Friday, December 09, 2011

S#*! happens

It can be good,bad or ugly. Big, small or stupid. Jack, dip or dingo. Bull, horse or chicken.You can sling it, catch it, throw it, talk it, take it, handle it, eat it and have it kicked out of you .It can be your luck, your brains and sometimes your face. It gets bad, it falls apart, it hits the roof, the fan, the ceiling and often it makes the world go round. You can have too much of it or too little of it or simply not need it but the truth is- the S#*! is here to stay.

Feces has gone through several phases, keeping stride with human evolution itself. Early man woke up in the morning took a good one and then had the s#*! scared out of him when the local cave lion decided to pay him a visit. Having managed to save himself from being main course, he got his s#*! together, tracked the big cat's spoor and thus gave rise to the first fur carpet. (Sorry Simba. S#*! happens.) With fire came the next stage. Culinary development was very straightforward: if it smells like sh*!, don't eat it. If it tastes like s#*!, spit it out. Unless Cave Mama is in a bad mood- she can and will beat the s#*! out of you.
Civilisation did not do much to distract us from our fecal fascination. The prime example would be the 18th Century french court where the morning movements of the monarch were carried out with the entire court in attendance. Which does make some sense... after all a King ought to know how to handle his s#*! and get his S#*! together. As you can see, human exertions have been greatly influenced by excretions. I suppose that's why we continue to take s#*! from different quarters.
The scatalogical obsession of the human race has been a rather embarrassing but apparently unavoidable trait that runs down our genes. (...). But none, I believe, have imbibed it as much as we Indians. Any Indian writing in English will have its fair share of allusions to offal, what with Anita Desai's blase references to nose-digging or Mulk Raj Anands rather disturbing relish for feces. But the true proof of it's indelible stain on our psyche is excretion's presence in casual conversation and familial bonding. For example my father, brother and uncle would go out of their way to crack shitty jokes in the middle of meals. And if my aunt ever offers you 'green-s#*!', do not be alarmed. She is merely giving you a helping of harmless green gram. In fact, as the wise MaterialMom once put it, s#*! has replaced God- there was one a time we said "Oh God!", now it is "Oh S#*! ! ". The 'Holy Ghost' is now 'Holy S#*!"

No matter how much we may feign fastidious disgust, we undeniably dig s#*!. Which will also explain why I have spent so much time on it. And I'm not just talking about my academic life. When shit happens it happens. We can either carry an umbrella and watch where we put our foot, or we can simply dance through it and come out smelling like a flower. In either case, as my supervisor once told me in a fit of eloquence, "How you handle it makes all the difference."Since we can't escape we might as well kick the s#*! out of any c%@P life may throw at us, eh?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Write of Passage(s)

While writing a long drawn out angst filled apology for my prolonged absence is very tempting, I believe and actual post will make my sincere regret clearer.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Author has not fallen off the face of the earth. Rather she has been perching on a particularly unproductive pimple on its wide lovable cheek.There is a general belief within the layman masses (look at me- so elitist!) that being in academics involves the amassing of knowledge. And they are not wrong: I've been doing just that! Over the past twelve months I have gained considerable knowledge in the areas of a) Cooler maintenance (wiring, tubing,plumbing and fibre-reattachment) b) window re-modelling (detaching, reattaching, grill-removal) c) Survival cooking (how to cook pasta when you only have maida, salt and half a thimble of milk powder to help/toasting bread on a candle) d) Multi-tasked make up (how to use a chapstick as lipstick, rouge, eyeshadow and burn treatment) e) Animal Husbandry ( getting rid of 'husbanding' animals from your hostel corridor) f)basic plumbing. While these skills are nuggets that you pick up by chance on the way to academic Valhalla, there is one that will find you and bury itself into your psyche whether you want it or not.

Observe, if you will:
"A singular specific Felis Catus observed a non-kinetic stance upon a horizontally positioned fabric production created by the interlacing of two distinct fibres."

Translation: The cat sat on a mat.

While most traditional occupations requires one to put in a requisite number of hours, an average academic is required to meet a word count. In the ideal circumstance one would know enough about the subject to be hard-pressed to stay within the word count. However since research requires prolonged work, and work is anathema to most of us (ok fine! me), one would usually be struggling to write enough about the subject to not disgrace oneself before peers and professors alike. As a result, every year,those trees that were lucky enough to have escaped the felling glance of the NET/Board exam paper-makers, meet their demise fulfilling their wasted existence as a medium for our outrageous faff. And having spent the large part of my blog-absence fighting the colossal abomination created through the evil copulation of course-work and cumulative procrastination, I am placed in the prime position to enlighten the impressionable reader on the right way of creating high-flying hogwash.

