Thursday, December 28, 2006

Are we there yet?

Finally. We’re here. The end of another year. And like a bunch of avaricious relatives around the death bed of an uncle no one ever spoke of when alive, we all gather as he breathes his last to reminisce and commiserate. For who thinks of a year when it is a breathing, living thing running swiftly from day to week to month? Who cheers for it from the sidelines half way through the race? No, we all ignore it until it begins it's last leg limping towards the finish line.

These last few days of a year are always a confusing time for me. Should I start my healthy living regime now or stuff as many brownies in to my mouth as it will possibly allow ? Should I take my complete inertia to write as natural year end laziness or a premonition of a whole year of blank notebook pages? Should my good intentions kick in now or can I afford to wait for a few more days?

I also hate all the ‘best of’ lists. They only make me feel inadequate – the books I haven’t read, the movies I haven’t seen, the exhibitions I never got tickets for, the plays and musicals I missed and the bands I never heard of. It makes me realise how much I’ve missed out on and wonder exactly what I was doing instead (and if I can’t remember then I was either doing some pretty boring things this year or was very drunk).

Well anyhow, the year is almost done and there’s no changing it. And looking back (come on, did you really think I was going to abstain from my retrospective look at a year spent living under a rock? Don’t worry I won’t go in to any details) there’s little I would change. There have been some fabulous holidays, good movies, great books and one very uncharacteristic job quit.

That’s about all I can manage for now. It’s hard typing when one hand is entirely devoted to stuffing divine pieces of chocolate heaven in to my mouth.

If I don't see you all again, Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

8 years on

Once upon a time, she knew exactly where he was if given a day and time. Mondays at 4pm - remedial classes. Thursdays at 7:30pm - adipradakshinam around the shrine of his namesake Subramanian. Sundays at 11:00am - he would be hand fed Molagu Kozhambu by his mother, struggling to keep his eyes open after a soporific oil bath. And every day at 9:00pm he would wait for her near the tank on the terrace. ‘What are you doing now?’ she wondered sighing as she called out her son’s name. A roundel of molagu kozhambu clutched in her lined palm.

(Today's 100)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's young speak for ageing bat?

Remember those wonderful heady days of being a self-absorbed youth? When you didn’t care about the environment until the cute guy from Greenpeace came to hand out leaflets in your college? When you thought nothing of going to Parry’s Corner on your rickety moped at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Madras Summer’s day just so you could get t-shirts for your departments march drill on sports day? Even though you knew the BBA girls would turn up in shorter than short skirts with perky balloons and body parts and win the trophy. Remember when you cared enough to wax your legs in school, even though the only men on the premises were the near blind pot bellied watchman, the crotchety man in admin and canteen uncle? Remember what it felt like when you could still turn heads on the road?

I’m suffering from the early onset of ageing. I know, I know. It sounds implausible that at 26 I’ve suddenly become a relic from the Pliocene era. But this fossilisation hasn’t happened over night you know. Oh no. I’ve caught myself doing certain things more appropriate for an OAP for a while now.

Every time young girls in derriere grazing mini skirts and hot pants board a bus or train, giggling and texting one another I’m the first one to shake my head in disapproval (140 to Heathrow regular Doris is usually quick to join in, but she’s been in a neck brace for a while now). I’m only concerned for them of course. Frost bitten bums have never been particularly attractive to the opposite (and in some cases same) sex.

My once enviable knowledge of hip music (is hip still a socially acceptable word?) has also plummeted. Kooks were what we used to call crazy people back in the day. And the last time I checked, Arctic Monkeys were what oxygen deprived explorers mistook one another for on first arriving in those cold climes.

I always carry a sweater with me in case it suddenly gets cold. I only get my hair done once every six months. I have started to make my own kitchen cleaning solution (equal parts water and vinegar for those that are interested. Works like a dream). I bake cakes on birthdays and anniversaries. I plan menus for the week ahead, so that when I do grocery shopping I know exactly what I need. I DO GROCERY SHOPPING.

One would think that with all these signs I would have figured out much earlier that I was headed for premature hip replacement surgery. My only excuse is that I have also been blessed with mental faculties of an 80 year old. It takes me a while.

It struck home though when my husband came home last night. He opened a large bag and took out two bottles of Beaujolais and a Chablis.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“New Year gifts for the team from clients”

“What? Wine? No dried fruits like last year?” I whined.

And there you have it ladies and gentleman. Final proof that I should be put in a home with lavender walls and made to share a room with someone called Rose who thinks Thatcher is still Prime Minister. I actually wanted almonds instead of a nice red. I’m an ageing squirrel.

So today morning I said enough is enough! I will recapture my lost years! I will seize the moment! Etc etc. While having an affair with a younger person was ruled out (I might get thrown in jail given the age group I would have to prey on to have a suitably Stella getting groove back moment) I decided I would use the only weapons available to me. My shoes. Why, what did you think I was going to use?

So before I set off to complete a few errands I put on some eye liner and slid in to my red heels (I was also wearing clothes, just in case the above sentence makes it sound like that’s all I had on) and set out in search of my twenties.

*

In case you’re wondering I didn’t find them. They certainly were not at the post office, newsagent or hidden under the sack of basmati rice I bought at Tesco. I did however discover the biting cold. And remember what I said about frostbitten bums not being very attractive? Well frost bitten toes aren’t that hot either.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An intruder

Winter crept in to our home last night. Did I forget to shut a window? Was the front door unlocked? Or did she break in, sliding a thin icy finger through the key hole, turning it this way and that before a tell-tale click let her in? I could hear her wandering about rattling windows and banging doors shut. I was too scared to come out and ask her to leave. Like a squatter she crouches in a corner, trying to be invisible. But the chill in the air and drops of water on the window panes give her away.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Today's 100

Can you hear them too? The ants. They march single file inside my ear. Their army surplus boots going crunchcrunchcrunch. A marauding column of arthropods heading towards my neo cortex. In search of what though? Will they each carry away a tiny crumb of grey matter? In the morning will I not know who I am? As the cold sun trickles in will I realise I can no longer use my arms and legs? Will I lie paralysed in bed as the ants march away with tiny pieces of my life? The can of Flit at arms length but unreachable.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kalvettu

Soaked in rain and dried by the sun. A buttress to the slender, curved backs of lovers as they sigh against you, leaning away from the world’s prying eyes. A refuge to those that seek to escape the heat, wrapping themselves in the sparse folds of your cool shadow. The faithful walk by whispering, singing and pleading. My hand brushes against your ancient soul. Tracing the chiselled lettering I push my finger in to the tiny canals carved in your body. Vowels and consonants. Su. Na. It.
I wonder what you have seen - mutely witnessing the passage of time.


(Today's 100 words. Inspired by this.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

View

From my table I can see a grey blue sky with no clouds to distinguish it from the grey blue sky across the street. Damn cloning. Slats are missing from the weathered wooden fence that guards the compound. Yesterday, a fat black and white squeezed itself through the gap and meowed at me. Begging to be let inside. I should inform the factotum. We don’t want riff raff in here. Sloping roof tops, television aerials and chimneys that are no longer in use are in profusion. The bush I pluck yellow flowers from and lay at God’s feet is bare.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

2 minutes.

Twice a month, seeking lips and probing hands come visiting. Impatient. Greedy. Without grace. Clothes are divested of. Her kaftan removed in one fluid motion that ensures it is never inside out. Else she will struggle when they are done - head tunnelling in sleeve and arms flopping about. Everything happens according to plan. Cursory touches and the inevitable thrust. She shields her eyes as the light comes on. Her legs automatically lift. Coaxing creation. Flabby cranes on a construction sight where nothing is ever built. She studies her worn toe rings. 15 years and she still lives in hope.

(Tooday's 100 words)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

a hundred words

In an attempt to get myself to write every day and not capitulate to the call of the duvet and comfort of a book I am going to follow this idea and write exactly 100 words of anything every day.

Today's 100

Her fingers were numb. She couldn’t wait to finish the dishes and watch the DVD. The familiar cadences of her mother tongue would envelope her like a shawl knit with comforting words. She rubbed the SV etched on the surface of a tumbler. “So when you lend sugar to neighbours they’ll know which vessel to return.” Amma had explained.

But that never happened here. There was no milk man, iron man or call of ‘Post!’. No flower seller beseeching her to buy an extra strand of malli. She was alone and cold with nothing but an imaginary shawl for comfort.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why do I even bother

This Sunday I was at our local Waterstone's browsing through row upon rown of 3 for 2 offers and Richard and Judy Book Club Reads when it occured to me to enquire about a certain book I had recently read and wanted to buy. So I went up to the counter and found myself facing the kind of gel-haired, multi pierced, Nuts reading youth that seem to have taken over the retail industry. I should have known how things were going to turn out and left then. But I didn't.

Me: Do you have The Collected Stories of Colette?

Gel-head: Is that Tony?

Me (feeling a little guilty for having had such mean thoughts about a hearing impaired person) No no COLETTE not Tony

Gel-head (who by now thinks I'm the slow witted one) NO I M-E-A-N-T T-0-N-I C-O-L-E-T-T-E

Me (back to feeling morally superior) No just Colette.

Gel-head: Let me check. How'd you spell that?

Me: C-O-L-E-T-T-E

Gel head: I don't think there's anyone like that

(So what now I'm imagining books by non-existant writers?)

Me: Can you check anyway please?

Gel-head: Whatever

So Gel-head spends about twelve minutes searching for Colette on the database. I'm sure it was hard locating the alphabets on the keyboard what with all that Gel seeping from his hair in to his brain and clogging it.

Gel-head: You sure it's not Toni Colette?

Me (gritting teeth) Positive

Gel-head suddenly gets up and wanders to the blonde girl at the next counter to chat her up and tickle her.

Gel-head (suddenly realising I'm still standing there) Yeah. Sorry. Nothin like that.

Me: Thank you

Gel-head: If you want I'll check for Toni Colette. That's probably who you want anyway innit?

