat main aaye hain?

*Pachi in Konkani means aunt.

Gestures

I was 12 when I taught myself to be angry. When I refused to make tea one afternoon, dad picked up his leather belt and whacked my thigh. It left a thin line of red that I sat and traced all through the week. That evening when he took us to Pizza Corner, I sat in a corner and sulked. But I made sure he didn’t see.

Every time after that he asked for tea, I hid in the bathroom and faked menstrual cramps. It was in the bathroom that I learnt to sense his demands and navigate my way out of them. When I wore capris another day, he threw a fit and yelled at ma. Ma drew a blank expression on her face — it was calm. It is the same face that will meet me every time she knows that he is wrong but can’t do anything about – at least not right away. The doing anything about it will happen in private – when she will explain to him why he needs to back off. Like the time she took him to Jain College one day and showed him that he should be grateful that I am wearing capris and not halter necks and minis. That’s what she says but I am sure nobody who went to Jain College wore minis and halter necks. Not then, not now.

When I was 20, I sat with all the men in hall waiting for food. I had decided that the only way to kill patriarchy was by being the men. I didn’t like that every time there was a Pooja at home; the women would sit in the kitchen – even the ones who didn’t have to be there while the men poured into the hall and made loud small talk. Women I had occasionally seen at other poojas would turn up quite early to help in the morning. Their husbands and fathers and brothers would come later in the day- an hour or two before dinner. Two bed sheets would be laid out in the hall and they made a neat L.

That evening, I sat in the corner next to my cousin Prashant. Nobody said anything and this made me very angry. I had practiced a speech that wasn’t needed now. Crueller than that perhaps was the realisation that when the women started bringing in vessel after vessel of food, I didn’t quite feel the way I thought I should/would feel. It wasn’t liberating to sit with the men and eat food while the women served. But I also didn’t want to help the women. This continued to be a very big, very real dilemma for me. I would find myself asking this question to a whole lot of people – in classes, conferences, seminars, and in conversations. But there is no set answer to this question.

Until one day when I read NS’s piece on Feminism. It’s called ‘Feminism is why I don’t hate men’. When I finished reading it, I felt like I had just slapped all the assholes in my life – one giant slap across all their faces in one quick motion. It didn’t matter that I didn’t write it, it didn’t even matter that some of these assholes aren’t even in my life anymore. It was just comforting to know that at some point, she too had the same dilemma that I did.

Sitting in the auditorium at NGMA one day, Z asked me if I often wonder what NS would do in certain situations. I rolled my eyes – ‘all the time’, I said. Over the years, we have come to see NS as a rock star of sorts, somebody who has answers to everything. This may not be fair to her but I want to believe it’s true.

At 27, I have learnt more about feminism from stalking her writing than from any of the theories I was given to read. For somebody who believed aggression to be the only suitable response to assholes, NS’s ability to use humour to piss people off was both unsettling and intimidating. This was an approach that was new and confusing to me. What can be more aggressive than humour? What can the assholes say when you have taken a nice, long fart in their faces?

Over glasses of brandy in K, I pester NV to teach me to become independent like her. She lives alone, walks alone, rides like a maniac, cuts in between heavy vehicles, says no just as easily as she blushes and drinks like a fish. ‘Parents need to be taught how to grow up ya’, she says. In five years if I am anywhere close to living my life like NV, I will be a proud feminist.

The list of women I am trying to catch up with is growing. I don’t know some of these women personally. But I stalk their blogs and read them more than I read anybody else. The women that I do know personally are harder to emulate because I don’t want to freak them out. The child in me will only want to buy bags like theirs and clothes like theirs. In a simpler time, feminism just meant looking like the women I wanted to be like. And maybe now that I can look back without anger, it’s ok to derive inspiration from looking like them.

NM walks like she owns not just her body but everything and everybody around it. ‘Dress well, laugh and let them see you laugh’, says NM.

S and I often talk about Goddesses. The Goddess is an independent woman. She laughs sensually and cuts men down to size with humour and sometimes just a killer look. She isn’t beautiful but she has personality. Every time we deal with a situation using humour, personality, aggression, and style – we call ourselves goddesses. So far, we have never been able to do that.

I have doubted myself far too much in the last couple of months than I have in all my life. I have pondered over meanings and meaning -making, gestures and behaviours and how seriously I should take each of these. I have, at various occasions chided myself for over thinking and then wondered if I have in fact been over thinking. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am tired. I am tired of wanting to become the woman who knows exactly how to deal with assholes. I want to be that woman already.