1.Always maintain the Grass-Gas Balance. It is humanly impossible to churn out a thousand words with nothing more than your advanced thesaurus. There must always be some grass to create some bullshit:The trick is to hit the right proportion between the grass and the gas. The student must maintain a minimum 40-60 ratio if she is to escape egoscopy, for the professor is a canny breed. The skilled student must outwit the natural cunning of these superiors, distracting them with the right kind of shiny bait. To this end I recommend the Sabari Express Pazhampori technique.
The pazhampori served in the Sabari Express is large, golden, succulent-looking and characterised by a distinct lack of banana.The crisp burnished skin tempts the hungry traveler to flout experience and buy the snack, only to sink teeth through the interminable layer of fried batter before getting at the golden fruit within. And yet, the simple fact that we spent money on it and that it is pazhampori keep us munching on the disappointing, oily, unhealthy item. The assignment must beguile the poor prof into ignoring their better judgement, egging her/him into reading through all the tasteless faff to get at the nugget of thought within. A way with language and the occasional showy folder and/or nice stationary, will always help this cause.

2.Two words are always better than one. The Oxford English Dictionary lists up to 228132 words. Any academic must always try to include as many of these as possible. In fact, coin a few of your own while you are at it. The example sentence is proof of the expansive properties of this method. True, precision and efficiency are irredeemably obscured. However, word count is prodigiously boosted. Judicious use of this method may not make you an intellectual but may help you sound like one. Remember, adjectives are an academics best friends.A descriptive prose often proves to be the best recourse for the intellectually dehydrated. It also helps to provide homeric epithets to names/ ideas that will inevitably be repeated in your ill-researched paper. This is apparently called 'flabby' writing but given that our substance is paper-thin we don't really have much room for weight-watching.

3. What's in a name? Lots. Name dropping not only helps lubricate government channels but also makes your feather light paper seem more substantial. This is a more effective method of paper-weighting than the much touted Jargonaut, where the writer overloads the paper with bombastic jargon. The Jargonaut runs the risk of seeming as insincere as it actually is whereas name-dropping carries an aura of brown-nosing humility. And the bigger the names the better- literally. Longer names increase word count! But on a less bimbettic level, names-big,small or medium sized- give an impression of secondary reading and may often represent the sole grass for the rest of the gas (refer to point 1). For the same reason, it is imperative that one disguise ones disgracefully rudimentary knowledge with timely reiteration of the Names. But the diligent slacker must know that the name alone cannot wield much power. For optimum results, one must endeavor to substantiate this name-dropping through the universally beneficial medium of the Quote. A well placed quote can not only conceal your gaping ignorance but also legitimately increase word count and page length.
However the student must beware the perils of hollow quotation.
Familiarity breeds content. Feigned familiarity breeds discontent. And a bad grade.

4. And of course there is the the Cow-Coconut Tree Connection. Remember the story of the exam candidate who had practiced an essay on a cow? Unfortunately the paper asked him to write about a coconut tree. But our hero (who was definitely an academic in the making) was not one to be daunted. He simply stated that a cow was tied to the coconut tree and then proceeded to talk about the animal. We academics already carry the stereotype of vagueness hence the resourceful student can make use of this to put in some paper-wasting digression. To the canny academic everything is related (even if one is not mallu). A little deft manipulation and one may be able to tie together two completely disparate ideas to create a legitimate sounding paper.

These four pointers will help the fledgling academic piece together a paper that is like a 'made in china' product- it looks good but wont last in the long run. However, as most Eleventh-hourists will agree, quality is usually the least of our worries when faced with a long dead deadline and a prof who has become so disillusioned that he would be painfully grateful to receive any paper from his charges.

The future of academic thought slouches unaware of the cancer growing in its breast as the multiplicity of mediocrity chokes away what little idealism that survives its great institutional Machine. Thought is churned, recycled and recast in the molds of wrenched language twisted out of shape within the jaws of the academe.Language has been chained and bowed by the heavy weight of pointless papers which will never inspire, never stimulate. And the thinker falls asleep and cricks his neck.

But we shall not be daunted. As Anupam Kher so neatly phrased it, "language was created to satisfy man's deep urge to complain." I shall use this maligned language to malign those who force me to malign it.
Which is why I shall now return to my neglected course work and struggle to churn out 2000 words on a subject I am unfamiliar with.

PS: Readers who want to read what this post ought to have been should check out George Orwell's delightful essay on the subject.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

You know you are older when...

1. The Home Centre becomes exciting.
2. Train journeys in sleeper coaches become less exciting.
3. There is more hair in your hair-brush than on your head.
4. You swap cooking stories with your buddies.
5. You swap joint pain-remedies with your parents.
6. You start drinking green tea- and liking it.
7. There are very few things that surprise you and surprises never sieze.