This young man ranks second in my list of useless book shop staff. The first place is occuppied by a dread-locked lady of indeterminate age at W.H Smith, Kings Cross Station who informed me that no such publication entitled The New Yorker existed. May be it is just me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Home is where the incense burns

The other day I was walking home when the sharp combination of mustard seeds, gingelly oil and tamarind stopped me in my tracks. Veththa kozhambu was bubbling away in someone’s kitchen and I couldn’t help but envy the recipient. There's nothing quite like vengaya veththa kozhambu and sutta appalam to thaw a wintery soul.


Many months ago, Sunil at Balancing Life had written a post on the science of smell and how our noses function. I must admit, I needed to read a few things twice over to understand them but the post made me think about something else – the emotions that a scent can evoke.

There’s something nostalgic about certain smells. The brow furrowing whiff of sour curd always brings back memories of wooden classroom benches, stainless steel lunch dabbas and secret exchanges of curd rice and vadu maanga for chapathi and kurma. Anais-Anais conjures up my mother in pearl encrusted green organza and the memory of being six and watching her in this ethereal oufit is part of the reason why the scent remains a personal favourite. A freshly opened bar of Cinthol always takes me back to the hot summers of my childhood and waiting for the thanni lorry.


Every morning I wake up in a foreign country that perhaps will never be home. But when I open my canister of carefully rationed Leo coffee powder the strong aroma reminds me only of Madras. And if I close my eyes, I am there.

Amma’s home is the smell of rose petals in an urli, bodhi sattva incense, withering parijatham and malli. Ripe mangoes in season and water infused with vetiver roots in summer. Coriander, curry leaves and Sabena. These smells mingle to produce a bouquet that can perhaps never be replicated, and even if it were only two people would want a bottle of it – my sister and myself.

I’ve done my best to recreate the smell of home in my small corner of London. Every trip to Madras sees me return with ridiculous quantities of Auroville incense sticks and Giri Trading’s annual stock of sambrani. I go overboard though, and it’s not uncommon to see my husband red eyed and spluttering as he drinks his morning chai, enveloped in a white gauzy aromatic mist.But I can’t help myself. The scented candles and incense you get in London do not remind me of my home but of Laura Ingall Wilder and her little house on the prairie. Sweet Potato Pie, Washed Linen and Spiced Cranberry say Thanksgiving not Thai Poosam.

A few weeks ago I was at The Pier – a store with an impressive range of some very bizarre candles. Coastal Winds and Tamarind Raspberry were just two of what seemed to be many questionable combinations. But then as I billed my Ginger tea and green mango pillar candles I realised that perhaps to someone out there these smells were reminiscent of a sweet distant memory of their own.

As I write this, patchouli and the citric smell of orange juice tickle my nose. I realise I am creating a smell unique to my own home and perhaps that is the first step to feeling at home.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

At 4:30pm

The cold has frozen the joints of time. Seconds and minutes hobble along like senior citizens at Gala Bingo.

Towels fresh out of the dryer are spread on the sofa. She burrows in to their warmth and cookie dough smell.

Perhaps when she resurfaces it will be Spring. But it is only quarter to five.

Monday, November 27, 2006

on a train bound for london

They sit opposite me. Entwined. Morsels of cheesecake, saliva and love are exchanged.
She notices my stare. And refuses her lover’s next offering.
Twenty years ago it was I who wilted under an ageing dowager’s disapproval. I feel smug as the girl turns crimson. But deep down inside gurgles the sorrow of an ageing dowager.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Better late ...

Ammani's latest project has been going on for a while now and it's great fun. I'm joining in a little late in the day but it's great fun!

Here's my answer to I ask you write 11

At first Ramesh had found Shailu’s indecisiveness endearing. He had thought it was her way of making him feel important. That she valued his opinion. She would call him up in a breathless quandary – “Should I make rotis or stir fry for dinner?” He would hear her frantic call from the changing room at M&S – “Do you think I need extra support?” Four years of “Should we go to Mallorca or Fuerta Ventura?” and tearful “Should we call the Swami’s over for lunch next week?”

Ramesh had decided enough was enough when she landed up at work in near hysterics because the stylist had asked her how she wanted her hair cut.

“Make up your own god damn mind Shailu! You’re an adult for God’s sake!” he’d bellowed that evening.

What a mistake that had been. Now he had to eat rotis and stir fry for dinner. She bought three pairs of shoes instead of one. And invited people he couldn’t stand over for dinner.

The living room walls were the last straw. One week red. The next yellow. And then red again.

Ramesh opened the front door, hoping that she’d finally settled on a colour.

“Hello darling! What have you been up to today?” he murmured as he hugged her close.

The yellow and red candy stripe wallpaper answered his question.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trafalgar Square in 55 words

The National Gallery. Fountains. Lord Nelson standing tall. The solemnity is reflected in a pearly grey sky spattered with melancholic clouds. Perhaps it is the weight of unshed rain. Birds perch on lamp posts, indulging in avian musical chairs set to the beat of traffic. One sits on Nelson’s hat and immediately her mood lifts.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

London Diary - Farm and Fortune

How many tribulations must a soap opera family matriarch face (and resolve with the aplomb of a UN negotiator) before the tears and wailing become tiresome? How many episodes before the conniving local businessman and his machinations for world (or neighbourhood) domination become old? In short — how long can a soap opera hold its viewers interests? A hundred episodes? Five hundred perhaps? A thousand even? On Thursday, November 7, The Archers celebrated its 15,000th edition and gave the term mega-serial a whole new meaning.

When it first aired on BBC Radio in 1950, the show was intended as a tool to pass on agricultural information to farmers in the British Midlands and was produced with input from the Ministry of Agriculture. Set in the fictional village of Ambridge, the show follows the lives of various families (including of course the Archers) and every local scandal worth the twitch of white lace curtains. All peppered with a great deal of talk about farming subsidies and organic vegetables.

So how does a radio show sustain interest for over fifty years? Well apart from subliminal discourses on hybrid seeds The Archers has tackled everything from homosexuality and inter-racial relationships to drug abuse and jam making competitions. Add to that cameo appearances by Dame Judi Dench and designer Zandra Rhodes (why even Princess Margaret dropped in once at the local fashion show) and you have a soap opera that has captivated and divided audiences and critics for over half a century. (Ekta Kapoor please note.)

So would our own serials back home be able to stand such a test of time? Perhaps a better question is, would we want them to? Twenty years from now will we still want to watch Tulsi Virani and her clan grapple with what seems to be the collective misfortunes of the world in their ironically named homestead Shantiniketan? Would we still be interested in the power struggle between a geriatric, wheelchair bound Adi and Abhi from Kolangal? Maybe not. After three hundred episodes or so, it might be fair to say that the average viewer does begin to grow weary of the constant melodrama, tears, plots and sub plots. (Not to mention the impossible task of matching the right Swarovski studded designer bindi to the right vamp). It is here that The Archers has succeeded. Though scandalous love affairs, mysterious deaths and infertility feature in story threads, the show also weaves in mundane everyday stories allowing listeners a reprieve from all the edge-of-the-seat tension a local pig auction can bring with it.

Every day, the faithful tune in as they drive home from work, brew their tea and supervise children's homework. A rather opinionated bunch they are too. This week the debate that raged alongside America's mid-term elections and Madonna’s Malawian offspring was regarding the extra marital peccadilloes of a certain character. Such cornfield canoodling was against her nature irate and loyal fans informed bemused Radio 4 presenters.

My first brush with The Archers was at work. A colleague who I happened to share a cubicle with was a devoted BBC Radio 4 listener. Every morning, he would come in set his bag down, switch on his Mac and head off to make a cup of tea. Once he was settled in his swivel chair, Tetley in hand he would tune in to the station and commence work, occasionally pausing for interesting debates, news updates and of course The Archers. What drew my attention to the show was its cheery signature tune and the delightful broad accents the character's spoke in. The ten thousand plus episodes I had to catch up with though seemed too daunting and I didn't attempt to follow these good farming folk who led far more interesting lives than I (or anyone else I knew for that matter) did.

However the last couple of months have seen me play writer at home and I have discovered nothing helps one forget writer's bloc and conundrums over the appropriate placing of apostrophes like tuning in to The Archers with a cup of tea, feet firmly ensconced in fluffy slippers. (Very British of me if it weren’t for the fact that my chai is always laced heavily with adrak and elaichi.)

As the theme tune faded away at the end of today's episode I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if DD had treated Vayalum Vazhvum in a similar manner? Moustache twirling landlords, romantic trysts behind hay bales and missing cow herds would have no doubt helped the program withstand the onslaught of satellite television and manipulative mother-in-laws.

All the brouhaha over the landmark episode has died down and the villagers of Ambridge are getting on with life and milking cows with that quintessential British stiff upper lip. Here’s to the next 15,000.


(This appeared in the Magazine section of NewIndPress on Sunday. Link here)

Friday, November 17, 2006

hot chocolate and a good yarn

Today, after nearly a gap of two years I read a book in one sitting. When I was in school and college I would start books on a Saturday afternoon and read non stop until the early hours of Sunday ignoring my mother and her impatient calls to eat or to turn the lights out and go to sleep. I would ignore all her entreaties and threats and read till the last page had been consumed, finally tumbling in to a satisfied sleep giving reprieve to my aching eyes.

My four years in advertising saw me with hardly any time to myself. As a result most of my reading was done on wonderfully rain sodden weekends. We had a large two seater in our living room and I would sink in to it book in hand. Every now and then I would look out the windows at the large Parsee mansion opposite our flat and at the soaked Naagchampa trees in its garden. My husband and I would make our way down the road to Crossword on weekends and argue all the way home over who would read what first. And once we were home we would fight over who got to sprawl out on the two seater and who would make the tea.

When we moved in to our first home in London I remember the first visit to our local council library. After two years in the library-barren desert that Bombay is, it felt like I'd been given a nice tall glass of Perrier. During those six months of cold, early evenings and disappointing job hunting my library membership and the eight books I was allowed to bring home kept me going. I would bring our duvet downstairs make a hot chocolate and settle down on our sofa to read. Not very different from my book reading sessions in Bombay, except that now it was no longer confined to weekends. I would spend hours inert, but for the flick of my finger. No wonder it took me so long to find a job.