Romedying at 7:00 AM

This morning I sat in front of the TV with a glass of hot water and watched a bit of Gilmore Girls on Romedy Now. If I haven’t already said this, I am saying it now — Romedy Now is the best thing to have happened on television. Season 5, episode 14 was on — Luke and Lorelai have split because of Emily. Lorelai is broken and in bed with lots of junk food and chocolates and magazines, and Rory is being Rory – bringing tray full of more junk. When Lorelai is finally left alone, she can’t take it any longer. She calls Luke and leaves a long message. When she realizes what she’s done, she hangs up and runs over to Luke’s to get the tape. On her way back — she sees him, apologizes and hands over the tape.

When I first started watching Gilmore Girls, I was so much in awe of Lorelai that she quickly became somebody I could never become–she was that incredible. I think this is a mistake. I am always in such a tearing hurry to put women in lists and brackets that beyond a point they stop being human and become people I can never hope to be like. Of late I have been thinking about Feminism and how my understanding of it has changed over the years. There are too many women I want to be like but every time something dreadful happens, I forget about these women and just whine. When I watched Lorelai Gilmore today, she was a woman with flaws – who messed up and cried and apologized. Yes she was a woman with flaws even before this morning but something about watching this today put things in perspective. IMG_20160204_101520

Some days, all I need is perspective. ‘I am not that girl – I don’t break and call my ex-boyfriend to come save me’, she says. And then, even though she is hurting and pissed – she walks away a more believable Lorelai Gilmore. That was my moment today. And for sometime after that, I gloriously believed that nothing will ever go wrong if I spend some time getting perspective like this every morning.

 

A Room of her own

In The Ugly Truth, Abby hides in a closet because Mike is stealing her show and being a sexist asspan. But she has to be ok with it — her show is getting massive TRP’s and as producer of the show, she has to swallow her pride and allow the patronizing man colleague to run it.

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In No Reservations, Kate goes to the cold storage room every time Nick is threatening to take over her job. Suddenly Nick is everywhere. He is telling her how great she is at her work, he is irritatingly charming in a way that we are told we will learn to love, just give it time, and he is even a better mother to Zoey. Kate’s daily ritual of returning home to find it quiet and empty is ruined one evening when she realises that she hasn’t picked up Zoey from school.

You have seen her in the cold storage room before. She goes there when her sister dies, and when she feels like her life is being taken over by other people – sometimes by Zoey, and often by Nick.

‘This place is my life’, she says.

‘No, it’s not. It’s a part of your life, Kate. This isn’t who you are’

After teaching her who she is, Nick quits his job as Sous-chef and walks out– but not before telling her that he was offered her job. Later that night when she returns home, he has left her a message.

‘And btw—I turned down the offer’

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In Wake up Sid, Aisha has nowhere to hide when her boss tells her to make coffee again. Her face falls as she quietly withdraws the hand that held the first draft of her story. Her home is hijacked by Sid whose things are all over the place. So where does she go when she needs a break from her own house? The bathroom.

When she decorates her house, Aisha paints the wall a nice, mustard yellow; her bedspread faces the big window with white curtains.

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Pic courtesy pinterest.com
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Pic courtesy polkacafe.com

In Alai Payuthey, we are shown what Shakthi’s home is like at 8:00 in the morning. Sitting at the dining table, wearing a yellow chudidar and studying for a medical exam, Shakthi is fighting because her mother has made upma again. Her mother is irritated because Shakthi’s hair is dishevelled and not neat, like her sister’s. Late in the night, in their room, Shakthi and her sister talk about the boy who has been stalking Shakthi. Shakthi is not thrilled and shushes at her sister to sleep.

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Pic courtesy setbyus.com

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After the boy and Shakthi are married, they live in a house that is still under construction and make it nice and cosy. A yellow bed sheet is thrown on a tiny bed; brown jute curtains are drawn, a gas stove sits in the kitchen. Days pass by and their clothes are strewn about, Shakthi’s used bindis dot the only mirror they own, a basketball sits on the floor, and they have their own worktables.

When she is late one day, he doesn’t have the keys to get in so he sits outside, waiting for her, sulking. When she comes, they fight. Their home has never looked so intimate. Shakthi circles a day off on a calendar that is hanging on a brick wall.

