Destiny. And A Math Class.

This post is about destiny. In the form of a random math paper that was part of my college curriculum. And the myriad ways my life meandered but eventually, despite my many attempts to stray, guided me to where I was supposed to be. Sometimes it was literally by the scruff of my neck, with me screaming bloody murder.

When I was getting ready to choose my track of higher studies, I chose, by a very scientific process of elimination, a solid and safe Commerce degree—known in India as B. Com.

(This was my process: didn’t like science, so engineering and science degrees were out; an Arts degree was not solid enough for the prestigious bank employment that was the dream of the entire middle class society back then, ergo the commerce track)

I almost ended up in a BA Economics course, since I couldn’t get in my chosen major, in my first college of choice. (And, honestly, my “marks” from higher secondary were damn good! My belonging to the so-called “forward caste” put me in an unfortunate demographic that had a tiny percent of quota in most colleges—a misguided attempt by the caste heavy Indian system to correct an injustice by inflicting more injustice—but then I digress).

Destiny calls: So I went to classes in a different college for 2 weeks until destiny, and my aunt, who knew someone who knew someone in my first college of choice, intervened and got me in the program at the Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Two weeks after classes had started. Two weeks after I had given up all hopes.

Back to my story: This degree had a single mathematics paper. This was important, but I didn’t know it then. I was just happy I had escaped the other, conservative college with a strict dress code and a principal who was the original Miss Trunchbull.

I finished college, in the first ever experimental batch of evening college. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for my laid back style of studying.

My amma says she doesn’t recall me ever studying. “You were always listening to music while doing homework, I don’t know how you passed any exam!” Classes were in the afternoon from 1:30 to 5:30 so I got to sleep in, got to watch all the tv programs offered by the single channel Doordarshan, do my homework leisurely in the mornings listening to Vividh Bharathi, and escape the morning rush.

I started applying to the much sought after bank jobs, the “moksha”—safe, solid, “permanent”—like that meant anything. I also started going to classes for ICWA (Cost Accounting)—always had to have a plan B.

No jobs were working out. And then, this huge opportunity was presented to me (being totally sarcastic here). There was a 3-month period when my aunt’s brother and his girlfriend (who at that point was just a friend, but I figured out something was up between the two—scandal!) who were both fresh out of med school, opened a clinic/hospital in Anna Nagar West, which was way out there compared to Anna Nagar East, where we lived. They needed a receptionist. It wasn’t a difficult job, they said. Boy, were they right!

Off I went every morning, my lunch packed. Some days both of them would be there, and the 3 of us would chat, gossip, play cards, whatever. Some days they would go out to get supplies for the “hospital” leaving me alone in that house/clinic/hospital. There were not many houses nearby, but one was being built across my place of “work”. So on many days, it was just me, my lunch dabba, and the construction workers. I started carrying books to read to while the time away and to keep my active imagination from running away.

My career as a blossoming receptionist at a hospital where the doctors were always out, and no patients ever came, came to an abrupt end when I chanced upon an advertisement by a computer company called CMC.

CMC was inviting applicants all over India to take an entrance exam to qualify for their classroom training/ hire program. By this time, I was practically an expert in taking entrance exams, and said what the heck, I’ll apply. Never seen a computer in my life. Had no idea what the company or the job was about. The only requirement was, get this: all non-science applicants needed to have completed at least one math paper in college. Hey, it was practically begging me to apply!

I got through the entrance exam and was called for an interview. They selected 80 candidates from all over India–40 with science/engineering background, and 40 who were from a non-science background. I got selected, went through the 4 month classroom training, passed another final exam in programming languages (COBOL/Pascal), and got hired in the company as an employee – System Trainee Batch 1!

Destiny calls: I had really, really wanted a bank job or an accounting job. Didn’t get either. But ended up as a computer programmer, at age 21 with little knowledge about computers. Oh to be young and daring!

I did well, apparently—a natural love for problem solving led to a love of programming. Two years later, I was put on the project to implement the application called IMPRESS for the Southern Railways—it stood for Integrated Multitrain Passenger Reservation System. CMC was implementing this all over the country, Delhi (Northern Railways) having been the first.

Destiny calls: my management had slight reservations about putting me on the team since it involved supporting the railways 24 hours/365 days, and they were not sure of having a female on the team. And this was one of those “turnkey solutions” that was immensely valuable to the company, its reputation at stake. The railways is like a mini government within India. We were bringing on a whole nation of railroad travelers to computers—folks who stood in long, slow moving lines for hours to book train tickets. A trailblazer project by all accounts! But CMC was the most progressive company I have worked for in my entire career—I won this one, and they put me and another girl on the team.

