Author Archives: vidyam

When Your Child Does Not Fit In

A few weeks ago I received an article from a dear friend, an article about young  kids who identify themselves as being agender, neither male nor female and their fight to gain acceptance. Being a mother myself, as I read the article I could not help but wonder all the emotions that transpired through the hearts of their own mothers. As mothers, don’t we worry if our children will be accepted if they deviate, not just in the expression of their gender but in other ways as well? What if your girls hate dressing up or boys hate football? What if your brilliant child decides college is not for them? What if they are the ones in the class who sit alone? What if your children are the small percentage of introverts in this extroverted world?What if your child does not fit into a box? This post is dedicated to all mothers whose children are true to themselves and do not pretend to fit in. It is a story narrated from the point of view of a mother who has just realized her child identifies as being agender and is a work of fiction.

When Your Child Does Not Fit In.

It is a ghastly sight. A flock of birds, neither ravens nor vultures, (or maybe a species of either one), surrounds the carcass of the deer that lies alongside the road. The feathered creatures, black as a night when the soft white light of the moon does not shine and the twinkle of the stars does not gleam, rip apart the rotting flesh of the dead animal, in broad daylight.

As I drive past the scene on the way home from work, a glimpse of the gore brings tears to my eyes. Just as the birds tear the deer to shreds, I rip my motherly soul to bits. Every fragment echoes “Will my child ever fit in?”

The rant, like the buzz of a honey bee in our ears, infinitely plays ring-around-the-rosies in my head and I think about what you must be feeling, my child.

As I drive, my thoughts drift back to that day in our kitchen, to the time you and I frost your little sister, Lizzie’s birthday cake. She wants her cake to look like a playground with swings, slides and children at play. As I start to roll the dough to make a little fondant figure Lizzie asks me if I am going to make a boy or a girl. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought of it yet. Does it matter?” I ask. When I look up at you casually, you look sad. I know I have touched a painful chord somewhere. That look in your eyes …so much anguish in their blueness. Your thirteen-year-old eyes carry the sorrow of tortured souls. My heart sinks into the depths of the sadness reflected in them.

Agender, is how describe yourself to me later that night. This is the first time you bare your soul to another. You identify yourself as being neither a boy nor a girl. Neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ but ‘they’ is how we need to refer to you, you add. Tears roll down your chiseled face. Nobody understands yet, you say. They just know you are different. “This is who I am, Mom. Do you still love me?” you ask your voice quivering.

“I do, darling and I always will.” I swaddle you in my embrace just as I did the day you were born

Though what you do not know is I lie awake every night since then, to grapple with this truth. Even though I am your mother and you are a part of me, I cannot fully fathom what it must be like for you. There are many times before today when I have questioned why I am here, if there is an afterlife, if there is a God. There are many answers I seek but the one thing I know with certainty is I am a woman. Every morning when I wake up I feel it in the very core of my being. It is so primal, I do not question it. I realize if I had to, the pain would be intense. It hurts that you must endure this every day. Will society ever understand if you if I, your mother, am struggling to? Will they ever accept you? Every pore on my skin shrivels up, every nerve in my body tightens at the thought that there will be people who dislike you immensely because you are different. Why you? Why does this have to happen to us? I want to go back in time to the day I worried about mundane things like you being a picky eater and not cleaning up your room, to the time I discussed my trivial worries with the mothers of other thirteen-year-olds.

As I reach home, the ravens still linger in my head, the shreds of my soul continue to agonize with the misery of your loneliness and the guilt of my inability to placate your anguish.  I find you in the yard, playing with our pup. As the two of you bounce and frolic, I realize that beneath the veil of sexual expression, you are just like any other kid- full of love and hope. What lies under the cloaks of our masculinity and feminity is a divine light. Does gender really matter? What matters is what we do with the life we have been gifted with. Of what use is gender if we pride ourselves in being a man or a woman, yet use our lives to harm or kill another? Irrespective of our garbs of gender, we need to let our light shine, to love and accept and leave this world a better place. I realize now your soul is just as pristine as it was before your revelation. Nothing has changed. I see the warmth in your being in the way you hold our pup. I see the gentleness in your heart when you hop over the tiny bug to avoid squishing it. Later at your basketball game, I see the grit of your spirit when you shoot a three pointer in the last minute to lead your team to a thrilling victory. You are the same spirited kid who enjoyed the rush of winning. When you smile at me, I get a glimpse of the strength you have within. It must have taken a lot of courage to accept who you are and let the world know. It is easy to hide behind a façade to make yourself fit in. It is hard to stand alone. Yet even as a young person, you realize that being authentic in solitude weighs far greater than being miserable in a clan. It will take the world a while to catch up but some day they will see you in the same light as I do. Until then, I will stand up for you. I see you, my child. I see YOU. Even though as a mother all I ever wanted until now was for children to fit in, I don’t anymore. I realize now I have to lead my children to a whole new world.

The black birds leave the precipice of my thoughts. the fragments of my soul, a mother’s soul begin to piece back together, bit by bit.





An army of mothers who choose to embrace and accept differences and teach their children to do the same have the power to create a whole, new world.









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Filed under Poetry

The First Word

Compliments of the season dear readers. It’s the season to be jolly so here’s a light story inspired by a beautiful friend and her precocious precious little daughter. Wishing you all lots of laughter in your life with each passing moment….


The Editor,

The Washington Post.


Dear Editor,

I am an almost four-year-old boy, a genius, and have recently come to face a baffling situation. If you could pose my dilemma to your readers, I hope one of them would be able to ascertain the reason behind the perplexing behavior of my parents over the past few hours.

