26 December, 2010

Psst... It's that time of the year again

I know there are several terrible things happening in the world and my not finding The Perfect Diary is not one of them, but to me, it is nothing short of catastrophic. When the one friend you have near you is not looking like itself, it can get a bit worrisome. But, bigger battles have been conquered. The Diary will win me over. Of that I'm sure.

So, its a new year (again?). The decade went by in growing up, finding a reluctant conscience, discovering a voice and learning. It went by in laughter and love too, silence and heartaches, worries and wealth. Once again I find myself surrounded by snow, in a land distant enough to be Very Far. Once again, I find myself remembering past New Years, and am counting the white spots on my nails. Dinners at home, huddled in blankets, watching TV and complaining about the silly programmes. Bonfires and trying to feed a rescued hedgehog noodles because we'd read worms were their usual diet and thought he wouldn't know the difference. He didn't. Sleeping till late on the first day of the new year and being told I'll do it for the rest of the year. I didn't. Eating plum cakes and not liking them as much as everyone else.  Waiting for winter to end although it had just begun. Grumbling incessantly about not having a newspaper in the first morning of the new year. 

And this year, on my little island, I haven't read a paper for months now. I haven't been cajoled into eating a single piece of chickee. I haven't been chided for avoiding my fruits. Quietly, some faces whisper, my distant ships twinkling at me. They've been with me, this year, bursting forth into laughter, creasing into worry, questioning and consoling. Thank you for all the things you did (and didn't) for me.
  • The Family: Thank you for our oddities. For never giving me a chance to complain of clipped wings. 
  • The Girls: Mimi (for growing up with me), Maitreyi (for making the Planet a little less Lonely) and Roosi (for giving me the best compliment ever and not making two bones about your affection.)
  • The University: For introducing me to that word. For allowing me my solitude.
  • Porcupine Tree: For being kind to me this October.
  • Lansdowne: For letting me live a movie. 
  • The Sopho: For making me a better person. In the most crucial ways. Even if you will not acknowledge it. For being my calm. And my haste. For being my strength and my vulnerability.
  • Beautiful strangers: For our conversations.
  • Distances: For teaching me to take nothing for granted.
  • Gmail: For all my conversations you keep archived for rainy days.
  • RISC: For being the place I've always dreamt of.
  • Post its: For making me feel organised and efficient even on bad days. 
  • Hindi movies: For being comforting and stimulating. Very few things can do that these days.  
Happy New Year. Spread some smiles : ) 

16 December, 2010

(Mis)Arranging the Furniture

An upside down boy
smiles at his kingdom
of ash and perfect disorder.
He's counting Solitude
on the crooked fingers
of hope.

An inside out girl
smiles at the Daylight
singing to her in yellow tones.
She's recounting Dreams
in her waking nights
of silence.

03 December, 2010

“Home is where you can scratch where it itches”

You live on the seventh floor!! On the seventh floor! For any self-respecting Bombay-ite this may not be exclamation worthy, not adequately high (literally and figuratively), but to Delhi, especially in the 90s, the seventh floor was halfway to the sky and that made us, The Singhs, rather 'air'-headed (figurative alone). Aditi Apartments, rose from the rest of the confusion and grime that so perfectly adorns West Delhi with a brooding greyness. Its seven stories emerged like some survivor, its pockmarked exterior, stoic and silent. As kids, we were forever scraping our elbows against its roughness, those little pieces of gravel embedded in the gray cement, which made stealthy slides against the pillars hazardous during those survive-or-ye-shall-perish chuppan chhupai games. The tripartite building with its three lawns was an oasis to our childhood, its infinite nooks and corners offering perfect gossip and plotting hideouts, the winter flowers being a treat to those snotty kids with their inherent expertise at trampling all things bright and beautiful and the old people doddering about; our perfect chaperons. 

The lift leading up to the seventh floor was (and proudly is) a monster like no other. Its set of loud noisy teeth that shut faster than Saboo's brain (only meant for Chacha Chaudhary readers) and then begins the arduous journey up, offering little snapshots of each floor through its tiny single eye, a window which is as high as all things seem when you are in that place called Childhood. Third Floor with its plants in perfect little pots, Sixth Floor and its garbage lying about. We were not allowed to jump and create a ruckus in the Great Old Lift. Horror stories were retold with morbid fascination - The Man Who Plummeted , The Lady Who Missed a Step, The Pool at the End of the Shaft and similar bedtime jewels. However, you always realise the importance of something/one once you lose it/them. Thus, the lift extracted its pound of flesh for all the times we cursed it by conking off at least once a month. With no other options we would start on the Dizzying Trek, the seven flights of stairs leading us to seventh heaven (literally people). By whichever means, after what seemed like centuries (especially when you had drunk too much water while that chor police game and now the only place offering salvation seemed the loo), we would reach the top floor. 

C-7/3. Explaining that number to delivery boys and relatives, friends and strangers must have taken years off my short life. When you live in D block of your locality and have a house starting with a C, clarity is something you are not particularly aiming at. Perhaps the confusing nomenclature, gives the house its jovial character  - it has seen enough laughter to last several lifetimes. It has been wished for, missed by, rented away and claimed back, forgotten, loved and included in so completely by seven souls that I wonder how it handles them so wonderfully. As if it always knew it was meant to be our home. 

I seem to share an umbilical connection with it, determined by being Birth Year Buddies and other such very scientific and significant parameters. The walls have had me draw and then spend hours rubbing off my superlative art off them, large tears rolling down as I undid my masterpieces. The carpet has witnessed my hatred for petha, a despicable insanely sugary 'thing' which I hid under it week after week and was caught when a feasting army of ants was discovered. The doors have witnessed my anger as I banged them in rage. Making a statement to no one but my silly self. The beds have heard my secrets, tentatively thought out against those crazy excuses we have for pillows. The balcony has appreciated my contentment on winter Sunday afternoons, sprawled in careless slumber. The bathrooms have witnessed my dislike for bathing - kicking and squealing as I would be ushered in for yet another bath. The dining table has chuckled under the weight of my culinary creations, marvelled at the insane laughter around dinner, near-choking hilarity and discussion of all things important or insignificant. The cupboard has seen my fears, as I sat hiding in it, sweating and wondering why no one missed me and came looking for me. Squished amongst the clothes, it touched my anxiety. The bookshelves have welcomed the books lovingly put on them. They have smiled at how I favour my favourite ones again and again and urged me to read the ones I ignore. They have groaned as I counted my savings to  go and splurge on another book buying binge. The windows have fanned my dreams, as I have laid listlessly on long powerless summer nights.

