Monday, December 15, 2008

I Love The Whole World

I've listened to this everyday for the last week and it just lights up my day, makes me feel like a million butterflies in the sun, like that awful cataract of cynicism has been removed and I see the world all over again, in all it's little glories. And I am madly, crazily in love again - with music, with words, with the world, with life.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Today I don't care about how the words come out. I don't care to make an impression. I don't care to construct anything. I just need to let it out : This evening, I heard some brilliant live music. And it's left me feeling high and my mind boggled.

Over the last two years I've been away I've been really lucky to have had some great musical evenings, and occasion to listen to some of my favourite musicians live. All the while, the recurring thought coursing through my head was that I needed to soak up as much as I could, because once I got back to madras I wouldn't be able to attend events like that.

Today changed that for me. It was a concert on par with anything I've ever heard abroad. In our own Alliance Francaise.. I listened to three brilliant musicians, playing some of my favourite pieces.. Le Petit Orchestre Swing de france - a trio comprising Laurent Zeller a violinist, and two guitarists - another Laurent and Gilles parodi, who together made some of the most beautiful music I've ever had the pleasure to hear live. There was Serge Gainsbourg, Django Reinhardt, Cole Porter, Edith Piaf in lovely arrangements.

It was intimate, the setting. That always lends itself to being drawn into the music, if it's good. And the artists really let loose.. they performed so freely, with expression and laughter and such good vibes. The violinist, the only one that spoke english, was wonderfully comical. He joked and laughed and had all of his eating out of his hands. So much so that one might have actually forgiven him if he was just above average as a violinist. But he had to go and be brilliant - absolutely, undoubtedly gifted! The notes he coaxed out of that instrument had me absolutely on the verge - of elation. He was the embodiment of energy in the music when the piece called for it and the epitome of soulfulness in another piece. The guitarists were quiet but had a wonderful body language.. It's amazing how much that tells you.. They didn't speak any english and yet their smiles, the tilts of head, the cheeky smiles said it all.. They were enjoying themselves, they were feeding off each other's energy like all the really good musicians seem to be able to do and they played their hearts out - laid it all on the table so to speak... It was marvelous, the energy in the room towards the end. The applause was the warmest I've EVER heard from an audience in madras for ANY thing. It was spontaneous and the yelling for an encore was the most obvious thing to do - OF COURSE they had to play some more! There was no other way about it...

I came out of there, my heart light, my spirits lifted, my mind ablaze.. Such is the delight of an evening of good music.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The big wart on the side of your neck -
that icky, sticky extra drop of flesh that jingle-jangles
three inches from your ear - first drew my notice.

Not the mozham of fresh jasmine threaded into your plait,
nor the clumsily pleated pallu fanned across your high backed blouse
or the diamond thodu that made your ears droop.

This alone made me reconsider your pitch black hair,
tied (on second thought) too long and too tight,
And the infant cradled in your arms, that now I see, must be your daughter's.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kathy pushed her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose rather clumsily with the back of her wrist. They had become loose and seemed to keep sliding off her rather tiny nose. It was particularly frustrating on these summer days when everything that touched her skin was too hot. The plastic frames felt heavy and the relentless moistness of the little pearls of sweat wedged beneath them really annoyed her. She couldn't understand why her parents wouldn't buy her contact lenses even after all her attempts to demonstrate why it was logically imperative that she have them. She sat crouched against a wall, under the asbestos shed in the tiny room on their terrace that they had built to house all those unused odds and ends that had long lost their place in her home.

There was a rusty fan that she had found in the clutter, the first time she had tried to make space for herself there. It whirred a little too loudly and always gave away where she was. Not that it mattered, because for the most part, they left her alone. But she liked being lost to another space and time when she was reading and the whirring dragged her out of that world every so often. She did like to stare at it while she mulled however, the revolving blades hypnotic, almost dulling. Twirling idle strands that fell on her face, she would lose herself to a reverie, slipping in and out between make believe worlds and dusty reality.

She unfixed her gaze and looked down to her book. It had a lovely soft leather cover, a deep red hide. The kind you had to pay a lot of money to buy these days. She held a finger carefully between the pages to mark her place as she surveyed the gold lettering, bold and antiquated, etched into the leather. Closing her eyes, she ran her finger over the grooves and indentations of the title - Lord Of The Flies.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I'm back in madras. I rarely get the time to be online. And if I do, it's only been to communicate with someone specific. It's such a change from the last two years when I was plugged in nearly 24x7.

There is so much to say, so much has transpired, so many revelations struck. But I need to catch my breath. It might take a while to get back into the groove of posting - I have been writing, just not online. And somehow, strangely, I like that it's not been for any audience at all.

But I miss my blog too. So here I am, back, if only to say this :

If you are in Madras, and are free this weekend, you really should consider watching Theatre Y's production of the Manjula Padmanabhan play 'Reality' at Alliance Francaise.

I've only just got back after watching it. I went to cover it for a local magazine (I've just begun to freelance) and am quite blown away - both by the content and the quality of the performance. The passion of the players shines through. A couple of them give spectacular performances. The play itself is serious, intense and mature for the most part with dashes of comic relief and dollops of satire. I won't say any more now because I'm yet to write my review. Suffice it to say it'll be glowing.

There are four shows a day both Saturday and Sunday. If you can spare a couple of hours, I urge you, Go watch!!!

Friday, September 05, 2008

O Fortuna

I love a Capella singing. It is the ONLY form of music that literally raises the hairs on my neck. I've been following 'The Last Choir Standing' on BBC for the last month or so, soaking up all the good singing, new arrangements of old songs, reminiscing sweetly of my Stella days and how much fun it was to be a part of good (if small) choir. So, last week when I watched Ysgol Glanaethwy perform I was moved to bits - by their singing too(even though it wasn't a capella) but mostly because what they chose to sing was O Fortuna.

It is one of my favourite pieces of classical music. Haunting and powerful. For the last 10 years I have nursed the impression that it was written by Mozart - (no thanks to a wrongly titled torrent ) So when I heard it again on tv, it suddenly struck me that the song had lyrics - presuming they were written for an opera by Mozart because they sounded italian-y, I went a-digging.

Apparently, and this took me quite aback, the music is relatively new - 1935 or someat like that, written by a chappie called Carl Orff. Oh the disappointment (of sorts) - my untrained ears were convinced it was older. And oh, more interestingly, the music was written for the lyrics , a poem from a 13th century collection called Carmina Burana.

Wiki had a translation of this one on its page. And I absolutely fell in love with it. It seems so Roman somehow and yet I feel so much familiarity - almost as though elements of the style have percolated through the centuries (or maybe it's because it's a translation that it sounds like that to me). I've been playing it over and over in my head for the last week and have become quite besotted with it, so thought I'd share, in the hope that it will enchant you as well..

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are constantly changing,
ever growing
and waning;
hateful life
now oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and virtue,
is against me
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Of Nightmares - II

My previous post was a reaction - a gut response to what I had just read. I realised that almost as soon as I had published that post and briefly toyed with idea of replacing it with something that reflected my thoughts on the matter rather than my feelings. A part of me needed to qualify why I felt the way I did. To replace sentiment with logic. But I refrained. Primarily, because I think I am entitled to express my feelings and I think my feelings on this reflected my outrage and certain (even if slightly farfetched) fears that some among us may have felt but not had either the avenue or the inclination to express. So while the post remains untouched for that reason, I am obliged to now elaborate what I think.

In the few days since I first read about this online, I’ve had quite a few heated discussions with friends, managing in the process to elicit a range of opinions broad enough to represent a substantial cross-section of urban people that one may come across, or so I’d like to imagine. But more importantly, my own thoughts on this have crystallized in the act of listening and explaining my stance to another.

Cutting out the bullshit, what it comes down to is simply this: People are threatened by a shift in social hierarchy. The Conversions (presumably to Christianity but me thinks it's more the mindset than the religion ) – now a much vilified word – is apparently supposed to explain and excuse the violence. ‘The dalits are being converted’ they cry, ‘Hinduism is being threatened, how can we be expected not to retaliate?’

To them I want to say… ‘Yeah, right!!! All of a sudden you give a shit about people that you have treated worse than pond scum , that you have shunned and cast out of your society, that you have trodden upon and taught your children to tread upon. Suddenly, you want to pick up arms in their ‘defense’ - you dare to pretend that you care - you lying, insecure, hypocritical bastards! ’

But ofcourse there is absolutely no point in addressing people that resort to violence. Instead, I want to address the ‘educated’, the ‘aware’ and the yet-somehow-apathetic (or would they prefer narrow-minded)

To them I want to say this.. ‘Think, people, think!!! Why are you so threatened by this if you are secure in your views? What are you so afraid of? Is your faith so shakeable that if some other guy gets converted you suddenly are threatened? Ok, say that 60 % of the people in your apartment complex are converted to another religion, are you going to start questioning yours?? If that is the case, then you need to re-think your faith. If it isn’t, then you might want to extrapolate that to realize that maybe even if all the dalits in Orissa get converted, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn't. Just mathematically, for crying out loud, 1 in 5 people in the world is Hindu. You belong to the fastest growing (by sheer reproduction rates) religion in the world.’

