Friday, 9 October 2015

Softest for Baby Skin

Ask new parents what humankind’s best ever invention is, and chances are they’ll say diapers. It’s not surprising at all. You know why!

Babies are aware of one birthright the moment they enter our lives, which is – Thou art free to do as you please. And they use their freedom to the lees, yes ma’am they do! They crawl under tables, toddle over sofas, climb book shelves, enter cupboards, jump in laps, snooze on carpets and surprise you with their sprinting skills when you least expect them to. They like to feel free. And they like to say hello to the world around them as they go about feeling free. We can’t take away this freedom to learn from them. Can we? No.

What we can do is put good diaper sentinels around their toddling bums, bums which wait for no bathroom etiquette before … doing their jobs. What we also need to ensure is that they be of the very best quality. A soft, dry diaper helps the baby sleep well, and play well too – both essential to their development.

Pampers, in keeping with its 50 year old tradition of caring for our babies, has recently launched the all new Pampers Premium Care Pants. These have been designed by experts such that the babies won’t even notice them! The product promises 5 star skin protection. Here’s how:

- Soft materials and fabrics specially chosen keeping in mind the delicate bottoms of our babies.

- All-around waistband and soft cuffs, which makes the diaper fit snugly and minimize leaks.

- Upto 12 hours of dryness.

- A drop of baby lotion can be used to protect your baby’s skin.

- Wetness indicator, which turns yellow to blue, telling us when the diaper needs a change.

Just like babies and toddlers are getting smarter by the day, their diapers need to keep up with the times too. That is why Pampers Premium Care Pants, #softestforbabyskin, are here!

[This is a product review.]

Monday, 5 October 2015


I’m going to go meet my sister since I’m in Gurgaon. She stays close by, on Sohna Road’, I told a gathering of friends over lunch.

Sister? But you said you have a brother?’ asked a doubting Thomas.

Oh, my cousin’, said I with a smile.

So say cousin, na. Not sister!’ he was quick to correct.

But we grew up together, in the same house, so the concept of ‘real’ … but the conversation had moved on. The thought, however, remained stuck. 


Most of us trying to grow up since the 80s have lots of cousins. That’s because at that time children did not wait for office promotions or ‘right ages’ to come. They just came, like a logical next step to a formally organized marriage and a year or so of couple time, at best! Single children were as uncommon as a house without a carrom board, and ‘hum do humaarey do’ as common as evening cricket in the lanes. Kid 2 happened right after Kid 1, riding on the wave of left-over nappies, or after the mother had regained her breath and sanity and combed her hair. Economy of time, money and getting done with bodily expectations for the woman remained the drivers for “completing” a family. With romance and drama in it the movie reel went from I’m ready, set, go, boom, aaaa, push, out (times 2). Pack-up!  

As a result of all that mathematically proven conception and delivering, happening in all our extended homes, we in our 30s have a vast network of cousins. If we compare the spoils with how many our parents had, we don’t have the same numbers. So let us not. But, if we compare with how things will be, with the single-kid wave spreading like a chalky patch of hopscotch in rain, we know Cousins, as a role and relationship, will slowly fade away. 

And so will the Superpowers that cousins have had ever since the Big Bang. 

Back then, when the bones were young …

… we did lots together! If you grow up in a joint family, like I did, you’re far above the rest of humanity in the Republic of Fun. Top class, really! But it is not the only way to know what cousins are made of, of course.  Cousins, lived with or met over summer vacations after a day’s train journey with our mothers, were precious wherever they were. Distance no bar! Age no bar! 

An older cousin was a window to our own futures, setting standards for a younger, aspirational demography of children in at least a couple of houses of the family. From getting princesses in Mario Brothers to ones in school; from acting guides on how to pluck mangoes to being buffers against bullies in the lane, older cousins were relied on with wide eyes and mouths agape. Idolising one such was as easy as the swish of hands pulling out a sling from the back pocket, or a billet doux. Looking up was especially easy if your relationship status with the ‘real’ brother or sister was … ahem … complicated, making you wish your parents never got a second ‘from the dustbin’ after they got you from a ‘pretty nurse in the hospital’! 