Let me introduce myself. I am Deep Damodar, also known as ‘Duke the Wiz.’  I play four musical instruments, the piano, the ukulele, the tabla and the flute. Several videos of mine playing Indian as well as Western classical melodies on these instruments have gone viral on social media. I am sure you must have seen them too. I also have a penchant for Math and jigsaw puzzles. I first put together a 1000-piece puzzle at eighteen months. Amma had just started to work on this puzzle, which was a picture of a litter of Labrador puppies. I love dogs and I was fascinated by the way the shapes fit in together. As I saw her struggle to find the right pieces, I took over from her and completed the puzzle in under two hours. Amma (mother) was nice enough to step aside. You see, I work best alone. I have completed hundreds of complex puzzles, since then. Most of them customized by Hasbro just for me.

Until recently, my parents have been extremely encouraging and proud of all that I have achieved. They have made sure I have received continued tutelage from the best music teachers and gurus in the world viz. Pandit Zakir Hussain, Yanni and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Each time I mastered a raga or a symphony, they celebrated it with the world by uploading my performances on YouTube. Appa,(father) recently, got Puzz 3D to make a 18,000-piece model of the Taj Mahal, just for me to tinker with. He created an Instagram account to post all my completed puzzle works. They have always been a step ahead in providing me with challenges which is amazing because as I have never asked them about what I need or want. As you may know, I do not speak. Or did not until this morning when I uttered my first word.

Not that I could not or did not know how to talk. I just did not feel the need to. My parents made sure we were clothed and there was always delicious food on the table. Amma is a very good cook. And I was always provided with a new challenge to keep my mind stimulated. To me, talking seemed like a waste of time. There was always so much more fun stuff to do.

Yesterday, though I realized how sad Amma was when I overheard her say tell grandma how heartbroken she was that she may never hear my voice. Amma is a passionate singer. Yesterday, in her conversation she divulged that her dream was to pass on her knowledege of Carnatic music to her children. I love Amma deeply and only want to make her proud. So, I made up my mind to finally break my silence.

I visualized Amma do a happy dance and gleefully tell her family and friends about it.  Ah! How I wanted to see her happy! Probably a clip of me finally talking would go viral too. My first word had to be grand!

I dwelled on what should be my first word. Should I take the name of Lord Ganesha as Amma always invoked his blessings before starting something new? Or should I say ‘Amma?’ As I wrestled in my mind on which one would make a legendary entry into the world of speech, I felt my hands tingle and my throat tickle. My eyes fluttered too. I was very excited knowing how excited mom would be. Maybe, she would whip up my favorite dessert, gulabjamuns, too. Then it occurred to me I had to be careful, if I took her by surprise she would fall off the chair she was sitting on and hurt herself. I would have to say something in context to what we were doing to not startle her too much. My entry had to be subtly grandiose.

Amma was with my 6-year-old sister, Diya, helping her with her language arts homework on the kitchen table. I sat next to them working on a Sudoku and eating cereal. Unlike me, Diya struggled with academics. They were completing her worksheet for rhyming words. Ah! If I came up with a rhyming word that Diya struggled with, my entry would be smooth, just like Amma’s movie idol, Rajni Sir.

I waited with bated breath for the right moment. I felt my heart pounding hard as Mom and Diya went through the list of words.

“Cat – Mat

Sat – Rat

Hot – Pot

Fan – Ran

Boy – Toy

Jet – Net

Man- Can

Sit – Hit

Bun -Run.

Good job Diya, Four letter words now”

I perked up. This was surely something Diya would falter with. ‘Ahem’ I cleared the tickle in my throat, not wanting to sound like a squeaky toy when the time came.


“Bank – Tank

Pack – Lack

Wish – Fish

Duck – …”

This was my chance! Diya did not know the answer! “F***” I proudly said.

Mom did not respond. Why? Maybe I was too soft?

“F***!” this time I made sure I was loud. Also, it was a popular word if President Drumpf used it so often in his tweet this morning.

I waited eagerly for the fanfare. But Amma shut the book and walked away. “Let’s work on this later Diya” she said her voice trembling. There was none of the pomp I had hoped for. No gulab jamuns either. Amma locked herself in her bedroom for the rest of the day. I could hear her soft sobs. Appa later announced that that I did not have to go to school today. Something is terribly wrong, I know it. Why else would this big achievement of mine be hushed up?

Sir, could you please throw light on why my parents behaved the way they did?



Deep “Duke” Damodar.


Filed under Short Stories

Picture Perfect

What I write today may stir up emotions and ruffle a few feathers when you read but I think there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves, now more than ever.


Picture Perfect

A few years ago, after the horrendous carnage in Newtown, I actively gave up reading the newspaper and watching TV news channels. In my view, these platforms only spewed a constant barrage of negativity which affected me deeply. Though I realized withdrawing from them would not put an end to these bone chilling acts of hatred and violence, it was the only thing I could do to insulate myself from a cruel world. I needed an informant who would be a harbinger of good news as well as keep me abreast of current events. So, I tuned in to Facebook instead.

Every morning, I sat with my chai to scroll through the news feed on FB just as I had with ‘The Times’ during my growing up years.  I wished friends who had birthdays and anniversaries, congratulated parents on new births and children’s achievements, gave a thumbs up to loveable family pictures and also went through posts that socially conscious friends put up on global happenings. It felt good to see smiling faces in the morning and every time that I checked in through the day. Of course, I would be lying if I did not admit that there were instances when the green monster whispered into my ears, “Look at them and look at you.” Overall though, it was truly enjoyable and addictive.

