An array of money plant pots kept neatly aligned in my balcony

Can You Water Money?

​Does money plant bring in real money? I remember asking my grandma this question years ago, when she had fewer wrinkles and when biology projects were my biggest worry. She never gave a definite answer. Instead she said that for the plant to grow well, one had to steal it from someone else’ pot.
Steal? My dad had asked me with a shocked expression the next day. ‘Yes, that’s what she said,’ I confirmed. He walked away with a disapproving nod and a slight chuckle.

Years later, now, as I sit in my drawing room, I see a healthy green bunch of money plant leaves flowing out of the pot beside the TV. Enter kitchen, there is one on top of the fridge, proceed to balcony, there are at least 20 pots of various sizes with money plants. This is besides the creepers happily clawing on every railing of the balcony, forming a neat money plant curtain.

Money plant glowing in the light of the morning sun

Money plant glowing in the light of the morning sun

All these are works of my mom, who saves every empty perfume bottle, broken cup, and glass, and converts them to a holding pot for money plant. Most of them, she admits, have been taken from our neighbours’ pots without their knowledge. Many guests at my home have asked my mom if these plants actually brought in money. My mom always laughed it off, like it was an issue silly enough to be discussed. Many have come to a conclusion that since the money plants in their houses were not growing well, they were facing the financial crunch.

An array of money plant pots kept neatly aligned in my balcony

An array of money plant pots kept neatly aligned in my balcony

According to the Chinese Feng Shui philosophy, this plant brought in good fortune and prosperity, especially when kept beside the place where you kept money. In the past one month, I decided to try it myself, and placed a small cute pot of money plant on my desk, and placed my wallet beside it every evening after I got back from office. I haven’t observed much change to be honest. However, there is an important lesson which my dad pointed out one evening while he was sipping his tea and I was carelessly browsing through Facebook.

‘Have you observed… this money plant, no matter where you keep it, it grows,’ he said. I thought about the several​-meter long, hard stemmed ones in the balcony, and the dainty small one on my study table. They all just adapted to the surrounding they were kept in​, with or without sunlight, with or without soil​.​ All they needed was little water.


‘Probably it is this urge to grow, to prosper, that gives it the name?’ he said, before taking another casual sip of his hot tea​, not realising that he had just solved one of the biggest puzzles that haunted me ever since I was a kid.​

Sometimes achamma cracks witty jokes and laughs at it before we do

Grandma’s Tale

Achamma* lay on her bed watching us all. There were half a dozen of us around her, swallowing our tears and sniffing from time to time. She smiled at a few faces, uncomfortable with the attention she was getting. “What happened? Headache?” she asked my aunt, who kept her forehead cupped in her palms.

That's my achamma, beginning a brand new day :)

That’s my achamma, beginning a brand new day :)

A slight breeze from outside swayed the curtains in the room to reveal a stiff cold body inside a glass box in the hall, that of my achachan**. He had passed away that morning in his sleep. “He left us just like that. Not even a slight movement” — my dad, who had sat by his bed on the night of his death, said to all who came to offer their condolences. Following the statement, there were satisfied nods, a few looking upwards to thank the supreme.

But achamma would never know how her husband of over 65 years of marriage passed away, how she wasn’t there to hold his hands, or give him his last cup of warm water, as she had been doing almost all her life. For, achamma now lives in a faraway land, where reality has no place.

Achamma enjoying the 96th birthday feast of achachan, along with him

Achamma enjoying the 96th birthday feast of achachan, along with him (taken in June 2014). He passed away on January 23, 2015, before the crack of dawn

Inside her head, she is young, looking for an alliance for her elder son — my dad. Her husband is in Delhi, and she is awaiting the day he would show up at her doorstep armed with goodies for all her six children. She is a busy woman, managing all household chores under the supervision of her strict mother, who though passed away due to a stroke ages ago, still is hale and healthy for her. “Oh I have to light the lamp, else mother will get angry,” she would say at times, or “Let’s pack our suitcase, we need to rush to mother’s place,”  at other times. Sometimes she would rush outside to the winding roads of Vellinezhi*** village like she was in her early 20s, and sometimes take to washing a heap of vessels, cheating her own health.

Achamma taking a brisk walk along with her one of her daughter in laws and a grandson

Achamma taking a brisk walk along with her one of her daughter in laws and a grandson

On the day of achachan’s death, when dad broke the news to her, she cried her soul out. She passed out after a bout of wailing and woke up to a new world where everything was perfect. She even did the ritual of walking around achachan’s corpse devoid of any grief, like how she would walk to fetch a glass of water from the next table.