When I started working I joined millions of other Londoners and began reading on the commute to work and home. The Underground is a wonderful place to read, be seen reading and see what others are reading. I have groaned with impatience at times when the arrival of my station and a particularly gripping chapter have coincided. I have read on the short walk from station to bus stop and in summer even from bus stop to front door. But one should choose their books for commute with care. After a week with Jung Chang and John Halliday's Mao The Unknown Years I developed a wrist sprain.

Now I am back at home. Winter is upon us once more. The duvet has been aired and much hot chocolate has been bought (nothing like Green & Blacks on a rainy, winter afternoon). I started my book this afternoon on a Metropolitan line train back home from town. I read as I prepared and consumed lunch, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and dinner. It felt wonderful. All I could hear was the rain, the daily foot stomping from the Swedish family upstairs (I like to imagine they're practising for the local leg of Feet of Fire - Sweden searches for the home grown Michael Flatley) and the crisp whip of pages turning. I could lose myself in the book without having to surrender to the distractions of the real world.

My back hurts and my eyes are burning. I’m sure if I listen hard enough I can hear my mother telling me to go to sleep. I think I’ll listen to her this time. Good night.

(I leave book reviewing to far more able bloggers, but I cannot help but recommend Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris - Confessions of a Common Reader. Every book lover will identify with something in it. As I've read it a little voice has been going 'That's so true!' all the while in the back of my head. The book I read today though was Anita Brookner's Booker Winning Hotel Du Lac. For those that enjoy short stories, The Collected Stories of Colette is wonderful.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Shhh

I have a secret. One that I wish to share with you so that I no longer shoulder its burden alone.

I never use the last few pages of a notebook.

Exhale.

As far back as I can remember I have coveted notebooks. When Aunts and Uncles from distant lands asked what I wanted when they came a-visiting I would always ask for notebooks. When my father travelled abroad on business I didn’t ask for chocolates and toys – I wanted notebooks. My favourite day of the school year was the one on which they handed out our text and exercise books. How I loved the neat tower they made in the corner of my room, some of the pages still stuck together, naked and waiting for the rolls of brown paper sitting on the side to envelope them. Opening pages waiting for the first pillaiyar shuzhi of the calendar year. My handwriting always neat and legible on those first pages, descending in to an unintelligible scrawl as the months progressed.

The one thing every school notebook, what-I-thought-was-teenage-angst ridden diary and doodling pad of mine had in common (apart from the poor penmanship(woman-person-ship?)) was the fact that the final pages were always left blank.

As a child it was (I think) that somewhere half way through the notebook I got bored. The shiny, newness had worn off. Its pristine pages were sullied. And more often than not, something prettier, bigger and much better had caught my eye. While I couldn’t bring myself to discard a half-used book I had no issues in setting aside one with just a few pages left blank. What was the harm? It meant I could move on to my next conquest faster and with a (somewhat) clearer conscience. (Though I did go through a phase where I drew giant, smiling sunflowers on these blank folios. I stopped when I realised I was being unfair – either I filled it with what I thought were my brilliant ideas or with nothing at all. The sunflowers were a cop-out. And a disturbing one at that.)

This secret of mine has gone on unchecked all these years. As a mature (ha!) adult who recycles anything I can get my hands on I realise how wasteful I’ve been. But for the life of me I can’t bring myself to stop. Whether due to force of habit, superstition or the fact that somewhere deep down inside me lurks a grubby handed 7 year old with an eye for nice notebooks I do not know.

Last year I treated myself to a moleskine. I loved the soft black leather binding, the smooth creamy sheets, the first page that said

If found, please return to



Reward


It was gorgeous. I’ll never be able to waste a single page of this one I thought. It’s too elegant. Plus, it cost the equivalent of a nice lunch for one at Busaba. I was quite smug until a few months later I saw another moleskine, its pages covered in little squares, reminiscent of French school notebooks. Ooh la la. My fingers itched.

Like a woman who fantasises of George Clooney when in bed with her husband, I thought lustfully of my French amour as I wrote in my faithful moleskine that evening. I plotted and schemed. Perhaps I could get the new book and use it to maintain my accounts. Perhaps I could ‘forget’ my current moleskine on the train. Or ‘accidentally’ spill cleaning acid on it. What a wicked, low creature I was. But it wasn’t my fault. I had no control over myself. Like Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf (but with waxed legs and less facial hair) would I need to be locked in a cage too?

And then the solution presented itself to me in a flash of light and harpsichord playing cherubs. I’d just use up the last few pages now. So I inverted my book and began to use my book in reverse. Genius!

A mere twenty pages separated my forward backward scribbling. I hoped that I could find and draw upon a hidden reserve of moral character to help me cross this chlorine-free crossing.

Today if one was to go through any of my books they would find all the pages accounted for. Well, except for a few somewhere in the middle. But please don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

at the dining table

Her thumb dug into the nubbly exterior releasing a squirt of juice and signature scent. She peeled it carefully so that the skin unwound into one long corkscrewy coil. When she was a child her mother would open each sliver and feed her the juicy, pulpy bits inside by hand. The scent would linger on Ma's fingers for the rest of the day and she would often run up to her, grab hold of her soft hand and inhale deeply.

She smiled and popped a piece in to her mouth whole. There was no one to prise open the white, spider web cage. But at least she would always have the smell.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Music for the home sick soul

(Something I wrote a few months ago and never posted for some reason)

Come October, and my husband and I will have completed two years in London. We arrived as October was drawing to an end, gracefully making way for the colder, darker months of the long English Winter that lay ahead. The day our plane touched down at Heathrow was bright and sunny with just a hint of warmth in the air – one of those rare gifts October bequeaths before passing on.

As our friends drove us through the tony streets of Kensington and Chelsea to the temporary accommodation we had been provided with, I felt only the mildest twinges of melancholy. The gorgeous white terraced houses, the riotous basket of flowers that hung outside the red doors of local pubs, the Chanel boutique at Old Brompton Street and the newness of a city beckoning to be explored expanded and fill the emptiness that had been in my stomach since boarding the flight 14 hours earlier in Chennai.

It was short lived. After a week of watching day time television in our tiny hotel room and eating Spicy Bean Burgers I was depressed. Long walks around my beautiful surroundings did little to lift my mood. I felt like a Victorian waif with my nose pressed up against the glittering glass facades of the bijou boutiques and gated communities. This was not my pettai and the newness that had till then enamoured me now seemed alien and inaccessible. I yearned for familiar streets and the whisper of known tongues in my ear. I was homesick.

The situation didn’t improve even after we moved in to our new home – a decidedly English semi-detached in one of North-West London’s many Dickensian suburbs. Despite the sickly green carpets in the bedrooms and the tiny galley kitchen, the idea of living in an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ house as we called it was hard to resist. The overgrown garden and damp attic completed our image of the proper English home.

With 6 weeks to go before our belongings arrived from India, I was all alone in a large, empty house with a pressure cooker, some sambhar podi and Leo Coffee powder to remind me of Chennai. Calls home were dictated by the minutes left on phone cards and free internet access at the local library meant endless queues for half hour slots. I had never felt more cut off from home before.

During my second week in our empty and increasingly cold home (poor insulation and a maladroit furnace), a close friend dropped by to see how I was. Cold, lonely and with no television or music to fill the silence that pervaded our home, I’m sure I seemed rather pathetic. The next day they brought over their spare television and I wasted no time in having cable installed.

I cannot describe the joy I felt as I surfed through the 500 plus channels we could access and stumbled across Vectone – a Sri Lankan Tamizh channel. While most of their air time was devoted to newscasts from Colombo and shows answering the legal queries of local immigrant population, every afternoon from 1:00pm to 2:00pm they would broadcast Isai Thendral; 60 minutes of Kodambakkam’s best. It was heaven.

The phone could ring all it liked. The Queen could invite herself over for tea. Hugh Grant could ask me out. But for that one hour I was oblivious to the goings on of the outside world. All that existed were the familiar strains of long ago and much loved actors, actresses and a hundred extras doing their thing in the verdant hills of Ootucamund.

As I heard the songs that had been the soundtrack to my life I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Each track brought with it memories, snippets of conversations and snapshots of my childhood and adolescence. Like a balm, it soothed my soul. Even the annoyingly chirpy anchor and her rhyming banter couldn’t deter me from watching the show.

Soon, 50 boxes that contained my life turned up at our front door. By then we had acquired a laptop and were connected to the rest of the world via broadband. My cousin sent me a link to the music portal raga.com. With a collection of music that spanned M.S.V to Udit Narayan and Illayaraja to Rafi, the website became a new link to life back home. As I unpacked and became reacquainted with old friends in the form of beloved coffee mugs and frayed quilts, setting up my new home I would listen to melodies that reminded me of all that I had left behind. Funnily enough, the flood of nostalgia didn’t plunge me in to a deep depression. Instead it lifted my flagging sprits and warmed me up during those cold winter months.

Two years have flown by faster than I would have thought possible and have seen me settle down in this country where the sun doesn’t shine often enough. The hollow feeling that was once in my stomach is gone though the odd pang does surface every now and then. And for those moments I have my songs. The 80s hits that bring back memories of sitting on my mother’s lap in our darkened family room and watching Rajni and Kamal. The opening strains to Chinna Chinna Aasai that are as delightful today as they were the very first time I listened to them. Millennium number 1’s that remind me of college days and endless rounds of antakshari. The song from Minnale that I sang to my husband at our nalangu (bless him for not cringing as my voice hit those higher notes).

A week ago I was walking down platform 11A at Kings Cross Station to catch the tube home. The engines of the train were rumbling away and a sweet breeze was blowing. I broke in to a song so spontaneously I took myself by surprise. It wasn’t homesickness that prompted me, just the pleasure of knowing one will be home soon.

