Monday, December 29, 2008

The carnivores

Dad took me to the meat market for a bit of Christmas shopping. We headed past the fish vendors and stopped at the stall selling mutton.

There were three headless carcasses hanging from their hooks, cleaned and ready for the pot. Dad pointed out the piece he wanted and explained how I ought to buy meat. “Look for this… This is how it shouldn’t be… If it’s this colour, the meat is old,” bla bla bla. While the man chopped up our meat into the size required, my eyes roved around. I couldn’t see too far over the counter without my head touching the meat, so I peered as much as I could. I saw three goats squashed in a corner, waiting to be slaughtered. They looked frightened, and I’m still glad we didn’t buy any of them. One of the two men in the stall was cleaning a fresh carcass. I couldn’t see the carcass, but I tried identifying what he was cleaning. It looked to me like the intestines were being washed and what came out of it wasn’t a very pretty sight.

They were chatting animatedly, the two men behind the counter - one chopping meat, the other cleaning the carcass. I turned to my right. Two goat heads stared at me mid-air. I looked to my left. There on the floor outside the next stall were three heads. The unseeing eyes stared right back, their bodies now on a hook or on someone’s plate. “They eat everything,” dad had said, when I asked about the intestines.

What about the men who killed for a living? How did it feel? Was it something they were forced to do, or did they choose the occupation? Was it a family business? Blood-covered hands and feet, lives passing through your hands every day, people bargaining for lifeless bodies, the aim of the game to break the toughest bone, to be desensitized to blood all day… How different is it from the man in the meat market, standing in his dirty slippers and chopping meat with his hands, reeking of a fresh kill all day every day to the man in the supermarket with his buttoned-up shirt daubed in cologne selling meat cubes in small packets? It’s the same meat, the same end, the same beginning. But it’s a different price. For everyone.

For a second, I could imagine why some people turned vegetarian and those who’ve always been so aren’t ready to try meat. In the helter skelter of world business, not much thought goes to those most affected, the lowest rung of society. It’s a squeeze-the-most-of-the-lemon business. And it forces you to turn a blind eye to everything else. But what binds the vegetarians and non-vegetarians in a blood-thirsty fight is the greedy hunger for money that surpasses all culinary or spiritual divides. It doesn’t matter that my local farmer dies a slow death because the middle man pays him two bucks for what I pay the supermarket 16 green ones. I couldn’t care that my world is falling into environmental extinction because I’m too lazy to get a pollution check done. How does it matter that I take my vehicle to the nearby store because I can’t be seen walking? My status is everything. I don’t give a damn that the leper outside my door is dying from starvation more than sickness because I’m too busy making millions. My diamonds, my cash, my jewellery, my cars, my clothes, my furs, my extravagant soirees, and posh vacations are more important than anything else. It doesn’t strike me that my delectable mutton korma garnished with fresh herbs spilled blood on a dirty knife held by an innocent man. The guilt hangs over my head, not his.

Four eyes from two hanging heads almost laughed back. Where the greedy go, there is no salvation. I had learnt my Christmas message from two heads of meat.

Dad paid the man for two kilos of mutton and some chops. We headed down to the fish market and whetted our carnivorous desires. As we headed out of the market, I glanced at the mutton stall again. There were now three heads hanging from the hooks, and the man who spilled the blood suddenly looked very clean to me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas carol

I received two CDs in the mail the other day. One said - Christmas Classics, Various Artists.

It slid smoothly into the player and the familiar sounds of Christmas jingled through the room. I was alone, the walls were bare, the temperature soaring and the refridgerator empty. My walk in the evening the previous day was just as sombre - no lights, no stars, no cribs. It's nearly December 15, and time for that Christmas feeling. That tingly, goosebumpy feeling you get when you want to love everyone and wish them a 'Merry Christmas'. That heart-tightening emotion when you give to someone needy and see a different kind of joy on their faces. That happy new-curtains-and-cushion-covers, family time feeling that you wish you felt all year through.

I could see Frosty running by the traffic cop across the streets with the Jackson 5. I wanted to get up and paint Christmas trees on the walls, make baubles and hang mistletoe and holly from the door-posts and imagine the fridge full of Christmas goodies. There was a longing urge to wrap presents and scribble 'Love, Santa' on handmade cards.

I sat on the floor, closed my eyes and sang out loud to every song I knew. I've never seen fire in a hearth or smelled acorns popping. I've never seen snow or reindeer, or eaten turkey for Christmas dinner. But I imagined it all - the sound of crackling fire, the pop of acorns, the taste of turkey, a belled reindeer and the cuddly warmth of a Christmas hug right after freezing your fingers off while building the snowman.

On my errand that evening, I was fuelled back into a world without stars and trees and cribs. It was a cold world, so 'unChristmasy', and unfestive, an every day world of pollution and chaos. I turned down a back road to avoid getting run over by office-goers. And there through Metallica from my earphones I heard 'Feliz Navidad'. A group of carollers were carolling in a house garden. Passers-by stared as I peeped through the fencing like a street urchin at the store window. The words flew from my mouth and soon I was singing with gusto.

They didn't hear me, they didn't ask me to join in and then come in for a cup of tea. But as I left, hearing the strains fade away with wind, my step was lighter and my mind happier. I couldn't wish for a better time, a time of advent, the Christ-child was coming and we would be together as a family for the best time of the year.

So I'm singing, "I'll be home for Christmas"...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What not to do at the Mysore Dasara

Dripping wet with sweat, sweet sugarcane juice on your tongue and the throng of thousands all around. The Mysore Dasara isn’t just a parade of elephants and the Chamundeshwari goddess. It’s a show of cultural splendour, and to be bang in the center of it all is something you wouldn’t want to miss.
People from across the country come in droves to be a part of the festivities and to witness the famous jumbo savari. It’s a time to knock shoulders with your country brethren and feel the spirit of Dasara.

Still, to be a part of this joyous occasion, there are some things you really mustn't do.

Booking: Don't ever be the last to book, either your tickets or your hotel room. There's no way you want to land up in Mysore without a place to stay. People book well in advance, so if you want to get a good hotel room, call in early. You might even get a bargain.

