Monday, December 24, 2007
Its been a wonderful two weeks, the kind of holiday everyone should have. I must admit, I was very reluctant to come to Chennai because the last time I was here for any long period of time, I fell very sick. But then I decided to give the city another chance, and boy, did it redeem itself.
Where else can even security guards spell my name perfectly? Where else do women dress up in Kanjeevaram silk and diamonds to attend a music concert? Where else do people speak exactly the same language (Tamil) but with so many accents as to be quite unintelligible to each other?
Its been two weeks of moments snuck away from work to attend concerts, of reading Kutcheribuzz everyday and sighing over the wonderful performances I'm missing, days and nights spent in an acid green lab poring over code, two weeks where the weather gravitated from school-closing-level floods to thirty degrees in the shade, of learning that "Parrottas" are very different from "Paranthas" and that people find my ignorance on this point laughable, of stopping my scooter whenever I saw a deer in the IITM campus and wondering at the innocence of their eyes, of teaching Sanskrit to my little cousin and discovering how much Geography I've forgotten, and of meeting wonderful new people who know so much and work so hard, they both shame and inspire me.
This post is perhaps too brief to give anyone a true idea of the impression Chennai left on me. I leave for home tonight, once I'm there I promise to write much more. There are so many tales to tell, freezing in the Central leather institute, traveling on a bus where the conductor refused to let me buy a ticket, a dance performance that gave me goose pimples, the caterer in the Staff Canteen who spoke French, and so much more.
But in the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone!!
We all have a love for the sensational. Some of us love it so much that it leads us to be impractical. My love for the melodramatic doesn't always manifest itself in visible form, but there's a lot of stuff going on in my head. For example, when I'm waiting to cross a busy street, my mind can jump from what would happen if someone was run down by a car, to how I would ride with that person in an auto to the nearest hospital, to frantically trying to remember all the first aid I know, all before the traffic light changes.
Sometimes, I wonder. The stuff that goes on in my head is so interesting, I don't think I notice too much of the real world. I guess I'd better start paying more attention when I cross the street.
If risk is just a board game
You roll the dice
But you’re just hoping that the rules change
Hugh Grant -Dance with me tonight
What if life itself is just like a board game? I find the idea infinitely depressing. Even if you take your biggest life changing decisions based upon the rolling of a die, you're eternally doomed to go round and round and round in endless circles about the same board. Then when you're finally tired of it, you fold the board and everything you've ever achieved- money, property, titles, family... slithers to the floor in a heap of cheap plastic.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Those ten minutes of bliss were and always have been my favourite part of the day. Dreams are so wasted on sleep. However vivid they were, when you wake up all you're left with is disappointment, that those images that seemed so real in your sleep, turn so pale and lifeless in harsh daylight. Its like some horrible art thief replaced the van Gogh in your mind with a faded watercolour. But dreaming when you're awake- thats a whole new picture. You get to pick your fantasies and live then snuggled cosily in a warm bed, while drifting off comfortably to sleep.
Each night I would pick my fantasy, I could be a Spanish princess or a WWII nurse or a busy careerwoman. I could decorate dream homes, travel around the world, own and raise hundreds of dogs. I could be an Ayn Rand heroine staring at New York's skyline or Elizabeth Bennet turning down Mr. Darcy. If I was bored of fantasies revolving around me (and this happened, about once in a blue moon) I would live out all my favourite "if only" moments. If only Scarlett had realized she loved Rhett earlier, if only Tess hadn't been seduced by Alec, or Angel had found the letter she wrote him, if only Elfride Swancourt had lived. In all my stories they always had happy endings (Except in Elfride's case where I wasn't really sure what would have been a happy ending. I don't think Hardy himself knew, which is why he killed her off in the first place) Each morning when class got boring, I'd plan what I would dream about that night.
