Paapa in Tamil Means Baby.

This happened a few years ago when we went to get a passport for my baby grand-daughter and renew the existing one of her mother.

We reached well in time. Since my grand-daughter was a baby, they allowed an extra person, meaning me, to accompany them into the office.

My daughter-in-law was tired after having stayed up all night with her restless child. As we waited for our turn, the security at the door, asked:

“Where is Paapa?”

My daughter in law, showed her child and said,

“This is the paapa.” (Paapa in Tamil means Baby)

The man balked.

“No. Where is Paapa?”

“This one here is the paapa. We have come to get her passport.”

The man looked at her like he had a lunatic on his hands.

“No. I mean, where is HER Paapa?”

Now it was my daughter-in-law’s turn to balk.

Then it struck me that the Hindi speaking gentleman from North of India was asking for the baby’s father.

In North India, a father is addressed as Paapa, where as in South India, Paapa means a baby.

So much for our cultural differences!

I intervened and set the man’s doubts at rest and explained that the baby’s father was at work and could not take the day off.

One more thing to remember on that day, was a young man who was sitting next to us, while my daughter in law, had gone in to complete some formalities. The man, almost a boy,  told me that he had just completed his graduation and was trying to get a job abroad and so the  passport application.

My grand-daughter kept trying to pull the bike key from his hands which he was dangling before her and teasing her. I thought there was something unusual about his fingers. They seemed different. I could not figure out what it was.

When we got up to leave, he waved us good bye. Then I noticed it.


PS: My grandmother, who lived  to be a hundred years old, used to say that having six fingers was considered to be very lucky. Hope his desire to work abroad came true.

Image by Solart  from Pixabay

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Image by Amanda Elizabeth from Pixabay


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Twice Married Wife

I was barely out of college when I lost my father and soon afterwards, my mother. My sister had been married by then and lived close by.

I got into the habit of spending time with her, helping her in the house and later with her child. It took my mind off my troubles.

Ashok (name changed) was my brother- in- law’s friend. He would visit my sister’s house often. He was an only child to his widowed mother and often spoke of his mother with  love, fear and awe.

His mother was a school head-mistress and a strict and imposing woman. She was very tall and had aristocratic looks and a voice that could stop any student who was getting into some mischief, right in their tracks.

The more I heard about his mother, the more I began to fear her, even without having met her. But I realized that I was falling slowly in love with Ashok and he seemed to be reciprocating.

But we did not exchange a single word on the subject of marriage. Those were innocent times!

November 4th was Ashok’s birthday. My sister, brother-in-law and I were waiting for him to visit us, as we were eager to wish him in person.My sister’s husband told me, “why don’t you wear a better saree. We might go out for lunch or something.”

He made me change into a silk saree.

When Ashok came, he seemed to be in a hurry. He told us to get into his car and as I wondered what the tamasha was all about, he drove very quickly to a government building a few kilometers away.

It was a Marriage Registrar’s office.

I got out in a daze and a group of men gathered there, clapped loudly welcoming us.

My sister pulled me along to a room, quite a dingy little room, mind you. The man officiating the wedding, made us sign a few papers and the men who had clapped for us, witnessed our signature. They were apparently Ashok’s colleagues.

And we were married!

It took me a good few minutes to realize what had just happened. I trusted my sister implicitly.

Ashok left with his colleagues to his office and I came back to my sister’s house, a married woman without a husband. There was no “melam-thalam or aarathi” to welcome this newly wed bride.

My sister filled in all the details of how they had carried off this event, which she had kept a secret all along.

Ashok’s mother was very much against his marrying me. She had selected a bride for him from among her relatives. The idea that her only son was going against her wishes was abominable. Mother and son had been arguing on this subject for many months, both refusing to relent. Then Ashok had come up with this surprise wedding idea and I had not been told anything about it as I would surely be against duping another woman. I would not have agreed to this run away marriage at all.

A few days earlier my sister’s husband had taken my college certificates on the pretext of getting me a job but they had been actually been submitted at the marriage registrar office as proof of my age and that I was not a minor child.

I continued to stay in my sister’s house and Ashok visited us as usual and gentleman that he was, he in no way took advantage of our married status.

He wanted his mother to accept this marriage first.

