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 are..you 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!