Sunday, December 15, 2013

Stepping up to Plate

Food is one of the most innocent pleasures available to the human experience.It's a pleasure that does not detract from anyone else's happiness (except of course when Nigella Lawson makes it a point to eat chocolate cake on screen) A foodie and food share an uncomplicated, undemanding relationship, refreshing in its simplicity. And here I state the obvious--
 Atomicgitten loves food.
Apparently this trait had it's beginnings at the author's genesis itself. At one week's age, the only thing that got some reaction out of generally indifferent baby was the prospect of feeding. And then came the long wails at twilight because she was bored with milk and wanted solid food. Mother dearest realised quickly that the easiest way to quieten bawling baby was to stuff food down her gullet. Unfortunately for the baby's waistline, the trend continued far out of babyhood; but that can be the subject of another post.

Moving out of home territory ought to have laid a damper on my gastronomic hedonism. Fortunately for me, I seemed to find great cooks wherever I went. So much so that my tastes only grew more fastidious and my repertoire of eating more broad-based. (Though it must be said of the Mater that, when she deigned to accommodate these demands, her skills proved more than ample to the task.) If it wasn't poor Gitler who had her lunches usurped by us marauders, it was Kutty who was lucky to get a bite of her home cooked lunch after it made the mandatory pass. Then there was poor sweet Chitra Aunty who smilingly ignored our shameless gluttony and catered generously to our vethakuzhambu/sambar sadam/dosa/filter coffee greed. Life was a lovely thali waiting to be licked clean.

B.A passed into M.A and the age of shamelessly finishing off somebody else's lunchbox or 'dropping in' at a friend's place right in time for a meal came to a sad end. But the heavens continued to smile upon on my palate. I was gifted with a room-mate who was all but born with a frying pan in her slim hands. Besides being a certified expert in all things fashionable, Rikosama is also a chef of formidable skill. And while she is always more than happy to do all the cooking herself, we realised that the only way we could establish a mode of demanding food off her was to participate in the process in one capacity or the other. Hating dish-washing and having had a couple of tussles with prep work on a few occasions, the author took on the sous-chef role and enjoyed slicing, dicing, icing, flipping, dipping and generally tripping on the whole food extravaganza. Along the way some of the cooking knowledge seeped into my food steeped cranium but nothing enough to alarm. Trips home were punctuated by amused surprise and ill-concealed disbelief on the part of the family at reminiscences of hostel happenings.

It was only when the Mater took a spill in the bathroom and was rendered shorthanded that the author's culinary talents came to test. It was generally understood that my skills covered the broad spectrum of multiple styles of egg, instant noodles, sandwiches and the occasional curry but whether this could see us through a month and a half of sustenance was suspect. Besides, whatever skills I might have they could not hope to reproduce the palato-orgasmic nirvana  that Amma dished out and lesser mortals with shoddy vocabulary deemed to call just 'food'.The first 'proper' meal was partaken with some ill-concealed fear, but my mother and brother gamely bit the bullet and emerged minus food poisoning. The most surprised person was the author herself. Apparently all the gastronomic goodness she had been imbibing had accumulated not just in her love-handles. In the middle of receiving, she had also learnt to give.

We are presently in the season that emphasises the joy of giving. And after finally getting to the other side, the author can confidently guarantee that the joy of feeding is just about as much as eating itself.The author has been blessed with the company of several exemplary chefs in her life. It has not helped her waistline, but it does remind her of the enduring goodness of life, which I believe is a lot more important, if not attractive. A full belly goes a long way in easing the pain of existence. And with such exemplary examples of generosity, the author hopes that her plate and what she plates can prove as full of goodness as those she has had the good fortune to partake from. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Many Loves of AtomicGitten

Certain changes have occurred in my small universe. Singular, I am. Single, I no longer am.The majority of my acquaintanceship received this revelation with shock and/or disbelief. Some even asked for proof. But, long story short (for a change), they had to finally accept the facts. Which is when the condolences began to pour in. To the guy in the picture. Incorrigible friends aside, the advent of an official partner demands that I lay to rest all the tendres I nursed in my passionate heart till date. Not that there were hoardes of exes--I AM fastidious-- but the few that were, were loved enough to warrant a real farewell. And what better place to pay tribute than the dear blog? So, in ascending order of intensity of affection, I present:

The Many Loves of AtomicGitten

*For the purpose of brevity all fictional beloveds will be excluded from this list. Sorry Tamahome.  And Jamie Fraser. And John Thornton as played by Richard Armitage. And Benedick. And Darcy. And Colin Firth as Darcy. And Scott Summers . And Alladin. And Rick O Connell from The Mummy. And-- Ok enough.

