Monday, November 10, 2014

Notes on a pen

There is some thing so romantic, so sensuous about a much loved pen. It's weight resting ready against the middle finger. Its thorax indented by the tight embrace of relentless digits that held it in the tight grip of passionate inspiration until the fingers themselves changed and grew callused grooves to fit. Its nib  gathers to a point the  suspense ridden trepidation that kept it hovering a full minute above the page before descending with a reckless or defeated sigh on the pristine smoothness of page. The smooth body holds the remembered warmth of pursed lips pressed to it in thoughtful contemplation, It carries the scars of feverish bite marks left behind by a particularly meaty idea that needed to be wrestled into submission. The stains of sweaty fingerprints from punishing examinations cling to it's glossy skin.  It is almost a living thing -- this carrier of memories .Witness to the words let fly, held back and the ones that ought to have been. And just like the human being, a pen too has character.

I think it all began with the period films- the Victorian men and women scribbling away furiously on creamy parchment, the elegant plumes of their quills executing a scratchy flurry of pirouettes.
I used to fill obsolete notebooks with scribbles just to watch the long wand of my pen dance and sway over the page. And then there was my grandfather with his beautiful handwriting sloping across lines in a smooth glide.Whether ball pens or ink pens, his pens were meticulously maintained and treated with utmost respect. I still remember the battered beloved stic pen he was using on the day he passed away.

My grandmother was an inveterate writer. Letters, stories, lists, notes, asides, all dashed away in the pale blue of her favored ink. She was the one to introduce me to fiction; pushing a battered but beautiful copy of hardbound Jane Eyre into my eight year old hands.  And then having spirited discussions on the characters and plot line. She also started me off on the artistry of writing with her innocent yarns about cousins hunting down a missing pair of spectacles all written in her sweeping cursive over sheets of rough unruled paper.  She was the one who unwittingly introduced me to  the dignified but sweet-natured Hero pen which started me off on my love affair with fountain pens.

Have  you ever noticed that when you use someone else's pen, your handwriting becomes a little like theirs? The weft and warp of your knit cursive adopts the slants and curves of the predecessor. The sweep of the inked letter seems to call back for the familiar hand, putting our upstart penmanship back in its place. The pen can't let go as fast as the fingers that grew cold without them. And so, one sunny afternoon you collide with a sheaf of letters penned in a beloved hand and realise that your hand is not the same anymore. It is stained with the indelible ink of memory and love, seeping under the callused epidermis to color the canvas of your character.

Pens aggravate. They break when you least expect it and break your heart with it. Run out of ink at the worst time possible. Leak all over your hand, ruining anything in the path of its outburst. They become inconsistent and boorish leaving you no choice but to let go. They make you fall in love with their smoothness and leave you wanting when you realise it is an understocked/limited edition piece. But pens console too. They let you weep out your frustration in jet black spurts of hurt or in a long stream of unchecked eulogy. The comforting friction of  nib on page eases the ache within, letting it flow out your fingers. The careful ritual of cleaning, refilling and drying that aged fountain pen is a mode of meditation of what is, was and will be. It mandates deliberation, checks the excess, crafts the thought. The pen demands that you give what you write enough room to breathe and give yourself time. And most importantly, the pen marks the journey that your writing took-- it shows the checks, corrections, the blotches, the over indulgence in metaphor and adjective that you had to scrap. Contrarily, if you have chosen to put something down in irretrievable ink, it must be that special. My paternal grandfather always used any random stub of pencil, or an errant ball pen for his everyday businesses. It was only years after his death, that a vintage Sheaffer fountain pen was retrieved from the safe, secret place in his back drawer protected from the mundane scrawl of habit.

