Tuesday, March 20, 2012

From the lonely traveller's backpack..

As often as the little rain droplets fall, trickling down the glass of the window,
As often as the wind breezes, sending clouds of dust just below my knee,
As often as the moon reddens like a chunk of cheese hung tantalizingly in the sky,
As often as the gentle scent of the jasmines wafts across the walk,
As often as tiny little frogs leap out of the grass,
As often as I hear the clank of the hammer against the steel, of great buildings being built,
So often I think of you,
So often I count my blessings,
So often I feel that there isn’t a soul happier or luckier than I am…

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Indianism... South Indianism. Understand? Good.

After reading this from a link sent by a pathologically English language-savvy friend, I thought it is but necessary to conserve those things about the language that make it more endearing than most. Every other language has a few styles, dialects, accents and slang and I'm sure you know how they all come about, but English is like Rajinikanth. Everybody may speak all other languages, but English. speaks. You. Him. Her. Everybody! Mind it. Here is my small ode to the holy matrimony of Tamil and English-  as can be spoken only by the convent-going altaaps of Chennai. All those who have had their initiation to this particular form of Tanglish may please play the dialogues in their own voices, adding the necessary pauses, exclamations and such other embellishments. For the uninitiated, nevertheless Tamil speaking readers, please transliterate every one of these dialogues into Tamil. (For example, an exasperated, "Podi! Evalavudhaan naanum poruthu poruthu paakaradhu?" would become an equally exasperated, "Go ya! How much time I should also wait and wait and see, huh?" Yes, we are really simple that way) 

Kindly revert. Will be thrilled to receive ideas on other models of invaluably eccentric forms of this mother of all funny languages. Here goes:-

D: Hallo? A? I am D this side..
A: Hey hi D! Long time no?? How are you men?
D: I am fine ya... Just passed out of medical college. I heard you're out of station, but I still just wanted to see if you've come back. I'm in Chennai only now.
A: Hey really? Where are you putting up?
D: At Anna Nagar, just backside of Iyyappan temple. I and my mother and my brother and my father have settled here for the next three months. I said to you sometime back no, that my father was transferring because of his job? My brother's exams also preponed. So my mother said to me, "Do one thing, you also come be with us only. Three months don't work. Then we'll search. Okay?" So I said, wokay.. Nice no? Full holidays only..
A: Hey niiiice... Nowadays and all which parent will tell like that you tell me! I also have no, my parents... hmm (snorts)
D: Hey don't talk bad about your parents okay.. I know your mother and all will nev-ver say anything to not do. And your father is so soft and so cute and..
A: Hullo... he's my father ok... So don't put line for him!
D: Ah, okay okay...
A: Okay, tell me one thing.. How is P and G and that L? There were also two A's no, in our twelth standard, who came to your college with you? What are they all doing?
D: P got chucked out
A: Why?
D: Why because he was drinking cigarettes in class itself. In front of the teacher that too!
A: Oh God! That boy is so brainless! You remember when I used to mind the class in school, he used to always tease me. Pah!! At least in college I thought he should have gotten some brains...
D: He studies well only ya.. He should have been rank holder also! But I think so some problem in his house.. What to do? His friends are also like that only, rowdy gang, all full of them!
A: Oho.. Okay, so what about the others?
D: Wait, I am wearing a new jean... It is tight fitting. I've inserted my shirt. Now it is hurting.. Ah....! ok, now it's loosed.. So...... that's what ya. That G and L are now going to abroad for their MD. Both the A's, I don't know I've not seen them since I think our passing out days from school.
A: Just now only I was watching our farewell album men... How much small we all look you know? Hey you remember BC ah? That Chemistry teacher who took English for us! "Bangles, CRYstal bangles!" ha hahahahaha... Who only put her for teaching English I can't understand.. "bangles CRYstal bangles" it seems...! Ha hahahahaha
D: Ha hahahahahahah yes ya... Ayyoo she was so scaring! Always shouted at that poor fellow F for nothing.
A: I told you to not to say nothing to her.. You only very bigly went and told F did not do anything wrong. Then see what happened... She nicely gave you one with that long stick of hers!
D: Ah, don't remind! Now also it hurts!
A: Hahaha... That and all was one golden time men!  Now and all will we get back those times? Ok, when are you giving treat?? Gold medal and all!
D: Huh, that and all I don't know pa! I only know with how much difficulty I managed to get sometime from home to call my friends. Treat I believe.. Treat all will come only after I get a job. Now for three months housework and family time only.
A: What child? You'll not even give treat ah? Wait wait, I will only talk to Aunty and get the treat. What is this..!!
D: Okay okay do what you like.. Hey what's the time?
A: Four o clock.
D: Four ah! Now I'll keep the phone... don't mistake okay? Some important call must be coming for my Dad he said, after four o clock. If the phone is busy, that's all! We will nicely get it from him! I will call you like this maybe tomorrow okay?
A: Hey no problem ya.. Bye! Call to me after six okay? Bye!
D: Bye-bye..