Devon Sawa:
Mostly for his sweet, friendly and utterly glah-worthy cameo in Casper  circa 1995. An all-round good-guy, endowed with occult mystique (what with being a ghost and all)-- what a combination.He was a noble spirit with an endearing vulnerability which could even render a decidedly creepy line cute. Plus he was blonde! My eight year old soul was dazzled.
This affection stayed steady until a combination of age (his), and awareness (mine) brought home the fact that he had a gap in his teeth. And apparently I was fastidious about dental work. Though this shift may also be attributed to the next great love that came my way.
Which was--
Aravind Swamy:
Somewhere along the multiple Independence and Republic Days with their inevitable re-telecast of the Mani Ratnam masterpiece Roja, the author began to realise that the protagonist was quite a dreamboat. Aravind Swamy in Roja was everything a hero aught to be. Not just a pretty face but smart too, he packed a potent punch with poignant civilian bravery and the ability to romance a girl right off her small-town-feet. Plus he he had a sense of humour--The thirteen year old heart fluttered. Said thirteen year old heart was even willing to overlook facial hair, until he began losing head-hair and gaining paunch. And the author could never stomach a paunch in her love interest.The caprice and shallowness of youth perhaps; but such is life.
Percy Bysshe Shelley:
The original wild-child, "Mad Shelley" swaggered into my heart with literary pizzazz and a lingering note of loneliness in his voice that made one want to sit down with him, talk to him, and unwittingly fall in love with him-- even when one knows he is bad news. After all, a man must be a special kind of amazing to write something like this. But his bigamy, questionable notions of fidelity and universal notoriety placed insurmountable impediments in the path of our true love. That, and the fact that he was dead. It wouldn't have worked out anyway.
Pablo Neruda:
I dare any woman with a beating heart to read this and not feel anything. Or this, for that matter. I believe I have made my case. But, to misquote Bob Dylan, he was born in summer and I was born too late. Sigh... Tonight I can write the saddest lines. But I will resist the urge.
Any man who can melt knee joints with just the caress of his crystal voice, is a formidable contender for a woman's heart. And mine was forfeited with the first soaring note. Watching KK live in concert was one of my biggest mistakes; it rendered me a drooling idiot for days to come. A voice like the brush on an angels wing (ok, a little hyperbolic there) and enough energy to power a medium sized district combined with a pleasant personality and a sense of humour made him the complete package. Plus, he was Mallu! That too from Trichur!-The parents would be pleased. Unfortunately, he was also married, with two kids, and nineteen years older. Dammit. And now I sit and hum 'Tadap Tadap'.
Tom Hiddleston:
As his deadly, underhand charm-- evidenced in his adept wooing of Catherine Valois in The Hollow Crown-- would show, Tom Hiddleston seems to be burdened with the glorious purpose of turning you into a puddle of mush before you can say  "St.Crispin's Day'. Not only is he talented, well-read and funny, he also does impressions and talks to the cookie monster! Oh can a man be more adorable? A few months of frenetic youtube-stalking later, I find he has a girlfriend. Oh the pain. I soothe myself with the sound of his poetry reading voice.
:Gael Garcia Bernal
There is very little defense against raw talent and an ability to incinerate your thought processes with one scorching green glance. Combine this with intelligence, social consciousness, an endearing streak of self-deprecating humour and the most unexpected smile on a face that can go from impish to the opposite with the flick of an eyebrow, one might as well raise the white flag. It also helps that the first time the author clapped eyes on him he was riding a motorcycle.
While his face alone is cause enough for mindless admiration, what truly ensnares is his astounding talent. To watch him perform is an awe-inspiring experience leaving you fascinated with not just what you watch, but also the passion that fuels such intensity. And it is fairly obvious by now that the author has a penchant for the passionate, talented and charismatic.
Just when her blood decided that his was the gaze that would electrify the corpuscles, he got married to his co-star. Ah how shall I cool the fire in my blood? And here I thought you would help wean me away from my undying affection for the last person on this list...
James McAvoy:
In an alternate universe we are busy redefining romance and making all our acquaintances amused with /irritated with/ sick of/sigh wistfully at our obvious affection for each other and our dazzling cuteness.
But, this is not an alternate universe.
James McAvoy was love at first movie (Which wasn't even one of his best movies); watching Becoming Jane demolished any hope that I can escape cupid's nefarious plot (damn that fat baby). His entire filmography and most of his interviews later, I remained smitten. Not even the embarrassing Bollywood Queen could cool my ardor! So much talent, so much charm and the ability to twist your heart into unimaginable shapes just with the glint in his blue, blue eyes... sigh.. he was my sunshine.
And now, I can never go to Scotland.
Should our paths cross, he would obviously fall head over heels in love with me and I will be responsible for breaking up his marriage. Better by far that he lives in ignorant bliss, while I carry this brand in my chest. As Auden so sentimentally put it, "If equal affection cannot be,/Let the more loving one be me."
But there is always the alternate universe.

And so, I lay to rest my erstwhile loves in the hope that reality proves infinitely superior to my imaginings. True, the poor man has an up hill task, but my line of work tells me that people have a tendency to rise to a challenge. And with that gauntlet thrown, I return to my stewing thesis.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Many thanks to Rikosama and Moongoddess for their part in these insights

A logical progression of inferences:

A woman's intelligence is not directly proportional to her choice in men.
A woman's intelligence is not directly proportional to her relationship status.
A woman's intelligence is not directly proportional to her logical conclusions.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Memories of Midnight

In the isle of my loneliness
I chew the fruits of my grief
which taste of nothing
and fill my mouth with ashes.

Alone in the darkness
I find myself imagining
the darkness of your eyes
and the comfort they bring.

What curious darkness
glows in them,
to show me a way out of mine?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Planning the Yet-to-Be

The Winter days of your academics does much to destroy your faith in life's inevitable good sense. Though the Desiderata will tell you otherwise, and Rilke always knows best (at least poetry-wise), you can't help wondering if the heaven's hierarchies took an extra long lunch break and kinda lost track of things.

