It was not quite The 39 Steps. It took me 167 steps to find myself at the “Hindooo temple”, outside Kuala Lumpur.
My parents were waiting, below the steps, in the tourist bus: they had refused to trek up. “I have to check it out,” I had insisted. I was vacationing with mom and pop — they’d already complained. I was spending way too much time with our jovial tour guide (“He’s Malaysian, for God’s sake! Plus, he has no fixed income”) — and, therefore, desperate for some space.
I trudged up. There was a Chinese girl, not more than 13 or 14, standing with her mother at the cave-like structure that passed off as a temple. I realised she was part of our tour group; I’d seen her in the bus. She smiled at me shyly: “You pray for boys?”
Okay, clearly English wasn’t her strong point — isn’t that why India is beating China in the call-centre sector? But, even then, what was that again? “You Indian women pray for boys,” she was struggling, poor thing.
“One to get married, no? Then to have son?” “Oh, no, no, believe me,” I hastened to reassure her, “Praying for boys is not what I intend to do.”
There’s something called Chinese Tenacity (probably one reason why we swear by their cheap and cheerful products): “But people say,” she wasn’t smiling now, “that Indian women pray for boys.” “Well,” I said firmly, “people are often wrong.”
I received an email from a reader — a woman, who asked me if I’d care to write about why femininity is always linked with motherhood. I remember, as a teenager, in my first flush of womanhood, I used to be the odd one out.