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.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Winter Of Love.

There are times .. I want to hurt you so badly.
My face, stony and still, will greet yours - aflood with confusion,
and I will watch the love mix with the betrayal in that solitary tear that you will let fall.
I want you to feel the same pain you inflicted on me. Nay, worse.
And when, I will wear your mask of apathy, toss my head nonchalantly,
and leave.

Only to relent, turn around and rush to reassure you.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ode to the Woodlands

The tiled roof through which the sunlight streamed on a sultry june afternoon, the overgrowth, that had us as children convinced, ghosts surely abided in, the long gravel-ly driveway laden with the promise of crispy dosa, delicious bisi bela baath, and show-stopping coffee in those familiar chipped, white ceramic cups.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I grew up there. Mid-week treats were always 'idly-vada-pongal-dosa' at Woodlands. The children's playpen had this magical allure where rusted slides and creaky swings presented themselves only as the promise of endless hours in merriment. The memory of the ice cream man in his van - yes there used to be a mock van (or something) and the hideous outhouses for toilets are memories so opposite and yet somehow welded inextricably together, both equally doused in a fondness that can only mean real love.

Ever since I can remember, we went to Woodlands. It was our sunday evening ritual too, right up there with going to mass. When we got our first car, me and my brother would beg to be allowed to sit in the car and ask the food to be brought to us on those stainless steel trays that rested on the window, even if it meant being half eaten alive by those infernal mosquitoes that thrived in all the wooded overgrowth.

We always got special treatment there (which only meant the food came really quickly) because my dad, who would speak in kannada or tulu to the waiters had been coming there with my mother since they were dating -26 years. He knew most of the 'old-timers' as he called them, their stories - they would talk about family for a while , about home - udipi or mysore it was usually. And they would inquire about me and my brother like we weren't present.. And only acknowledge us with a soft-spoken parting in kannada , so invariable that I could mimic it's every cadence- study well, be good children. And it would always make us grin - it seemed like something absurd to us.

As I grew older, it started to become much less of a family event, shaken off with all the rest, in a desire to be more independent. But it was still where I let my dad take me for breakfast every tuesday and friday morning, after the crazy 5:30 AM IIT coaching class and before dropping me off at Stella. Lovely conversations about everything and nothing over hot puris and brilliant pongal. We had our little ritual - Chat until we finished our food and over coffee we'd read the newspaper - just the two of us and it was always so quiet and tranquil at that time of the morning. The joggers having consumed their coffees and yacked, usually had dispersed and we mostly had the place to ourselves. It didn't seem particularly remarkable then. It was all just so matter of fact. But now when I think about Woodlands, that is one of the most vivid images that I can recall - so it certainly meant a lot, even if we were unconscious of it then.

Being in Stella for three years naturally meant that we considered it an extension of our campus (minus the nuns) - along with gangotree, sathyam, shirdi and spencer's ofcourse. Friendships cemented over six rupee coffees. My best friend and I would spend hours talking about everything - books, politics, cosmology and calculus, at those rickety tables, earnest , bright-eyed and broke, often sharing just one coffee between us - or in the summer a 'cool drink' before we teared ourselves away to that reluctant half an hour of a walk home.

I shared a special association of the place with nearly every body I cared about - My family, my dad in particular, my best friends and later - a boy I fell in love with. I remember the exact table we were sitting in when he first held my hand, the people around us that I imagined must surely be staring at us, I remember the damn cat which rubbed up against my leg making me jump in fear and his consequent amusement. I remember looking around nervously to see if anybody I knew was around.. We went there all the time - early enough for breakfast, most often for lunch, saturday afternoon tiffin ... even though it was often in mortal dread that the waiters would recognize me and let something slip to my folks... It became 'our place'.

And now to think that it is to be no more.. More's the pity! Well I just hope it's open long enough so when I come back, I can have atleast one last tete-a-tete, a cup of coffee or two and say my goodbyes to one of my favourite little corners of the city.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Today's the day that validated the last three months. It's the day that I live for.

I felt myself again - like I'd awoken from a deep sleep completely refreshed.

My mind was working. My curiosity in full attendance. My thoughts racing. Alive.

I felt so gloriously alone, I wanted to scream it from my 17th floor balcony.

A deep, moving 'fuck everybody else' resonated with every fibre in my body.

I felt like Howard Roarke and Larry Darrell in one rather cocky female package.

I felt strong and completely in control.

I felt like I didn't need ANYONE.

That the silence didn't deafen me.

I felt adrenaline and serotonin racing each other in my brain.

I felt unafraid, that I could take anything that life could throw at me and as I type it now a flicker of fear passes through me, that ' what if', should I be tested and fail miserably... but it's tomorrow already. And yesterday still holds.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


I was thinking of you just a few days ago Chubby. Wondering what you were upto, what your plans were. If you were going to the U.S.. I was sure it was something interesting..

It's too bad I didn't know you better. You were always there, one of the crowd of 'kids' my brother hung out with, too soft to be heard but impossible to ignore. You had such a quiet sense of confidence about you. And the loveliest smile. Your earnest eyes sparkled behind those tiny frames you wore - I remember that really well. You had the gentlest of manners, so polite and respectful - we could all have learned a thing or two from you.

Calm and so very intelligent too, I remember thinking every now and then how lucky my brother was to have you around. I haven't spoken to you in two years and the last time I saw you I could only think how little you'd changed since school and how nice that was. None of the boyish immaturity about you- I wish I had known you better. I was so completely and utterly shaken when my brother told me this afternoon.I can't seem to internalize it.. How completely unfair life is, how fragile , how fleeting, how tragic.

Everyone you came across was touched by the wonderful person you were and you will be missed so very much by all of us that were lucky enough to know you.

You will always be in my thoughts and your family in my prayers. Rest in peace.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is not profound. Neither is it particularly revelatory. Or subtle. That the New York Times had to say this about it ("It’s a story about ethics and their absence, a slow-to-boil requiem for American decency") speaks only that George Clooney is a much loved poster-boy, who will readily raise his sword in a portrayal of the eternal and ever-so-romanticized struggle between conscience and materialism.

There is no denying ofcourse that Clooney is anything but a wonderful actor. But with this movie, it almost feels like he's falling into a sort of stereotype - the guy that carries the weight of the world, keeps its secrets and determinedly fights for justice.

The movie is dark and grey and haphazard in what I can only imagine is expected to aid in keeping the mystery alive. But beyond the surface, there really is no strong, compelling point. The focus is diffused which is a nice way of saying that the sequence of events aside, there is no emphasis, it's just all over the place. There is but a cursory glance at the issue causing all the controversy which is only the excuse for all the ensuing big bucks struggle and drama.. And If you skim over all the exciting conspiracy of it all (something in every fifth american movie), the equally oft portrayal and indictment of corporate greed, you find yourself in possession of a strong notion that the whole thing is just a trifle too contrived.

Piercing eyes and determined looks aside, Clooney looked out of place as 'the fixer' - a little too suave for someone supposed to do all the dirty work. If this story was all about Michael Clayton the man then it was barely held together - His gambling problems and a few 'compelling' father-son scenes didn't do it justice and couldn't have been any less subtle if they had a running subtitle that said 'we're trying to show you his life outside of the work he does'.

All in all, if you watch the movie, you will definitely be distracted for a few hours, perhaps even quite entertained.. and if that is all they were going for, it's fine (Oceans's 11, 12, and 13 - cases in point - all very entertaining) But if you watch this after hearing about how wonderful a movie it is, one of the best of the year etc. etc. you can't help but scream.. because there is nothing original about it, and nothing that merits all the praise and attention it's been getting. George can do a lot better.