Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All in a good day's swearin'

Do you enjoy swearing? Or are you one step ahead, and have imbibed it into yourself so much that you have no control over when you swear anymore?

I am clearly the kind that enjoys swearing. It gives me immense relief and satisfaction to swear loudly when some random *** tries to cut me in from the side, on the road. It is as if I have said the worst, and now, life can move on. Also, most often than not, I am fully well in control of my swearing. So, the next time you hear me swear, and then I apologize, you know there is a 95% chance I meant to swear wholeheartedly.

What if you are of the other type? It means that you do run certain risks I have taken upon myself to alert you about.

Someone, many centuries back, drew up a “Gentleman’s code”, a copy of which I haven’t laid my hands on yet. But, the sum and substance of it says that, amongst other things a gentleman is expected to do, such as wear sharp suits and well-polished boots, he needs to not swear in front of a lady. Now, does a code like that exist for the ladies? I guess not. However, it is commonly assumed that well-bred ladies don’t swear (only if they are not Scarlett O’Hara’s kin).

While the gentleman has evolved over the ages, to the extent of brazenly banging the door on the face of the lady behind him, the unwritten rule of “apologetic swear” is still followed in many parts of the world. So, when a gentleman is in a meeting that has one or more female participants, and he has the strong urge to say “f***”, he usually says “Excuse me ladies, for my language” and then swears loudly. If he doesn't do that, he just apologizes post facto. See. It is simple. But, if the ladies decide to “f***” his life, they have the freedom to sue him for having used obscene language in front of them.

Secondly, we are all growing, if not up, at least old. That only means many of our friends are already in the middle of full-fledged family life; which also means they have kids who have recently started learning words like flower, farmhouse, foreign etc. Do our friends want us to add to their kids’ already rich and growing vocabulary? They apparently are not in favor of such a situation. So, the next time they try socializing with us, with their family in tow, we run the risk of being disowned forever if we swear loudly in front of them.

What can be done about it, you ask. One lame idea, that the good people on T.V. use in order to evade censorship, is to substitute swear words for less offensive and utterly nonsensical terms such as “frigging”, “fishing” etc. But, that’s akin to suggesting that a dark-brown oatmeal biscuit will give you as much pleasure as a chocolate chip brownie.

So, I have a better idea. Consciously bite your tongue every time you utter a swear word in public. The pain will make sure you get a handle on the swearing. And, then, save up all the swearing for your private time, so that you can let go and resume life in peace.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Kingdom of my dreams

Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan, 

Zara Hat Ke Zara Bach Ke, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan 

A typical Bombay-based non-Bollywood movie starts with this song, pans across the VT station, gives a bird’s eye view of Marine Drive and closes with the "kaali peelis". That is the city in a nutshell, at least to the awestruck tourist. 

However, as a migrant who has lived in Bombay for almost six years, my home memories of Bombay revolve, not around happening Colaba or around suburban Bandra, but around that indispensable Tam bastion of Matunga East

To many, Matunga East is just a land of South Indian eateries fitting a dozen or more tables and chairs in a 400 square foot space and serving endless amounts of rice, saambhaar, idli and dosa. 

A Matunga-ite would know much better than that. 

They would know about that small shop in the gully on Bhaudaji Road that sells ready-made batter for idlis and dosas. They would know about that road parallel to Bhaudaji’s where Mysore Concerns sells authentic filter coffee powder. They would know about the Chheda Stores opposite the railway station that sells every namkeen on Earth – dhoklas, khakhras, chivdas, kachoris, samosas. They would know about the veggies market near the railway station that sells the freshest yellow and red peppers and broccoli and celery. They would know about the empty, by-lane through Hindu Colony that would take one directly to Dadar station. They would know that, no matter what the hustle-bustle, the area goes quiet by 9 pm, letting one take a walk in peace through the empty, tree-filled, well-paved by-lanes of Chandavarkar Road

Who is this Matunga-ite, one may ask. I am not, as per traditional definitions. Then again, since living in Matunga is such an exorbitant affair, only BMW owners can dream of becoming Matunga-ites in the traditional sense.

But, the biggest beauty of Matunga lies in the fact that one doesn’t have to live there to be a Matunga-ite. Matunga is a hodgepodge of cultures, filled with Gujju aunties and Tam Brahm maamis, hep girls at Sia’s jewellery shop and traditional ladies in Milaap’s saree shop, South Indian temples and Jain Mandirs, New Yorkers’ and Madras Café. One just has to drop into this place to feel belonged, to become a Matunga-ite

Matunga is what I remember during Dahi Handi and Ganesh Puja, Matunga is the place I end up in during Diwali and Sankranthi. The colors vibrant, the themes changing in sync with the festivity, the lights, stars, marigolds, Krishna figurines, Ganesha idols – the sight is quite amazing. 

