Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letters to Appa

Dearest Appa,
27th Jan' 1965
Hope this letter finds you, Amma, Raji and Seenu in good health. The weather here in New York City is icy cold. But Avar sollraar - I have missed this winter's biting cold. I still wish I had seen the snow…But then, I still wish I had not left Trichy at all. I do miss Trichy, Appa. You, Amma, Raji, Seenu, pakkatthaathu Rama, Vikatan, Ucchi Pillaiyaar Koil, filter coffee, Holy Cross College, the Physics Department and of course Sakthi. I know you wish I hadn't brought his name in this letter. But not to worry Appa, I understand that you got me married to Visu because you thought it was best for your daughter. I still remember Amma wiping her silent tears with her madisaar thalappu and you shouting at me the day I told you about Sakthi. Later, when the initial shock wore off you patiently listed umpteen reasons why I should not marry Sakthi. I agree Appa, that 20 is too young to decide, that Raji and Seenu would have been affected greatly by my 'mistake', the Agrahaaram would have scoffed at you…a meat eater was not a good match for someone who had never even tasted onion and garlic. The reasons were innumerous. I knew you'd still have objected and offered other reasons even if he had become a Dhigambara monk. Visu on the other hand, wore a poonal, he is the son of Neelakanta Sastri, an Engineer and he researched about computers which is what made you jump for this alliance. Am not complaining Appa, Visu is a nice man. Tell Amma that I could not try her kozhakkattai recipe this Pongal because coconuts were too expensive and Avar nenacchar that it was ridiculous. Anyway, we went out on Sankaranthi day and dined out. He thought it would be a good idea to invite the Chatterjees also. But I didn't speak Bengali and Mrs.Chatterjee spoke English in an accent that comes with living years in America. Hence I made myself busy with the menu card. They ordered various species of fish, shrimp and a lot more of items I had never seen in my life. I ordered orange juice and a sandwich. The other diners thought it was queer coming to a seafood restaurant and settling for a sandwich. That day, I learnt that Avar prefer pannradhu beef, pork, bacon and seafood. Do you know, Appa…Sakthi gave up meat because of me? I didn't ask, he just did. But then, Sakthi is not Neelakanta Sastri's son and that made it imposible for Subramania Iyer's daughter Kalyani to marry him. I will keep you posted on what happens here. I don't think I can make it to Seenu's Upanayanam. Tell Amma not to get me a pattu podavai for the poonal, I don't use them here. I wore it once and felt like a clown here.
Your loving daughter,

Dearest Appa,
20th Oct' 1968
We are fine here. Gautam is speaking his first words and I swear they sounded like 'Dosai'. But Visu claims it's just gibberish. From your previous letter, I gather that pakkathatthu Rama is married and settled in Jamshedpur. Nice to know that. Please find out her address from Saarada maami and write it to me. I want to keep in touch with her. I hope Raji is happy with her husband in Madras. I spoke to her last month, great to know that she has a phone. Do tell Seenu to study well and prepare for his school final exams. Raji also told me that Sakthi is married now. I wish him good luck, but I could not convey the message to him. Raji refused to be the messenger and I know you have severed ties with Sakthi's father, your long term friend Sankaravel, thanks to me. I hear his wife is his cousin…He must have succumbed to his mother's wishes. How did Avani Avittam go? Visu's mother gave me a bunch of new poonals for Avani Avittam but Visu was in Boston that day. He wouldn't have used it anyway, I haven't seen him wear one in the last three years. Gautam is now playing with the spool of thread - mere thread it is, what else can I call it? Gautam will not even know what it signifies, I guess. Visu is making sure Gautam grows up listening to English only. He says it will make his life easier. But I do read out passages from Ponniyin Selvan and Bharathiyaar's poetry when I am alone with him. It's more of reading to myself, I guess. I actually got that poetry book as a present from Sakthi, it still has his scrawling signature in the first page. By the way, Visu saw that book and asked me about Sakthi, I told him. Hold your breath Appa, he didn't throw me out of the house. He is a good man, no question. He said it is okay and that he doesn't mind. And then he told me of his American girlfriend whom he was once in love with, when he first reached America - Amy, a fellow Researcher who was in a brief relationship with Visu when she was in New York. They lived together for 3 months and decided against marriage, somehow. Amy once dropped home when she was in New York. Nice lady, she was. Ask Amma to send me Sambar Podi for this whole year. My friend Sudha is coming to Madras next week. Ask Seenu to catch the Rockfort Express and give it to her. I will collect it from her here.
Your loving daughter,

