Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Baingan Bartha (North Indian roasted eggplant)

A spicy roasted eggplant dish that is delicious with chappatis!

Ingredients

2 large eggplants (brinjal)
2 red onions
6 medium sized tomatoes
1-2 green chillis
2 cloves garlic
1 inch piece fresh ginger
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½  tablespoon coriander powder
½ tablespoon cumin powder
¼ teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
3 tablespoons of sunflower oil
a handful of coriander leaves

Method

Rub the surface of the eggplants with a little oil and place on an open gas burner or in a hot oven.  



Keep turning the eggplants until the skin has charred evenly on all sides and the flesh is soft. Allow to cool, peel off the charred skin and chop the flesh finely.


Chopped flesh of the cooked eggplants

Make a paste using the ginger, garlic and chilli and finely chop the onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves. 

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a hot pan and add the cumin seeds. Once they start spluttering add the chopped onion and sauté until the onion is soft and has turned golden brown. Then add the ginger-garlic past and mix thoroughly, followed by the powdered cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli. 

Add the chopped tomatoes and salt and mix vigorously. Allow the tomatoes to soften and then add the cooked eggplant.

Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes until all the vegetables are soft, then add the chopped coriander leaves. 

Serve with whole-wheat chappatis for a delicious and nutritious lunch!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rawa Masala Dosa!

A tasty and nutritious variation on the plain dosa!

Masala:

4 medium sized potatoes
2 red onions
1 green chilli
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
handful of coriander leaves
a few curry leaves
½ teaspoon asafoetida
¼ teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
half a lemon

Optional extras :  Lightly toasted Urid dal and/or Cashew nuts

Instructions

1.  Boil the potatoes until soft, then peel and mash roughly.

2.  While the potatoes are cooking, finely chop the onions, chilli and ginger.

3. Add a tablespoon or two of oil into a hot pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to splutter and pop add the chilli, ginger, onions and curry leaves and sauté for a few minutes then add the turmeric and asafoetida.

4.  Once the onions are soft add the mashed potatoes, salt and chopped coriander leaves and mix thoroughly. Add the juice of half a lemon or lime for extra flavour!



To make the dosa prepare the Rawa Dosa Mix.

Spread the dosa mix onto a hot pan in circles  
Turn the heat down a little and cook for a few minutes 
Flip so the other side is in contact with the pan 
Cook lightly on this side and flip back
Add a spoonful of the masala mix on to one side 
Fold the dosa over to seal the masala inside. Add a little ghee and toast the dosa on each side and it's ready to serve!

Serve with sambar, or any chutneys and vegetables of your choice!






Monday, April 7, 2014

A Weird Ritual

In our part of the country in India after a child is born in the family usually a small function called kappu function is held on the 7th or 9th day. [Kappu means small bangles in Tamil.]
In those days in most of the big households, babies would be born at home. After the delivery the mother and child have to remain inside the delivery room for ten days. All cannot enter that room. There will be an elderly woman, usually the mother of the girl or a widowed aunt who lived in the house, attending on the girl and the baby. Deliveries used to take place quite often in joint families as many relatives would live together.

Kappu function was a joyous occasion. Close relatives and people in the neighbourhood would be invited. The baby would be given a bath and a new shirt or a frock would be put on the baby. On these occasions an elderly lady would officiate over the function. She would instruct the mother of the baby as to what she should do. Inside the room the mother of the baby would obey her and she would apply kajal to the eyes of the baby and put a big black dot on the forehead. [This is to ward off evil eyes.] Small golden bangles and silver anklets would be bought for the baby for this occasion. 

Before putting these ornaments on the baby a weird ritual is performed. My aim in writing this article is to write about some of these weird, unpleasant, highly superstitious and blind customs that are prevalent in India.
This ritual is done like this. Just before starting the kappu function, a woman who has no issues is chosen. If there is a married young woman in the family who did not conceive even after a few years of married life she would be chosen for this ritual. It was the belief that she would conceive soon if she performed this ritual.

A small oval shaped grinding stone [In Tamil it is called ammi kuzhavi ] is given to her. She has to hold it like a baby. She is asked to apply oil to the stone and bathe it with soap and warm water. Then a towel is given to her to dry the “baby”. “Dry it well, otherwise it will catch cold”, this is the standard joke on these occasions. Then the girl has to apply powder and kajal to the stone. Then she is told to wrap the “baby” in a new cloth and feed milk to it. Then the function of putting golden bangles called kappu to the actual baby begins. There is lot of singing by ladies and then sweets special to the occasion are distributed to all.

I know of one young woman who was usually asked to do this ritual often and she would weep whenever she was called for this purpose. She remained childless. After a few times she refused to attend these functions.