Animism holds that an inanimate object can carry a spiritual fingerprint, a soul if you will. Or perhaps, I am entirely too enamored with the written word and the vehicle that carries it. In either case, I have learnt too much from pens and their lovers to ever take them for granted. It's a special thing to be able to love an inanimate object minus the materialistic edge, to endow it with a spirit beyond it's wood, steel or plastic bodies. Especially for an observer whose major preoccupation is deciphering human attachments. But then again, there is nothing that can't be given a deeper meaning-- something an old faulty pen, found in a back drawer along with moldy papers taught me.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Memoirs of a Meesha

The origins of facial hair are quite obvious: early man had bigger priorities than fashioning a razor. And the origins of the removal of aforementioned facial hair are also quite obvious: Supporting a certified biosphere on ones face could not have been comfortable.And it must have been a rather virulent biosphere indeed to warrant the steep leap of faith involved in applying sharp item on soft face- especially with the high probability of surprise mountain lion/cave bear attacks causing a fatal slip of the hand. (But then again, in the event of such a surprise, better ear-less/nose-less than lifeless.) In either case, the true mystery lies in the genesis of the mustache. What induced the freshly shaving man to leave behind patches of hair on his face? Is it because applying the razor under his nose also took off inches from it? Was it to conceal his deplorable dental condition? Or to strain the water of its questionable additions as he sipped from the river? Or was to mutter expletives into its dark fronds, safe in the knowledge that CaveMama can't hear or see what you just called her cooking? The practical uses of the bit of fluff may still be within the scope of our imagination, but the cultural and symbolic significance the mouth-wig achieved within the course of civilisation is beyond logic! Instead of coming up with hair-brained ideas let us hear it from the horse's mouth. I present, the distinguished mouthpiece of the man-kind: the Moustache!
Behold! I am the moustache! Observe-my glorious crest descending in a swaggering incline of inky black ending in perfectly symmetrical nifty, upward curl. Magnificent am I not?And it is not merely my considerable beauty that underscores my opulent charm-  civilisations have been supported on the sturdy loop of my dark wings!

Let me describe the illustrious history of this lustrous specimen.The first mouche to sprout up in the archives adorned the lips of a Scythian horseman riding across a wall painting. Following which they began popping up everywhere. Apparently it was total rage with the Mesopotamians, who often teamed it up with flowing beards. Sure the Egyptians still walked about bald faced,but what can you expect from them-their gods had animal heads forgodsakes!In India the virulence of your mustache growth symbolised great vigour. Young boys waited impatiently for us to grace their upper lips. Facial-hair deprived men sighed in sadness wishing for a better fate (it is a wonder they didn't drive themselves to this option)  while those graced with our flowing presence caressed us lovingly. And women, the poor dears, were so overwhelmed by our obvious glory they couldn't bear it: they literally ripped us off their upper lips. (They may give you some other story, but now you know the truth);A hairy upper lip was a sign of virility, dynamism and what the patroness of this blog would call 'dudeness'. But, as a great man once said, uneasy lies the upperlip that wears the crown.Our hairiditory magnificence was a source of jealous pride.With our beauty came the curse of honor.A half shaved moustache was the height of insult.Lesser men envied those blessed with our glory, resenting our dramatic presence. Bloody feuds were fought over insults thrown at our regal splendour.

Through most of twentieth century we clung tenaciously to stiff-upper lips and were lovingly smoothed by brilliant detectives and PIs. We graced the dashing smiles of dandies who frankly didn't give a damn and were waxed eloquently by iconic artists who dallied with the very creme de la creme of  the age.We were broodingly combed by philosophers who went beyond good and evil or lent sternness to others with weak mouths or lay in glorious state upon the lips of some who believed they had a superior mission. We bracketed  and augmented comic relief. We were, perhaps, the most dynamic fashion statement a man could make.But such an age was too glorious to last.

The 21st century saw a baldfaced betrayal of the Mustachio Creed. No longer embraced by the mainstream, only a particularly confident or careless upperlip  would acquiesce to carry our weight. The metro sexual male found other outlets for facial hair grooming, like the detestable chin fungus called a "soul-patch" (more like a soul-blight) Beards of different sizes and shapes began to return to the face, but the poor mustache began to be seen as a mark of provinciality--doomed to the likes of Texan steerherders or Mexican wranglers. Even our stalwart patrons, the Malayalees, are beginning to withdraw their support, moving towards a clean-shaven look rather than the favored face-ornament of yore. Even the proprietor of this blog is only allowing this lament because her father happens to sport a particularly virulent mouche! We are forced to perch precariously on available upper lips, forever wary of the blade.

Weep ye mortals-- not for the fallen mustache, but yourselves. We used to be enough to mark a man's manhood. It didn't matter if you had the cheapest car, or whether your daughter worked or if your son took up fashion designing, or if there are people kissing in front of you-- your mustache would have established your credibility. Now what will the poor man do to prove himself?His security, once so prominent and worn bravely in the middle of his visage, now flounders in the face of so many new things, exposing his vulnerable upper lip to everything!

Perhaps, it is inevitable. We could not have protected the substance of manhood forever. It is only natural that the cycle turns and the baton is passed. We learn to enjoy the few months when we sprout on young lips and lead our charges into shaven puberty and decline with grace. We only hope that our replacement will be as tangible as we have been. Mankind is a wayward race, easily distracted and ready to take offence. They have outgrown us, but we hope that they have grown up in the process.
We thank the kind readers who have patiently listened to our plaint

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Great Menon Wedding II:Roots and (Photo) Shoots aka How to Get into The Wedding Spirit.

The problem of stepping into a wedding that you were never planning to have, is that you aren't really prepared for the choices you will have to make.

     Following the tremulous 'yes', my parents had slid into a comfortable bonhomie reminiscent of the iceberg after it sunk the Titanic. However, I had been grossly blinded by the parents' appearance of chilled out equilibrium. While I was aware of my parents' burning urge for a marriage in the family, I began to realise that the heat of their matrimonial ambitions could sear rhinoceros hide! The Pater, who is given to exaggeration, blithely aired plans of a thousand strong wedding guest list and expeditions to unknown corners of Kerala and the Deccan Plateau to run the invitation gauntlet. But my amused smile shriveled into an incredulous 'huh?' when the mild Mater began to pull out bulging folders labelled 'invitation card options', 'wedding favors', 'decor', 'bridal hairstyles' (and I thought she had made her peace with my maenad hair'blouse patterns' (!). Ostensible research.Oh dear...

     Sensing peril, I began to observe their routines more closely. Where Achan would once shun the telephone like hostel chutney, he now spent valuable minutes on the line collecting phone numbers to dial in still more phones. Besides conferring with various cronies regarding infrastructural cornerstones like the catering and transport, housing and lighting, Achan was also willingly venturing outside and visiting acquaintances-- both highly allergenic tasks for the subject. Amma who used to spend her online time on progressive pursuits like this, now spent her days watching videos like this (nice song, though). Where we once had stimulating intellectual conversations on poetry, politics, books and family gossip, talk now inevitably veered towards sari colours, thalam arrangements flowers and inevitably the groom (the last item usually some advice prefixed with a "please don't"). And when we weren't talking about wedding planning, my economically conscientious mother would disappear into the bowels of Mysore Silk Emporium and return laden with booty with nary  a wince at the bill. It was when my father and I got into an argument regarding the hypothetical wedding jewelry that I knew for certain that as a responsible adult it was my duty to lead them back to their sane and sensible selves. Some one needed to step in and pick up those slackened reins!

     Which was exactly what I had planned to do... but...well... We have a way of getting swept away in the flow of things-- especially if it is less 'flow' and more 'tsunami waves'. Besides, if I was going to get married, I was damned well gonna have a say in the freaking thing. And I was never in a thousand years going let myself become this kind of a bride! (there were dangerous thoughts in this direction) Consequently, I got involved in my own wedding. A decision I was sure I would never make. Ah hell, I wasn't planning on getting married to begin with, it was about time I got with the program.