Now, it has been painted an obscene peach and orange. Nothing can dismay you more than a peach house.  Other than an electric blue lift of course. Add to that a fancy switchboard that never works. Mrs. I is as possessive about every blade of grass in the compound and watches over the flowers with an engaging obsessiveness.  Some large gates sit pompously at the entrance. And against these superficial changes, C-7/3 watches us all quietly moving back and forth in our lives. Stumbling over our decisions, shaking her head over particularly foolish ones, indulgent at the smaller offences. I imagine her sighing now, waiting to welcome all her children back home. 

29 November, 2010

Question 22: Our Moment in Time

When does the future end?

When are we going to bask under the sun?
Have the wind whistle our memories back to us?

When will we touch those tomorrows
That beckon with their yellow warmth?

When will you ride in and conquer my fears
Calling out and claiming them for your own? 

When will you allow me to throw away
The weight of your crazy stone?

When will we tie all the loose ends that bind us?

14 November, 2010

"Political scientists with a definition are like dogs with a bone: they will continue to gnaw at it while ignoring more nutritious alternatives."
Grant, 2000

06 November, 2010

Pop goes the weasel

"The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’ base: and if we stop driving piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being." [Emphasis added]


Popper, K. (1959) The logic of scientific discovery. London: Hutchinson Education (p.111)

03 November, 2010

Testing the Waters

Its only been a month! Ever since I've reached here [here being Reading (pronounced Redding), England], ambitious travel plans have been charted, some not the smartest but definitely the funnest, if you know what I mean. When you have let India's diversity regularly plunder your senses senseless, the uniformity of England can come as a shock. The perfect little houses with their manicured gardens, white picket fences, red doors. The maple trees with their five-pointed leaves strewn in beautiful abandon. Almost an insult to your sensory expectations if you like. But, like everything else, when you delve into the details, you find your imagination tickled again. 

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.  - Isak Dinesen 



Anyone who loves travelling would tell you than journeys are mostly always more important than the destination. And instinct and signboards are about the best travel guides you'll find. So I found myself on a train (no, trains) to Brighton, that sunny beach in the south of England (remember Becky holidaying there in that literary treasure - Vanity Fair?). The beach was pebbly (!) and the sea gulls noisy and downright rude as they tried snatching food out of our mouths. But The Lanes, Brighton's Chandni Chowk if you may, were full of colour and character. There were shops selling antique sewing machines, quaint cafes, flowers peeking at us at corners and unbelievably, Indian shawls at exorbitant prices. There was of course the comfort of meeting old friends, sharing well used laughs, walking on unknown roads with the misleading air of practiced ease and getting run over, almost.


*                   *                 *

Travelling across the English countryside, enormous cows and the fluffiest sheep ever dot the landscape. Its autumn, so trees on the edge of the roads are blushing in the throes of their last romance with warmth. On a lucky day, as the bus whizzes past perfect sprawling farms and rows of neatly sowed potatoes, the sky is blue. With candyfloss clouds fluttering around - the whim of a wind. An odd chimney will spew out smoke, promising a warm meal.


Hair blown in an open car
Summer dress slips down her arm


Wales had this rustic charm that immediately spoke to me. Wandering among the carefully preserved pieces of rural life that made up the Museum of Welsh Life, I enjoyed the joy of familiarity. A hand pump. A well worn table. Cows with their air of empathy. And then the castles and their tales. An abandoned fort. A saxophone quartet playing a song I recognised on the street.








*                   *                 *

And in spite of tales of the British stiff upper lip and all that jazz, they are a warm friendly people. As you get down a bus, the driver cheerily nods at you, everyone thanking him for his service. Most conversations with a stranger are unbelievably cheerful for a people living in a weather so dreary and begin with "Hello my dear" sprinkled with a generous smile. And though I'm yet to be able to place accents, North England? South? Welsh? Irish? most conversations with Britishers, no matter where we start, ends with rapturous delight over India. "Love your spicy curries". "I went to a wedding in Punjab". "Goa is great". "The Taj Mahaaal." "Bollywood music and Jai Ho." They can't believe I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire (I get the oh-poor-thing-she-doesn't-know-what-she's-missing look). And then comes the sighing over the Indian summer, the utter diversity of everything and I can't help but smile, recognizing their experiences as home, the quirks that make up home.


Diwali is inching its way up to me and I find myself in a pyrophobic country. Irony is a lovely thing to do without. 

25 October, 2010

Colour me purple

I love her
If she was a colour,
I'd bet on purple.
Draped in a shawl.
A cigarette fumes.
Forgotten in her firm hands.
And she winks at me from across the room.
As we meet,
She lifts me up in a bear hug
So large, my heart smiles.
So honest, I'm shy. 
She's cut her hair again.
And it's falling in crude curls.
We laugh. At ourselves.
And the sun is shining again.
I watch her.
Look into me.
We're tripping over
words and paranthas.
And dusk seems
more purple than ever.

19 October, 2010

Brownian Motion

Random conversations.
Wild flowers. Purple please?
Coffee. All milk no water.
A book. Well bound.
A blanket. Clean.
Chocolate. Plain. Thick.
Walks. Silence.
Accents. African. 
Trees. Warmth.
Cotton clothes. Large buttons.
Croissants. Hot.
A Zooey Deschanel Regina Spector hybrid Wow Woman.
They should have been one person.
Stationery. Coloured pens.
New Year. Diary shopping. 
Table lamps. Tracy Chapman.
Lists. Post-its.
Washed hair. Semi dry.
Journeys. All lengths.
Acappella. The Blanks
Familiarity. Old friends.
An old passion. A new hobby.
Earrings. Large. Colourful.
Idiosyncrasies.