‘Vellarika pinju vellarika, yenna paakama porale Chandirika…’

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spooks, elephants and the odd banana. Or notes from Kerala

To me, Kerala has always meant only one thing - my paternal grandfather’s home in Kochi. Every other year my family and I would spend a week or so in a damp house that always smelled of coconut oil, banana chips and clothes that were never really dry. The floor was always clammy and the walls were covered in old calendars – some dating as far back as the Emergency. As I grew older my trips to Kerala became more and more infrequent and soon I was only making a days stopover at Chitoor House on YMCA Lane before moving on to attend weddings in Guruvayoor and other temple towns.

After a gap of almost three years I revisited Kerala last week. Chitoor House has since been sold and my aunts and uncles have moved to apartments across the city. Though I never particularly liked the house I felt sad. Another link to my past had been severed.

*

It is a shame I take terrible pictures, for Kerala is all colour. Black umbrellas shiny and slick with rain. A countryside that is wild, abundant, green and lush. Not for Kerala the prim and proper vales of South Buckhingamshire. Red hibiscus in profusion. Yellow bananas hang heavy in shop fronts. Terracotta tiles, purple lungis and gold bling for Alappat Jewellers. It is as though someone has set the colour contrast bar on the television at the very last bar.

*

Fantastic houses are found in the most humble of corners. To the trained eye (or any set of eyes for that matter) they may appear gaudy and in bad taste. But these dream houses in mango yellow with columns reminiscent of Grecian temples and massive wrought iron gates straight out of Dynasty never failed to bring a smile to my face. Good design be damned. These were the very earthly realizations of castles once built in the air.

*

Bhima, Josco, Alukkas are all familiar hoarding sights in this state. But the last thing I expected to see was a board for Hypnotherapy Training outside a decrepit building on the road to Edapalli.

*


At Moozhikulam we met Meghanathan and Megharjunan. Megharjunan was sprawled in his side being scrubbed and washed by his two minders. He was to be offered to the temple that Monday and was being made decent for the polite society he would be keeping. Meghanathan seemed upset at the lack of attention coming his way and tried to turn the spotlight back towards him by waving his trunk at the odd passerby. I think the picture we took of him did a lot for his self esteem.

*

At Chottanikkara the Bhagavathi is a benign, smiling presence. A pleasant face that belies the darker side of the temple. For it is at Chottanikkara that those believed to be possessed of spirits are brought to be cured. These men and women can be found sitting in corners softly talking to themselves or making their way around the temple calling out the Goddesses’ name. A giant arasamaram stands near the Keezhkaavu its bark covered in giant black nails as a mark of those that have been exorcised here. Tiny plastic dolls are skewered to the tree, arms and eyes missing as though they have been roughly handled by a spoilt child. My mother recalls fainting the first time she ever saw this tree. I wondered how long it took to cure a person here. And if spirits did indeed reside in the bodies of those afflicted where did they go once people were cured? Did they evaporate and become one with the Universe? Did they float away like a dark rain cloud? Or perhaps they were closer by, sitting on one of the higher branches of the tree on the lookout for their next victim.

*

My grandfather is no more and the house that once stood on YMCA lane will soon be gone. But this time I left with another reason to return - Kerala herself.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

at home

The mottled mosaic floor with the tiny crater at the junction of the third and fourth slab to the right of the living room door has gone. My feet touch terracotta coloured tiles now.

The white formica cabinet doors are gone. The milk cooker whistles in a Tuscany coloured kitchen.

My bed with its white plastic headboard decorated with a lone hologram sticker of Hanuman (after my sister told me the story of Pet Cemetary) is gone. Antique rosewood beds are what I now sleep on.

Sophisticated slate grey has hidden the clowns that once decorated my bathroom walls.

In the soap dish a large sickly green bar of Cinthol reassures me that all has not changed.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Overheard

A guest post by Sri Tom Cruise Chellam (with lots of Tamizh bits)


A leisurely stroll down Kennedy Street from Luz Chruch Road will bring you to Oliver Road. Take a look at the ground in front of the last three houses on the right hand side. You will see some of the most amazing kolams. Amazing because of the very high level of geometric precision and artistry that go into creating them.

If you are a sufficiently early bird, you might even get to see the Mamis trying to outdo one another – their lips moving as rapidly as their hands. Reviewing the sundal they got yesterday and where they are headed this evening. A few days ago the conversation went something like this

M1 : Enna mami, kolamellam pottachu polirukku
M2 : Mudiyala thaan. Enna pannarathu Navarathriyache. Podama irukka mudiyuma?
M1 : Amam, amam. Nan sitha late.
M1 : Kappiyacha?
M2 ; Chettha munna than aachu. Podi vere vela eathiputtan antha Leo kadangaran
M1 : Ongathu milk cooker chattame kekkalaye
M2 : Oh ! Athuva. Milk cookerukku oru remote control earpadu pannitten
M1: Ennathu? Milk cokkarukku remote controla? Enga kedakkarathu? Saravana storsilaya Thangavel Nadarlaya?
M2: Athu kadelayellam kedakkathu
M1: Pinne?
M2: Enna mami, ithu kooda theriyadah? Enga aathukkarar than. Milk cooker whistle adicha, hallila okkandundu avara koopittu adha setha simmila veyyungo pen. Avarum poyi atha simmila vechiduvar
M1: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ready, steady, charity - 7

Inquisitive Akka's 3 - Chikungunya, rasapodi, crackers

Her joints were swollen. Her fever raged like her irate mother-in-law. She was confined to bed, the television had been unplugged (God knows what had happened on Yen Pondatti Thangam) and she was on a diet of stale crackers (sprinkled with rasapodi.) It was just a particularly vile fever, she consoled herself as she swallowed another crocin on the sly. What had the Doctor called it? Chikungunya! Madasambrani! Didn’t he know she was a Brahmin?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ready, Steady Charity 6

My sister's words: Arnie, Lois, Puli

The washing machine shuddered to a halt. Ramanujam's ageing hands flipped the lid open and his cataracting eyes peered at the twisted, serpentine heap of petticoats, brassieres and trousers. With a sigh, he heaved the bundle of clothes out and threw them in to a plastic bucket.
How had it come to this? How was it possible that he (who had been nicknamed Iyengar Puli by his college mates for his prowess in a boxing ring) was hanging out his wife's underwear to dry? 'Lois Panties' the label said. 'Idhukku onnum korachal illai' he thought savagely. The woman had been his downfall. His Mother had warned him about her.
"Don't marry this one kanna. Vendaam. Amma will find you a nice girl."
He had pushed aside his mother's remonstrance’s and gone ahead and married Kamali. Thank God Amma wasn't around to say I told you so.
The steaks had been replaced by vendakkai ('But I belong to the Blue Cross! How will it look if my husband eats meat?'). The training to become the next featherweight champion was replaced with a job at the local bank ('If anything ever happened to you...' - never mind that 10 years service at the Mandaveli Branch had slowly killed him anyway). The pictures of Arnold were replaced by images of pot bellied Ganeshas. The children that they were saving all their money for never came. And so they got themselves a dog. Or rather she had. Arnie (nakkal!) the Pomeranian was her baby.
'Yenanga. After you've hung the clothes out to dry don't forget to feed baby.'
He silently went to the kitchen. The blasted dog was whining and pawing at the cupboard already. Ramanujam opened the can of dog food and carefully spooned the chunks of meat in to a tiny sterling silver bowl. He placed it on the floor and watched as Arnie attacked it with relish.
'Lucky Bastard' he sighed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ready, steady, charity - 5

Anon's 3 - schadenfreude, pontificate and synesthesia


Schadenfreude, Pontificate and Synesthesia were best friends. They were born within hours of eachother. Their parents played bridge together every Friday night. They had crawled together, walked together and even looked at their first Playword together(The centerfold that month had been a rather well endowed B.) In short, they were inseparable. On their 13th birthday they met as was custom after breakfast and exchanged gifts. That year Pontificate decided his gift was to talk at length about what their purpose in life was. Synesthesia gave his two friends harmless looking white powder so they could experience words and number in all their coloured glory. It made Pontificate pass out. Schadenfreude couldn’t help but gloat.

Ready, steady, charity 4

Witchy's three - Halwa, Manolos and asparagus


Her 8th birthday had been marked with a visit to the temple, her mother’s carrot halwa and a strand of kanakambaram. Two decades later she found herself being ushered by an imperious maitre d' to their table. She reveled in the sidelong glances of jealousy and desire. The deceptively simple cut of her dress. The discrete solitaires. The dazzling beaded clutch. But she knew it was the shoes that lifted her to another level altogether.

That morning, as she lay in bed she had quivered in anticipation as he handed her the box. The wrapping paper was torn apart fiendishly until she reached the simple white box and the two words printed on the lid. She had almost passed out with excitement when she’d touched the black Manolos. She now had everything.

Her cream of asparagus soup arrived. As she sat staring at the bowl of steaming mush she couldn't help but wish for some halwa.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ready, steady, charity 3

Apu's words: Graffiti, blimp, seersucker

It was almost funny, his dying like that. A mid-air collision between a blimp in the shape of a Weenie Weiner and his hot air balloon. The tabloids had had a field day; ‘Actor killed by giant Weiner’. ‘Mid-air cock up’ and the like had dominated the headlines until they discovered a sixty year old Oscar winner in bed with an underage rent boy. And just like that, he had been forgotten. She missed him. For all his philandering and drinking he’d been a good husband by the industry standards. He’d given her a 20 room mansion in Bel Air, furs and a private jet. But most of all he’d given her his name. A name that got her a table at Maison, store credit at Bergdorf’s and free drinks at Chi. She was nothing now. Nobody. They’d said they were full up at the Whiltshire Spa the other day. Full up! They’d cancelled that Welsh girl once to put her in. And now they were full up.

She stepped in to her walk in and let her finger tips trail over the silken creations that hung there. Oscars 98. Golden Globes 2005. She’d made it to the best dressed list that year. But she already knew what she was going to wear. She’d decided last night.