Try too hard: Don't bother with tickets for the street parade. Just go early and plant yourself at a good spot on the sidewalk. Carry a bottle of water and munchies and you're geared up for the 2 hour walk-by. The parade has bits of many things - from folk musicians and dancers in their colourful costumes drumming their hearts out with every beat, to floats with social messages.
Acrobats performing the peculiar kannadiga routine of dancing with a masthead on their heads and climbing a tall ladder without dropping it. Your mouth will drop at the sight of the royal elephants bearing the Mayor and the Devi, draped in kingly purple robes and adorned with colourful patterns. It's a great time for the army too. Latest defence weaponry and proud men sit astride their tanks soaking in well-deserved glory.

Pack too much in one bag: Security is tight at the torchlight parade, so to avoid getting frisked everytime a copper spots you, don't put too much in your back-pack. Just throw in a sweatshirt (the nights could get chilly), something to munch on, a bottle of water and your tickets. It's all we needed to enjoy the nerve-wracking daredevil display. They were truly amazing.

The palace: Whatever you do, don't miss the palace - the one thing you go to Mysore for. It's a creamy melange of royal purple and rich off-white. The Islamic touch to the architecture is accentuated by the domes, cherry-like on butterscotch towers. And later at dusk when the lights come on, it's a gem with a million facets each twinkling in golden splendour. You can't stop looking at it.

Trust people: As much as you'd like to believe in the goodness of all humanity, don't. People aren't as they used to be in 'the good ole days'. Unless travelling penniless and singing for your dinner are your ways to enjoy the Dussehra, hold on to your wallets. Your vacation really does depend on it.
Rickshawwallas in Mysore don't seem to understand the meter system either. They will charge you a ridiculous amount for a very short distance. I suppose a bit of haggling will be in order.

Public transport: Chuck the rickshaws and the horse-cart and jump onto a public bus. Conductors roam the bus-station selling daily passes. For Rs 30, it's not a bad idea to travel where you want, when you want. The government made it cheap to travel in comfort with a Rs 10 to anywhere by Volvo for the nine festival days. Bus conductors and passengers are very willing to tell you where your stop is if you make a sufficiently confused-tourist face.

Food: You shouldn't roam the whole of Mysore looking for posh places to eat. The idli-vada at the inter-city bus station is soft, white and perfect. Have it steaming hot with sambar, chutney and very sweet coffee at the self-service restaurant. Their dosas aren't that bad either. If you insist on high-street meals, try Hotel Parklane and the rooftop restaurant next to it. I couldn't vouch for them, though. I had no money to try them out. Most of these restaurants are within walking distance from the palace, spotting the area around the clock tower.
You can't leave Mysore without gorging on Hotel RRR biryani. They serve meals there too, but judging by the number of people with biryani on their banana leaves, there's certainly something to it. There's a waiting list, but don't worry. Sit where you find place. So what if you're sharing the table with a family from half-way across India? That's the fun. You can see what they're eating (out the corner of your eye, of course), and eavesdrop on their conversation (if you understand the language). Partake in their Dussehra dinner!

Go only for Dussehra: No, there's more to see than the parade and the palace. Spend sometime with the wild at the zoo. They've got the only gorilla in the country (so says the signpost) and the chimp will entertain you with his antics. You might be lucky to witness the peacock boast his beauty in the pen, or the free bird fly into a tree nearby. Loads of visitors ignore the signs, but do point out the 'Do not tease or feed the animals' board to them. It's time we learned to grow up.
Chamundi Hills is another place you should visit, with its temple and famed sunset sights. Romantic, you think?
Despite being a little way off from the city, Vrindavan Gardens is something you cannot miss. It's clean, for one. And when the lights come on at 7pm, they light up the reds and greens, yellows, and blues and purples while the sound of gushing fountain water simply adds to that breathtaking feeling. Loads of stalls sell what-nots, and you'll get a decent fruit salad and boiled egg. Avoid the fried fish, though. It's dripping oil.
Top off your trip with some quiet time at St Philomena's church. It isn't old. But it's majestic, defined by tall spires in brown stone styled with strong Gothic influence and a make-shift catacomb tomb housing a relic of the saint. Names of the faithful are inscribed along the walls of the catacomb in black stone.

So when you've had your fill of quiet spirituality and overwhelming devotion, colourful Yakshagana troupes and mighty royal elephants, gardens, hills and food, you will know it is time to leave. Only to come back again, next year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I love the sound of home

I waited days for it. And still couldn't believe it was coming. Dad kept sending messages - docket number so-and-so, dated so-and-so, weight so-and-so - and a litany of instructions on connections and the mysteries of electronic equipment.

Yet, on the 28th, I went to the ATM and withdrew some money. And waited on the edge of my seat on the 29th, subbing stories mechanically till the call from security came in. Three parcels, 21 kgs in all. I couldn't wait to rip them open and set it up. And when Vikas, Namitha and I carried them home, thoughts ran through - 'If anything's wrong with it, I'll never forgive myself for letting it lie with security for so long'.

Smooth, black and shiny. Amp, speaker, speaker. Wires. I'm challenged here with no idea what goes where. I've carried dad's little instruction sheet with me. Despite the funny names and elaborate explanation, I still had to call him at least 5 times before anything looked remotely connected. I had to wait hours before I could hear anything. We went shopping for the missing cable, Vikas and I.

In the auto, I cried a little. For dad to send a custom-built XX grand music system just so I could listen to good music, something had to be wrong somewhere. Or right. Maybe the fact that it cost more than I earn made it look so sanctified. How was I going to repay him, not in cash, but in a way he felt what he did was amazing? Yes, I would listen to music everyday; I did that at home and I love doing it. I will keep it clean and safe; and I am, if not completely, but just a little possessive about it. That doesn't seem enough. How do I do enough to mean "Thanks. I love you"?

I came home after dance class that day, plugged in my player and listened. It doesn't matter what I listened to, but I do remember Metallica, Elton John, and Eric Clapton (not in that order). I sat on the floor near the shoes, in the heat because our hall has no fan, hugged my knees because I missed my home. And then I closed my eyes and heard the same sounds I hear at home, the same timbre and volume, depth and quality I live with at home. I realized I wasn't too far away.