Then one day, I posted a picture of my puppy, Leo, and me. While I napped on the sofa, my little fuzzball cozied up to me and took his siesta on my head. His white fur on my shiny black hair, the two of us with our eyes closed, lost to the world around us, made for a delightful snapshot my family could not resist capturing. It was one of those ‘Awwwwww’ moments that rang in quite a few likes and comments that were flattering. The photograph was captioned ‘Happiness’, though the moments prior, that had led me to take the nap were far from happy. I was exhausted trying to housetrain my furry munchkin. Just that morning, I had taken him on a couple of hour-long walks. While he bounced on the grass, sniffed the myriad smells that wafted through the air outside and chased butterflies, he chose to pee on my carpet. Each time we returned from our stroll, he would look at me , a defiant, naughty gaze,  that spoke “Thank you for the good time, ma’am but no spot in the world is as nice as your carpet” and pee right there. Darn! At that moment if anyone had remarked on Leo’s cuteness quotient I would be the one that barked, “Take him, please! I will even pay you the rehoming fee!” Right before I dozed off that day, I wondered why I had not just agreed, but insisted on bringing a puppy home.

So you see, the post ‘Happiness’ did not portray the entire story. It was a depiction of that one blissful moment in a chaotic scenario – a half truth. I chose to reveal only what I thought was appealing. If my family had taken a video of me – high-strung, nostrils flared running around the house with an Arm and Hammer spray and a tissue roll, shrieking “LEO, NO!” in a high-pitched voice, would I have posted it? It would have been embarrassing. That got me thinking. Wasn’t that true of so many posts out there? We are careful to showcase just the perfect moments on social media because we all deeply harbor the belief that feeling out of control is a sign of failure which in turn is an embarrassment.

Though when I look back at my life it is the very moments of frustration, failure and rejection that have toughened me up. That is when I have wandered through the deep chasms within my heart and discovered a treasure trove of strength. Dark times always stoke the warrior within a person then why we are so afraid of them? While we glorify and celebrate our triumphs we also need to acknowledge and accept our failure and teach our children likewise.

In the recent past, I remembered reading a post which was a poem that a husband had dedicated to his wife of 25 years on their anniversary. The poem oozed of the sweetness of their love. It was a beautiful and thoughtful gesture, yet I wondered if the husband had not professed his feelings on FB, would the nature of their love have changed? Not really, right? If the way you feel about someone you love changes because you post it on social media, then you are on rocky ground. If you have been married for longer than two months, you know that in a marriage, even a good one, there do come dreadful times when you wish you were Harry Potter and could silence your spouse with a flick of the wrist and the spell ‘SILENCIO!’  It is the way a couple navigates these turbulent times that defines their strength. Yet, we avoid these moments and always paint a rosy picture. Not that we need to wash our dirty linen in public, but we don’t always have to pretend.  When we flash our best smile for a selfie though we may be weeping within, we reinforce the message to our children that we need to put on a mask of happiness all the time.

Social media is a wonderful platform to reach out to people, raise awareness, connect hearts and rekindle friendships. I myself may not have found success as a writer if not for blogging, parenting websites and FB.  And we certainly do not need to stop sharing happy times.  After all, in this world we all do need our daily dose of good news. But our children also need to fail to grow and they need to know that they are loved despite their tantrums, their mistakes and their shortcomings. There is a growing obsession, almost a compulsive need, amongst the young to have fun and post it on social media. These children must learn the whole truth. Pleasure and pain, ups and downs, success and failure are two sides of the same coin and most importantly social media is a tool not the reason to live.

As for Leo, that was just one rough day. I now suspect that he loves me more than my children do so he is not going anywhere 😊.






Filed under Essays

When Diwali met Halloween


When Diwali met Halloween – an Indo-American mother’s quest for meaning.


Many years ago…

I was a young mother who walked a tightrope to find the cultural balance between my deep immigrant roots and my widespread American branches. My endeavor was to imbibe and portray just the right amount of Indian-ness to be cool (aka Deepak Chopra) and to fit snugly into both the cultural spheres. Neither did I want to risk being labelled a boorish ‘Desi’* nor did I want my kids to grow up to be befuddled ‘ABCD’s.’*

In my naivety, I held the notion that a child who was a perfect blend of both the cultures would flawlessly recite at least a few shlokas* in an American accent, fluently speak their mother tongue and another foreign language, be skilled in a form of Indian classical dance or music while playing a sport and being part of the orchestra or a band in school. It was not enough that I nurtured my precious saplings to grow roots that touched a layer of their Indian heritage, they had to be deep enough to reach the layers of their South Indian, TamBrahm, Iyer core. And their branches, well they had to be strong enough to bear the crown of an Ivy league education. We celebrated Christmas, Pongal, Easter, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri, Diwali, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Life was just a blur as I sped from one class to another, one event to another. Never once did I even stop to think if I was passing on the true essence of being human to the kids.

And then a few years ago…

Diwali and Halloween fell on the same day of the year. Two important festivals with completely contrasting rituals. One symbolized by all things bright and the other with most things dark. Yet, Diwali was the most important festival of the year to someone from India and that year in my heart, in the battle between the roots and the branches, the roots reigned. After all, cut the roots of a tree and you uproot it, cut a few branches, the tree still stands I concluded.

“No Halloween decorations this year, kids,” I announced.

“Why not?” my seven-year-old son asked, sullen and disappointed.

“We cannot have skeletons and cobwebs outside our house on Diwali. More so at a time when the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi visits us. The house, the porch and the yard must be clean. We need to have diyas*, lanterns and a kolam*on the front porch to entice the Goddess.”

“What do you mean visits us? Isn’t her idol in the Pooja room? Doesn’t Thatha* pray to her every day? Hey, you do a Lakshmi Pooja every Friday too, don’t you?”

