The Blog

Patna to Poughkeepsie, strangers on the journey of life

A while ago, I emailed the writer Amitava Kumar of Patna who now teaches literature at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. When I email a writer, it is because: I like their work, their writing has touched me in some way, and I want to record my appreciation for an unintended gift. Fan girl stuff  really — nothing more. But this time, I was also writing to tell him about an Indian woman whose remains were interred in a cemetery in Poughkeepsie, a woman whose story obsesses […]



Curtailed Careers of Women in China

Women enter the workforce the same time as men but they typically take some time off during their child-bearing years. Instead of being allowed to stay on longer to compensate, they have to step down sooner in China. Women scientists retire at 55, while men retire at 60. I can’t come up with any good reason for why this should be the case. This also tells me that someone should be looking at such policies across the globe. From the letters to the editor in […]



On Single-Sex Labs

On Single-Sex Labs

India’s first Nobelist C.V. Raman maintained a strict separation of sexes in his laboratory, his student Anna Mani recalls in this profile by Abha Sur.    Raman would mutter “Scandalous!” every time a male and a female student walked together by his window. With a touch of amusement, Mani noted that Raman must have had an uncanny sense, for even while bending over a microscope, he would be able to catch a glimpse of an “offending” couple. She remembered one incident vividly. She was talking […]



Tengo poco Sanskrit

Tengo poco Sanskrit

I am a Tam-Brahm, which is short for Tamil Brahmin. My ancestors were Hindu priests. You can expect people from such families to have a smattering of Sanskrit, the language of liturgy. My great-grandfather worked in a temple in Mylapore — not Kapaleswarar’s, but a smaller one on a side-street. He carried around the brass plate with a burning cube of camphor by one of the shrines. People  occasionally threw a big coin into this plate. There must’ve been some regular pay as well, but […]



Meenakshi and The Supernumerary Nipple

Meenakshi and The Supernumerary Nipple

Legend says that the Pandya king, the ruler of Madurai, rejoiced at the birth of his daughter. She had beautiful eyes, like a pair of chiral fish. So she became Meenakshi (Sanskrit for “fish eyes”). The royal child had another physical characteristic, which the king and his wife didn’t think was so hot. That was the extra nipple on her chest between the usual two. Not to worry, the wise men of the court told the parents. It would just fall away when she met […]



The Universal Correspondent

The Universal Correspondent

Those were the days when I was struggling to establish myself as a journalist. They used to call me Universal Correspondent since I had no authority to represent any particular publication. Still, I was busy from morning till night, moving about on my bicycle or on my neighbor Sambu’s scooter. I was to be seen here and there, at municipal meetings, magistrates’ court, the prize distribution at Albert Mission, with a reporter’s notebook on hand and a fountain pen peeping out of my shirt pocket. […]



Curious Case of The Sex Reversed Insects

Curious Case of The Sex Reversed Insects

They say there is nothing new under the sun. But consider this newly discovered genus Neotrogla with four insect species, in the caves of Brazil. The females have the equivalent of the penis; the males have a cavity like the vagina. Now, wait a minute. Did the researchers simply mislabel the specimens you ask? In biological terms, the female has the bigger gametes — larger, more expensive to produce energy-wise, stationary eggs vs small motile sperm — and is almost always the one who gives […]



An Avian Villain Does Good — Sometimes

An Avian Villain Does Good — Sometimes

Great spotted cuckoos, found all along southern Europe during breeding season, are notoriously lazy parents. They lay eggs in the nests of unsuspecting carrion crows, which raise them alongside their own, and at their expense — or so we believed. Researchers in Spain report an unexpected finding in Science this week: cuckoo hatchlings, in fact, confer protection on the entire brood. Each spring, on average, the crow lays five eggs and doesn’t seem to worry about an egg or two the cuckoo might’ve snuck in. […]



The Odd Couple

The first of these stories featuring an old couple and a host of zany characters appeared in the Tamil weekly Kumudham in 1963 and has entertained fans ever since. The writer was Bhagyam Ramasami; the  illustrator Jayraj. Sita Patti [full name: Sitalakshmi Appusamy], the madisar-clad sixty-plus bombshell, is the president of a ladies club called PMK (Patti Munetra Kazhagam). “Sita, the trouble-shooter” is the agony-aunt, columnist for a glossy periodical. Patti cracks the daily The Hindu crossword well before noon. She peppers every sentence with English words, in true Madras socialite-style. Gita Patti, the “ugly rustic” down […]



Women Sharing Space

Women Sharing Space

This is of Ajay Palvayanteeswaran’s pet theories:  No two Indian girl graduate students can get along as roommates. Sometimes, he would extrapolate it to all Indians in general or any two women. “It is not a sexist statement,” he would add. “In fact, it works in favor of all males. We should divide and conquer.” Sylvia Earle The stereotype about women being not being able to live amicably under one roof brings me to the story of  an oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle. In 1969, […]