He told me that he had collected our marriage certificates and had  shown it to his mother. All hell had broken loose and his mother was consulting many of her acquaintances as to what to do to annul the marriage.

There was nothing she could, but to accept me as her son’s lawfully wedded wife.

Being the proud woman that she was, she never acknowledged the government wedding and completed turned a blind eye to it. She began to make preparations for us to get married according to religious rites.

It was on December 28th, I was married again, this time in a religious place of worship with many relatives and friends from both our sides blessing us.

My mother in law hated me, all her life.

But my husband’s love more than made up for it. Every year on his birthday, he would take out the Government Marriage Certificate and read it out proudly to our children and address me lovingly as:

“My Twice Married Wife!”

Story by S. Written by Gulsum Basheer@talkalittledo

All photo credits:  pixabay




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There Is No Crowing About It In Singapore.

It was the top floor of a hotel in Singapore. My friend K was in the swimming pool on the open terrace of that hotel. There was no one else at the pool and that did not deter him from enjoying himself. In fact he liked the solitude.

It was his first visit to the city-state and from the time he had landed at the airport he had been impressed with the efficiency of the people here. He was taken in by the squeaky clean streets lined with trees and flower beds. The hotel room was comfortable  and the service exemplary. Now he was enjoying a quick swim before joining a friend who lived here, for lunch.

K  swam with brisk strokes across the pool, back and forth.

It was then he heard loud shots, obviously the recoil of  guns. K froze for a moment.  More shots rang out, like as if there was a gun battle going on. K did the only thing he could do under the circumstance. He held his breath and went under water, in an effort to escape from the range of fire.

He did not know what was happening. Was it the police after a criminal? Was it a gun battle between rival gangs?

As he stayed underwater, holding his breath, he remembered what he had read about Singapore in travel books. Unlike some other countries, citizens were not allowed to possess guns here. Singapore has one of the toughest gun laws in the world and possession of private weapons is a serious offence.

But now, within hours of his arrival, he seemed to be in the middle of a shooting range.

When he could no longer hold his breath under water and the  noise seemed to have subsided, he slowly surfaced and looked around stealthily. There were some men on the terrace, holding guns.

But they were pointing at the tall trees outside.

Mustering up courage, he looked into the branches. Who was being targeted? No one seemed to have taken refuge in the trees.

Another shot rang out and before K could duck, something fell from the skies.


Right into the terrace which housed the swimming pool.

It was a DEAD CROW!

Much later, K learnt that the  men were from the gun club, one of the few places where you could handle a gun. They had been hired by the government  to shoot and kill the raucous crows that were  detrimental to all the good that Singapore stood for.  But the task of keeping Singapore free from the crow nuisance was proving a difficult one.

K was astonished when his friend explained this to him at lunch that day.

After a good holiday, K was back in his house in India.

His neighbor was an old lady, seeped in tradition and she had this habit of feeding the crows on auspicious days. In her religion, crows were supposed to be a link between her and her dead loved ones.

K watched as the lady kept cooked rice on a plantain leaf outside her house, and loudly called out:


A bunch of crows swooped down and pecked on the rice, keeping a wary eye for predators.

K laughed as he thought to himself:

“Boy, are you glad, you are a revered crow in India.”

“In Singapore, you would be DEAD by now.”


Story by Bina. Written by Gulsum Basheer on Talkalittledo.

Flag- Image courtesy of mapichai at  , Hand with gun – Image courtesy of zole4 at ,  Crows – Image courtesy of Vlado at

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The Ice Cream Seller Who Was Paid Forty Years Late.

Long ago, a little boy in school was distraught because his best friend Hameed (name changed) had been warned by his mother to keep away from him.

Hameed’s mother had come to school and complained to the principal that she did not approve of the friendship between N and her son and many of the misdemeanor on Hameed’s part had been instigated by N.

At lunch break that day, N stood under a tree feeling unhappy. He watched Hameed  go off with other boys, shunning his company, as per his mother’s orders.

A kind of wildness seized him. He was hurting badly inside, yet he decided to put on a show of bravado and nonchalance. He wanted to do something to prove that he did not care if Hameed  was his friend or not.