And let’s call a spade a spade, what is the big deal about conversion anyway? If something is shoved down one’s throat, if it is forced, of course I find that abhorrent and I will crusade against it with you. But if it is consensual, why does it bother you people so much. Every one of us is always trying to convert another to their point of view. I’m doing it now. You did it the last time you had an argument with someone. We always want people to come round to our point of view because we think we are right, that our point of view is more valuable, carries more credence. But all of a sudden, when it comes to religion, it is so terribly taboo. The horror of it! How could one possibly think that?! I think it’s perfectly alright for me to campaign for my set of beliefs.. religious or otherwise, to tell people I think I have a better idea, a better philosophy, a road to salvation – As long as I don’t put down another, and don’t disrespect you, I’m doing nothing wrong. And just incase you didn’t remember, our constitution endorses this freedom.

Of course the devils advocate in you might immediately fire back by oh-so-cynically (and condescendingly) claiming that perhaps because the dalits are so helpless and downtrodden that they are extremely prone to suggestion, so vulnerable that they are easily swayed and influenced, that to them, the mere suggestion of a different religion is akin to coercion and is going too far. To that, I would like to point out, that ironically, it is this religion where they will find recourse, this religion that actively reinforces the notion that everyone is equal in the eyes of god , that they are not second-class citizens, that offers education and a chance at a better life for their children , that considers them valuable and important members of society, that just might raise their self-esteem and awareness and standard of life enough for them to just maybe start thinking for themselves!

There are still those that will claim that dalits are forcibly converted in the more classic sense of the word, a notion much touted. In response to this I must say that I know that the church in India ( certainly after the graham staines thingy) began to consciously refrain from converting people, with the express directive that baptisms were to be performed only if the individual fulfilled expressed a sustained desire to become a Christian. (And why wouldn't the dalits, god knows christianity offered them an out from the oppression of caste-ism)

This was done for two reasons, first, out of respect (and maybe a little fear) for the religious dynamic in Indian society. Secondly, because whatever the transgressions in the past, there was a reaffirmation amongst the Christian community (both clergy and people) that any measure of force is against a very basic tenet of Christianity (freedom of choice). Personally, I think the Church has its hands full enough keeping the people that it has from leaving and should have outright refused to convert people in the first place. But that’s another story for another post.

The bottom line is all the tsk-tsks in the world are entirely useless. Something must be done. But what? Erm… we’re back to square one! One is left with the resounding conclusion that there really is nothing that can be done except try to temporarily protect these people in some way and get justice for those that have been victimized.

In the bigger scheme of things, it’s seems too late for this generation. The violence will stop maybe when it ceases to serve some higher political agenda for those VHP, RSS (insert expletive of choice) that feed on the ignorance of the masses (the self righteous, self-appointed protectors of our religion and moral fibre!!) which is when they will call off their goons. Until the next time they need to pick on someone that is.

We cannot fight them. I certainly cannot fathom how we can. Their poison feeds on disparity, it is spread by enforcing existent social hierarchies, by scaring the upper classes that are already terrified of losing their ground in the superiority scale, and preying on the uneducated that are gullible enough to believe that the dalits and Christians are the cause of all their problems. The voices that do cry out against this are too insignificant to make a difference to those at the receiving end of this violence.

At the end of this, there is no catharsis for me. Only the dulling certainty that I have pissed many people off. And yet I am compelled to express my point of view. Not only because I identify with the persecuted in this case but because too many of us pussy-foot around this sort of thing, not taking any kind of stand, which does absolutely no good, rather, intensifying and perpetuating all the horribly ignorant notions surrounding this. And even though I have no illusions about changing anybody’s opinions, I had to say all this - because I have a conscience and a voice.

Update : No sooner than I had posted this, I opened my feed reader to find this. God bless you Parceval!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Nightmares

I read this today.

My first reaction was 'Will I have to live in dread that the day will come when it will be me, my family that is running from the mob'

In the past, on occasion, I've expressed to a few of my close friends how, in quite a personal way, I feel threatened by all the communal violence. They don't seem to get it – or at least, they didn’t then. As it so happens, all of them belong to Hindu families - which is something that is quite strange to vocalise because it is barely in one's consciousness and never factors into any part of our dynamic.Sadly now, it has everything to do with it.

Despite the fact that they are extremely aware and intelligent, they simply don’t understand what the fuss is all about, why I'm so hot and bothered, why this seems to affect me so deeply. But let me qualify my remarks though before they offend. What I mean, is simply this - a white man in 1950s New York could never really know what it felt like to be black in Mississippi – the lynching and the mobs might have appalled him but he’d never ever relate simply because it is not the kind of stick that you can ever accurately imagine yourself at the other end of.

With my friends, I can see in their eyes this lack of comprehension, the unspoken insinuation that surely I’m over-reacting because the thing is, because no matter how much one might extrapolate, how one might try, it is incredibly difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose existence is threatened by just their identity. So, while, to my friends, this persecution is too far away, removed from their reality, something to click their tongue at in sympathetic resignation and then forget,to me, it's real - a distant but looming threat that clouds my mind with 'someday what ifs'.

To their mind, it could never actually get so bad that I would be in any danger. And god knows, I hope they are right. But I just don't have that kind of implicit faith in our society anymore.We have too volatile a dynamic. And time and again in our recent history we have seen the smallest incident trigger such phenomenal violence. As a nation we are scarred by those memories. And ashamed. (or atleast we should be) But as individuals that were not directly affected, many of us remain largely detached. In the immediate after-math we are of course appalled at the extent of human cruelty, sympathetic to the victims but too easily we transition into conveniently tut-tutting our collective guilt away. Perhaps it is easy to, because it happened to THEM - someone, somewhere that we simply don’t identify with.

While that is understandable, it does not make it forgivable. I always imagined it was and would always be a Hindu-Muslim tussle - Centuries-old resentment mixing with fresh poison - and while I did empathize, there was also a lot of resignation that went with it. And so I distanced myself. Saddened and sympathetic - but in real terms, unaffected – not unlike my friends until a few years ago, when it finally dawned on me that I , as it turned out, am part of that THEM.

The images of the terrible carnage in that horrendous episode in Gujarat that were splashed across papers and screens left stains on my soul. It was the first time in my life that I sobbed for someone I did not know. It left me for days unable to speak, completely ashamed of my countrymen, deeply admiring of those that stood up against it and lent a hand and determined that I would never stay silent again. Since then, my thoughts on this have only precipitated further. I am now acutely aware of how the little-est of incidents can so easily escalate into something mammoth, how religious hatred is routinely condoned, if not actively fostered, how much this erodes at the fibre of our society, how important it is that the moral, logical, sensible among us, stand up and speak out vociferously against this.

Having always thought of myself as half hindu and half christian - both identities being so well integrated within me that I can no more choose one over the other than I can pick a favourite eye, I find myself now forced to separate the two. The christian in me is deeply threatened by what is happening in Orissa - one is left only to imagine whether it will sanction and set precedent for, a new wave of violence towards christians across the rest of the country? (or pretty much any minority the fundamentalists choose to target ) The Hindu in me finds this sort of violence so abhorrent. And that too in the name of Rama, so deeply shaming.

Memories of the Graeme Staines incident come rushing back as I am writing this. It was around that time that there was a strong wave of anti-christian sentiment. And it wasn't just in Orissa although it seems to always boil over from there .The violence was across the country. Churches burnt, Nuns raped, Priests murdered, Children tortured... Andhra, maharashtra, U.P, Bihar, Tamil Nadu even Kerala! And we were fearful. In churches they prayed for peace, and were counselled to be patient, to have faith, that it would pass. But every christian I met, was deeply disturbed. In hushed tones they murmured to each other 'Now, I can imagine what it can feel like to be a Muslim in this country'. Except that it was worse. There was an overriding sense of helplessness that hung about them - They just didn't know what to do. The christian community is still small and insignificant. They could not retaliate. They would not get violent. They just took it. I remember that year well - marked by grave conversations and even graver jokes about how the RSS was bored of persecuting muslims and had decided to pick on the christians for a change. I remember feeling helpless myself and thinking that the Muslim community would never have taken this lying down. In the throes of my misguided 15 year old indignation, I fantasized about lining those murderous bastards up and having them shot for doing this. I remember swearing in dead seriousness that I would leave the country before I was betrayed by it.

