Thursday, October 30, 2008

While the world sleeps

The thing about being nocturnal is that you have so many experiences which most people who know only the sun don't. They don't get it. They never will either. They think you're crazy if you try to explain it. But I've been called crazy before; and if I am crazy ,it hasn't hurt me yet. So I try to put into words the cool shivers than chase up and down my spine when I walk into the night.

Insomnia is a sweet sweet drug- getting you high on the light silver mist that coats the darkness, seeping into your bones until you tingle with it. The stars smile into your eyes as you walk into the deep music of a hundred crickets harmonizing with the tenors and sopranos of the night birds and creatures.And in that pearl-like moment,cushioned in the soft flesh of time, you are awed by the singular beauty of what only you have. The night, the mist the breeze. They are yours. The multitude sleep unwary as you come alive in the depths of the dark. As new knowledge blooms in your breast,as the world and its sleepless life wraps itself around your soul,you become one with everything. You are the grass which bears you weight like a lover, you are the cool air that rushes into you like a possessing spirit. You are the little mouse scurrying in the dark to live, and the bird of prey that swoops on that mouse to live. You are the moonlight spilling like milk on the the world, you are the shadows that dance around the light.You are the center and the periphery. You are.

I take a deep breath and raise my hands to to the sky- letting myself diffuse like gas molecules into the night. Letting it carry me away in it's light breezy arms into a world away from the world. I walk and walk- and never feel the ground beneath my rubber-soled feet. The breeze picks up and my ears tingle with it's added whistle. The smell of dewy grass and moist earth fill my head until the words stop and the world stops...

The dawn breaks like a glass bangle on the black marble of the sky. The crickets have sung their requiem and the birds pick up the symphony. The flowers rub their sleepy eyes and raise their faces for the sun to kiss. The sleeping world opens it's eyes. But it can never open them like you have. You smile indulgently and breathe deeply. And wait for the night.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Terminal

Statutory Warning: The following post has nothing to do with Tom Hanks.

In my long and shockingly unvaried career as an air-traveler,I have learned that there is never a dearth of entertainment in the sterile confines of an airport. It is a widely believed myth that being stranded at the airport lounge with no reading material or music is slow death. On the contrary, one often finds oneself in the most interesting and memorable situations.The prospect of future air travel inspires the following insights into the airy life.

An airport is far from boring. In fact it can be quite hilarious-though you might not get the humour immediately. For example, the Kuwait International Airport delights in giving the travelers pre-flight exercise. The authorities would keep changing the gates- and somehow managed to make sure that no two selected gates are ever close together.This usually resulted in people running up and down the lounge lugging family and hand luggage. It's fun to watch, but not so much to participate. On one such run I ended up standing just behind a nice old man in the queue. He was very solicitous, and kept turning back to talk to me. During one of these short exchanges, I realised there was an awful stench coming from somewhere. The smell kept coming and going- making it very difficult for me to identify it or to concentrate on what the old man was saying. Which is when it hit me! (No, not just the smell) The stink rose whenever he opened his mouth!
Sigh.. it was a bad half an hour. Thankfully the authorities decided to change the gate again.

It's not just the activities of the airport that are engaging. The people populating it provide enough entertainment to form the cast for a mini sitcom. In any airport, on any flight, you are guaranteed to come across the following characters.

1)The Overdressed: There are some characters who feel the few claustrophobic hours spent in the lounge and in closed confines of a stinky airplane, should be made all the more painful by imprisoning themselves in excruciating finery. Tiny kids in a full wool suit in the peak of summer in fly-infested Karippur Airport, women weighed down with their weight's worth of jewelery at Kuwait International Airport, men sporting brocaded sherwanis at Chennai Airport,grandmothers sporting a ten inch thick layer of make up to go with their designer silk suits in Rajiv Gandhi Airport, Hyderabad... these are merely the tip of the extremely stuffy iceberg. One surmmises that the logic behind these illogical fashion statements is some misguided sense of penance. Or may be masochism..?

2) The Excess baggaged: There is always some poor family/person who's baggage turns into their cross. They enter the airport carefree, a smile(only slightly strained from lugging the luggage)wreathing their faces. Guilelessly they hoist their boxes onto the security check, and even get it bound in cellophane wrap to protect it from damage. And then they go in for check-in...
One is torn between pity, exasperation and irritation(the last especially when you are the person just behind the hapless over-weighter). The poor souls then end up pulling out half their stuff out and carrying it in innumerable plastic covers, or (worse)start asking fellow travelers with less baggage to check in the extra baggage for them. The irritation is there... but it's mostly pity... There are some enterprising souls who bring on the drama and begin to cry- which occasionally tug at some non-existent heart-strings and let them escape. Occasionally being the key phrase.
A similar species is that of the Security-victim. Take the aforementioned scenario and cut at security check post cellophane wrap. This is when the pot-bellied officer (surprisingly they are always pot-bellied- may be it's one of the job-requirements.)decides s/he saw something suspicious in the box. And then there follows the ripping of the cellophane, a stream of neatly packed items falling all around and a poor would-be passenger close to tears. Most often these baggage-rapes only yield something as dangerous as your general pappada-kol or a tiffin box. The hapless traveler picks up the scraps of his/her lovingly packed luggage and trudge away to try and put together the ravaged luggage.Ah the meaninglessness of it all...

3) The Brat(s): You can never escape them. Every airport has them. One is lucky if it's just one in a group. Often the entire family can be classified as brat. Those that haven't hit adolescence, usually communicate via something handy thrown in the direction of your cranium. And these are the well behaved ones. [For truly gruesome examples please refer to one of the previous posts entitled Parental Harassment.] The kid brats aren't as bad as the grown up ones. At least the former can be excused on account of age. And all they do is scream their head off and generally give you a migraine. The grown up ones do this and further court homicide by being complete asses and behaving like they are entitled to it when other human beings try to protest. Truly the bane of the airport experience. But a lot of fun to watch at couple of aisles distance.

4) The Babe/Hunk: At the outset, be warned that these species need be neither babes nor hunks. In fact most often they are the binary opposite. They derive their name from their steady belief that they are babes or hunks. They are focussed creatures who concentrate on their top priority- themselves. They usually station themselves near the nearest reflecting surface and engross themselves in themselves. Lots of hair primping, re-application of lipstick(in the case of the babe), studied messaging (all the better to survey the manicure with and to show off the phone)etc. form favored activities. Some even engage in long, exceptionally loud conversations on their phones. It can be safely surmised that this is mostly to show evidence of some unknown accent, given that most such conversations don't really go anywhere.

These are but a few of the creatures that inhabit the chrome jungle of the airport. The next time you sit in the airport lounge and your mp3 konks off- you know all you need to do is look around for entertainment. It's live!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Achande mol

At some misty time in the forgotten days of my youth, I'd been asked to guess the age of my father. 'Sixty five!" I'd crowed, liking the sound of the words. Needless to say everyone else crowed with laughter. Today I was asked the same question and in all truth I didn't know! The thing about him is that he doesn't seem to have changed at all from that fateful day, yet he seems to have changed so much. He's one of the few constants that ever-changing life gifted me.

I remember those afternoons when my brother and I would race to the door to be the first to welcome my father home from work. The innumerable times we'd pummeled into him must have left his ribs permanently damaged. And then of course- despite the gargantuan lunch we'd consumed- we'd vie for the special morsel he'd feed us from his plate. And in all truth, he even made mulagooshyam taste nice! There were the myriad programs he would organise, the skits and the kadhaprasangams he scripted. I still remember the lines which he spent days relentlessly drilling into my rather unwilling head. My mother still maintains that had he had a hand in our studies- we'd have been topping all our classes. Thankfully he never did :P. He is an exacting person and one whose approval is a thing of great value simply because he bestows it sparingly. Which,while it commanded a healthy amount of respect from all and sundry,at the same time made him slightly intimidating. We'd think twice thrice and several more times before we risk testing his patience. In fact the only person who'd actually attempt this and escape more or less unscathed was my brother- who can charm the fangs off a serpent, so he's definitely a special case.

And now we are all different yet the same. I am an ocean away. My brother is usually studying or away when my father gets back from work. The entire pattern of our lives is different. Often we come in friction with our father and there are uncomfortable tensions. His patience is tested more times than a rich invalid. Things are so much more complicated. There are fewer shared activities, fewer common interests. Maybe it's generation gap ... At some level I suppose with self reliance there also came some distancing. And yet for all that, our father never changed. He still makes sure everything is all right- like he used to when there was no one else to do the drawing assignment. Or like he did while helping me fill out my M.A applications.

I may no longer be that tiny baby who used to sleep on your stomach. I may not fit on the sofa along with you anymore.I may seem distant and un-understandable(not just when I talk too fast). I may sound like I don't value you. I may seem irreverant and disobedient. I may never become as great as you think me to be. But the fact that you think I'm great makes me glad all the same- because you don't bestow your approval lightly. And the fact that you given me someone like you to look up to makes me a much better person. May be I should blame you for having such high standards in the people category :D.

Thank you Acha, for being you.

Happy birthday :)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I aam a Malayalee...

You can take the mallu out of Kerala, but you can't take the Kerala out of the mallu.

I'm what is generally known as a 'fraud mallu'. True, I'm not lost in the abyss of non-mallu-mallu-ness. But I'm close. I've only stayed a couple of months in good old Gods own country. I speak passably good Mallu. But I read and write it at the pace that makes a snail look like a speeding ferrari. I don't like coconut water and prefer tapioca chips to banana chips (which is the complete antithesis of standard mallu behaviour). I have no natural obsession with gold. Neither with coconut oil. The only mallu cliche I actually adhere to is that I do have the 'gelf connection'. Obviously I am truly not the example of a dedicated, mundu-swishing mallu.

Or so I thought.

One evening two fellow mallu hostellites and I began to reminisce. The topic veered towards movies and consequently to music. And then, naturally to all out singing. The kinship and the happiness experienced was immense! It was like being back home! And that's when it hit me. Despite the beauty of all those lovely evenings jamming with Gunther(in beautiful Chennai days) or with Firestone at the stone bench,the satisfaction I obtained from singing plain malayalam songs- regardless of how banal- was several times more. Simply because the songs were malayalam! It brought to mind those lovely lines by the poet Vallathol, roughly transalated as,

"All other languages are merely secondary,it is my language that stands as king."

That shared musical evening was enough to leave me nostalgic and sighing for several days to come. I recall those early days in Chennai when I'd yearn to hear malayalam being spoken. Of course now it's both Tamil as well as Malayalam (oh joy..)

Thetruth is that we humans all of us are intrinsically clannish. Regardless of how many times we try to declare ourselves nomadic or perhaps universal, at the end of the day we still have a hearth that our heart yearns for. And for the average Mallu (even the fraud one, apparently), this is more so since we tend to do things in extremes. No matter how fraud a mallu might be,s/he will always be a true blue mallu at heart. You never know when this trait will manifest itself, but be warned it does when you least expect it. Which brings to mind another verse from one of Vallathol's poems,(which I'm loathe to translate since I'll only make a mash of it)

"Ethu videshathu ponnu vasichaalum, ekaamba putrar naam- Keraliar."

Wherever we go we Mallus will always be Mallus.
On that note I'll get hold of my "ping lungi" and break into "I am a Malayalee". :D