     Having become the unwilling protagonist of this wedding saga, I was now called upon to make several decisions for which I was ill prepared. For example: What colour wedding sari do you want? Er...
     Spare me your calumny you mocking mockers! It is apparently the most crucial piece of knowledge for a prospective bride. The wedding shade is the one colour to rule them all-- the jewelry, saris to be given as gifts, even the stage settings were subject to the Great Pigment. Seriously- it's a big deal! Yeah, I didn't know either; much to the frustration of all interested (which waseveryone I knew, irrespective of age or gender) Other subjects of infinite importance in the wedding scheme included possible blouse tailors, the best options for d-day beautician and what kind of shoes. Besides this, the bride has to make her peace with certain truths:
(a) She will have to put  off reading the complete works of Haruki Murakami or even one small little novel in favour of socialising.
(b)She will have to sit still and smiling for looooong stretches of time.
(c) She must be well dressed full time. (mostly because her mother is revisiting her daughter's pre-cognitive days where she got to try every look she fancied on unsuspecting, compliant baby)
(d) She will be called upon to pose for innumerable photos, in ridiculous poses*. And she must do so graciously. (The wedding phase also saw the return of the Mater's favorite phrase from my childhood: "Don't make a fuss")

     Needless to say I was much happier to take care of transport coordination, room list tallies and invitation printing and inviting. The last, only when permitted-- it is apparently bad form to invite people for your wedding yourself. Which makes some circuitous sense since your wedding is mostly your parents' project, whether or not you try to make it otherwise. The guest list is like the Humanities discipline, it is flexible and ever growing. In fact, as evidenced in a cousin's wedding,  it continues to  expand right up to the wedding day. While I can't generalise, most South Indian wedding guest lists do not work on the overly simplified notion of inviting only close family and friends. Oh no. Anyone on the family tree with a valid address was a candidate. I remember in my naive past my observations on weddings were marked by incredulity at the logic of inviting people one barely knew to  ones own wedding. The fact is. that's how you get to know them. I had the opportunity of meeting such lovely people while running the invitation gauntlet it made the wedding worth it. Of course, there were those I won't recognise ever again as well, but the fact remains the wedding was an affirmation of roots and the far off shoots sprung from these forgotten ties.You see, the rhetoric of parental duty has deep roots in a very simple urge-- communal bonding.

     Forget all the middle-class morality discourse about marriage being a social obligation. What it really is, is a chance for parents, family and friends old and new to get together, call everyone they can think of  and throw a really big party. It is a chance to open doors, renew bonds, make memories of every kind and generally have a whale of a time. And the easiest way to appreciate this, I discovered, was to stop thinking of the wedding as your wedding. Rather, think of it as the one opportunity to show them how it's done and do it right. The minute the perspective changes, you are suddenly free of the self consciousness and what we Mallus call chammal** and challupu***  of being the center of so much unwanted and unprecedented attention. Your attention shifts from their attention and you finally see things for what they are-- a chance for your family to cut loose. A time for you to hang out with your friends, giving them a venue to reanimate friendships. An opportunity to be happy and make happy.And I was determined to be the one bride in history to have fun at her own wedding. And this wedding would definitely go down in history.

Next up, the getting the wheels running for the Big Knot


* The photographer we finally settled upon was that rare breed of clickers-- polite, efficient and likable. A large reason for this was because he smiled so apologetically every time he requested a certain pose, and that the final album was quite lovely. To his credit, viewing the shots later proved that the poor man had had to use all his skill to make the bride look passably nomal-- the subject had failed spectacularly at point (b).

** Roughly translated as embarrassment.

***Another form of extreme embarrassment and shame. Use the retroflex 'l'-- All you linguists out there, you know what to do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Great Menon Wedding: Introduction

Yes, there was no Christmas post last year .There was also no New Years playlist.
Easter bounced by in a flurry of fluffy omelets and dust -bunnies. Spring gaily sprang into Summer  (which, somehow, seems to be going on forever...) All passing without comment.
(By the way, A belated Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Easter and any other festive occasion I missed)

The World According to Me has been languishing in prolonged stasis- a state that I sincerely wish to remedy. However, the world around me was and is performing rigorous cartwheels, somersaults, high tragedy and comic farce . And we are not merely describing the political-social entertainment that has been the trend of 2014. 
In either case, I wish to remind myself and my faithful readers (most of whom have given up on me already) that this blog
a) exists
b) is still active. albeit irregularly.
 And while I may become as erratic in my updates as some of my more distinguished brethren seem to be, I assure you, The World According to Me is never forgotten. And just to make my sincerity clear...

Parents of a Marriageable Age.