An ice cream seller was at the gate peddling  colourful ice lollies. The man was not allowed to come near the school premises, but he came anyway, against orders.  N ran up to him and bought an ice lolly. It was nothing but coloured sugar water, frozen on a lollipop stick.  Those days it hardly cost much. Probably thirty paise. It was called stick ice or kuchi-ice in our vernacular.

N licked his ice lolly and then not to be found wanting, he bought ice lollies for his other class mates hanging around the ice cream seller, even as Hameed watched longingly from afar. It was N’s childish way of proving to Hameed that he was not his only friend. He had so many friends.

Suddenly N realized one terrible predicament.  He had no money to pay the ice-cream man.

He had forgotten to take his daily quota of money from his dad that day and  his pockets were empty. He was terrified. He did not want to be shaken by his collar and shamed in front of his school mates. He hesitantly told the ice cream seller, that he could pay him the next day only.

The ice cream seller was a good soul and was used to kids eating his ice cream on credit, promising to pay later.  “Not a problem, son. You can always pay me tomorrow.” He said.

But how was the poor man to know that his ‘tomorrow’ would come many years late.

The next day and for days after that the ice cream seller never materialized at the school gates, even though N was careful to take the required amount to pay him back. The school authorities had taken a vigilant stand against vendors selling snacks or ice cream to their school boys and no one was allowed to peddle their wares, anywhere near the school gates.

A year later, N was shifted to a boarding school in  Ooty and he did not see the ice cream vendor at all. The incident became just a memory.

Years passed by. N grew up to be a successful businessman. He  was also a well-known philanthropist who was revered by everyone in his hometown.

The now middle-aged N, loved the outdoors and would often drive down to the river that ran through his town, park his car near the bank and sit quietly contemplating. This solitude helped him admire nature, ponder over his day and reflect on his business and other social activities.

That particular day, the river was in spate and was overflowing its banks. N had to park his car near the road, along the river. As he stood leaning on his vehicle, looking at the swelling river, he heard the tinkling of cycle bells. It was a very old man,  pushing a derelict cycle, which had an old tin box tied to its rear carrier. On the box was painted the picture of a stick of ice and the name of the ice company. Obviously the box was a freezer box containing ice sticks.

N was excited on seeing the man’s face.

The man was none other than the ice cream seller of N’s school days! The vendor was almost in his nineties and he was still continuing his old trade.

Without divulging his identity to the man, N picked up a conversation with him. The man told him that his family had made these ice lollies at home, like a cottage industry for many years. He was both the manufacturer and the vendor. He would target schools during morning recess and lunch break and would come in his  bicycle with the freezer box to sell his wares. He said that though he did not make much money, the work had kept him busy and happy.

The old man also said that he did not want to be a burden on his family at this advanced age and was trying to be active and helpful. Also, he wanted to make some money for his grand-daughter’s wedding.

N admired the man’s good spirits as he had admired his magnanimity on that hateful day, long ago. He pulled out his wallet, took out a sheaf of currency notes and without even counting how much it amounted to, he put it all into the old man’s hands.

The man stood stunned. His hands had not held so much money ever in his life.

As he stared amazed,  with a wondering, questioning look in his eyes, N got into his car and drove away, happy that he had settled his childhood debt.

It took the man many minutes to come back to reality. He wondered if his benefactor was human or angel and why he had been gifted so much money.

Poor man, he would never know that it was not a gift. The money was payment (with interest many times over) for the ice lollies, that he had given a dejected school boy on credit, all those years ago.

Only, he had received his payment very, very late.

Almost forty years late!!


Retro Flat Ice cream  : Image courtesy of zirconicusso at

Sketch of a man and bicycle:  Image courtesy : Arnontphoto at

Stack of 100 dollars Image courtesy:  Yodiyim at

Story By Mr.N-Written by Gulsum Basheer on talkalittledo.



Posted in School is Fun, Tributes and Triumphs, Uncategorized, We Indians! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Left Hand Does Not Know About The Right Hand.

Mr.N was born with the proverbial “silver spoon in his mouth.” But that was not what endeared him to many, especially the weaker sections of society.

His heart was bigger than all his industries put together.

For he was a do-gooder!

He went out of his way to help the needy and his philosophy life was that “his left hand should not know what his right hand was doing.”

He went about strewing goodness and never letting the person who had benefited, know who his saviour was.

There were many stories told about his magnanimity. I will share one here, which I heard recently.