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Speak foul, sweetly

Short, colour streaked, dirt rolled legs come into view. One small hand wound back at the hip, smeared with black-green patches holds a bunch of pens too large to be mere sketching pens. Other hand obeying the slightly tilted head that is fully concentrated on embellishing it's strokes and scratches on the canvas up it's front. And the canvas- my washing machine.  "Oi! Don't!! Put.That.Marker.Down." No response. "Skanda!! Here's your drawing book. Don't scribble everywhere else!" Never mind answering. Let me go and pull that hand away "HEY! (Turns around. Big frown, beady eyed stare and a pouted mouth ) "I-was-just-drawing-that-bear!" (Has so far managed what looks like scattered bear-fur) "Bear my foot. Come away now, you little monkey!" "YOU'RE a donkey!" "you're a goose!" "you're a duck" "you're a piglet" "you're a zebra" "you're a nut!" "you're a cashewnut!" "walnut" "coconut" "Mango" "Papaya" "Strawberry" "Banana" "Babycorn" "you're a... (looks around at the posters on the wall. There's a picture of a fruit-bowl) Apple!" "orange" "Grapefruit" "Kiwi fruit" "Hmmm...? You Potato!" "you tomato!" "you carrot!" "beetroot" "Pum'kin!" "Chilli" "capsicum"..... now we run out of fruits and vegetables.... then it dawns... "you're a Ben-10!" (dunno what's the big hype about it but 'm afraid he may not know a Popeye or a Scooby-Doo... maybe when he'll grow up to do a thesis on archaic cartoons...) "yay! you called me BEN? That's a HEEERO!! If I'm Ben, you're a Gwen!" (goes on to explain that Gwen is Ben's female sidekick... never 'foul' mouth a modern day superhero (or super cartoon) worshipping kid without doin' your homework on them first. :P ) Happily exhausted we both abandon the colors and the drawing book and gang up to watch tv. All that 'foul' mouthing sure helped. I'll never snatch things from his hands again nor will he ever draw on my washing machine once more (maybe next time it'll be the wall he'll be trying his artistry on, but let's face it when it comes :D)

It was a nice little lesson on de-worming myself of abuses I could normally hurl when angry. Maybe next time I'll remember more of "blistering barnacles" than "bloody b*%#@!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"you do good karma, get good karma madam!"- the spirit of the Mumbaikar

Coming back alone from the deserted streets of Mahabalipuram in the late evenings can be a little unnerving when you are only just getting to know the place. Every man recognizes a new face and wants to know where you are from, how long you are staying, where are you staying, etc.  Intrusive and annoying, I'd put it. I mean, can't a man or a woman roaming the streets of a beautiful place be left to their own business?? What rights does anybody have to intrude upon their privacy like this? "Oh... and it's okay to tumble down into a township by the truckloads, scatter into the deep pockets of the neighborhood and invade upon the everyday lives of the hundreds of families living there, eh?" retorts an ear-worm from within. Ok, we'll keep that talk for later. 