My family sent me something that can bring me home in a flick of a switch. I couldn't ask for anything more. Not now, not ever. Thank you, daddy!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Sunny smiles and coffee cups
Purple wild flowers along winding roads
Hot pakoras with steaming tea
And a practising mouth organ from an inner room

Flip flops and shorts cursing the muck
Wet faces in raincoat hoods drinking
Tear drops from trees
While we help to make the evening meal,
A sing-along in raucous chorus

Grandpa's chair lies empty in the balcao
No one can take his place
We remember, never miss
Futile attempt: bringing back the dead
The laughter shows they never were

Feni? Of course. One kop will do you good
Fresh stock vs seasoned smells
The debate goes on
Just like the one about politicians
Badkars and mundkars

Of green fields and open spaces
Tree-lined roads and happy faces
A reminiscent trip into the past
The circle of life; an abyssmal fate
Once again, it's far too late.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Being deep

A silent self-loathing
A love-hate relationship with myself
A testing of new waters
A hope of new endeavours
This is (selfishly) about me.

My life, my hurt
My pain and my joy
An umbilical chord with my family
Parents I warred against
A brother I want to die for.

An obsessive desire for independence
An ache for 'true' liberty
Swallowed by dreams for a homeland dispossessed
Her rape is mine
Of sun, sand and sea.

Shut the Pandora's Box of life
There are others worse of than me.
Surface the quiet desire to be hurt far, far more
To render me strong
And unyielding.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A surprise visit

This is a funny place for a restaurant. Oh well, Mangalore's a quaint place anyway. Upstairs.

Huh?!? No way. I'm not going to the doctor. That's ridiculous. One silly cold that refuses to part with me and you behave like I'm dying? You can't do this to me. Why didn't you tell me; I could have at least prepared myself - the wait outside, the sick, the questions, plastic smile, thanks a lot doc.

Fine. I'll shut up. Won't talk. Ever. Half-wet from the rain. Probably get a cold for this and nothing else. What about dinner, huh? Bare feet on cold tiles. I'm not used to that anymore. Yea, yea, we can keep the raincoats anywhere. Not outside, you idiot! Under my chair.

There's that hospital smell again. Reminds me of grandpa's death. One day I see him, unable to talk, but still there, invincible. The spot of blood on the floor. Next day, he's gone. Just dead. Looked like he was sleeping. Except for the smell of phenol. And then Nan's operation. Different hospital. Same bloody smell. Fist-sized malignant tumour and 50% chance.

Annoying kid. Hospitals are meant to be quiet. Why are you looking at me like that? Freak, yea, I know. Most everyone thinks so anyway. Don't give a damn shit. Go play skipping tiles. Wish I was a kid again. No worries. I only ever come to the doctor with Mum. I never know what to tell a doctor. And anyway, Bhatkuly is a family doctor. Deep fatherly voice - "Hellooo0, Dielle isn't it?"

Mai-gaa-bla bla. Medicine names in Hindi. Weird. I wonder what he keeps in that fridge. Home pregnancy tests? I should ask him for one. Loudly. Just to see the reaction. When we went to buy one for her, the guy at Spencer's never flinched. Good. I like that. What's their problem what people do with their lives anyway.

Next, me? Finally. Hmph. Message. Jesh! He better get me in Battle of the Bands for free. I better delete all these old ones, and those phone numbers I don't need. I hate waiting at the doctor's. No ants to follow here either. Just great.

Arthritis? She's so young, what 45, and she's got arthritis. Shit! She better hurry up. I'm sick of waiting here.

Ha, good. "I suffer from a constant cold. I'd been to a homeopath and she told me I had sinusitis, but I never finished the treatment, so it's kinda stuck with me I guess.

"No, no. No fever. The whole sneezing fit I used to get in the mornings has gone too. Occasionally, yea, but otherwise I'm fine."

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Same bloody shit. Sinusitus. Pharynx something. Mild inflammation of the left tonsil. Where the hell did those two come from? Whatever. Back in 7 days, a whole truck load of medecines to take.

"Not studying, I'm working. With P.... A.......... at Mphasis. Not Infosys. Mphasis. I work with a newswire agency." Or so, I like to call it.

Pink and white. White. Blue plastic. Syrup. Stop, enough. Morning, afternoon, night. Morning, night. Night. Forgotten already. S'okay. Wow. A whole month's 10 buck lunch. On pills. I feel like a junkie. Only there's no high.

I still owe him a cake and dinner. Even though he said it's cool. Poor guy. I really make him suffer. Thanks. I wish I could wipe that face off him. It's horrid when he puts it on. I don't like it when he's mad, or upset. I don't like it when anyone's mad or upset. What am I supposed to say? Sorry? It's been said so many times before. But I really do mean it.

Wishful memory

I'd like to be a memory. A nice one, one that is remembered with fondness, leaving a little ache where I'm missing.

I dreamt of my funeral - lots of people, open casket. As I've always instructed, no black allowed. I want bright colours. I want lots of "Remember?". White flowers, but no roses. I can't smell them. And a party for afters. Where everyone can eat resois, just like I ate at grandpa's funeral. He is the perfect memory. "When you're in my house, you can do whatever you want." Sock slide across the floor, eat in the bedroom and feed the fishes until we eventually killed them (though he didn't endorse that).

I don't want pictures anywhere. I want them in people's minds. With Eric Clapton as my background score - Tears in Heaven. And then, Metallica's Nothing Else Matters as my message to Jonathan. I requested that song for his 21st birthday. We heard it at home on Worldspace. They said his name and mine, and they got the pronounciation right. I was so happy I stopped eating.

Finally, only family. Every last member together at the beach. The sunset and the shack. Shorts and slippers and chutney sandwiches. The salty breeze whipping around. U Rui and his piano, U Bosco and his mouth organ, the bongos and one of the kids shaking the tambourine as they run across the sand laughing. A strumming guitar and beautiful voices, a little tipsy and getting higher, singing songs I know and those I don't. And A Queenie's soulful Ave Maria, a prayer for me.

And I will sing with you. In the breeze, the clouds, the whispering sands, the trembling leaves. I will sing, and never be scared again.

Do not miss. Remember.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My first love

He could have raped me and torn me, so I could hate him.

He could have been there for me and kissed me, so I could love him.

But he loved me and left me, so I ache for him.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In the depths...

