My Uncle Damodaran

Trips back home are always a chance to catch up with the rest of the family, whether you like it or not. After a couple of months of hard work, there may be nothing you would want more on a visit home than to curl up in front of the TV, with a copy of Balabhoomi in your hands. However, mums find such opportunities irresistible. For them, such occasions are tailor made to go visit the relatives, if nothing else to show-off the latest version of their kids to the myriad uncles, aunties, nephews and grandmothers. Your wish to just de-stress at home has no impact on the outcome.

So it will be that you will often find yourself dressed up in your Sunday best, rushing from one relative to the other at break-neck speed to cover everyone. And it is vitally important to cover everyone. It’s just like spraying fertilizer on a field or getting a Brazilian wax. Once you commit to it, you need to go the full nine yards or else the results will be incomplete. There will be some patch left over, someone will complain, and you’ll have gone through a ton of pain for no real reason at all.

Most visits to relatives can be done on autopilot mode, smiling and nodding as little Unnikuttan or Mayamol is paraded before you and asked to recite the latest poem he learnt at school or the latest martial art move she studied after school. Make sure you mentally block out Unnikuttan’s flat rendering of Casablanca and physically protect your family jewels from Mayamol’s taekwondo, and you’re good.

Mostly.

There is a breed of relative that is far more difficult to manage. All of us will have one uncle who thinks he’s young enough to be our older brother. He will, invariably, ask the most uncomfortable questions or make the most cringing comments in his quest to be ‘with it’. Most will be direct assault salvos delivered in the presence of your mom, like ‘Appo mone, who is your girlfriend these days?’, or ‘ So, this new Fifty Shades of Grey movie seems to be quite an artistic exploration into the dynamics of human interaction under duress.’ You can avoid these by abruptly changing the subject by asking about his job, or lack thereof.

A few other lines of attack are less easy to manage. For instance:

  1. Knowledge of popular phrases – My uncle Damodaran, whom I call ‘Damu uncle’ when needed and not at all if I can help it, often throws in phrases used by millennials during our conversations. More often than not he doesn’t understand what they mean, which is often for the good. For instance, there was that occasion when he casually informed me that his daughter Savitri (my cousin) told him that she was going to her friend’s place to Netflix and chill that weekend. ‘It must be this new season of a series called House of Cards,’ he told me. ‘All her friends have been dying to see it.’ He seemed to understand it as a practice where a lot of friends get together over the weekend to binge watch Netflix shows. I smiled weakly and remarked that House of Cards was a great show worthy of chilling to.

 

  1. Archaic sense of overtime – Their grasp of work timings mostly date from the sarkar raj era where 10 am to 5pm were the nationally accepted work timings and any overtime suffered would be handsomely compensated, except if you drew the short straw for election duty. As such, they just cannot understand the virtue of any job which would demand work at 8.00 pm most nights when there was a major presentation due, without the carrot of overtime pay. Coming to think of it… neither can I. Closely tied to this issue is also the inability to grasp why anyone would want to quit a well paying job at one company to join another company. Most folks of their generation joined a company as one would a college, and left it only upon graduation (read retirement). To this day, Damu uncle refuses to believe I quit my first company of my own volition. He insists I must have been fired.

 

  1. Investing – To a man they all consider themselves experts on personal finance. Coming from an era where government jobs were the ultimate wet dream for any self-respecting graduate, their personal finance advice begins and ends with real estate. Compound that with mid-life, existential and a host of other Freudian crises, and they will often end up persuading you to buy apartments in Perumbavoor or potato farms in Coimbatore. Damu uncle’s investment pitch runs like this, ‘Do you know what investment means? Real estate, that’s what it means. All these funds and stocks are totally fraud. I invested some money ten years ago in Teak and Manjiyam plantations, and have not received a single rupee back. They are all fraud people, trying to sell you fraud things. You should only invest in land, I am telling you. Land will always be there for you. In fact, your Girija aunty’s son has just bought some potato farms in Coimbatore, why don’t you just take a look at something similar? He’s a smart boy, I am telling you.’

 

  1. Family planning – This is the worst of all. While one can understand the innate desire of these uncles to ensure the family name survives, it’s tough to understand their urgency. Increasingly stern reminders to quickly procreate punctuate each visit home. When gentle prodding fails, they resort to extolling the virtues of quick procreation. ‘Don’t delay these things, my boy. Have children as soon as you can. Otherwise you cannot enjoy being friends with them as they grow up. Look at me, if I hadn’t had Savitri as early as I did, I wouldn’t have been able to understand her when she tells me she’s going to Netflix and chill.’

There’s no easy way to dodge these bullets. If caught out in the field of fire, one option could be to replicate the tactic used to protect oneself against Mayamol’s taekwondo. Shield your jewels with your hands, and curl yourself up into a ball.