‘One for every day that we fight. Proof to show how difficult running a marriage is.’

In Bommarillu, Hasini takes Siddu out for coffee to a shop called Minerva. When he asks her where Minerva is, she says Secunderabad. Siddu is partly afraid, partly in awe but he agrees to go anyway because he isn’t used to taking a bus to another city to have coffee. As it turns out, Minerva is a dingy old shop run by a Muslim man named Sultan Bhai.

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Pic courtesy booksmoviesandbeyond.blogspot.co

In Minerva, Sultan Bhai and Hasini beti chit chat about cricket. She almost forgets to introduce Sultan Bhai to her ‘guest.’ Siddu looks at all of this wide-mouthed and maybe a little disgusted as Hasini proceeds to tell Sultan Bhai to give them two coffees. Special, she says and Sultan Bhai orders the boys to clean the cups.

Later in the movie, when they know they are falling in love with each other, Siddu tells her not to go out late in the night to eat ice cream anymore.

In The Holiday, Iris returns to an empty home every night and when she leaves her city to find herself, she finds a man. When Amanda escapes to get over her break-up, she finds love again in the same home that Iris left – a man to complete a home, a man to complete themselves.

Iris cries. Amanda doesn’t.

Iris’s home is small. It’s called Rosehill Cottage. She sits at her table one night and cries her lungs out. The man she loves is getting engaged. Her dog looks sympathetic and bored. She makes tea. On the table is a Sony laptop, a packet of tissues and a mug.

All these spaces, all these women who make these spaces their own and then when they are taken away, they hide or escape to closets and bathrooms and make rooms of their own.

For the 200th blog post :)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you hit 200 posts on your blog, people will *nudge nudge wink wink* and say ‘Blogging is not actual writing no?’. It is also a truth partly acknowledged that it will not be said directly. Here’s a clue. This is what they want to say: but she’s not a real writer ya!

Maybe. Maybe not. But this is how many fucks I gave about it today. One. And that’s why I am writing blogging about it. And then I’m all out. I feel strangely at peace with things today. First day of the academic year and I almost called in sick because I didn’t want to leave home, didn’t want to leave mommy. I’m not even kidding. The only reason I wanted to get out bed was because I spent my holidays doing absolutely nothing and was hoping the first day would yank me out of this sick – gestation period. This is the worst I have been at holidays. Worst. All my days were chewed up by meaningless binge-watching of HIMYM. My nights were long, warm and useless. I didn’t even wake up feeling refreshed.

The only good day I had was the 31st of December. I woke up, kicked myself, didn’t make my bed, had a bath, watched Romedy Now (Reruns of HIMYM, obvi), took my scooty and went to college. In the department, I made chai, cleaned up and settled down. I found futureme.org. A website that allows one to write letters for the future self. I wrote one. It will be delivered to my inbox on the 31st of Dec, 2016. I can’t wait to read it. I am wondering if it will make sense at all. The letter is 2000 words. It tired me so I ordered food from Khazana and watched HIMYM while eating it. The Ghee Rice, Dal, and Phal all agreed with me. Except when I dropped half a packet of Dal on my white palazzo pants. Best 31st Dec, ever.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to end my 200th blog post. I’ll just say today was a very interesting day. I am glad that holidays are over and that it’s a new bloody year and everything. The good ol’ Ladies Finger ran an essay I wrote about the women in my family. It’s a great boost – To begin New Year’s with the finger. Hee Hee.

Back home, I got fried for writing about this because apparently the man of the house has to be protected. If I’m not too careful, I may end up falling in love with all the women in my family. They are too busy protecting the men from getting hurt. This gave me the giggles. Mean ones.

Bubbly and I sat for hours this evening, talking about out great-grandmother. At one point, I had to whip open a tissue paper to map a family-tree, which began with one woman and ended with plenty of sons. I discovered many things about my family today. Some surprising, some disturbing, and some crazy- funny stories about a great-grandmother I never knew. I feel strangely inspired. Strange because it’s the same feeling I get after watching movies with a superb female cast.

I feel stronger because of the stories I heard today. Some days, maybe it’s enough to want to know more about the strong great-grandmother, and being told that she was strong. That’s all. It’s like watching Arundhati – scary, inspiring and deadly.

It was a pretty spectacular 200th blog post day. The high point of the evening was when Bubbly and I started talking about our Mangalore house. We began looking for a lost childhood that was short enough to fit into the house and long enough to follow us here, today.