She glided in to the ensuite and sat down on the Louis XVIII chair. How would she do it? A simple straight line or something more elaborate? His name perhaps? Scrawled across her arm like graffiti.

LA Post, January 25th, 2006

“_____ found dead in bathroom”

The widow of Hollywood legend _____ was found dead in her bathroom last night by staff. Police are calling it suicide. A former dancer, Mrs. _____ was a patron of the arts and was on the committee of a number of charities. A regular front rower at fashion week, she had a dramatic sense of style but chose a simple, cotton seersucker dress for her final performance. She is survived by her dog Alohonse.

Ready, steady, charity 2

S's three words: Maida, Surya, bucket


The overturned bucket was pushed up as close to the wall as possible. She stood on it, picking up and shaking each identical dabba that sat in a row like shiny, stainless steel sentinels until she found what she was looking for.

Squatting down on the living room floor she measured out three cups of maida. The news competed with her mother-in-law’s gaseous emissions and her own day’s headlines for attention. She sprinkled salt over the flour. Twenty men dead from drinking illicit country liquor. She slowly added water and began kneading. Her daughter had failed in maths again. Centre refuses to interfere in State’s water shortage. Her kneading fell in to beat with the news readers staccato delivery. Her mother-in-law wanted to know what Deepavali bakshanam they were making. Teachers go on strike in Machilipattinam. A month in advance. Her hands were pummelling the dough now. Her husband had said they couldn’t afford a new colour television this year either. She whacked the ball of dough viciously. Actor Surya marries Jyotika in a star studded ceremony. She froze holding the basin in her hands. As images of the beatific couple flashed across the screen a lone tear travelled down her cheek.

*

Paithyam paithyam. If you wanted a new television that badly you should have said something - not throw things at it. Che! What’s come over you?”

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ready, steady, charity 1

Words - Cicisbeo Tourbillon Chateau

As she walked towards the microphone a hushed silence fell over the room. The bald man in the third row stopped shaking his leg; bringing to an end the ‘shk shk shk’ sound his polyester trousers made as one synthetic leg rubbed against the other. She could see her mother sitting right up front, lips moving as silent prayers invoking His thousand names and meant only for His ears escaped in to the universe. The Chinese (or was he Korean) boy Kim walked past her grinning. Chateau? Please. A five year old could take that. Standards had dropped since last year. Last year. That had been something. Tourbillon. Now there was a word. Her word. The applause had been deafening. The interviews never ending. Champion. C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N. Champion.

She stood at the microphone now. Arms behind her back, tightly clasped, fingers digging in to the skin. Painfully. To remind her what losing would feel like her mother had said. What would that feel like she wondered?

“Cicisbeo”

The word furrowed deep in to her brain where its meaning resided. She realised she did not know. What failure felt like. Was it like the thudding, dirt hitting low that accompanies the inevitable descent on a see-saw. If success was in her hands so was failure.

“Cicisbeo”

“Could you use it in a sentence please?”

As the thin faced woman prattled out some inanity, she looked out at the audience. Her mother’s eyes were screwed shut, her lips moving faster

‘amaanee maanado maanyo lokasvaamee trilokadhrik
sumedhaa medhajo dhanyah satyamedhah dharaadharah’


Shk-shk-shk.

‘C-I-C-I-S-B-E-O.’ she thought to herself.

Getting this right meant another day of necromorphous, acephalous and drapetomania. She wondered what was on television at 12:45 on Tuesday afternoons.

She cleared her throat.

“Cicisbeo”

“C-I-C-I-S-B-E“

Maybe they’d have Tom & Jerry on.

“-Y-O”

The wail from the front row drowned out her final, triumphant Cicisbeo.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Freud is in the frozen food aisle at Tesco

Never before has what we wear, eat and listen to been more analysed. Apparently, nothing reveals more about a person than their predilection for Braeburn over Gala Apples. Or the decision to go for the kinky lace up six incher instead of the riding boot with a discreet buckle at the side. A Victoriana blouse replete with ruffles says more about us than we realise. We are quizzed by magazines and then told whether we are Yuppies, Guppies or Puppies based on whether we like our morning shot of caffeine from Starbucks or the local greasy spoon. I’m fascinated by all this and decided to put to test my own powers of analysis this morning at Tesco while on the weekly grocery run.

Newspapers are of course a dead give away. For example if I was a single woman I might be disposed to steer clear of the muscled blonde man who picked up News of the World (famous for ‘My implants leaked. THRICE.’ headlines) and Nuts (famous for women with three implants on their covers).

And what do flowers say about a person? Roses – old fashioned and romantic. Carnations – optimistic and fun loving. Lilies – exotic and in possession excellent stain removers. A single stem Bird of Paradise – minimalist. 99p rose buds that will not be blooming in this century – cheapskate. C’mon you might as well pick up some flowers from the local cemetery.

Battling through the fruit and veg. aisles, elbowing OAPs in their mechanised wheelchairs so that you can get the last bunch of Free Trade Bananas says your Caring about the earth and not so much for those that inhabit it. Buying Mangetout from Gambia says screw the planet, we’re all going to die anyway so let’s die on a full, satisfied belly.

Those that eschew fresh produce (well produce that’s spent 6 days in transit from KL sprayed in wax) for ready made meals get the maximum dirty looks. They’re immediately slotted in the lazy, don’t care a toss category. I secretly admire them and their digestive tracts. Anyone that can survive those dirty looks week in and week out and frozen Chicken Tikka Masala is God’s chosen one. Don’t be surprised if they discover the next Dalai Lama in the Ready Meals aisle of your local supermarket.

Are you stocking up on weight watchers chocolate mousse or vegetarian turkey burgers? Half measures I’m afraid. Either junk the chocolates or go full hog - savour that sundae with praline. Be a carnivore or embrace plants. What the hell is vegetarian turkey anyway? Being in the ‘I want to change but I’m not too sure’ category says you can’t commit. Don’t go looking for a significant other with the above in your wheelie.

Combinations are very important. For example, you wouldn’t wear high heels with a peasant skirt would you? WOULD YOU? Similarly don’t buy Eco friendly washing up liquid and then add Triple Action (Multiple aquatic life killing) Kitchen Cleaner. The latter kind of negates the effects of the former. And if you need to buy ten cans of whipped cream and cable chords – do it on the net. Especially if you’re over 60. Getting rid of the mental images is very hard.

After playing Freud for 40 minutes I approached the check out counter pretty smug. Until I saw the guy with a trolley full of low fat milk, Stella and nothing else. The mind boggles.

Halo

Time to bring out the old halo and dust it off. Ammani is bringing back this very popular fundraiser. She's asked Neha and myself to join in this year. Please go here for more details.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

random ends and bits that may never turn in to full fledged posts

Poetry and C Section Kavita

Some people dedicate entire months to the reading of poetry. I would never make such an attempt - it would make me feel inadequate and stupid. I blame school for killing my ability to appreciate and understand poetry (and plays). Ozymandius, Tiger Tiger (not the on at Piccadilly) and a little Ezekiel are all I really remember. Repeatedly read by stilted voices in crowded classrooms, the verses would valiantly struggles to be heard over the droning of fans , the scratching of heads and the rustle of notes as they were passed. Poetry became just another part of my English II paper. For some strange reason my sister learning All the Worlds a Stage for a poetry recitation competition springs to mind as I type this. (She came first by the way.) Though this site has done much to remove my fear of poetry (the voices hear are not competing with V Kavita Section C and her horsy giggling. Or is that neighing?) I decided to go one step further and pick up Poem for the Day One from the library. As the title suggests there is one poem for each day with a little note at the bottom about the poet and his work. There are some in there I know, some I don't and some that look so scarily long and difficult that I may never attempt to read them. Still, there is hope.

My Chrissie Moment

Baking a cake has a decidedly Martha Stewart feel to it, though I possess neither apron nor matching oven mitts. Listening to The Pretenders as I baked a soaked orange cake this afternoon made me feel decidedly cooler. My sister was always the clever one in the kitchen. When we were kids she would bring home her Home Ec. Recipes and we would try the Hungarian Chocolate Chip Cookies and Scones. I was the official egg cracker and bowl and spoon licker. As I polished the spoon clean today I felt 8 again.

Moment of shame

I googled Suri Cruise to see what Scientology's latest follower looked like. I know.

Weather forecast

Summer hands over the reigns to Autumn reluctantly. The air is like a fresh, green apple. Smooth. Crunchy. Crisp.

Country roads take me home

They are the words ever man, woman and dog travelling by tube and local commuter train dreads.

“All trains are terminating here. Passengers are advised to seek alternative routes or wait for further announcements.”

From personal experience I can tell you that those words can take any ordinary Monday morning from grey to clinically depressing.

On the morning of 7th July last year thousands of commuters were asked to evacuate trains and stations across the city. Groggy eyed and grumbling I emerged from the rabbit warren that is the Underground out in to sunny Euston Square wondering how to get to Kings Cross. It was only after a confusing half hour of trying to board buses, make phone calls and wondering what the loud boom a few hundred yards away was (Tavistock Square) that the news of the explosions began to trickle in.

Since then, every time I am asked to disembark a train or hear the words cancellation, delays or emergency my shoulders tense and I feel a mild panic ripple through. I wait for bad news to follow.

A week ago, I stood at Slough Station humming, reading and impatiently foot tapping – in short waiting for my train to Paddington (where a famous bear resides in bronzed glory). After what seemed like an eternity I boarded the train, gloating over the prized seat I had managed to procure with no elbowing and rib jabbing. Just as my posterior began to get acquainted with the upholstered seat my fellow passengers and I were asked to leave the train. How rude.

The platform filled up once again and the train doors shut. Just to make sure no one decided to get back on. (You’d be surprised at the number of idiots who do this. THE TRAIN IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE MORON. GET OFF) So we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

And then the news. A man had thrown himself in front of a train at Ealing Broadway. And who can blame him? He was probably fed up with London Transport. As the station master relayed the bad news to us someone next to me tut-tutted. I was furious though. Selfish bastard. Of all the places and ways to commit suicide he had to choose Ealing Broadway during rush hour. Some people are so inconsiderate.