14 October, 2010

Seek and ye shall find


I will always find time for the things I really want to do. I will always get what I really want. Outcomes are directly proportional to the want to make them happen. Even things that are out of reach are there because I put them there.

10 October, 2010

The Wilde Side

Everyone has come across Oscar Wilde's witticisms in some way or the other. His effortless wordplay, startling and thought-provoking ideas and of course that candid humour. But then I go beyond simple appreciation and barge into full-bodied love with him. A love affair that started perhaps in a class where "The Selfish Giant" was being read out and got stronger last month when I found myself delightfully confronted by "The Complete Works of Wilde". The complete works? Of this literary genius himself? Oh dear my soul is satiated for a terribly long time to come!

The perfect thing about becoming passionate about something is getting to run up new leads about it, just when you thought you knew everything. So yesterday I visited this hugely enticing library and got myself "Oscar Wilde" by Frank Harris. Wait there's more... "With a Preface by Bernard Shaw". Shaw on Wilde. Can you imagine the stimulation to one's literary taste buds? And there is more...its a 1938 edition! Which means its beautifully bound, yellow pages with that lovely musty smell which instructs you to curl up on a couch and just read.

With a long empty day ahead I decided to hit the Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk in Reading, something I'd been looking forward to ever since I read The Ballad of Reading Gaol. A long day with a walk in it abd a book. I am sure having my cake and eating it too! Background? Arrested on charges of "gross indecency" (homosexuality would be a plainer way of saying that) and alleged sodomy, Wilde was sentenced with two years of harsh punishment in the Reading Gaol (or prison for simpler mortals) where he wrote the deeply introspective and emotive letter De Profundis to his long-time lover Lord Alfred Doughlas. I must take a detour here and quote what Wilde said in court when questioned about his "loves" (with other men, often minors):

Charles Gill (prosecuting): What is "  the love that dare not speak its name"  ?
Wilde: "The love that dare not speak its name"  in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that dare not speak its name," and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it."

Do you think 19th century Victorian England was ready to understand  and acknowledge a man of such detestable (supposedly obvious) perversions and actually be romantic enough to enjoy the poetry of what he said, even as he faced the worst trial of his life? No. Which is why he ended up in the Reading Gaol, a dreary place for criminals of the worst kind, which broke his spirit and health and which, on his release, made him write the soulful "Ballad of Reading Gaol", often quoted as the most powerful ballad in English literature. In those days, Wilde was so terrible a word in British society, that he wrote perhaps his most moving work, under the pseudonym of C. 33 (his prisoner number during his term in jail).


 "And all men kill the thing they love,
  By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
  Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
  The brave man with a sword
!"

So I started on the walk. In spite of my best intentions to let it be solitary, a motley bunch barged into my plans. [Important advice to self: Walks are best taken alone. Or with someone you love walking with. Do not walk with girls who complain of aching feet every two steps, people who want a picture with every bush and stone they see (gaah) and definitely not with those who have lost their sense of awe. The need to explore.]


"Oh beautiful world" The words on the railing were the first thing Wilde said when he came out of prison.


The beginning of the walk (which is actually just a 100 m long strip along the river Kennet). The man and the maiden. Ha ha.

The Abbey ruins dating back to 800 BC. Since they were crumbling, visitors were not allowed inside. 

The Maiwand Lion at Forbury Gardens. Supposedly the largest statue of a standing lion made of 16 tons of cast iron! It is a memorial to men who lost their lives in Afghanistan in 1879-1880.
  
Walking along stretches of landscaped gardens, the similarity once again hit me. Kiddies throwing stones into the fountain. Worried mothers (and fathers..reverse gender bias in these politically correct days!) running about with bottles and diapers, prams (that well look like mini machines here) and toys. Yes the wind blew a little colder and was much more spirited but it still ruffled up one's hair. The gravel was grey and leaves an indecent red. As I explored the town centre, people still rushed into the shops with sales on. And for a very clean country, the teenagers were still throwing cigarette butts all over. 

After my afternoon with Wilde (and a bit of uninspiring company), I settled down to pleasant exhaustion. Everything already a memory. 

[PS: Thanks to Marvin for introducing me to audio books!] 

07 October, 2010

Reading Reading or Question 21


So, I find myself in Reading, eating fancy sandwiches, busy finding my niche. I don't know whether I prefer places when they are brand new, with their unexplored paths and undiscovered corners. Shops to be unearthed, sights to be smelt. Monuments waiting to catch my fancy, nooks aching to be owned. Faces about to be learnt and trees with unknown names. Travel planned to quaint places, still names on a map. A forlorn pin board waiting to be claimed. Seasons to be understood. In their autumn attire, the trees looks like they are on fire. Reds mingling with warm yellows, an orange leaf twirls around a brown path. There is a quiet lake with its plump ducks. Will I name them? The endless possibilities. All the stories waiting to be written. I ache with expectation.

Or do I prefer the familiarity of a place well known? Walking down a path I know so well, directions lose their way in my mind. I smile at the vegetable guy who slips in free chillies. Slipping in and out of the presence of my people. Eating things I relish. Restaurants I love. Parks I have worn with walks. I have my favourite bus route and drivers acknowledge me, the 724 girl. Familiar smells, cherished sounds. A city I own, a city that owns me. 

Perhaps for every loved thing one leaves, one can find something new to love. Perhaps. But then does one replace love? Perhaps one just finds space for the newer. The old needn't evacuate. Perhaps.

27 September, 2010

The Next Big Step

is here. Cross-continental hopping. Travel and trepidation. You want me to stay. Then ask me to leave. Time whooshs past. And then it crawls. Overloaded. Under prepared. Exhaustion. Energy. Cheers to the new. Here's to the old. Phoneless. At last. Snail mail. For sure. Smiles. Fears and free falls. A room. Pinned photographs. 6º C. Smells not yet owned. Forlorn? Obligations shrugged. Opportunities embraced. Laughter. Lonely Planet. My dearest. Orange. Cacophony. Wishes warring with wants. Penny wise. Food? A warm blanket. Phew. Overcast sky. An open window.