What they told me

Living alone is a skill, like running long distance or programming old computers. You have to know parameters, protocols. You have to learn them so well that they become like a language: to have music always so that the silence doesn’t overwhelm you, to perform your work exquisitely well so that your time is filled. You have to allow yourself to open up until you are the exact size of the place you live, no more or else you get restless. No less, or else you drown. There are rules; there are ways of being and not being.                                                 ~ Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest

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Pic courtesy The Daily Mail

Somebody shared this on Facebook and I died. Even though I have never lived alone, it’s what I think about – at least once every day. Two months ago, I did a bit of research to find out what women think they need to do to become/feel independent. This is what a few of my favourite women from 2015 had to say:

NV:

  • Live alone
  • Travel alone
  • Walk alone
  • Masturbate
  • Cut men down to size
  • Say the words Vagina and Clit in public

NM: Learn to cook

SR:

  • Flip water-cans
  • Develop a tolerance for loneliness
  • Buy Condoms

ZG: Live alone

IA:

  • Read
  • Travel
  • Have a hobby

SA:

  • Save money
  • Eat/drink alone

I keep borrowing the final image of my living alone from movies. Konkona Sen from Wake up Sid! Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz from The Holiday are the absolutest. What continues to be the deal-maker however is this quote:

Then there’s the deep contentment of turning the key in your own front door on a Friday night, slamming it behind you, pouring a glass of wine and settling down to watch a favourite movie.

I found the quote here.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that the older I grow, the farther the dream seems. My fears grow horns on their own when I travel with my family. And really really scary horns. Like I start feeling I will somehow be pushed into their dreams and when that happens, I’ll be too paralyzed to do anything about it.

I want to say I haven’t made any resolutions but nobody will believe me. Not even my blog. It may just delete itself off if I lie to it on it. So maybe resolution number one should be to stop traveling with the family.

BRA & GSB

If I were to tell you the story of the women in my family, I would probably begin with Mouma and my aunts. My aunts are crazy in much the same way that aunts in most families are; and normal in a way that is still crazy. All the women in my family are various forms of the Metaphysical conceit.
When I was 4, I would sit on mouma’s lap with a glass of milk and refuse to drink it unless she showed me both her breasts. Soon, all my sisters started to demand this from her. We would sit around her smiling into our glasses of milk and wait for her to pull her breasts out. She must have been special because none of the other grandmothers did this. I think this is because she had lost her husband when she was rather young and not having a husband around makes old women very cool.

That’s the grandmother I remember. The other version of her is who she became when she was around her children. She had six; two boys and four girls. If I ever live to grow that old, I wish I inherit her madness. One morning she woke up having dreamt that the gods in Banaras were calling out to her. She demanded to be taken there right away. My mother laughed in her face and refused. It gave me an oddly primal pleasure to watch my mother being blackmailed first and bullied later by her mother to sponsor the Banaras trip.

Her extortion attempts are always successful because she threatens to go live with her children for ‘a few weeks’, if they don’t give her money. She knows her coming home means threatening them but it doesn’t make her sad because she makes a fortune out of it. When news of her arrival rocks the first floor of my house, the ground floor shakes with disapproval. Guestrooms are reorganised, undergarments are hidden inside lockers, bags are folded and kept away, and all the riches– shopped for carefully in various exhibitions, are stripped away until nothing but the gloomy exteriors of concrete remain.

 My Mouma, the bra thief snoops around the house for bras and chaddis regardless of how much they are torn or where, to give them away to other poorer relatives. I don’t know what she tells them when she hands it to them. I wonder if she’d collected empty Jockey boxes to fill them later with my bras and chaddis.

It’s more surprising to say this to myself but she’s also a fiercely independent woman. She prefers travelling alone and when she does, she travels in style. Hotels are booked months in advance, flight tickets are negotiated across two states – Karnataka (my mother) and Maharashtra (my Bombay aunt) and cars are arranged. Failing this, she goes AWOL for a long time and resurfaces at random points with new handbags from wherever she went but always smelling like Vibhooti. Wherever she came back from, she always smelled of Vibhooti, Marie biscuits and tea powder.

