Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Caddie (Fiction)

Shamminder Kaur had started playing golf at thirty years of age. It made her stand out amongst the majority Indian women on the courses around the country who were either in their late teens or past their forties when they first picked up a club. “Don’t copy me, I have learnt it all wrong,” she was fond of saying. Her self-deprecating statements confused her playing partners; the words just did not go with the spectacular flights she sent her drives on from their flying tees. Many a mouth would follow agape the stunning trajectories her driver smacked the balls onto.

They made for a brittle bunch, the women pushing against the velvety fairway with bodies past their primes, spongy egos and spirits leveled by life’s ravages. Barely beneath their polite masks lay something raw and stinging. It called for a curious mix of stubborn courage after all and bruised sensitivity to step onto a public space such as the golf course, a complete novice. For even in the civilized world of the gentlemen’s game, there was caddie chatter, stolen looks assessing one’s golf swing, triangular updates on how the game was progressing with the others and unsolicited advice from the male golfers. For the odd woman that flowered, she did so under a cloying cloud of low expectations and that indulgent air.

“You know, they should have prizes for every lady in a tournament. This way, everyone goes home happy. Better to distribute it all than to give only one lady the trophy.” In this conspiracy of the mediocre, it suited everyone to keep peace, for women did make for bad losers. They came to golf at such established phases of their lives that it made it difficult for them to come to terms with their temperamental golfing. Many preferred to play with the non-judgmental men for this reason rather than with another woman and her strong sense of the right and wrong.

So there it was, one pearly daybreak on the Clover Greens, a drama unfolding in this world of unmet challenges. The polished exterior of the Golf Club just about kept from the public view, the gladiatorial desire of everyone from the Manager downwards to see Shamminder pitted against Aarti, the only other woman golfer of self-belief there. A late bloomer, Aarti negotiated the golf ball with pure will, no skill for her. “Just keep hitting, I barely spent one month in the practice bay, it comes by playing,” the feisty one was fond of sharing her hands-on experience with the tentative new entrants to the game. Having played several years as the club’s sole woman golfer, it had become hard to tell self-delusion from an undeniable talent. “I carry home most of the trophies,” was a refrain of sorts with her. Blessed with a tenacious desire to win, Aarti had one flaw.  Even in a game where players blamed any and everything for a bad score, Aarti had made an art of dumping each of her golfing misfortunes on her caddie. Little wonder that Teepu’s face had come to arrange itself in five dimensions, each of them confused on what to hold and where to stretch.

Like two combatants fighting for the post of Prima Donna, Clover Greens, Shammi and Aarti would stalk each other on the course most days, assessing and waiting to prove their superiority. Before long, the opportunity presented itself in the form of a Pink Golf Tournament for a Cause. The club inhaled deeply, then waited to exhale. Would Aarti take the bait and pair up against Shamminder?

Everyone got to work, forces were drawn up and the penultimate day schedule launched. Adequate rest, special putting ball, sunscreen in place, glares firmly sitting on the noses; the two took their places in ceremonial golf slacks. 

“I want a caddie who will not open his mouth at all today,” Aarti faced the Caddie Master, a fidgety Teepu skulking near the tournament bulletin board. Shammi’s regular caddie was accompanying her; a buzz had begun though, over Teepu’s replacement. Equally suddenly, the din subsided around the ongoing arbitration. Aarti interrupted the Caddie Master’s embarrassed stuttering rudely, “It’s alright. Let it be. I will take Teepu but he better not squeak today!”

And the game was off the tee with two clean, metallic notes. Like the two seasoned golfers they were, Shammi and Aarti made rhythmic progress. One played with joy, the other with a burning desire to win. Shammi had to curb her usual impulsiveness whence she would stop and wave at the wild life on the beautiful landscape. Aarti staying focused, swinging and pitching with power and precision. A day would come, like it did for every golfer, when their bodies would not cooperate but in the heat of the competition, that sobering thought was farthest from their minds.

Even in the tense scribbles on the scoring cards, the meditative nature of the golf course reigned around them. A fuzzy rich moistness curled upwards to their nostrils, the sun dithering in the wings, not ready to step out in all its golden glory yet. It was a charmed hour and all was right with the world.

Aarti drew in a sharp gasp all of a sudden; the ball had caught the shaft end, ricocheting into a dismal slice. She glared at Teepu, her eyes flashing. “Run ahead and wait for me near the ball!” her voice commanded with urgency. The caddie scrambled ahead in a mum flurry. His player though had beaten him to it and was already addressing the wedged in ball, “Watch me now, I am going to punch it well out then hit past that tree ahead to take the dogleg,” she called over her shoulder.

True to her word, Aarti went to work, executing her plan with force and resoluteness. Releasing her breath with relief as she looked up at the ball in flight, she turned to Teepu with an uncharacteristically goofy grin, “How about that? You can speak now. I give you permission. Come on, how did you like that shot? Speak a bit louder. I can’t hear you.”

Teepu cleared his throat and repeated himself, a shade louder the second time, “That was not your golf ball Mayam (Teepu lingo for Ma'am)!”