Mr.N was in the habit of getting his hair cut by a particular stylist (we called them barbers then) at a salon near his house. As he lived in a small town in the deep south of India, there were not many expert hair stylists around and his regular man was better than most.

This hair stylist used to talk to Mr.N about some of the people in their town. One person he often dwelt upon was a physically challenged man named Chudalai.(Name changed)

Chuadalai had lost one of his legs in a road accident. What made his life a living hell was that he was also partially blind.

But his blindness was not something that a good surgeon could not rectify. Since Chudalai did not have the money nor the means to go to an Ophthalmologist, he wasted away.

He would often sit close to the Public Telephone Booth in the town and talk to people who came there. This was before the spurt of mobiles in every hand.

He came to hear of properties that had come up for sale or for rent and would help people in the capacity of a real estate agent.

He came of a proud stock and never ever took alms from people. He was NOT a beggar, you see. He wanted to EARN his living.

When Mr.N heard about him from his hair stylist, his heart went out to this man.

Without telling anyone, as was his wont, he arranged with his manager to book an appointment for Chudalai at an eye hospital in the big city close to their town. He  paid for the poor man’s transport, stay, check-up and surgery in the hospital and with in a few weeks, Chudalai’s eyes were good as new.

As Chudalai hobbled out of the hospital, all that he knew about the man who had given him a new lease of life was his name : Mr.N of  —- Industries!!

It was many months later, Mr.N was called to speak at a conference about  physically challenged people and how they survive in society. His speech was met with a big round of applause.

The person who spoke after him was a man who had lost one of his legs in an accident.

As he began his speech, he said, “I am lame now. Once I was even blind.”

He continued, “But heaven took pity on me and sent a divine being to my aid. A veritable angel, who paid for my surgery and helped me regain my sight.”

As he wiped the tears that flowed down his eyes, he continued,

“I never got a chance to thank him. It is because of him that I am able to see you all today. I have never seen my benefactor before. But today I see him!!”

“There! There!”

Chudalai shouted with joy, pointing to MR.N, who was trying to escape everyone’s notice by slinking out of the venue.

“My swami, my saviour, the kadavul who restored my eye sight!!”

“I CAN see him now!”


PS: Chudalai became Mr.N’s ardent admirer and every Diwali, he would appear  at Mr.N’s house with a box of sweets which the later would shyly accept.


Story By : Gulsum Basheer@talkalittledo

Kadavul means God in Tamil Language.

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Three Women Under The Doctor’s Scalpel

Definitely” said the doctor, “you have to have  hernia surgery done, immediately.”

I panicked.

“Really, doctor? Immediately?”

“Yes. Sooner the better.”

There was no turning back.  I was admitted in a private nursing home and my surgery was completed without any hiccups.

In two days, the physiotherapist was coaxing me on my feet and making me walk down the corridor.

Now I became inquisitive about the others in the hospital and began to ask the nurses about the patients in the neighboring rooms.

The lady in the room to my left was young, beautiful and very wealthy. She was there for umbilicoplasty or belly button reconstruction surgery along with tummy tuck. Her husband did not like the shape of “things.”

So there she was making herself pretty for her husband and going through all that pain.

“Lucky husband” said my sister who sat with me at the hospital room for a few days.

“Lucky wife,” added my friend who came to visit me, “To have a husband, rich enough to fund that expensive surgical procedure.”

While the physiotherapist was making me walk down the corridor, I began to notice this sad-looking lady, often standing at the window looking down on the road down below. Obviously she was not a patient but a companion or helper to one of the patients admitted there.

Once I had made her acquaintance and began to talk with her, I asked her why she was at the hospital.

“I have been here for the past one month,” she said. I was shocked as I was not able to tolerate even my five-day hospitalization.

“My daughter is admitted here with burn injuries and she has to have skin grafting.  Her legs were badly burnt in a fire accident,” said the woman woefully.

I wondered if it was a kitchen accident.

No. Apparently it happened at a religious place where she was lighting lamps before the deity.

Her saree pleats had caught fire.

“She could have just removed her saree immediately and cast it off.” I said. “It would have saved her legs from getting so severely burnt.”

