An Ode to Letters

For the dinosaurs who lived through the age of pen and paper, and those who may read about it in history books!

An Ode to Letters

The last time I wrote a letter? Why, just today!

I need it like therapy, at least once a day.

I do not twitter nor tweet, tho’ the world finds it so neat!

Instagram and Snapchat…What’s that?

I like my words to be spelt as they must, and sentences that don’t rust.

Alas, now I too must type my words and SEND an e-mail

Oh for the days when they were penned, and were snail mail!

I so miss the prelude, the preparation and the process…

Choosing the paper and filling the pen (with an ink called Quink!)

Trying to capture the words as they tumbled and tangled and dangled,

Protestations and lamentations, explanations and vexations.

Reports to parents, and advice to sisters, news to share and opinions to air,

Musings with friends–from mundane to surreal,

Sweet nothings to that someone special!

Drafting and crafting late into the night,

Stashing the sheets in the envelope before first light.

To the post office the following day, to weigh and decide

The stamps to be bought, and pasted on the top right side.

Then drop into the big red box with swish and a wish,

And the delicious anticipation of the letter in return… a month, a week, a fortnight,

Counting the days, awaiting the post, what a splendid way to spend days and nights!

I cannot think of anything better, than the sheer joy of penning a letter!


“The palest ink is better than the best memory.” Chinese proverb



Emma Watson’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ Moment

Last week, Emma Watson was seen with a tattoo at a red carpet event. The tattoo said ‘Times Up’ and was in support of the movement against sexual harassment in the workplace which is snowballing, and is a follow on from the #metoo campaign.

Laudable intent. But less-than-laudable grammar!  What really caught everyone’s eye was that the tattoo said ‘Times Up’, rather than ‘Time’s Up’. With her characteristic sense of humour, Watson responded to the criticisms with a tweet: “Fake tattoo proofreading position available. Experience with apostrophes a must.”

Everyone is talking about it! I am happy for Watson, I am happy for the movement. But most of all, I am happy for the APOSTROPHE! Difficult for a punctuation mark to get red carpet attention, but the apostrophe’s done it (yes, and I think I got the apostrophe right, see rules below!).

So maybe we should give it some attention too! When you are out tomorrow, look out for how often the apostrophe is misused. I find more ‘errors of commission’, as compared to Watson’s ‘error of omission’. For instance, within 50 metres of my house is ‘Shri Ganesh Tyre’s’. Not much further down the road is ‘Sai Krishna Sweet’s and Snack’s’. (Raghu tells me that for some reason, in his school, they used to refer to it as a ‘post office comma’).

It may be worth taking a few moments to briefly review the usage (no guarantee we will still  get it right!):

The apostrophe is used in two situations (and I quote all the rules below from https:// punctuation/ apostrophe): (1) to show that a thing or person belongs or relates to someone or something: instead of saying the party of Sudha, you can write Sudha’s party; and (2) an apostrophe is used to show that letters or numbers have been omitted. For instance, I’m – short for I am, or he’ll – short for he will.

The biggest controversy about apostrophes is in the its and it’s!

These are the rules to remember:

  • Its(without an apostrophe) means ‘belonging to it’: The dog wagged its tail.
  • It’s(with an apostrophe) means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’: It’s been a long day.

Wondering if apostrophes are really worth a blog? Well Lynne Truss has written a whole book on punctuation and it was a bestseller! Do read her ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

And for more on the apostrophe, including the county which has banned it, go to


Nose No-Nos

So now plastic surgeons (that’s what they were called in our days) are being asked to ‘fix’ noses so that they look good on selfies! It’s not enough to use all the technology the digital wonders provide to shape and mould, and shade and light our faces to look oh so picture perfect in every selfie, pelfie, helfie, welfie and ussie (no I did not make those up!)  taken every moment of our waking lives!  According to a 2017 poll, 55 percent of facial plastic surgeons reported seeing patients who wanted surgeries to help them look better in selfies, up from 13 percent in 2016.

Researchers are working out mathematical models to help describe how selfie cameras distort the face. They found that when taken 12 inches away, selfies increase nose sizes by 30 percent in men and 29 percent in women compared to photos taken five feet away, a standard portrait distance. And yet, in the quest for the perfect picture, cosmetic surgery is seen as the perfect answer.

What an unimaginably narcissist society we have become! Time was when noses were a distinguishing feature of one’s face. We were born with them, and we lived with them. Maternal and paternal aunts would argue about whether the new baby had the father’s nose or the mother’s nose. Characters in stories were described by their noses—the handsome hero with the Roman nose, the wicked hook-nosed witch, the cute button-nosed toddler….

When my daughter was born, my paternal aunt told me that I needed to pull her wee little nose every day to give it shape and substance. That was almost 30 years ago. Last week daughter and I took an ussie. And she looked at it and said “Mama, you and I are both growing into Grandfather’s nose!” Like it or not that’s our heritage, and makes us uniquely what we are!