I was helpfully told to try and go to Windsor where I might be able to get a train to Waterloo. Try? Might? I wanted a fool proof way of getting home.

As I walked out of the station I realised I had spent too long inside waiting for good news from the rail Gods and staring at a woman’s black patent heels. The queue at the taxi rank stretched all the way to hell. Which isn’t as far from Slough as one would think. My only remaining option was bus.

Now, I haven’t always had the best experiences on buses. Memories of crowded 13Bs, a jaunt on the upper deck of the London Big Bus Tour which started off well enough until it started raining, and a trip to Stratford on a YMCA bus that played Bhangra music all the way crowd my mind. But I had no choice.

Slough Bus Terminus is like the rest of Slough. Large, not very clean and I’m sorry to say ugly. No wonder Betjemen wanted to obliterate the place – tinned fruit and all. The cavernous bus terminus has more than 12 different stands inside and about 3 outside. And zero employees it would seem. The information desk was closed and the man at the newspaper stand became very unhelpful when he realised I was not going to be buying anything.

By now, the motley crew of commuters trying to get back to London any which way they could had grown. Muttering imprecations under our breath we slowly began to gravitate towards one another. Misery does indeed love company. My own little band of stragglers included a Scotsman, an Australian, a Brit and myself (that sounds like beginning of one of those jokes doesn’t it? Trust me. There was nothing amusing about the situation we were in).

I decided to name them in my head. The Scotsman was Sean, the Aussie was Russel and the Brit was Colin. Sean was chatty and actually called me lass, Russel was much better behaved than his namesake and never once tried to throw his phone at me and Colin was typically tight lipped about the whole thing, clutching his umbrella and newspaper like they were all he had left in this world. An ageing Keira tried to join us but I managed to send her to a near empty bus shelter at the other side of the Terminus from where I assured her she would be able to get home.

However, my gang of buff men were pretty useless. Sean kept looking at me and saying “What we gonna doo lass?” Not very 007 and I’m pretty sure Russel would sell my kidneys if it meant a chance to get home. Maybe I should have joined ageing Keira after all. After much to-ing and fro-ing I lost the losers and spotted a bus that would take me reasonably close to where I live. And by that I mean about ‘3 tube zones and forty minutes by train’ close. I had now been looking for a way home for an hour. I knew how Lassie felt. Well. Almost. If I had that kind of hair on me, I’d be pretty bummed.

After half an hour the bus finally trundled up. I boarded, tried unsuccessfully to get the driver to accept my train tickets to Paddington and then found a seat next to a bunch of old ladies who were sweetly showing one another the potatoes they’d bought at the market earlier that day.

As the bus pulled out of Slough I sighed with relief. Finally. The rhythmic lurch of the bus was soothing. I pulled out my book and began reading quite sure that nothing outside my window would be worth watching.

How wrong I was.

For just outside Slough and its Cheerful Chicken Shops and Poundland is South Buckinghamshire and its glorious countryside. Alice Munro was soon forgotten as I lost myself to the sight of quaint pubs and charming names. Stoke Poges. Pennylets Green. Packhorse Road. Ramblers. Gosomer Cottage. The sun was comfortably sprawled out in her boudoir in a cloud peignoir of pinks and purples that would have looked gaudy on anyone else. The stress, frustration and anger of the last hour and a half ebbed away. Quiet country lanes. A large, green, common scattered with dandelions and daisies and young men in cricket whites. Independent bakeries, patisseries and bookshops. No Witherspoons, WH Smith or TopShop. This is England I thought to myself - sheep, wild flowers and the Our Lady in Heaven Churches.

After forty minutes of bucolic charm the traffic began to build up and a mammoth Tesco cast its ugly shadow on the green hills of Amersham. I was almost home.

I don’t remember every journey I make. Stations and tube lines blur and become a mish mash of names of coloured lines. But I have a feeling I’ll remember this one. After all, how can one forget a name like Stoke Poges?

Monday, September 18, 2006

dialogue

“Hello Reva Behen. Su karech?”

“I’m fine Ila. And you?”

“Same. Busy, busy, busy. You’ve lost some weight. What are we doing today?”

“Waxing and threading. I’ve been going swimming”

“Accha? Good, good. I’ll start with the arms. Full or half?”

“Full arms and underarms. Full legs too please.”

“So how is your husband? Still travelling a lot?”

“Mmm. Not so much. Tssss”

“Sorry, sorry. Wax too hot?”

“No, no it’s fine”

“So. Is he home this week or no?”

“Yes he’s working from home today. That’s why I walked and came.”

“In this sun? You’ll become even more dark then Reva Behen. Ask him to pick you up at least.”

“Not today. Our house help has come. He has to be at home.”

“You have a maid is it?”

“Ila Behen we shouldn’t call them maid in this country. It’s house help.”

“So lucky you are. See I have to do all the work myself here. Indian?”

“No, no. She’s Serbian.”

“Where is that?”

“Near Poland I think.”

“Lift your arm please. Hold. How old is she?”

“I think 24 or 25. She has three children but is so well maintained you know. Must be all the housework she does.”

“So brave you are Reva Behen. Leaving your husband at home alone with an attractive woman. All these Polish people in the papers taking away British jobs. Now they’ll be taking away our husbands too. Eh? Eh?”

“She’s Serbian.”

“Sorry?”

“She’s not Polish. She’s Serbian.”

“Same thing. Blond hair, slim waist. Turn over please. I’ll do this leg next.”

“Just do half leg ji. I forgot. I have to get home early today.”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nombu in North West London

(A little busy at the moment, so here's something I wrote a month ago but never got around to posting.)

Growing up, my family celebrated every festival – religious and otherwise - with great enthusiasm. I loved it. It meant new clothes, an extra special lunch and usually a day off from school. My own levels of participation were kept at a minimum - in fact, my greatest contribution was just keeping out of the way. I was not skilled at the kolam and kaavi as my sister was (which an Uncle of mine recently attributed to the fact that I was not an engineer and hence unable to comprehend parallel lines), my ma yelais always drooped and sagged, and I could never remember the lines to the bhajans I had been taught.

As I grew up my mother insisted I get more involved. So I was appointed chief underling – ordered to fill sombus with water and bring the neivediyam without popping any of it in my mouth (applications to be the resident Pillaiyar were all turned down).

Marriage brought with it more than the obvious retinue of husband, mother-in-law and hawkeyed athais. I suddenly had to learn to cook, differentiate between patthu and non-patthu and learn how to drink coffee from a dainty china cup without sipping. I was also initiated in to the custom of Varalakshmi Nombu.

It was all well and good while we lived in Mumbai. Matunga is a mecca for displaced Mamis like myself – replete with its own Giri Trading. But then a year and a half ago we moved to London. And things haven’t been quite the same in this Mylaporean’s life. Where does one go for vethalai and vazhai thandu?

Now as much as I hate to admit it, in the last year I’ve fudged my way through most festivals. Deepavali was celebrated with payasam (pieces of dried fruits floating in a sea of condensed milk), Karthikai was marked with a few lamps (the ones outside the front door removed in compliance with strict fire hazard regulations) and I nodded at Pongal with well… pongal. But for some reason my conscience revolts against attempts to do the same with Nombu. Perhaps because it’s a tradition I’ve taken on through marriage and a small part of me thinks my Mother-in-law will get to know of any crimes and misdemeanours I commit.

So Varalaksmi Nombu is carried out to the letter. Well, as much as living in a north western suburb of London will allow.

The day before Nombu, I sweated it out on the Metropolitan line in a trench coat that seemed like such a good idea that morning when it was a good 10 degrees cooler and went over the shopping list I had foolishly written down in my head.

Nallennai (and not the horrible Chinese one), jaggery, flowers, saffron and coconuts. Coconuts. Coconuts???

Where does one go for coconuts? What if one cannot find coconuts? After all this is London – I’m more likely to bump in to a bushel of blowsy roses than a palm tree.

So I speed dialled my Mother in Chennai who was understandably irate at being woken up. Her annoyance deepened as I asked what would be considered a suitable substitute for a coconut. I was told rather snarkily to use an apple but not before having to hear how it was amazing that I know every shoe store in the greater London area but was unaware of the location of a single coconut vendor.

An hour later, loaded down by all the items on my shopping list (apparently our local Indian Grocery store stocks coconuts - I had just never bothered looking for them) I was carried home aloft a cloud of gloat. If only it had taken on the weight of my bags too.

Performing Nombu in a foreign country isn’t all that difficult. Perhaps the lack of – or should I say my lack of awareness of – so many things immediately eliminates them. The vaadyar is replaced by a cassette which I realised required a few sessions on the system before being used (I had more luck deciphering what Aretha Franklin sings after the whole R-E-S-P-E-C-T bit). So I appointed myself in-house vaadyar. Rahu Kaalam would be calculated at GMT and since staying hungry till my husband got home in the evening was not an option he was woken up earlier than usual with a cup of tea and the BBC. On mute.

There are other aspects that one finds hard to tackle. Madi for example is impossible to maintain when every square inch of ones home is carpeted. And I do mean every inch – bathroom included! Unless one is capable of levitation one should not attempt it. Also tying a madisaar is not for the faint hearted. 9 yards of silk with a mind of its own can be a dangerous thing. You’ll either end up strangling yourself or looking like something out of the Mummy Returns (oh how hard it is to refrain from calling it The Mami Returns). And where does one hang a madi pudavai out to dry anyway? Sadly, we are not living the middle class dream in a detached mock Tudor home with a sprawling faux South American jungle-garden in the back. Would our stoned patio do? A cursory glance revealed that it had been turned in to something of a giant ash tray by our upstairs neighbour. As cigarette butts and a madi nightgown are a criminal offence under section 220 of the Madi Penal Code I opted to wear a new sari instead (when in doubt, wear something new).