Older ones put in place standards – of smartness, sportiness, suaveness, sensibility, sense and maths scores, sigh. They did the hard work of setting benchmarks, and the younger ones like me simply had to try to reach them. No marks for guessing the parental dialogue we heard-unheard if we did not. Let’s not go there! 

On the other hand, a younger cousin, with kachhi mitti in all games, was exactly that. Soft clay in the hands of those who had lived slightly longer, and an inspiration for the older ones to act wiser than their milk teeth could ever allow. For all we know, those emulating hands and feet forced them to cut the wisdom teeth in time. In the complete food chain of all cousins put together! A sister who first taught you how to plait your hair may have grown into a confidant to discuss your period pain. A brother who let you in on his school bunking secret did so, so as to sneak you along to the cinemas. Another told you how bees do it because she had a chapter in the biology book. An army of cousins who made your goriest battles their own, and only in exchange for WWF trump cards (everyone wanted The Undertaker, and to see his face).  

Yes. Our cousins were a cross between best friends and siblings, and they were great at being both; like those double-sided tattoos Boomer gum came wrapped in, or audio cassettes where both Side A and Side B were equally exciting! They oscillated from becoming kith to being kin, helped us grow up or grow down, and most importantly left us feeling a part of a big happy family, because they were family.  No matter how infrequently we met them.
Now, when the hearts are getting weaker …

…families have undergone a change. We’re not just smaller, we’re also living lives within our own addresses. And our cousins are scattered all over the world. That proximity when we batted not an eye lid to share a bed with three others (tallest near the feet, please!) can no longer be achieved, not even at their weddings or our children’s first birthdays. We’re still close but we’re living apart and our lives are very different from those days when the same jean-pant passed down three pairs of legs, or the same Tobu cycle changed its moulded plastic seat for three toddlers in a row. 

Does that mean we are islands drifting away from who we thought were our ‘real sisters’ and ‘real brothers’? Was what nourished us and shaped us as children and teenagers that impermanent? No. It has to be about scarcity of time and a busy life. Has to be. You can’t make invisible the little bits of our cousins that we have inside each one of us, no matter how you have found your I-for-Individuality in the maddening urban crowd. Nope, you can’t.

As I sit and type this, I realize how there is a very important secret superpower we cousins can tap in each other. The power to keep holding hands even when factions of families feud - over property or businesses or marriages or mere gossip - things that adulthood in our parents often comes furrowed with. What if we kids-of-yore stand up to our respective parents to say ‘You and your brother don’t get along. But my brother and I still do.’ Do you think this insistence to look beyond the temporary ‘now’ will help bind extended families with glue better than the translucent grey one we used to make birthday cards with, popping brushes into a shared blue-and-black bottle?

Isn’t it worth it to ground ourselves in happier memories of climbing trees and playing pitthoo than letting grown-ups fight like the kids we never were, not permanently at least? Isn’t it worth using that superpower, the power of choosing to be brothers and sisters despite all odds and above all else? Totally worth it, then, not growing up enough to let differences seep in. And especially now, at a time when cousins are an endangered species. Endangered, because the family tree is tapering and one day this role and relationship will … 

Fade into nothing? 

No. Not in my lifetime.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Panther by Chhimi Tenduf-La

Chhimi Tenduf-La, in the Author’s Note to ‘Panther’, clarifies that the Sri Lanka of his latest novel is highly invented. He says that in reality the students are disciplined, the educational standards are good, the people are peace-loving and most importantly his depiction of war in this otherwise culturally rich country totally ‘fictitious’. He insists that ‘there are some bad people in this book. Very bad. This is fiction.’ We can’t question him. But we can ask ourselves… 

Why then has he placed his characters in Sri Lanka, in a book where cricket and childhood are so disturbingly married to war and terrorist training camps that every time you stand at ease while reading, you are straightened into attention on the next page? Yes, Chhimi lives there and he knows the country. He could simply be appropriating the surroundings to suit his novel’s needs. Fair enough! However, a reader anywhere in the world too is well aware of Sri Lanka’s context - its politics and history and cricket – and certainly enough to not swallow this novel’s world as pure fiction. Is this ‘apologia’ then aimed at escaping censure? Or, is this a clever way of shrouding in fiction a reality which news coverage of wars has yet to show us? He’s got us thinking even before we’ve begun reading! 