“Hmmm…yes, the act of inviting the Goddess into our home is symbolic. Somehow it doesn’t feel right to have a skeleton hanging out on the porch on that day.”

“Heeyyy!’’ said my son, having a light bulb moment. “Maybe the skeletons and witches will symbolically prevent her from leaving the house! Then you don’t have to worry about inviting her in. Wait, does that mean I cannot go trick or treating either?”

“I’ll let you go for an hour. But not as a ghost or the devil or a blood sucking vampire. You need to be home before it’s dark and we light the diyas.”


“WHAT!!! That’s when the fun starts! And it’s just a costume, Mom. I’m not going to turn into the devil just because I dress up like one! Gawd! I hate being Indian! Do we have to go to a fancy Diwali party too?”

“Dude, maybe you can go as Raj from the Big Bang Theory. Kill two birds with one stone. You can wear your new Indian clothes and they can double up as a costume too,” retorted my eleven-year-old daughter with a sheepish grin. “And mom, maybe you can distribute ladoos* instead of candy to all the children who come trick or treating.”

“Are you making fun of me? Huh?” I turned red with anger. It wasn’t easy trying to find the balance.

“Mom, chill” said my daughter “I don’t really care for either Diwali or Halloween. I’m agnostic.”

‘Agnostic! Such a strong word for a child. Oh my, what a failure I was. One child did not believe in God and the other hated his roots. What would all my friends think? My kids had given up learning classical music a couple years ago. The shloka classes at the temple had not worked out and now this. What was I doing?’

That evening, I thought hard about the values I wanted to pass on to my kids. What did it mean to be Indo-American? Why did it matter so much to me that my kids were the perfect blend of two cultures? And the answer bitter and true came to me – It mattered only because I wanted the world to applaud the way I raised my kids. I imposed my way of thinking on my children just so that I would be known as a good mother. That night I set out on a quest – a spiritual quest in search of what truly mattered.

I ruminated on my own experiences as a child. Growing up, I had not visited too many temples because every time that I did, I had gotten the nagging feeling that this was not the whole truth. The occasional times when I did visit the temple, I rang the bell, did my namaskars and the pradikshinas* as I was supposed to though there was a sense of emptiness to the way I did it. There had to be more to God than just bowing down to Him occasionally at the temple or at home. Why was it that so many people who claimed themselves to be ardent devotees still had no grasp over their fears, their anger, their hatred or their pride? Why did some of the pundits who were well versed with the scriptures consider themselves superior? Wouldn’t having the knowledge of finding God make one humble? A lot of it did not fall into place for me but I was too busy being a teenager to dwell on it.

Once I got married, I did not question these ways. All I wanted was to be a good wife, daughter-in-law and mother. So, I took the kids to the temple and celebrated every Indian festival the traditional way not because I found divinity in our customs but because I believed this was what I had to do to play my role well. A good mother taught her children about God though in my case I tried to do so with a shallow understanding of it. Until that evening, when the nagging feeling came back – there had to be more.

Days, weeks, months went by. I spent a lot of my time listening to lectures by spiritual greats. I listened to Sadhguru while folding the laundry, T T K Rangarajan while chopping the vegetables, Sister Shivani before going to bed. Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nat Hahn, Louis Hay and Paulo Coello had long replaced John Grisham and James Patterson on my bookshelf. I meditated regularly. Slowly, the layers began to peel off and I saw myself for the befuddled mess that I was.

Though I could not bring myself to follow any one guru, I borrowed from each one’s arsenal. The deeper I delved into my quest, the clearer it got. Though each guru’s background, experience and their way of imparting knowledge was different, their message was the same. Divinity resides within each of us. No one was greater than the other, no religion or tradition was greater than the other. Maybe that is why the emptiness I experienced earlier made way for a sense of calm and completeness when I meditated, when I sat in silence and looked inwards. This was the real thing. Nothing else mattered. Everything I saw around me was a manifestation of divine energy. Every creature, every flower, every tree…And then when I looked at life in this new light I was spellbound. I found beauty in the call of the Azan, the prayer of a priest, the chants in Buddhism and Sanskrit shlokas. Though I still haven’t visited too many places of worship I have no doubt I will find the same sense of peace in a temple, a gurudwara, a church or a mosque.

Looking back, I also realized that I have experienced the grace often in my life. When my daughter as a one-year old had to undergo a difficult surgery, when my mother underwent a series of serious health issues and at many other troubled times. Though at those times, I was looking at faith as as a belief in a big, miraculous entity outside of myself.

And these days…

I know faith is a seed sown within oneself. I understand that rituals are meaningful if done with a deeper sense of understanding and I am fascinated by the science behind some of our ancient customs. In a way, I learnt it backwards though I also truly believe that a simple prayer said from the heart is far more effective than the habitual recitation from the scripture. I do not have all the answers yet and will probably not in this lifetime but I know I am on the right path.

As for the kids, the only thing I will pass on to them is that the essence of having Indian roots is to have a great deal of tolerance and the essence of being American is to have freedom to be who you are. In a nutshell, the essence of being Indo-American is the same as being human – to have compassion for and to respect another. The rest, the kids could learn in their own way on their own spiritual journeys through their own life experiences.

Kahlil Gibran was right when he said we can give our love to our children but not our thoughts.

And if in the future…

If Diwali and Halloween fall on the same day, I will light diyas to symbolize the divine light within each of us that can extinguish ignorance, I will allow my son to wear his scary costume with the hope his fears of the unknown are banished and as for the skeleton, he can stay alongside the kolam and pumpkins to signify the death of a dreary tiger mom.

  • Vidya Murlidhar.