Since coming here, I don't have a bedtime anymore, I only sleep when utterly exhausted, leaving scant time for dreaming. More often than not, I fall asleep watching a sitcom or cramming desperately for a quiz. All this has left my quite dream-starved, and now as I look back, it has made my life considerably poorer. After all, isn't it like your very own Neverland, where you always stay young and if the ending isn't happy, it just means the story isn't over yet. So now I shall go to bed, turn off the lights, snuggle cosily under my warm covers and in my Neverland, go wherever the night takes me.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The oven reddened in anticipation as I shaped plump little spheres and rolled them in almond slivers. I jealously watched over the cookies as they cracked open in the oven's heat, revealing delicate yellow honeycombs under a honey brown crust. As the almond slivers baked to a crisp brown I opened the oven and took them out. The scent filled the air and pervaded the entire house. While baking always smells good, this scent was extraordinary. Out they came aided by my eager fork and I set them out to cool and harden. Hot from the oven, they were wonderfully cakey and they began to harden as they cooled. Two batches later, everyone in the house was asking for a taste but I had managed to fill a carefully guarded box for N.
My greatest problem when it comes to baking cookies is that sometimes I simply forget they're in the oven. My concentration this time held out till the very last batch, when distracted by an interesting conversation I totally forgot until a rich scent of roasting ginger filled my nostrils. Then I ran to the kitchen to find my final batch deeply browned and certainly not giftbox worthy, but still safe. Another minute and they would have been inedible.
Hours later, I returned to the now cooled oven and prised out a blackened cookie. I inhaled as I bit in and the flavour hit me full force. It was a rich buttery, spicy, sweet scent condensed in one intense mouthful. The flavours had time to settle and fuse and the product was enchanting.
None of the cookies survived for me to photograph, they all vanished mysteriously during the night. I will be making these again really soon though, the very next time I go home. Now, if I could only remember the proportions...
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
"Your picture of social triumphs is quite fascinating, Phil, but I'll paint one to offset it. I'm going home to an old country farmhouse, once green, rather faded now, set among leafless apple orchards. There is a brook below and a December fir wood beyond, where I've heard harps swept by the fingers of rain and wind. There is a pond nearby that will be gray and brooding now. There will be two oldish ladies in the house, one tall and thin, one short and fat; and there will be two twins, one a perfect model, the other what Mrs. Lynde calls a `holy terror.' There will be a little room upstairs over the porch, where old dreams hang thick, and a big, fat, glorious feather bed which will almost seem the height of luxury after a boardinghouse mattress. How do you like my picture, Phil?"
"It seems a very dull one," said Phil, with a grimace.
"Oh, but I've left out the transforming thing," said Anne softly. "There'll be love there, Phil -- faithful, tender love, such as I'll never find anywhere else in the world -- love that's waiting for me. That makes my picture a masterpiece, doesn't it, even if the colors are not very brilliant?"
Anne of the Island- Lucy Maud Montgomery
When people ask me where I'm from, I'm still confused. Should I say Tamil Nadu, which is where my parents are from, or Secunderabad where I was born but have lived in for only a few measly years? Should I launch into a long winded explanation of how since my Dad's in the army I've never lived in one place for long or should I risk ridicule and say I'm from India without further details. The answers I give are generally one of these, though I rarely do the proclaiming I'm Indian thing.
My idea of a home is not a city or a locality or a house. I've changed too many of those. But it is the place where the people I most love are. When I came to college everyone told me I was to have two homes henceforth. I thought so too and indeed, tried very hard to make it true. But much as I love living here in a hostel, doing crazy things with amazing friends, I have never yet called it home.
I sing all the time for a week when my plans for going home get finalized. I have hour long phone conversations with Amma on what all we're going to do together as soon as I get there. When I finally do get there, the time flies by on wings, surrounded as I am by familiar objects and loving faces. My parents do everything they can to make every visit extra special. They seem to think I might not want to come home if Amma didn't cook all my most favourite dishes for every meal or if Appa didn't stock the fridge to bursting point with all my favourite sweets. They needn't ever be afraid of that though. Its home! How could I not want to come back again and again, or stay for ever?