Along comes an auto-rickshaw whose driver (surprisingly gently) asks, "Where to madam?" Equally surprisingly he quotes a reasonable fare and the journey begins. Some drivers can get chatty, and the darker it is outside, the more bravado they show. And when I say "bravado" it goes to show how little we think of these people and their professions (no thanks to one or two really shady elbow benders that we each is fated to meet at some point or another), cob-webbed into our own little world of low standards. He asks the usual questions, "where" "what" and "where are you from" and has a ready comment for each answer I give (characteristic of these men; to show how much they know their pettai) I humor him, and ask him questions; with a chatterbox like this one, you can switch-off for long spells, merely tossing question upon question (of course, you'd know the trick..) This guy is from Mumbai, but speaks fluent Tamil.

"I know Russian, Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and English Madam" he says proudly. Russian? I'm impressed. "I've been here several years now. Had a tough time convincing my wife's parents to let me marry her. They thought I'd run away, but they did not understand; I didn't give a serious thought to marrying her until I saw her kids. That's when I felt like I really wanted them to be my family." Raju was merely making ends meet for his family, and also blowing up a little cash on the usual small things, until he decided to marry. Marrying a widow who already has children from her previous marriage is..... Is that common yet where you come from O' reader? We Indians would rather die than bring such disgrace upon our ancestry. Sometimes I feel, we are bent upon reinforcing the fact that we are, in fact, the oldest civilization that lived; always will be..

Everyday Raju and his wife work in different places to fend for their family. Their relations with their parents and siblings are distant, though cordial. Expending all their energy into managing a household of five can be gruelling and sometimes they fight. "Lekin jab apne bacchon ko dekhta hoon, sara tension bhool jata hoon." A new-found respect brims up within for the man, just for the kind of responsibility he shows when talking about his children. "Life mein paise kabhi bhi kama sakte hain, rishtey nahi" How many times I would have listened to that phrase and yet it seldom fails to captivate me when someone says it with utmost sincerity. We chat throughout the ten kilometre journey and there unfurls the spirit of a Mumbaikar- an expressive and entertaining character- one who is always ready to give a helping hand to the stranger passing by, one who will donate even when he's barely got enough for himself, one who cares for you genuinely even though you may be a stranger and not likely to meet again, one who has immense respect for education, one whose partiality and biases are most often restricted only to home cooked food, one who is happy and contented with what he's got and blesses, instead of praying for more.

Who is this archetypal Mumbaikar? He (or she) is that vegetable vendor, the sandwich stall keeper, the autorickshaw driver, the security guard... the kind of people you meet on the roadside, thrown out of their dwellings by repeated slum demolishing drives, thronging the pavements of the uber city, but it's easy to notice that they are the most chirpy, optimistic individuals that you will be likely to meet. A picture that stays finely imprinted in memory. Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Na Hona Wahaan; Zara Hatke, Zara Bachke, Woh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan! Even though I'm taking a huge liberty with the beautiful verses of ...wait, was it Jan Nisar Akhtar, or S.H. Bihari, or Majrooh Sultanpuri?... Anyway, to have tweaked the lyrics of this endearing number is to have spoken what this heart beats for in yearning, no matter what I do. Living a good thousand five hundred kilometres away  from there for at least twenty years now, we used to tease my mother for: (a) her extraordinary readiness to befriend any Marathi speaking person; (b) when in the short few minutes that the TV remote remained with her and she would tune into a Marathi channel and (c) never was a plateful of chaat spared of that inescapable (although ever so slightly so) look of dismissal in comparison to Mumbai's roadside treats of my mother's teenage years. Six months out after a mere two year stint in that city and today I find it hard not to make a reference to it (the city) every now and then.