It is not as if these ladies are without pity. They have affection and sympathy for the girls but they are led by superstitions which they believed blindly. Even when it was found to be have no benefit whatsoever it was done. Even today this custom is prevalent in some households in Tamil 



Friday, January 24, 2014

Samiyar's Solution

A Samiyar [ a wandering monk] had come to the temple! People living around were excited.  They liked him, respected him. He did not talk much. He did not ask for money or any gifts. People thronged around him with their problems. Most of the times he would just look at them and keep silent , sometimes he would utter a word of advice. Every Friday morning  he would sit outside the temple and people would gather there to receive his blessings or advice.
One Friday Velusamy stood patiently in the queue to see the Samiyar. 
When his turn came he went forward and stood humbly before the Samiyar.
The Samiyar looked at him .
Velusamy said,
“Aiyah, Sami [master], Please accept me as your servant. I have been bad.  I want to lead a life of penance.  I want to serve you”
Samiyar looked at him . Velusamy started to cry. Tears flowed freely from his eyes.
“I have been bad, wicked. Sami. Please accept me. I will serve you. I will be your helper. I will wash your clothes, cook your food, serve you in all ways. Please take me!”
Still the Samiyar did not say a word but looked at him.
Velusamy then poured out his story. 
“Sami, You want to know what sins I have committed? I will tell you all.  I left my wife for another woman.”
 Velusamy paused.  Samiyar continued to look at him.
Velusamy  said, “I took away all my wife’s jewellery. I took away everything to please this other woman.  I abandoned my wife and child.”
Velusamy again paused. As the swami did not say anything he continued his narrative.
“That woman was a very wicked  woman,  Sami, a monster in a woman’s body!  For this worthless woman I had left my good loyal wife!  One day she left me for another man taking away all my money and the jewels. I have been wicked!  I want to do penance. I want to serve you and wash away my sins!”
Then the Samiyar opened his mouth.
“Did you ever try to find out what happened to your wife and child?”
“eh.. Sami,  I don’t dare to go. I have been very wicked. How can I face her?”
“Go, see her and come back in a week’s time. ”
But,  Swami, I do not know where she is! I took away everything and left her nothing. I am afraid to think of what became of her.  She might have taken to begging.  I do not even know where she is.”
“Go and search where you left her.”
Velu went to the small town where he had lived with his wife and child in a small rented house.  At first he could not find it. Then he realised  that the small house had been turned into a kind of eating house. It was a small thatched place . It was evening and  business was brisk. People were sitting and eating . 
Poor Chellam! What happened to her?
 Two men were serving the people  and a buxom woman was sitting at the counter receiving cash.
Velu stared and stared. “Was it…? No it can’t be! But… she looks like her but..!” He was thunder struck!
Velu realized it was his own wife  who was sitting at the counter.
“What do you want?” the man serving the customers was asking him.
Velu was ashamed of his worn out clothes and haggard appearance.
He went and sat in a corner table .
“Why did  you  come now?” His wife had come and was was standing before him.  Velu was startled. He stood up.
“Chellam, I am sorry.  I am really very sorry. Please forgive me. I just came to see how you are.”
“So she has left you! I heard about that. Do you know how I suffered? You cannot even imagine the hardships I endured! Now after six years you have come to see how I am . You probably thought we would be begging in the street” Velu gave a start. That was exactly what he had expected.
“No one will employ me as I had a small child. I started to sell idlis under a tree.”
“Chellam, I…”
“Don’t say anything.  From what I see of you, you have nothing. You can remain here if you want to. Hey, Mani give this Aiyah what palahaaram  [food] he wants and give him a bed to sleep. He can sleep in the srore room.” So saying his wife went inside.
The man brought hot idlis and pongal with all the side dishes and placed them before Velu. Velu was very hungry and finished the plate in no time and the server brought coffee. 
When Velu wanted to pay the man said “As you have come for the first time Madam said it was free. You need not pay.” The man took him to the store room, brought a mat, a pillow  and a bed sheet and gave it to Velusamy.
He lay down on the mat. “It is so nice here. I can eat my fill every day. How tasty everything was! I can see Chellam’s hand in all the dishes. Who can make chutney like this?  I can live here  comfortably, no need to work.  Chellam is a bit haughty  now  but ….”  Tired from the journey he fell asleep.
In her room inside of the little house Chellam lay on her bed and thought about the unexpected arrival of her husband.  “It is a good thing, she thought, “It will be better to have a man about the house. Little Priya also needs a father.  I will have someone to supervise things.  I have a feeling the boys are cheating me.  Set a thief to catch a thief! Also his being here would lend an air of dignity to me. Of course I will have to keep a tight rope on him”. She too slept.
Though she was feeling bitter about him, being a practical woman she decided to keep him with her.
Early morning Velusamy awoke suddenly in a sweat. He had a nightmare. He dreamt that he was standing amidst the chairs and tables  and  people, the customers and servants were jeering at him. “Look at the cheater! adulterer! He is a robber  who stole from his own wife!” In his dream he saw  his own wife and  daughter hurliing abuses at him.
Trembling all over Velusamy slowly got up. He rolled the bed neatly and kept it in a corner. Then he came out, kept a hundred rupee note on the counter under a paperweight and left the place quietly.


Monday, January 13, 2014

We Have To Be Practical!