When I finally have to leave, I never want to go. I've been doing this for two and a half years now, but still when the train chugs away and I wave at my bravely smiling parents, I feel like a part of me is being wrenched away, very painfully. By the time I return to my hostel and start unpacking, the feeling is just a distant memory. But reading this paragraph from L M Montgomery's book just reminded me of it again.
I go home next week. Happy Diwali everyone!!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
When I came to third year, I finally got a room of my own. I really miss the bedtime chats R and I used to have, but she’s still right next door. When we lived together, we never had many non human visitors. True we had a family of lizards (guaranteed to send R into hysterics whenever they made an appearance from their home behind the bookcase) and an occasional adventurous bee. But nothing on the scale I have now.
Since I’ve started living alone, I’ve been vividly aware of all the other creatures surrounding me. There’s the glossy black crow that raids the dustbin outside my door every morning. I often startle him when I open my door in a sleep dazed stupor, vaguely clutching my toothbrush. He immediately retreats to a nearby tree branch and from there caws reproachfully till I shamble away.
There’s the squirrel that comes to share in the crow’s spoils. He’s surprisingly tame and lets me get within an arm’s breadth without flinching. We’ve had a staring match, us two. One morning I caught him with an apple core in his paws sitting on an overhanging branch and staring at me with beady eyes. Fascinated, I stared back. He ruminatively munched on the core while never breaking eye lock. I broke our silent contest first; I remembered I was ten minutes late for class and so pleaded a rain check. I could swear he held his tail with a faintly triumphant air as he scampered away.
Other occasional animal visitors include a monkey that peers in at my door in a neighborly way from time to time. He appears to delight in startling me, baring his teeth in an ingratiating grin before running away. There are also a few shy sparrows that timidly peck around the mess that the crow makes of my dustbin every morning. There’s a cat that once in a very long while slinks past my open door like a shadow. Her coming up to our wing is an act of great condescension, she rarely pays social calls. I always stare after her in wonder; I’ve never seen anyone move more gracefully.
But all these visitors are from the animal realm. I entertain a whole host of smaller guests too, not all of them welcome. First there are the moths, drawn irresistibly to my tube light; they fly out at me from unexpected places startling me to no end. Then there are the strange brown insects for whom also my light seems to hold some magnetic attraction. They sit motionless on my wall, staring at it in utter fascination. I leave them be, they don’t trouble me and hey, maybe that’s how I look when I stare at my computer screen… I’m no one to judge.
Among my unwelcome guests are a line of termites, steadfastly marching across my ceiling. They defy everything I’ve ever learnt about termites. There’s no wood on my ceiling, still the line keeps growing every morning, inching closer and closer to my cupboard. I’ve even been as inhospitable as to regularly have their home sprayed with phenyl, but like all unwelcome guests, they stubbornly refuse to leave.
Then there are the odd mosquitoes that sneak in when I open my door in the evening. By morning they are fat and swollen flying about sluggishly, drunk on my blood. After years of practice, I can now tell which mosquitoes have drunk my blood and which haven’t. They ones who haven’t are shooed out through the window, but the ones who have are killed mercilessly, leaving dark brown smudges on my pink walls. I have my own ideas of justice.
But perhaps the strangest of all my strange visitors are the line of black ants. The line snakes across my room, often triumphantly bearing the carcass of a moth or a mosquito. I can’t figure out from where they appear. They just show up in the night in a huge black swarm, crowding my ceiling and within an hour they’re gone as mysteriously as they came. Now when I first saw them, I was hardly welcoming. Short of killing them I tried everything, including spraying them with deodorant (which they seem to rather like) and blowing at them till I was red in the face. But they marched on regardless, barely breaking ranks.