The next morning after the body was burnt, achamma sat at the dining table, and asked one of her grandchildren to call achachan from the bedroom for breakfast. A shadow of panic clouded everyone’s face, but only for a while, as achamma had begun to concentrate on her dosa by then. In the noon, when someone casually asked her if she knew where achachan was, she said he was in Delhi and continued massaging her legs with herbal oil. From then on, no one took efforts to bring her back to our world.

Sometimes achamma cracks witty jokes and laughs at it before we do

Sometimes achamma cracks witty jokes and laughs at them before we do

At 86, she laughs more than anyone I know at her age. She doesn’t carry any heavy burden of past, and lives her life in minutes. Probably she still hears achachan calling her ‘Janu’, an abridged form of her name Janaki, from his side of bed; probably, she does get flashes of the tragic news my dad broke to her, but rebuffs them violently inside her head; probably, she is consciously holding on to a world that was complete with happiness — when her mom was around, kids were messy and achachan, a young and handsome man.

From her, I am inspired to hold on to the happy moments in life, and forget the rest. Happy Women’s Day achamma!

*Grandmother **Grandfather

While her lehengas go round and round, she stays grounded

She wandered around the room with a cup of tea in her hand. She seemed satisfied just looking at the way people were combing through her collection. Anju Modi sipped from her cup slowly, almost in a meditative effect, as ladies rushed to the changing room to try the long flowy lehengas and blouses.

That's the designer for you

That’s the designer for you

After winning a lifetime of compliments for her costume designs in the movie Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela, Anju knew how to handle frenzy.  Her clients couldn’t compliment her enough on her new collection that was launched in the city recently. Anju would smile to all of them, help them pick dresses and engage in casual how-is-the-weather conversations. And without being too rude, occasionally she would slip into a small room to give interviews.

‘Ma’am wouldn’t you want to attend to your clients?’ a staff would call out to her.

Arey, maine to kapade bana liye, ab aap log sambhalo…(I made the clothes, now you guys manage…)’ she would say, with a laugh.


Here is a copy of the interview I did  with her.

Even before the movie Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela released, talks about Deepika’s 30-kg lehenga on the poster and Priyanka’s seductive white dhoti in Ram Chahe Leela song went around like wildfire. Unperturbed by the blinding spotlight, costume designer Anju Modi sipped in on the compliments with all modesty.

The 30-kg lenhenga ?

The 30-kg lehenga ?

“The subject in itself was very vibrant. The character Leela (played by Deepika Padukone) in the movie, was vivacious, fun loving and full of life. Also, the script required a traditional outfit,” said Anju, who was recently in the city at the launch of her new collection ‘Draupadi’ at Evoluzione.

One of the designs from her 'Draupadi' collection

One of the designs from her ‘Draupadi’ collection

To suit the modern interpretation of the age-old love, the costumes were required to maintain that balance between being sexy and traditional. “The original Gujarati dresses are in itself very colourful. Also, we used a lot of velvet, which is again a very Gujarati fabric. The set (that was based in the background of Kutch) had a lot of colour. So the costumes were designed based on all that,” adds Anju.

Those who have watched the movie wouldn’t have missed the slow change in hues and patterns as the narration goes from a gush of romance in the beginning to violence towards the end. While Deepika sports deep-necked blouses and colour-dripping lehengas in the beginning, towards the end, it is more of close-necked tops and shawls.  “The team behind the movie always used to sit and discuss ‘Shall we do this, shall we do that?’ Since they were having all those discussions in front of me, everything progressed in a natural way. I wasn’t following any trend, I was just following my heart,” says Anju.

Unlike the conventional all-white sari for Holi, Anju decided to add colour to the costume, while keeping an elaborate white space

Unlike the conventional all-white sari for Holi, Anju decided to add colour to the costume, while keeping an elaborate white space

Now, her new collection, which is again as womanly as Leela’s, is based on the theme ‘Draupadi’.  Anju says that it is not her love for the epic, but her awe towards the philosophy behind it. “I like to have a story for my collection. And Draupadi is the perfect character when it comes to depicting a woman’s elegance, strength and sophistication,” says Anju.

The collection includes colours that sync with the different phases of Draupadi’s life. “Since she is born out of fire, I have used fiery orange. And then she goes after her swayamvar (marriage to Pandavas) to the royal palace. To depict that, I have used crimson and gold. To show her devotion to Krishna I have used blush pink, yellow and ivory which are spiritually inclined,” says Anju.

