Okay, Aunty

It drives me nuts – being called ‘Aunty’. I wear my 42 quite happily so don’t go there.

I live in a country where everyone is Aunty. Or Uncle. Or Bhaiyya. Or Didi. Apparently, it implies respect.

An acquaintance’s daughter insists on calling me, Aunty. Her mum knows it drives me crazy but she insists too. I’ve suggested she call me ‘Ms Varma’ if ‘Karina’ is too avant-garde. No dice. She wants her daughter to be ‘respectful’.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand what’s respectful about a refusal to respect my preference.


I’m testing a theory and I need your help

I wrote about Airtel today. About their depressingly awful problem-solving capabilities and piss poor customer service. You can read this post on my work blog and if you resonate with my customer service experience, if not with my Airtel experience, please share it with your networks.

But that’s not why I’m writing this one. I have a theory and I’d like your help testing it. I’m collecting stories – specifically your interactions with brands and your experiences with them. Stories of good experiences, great ones, exceptional encounters of service staff that went that extra mile, meh ones, really bad ones. I’m collecting them all. Send them to me in the comments or if you prefer to mail me bee at busybeeco dot in

Ta muchly.

The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

This post has been a long time in the making. I’ve stopped and started many times. I’ve trashed it. Started over. Edited. It’s been the most difficult to write. THIS IS WHAT A HIATUS WILL DO TO YOU, K!

I’ve been moping around for a couple of weeks. I have a birthday coming up. I’m always morose around birthdays. Any one’s birthday. And when I have one just around the corner, I get all quiet and sullen and sarcastic. For days now I’ve been making really terrible jokes, telling V he should start referring to me as “The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything”. Hey if you can call someone “The artist formerly known as Prince”, this shouldn’t be a stretch. Right? Right.

Before you assume, incorrectly, this is not a rant about growing old – I don’t really care about growing old. I know I’ll like me-at-42 way better than me-at-32. Let’s not even talk about me-at-22 (shudders theatrically). And I’m quite sure if I get to 52 I’ll be a self-loving, self-adoring, self-indulgent mass of amazing – wrinkles, thinning curls and all. So no, not really about birthdays or growing old.

I just wanted to say ‘Hello’. I have missed writing about things I can’t not write about.

I have missed you.

Don’t stop celebrating festivals – reinvent them.

Indians are a festival happy nation. And rightly so. Our culture, an amalgamation of several cultures, has been influenced by an ancient heritage, several millennia in the making. Historically, festivals in India were the drivers of community cohesion. An opportunity for a community to come together to worship their deities, celebrate, share a meal, make memories.

Festival celebrations, at least the major ones, are no longer restricted to the community they originated with – a factor of economically driven migration. Religion today has a much smaller role in these celebrations, they are increasingly an opportunity for social interaction – especially in our metros where just about every major festival is celebrated, with equal fervour, by everyone.

Though I was raised Catholic and my husband Hindu, we claim no religious identity. I’ve always been indifferent to the religious component of festivals – even as a child. Catholicism has too many roots in paganism for me to take it seriously. So, Christmas was about the presents. Easter about the delicious pot roast and marzipan eggs. And mostly about our extended family coming together to share a meal, laugh, have a good time.

When I moved to Bombay for work, away from my family, festivals became an opportunity to catch up on sleep. I never really gave celebrating festivals a second thought until my little girl, then four years old, decided she loved them. All of them. Even the outdated, ridiculous ones. And she wanted to celebrate them. Our home has always been a nature versus nurture minefield – my daughter is a determined little person with a mind of her own.

Unfortunately, a lot of our festivals have, over time, lost a fair bit of their original cultural significance. They are loud and ostentatious, very bad for the environment, and in some instances completely out of tune with the times.

Take Raksha Bandhan, for example, I’ve always found this festival patriarchal. To me, the idea that a man, whether capable or not, is by default a woman’s protector is both ridiculous and patronising.

The original rakhi, according to one legend, was a strip of silk Draupadi tore out from her sari to bandage Lord Krishna’s bleeding wrist. Deeply moved, Krishna called her his sister and swore to repay the debt – which he did when she was humiliated by the Kauravas (and her husbands). According to another legend, Krishna was bathing in a river with the Pandavas when his lower garments were pulled away by the current. Draupadi gave him her upper garment so he could cover himself – an act of generosity Krishna repaid by coming to her rescue when the Kauravas tried to disrobe her.

Both legends have a common thread – brother and sister protecting and looking out for each other – a debt repaid.

Then there’s this famous story of the Queen Regent Karnavati of Chittor. When attacked by Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, Karnavati sent the Emperor Humayun a rakhi, asking him for his protection and help. Overwhelmed, the Emperor abandoned an ongoing military campaign and immediately set out to protect Chittor. Unfortunately, he was too late – the Shah had reached the fortress prompting Karnavati and all her ladies to commit jauhar (mass suicide) to protect their honour. Furious, Humayun attacked the Shah and reinstated Karnavati’s son Vikramaditya Singh as the ruler of Chittor.