I’ve now grown quite inured to their presence and in fact am quite grateful to them. For you see, anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’m not tidy, but I am clean. This means that in my room, you’ll find clothes scattered all over the floor, but the floor itself will be spotless. You’ll find books and papers all over the place, but not a grain of dust on any of them. So the fastidious ants actually help me out. They’re a tireless army that keeps cleaning up, food crumbs, dead insects… Perhaps if I was tidy, I’d mind that there was a moving black line across my wall but ah well, I’m just clean.
These are just the most prominent of my visitors. I have said nothing of several other interesting sparrows, beetles, spiders and others I don’t know the names of. That is the stuff of perhaps another later post. But honestly, how can I ever be bored even if I’m the only human in the room, when I have so much fascinating company around?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I certainly won't commit the folly of saying I only blog for myself, that this is a private space where I reveal my innermost thoughts. I love reading comments on my blog, only laziness keeps me from posting more often, and nothing on it is in the least bit private. Hell, its a public blog. I post only when I feel I have to write something or burst, when I have a whole confusion of ideas inside my head, formless and shifting that I am desperately grabbing at before they get away... or of course like today, I write before a quiz since I had rather do anything but mug.
This blog could also be a chronicle, someplace where I can write my thoughts and experiences and watch them change as I grow. There are several stunted ideas in its few posts... snippets of things that might have been, had I only the persistence to continue. I've had ideas like posting reviews of the books I read, movies I watch, songs I sing, places I travel. Each resulted in one post and no more.
This blog has about three times as many unpublished posts as it does published ones. The drafts are ideas that didn't materialize when I tried to clothe them with clumsy words, or ideas that turned out too preciously private to be shared. So in a way this blog is also a grown up personal diary for me. I revisit all those drafts from time to time and see if I've sharpened my skills at all, if perhaps I can somehow find words less clumsy, for all those elusive thoughts. Some of them turn into posts months, even a year after they were first conceived.
Blogging sure is better than writing in a diary with a scratchy pen. Here I can embed photos, edit myself ruthlessly without untidy crosses; remove all the hundreds of unnecessary commas that always creep in and save it all for posterity.
But all in all, I don't really know why I blog. Its just another form of expression, I suppose, or another place to vent the thoughts that I can't immediately speak out for some reason. I think I'm going to glorify what I do though, by calling my blog a "delightful jumble of thoughts, the products of a random and abstract mind".
Sunday, July 01, 2007
I’ve only recently rediscovered my sense of smell. Earlier there were only good smells and bad smells, but of late I find perfumes, scents, aromas, flavours… there’s a whole new world out there. You just have to breathe in deeply and take it all in.
1 ) Blooming jasmine buds threaded together. There is something quite intoxicating about their powerful scent. In the olden days, kings used to wrap these garlands about their wrists while courtesans danced for them.
2) A dog’s fur, a day after a bath. I don’t much care for the smell immediately after the bath; it smells too much like the dog shampoo I’ve been applying. But a day or two after the bath, the hair’s still gloriously fresh and it has a smell so, well… doggy!
3) A warm mango freshly picked from a tree. This is a pleasure I recently discovered. The house we’re living in actually has a mango tree on the premises which this season yielded a grand total of twelve mangoes! I picked one of them myself and I couldn’t be prouder.
4) Old old books. They should be so old, the pages have yellowed. They have a delightfully musty odor, it’s full of things you vaguely remember, that you can discover all over again.
5) New books. I love the smell of ink and plastic and print that they all carry. They smell delightfully new, totally untouched, waiting to be explored.
6) The kitchen when my mother’s making Halwa. It’s a delicious smell, of flour cooking in ghee and unfailingly sets my taste buds tingling.
7) Talcum powder just after a bath. The smell mingled with that of soap and the feel of water droplets all contribute to such a glorious feeling of freshness.