Blank your mind out. Completely devoid of emotion. Think yourself friendless in a hostile world. Believe you can do nothing right, that anything you do is flawed. You are Flaw.

Dust the cobwebs from the corners of your memory. The past means nothing. Feel abandoned by your family and used by friends. Love is hopelessness; a complete and utter tragedy. Distance is perfect.

Refuse to cry. Think of a burial in an empty yard - a simple mound with a marble cross. No tears, no goodbyes, no rememberances. Discover how much it means to be spurned by all.

Remember the groups of laughing friends as you stood watching from the shadows. The pain at being the only one, the heartache of emotional failure. Surrender yourself to sorrow.

When you hate yourself this much, remember Sigmund Freud. There is the real self and the ideal self. Try as hard as you can to meet the ideal, even though you know it is impossible. If you think you can meet the ideal, make it impossible. Fight back from the depths despite the miserable knowledge that it is your fate. With the power of an Infinite Grace, defend your soul from the most cowardly notion - giving in. Paradoxically, succumb to a will to fight.

If you must go down, go down fighting. With all your heart, soul, mind and body.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thoda think, please..

Vikas and Namitha want me to learn Hindi. Why the choice of Bollywood where there's more Hinglish than anything else beats me. I tagged along for fun!

Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic seemed like a teenage meal - too many rights make a wrong. I began to see allusions from the start. It was a terrible imitation of Mary Poppins. The magical nanny who befriends all and helps them see the light, the little kids who want to do things their way and the uptight father figure who needs breaking in.

There was a Morgan Freeman'esque' God replete with the white suit and common man persona. And the birthday party just had to be a trip to the museum where things come to life a la Night At The Museum. Oh, were they thinking of The Fast and The Furious series with the speeding taxi and the scene where the parents die?

The same 'gyan' about forgiveness and loving is spewed in high flung Hindi; probably the only scenes where Hindi is spoken fluently. The song they keep playing in the cafetaria (naturally the one with the least clothes on) sticks out like a sore thumb. Little animated figures keep popping up everywhere - from poop dropping gulls to ninja spiders and trigger happy lobsters. It jerks you out of your slumber to wonder whether you sleep-walked into Screen 3 instead.

The movie is not worth a visit to the theatre and if you really want to find out, rent it out. That way you can crib as much as you like, take your smokes as soon as the craving arises, and watch it in 10 minute bits. Fast forward the songs and keep another movie at hand. Be bored.

Monday, June 30, 2008

With your head in the clouds

My eyes wanted to pop, and my sinus was overwhelmingly excited. I couldn't see 10 feet away. The rain, whipping in from all sides, drenched me; my umbrella useless. From 4,000 ft above sea level, it was nearest to feeling like I was in heaven.

Talacauvery is the sedentary man's nightmare. Roads wind on and on for two hours, the monotony of the bus engine and the giddy curves make your stomach squeamish. The unfortunate who do not grab a seat when they get the first chance have to hang on to whatever they can find, and hurry to a window as soon as their stomach speaks.

The temple architecture at Talacauvery is simple, full of planes, made of a stone that felt like rough granite. Ganapati, an avatar of Shiva and Cauvery - the resident deities - watch as devotee upon devotee brave the weather to pay them homage. Remembering the auto driver's words about the wildlife, stealing a quick glance every few minutes to check for tigers is not uncommon. It's useless. The fog is too thick and the rain too heavy.

Do we leave, or do we stay? It is freezing cold and we are wet from the rain.

The place is serene.

There are the 400-odd steps to climb to the top for a breathtaking view.

We have a bus to catch.

298. 299. 300. It's time to go. Turn back and keep the job. Carry on and miss the bus.

Turn back it is!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The 3 mistakes of my life

It was a flash back to 'Five Point Someone' - the little known young man, two inseperable friends, and the ever-present unattainable woman.

The situation, this time more serious, paved the way to a look other than those we saw in the magazines. The earthquake in Godhra, and the riots in Ahmedabad feature here, but Chetan Bhagat brings the small-town businessman with a big-town dream to the front. It sounds cliched; perhaps it is. As for the allusions to 'Five Point Someone', well, Govind is Hari, Omi resembles Alok (albeit in a small way) and Ishaan is Ryan.

The magnitude of the problems here is greater than in Five Point: no stuck-up prof to deal with, wailing mother to support, or hurt ego to soothe. Communal clashes and the cricket frenzy make big points. As with his previous book, there are lessons to learn. Friends seem to be a big deal to Bhagat. There's a black spot on the best of friends, and you tend to miss his lesson to overlook the flaws and live with them since it's been done before. You hear the nagging voice of an old lady and read the book for the story.

Despite a few tugs at your heart strings during the riots, there isn't an overdose of sentiment. Bells ring when there's a mention of booking tickets on the S6 bogie of the Sabarmati Express or when Govind wakes to the shaking of the earth and runs to find his new store razed to the ground. You sympathise for a while and then carry on. After all, life has carried on, and with it the scars remain. Deaths will be remembered, friendships lost and hopefully won.

Like Five Point, it's a quick read. You sometimes know what to expect, at other times you don't. Chetan Bhagat doesn't want to be the world's most admired author (as he says in the preface), but the most loved. We'll have to wait and see, won't we?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ponnappa - A 'brush' with fame

The house looks modern from the outside - one of those cosy villa sets with a little garden and small car park. The man is comfortably dressed in a blue kurta and jeans; his wife in semi-casuals; and both very warm and friendly. At first glance, Prakash Ponnappa brings back memories of Veerappan - the handle bar mustache, slight figure, and intelligent mind. But on second thought wipes away all trace of the notorious man, and replaces it with fun, creativity, and talent.

Ponnappa, a Coorgi, has made Goa his home for a while now, and over the years has transformed his house into a quaint lesson in history and passion. It is filled with little knick-knacks collected from various places and people, going back generations. Right from his door step, antiques and paintings are juxtaposed with every day items, not in-the-face, but sufficiently interesting to make one stop and take notice. He picks up the mouthpiece of an old telephone near the entrance, the kind one sees in a Laurel and Hardy movie, and shows you that it can still work. All it needs is the connection to the telephone line.