The Unrequited

Republished for apt-ness.

It is the eternal fate of the hostelite to always miss something/ someone. You spend one half of the year dreaming of and sighing for home. And when you get there, you sigh and dream of all those hostel moments which home just cannot provide. At hostel you yearn for your family, at home you yearn for your friends. At home you wish you didn't have to ask permission or let someone know where you're going. At hostel, you get depressed that there's no one who really cares where you go or what you do. At hostel you regale your friends with nostalgic stories of home.At home you tell nostalgic stories of hostel. We oscillate between the two ends, and gather particles of memories and feelings from each. Thus rendering us without resolution. The sharp, sweet respite obtained when we hit one end fades and forms another want until we
hit the other. There's no home for the wanderer. Just a constant movement from missing a little to missing a lot. A sense of incompleteness pervades every stop-over,urging us to move again. To try in vain to catch that missing something.
It is our fate to always miss something.

But perhaps because of this we value our short stays even more. We know we wont be here long, so we make the most of the time we have.We glean more from less, so to speak. Life is all the richer because we live the moment to the fullest...

I believe that everything has a reason. So does this...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chip off the old Banana. Extended version.

Republished after additions. Hope this is an improvement.

We mallus are inherently fruity. Hence, the incredible loneliness of the soul faced by a fruitless Mallu is self-evident. This deep angst surfaces in the deprived mallu's desperate delight in the face of such seemingly unimportant items such as coconut chutney and banana-chips. And this is all the more intense when the mallu is transplanted into a dry arid desert lands of that other Mallu-land lovingly referred to as 'the Gelf'.

Every year, the Keralite home-base faces a sharp shortage of the non-perishable edibles and snack-like as non-resident mallus flock back to their homeland. Stores are ransacked of their savories and looted of their lip-smackers; the state suffers from an acute drought of tea-snacks for months to come.But though the mixtures may go missing and the diamond-cuts kidnapped no other snack variety suffers as greatly as the banana-chip. The fruits quiver in fear as the shadow of the Gelf-returned fall upon their pliant green stalks. Bunch upon bunch of barely ripe bananas are deep-fried in coconut oil with salt to create a taste of Kerala in your desert living room. The bright gold of these gilded treats drew the marauding migrators like the doubloons that incited the plundering conquistadors.

But there are looters and bounty-hunters. The first indiscriminately haul every available flake of every available banana. The latter however are the connoisseurs who quest for that perfect, crisp, delicious chip and savor it as it aught to be. My family falls in the second category. And so our clan are receptacles of that deep race memory that flows through every mallu- the Chip hierarchy. For example, anybody knows that big bakeries never sell you the best chips. The true finds are always in the back alley shanties or in the seedy tin shops near railway/bus stations. And besides,no discerning mallu with their inherent anti-capitalist stance will ever trust a big brand. The last time I was in Mallu-land I heard a Hot Chips franchise was starting out there. I pity them. Another instance of Mallu general knowledge is that every fastidious mallu knows that Calicut is the Mecca of the Banana Chip. The crispiest, tastiest and most scrumptilicious chips are from beloved Calicut. Even my father- who hails from Trichur, and believes everything Trichurian is automatically exemplary- agrees to this. But my father was never one to bend his knees before the insolent tasty-ness of a non-Trichur chip. Besides, he had a special supplier.

The return trip from our frenetic vacations was usually a weighty affair. More than anything because of the constant worry of weight issues. The airlines being a rather fussy institution demanded that all the travelers carried only a limited amount of weight. This of course resulted in a series of weighing, tearful half-hearted unpacking, offloading of much loved items and reweighing. In our household it is imperative that every member be present at the packing arena: mostly so that my father will have enough people to order around. But in all honesty he did a great job (both at ordering and packing)- there wasn't an inch of space in those two boxes that wasn't utilised. Be that as it may, neither the airlines nor my father's edicts could deter our beloved aunt from buying half a bakery store for her darling brother to munch on far far away.
While my father- who is a big softy under all the bluster- may manage to leave behind some of these tokens, he could never say no to his mother. His mother who always had chronic knee pains.His mother who despite said knee pains would stand for hours at the old fashioned stove and fry handful after handful of raw bananas in searing hot coconut oil,bananas which she'd painstakingly sliced for the entire morning so that her youngest son can have the freshest batch.It was almost a tradition- My father would have just finished stuffing in the last maligned item and squashed the box shut when my grandmother would send up the tins of banana chips. My father would get the haunted look of a man who really really wants to say no, and then he would proceed to unzip the stuffed box and take out some of the previously unavoidable items and loving wrap up the new bulky presents.

Oh he would grumble of course. He would scowl and bluster. But funnily enough he would never tie up the box until the tins came through. And when we'd get back the first phone call would be greatly comprised of praising the chips. And the truth is, no one could make banana chips like her. Even the blessed Calicut varieties had salt issues. My grandmother's chips were perfect.

It's been more than five years since we've tasted her chips. The stroke paralysed her right-hand-side and she hasn't walked by herself since, let alone stepped into the kitchen. I remember the day my father and my uncle, his older brother, got the phone call. It is a strange moment when you realise that the adults had always been children. Their mother's stroke, coming so close on the heels of their father's demise, was the turning point where childhood living finally ended. The brothers left immediately and we followed soon after. The shock of seeing my ever active grandmother prone was quickly repressed, partly so that we could look after her well and partly because we didn't want her to think about it and mostly because we didn't want to think about it. The irony was that life,in the strangest and simplest of ways, went on.The leave ran out and the exiled had to return to their work place. And the charade of normalcy carried forward into the packing ritual. As always the boxes were packed, only this time there was little fear that they would be heavy. After all, we had other things on our mind. The last of the clothes were put in, the mandatory space check done and all was ready for the final tying up, when my aunt climbed up the stairs weighed down by parcel after parcel of chips. "Amma didn't want you to go without the chips.", she said.

We Mallus are made like our favorite food items. We are either soft and sentimental and sometimes diabetes inducing or crisp and salty going off with a loud crunch. But every part of us- from husk to flesh is stubbornly resilient. We take all the jokes thrown at us and make up several of them too. And regardless of what life throws at us, we believe that everything can be fixed or at the very least reconciled with. All we need is a cup of tea and banana chips.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One Flu Over the Cuckoos Nest

The one thing that the Creator (the actual one, not the Author) didn't scrimp on while creating yours truly was the health package. However being human does involve the inevitable tussle with some kind of malignant microbe. Contrary to what the mater keeps saying, what doesn't kill you, does not make you tougher. It makes you whinier and universally annoying.

It is a proven fact that most people crumble into incompetent nincompoops or belligerent boors the minute a germ decides to visit their system. My father, otherwise an exasperatingly 'in-charge' person disintegrates into a bewildered babe on the commencement of a microbial infection. Firestone, an otherwise angelic, perfectly amiable person turns into a brat as soon as a germ makes its way through her epidermis. And then there is the third most manageable but most heartbreaking variety: the Silent Decliner who sinks into pale weakness unable to put up a fight. My brother, otherwise the life any party, becomes quiet and pitifully docile- a sight which has enough tear-jerking properties to be declared a prime-time soap. Each type comes with it's own unique aggravation. Being a dedicated observer of the world, it is my bounden duty to describe the forms that these microbe-induced madnesses might take.

The most common mental-morphosis is the 'Difficult Patient'. This very broad category may be sub-divided into 'the Boorish' and 'the delusional'. The former, as the discerning reader may have surmised, is the permanently grouchy, eternally unsatisfied bed-pan-throwing variety. We may consider ourselves lucky if the subject in question is suffering from laryngitis or some other throat ailment since that will reduce the yelling plus give us a valid enough excuse for dishing out double doses of cough syrup or similar sleep-inducing elixirs. The Delusional category consists of individuals who are convinced that they are not sick and go about making everybody's life difficult by insisting on doing myriad tasks while their body screams a plaintive negative. While the overly kind-hearted may be able to sustain a certain level of sympathy, the more or less normal would soon be reaching for a handy tool to put the unfortunate to sleep. Between these two broad categories is the deceptively docile but deadly Polite-Requester also known as the Nagging Pain. The individuals in this category employ a passive aggressive cumulative technique that is guarantee to wear your patience to threads. General scenarios usually involve a 'request' which is repeated endlessly in various avatars until granted. Be warned that these requests usually require time and/or effort and so within the gap that it takes to to get them done your brain would have been chewed out. And any attempt on your part to be firm and reasonable is met with deep sighs and/or looks of pained forbearance which drives you crazy and possibly to violence. This variety is supremely aggravating because it parades as the epitome of reasonableness while being the brand-ambassador for bratty. Very similar to this variety is the Whine-and-dyin'. Patients of this class try your patience by constantly whining about how they are dying when in reality they are barely afflicted, leeching out the sympathy from soft hearts drying them to a husk.

True, this is an unsympathetic and harsh summation, but the author is not a heartless soul neither is she unreasonable. All of us go a little cuckoo when a microbe enters the system. I wouldn't be surprised if someone accused of violence was acquitted on grounds of a flu.The whole world becomes dark, desolate and depressing and we unconsciously try to vent all our unhappiness onto this oppressive world and everything in it. But, the beauty is that every time you emerge out of a sickness you realise the world IS a wonderful place full of opportunities. Every sickness in some way is a brush with death, and so to return to health is a miracle of human sturdiness. And as a previously groaning patient blooms into health again, the one nursing also feels a parallel happiness at seeing a dear one return to their beloved self. Before they killed them. As the patient hops and skips their way into full health our hearts lighten and all is right and bright in the world- they are back and that's what matters.

PS: The Author's brand of patient-hood is the least troublesome of types. She sleeps from dawn to dusk and pretty soon the germs are bored to death. As you can see, whether in sickness or in health the Authors habits remain unchanging :D

Friday, June 03, 2011

Training Day

Warning: LOOOOOOOOOONG post. But then rants usually tend to be that way.

The one good thing that the British rule left behind (besides the lovely language that you are reading) would be the Railways. Train journeys are the humanest means of transport- they are colourful, exuberant, fragrant with the scent of life(and other not so fragrant things)and full of character. While my more fastidious and finicky friends may prefer the avian mode, I firmly believe that flight is to train as an Ingmar Bergman movie is to a Rajni flick. And no train experience is complete unless it is carried out in the sleeper class where one can experience the teeming sea of humanity at it's garrulous best.Of course this is the pink-tinted version of the smoky locomotive story. Even the author, an enthusiastic endorser of the Indian Railways, must admit to having faced several moments of doubt. But no journey has managed to shake this constant admirer's faith in the railways!


There was that One Train Journey...

If the diligent reader would recall the mention of a third wedding in mallu-land, we may establish the setting of this tragic tale. We had whined, dined,given our newly espoused friend blood-pressure problems due to constant blushing and generally had an awesome time. Now it was time for farewell. The author, her comrade Apple and their comic relief side-kick Para (pseudonymed so for several reasons- none of them complimentary) were to leave immediately after the wedding. Kerala being such a hot-spot and Sabari being perpetually over-booked, we had taken the precaution of booking our tickets earlier than early. Though our tickets- in true Sabari fashion- were in the RAC category,constant internetting showed evidence of our upward movement and consequent seatedness. Poor Para, on the other hand, was in the railway limbo called the Waiting list. But we generous seniors assured her that we would share our confirmed seats with her.

The trouble started with the time. Anyone acquainted with the RAC process will know that it is the early bird that catches the berth. Hence we set out from the wedding venue well in advance of our train's arrival. If my loyal readers would recall a certain previous post, they would recall that a Mallu wedding usually entails being awake when normally you would be in La-la Land. As a result the wait at the station was a battle against vertical snooze. Furthermore there were complications regarding our assured seat bliss: For some reason the seat numbers were not showing up on the chart. Tamping down on our rising trepidation we decided to wait it out and keep our chins up.

But as anyone who has had to do their fair share of it would agree- waiting is the most painful of experiences. Furthermore, keeping your chin up is very difficult when it constantly slips downwards in inadvertent sleep. To add to this already excruciating situation (especially for the back of your neck) any train announcement -consistently of some other train- was preceded by the aggravatingly up-beat MCR mundu ad which would jerk us out of half-snooze into the arid plains of vain hope. To add salt to our wounds, any blessed interval between these spells was demolished by our darling Para who had taken to humming the entire ad right down to the tag-line. It is a wonder how she survived the journey without being thrown onto the train tracks. An hour and a half later the wretched announcement finally mentioned Sabari Express- only to tell us that it is delayed by an hour. This was repeated thrice, by which time we our sanity - already threatened by lack of sleep, leering station loungers, demanding beggars, the damned MCR Mundu ad and our junior's unhelpful repeat-telecast of the same - was on its last leg.

Four hours later Sabari finally trundled into the station- and conveniently stopped several bogeys ahead making us run after it like the proverbial Lola. Matters were not helped by the fact that Sabari was uncharacteristically crowded and resembled a Calcutta Local train rather than an interstate sleeper. Added to this was the fact that the train stops for exactly three minutes at the station. There followed a dramatic enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Several mangled body-parts later we managed to squeeze our way into our compartment and to our prescribed seat... only to find a family happily settled there. Confusion ensued as both parties had confirmed tickets. Meanwhile the tide of would be passengers surged around us hurling impatient abuses at our inconvenient position right in the middle of the alley-way. Thankfully this annoyed our comfortably ensconced co-passengers enough to make them create previously non-existent place for us to rest our behinds. And so the commencement of our highly eventful much delayed and interminable journey saw Apple, Para and I perched at the edge of our seats.

EX-Seats, as it were. The much awaited TTR made his harried appearance and brutally squashed our hopes of occupancy. Apparently our confirmed seats had to be sat in a junction back. Since our behinds did not make their presence felt at that point our seats were reneged. So here we were seatless and suffering. As we sat(?) slack-jawed at this declaration, one of our helpful comfortably lounging co-passengers took it upon himself to give us a long list of rules justifying the lack of seating and our general stupidity. Needless to say we were not too grateful for his input. Ignoring the annoying human rule-book and our aching feet we bolstered our flagging spirits. The TTR, in his hurried rush had let slip a golden droplet of hope into our parched minds: "...cross the state border and seats may empty..." With these words in mind we perched on whatever horizontal unoccupied surface we could find and hung on for dear life. The Author, being rather small and monkey-like, managed to climb her way into somebody's luggage-occupied upper berth. At some point of time she keeled over in sleep and Apple and Para sincerely feared for her life since she refused to regain consciousness regardless of rigorous head-shaking and shoulder shoving. They were saved from the task of calling for a stretcher when a couple of hours later the Author finally opened her eyes with an eloquent "Huh? Wha-?"

By this time the border had been long crossed, the dinners had been served and people were demanding the use of their berths. We were still stuck in seat-limbo. Enough was enough- It was time for action! Leaving Para to keep an eye on our scattered luggage, Apple and the Author set of to search for the TTR. (A search not unlike the Matrix trio's search for the Key-maker. There were an equal number of tight situations -Literally) After having finally located the elusive official we were told that Salem was our Jerusalem: "Wait for Salem, seats will empty". Having extracted a promise of seat update from the TTR we trudged back a little uplifted to our compartment. Meanwhile the happy family who had gotten our seats decided to take pity on us and gave us the side lower berth. So there we were three females cramped into a single berth. It was like a human picasso painting- all angles, no comfort. By the time the Sabari edged into Salem several body parts had lost sensation- small mercy.
At long last the TTR made his blessed appearance. We woke from our half slumber our bleary eyes lit with undead hope. He flipped his sacred seat list and said "No seat."

Our undead hope was staked in the chest.

Para, being a resourceful soul, located a couple who had vacated one of their berths in favour of companionship and made herself at home there. Apple and the Author were left to negotiate minimal space with optimum accommodation.How we managed to avoid spinal injury in the next few hours is beyond the imagination of this writer. Day break saw Para the hapless Waiting-Listee sleeping like a baby and the two 'confirmed' passengers turned into human scalene triangles. The half-asleep but ever-alert Apple noticed that other more fortunate souls were waking up and vacating berths. Throwing caution and pride to the winds we quickly scrambled onto these havens and slipped into blessed oblivion. At least that's what I did. Unfortunately, Apple was not fated for dormien bliss. Her berth was sadly located in the lair of two terrible toddlers who took to playing tag between berths and were not averse to jumping on her feet or screaming in her ears. Their continued existence on this hallowed earth is testament to Apple's sainthood. Around afternoon the heat (in mine and Para's case) and the noise (in Apple's case) put an end to any attempt at sleep and we were brought back to unhappy reality. The co-passengers, well-rested and happily settled, tried hard to make conversation only to receive monosyllabic responses. Except of course for Para who gave spirited, renditions of the godforsaken MCR Mundu ad to the admiring public. Wretched brat.

When at last we were finally just a station away from our destination, Sabari decided to delay itself yet again. Ah the humanity!!! I believe the torture of the journey can be best expressed by the fact that it felt a lot longer than this post. Needless to say we avoided long distance travel for a while. But all said and done, when push comes to shove I would still prefer a train journey. They may be messy, smelly and utterly dehumanising: but they definitely make for a good story.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Blue Blues

2 April 2011.
Whether this date will be remembered with joy or sorrow is yet to be determined, however it's iconic significance is more or less confirmed.
'Lanka Dahan'
Sounds good doesn't it? It's a good thing RaOne isn't being released right now.
Being a malayalee and therefore genetically programmed to favour football over the sophisticated gilli-danda game called cricket, there is always a certain amount of 'urk' invoked when I realise that I am just as crazy about it as the rest of the baying lot. It is a personal theory of mine that every Indian is injected with a cricket virus when they go in for their vaccinations. Those polio drops: they aren't just polio drops. Personal theories aside the match of the century promises to make and break faiths. India, being such a reliable team, guarantees that nothing is guaranteed. Prayers waft heavenwards and everyone indulges in unabashed jingoism.

And what am I doing?



Ah well, I have my trusted friends who have promised a blow-blow recounting of the match and besides it's just cricket. and my eyes blur with frustrated tears. Sanity returns a breath later and I resume my equable pose. After all when I become a great writer ( the scornful snorts are not appreciated) this terrible pain may fuel one of my deeply complex, angsty novels. Plus, now my humble blog becomes an archive: it is marking a momentous episode in history- with some luck and a lot of great plays it may be the day we bring the World Cup back where it belongs.

And now back to Research Methodology.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Food of love

To have survived a world that is fast becoming quite terrifying is a miraculous feat. To have survived it without emerging a psycho a la Norman Bates or complete idiots like Harry and Lloyd is even more so. But the greatest surprise is that we have not only survived but also emerged determinedly rotund from a century obsessed with lines and angles- a tribute to the tenacity of human will and adipose.Our parents-bless them-may or may not have had a hand in this; but it goes without saying that they had a lot of help in this endeavor. It is my personal theory that zealous aunties and uncles are responsible for ninety percent of all failed diets or weight-loss programs. While aunties and uncles may be gently dissuaded from expressing their love food-wise, parents are a whole other story.Our alarming horizontal growth should have restrained our progenitors from expressing their love through culinary means, however they most often continue to pile our plates high with fragrant, delicious, ultimately fattening, love.

Apparently I was born skinny, but a couple of weeks later my mother was reeling under the weight of giant baby. While this aught to have warned my poor parents of large issues in the future, their love continued to make it's way down my gullet and I never complained. The pattern continues in my twenty-third year where a two week stint in home-ground leaves me trundling around with a couple of extra tyres. The airways would have charged me for excess baggage if it weren't for the fact that it was a personal attachment. If it isn't my mother who is an officially recognised gastronomical goddess, it is my fabulous father who is convinced I am starving myself in the food-heaven of Hyderabad. Day one saw biriyani, brownies, cookies, lace-like dosas, pure coconut chutney (untainted by disgusting gram-flour augmentations) and strawberries as a vain bid at healthiness. Day two went on the lines of cloud-like idlis with fiery onion chammandi, shawarma, kerala fish curry and rice and a nameless pudding that soared past yummy into the higher realms of palato-nirvana, . The next sixteen days that followed continued to test of the tensile strength of the human stomach(pasta, appams, turkey, cookies, chicken-tikka and cheesecake being the tip of the giant iceberg). Needless to say given a high enough incline I could have rolled all the way back.

As I huff my way up the stairs to my humble hostel room, I wonder what it is that brings out the culinary excess in our loved ones. The pain of leaving behind your family is reinforced with the knowledge that you leave behind all those delicious leftovers only to return to the"dreary desert sands of dread habit" and mess mush. Ah parting is such sweet sorrow: literally- given that I was treated to chocolate donuts the evening I left. As I munch on my mothers lovingly parceled brownies, I realise that it is in these bitter-chocolate moments that we return to our childhood. We are once again that five-year old who demanded dosas and chutney or drooled over cake that turned into cookies enroute or went gaga over pasta smothered with mozarella. And I suppose that's why they feed us silly:
In the face of our alien adult-hood, food becomes the only medium by which our parents can bring their child back as a child. And as you indulge in gluttony, heedless to the streak of tomato sauce smeared across your cheek, you experience time-travel in the simplest way: You are as you were once upon a time; fresh pristine and happily content in the firm belief that you are loved. And the reconfirmations of this belief makes its way all through your being with every home-made morsel that you intake giving you the courage to drink life to the lees- calories be damned.

To misquote the evergreen Forrest Gump - Life is like a box of chocolates: it'll make you horrifically fat and probably terribly unattractive but you'll be happy at the end. :)

Ps: And of course this was all just an elaborate ruse to justify my gluttony :P

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wake up Call

For the other side of this story read this post

The Suprabhaatam plays as I beat time on the keyboard. Mornings have always eluded me. Quite literally. Whenever I wake up it's already gone away. Being of a decidedly nocturnal bent, the morning hour boded no Skylark-like happiness in my groggy eyes. The mater, on the other hand was of the annoying ilk of 'morning people'. Of course in her case 'morning' began sometime before the sun had even begun to contemplate scratching his shiny ass and shuffling across the sky, relieving the moon of his shift. Noises at 3 in the morning fail to alarm since the psyche has been inured to maternal shuffles in the said hour. Perhaps it is a lonesome time, or a time of great mental activity because we morning dozers were always assaulted by different kinds of wake-up artillery besides the usual "WAKE UP!". My mother is, was and always will be a highly resourceful, very creative individual. As a result we could never know what ploy she would use to get us out of bed.

One of her favorites- especially when we were little- was the 'April Mayile' approach. Following the inaugural 'wake up' (which by the way would definitely retrieve you from la-la land in the first decibel) she would then proceed to sing the jaunty song while accompanying it with appropriate prods in highly ticklish terrains. Pretty soon we'd be convulsed in giggles and awake. Of course this method began to yield less success as flesh became less sensitive and mentalities more stubborn. From that crisis was born the Mumble Mode. She would snuggle in with us and then begin mumbling wake up words in a continuous monotone that penetrated our sleep-hardened skulls like water cracking limestone. A tad time-consuming but definitely effective. Of course it did backfire once in a while when the calibration of the monotone slips from alarm-clock to lullaby. In which case a few minutes later our half-conscious psyches will register the waker's slipping hold on wakefulness and snuggle back into the blankets assured of a few extra winks.Unfortunately, this could not save us for long. The new and improved version of the Mumble Mode morphed into a singularly successful step: The Cold Toes Syndrome. No comfortably warm human body can fail to jerk awake at the introduction of icy cold toes anywhere near it's epidermis. One foot in the blanket and we were wide and unhappily awake.

But then we are hardy folk. A little cold was very little obstacle to the overriding need to sleep. Once again, the mater rose to the occasion. A true artist never surrenders. In a move that would change the universe of wakers and wakees forever, she creates the Question Gamble. The key to this gambit is insouciance. Step one: potter about the vicinity of the sleeper to ensure they emerge from REM sleep to only mostly asleep. Then begin a one sided conversation. And this is where it gets tricky. The seasoned veteran of the sleep wars knows that the sleeper is a slippery prey. so the conversation should not be so boring that they snuggle back in for the savoured morning sleep. At the same time, it cannot be so blatantly interesting that they know what you are doing and dig their sleeping heels into the mattress. Subtlety. Wit. And patience. Lots of patience. As soon as you discern that the sleeper's psyche is peeking out of it's drowsy cocoon, drop in a question designed to appeal to the prey, something they know for sure. "Who was the actor in that movie we were watching the other day?" or  "Do you remember what the title of that book was?" Drop a few wrong but close answers, shrug your shoulders and then (this is where the timing is crucial) walk away. They may fight it all they want but the sleeper will be betrayed by their brain and by curiosity. If they know they must answer, and to answer they must come to you. If they don't, they will be tormented by the question such that their sleep is essentially ruined. Genuis. Pure genius.

Of course all these approaches are reserved for situations where time and interest allow for such indulgences. The most commonly used technique was the 'Yell and Tell'. The name says it all. However my mother, being of an exceptionally creative bent added her own twist to this simple method. Rather than wasting her time coming all the way to the bedroom or thereabouts, she chooses to be comfortable wherever she is and yell her summons. True there is nothing remotely fresh about this, but wait- observe the master. Much like the brain-fever bird, the maters cry is characterised by a continuous ascending note. But this note is tinged with menace and a pleading tone not unlike a cry for help. The urgency of the call grows with each passing repetition and regardless of the fact that logic knows better, your innate need to protect your mother comes to the forefront. Not for nothing is this personalised approach called the "Cry Wolf Version". Sure she's pulled this on you so many shameful times that it's a disgrace that you keep taking the bait, but you are driven by the possibility that she actually is in trouble. Suppose she were in danger and desperately needed you- and you were sleeping like dead dog while your mother was being harmed. How could you live with yourself! Oh the horror! As the notes get higher and higher and increasingly desperate your imagination begins to replay every terrible scenario that it can churn out and before you know it your feet hit the ground in a dead run. You follow the keening cries with speed that would put P.T.Usha to shame only to skid to a breathless, heaving halt in front of a unrepentantly grinning mother who nonchalantly offers you coffee while you stand there like a fool. @#$*!

But then again I shouldn't really be complaining. After all even the Gods have it bad. The Angelus is rung at the wee hours of the day, when I'm sure God would have just decided to take a break. And the Suprabhaatam hums its way across the horizon beating into poor Venkatesa's ear with it's repetitive nag. True both of these are beautiful to listen to and they are full of love. And they are sung with so much fondness that there is no way that the wakee can hold a grudge against the waker. And moreover these are markers of faith that remind the Gods that they are actually wanted in this world and...

Wait a minute...

I guess that's why I'm writing about alarming wake up calls and annoying "morning-sickness". The truth is we all want someone to be there to wake us up, to welcome us into a brand new day and to remind us we aren't alone. And now that we are all grown up there is no one to treat us like little gods. The Suprabhaatam plays in the background as I type this and I remember again the unrepentant grin on my mother's face. I guess you don't have to be a morning person to think fondly of them: both mornings and persons . :)