And now, 8 years later, it seems to be happening all over again. Deep inside me there is an abiding fear that my friends are wrong and there could come a day when I will be made to feel a stranger in my own country. That it will not matter who I am or what I believe, only that I have one foot in the wrong side of the statistic. Everything else about me will cease to matter in the face of the religious fundamentalism that seems these days to lurk round every corner. I have nightmares, that to the madding crowd, I will not be Indian, nor tamizh or mangalorean, just christian - the daughter of a Catholic man and an Iyer woman who brought shame to her community by marrying him.


Post Script : A poem that hangs on a wall in my mother's office perfectly describes my sentiments. She has it there to remind her of the evils of everyday apathy. And even though I have already quoted it here, I want to again. It encapsulates how I feel - it is my nightmare.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

--- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I've been getting way too many complaints about how my blog is difficult to read because of the font/background contrast thingamajigs..

So, there. This drab no-nonsense template must suffice until one is at leisure to make it a little more pleasing to the eye.

The thesis is all consuming... And frustratingly, a million ideas will want to flower just when I have no time to put them down. But I will be in India soon with more time than I know what to do with. One is of course, in true form, terrified that the minute there is time, the idea tap will clog and the words will dry up.

Uffff!!!!! Aaaargggh!! Ayyoooo! and all that...

Friday, August 22, 2008

An Avatar

Those black beads of anger pierce and stare.
No trace of 'you' anywhere.
Only bulging belligerence.
The eyes. The look.
The curl of contempt
scathe like venom from honeyed lips.
And oh, that throbbing vein does evidence.
How frightful you are when you rage.
Unrecognizable - I'll say it again.
With your claws unsheathed.
Vicious, cold and unaware
of the way your face contorts and nostrils flare.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Corporate Grease

I was woken up by the shrill trilling of the phone last night. It was Akshara. I looked across the room to the blue digits of the clock on the wall, it was 4 AM. 'What time is it there? Did I wake you up?' she asks hurriedly. I manage a 'no' , knowing she wouldn't call unless it was important - 'It's ok' I mumble, 'Tell me, what's up' .

'He just won't take the hint!! And I'm so fed up, what do i do? ' , she cried, the irritation bordering on distress evident in the strained higher pitch. 'You won't believe what he did this morning, he put me in such a spot, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it except to just keep gently but firmly rebuffing him.' My protective 'you shouldn't have to take this kinda crap' feelings aside, I knew she was right. So far, there was nothing she could do except coldly ignore him. So, I nodded, sighed and just listened as she filled me in on the morning's incident.

She had met him at work, at a job she began not two months ago. It was the perfect job. Everything she was looking for. A fresh start. It was almost providential, the way it had materialized. They had been really impressed and made it clear that they wanted her on board almost immediately. I had been so proud. She'd been brave and ridden out some storms and definitely deserved a break. So when she finally did start working there I couldn't have been happier for her. Everything was taking an up-swing. Until this.

In our post-first-day dissection she jokingly remarked, ' There's something greasy about him and I'm not referring to the tub of gel he works into his hair every morning' . We just laughed girlishly, not really thinking too much about it then. But It wasn't very long before she mentioned him again. He had begun dropping by her desk a couple of times a day with absolutely no business to discuss, just 'chatting her up' . Something about what should have been perceived as just a friendly gesture felt off. As she put it , 'greasy guy is just a little too nice'. I suggested rather flippantly at the time that perhaps she was reading too much into it. As it so happened she wasn't.

Things at her old office were very different. The atmosphere was much more open and the manner amongst hierarchy was one of familiarity. But that was a big MNC in Mumbai. Here, somehow, in madras, it doesn't sit right. Even though everybody in her office is quite young, there is something about the culture of the city that makes informality beyond using first names seem too forced. So when she first told me about greasy guy, I jumped to the conclusion that this was all it was - a difference of opinion about office formality.

It is a well-known but small establishment, where she works, the kind of place where you cannot afford to dislike anyone or be disliked, because you're thrown in together with pretty much everybody in the course of work - It is what one may call a 'close-knit corporate team' - a bit of a euphemism that is often used to describe an organisation that is understaffed and overworked. Be that as it may, as in the normal course of things, she was introduced to him. He is one of her superiors. Not someone she is directly accountable to. But definitely one of the bosses.

He is divorced, he confesses to her among many other things, at what he tells her is a team lunch. He shows no sign of embarrassment when, as she asks to wait to order, he tells her that unfortunately no one else can make it. Brazenly, laughing, he adds that he is glad they can't, almost daring her to call his outrageous bluff, perhaps even leave. She fumes silently, not wanting to antagonize a superior at her new job, pretending to be interested, through a meal where he proceeds to talk solely about himself. That afternoon as she recounts it to me in a hurried chat session, she vows she will avoid him at all costs and that will hopefully be that. He calls her four times that sunday.

Later that week he presses her repeatedly to go out with him. Have a drink, take a long drive, go for a movie. She tells him over and over again, that she can't. Firmly, no - concocting an array of excuses all clearly untrue, hoping he will take the hint. He doesn't. We wonder why he has no pride, why he won't just stop asking after such repeated rejection? Why doesn't he see that being her boss and putting her in such a position amounts to harrassment. Perhaps he does. And he likes it.

She doesn't laugh easily at work anymore - banter with colleagues is inhibited - he seems to somehow always surface. He lurks, greasy guy does. Amidst the others, he throws her knowing looks, like they are close friends forced to formality. He winks at her and smiles, and others see this, but not her cold looks. She is furious, afraid her colleagues will perceive something that is not. So, she works harder than ever these days. barely looking up, filling every moment in activity, skipping lunch with colleagues so she doesn't have to see him. He still calls her unnecessarily. She doesn't pick up.

Coming from a big corporate environment, inundated with feedback forms and a mechanism in place, however (in)effective, to protect from this, she is unsure of what to do presently. She is afraid that it will come down to her word against his and he will smarmily deny it. Except for the 11.45 PM telephone calls, I remind her, there is proof of that. That there haven't been any remarks or conduct of a sexual nature is something she clings to. She thinks (or hopes) he's just another one of those boorish men who simply won't take no for an answer but is intrinsically harmless. I think staying quiet and hoping for the best is taking a biggish risk.

Yesterday, he informs her of the new little mini-project they must work on together, just the two of them , he says with a big smile. He's arranged it with her boss and everything. It turns out to be legitimate, even if her contribution is unnecessary. Obviously she can't refuse. It is work. Nevermind that now she is forced to spend much more time alone with him, in a conference room, possibly having to fend off more direct advances. I tell her, that the next time he asks her about anything outside of work or tries to contact her after hours, she must be polite but firm in telling him that she doesn't appreciate this kind of behaviour and finds it inappropriate. In the meanwhile that she should talk to the other women at work, find out if greasy guy has made a pass at anyone else in the pass. Or at worst she must talk to her boss. Another friend suggests she lie and tell him that she is engaged. It's a small office, I don't think she can sustain the lie. Besides, I suspect that it won't faze him. It is not love or any genuine feeling that drives this man, neither does a fear of any perceived impropriety. He's 17 years older than she is. And he can't take no for an answer. You'd think he'd have some sense, the old, greasy fuck. Is it some form of sadism, to watch her squirm silently, to feel power over her ? Is it a game?

I do not want to say it to her, because I don't want her to think it's her fault, it isn't. His attentions were rebuffed as soon as they were recognized. But I know how people can be. Her open, friendly girlishness is attractive - as is her ready laugh and smiley eyes. Maybe he takes this as invitation. I know that many men are narcissistic enough to think it is all aimed at them. Maybe it is that she is open about enjoying a drink that he has misinterpreted - the old 'women who drink are women who are loose' and therefore fair game. Something I've heard all too often for me not to make the association. Maybe it is that she is 'modern' in a city that is still mind-blowingly conservative. But I do not want to blame a culture, a city, however prejudiced, for this man's indiscretions. I will not make excuses for someone just because he fits a stereotype.

Tomorrow, they begin their joint project. I'm hoping for her sake he will be professional, stick to work and toe the line, even if barely. Going by the past few weeks, maybe it's expecting too much. These things more often escalate than die down I'm told. So, in the meanwhile, I guess I'll turn the volume up on my ringer just in case she calls. From 5000 miles away, the only thing I can really do is hope and listen.


UPDATE : In the short time since I've put this post up, I've already heard from quite a few people. All of whom, (four of them being very sympathetic men) know at least 1 person who has suffered through this sort of thing or worse. Appalled enough by how things can be to write this, I'm horrified even further as it occurs to me that perhaps it is far more rampant than I imagined.
I always imagined that when this sort of thing happened, only meek women wouldn't have the courage to speak up. Now I see that sometimes speaking up has consequences that forces one into situations where it means choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. It can mean setting yourself up for public scrutiny, accusations of mis-conduct (because ofcourse, a woman invites all the attention she is bestowed with) and many aspersions of guilt.