Hi, Kala!,
Hi, Basu!,
“You wanted to see me?  Any special reason? 
“I..”
“Remember today is a working day?”
“Oh, yeah.  I am sorry. It is inconvenient?”
“No. No. Now tell me what is so important? Have told your father about us? What did he say?”
“Basu, actually my father is ..”
“I know, I know. You have told me so many times. What is new about it?”
“Eh? Oh, yeah. Let us go somewhere where we can talk”
“Alright, now tell me. Is it about your job? You are sacked?”
“No. No!”
“Then what is it. Something bad? You seem to be under some strain”  
“About this alliance.  My father is very keen on it.”
“Oh, come on,  baby,  it is high time you told him”
“I…. I don’t know how to tell you. You see this varan, this boy is very very rich”
“So what? Your father is forcing you to accept him?”
“Actually I.. I am myself thinking… If I agree how rich I will be!”
“What the hell are you talking about? Don’t tell me you want that?”
“I know it sounds horrible. But they are so rich!”
“I can’t understand. Do you mean to say you will give up all this and marry somebody you don’t even know?  Kala, I have nice job and a good salary. You too have a job. We can have a comfortable life. We love each other or should I say loved each other?”
“You must understand , Basu. Yes, we love each other. But we can never even dream about that kind of riches those people have. I can have anything I want!  No need to worry about the cost! Jewellery, Latest car, Latest TV, latest laptop, latest ipod, designer clothes ,Anything! Oh! How rich I will be!  I will move in high society! It is beyond all my dreams!”
“What about me?”
 “My only worry is about you. I know you love me. But we have to be practical, Basu. “
“So you want to be practical. OK. Do whatever you want. Is it bye bye now?
“I know it sounds so bad. Do you love me very much, Basu? Oh! Basu, I know it will be difficult at first but you will get over it. Won’t you? Try to focus on your job”
“OK. Now that you are not there in the picture anymore for me I will have to marry someone else.”
“What? What did you say?  So soon? You will marry?”
“Yes. What can I do?  I cannot be single all my life”
“But….But you love me. How can you think of anyone else?  Aiyo! I never thought  about that! I thought…  I can’t bear it.  Basu,. I will give up my rich alliance and marry you”

“And dream about the latest car, latest TV, latest laptop, latest ipod, designer clothes  and what not! No, Kala, thank you. You see we have to be practical! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Love Of God


Vast treasures of gold, silver, priceless jewellery and money are being discovered in temple vaults and in the residences of religious leaders. Gold and silver weighing hundreds of kilograms are being found. Are we not stunned by these revelations which keep cropping up day after day?
I remember once I gave my house-maid a pair of gold earrings weighing just 3 grams, on the occasion of my daughter’s wedding. She, poor thing [literally] was overjoyed and thanked me again and again.
But with regard to these temple offerings, we are not talking in terms of grams but in terms many, many kilograms of gold and silver besides bejewelled crowns and diamond jewellery! People do not hesitate to offer expensive jewellery and bundles of currency notes to God, hoping that God pleased with their offerings will shower them with even more riches! Is this not an illusion, is this not blind faith?
In this context I would like to tell you about a great poem by Leigh Hunt, “Abou Ben Adam” which I had to memorize for my English class way back when I was in school. Even today I can recite it fully. Perhaps many of you know this poem as it is quite a popular one. It was a favourite of mine and it left a deep impression in my heart.
In this poem Abou Ben Adam is sleeping in his bedroom and he has a dream. He wakes up and sees “an angel writing in a book of gold”. Abou asks her “What writest thou?” The angel replies “The names of those who love the Lord.” “Is mine one?” asks Abou.
“No, Not so” replies the angel. Then Abou requests her to write him as one who loves his fellow men.  The next night the angel reappears with a “great wakening Light” and shows “the names of those whom love of God had blessed” and the poet says “Ben Adam’s name led all the rest!
We offer to God things which He has created. When He has created everything, will He be pleased by these offerings when multitudes of his creation are suffering from grinding poverty and malnutrition on account of the selfishness and greed of some human beings? I think not. As the poet says God loves those who love his creations.

I am surprised that even educated people blindly follow the rules set by the so-called  religious leaders without thinking about it. It is like blind leading the blind.  Just think how all this wealth if brought to good use can eradicate the poverty of our people completely. We talk of black money hidden in foreign banks. But right here, in our own country there is so much immeasurable wealth.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Revenge

The four were getting ready to leave.
“Hey, don’t leave anything. Or we will be caught.”
“Yeah. Better be careful”
As they were preparing to leave a voice weak and strained came from the figure lying on the floor.
“Hey! You are going?” the girl looked at them with hate.
One of the men stopped to give her a reply.
“Hey, don’t talk. Come let’s go. Somebody will come” The others were impatient to be gone
But the man said, “Take rest. After a while you will be OK.  Go home”
The girl spoke.
“This is the second time. I will not live long. But I will have my revenge”
They all laughed.
“No, No, We will go away. No one will know. Come on boys, don’t waste time, let us be off”
“You don’t understand.”
“What?”
“The other time I was ill. And it was found I have AIDS