‘Daughters’ and My Place in the Continuity of Life

Like most of life, books also happen to one in their own time. So it was only this week that I read Daughters by Bharathi Ray, a book which first came out in Bangla in 2008, and in English translation in 2011 (foreword by Dr. Amartya Sen, no less!). Historian, erudite scholar, administrator (Pro Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, couldn’t have been an easy job!), parliamentarian (Rajya Sabha, 1996-2003), she is made a tad more personal for me because she was part of a Parliamentary Committee which visited my organization years ago, and the fact that I am mildly acquainted with her daughter Raka Ray.

Daughters is the chronicling of the stories of five generations of women of Bharathi Ray’s family—from her great grandmother, to her daughters.  No dramatic stories, but the telling of everyday life of women.

But through this, it tells many tales. That some women in every generation have fought for what they wanted, and made their own spaces. It is not always dramatic. Rather, it is the story of incremental change—maybe the kind of change that is truly sustainable.

And it is on the shoulders of these women that we stand. What we take for granted today has been possible because of them. The outliers became the role models and then the norm. When a girl who grew up in the early 1900s and was not sent to school because that was not then the norm,  shut herself up for three hours every day of her life to read and learn, in spite of the pressures of a joint family, she set the norm that women had a right to their time, and to education and learning. When a young married woman stepped out of her house in 1958 to take up a job in spite of the mild discomfort of her mother-in-law and husband, and became a teacher and moulder of young minds, she made it easier for so many women to pursue their careers.

I am neither a student of history, nor have I had the fortune of being Dr. Bharathi Ray’s student. But her book has given me an appreciation of my place in the continuity of life and women’s lives. And my responsibility to push it forward. I think this is what history should be about.



How strange to live in a world (or shall I say, a city)

Where distances are measured not in units of length

But in units of time!!

So that when Kiran says

“I am at Bannerghatta. How far is your place?’

I say not ’10 kms or 12 kms’

But ’40 minutes–keep your fingers crossed.’


And distances depend on time of day and day of week!

So that when Pramod asks me on a Sunday afternoon

‘How long will it take me to get to your place?’

I say ‘I will put on the tea. You can be here in 10 minutes.’

But when his wife calls on Tuesday evening and asks me the same question,

I say ‘Oh, oh! Our other guests will be here in 15 minutes,

And its going to take you at least 45!’


They also depend on time of year

For after the monsoons, when the roads are more holes than road,

A 1 km stretch is a 15 minute ride

While in winter, with the roads freshly—if superficially—done up,

It is a whiz-past of 2 minutes!


And did you know, distances depend on who is in town?

For when the PM or the FM or any other M visits,

We count distances in hours, not in minutes.


My science teacher, who poor soul,

Lived in as high an ivory tower as is possible,

Will be most deeply disturbed

Because it seems

That nothing is absolute anymore!


Is Women’s Day about Dates and Discounts?

March 8 is observed as International Women’s Day. This is tradition which is almost a century old. But today, as with numerous other ‘Days’ like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Women’s Day too seems in danger of becoming a day to give ‘the special woman in your life’ a card, or take her out for dinner or buy her a gift—good commerce and yet another excuse for a party or socializing.

If we go back to the origins of Women’s Day, it was about the struggle of women against a social, economic and political order which suppressed them and denied them equality and rights. The first Women’s Day can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1910, at a Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen, an International Women’s Day was proposed to honour the women’s rights movement and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. Women from 17 countries unanimously agreed to the proposal. Following this decision in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in several countries on 19 March. More than 10 lakh  people attended these rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

Is it our case that in India we no longer need worry about these issues? With study after research study highlighting female foeticide and the falling male-female ratio? With every day’s newspapers talking about increasing violence and crime against women? With education statistics pointing to the number of girl children dropping out of school? With girls being married off well before the legal age? With the glass ceiling very much in evidence in almost every sector?

By all means let us mark Women’s Day. It is crying out to be observed in our country. But NOT with cookery competitions and office parties; not with bouquets and dates; not with discounts on clothes and gadgets.

So what are the alternatives? Well, it doesn’t have to be dramatic. You could just take 15 minutes to learn about some of the issues confronting women. You just have to put the term ‘Female Foeticide’ or ‘Girl school dropout’ in your search engine. I assure you, it will be an eye opener. If you want to do something more active, visit a local government school and ask to see the girls’ toilets. Then think about whether it is really possible for an adolescent girl to attend school. Or talk to your maid and ask her how she spends the day—how many hours she spends working outside the house, and how many hours she spends on housework. Or talk to a woman working on a construction site—ask her about the work she does and the wage she earns, and compare that to the men on the site.

You may well find yourself a mission for your life.  And that is what ‘Women’s Day’ should be about!


Why this blog?

To enable two well-past middle-age matriarchs to “tell it like it is” to the rest of the world. The two of them have spent their lives ‘scolding and moulding’—their team members, their children, and any younger person who made the mistake of wandering into their ambit. And all with the (mistaken?) belief that they were making the individuals and the world better for their admonishing!

And now with the children (biological and adopted) having flown the coop, and the teams, and opportunities for young people to be in their ambits shrinking, the matriarchs need avenues to continue their nagging, telling, and general commentaries on the world. And hence the blog. So what if no one ever visits? The matriarchs have done their duty by sending their scoldings out into the ether!

So on the occasion of International Women’s Day, 2018, here is to a voice for women, especially those of vintage years. Women like us need to send their messages out too! The world is not just for the young!

–Meena and Mamata