 When I ask for stories about my grandfather, I am only given one– like all those times I asked for too many things as a child and was given just the one bar of chocolate. My mother says he knew when he was going to die and that he scribbled the date on a wall in the house. He had a hole in his heart and died on the date he said he would. Nobody had time to be amazed by either this or his death because he had left behind a mountain of debt. It fell to the eldest son at home to take care of that and his siblings’ education.

My mother says she owned only two salwaar-kameezes when she went to Canara College. She would wear it every alternate day and her friends were kind enough never to ask her why. My aunts have always told my sister and I that we are lucky to be born rich because we don’t have to struggle with who’s wearing what. My Bombay aunt talks fondly about a time when the eldest sister would fold her favourite white salwaar-kameez neatly and put it under the bed to iron it and how one day, she- my Bombay aunt, sneaked into the room, wore it quickly and ran for her life for a family function that the elder one couldn’t attend because she had nothing to wear.

Growing up, my aunts navigated our desires with feel-bad stories of poverty from their childhood. Every time we made a fuss about not being able to watch a Salman Khan first day first show, my Bombay aunt would tell us the story of how she rolled on the floor and wept until dawn because it had rained and flooded and they couldn’t catch ‘Satte pe Satta’s last show in a broken theatre far away from home – so far, they had to change three buses to get there.

For a long time, I didn’t know what my mother’s caste was. I knew we were low-caste but whenever I asked for the name, I was told it was GSB. I knew that couldn’t have been right because Mouma said it all too hurriedly, like she wanted to say it fast and get it over with, like she had rehearsed it so often and so well that it had seemed a waste to throw it at a family member, instead of a stranger.

My mother, on the other hand said it with a half-smile, half- embarrassed look on her face. Once, I walked in on a conversation that my mother was having with Bubbly, my cousin.

-You should’ve told them no? That we are GSB.
-I told them but they didn’t look convinced
-Next time just remember to say GSB before anybody asks.

When I asked Bubbly about this conversation years later, she imitated my mother’s half-smile and told me that our ancestors were, for lack of a better word, ‘Nachnewaalis’ (dancers) and that’s why, collectively, they had all agreed on calling themselves GSB to avoid unpleasantness. Confused, I asked her why we had to hide it.

She said that that was because some of the Nachnewaalis were also prostitutes. I was 23 when I found out about this and I remember how much this information cheered me up. I imagined myself stumbling into old account books of clients or some such in one of the rooms in our Mangalore house.

We watched Shobhana in Manichitrathaazhu one evening. All of us sisters huddled in the last bedroom where there was no sunlight and the air was thick with the smell of Kannan Devan tea. For days I was convinced that I had in me, the spirit of my prostitute-ancestress. I explored all the rooms in a mad fervour to find old antiques/ jewellery/anything that looked like they didn’t belong in the house.

Sadly, all those rooms only had Kannan Devan tea powder rag-bags and one big, red old-school weighing machine. My cousins Avanti and Bubbly knew their way around the weighing machine. I looked, wide-eyed and thrilled at how they were able to use the correct weighing stones to weigh various things. I took a fancy to those weighing stones more than the weighing machine. My uncle kept that tea business for over five decades and continues to run it successfully. Even to this day, mother says she cannot stand to drink tea – green or black, the smell makes her nauseous.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma cannot stand each other because they are like each other. My Bombay aunt is the happiest woman I know because she tries. She is also one among the few people I know who have all the reason to be sad. She realised that her husband was an obnoxious person two hours after she married him. He was loud and uncouth.

Theirs was an arranged marriage. Their kundli had predicted a blissful union. In real life, she pondered over why their kundli lied so blatantly when she had to spend many nights outside the house after he had hit her and kicked her out. She didn’t leave him because she had watched and learnt what good wives do from far too many unhappy families and Bollywood movies.

Scooby was a stray dog that my Bombay aunt had taken in. He was a happy dog but ever so often he would get lonely so he would lie on the sofa and look woeful. My Bombay aunt would feel physically violated if she ever saw that dog unhappy so she would give him pep talks.

All the other colony dogs are jealous of you because you live luxuriously here with us. Don’t talk to them because they are all trying to usurp your position’.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma fight all the time. She knows that Mouma likes the other daughters more than her but what pisses her off is that Mouma does nothing to hide this. More than once I have heard my Mouma say ‘kauna gottu?’ Who knows? — when her other daughters said, ‘kasala amma teshi karta, tee ve tugeli dhuv nave?’ (Why do you act like that mother, she is also your daughter no?)