Now things were in place for the most wonderful thing that happened in my life. The single math that paper got me in to this job, and the job that put me in this project.

Flash forward 2 years: a new guy from Bombay joins the team in Chennai. His name was (is)…yep, Rajagopal. His reputation precedes him—he was apparently a superhero. TDH! (for those unfamiliar with the romance industry it stands for tall, dark and handsome).

This was March of 1989. We were engaged on July 13, 1989, and married by February 5, 1990, having had a whirlwind courtship that mostly involved doing the daily Hindu crossword puzzles, (hey, we were at the Chennai Central station 8 hours a day), combing through the horoscopes of prospective brides his mother received for him which he asked me look through and advise (those girls were doomed), and supporting the Southern Railways, and weekly visits to the famous Parthasarathy temple—(the only reason I went was for the yummy puliyodarai).

I sometimes imagine my possible alternate lives had destiny not intervened at each juncture and shudder. If I had continued with the BA Econ program; if I had gone into the Cost Accounting program after graduation; If I had gotten some boring bank or accountant job. All of these and a few others that I won’t go into, were huge disappointments but there was an invisible force that was steadily directing me to my destiny.

At each turn I had to be dragged kicking and screaming; shouting at the man above. I fought every move. I now understand what patience it must have taken for that power above to love me enough to not give me what I wanted at each turn, because something much better was in the works. Every now and then, I stop and thank him/her for rescuing me from myself!

There was a plan. There’s always a plan. All it takes is faith. And lots of patience, especially for someone like me. I read somewhere that we decide our lives before we are born. I just wish we would also remember it after we’re born.

You always get what you deserve, what is meant to be yours. I think, no, I know, I got the better end of this deal.

To my love, my life.

The yin to my yang.

The calm to my storm.

The rock to my crashing waves.

Happy anniversary!





I’d Like To Make It With You…

I’d like to make it with you…

It was the early days of our courtship. When everything was new, the sky was the bluest of blues, the flowers vividly colored, even in the Madras heat. I already knew he was one of the most intelligent, most mature guys I had ever met. Respected by the bigwigs in my company, as well as the Railway officers –we were both on site at Central Station in Madras, implementing the passenger reservation system for Southern Railways. One of the railway officers, a good friend of us both, in fact, had an eye on him for someone in his family—who was actually more qualified, as an Iyengar. (Me being a mere Iyer, more on that later)

But discovering each other’s personality was something else – would he turn out be a non-reader? Or worse, someone who I cannot laugh along/laugh at and be silly with? Or, horror of horrors, would he hate music?

A couple of things happened that put my fears to rest. One, we did the Hindu crossword every day together—the cryptic ones, not the quick ones, to boot.

Two, he doesn’t remember this, but he read “To Kill A Mockingbird” which I had passed on to him, and said to me: “I know why you like this book so much” and quoted from the book, with page number, Atticus Finch’s take on integrity.

Nerd –

(I haven’t read the sequel, or rather the prequel to TKAM—yet—Atticus still lives in my heart as the one whom Scout adores, the one who is not a bigot).

I didn’t know this then, but the lasting passion in my life would turn out to be music, as I got older. And he had me when he gave me this, his first gift to me.


Thene Then Pandi Meene

It was the reverse of the “ponnu paakara” ceremony. This was the tough one—meeting his formidable future sisters-in-law. It was like the Spanish Inquisition. After the initial “interview”, my sisters wanted him to, gasp, sing!

Would he pass? I had never heard him sing. And our family is notorious when it comes to guests and singing. The poor guests usually are flattered by the requests to sing, hardly realizing the minefield of snickers, guffaws and mockery they’re unwittingly walking into. In other words, the only intention in asking someone to sing was to make fun of them after they left—sometimes we couldn’t even wait for that. I had butterflies in my stomach. Would he pass?

He did – with this gem:


It was the day after we got engaged/had gotten the blessings of both our families. Our manager, coincidentally, got the team together for some work celebration at a five star restaurant in Chennai. And Raj teased me when this song played:

Kalyaana Maalai

It was our honeymoon in Ooty/Coonoor. K. Balachander’s “Puthu Puthu Arthangal” had just been released. The song “Kalyaana maalai” was playing everywhere. And to my horror, I discovered that the love of my life didn’t always quite get the tune right. In fact, he sang the first line incorrectly, almost every single freaking time!