Panther’ is the story of a Tamil boy who is ‘of the name Prabhu and I love cricket, athletics, reading books, and listen for the music. Thank a lots for your greet me.’ He survives a war, accepts his family is dead, and continues to ‘bat like God’. He gets accepted into an elite international school on a cricket scholarship. Except, this is only conditional freedom, for he has to perform well. (Else, he goes back to a dangerous life.) Incredible Indika, handsome, hunky and Sinhalese becomes this Prabhu’s ‘brother’, introducing him to a world of girls and arrack and starry hotels - so far removed from Prabhu’s origins that apart from surviving the Supreme Leader of his camp, Prabhu is now to survive the duality of his life too. 

The novel takes you into thick jungles where, when you hear a twig snap it ‘could be animal. Could be man. Likely, if man, to be man with gun’ and also shows you plush homes of those not pushed into training to be martyrs. An unknown first-person narrator makes an appearance every few chapters, watching as if from the skies. Prabhu’s Amma? Sister? God? Can’t say who. Not even when the novel, after a breath-taking spiral, reaches its final end.

Some aspects make ‘Panther’ a strong narrative on wars, any war anywhere in the world, where there are children living through it even long after it is over. It is these which make this book much more powerful than the blurb attempts to reveal.  

War and childhood 

You have memories that are locked. Memories that come out when you are pushed.
Memories no kid should have.
It’s not your fault.’

Throughout the book you will find a depiction of young days of gay abandon; days of early adulthood when snogging a girl or finishing a bottle of arrack were the only surest signs of manhood, for instance. Throughout the book you will also find the most dreadful scenes of pain and blood, flies and slush, abuse and violence too.

Prabhu and Indika’s friendship over cricket is at the heart of the novel, even though one plays to win and the other to survive. In good times, it lends the book a relationship so real you will remember your own times. Prabhu’s wild-eyed idolization of Indika makes him see a ‘protector’ in him. Indika, in turn, finds a tail who would do anything for him. Times test them. Prabhu is ‘younger than you, he’s had no coaching, he’s poor, but he’s taking over your life’ – of cricket and girls, and Indika is upset to hear that. On the other hand, Prabhu has gradually faced racism at his hands, ‘you look down to me thinking I am stupid, because I do not know so much the ways of behave in a city.’ Their friendship has to weather many storms, including those which follow a war.

You wish they did not merge to become one never-ending scar, but war and childhood do. ‘Panther’ is a heart-wrenching portrayal of this deadly union. War ends with its ‘cold call asking Tamils to serve the community’; uses fathers and mothers, converting waffle-makers into army spies and children into traumatized orphans, sitting in a camp where you ‘sweat till your muddy t-shirt is drenched, but still your teeth chatter. You shiver. It’s fear, it’s sadness, it’s anger. You’re helpless.’ And then some boy is ‘in the jungle. A friggin’ jungle cat. Cradling an AK-47. No sweat on your palms. Combat…But …you remember this is no game. No walk in the park. And you want to call out for Tarzan, for Appa, for Amma, for Akka, but…’ War converts. Kills children and makes killers of those who survive.

The aftermath of War sneaks into the city, and Prabhu is blacker than the Sinhalese, he is made to realize. ‘Sledging is wasted on Prabhu. He’d heard worse’ but there is no one to trust, and that betrayal is what breaks his child-heart. We want to shake Prabhu away from the ‘mission’ that he prepares for. Save him from sodomy. Give him his childhood back, ‘the way it should be’. Because Chhimi creates a character who we want to protect like our own child.  Till Prabhu is made to grow up as if in one moment:

Every time he had been chased before he had been caught or saved by someone else. Not this time. 
This was his.