The walls of his living room house three guns, all crafted from wood by the man himself. They are exact replicas of the original ones and have been borrowed time and again by directors of Bollywood movies for use in their films. Along one wall, rests a showcase with myriad things from the world over. It's a museum in a museum, a place to learn history through stories, little jaunts, and accidents.

The most beautiful of things by far, in his house, are his paintings. They come alive in a riot of colour, the subtle wash of emotions, and the faint scratch of a pencil sketch. His attention to detail is breathtakingly wondrous, with every tile on every floor, the slat of every blind, the hair on every coat of fur coming alive in each painting. His favourite, says Jessica his wife of nearly 50 years, is the painting of a tiger his son's bedroom. Its eyes scream in a mixture of fear and anger, the roar almost heard through the dark cavity of its mouth, and its resilience reiterated in the fangs that pierce the background.

Ponnappa's light side steps into his w/c too, where he has neatly stuck colourful go-go flowers along the wall of the shower stall right onto the toilet seat! A neat photo album is made on their ironing board - pictures of their son, and daughter with her family pasted on the board that slides down when the time comes....

A little personal collection of lamps that can still be used line the stairway to the first floor, and cuckoo clocks find their niche on the walls. He brings out an old view finder, not the silly plastic ones we find today. Ponnappa's is made of wood and takes you back centuries. The 1800s and early 1900s jump back in 3D through the adjustable lens. The case for the view finder frames is another interesting addition. It resembles a couple of old leather bound books stuck together. Lain on its side, it reveals a collection of beautiful frames showing pictures of the old Western societies.

Ponnappa isn't the only one in his family who have a claim to fame. His daughter took part in the Femina Mrs India contest. And the bikes you see in the Bollywood movie Dhoom? Well, they belong to his son Zubin, and so do the stunts in the same movie....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Neonate: For T.S. Saldanha (Feb 22, 2007)


And jet-lagged.


Cleaned and tagged.


To kisses-

Sloppy tongues

Of Mr. and Mrs.


Prodded and poked


Of emotions evoked


Curious and happy


Thinking, “Life’s crabby”.


Protected, possessed


Independent, distressed.


‘Infected Mushroom’.


The shapes that loom.

Suddenly, a smell that hovers

Comforting, dispelling bother

Tuned to every need

The nametag spells 'MOTHER'

The Neonate Part II March 5, 2007

Welcome, to the world

Of the living dead

To a world over-anxious,

Underpaid and over-fed.

To a life that’s worth living

Not even in a womb

Everyone, everywhere is

In a personalized cocoon.

A dreary, bleak

And selfish world

Say ‘hello’ to the Butcher,

Baker and Churl.

To the psychos and nymphos

To a race of greed

To the sadists and hunters

That wait to see you bleed

Until you turn back with a vengeance

Revenge all you want to get

When lying dead at your feet

You realize their mission is what you just met.

Curses and mires

The world up in flames

Scaled models and toys

To play their deadly games

All alone and confused

Through this world you must grope

Till for peace and tranquility

With Death you will elope.

The historical town of Srirangapatnam

It was nearly 6 am as I struggled to pull on my socks, hop into my jeans and run for the bus. I half-walked, half-ran to the stop 600 meters away, and despite waking up ‘on time’, still had to sprint for the rickety bus.

The long weekend held nothing very interesting in store, and my bank account ensured that a vacation to Ooty was not on the cards. I’d heard from a couple of people that Srirangapatnam was an interesting place to visit, and history having been one of the more engrossing subjects in school just gave this weekend a ‘Srirangapatnam feel’.

Buses frequently ply from KempeGowda bus stand in the center of Bangalore city, and any one heading for Mysore will give you a chance to step off at Srirangapatnam. However, my insti being situated about 20 odd kilometers away from Bangalore made a multiple bus journey necessary. So to Bidadi it was, and then on to Srirangapatnam. Public transport in Bangalore is cheap, and so are the intercity buses.

The sign welcoming tourists to the town says ‘Welcome to the historical city of Srirangapatnam’. True to this, the town offers many sites with little stories of their own, and Tipu Sultan, one of India’s fiercest fighters, stands narrator of nearly every one of them. The entrance to the town has remained the same since Tipu ruled in the late 1700s. The cool stones that make up the massive fort entrance give you respite from the relentless April sun and not even half a minute’s walk will go by before you reach the first of the sign boards directing you to the many sites you must visit on your trip.

If your intention is to spend the day in Srirangaptnam and you are one of those either entirely broke or with a passion for walking in the heat, it is possible to visit almost all monuments on foot. They are all located within 2 kilometers of each other, but in all one might do a good 15 kilometers worth of walking around the historical city.

Let the guides not fool you, especially at the Jamma Masjid; they tell you things that are common to most masjids dating back several centuries. The masjid in Srirangapatnam was used by the ruler of the time (Tipu) who happened to be a rather devout man. It currently runs as a madrasa for young Muslim boys learning the Koran. There is a sundial on the first floor, the needle of which was apparently stolen by the British. The interesting thing about the masjid is that it has Hindu motifs on the top of the towers. A 150 odd steps lead to the top of the towers which are now closed due to the crumbling stairways. Pigeons nest in the holes along the towers, used by Tipu as his personal postal service.

The guide will point out the black hill across, the watch tower a furlong away, and the graves of Tipu’s guru and his family in the masjid courtyard, all of which you can do by yourself besides taking in the appetizing aroma of cooking mutton from the madrasa just below. As you exit, he might ask for a 30 rupee fee which is a gross over charge for the kind of information he spews. Whether you like it or not, you will be accosted by rickshawallas or tongawallas offering you a tour of the sites. If you aren’t keen on walking, take the tonga. They are a bit cheaper than rickshaws, eco-friendly, and can transport you back to the 18th century if you only care to close your eyes to the traffic and conjure up the visions in your mind.

A collection of old pillars with engravings of Hindu deities will pass by just after the Watergate (nothing of course to do with President Nixon hundreds of years later). Apparently Tipu used it as a sort of passage in and out of the fort. The site where Tipu’s body was found after he so valiantly but vainly fought to keep the dirty British hands off his territory is marked by a simple white granite slab put up, surprisingly, by the British viceroy of the day.