“I like to prepare a storyline and work around that. As I go along a storyline, I start relating it with hand embroidery, colours and motifs,” says Anju. Previously, she has done a collection based on a day in the life of a girl – from 6 am to 12 am. And her next, she says, is inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Well, we don't know about Alice in Wonderland, but this dress for Priyanka Chopra sure looks dreamy

Well, we don’t know about Alice in Wonderland, but this dress for Priyanka Chopra sure looks dreamy

It was earlier published in The New Indian Express.

She could have been my exotic pet

“How did it come here?” I heard my cousin’s voice from the kitchen. I was in my room, trying to concentrate on a story I was typing out. How did what come where? I thought, sharpening my ears to hear more.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Open the balcony doors,” replied my mother.

At this point I had to stop typing. Why would they talk like a pair of convicts? What had they done?

I shot outside my room, and walked into the kitchen to see both my cousin and mom staring hypnotised at the most beautiful thing I had seen for a while.

Here is what I saw.

The dagger-beaked beauty

The dagger-beaked beauty

I nudged them aside and walked towards the wonder. I wanted to own it, but I knew I couldn’t. This one would remain one of my thousand unfulfilled dreams.

I asked my mom how long had the bird been there for. But she had already left the kitchen by then. How could she go? Doesn’t she want to keep looking at it for the  little time it was here? I thought this aloud, and my cousin gave me a blank look.

I knew I was over reacting, but life doesn’t always make a kingfisher visit your house, does it?

By then, it had hopped on to a higher platform, on top of the shelf. Sitting like that with all the poise and grace, I named it ‘The queen’. She deserved the name.


She seemed to take a liking to the silhouette of the dancing girl

The queen sat in the same position for several minutes. She was probably decoding my painting on the wall. What did she think it was? A school of fish dancing in a dusty pond?

I kept looking at her, and she kept looking at the painting. I wanted to bring all my paintings from the hall just to let her watch it and probably stay for a while longer.


No one has admired my painting that long

By then, my mother was back with a long rod.

“No!” I screamed.

“What no?” my mom questioned, clearly annoyed at the melodramatic upsurge in my voice.

“Are you going to throw her out?” I asked. A highly redundant question, but I had to buy time. I wanted The queen to stay.

At this point, she flapped her wings and perched herself on the tube light. Probably she had caught sight of the long deathly looking rod.

I shrieked, and hid besides the fridge. I was scared that The queen might turn violent. What if she thought my nose was a little fish?


The disco-lights effect

I looked at her sitting on the tube light, her turquoise blue glowing like the disco light.  I was scared, though I was tempted to touch her. I wanted to feed her something. Only if I had a tiny aquarium.

The queen had finally sensed that she was out-of-place. She no longer was interested in my painting, but kept moving restlessly on the tube light, trying to find her escape.

I wanted to tell The queen to calm down. ‘You could be my exotic pet!’ I wanted her to understand.

But of course, The queen couldn’t understand my love. She flapped, hopped, and clicked her neck. And then she hopped onto something steely right beneath the tube light.


My mom deftly showing The queen her way out

My mom had ascended the rod to where she was. The queen had jumped right onto it without any coaxing. 

Slowly she was led to the balcony, outside the grills, where she clicked her neck for one last time before launching herself into the night.

You want to fly high
But your wings are shred
By the righteous society
Plan, plan, plan, they say
Spontainity is blasphemy
Adventure is sin
Sit closed inside, they say
Stabbing your spirits
A hatred swells in you
Against society, against safety
Ravenous, you break shackles
A maniac, a trotter
You swim alongside the whales
Society is far behind
You dance in the rain
Folks curse you
You take it all
That’s not the world you seek
It’s out here under the skies
Pack your things
Even that little family pic
You don’t repel your family
Just love life more
And then comes opportunities
As you live with yourself
Stiching relations
Which you like
Wandering places
Which you want
Tidying up life
All your way
One day you look back
Where is the closed door?
Where is the hatred?
Eyes shine due respect
Hugs sense due love
Then you leave again
To your little nest
Far away from restrictions
Far away from society
Made with hays of freedom
Set on a branch of life

It’s ‘pissing’ indeed

It was a peak summer afternoon. I got inside Bus No 114, a direct one from Vandalur to CMBT. Inside the bus, there were heads dangling from pulpy vertebrae and hands holding on to the bars like withered branches. Not a welcoming sight. I found a corner seat anyway.