I love everything about the city, and it may well be because of my noveau fascination for it. But in the face of an alarming sense of insecurity among people  everywhere and an ever ready vigil everyone seems to keep to face the worst, I feel responsible somehow for shouting off the rooftops about the friendliness and safety that Mumbai offered me. And it all came not from having relatives or influential friends to put me at ease, but from that stranger who chatted with me for half an hour waiting for a bus I did not which, the guys who sold t-shirts at Colaba and on Hill Road (Bandra), the fruit-shop fellows who served up a healthy drink with some real and substantial fruit, the sandwich-maker who loaded my hungry stomach with humble but fresh and healthy vegetables, the auto-rickshaw driver who returned one rupee after taking exactly 13 rupees as his metre showed, the ladies in the jam packed local train compartment who told me which was the best place to procure glass bangles and walked up to the market with me lest I lose my way, and the list only keeps getting bigger.

If I were the President of India, I would give the common man of Mumbai a Bharat Ratna for keeping alive the flame of integrity and selflessness. The city is a thing of joy, it touches your heart in a way that no other place can do.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time to go all out

War-cries and fireworks thunder everywhere from the galleries appearing on the TV screen to the living room  and spill over to the streets all over the neighborhood. The Battle's Won! There are the Prime Ministers of both the nations, sitting side by side, each one wearing an unbearably straight face, trying in desperation to tie all their freaking emotions into a tight bundle and stowing it all away. Oh, PM Gilani makes an urgent exit right after the last ball.

There's Sonia and Rahul, having a remarkably gala time on the stands "with the crowds". After hours of sitting through the game with a slightly "I'm-actually-a-little-lost-but-who'd-know" kinda look, in the last over Sonia does the maternal act, pallu firmly tied to her waist, waving and cheering  as if  it was Rahul himself who was playing out there. There's Aamir Khan, Preity Zinta, Venkatesh and the other film stars rising, trembling with excitement (or throbbing joints) after balancing themselves in their chairs at that precise  run-scoring, wicket-winning angle (talk about superstitions) throughout the match, just like everyone else. One thing's for sure today; if you ain't bleeding  blue, you are just.. sick.. atheist even! Many a cricketing oracle had already flashed a card for the Srilankan Team during their semi-finals with "Srilanka! Meet you in the Finals!" or something like that. What seemed audacious then now seems prophetic. Forget taking home the Cup-- We Have Arrived (Did you just note the royal 'we'? Of course, it's applicable only when "we" win).. defeating our "arch rivals".. saving face on the home ground..

Cricket has seldom been one of my pastimes. It's huge with most everybody at home. I remember my sage paternal grandad positioning himself in the living room sitting close yet far and detached from the howling and swearing of all the boys of the house (and their very many friends. God! Our house did turn into a mini theatre during the cricket season). My mother and grandmother can even today be woken up several times late night in a day and night match with the roar following every important run or wicket. Though I imagine they would have loved to be left alone during these few hours for some much needed rest (especially after an extra busy day in the kitchen feeding an ever hungry bunch of men with fries and snacks shoveled down with the aid of buckets of coffee), they do not seem to mind it and join in the cheer for a while taking a break from  beauty sleep. On the one or two occasions that I spent time at my maternal grandparents' home around the time of the matches, funnily my grandad always supported the opponent team while my uncle raged furious arguments with him in favour of the Indian team. My grandmom and aunt were (are) both fans of cricket of the top order and even prayed away silently for India's victory. Even my little sisters can really appreciate a good innings or speculate intelligently over the chances of winning  or losing a match.

In a pathetic attempt to "connect" with my family in a different way I tried watching the IT game along with the house a year or two ago. It just bombed. I simply couldn't stop wondering What could possibly be SO engrossing about a bunch of guys flinging a bat and a ball over and over again? Neither did I understand the rules of LBW or how can a match actually end when it's 'declared', nor was I any the wiser about their little insider jokes about the players. This left me a little jealous, but I could live with it. 

On the other hand, I've never really understood politics either. Just what is it about the Government and it's hundreds of ministries and thousands of departments that were finding it so difficult to please the minds of those early morning newspaper readers that always had a ready spat just waiting to explode should the characters (! What? to me they were nothing more) jump out of paper? I considered my folks to be quite extraordinarily intelligent (and influential) because they simply knew anybody and everybody that was being mentioned in these papers and they knew every little dirty scheme they played. I never quite made an attempt to understand these phantasmagoric phenomena.