One may argue that only fools will frequent Matunga during the festive season, when Dadar is but a couple of kilometres away. Have you ever been to Dadar? On a normal day, it is a menagerie where bikes, cars, taxis, pedestrians, vendors and everyone else coexist both on the roads and the walk ways. Around the festive season, it is a wild forest with an uncontrollable fire that threatens to consume all that dare walk through it. If Dadar is wilderness filled with commotion, Matunga is a mature peacock carrying herself with panache through the wilds, in rain and sunshine. And that’s why one would like her better. 

So, the next time you end up in Matunga East for a bite, do sample the Khotto Idli at Mysore Café. But, also take a few minutes to walk through Bhandarkar Road up to Ruia college. You will realize that beauty and peace can exist, even amidst the crowds and the jostle.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Living

I have never been a great expresser of grief. I can’t cry for prolonged periods of time. I can’t sit stony faced without stepping out of the house and abstain from food on death anniversaries of near and dear. I actually make it a point to conveniently ignore such days and do my regular stuff, because it is very difficult to re-live a death day year-after-year.

But, I miss the ones who are dead, the ones I was close to, and I ache for them badly, sometimes for weeks together. I miss them on random days when I crave pudalangai porichukootu and thogaiyal (tam brahm comfort food), or when I want to show off my “exemplary” driving skills, and the best driver I have ever known isn’t around to see it. 

I just deal with these deaths differently. Perhaps, I haven’t started dealing with them yet. It is much easier to push the whole “dealing with sorrow” part to the corner of my mind and move on with life. It is efficient, effective and much less painful. But, then it is prolonged. And since I am not done dealing with it and can never be, the memories come haunting back at the most unexpected of moments. 

Each of us deals with death differently. We perhaps get regular visits from the dead ones in our dreams, or fantasize that they are happy in another world. I don’t know. But, I sure know that we can never guess how every other person on this planet deals with the death of their loved one.

And, it makes me “nose-turns-bright-red” angry when someone comments on how someone else they know doesn’t seem appropriately teary eyed at that someone else’s husband’s death. How can any of us know what is appropriate? With what can we benchmark such a behavior? Shouldn’t we rather be, at some corner of our heart, thankful to the Universe that we aren’t in that situation at this point of time and proceed to let the dead, and the living, be?

Death is personal, mourning life-long. We cannot build a framework around death and try fitting everyone we know in a two-by-two.

So, the next time you want to get judgmental on how others should deal with death, just shut up. Because, you don’t know the first thing of what you are talking about. And, the world has better things to do than listen to your drivel.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Surprise me. Not.

I loved surprises as a kid. I would rummage through dad’s briefcase and mom’s handbag looking for goodies when they came back from anywhere. And while doing so, my standard greeting for them would be, “What did you get for me?” Mom used to give an exasperated, “Why don’t you just tell us what you want?” response many a time, to which my defense was, “But, I just wanted to be surprised.” 

With time, I have learnt that all I am doing with that strategy is setting people up to take an impossible-to-clear test of how well they can determine what exactly I want at a certain point in time (which could be a bright pinkish hand-bag at one time, and a demure black purse the other). For, a desired gift is always a better deal than a disappointing surprise. 

If we extrapolate that logic a little further, my biggest fear with the impending wedding has been the thought of being left with 10 crockery sets and 15 walls clocks as gifts. Yeah, I am exaggerating. There are other, bigger fears to bother about, but just so you know, this one makes it to the top 3. 

The West has sorted this issue out quite well, with the groom and bride unabashedly stating what they want, leaving friends and relatives with a restricted list of items to choose as gifts. We, on the other hand, are a society that prides in mentioning “No gifts please” in our wedding invites and then getting disappointed by the countless flower bouquets. 

Don’t take me wrong, I love flower bouquets, I so do. But, how exactly do I preserve those bouquets and decorate my faraway home with them in the middle of temple visits, and lunch invitations at relatives’ houses, and getting to know my new family, and going on my honeymoon, while also logging into the remote access to check work e-mail? 

So, with a heavy heart, and after extensive “IM”ing with V, and with his explicit approval, I thought it might be a good idea to write about that Western culture we all would so love to embrace, but stop short of, only out of embarrassment at no one having done it before. 

Mini-skirts were not in fashion at some point of time in India. Women were shy to wear them because our society would look down upon them with disdain. But, someone pioneered it alright. And, now it is a rage. So, why not Wedding Registries, I pondered. And, then, I thought I should leave you with the idea so that you can give me your express opinion, before I jump the gun with an Excel list, as I am wont to do. 

Just when things sorted out in my head, I hit roadblock one. A wedding registry is not a wish list. V and I cannot put out a list of all the furniture we want at home, because those are essentials we should ideally buy at our own pace, over time. We cannot put out a list of all the fancy gadgets that we ever aspired to own, because that would be so crass and “wishy”, not to mention obscenely expensive too. So, what? Should we just put out a list of the crockery we would like to have? Oh, well, there is a near to one probability that an invitee who doesn’t read this post will gift us crockery anyway. So, this would become double counting. 