24 September, 2010

Bubbles

Photo credit: Pulsar Media

I overrate happiness.
Exaggerate it.
It assumes
Bollywood proportions
and rainbow colours
in my world.

I had this
little chat today.
Shouldn't we just
do away with the notion
of Love?
I barely comprehend
it anyway.

We should
look for our bubbles of happiness.
Yes,
the Exaggerated
over the top kind.
Bump our bubbles
into others'.
Till they merge into this
obscenely gigantic
balloon
of hilarity.
And happiness.

And even when
they burst.
As we know they must,
The laughter
can colour
my dreams
a purgatory purple.

23 September, 2010

Thresholds

"I always feel the way I allow myself to feel. Even if another person/thing/event makes me feel a certain way, it is because of me. And the thresholds I set. 

17 September, 2010

Rasmai ya Ramgarh?



Rasmai could well be my own private Ramgarh, the perfect rustic backdrop to a lesser known Sholay. There was the deadly family feud, which involved multiple murders, avenging one's honour, wiping out an entire family, trials, life imprisonment and subsequent revenge. The warring sides, famous for their high standards of extreme treachery and debauchery, live in a house near the maidan - a wide expanse of land lying fallow because its owners are serving time in jail. The house itself is a yellow monstrosity, built more like a fort than a house. It's mean little windows set high on the jaundiced walls look like the filthy eyes of a wicked old man, peering upon us passersby with ill-concealed loathing. In those days of a carefree childhood, those windows were my fodder for nightmares. Over the years, the maidan that lay in front, has serviced the entire village in several ways. It is the undisputed cricket ground, a place to dig up mud for free to put a lep (fresh coating) in the courtyard or to fill a now defunct well. It is a meadow for the shepherds, a venue for an impromptu meeting.

As I walked along the patri, I was passed by a man on a horse. Regal and straight-backed, he'd lost a son in the feud. That he was a distant relative of mine in the way most of the village was somebody's someone was too convoluted a thought for me to follow. Through the ugly family war, he'd managed to retain his love for horses though and road bareback, sometimes a canter sometimes a spirited trot. The buffaloes were walking back from their evening swim - their black backs glistening like polished leather, they smelt of dung and milk, water and hay. 


Rasmai has had its share of mystery, adventure and gossip. The young girl who was kidnapped and kept in a kothari in a mango orchard. The lady who complained of acute pain after delivering a healthy child and was later discovered to have a scissor in her stomach, left behind by a preoccupied doctor. The man who bought his bride from Bengal, a practice made necessary because female infanticide had skewed the gender ratio to alarming figures. The bride subsequently ran away. The trend of a large number of homeless cattle chomping through the crops could be traced back to Rajasthan where their owners would abandon them once they were unproductive. The strange tale of the Kafkaesque Satyanarayan ki Katha. The fungal disease that wiped away all the Sheesham and Babool trees a few years ago.

A little ahead I saw a cricket match in progress. Instead of a cloth ball, a leather ball was being thrown. Some boys were even wearing elbow, wrist and wherever-else-you-wear-them bands! Many wore track-pants with the familiar white stripes running along the sides of the legs - four instead of the usual three. The economic dividends of a 'Shining India' had touched my Rasmai with its gold-dusted (?) fingers. I saw it in the newly installed pump-sets, the white Fiat Punto that whizzed passed me, kicking up a dusty ruckus on a road where once a bullock cart was a rare luxury. I saw it in the tractors ploughing the dhencha (
Sesbaina aculeata) - a rich source of nitrogen and biomass for the upcoming demanding crop of potato. I saw it in the women and their fancy new saris. Almost all had footwear now. And yet as the tube wells increased, the stories of a plummeting water table were louder. A 180 feet now! The trees once lining the patri - that adorable grove of Bel trees where squirrels were always chattering, was there no longer. The bamba (village canal) where we had once floated (and capsized) in our big red inflatable boat, was a dry memory of its former self.

And yet there was more silver lining than cloud. For a village where electricity was a luxury unheard of till a few years ago, the many televisions and DVD players told a changing story. Everyone had a mobile phone now. Of course they were used mostly for giving those very important things called missed calls. A private school had opened, complete with computer facilities. Yes, the kids were caned often but last year one child had topped the district results from the school. Potato cultivation had brought prosperity like nothing else. Big companies like Pepsi, Haldiram and Frito Lays were courting the farmers, eliminating the middle man, if only somewhat. MNREGA was equally abhorred and adored. The dust still flew in torrid swirls every summer. Janmashthmi was still celebrated with almost unsettling fervour in this land of Krishna. 

Just as I was returning, S let out his characteristic wolverine howl at a passing stray. The pokhar mirrored the evening sky - blushing an indecent orange as it prepared for another inky night. The smell of chulahs lighting up for the last meal were distinct. And I yearned for it to stay this way. I wanted to be blind to the impending changes. People from the city, however well-meaning and honourable, often romanticise rustic charm to a fault. Spending a while with a villager almost always assures that change is the only constant we all look forward to. 


And as I got back home in time to meet the departing maid, I looked at her worn face break into a smile. Closing the gate behind her, this 50 year old who had never been out of the village, had always stayed in purdah in front of the men and did not utter a word in their presence, looked at me and said confidently: Bye. Not her usual Ram Ram but a long, if somewhat laboured bye! Then she laughed and walked away, her purpose of surprising me, elegantly fulfilled.

16 September, 2010

Your Muse

You make me strong
cripple me weak
Hit me down?
Here, the other cheek.

You riddle with words
Sear me silent
What thinks that mind?
Make me your vent.

You go too far
Pry me shut
Another step back?
Stuck in a rut.

You love me hard
Allow me a falter
Mend will you?
I agree to alter.