 

Internet, the mallu family and online stalkers

My father recently discovered Facebook. I had hitherto laughed hard at my friends who had taken the courageous decision of adding their parents and relatives to Facebook, comfortable in the thought that my family, being technologically challenged, would hardly follow the same route.

But I had discounted my younger sister.

The girl studied C++ in her 6th grade and Java in her 9th. I am pretty sure she’s devouring some dangerous books on cybernetics for her board exams. Way more steeped in the internet culture than I am, she is a veritable trove of knowledge and curiosity when it comes to anything related to the net. It was she who put my father on to the idea that I was on Facebook and he could have me add him as a friend.

Once he cottoned on to the basic techniques, my father wasted no time in setting up a profile and inviting me. Then he sent me an email to remind me of the invitation. An hour later he phoned me and informed me that he had sent me an FB invite. He sounded as excited as a little boy who had mastered riding a cycle.

I avoided going online for a whole week to think the situation through. Obviously, there were pros and cons. On the con side, any of a half-dozen pics of mine with beer mugs or with some of my dubious friends would be enough to set off full departmental enquiries. On the pro side, the location finder service of FB would always reassure him by letting him know where I was at every moment. Ohh, wait…

In any case, I did it. Not that I had much of a choice anyway. My sister managed to find out my password, log in from my account and add my father. Talk about sibling loyalty.

As dreaded, the first thing the pater chanced upon on my wall was an unsavory comment made on a blog post on domesticatedkid (“The quick and dirty 5 step guide to attending mallu weddings“) by some random religious nutjob. Unfortunately, the word “mallu” generates a lot of hits with search engines and not all of it would be approved by a Catholic nun. In fact, some of the sites associated with the word mallu would be downright frowned upon.

It so happened that my blog was being stalked by a particularly foul tongued Catholic nun (at least, that’s what this person’s online handle declared). She chose to regularly invoke the Lord in heaven to strike me down for using that word in my post, even though my posts have never had any objectionable material in them. On weekends, she would up the ante and try to persuade God to strike down my entire family. She also chose, for some reason best known to her, to abuse me with words she definitely did not pick up in a seminary. I used to regularly remove such posts, but one of them had escaped notice. And guess what the pater stumbled upon on his first visit to my blog?

Father: “Mone, ee ‘Asian mofo’ ennal entha”? (Read: “Son, what does this ‘Asian mofo’ mean”?)

Me: “Errrmmmm….. It means… ahhhhh….. It’s a marketing term for Asian economic classifications”

Father: “Ohh, I see”

Me: <sotto voce> “Phew”

Father: <sotto voce> “Phew”

Online stalkers are huge mofos who take the fun out of surfing for mallu families. Swear.

Three reasons why Mallus need lifestyle training in Singapore

Sumo Wrestler Kaiō Hiroyuki on the first day t...
Image via Wikipedia

The Sumo stance: Standing upright in an MRT will pose a tremendous challenge to any traditional mallu. We are the race who perfected the art of wearing lungis even to Russia (I am not kidding, a few mallu politicians have done it). A necessary requirement of wearing a lungi (which is essentially a long sarong, a kilt, or what have you) is that standing in a moving environment with legs akimbo is a strict no-no. The swaying motion, coupled with the strain on the knot at the waist produced by the stance, is liable to loosen the lungi. Every mallu is trained for years to maintain his balance with legs kept close together. However, all this training comes to naught in a Singapore MRT. Here, the perfect stance required to maintain balance while the train gathers momentum, is what sumo wrestlers are trained to achieve. In a Mumbai train, such difficulties do not occur, since the rush inside would ensure that you don’t have sufficient space to stand, let alone fall. Moreover, if you lose your lungi in a Mumbai train, hardly anyone would notice.

The Zig Zag walk: For a race who mastered the art of lane driving, Singaporeans certainly do not follow it when it comes to walking. They zig. They zag. And they bump into you. I spent half an hour trying to negotiate pedestrian traffic on a 500 m stretch of sidewalk yesterday. I managed to evade about a dozen people successfully, until a walking stick with a very sharp, pointed end attached to an old lady, crashed into me. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind bumping into PYTs wearing micro-mini skirts, but I draw the line at walking sticks. Mallus do not have double standards when it comes to traffic, whether it be on the road or on sidewalks. It’s everybody (and every walking stick) for himself back home, and pretty much the same standards of chaos are enforced across all forms of traffic.

Singlish: It’s not just the fact that verbs, nouns, past participles and the national anthem are all mixed evenly to produce a desi version of English. If it were, my training in decimating Hindi for over 5 years in India would have been more than sufficient. No, even the usage is disturbingly different. A single spoken word can mean different things depending on whether a question mark or a period is tagged on at the end. The other day, I went to a coffee shop to order a cup. The lady serving the customers smiled at me and said, “Order?” I mentioned what I wanted, and as I am wont to do, stood at the counter staring vacantly into space. Meanwhile, another lady in the same shop came up to me and said, “Order.” In my reverie, I failed to notice that the tentative question mark had been replaced by an authoritative period. “Oh, its fine, I have ordered already”, I explained. “Then pay already”, she returned.