* Desi – a person of Indian descent

*ABCD – acronym for American Born Confused Desi

* Diya – earthern lamps.

*Kolam – A geometric pattern made with rice flour in the courtyard or porch thought to bring good luck

*Thatha – grandfather

*Ladoo – an Indian sweet that could be made from various different flours and shaped like balls.

*pradakshinas – walking around in a circle around an idol, circumambulation of sacred places.



If you have reached this far 🙂 I write this knowing that not everyone will agree with my reflections but I do hope it starts a meaningful discussion in what does seem right to you.. Do share your musings in the comments below.








Filed under Essays

Encounter With Mamta Singh – Part 2 (The Other Side of the Coin)

The gentle evening breeze caressed her cheeks as Mamta sat in the balcony of her eighth-floor apartment, overlooking the Arabian Sea. This was the time of the day she relished the most, a time when she had the house all to herself. Her son, Sumit, was at his swim practice and her husband, Subodh, at the gym. The maids had left for the day.  The breathtaking sunset, the sea breeze and a cup of steaming masala chai was all she had for company. Today the chai seemed extra special though. The nostalgia of meeting a bosom pal had swirled into the warmth of the chai sharpening its spice.

What a pleasant surprise it had been! Bumping into an old friend. Mamta chuckled softly as she recalled the school days when the two friends had bonded, especially that dreadful day in the eighth grade when she had scored a zero on her math exam. A duck!  The anxiety of solving the Math paper had been so strong that she had completely blanked out. V had comforted her throughout the evening and helped her prepare for the next one. For the next two years since that day, Mamta had spent every evening before a Math exam at V’s house. After the X grade board examinations, the two friends had pursued different fields of interest and lost touch with each other.

Mamta had since come a long way from the anxiety ridden girl she once was. Now she was a manager at a multinational company. She loved her job and her life. She often sat in the mellow glow of the sunset, her heart basked in gratitude.  She could not have asked the One Above for any more. As the foamy waves lashed against the shores and receded back into the sea in front of her, her thoughts receded deep into the oceanic past, to the day it all began.


15 years ago


Mamta twitched nervously as she sat outside the principal, Mrs. Seth’s office, in her son’s school, waiting to be summoned, a crumpled note in her hand. The piece of paper, just a day old was worn out from the number of times she had folded and unfolded it, reading over the same words repeatedly while trying to get a cognizance of why it had been addressed specifically to her. Normally, teachers in the school addressed the notes to both parents of the child but this one had clearly stated that she be present to meet with the principal.

What had Sumit done wrong she wondered? Why did Subodh not have to be here? If Sumit had misbehaved, the note would have been addressed to both parents.  Or was it her, had she not been a good mother? Had he complained to the teachers about the time she had lost her temper and smacked his behind? Or had they noticed the day when, in the rush of the morning hours, she had accidentally switched Sumit and Subodh’s lunch boxes. Poor child had ended up with a tummy ache after eating a spicy roti roll with sprouts instead of his jam and butter sandwich. Or was it because she had turned in the permission slip for the field trip late?

Fortunately, before she could come up another plausible reason Mrs. Seth beckoned her into her chamber.

“Come on in Mrs. Singh, have a seat. How are you this morning?” Mrs. Seth smiled at her, peering over her glasses. The gigantic desk, the crisp pleated pallo of her saree, the firmness in her voice all gave Mrs. Seth an aura of reverence that engulfed Mamta’s meekness completely. She felt like a tiny rabbit trapped in a lion’s snare.

“I’m… I’m fine, thank you.” She stuttered weakly.

“Let me get straight to the point Mrs. Singh.”

Mamta felt her heart thump in her chest.

“The reason you are here… the other day at recess Sumit was sitting all by himself while the other kids jumped around and played. He looked sad, so I walked up to him and asked him what the matter was. He told me he was sad because you were too. He said you cried every night, maybe because he was not a good boy.

What is the matter, Mrs. Singh? Is Sumit right to say you cry every night? I do not mean to intrude but you know, a child can thrive in school only if things are well at home. It breaks my heart to see a five-year-old carry the weight of his Mother’s emotions on himself. Is there any way we can help?” Mrs. Seth asked gently.

The genuine concern in her voice touched a chord in Mamta. Tears welled up in her eyes. Not only was she sad but now jaws of guilt pierced their fangs into her heart too. How could she have let her emotions affect her child?

“I..I…don’t know what to do. Nothing I do is ever right” she said in between snifles. “The rotis are not round, the idlis are too flat, the dal is either too watery or salty. Nothing I make is good enough for Maa.

If Sumit does not eat, she says I don’t know how to feed him. Some days if he eats a second bowl of rice she says I will make him fat. If the child watches TV she says I am spoiling him yet she herself lets him watch all those dreadful TV serials she’s addicted to. If I make him study she says I am pushing him. I never seem to do anything right.” By this time, her sniffles had turned into sobs. “And Subodh is always traveling,”

“Mrs. Singh? Mamta? Can I call you Mamta?” asked Mrs. Seth tenderly. This could well have been her own daughter.

Mamta nodded admist the bawls.

“Mamta, I presume you are talking about your mother-in-law?”

This time Mamta nodded vigorously.

“My dear… you need to get a few facts straight. If you think you are only as good as the rotis you make or the bhajiyas you fry, then you are so wrong. You cannot live your life according to another’s expectation of you. If you do that, you will always fall short and spend the rest of your life trying to be a good daughter-in-law, a good wife, a good mother…so many roles, so many different expectations. In the process, you are bound to lose yourself. What if you indeed made the world’s best round rotis but your mother-in-law took a penchant for square ones? Trying to be a perfect daughter-in-law is like trying to reach for the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. You can never reach it.