Neivediyam is an entirely personal matter and depends on one’s skills and to some extent the gastric stability of one’s family. Being possessed with reasonable levels of both, this year my standard menu of payasam (see above for recipe) and vadai made space for kozhakattais. (Secretly making space in my fridge for Marks & Spark’s Indian delights)

Poornam and a large white lump of maavu before me, I sat cross-legged and in a state of semi-madiness on the floor and began making my kozhakattais. As I moulded the dough in to little shells and placed the poornam in the middle I fancied them to be little oysters hiding pearls of coconut and jaggery and allowed myself to drift off in to nostalgia. My grandmother would sit in her trademark Kalakshethra nine yards on our kitchen floor in Chennai, her wrinkled hands nimbly making one kozhakattai after the other. A seventy-year-old assembly line that seemed to require no oiling up or servicing and that could work endlessly. My sister and I would beg for a chance to try our hand at making one and she would always acquiesce, softly instructing us and placing our large, uncouth creations on the tray next to her tiny, perfectly formed masterpieces. The poornam always looked like they had been wrapped in the finest of muslin. Rubbing my eyes I looked with dismay at my plate of kozhakattais and hoped God didn’t think they looked like wads of rolled up Kleenex too.

Varalakshmi might accept my misshapen offerings but the sumangalis I had invited over that evening for vethalai paaku might not have been as forgiving. The list of invitees totalled a grand 2. The wife of my husband’s boss and a dear family friend who had lived for over 20 years in England had both promised to come. Both had to be impressed. After all, I couldn’t jeopardise my husband’s career by over salting the sundal. And the latter was something of a Queen Bee in the Kenton agraharam and had the ear of all the best realtors in town. The pressure was immense. What would I offer for vethalai pakku? I had no vethalai, no manjal and no pakku unless saunf was permitted.

Thankfully, the Gods were in a munificent mood. As I rummaged through my puja bag (a giant Selfridges carrier stashed with a years supply of sambrani, kunkumam and poonals – our Romanian house help Mikhela often discards the ones left lying around by my better half. Perhaps she thinks they’re giant reams of floss) I found three blouse pieces, some manjal and silver articles gifted to me by family that were yet to be used. This is London. Rethink. Re-use. Recycle.

Vethalai pakku ready, sundal perfectly salted and thoughts of M&S party food as neivediyam firmly pushed to one side, I was ready. My Amman mugham was mounted on the kalasam and decorated in a rani pink pavadai with matching roses from Tesco. Archanai pookal came in the form of daisies and the air was redolent with the fragrance of ‘Spiritual Flower’ incense (I needed all the help I could get). As I read from my prayer book and as my husband tied the sharadu around my wrist – I felt a sense of being home again.

The chief underling had been promoted.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

while i was sleeping

Where do memories go? Not the ones we remember. Not the ones we reach for as we lie awake in the middle of the night, thirsty for a sip of old times. Not the warm, fuzzy ones or the giggly ones or the ones hurled as angry recriminations in the heat of the moment. No. Not these.

Where are the memories that time has hidden? The ones from age three to five? Days, weeks and months have vanished. I close my eyes and try to remember something from the time. Anything. A colour. A snatch of a song. A sweet I hankered after. But nothing comes to me.

I feel betrayed. By my own mind. On what basis has it rejected these memories? My memories. Who did it ask? When did it turf them out? How did it extract them? Perhaps it extended a long, slender finger in to the secret hiding places in the ridges and furrows of its own body where the memories hid. Trembling. Did it hook a yellowing, curved nail in to the shuddering, gossamer like filaments and then pull them out? All this as my head lay on a pillow. Asleep. Unaware. Unarmed. Unprepared.

I am worried now. Ten years from now will I remember today? My delight in the dogs that frisked in the park this evening. The feel of this red silk shirt against my skin. The smell of gardenias that come wafting through the window?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Our Saviour

“What would our lives be like without mobile phones?” is a question we should all ask ourselves. Now, now, ye naysayer in the back who thinks our lives would be better off. That we might spend more time talking deeply to loved ones and friends. That we might actually be able to hear bird song and not the Crazy Frog ring tone. Waiting time at doctor’s clinics would be severely reduced. That the man over there with the singed phallus may still have a chance to bear children and sow wild oats, instead of being confined to a life of peeing through a tube just because some asshole banker with Blackberry Thumb had to see the doctor first. Naysayer you are in a minority and if you continue you to speak I shall lock you in a room filled with cell phones constantly going off with Crazy Frog as their assigned ring tones. Thought that would shut u up (did you all notice my clever use of txt spk? There! I did it agn )

Now back to the question “What would our lives be like without mobile phones?” Think of the cottage industries it has helped birth and nourish – the animal ring tone industry, the amateur 10 second sex film to be sent out via MMS industry (a boon to men who are always in a hurry), the novelty dangly bits that hang off phones and get caught in awkward places industry (that boosted the flagging fortunes of Hello Kitty the mouthless feline (branded as Hello Kutty in Kerala and Tamil Nadu)). Millions of people and one very large, scary, mouthless cat (gives a new understanding of the term Vaayilladha Jeevan) have prayer alters to this man made marvel which they pay obeisance to every day.

But forget others. Think of how this god send has enriched your own individual life. Remember the time before cell phones? When you were twenty minutes late for Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke and your friends couldn’t be bothered to wait for you and you had to go home and take off the brand new dress you’d bought just for the film? DO YOU? Well now no more of that. We can arrive as fashionably late as we please, once the commercials for Gangar Opticians and Poonamallee Pizza Palace are well over. We can call our friends who we know never switch their phones off and demand they come outside with your ticket. And then buy you an extra large bucket of butter popcorn. Not that they need a cell phone for that.

Think of the precious time you have saved thanks to your cell phone. No more wandering through the Nagpada looking for Agripada. No more standing in the rain looking for No 34, Harley Road. No more trying to ask the Marathi speaking man at Kolivada the way to Basilica. Now when we are lost we just call friends up and say ‘I am here next to the Marathi speaking gentleman at Kolivada. Come pick me up.’ And then you hand the phone over to the aforementioned gentleman and all is well.

Think of all those dates from hell. Blind dates, first dates and oh god this is so the last date. Not so long ago, we had to suffer till the very end because we couldn’t think of a convincing excuse. Or because the dessert menu looked wonderful. We had to sit through nearly two hours of lettuce in teeth, body odour or even worse listening to the other person go on about their dream Mastermind subject – Cindy Lauper 1985-1986. Now, through the marvel of science we have a ready made escape route. A friend calls in the middle of your meal, you drop your fork, you shriek, it’s an emergency you tell your date – my best friend’s dog/cat/goldfish just died. Suzy was a wonderful pet. You are comforted. You call the waiter and ask him to pack some tiramisu in a doggy bag and you leave. (All this of course we only see in movies. I don’t know if this works in real life, but hey it’s worth a shot. Oh, and don’t call the friend who missed the trailers at the movies because you were late. Chances are she ain’t ever calling you back)

But most of all, cell phones keep our hands busy. They make us look busy. See that suit over there on platform two; brow furrowed as he stares at the screen of his new Blackberry? That isn’t some important e-mail from work. It’s either porn, Bricks or he’s trying to change the language setting from Mandarin back to English (another cell phone use – great way to annoy your colleagues.)

In my own life, this is the ultimate cell phone use. A deep rooted paranoia forces me to reach any appointment a good half our early. So after one has window shopped (and torn themselves away from the temptation that is the Mango cashmere coat), had a cup of coffee and read some of the book that looked great in the library but that you now cannot understand a word of - what does one do? One pretends to make phone calls. Send random text messages to friends. Penny pinchers can pretend to send random text messages to friends. The truly sad and pathetic can send random text messages to themselves. The chances of anyone pitying you as they pass by is minimal. Unless it’s me of course. I know what you’re really up to.

So people. Embrace your cell phones. Put away those elephant headed gods and laughing Buddhas you pray to. The Cell Phone is our new Saviour. It entertains us, connects us, challenges us (Where can I learn Mandarin?). It is a mysterious, divine presence in our lives that –

No Network Coverage.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

55 trapped words

She has a secret notebook full of favourite words. Sassafras. Zanzibar. Vetiver. The exotic and the mundane. Real and created. Whiffling. The known and unknown. Icarus. Calendula. She dares not say them aloud for they may escape. Serendipitous. So they are kept in a leather clad prison, between the horizontal bars of each ruled page.

And something silly I wrote on the train.

the sun
like yellow gum
drops dissolves on my skin
mellow

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chinna chinna kadhai

i

Her everyday life was dictated by the whims and fancies of animate and inanimate beings. Woken by the alarm’s strident shrillness. Meals based on the price of onions and tomatoes. Television dictated by the sticky hands that held the remote. Sleep when she heard the grunt of her husband as he went limp above her.

ii

She couldn’t help but stare. He was big. And black. Clad in a pair of jeans that clung to him intimately. Apart from a smattering of dark curly hair near his wrists his arms were smooth. She wondered if the rest of him was as bare. And blushed.
‘Probably remembering last night’ her husband grinned.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The one in which Shoefiend admits to being culturally bereft

I was fresh out of college. It was the second week at my new job. I was a trainee copywriter. Making money that was not of the Monopoly kind. Thinking up film ideas for herbal anti-dandruff shampoo. Carrying a proper work bag. From Hidesign no less. All around me, unshaven men (and a few women) smelling of last nights take away and copier ink churned out ideas that went up around town and won awards. I was on my best behaviour. I called everyone Sir and Ma’am. Came up with lots of non-executable ideas(‘…and then the penguin tap dances all the way home’). And generally tried not to reveal what a cultural ignoramus I was. I managed to carry on doing almost all of this throughout my entire stint at the agency. Except the last one.

It happened during a ‘brainstorming’ session in one of the fishbowls we called a meeting room. A rather wild eyed writer and art director (who I shall refer to as crazy1 and crazy2) were discussing Kurosawa. A word that I was not familiar with.

Crazy 1 Kurosawa feast last night dude. It was amaaaazing.

Crazy 2 Why didn’t you call me over asshole?

Crazy 1 Dude, I thought they gave you headaches.