And, then, I hit roadblock two. Whom should I share the wedding registry with? I cannot insensitively send a link to everyone I am inviting, because that will almost be like forcing people to gift us something for a wedding they never intended to attend in the first place. 

And, finally, I hit roadblock three. I am not enterprising enough to be the first mover on this one. For, I have never worn a mini-skirt in my life. 

Since I invested time in writing this, and I have never understood the idea of sunk cost, I am going to post this one, at the risk of people not bothering to turn up at the wedding, being completely put off by this very transactional blog post. 

However, if you do turn up, I am going to catch you who doesn’t read my blog red-handed, or crockery-handed, if you may :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The ideal and the perfect

This is officially my worst week ever. With unmet deadlines, defaulting vendors, confused stakeholders, hectic travel and endless arguments, I have to pinch myself to remember that I am actually on vacation. Yeah, you heard that right. And that too, with a surprisingly considerate bunch of colleagues not having e-mailed or texted me even once during the time, in any other world, this would be an ideal vacation.

Marriages are made in heaven, or so they say. But, wedding ceremonies surely were conceived in hell. And, they are here to stay. And, they are growing more nonsensical with every passing moment. And, they are giving rise to many a thriving business of sarees and blouses and return gifts and wedding invites and accessories and food and decorations and… the list goes on.

I am just back from a visit to my tailor, who, I suspect, must have been a research analyst in his previous avatar. Late last evening, he had called me with an estimate for stitching the Muhurtham blouse pegged at a staggering 25% to 40% range of the total cost of my Sari. So, I marched into his premises first thing this morning, demanding a break-up of the cost. He looked at me as if I have landed from a different planet. Apparently, brides are supposed to go crazy trying to choose the right things for their weddings and not bother about such teeny weeny things as expenses. But, yes, he did give me the break-up after much cajoling, with just a minor footnote saying, “The final cost might be 2-2.5 times the estimate. We will know once we start working on the blouse”.

And, then, there is the whole Sari business itself. I have walked into and out of 10 shops in the past two days looking for one Sari. Yesterday, I spent half an hour with a salesperson trying to understand pricing variations across Saris, all of which, to my naked eye, look exactly the same. He finally gave up any hope of my buying a Sari and turned his attention elsewhere.

The wedding invite is another mammoth affair altogether. Colors, font types, alignment, wordings, pictures… I really miss my beloved PPT pages. They are so much easier to create. And, they do make so much more sense, and can be reused too!

The next item that will come up my alley, as I have been informed (read warned), is the accessories shopping. That will involve trying to figure out, amidst multiple hues and shades of violet and green and maroon and light blue, the right colored bangles for my Saris. And, it will be another set of non-reusable stuff that will fade in color and style with time. Like it matters!

Sometimes, I wonder what the point is. What’s the point in putting so much fight into some six inane events spread across two long days trying to solemnize one wedding, when all that should actually matter is having a happy marriage?

I must be the most atypical bride-to-be in town, focusing more on the expense than on the wedding look, focusing more on the long term than on the short term. And, I am thankful the Universe made me that way. Perhaps, I will be able to drill sense into my next generation, and help them have an inexpensive wedding, yet a perfect marriage.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Hypocrite

Have you ever felt like beating yourself up for having watched that abhorrently made movie out of that wonderful book you loved? Join the club. The world is full of us snobs who have continued torturing ourselves with the celluloid versions of Gone with the wind, Painted Veil and Memoirs of a Geisha, to name a few.

However, have you ever watched a movie, loved it, then read the book, loved the book even more, felt guilty for having loved the movie in the first place, and then ended up dissing the movie?

No? Meet me, the hypocritical book lover.

I must have watched My Fair Lady for the first time, when I was ten. I loved “Wouldn’t it be loverly”, Eliza Dolittle’s flower girl accent, Professor Higgins’ English Language Teaching (ELT) methods and Eliza’s outfit at the Embassy ball. It was a beautiful movie, and it gave The Sound of Music competition in occupying my mind space.

I read G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion when I was seventeen. Quite late, one would say, for an ardent book lover. Shaw is a brilliant playwright, and I am just a minion complimenting the high priest. I was awestruck by the dialogues, the flow of the story, and, most of all, the ending.

They say, the ending really makes or breaks a movie. And, most of the movie remakes of books have endings suiting the palate of the viewing audience, which isn’t shared by the reading audience; which is one of the biggest reasons book lovers hate movie versions.

Pygmalion had a logical ending, albeit heartless. While it didn’t appeal to the romantic in me, it did capture my bookish-heart. The ending sounded right, the flower girl would never have been happy with Professor Higgins; it was too much of a force-fit to marry them off to each other.