But we were on our honeymoon. What are the rules? Could I criticize my newly married husband on his singing? Or let it go, and pretend it didn’t bother me and turn my face away every time he sang it wrong, because I visibly winced. I struggled, tortured in my soul, for a couple of days.

In the end, the musical purist in me beat out the newly married, stars-in-her-eyes bride. We were standing at some bus stop/taxi stand, waiting, when he did it again. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. And told him he was singing that line wrong, right there, in the middle of the street, a mere few days after we had gotten married, the turmeric in my “thaali” still very yellow and fresh!

Our first argument after we got married! (Needless to say, I won.) It’s taken 25+ years, but he finally can sing that line right—although sings it wrong sometimes, just to annoy me.

Aasai Mugam Marandhu Poche

As our young family grew, as we raised children, and got busy with our careers, we still listened to music but not so much together. I started to listen more to what my kids did, driving them around. He was lucky to listen to any at all! But still managed to keep up with the desi music scene, even if a couple of years behind. He became more familiar with the likes of Karthik, Srinivas, Sriram Parthasarathy and other young talent than I was.

The hundreds of cassette tapes we had accumulated became a source of contention for the space they occupied. Once in a while, when he got time, he would convert some of them into cds. One of those was a beloved album of Simon and Garfunkel that he lovingly imported into my itunes library, that I still listen to.

We celebrated his 50th with a few friends, listening to a collection I made of his favorite songs—Ilayaraja hits from the 80s.

But since the kids left home leaving an empty nest, we have rediscovered our passion for music and listen to classical/semi-classical, Carnatic music together. There are many many songs we enjoy, but this one by Karthik is my favorite. Especially when he is away on his long trips. A version of this Bharathi creation by Maharajapuram Santhanam was our favorite in the early years of our marriage. I can listen to this in a loop while his is “Bantureethi kolu”—any version of it.

I’d like to make it with you

Last week, I was at Mayo Clinic for an appointment, when I heard a familiar tune being belted out on live piano. I knew it was familiar but couldn’t place it. As I sang along in my mind, following a flimsy thread of memory, I realized it was this, one of the first ones we had listened to together:

I think he did!

My Annoying Valentine

He annoys me (and the kids) with his bad jokes.

He cannot watch anything without rewinding frequently to catch something anyone missed – most of the time something trivial and makes no difference to the plot. We all groan when one of us says “what was that? I missed it” because that means the next 10 minutes would be this: he would stop, rewind, go back too much, then forward too much, you know the drill. All that to catch up from exactly where we left off.

He cannot sing. Period. But insists on it, especially when we are watching Super singer and I am really trying to be the armchair judge.

He praises my food all the time. He also praises really crappy food. Does the man really know good food vs. bad?

He doesn’t know to buy small quantities – of anything.  Coming home with a crate of a shampoo he is trying out is not unusual. A shopping list to him means “get started with this and keep going”.  I remember the early years of our marriage when I was still a bit polite about starting fights – he once came home with about 25 plants from a greenhouse – to our 2 bedroom apartment. And,  I had to literally take away the credit card from him when he used to watch the QVC channel.

We cannot watch a movie without rewinding multiple times through the credits – I know, this sounds like the same as #2, but stay with me – it’s a bit different. When a movie ends, I turn off the tv and go to bed – or continue to sleep, as the case may be. But Raj would scroll through the credits, rewinding back and forth to read every single name, may be do some google searches on something interesting (!) he found and insist on waking me up to tell me, especially if it’s a Hollywood movie and he spots desi names.

He has been known to get the most unromantic and most utilitarian gifts – read this for more insight.

He is quite the Miss Chatty Kathy when I’m winding down at night – I have my book, my music and am in the zombie zone – he is catching up on his Facebook feed or NewYork Times, and wants to read out everything he’s reading.

He insists on reading out all the signs during long interstate drives.

And the list goes on – of all the things he does just to annoy me. At least that’s my version.

And yet…

The other day we were talking about how I cannot stay under the same roof with anyone in my family for more than a few days without wanting to rip my hair (even better, theirs) out from the roots.  My family would totally agree this is mutual – (L)GVRJ speak up if you don’t. We all need a continent or two, and an ocean, between us to be a happy family.

And it hit me that he is the only one with whom I have never felt, in 24 years, that I cannot live with him in the same house one more day.

Happy belated anniversary, my love!