Being a Ph.D scholar in India is a singularly disheartening situation, given that there are a dime a dozen of us sitting on the back-burner hoping someone will hire us to destroy a couple of generations. This is further augmented by the confirmed fact that-- regardless of the sterling quality of your blog-- you are not the author of the most brilliant thesis ever.In such a scenario, one's unnecessarily helpful imagination tends to think of multiple possibilities, none of them reassuring. The sweaty nights are rendered clammy by visions of living in abject poverty and subsisting on banana,bread and moong dal forever. Or having to sell your books to pay rent. Or being the object of your professionally enabled friends' and family's piteous contempt. Or, worst of all, teaching English for Communication to a bunch of disinterested kids who cannot begin to discern the beauty of the language they speak (yeah, I have my priorities straight). Being an individual with some measure of initiative, one accepts the fact that perhaps a back-up plan is in order. And since a job like this one doesn't really exist, a measure of creativity may be required. While robbing a bank or marrying a rich old guy, rigging his will and then killing him, are the immediate possibilities, both these options are too run-of-the-mill to appeal. Ours is the road less taken. After all, what are we if not inventive.
And so-

Option #1:Midnight Maggi Stall

Admittedly not the most inventive idea, but it does promise returns.
It is the Murphy's Law of university food supply that the hunger pangs hit hardest when there is no food to be had. Every university will suffer from periodic food droughts where none of the usual watering-holes function. The enterprising pauper need merely wait for the window of opportunity. A basic investment of around 800 Rs would be unavoidable ( a hotplate, paper plates and 5 packets of mini maggi noodles- the cooking utensils can be appropriated), but that can be begged, borrowed or artfully extorted  from unsuspecting cronies. Sell your first plate of maggi and you are in business for life. And I have it from the best authorities that I make a mean plate of maggi (Of course the rather obvious fact that you can't really go wrong with maggi is another incentive). To truly establish the venture you would probably have to offer chai-coffee as well, but focus on the main attraction: hot soupy, goopy maggi in the dead of the night when your stomach howls at the moon. Additions to the menu can be accommodated according to returns on investment.
The pros are many- For one thing, at least 70% of the student demographic lives on the stuff, whether they like it or not. And the added joy of having someone else make the manna  renders the experience all the more enjoyable. Furthermore, a little dedicated PR work and we have every hope of becoming a campus fixture with steady clientele. All we need is a table next to an unsuspecting power supply.
However, due to the fact that the clientele is greatly made of students and similarly impoverished denizens of the University biosphere, the venture has a great chance of running into losses through extensive  bad debts. Theoretically, establishing a no-credit policy can neuter this threat. However reality functions differently in an academic environment. And we are not just talking metaphysics here. Whether you give it or not, credit will be taken. Besides this financial issue, the venture also runs the risk of legal complications in the form of eviction notices from the law-enforcing admin. While in a Hindi movie this would be the part where the loving students rally around and fight to keep the benevolent feeder-of-the-masses character in their un-rightful places, the real-life student body is a fickle lover. The mere whiff of trouble would have erstwhile champions ambling off in the opposite direction discussing Marx, Kant and rising unemployment. In this more or less confirmed situation, the hapless proprietor will be transported  back to square one- penury, coupled with the very real possibility of pressed charges.
And thus, option #1 is shelved.

Option #2: Autodriver

True, I don't know how to drive. But that will make me fit right in with the rest of the community. The autodriver-- the human equivalent of the common crow-- is the most resourceful entrepreneur there can be. From tampering with meters to make them ring up double the amount to extorting several hundreds extra claiming non-existent traffic or even the time of the day ("Amma, it's summer. It's afternoon.Pay extra " or "Amma it's night. Pay extra." or "Amma, it's just like that. Pay extra." ) the autodriving vocation seems tailor-made to make a quick buck.

Being a successful autodriver seems a fairly simple project. All that is required is tenacity and an ability to be completely obnoxious. The Author has been known to be both on occasions. The small problem of a non-existent sense of direction might be a deterrent, but extensive observation of the species has shown that whenever in doubt ask as passerby or pretend selective amnesia/ deafness. True, the returns are not quite guaranteed, considering there is always some bargaining involved. But a little heckling and a lot of aggressive posturing seems to have some effect on most people.
The initial investment is a bit steep for the student pocket. But a little research can probably find us a proprietor willing to rent out his/ her auto. Still steep, but not that bad.

While this option seems golden, the presence of rabidly territorial auto-packs makes finding a lucrative hunting ground a challenging prospect. Furthermore, the long arm of the law once again becomes a pain in the back since one (a) does not have a licence (b) doesn't have the vehicle's papers (c) doesn't have money to bribe the cops. And as anyone who's ever traveled in an auto knows, the cops hate them. Or at least pretend they do so that they can make money off the passerbys when they get embroiled in the inevitable collision. In between paying the rent for the auto and paying the reigning auto-stand alphas their cut and paying the cops their tithe, the budding entrepreneur runs the risk of returning to poverty unless she stoops to the same levels of degenerate democracy she denigrated earlier. Ah principles, the damn things!

And so ends option #2.

Option #3: Strike Extra (Kerala Specific)

This is actually a very valid employment possibility. Kerala has a thriving hartal/strike culture which demands extensive crowds for each protest; after all what's the point of protesting if there are no protesters, legitimate or otherwise. A loud voice and a adequate stamina for long distance walking  are all the qualifications required: today you yell slogans for Congress, tomorrow for SFI. All this with the the guaranteed pleasure of 500Rs and a plate of biriyani post-rally, political ideology be damned.

Of course, you will also be beaten up and/or thrown in jail interminably in the event of the inevitable lathi charge. And I am not atheletic enough to avoid escape.  Oh dear...

There goes option #3

Option # 4: Stripper
Nah... I don't have the legs. Or the abs. Next.

