Thursday, 18 September 2008

Chai ready!

The slow misty curtain that was a prelude to the monsoon drenched month of July stopped dubiously for a second before it slowly proceeded to clear the air for the first break of light of the day. Squinting at the sharp glare, we tried to grab an extra bit of sleep but were rudely woken up by a tired looking guide who in his eagerness to make an extra penny had urged us, a team of travel writers to pen Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary as the last of the ‘101 things to do in Kerala’ in our itinerary.

“Laksmi is still sleeping but she will be up in a while and then we can play with her,” said Girish, our enthusiastic guide.

Lying on the southern bank of Periyar and cradled among the high ranges, Kodanad was once one of the largest elephant-capturing centres of South India. After the law banned elephant capturing in 1977, the elephant kraal and training centre remained intact and today six elephants inhabit the sanctuary with three of them adept at entertaining tourists. Two-year-old Lakshmi was the youngest and was already famed as a wild child of sorts.

Enticing us with stories of Lakshmi and her troubled past for most of the two-hour journey, we had scarcely noticed the deep rumblings from our empty stomachs. Now as we proceeded to walk towards the sanctuary, an unmistakeable aroma of freshly steamed Puttu and Kadala(steamed rice cakes and chickpeas curry) strongly beckoned us from the roadside.

We located the origin of the aroma to a dilapidated hut that doubled up as a tea stall and looked like it could whip up breakfast for three hungry people. The dark insides of the tea stall had all the bearings of a typical teashop shown in Malayalam movies. Two men were bending low over the morning newspaper; with one of them occasionally reading the highlights aloud well above the old Malayalam film song that filled the small room.

With the only light in the room coming from the window, we could barely make out the silhouette of a lanky frame pouring something noisily from one container to the other. The efficiency was unmistakeable. Caught by a child like curiosity we grabbed our cameras and almost scared Hari out of his concentration.

Born and raised in the nearby town of Perumbavoor(a nearby town), Hari’s father owned the teashop and passed it on to him after his death. While the elder son handled the cash, 32-year-old Hari helped his mother and wife in the kitchen.

The Malayalee’s affinity to tea and teashops are legendary. Jokes like Neil Armstrong reaching the moon jubilantly and being crestfallen on discovering a ‘Kunjappan(common Malayalee name) tea stall’ already there for years, have made the rounds a zillion times.

Despite all the political brouhahas, flashes of globalisation, high literacy rates, cultural facelifts and communal riots, the common man’s teashop have stood time tested and proud. The delicacies and the environment are a rarity. A cantankerous radio, the local gossip, the ever crowing cock behind the shop all in the background of a general laidback air that has this delectable aroma of delicacies unknown to a world of Starbucks, Costa and Café Coffee Day.

A small glass cupboard will boast plates of uzhunuvada, parippuvada, motta baji, ethakka appam(snacks of Kerala)and the like. The teashop owner expects you to ask when it was made so don’t think you might offend him. A passer-by is forgiven for asking as well for the glass cabinet looks antique and unwashed but the wares are mostly fresh.

The average teashop owner expects you to know the requisites before ordering your famous Kerala tea aka One Metre Tea. Our guide shouts “Randu strong with, Oru without”which was unscrambled for us to mean two strongly brewed cups of tea with sugar and one cup without sugar. With a lazy nonchalance, Hari then took the brew from the broiler and stretching two containers as humanly far as possible from each other, he performed a sheer act of brilliance, as the concoction poured in a highly disciplined fashion from container to the other.
All we saw were flashes of the steel containers, which moved effortlessly from one direction to the other and to some strange rhythm without a drop spilling out from them. An impressive and bulbous layer of froth bubbled at the top of the teacup threatening to spill but stayed solemn after a while.
A friend once lamented, “Kerala tea is just froth and nothing else” but the charm lies not in the quantity but in the quality which makes the global Malayalee all the more nostalgic. His down the memory lanes are incomplete without the sweet, thick well brewed and steaming cups of tea that promises to give you a definite high.

We said goodbye to Hari and his teashop, took pictures, played with the elephants,pampered Lakshmi and almost got killed in her loving embrace before we packed bags and proceeded to hit the road back to Cochin.

On our way we passed by Hari again who stood outside his shop for a smoke.Seeing us, he rushed to our side and said,”Chechi Chai ready” (Sister,tea is ready)


Sunday, 14 September 2008


A wisp from the scented Agarbatti smoke waft towards me--the perfect background to the Kaniyaan’s words as he studies carefully the series of criss crossed lines on my outstretched palm.

After a long pause, he murmurs inaudibly, then sits back thoughtfully.

"Times are not good, kutty," he continues in the Palakkad slang I love to hear so much...

"Go home.You are not meant to be alone. Nobody is. Not even the stars. Even they need planetary movements to support their existence." He closes his books and sets his board aside, a soft wave of 70 years of experience crossing his face as he puts a wrinkled hand on my shoulder and nods his head in a way that reminds me of my father.

Outside,the rains are less forgiving.

Future has a way of arriving unnoticed, I muse aloud. Like the summer rains.

Half way down the ride, the autorickshaw I am travelling in comes to a rickety halt. The driver whisphers a drenched curse and pulls vigorously at a lever beside me.

Twenty minutes later, I am walking down the road, my wet hair hanging by my sides, the numbness enveloping me. I do not know if its the rain or the sharp slivers from my own cold emotions.

A pink board urging to fight breast cancer catch my eye. I stop to read. I see the smiling faces on the board and think of their darkest moments. I wonder if it was like mine. Did their thoughts get sucked in by the tiny nodes that were plugged on to their forehead? Could they feel the lashing waves that frothed at the end of their mouths?


A red and yellow board screams at me. I call the Kaniyaan again. I ask him how much longer I would live. The astrologer in him dissapears and my father's best friend begs me to return home. I disconnect the line during one of his helpless pauses. I know he is praying for me.

My pulse quickens at the urgency I feel somewhere inside my head.Desolation. I know I will dissapear into one of those dark tunnels again. Those unexplainable time warps that gnaw painfully at the ends of my nerves. I usually wake up from those episodes, my throat parched and covered in perspiration.

Today I feel prepared. I will fight them. I remember Achen's and Amma's faces over me. Achen's eyebrows narrowed in perpetual worry, Amma's face pale from crying. The medicines never helped then. The thick ropes did. The local temple priest narrated examples of countless people diagnosed with MPD(Multiple Personality Disorders) who were ‘disciplined by the gods.’ Prehistoric, but Achen and Amma succumbed to some raw reality that worked with the tautness of those ropes where the science behind chemicals failed.

I see a tea shop and step inside. I sit next to one of the surprised faces.The cantankerous noise inside ceases with my presence but an overwhelming stench is too strong to bear. A man in his early forties clad in just a chequered loin cloth rushes to my side, "Can I have a glass of hot tea, please?"I ask him almost immediately.

He looks around for a minute and then giving a wry smile tells me, "This is a toddy shop chechi.For men only."

His last line brings forth a blend of thunderous laughter and hoot-cries.

Of course, it is.How could I not recognise the stench.

I could now feel the knot within me unfurling itself like as if it had lost all hopes to remain taut and diplomatic and was eager to unleash its fury to the hilt.

Clearing my throat, I repeat my request more feebly than I want it to be. The man doesn't understand and my request is answered with more raucous laughter.

I stand up and  feel a strong nauseous wave throw me off balance. Ignoring it, I  march towards the kitchen , my insides threatening to burst out through my head.
A cold wet smell greets me as I enter the kitchen.I look around me for something to silence those countless groans of pain in my head.
Suddenly a noise startles me . I turn behind and see a young woman hurriedly searching for something among the dark silhouettes of the pots and pans. Clad in a knit top, muddied pair of chinos and flip flops, I am surprised to see someone like her within the dark interiors of a rustic toddy shop in a remote town in Kerala.
Murmuring something to herself in an irate tone,  she searches hurriedly among the numerous pots and pans that are now angrily strewn all across the floor.
“ Get out of my kitchen else I will call the police, you mad woman,” a male voice shrieks from the corner. The sharp glare of the daylight from outside prevents me from seeing the person to whom the voice belong. I look beside me and see the girl look at the doorway for a minute, before turning her head away. As if realising that her time was running out, she runs to the tap above a broken wash basin and holding her mouth very close to the rust coated pipe, drink with loud noisy slurps.
I had felt a deep sense of calm seeing her all along that I had forgotten my despair.Yet even as she drank the water, I could feel an inner thirst being quenched. I would have been staring at her pointedly for she suddenly raise her head and wipes wet strands away from her face and looking at me smiles and says, “I think I might not make it this time,Indu.I can no longer hear myself think.”
From beside the basin she takes an ugly knife and slashes both her wrists. There is a loud noise of rushing feet and people trying to jump over the broken shards of glass and pottery.
Suddenly I can only sense two beings in the room: just the two of us. I try to understand her smile but I know fate has delayed me as we look at each other.
Noiselessly she crumples on to the floor, the smile on her face frozen for time.
I had already felt the cold unwelcome touch of the hard kitchen floor.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Down the valley...

Down the valley right on my favourite rock I sat
Stealing the blend of washerwomen’s songs whisked with the jaywalk’s chatter

The evening sun splashed her last rays across the horizon
A low breeze whistled a fancy into my ear

The wind chimed her anklets further
I sank my feet surreptiously into the temptingly chilly beneaths

Hiding the world’s inquisitive eyes , the clouds gathered above
Naked and smiling,I scissored through the thick oblivion below….

A passing mackerel below nibbled at my knee
Somewhere an expectant frog called out for his partner

Stepping back on my favourite rock, I watched the mangrove branches sway
Their fragrant ripeness blending rendering a blossoming air

When lost in the whirlwind of time, I crave for moments I call my own
Its my day down at the valley that I cherish the most

For I see myself the happiest amidst the slivers of moonlight and the mangrove shade
Than all the cheers that the world has to spare.

Yours truly…..Solitude!

Solitude is a virgin for me. Pure, untouched and innocent. She is not nagging and self-centred like her cousin….loneliness. Solitude has an unmistakeable dignity about her, which she passes on to those who seek her. Perhaps a reason why she chooses to be sought and also remain as a shade of a person’s character as much as is expected of her and not be an all pervasive worry like loneliness which shakes you by your shoulders and penetrates into your soul cancerously spreading through you…

I discovered solitude by chance…that doesn’t come as a surprise. I discovered myself also by chance. Both the findings have a common thread running through them. My adolescence. It was then that I realized that the world in me was larger than the world outside me. All of a sudden I would sense the air thick and polluted with coagulated pride, noxious vapours of egoism and edged with acidic concepts of life. All this shrouded in a thin feeble cover called conversation. I would then slip out away from the glare and into My Solitude. Yes, how could I adore something and not call it my own.

Sometimes my solitude would leave me lying for hours under a carpet of stars. sometimes beside a flowing brook. Sometimes as I lay by the side of the village pool on the cold stone steps….strands of my open hair gently kissing the water below as if trying to symbolize my relationship with solitude.

Rains are never a part of solitude for me. With rains…. well there was always a conversation there. Never the silence that epitomises solitude. The showers always rushed to rescue me from loneliness. That’s another thing about solitude. There is a very thin line that separates it from loneliness. A very thin slippery line. Like the netherworld it is very deadly and inviting.

When I hear lonely people speak…I can hear their voices clang like empty vessels in the dark…bereft of hope and drowned in self-pity. They can’t be blamed, I suppose. A condition conceived out of a situation.

I tasted a little bit of loneliness recently. It is like vinegar on your teeth. That irresistibly irritating feeling. And it gives you bad breath…a pungent odour that keeps the whole world at bay away from you. Loneliness gives you a kick though. But of course you need to be a dedicated narcissist willing to wallow in self-pity.

I have felt pangs of loneliness in my childhood but that somehow was never serious enough to matter. I didn’t have many friends….none in fact… but I had a lovely set of parents who didn’t allow the empty hollow feeling to suck me through. Also, like most kids I also had an imaginary friend…I was Indu.She was Lekha.Today I am both.

We would talk to each other…bath together….cook for each other….the days when I would stubbornly insist to have my dinner in my pink plastic toy cooking vessels….and amma would happily oblige…anything to cloak my bones…;)

As my passion for books grew I needed no other companions. Lekha somehow slipped away into the background so subtly that I didn’t even realize that she was gone. My adolescence wielded a pen in me with a taste to dive in to different coloured pots of ink. Soulful was a sky blue…. Ecstasy…an unmistakeable aqua green…Humour ….a naughty bubbly lime green.

For me writing was a late but inevitable sensation I discovered. Yet like her counterparts; hunger and thirst; it had an unflinching need that required to be satiated. I once heard an actor describe his voracious appetite for sex. Raw and demanding. I couldn’t describe my need to write any better.

I was excited at this new rawness in me. I wanted to explore more of me. My craving to write took me initially to quiet corners and later on to serene backgrounds. That’s when I bumped into solitude. Amongst the rustle of the autumn leaves…alongside the breezy southern wind…with the noiseless fall of the dewdrops. An aura first…then a presence and finally a part of me.

Yet, I also realized very early in life that you can’t turn to solitude for consolation for her youth and spirit also brings with them a whiff of immaturity. The moment you seek her wind to dry your tears, she steps aside to let loneliness in. Solitude understands sorrow but her immense dignity and self esteem expects you to lick your own wounds and heal yourself and come to her for some happy blissful swigs.

I have often mused, it must be this rejection that she does at her doorstep that turns many a heartbroken lover straight into the arms of loneliness.

Some days when I get time to stand still and look at myself in the mirror…I see a very bright ornament on my bare neck…My solitude…. bright and embedded with temperately cut stones…the brightest of ornaments that I have… Reflecting on the simple inspiration that she has been for me all along…

I turn!

Through the haze that someone else calls life….I saw the yellow post-it note on a breezy Monday morning. Scribbled in my boss’ scrawny handwriting it threw an impromptu punch to my gut.

“Story on Kerala-need it by next week.cheers.Roy”

I threw the remnants of a wrinkled cigarette on the carpeted floor and watched it angrily burn through the blue fibre of the carpet. I could feel the bile rising within me as the post-it note crumpled helplessly in my clenched fist. The bile of something already churned and digested in some past life now made me feel like retching.

It all starts with the kind of promises you make over tiny heavily finger printed mannappams (mud cakes) and athil ithil games. The kind where one chubby hand opens up to take her Amma’s(Mother) hand and there is a quick “Promise, ok” exchanged before you hold hands and run indoors leaving the setting sun behind and just before Achen (Father) comes searching for you….

Today, it looks like somebody else’s life. The chubby hands have grown to be long slender ones. The eyes more sceptic. The eyebrows narrower. They say the smoking and drinking has sunken my 28 year old eyes further down pushing me way up the chronological scale. I could care less. That brings me to something else about me. I generally don’t care.

Memories are like the spotless thoughts that cannot bear to travel through your mind again because of the muck….

I threw my head back and I could see the swirling shapes come again….like some supersonic game of Venus rings…concentric circles that refused to slow down…and then the circles gave way to a wisp of smoke that played with my senses….It had the fragrance of wet earth…the one which I loved breathing in and growing around….the soft mud that held those chubby feet and lovingly etched footprints to mark existence…
“Passengers boarding AI 987 to Cochin please assemble at gate no. 4.”

How typical, I thought. A trip down memory lane and your thoughts get interrupted by a ground staff’s automated voice. After what seemed like hours, I sensed Kerala…. the effervescent Pookalam (floral carpet) that greeted me at the airport was the first sign. I frowned. It was Thiruonam.and I didn’t even know it was September. Disconnect when deliberately made sometimes snatches away large morsels of time from your hands.

I bend to feel an array of vaadamulla flowers (bright purple flowers that are used to decorate the floral carpet during the Onam festival.). I stood up as a rivulet of goosebumps appeared on my arm. Nostalgia was making an appearance like never before.

“Vegam…Vegam”(Hurry, Hurry) Gayathri chechi would urge us little ones as the first ray of dawn hit the horizon. Sleepily, we would hurry pulling the petals off the huge pile of flowers by our side.” And no leaves, mind you!” she would chide in between. I was always given the vaadamulla pile as its tiny head called for tiny chubby hands. Even as I got busy amma would push a ball of rich curry enticed ball of rice into my mouth much to my distaste.

A bearded old man in a shabby “once-upon-a-time” white uniform and a peaked cap that threatened to fall off any minute appeared from nowhere and held an ironically impeccable white placard that screamed “MISS INDU”. I looked at the holder of the placard and smiled warmly. On perfect cue, he rushed over and hustled my baggage away to a waiting car.

I knew that the journey would add on to my list of haunting melodies even before I started it. I was not wrong. I couldn’t be. As I stepped out, a nauseous wave of agony hit me through the fragrance that enveloped me.

Often stopping to appreciate décor whenever I checked into hotel rooms, it never struck me to glance around. Neither did jetlag. I packed my backpack, had a bite and was about to step outside when I met the driver again at the door.

I stopped to smile then instinctively realised he was waiting for me.

I threw him a puzzled look. He walked over, looked at me closely, “Madam, I have met many people who come back to see their village and their place. They have many emotions but yours are the saddest eyes I have ever seen.”

I barely smiled and nodded.

The noise of a weather beaten auto rickshaw,scissored through our conversation and turned to stop by my side. A young thing that barely had stubbles asked me where I wanted to go.

I stopped in front of my “tharavaadu”, (mansion) its majesty calling out to me from a distance…its ornate roof never known to bend before anyone…just like Achen.

“Kolethey kuttiya?” (Are you the daughter of the house?”) queried the rickshaw driver curiously standing at an odd angle with his mundu stuck somewhere between his legs.

I nodded nonchalantly trying to fish out money from my purse.

“No…I don’t want your money. I have heard that your birth is a cursed one. I have just brought my vehicle. Sorry.” He narrowed his eyes, gave me one last look and turned his vehicle off down the road while my frozen look disappeared with him .

“Ammmmmmmmaaaaa…” the cherubic girl shouts and twirls around in her green and maroon bordered pattu paavada, all of 6 years and wet with delight as her silver anklets joyfully chime to the feel of water and to her imaginary dance steps…Wait till Amma sees that she can shout and go around in circles as well….

A young lady’s voice rings out from the insides of a palatial “Tharavaadu”…. the beckoningly orange brick roof that over the years has disciplined the virgin rain to run down it’s inviting troughs and curves before obediently diving into the bubbling water and the gamut of pebbles below. The lady soon comes into view beside one of the huge white pillars of the house…. her wet hair loosely tied into a knot…. the end of her black margined mundu and veshti tucked at her waist taut enough to give a peep of her slim fair waistline….

“Indutttyyy…” the young woman steps out into the rain and calls out for her daughter as she loosens the end from her waist and covers her head in a mock attempt to keep the rains away…She finds her 6 year old beside a bend coconut tree dancing to some imaginary tune…It is only a moment’s displeasure that she can show, before she also joins her daughter and the rain in their very special world….”You are my blessing” are the last words she whispers into her daughter’s ears…

No, Amma…. your daughter is a curse. I murmured my voice choked for words.

And then it rained.

That’s when I stopped short for words.

I sat on the wet ground and grabbed a handful of mud and made a sloppy pancake…not perfect oval ones like Amma’s soft hands would make…

“Promise me that you’ll always come back to me wherever you go.” she would whisper holding a muddy hand before me….”

“Promisssseee Ammmaaa…” I would slap both my chubby hands into her hand and yell back in glee.

My manappam stayed long enough for me to catch a waft of the fresh earth before the rain let it slide gently from my fingers leaving just a shade of muddy brown.

All of a sudden like the afternoon burst, my emotions gave way and I felt icicles from my memory prick me and bleed me all over….

And then I cried. Loudly…louder than the rain god….louder than the fate which took the 6 year old’s parents away…louder than the drone of the drugs that swam in my stomach….louder than the silent hatred and sarcasm that raised the girl into the woman…louder than the pain of my existence….louder than me….

“Am back amma….I have kept my promise amma…” I shouted as I thrust my face into the muddy spread, which gave way to shout my sorrow, but embraced me close enough for me to hear the song that can come only from a mother’s lips….

And I saw the little girl run indoors straight into her amma’s arms… sucking a sliver of dry tamarind slyly between her lips and her head buried in the fragrant bosom…

I was home…and amma waited for me….

Pretty Journalism

Every time I read the Editorial section and appreciate a good piece,I can’t help mentally thanking my dad for inculcating the habit in us at a very young age. Those were the days when the paper was thrust at your face for anything from data to diction. Evening prayers were not the only religious fixation.The 8 pm news also followed suit.

For a seven year old, half of the things she heard and read flew over her head but somewhere my dad knew we would make a connection as we grew up. For it was the one way to bore sense into young things then. And he was right.

Yet I lack the confidence in referring newspapers or news channels today to the next gen.To say the least, channels and papers have changed their priorities to match their imaging to the extent that the media hound now distinctly resemble the dainty poodle….delicate, well fed and far from raw.And today, you needn’t worry about Gen Z understanding news content…latest twist in the Hurley-Nayar knot, SRK-Bachhan fight or a dim-witted poll on whether Viagra should be hitting the stands again…Never beyond understanding…

I don’t know if I got my numbers wrong but Page One smells more like Page 3 today and vice versa. I hated the morning that started with the front page screaming Ms. Shetty’s “big” Big Brother win and my agitation grew at a famous politician’s comment,”She made India proud.”
The same India from where came greats like Aryabhatta and Abdul Kalam who made “silent but significant” contributions.

I can’t comprehend the “great Indian pride” in staying in a house, mopping the floor and mouthing obscenities. Give me your local washerwoman on a bad day and she’ll do a better job.But of course she doesn’t ooze sensuality or cry buckets.Her story is back breaking and her scream raucous.The brightest spotlight she has faced is the midday sun and her only claim to fame or rather notoriety in Maharashtra would be when she is raped, beaten up and left for dead over her brother’s alleged love affair with a girl of another caste. But her story is long forgotten and no one wants to hear hardwork or suffering anymore. That doesn’t bring the money.So says the ratings. The washerwoman’s story is increasingly been soaped away to make way for the elite suds.

Take the recent Abhi-Ash wedding itself.The official announcement from the Bacchans came in at the same time as the Nithari killings in Delhi.And that too under the “Breaking News” title. While the whole country stood staring horrified at the sight of the mutilated bodies of some 500 chldren in the age group of (5-10)- the handiwork of an elite paedophile, the channels nonchalantly broke in screaming the Bacchans decision to tie the knot accompanied by snippets from the duo’s movies.

News cannot get more de-prioritised than this.It makes one wonder as to what constitutes real journalism..

Going back to the Nithari killings, ever wondered what happened to it? The story was a sensation in content and a best seller.But who followed it up?Would it see the same fate as many of the horror stories that dissapear into history as an age’s cruelest stories?Or for that matter, would it ever deserve a mention considering that it does not have a Sabrina Lall marching into the streets asking for justice.

I recently debated with a friend on the necessity of having a movie review right in the middle of a 6 pm news.Call me conservative but I find a Munnabhai review right after a Hamas blood hunt , insensitive to say the least and corny otherwise. It was also amusing to see the news anchor also accommodating likewise expressions on his face as was required of the content.

Coming back to the papers,I yearn for a good read nowadays by content and clarity.I am tired of the “We, the people of this paper…” gibberish. It is like running a TOMA (Top of the mind awareness) saga. But i guess that’s inevitable today. Once untouched by the corporate brouhaha, news media has also turned out to be a dicey game of money and glitz.. Pomposity and branding is thick in the air.

A regional channel ran an investigative report last week on a temple bribery case which was “courageously” caught the Tehelka way. While the resultant action did highlight corruption, it was not something which was unheard of nor an action involving “courage” as we know it..I was thoroughly disgusted by the way the channel highlighted the achievement and especially the journalist who kept harping about his action as if it required the utilization of some exceptionally special skills when all he did was ask some very matter of fact questions. The channel had the audacity to further on the topic with statements like , “We got into the picture because serious journalism was dying in India.”

Well, this is like killing a dead man.
And mind you, this is the same channel which voiced the most vociferous regional cry in accusing Bush’s government of staging a dramatic branding gimmick in Iraq and in “buying the paper for a penny” at Hotel Palestine.

A quiet dinner with a veteran journalist last weekend gave me a swig of journalism of an era, that going by what’s happening today, did not seem like it existed once upon a time. He recounted memories from the early 40’s when news was more precious than food and were rolled up into pint sized bottles and were buried deep in travelling haystacks.

Excerpts from the Emergency saga are inspirational when journalists worth their salt were chased, tortured and shot for saying the truth. Would the modern journalist have to be exposed to the same treatment to say the truth?I wonder.This is not ruling out the hardcore journalist who still has his conscience intact but is about the all encompassing image that the media projects and which a few journalists propagate.

They say the hottest seat in town is a PR one ,for every story and every killing calls for it.And if you are a journalist vested with those skills, you are a “find”. PR skills on anyone for that matter would not go awry. An ex-army lieutanent turned director , who once led an Indian troop to corner the late Rajiv Gandhi’s assasins now puts real life into reel life. Fair enough.

The man then proceeds to attend a series of talk shows across TV land on the “Truth behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination” emphathatically describing the capture or rather why the mission failed.(At the time of closing in on the assassins, the military troops find them dead rigor mortis 10 hours earlier after consuming cyanide).

My question :Why now? On an assassination that happened eons ago?

A promotion for the story or a story for the promotion?

I am tempted to think either for nothing sells like real life.
Gone were the days when we would scourge the papers for something as silly as “Is tomorrow a holiday?” .Sarcastically put, today, that seems to be the only information that one can actually trust whole heartedly from the newspapers.

The trust factor in journalism took its greatest questioning round in the alleged American media coverage of the war. What could ideally be termed as a concoction of disoriented ideologies to fuel a bloody defeat of everything remotely human, was portrayed as “our war”, “a war against terrorism” and “a fight to do away with our enemies”.

The fall of Saddam’s statue awed the entire world symbolically showing the end of an era and all the images were accompanied by shots of ecstatic crowd dancing on the roads. What was more shocking was when the photographer later admitted that while the latter was a song and dance sequence from an Iraqi wedding, the former happened when very few people were around.

In the book “Hotel Palestine”, the author sadly notes the media “twist” some members of the American and British media are asked to give to their stories by the American soldiers….Sitting channels away , we the audience in all true faith of sight and hearing lap up all that we see and hear…until the next controversy jolts us up.

Where the world once upheld embodiments of good journalism, now have very few names that would be eligible to climb the ladder and not feel dizzy at the heights.

Serious journalism laid on ethics, I would strongly like to believe, can never be bought any day…..but what is going on now is worse…it is undergoing a makeover!!

Y take the trouble?

I have this thing about getting into trouble.

It was my shrink who finally suggested me writing about it as a means of “distracting those troubled waters” inside my head. I thought he had other reasons as I saw him surreptiously “dropping” my file into the “Dormant” drawers.

One often slips on a silly peel of a decision and lands with a THUD or skates one’s way in life and bang head first onto the reality pole. But there’s a balancing act there. There is a THUD and a BANG and you know what you are into.

I am blissfuly ignorant of either and like they sigh and say it, “She just doesn’t see it coming.”

The wee hours of my mornings are often spent fervently having “eyes creaselessly shut” sessions murmuring sentences having common threads of “don’t sent” “by my way” and the like.

My “normalest” of days starts with my house owner seeing me threaten her 5 year old brat of sending him to space. It heightens with me almost being run down by my car lift , slows down a little bit with my boss doing a “PC peep” just when a steamy forward opens up into a full fledged PPS that simply doesn’t respond to “ESC”!!!

Lunch often slips by unless it’s one of those days when I crack a Sardar joke and get a few glares from some “khudi Punjabis” at the next table.

Post lunch hours are again traumatic as the air is filled with Damocles Swords , also known in layman’s terms as “deadlines”.

“You zimbly nevverr cease to amazze me ” says a visibly emotional Mr. Iyer aka my boss, later on in the evening when I tell him that I don’t quite remember the contents of his 789th Post It Note, which in most probability and in the vigour of youth would have flirted and then eloped with the wind out of the open window.

From bird droppings on project reports to the impromptu tear on any taut end of my apparel….it is there with me, like some kind of a mysterious shadow.

Initially I thought I was plain unlucky….but no….just when I think that…am given a fair share of the “nice” side of life. Like the time my boss brought the roof down on something as insignificant as his brain size but stopped short just as our handsome legal advisor passed by. Of course, am given this occasional dekho into the “nice” side of life so that I don’t strangle myself. For, I am a famous optimist. I can even hold onto a thread for life.

From counselling to spiritual getaways, I have done my fair share of exploring in a “quest to find our roots” and if possible uproot any gnarled or knotted ones. In a bid, to unearth the unthinkable I even sniffed the family roots partly out of the probability nerve and partly ‘cos of my unflinching confidence that “Crazy Unc Joe” must have twanged with the strings of my fate.

Didn’t he say so the last time I refused to share my sushi with him? “Aye Lass, I’ll twang your jugular vein so ‘ard , your eyeballs will dance the salsa”. Later that day he was found with a disoriented sushi stuck in his throat. I always felt that was a sign.

Coming back to my safari, other than turn up a couple of sour relatives , my search seemed more like a mirage. I quit my search and like the bad knee, decided to live with it.

Today, in a fit of “troubled moments” I kick off my sandals, push back my chair and pull the curtain chords penchantly observing the souls around me whimpering at the loss of a pencil ,grumble about the dog that barked all night or the kid who spilled milk all over their Lamborghini.

But before I can “tsk,tsk”, down slips a generous portion of the heavy curtain I was flirting with. I move just in time. I smile. Is it really gone?The curse ?I muse to myself….and then from beneath the luxorious satin curtain folds emerges a generous portion of my boss with a heavily tempered “Young Lady, In my room….NOW”

I follow my red faced boss into his room. Am relieved. There is nothing as comforting as normalcy. So why take the trouble?

I had a haircut

I had a haircut.

Now I can imagine the mundanity you attach with that statement, And for those who bother to read further on you may have a nasal snort of “Oh-its-the bad haircut story-again” already made because it’s only about bad haircuts that one tends to write about. Nobody’s haircut story ever written starts with “ I had an excellent haircut”, for excellence is seen and admired and re-cut again.

But the ones written about are the ones who have literally lost hair over lost hair!!!

I have always been a victim to the ways of the inexperienced. Does that make me experienced? Never! For the impulsive Sagittarian hates the word “experience”. It makes her feel old and predictable….

And now the experienced scissor tale of inexperience begins….


Luscious long black hair upto my waist…. I stood as a symbolic modern representation to all that’s good and true about Kerala…including the heart-stopping plait that can sway only to the tunes of shapely hips and the sickle curve of a strand of hair that can only hide behind a well-shaped ear lobe….


Small naughty curls bouncing in all possible directions…I stood as a symbolic representation of all that was Greek and true about Medusa and her head…including the heart wrenching tad of a strand of hair that notoriously hugged my forehead and the riot of curls that rode over the rest of what was once my head.


“Mmm…no not the Beckham one…Vic or Dav.” I mumbled as I leafed through page after page of what seemed like an endless book of “The latest” in haircuts or the lack of them. Beyond those series of photos and beneath the head that hardly swallowed them in, there lay a nagging disturbing thought; the kind that doesn’t appreciate new things always.

I was in a new city and I detested the prospect of surrendering my crown and money to somebody who couldn’t make out the difference between either but when you have an important meeting to attend the next day and the ends of your hair look more frayed than your nerves...desperation and impulsiveness become siblings.

Considerations conceived promises, became pregnant as trials and gave birth to a heady argument. After a mutual questioning of basics in profession and ethics, I stormed out distraught and certainly visibly dishevelled.

“First day at work” was no better what with colleagues giving shocked looks from slivers in the cubicles. The silence was unbearable. I finally pushed my desk away and yelled, “Did somebody press the MUTE button in here.”

“First you come in looking like something the cat dragged in last night and then you scream the roof down, who the hell do you think are lady?” was what I expected.

What I got:
“Now, now Indu…I know the last week has been real trying for you what with you single-handedly leading the project. But no amount of stress should make a man inflict bodily harm on himself.”

Poised liquidy convincing eyes looked at eyes wide open with mouth to match,

“Boss, are you trying to say that I PULLED out my hair b’cos of the stress?”

“Well, dear,um…er…not in so many words but …er…” Boss places his “Best Entrepreneur Award” plaque before him and slinks somewhere behind it.

For the second time that year…. I stormed out!


Weeks later, here I am pasted by sticky gel and cornered by bob pins. Not to mention smothered by sympathetic looks and feeling like something out of a recycle bin with all the helpful suggestions pouring in…Nobody dare disturb as they see me hurriedly thumping at my keyboard with an urgency like never before….

“I had a hair cut.”


There are two kinds of mothers in this world. One kind insists that they have the last word about everything in your life no matter how old you are, gets into big noisy brawls with you for not doing your laundry and makes loud crass remarks in front of your friends about how your grunge dressing is meant for losers. The best part about this kind is that you can fight with them with all your might and wit knowing that they will get worried only if they want to.

The other kind is soft and emotionally fragile and has and speaks in a tone so soft and weightless that you think that an impromptu gasp would throw them off balance. Chances are your dad treats them like a free falling feather and you are constantly reminded to do the same after his time. Their entire life revolves around your existence, movements, responses and reactions. They worry incessantly when you are sick and at least manage a sniffle when you tell her that you would rather cook than have her send three course packed meals of heart and animal shaped nuggets to your office every day.

My mother belongs in the latter group and I hate it that she is there among them, for people in this group can get away with murder and can stab at your conscience with their huge drops of bulbous tears and big-eyes-looks till out of the sheer frustration of dealing with them you give in feeling like the biggest loser in town.

Waiting for a stranger in a Café on what would have been a fun Saturday night, I was fuming for being a prey to my mother’s whims and finding my way into a proposal from a ‘shady’ community wedding site. Yes, the ones whose ads slide in from the sides onto your hotmail page showing initially a girl with a forlorn look and then POOF… a good looking boy appears next to her and the couple beams with ‘commercial joy’ while the site id repeatedly flashes before your eyes till you decide picking fleas from your dog’s back is a better option than checking mails.

I now looked forlorn and a little lost in the pastel walls of the café that seemed to echo an emptiness within me, so much so that I didn’t notice stereotype IT engineer from ‘a reputed college’, hands in pocket and complete with a pseudo confident ‘Meet-your-hubby’ look, by my table. Handpicked from a similar website, his face beamed in the divine bliss of finding a cook after having lonely microwave dinners for a really long time. My constipated smile would have given my thoughts away for his confidence dissipated for a second before he stopped and asked me, “Ms.Indu? (faking deep baritone voice). A guttural sigh matured into a groan somewhere from the deepest recesses of my soul. The familiar walls of the café immediately seemed to lose its allure and I even forgot my customary smile kept aside for such occasions where my thoughts would freeze my actions.
A childhood crush on Ned- Nancy Drew’s all time love, an adolescent diet of Shelley and Keats, it was not long before I felt Marquez understood me better than any man worth his stubbles. Kamasutra and Indulekha (the book) gave an expressive ornate finesse that perfectly complimented Gibran’s seductively deep thinking.

Yet, I did not even hear the picture crash into a thousand smithereens until I was unblinkingly told by IT engineer, “I am looking for a mother in my wife”. I almost blanched as my mind scanned for a response or at least to acknowledge a complete comprehension of the statement. After murmuring something on ‘incompatibility’, my pale face and I left the café.

Now, am not an overly critical human being and am a huge fan of the ‘Accept people as they are’ philosophy but when the umpteenth guy you are set up with by your mother turns out to look more or less like the perfect ‘Family photograph’ addition, you are exasperated beyond words. Trying to capture character beyond thick glasses, floaty trousers, unkempt looks, boring conversations and humour that invariably reduces me to tears, I have completely forgotten what I am looking for in a guy or better still, what a normal guy looks like. Well, that is if you can think clearly what with all the voices in your head.

‘Don’t scare him away’
‘Don’t ask too many questions’
‘Demure and bashful that’s the way to be’
‘Wear a salwar’
‘Wry sense of humour is a put-off’
‘You are not getting any younger so don’t’ get any choosier’

The ‘See-a-boy-a-day’ strategy was the worst attempt of the lot, a clandestine attempt by some freaky relative who promptly subscribed me to some tiresome wedding matchmaking site after which I would start my day sipping coffee and staring at big moustaches, chests that can only be blown up by air, arrogant eyes, flared up nostrils and propped up legs on tables in the background of those hideously ‘scenic’ explosion of flowers and mountains that can only be part of the décor and idea of one of those sleazy photographers who have made a career out of honeymooning couples and joint family portraits- yes, the ones with the sad looking children and hostile looking parents.

Of course, I was naïve to assume I was done for a while with my uncomfortable tete å tete in that tiny French café. Little did I know that I had already entered the most infamous but very much Desi industry of ‘The Great Indian Arranged Marriages’ which would mark the beginning of a series of well orchestrated meetings where people of two homes (or more) would escape into a pious aura with their eyes steadfastly fixed high above them into the vast nothingness of hope all for their fledglings who would try to catch fleeting glimpses of each other in some crowded restaurant desperately trying to look for an act or habit that would help them reach the decisive answer .

The fervour of faith among these families is a tad puzzling. It would seem that opportune occasions such as these would raise God’s TRP’s on an all time high note on its own threatening to put a lot of people in the divine industry out of employment. Superstitions suddenly make sense and a falling leaf, rain or anything out of the ordinary is auspicious and anything auspicious immediately is thought to be holy. Offerings are promised, powders and oils suddenly come out of their sacred positions and are generously smeared on every non-perspiring forehead. Once the evil eye is warded off, the critical eye takes its place. If you are a girl, it is worse as suddenly there is something definitely wrong with the clothes you are wearing, you are anaemic, you have an unappealing posture, your language is too crass and your front teeth, well they are way out in the front.

Try making the mistake of saying that you cannot decide on spending the rest of your life with a person you met for a little above 5 minutes and you are immediately ushered into the Hall of Great Photographs where your garlanded ancestors look down soberly at you and are told of all the women who did not even get a chance to meet their spouses yet maintained an impressive quantity (14 children) and quality (well known cook, obedient wife, loving mother, doting grandmother) to life.
“Hey, but Grandma wasn’t a travel writer,” you protest but in the already etched out aristocratic role of a Syrian Christian Marthomite woman, your voice sounds, well, a little less than a whimper.

When in discussion about Indian marriages how can we ever forget the dogmatists and their dog-eared narrations about the big M. Model cousins, respected uncles and reputed aunties step forward all having the common thread of ‘ideal marriage’ in their resume, brows narrowed and worried as you climb the ladder, apparently present to ‘clear the air’ and invariably fill your breathing space with columns of ‘real life examples’ and the only words you hear are ‘adjustment’, ‘compromise’ and ‘servility’. What happened to good old love, laughter and cheers to a great life?

Like one friend piped in, “Married people in India have nothing nice to say about marriage but in the same breath would urge us to get into it ‘before it is too late.” One of the classic metaphors of all times was given by a colleague in the smoking hall as he took a long shot at his cigar, “Marriage is like what happens with the Rajdhani Express, those who are inside the train are dying to get out and those on the platform yearn to get in.”

After you are sufficiently fed with the stories of all the successful marriages you are again pushed into the prospect of searching for your better half in what would by now be a very numb attempt from your side.

An occasional Starbucks reunion is the only relief to the whole train of events bringing a pluralistic meaning to the condition over steaming cups of coffee as friends cite different stories from the same book.

“Ma, I need to feel a wavelength with the girl,” pleaded a friend to his mother. Friend’s mother threw him a cold look and said, “When I was of marriageable age, your father’s father and my father met each other and decided matters. That was about the only wavelength your father and I got with each other.

One can just wonder in the Indian context whether the society would ever take a breather on things like age, caste, creed and realise that these are mere numbers in the greater plan of things or ancient ritualistic observations long devoid of any logic. Of course then we would be missing out on a lot of nudging and whispering scenes among housewives who meet each other at the town’s watering hole. A change of thinking also means losing out on the great Indian twist to Bollywood movies-the ones which ooze with pseudo-sacrificial qualities of men and women torn between parents and their lovers in the name of caste.

“If I announced that I was gay, I would probably be thought crazy or disrespectful but if I was to say that I loved a girl from another caste, I would be piled with emotionally draining scenes and dialogues cleverly stashed away from movies for such occasions,” says Zac, a friend and team leader for our coffee sessions.

Some of us Yo-Yo between their past and present wishing they had never in a fit of anger broken up their college affairs, the others who have been on and off relationships are getting used to now accepting their situation and use their remote sensing perceptions to decide if a single photograph is strong enough to seal their future.

And then there are people like me, who would suddenly see a strange number blinking nonchalantly on my mobile mid-way during my jogging session. My available timings are now well known among the ‘Get Indu Married Club’ so every time I grab a coffee or sing a song, the mobile breaks into a Marley I have exclusively kept aside for all ‘other’ numbers. I know what I’ll hear-a well-rehearsed introduction or the occasional prejudiced aspirant. Am weary of both. So, somedays when the sun has risen well above me, I look at the numbers and don’t pick up the calls but continue jogging down the road quietly agreeing with a disgruntled Phoebe from FRIENDS, “Maybe I am destined to take long walking tours with widows and lesbians in foreign countries but am NOT trading my last living blissful single moments for some wannabe over the internet.”