Refusing to take offense
I'm covering the scars
Does not the moonless night
have its share of stars?

12 September, 2010

Tarnished Torai


The making of torai (sponge gourd or tori) is not as difficult as it may appear to some. That the idea of even embarking on as ridiculous a task as cooking the most pathetic of all vegetables may not appeal to your senses (gastronomic, cullinary or otherwise) is an emotion I can well comprehend. You may argue that no one in their senses would want to indulge in the seemingly useless activity of cooking something as banal and utterly uninspiring as the humble torai and perhaps I couldn't agree more. But anyone can make a great dish of the lissome  Bhindi or the Stuper Star Spud; our friendly potato. These limelight grabbers are pre-dispositioned to tickle the taste buds - they can't help being delicious. They are well-loved and have a dedicated mass of fans. They pirouette among the vegetables in the market, willing you to buy them, promising sumptuous meals of mouth-watering glee.

But what of the ignored Cucurbits? The Languishing Laukis (bottle gourd) and the Timid Tindas (Indian apple gourd). You turn up your nose at them. They are the taste bud tarnishers. With an appearance so unappealing one can barely imagine the horrors they could unleash in your gut. They are so watery! Wasn't such aqueous consistency reserved for things of dubious character? And even the spices, no matter of which exotic descent, retaliate in sheer disgust at these Cumbersome Cucurbits, refusing to grace them with any flavour. Who would want to associate with the scum of the vegetable world? The undisputed untouched outcasts. 

But making a good thing  better is mediocrity. Adopting the unloved is what my gracious soul sought to accomplish. And so I took up the cause of the torai: shunned and unloved. I tried to salvage the reputation of the Tarnished Torai. Which I did. With aplomb. The proof of the Torai is, of course, in the Tasting. And what a splendid taste it had! If I must say so myself. But then with these potatoes putting on such audacious performances, one has to blow one's trumpet. Loud and clear. After all, it is for the humble torai I speak.

27 August, 2010

Ahora

Overwhelmed and undone
Purposely un-won.
Shiver over suffering sigh
Love over unconvincing lie.
Watching. Waiting.
Contemplating.
Unlearning you
To start anew.
Awash with what
Another thought?
Miles and metres
Distance peters?
Maniacal silence
Falling off a balance.
A giggle and a grin
Afloat on a whim.

17 August, 2010

Book Reviews

The past year has been a flurry of reading. Books recommended, some judged solely by their cover (beauty? skin deep?), those gifted, those bought in the throes of being broke. I trudged through some, whooshed past others. It's time for some reviews me thinks. 

After reading the very readable India Unbound by Gurcharan Das (a must read definitely), I invested (time and money) into the gargantuan India After Gandhi by Ramachandran Guha (912 pages!). Tracing "the history of the world's largest democracy", Guha is a ruthless chronicler, and creates an India I can only imagine, being born of a generation so far removed from the freedom struggle, Nehru's vision and the emergency that these seem like fantastic stories, with an almost mythical aura about them. Unbiased and well-written, Guha's epic on India after she gained independence is an education in itself. The Gandhi and the Gandhi Family, he traces the various movements for Khalistan, Nagaland, Telangana, Naxals: events that we are following to this day. There are some hilarious election slogans and advertisements he mentions (none of which I am quoting. Go read!). I only wish he had spent more time on the economic reforms of the 90s and their repercussions. For a book so well laid out, the ending seemed a bit hastily written, as if he was tired and overwhelmed by his own creation. Do read, but only when you have the time and inclination to absorb it to the fullest.  Otherwise its just not fair to the writer.

Not many (of the people I know at least) have heard of P. Sainath, who likes to describe himself as a rural journalist. Traveling amongst the poorest of India's districts, this Ramon Magsaysay award winner grips with stark bitter tales from India's rural landscape in his book Everybody Loves a Drought: tribals forgotten, development schemes gone awry, empty school buildings being used as cattle sheds, corrupt officials and populations forgotten. There is a cruel detachment with which Sainath writes. He is not patronizing. He is not begging for sympathy. He is simply stating facts like a well-trained journalist, leaving the reader to decide. And as that reader, I often myself pausing at the sheer impact of his words, mulling over the scale of mismanagement and corruption. Yes, these are the things we all know. Or at least have an inkling about but choose to ignore (bliss?). The Commonwealth Games Scam makes headlines but what of the Cut Off Area in Malkangiri, Orissa where "152 villages, completely isolated, afford two states huge amounts of electricity by their sacrifice. Yet it is virtually impossible to find a single household with electricity in any of these villages." Each story is forceful yet bitter and tracing Sainath's words, a feeling of despair often wells up. "Paharia women walk a distance equivalent to that between Delhi and Bombay - four to five times a year" for water and earning a deplorable living. Still half-way through this exceptional piece of journalism (still to reach the chapters I dread - Drought), my only regret is that published in 1996, the numbers may be outdated. However, as a portrayal of India's poor, there is no denying Sainath's compelling stories. Here, is a more detailed review.    



It Rained All Night by Buddhadeva Bose (translated by Clinton B. Seely) is one of the best fiction stories I have read in a very long time. Barring the extremely frivolous cover that does no justice to the story (perhaps it was put there by some over-enthusiastic promoter to increase sales), the book is beautiful. Beautiful. I'll quote from the blurb "Banned when it was first published in the Bengali in 1967 on charges of obscenity, It Rained All Night went on to become a best-seller. Bold, explicit and shockingly candid, it is an unforgettable tale of desire, adultery, jealousy and love." It definitely deserves its share of the limelight.   




The books I did not particularly fancy: 
  1. Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond by Pankaj Mishra (the words within did not justify the title, the book was a let down. Better books have been written on the topic I felt. Well Pankaj Mishra himself has written so much better!!)
  2. Wise and Otherwise by Sudha Murthy (the stories were too random for my taste and even though it could have been completely unintentional, Murthy's tone often came across as condescending, sometimes a bit arrogant. A philanthropist without humility?)