Option #5: Domestic Help (Kerala Specific)

I have it from every corner of the elongated state that good domestic help is about as rare as a scrupulous politician. And given the general rule of demand and supply and the mallu tendency to favour the working class, a conscientious domestic helper is worth her weight in gold ( and sundry electrical appliances and conveniences that she can demand in return for her services.) Since the author already has a neat disposition, the vocation seems right up her alley.

But it is unfortunately her zeal in carrying out her charge that might be a key issue here. The author runs the real risk of giving her employers a blistering earful of abuse in case of sustained levels of disgusting. Furthermore, the author's often humorous but decidedly caustic use of sarcasm may not be the best means of endearing herself to her employers. Given enough,or even not all that much, incentive she may find herself remitting  comments which can easily demolish any illusion of respect among parties. In sum, whether she likes cleaning or not, the author's innate disposition will land her back in unemployment before you can spell 'broom'.
Option#5 proves unfeasible.

Option #6: Landmark Bookstore Salesperson

Ah the joy! The comforting AC, the good music, the proximity to the food court, all those lovely books--Wait.
And there's the catch.
While working in Landmark would truly be a dream job, the simple fact that the author will definitely be perched somewhere reading rather than doing her job may put a damper on things.( For similar reasons, Option#7 Film Theatre Usherer and Option#8 Candy-store Salesperson might be colossal failures.Especially Option#7 since not only will she get too caught up in good movies, she will also do physical harm to idiots denigrating aforementioned good movies or casually assault morons who may promote really stupid movies. Think Chennai Express.) Furthermore, it is almost guaranteed that she will spend the entire paycheck on buying the books she sees around her- food and shelter be damned. Poverty will return as she wastes away in book-fueled delirium and the author, though bibliophilically euphoric, would return to square one.

So no, Option # 6, #7 and #8 can't happen. Drat.

It would seem that all the possibilities for monetary betterment are entirely unfeasible. While the creative mind balks at giving up this interesting train of thought, the sad and pragmatic truth says quite unsympathetically that all these wishy-washy imaginations are just that; wishy-washy imaginations. It would seem the only real alternative available is the successful completion of the dratted thesis. A task that I have been neglecting in favor of this blogpost. But we thrill in finding means to avoid doing what we should and instead doing whatever we feel like. Perhaps the angels hierarchies are just waiting for us to get our act together so that they can sort things out once the kiddies go in for their nap. In either case, it seems the only alternative available to doing a job is to just do it. And that's exactly what I am going to do. Just as soon as I think of a possible plan B. I am open to suggestions :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

(It's just) One Day Matram aka The Confessions of an Incurable Optimist

Forgive the mallu-wordplay in the title. The pun was irresistible.

This blog has seen many a post certifying my flagrant fraud-malluness. But this post isn't one of them. (Thankfully.)

The thing about growing up in another country-- besides the obvious diasporic confusions of being and belonging-- is that it tends to make one's  perspective on the motherland rather bipolar: either you are myopic to her faults or supremely nearsighted. And when you've grown up in Kuwait which, no offense, is the urban answer to Yoknapatawpha, you have every opportunity to foster these fallacies. Which would explain why,regardless of knowing better and daily proof of dissipation, one still finds ones heart swelling just a little bit on Independence Day.

Actually, it was never Independence Day that got any attention. That was reserved for Republic Day. Each of the Indian schools in Kuwait sent choirs (which, by the way, often consisted of SriLankans, Bangladeshis and the occasional Afghani besides Indians-- a microcosm of the subcontinent, don't you think) to the Indian Embassy with its imposing red-sandstone grandeur, to provide the patriotic background score for the flag-hoisting on the inevitably freezing January morning of the 26th. The Republic Day had the drama of unsaid competition between schools, the grueling ritual of group practices ( and the fun that follows), the simulated sense of purpose that comes from dragging yourself out of bed and into perfectly worn uniforms ( and, in my case, taming the hair into prosaic dignity rather than poetic frenzy)  at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am in a desert Winter, and-- perhaps as a result of this simulated sense of purpose-- an incredible sense of pride and joy when you see the flag climb up the pole. That , and the after program-snack box, of course.( usually a slice of fruitcake, a veg sandwich and juice)

Independence Day, on the other hand, came during the fading days of our summer holidays. We are too busy running around getting our fill of field, fallow, food  and lazing around while contemplating the ephemeral nature of holidays to think about celebrating in any sense. Travelling was discouraged because of clogging traffic. (Though there was this one time we had to go somewhere on the 15th and I got to see a 12yr old Gandhiji with a pappadam-based bald-pate trying to cross the road with an equally juvenile Nehru.)
Our entertainment was mostly confined to the screenings of Roja and Mr.India on the T.V-- if it was working. If it was not, then Independence Day made itself known through the blaring loudspeaker from the village school that burped out patriotic songs from another era. As you can see, not the most exciting holiday. It wasn't even a real holiday.

Coming to India gave me cognitive-spectacles that greatly remedied my ideological myopia. It is impossible to live in a country and not see its faults. And we know that India tends to be over abundant in that category. I also realised that so few of  us 'educated' and 'informed' citizens wanted anything to do with our country. Unfettered by NCERT censored text books, we find that Gandhiji, while an excellent statesman and a great idealist, was also a little off the deep end. Nehru  may have been Chacha Nehru, but that's not all he cha-chaed  with.  Poor confused India, flounders like a rudderless boat grappling with alien democracy it never got the hang of, parading her penchant for dynastic rule in  ballot box choices which bowed to inevitable evil either of the necessary/familiar kind, or the next best alternative, or whichever party offers the better deal in terms of material benefits like two kgs of rice, a sari and a bottle. Somewhere you start to think that democracy was never a good idea. That dissent is too wearisome and that 'choice', the fundamental premise of freedom, is just not worth it.

Everyday we shrug at idealism with studied apathy, our psyches are flogged by multiple proof of corruption running rampant and the anarchy meted out by administrations. Everyday we find new examples of atrocious mismanagement and inconsideration. Everyday we find one more reason to wash our hands off our state and fall a little more in our own eyes. Every day we find ourselves giving up on the idea of freedom, forgetting that this is what freedom is-- the inability to blame anyone else and the burden of carrying on by yourself. Freedom is a myth, it always comes at the cost of some other kind of liberty. But freedom in whatever form is something to be savored.  It may be screwed up, but it's our screwed up.

Too blind, perhaps? True, very true. The arguments against what I just wrote create an Indian Parliament worthy cacophony in my head. But I silence them with the single thought that 364 days of the year these arguments reign supreme. For just one day let us see our country as they saw it on that fateful midnight hour when we made our tryst with destiny-- with hope. They were not fighting for a section, or for a position. They fought for 'freedom'. The freedom to make choices, whether a physical one like entering a certain compartment, or a tertiary one like applying for a certain jobs, or the freedom to have a stand and to maintain it. The freedom to go where one wants, to be what one is (whatever that might be) while allowing other freedoms to exist. The times we live in give us very little affirmation of this hope, but for just one day let us try to see it as a possibility rather than an improbable pipe-dream. For just one day, let us free ourselves from our self-proclaimed cynicism and hope like they once hoped that our country will indeed awaken to that heaven of freedom. Because, that is what they fought for, that is the freedom we have-- the freedom to dream of "One day... someday".

Happy Independence Day

Friday, June 28, 2013

Speaking Words of Wisdom

Long post. Something to sink your teeth into.

Given the fact that the author's grandfather was a doctor, it is rather ironic that both she and her family share an anathema for the Hippocratic guild. Most ailments were greeted with little or no fuss, so much so that the germs soon got bored of our indifference and left the building faster than you could say "Elvis". A perfectly decent method, but the situation is a little different when the source of discomfort isn't  a real pathogen. And, when the epicenter of pain is located at the back of your mouth.

When it comes to wisdom teeth, here's a word of advice- don't let it be.

The mater's tryst with toothache crumbled the foundations of her dental state. Literally. She opted for dental care only after the tooth began to actually crumble into little shards-- up until then it was the classic clove oil /ice treatment. Having worn her wisdom tooth down to a stub, and rendered her face asymmetrically swollen, she finally swallowed the bitter pill that she needed help with her dental work. As it turned out, it was quite a bit of work. In keeping with the family character, her (now) tiny wisdom tooth had roots that ran deep, stubborn and twisted. The dentist probably wrenched his shoulder trying to get the tooth out, and it didn't help that he had an angry twelve year old staring daggers at him for the unspeakable violence he was inflicting, no matter that her mother's mouth was insensible. Following a tug of of war, which left the dentist bathed in sweat and heaving for breath, my mother emerged  cotton-mouthed, pain free and generally rejuvenated. Even the returned feeling to her benumbed mouth could not compare to the agony from before and she had admit she was much better. Following this episode, dentists were deemed ok. Sort of .

Which would explain why the advent of an impacted wisdom tooth in the daughter was greeted with prompt marching orders to the nearest dentist.

In a clear case of a spatial paradox, my big mouth's jaw was too small for all the wisdom bursting out of it. True, the molars had begun to make their presence felt quite a while back, but their no-pain-no-gain policy was largely benevolent, allowing for life to continue uneventfully regardless of space crunch issues on the jawline. Unfortunately, the right-wing tooth decided that it was time to go Lokpal (Lok-pallu. hehehe.) and demand justice. It ached, throbbed, got a swollen sense of self, generally became a pain in the head. And would have been ignored as usual if not for the fact that phone calls had to be conducted through gritted teeth all the better for not moving the jaw-- apparently this is a dead give away even if you are a state and bad phone-line away. The maternal instruction was augmented by additional exhortations from other quarters which gained traction from the simple agony of angry tooth. The final blow was the fact that a hunger-driven sortie to the mess saw me effectively destroying multiple appetites through my pained winces at every chew. A day of cold compressing and badly disguised phone-winces later I had to accept the sad truth: It was time to see a doctor. Damn it.
Then came the inevitable verdict.
The tooth had to come out. Urgh.

Let me clarify the context. The only time I'd gone for a tooth extraction was waaaaaaay back when my age was still a single digit number. All dental escapades that followed, were conducted by yours truly (I distinctly remember pulling out both my loose canines on the same evening simply because I was bored.) The thought of a dentist navigating these uncharted territories was a huge breach of privacy. Besides, being in a dentists chair is a supremely undignified position, splayed like an upended beetle with your mouth is wide open,constantly worried that your over-sensitive gag reflex will kick in an spew out. It didn't help that my brain, usually reticent and retiring, chose to to efficiently relay my tenth standard Ogden Nash lesson word for word. And when that memory was pushed aside, it decided to remind me of this movie. Ah the vagaries of the mind.

In all fairness, the most uncomfortable part was getting the anesthetic injection. Your mouth has been subjected to a lot of things, but being poked in the gums with a sharp needle is not one of them. Understandably, the reaction is not the most pleasant. In any case, the introduction of chemical assistance rendered the entire right side of my face, and a large part of the left, impervious to all sensation. It would have been a good day to get my threading done, had circumstances been different. Now that the face was properly benumbed, there was no more stalling. Extraction time. Once again Ogden Nash's infernal poem ran slides in my head as the doc pulled on his mask and took out what looked like a wrench-spanner hybrid and a pygmy chisel-lever. Just as the good doctor leveled the first blow, the author's mind began providing a beautiful background score of the magnificent Reethigowla Ragam she was learning at the moment ( and which will now probably be permanently associated with dentistry). Ah the vagaries of the mind.

The wisdom tooth, like beloved Will's love, does not "...bend with the remover to remove...". True, there was no epic battle as in the case of the Mater's molar, but the dentist did have to put in a couple of extra ounces of muscle into the task. The tooth did not want to come out and its roots clung stubbornly to my jaw. The dentist dug and pulled and twisted and pulled and poked and  pulled and tugged and pulled and pulled, trying to shake the tooth out of its foundations. My mouth, desensitized as it was, twinged in sympathetic discomfort.  And some annoyance too, since the doctor's enthusiastic levering was stretching the mouth in to unbelievable shapes. Through all the pulling and chipping and poking, the author's consciousness, still pleasantly serenaded with classical music, fixed itself upon the fact that the doctor had the kind of perfectly curved eyebrows that were positively wasted on a man.  Once again, we wonder at the vagaries of the mind.

Just as I was beginning to draft a complaint to the powers that be regarding the dentist's unfair eyebrow advantage, with a last wrenching tug the tooth came out. And what a tooth it was! Large with solid curved roots that could and did hold its ground, it was the Leonidas of my dental Thermopylae: no wonder it was causing so much trouble. But I didn't have much time to contemplate the beauty of my lost wisdom. Bereft of the distraction of mental background music and curved eyebrows, the senses were suddenly assaulted by the nauseating miasma of acrid chemical, the bitter taste and smell of latex gloves and the overpowering scent of blood that flooded the mouth. This general discomfort was compounded by the insertion of large wads of cotton in mutilated area which promptly set gag-reflexes jumping .The author was suddenly very glad she hadn't eaten anything before the performance. Tamping down on the rising bile was made difficult by the fact that all the muscles on the gagging side weren't listening to you. Providence kept the contents of the stomach where it belonged and the dentist escaped unscathed. Cotton in place and blood wiped away, normalcy was more or less regained except for a slight tendency to lose control over the right side of face and the very real danger of drooling and not knowing it. Communication for the large part was carried out with animated head shakes, expressive eye-rolling and an erstwhile unplumbed talent for dumb-charades; a very amusing turn of events for spectators like the pharmacist and his assistant who seemed to have great fun trying to figure out what I was trying to say.

Opting to walk rather than trying to communicate destination and fare to autodriver-bretheren gave me the time to contemplate the fate of the tooth. I had tried to redeem it as a souvenir of the experience, but it had already been disposed of. I suppose in a sense I mourned it's loss-- that overlarge piece of enamel that clung  so tenaciously, so desperately to a jaw that simply could not accommodate it, now lying at the bottom of an alien dustbin. But then again, it would only have decayed in the claustrophobic cavity of the jaw, destined to being whittled into a tiny half-shard of itself, that would only get attention through pain and torture. Better by far that it free itself in this early age, strong and white. Or so I tell myself. Returning to hostel, to what would be the first of many bowls of cold oats, I toast the lost tooth: your memory lives on in all the grains of rice that will inevitably end up in the shallow niche that you left behind, reminding me that gaps will be filled whether you want it or not. Rest in (one) piece.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tech Support

Apologies in advance. It started out small and then grew out of control before anything could be done. Much like the Author's gizmo-collection.

Most of those who have the dubious fortune of acquaintance-ship with the Author know that she is what is known as a "techno-dud of epic proportions". It is quite possible that her genealogy may be traced back to that particular line of neanderthals who were most loath to move away from beloved rock and stick and move on to iron tools. Whether they are phones, computers or ipods, gadgets fail to garner interest.

This ambivalence is not entirely without reason. From an early age it was drilled into me that technology was way more trouble than it was worth. This line of thought was nurtured by the fact that a) I studied in a school where most electrical implements were guaranteed to malfunction. Especially when you need them to work. b) Whenever something went wrong with the TV/ Computer and later the mobile, the first reaction of the adults was "What did you do?!"(Though in all honesty they are not entirely to blame; every once in a while we really WERE the cause.) Of course neither of these factors deterred my brother from turning into a connoisseur of electronic excellence, but he is the exception in our family's general trend of gaping ignorance in all things gizmo-like.

Perhaps the beginning of the change was when I first left home. The momentous leap from school to farway college and consequent hostel-dom made the acquisition of erstwhile avoided cell-phone inevitable. This foray into the alien practices was still limited to basic applications- bluetooth and other colour-coded activities did not register in the list of phoney skills. The mobile situation did, however, teach my mother and myself the fine art of texting. My father on the other hand remained steadfastly disinclined (in fact, it took at least 5 years and a rather troublesome episode in the airport for him to finally condescend to carry a mobile phone). Be that as it may, the initiation into the tech-world convinced the family that there was some profit in discovering the New World of gadgetry. And who better to experiment than the eldest far away.The years that followed were characterised by tenaciously typed typo-riddled texts, several backfired or missed phone calls, painfully saved and lost data, terrified panic attacks at having pressed the wrong button and thinly veiled threats of family funded technological upgrades which were constantly and firmly rebuffed. I really didn't want more equipment than I already had and went to great lengths to dissuade my parents from appliance-benevolence. I recall a sleepy afternoon, made sleepier still by my monologue on the travails of fighting off electronic instruments, when Sirgit turned around and asked me quite seriously, "Are you crazy?" I suppose to the general public such an anti-gadget stance seems strange. The fact is, these things were a necessity, and the ancestry of the the thing's circuitry did little to electrify my interest. Plus, they scared me-there are either too many buttons, or none at all!

For all my fighting against the industrial revolution of my mechanical life, in the course of eight years my family has managed to press upon me a digital camera (beloved Digi, who I still refuse to part with regardless of her obvious decrepitude), a laptop (Zephyr of the fried right-click fame, a comrade without whom my M.A-Ph.D life would be unthinkable.), mp3 players (beloved Tony I and later, when he kicked the bucket, Tony II, partner to all my journeys, rainscapades, and miscellaneous occasions that require a soundtrack- including but not limited to assignment submission, frenzied cleaning, angry walks in the middle of the night or simply the middle of the night.). A small external hard-drive (Satine of the glossy black skin and insufficient disk space for all my music), a big external hard-drive (Passepartout, named after the super-resourceful right-hand of the intrepid Phileas Fogg, but mostly because he declared himself Passport when first plugged in). And of course my sturdy Nokia (who is called just that because to call her anything else detracts from her impervious, super-toughness. It would be like calling the Rock, Dwayne Johnson.) As you can see, I have been quite effective.

This appliance-boom has also seen a congruent techno-improvement on the family side. My brother, who was never held back by the debilitating tech-fear as I was, is a certified expert on all things electronic. My mother has scaled great heights of telephone and internet competence by being proficient at not only texting and telephoning, but also at navigating the world wide web with a fair amount of confidence. Even the Pater, averse as he is to any kind of telephone related duties, has , of late begun to frame full sentences in the messaging/mailing scheme. This is a truly momentous development considering my father's typing episodes usually entail long spells of searching for the right key, getting worked-up if the screen throws something he wasn't expecting (eg: a pop-up ad, a new tab, the wrong letter.) and finally throwing up his hands in frustration and badgering one of us to write the godforsaken thing on his behalf.
But apparently things have really changed.
My Father suggested we take to chatting online.

The temptation to vigorously clean my ears and keep repeating "huh?" was the overriding reaction when my mother relayed the conversation. Several sputters later, I heard the explanation. "With the situation in Kuwait being the way it is, the officials are cracking down on the online-phone calls. The mobile keeps running out of charge and balance. This way he can talk to us consistently."
The image of my father hunched over the keyboard, forehead creased in concentration, hitting one slow, painful key at a time flashes in my mind.

When I first left home, everyday  for the first three months would see a meticulously typed text and a phone call in the evening. Every break was punctuated with extensive photo sessions and concentrated memory-making. The advent of internet facilities brought the laptop. The burgeoning work and data brought the hard-drives, and my family's unflagging and sometimes misplaced appreciation for my music- the mp3 players. And even now, a veteran of transits, moves and farewells I find myself supported, whether I want it or not. 

Robert Frost wrote "Home is the place where,/ when you have to  go there,/ they have to take you in." With some luck and a lot of love, I have been able to fashion home everywhere I went. And I have the great good fortune of incredibly reliable, albeit occasionally over-enthusiastic tech-support from head-office. But then it wouldn't be the same without that over-zealous element, now would it?

This time they got me a new phone. Oh God!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rain Lovesong

Many thanks to Resham George for the title and the lovely song.

Living most of your life in a desert and later in two decidedly arid cities, makes precipitation of the torrential kind a delightful treat. And since, like in most things, the Author tends to work in extremes, this fascination for rain tends to tip towards eccentric.

Simply put, I love the rain.
I can make a literary case for it: Rain is like a physical manifestation of Wordsworth's much quoted "spontaneous over-flow of powerful feelings".Only it doesn't wait for tranquility. It arrives when it does, and does not give you a choice about whether or not you are ready for the downpour. I suppose that too is a part of the charm. Rain does not allow secrets; it drenches you completely, seeking the fissures in your soul and filling them to the brim. It renders all the time you spent worrying about what to wear useless because at the end you'll still just "...look like a  cat that stuck its nose into a socket that shocked it" (once again, thank you Resham George). And yet the rain loves you, regardless-- and probably because of-- the fact that you really can't hide from him. Of course he can be quite frustrating. Like when he signals his arrival with so much promise employing all the fanfare of flushed skies, thunderous laughter and lightning smiles only to go speeding away on the wings of a smirking wind. Worse still is the half-hearted rain where he is just showing waaaaaay too much attitude. Times like these you wish the rain was an actual person rather than a personified entity so you could give him a piece of your mind. Yet, even as you pout in disappointment, you know he's probably doing that only to see you pissed off and looking like an idiot. Humph.

Thing is, you don't stand a chance against  so much exuberant bonhomie. The rain, in his overwhelming loving, washes out everything leaving you clean, pristine and strangely rejuvenated. Even the dirt is a happier brown after a good downpour. The rain drowns out all the doubts, the anxieties and replaces it with either the soft, comforting whisper of a gentle shower, or the excited applause of a million droplets, or the exhorting teasing of a bullying deluge. The rain renews, revitalises and reminds one that there is nothing so bad that a good cloudburst cannot wash away. The rain hugs you close and lets you expend your emotions, letting your tears meld with his or rumbling an answering laugh to yours. And then there is the quiet content of sipping a cup of hot chai  while watching the rain run riot, soaking in the joy of knowing that there is always beauty in the world. Even if it does cause power cuts and jams traffic.

I love the rain because it reminds me that regardless of how small you are in the wide world, the world still loves you. That small raindrop that hits your face is a kiss from the universe, telling you that there is still something to look forward to. The wind has been picking up outside my window and I expect to hear the soft rumble of thunder some time tonight. The first rains are finally arriving and life, once again, is made possible.

On reading Red Sorghum

I usually do not do book reviews, neither do I enjoy them. I am of the general opinion that everyone should be allowed to figure out if they like a book or not, with no external help; much like with people. But every once in a while a book comes along to remind you of your supreme naivete. In our sanguine smugness and misplaced faith in reason we tend to analyse, assimilate and file away experiences to be fished out as convenient anecdotes. The reality of the episode fades with time, repetition and with this basic act of classification, and we begin to use these instances only as precedents to support a case. We are argumentative and competitive and rarely, if ever, dwell on a moment long enough to allow it to seep into the bedrock of our psyches.

And then,  suddenly, you realise that realities are real, not manageable instances. No matter how much you 'manage' them, its graphic nature can never be veiled.

Like I said, I don't like book reviews. I prefer to go in blind. But this book deserved a word, not of praise but of caution. It will not negotiate, it invades. It does not forgive, it demands vengeance. It cannot give, it drowns. And most importantly, it stays.

Reading Red Sorghum is an exercise of agonised fascination. Mo Yan does not give the reader any respite, he is as ruthless as his characters and seems to take the untold-- or rather the excrutiatingly described-- violence in the same matter of fact, survivalist mien as they do. Watching a movie allows you the ephemeral comfort of closing your eyes to avoid the horrifying. The book will not brook such cowardice. And so, regardless of the fact that your insides are cringing, you continue reading. Just like the characters in the book.
They only stop when they are dead, just as we can only stop reading at the end of the book. It drains you, stretches you taut and thin and brings home the fact that you know nothing, can never know and that you should pray that it remains that way; because to know is to never be able to ignore.

The closing pages of the book describes the changed landscape of the place of setting-- Mo Yan's only lapse into blatant allegorical eloquence. Filled with a deep and abiding guilt at the inadequacy of the present to live up to the past, the author finally helps you name that terrible ache in your chest, so smothered by horror and shock. It is shame: the shame of not being that original, the true seed of the earth that aught to stand tall and proud instead doomed to the boxed existence of pet rabbits. And yet, underneath that crushing realisation, one also knows that we came from this cruel, loving, avenging earth and will return to it no matter how many times we are exhumed from our rest or fight its reclaiming tug- this too is true.

Ah literature, love of my life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dirge to the Year

I emulate the inimitable Shakespeare and appropriate his lines to suit my own ends.The evil that years do lives after them. Sometimes in the form of wrinkles and marriage proposals. The good is oft interred with their obsolete calenders. Those of you who still follow this blog are probably wondering (or shrugging sarcastically) at the tardiness of this post. Stay your chiding for the moment while I mourn the passing of a dead year. A year that didn't get its due.

It took me 21 days, 2 hrs and 25 minutes to collect myself enough to attempt a eulogy for a human year. Yes, a year so very human. She (yes, she ) came rushing into the world on a crisp mid-winter spring day with bright eyes that painted the world in vibrant tones of red, gold and green. Travel plans, multiple reunions, large garrulous weddings: Life, life and more seam-bursting life. Her loquacious toddlerhood melts into a mellow maturity too old for its age. From the shrill coos of the first months she settles into the slow steady cadence of little children speaking big words. The baby year was beginning to realise that she had a deadline, that she had to make it count. And so she makes the transition without losing her cheer. She keeps her lengthy conversations so as to not worry you with her deeper silences and quieter excesses.The young child-woman who you care for gingerly wraps her adolescent arms around you feeling for your empty spaces and slipping into adulthood. Caught in the cusp of her loving and loved embrace you close your eyes and think 'forever'.

And then, suddenly, the shadows fall longer on the sundial. I look for the young year that had thrown her arms around me and find her shriveled and pale in my arms. She did not have the time to grow old. Youth sublimated into age leaving behind a fragile form of spun crystal. Yet, her delicacy carries the weight of  lost causes, broken promises, the smiles you missed and the tries that failed.

It took me 21 days, 2hrs and 51 minutes to get here. It took a stroke of midnight for her to turn into an obsolete number. The dinning rage of the outraged mortals merged with the gong of the midnight hour shattering her glass body.I scatter the atom dust of her broken hourglass form to the winds that clamor with the trumpet of prophesy. What prophesy? I wonder. She is gone and we remain. And yet, I can still feel the weight of her shrunken body in the empty hands of the clock and the misty rays of morning. She is here. Still here.

I breathe in the dust of the departed year pulling along with her the essence of eternity, infusing my blood with the Age. In my lungs are lodged the multiple pasts and all my future, burning itself into the DNA of my present. I am all, I am nothing, and I am yet to be. I am. And I will be.

It is 3:00 am. Soon the dawn will unroll her golden tapestry. On my desk 2013 smiles a toothless smile through the columned crib of her calender. As I finally lay to rest the year gone by, I re-invoke the poet who supplied the title of this post.

To love, and bear; to hope till hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change nor falter, nor repent...
This alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory...
                                          Percy Bysshe Shelley,
                                                Prometheus Unbound Act IV

A belated happy New Year, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for animating The World According to Me.


The Creator.