Every eating establishment in Kerala, ranging from roadside thattukadas to the Oberoi Hotel in Cochin, makes it a point to clearly indicate to the customer when they are asking for payment. When it comes to money, we don’t stand on subtleties.

And oh, Singapore, what’s all this nonsense about reserving random seats at restaurants with a teeny weeny tissue paper? Grow up already.

The Female Guide to attending Mallu weddings

My previous note on the topic seems to have touched a common chord with my peers everywhere. This, combined with the fact that I have been cooped up at home due to an unexpected extension of my joining date (apparently my company decided that the later they allowed me to join, lesser the damage I could do) prompted me to think of something which I do not normally think about. Girls. Ha.

My train of thought ran somewhat like this. Since the ratio of girls to boys in Kerala is slightly greater than 1 (yeah, that’s right. Read it and weep, you ArjunPandeys and Aditya Kashyaps) it stands to reason that a typical mallu wedding could and should consist of a few PYTs of my age group. Following that train of thought, it is only reasonable that such PYTs be subjected to the same treatment at the hands of saree clad assassins from Palakkad as would the poor guys. After all, Kerala, under communism, achieved gender equality much before the rest of India did. So, a set of guidelines for PYTs to counter such attacks (in the same vein as the original post) should be of a great help. After all, I am nobody if not someone who likes to devote every waking hour to the aid of PYTs.

Girls attending mallu weddings are mostly subjected to questions regarding marriage, health or children. If you are above the age of 20, you will be immediately categorized into one of three possible slots.

  • Educated – This means you are still studying and as such, can be marked down for a possible future match. If you have taken up MBBS however, you can be hunted down without mercy anytime.
  • Employed – This apparently means that you are desperate to settle into married life. Any employed girl who wants to remain single for some time is looked upon with deep suspicion. “Avalkku affair kaanum” (She must be seeing someone) will be the universal chant.
  • Married – Married girls have it tough in a different fashion. Any girl married for over a year is expected to have produced one child and be planning for the next.

Irrespective of your slot, these guidelines should come in handy.

  • Faced with any question, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you. You have the right to speak to your mom. If you cannot find your mom, God save you.
  • Try not to wear a saree. Handling its myriad folds and making sure that you do not trip over yourself as you walk is a major distraction when you are trying to fend off the questions and remarks of aunties. In fact, this is a secret weapon which mallu women have developed over the decades to ‘distract and conquer’ young ladies whom they want to interrogate. If you have ever attended a wedding sans saree, one of the first questions would be, “Ohh, why didn’t you wear a saree? You are old enough now, you know.” The auntie is actually thinking, “Shit, she is going to be a tough one to break.”
  • If you belong to the “Educated” category, you will be quizzed about the course and college. Always reply “Engineering” and follow it up with the name of the closest engineering college. This will buy you time (the 4 years until you get the B.Tech degree) and save you from having to explain why you thought going to NIT Suratkal was better than going to Ponnani. Never say that you are a medical student. Since it takes nearly 6 years or more to become an established doctor, you could be poached any day starting tomorrow.
  • If you belong to the “Employed” category, you will be asked about the company and location. Thankfully, girls do not have to field “salary” questions. In response, you can name any company under the sun except Infosys (in which case, you will immediately be referred to Girija for further consideration), but the location has to be Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram. Any employed single girl working in Noida or Bangalore is automatically assumed to have a boyfriend. And an employed single girl working overseas must surely be in a live-in relationship. “Ithu Kali kaalam alle?” (Isn’t this KalYug?)
  • Never allow the ladies to hold your wrist. Over the years, hardened veterans develop an amazing ability to predict vitals such as body fat content, haemoglobin level, bone density and even menstrual cycle just by holding your wrist. Worse still, they will then proceed to give you a detailed diagnosis of your problem and how the same symptoms resulted in health complications for Mrs. Kurian’s daughter.
  • If you are married, tell them your husband recently had a vasectomy. Trust me; it is far better to shock them than to have them plan your family over the wedding lunch.

If you get the chance, tell everyone (including the bride, God knows she needs some relief) the story of how Girija’s son was caught for watching porn while in school. Every victory, however small, counts.

Note: My good friend Yazhini Chandrasekharan recently took the trouble to contact me all the way from wherever she happened to be when she contacted me. A travel aficionado, she keeps changing her Facebook “Location” tag several times a day. Google has given up searching for her. So has Vodafone. Apparently gypsies do not have to pay bills. But I digress. The reason she messaged was to remind me that girls in Tamil Nadu have to face the very same problems that mallu girls do. I don’t disagree.