And, I finally found the single biggest reason to hate the movie I had loved; the ending is so randomly romantic, fairy-taleish and filmy.

The rationalist in me has gone back and asked the question of why I did not see this “flaw” before, during all those years I fell over and over in love again with the scene where Audrey Hepburn gets together with Rex Harrison.

I am a biased judge of movies. I think I am qualified to judge a movie as bad because I am a book lover, like the type that thinks that it is too arty and classy to love anything beneath Ship of Theseus (which movie, for the record, I walked out of, while the monks traversed the sandy, wind-mill ridden roads for ten minutes). And, the minute I walk into a movie adaptation, I start looking for factual inaccuracies and non-adherence to the book, so that my point can be proven – a point that movie makers kill books and so should be banned from adapting books into movies.

It is sad that I do not have the openness to appreciate a piece of art for what it is, disengaging it from the fact that it might be an adaptation, and accepting that creative pieces should have voices of their own, even if they are adapted.

Someday, someone is going to write a book adaptation of a movie. Perhaps, it will be of a movie I love. Inception perhaps? I wonder what my reaction would be on reading that book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The curious case of the horn

Have you ever been irritated by that persistent honking from behind you on the freeway, when all you wanted to do was just unwind and enjoy the view while driving at a 60 kmph rate on the right lane?

I am precisely that guy, honking from behind. And, the day I come face to face with you who uses the right lane so pathetically inefficiently, you will be dead meat.

My love for the car horn goes back a long way. Dad used to work late hours, and we didn’t have a security guard at home those days. He would honk from two roads away when he was arriving, so that it didn’t disturb my sleep, and so that mom could unlock the gate from inside. Apparently, I would wake up instantly too. To me, the horn was a sign that dad was home and all was well with the world again.

Years later, when best friend M returned from the US, she refused to use the horn any longer. “I want to reduce noise pollution Kavi”, she said. Her resolution lasted exactly two months. I gave an all knowing smile when she started using the horn again. She grudgingly acceded that it is difficult to handle the pedestrians in India by just flashing headlights (for we don’t leave them with footpaths, and hence they don’t leave us with roads to drive on).

My own driving has involved a lot of honking, as you would have realized by now. It is just easier to press the horn than flash the light, you know. One press versus two or three back and forth movements of the light and all that. Also, largely, people don’t get as irritated by light as they do by sound. The last time I ferried mom’s US-settled cousin in my car, he looked all around to see who the hell was honking, and swore never to get into my car again when he realized I was the culprit.

So, what happens when my favorite car equipment goes for a toss? Does the world fall apart? Do I go mad? Do I stop driving?

Apparently, none of these. I have been negotiating the big, bad Mumbai roads without a horn for two weeks now. And it isn't all that bad frankly.

Who am I kidding? The moment I realized the horn wasn’t working, I felt like I had lost my voice. I felt incapacitated to do anything, angry and frustrated at first, and then resigned to my fate, making do with the resources available at hand. But, with time, that has changed.

There is a strange sense of calm in my driving of late. For, I know that I cannot honk that pedestrian out of my way and just have to patiently drive behind them till they figure out they need to move aside. If that driver ahead of me doesn’t respond to my lights flashing, bad luck, but life goes on. My mom claims I have started driving like an American. Oh, well, I haven’t cracked yet what she knows about American driving, but that is a different story.

For now, I don’t miss my horn as much as I thought I would. And, I have started to believe in M’s resolution of wanting to reduce our contribution to noise pollution.

Oh wait! What’s that happening on the road? Damn! I need to get into that space ahead, and the driver on the left is shortchanging me. Honk! Honk! What? Why is there no sound? Oops! These are the times I miss you most, dear horn. Come back to me soon please. For, I have no say on the road without you after all.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Some may call it love

Dear SRK,

Love is a beautiful feeling. And, it is very flattering to note that you love us so much, and want to remember us at every walk of life.

I thought it started off very well. You attempted speaking our mother tongue in our very own “Ulaga Nayagan”s movie. And then you screwed it up. You screwed it up so badly that I had to mute scenes that starred you in that movie forever afterwards. I wonder why no one gave you flak for that. We always get so much flak for not getting our ‘ha’s right in your precious language. You, on the other hand, were appreciated for having attempted what this country thinks is some remote and nondescript language.

Anyway, I thought that would be the end of it, and we would all move on with life.

But, you did not stop. You don’t seem to have understood that there is a very thin line between love and obsession. Of late, I have started worrying about your irrational obsession with us. It wouldn’t worry me so much if it was not so inaccurate and farcical.

Really? You think we have our noodles with curd? YUCK. That movie bombed. And, I hoped that was the end of you messing with our identities.