While it's all very fine to rant academically about this kind of thing, those lucky enough to work in a great environment (including me) have little idea what it can be like to have deal with this on a day-to-day basis. Especially for those that work in organisations that don't provide a framework of liability/accountability to check this kind of misbehaviour. Behaviour that is clearly improper, that makes it very difficult for a woman to work and yet doesn't cross over into what ( I think) would constitute sexual harassment. Does anyone know what the line is? Legally, maybe?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

November Rain

It is a cloudy day. The sand is wet even where the sea can't touch. The tide is high. We are sitting by the shore, on the ridge, just beyond the waves. It's been a cold,wet November week. There was respite today. Only clouds - dense, grey but translucent clouds, hopeful beams filtering through. We have nowhere else to be. So we are here, lost to this. We stare ahead. At the roaring and crashing of waves and the white foam trails on the shore. A lonely gull is fishing. Paper bags and coconut shells bob in the muddy water, keeping time with the tide. Ships sit on the horizon. The late afternoon catamarans are pulling ashore. We just watch, leaning against each other. The sound of the sea is lulling. We are lost in thought.

I feel something in the air change suddenly. Like a promise broken. The breeze bites. We huddle closer. I smell the moisture and sigh. It will rain today after all. We talk of this and that, interspersed with long turns of silence, absentmindedly grabbing handfuls of sand and letting it slip through the gaps in our tightening fists. Our sentences trail off, our voices are low, almost murmuring. A raindrop falls on my cheek. I look up at the sky, and nothing. Perhaps it was the ocean mist? We just watch the crabs jump out of their holes, kicking up dust, their pale brown scales perfectly camouflaged, scurrying across, leaving fresh tracks on the sand that waves wash away in a minute We fiddle with the shells, ponder the prawn pink and ivory white while idly dusting off, irritably, the coarse grains pressed into our skin, digging into my heels and his elbows. Now a few more drops fall, heavy on our noses, eye lids and upturned palms.

A boy tries to sell us 'kadlai'. He is encouraged by our amusement at his impish smile and tries his best. Our laughter heralds the fortune teller. Insisting she will tell us if we are a good match, grabbing my palm to read it. I will not have it. And finally she leaves us to our solitude. It is getting dark. So suddenly the air is heavy, ready to burst and fresh black clouds loom dangerously in the horizon. When we turn around, we find we are alone, everyone has disappeared.

It will start raining soon he says to me. And we agree it's time to go. We pick ourselves up and hunt for the shoes we unintentionally buried in the mud. Not two minutes have passed and I wonder if I am mistaken, but the tide has risen, the waves are now 4 feet high. And the gale has begun. The clouds are coming, casting ominous shadows. 'Apocalypse' - the word leaps to my mind, for this is how I would imagine it. There is no time to say it. We begin to run.

Quickly, sprinting, footwear in hand, shielding our heads in vain, but it's too much to fight - this crazy wind. It has blown us back to a halting canter. We push ourselves against it and the raindrops that are pelting away. The sand rises like a tornado, not circling but carries rather in sheets. And then it stops, because the rain has finally come. And it is torrential, cyclonic - like Orissa. We reach the car wet like we just swam in the sea and get in just in time - The rain comes down like panes of glass, piercing, clanging away mercilessly at the metal hood, battering our car into relentless motion. And we are inside, shaking, cold and stranded - I joke about warning signs and tsunamis. Lightening strikes what feels like ten metres away from the car - I'm terrified into silence.

It is dark like dusk. Tempestuous.

We can only wait.

And just as suddenly as it arrived, it has vanished. Not moved on, just disappeared. The violence erased. The rain is now a trickle from a stubbornly leaky tap. Glad, we laugh nervously as he puts the car into reverse. There is not a soul on the beach. It is peaceful again. Static and calm. Like nothing moved.

It is too suddenly just a memory.

Maybe we imagined it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July 12th , 2008

The dark passageway through which I passed held no clue to the vastness of space that it emptied into. The evening was just beginning and the cachak-cachak of a thousand plastic cups being crushed under heavy feet into the sticky, beer sprayed floor provided a steady static. A vast cloud of smoke hung low over the swarm of people beelined to the front of the hall. It certainly smelt like the fog over a sea of weed. Maybe it was my imagination because I had come in restless, excited and a tad wired after a long day at the lab but it was a little relaxing.. I got there twenty five minutes early, held my breath as I pushed my way through the bottleneck at security hoping they wouldn't discover my camera - I knew I had to record this, it all seemed too surreal already.

There were galleries at the two flanks of the stage. I would be right at the front when the concert began but until then I wanted to sit for a bit, perhaps figure out what my agenda for the rest of the evening would be. And so, I plonked myself on the first step, rummaged through my bag for the schedule - but seeing a blur, I realised I was too wound up with excitement - with the absolute momentousness of what was to come to be able to think anything after it.

To my right was a beautiful african woman in dreads, immaculate white teeth and high cheek bones. I caught her eye and smiled and blurted out something about how big this place was. She smiled back disarmingly and we began to talk about this and that. She was 50. In the dim light I didn't notice the stray gray roots in her dreads. We talked about Jazz and what we were to witness. She'd been going to these festivals religiously since she was 20 - Perugia, Montreux, Gent - she rattled off the times when she heard some of the greats. Apparently she was Surinamese but had lived in the Netherlands since her girlhood. We talked about this and that and she gave me suggestions about whom to watch. I had to blurt out that it was my first time and how excited I was to be here - she looked at me so maternally and said, ' it's always beautiful to be part of something so much bigger than us - music you know, I mean, not just a festival - We are as important as the musician - our energy matters , so you must let go and just open yourself out to it '

I'm not sure I understood at that point what she meant. But I nodded anyway. And just then the curtains began to draw. She leaped up and tugged on my sleeve. 'Come, come' , she said. 'Yes', I told her, 'I want to go right up front, as close to the stage' She laughed and said.' Yes, yes, We must go in front, no point listening to music like this, sitting, we must be able to move' . When she stood up, her six feet, lean frame came as a surprise. But it also meant she couldn't weave in and out of the crowd like me. She was thoughtful, quickly realising that I wouldn't be able to see, even though we were quite up ahead in the crowd, spoke in quickfire dutch to a couple of giant dutchmen standing in front of us, to let me go ahead while she stood back. Just then He walked onto the stage, softly whispered into the mic, a very humble 'I am happy to be here' before picking up his guitar. He turned to his band , with a 'Here we go, 1, 2, 3' began the familiar strains of 'Graceland'.

It was what Oprah would call ' a full circle moment ' . It was the most profound culmination of a lifelong connection to a man's music. A connection that began the day my dad first held me, the day he softly strummed those tunes on his guitar to soothe my tears , a connection that was cemented over all the years that followed.

And it was all mine. As I stood there amidst a sea of strangers - swallowed up by the crowd, now thoroughly separated from the only person I had exchanged a few words with, I was careless and for the first time in my life, I was never happier that I was alone. I didn't want to share this with anyone else. I was free to feel , free to cry, free to dance like there was no tomorrow, free to sing along at the top of my voice and not feel guilty about making it all about me , not feel self-conscious and inhibited.

There I was, in a dark hall, standing fifteen metres away from my favourite poet, and I couldn't believe my fortune. In my last two years in Europe. I have done many things I thought I would have to wait half a lifetime to do. And each time I find myself standing in the midst of one of my dreams, I am immediately overwhelmed and for a moment all I feel is gratitude. I say a little thank you to the man above and then let myself take it all in. No one event epitomizes that more than the evening of July the 12th.

Paul Simon was singing. I don't remember too much of anything else. Just a euphoria...

" And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying "

He went on to sing a lot of songs from 'Graceland' - peppered with ones from his Simon and Garfunkel days. (like a beautiful rendition of Mrs. Robinson - which the whole crowd heartily joined in on the the cacoocachoo) . His old, knobbly hands strumming the guitar effortlessly. His pale skin and sunken cheeks visibly despite the shadow of his hat and the slightly protruding belly , awkward on his 5 foot 1 inch frame, betraying his 67 years but his voice, amazingly, unchanged - his quiet, understated presence, nonetheless felt.

He didn't try to do outrageous things to his music, or infuse it with anything alien just because the venue was a Jazz festival. He stuck to the essence of it . And yet, he did very interesting things with the arrangement, and slipped in some very cool improvisation, that sat so naturally that you could easily think it was part of the original, unless you knew his music well. It was something I found entirely unexpected because somehow I suppose I've always been so moved by his words that I almost forget he is equally a musician.