It’s funny though. In our culture, we often wonder if the bride will adjust to her new family but the truth is often it is the groom’s family who are not ready to open their hearts to adjust and welcome another into their home.

Now, of course, I am not saying that you shy away from your responsibility of taking care of your aging in-laws but do it the with your essence, the way you can do it not always the way she wants it.

And its’ very important that you take time for yourself every day Mamta. To do something you enjoy. Maa is old and with age comes rigidity. Accept it and move on. Take her less seriously and yourself more seriously. Its’ very important for a mother to be happy Mamta. You see, children are very perceptive. They may not understand a situation but they can certainly feel the emotions. You are not helping your child by staying home and being miserable.”

“What can I do? Who will give me job, Mrs. Seth? I was never good at studies. I scrapped through school and college so my parents got me married early and I am not good at this either!” Mamta was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Who says you need a job to be happy? There must be some activities you enjoy. Maybe dancing or music? Embroidery? Did you have a hobby growing up?”

Mamta gazed at the wall to her right. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision, the sadness in her heart blurred her clarity of thought. The emptiness in her gaze was suggestive of a spirit dulled, lost in the maze of life.

Silence ensued. She finally spoke, “I used to enjoy painting as a child.”

“There you go! Just take a few minutes every day to paint. For those few minutes let it be just you and the canvas. That will go a long way in bringing you joy. Baby steps, my dear. Just do this and see how things change. And yes, remember it takes a village to raise a child. Its ok to ask for help. You cannot do it alone.”


Fifteen years ago, that was the day her journey began. That conversation in Mrs. Seth’s office sparkled clearly in her memory just as the sea waters sparkled in the soft glow of the moonlight, under the canopy of the night sky. The turn of events since then had only been pleasant. Mamta took Mrs. Seth’s advice very seriously. Every afternoon she poured her emotions on canvas and the results were brilliant jewels of art.

One fine day Mamta while emailing pictures of her works of art to a friend accidentally typed in neenarai@gmail instead of Neena.rai@gmail. What followed was serendipity. Prompt came a reply in her inbox,

“Dear Mamta,

Not sure if these pictures were intended for my viewing but I love them. I run a designer boutique in South Bombay and am currently looking for an artist to paint on silk fabric for my clients. Kindly get in touch if you are interested.

Kind regards,

Neena Rai.”

Mamta got in touch with her and very soon she was designing and painting beautiful works of art on sarees and dupattas for Neena’s clients. Neena encouraged Mamta to go back to school to do a part time masters in management. One thing led to another and brought Mamta to where she was today.

Everything Mrs. Seth said was so true. Mamta’s mother-in-law had passed away a few years ago but even in her last few moments she had a lot to complain about, the food being insipid was just one of them. Mamta had become more accepting and sympathetic towards her condition and did not let her mother-in-law’s sharp tongue affect her. She learnt that her son enjoyed swimming and both parents encouraged Sumit to pursue his passion. He soon swam for one of the best clubs in the country.

The doorbell rang to break Mamta out of her reverie. Once again, all she could say to the One above was Thank You for sending a couple of angels into her life.

Thus, ends the story of two childhood friends. Both on very different journeys who found joy in the belief that miracles happen to those who allow it.



Filed under Short Stories

An Encounter with Mamta Singh




One of my favorite things to do when I visit my home town is to go for a walk to the nearby ‘Baniya’ store- Glory Center. The walk is pure nostalgia bringing back memories of the joyful times my teenage buddies and I ceremoniously gathered together every evening and trudged to the store. Often, there was not much to buy yet we walked to the store and back cheerfully conversing with each other about the happenings of the day. As they say it is the journey that matters, not the destination. On our way back we would sit on small stony structure, aka ‘The Rock’ where we spoke to our heart’s content on things that truly mattered to us then – boys, college, dreams, food, movies -wait-did I mention boys?

On one of my visits to Mumbai, I was on my nostalgic walk, the day before I had to return to the US and that’s when I met her- Mamta Singh. This time I was alone, humming a happy tune and wishing for some more time in this place I loved so much. Suddenly I heard a shrill, nasal voice call out to me. That voice- it could only belong to….


“Hiiiiii..” she said grinning. “Wow! So nice to see you re. You haven’t changed a bit. You are just I like I saw you the last time we met!”

“Thank you.”  The last time we met was 25 years ago. Images of a skinny fifteen-year-old me in two oily braids and clothes picked up from ‘Fashion Street’ came to my mind. (Fortunately, braces were not as common then or else I would have had them too.) I shuddered at the image. I hoped I had changed for the better or else it meant that I had not aged gracefully. She, on the other hand, looked ravishing. Was this the same anxiety ridden Mamta who spent every night before an English or Math paper at my place crying and worried she would fail? Now she oozed confidence and grace in her stylish blouse, snugly fit trousers and chunky bracelets.

“Mamta, you look gorgeous!” I said as I wrapped my plumpish arms around her slender frame to give her a hug. She looked at me adoringly for a minute. Her expression quickly changed to one of surprise.

“What happened to your hair, Vidya? It used to be so lustrous and thick- Dimple Kapadia and Crowning Glory types!”

Oh no! Did I look like a balding fifteen-year-old?  At least I did not the last time that I had looked at myself in the mirror which was not too long ago.

“Childbirth”- I grinned. “I lost a lot of hair after my son was born and they never really grew back.”

“You need to take better care of yourself,” she admonished hinting at the muffin top belly peeking out from over the belted trousers.

Che! I should not have worn these old low waist jeans today.

“So what do you do? You live in the States right?”