Now, you come up with this? Kathakali dances, lungi tribute to Rajini and a very irritating Deepika Padukone talking some gibberish that passes off as Tamil in a movie atrociously named Chennai Express. When the hell have you seen Rajini dancing in a lungi in his movies? And there is a world of a difference between the Tamilian Bharatnatyam and the Mallu Kathakali. By the way, one cannot stand Deepika Padukone’s Hindi dialogue delivery. What made you think her speaking Tamil would fly?

I hope this one bombs too, and while it bombs, puts some sense into your head to stop messing with us. We have enough artistes and performers doing us proud and going global, we do not need wannabe imports from Bollywood misrepresenting who we are.

Yours sincerely,
An irate Tamilian who does not reciprocate your love

P.S. Per Yogi's allegation that I have become too stereotypical and dead boring, I started out attempting humor. But, it has turned out to be an angst-filled crib session. Some people never change after all.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A fine art, or maybe not

As babies, our lives were quite easy. Or, perhaps not. We cried, when we needed food. We cried, when we needed a diaper change. We cried, when we needed attention. Crying was enough. Crying was the sign, whatever the reason.

As kids, we were expected to speak only when spoken to, to answer only when we were asked questions. It was an easy role to play, and we were restricted to executing tasks assigned to us.

As adults, a lot of things started changing. And, the biggest amongst them was the mounting responsibility thrust upon us – to handle our own lives. I guess it wouldn’t have been half the Herculean task it is now, if only our lives weren’t dependent on communicating with a million individuals around us. And that really is a problem we cannot wish away.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I over-communicate, whether I have been overtly vocal about my thoughts. Sometimes, I wonder whether I should have waited patiently for the tide to pass, rather than jump the gun.

And, then I look around at this world. And, I realize that half the world’s problems are because we don’t communicate enough, or at all. We are perhaps scared to communicate. Or, we do not think the fight to communicate is worth it. Or, in most cases, we believe the world thinks the same way we do, and so there is no need to clarify what we are thinking.

How convenient would that be? A set of homogeneous and telepathic people. Bliss! But, the Universe has other plans for us, and so we are left to deal with a set of heterogeneous and pathetically self-centered morons (who by the way must be describing us the same way elsewhere).

I don’t know whether communication helps resolving our issues, or blowing them up further. I don’t know the fine art of communication, the skill that will get our work done and yet keep us in the world’s good books.

What I do know is that when I communicate on something that matters to me, to someone who matters to me, I love myself a little bit more. For having gone the extra mile. For having given the chance to someone to try to understand what I am thinking and feeling. For having given myself the chance to express better.

Trust me, it is a chance worth taking. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Proof

There is no love, only proofs of love, I read somewhere. And, this is V’s favorite tool of offense when I tell him complicated stuff like “You have never sent me roses.”

However, over time, I have realized that the statement can be adapted to more than just roses. 

We need wins, constant odes to the worthiness of our existence, appreciation and rewards to goad us on. We strive for excellence in the hopes of success. Where it was marks and grad school admits, now it is promotions and bonuses. If our excellence does not translate into personal success, we categorize it as failure. And, most of us are not evolved to a ‘Zen level’ where we can accept excellence just for the sake of knowledge and betterment of the world at large.

Of late, I have been getting into a number of “what motivates an individual at work” discussions with colleagues and friends. During one such conversation, we were left wondering for some time about our irrational obsession with promotions. Mri told us about how her organization, a multi-national, continuously incentivizes individuals, despite having a flat structure. The signaling that someone is valuable to the organization is done in more ways than one – inter-departmental transfers, intra- and inter-regional transfers, project work allocation per one’s choice and skill sets etc. All this is linked with the individual’s long term career path in the organization and is not restricted to one or two years of service.

I recounted an incident from one of my projects where the CEO of an Indian company was bent on including a number of designations stacking up to VP. When I objected saying it was making the structure too hierarchical, he told me, “Kavitha, this is India. Every other person in the family wants to know what your designation is. I cannot apply global standards of four levels to the top, and give promotions once in five years. That will leave me with many unhappy employees and a very high attrition rate.”

I cannot talk for other countries, but in India, we have been trained to work for wins since childhood. Even hobbies have been encouraged with an eye on the first prize. Perhaps, that is where our obsession stems from, and that is what our organizations have built into their structures. While the drive to win is still an acceptable devil and can be tackled through hikes and performance linked incentives, I have started to increasingly feel the void we have in terms of career development. Our fixation on moving up the ranks despite not knowing whether that is what we really want to and can do is reason enough for that void. And, it seems to be driven largely by our need to prove a point, because that is the only way we think we can prove a point to the rest of the world. It is a well-known but rarely acknowledged truth that someone who is exemplary at number-crunching may not necessarily feel happy about being elevated to a people management role.