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mad About Saris

“I have my favourite seat. From here I can watch, not the women but their saris. Ah!  this light blue sari with wide dark red borders with yellow thread work. Nice. Aha, this one grey with small green leaves, I wish I had one like this. But I am sure this lady would faint if she sees my collection. Here is girl wearing a churidar. Give me saris everytime! So graceful! So many designs! Just look at this one, true mango double shade, a deep yellow with a hint of green, and beautiful zari work…. And this one..
“Park stop!”
Hearing the announcement the girl rose from her seat.
“I think she is mad!”
The girl whirled round and shouted, “Who is mad! You are only mad!” So saying the girl lifting her faded nightie a little, pressing her unkempt hair got down from the bus.
The conductor said in a sympathetic tone, “Everyday she comes in this bus, gets down at the park stop and returns in the same bus after two hours.”

 “Yes, I know their family.” A woman spoke from behind. Everyone turned to look at her. “Poor thing! Her wedding was suddenly called off by the bridegroom’s people. They cited some apashakunam [bad omen]. Actually the reason was they had got a richer alliance for the boy.  All arrangements had been made for the wedding. She has a cupboard full of beautiful new saris. Since then I have not seen her in a sari."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sathyagraha

Lakshmi was only twelve when she was married. She was tall for her age and with big eyes and thick long dark hair, was very good looking and held promise to be a beautiful woman when she grew up.
In the early twentieth century inIndia girls were married off before they attained puberty. Following this tradition Lakshmi’s father Ramanatha Iyer also started looking for a good alliance for his daughter when she turned twelve. Through a mutual friend he came to know that an advocate in Madras Mr. Narayana Iyer had an eligible boy. The alliance was fixed by the elders. The boy and the girl did not see each other before the marriage.
Narayana Iyer was an aristocratic gentleman and he magnanimously did not ask for dowry from the girl’s parents. Narayana Iyer’s wife however was not so large hearted. She said firmly that the wedding should be done on a grand scale in keeping with their status and demanded that lot of jewellery and silver articles be given as gifts. She said to Lakshmi’s mother, “As we have a status in society. After all it is for your daughter only”
Lakshmi’s wedding was celebrated with great pomp. Ramanatha Iyer did not spare any expenses. It took place in Mayavaram,  a small town in South India. The bridegroom’s people had come from Madras, a big city also in South India. The bride’s father was a big landowner in Mayavaram and he was very happy that his daughter was getting a well-educated husband from a good family. So he had made elaborate arrangements to look after the bridegroom’s people well during the wedding. He had arranged a big house for them to stay and had deputed two men and two women to attend to their comforts during their stay.
On the eve of the wedding the bridegroom was taken in a procession from the house where they were staying to the bride’s house. A big car, a convertible, a rarity in those times had been arranged for this event.  Music by a popular band group and nadaswaram  [A wind pipe type instrument. Nadaswaram is a must during weddings even today] by a famous musician added to the gaiety and grandeur of the occasion. The bridegroom sat in the open decorated car and a few small children were allowed to sit with him. Relatives and guests, all in their finery and carrying various gifts in big decorated plates followed the procession.
For the seer, or the gifts given along with the bride everything was given in pairs called “irattai seer” or double gift. Silver lamps, plates, vessels and many other articles were displayed in pairs. Beautiful miniature silver articles like a train, a car, a horse drawn chariot, a motorcycle, tiny cooking vessels were also given as the bride was a still a child. For the bride heavy gold jewellery like kasumalai [ a long gold chain threaded with gold coins] ottiyaanam [a heavy golden girdle], addikai [a ruby necklace], vangi [an ornament worn on the arm]and many others were specially made.
The celebrations went on for four days.
Food was prepared by a famous caterer. There were music concerts and a magic show and many other entertainments on all the days to keep the guests happy.
Following a tradition, before the actual wedding ceremony on the wedding day, the bridegroom dressed as an ascetic went on a kasiyatra  i.e  going to Kasi [today’s Benares] presumably to undertake a life of renunciation. He would walk a few paces from the house carrying a book of Bhagavad Gita and a walking stick when the girl’s father would walk to him and entreat him to accept his daughter as his wife and lead a life of grihastha or a householder. The priest chanted mantras all the time which the girl’s father repeated. All the mantras were in Sanskrit. The boy would accept the offer and turn back and walk towards the house.