“I am a stay-at-home mom.”

“You stay home? But you were such a good student. I always came to you for help?” she smirked.

I remember that.

“I stayed home for a bit after my son was born. It really got to me. The cooking, the cleaning…. work at home never ends and everyone takes you for granted. Seemed like such a waste of time. I realized any maid would gladly do all of the work I did at home for an additional 2000 bucks so I went back to work. I head the design department at M&S now.”

And just like that she dismissed my life. Three C’s- cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring were the story of my life. Was my story worth just a few thousand bucks? There had to be something more.

“Er…I write, sometimes” I murmured as an afterthought.

“Really? Have you published anything?”

“Not yet but I have been working on a children’s picture book.”

“Oh! ” she said not very impressed “You remember Leena Patel from class XA? She is in California. She’s a doctor and she has a nanny to take care of the home front. You should do that too.”

She gave me a quick embrace. “Chalo…I’ve got to run. I had a little time so I just dropped in at mom’s place to say hello. My son has a swim lesson and the driver has to drop me off at home before he takes him for the class. It was so nice seeing you. You take care. Let me know if your book gets published. And get a nanny” She said wiggling her finger.

As I trudged back home I wondered, ‘Had I just wasted my talents, abilities and time the past eighteen years by not pursuing a career? Mamta was right when she spoke of the never-ending chores and being taken for granted. What had I based my life choices on? Did I stay home because I did not have a choice or was it because I had grown up in a culture where motherhood was the embodiment of sacrifice and I believed that was what a good mother did? Had I lost myself, become complacent and lost the drive to succeed? What was I doing with my life? Sigh, I needed to sit on the rock to dwell.’

To my dismay, I realized the space where our beautiful rock used to be had been converted to a parking space. I trudged some more and sat on the stairs outside the apartment I grew up in. As I dwelled on the subject it dawned on me that the problem was we measured our worth by how successful we were. While jobs, promotions and perks defined a woman’s success outside the home, there were no tangible standards for a mother to measure her worth at home which is why she often based her worthiness on how well her children performed. How often have we heard a mother quip, ‘ I must have done something right’ when her child wins an award of some kind or beat herself up if her children fumble in life or make mistakes Yet, it does not always work to measure yourself based on how another’s life shapes up and it is is so wrong. Every child comes into this world with his own Karma, with his own purpose to carve his own destiny that really does not depend too much on whether his mother stays home or chooses to pursue a career. What does matter though is how happy the mother is with the choices she makes. A mother who is fulfilled will be better equipped to address her child’s needs. If she chooses to stay home because it is the noble thing to do but is frustrated because it does not fulfill her enough, her choice seems like a huge sacrifice and often then she would probably push her kids to achieve her dreams to make herself feel worthy. Not a good scenario to raise children. On the other hand, if a mother chooses to work because she thinks she has to prove herself but feels guilty, she exhausts herself trying to find the balance and do more than is necessary for the kids just to overcome the guilt.  Another unfavorable scenario.

A woman then needs to choose a path that feels right to her, not one that is defined by societal expectations. You see, the essence of every moment is the same. Every moment is a divine gift. A life is truly worthy if these divine moments are used to bring joy to oneself. What you do with your time does not matter, how you do it, your attitude is what makes it worthy. Mamta was right in pursuing a career if that is what she loved to do and outsourcing the chores she detested but would that choice have worked for me?

I asked myself what drove me every morning to wake up and go about my day?

There was silence for a minute and then came a clear reply – I simply loved the way I spent my time! I loved cooking for the people who mattered to me -the spices, the flavors, the colors, the aromas coming together absolutely made my heart tingle. I experimented wildly in the kitchen with various cuisines, various grains and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Would I be happy then as a chef in a Michelin starred restaurant? Absolutely not! Cooking for my loved ones was joy, cooking for people I did not know seemed like a chore.

As I proceeded to think about the other activities that filled my day it dawned on me that I enjoyed most of them. I meditated every day, baked frequently, read on topics that fascinated me, penned words from my heart, did a little gardening, took dancing lessons with a bunch of wonderful people and spent a lot of time talking to my teenage kids. The monetary benefit of these activities equaled zilch but the happiness they brought me were incomparable. Though, of course, investing so much time at home truly did not translate to my family being perfect. We were just as flawed as any other family. They did take me for granted at times but that did not take away the fact that I loved what I did. There were no world changing or lifesaving inventions to my credit but I contributed by adding one happy person to this troubled world.  I had certainly not lost myself in raising a family. In fact, I had found myself so this path was right for me.

I was also fortunate that I had the choice, we were financially comfortable. We had a beautiful house that offered me the space to do everything I loved. Going to work would bring in more moola, more branded stuff and exotic vacations but it would also take away time from doing the things I enjoyed.

Someday the kids would leave the nest and I would have more time at hand. Someday then my book would be published and maybe even feature in Oprah’s book club. Someday…. but for now, things were just perfect.

Pondering done, I stepped into my childhood home to the warmth and happy faces of my parents and my older brother. Here were three people who had taught me what a loving family is all about and I would be forever indebted to them and to Mamta Singh for kindling the search within.


























Filed under Essays

A Woman’s World

She scrolled through the congratulatory messages that poured in from all over world  on her Samsung 74 , as she lay in bed that night. Her victorious spirit soared as if on a tequila high. Years of labor had finally borne fruit today, International Women’s day 2024. Congress had finally passed the ‘Equal pay for Equal work’ bill, one that she worked so resolutely on.As she looked back on her journey to this day, she realized that at many times along the way when she had clung on to her purpose by just a single strand of hope, it was also the wonderful men in her life- her father, her husband, her brother, her son, her friends and her colleagues along with her squad of women friends who had lent her ropes of support to keep her going along on the arduous climb uphill. They cherished her and it was this love that made her want to be an better woman, a better person each day.This victory belonged as much to them as it did to the wonderful women all over the world. This realization called for a tweet, she decided.