There was a point when he had the audience keep time in a sort of flamenco style with clapping, to his guitar playing. Let me tell you, it was some complex clapping. Yet, it wasn't any attempt at showmanship. He just began to clap a certain way and the audience followed - if they hadn't, I doubt he would have done anything different, or said anything as vulgar as ' come on, let me hear you rotterdam' . Come to think of it, he said barely a word and yet it was filled with character. There were all kinds of crazy instruments, some of which I've never seen - Like a chappie that wore an armour-like vest with metallic shards that you had to scrape up and down to produce a percussion-like effect. Everyone in the audience looked as befuddled by it as I felt. And yet it all felt perfectly natural. It fit.

What was supposed to be an hour's showcase ended up as a two-and a half hour concert , the last half hour of which was heralded by the most thunderous, heartfelt, unanimous encore ever sounded by an audience that I've heard. There was feet stamping, hooting, wolf whistling, and rapturous applause for ten intense minutes before they returned and began with one of my favourites. The Boxer - it's my dad's song. And I wished he could have been there.

As the last strains faded and the bows were taken - I screamed impetuously ' Woo hoo... Thank You ' rather impulsively in the general direction of the stage. I don't know what I was thinking. Ok, clearly it was un-thought out. Doubt He heard it anyway but there were plenty of people that did. And when they turned around to look and saw this brown, chubby, short girl , grinning wide, cheeks aflush, completely unaware of what she just did, applauding with all her might and it made them all laugh.

"But it's alright, it's all right, I have lived so long and so well"

And on that note, with lingering smiles and soft sighs, we left.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Brother, boyfriend, father, friend, boss, acquaintance - Whatever relationship they have with you, men can be infuriatingly impossible. Now that's a strong statement to come across and possibly seems even stronger if it's the first line you read. There are two ways, in my experience, that people might process that . The first would be, and I suspect that women and that rare breed that is men with no latent misogynist tendencies fall into this category, 'Wow, she sounds pissed off, wonder what happened' . There is however a second way, and I mean not as much blame but plenty of offense if you were that average joe that thought 'here we go, another feminist diatribe - why in god's name do they always have to dramatize' .

Now, there are plenty of things that one could potentially take offense to in that statement ' 'diatribe perhaps, 'dramatize' even, but I will pick my battles - What is most offensive to me is the 'always' .

If you didn't react like that, let me first congratulate you. If consequently you don't see my point - let me venture to explain. It offends me immensely when a woman (more pertinently me) , her opinion, speech or behaviour is dismissed as being too emotional. First off all, when I say dismissal, it invariably implies haste. It also implies an unwillingness to understand something properly but most of all it is presumption at it's highest level. Maybe a little more context shall help illuminate what I mean - There are many a times when either professionally or personally you encounter a situation which demands some sort of exchange of ideas, expression of one's thoughts between a man and a woman. It doesn't really matter what the exact situation is, all we need for our little recipe is a little time and a man and a woman that take opposing sides or disagree. Lo and behold, within the hour any chance of something productive coming out of it is lost. Because there is this pre-established dynamic, among others, that women are emotional creatures, incapable of objectivity and therefore unqualified to have opinions on anything because they are of course inescapably under the spell of these torrid moods and heavily influenced by them . Perhaps, if you are lucky, dealing with a somewhat sensible man, and you have never ever slipped, let even the faintest sign of any kind of emotion show, ever, your reputation as a useful, contributing member may yet not be lost. If not, you can forget about it. They will never take you seriously. If in these discussions you happened to agree with them, you may hear it be said of you that you are an intelligent woman. If not, and do beg to disagree, it wouldn't surprise me that they will say ' she's smart but you know how women are.. a bit emotional'. When you argue, you are being shrill. When you disagree, you can't accept the truth. When you are confident, you are stubborn. When you try to prove your point, you are an egotistic. When she is reserved, she is stuck up and my personal favourite, when she is unemotional, an ice-queen.

Apparently I'm not the only woman terrified that she will burst a vein whilst trying to deal with this sort of thing. It happens on every level, in every kind of relationship. And I'm sick of it. Women can be emotional - it's true. But, and please try to pay attention here my good chappies, so can men. In exactly the same ways. The only difference is that women indulge the men and recognize it for what it is - a temporary lapse of reason. Whereas all the men I've ever known and my friends have ever known are so quick to hand out that yellow card 'Emotional' - one infringement you get the card, twice and you might as well get out of the game - no one will take you seriously any more. When men get emotional we as a society contrive to forgive them - we use manly sounding words like 'cantankerous' and 'cranky' or 'fractious' whereas the women get stuck with 'moody' , 'emotional' or another personal favourite 'PMSing' to describe similar sets of behaviour.

That glaring but common place injustice aside, what really bothers me is, and it doesn't seem to me too hard a concept to expect a man to grasp, that just because someone can get emotional , it does NOT mean that it dictates their every word, their every action. That she could have reacted sharply Only, that sometimes, in the heat of the moment they are more likely to feel a little more sorry or a little more betrayed than they should and at worst a little less objective. Emotions cloud everybody's judgment. And like the clouds, invariably clear - it is a temporarily affliction. In the sobering everydayness women have as little time as you kindly gentlemen to stop and pander to our emotions.

As the words pour out I know they have no effect on you sir. You are convinced of course that we, as a tribe, are marked by this. The faintest memory of one escaped tear, one catty reaction, one less than objective thought expressed is all it takes to forever be branded - to forever have to keep defending everything you say hence from being shot down with the oh-so-presumptuous 'let's not get emotional about this'.

I hate that phrase. If you want to turn me into a murderous, cauldron brewing, spell chanting, cursing witch you couldn't choose better. There, that made me emotional. Satisfied? Because you presumptuous, absolute imbeciles of men, there couldn't be anything more unintelligent, more counter-intuitive than the act of telling someone whom you are convinced is ruled by her emotions that they should not get emotional. Do you really think that statement is helping your case? That a person in the throes of emotion will, on hearing these words, be shamed into acknowledging this and immediately drop their remonstrances in favour of calm and collected logic because you've put it so well?

It is incredibly insulting. Do men really think that women are active, brewing emotional volcanoes waiting to spew onto them and smother them in the suffocating ash of our feelings? Now that was a tad dramatic. But you'll be surprised how many men actually think this.
So I say it again. why is it so hard for men to understand that just because women display their emotions now and then that they aren't dictated to by it?

I asked a friend this. A man. And pat came the reply. "Because they ARE emotional. Think about it", he said with the quiet confidence that I couldn't possibly have until he suggested it. "Aren't you emotional now, worked up about other people thinking you get emotional too easily ". I was stumped. Apparently, somehow, he had missed that while concerned, my thoughts flowed, I was rationalising, my initial anger had melted into forming a coherent channel of rightful indignation. And now disappointment. I was trying to fight too much he said. "Even if you aren't emotional, most women know, that's how women are made, to be in touch with their feelings, they can't help themselves. It's ok. It's necessary. It's hardwired into you all just like it is hardwired into us to be the providers. So men will treat you the same way they've noticed other women behave. I guess it's difficult because you think you are different, but you aren't really. You can't see it like the way I do. To me, you are emotional."

My frustration knew no bounds and I told myself to breathe, reminded myself he was a friend, proved him wrong with the very act of restraint (but ofcourse he can't see inside my head) and finally realised it really was just that guy's issue - it just made me want to smile sadly, sigh and say "When it comes down to it, emotion never held us back. So we may have cried a little - probably in anger or helplessness. And It was release. Like kicking the shit out of a punching bag but without having your muscles ache the next morning. And we picked ourselves up after that and did what we had to. It never stopped us, we still went to school, went to work, took care of the kids, cooked, cleaned and did bloody good jobs of it too. So why this fear of emotion?? Why this harsh accusatory tone? Why the scorn and contempt? Why the presumption that it holds us back? And if we lapse, like I'm sure you do, why is it so imperative that we need to be utterly objective and rational 24x7 to have to prove this to you - Why should we be forced to prove anything in the first place?? Is it the price we pay to be on equal footing, to just simply have the luxury of not being dismissed ? What is so terribly wrong with acknowledging one's emotions anyway? Do you see it as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, my friend, it takes courage to face up to things, deal with it and move on. Would you prefer instead that we shy away, or just bottle it all up for when we are old and bitter and grey? How is that so hard to see, that being capable of expressing emotion and being emotional are two different things?? And if at worst, you can't understand this, why can't we just be different, emotionally without it affecting other spheres of our interaction, as long as we can be logical and reasonable at all the times that matter??"

Friday, July 04, 2008

Gonna be an Engineer

- Written by Peggy Seeger in the late 60's if I'm not mistaken. I've always enjoyed this song. It's very folksy and sing-along. There is only the faintest tinge of bitterness under all the tra-la-la-la of it.