“Yes. That is what she should have done. But as there were many men around the holy place, she was hesitant about removing her clothes in public. She panicked and tried to beat the fire out with her bare hands. Worshipers at the shrine came to her aid and put the fire out. By then the damage had been done.”

I wondered at the victim’s mentality. What traditional values we instill in women in India. Even at the cost of losing life or limb, she would not jeopardize her modesty.

The old mother was sad beyond words. Her first fear was whether the skin grafting would be successful.

The next was, how long would it be, before the daughter would be on her feet to be able to care for her husband and eight-year-old son who missed his mom so much.

She also talked about how a little carelessness on our part can imperil our lives. She used a harsh Tamil word, “porati podum” to describe her daughter’s current situation which has no English equivalent but would imply devastate, mutilate or ruin.

By the time I got discharged from the hospital, the ‘belly-button woman’ had left. I said bye to the mother of the fire victim but never got to see her daughter.

As my son drove me home, I could not help wondering  at the situations, that put us three women on the same floor in a private nursing home – ‘the belly button woman’, the fire accident victim and timid me, so scared of an absolutely necessary hernia surgery.

Three Indian women from the same strata of society! 

But what a difference in our circumstances!

Story By Gulsum Basheer@talkalittledo

Photo Credit of doctor with scalpel :

Photo Credit of nurse holding syringe :

Photo Credit of doctor with stethoscope:

Posted in Sometimes Sad, We Indians! | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Raja Gopal, the King of Anger.

When I was growing up in a large traditional household in Chennai city, my father employed a man to drive us to school. The driver was short, stocky and had a prominent moustache which he was in the habit of curling upwards at the ends.

He was Raja Gopal. But we children called him Raja Kobam in private.

Kobam in Tamil means anger. That is what he was, the King of Anger.

He demanded respect and was an honest but a strict man. Quick to anger, he scared us kids with just these words, “Shall I tell your father?”

We could never do anything out of context, as he was quick to tattle to my father or uncle which earned us a terrible reprimand and sometimes a hard whack for the boys.

Then I joined college. My friends and I would beg him to drive us to a newly opened shopping complex near by, after assuring him that we had our parents’ permission to go there. When a whole bunch of us had loaded ourselves into the car, the next problem was how much we could talk while he was within earshot.

When we were up to mischief, we talked in a language made up of very little words and lots of spellings which we thought he would not understand.  My friends were scared of him too.

Like I said, he exacted respect and fear from everyone with just his demeanor.

After my graduation I got married and moved to my husband’s house. Raja Gopal left our services and settled in his hometown in South India.

Life moved on and we completely forgot all about him.

Some twenty years later, one fine day he landed up at my house.  He was an old man, decrepit and weak. I could hardly make out who he was.

Where was the King of Anger? Who was this man with shuffling feet and soiled clothes?

He told me this sorry tale, of how his only son had died of drug abuse and his daughter in law had committed suicide leaving a grand-daughter behind.

Raja Gopal and his wife had brought up of that child and she was ready for marriage. He was trying to collect money for her wedding expenses.

I felt sorry for him. I gave him money and a few silk sarees which had been relegated to the back of my cupboard, for the bride.

A week later, when we cousins met, we discussed Raja Gopal. My cousins scolded me for being such a fool. They were sure he was going to spend the money on alcohol. They warned me that he would keep coming repeatedly if he was going to get easy money from a softy like me.

Sure enough, a month later he was at my gate again. This time, sadder than ever before.

He said that he had conducted his grand daughter’s wedding and a week after that his wife had died suddenly.

Now he wanted money to do her last rites.

I felt so sorry for him that I gave him money AGAIN!

My family members were shocked when they heard this. They scolded and teased me in turns, for being such a fool. So I hardened my heart and was ready to send him away empty-handed if he came again.

He never came back. Never in these last few years.

Was his story true? Or did he spin a sad tale just to make me cough up some money? I will never know.

I thought about life and how old age and poverty had made a King (albeit of anger) to lose his dignity

I try to hold on to the image of Raja Gopal of my childhood, an honest man and a strict disciplinarian.

But all that comes to my mind is the infirm old man who cheated me of a few thousand rupees.

Or did he??

Story by GB . Written by Gulsum Basheer @ Talkalittledo – For Life is Funny.

Image courtesy of vectorolie@

Posted in Sometimes Sad, Vintage, We Indians! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments