It’s Her

A bright magenta chiffon with white bandhani print on it, and a green n gold zari border….she halts, as her gaze lingers over the saree….she takes a step or two forward ..pauses and then suddenly points out to it….asks to see it and as he unfolds it with a swift move of the arm…it flows before her and she follows its movement as it falls before her lightly brushing her arm…she runs her palm over the fabric…feeling every inch of it…she lifts it…tosses it over her…tilts her head to a side and views herself in the mirror…a small oval face…a flawless complexion…her hair loosely tied in a bun that that rests at the nape of her neck…a strand or two falling on the side of her face which she tucks behind her ear …and a pair of warm soulful brown eyes….she smiles a little smile….looks at herself one last time in the saree that would make her look even prettier than she already is….she peels it off her shoulder…gently puts it down…runs her palm one last time over it…smiles at the man behind the counter …thanks him…and takes a step or two forward…this time to move further without looking back….

A tinkle is heard as she opens the door and steps in….she looks to her sides and smiles….a brown teddy bear with a red ribbon firmly fastened round its neck….a yellow plastic duck with a red beak and blue eyes….a clown in a yellow, red and green checked jump suit, a red plum for a nose and a grin that would make anyone reach out to him….winnie the pooh mischieviously putting his paw inside a jar of honey….there it was!…..the big sized plastic doll in a pink dress with white flowers, shining black hair that fell till her waist, white socks and black shoes, a chubby round face with filled cheeks and the bluest of eyes with long eyelashes smiling at you….she stretched out her arm and lifted the doll looking at it for a minute or so…she turned it over….Rs 120 the tag stared at her….without a moments hesitation she walked to the old white haired beared man behind the cash register and asked for it to billed…

Opens the door….and walks to the tiny room with pink beds and clouds on the ceiling..she placed the doll on the bed and went back to her kitchen…she kept looking out of the window with searching eyes…finally the wait was over!…she opened the door and the little feet ran to the pink room to fling her bag and gobble her lunch…she waited, biting her lip…there was the same pitter patter and the little arms threw themselves around her neck with the doll tightly clutched in them and with shining eyes and delighted squeals….she let out a laugh and hugged back the little girl…the chiffon saree would have to find somebody else….it would be draped by her only in her dreams…

That was no stranger I was talking about…fictional as it may sound, I’m sure that one person in your family would know who I am talking about…take a chance and just ask her to read it… and you will have your answer….

Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. ~Ambrose Bierce

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Those were the best days of our lives…

As we ride the roller coaster of life we pass through several phases and each of these phases has a birth, maturity and a death. But some of these phases get embedded in the far recesses of our mind and probably gets entrenched in our memory forever and ever…the “guru” of all these phases are the good old college days which spell youthfulness, colour, boldness and a host of other adjectives I bet… a phase which perhaps signifies a turning point in our lives, most of the time without us even being aware of it…. a phase which connotes a host of relationships some which are for life some which are of convenience some of which are priceless some others which are neutral and still others which are just plain sour…the phase where your always doing something….I don’t really know why but for some reason a certain part of my brain constantly activates my brain cells which is incessantly flashing images of this life….and I guess always will….

Today as I sit here typing this I realize that when we are in this phase we most of the time are so caught up in living through it that we fail to realize what we are really feeling or experiencing at that moment in time. It’s only when we sit back and think do we realize how priceless and invaluable those golden moments are.

Who can ever forget the pranks, which range from harmless fun to serious dangerous and risky acts. Bunking the grouchiest professor’s class…. sitting in the canteen knowing that attendance is due in 5 minutes…smuggling corn puffs into class hiding it in whoever’s dress had a pocket or whoever’s palm could grasp it best without revealing the grub…. Popping mentos’ and other mint while taking down notes…daring to discuss answers and the number of questions that each one would attempt arriving on a consensus as to how much crap to write and what to write during a test (“whose marks would be counted for internal assessment” we were told as a threat) or worse still placing the note book under the desk and for those with a dash of boldness, on the desk and paraphrasing it onto the answer sheets (knowing that anyway our marks would be decided on the basis of signal sent to our profs grey matter as soon as the eye ball catches glimpse of the name on the corner) and of course on a more serious level spinning yarns and yarns (enough to choke one to death) on the spur of the moment about what we did on a month long internship, which from our side of it comprised of attending all the movies in town, meeting our friends, going shopping, chatting for long hours over the phone, basically just doing our thing…..or to use the lingo of today’s college goers, “jus chillin”….

Then ofcourse is the most important hang out…. the canteen!!!!!!!!!!!!…the hub of all activity…a place of many and varied sights and sounds…where the piping hot sambar rice accompanied by only one papad which is pounced upon by 6 hungry people….or the over fried potato cutlet(which always gains the sympathy vote) or the occasional dosa or idly or kotthu parotha becomes staple food….where coffee ranging from extra strong to normal to milky is the most happening beverage and the kuchi ice that turns your tongue into a colour palette either royal purple or the tangy orange or sunshine yellow which you get tempted into having the moment you spot someone else’s tongue licking it with relish….oh yes the canteen….the “adda” you turn to when your hungry (obviously) or bored or depressed….its a multi purpose place which you can always turn to…

The most testing period of college life….exams!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! groan n moan n whine …then forget all differences all personal grudges and come up with team spirit and soon theres the protest march to the department where we start by negotiating….” But we have so much to do….and on top of that you want us to write a test”….then move on to emotional blackmail,” you know the situation and how we are over burdened with stuff…we just can’t cope with the load….but if you still want us to take the test we will but it won’t be our bestest effort…” and if that doesn’t work then you just turn into a beggar and beg your way to cancellation “ pleeeeeeese mam….mam pleeeeese……”as you can see placing the mam either behind or in front of the catch word “pleeeeeese”…the trick is to drag it and tilt your face to a side, put on a puppy dog “feel sorry for me” face and chorus it out in voices ranging in degrees of desperation…. and then sensing that it isn’t gonna work you start grasping at the last straw and in a strategic move strike a deal“ ok we will take the test but not now…give us some time so we can prepare and put in our best and come out with flying colours…it’s a promise”….out of a fifty times you get away with it about 45 times proving that no mountain is unshakable and that where there is a will there is a way….but whether now or later when the test day arrives cramming is done either on the eve or in most cases on that morning where some students turn into profs trying to feed the ones with the gift of the gab with some ground stuff….but ultimately everyone gets the hang of it and gases away…that’s the rule of the thumb which you ultimately master at the end of college…the ones who studied try to squeeze in a little of the stuff they studied while gasing and the others who haven’t just let themselves go without any inhibitions whatsoever bringing to light their creativity and imagination…as one of my friend’s put it “ if your lucky you get away with your gassing and when it stinks real bad that’s when your in trouble” …but one thing is for sure never take the risk of not asking for a postponement or cancellation…you never know when the stars are on your side…

And of course there are the relationships that you build. Initially you are just wondering what each one is like and wondering whether “your type” exists there or not. You start off as acquaintances and then as time goes by the bond either strengthens or weakens. But sooner or later each one finds his match and at times several matches come together as a groups. It goes without saying that there is always the brewing of inter group rivalry and at times even intra group rivalry. But believe me some of the relationships can be the strongest, unshakable and the most wonderful. You live through things together. The good times are numerous and the bad times aren’t the ones you spent alone either. These relationships add more meaning and value to your life and your college buddy/buddies becomes your life buddy/buddies.

It is said that it takes all kinds to make this world. Well just stand back and look at your batch. It couldn’t have been truer. It really does take all kinds. There are two characters who will always be there in any class. The class clown and the class prim n proper. It’s always a bifurcation into, the quieter obedient ones on the one hand and the noisier, talkative distracted (and distractive) ones. And subsumed within each of these there are several sub categories.

Well left to me I can write a whole book on these days but for a start I think I should keep it short and let you live your own memories. They may not be exactly like the ones I have just unfolded but I’m sure that they bear some similarity. The base is the same, probably the details are different. It’s funny isn’t it that before you even realize the kind of impact these days would have on your life the days are over. And today all your left with is memories, a box of little souvenirs, a couple of snaps perhaps (the ones where you and your pals are singing during culturals, another to freeze the day you guys went wild and pierced your noses and ears or maybe did something that was equally wild, the customary class photograph, the farewell snap, the time one of your pals took the plunge and tied the knot, the b’day parties and so on….)

You move on and soon the roller coaster begins again. New experiences, new people, new friends, a new phase. But nothing quite like those good ol’ days. So one day if and when you realize this what would you do? Well just do as I did…relive all the good times and perhaps write about it. Tell your kids and spouse about it, dig up the telephone number of the class clown n just surprise him/her, pay a visit to your college and see if things are the same, the professors…the culture…the buildings…the canteen…the library…take a trip down memory lane…

“You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…””- Tom Petty (American Guitarist & Singer)

 

 

Ride in my auto

We have all had this experience sometime or the other…if you are an Indian there is no way you can escape it…whether in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin…whether you are a man woman child…young middle aged or old…it’s the ubiquitous, harrowing, one of a kind auto ride experience!

If you think that the auto-wallahs aka as auto-karans, (in the place where I come from) are anything like what super star Rajnikant propagated in his raging super duper hit song in Baasha, well let me tell you, you can think again! Endless days of dealing and coping with this race have left me sage on this topic.

So would you like to give your memory a bit of a wake up call?

On a rainy morning in Chennai, standing on the street with an umbrella, trying to avoid getting my salwar wet and protecting my file, lunch bag and purse from those large drops, desperately trying to flag a “rick” which seemed to run on Murphy ’s Law – nowhere to be seen just when you need them. After several minutes, one turns up in sight.

Me: “How much to the destination?”

Vasool Raja (my pet name for the auto drivers): “120 Rs!” (Replied with utmost confidence and I must say guts)

Me: “60 Rs is what I usually dish out”

Vasool Raja: a few words of Tamil slang (try and hold on to your self respect if you can) and then “it’s raining. I have to reach you there in the rain.”