I couldn't find a recording of her singing this song on youtube.

So, this is her brother singing it - the relatively more famous Pete Seeger.

p.s: The audience seems slightly taken aback in parts.. notice their shocked appearances at certain junctures in the song. (Clearly, they weren't expecting this to be part of the set) And ofcourse the laughter when it was more politically correct to be amused by it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

On Children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Bureau

My mother has a green bureau. I don't know if that's what it is - it always seemed more like a cupboard to me. But she called it that and it has stuck. She's had it for as long as I can remember. It was in our two-room house in Anna Nagar where I was born and it moved with us to the house we still live in, the house where I grew up. And there it has stayed. Standing silently at the end of a little, dark, oddity of a passage that led to my room. The deep bottle green paint has chipped off in places and rust betrays its age and although slightly rickety and worse for wear, it has remained mostly unchanged through the years. Like the other furniture in our house, it is comfortingly constant. It stands in the same corner, mostly invisible, only noticed by outsiders or if one bumped into it by mistake. Come to think of it, it doesn't require too much effort to bump into. It looms. At 7 feet, it is the biggest piece of furniture we own and is responsible for obstructing the entrance to my room, forcing me for years to have to squeeze through into my precious sanctuary.

It always seemed like a brooding bureau to me. The big Godrej lock held all it's secrets in. My mothers secrets. No one else had a key - not even my father. And she rarely ever opened it. When she did, she would always make everyone leave the room. A source of great annoyance when I was an adolescent. I would yell and remonstrate to no avail. 'I don't care what's in your damn bureau, you can't evict me from my own room'. But I nearly always did. I was immensely curious. And I would try to imagine what it held. Gold and jewelry I used to like to think - that she would eventually give to me. Or perhaps old letters - from long lost loves. Books of poetry she used to read. Old report cards perhaps. Pictures of her in pigtails. Maybe she kept her Will there. Or her just odd things from her childhood.

Taunts by my father and me about all this secrecy never could force her hand. She wouldn't say a word - only laugh and roll her eyes.

A few years ago, I discovered a black and white, yellow edged, slightly dog eared picture, of my mother as a child with her family, lying on the floor one morning. Apparently the jangle of keys I had heard at 6 AM wasn't part of my dream. There had been a tryst with the bureau . I confronted her with it as I remember. Rather cheekily wanting to know why she felt the need to sneak around at unearthly hours. And for one small second she hesitated - I didn't really understand the expression that flickered on her face just long enough for me to notice before she quickly rejoined with a smile and a cheerful 'it's really none of your business sweetheart'.

And it wasn't. I hounded her too long about the contents of that bureau. Always irritated by the enigma - unable to understand what she could probably have to keep from us - her husband and children. And it always set my imagination ablaze. Torrid affairs, childhood secrets - A past?! My sense of romance knew no bounds. And I simply couldn't get my head around it. My mother! The one that woke us up, fed us, drove us, worked 10 hours everyday - only to start all over the next . What could she possibly have to hold secret?!

For the longest time, I couldn't reconcile myself to the fact that my mother has always been an intensely private person, as well as a woman capable of keeping her own counsel. What I know of her and how she used to be before she was my mother - is only what my father has told me. He accepts this about her. Half reluctantly, half admiringly. It was one of the things about her he fell in love with. He once let that slip when he thought I was too preoccupied with cribbing about amma to listen. But surely it must pique him a little. Or irritate him slightly. He is like me after all. Rather, I am like him after all. And so completely different from her. Such an open book that I have always struggled to understand this about her. That there is a part of her that no one else knows. Just a little part of her that she keeps from everyone else, a compartment she doesn't often visit, that lays standing in a corner, filled with a life time of memories. Like a bureau.

I did allow myself to nurture the belief that growing out of childhood would signal the unlocking of that lock, the opening of those doors. That in adulthood, Amma would trust me with those long enclosed contents of that bureau - with her stories, her confidences.

And now that I finally find myself on that threshold I am taken entirely by surprise. It is not what I expected. The contents haven't been revealed to me, nor do I want them to any longer. And yet I find that the bureau does indeed contain something for me. . It certainly wasn't gold or the gorgeous silks I hoped were waiting to be passed down to me. Nor anything as glaring and indecorous as a sudden, ready flow of a life time of confidences from mother to daughter. And yet it is substantial, an inheritance of sorts - a legacy if you will.

It seems too simple almost for all the build-up and curiosity that it was chased by. And yet it is profound . The legacy of the bureau, as I see it now, is the very idea of it - so strange to my nature and yet something I recognize as possessing the potential to be of great value to my life. It is wrapped in the understanding of what the bureau has represented to my mother, why it is so important that it continues to stand there, why she has guarded it all these years and rightly will not share it with anyone else.

At a time in my life when I feel transparent and laid bare, insecure about the content of my character and struggling with my identity, I've begun to see how important it is for me to have my own little bureau - a place where the truth and essence of me could lay tucked away, in safety and privacy. Not static, but not in a hurry. Gently being nurtured into maturity, as I evolve in my own time, away from the glare and harshness of life and everyday scrutiny.

27 Degrees

It's impossibly warm and the table fan swishes far too loudly. My skin prickles - reminiscent of old madras summer days - and my hair is tied up in a knot that I don't have the patience to untangle - but atleast it's off my neck! I'm irritable and the Clapton playing is not right today - it's just getting on my rather raw nerves. There is a deep, relentless gnawing at the walls of my stomach - crying out for some nourishment. My last proper meal was 16 hours ago. And there is nothing in my fridge!! Aaaaarghh!!!

Damn this stuffy, smothering, impossible heat!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How do I love thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

One of my favourite sonnets of all time. I wrap myself in every syllable, saying it aloud - oh, the musicality of it! And how the sentiment rings true to my mind. I can lose myself in how wonderfully poignant every word is... wishing all the while, that I may someday be able to love thus... unreservedly, with every fibre of my being. Sigh...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why I Write.

Something came up today to make me examine why I write. I realised it's because I can't contain my thoughts. They overflow from within me, the trifling lot of them. It isn't just my opinions or my thoughts on a particular subject (however unimportant) - it's everything that enters my mind. What I had for breakfast, why I couldn't wake up early like I planned, how my boss looked at me icily...I'd write about it all if I had the time. And if I thought someone would read. I don't know why that is - that I need to babble on about every little thing I see, every last realisation I have. I think I can safely say that it is not ego . I am under no illusion that I have a unique way of seeing things, processing the world around me, or that I have particularly revelatory thoughts - I've read enough to know that. And yet, I am desperate to be heard. As though in the transient occupation of another's consciousness I am somehow connected in the only way I know how to be - with words.

But it can't possibly be the only reason because as far back as I remember, I've written. Scribbles in little notebooks. Confessions in diaries. 'Poems' in penultimate pages of textbooks. Always trying to say something in my own way. And almost never really having anything particularly of consequence to say. On a bad day, I berate myself endlessly for ever bothering - I am capable of perceiving in myself a mediocrity so stunning in its suddenness and magnitude that it enfolds me like a cow in a twister and lifts me away to where everything seems to reverberate with the resounding notion of how very ordinary my writing is, and more pertinently, how very pointless it all is. Even if just for myself, even if just to indulge my own ridiculous need to vocalise everything.

On good days, I know exactly why I write. I don't have to have something profound to say. I don't need people to like it or relate. I am unfettered by fears of mediocrity. I write because I have to. Because I feel like a full cup, because my fascination, my sadness, my indifference, my exuberance, my melancholia have not space to reside within me and thus must overflow into as tasteful an expression of myself as I can manage. Because I accept my insatiable need to express my every perception of life and the world as it happens to me. Because writing is my solace, the only constant, the unconditional best friend. Because it inspires me to be my most honest self. Because it calms me. Because writing teaches me, and is patient with me and allows me to see and understand everything in my own way. Because I enjoy it and time flies when I do. Because for the briefest periods, it pours out of me. Because it is the only thing that can consume me entirely and engage my rather fickle attention. Because every thought I conceive in it's basic form begins to arrange itself in my head to form as beautiful, musical and coherent a sentence as it can. But most of all, I write because it is in the words that I see emerge, who I can be, my best self.

On my good days I know that these are reasons enough to write.

Today was not one of them. But I wrote. And I feel a little better. Maybe that's all that matters.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I have this little dream
Of us grey but far from old
beside a roaring fire
untouched by the cold
of our winter.

We smile and begin.
At ease, just listenin to the other
and to a rhythm plucked in 3 by 4s
by decrepit hands in perfect time
with soft, pale notes intently played
on the ebony piano in the corner.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Viva Hollandia!