I have felt the pressure to prove a point for a long time now, because I have always been groomed to do that. While V keeps reminding me about the value I am adding to the rest of the world and how I should be proud of it, it still remains a difficult task for me to let go of the need to prove a point, look forward to a signal. Perhaps, we need to work hard as a society to groom our next generation towards meaningful existences, with happiness linked to excellence more than success.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Lone Chair

It was a swanky restaurant frequented by the nouveau riche and old money alike, in the middle of that very fancy mall. There was a waitlist at the front-desk, with the maitre d’hotel trying to optimize table assignment, while serving complimentary drinks to appease the ones waiting.

A family of very well dressed guests occupied the corner table, possibly reserved for regulars. One could see they were at home, for they conducted themselves with poise and yet managed to keep the hotel staff at their beck and call.

The spectacle was enjoyable, for little does one get the chance to observe such dignified richness in these times of the ostentatious.

That is when I noticed Her. She didn’t seem to belong with them, but was hovering near the table, carrying a beautiful little baby boy swathed in velvets. A chair was brought in and placed next to the table. The lady of the family indicated the chair to Her, while continuing a possibly important conversation with the rest of the family.

She sat there, holding the baby in Her arms, clucking softly in hopes of putting him to sleep. When that didn’t work, She walked around, always near the table, in order to placate the child and make it a fun evening for him. Eventually, he decided to reward Her patience, and conceded to sleep, with a smile on his face. She seemed relieved as She set him down in his pram and walked back to her designated seat near the table.

As She sat down, She realized there was nowhere to look, for She had been taught as a child that it was uncouth to look at people while they ate. She bent down and started staring intently at her callus-ridden palms, while the regal family continued its dinner in peace, speaking in grave tones, about issues of possibly great social importance.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Some strange hope

We are strangely hopeful beings. 

We are strangely hopeful beings because we believe that if we endure pain for long enough, it will go away. We think that we can negotiate with pain, that pain will be impressed with our patience and leave us alone.

We are strangely hopeful beings because we consider peace to be a continuum, happiness a steady state of affairs. We refuse to listen to reason, that change is a constant, that a state of being is only as of a point in time. 

We are strangely hopeful beings because we chide ourselves for not trying hard enough, for not proving a point. We do not easily give up on unreasonable benchmarks, impossible feats. 

We are strangely hopeful beings because we bank on second chances, getting it right the next time. We forget that "getting it right" is subjective, second chances sometimes utopian. 

We are strangely hopeful beings because we pride ourselves on being immense individual forces. We fail to recognise that we need collective strength just to withstand some tempests, let alone battle them. 

We are strangely hopeful beings, because we think that everything will be alright in the end. We do not realise that there is no alright and there is no end.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A thousand mistakes

I complete five years of professional work experience this month. Half a decade.

Half a decade spent in front of a laptop, talking to excels and ppts, rushing into and out of airports, providing my two cents and more at (sometimes inane) meetings.

Half a decade of not experiencing an evening jog on a Monday, not getting to travel the world at leisure, not resting in a hammock with a book in hand, not letting go of a buzzing BB while on holiday.

Five years back, when I was preparing for campus placements, the questions that worried me the most were “Why do you want to choose this career?”, “How do you see yourself fitting into this profile”, “Where do you see yourself ten years from now?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. I remember wanting to tell interviewers, out of sheer desperation, that chocolate is really my biggest weakness.

I used to wonder then whether I had wasted 22 years of existence learning math and theoretical computer science and marketing and strategy, without learning about my strengths and weaknesses.

Today, I can wax eloquent about my strengths and weaknesses. I am thankful to my five years for that. More importantly, I am thankful to my thousand mistakes.

Mistakes are what make man perfect, they say. I do not have a view on perfection. But, I do have a view on mistakes and choices that turn out to be mistakes. At any given point in time, we choose a particular path because it makes sense to us, it makes us happy. However, over a period, despite battling through the path, if the choice doesn’t work, it is time to cut the losses and move on. There is no such thing as a “wrong choice”. It is only wrong if we figure out that something isn’t working for us and still go on living with it.

Strange as it may be, these five years of work have taught me more about “living” than 18 years of classroom learning. It is strange because my friends say “Get a life” more often now than ever before. It is strange, also because at times I do wonder whether education is over-rated.

If I try uttering that statement, my mother says, “You have just got arrogant with all the education you were able to have.” Perhaps, she is right. But, then again, I have no way of knowing now. For, that’s a choice I made, and I have to move on from there.

It has been an exhausting five years of work. An exhilaratingly interesting and exhausting five years of work. If the coming years turn out to be anything like the ones gone by, I wouldn’t mind the rush and the stress and the “not having a life” bit so much.

Make your own mistakes, fight your own battles.
For, the war is long and hard, and only with yourself.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Small talk

Me: Hey, what do you think of this whole Phaneesh Murthy fiasco?

V (looking bored): Well, he seems to be the only colorful guy in an otherwise lackluster industry.