Now the bride came out of the house surrounded by her relatives. She was wearing a dark green silk sari too long for her frail body and a lot of ornaments and flower garlands. She had to look downward as became a shy bride. Then the couple were made to stand face to face. Now was the ceremony of exchanging garlands.  For this ceremony the maternal uncles of both the bride and bridegroom were masters of ceremonies. The bridegroom’s uncle took out a garland from the many worn by the boy and gave it to him to put it around Lakshmi’s neck. But Lakshmi’s uncle lifting her on his shoulder retreated a few steps to prevent the boy from putting the garland.  The boy’s uncle, not to be outdone lifted Ganesan on his shoulders and urged him to put the garland around Lakshmi’s neck.  They literally ran back and forth causing the crowd to break out in cheers. Now there was literally a competition between the boy’s uncle and the girl’s uncle. Amidst a lot of cheers, teasing and shouting this ceremony was concluded. Then the priest told the boy to take the girl’s hand in a firm grip. They were led to a decorated swing and many more ceremonies like giving the couple milk and banana, hurling coloured rice balls around their heads, were done. Here the women sang songs in shrill voices apt to the occasion. Then the actual wedding ceremony started. A fire was lit and priest chanted mantras  loudly.
Lakshmi had to wear a nine yards sari for the mangalya dharanam or the tying of the thali or mangalyam. This was a thick yellow thread threaded with gold square pieces on which were inscribed the sun and the moon. The bride sat on her father’s lap as was the tradition and the bridegroom with some help from his sister tied the thali around the neck of the bride and all the guests showered the couple with flower petals. Then the couple had to perform religious ceremonies pouring ghee into the fire according to the chanting of mantras by priests. Then the groom took his bride round the fire seven times. Each time as they went round the fire, the bride’s foot was placed by the husband on a flat grinding stone called ammi and then taken off and then the  boy   escorted his wife to their place in front of the fire. Chanting of mantras by Brahmin priests went on throughout the rituals.
In the afternoons there was nalangu on all the days a playful non- religious function full of fun.  Here also women sang loudly.
In those days people led a more leisurely life. During weddings relatives and friends would come and stay for many days and enjoy the festivities.
After the wedding Lakshmi continued at her father’s house till she attained puberty as was the tradition in those times. Even then Lakshmi’s father delayed sending her to her husband’s house as she was still too young. Then when she was 15 years old, on an auspicious day she was taken to her husband’s home by her parents. There, a room was decorated for the first night of the young couple. Strings of fragrant jasmine flowers were hung all around the cots where soft blue velvet mattresses and pillows were laid. Incense sticks were lit. Plates of fruit and sweets, along with a silver jug of sweet milk with crushed almonds were kept on a table for the young couple in case they felt hungry.
After a short religious ceremony the very young couple were escorted to the bedroom with lot of fun, cracking of jokes and laughter. Lakshmi was feeling terrified. She who had lived a sheltered life with her parents was to be left alone with a grown up man! At the same time she was also eager to be with her husband. Ganesan understanding her fear was very tender and gentle towards her that she gradually lost her fear completely and felt a deep happiness. Thus began Lakshmi’s married life.
 As Lakshmi was very young she was allowed to wear the six yards sari for some time. Later she would wear the traditional nine yards sari.
Lakshmi’s husband was the eldest son. There were two sisters and two brothers.  He had lost his father recently a few months after his marriage. There was also an uncle Krishna Iyer who had retired, drawing some pension, living with them. This uncle had one son. Though the family owned lot of property, after the father’s demise, monthly income had dwindled. Ganesan was just coming up in his law profession. During Ganesan’s father’s time the household was run on a grand scale. There were lot of servants like a head cook and an assistant, a gardener and his son attending to the watering of the plants and his wife doing the cleaning work in the house.  There was also a  washerwoman who would come daily to wash the clothes.
 Apart from this a man would come on Saturdays to give oil massage and bath to the men of the house. But now, even though they were not as well off as before, Ganesan’s mother Gomathi ran the household in the same scale as before. She lived on false prestige. Food would be prepared on a large scale and half of it would go waste. As all the members of the household, being orthodox Brahmins, were vegetarians, teetotallers and non-smokers, one would expect expenses would be low and money would be saved but in reality it just went up in smoke because of irresponsible management.
Things were not as good as Lakshmi’s father had thought. He soon realised that underneath the grand exterior of that house there was not much substance. True, there was a lot of property owned by the brothers but there were also huge debts.
Their house was a big sprawling one, rooms having been added haphazardly. A new person coming to the house would find it difficult to find his way. Distant relatives would often come and stay for days together. There was no responsible head of the family to direct and control.
Lakshmi’s mother-in-law Gomathi would sit in the central hall and would keep an eye on everything but had no real concern for proper management of the household . She was a formidable looking lady and everyone was afraid of her.
The elder of Ganesan’s two sisters Visalakshi had become a widow when she was only 13 years old. Visalakshi was a breathtakingly beautiful woman with smooth skin and thick black hair. She was 20 years old when Lakshmi entered their household.  She was a passionate woman who in the secrets of her heart longed for the love of a man. She was intensely jealous of Lakshmi because Lakshmi enjoyed a life with her husband. Lakshmi as a sumangali [woman with a living husband] could wear new saris and jewellery, keep flowers in her hair, keep kumkum in her forehead whereas she herself had to observe strict  penances so that at least in her next birth she would be more fortunate. She tried to be pious and detached but within her burned a passionate nature which she concealed even from herself.