The Sultan’s old palace is in ruins and it isn’t a disappointment to peep over the padlocked gates, as there is nothing much to see. Opposite, however, lies the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple which houses the largest reclining statue of Shiva in the country and possibly the world. You pay a measly 2 rupees for the man to watch your shoes as you go inside to see the priests pray, or receive Prasad, or give in offerings of your own. Outside, half a dozen old racehorses walk in circles with tourists on their backs screaming for a photograph. Refrain from buying anything apart from tender coconuts outside the temple. The curios are not worth it, and the biscuits are stale. Unless you fancy South Indian snacks that you could get a better deal for not more than a hundred yards away, you might decide against sitting and eating right there.

A little further down the street lies a dungeon Tipu used to imprison British prisoners of war. Twenty four Brits languished in the prison, tied to the walls with chains. They were to stand continuously for 23 hours of the day and allowed only an hour’s rest. Eleven perished and the rest set free after Tipu’s fall. Over the fencing of the prison flow the much disputed waters of the river Cauvery.

Tipu’s summer palace is worth a see with its hand painted walls from ceiling to floor depicting scenes of wars. Plaques, though sometimes confusing, explain each section of the wall paintings. Other sketches of people of the age, and various scenes are also on display along with a model of the city of Srirangapatnam. The lawns are wonderfully kept and you can afford to go to the loo without resisting the urge to puke on entry. Sugarcane juice is marvelously sweet and a good option after nearly drowning yourself in coconut water. Not far away is Tipu’s tomb where he was lain along with other members of his family.

The restaurants on the highway provide a better bet as far as non-vegetarian food goes, and the value for money is quite reasonable. If you are male (or if you are a woman who does not mind being stared at) and wish to cool off, hop into a rickshaw and head for the dam about 12 kms away. It’s a welcome relief to splash about in the cold water and let all the day’s heat seep away right there.

For a free day with a few pennies in your pocket and a bit of history eating your mind, Srirangapatnam is a cheap getaway from the nearby throb of Mysore or Bangalore. Although some of the monuments are not too well kept and there isn’t much to choose from by way of food, it sure is nice to take a trip to a small town steeped in history, walk around a bit and find it for yourself.

Disclaimer: Some tidbits of info may not be accurate. I blame it on short term memory.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beat the system

Time is stalling. Is it because I have to go home?

I look for things I cannot find. Friendship

I find things I do not want. Pseudos

I want things I cannot have. Love

I have things I do not need. Memories

I need things that cannot be. Simplicity

Life's like that. It makes things completely contradictory to what you want. Trying to beat the system and survive - that's what makes it worth living.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

About a boy called Shane

He was five, skin-and-bone, and perpetually blue from lack of oxygen. His lungs did not function well enough to pass on oxygen from the air to his blood, and consequently, his breathing was always heavy.

Shane was always excited about company. A curious little boy, he would begin his interactions shyly and cautiously. But as soon as he found his comfort space, he was a barrel of fun! Marbles caught his attention, so did cars and toy robots. Despite the need to be very careful at the swimming pool, he wanted to splash around and swim. It made me feel extremely guilty about being perfectly healthy and able to run, jump, swim, chase after, and be chased without falling suffocatingly short of breath. Even his excitement caused his breathing to turn into gasping.

Annette, his "big sister", loved him as much as he did her, and was she was very protective about him despite being only eight years old herself. They fought over toys like normal siblings did, but she generally gave in to love. He always turned to her for help, especially to climb onto the airbeds or the noodles in the swimming pool.

Aunty Merle and Uncle Cletus considered Shane a gift from God, and truly he was. He gave them all the joys a child could, and whether despite of or because of his medical condition, he was showered with all the love, care and affection a child could want. His infrequent outbursts came only because he wanted his favourite noodles right then(probably the only dish he preferred to eat!), or because his body just couldn't keep up with his wish to play.

Shane passed away due to complications late last year. When I look around me and observe fellow classmates, I realize how much we take life for granted. Illnesses erupt every three days, headaches and tummy aches become reasons to avoid work, and any reason is enough to use things belonging to someone else. There's no enthusiasm to do things yourself, curiosity to find out for yourself, challenge to overcome problems alone, and the willingness to enjoy little things.

I miss you Shane, and although you spent more time at home in Singapore than you did with us in Goa, you will always remain an inspiration - the reason that all the oxygen we breathe does not go to waste.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fireflies Festival of Sacred Music 2008

It truly was a night to remember. Friends, families and strangers gathered and vibed to one soulful beat - that of music.

The 4th annual Fireflies Festival of Sacred Music on February 23, at their inter-cultural center in Dinnepalya Village, Bangalore housed an approximately 1000 strong audience in an enraptured trance for the promised 12 hours, well worth the entrance fee. Despite stifling delays between acts, a dozen artistes led us through a cavorting blend of Indo-Western, Western and Indian folk, classical and fusion music.

Some bands may not be remembered; but most will stay on in memories for years to come. It began with the Nadaswaram performance – the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument, a good start to the evening. Kaman Singh and group followed that up with an interesting repertoire of Portuguese and Brazilian music using the guitar, recorders, flute, and voice to transport the audience across continents. They played a fado, a French/Creole song and a couple of others to encapsulate the world under the banyan tree. What they lacked in technical virtuosity was well made up by their songs satirizing the World Trade Organisation and government policies. They were the only troupe to actively voice the theme of the evening – tribals and adivasis – through their lyrics. Kaman Singh had the whole audience in splits with adivasi-style language, both Hindi and English.
People of all age groups and backgrounds filtered in through the night, making themselves comfortable on the granite steps with mattresses, pillows, and bolsters. The piece of advice from the organizers “stay in your seats; you’ll regret it if you move” held throughout the event with the amphitheatre crowded to capacity and more, giving people just enough space to tap out the ragas and talas.

Although the Qawwali performance by Salim Bhai and Group was by far the most popular, the Veena recital by Sri R K Padmanabha and the Folk songs of Kabir from Malwa by Shabnam Virmani and Dipta Bhog were the soul-stirring performances of the night. Virmani provided a small background to each song and then blew the audience away with powerful vocals. She appeared to be enjoying herself more than anyone else and gladly threw in an encore much to everyone’s delight. R K Padmanabha’s solos were breathtaking. Moments when the veena’s bass rhythms were interspersed with Indian melodies sounded like a fusion between Western and Indian music, and the jugalbandi between the accompanying ghatam and mridangam had even Padmanabha tapping away. Salim Bhai held the crowd in a wild chorus of singing and dancing, screaming for more. An impromptu performance by a trio from the audience was thrown in while everyone else cheered them on.