The hot breeze through the window forced my eyes shut. Post that I saw everything in a haze. The oily heads and baskets of dried fish at the Tambaram stop would blur into a blank red screen. Next I would wake up to college lads playing tabla on the bus door to some MGR music. This would culminate in a splash of red. Next, a bunch of white ribbons tying the frizzy plats of school girls as they fight to get in. Blank red.

After what seemed like a day, I woke up to a slight nudge on my shoulder. It was a lady who was trying to unbutton her blouse to feed her baby. The kid, well above three, looked at me with her round eyes in despise. Heat does that to people. The innocent start loathing other equally innocent. I turned my face and let the sun brush my face black. The kid kept hitting my elbow as she rejoiced her mom’s milk.

I realised I had slept again when I woke up to a nudge for the second time. I wanted to be rude, but this time I could only see the lady’s back. Where was the kid?

The bus was almost empty with just a few fast asleep. The conductor was busy talking with the driver about a new release. I slightly raised myself up from my seat to get a better view of what the lady was doing? I was almost standing when she suddenly turned and sat straight. I sat back and pretended to adjust my dress. She picked the child from the bus floor, kept her on the lap and hurriedly pulled her shorts up. The kid smiled. A wicked satisfied smile.

The conductor whistled. As the bus came to a halt, the lady got off along with the kid, carefully placing her steps as she walked past to the bus door. Did someone puke?

I slid slowly on to her seat and looked down to see a trail of yellow urine meandering all the way to the back seat.

A landmark at Brussels which shows a kid urinating into the fountain's basin

A landmark at Brussels which shows a kid urinating into the fountain’s basin

Atrocious! I looked around at the empty seats and sleeping faces. Should I tell the conductor? Just then his whistle halted the bus.  School children chattered their way in, their new Bata shoes smudging what was then a lean valley. The chatters grew, so did the imprinted foot marks.

I cringed in my seat. It felt weird to be the only one to know the truth. But I couldn’t shout ‘Urine Urine’. I didn’t want to be a silent spectator, neither did I want to create a ruckus. I did what I thought was sane, got off the bus in the next stop like nothing happened at all. Once out, inhaled in deep, shouted ‘Yuck’, and continued walking.


The yellow shabby sheet

I have a board above my study table wherein I pin up anything that I find inspirational, aspirational or  simply interesting. While the paper bits get changed almost every week, there is one clipping that remains. It is a yellow shabby sheet out of a pocket-sized diary. It says – ‘Ammu, I love you always’ written in green marker. Underneath is her sign. A curve around N of Nivya, written in fat bold alphabets.

Like graffiti on my wall

Like graffiti on my wall

Chechi had her moods. She would randomly sign on my brand new notes, right on the front page, much to my annoyance. This withered sheet was a reflection of one such instance. She had pasted it on the board saying that it should be left there permanently. I had given a sarcastic nod then, and continued with my work.

Months went past. The clippings changed from news about Obama’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden being killed to the curiosity rover being sent to Mars. During this period, she had got married and moved to her in-laws place permanently. The space in the shelf, which I used to fight for, now lay empty. The portion of the bed which I demanded for every night, now lay vast and untouched.

Years went past, the hollowness vapourised. The yellow sheet remained. Sometimes ignored, it lay beneath a pile of books and would be later excavated while cleaning, pinned up again. Sometimes I would find it hanging at an angle with one pin less to hold it. Be it during a hurried breakfast with mouth full of food or while inserting my tight sandals up my soles, I would always take a second to pin it up if I see it dangling on the board. It had almost become an involuntary action.

Then she left for the US. I remember smiling at the yellow sheet when back home after seeing her off at the airport. The idea of it resting right there somehow is comforting. The sheet talks to me. It pacifies me during stress, says things are alright, perfectly okay. It reminds me of the little garden we had in Haridwar, where as kids, chechi and I spent our childhood riding toy cars, eating unripe grapes and smelling jasmine. All those days when we used to apply ponds cream on our cheeks to get rid of the winter freckles and go to Kathak classes with three layers of clothing. It reminds me of the white frock with fat circular blocks and the huge cactus plant in our balcony. The smell of mango kept for drying and the sight of vulture outside our bathroom window, the same window through which we used to see mom and dad coming back from work in the Bajaj scooter. It’s surprising that this shabby scrap holds the key to such memories.

A few days ago I had unknowingly discarded it along with few other bits. After scavenging inside my files and shelves, I found it lying inside the bin along with a banana peel. Now it rests on my board again, neatly pinned up, yellow and rusty as ever.