That football fever has caught me up is no surprise. It happens every couple of years. Timed perfectly with the Euro and World Cup. I know the game well enough for someone that does not worship it year round. Dad does. My love for it is the accumulation of the crumbs of enthusiasm that dropped from his table over the years. I love the game in little, charged bursts - like wodka shots - not for regular consumption but simply marvelous when you do indulge.

That many predicted the Dutch would lose tonight has only made the victory sweeter. I've decided for the purpose of this tournament to adopt the dutch team as the recipient of my effervescent and untiring support (save for spain, which is my favourite team - but we have to see how in form they are ) seeing as how I am happily living in their country and ofcourse how well they played today.

It was a very charged match - today's. (and oddly enough I was watching it with a bunch of italian supporters) and Holland played brilliantly, creating nice openings, some very nice plays, well executed passes, a good defense and atleast 2 beautiful goals. The italian team, reigning world champs, scrambled to find their footing let alone form.

Watching a good side , the side I support, win was in itself a great start to the tournament and a lovely end to a tiring day. What ensued as a result was surprising but vastly memorable. The first sign we had of it was after the first goal when we heard a thundering and banging that seemed much more real than something emanating from the t.v .. we hopped out onto our balcony only to see about 400 other people in all the neighbouring buildings, on their respective balconies, cheering wildly as they flung triumphant orange (ofcourse) toilet paper off into the sky and watched it stream down, drumming and blowing conch-like horns loud enough to wake the dead. They yelled when they saw us, lifting their beer mugs to meet ours with imaginary clinks.

After that, we realised that every time holland missed a goal (and we did narrowly a couple of times) we could literally hear the collective groans of an entire neighbourhood if we muted our t.v.. A sense of camaraderie grew and when Holland finally won, never has my neighbourhood been so alive.. People honked their horns, rang bells, thumped balcony walls - even set off fireworks if they could lay their hands on some.. A brilliant feeling.. Reminded me of how madras erupts when we win at cricket..

Rotterdam in the horizon is pretty enough with it's twinkly lights but tonight with all the fireworks, it was spectacular.

I simply love how sport makes us feel so passionately.

P.S : A little ditty that's so catchy - they play it a lot on t.v these days 'cos it's about holland's chances in the Euro and it's gotten totally under my skin.. Don't know if you can make it out because the song is in typical dutch sing-a-long style.. but many references to the players and coach ..

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When the plane lands, I will be truly alone. No one will know who I am. No one knows where I am. There is some strange allure in choosing solitude.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of Fears And Loathing...

For the longest time I wasn't quite cognizant of the fact that other newspapers existed. I imagined, that should people read the news, it was in English and that it was 'The Hindu' . Along the way, gradually dispensed with was the former notion. For in my regular trampings across such neighbourhood establishments as the grocers on village road, one was bound to get one's eggs or peanuts wrapped in that oh-so-familiar but really quite incomprehensible to me, tamizh print. The latter notion, as is rather the point of this narrative, proved more stubborn to banish.

Having grown up in Madras, I had never ever questioned the synonymity of the word 'newspaper' with 'The Hindu' . It was just one of those things. You could wake up on some idle Wednesday morning, all groggy, with your brain cells functioning just enough to remind you that you need to impress on your mother that you want the dosas to be crispy, only to find at that early hour, the front door wide open and your father pacing up and down the front hall, with a determined stride, muttering away. Stray words ( 'the imbeciles' perhaps ?) are just about discernible from under his breath. The moment he notices your presence he will exclaim, even if for the 15th time that morning, "Where is 'The Hindu' ?? Can you believe this.. It's 6.30 AM and no signs of it yet !! We ought to chuck these chaps!!" .

Should you dare to point out that he probably just woke up and cannot have been waiting that long, you are greeted with a scowl of such contempt, followed by an indignant "How is a man supposed to read the news... ". The tone of whose expression will, depending on how late the paper boy is, go from being righteous to indignant to injured to plain and simply pleading. In between these little outbursts, he will launch back into that pensive, purposeful stride in the vain hope that his beloved 'Hindu' will somehow materialise by sheer virtue of his loyal, heartfelt remonstrations . The quiet morning air is slightly heavier that day for the soft repetitive muttering of a disappointed man.

You have to understand however that it wasn't just my own family that held it in such high esteem as to allow their children to be deceived thus. It has probably been so for generations upon generations of proud madras- kaarange. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from, once you were settled in Madras, you read The Hindu. You may not have agreed with them all the time. Some may have thought they were a little too liberal and some convinced they were a tad conservative , but which ever way you leaned, you learnt to recognize very quickly that they were constant, by and large striving not to fall into those familiar pits of prejudice. All in all very solid and dependable dispensers of the news. So you read them. And let your children believe what they did.

Once I was old enough to care, I began to notice in my bi-annual travels to such 'journalistically distanced' places like Bangalore and Hyderabad, in my Uncle's house or the grandparents homestead that they didn't possess the good fortune of receiving this paragon of journalism into their homes. - I was positively shocked. "The Deccan what?? " I would ask in my cocky ignorance, quite sure that it couldn't possibly bear much merit. But since the deviance was observed only twice a year, I didn't think much of it once I was back home.

When I turned 14, my grandparents moved in with us for a certain length of time. For some reason that I do not recall, we started receiving 'The Indian Express' at home as well, probably at their request. One couldn't help but notice the glaring differences. To my mind, it occasioned the striking of reality´s blow - other newspapers did exist in madras and people apparently did subscribe to them.

Every 6 months thereafter, most faithfully, I would look to my dad to have what became a much repeated conversation thereafter about the circulation figures and market share and other sundry seemingly trivial details that served only to reaffirm my rather childlike faith that 'the hindu' was the best. Eventually when dad gently broke it to me that it was after all the 'The times of India' that was the largest selling English daily across India, I insisted with wide-eyed certainty that it must be that they didn't get 'The Hindu' and simply didn't know better.

Now the Indian Express is not a terrible paper, it isn't even a bad paper. But when you encountered such dogged loyalty, as the english-reading masses of Tamizh Nad who are bound to find any alternative ersatz, one must expect it to be consumed with the faint, bitter taste of disdain? And true to form for a long while, I refused to read it, wondering why anyone would spend time with a newspaper that wasted it's space on colourful pictures - what seemed to me at that time, a testimony of its need to capture readers that could not be attracted by the merit of it's content. This, my dear reader, was that glorious time that every madras-kaarar remembers nostalgically, when madras was not chennai, when it was a tucked away metropolis by day, asleep by 9:30 and up by 5, unaware of its own charm and still in possesion of a distinct, if slightly bourgeois identity. A time when an expensive coffee was to be had for 7 bucks at sangeetha and spencers didn't have stages, The time when the hindu was still black and white, wearing it's old, pre-revised,down to earth, I-am-substance avatar.

But the times, they were a-changing. Madras was opening herself up, slowly, unwittingly and rather indiscriminately as it turned out, embracing in its stride a certain tolerance that one could only imagine would be good for us. However, the vultures of new enterprise were lurking, ready to pounce, waiting to feed off our utter innocence, unwilling to leave a good thing for what it was. Naively, we were succumbing to the previously forbidden allure of racy commercialism, The Hindu held out as long as it could, eventually bending enough to keep ahead in the race but realising that just being a virtuous supplier of the news wasn't going to cut it anymore.

New supplements, many 'customer-friendly' additions and a colour edition didn't change the fact that Madras was gradually growing into being the complacent spouse, bored with her steady companion, flirting with the idea of dallying along on the side with the competition that caught her eye. The affair with the much established 'Indian Express' surfaced surely enough and though they didn't succeed in usurping The Hindu's hold, they became widely acknowledged as playing a strong second fiddle, spurring the hindu on to renewed efforts to rekindle our attentions and loyalty.

And so it remained for years, 'The Hindu' never really threatened even if often challenged. Until one fine day, crawling in from within the woodwork, came this young trashy little upstart. The journalistic equivalent of Paris Hilton. All glossy, Little evident substance. You've got to hand it to them though, with advertisements that were abound with sexual innuendo, they could only hope to sell to the new 'chennaiite' - The poor, displaced, probably IT type, who has just begun earning his daily bread and was barely interested in what was happening around him beyond who was spotted where and with whom, the kind of chappie or chappette for whom the chief consideration in the matter of choosing their newspaper was its entertainment value - The only ones, I imagined, that would be enticed by the ridiculous 99 Rupee subscription fee. ( DC has subsequently changed their advertising strategy to something much more 'family-friendly' - very smart move, because all said and done this is still Madras we are talking about)

Albeit amusing initially, I was growing quite alarmed as to how many of us were actually taking to it. Were we becoming a lazy city, whose interest could barely be held by content that was becoming too intellectual for what had become our 30 second attention span? That's when it occurred to me that perhaps this whole newspaper business was mirroring the way the whole city was changing..