Until I did. Now even I can't  but betray that there is a real charm about hitting a good ball and also about getting a hang of what people are talking about. There is no escape from the discomforting sense of being lost to a nice little chat. The point is, no other excuse can hold well against initial fears of rejection and ignorance except for some genuine interest in the game for the sake of the game itself. Where I live, this is the season of big games and World Cup Cricket is just the first of them. With the elections coming right after, there's a buzz all over the place that is simply impossible to miss. Whether a cricketing fan or politics-savvy, this sure is the time to go all out and paint the world with your hue. What say?

Monday, March 28, 2011


When was the last time you ENJOYED work lunch? Like, really savored the sight and smell and the texture... "you're kidding right?" you ask.
 A, the nice and friendly fellow with a cabin on the first floor became a proud father recently. As is the custom in our workplace, he has organized for a treat in the canteen today. Now celebrations come and celebrations go, but it's only the Arun Ice-cream served at the end of lunch that every once that keeps up it's reputation. Maybe this is the first time that our canteen is serving to toast  to a new-born, I don't know, but they have put together a spread which is slightly (huh? a little more than 'slightly') different from the usual fare. The vegetable stew and sauteed cauliflower-peas curry are warm, crunchy and finely spiced, and go beautifully well with the toasty phulkas and rice. Wait.... What really takes the cake is...... (drumroll) ta da! Chakkarai Pongal!!! Coming from a clan that regards this mother-of-all-ceremonial-desserts with the keenest regard, it would have been a disaster on the tongue if one was taken for a fickle ride. Usually one look at the grains is enough to determine whether the dish would be peck-worthy or not. This one has the look; a thick and drying sheet of dark honey brown and underneath the surface, caving in like lava at the slightest prick, lays the shimmering golden rice pudding. Quite a few sneaky cashew nuts give themselves away, all roasted to a hearty brown. Ice-cream arrives. I pause. Chakkarai Pongal on the one hand. Ice-cream and chocolate sauce on the other. Eyes dangle from one plate to the other. Golden brown. Fluffy white. Warm and gooey. Cold and creamy. Lip-smacking. Mmmmmmmm....
In a small eatery that serves Burmese food, I was once served Kownimo- a dessert made of white sticky rice, drenched in coconut milk and chocolate sauce, with a dollop of ice-cream, all laid on a banana leaf bed. Going with the flow, by now I don't have tell you the obvious about how it tasted. Now the sight of these two plates reminds me of that delectable treat and I'm all set to go an a gastronomic skiing trip. The first spoonful feels like an avalanche, melting with almost a whisper of promise, "this is just the beginning..."
Instead of my gobbling up the lot, this time it is the food that has devoured me... I'm had..... Buuuurrrp!
Welcome baby K. Here's wishing you all goodness and sunshine. Live long and merrily dine!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This happens if the newly appointed staff in your college happens to be younger and more nervous than you.

She is that quiet one (at least she seems so) who has come to stay in our hostel. We exchange smiles when we cross each other on my way to or from the hostel, but our camaraderie ends there. With that tiny backpack permanently hung over her large shoulder and a somewhat lost look on her face she can easily be taken for a student.

My friends and I were taking our usual evening walk under the beautiful open skies in the neighboring colony, and were plotting a mischief on D, chief chaos creator among our lot. These last few days are going to be far more fun than I thought. When we neared the local supermarket, we saw a big figure walking toward us,  wearing a backpack and carelessly chomping on popcorn by the handfuls. So concentrated was her focus that she didn't even take her eyes off that packet until we came up-close, face to face. She paused abruptly and stared, stuffed mouth and all. The look on her face..... priceless! We could only do so much to suppress a cackle, but before we actually burst it, she mustered up an awkward smile and hastened away.

Now this is what the journal entry of that student must look like, who caught me outside the supermarket with my bag of popcorn earlier this evening. :P