Shorn of all emotion, this is the story of an astute political leader. Such a pity she died before she could be rescued. She would have been a fabulous ruler.

During Raksha Bandhan this year, I saw a lot of valid outrage on Twitter about this archaic festival. There were a lot of tweets from people choosing to boycott the festival because of its patriarchal construct. After all, gone are the days of the hunter-gatherer male, of physical combat, of women confined to home and hearth. The battles we fight today are those of equality and mutual respect. Much like the story of Draupadi and Krishna, Raksha Bandhan today ought to be a celebration of mutual protection. So why isn’t it? What’s preventing us from updating our festivals so they reflect the truth of our times without taking away from their cultural significance? – Absolutely nothing.

We’ve been celebrating our reinvented versions of festivals for a couple of years now: when Raksha Bandhan comes around, my little girl exchanges rakhis with her male cousins. And she promises to be there for them just like they promise to be there for her. Only she gets presents though.

For Diwali, we light diyas – no fire-crackers as they’re bad for the environment – and we exchange homemade presents. Onam is about getting together with the extended family, sharing a huge meal. At Christmas, we dust off the trusty old tree and have a grand old time decorating it. For Ganeshostav, she makes her own little Ganpati with eco-friendly clay. (We haven’t drowned any though. She draws the line at destroying her creations). We tell her the stories of how these festivals came to be, their significance, and why they matter – a little tradition of our own in the making.

Our little girl wants to grow up aware of her country’s glorious cultural heritage, and we want her to be mindful of the bits that must evolve to reflect her present. Our decision to reinvent festivals allows her the best of both worlds.

(This post first appeared on Women’s Web on 12th September 2014.)


That’s how old I am today. Or young. Either way, just a number.

2014 is my sabbatical year.

I started 2014 by deleting my twitter.

I’ve read 43 books since the start of the year. Some old favourites. Some new discoveries. Some awful pap. I’m not picky.

I’m taking sewing lessons, re-acquiring a skill my mum insisted I develop when I was a teenager.

Thing is getting used to having me around. We dress up in superhero capes and she treats me to tea and scones.

She tells me stories. Fascinating stories.

We dance to the B-52s and Queen and Beyonce.

Vinod takes a packed lunch to work. I make his lunch. Mix almost passed out from shock when I told her.

I’m hiding from everyone I know. Well, everyone other than the two and four I live with. If you ask me why I won’t be able to explain. I have nothing to say.

Some things are better left unsaid.

This is my life in my fortieth year.

Maybe this is my mid-life crisis.

It’s turning out to be quite a blast.



Everything else is just filler.

14 years I’ve lived with this.
My scars have healed. My messed up insides never will.
There’s pain. Constant and unyielding. Only the degree varies.
I’ve learned to mask it well.
Only your Dada sees. He’s the only one who gets to experience all my ugly.

Then there’s you.
You shouldn’t be here.
All those experts are still scratching their heads over you.
We’re still scratching our heads over you.
The miracle my broken body made.
Our miracle.
Fast asleep in my bed tonight because your Dada is away.
Smiling that gorgeous, gap-toothed smile in your sleep.
You. Are. Here.

It hasn’t been fair to you.
You have to be gentle with me.
No headlong charges for you.
No boisterous tussles.
You’ve already started rolling your eyes at how delicate your Mahm is.
But we make the best of it, don’t we?

You wished today that you could make my pain go away forever.
Your face crumpled when I started to cry.
You thought you’d made me sad.

I wish I could’ve explained how wrong you were.
I wish you were old enough to understand.
I have you, baby.
I have your Dada.
Everything else is just filler.

All I see is a brave little girl

The last couple of days, my Twitter has been flooded with opinions and debates about a little 16-year-old from across the border. A girl who wanted the right to an education.

There have been endless viewpoints. Malala is a pawn. She’s a hero. She didn’t write her speech. She’s being played. What a badass. She deserves better than to be treated like a mouthpiece for vested interests. It’s all been well documented by anyone with a point of view.

The world is a shitty place. Shittier if you are a woman. There isn’t any place on earth a woman feels completely safe. There just isn’t. If you aren’t battling sexual harassment in the workplace, you’re hoping to make it home safe – that you won’t get raped and beaten and left for dead. Even home isn’t a safe haven for some of us. The spectrum of wrongs a woman faces are well documented, and people more articulate than I will ever be, have commented on them many times.

When I look at Malala, I don’t see pedestals or mouth pieces or groups with vested interests. All I see is a little girl who stood up to bullies. All I see is a brave little girl.

I have a five-year-old daughter.

She is a regular five-year-old who goes to a fabulous school where her teachers won’t just teach her the 3 Rs but also to be someone who cares about the world around her. She is one of the really lucky ones.

But, the world is a shitty place.

I want my daughter to have role models she can look up to as she grows up to be a citizen of this world. Role models who stand up for what they believe in.

I wish with all my heart Malala didn’t have to be a role model. That she could be just another normal, happy girl. Just like my daughter. But she isn’t. Nothing about her life is normal. I could do with some of her courage. We all could.

I couldn’t ask for a better role model for my little girl.