8) Raat ki Rani. These tiny green star-like flowers bloom only for one brief night. By morning they are faded, their perfume blown away by the wind. But that one night of revelry is enough, to walk past this bush and to inhale their heady perfume is enough to transport me headway into the Arabian nights.
9) A mint bed freshly trampled on. At the risk of sounding like an aroma therapist, I’ve never smelled anything fresher. I get a milder feeling of the same sort from toothpaste; it’s the only thing that can wake me up in the morning.
10 The steam that rises when cold rain comes in contact with the boiling earth. I wish I could make a perfume out of it to carry around on scorching summer days.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since I was sulking all the way on the train I stared out of the window most of the time and had plenty of time to notice how the scenery changed. I fell asleep after having stared the entire evening at red soil, dry brush and scorched grasses. I woke up to a very different sight. Coimbatore lies near the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the land of coconuts leaves its unmistakable stamp on this place. The scenery outside looked like someone from the heavens had- in a careless fit of largess- upturned several buckets of emerald green paint over the earth. Fields and fields of banana and coconut trees rushed past us. The colour was almost blinding... only once have I seen such a green before, in the young mustard fields of Punjab.
We reached the sleepy station of Coimbatore and there I received the impression that never quite left me through the trip. No one speaks anything but Tamil there and several men scorn to discard their veshtis for the more modern trousers. The flashy advertisement boards outside show the latest designs in silk sarees as cows walk placidly amid the traffic. The smell is a mixture of the sickeningly sweet odour of fresh cowdung, mixed with the smoke coughed up from the bellies of busy vehicles, tinged with the intoxicating perfume of the jasmine flowers all women there wear in their hair. The whole place is like a town that should logically grow into a large pococurante metropolis but is held back by a rigid orthodox people who cling proudly but desperately to a fast fading way of life.
Coimbatore overflows with relatives I never knew I possessed. Tamil is such an exact language that every relative has a specific name that I must call them by, not like English where Uncle and Aunt would suffice. My grandmother was one of a brood of eleven, three siblings and seven half-siblings (my great grandfather having remarried after my great grandmother's death). To complicate matters still further, my mother's sister married her uncle, my grandmother's half-brother. I'm informed that such marriages are quite common in Tamil Nadu where people are still painfully proud of their caste. Indeed love marriages are still looked upon very disparagingly. Several times have I been told things like, "She had no character, raced into a love marriage at twenty three!" or, "She was a good girl, she waited until her father found a suitable groom for her".
However that may be, I was drawn into a bewildering maze of relatives all of whom wanted to see me and remember when they'd seen me last in the days of my infancy, and to see how many of my mother's features I had inherited. These are all educated people, there are high school principals and chartered accountants and mill owners among their number. But in every house I went to I found that though at their work they might compromise to modernity, their lives had always been rigidly traditional. Several husbands I heard praised for being so lenient as to "let" their wives work. I was highly praised everywhere I went, not for getting into IIT-no... but rather for my singing, my alleged knowledge of cooking and the docility of my behavior. One aged relative very nearly risked receiving a plateful of sweetmeats in his face when he sampled my cooking and said by way of blessing me, "After all, what does a man need but a wife who cooks well and keeps the house clean." Now, when I have had time for reflection, the incident seems more humorous to me than anything else. A couple of years ago I would have impetuously exclaimed at such antiquated notions, and engaged him in an avid debate on the rights of women. I am, I hope, slightly wiser now.
Most women there are housewives, and even my mother- college lecturer that she is- is looked upon as a modern miss. The women begin their day with making breakfast and seeing their husbands off. The morning is spent in prayers, gossip, cooking and the ubiquitous Hindi soaps. Ekta Kapoor is an influence that not even the most stringent Brahmins have been able to keep out. The women may mot understand much Hindi, but come one thirty they are glued to the television. My Grandmother herself who speaks not a word of Hindi, told me the entire story of Tulsi and of all the persecutions that much maligned damsel has undergone. In the evenings when their husbands return, they retire grandly to rest, while the wives who have meanwhile dressed freshly and threaded jasmine buds through their hair, bustle about to prepare dinner. After dinner is a time for conversation before bed, which is in many households, still a sheet spread on the ground.