Thursday, April 7, 2016


You would have heard these exchanges between two women.
One, “What a lovely shirt you are wearing, I love the fabric and the floral print!”
Two, “Oh, I bought it in a sale; you would be surprised how cheap it is.”

And “Your face is radiant, the skin glowing.”
Followed by, “It must be the sweat!”

Another goes, “I am so impressed with your cooking. And my goodness, your presentation of the food is outstanding.”
To which the response is, “You are just pumping me up, everybody is as good a cook I think.”

The denial mode goes on and on, “You are so fit, the clothes look so good on you.”
Pat will come the rejoinder, “Have you seen my stomach, I look at least three months pregnant.”

Don’t even try complimenting a woman therefore? She is programmed to shut it out, deflect it, play it down, fob it off outright….anything but accept it graciously. Why do women fear praise so much? Why do they feel compelled to explain?  Why is it so hard for them to believe the good of themselves? Where does this instinct for self-effacement come from? What sets them off on a lifelong of apologetic litany?

All they need to respond to a compliment with is, “Thank you; I humbly accept your kind words!”
But the fountain of disbelief that gushes from their flustered mouths is drawn from centuries old insecurity about their rightful place in the scheme of things. A baby girl is born just as affirming as a baby boy. She cries as lustily, gurgles as appreciatively and preens as skilfully. But somewhere along the way, this healthy sense of self gets buried under layers and layers of cultural pathology. Most women are not sure of their class and category. They are afraid to occupy space with a solid, self-assured sense of ownership. Their default setting is stuck on an unbecomingly appeasing mode.

Alright, so you don’t want to appear conceited, you do not want to owe anybody anything in return. Why, you may even be suffering from a low self-esteem. Perhaps you are a jaded cynic, highly suspicious of being buttered up for possible favours. Or your false modesty may just be symptomatic of a deep seated desire to appear even better than you already are. It might occur to you that a simple thank you would come across as cocky, too self-confident, even arrogant…all of them extremely unfeminine attributes.

Oh, I have been at the receiving end of this gracelessness more than once. Quick on the draw with whatever pleases and impresses me, I don’t waste time overthinking admiration. I just shower them, the compliments; they come gushing out often. But the experience has boomeranged more than once with my ending up feeling foolish, insincere and contradicted. There have been occasions when one compliment has led to ten sentences of insistent reassurance to the receiver. It is a double whammy to first praise then to raise volume a notch over the denial by the receiver of possessing the wonderful attribute you are lauding in them!

Will the day ever dawn when a woman will accept a compliment graciously without offering explanations? What would it take for her to realize that if she makes the giver uncomfortable she may not be complimented again? Also, she is losing out on a chance to feel good. She in fact, is diminishing her own value.

Let us therefore start by offering more compliments and accepting the ones coming our way with class.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


I was born without the gene for sharing the samosa. It feels bad,
almost mean to not want to split a dosa or a bhatura down the middle. I have to bite back the effervescent negative nipping at my lips every time someone in the vicinity says; “Shall we split the kachori?” They come unbidden, the uncharitable thoughts. First off, the pleasure seems unfairly halved. The operation leaves me feeling cheated, unfulfilled. This sharing phenomenon is made worse by control freaks who declare in restaurants, “Shall we all order different things so we can sample it all!”

I would rather also wait for the entire chappati to appear from the kitchen over home meals. It irritates me to have someone tear a lovely, hot roti into two and then wave the steaming half floppy at my plate, “Here, take this while the next one comes.” With just the half, I lose direction; I am not sure where I am on the road to satiety.

Then there those, “You go ahead and order some, I am feeling quite full, I will just take a bite if I feel like it.” While you lean back from your favourite and freshly served gourmet dish, the first scoop may snowball into three, even five and you silently swallow your hunger pangs, waiting for your companion to announce their verdict on the dish you agonized over ordering. Woes betide if they should twist their lips in distaste at the first bite, “Too spicy!” How are you going to get past that bile in the throat as you go to work on the rejected food?

Have you ever sat across a risk taker foodie? They have to order something new and unfamiliar every time. This adrenaline of the novel quickly transforms into rapacious looks cast at your familiar white idlis once the disappointingly odd dish is banged down in front of them. Don’t be surprised if the exotic gets pushed aside for the pleasure of the gastronomic familiar in your hitherto boring plate!

There is an acquaintance that does this with impunity to her hapless husband. She will ask for vague edibles, take a bite, purse her lips with distaste and then pass it on dismissively to her dustbin of a man. And we all know how the brownie and vanilla ice cream gets ordered on a sharing basis. All goes well until the table comes to the last crumb. Suddenly everyone is full up, incapable of another spoon. The lot sits staring at the plate, shaking their heads as the spoonful of ice cream puddles up.

Ah yes, we are Indians and it is in our culture to be altruistic and sharing. The virtue has been exalted and given to us as a legacy and tradition. I can therefore but reflect upon my savage behaviour. Meanwhile I continue to inform company that I shall be eating the whole meal by myself.

 Lo siento mucho!