@realPC Victory on #InternationalWomensDay  is as much for supportive men as much as for women.Thank you all.

‘Eh! Pretty lame tweet.’ She would have to reword it. So hard to condense the cascading gratitude she felt into 140 characters. Twitter was certainly not invented by a woman.

As she struggled to come up with the perfect amalgamation of brevity and emotion she could not help but dwell on the fact that in our fight for equality how easily some of the goodness in the world was overshadowed  by the bad. Though there were vast areas of the world, where extensive work needed to be done to bring women up to par with their male counterparts; war ravaged and poverty stricken regions where the identity of a women was limited to their role played in satisfying the male hunger for food and sex and in rubbing the lamp of the masculine spirit so that it gave birth to an over sized genie of the male ego; yet it was also true that there were societies in the world where extraordinary women were raised to magnificence by their fathers and supported to excellence by their partners.

Why at this very instance there were fathers  who worried about their daughter’s future and safety, fathers who sat up late to make sure that when their daughter’s walked in past curfew time, the young girls knew that someone was watching over them who cared enough to discipline them, fathers who proudly announced their daughters’ achievements on social media, who drove miles just to make sure their daughters in college were doing fine, husbands who drove their daughter’s to soccer games and sat through ballet recitals because their wives were at work, who proudly tweeted of their daughter’s achievements, who showed up for their little one’s Christmas recital even though she just was just a prop on stage to lend their support- the list can be long . She thought of the time when her husband had lovingly tended to his mother when his mother was ill or the countless times ¥∗earlier when her own son had helped her out with making dinner. These men deserved to be admired. They did after all succeed in breaking the shackles that confined the epitome of manhood to being just breadwinners and stepping up to do their part in raising children.Hopefully , being appreciative of them would lead to emulation of behavior in those echelons of society where equality was so skewed.

Ah! she would have to reword her tweet to send a concise yet powerful message.Knowing she had billions of followers, she could change minds and hearts with her words.

‘@realPC Historic breakthrough for women today on #Internationalwomensday. would not be possible without the unflinching support of so many men who worked to see this bill passed…. ‘

‘Gawd- more than 140 characters. This was hard. Maybe colleges needed to add Twitter 101  to their Creative Writing departments.

She turned on the television to take her mind off her unsuccessful attempts at tweeting. Pretty ironical that on one of the most successful days of her life, shes till  felt a slight twinge of failure.

Images of beaming women from all over the world flashed on the screen making her feel like her soaring self again. She thought about the same day, years earlier when women had protested the world over to make this dream into a reality.There had been so much of unrest and angst back then. Their angst had fueled her drive to make this issue one of the key points on her agenda. Today’s victory certainly made these women feel they got their due, yet would it succeed in bridging the divisiveness in society? Could we blame the dismal state of affairs in the world just on inequality between genders? As women, we formed a half of humanity so how responsible were we in the decline of ethos of mankind.Were women on the same page on various issues that plagued society? Not really. She remembered her own mother’s essay on’ Dowry and Abuse in India’.In so many instances there were mothers-in-law who had equal responsibility in abusing their daughters-in-law.In corporate workplaces the world over, it was not just men who tried to bring you down, there were other women too.Women sometimes did not support each other or each other’s choices enough. She had given up a successful law practice to be a stay at home mom for a few years and then later made her foray into politics. In both instances it was her mother-in-law who had chided her. The first time because she had felt sorry for her son who would have to be the sole earning member and the second time because she had felt her grandchildren would be neglected!

She remembered the time her friend Julia, a celebrity, had waved to the paparazzi and fans from her hospital room a day after undergoing a life threatening surgery. There was one particular reporter who wrote about Julia’s unkempt hair and that reporter was a woman!. How shallow to focus on petty matters like appearance when the reporter could have chosen to glorify the fierce battle Julia fought so bravely.

In her own life, she remembered the times when she had run for office when other women had passed snide remarks on the way she had looked. She had a fiery spirit but was not physically well endowed. Some women had been pretty relentless in their comments about her appearance, that made her feel she was not good enough..Color of the skin mattered as much to women as it did to men. Even though there would be no more protests to fight for equal pay, there would continue to be little typhoons in our hearts as long as we battled other women- mothers-in-law v/s daughters-in-law, stay at home moms v/s career moms, planned parenthood v/s pro life supporters, red v/s blue. If women accepted one another without judgement, they could be the strongest pillars of strength in each other’s lives. She was fortunate enough to have friends with whom she could be completely at ease and fall back on in times of need. It is impossible to agree on all issues yet we need to make space in our hearts for other women who are different from us and we need to give them space in their lives to be themselves, respect them for it. Black,white, brown, yellow, tall, short, fat,thin we are all equal in the eyes of God.As women, we each need to step up to our own power, take responsibility for it and be humbled by the power of another. Every woman has a right to choose and should not be judged by the choices she makes. No change would come about if we continued to see ourselves just as weak victims of male oppression and not forces of change..

Sigh! That was  a subject for another tweet. First she had to finish the one on gratitude.Maybe some amazing words would come to her in the wee hours of the morning that she could tweet about in all caps. Twitter was a fun trend started by her predecessor that she intended to continue.She could try to bring about change one tweet at a time. After all, she was the 46th President of the United States.


Dedicated to the biggest cheerleaders of my writing, my father and my father-in-law. Thank you!


Filed under Short Stories