Me thinking to myself: “So isn’t that your job. Come rain or sunshine aren’t you supposed to drive people to their destinations at the already over charged meterless rate?”

Vasool Raja: “Cannot reduce.”

Me: “Nor can I. You can carry on.”

This scene plays itself out for another four to five ricks and finally seeing to my utmost dismay that I have no choice, I climb into these phat phatis and he races through the waterways with scant regard for anyone or anything except his 120 Rs.

The rain mind you is just one scenario. This scene plays itself out for various other scenarios as well.

How about, its 9 at night, your dog tired, hungry, head reeling and just wanting to get back to good old home, but wait its 9 at night – how can you pay normal overpriced charge. Its 9!

“Night time ma”. Oh yes your Sire I almost forgot, its night time. Thaaaaats right- that’s the last I see of you my dear Rs 120.

Or how about this – “Evalo traffic irikkuthu ma. Konja pothu kudunga”. Well of course! How can I be so naïve? I need to pay double the fare because the Chennai Metropolitan Council or whatever you call it, is too busy in their corruption deals to pay attention to the plight of roads and the ensuing traffic congestion. One even went to the extent to say, “Oh that road has too many potholes, so you need to pay me extra.” Oh yes absolutely. Adieu dear Rs 120.

Moral of the story? – Raining, potholed road, traffic, 9pm onwards it’s always double of the already doubled fare.

Moving onto other things – Have you ever noticed the interiors of the auto you are traveling in? No? Yes? Well having traveled in them a good many a time, I have some notes to share. Let’s begin our tour with the meter. That antique rusty box like structure perched on the corner, is both ironic and amusing at the same time. I wonder when it last worked- the 80’s??…your guess is as good as mine.

And what about the film star posters inside on either sides. Boarded with nails on the left, Rajni greets you and Vijay with folded arms, looking at you in the eye, sporting a smile on the right. Hello guys!

The characteristic blow horn is done away with and instead the screechy noise has found its way in. And if you got up on the wrong side of the bed you may find yourself being entertained by some radio music loud enough to make even a deaf person shut his ears. But if you lucky early in the morning, you just may have the fragrance of incense swirling into your nostrils trying to calm your senses as the F1 race begins.  

Screeching burning tyres, a million jerky stops, countless bumps into the potholes (sometimes feel they go right into them without even making an attempt of avoidance just to derive sadistic pleasure) and several jostles as the vehicle and you and everything else along are thrown up from you seat as the engine revs over speed breakers. That’s the F1 wannabe at work.

Traffic lights are passé and the auto driver is the King of the Road. And lest I forget, distance from the front and the sides from another vehicle are always a hair’s breadth. Close enough to scrape and no more distance than that. That’s the rule of the game.

And if ever you get to know why an auto from an auto stand charges you a humongous price, please do enlighten this auto ridden soul.

I just realized that my verbiage on this pet peeve is endless, so I reckon I btter come to a grinding halt right here and spare you the details.

On a parting note – Men may come and men may go but the Auto goes on forever…

 

Ironic India? Or Ironic Me?

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy-a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life, only to discover that the previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.
An excerpt from Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”

The reason why I chose to quote this excerpt is because many a time I feel closely aligned to one of the main characters in the book-Ashima. An emotional Indian who cannot change her ways in a foreign land and who constantly longs for the familiarity of her world back in India. I often wonder why the likes of Ashima and me, fail to realize the bigger picture and wish to cling on the ‘previous life’. It was just the other day that a friend of ours swiftly and with utmost ease slashed my “Indian bubble” with what felt like a sharp gleaming Samurai sword-Swoosh!!!!!

He said, “What India are you talking about? The country where politicians are allowed to contest from jails?” That was the first swoosh.

“The country where you and say Amitabh Bachhan are not equal in the eyes of the law? No one is equal in the eyes of law there.” That was the second swoosh.

“The country where everything works on bribes and more bribes and still more bribes?” Third swoosh.

“The country where if a woman drinks it is normally looked down upon but no one fails to eve tease and commit other heinous crimes?” Fourth swoosh.

“The country where there are frequent power cuts, where basic necessities for survival like water, energy etc are rare commodities and now even rarer due to the politicization of that as well?” And then I lost count of the swooshes thereon.

Suddenly I felt like someone had gagged me. My mouth felt sealed and I had difficulty building a defense that could swoosh him into silence equally. And then I just said “Agreed. But unfortunately that’s how it is and whatever said and done its home and its where my heart belongs.”

I know it fails to sounds convincing and I am infact angered coz I know that we live in a less than perfect country. But when I think of India I somehow don’t think of the corruption, struggle, inequality and the endless list of vices but I just think about home. I think about Chennai. I think about family, street food, familiar localities and well to put it simply, just my way of life for the past 26 years. In a nutshell – I just think of my cocoon and blur the rest into oblivion. And thus no matter how perfect the foreign soil may be, it brings on a feeling of alienation, a sort of despondence or like Ashima said “a sort of lifelong pregnancy-a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.” The bigger picture? Guess I just swooshed it with my local Indian sickle.

India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”
Mark Twain

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