Me (really not expecting that): Umm.. yeah.. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. But, still, didn’t you find the whole thing a little stupid, especially when done twice over?

V (still disinterested): That’s quite obvious. You do have a knack for stating facts that are already staring us in the eye.

Me: Oh please. It is the art of small talk. I wish the art could be taught to some people I try having conversations with.

V (uberly tired of the talking, and gazing elsewhere): You could try that.

Me (still persisting): I read somewhere that he had sold a bulk of his shares last month. Don’t you think he saw this coming?

V (with feverish excitement): That’s bad. That’s really bad. That is very very bad.

Me: Wow! So, in this whole episode, the only point that has shaken you is the money.

V (dismissively): Obviously. That seems to be the only interesting aspect of the issue. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The maroon

It was a dilapidated bus-stop off the dusty main road. Noisy trucks invaded what little remained of the tar on the road, while the whir and hum of electric trains from tracks afar adorned the otherwise mundane setting.

The sun shone down indelibly, in what could only be an expression of its immense love for the few people braving the road. It was two in the afternoon on a Saturday, smack in the middle of May.

He stood at the bus stop, oblivious of the time, the trucks whizzing past him, the trains’ whirring through the station, and above all, the sun’s persistence.

The day had started reasonably well, with his favorite puttu and sweetened tea at Nayar’s. The tea could never meet the standards of what he used to have at home, his land the mecca of the world’s tea. However, he had no time to reminiscence these days, of home and tea, of beaches and forests.

Packing was well underway for his trip to the Queen’s land. Uncle had asked him to carry only the bare essentials, for the stores there had good supplies of hand-me-downs for the migrant populace. It wasn’t as if he had anything more than bare essentials, having migrated to this interim land with not so much as a plan in place, let alone a bag of clothes. A few irreparable trousers, given to him by kind neighbors from his homeland, with dreams in their hearts and sorrow in their eyes, were all he could manage to stuff into a sorry looking suitcase.

That is when he heard that loud rapping on the door. His uncle was on call at Nayar’s, the only shop in that building blessed with a functional phone. He tumbled down the stairs, dismay writ large on his face.

Perhaps, his uncle had changed his mind, he worried. He was after all a menial with no culinary skill, let alone the expertise to help run a samosa counter in a movie hall in foreign land, desi-frequented as it may be. Perhaps, his uncle would be kind enough to postpone the trip and not cancel it, he consoled himself as he rushed to Nayar’s, tightening the once-white-now-brown dhoti around his hip. By the time he reached Nayar’s, he was heaving and panting, his heart skipping a beat more than it did when he thought of his family back home.

The conversation was short, to the point and clear. It did not change anything between them, his uncle promised him.

As if in a trance, he placed back the receiver and walked out of Nayar’s. He did not know how long he stood at that bus stop, disoriented and distraught.

A piece of newspaper seemed to be nudging him out of the stupor. Perhaps, its life’s purpose had been to fly to his rescue before he was irredeemably lost. He clutched that newspaper and read through the article on a hunger strike planned in support of his people back in his homeland.

The news he had received over phone sunk in finally. His entire family had been taken into custody the night before, and banished to an unknown and unidentified war camp. For the first time that day, he cried aloud, not because he had lost everything he had ever known, but because he was a refugee far away from home, incapable of doing anything to save his family.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Minister's Niece

Summer was well on its way out, winter far from settling in. Rains were scanty and almost nonexistent in the season calendar of that hot town of Neelangadi. The town itself bustled with energy as was its wont, the towns people on their toes 24/7.

Not for nothing was that road in the middle of Neelangadi called School Road. It housed 5 different schools in quick succession, much time having elapsed since people had forgotten its original name. School Road, unlike the rest of Neelangadi, had worn a desolate look for some time now. Like a wizened old man awaiting the shroud, withered leaves had adorned its dusty self, while an unwarranted silence had enveloped its soul.

All week, the trees had waited in anticipation, budding a bit here, blossoming a bit there, as if for this very moment. After a two-month hiatus, School Road was suddenly snapping back to life, some new zest having been pumped into its old self. Today, the flowers were in full bloom welcoming the kids back to school, for it was the month of June, a month of new beginnings.

Cycle rickshaws scurried through School Road, unmindful of the humidity and the dust, towards the first bell at school. In one such rickshaw perched round and chubby 10-year old Swetha. With her were four other school-mates. Though school mornings were usually a little subdued and sleepy, today was an exception, this being the first day after the summer vacation. The kids were looking forward to school, exchanging notes on what had happened over the vacation. Swetha was the loudest of the lot, not to forget the most argumentative and talkative too. If she had been a member of the Parliament, it would have been difficult for the other members to get even breathing space, let alone talking time. The chattering continued well up to the school gate, where the rickshaw driver struggled to be heard above the din with a Run along now. I will be here at 2.30 p.m. to pick you all up. Dont be late. I have another sawaari at 3.30 p.m.