An outing to a temple is the preferred pastime of a Sunday morning and accordingly, I was woken up at 5:30 am to accompany Perippa to a temple atop a hill. Too groggy to protest my atheism, I listened to Perimma's animated description of the beauty of the idols. I was warned that I was in for a very thrilling ride as the route up the hill comprised several hairpin bends. What I was not warned of was that Perippa at his at his most dashing traveled at 40kmph on his Honda Activa. Conscious of me, a delicately nurtured female, as his cargo, he never exceeded twenty. As we drove along the sun rose, women washed doorsteps and buffaloes ambled past. When we reached the hill finally, Perippa slowed to almost a halt and we negotiated the aforementioned hairpin bends with hair-raising caution, tooting the horn loudly as we inched along while mules looked at us in mild surprise.
That evening I accompanied my Grandmother to our family temple. In Coimbatore, every street has atleast one temple. This one belonged especially to our family and believe it or not, only brahmins are allowed inside! As I made my way into the dimly lit interior, I was shown photographs of my ancestors as my grandmother told me of how when she was a girl, a hundred brahmins would be fed at a time inside that very same temple. She spoke of how musicians would sing there and my great-great grandfather would perform all the pooja rites himself in front of our family idol. Now, it is dark and silent. The priest lives in a room at the back with his wife and two young children. There is a smell of incense and grease, the very stones seem weary. Their time is past.
The next evening, my last there, was spent in a very different way. I was taken to Chennai silks, that Mecca of all saree buyers. They have floors for different fabrics, sarees in just about every price range and a bewildering array of designs. The attendants all speak only Tamil and patiently help as you sift through saree after saree. Women sit there for hours arguing over prices and fabrics and designs. I wandered over all five floors as my mother bought her favorite cotton prints.
That night I was taken to visit the last of my mother's Mama's. He had recently given his daughter in marriage and was extremely proud of the wedding video. Unfortunately he also owned a new fangled DVD player that he did not know how to use, as a result of which I was inflicted with the footage of the bridegroom's Kasi yatra ceremony three times. By the time we staggered out of there, three hours later, I was firmly determined that if I get married it will be in a registrar's office and no videography will be permitted.
As I sat in the train the next afternoon and watched that verdant scenery roll by, I thought of the past three days and of the blog entry I would write when I got home, of the relatives I never knew I had and of the life I was returning to.
But most of all, I thought of those people, clinging determinedly to a fading past and of watching the sun rise from the rear seat of a Honda Activa, as buffaloes ambled past.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
Some day I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemondrops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?
I watched You've Got Mail today, for something like the fifteenth time. Its definitely one of my favourite romances, I love the witty dialogue, the acting, the setting, the bookstore... Even now, I get a delightful little shiver down my spine when Tom Hanks hands Meg Ryan a handkerchief and says, "Don't cry, Shopgirl" with Somewhere over the rainbow playing in the background.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
But as I read it now, I can fully sympathize with myself at thirteen. He has this extremely wordy, highly descriptive style that for my practical mind is somewhat hard to stomach. He uses what seem to me highly incongruous metaphors, all the time. For almost any other writer, it would seem like affectation, but somehow with James, it only seems like eccentricity.
In the past hundred pages, the story has progressed, but only marginally so. The characters have been described in tremendous detail, but in such a strange way that they don't seem familiar at all. I cannot really judge their actions yet, or decide whether what they say is true to their character. The dialogue too is extremely clever, but ordinary people simply don't talk that way. It is a pleasure to read but only, at least for me, in small doses. Perhaps as I slowly plough my way through this book, I will find some underlying allegory, some thread at which if I pull, the whole maze will unravel.