As I quickly chomp through my reading list, I'm itching to start on a new one. And this time more global and more fictiony. Suggestions?

15 August, 2010

Rewind

"My life can be divided into distinct phases, each with a vivid character of its own. I would like to go back and tweak the choices I made, change the things I did. But if I really ask myself and could in fact go back, I know I would change nothing."

04 August, 2010

You're Mine

I am going to
seep into your soul
and
follow you
in the dreams 
you haven't dreamt.

I am going to
watch you as you
twist your thoughts 
threadbare
and
lace through 
each one of your words.

I am going to
shadow your whims
gnaw through your resolve
feast on your joys
and 
moisten your fears.

I am going to
whistle the ghosts away
croon to your loneliness
underline those 
trembling underscores
and
overwhelm the noise.

I am going to
scratch at your 
cruel cravings
wish away the others
and
will you to want.

30 July, 2010

Notes to Myself

Hugh Prather is a very smart guy. He went and wrote things that most of us think about/ feel/ do and then made millions from his anorexic book. Though he's written several 'bestsellers' after the initial one, I've never wanted to pick them up. Or even glimpse through them. The first was complete for me in everywhichway.  

Amma rarely recommends books to me, but when she does, I make sure I read them. I discovered The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and Thorn Birds through her. So picking up Notes to Myself was only natural. That was two years ago. I still find myself going back to it. It is also one of the things I've decided to keep with me as I take The Next Big Step. And since I am still hobbling along my learning curve, I thought to pen down some of my notes to myself. The most trusted friend, the faithful diary is a good place to begin:
"Some friendships do not last. I changed. You changed. Understanding and accepting this helps me let go."    

25 July, 2010

Past Tense

When I counted up my demons / Saw there was one for every day / With the good ones on my shoulders / I drove the other ones away

Abandoned
Distanced
Snooped
Stopped
Cheated
Shouted
Bruised
Hidden
Pushed
Pulled
Stolen
Lied
Hurt
.

20 July, 2010

E tú?

Isolated?
In this communal collapse
you wear blinds
to others in this boat.
We rock silently
the treason of reason?
The incomprehensible
art of the heart.
Another knot of thoughts
unties, unwinds.
You're not the first,
certainly not the last
and yet, you're lonely.
Pull off these blinds
we're just as scared
just as ordinary
just as perfect.
Heroes of our tragic little tales
We're broken little mirrors
of each others'
brittle whims.
And we're shining
diamonds
in each others'
tears of fears.

17 July, 2010

Brij Ki Raj

In Rasmai, one is so close to the dust that it almost assumes a god-like quality. It is within you and without - omnipresent and omniscient. It can cover you and enter you, grit and dirt, at once making things so worthless, so worthy. It assumes a life, a breathing, cloying life, often clawing, often comforting. It takes on a million forms - slipping under doors, particulate and small, a sickening slush when the clouds decide to wail, a delicate sheet over resting surfaces, intermingling in glee as the wind plays with it, flying higher and higher in playful swirls...

The dust in this part of the world is considered sacred. People bend down and put a bit on their heads, from dust unto dust. Little mud idols adorn the village temple, only Shiva and Nandi; his chubby bull, are cut of stone. It is used to wash away the filth from one's hands. A handful, scrub scrub scrub. She rubs it into the utensils, the grease and grime fight a pre-decided battle. The girls apply it as a pack. Pretty eyes peer through the white masks multani mitti. It is used to cloth the houses, a new coat for the peeling walls, a new carpet for the veranda. And just as carefully, it is swept away, with a stick broom, relegated to become yesterday's dirt. To the swallows on my roof the mud is their home, each little round ball painstakingly made to join the jigsaw. For the termites, its the aftermath of a door well chewed through. The farmer watches the dust fall through his fingers, gauging its moisture for his seedlings, the willful direction of the wind. Is it a rain-bearing easterly blowing?

And as I dusted the books, sneezing every few moments, I looked down at my hands. The lines were coloured brown, as if roughly filled in with a sketch pen. The lines looked sharper, almost more sure. A grittiness laced my mouth and the books looked worn out in the pervasive company of the dust. 

The dust it rises
the dust it settles
it is all knowing
ever changing
the foundation of forts
earthen limbs of 
all powerful gods
a mother's
nurturing womb
and the anger of 
a thunderstorm
it is the pure
and the impure 

07 July, 2010

Plonk!

They spite and they spit
They mock us to quit
fancy cars
and sequined bars.

They ask us to choose
to use and abuse
we try not to pander
not run as we wander.

Is it need, is it greed?
to which should we heed
our minds they've accosted
we look on exhausted.

04 July, 2010

Of slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails

Ok so you're a pig-tailed little girl who's doing great in her class, are in a healthy relationship of enmity with the girl who comes first (oh Kanika Ballani how will I forget you?) and enjoy your Sunday morning dose of Daanasur (chhipkali ka nana of course!!!) and Jungle Book as much as the next 90's kid. You are secure in your top position at the Bag the Bus Seat pecking order, you relish your orange bars like no one's business and of course, you play vish amrit like a pro. Life is a riot of rainbows, a non-stop re-run of Pink Panther cartoons, oh a perfect kaleidoscope of bubblegummy fun. Basically, you're me. A microscopic version.

And then whoosh, the bubble goes burst. The rainbows go monochromatic. Ice lollies in summer vacations melt away. Bus rides and window seats? Discarded with the earlier life. Mowgli? Hell we don't even have a TV now. And to make matters incorrigibly, inescapably worse, I found myself, at the ohsocrazyage of 9, sitting in a classful of boys. Those despicable fellows who cheated at every game and troubled anything with a pigtail. I went through teenage stress even before I got to being a teenager! As the only girl in a classful of boys, I became the proverbial sore thumb, the only one with hair longer than her head, the one who had to use the teacher's loo because I couldn't pee like the boys. Oh the miseries of being that Person With Plaits.