Oikyotaan, the Baul (Bengali folk) musicians, celebrated the spiritual and proved to be a well-known and well-loved group. Voice control was amazing and although most couldn’t really understand (since it was in Bengali), the expressive singers made enjoying the performance so much easier. Representing Western classical and jazz was Glen Rogers with mesmerizing finger work on pieces like Traveller and self-composition Captain Caterpillar, and Karnatak Folk by the Puje Kunita group provided immense entertainment. The energy of the musicians suffused through the ambience and came to rest on all ensuring they enjoyed every bit of their performances.

Despite the food being over-priced and the coffee not worth its name, the delightful night passed with camaraderie between strangers established only through music. The performances stripped the word bare of the commercialization we know so well, leaving each one including chief guest Cyriac Joseph, Chief Justice of Karnataka, either reminiscing their childhood or wishing they’d found this sooner.


There's this ashram 9 kms from where we live called Fireflies Inter-cultural Centre and on Feb 23-24, they hosted this Sacred Music Fest. It was a dawn to dusk event (6pm to 6am) and although I was the unfortunate victim of Subramaniam's review-writer choice, I wanted to go check it out. Smartly, I forgot my sweater, so I froze while enjoying myself. If it wasnt for several others who caught up with me there, I'd have become a permanent fixture under the huge banyan tree.

I made it there with 5 minutes to spare for the opening act. People came in with mattresses, pillows, the works, all set to spend the night there. I took a book (in case I was early and had nothing to do!!) and my box of crackers (in case I had nothing to eat!!). There were lots of young people, some middle aged, few old and a smattering of the quintessential 'phoren' blood hanging about smoking. Initially, I wasnt sure I would enjoy it. I'd simply heard there was a jazz act and wanted to check it out. But when I got loaded with the responsibility of writing a review, I had to spend that 250 bucks on the ticket. Only a couple of acts were devoid of the Indian element, and interestingly I enjoyed almost all of them.

There was a woman, Shabnam Virmani, singing folk songs to Kabir, a Rajasthani-Gujarati kind of music which was just awesome. I was dancing and swaying to a veena recital, qawwali songs, world music, indo-western fusion and a mix of classical and jazz. It was unbelievable. The ashram itself is a nice place, though they could do with alot more dustbins, at least at the time of the festival - by the end of it, there were plates, cups, bottles (of booze and other stuff), packets and what not strewn around the place. It is dotted with little cottages, its got a lake right next to it, and this small sit-out; very peaceful place, reminded me of home and Chandor!

The food wasnt worth it though and I realized why the regulars kept dipping into their bags for another packet of munchies. They were serving chicken and veg biryani with this minuscule dollop of raita, outrageously expensive brownies, and the worst coffee you have ever tasted in South India. Besides this, they had stalls selling overpriced (obviously!!) handicrafts, including some really pretty jewellery. I'd have bought some for mum and A Lee if it wasnt so far out of my budget.

I stayed awake through the entire event, and it wasnt because the music was loud. I enjoyed every minute of it, maybe with the exception of a few bands trying very hard to please both Indians with no knowledge of Indian or Western classical, and foreigners with no knowledge of Indian or Western classical, both classes of whom were absent! It was a treat to listen to M K Padmanabha, the veena player. If I'm not wrong, the veena is a different version of the sitar; its got more bass and is not as twangy. When you play the bass strings it sounds very close to a guitar, and has a really rich sound. I havent seen anyone play a veena before, but he sure played like a maestro!!

Frankly, I've been itching to go out and enjoy myself, and since pubs and clubs shut shop at 12, there's no way to get back home (they wouldnt let me sleep there either!!). Besides, you can enjoy a concert when you're alone; you dont really need to be with someone.

And so I did! Three cheers to Siddharth and company of Fireflies!!! You guys did a great job!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Make-over!

It all started with an "Are you free?"

I've never really dressed up....ever. My current make-up kit consists of a lip gloss and cream (which I use for my face as well!!). The lip gloss I reserve for the 'special occasions' - Christmas, Easter, maybe the odd date(when did THAT last happen?!?); cream for the days my skin starts to peel. My face has never warmed to lipstick (all those school concerts were disastrous) and I havent seen the logic in sticking some black stick up your eye for the 'desired effect'. It's the plain-Jane look that's been mine and people have come to accept that.

Except when they need to release a little creativity. Leah has a great choice in clothes, and when she dresses up, she turns heads. She didnt have much to do today, and wanted to experiment with my hair. Now, I've just cropped my hair pretty short, and its quite uncontrollable. I suffer from bad hair days 5 days out of 7, and I dont really care. Last sem, Sohini decided she wanted to cut my hair and I let her. This sem, Leah wanted to play around with it, so what the heck?!?

When she got started, her tools consisted of a brush, comb, hairdryer, and irons. I've never had my hair ironed and I trusted Leah when she said "its going to be ok". Jesus, its scary to have such a hot thing nearly pop the zits on your face every time it passes by. What if I ended up with singed hair? I'd have to shave my head and look like the sanyasi with the wierd dome. Thankfully, I didnt get the smell of burning hair, so I stopped cringing every time she touched it. She stopped and ran out of the room. Returned with a couple of boxes of gunk she called hair serum and wax. Whatever! It didnt feel all that bad.

When she was done, I had a look in the mirror. It was really neat! Clean, straight and very smart. Then she decided to get a little funky and blow dry my hair. That was exciting! You get the 'just-outta-bed' look which I looove. Unfortunately, in came Sohini with an "ohmigod!! That is so amazing!" After a while, she had to go on "Just do this. Scrunch up your hair. Mess it up. Do that....blah blah." So we did. Trust my verdict: it was amazing! Messy, screaming wild. I wish they did it for something, maybe a club.