In another ten minutes, everything was quiet again, School Road having slipped into a longish nap, while the children inside excitedly sat through first day, with their new books, and freshly bound and covered notebooks. At 2.30 p.m., as if on cue, the din resumed, an even louder one than in the morning, for children always seemed to be much fresher by end of day than in the mornings. Swetha and her group got into the waiting rickshaw and made their way through the labyrinth of bikes and cars and auto rickshaws on School Road to reach the end of it, where they were stopped abruptly by a huge traffic constable. The Minister is going to pass any time now this way. Turn back and take another route. The rickshaw driver started pleading with him explaining how the other route was very circuitous and involved the main road, which was not safe for rickshaw driving. Swetha, without batting an eyelid, turned to the constable and said, Uncle, you cannot really stop this rickshaw. The Minister is going to be very angry with you. Dont you realize I look just like her, round and chubby and sweet? I am her niece. The constable gave his brightest smile ever, and turning to the rickshaw driver said, Look. Scurry off really soon. She is not expected to pass through for another ten minutes now.

At home that evening, Swetha was excitedly telling her mother about how smartly she had behaved on the road today, while her mother ground coconuts in the Minister-provided mixer, while the Minister-provided television blared in the background. Listening to the account, her mother chided Swetha saying, Sweetie, you are not supposed to lie like that. Thats not what we have taught you. Swetha thought for just a second before retorting with a But Mamma, I was not lying. Didnt the Minister announce the other day that she is distributing TVs and mixers to ease all our lives as we are like family to her?

Elsewhere, a huge traffic constable was recounting the days events to his wife saying, That girl was so cute and smart, I did not have the heart to deny her passage through the road today.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Artiste

I once painted a beautiful scenery.

My friend advised me that I should erase out the sun because it affected her sensibilities of how “round” is defined.

I erased it, out of concern for my dear friend. As if sceneries can’t function without sunlight, I consoled myself.

My brother took a look at it and suggested that the river should not be as blue as it impacted his long standing fear of the dark.

I lightened it up till it was paper white. My brother was important to me, alright.

My neighbor said that such a dense bunch of trees seemed to signify closure, and it was a wrong message to send to the masses.

I couldn’t question my neighbor’s logic, so out went the bunch of trees.

I was left standing with a clean sheet of paper.

My friend made a paper boat out of it, while my brother threw it around like a makeshift paper rocket, and my neighbor, in a scramble for cleanliness, spit out his chewing gum into it and threw it into the garbage bin.

I was left standing, looking at the scene, thinking about my scenery, wondering whether I should move to a secular household, where my scenery will be left alone, with me and me alone.

Ref: The controversies surrounding the release of the movie Viswaroopam in January 2013.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An afternoon at sea

“It depends”, she says, to nothing and no one in particular. That seems to be an acceptable answer to the illustrious company drinking its coffee on that smoky patio. She stares out at the sea, unmindful of the discussion that ploughs forward, as her thoughts wind back to memories from a distant land.

It was not a forgettable trip. Well, not quite, for she doesn’t remember the details of the trip now. She knows they had gone to some beach, after a visit to some IT organization as part of an industrial training. Such “filler” visits were common back then, earning the class some credit points, subsidies and a day off from college.

She is losing track of the discussion now. Someone is directing a question at her. “Well, one has to see how it plays out,” she responds. That should suffice for now.

The beach was hot, April-hot. Lunch sharing was happening, like it used to in school. Only this wasn’t school. They couldn’t giggle in peace, all these big boys making fun and imitating them. It was intimidating, abnormal and unnatural.

Someone giggles. Another says, “Aapko kya lagta hai?” She snaps back to reality again with an appropriate response. “Aise hi random bolte hai yaar log. Kabhi kabhi samajh mein ni aata hai ki client kaun aur consultant kaun.”

“Enna romba petera?” was the first question one boy asked her at lunch. She didn’t understand. “What is peter”, she asked in return, only to be ridiculed further. Apparently, ‘peter’ referred to anyone who spoke a lot of English. ‘Uff, I hate them’, she murmured to herself while retreating further into her girls’ gang.

The tea is getting cold, the wind a little chilly today. Conversation has turned to the cricket match fiasco. Inane, coffee table conversation. At tea time, near the balustrade.

The girls’ gang looked unhappy what with she claiming that the boys had been at their unruly best. Not that she was the best judge of how the average boy behaved, but her opinion seemed to count there. That is when he came up to her, the guy who hadn’t ridiculed her, her voice or her language. The guy, she secretly liked. “Can I have some water?” he asked.

“How come you make and get food from home? You aren’t married right?”, someone asks her. “No, I am not”, she says. The distant sea rumbles a little, a storm seems to be brewing.