That first day ushered in my topsyturvy life for the next three years. The Mother came in to check on me at break and I was found crouching under my desk (I lacked the balls of course). My first friend was to be Tinku, the guy who told me the warts on his face were because he caught, tortured and ate flies (I later learnt that was a lie, it was an allergy to rain or something. Baah perhaps he was the precursor to my love for gore). On the class picnic, I was looked at curiously, blatant disgust would be what I would call those expressions now that I look back. And that was just the first day.

I quickly realized that naughty boy shoes gave me painful blisters that lasted forever, that wearing pants was way more convenient than any skirt ever invented, that if I was to ever be respected, I had to climb the rope in gym, that no matter which gender you belonged to, crying was the sport of the sissies. I watched the boys make their ties in fascination and a few kind ones would help me with mine. I marvelled at how they could eat practically anything with a generous helping of ketchup (seeing them eat mountains of rice with tomato sauce gave me my I Abhor Ketchup badge). 

But when you're a kid time flies by like a floundering bird, it goes so fast, whooping and flailing, a funny fumble and soulful sweep in one jumbled arc. Before I knew it, I was in the groove. I was cheering wildly at the Jackie Tournament (you don't know the JACKIE TOURNAMENT?). I was reciting Robert Frost and swapping WWF cards (it was not WWE then). I was learning what chungi was and making my first paper aeroplane. Chits sprung up between pages of notebooks, paper balls were thrown at me during break, I knew everyone's nicknames, dirty and otherwise, Biology classes started to invite sniggers. 

And almost as quickly as it began, it ended. From an all-boys roller coaster, I was plunging into an all-girls school. "Yikes", they said. As a girl who had systematically forgotten how to be one, the change would be drastic. Day scholar to boarder? What would I do amongst girls? And from being the outsider, I was suddenly receiving farewell cards, swapping addresses to keep in touch. Ah I love the faith we have in goodness when we're young. Suddenly I was to miss tying all the rakhis the boys got from their sisters. To march proudly in a vest and blazer just like the others on Sport's Day. To scratch one's knees by crawling on gravel as punishment for marching badly. To discover and discard crushes. To dress up as a witch as the boys became the ghosts. To feel out of place when the boys would be hit, no one ever touched a girl. 

My memories have a way of falling into extreme categories. Only the painfully poor ones and the ecstatically absurd ones stick. The mediocre in-betweens, the monotonous blahs just smudge each other into anonymity. Manor House and its roller coaster three years always hit the higher happier notes.  

27 June, 2010

25 June, 2010

Black Boxing

We've put ourselves in so many boxes these days it's hard to figure out where to begin unpacking. The one with a plastic coating. One who's lid is fixed too tight. The small little yellow one and the striped long one. There is that huge miscellaneous one glowering in a corner and the gay one with ribbons, sitting centre stage. And while we are so busy fitting into those boxes we forget the pieces of ourselves we put in there. And while the inputs and outputs of thoughts, feelings, opinions and actions form a steady stream of white noise around us, we are slowly losing the ability to see the mechanisms of our actions. The motivation behind what we do. The reasons for our choices. It's the proverbial black box. You infer ideas based on the correlations between input and output but do not (or can not) figure out what the hell is on.

I'm trying to capture what I think in my own little black boxes. The conflicts. The questions. The reassurances. And hopefully some answers.


  "Turn a deaf ear"

21 June, 2010

Over and Over

[Picture: Carignan Gallery: http://www.cgindy.com/blog/]

It's another long afternoon
languid and lost.
It holds me indolently
in a loose lethargic lie.

Whispers flit past
I dabble in a drowsy dream
Slumber tip toes
A silence sweats.

You play tricks
Torment and tantalize.
It's a terrible travesty
Too much thought, the tiresome tirade.

An empty space is
speaking to my sobered senses.
I claw at, and the creases stare
scoffing at another stifled sojourn.

11 June, 2010

Photo Credit: Mike Farruggia

A favourite movie discovered accidentally
An unknown song of a well-known band
A house with very large windows
A dog's wet nose against mine
A letter to me, handwritten
A stimulating conversation
A boxful of ripe cherries
A new book to read
A juicy boiled corn
Something purple 
A wildflower
A road trip

08 June, 2010

Chamatkar


Do you remember the situation of animation in India in the 90s? Ek chidiya, anek chidiya? Bela gulaab juhi champa chameli : ) Today I started on Chamatkar (1992, Dir. Rajiv Mehra). Watch it, just to see the opening animated sequence. It's so poor its endearing. It's silly and slapstick, Urmila Matondkar overacts in her irritating own way. I loved it.

Universal Truth in Chandni Land: A movie is only as good as your mood. Goofy mood for slapstick, sombre for the serious etc. When you truly open yourself to loving something/one, it's hard for it/them to resist.

Anyway, you could also watch the movie for:

  1. Shah Rukh Khan before he became a pompous filmstar and still thought the kkkkkkk-stammering was cool. Before he got so Fair and Lovely. Before he started doing 'meaningful' cinema like K3G, KKHH, KANK and alltheotherkkkkkkks.

  2. Naseeruddin Shah as Marco who makes even slapstick look good. The tacky appearing/disappearing tricks, 'aakashvaani' from God, erupting from his grave sequences are almost too good to miss. That is, if you enjoy foolish laughs sometimes. 

  3. The regular good over evil formaula is rehashed in a pleasant way. Good Deeds = You get the girl and the money. Bad deeds = You may think you will get the money, but all you end up with is getting bashed up. 
I'm also going on a Zooey Deschanel binge. Can't wait to begin!

07 June, 2010

Wily Wisdom or Outside

Sometimes, a song loved long ago is enough. Especially when you haven't been listening to any music for a long long time. I fail to understand why people ask me about its 'unhappy' lyrics. Anyway, this is to San Man and J, the two people who perhaps love this one as much as I do. 