And I thought they were done. But no! It couldnt stop there. Not when the guinea pig is tied down between two eager beavers with nothing to do and too much make up in their kits. So they took turns to grab their kits while the other held me down.

It started with this odd fat pencil like thing the colour of light mud. Leah put it in splotches on my face and then rubbed it down. If I thought that was it, boy was I in for a rude shock. A powder puff nearly suffocated me (surprisingly with nothing on it). Then came the eye thingy! Now, THAT was scary. How would you enjoy it if it feels like someone's trying to shove something in your eye? Not good, it does not feel good. Well, Sohini had something white, then something black. I began to think I'd end up with zebra eyes. Not being allowed to see what you look like while people have a go at your face is nerve-wreckingly scary.

Well, they also decided to add some stuff on my cheeks and chin and nose. Now I was so sure it'd be clown staring right back. Who but a jester wears horrid pink goo on their face?! And then they did it. They brought out the lip-stick! It was war. No one, no one gets to put that glop on my face. Never. I refused outright. Sohini said it was "only lip-gloss". Hell, it was lip-gloss! Lip-gloss isn't pink.......(is it?) They had their way in the end and I had to feel like I had plastic lips. Bleach!!

Finally, they said they were done. More like they gave up trying to do any more on such an impossible lab rat. But horror of horrors! Soho brought out her camera and started clicking pictures. "Do this", "stand here", "SMILE, for godsake!", "SHUT UP!! When she was finally done, I ate up the gloss and headed to the mess. I was famished. Trying to slip around corners, zip into the mess, serve and get out like a thief proved difficult. I was caught. But to my surprise, the response was unbelievably positive! They actually thought I looked human! I had to see this!

I sneaked a peek into the mirror. Where the hell was I? There was somebody else staring back, confused, shocked, and curious. Finally, that person smiled. Well, darn me after all! It was me. Dielle. Different....Nice. Actually good to look at. This wasn't bad. Not at all. And to think it all started with an "Are you free?"

Although I did wash off the goop on my face, I didn't wash my hair the next day!

Thank you Leah and Soho. You actually did a good job!! lol :)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Goa, mi casa, ti amor....

The book was good, and the bus was late. The music was my favorite sing-along-in-the-bus-kind. But I could see that sheet of blue glinting in the heat of the day and I had to stop. I took a deep breath. Through the air-conditioner, the doors and windows shut tight, I smelt the warm salty breeze of a summer sea. "I'm going home" ran through my mind, over and over and over again.
It's quite irritating to be late when you're getting to a place you love, when you know what's in store for you and what you want to do. When the driver trundled along like he had all day, I wanted to get out of the darned bus and push! I willed the bus to go faster, overtake the bullock-cart and get on with it. When we passed the border into Goa, I smiled. The first thing I saw was a well-stocked bar!! That's the problem with tourists. They think the bar signifies being drunk all-day, and when they come to Goa, presume they shouldnt be able to walk straight until they leave. The 'taverne' is meant for your afternoon 'cop' and pre-dinner shot, not for guzzling anything that floats by in a glass!!
Finally, at Panjim bus stand, four hours later, I spotted my brother miles away. He stepped out of a red van with a white jersey saying 'v.Persie' and walked to the wrong bus. I knew then how much fun he's been having without me. He'd grown conspicuously wider and he grinned! Brothers do not generally do that when they have to play chauffeur. The ride back was amazing. I couldnt stop taking deep breaths of clean air and an even deeper breath when we passed the fish market.
The vacations seemed like the shortest one ever. I had so many things to do and people to meet. It felt like I was coming back after years and I was so excited to say, "Hey! This was what it used to be!" or "Wow! That's changed", even though the building just had a new coat of paint. My cousins were there to greet me at the door and scream "Hi! Dielle!! We got fed up waiting for you and had lunch already!!" I had to pretend that it was ok. How could they finish MY lunch? Fortunately, my mother remembered I was coming home and kept some fish, curry and rice for me. I walloped the lot.
Food was my main agenda during the hols. The 'sorpotel' with that hint of feni that goes so well with the 'sannas' with the hint of toddy, the yummy fried fish in 'reicado' masala, Goa rice and prawn curry.... I can still taste the 'ambot tik' dripping from the hot 'unde', the bombay ducks, and the prawns done every mouth-watering way possible. Jonathan graciously funded our trip to Pastry Cottage, that favorite place in the world where you must never go if you are even thinking of a diet. There's something I've noticed about all Goans. Even if they are away from home for a week, they'll come home and gorge on food like they've been starving all their lives. And I'd been away for six whole months!! Maybe now its easier to imagine the kind of work my oesophagus was going through.
And what is home without the beach? You twiddle your toes in the dry sand and let the wet sand get all over your feet before you strip down to your swimming costume and run down to the inviting sea, the sea that's cool to the skin and once you're in you never want to leave its warm caress. The sun falls on your face and you turn towards it, wallowing in its rays. Then you leave for a snack of yummy chutney and cheese and ham sandwiches, go down to the sand to play. There's a golden tan that you can get only if you enjoy all these things at the beach, not the kind that comes of lying in the heat all day getting parched and spotted, only to have your skin peel off two days later. It gets to be a rather reptilian feeling then. What's the difference then, between you and a croc? You sunbathe all day and when the hunger pangs call, waddle your way into the nearest restaurant and eat your fill until you waddle back to the beach and sunbathe until the sun goes down.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to attend a wedding too, where you dance to all the 'mandos' and sing along when you know the words, you see people you know and when you're tipsy dance with those you dont know. It's family! Meeting up with friends makes for more great memories, when they look at you and say "Wow, someone's putting on weight!" while you try very hard to suck your tummy in!
Goa is a place you enjoy only when you know how. I wouldnt like to be a tourist there. It's so fake, and the clubs, night and flea markets, cheap drinks and hippie life-style are only a small part of it. You have to live Goa to feel the true 'sussegado' spirit. I had the best time I could hope for at Home. It's a pity I had to leave so soon.
'Dev borem korum' to Mum, Da, J, Nans, A Lee, U Hue, TnTnT, U Selwyn and family, Pete, James, Lori, Dharmesh, Neha, Kim, Keith, Jesh, Karl, Licio, and the rest of those who made my vacation something I still speak about and will till I'm home again! I love you guys....