Dearest Appa,
3rd June' 1974
We have arrived here safely. After two months in India, I find it hard to adjust back to normal life here. Gautam and Ranjana demand vadai, paayasam and vaazhai ilai here. Visu's relieved to be back in America. I left a set of my books there. If it's not in Trichy it must be in Visu's parents' place. If you find them, safeguard them until my next trip. They mean a lot to me since they were gifts from Sakthi. By the way, Appa, I found out Sakthi's present address in Madras from Rama and Saarada maami. I wrote to him. I am extremely proud to know that Dr.Sakthivel is a cardiologist much in demand there in Madras. He was thrilled to hear from me after so long. You know what he has named his daughters? Kalyani and Raagamaalika. He called me. You know what, he's still a practising vegetarian, Appa. He didn't revert back just because he lost me…He asked me if I still sang and whether Gautam and Ranjana could sing. I could see a proud father in him, when he claimed his daughters could sing upto Ra ra Venu Gopala. That's when I remembered that I was once a good singer. I wonder why I stopped singing, wonder why I never exposed the kids to Music and Dance. But then, I realize that I had buried all that deep inside me when I left Trichy; after bidding farewell to my best Rasika, actually. Sakthi. After the call, I tried singing 'Kurai Onrum Illai'. I could not rquite reach Charanam, because of the lack of practice and more importantly because of the tears that filmed my eyes and the constriction in my throat. I sang to Visu and the kids one of these days. Though Gautam was impressed, father and daughter could not just wait for me to finish! By the way, next time some friend comes to India, send me a Sruthi Box. I would like to start singing again.
Your loving daughter,

Dearest Appa,
14th Aug' 1978
Just back after our tour to California. Find our photos, picture postcards attached herewith. After you are done with showing all family members, relatives, friends and neighbours, pass them to Visu's parents. It was a welcome break for the four of us. But I missed my paattu class students all along and was happy to resume the classes again last evening. Did I mention in my previous letter, before we left on the tour - I finally got my driving license here. I sent a few photos to Sakthi too. He has sent me quite a few records and cassettes. I loved it! I'm reminded of AIR, almost! I'm circulating them among my friends too. And of course, playing them for my students too. They are picking up beautifully. Funny news is, I, a Tamilian, is teaching Telugu and Sanskrit kritis to a cross section of Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada,Telugu, Marathi, Bengali students in an English speaking nation. The music sessions have resulted in a reborn Kalyani, Appa. Thanks to Sakthi, really. I would have never taken it up had it not been for his reminder. I am now thinking of what life would have been like if I had indeed married him. I would have of course lost you and Amma. But right now, with this life in America, Visu and these monthly letters to you, Rama, Raji and Seenu what have i gained? I don't find an answer, Appa. Neither do I think I ever will. Again, as I have always reiterated, Visu is a good man, no complaints there. He is every bit the son in law you wanted. Researcher, American Post Graduate Degree holder, a dutiful husband and father, earning a comfortable income. I know it is too much to ask for anything else. That is a fantasy I left midway in my life…Once upon a time in Trichy with someone else.
Your loving daughter,

Dearest Appa,
14th Apr' 1984
Met Dr.Sakthivel after 19 years…He had come to New York for business purposes and paid me a visit. Visu and the kids welcomed him home with great pleasure. And they liked him too. In fact, they did most of the talking initially. And of course, he got me a whole load of books, cassettes, Mysore Paak and lots more.
Your loving daughter,

Dearest Appa,
20th Jan' 1990
I just went through all these letters lying in my closet draw for years together. These are letters I started writing to you and then decided not to post. For obvious reasons. I could not mention Sakthi to you even though I was itching to. Not because I was afraid to invite your wrath. I just did not have the heart to hurt you, I know these letters would have hurt you. Because deep inside, I know you were disturbed - You knew Sakthi was a good man, you knew he was a man of substance, yet you didn't want to go further. Society, I know. Family…I know…And all these letters would have only wounded you more. Today 2 years after your death, and 6 months after Dr.Sakthivel's untimely death in a road accident, I somehow felt like re-reading all these letters. To me, all these unstamped, unposted letters mean a life that could have been.
Kalyani Viswanathan.
Note: "Avar" is a respectful "him".

Friday, July 22, 2011


The mortality of life hits you at the most unexpected moments... As I sat idling away at my computer trying to follow the news of the blasts in Mumbai, I got the news of someone I whom I had spoken to just hours previously pass away in Mumbai. My first assumption was that it was in the blast that this person had lost their life but to my enormous surprise it was a natural death! The heart attack - which seems to strike at any age these days.

What struck me most about this scenario was that even in the aberration of terrorism which causes death... death still remains a natural phenomenon!

This in no way detracts from the gravity of either the terrorist attack or the death but with an ailing grandmother and granduncle its something that does stays forbiddingly close to the mind and hence the resignation to the naturalness of the phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011



Friday, May 06, 2011

I Belong

Entering her new world for the first time, she gasped, a sharp intake of breath; in fear that she might wake up and find that this is all a dream. But the lab was real and to Shiela immensely beautiful. Spartan, surgically clean and wildly futuristic – bathed in luminous white work lights there were gleaming work areas, state-of-the-art equipment and most of all brilliant, brilliant people working away at their stations.

Somewhere on the floor Bryan Adams crooned softly from a cell phone ringer -

‘Let nothing come between this and me,

‘Cause everything I want – is everything that’s here’
“Oh yeah baby! Definitely all here!”