All the times
That I’ve cried
All that’s wasted
It’s all inside

And I feel
All this pain
Stuffed it down
It’s back again

And I lie
Here in bed
All alone
I can’t mend
 And I feel
Tomorrow will be okay
But I know

That I’m on the outside
I’m looking in
I can see through you
See your true colors
Cause inside you’re ugly
You’re ugly like me
I can see through you
See to the real you

05 June, 2010

To Do

I need to share this blog with everyone I know. Because I love it when people do interesting things. With bits of paper and a monochromatic pen. Creativity is always as interesting as you'll allow it to be:

http://thingsweforget.blogspot.com/

03 June, 2010

Book Rookie

Nearly a week ago, I decided to catalogue the Great Many books that belong to The Family. All of them. Those neatly arranged in their shelves. Those lying forgotten in bed boxes. Those in some dusty loft, dodging for space with retired furniture and other odds and ends of a family averse to throwing away. Those in the storeroom that lay in wooden boxes, stacks upon stacks of much-loved, many times read paperbacks. Those texts in elegant Sanskrit on onion paper.

A Dickens and Salinger. Flashy sex-ridden Harold Robbins sat demurely alongside 'The Thorn Birds' which brought back beautiful childhood memories. Watching the movies. On video cassettes. Three parts. We'd forever be ridding the cassette player of dust with the head cleaner. I lovingly held the bright red copy of 'Gone With the Wind'; quickly reading through the last few lines, perhaps my favourite:
"I'll think of it tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I will think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."
A collection of joke books from the genuinely funny to the downright absurd, giggled along side, in their corner of the bookshelf. Then there was a whole length of space dedicated to Mathematics. Trigonometry glowered at Calculus. I dusted the books on India: 'A Passage to India', 'Asoka' by Romila Thapar, Shashi Tharoor among others. I sifted through 'Letters to Gauri', a series of letters by M. V. Kamath fashioned on the lines of Nehru's famous writings from prison to his daughter Indira. As I ran my eyes over the wide range of topics he covered; religion and history, conduct and moral values, I felt happy. I remembered letters written to me not so long ago, the words always teaching loving lessons, never sharp, never preaching. The words reflecting concern. Some voicing a question. Others reflections on my studies, my health. The strings of quotations at the end, they were the solace in my solitude. I would read and re-read, smelling the letter often for it was always sprinkled with some perfume. I cherished those little things, those undemanding gestures, meant only for me. There is something so potent, something so absorbing about unconditional love. Doesn't it weaken and strengthen you in a manner inconceivable?

Setting aside the emotional side-effects of my task, I was not prepared for the physical ramifications ahead of me. Categorising over 5000 books ranging from the esoteric to the mundane, cookery and classics, poetry and plays. I began to lose track of any kind of time and hours upon hours would be spent in lovingly sifting through yellowed pages. Smelling the books and letting out loud sneezes. Glasses of nimbu pani/cold coffee/ Bel juice and other Heat Hustlers supplied by Amma and gratefully glugged down by me. I was enveloped in a daze of words and dust, the old and the new, the ridiculous and the inspiring. And along the way I came across interesting stuff:

From "Do You Really Love Me? by R.D. Liang, M.D.

I die forlorn
I was not born

I deny
I'm a butterfly

I'm a blot
I am not

I'm a fight no one fought
I'm a cold no one caught

I'm the Self Appointed
Lord Anointed

I'm a turd
I'm absurd

I'm a twinkling light
in someone else's night

I'm an insoluble riddle
In a hole with no middle

I'm going to hell
to yell
and smell

I fiddle
when I piddle

I'm a nitwit
I'm a titbit

I'm a kinkie
like a pinkie

I'm a flower with no name
I grow all the same

I'm a piece of fluff
in the huff

Never learned the game
I left before I came

mean
to
scream

I'm a dot
God forgot

I'm past mending
I'm a happy ending

I found books that cost thousands and some priced a few anna. But judging a book by its price is nearly as erroneous as judging it by its cover. I had chuckled heartily at Jame's Thurber's 'Thurber Carnival'. How can one ever be bored/unhappy when there are the infinite joys of reading to be explored? Then there was 'The Book of Nonsense and Nonsense Songs' by Edward Lear (the man, along with Odgen Nash is sheer genius).

There was an Old Man of The Hague
Whose ideas were excessively vague;
He built a balloon
to examine the moon,
That deluded Old Man of the Hague.

There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin;
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.

(Half the fun is the illustrations but I do not have the energy or inclination to scan and upload them here.)

As I went over the books, I wanted to read them all. The daunting hard bound yet cheaply priced 'propaganda literature' - Marx's 'Das Capital' bought with a first salary, the details of which were lovingly etched on the first page. 'War and Peace' looked at me grimly as I flitted through the whole range of James Hadely chase. There was enough science fiction to set up a bookstore. Terry Pratchett and Peter F. Hamilton. The only familiar face being that of dear old Doughlas Adams. Books by Indian authors were found sitting lazily, a trifle nervous at being made to sit aside the Austens and Bronte sisters. I came across biographies and at least 20 different versions of the Bhagvada Gita. I shamefacedly looked at the beautiful volumes of the entire Mahabharata in Sanskrit, each verse translated into Hindi too. Books on mythology, books on science, some on music, several on art.

And then I came to the horror section, something I had dipped into as a curious teenager, graduating from the suspense of Agatha Christie and Ms. Marple to the sinister thrill of Edgar Allan Poe. I saw the cover of 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination', a white skull with black spiders running over it and I remembered the thrill with which I had flipped those pages, so many winters ago under the tall lemon tree with its chatter of babblers and mynahs. It seemed so far back, as if the memory belonged to another person. I wanted to retire suddenly, in my chair with a reading lamp and nimbu pani. A dog curled up ON my toes and silence. No worries of food. No rapacious interruptions from the internet. A pencil and perhaps a dictionary beside me, a pile of books around and my dog. Aah the bliss of a day dream.

Post script: Well I didn't manage to complete all the books, in fact I stopped at an uninspiring 300 but then isn't 'well begun is half done'!! :D

Post the Post Script: I am using a software called BookDB2 you may like to explore if wanting to get into the Book Cataloging Quagmire. It's easy to use (make that VERY easy to use), freely available online (no irritating signing up and registering of any sort required) and offers a lot of flexibility.

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