Lakshmi pitied her sister-in-law and would not dress herself in finery and if given a string of jasmine flowers to keep in her hair she would cut a very small part and insert in her hair.
Lakshmi’s husband Ganesan was an upcoming young lawyer. At court he was brilliant and aggressive but at home he was an obedient son to his mother. As an eldest son he felt it was his duty to look after his mother and sister.
The younger one, Savithri was married into a rich household. Her wedding took place four years after Ganesan’s wedding. For giving her seer [gifts] Ganesan’s mother took away many of Lakshmi’s jewellery and silver vessels and other things without any qualm and gave to her own daughter.
Gomathi ruled the house like dictator. She had lost her husband soon after her son’s marriage. She believed that Lakshmi brought ill-luck to her house and harboured an intense dislike towards her. Lakshmi could not do anything right. Lakshmi had her self-respect and would not try to please them when they did not treat her well, unlike the other daughter-in-law Kaveri who was a sychophant and would try to please them whenever she visited them. Lakshmi would do hard work in the house but Kaveri was the favourite to her in-laws. She lived in another town but whenever she came she was treated with special indulgence.
Whenever her mother-in -law aided by her daughters taunted Lakshmi , always in the absence of Ganesan, she would not say anything in reply. She would bear the insults quietly. Sometimes she would tell her husband about the happenings during the day. Ganesan would listen sympathetically but would not remonstrate with his mother. Ganesan was kind enough towards his wife but he dared not oppose his mother in any way. He would start his work in the mornings in his office room and go to court at 10 AM. He would come home in the evening and go to his club for playing billiards with the result Lakshmi was left at the mercy of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law throughout the day.
Five years passed in this manner. Lakshmi became the mother of a boy and a girl.
Of late whenever Lakshmi went to her parental home, she would tell them how she was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and her daughters and would  weep inconsolably. She would say, “Let me be here only. I don’t want to go there. I cannot bear their spiteful words”.  But her father always said, “Wherever is Rama, that is Ayodhya for Seetha. Your place is with your husband. Things will get better. Wait patiently” And he would send her back.
But as time passed Lakshmi’s father noticed that Lakshmi was becoming more and more lustreless and pale. She had lost weight.  He became worried about her health.
One day after Lakshmi had gone back to her husband’s home after a brief visit, her father said to his wife, “Did you notice how our Lakshmi looks? I did not see her smile even once this time. She has been telling us about her plight all these months and we are not doing anything to help her”
“I have been worried so long.  I have tried telling you many times. But you did not pay heed till now! And now she is with her third child” said Lakshmi’s mother accusingly
“Really? Is it so? She is so weak!”
“She does not eat properly there, you know. Her mother-in-law often comments about her eating habits. It seems, she said once, - Lakshmi told me this - her mother-in-law,  said that she was surprised that people could be so lean when they  eat so much. You know our Lakshmi was nursing her baby then and she felt hungry all the time. Lakshmi has her pride. Also often she is made to eat with the cook”
“So cruel of her! I think I must do something”, said Lakshmi’s father, “I will write to Ganesan’s uncle”
He wrote a long letter to Ganesan’s uncle Krishna Iyer explaining about Lakshmi’s position in their house, her suffering and his worries about her. This uncle always had a soft corner for Lakshmi. He understood her plight and had sympathy for her. So he showed the letter to Ganesan and said, “Ganesa, I am asking Ramanatha Iyer to come and we will talk and decide something.”
Ramanatha Iyer  duly came with his son. Ganesan’s uncle was a very good man and wanted to do something for Lakshmi and Ganesan. He knew the debts were mounting. It would be good for Lakshmi if Ganesan could take her away from this stranglehold.
 Ramanatha Iyer, his son, Krishna Iyer and Ganesan were closeted in Ganesan’s office room. The women were trying their best to eavesdrop but as the most of the conversation was in low tones they could not understand a word.  Lakshmi herself was standing some distance away behind a door.
Ganesan’s uncle and Lakshmi’s father were the main talkers. Lakshmi’s brother Ramasamy and Ganesan  were standing near them respectfully.
After much discussion it was decided that
Ganesan was to have the small house which was being used occasionally as a guest house and forty acres of nanjai land [fertile lands where paddy is grown]. They were to start living in the small house from the auspicious month of thai – January.
“I shall also arrange to give them some cash so that they can start their household comfortably” said Ganesan’s uncle.
Satisfied Lakshmi’s father went to do his daily rituals.
When she came to know about the arrangement, Ganesan’s mother called her son urgently, alone, and said, “Ganesa, don’t agree to what they say. Your share would be much more. They are cheating you. And what is this talk about thanikkudiththanam ?[going separate]. I will never agree to that“