‘This place is paradise – it’s the place I call home’

“My new home...” her eyes gleamed.

Mrs. Mather, the lab director, was giving them, the batch of newbies, the Grand Induction Tour.
Mrs. Mather had short, cropped, chestnut hair, sensible pumps and surprisingly glasses that
screamed Prada with a deep, rich voice; far from the frump was expecting, drawing from the image of Mrs. Mather’s counterparts back home.

“And this is the neo-physics section, completely Mr. Gupta’s domain. Marion and Julio – those there, are your stations. Miss. Newson will be your mentor.” Mrs. Mather ploughed on through the tour and allocations.

“And here we have the, entrance to the Chemistry wing where Mme. Scherbatsky rules.”

“Ah Chemistry!” Shiela loved everything about Chemistry, right from the sound of it, to its ever evolving nature; just as much as she loved the man from whom she had inherited this love, Appa, her father.

She thought back to the cataclysmic argument a year ago – Strains of the Cranberries from her brother’s new Bose speakers were punctuating their argument.

“With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.”


“Appa, I really want to go! It’s a great opportunity! The scope for research here in India has become
so limited, it’s almost meaningless.

“Oops!” she had thought immediately; “Now I’ve had it.”

“Are you suggesting that my work is meaningless?” her father roared. She wasn’t able to find the words to explain herself. After what seemed like an interminable pause he said, “It’s your life Shiela.” Turned and walked out of the room.

She was brought back to the present with Mrs. Mather’s deep voice smiling at her, “And Shiela Pundit, you’ve got lab C with Mme. Scherbatsky herself. Lucky you!”

While Dolores O'Riordan was still screeching from her brother’s room,

“But you see, it's not me, it's not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,”


She sat in front of the dressing table and unscrewed the concealer, the same brand that she had been using for the last 5 years.She poured out the the ususal copious amounts of concealer and began to carefully apply the liquid on her face.

Remembering back to the day of her wedding when she, who had always been envied for her beauty and her flawless complexion, didn't require any of this unsavoury stuff. She now sat with intense concentration to hide that very skin behind a clayey concealer. She remembered her wedding day nearly 5 years back - the beautician was amazed to see a bride so beautiful without the bridal paraphanelia.It was her face that had captured the attention and consequently the heart of her future husband.

This beauty which she was once so proud of was today the bane of her life. The challenge to hide her pain and still measure up to the standards of the world had become a matter of routine for her.Touching up the makeup she realized this careful regimen for her had now become a sad necessity.

Just as she finished and turned, the pallu of her sari caught on the bottle and it crashed to the ground. She saw the mess caused by the gooey liquid which was for her; not a whim, but a necessity. Suddenly she found herself crying, the broken pieces of glass reflecting her state of mind and something in her snapped and she thought, "Till when will I paint away the streaks of pain??"

She walked into the bathroom and washed away all her makeup to expose her peaches and cream marred by black and purple bruises. Purposefully, she picked up her handbag and strode out of her home into the world without her concealer!

This was the first step in the fight to get her life back!

I had written this a long while back. Original Location:

Thursday, May 05, 2011


The earphones fit perfectly for a change, snugly, warm and comforting in my ears.

I reached into my pocket and turned up the volume of my iPod. Dido began to sing a little louder than one second ago.

'no white flag, above my door'
oh no baby, I thought, no white flag.

'...go down with the ship...'
indeed you will, and so will I.

Walking through the aisle, I looked at the passengers on both sides. They stared back mat me scared, faces pale and it struck me a little funny. I positioned myself and began my performance, I'd rehearsed my lines well and knew I would kill it. I realised though, that I was talking a bit too loudly, like headphon'ed' people normally do.

Same can be said true for people with 2 Kg RDX trapped on their bodies. One of my two brothers was done with the praying and he tapped me on the shoulder saying that it was my turn.

I walked into the pilot's cabin and sat in the co-pilot's chair. I smiled at the pilot's blood streaked face which radiated hate at me like a brilliant heater, the kinds we could ony dream of back home on cold winter nights. I sat there looking at the clouds, Strato Cumuls the passanger next to me had called them and the cities standing tall and far far away.

Not for long though.

I did not pray, just skipped to my next favorite song. The clock at my belt slowly ticked to blasting point.

Just enough time to squeeze in Floyd.....'Time'.

I had written this a long while back. Original Location:

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The new piece of paper for peace

Another year has gone by. And what an eventful year it was! For those you have B-school interviews lined up...there is a minimum of an event a month in the bygone year to acquaint yourself with. I'll probably do a post on that summarizing everything, since I'm hopefully going to have some interviews coming my way as well.

On a more personal note the year was devastatingly eventful and I'm turning back to this space, my blog, for some solace, strength and the will to stand and re-build again.

In some matters, prior experience just makes the situation worse because you know that this is not the worst there is and that it will be a long while before the sun will shine again.

Without anymore moroseness... here's a wish for a good year in life, in every which way.

The hope for dreams to finally win friends back....and as overhaul and better the self.

The healing lies in silence of the mind and madness of the words...