What does war do to children? It plays havoc with their lives, forcing them into roles, messing with their relationships, scaring away their sanity and snatching away their identities, for life. 

Identity – Tamil, Panther, Cricketer, Black Boy?

Are you a vandal?
No, I’m a Tamil.

Prabhu is oblivious of his facelessness, till he has to face it. Prabhu’s identity is forever being created and broken apart. It all depends on where he is…

Hit the bloody thing or no dinner.
You’re hungry. Starving. Famished. So you pivot on your heel and hook the next ball.’

Prabhu bats like no one else in his camp because he has to. He sees a ball to hit and hits it. Even imagines they ‘are Sinhalese testicles’ because he is being asked to. He’s an urban Tamil Panther first, and cricketer later. 

His cricketing prowess makes Coach Silva welcome him ‘like one of us’. Like a Tamil. The school wants him to play international, after all! Prabhu is now cricketer first, Tamil later.  But only till he bats like God. Otherwise – 

That’s what you Tamils in Colombo want. Be a part of us then make us lose. Make us smile. Make us cry. Make us look foolish to the outside world. We’ll never give you your own bloody land, so you want to contaminate ours.

Prabhu is Tamil; the red of the cricket ball on his hands forever being mistaken for blood. It is this identity that decides everything in a post-war Sri Lanka. And that is what makes ‘Panther’ a socio-politically relevant book. It cannot change for Prabhu, even if his combat uniform changes for the school cricket team’s. ‘His mission … to survive’ is true for both his “training camps”. Prabhu realizes it too and the level of racist rudeness Chhimi gives some of the characters in the book is enraging. Finally, he is forced to long for ‘my home, home. Where I am same as others.’ But does it matter to Prabhu, this Tamil identity, more than, say, his friendship with Indika? Does it to Indika? In the answer to this question lies the beauty of this otherwise saddening book. Therein also lies the bit about childhood that no war can steal.


Chhimi’s book becomes an important literary text in its rejection of proper sentence construction, and not just in Prabhu’s mouth. The whole book uses a lot of fragmented or one-worded sentences to portray innocence, to make a shocking impact, to endear us to a character, to register a point or to simply leave the reader thinking. Language has also been shown to carry international linguistic influences and naming of people and schools is a loaded activity. 

If I were to see his manuscript as a word document, I would see red all over. Chhimi has rebelled against rules of language, consciously, and devised his own rules. In a good way! ‘Panther’ is not a normal story with normal characters you meet every day. Chhimi needed a new way of speaking, altogether, to question wars and politics and racism and the telling of history itself. Even if Chhimi protests, his book is a statement, and one which aligns the voice in it against the atrocities of war. More often than not, it is a child’s voice, with each character speaking in his or her own style and in their own thoughts. That helps make Prabhu ‘much more better’ than most young adults walking in contemporary fiction.

The end was the only disappointing feature of this book, for me. Did Chhimi need to give his poignant story and powerful story-telling a shocking twist, like the ones short-stories hunger after? Or is this his way of saying that some wars never end?  That history is nothing but a past stuck in a present continuous tense? Read, and tell me what you think.  

I would call ‘Panther’ a coming-of-age story, except that I realize what we witness in Prabhu’s life is but a fraction of what he must have survived. And also how his relationship with his best (and only?) Sinhalese friend, Indika, evolves is not known beyond the shocking last line. Even when we see ‘a six-foot-two Sinhalese hugging a five-foot-one Tamil’, we know the image is short-lived. Because Chhimi’s ‘Panther’ is not just a story about beginnings and endings. It is about children growing up and childhoods lived in war-torn countries in a continuum. Except, there are no lullabies in this deeply moving story which could be someone’s reality.

No one can see this as purely ‘fictitious’. No one can say the trauma of war is beyond Chhimi’s understanding. A must-read!

'Panther' by Chhimi Tenduf-La is a Harper publication, 2015

[This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]
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