Ganesan who had great respect for his uncle said, “Uncle says…..”
“No. No. “, interrupted Gomathi , I tell you, your share  will be much more. Don’t agree. Moreover our family should not be split.”
“Amma, wherever I am, I will not ……”
“No, Ganesa, I don’t like this new proposal. What is wrong now? Why should they try to split us?”
Though Ganesan was convinced that the proposal was good he did not dare to go against the wishes of his mother.
Ganesan reluctantly obeyed his mother as always and refused to agree to the proposal.
Lakshmi’s father went back, a sad and sorely disappointed man. The uncle felt disappointed and humiliated. After his brother’s death his position in the house was not very pleasant though he gave most of his income for the household expenses.  His sister-in-law seemed to have no respect for him eventhough all the property was jointly owned by him and his younger brother when he was alive. He did not worry about himself and his son but he wanted to do the right thing for Ganesan for whom he had great affection.
That night Lakshmi did not sleep. She was in deep thought.
She then asked her husband in a low voice, “Just what is wrong with what your uncle proposed? You know about my life here.”
 “I cannot leave my mother. She says the family should not be split”
 “Who talked about leaving her?  We will be right here in this town. You can visit her daily if you want. I want to bring up my children where they can get good food and milk. Where they can grow up freely and without fear. You don’t know what all happens here. All are afraid of your mother. Even you are afraid.”
For the first time Lakshmi opened her heart fully to her husband.
 “You are exaggerating things.” Ganesan said.
“I am not. They, amma and Visalakshi akka [akka means elder sister in Tamil]  hate me. They resent my presence. Whatever I do is wrong. Do you know every day I eat with Mangalam mami [the cook]. Not that I mind it. Actually I prefer that. But the point I want to make is that they do not like me. On some days when Savithri visits, our child goes without milk in the mornings”
  “Why should they deny milk to our child? We buy plenty of milk.”
“Savithri’s child has to have milk. By the time our child wakes up all the milk is used up to make coffee and the rest to make curd. Your mother says, “oh! I forgot. Today you give her coffee.”  To her own grand-daughter, just to spite me!”
“I agree mother is a little unfair to us. She is partial to my brother and sisters. Has always been. But we have to adjust. There should not be misunderstanding in the family”
“You just don’t understand. She blames me for your father’s death. That is why whatever I do or do not do is a crime in her eyes.”
Ganesan said, “Did she say that?”
“She often hints about it. They pass contemptuous and snide remarks about my parents and my house in Mayavaram. Moreover all my silver articles are being given to her daughters. You know that. Your own diamond kadukkans [ear rings] were gifted to Savithri’s husband”
Ganesan kept silent. He knew that many of his wife’s things were given as gift to Savithri for her wedding. He had to agree because he could not afford to buy gifts to be given during the wedding.
“I will not mind that if they are kind towards me. If I remain here I will die. I cannot bear their snide and sarcastic remarks anymore. They know how to hurt me. They are always watching my every movement. Even at night like thieves we close our door stealthily after they all sleep. We have no freedom!
“Lakshmi, you know that is because of Visali. She cannot have that kind of life ever,” said Ganesan with a great sense of sorrow.
“But anyway she will know about us when I become pregnant.”
“That is why I did not want to marry. Actually you know, I tried to persuade my parents to get her married again to some man in North India where she could lead a family life away from the prying eyes of the society. But Visali herself refused. I think she was afraid to go away from the familiar surroundings. And they made me marry.”
“Do you regret it?”, Lakshmi asked with a smile.
“No.”said Ganesan taking her hand,  “I love my life with you and children. But I can’t help feeling sorry for her.”
“I think you feel guilty.”
Ganesan was silent.
Lakshmi said after a minute,
 “Please do not think I do not feel for her. I do! But it is hard for me to live in this atmosphere of hate. If you have even a little consideration for me you will agree to the proposal. It is good for our children also.” Her voice rose a little, “please agree. Let us go.”
Ganesan kept silent. He knew that whatever she said were all true. He was aware his wife was not treated well. But he did not know the extent of mental torture to which his wife was subjected every day. He just could not believe they could be so cruel. It was when he had gone to court they started their attack.
“I am going to fast till you agree to the proposal.”
“Don’t be silly, Lakshmi, sleep now. I have a case tomorrow” so saying Ganesan fell asleep. Lakshmi lay awake thinking and planning.
The next day early morning Lakshmi talked to the cook Mangalam mami alone taking her into confidence. “Mami, I am going to fast till they agree. You have to look after Sachu and Mani.”
“Of course I will take care of your children. But Lakshmi, in your condition…”
“Do not worry. Nothing will happen.”
She started her hunger strike that day. During those times India was ringing with Mahatma Gandhi’s fasts. Lakshmi had followed Mahatma’s fasts eagerly as her father was a follower of the Mahatma. She knew that sathyagraha was a war for a just cause and the Mahatma had made it clear that ahimsa or not hurting anyone should be a part of this war. To be a true sathyagrahi one must not have any ill feelings towards those against whom the war is being fought.