Why this scorn you may ask? I can only say that it comes from a deep love for the people and culture of a city I was born and raised in. Madras has changed so much. Too much. The roads are just as potholed and the politics haven't changed since the sixties.. But in the last three years - something has come upon us all. Is it part of some bigger trend - We ARE changing as a country but it is never so visceral as when you come back to your city every 6 months - the changes hit you like a bolt of 220 volts on a wet day.

I went back last Christmas only to find a variety of new 'reader-friendly' supplements and other assorted, suspiciously tabloid-esque additions to the usual. They are so reader friendly they might has well have 'Dumbed down for your reading pleasure' printed on the top. I don't know if you recall, on the 1st of January this year the Indian Express had a photo front cover , it was full page, a picture of people wet and a broken stage with a screaming headline about the Savera TRAGEDY. Everything about it reeked tabloid in it's style and coverage. That it was not about a scantily clad celebrity just about redeemed it, yet somehow seeming like only the next step. And I won't even bother talking about what the DC coverage of that was like. Give me a break, are you actually telling us, that it was the most important news you needed to proclaim to the masses. Or perhaps you will claim that you are re-defining the term 'front-page news' . The hindu's front page on the other hand seemed sober and staid in comparison - something about the prime minister's message and militants in kashmir and Gaza. Clearly, the Indian Express won, seeing as I remember their front cover.

One cannot deny that we are increasingly becoming consumed with sensationalism as a reading public but I think the onus is on journalists, editors and reporters to attempt some semblance of balance, consciously endeavour to put things in perspective and keep the bullshit to a minimum even if you cannot actively crusade against the whoring of the hand that feeds you..

Or is the error mine, in the presumption that newspapers are meant to inform and educate. The bottom line, I now see, is that they are businesses. They need to sell. And what doesn't evolve, will die I suppose, especially in a society that seems desperate to keep up with rapidly increasing numbers of yuppies, and newspapers cannot help but cater to them - and so it happened that we can only digest our news if a liberal dose of entertainment is thrown on to the plate as well. But for heaven's sake whatever happened to journalistic integrity? Or doesn't it have any place in the face of cut-throat competition and circulation figures?

I will come back to India in five months. I just hope the situation isn't so entirely disgusting that I will stop reading newspapers altogether and turn to the Internet instead to avoid having to witness the fence that our society is precariously perched on and feel betrayed each morning by which side it seems to be falling over into. And I hope, at the very least The Hindu doesn't succumb by lowering it's standard, if it hasn't already.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

When I Stop To Think Of You, I See....

The picture of your exquisite neck
and the ebony tresses
carelessly tracing your waist

The picture of your painted toes
and epicurean hips
sprawled sensuously over my leather lounge

The picture of your limousine eyelashes
and the curve of your spine
curled gracefully in dreamless slumber

The picture of your caramel skin
and delicate fingers
crushing cigarettes into marble tops

The picture of your dissatisfied lips
and downcast eyes
staring vacantly into a tea cup

The picture of your sorry smile
and pointed heels
walking deliberately away from me

P.S : Admittedly, limousine eyelash is a stolen phrase.. But I just couldn't resist it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Sometimes, I worry about the kind of mother I might be. It's not something I like to dwell on. I'm too consumed by clinging to the last shreds of my own childhood for it to be a conscious stream of thought. But we are not islands and occasionally, I am situated by circumstance as a spectator to the tiniest acts of selflessness. That two such diametric emotions are so instinctively evoked by being their witness- warmth and fear- befuddles me. I'm immediately touched by the everyday-ness of the act, it's invisibility, it's insignificance to anything except that present moment, how one could have so easily chosen to do the easier thing, with no worry of guilt or consequence and yet choose otherwise - it never fails to warm my heart. Invariably, I've noticed, it is accompanied by a deep sense of fear, that in the same position, I may not have made that choice.

At some point of time, I think we've all had these images of ourselves as 'cool' parents. More often than not, they were reflections of the choices our parents made. Reaffirming what we liked and rejecting the mistakes we realised they made, unabashedly so certain, we told ourselves how we'd never do this or that, projecting so naturally our own often fleeting impressions onto our future offspring.

At 23, the age my best friend will get married and my cousin gave birth, I find myself letting these thoughts linger a little longer. I wonder if I'm part of a new generation that is on its way to being so self-absorbed that it will consciously reject parenthood and I wonder if that is a sign of it's weakness or strength. For my own part, I'm hopelessly stuck smack in between. The demons of biology and culture raise up a storm at the mere thought of never having children and yet I am worried by how much it will consume my life, what I will have to forego if that is the choice that I make.

For the most part I like to let these thoughts just stew on a back burner, but they seem to have this uncanny knack for sputtering up a little now and then, giving rise to a little panic and leaving me with something to ponder about. I've gone through phases of being absolutely sure I never wanted to have children and equally intense phases of being absolutely sure that it was an experience that I cannot have lived my life without. For the most part, I lean to the latter.

But I worry. That I will never measure up. That I will fall horribly short. That if my child won't stop crying after 24 hours of rocking for the fifth time in ten days, I might be so tired, I will want to give her up.. If my daughter is dyslexic, I might be too proud to see it. That I will drag my children to a tennis court whether they like it or not, because I'm so sure of myself.
That I might smack them in sheer frustration for just being children. That if my daughter told me she was gay, I would think I could talk her out of it or if my son brought home a girl covered in tattoos, I would tell him he could do much better. That I will find it hard to love them if they are not as quick or gifted as I would like them to be. And if they are, that I will be too involved. That I will not give them enough space. Or, that I'll over-compensate and give them too much space. That I will pretend to be perfect and they will see through me, That I will try to make their choices for them. That I will make the wrong choices. That I will be too self-involved to give of myself.. That I won't be able to let them learn from making mistakes, That I will forget what it is like to be young. That it could all overwhelm me so much that I will want to leave. Or worse yet, that I might get bored of them and just become indifferent.

But because I can't see these things anywhere on the horizon in the way my life looks right now, I can delude myself into believing that when the time comes, I'll magically be this incredibly secure, fully equipped, all wisdom installed, user-friendly , ready-to-go mother. To a certain extent, I believe it's true though. That in time, I will learn enough to make my guesses educated and my choices a little more informed, so even if I'm driving blind, I'll have developed ultrasonic hearing, good enough to feel my way through difficult situations and tough choices, however unfamiliar.

The thingamjig is, even if I get all the bigger things right, I doubt that I'll ever be able to do the things my mother did - Stand on a swelter-y summer evening in a furnace of a kitchen making dosas for an hour as my hungry fourteen year old polishes them all off and I have to eat day before yesterday's now stony idlis with last week's kootu - Remain calm as my week passes by in a blur of work, cooking and chauffering my kids everywhere - Put up with the adolescent tantrums and 'I hate you's with the dignity of a princess. Desist from laughing and manage a little sympathy when my pimply faced daughter refuses to go to school because she's embarrassed and all the millions of seemingly insignificant but wonderfully unselfish things that you do because you just know it's the right thing to do.

My mother has been my rock through everything in my life. She is the wisest, kindest, most beautiful person I've ever known and my relationship with her, always exceptionally close, has only become stronger over the last few years. She is just short of perfect in my mind. I couldn't have asked for a better mother. I, however, have been a very mediocre daughter. But I'm learning and hope to do much better in time. And she is the reason I want to have a child.. Because through all the doubt and fear, just the thought that I can share that kind of bond, to give everything of yourself, to feel deeply, intimately and inextricably connected to another human being, is an experience unlike any other and the prospect of which thrills me as much as it stupefies me. And I have been lucky enough to be able learn by example. Hopefully, someday, when I've disentangled enough of the mess, I'll be ready to be more like you Mama.

Friday, April 18, 2008


As rivulets of salty tears trace my laugh lines

You just stare.
You can't think of anything to say.
Do you even care?
Why does it always leave you this way?

Is rationality your own only recourse...
pragmatism your only friend?
What about touch and love and smiles?
Don't believe they can soothe, help to mend?

Or was it ill-timed, my temporary gloom?
Inconvenient for you perhaps?
Busy with something else?
Would you prefer if I re-scheduled?!

What were you thinking..
How did you just sit tight
and watch and not even try
to console me and tell me it would be alright
and that i shouldn't waste my tears and cry...
over what was probably spilt milk and trivialities

Why couldn't you see I was distraught
And just wrap your arm around my shoulder
instead of showering me with accusatory whys,
and preachy wherefores - thrown at me,
a veritable overdose of 'reality'.

Are your sensibilities that inept?
does my despair leave you cold?
Is it too much to ask?

Ha! But I presume!
I can't really know..
You will demand the benefit of doubt
and refute and remonstrate and vehemently insist
that I unfairly expect unexpressed desires and lip service

And I will beg to differ.