     While my views on marriage have been widely publicised within the blogsphere and any circle that has come within a meters radius of self, my idealism did not take into consideration the presence of two very radical variables: my parents.The fact is, my parents were ready for marriage at least five years prior to the Great Event. And while sterling individuals in every count, they are not above some emotional strong-arming. To err is human. Long and rather unpleasant story short, I decided there wasn't all that much to lose. As a wise woman once put it, don't run, you'll just die tired. Once the difficult task of wrapping ones head around a previously inconceivable future is taken care of, things become surprisingly easy. It also helps if the man you decide to marry is not half-bad. (in case the man in question is reading this- understatement is the new black). But I am ahead of myself. 

     The prospect of  possible nuptials brought about some disconcerting knowledge. A cursory self-assessment revealed that I was not only a pathological friendzoner, I was also as dense as stale doughnut. A cousin of mine was narrating the meet-cute of a relative who met her spouse at an airport. There they were, two strangers at the baggage carousel, unaware of cupid's quivering arrow racing towards them. The guy accidentally picked up her bag and in the confusion and the exchange of sheepish grins their eyes met, a lot of sappy violins played and the rest is history. Now, If the same thing were to happen to yours truly, the hapless hero would be summarily yelled at, glared at, derisively laughed at and dismissed as nincompoop and/or thief. The sound you hear in the background is romance staking itself in the chest. Bottom-line : I wouldn't recognise a pass if it danced the hula in front of me wearing nothing but a neon sign.

    It was glaringly apparent that any true-mind marriage that dear Will espouses would happen only through parental liason. Having had twenty-six years of exposure to my particular brand of cluelessness, the parents were not surprised. In fact, they were chafing at the bit.(To those individuals unfamiliar with the concept of an arranged marriage, it's not the slave trade it's made out to be. Honest. In fact, for individuals like self, it is often a helpful modus operandi.) No sooner had the grudging 'yes' passed my pursed lips than the progentitors (and one sibling) jumped to the task of finding Mister More-or-Less Right with rabid enthusiasm. Apparently, my parents were waaaaay past marriageable age.

     A note to all children, if you think you know your parents-- you don't. They are like three year olds , one minute they are obsessed by a certain shiny object, the next they sprint off in the opposite direction. But again, I am ahead of myself.

     The man groom hunt was a rather entertaining exercise given that half the candidates that cropped up were hilariously unacceptable. (A notable specimen openly stated that his only qualification was his enormous wealth. Another said as baldly that he had nothing to declare but his optimism) The other half was further whittled into nothing by astrological mismatches. And the few that remained were comfortably shot down by my father and brother. Mother on the other hand tended to have a very liberal view of human fallibility and age appropriate hairlines. So, they plowed through multiple possibilities drawing blanks. Meanwhile, I let out a relieved sigh-- it didn't look like I'd be getting married anytime soon.

Less than a year later, I was handed a proposal worthy of consideration. My parents pulled the carpet from under my feet in more ways than one. Not only did they actually locate a possibility that had both mental acumen and enough hair on his head (a rare combination, as the hunting logs proved). They also blithely hummed consent to someone who was only half-Mallu and didn't even speak the language! This after years of demanding that the female offspring refrain from even looking in the general direction of a non-Mallu male. Is there no certainty in this world?! Apparently not.

Thankfully, I was saved the indignity of the long walk-of-chai service, popularised by so many movies. The acid test came in the form of a rambling conversation with the hapless he where the author made no attempts to tame her loquacity. At the end of which, the candidate did not keel over and die. Rather, not only was he still lucid, he was still pleasant! A real sign of endurance, if any. Apparently, my parents (and one sibling) did know what they were doing...
In either case, cute half-Mallu boy seemed worth the effort and he on his part seemed ok with throwing caution to the winds and his lot with mine. Consequently we got engaged. The family smiled in satisfaction. "We've got her half-way, now we just need to get her married"
And that is a story for the next episode of The Great Menon Wedding.

Statutory Warning: Posts that follow in this series will be longer than average. After all this is no average mallu wedding. Keep your glucose close at hand.