All were stunned by her decision. That quiet girl doing such a thing was unimaginable. How did she get that idea?
“How long can she be without food? She is only trying to scare us. See if she does not eat by this evening” Gomathi said derisively. But evening came and went. Lakshmi with quiet determination continued her fast.
“She is in her third month. She should not be without food” This was Mangalam mami, the cook.
Visalakshi said, “How can she be without food? She must be eating on the sly.”  But even she knew in her heart Lakshmi was honest and sincere and would not cheat.
On the 2nd day Ganesan was getting ready to leave for court. Gomathi called him and said, “The leaf is spread. [In those days people ate from banana leaves.] Come and eat.”
“No, amma, I am not hungry.” So saying he left for the -court.
Ganesan was worried about Lakshmi.  He had begged her to take something. He had even shouted at her for being obstinate. But Lakshmi had only smiled and shaken her head. She was lying down on a mat inside their room.
Lakshmi’s fast had entered the third day. Occasionally she took a sip of water. Her son was crying near her.
Gomathi said to her daughter, “if something happens to her people will blame me only.” She along with Visalakshi went to her. Seeing her mother-in-law Lakshmi sat up and smiled. “Amma, have you eaten?”
Gomathi  said, “ Let us not talk about me. You must eat. Come, eat something. Do you know Ganesan did eat take lunch today?  Enough is enough. Come and eat. You should not starve. It is not good for the baby.”
Lakshmi shook her head and smiled, lay down again and closed her eyes. “Come, Amma, she won’t listen to us. Let us go.” said Visalakshi. They left with  aggrieved looks in their faces. “We have done what we can.”
There was an atmosphere of tension and anxiety in the house. Savithri had come and also Ganesan’s younger brothers who lived in nearby towns. They were all with their mother.
Lakshmi was becoming weaker and she lay on a mat with closed eyes.
Fear gripped Gomathi. What if she dies leaving her children motherless? What will people say? She decided to consult her astrologer Mr. Panikkar. She had great faith in him. For every problem in the house she would consult him. As usual she sent the bullock-cart for him.
Panikkar came and Gomathi showed him Lakshmi’s horoscope. She wanted to know about Lakshmi’s future. She, of course did not tell him that Lakshmi was fasting.  Panikkar was puzzled. He was a shrewd man and he had guessed that the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law was not the best of ones. This was the first time Gomathi was consulting him about Lakshmi. Why? What was the reason?
He looked at the horoscope and he drew some criss - cross lines on the floor and arranged some cowrie shells in them. He shuffled them and rearranged them several times. Gomathi and her stooges were looking at him anxiously. If he says Lakshmi’s lifeline was short, what then? What will happen? What will people say?
And then panikkar looked up and said, “this [indicating the horoscope], Lakshmi is ill? Why are you consulting me?”
Gomathi did not know what to say.
“It does not matter.” Panikkar said, this is an auspicious horoscope. Lakshmi would bring wealth and peace to this house. She has planet Sukra [Venus] looking at her benignly. She has sukra dasa. No harm will come to her. Do not worry about her”.  Panikkar took his fees and went away.
Gomathi who disliked her daughter-in-law because she brought ill luck to the family now started to think, “Yes, come to think of it she has brought some good luck already. Is not Savithri happily married? Aiyo! If something happens to her!
Meanwhile Ganesan was terribly worried about his wife’s health. His concern for her overcame the fear he always had of his mother.  “Come what may, I will convince amma to agree to uncle’s proposal. I only hope it is not too late.”
He was surprised when his mother did not vehemently oppose him. He of course was not aware that there was already some change in her thanks to the smart astrologer Mr. Panikkar.
Ganesan then went to his uncle and said, “Uncle, Lakshmi’s health is deteriorating. I am worried.”
His uncle said, “Yes, I have been concerned about her health also. Perhaps we must call our family doctor.”
“No,uncle. I know what should be done. I have decided to agree to your proposal.”
“Oh! That is good. What about your mother?”
“I have convinced her. Actually she agreed immediately.”
  Uncle smiled and said, “Good. I knew you could not bear her suffering. Her sathyagraham  has become successful even on the third day! Go and tell her immediately. Make her eat something. It is usual to give orange juice.”
The news spread that Lakshmi was about to end her fast.
All the members of the family gathered in that room where Lakshmi was lying in a weak condition.
 “Lakshmi, it is alright. I have spoken to uncle. I have agreed to the proposal. So now give up your fast.”
Lakshmi lay with closed eyes.
“ I have written to you father also. He will be coming tomorrow. We will plan everything. I have convinced amma also”
Lakshmi opened her eyes.
Ganesan sat near her and took her hand and said tenderly “here, drink this juice”
Mangalam mami had prepared the orange juice.
Lakshmi had become very weak. She said something in a very low voice. Ganesan bent down to hear what she was saying.
Ganesan then turned to his mother, “Amma, she wants you to give her the juice.”
Gomathi hesitated but took the orange juice from the cook lady and went near Lakshmi. Lakshmi tried to rise but was too weak. Gomathi sat near her, put her arms around her and fed her the juice. Lakshmi with a contented smile lay in her lap and sipped the orange juice and thus won her war.