Crazy 2 Only the first time. Now I’m crazy about them.

Crazy 1(turning to me) Do you like Kurosawa?

Now I had two options before me. Either I admitted I had no idea what or who Kurosawa was and make a fool of myself before my very cool peers. Or I try and bluff my way through the whole thing and make an even bigger fool of myself before my very cool peers. Guess which one I chose?

Me Oh I love Kurosawas! Especially with sake.

As you can imagine I got two very blank stares, was promptly ignored for the rest of the evening and made to fetch water. Ah the joys of being a trainee.

You can imagine how stupid I felt when I found out that Kurosawa was indeed a film maker par excellence. I promptly mugged the names of some of his movies to tide me over till I got around watching any of them.

This of course happened about five years ago. And I’m glad to say I finally got a chance to see my first Kurosawa about two weeks ago. Well, almost.

After months of being on my Screenselect list, I was finally sent The Seven Samurai. Oh the joy! My husband who expressed doubts as to how it could be better than The Magnificent Seven, was given a lecture on broadening his horizons and not being a pleb. He was then promptly tied to his chair (only for the duration of the movie, I assure you) and forced to watch the film. Well, most of it.

As the opening shots appeared, my husband’s muffled pleas (I’d had to gag him as well. Again, only for the duration of the movie) reached my ears. I took out the sock (clean) from his mouth and he begged me to press the time/text button on the remote to see how long the movie was. I obliged. Shit! Three and half hours long. Was this guy some long lost relative of K-JO? My husband's loud protests were silenced once more and we settled down to a companionable silence.

Suffering Japanese peasants, marauding bandits, out of work samurais – I was expecting all of that. I mean I had seen The Magnificent Seven. But hello? Where was Shibuya’s answer to Steve McQueen? Where was the Yul Brynner of Okinawa? I mean sure I was expecting the peasants to be bad looking – they probably had scurvy from all the rice husk they were eating. But was the samurai’s excuse? I mean Ken Watanabe must have had a great grand daddy right?

So after about forty minutes of suffering and crying (my husband, both times) we switched to a rerun of Friends. I promised to watch the rest of the movie the next day. And the next. And the next. After a week, I still couldn’t face the thought of almost three hours of strife. So I slipped the DVD back in its sleeve and returned it. What can I say? I’m a fraud.

While I’m at it, I think I should confess to my other shameful secrets. I read Mills & Boon till I was in class x and only stopped when my mother threatened to burn my library membership. I used to like Roxette. When I was 12 my room was a shrine to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I even had the sneakers. Sob). I cried when I saw Forrest Gump and Titanic. I occasionally watch Baywatch reruns. When I’m at W.H Smith I read Heat and Hello but take the New Yorker and National Geographic to the check out counter. I enjoy watching films where Kate Hudson plays a struggling singleton raising her dead sister’s children and trying hard not to fall in love with the local Pastor. I am a popular culture junkie. So shoot me. (Oh, and I think Ben Stiller is hysterical)

I’m sure I’ve fallen greatly in your esteem. All my own doing I admit. So in an attempt to raise your opinion of me by a smidgen I leave you with this. Shostakovich. (Just don’t ask me what that is. Or who. Or… ah forget it. It’s almost time for Britain’s Next Top Model)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Kensington Gardens on a Friday Afternoon

“Would you like the scenic route?” replied the smiling ticket officer at South Ken station. I had asked for directions to Kensington Gardens.

The alternative was to take the subway, and though the buskers and bright pop art posters that dot these subterranean passages are always a pleasure to listen to and see, I decided to soak in the sunshine that London’s skies are loathe to let through in September.

So walk I did; all the way down Exhibition Road. A stretch of asphalt that is home to some of the capitals most venerable buildings; starting off with The Natural History Museum and The Victoria & Albert. Two plump, ancient aunts seated comfortably on opposite porches and watching the comings and goings of the rest of the world. No doubt passing judgement, sharing gossip and occasionally getting in to tiffs (“No I got more visitors last year!”). The Science Museum, Imperial College London, whose new glass and chrome fa├žade doesn’t look as incongruous as it sounds, the pristine white buildings that house aristocrats, i-bankers and offices are lined up one after the other and my eyes are almost relieved when it all comes to end.

Rem Koolhaas’s futuristic pavilion can be seen from the end of Exhibition Road. Was the Dutch architect chewing on hubba bubbas when he thought – “There’s an idea, the pavilion will be a big white bubble.” By day, the pavilion is a chic patisserie while in the evenings it plays host to movies, lectures and soirees that only those with hyphenated, Roman numeral including names are invited to. I had no desire to eat over priced French sandwiches (also I’d just eaten a quiche at Paul’s) so I moved on to the Serpentine Gallery – a modest, low lying brick building that sits in the shadow of the bubble. As my luck would have it, the gallery was closed for a re-hanging. I was kindly offered a diary and the chance to take a look at their book shop. Sighting an appointment with the area’s local swan population I excused myself.

I’ve only been to London’s Parks on weekends. Usually along with the rest of the city, it’s toddlers, nannies and dogs. I wondered who else would be in the gardens on a Friday afternoon. Hyde Park is perhaps a more popular and well known destination, so I wasn’t expecting to be in the midst of Nikon flashing tourists. And I wasn’t wrong.

Office workers taking extended lunch breaks. Old age pensioners walking their even older dogs. Children being minded by Phillipino and Latvian nannies.

‘Who is that?’ demanded a cherub faced devil as he marched past a statue of Queen Victoria that sits outside Kensinton Palace.

‘Princess. That is dead princess’ replied his petite minder from Manila.

I wandered aimlessly. The sun had disappeared and a cool breeze hinted of the rain that was to come. An old woman sat on a bench. Face made, hair done and surrounded by a dozen bags. She clutches them as though they contained all her worldly possessions. Was that regret on her face as she saw the little girl going by on her tricycle? Or was that just my over active imagination?

Along the edge of the lake, ducks, swans and other tiny winged creatures bathed, swam and fluttered. A white swan stood in the middle of the grassy lawns a good 15 yards from the lake. He seemed disoriented, lost and a little drunk from the look of his lurching gait. After a few wobbly steps he sat down. Reminded me of a certain Uncle who always overate at Saturday brunch.

The Kensington Palace was having an exhibition of photographs of the Late Princess of Wales by Mario Testino. Bronze plaques embedded in the foot path at regular intervals guided the faithful as they trudged along her Memorial Walk.

Lovers sat entwined in each others arms. Not at all like the furtive couples of Nageshwara Rao Park. They do their best to blend in with the foliage that shelter them from the gaze of Diabetic Mamas and the overweight Mamis who go round and round the park with a fervour that had till then been reserved for the local Anjaneyar temple.

It was almost 4:30 when I decided to turn around and walk back to the main entrance. A group of friends were chatting under a tree. In contrast, just two trees a way a lone Arab man was writing a letter. His denim jacket, jeans and sneakers were so new they looked almost unreal against the patch of brown grass and ageing bark. Perhaps another foreigner in a strange land telling those at home about Kensington Gardens on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Silly me (click on the picture)


Disclaimer: the only reason I am doing this tag after my fierce no tags oath is because the tagger has an evil, slightly manic glint in her eyes. You don't mess with people who once looked like this.

So here is my silly picture. Those who wish to partake in the silliness are welcome to!

Big Blog Bog

Please ignore the title of this post, it's 9:24am and I cannot be held accountable for my actions.

So apparently today is Blog Day. Now I went here and found out what I was supposed to do (kind of like the frantic calls I make to my mother the day before Nombu and ask what an acceptable substitute for coconuts will be in the kalasam.)

So Happy Blog Day etc etc. Here are some (newish) blogs I've been reading and enjoying lately

Szerelem
Random rambles of n
Terri
Filmiholic
Venkat
Lost in post
PutVote

Also, these two wonderful blogs are no longer with us today - Witchy and Apropos of Nothing - you are much missed. Come back won't ya?


So go forth and blog. It's you people who fill my unemployed hours with joy!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kutcheri musings

My earliest memory of a live performance is a concert by the late Maharajapuram Santhanam. I was about nine years old and all I can remember was the raw silk kurta I had been forced in to itched, my Mother’s hushed excitement, the many overdressed women and waking up to thunderous applause. (in appreciation of the man’s virtuoso performance and not my ability to sleep through it. My somnolence was to become a regular feature in my Kutcheri listening career – and to think I’ve never been fired for sleeping on the job.)

Since then of course I’ve gone on to listen to (and appreciate) performances by both established and amateur artists. As a student of Carnatic music, it was decided that I would attend as many concerts as possible. Perhaps in the hope that some of the talent might rub off on me.

Old timers and connoisseurs may argue that it has turned in to hunting ground for prospective sambandhis and that most rasikas turn up to sample the coffee and tiffin the canteens have to offer and not the artist’s rendition of Karaharapriya. But one can not dispute that the December Season is a high point in the cultural calendar of Madras. From the free mid-morning and afternoon slots to the highly sought after evening performances, it is where fresh talent is spotted and mature artists prove they still have it. Innovations in music, dance, Kanjeevaram silks and pathir peni are all on display here.

I once accompanied my cousin to a free afternoon Unni Krishnan kutcheri at The Music Academy. My cousin was a passionate fan, and the traffic jam and crowd (the likes of which I’d only seen at Thirupathi and Rajni first day first shows) did nothing to deter him. So we squeezed through the gaps on his white, rickety TVS Scooty, bribed the watchman to look after the illegally parked two wheeler and pushed our way through the
Crowds (Mamis on a mission can be a vicious lot mind you – you either have to have thick skin or be wearing a plate of armour. Not possessing the former I used my cousin as the latter). We were directed to the upper circle of the Academy and realised that even though we were a good hour early, most of the seats were occupied. So we climbed higher and higher and finally found two seats at the very back. Those of you who have been to The Music Academy know how high up that is. Once the performance began, I found it impossible to keep looking down at the stage. So to prevent a nose bleed and upchucking the idlis I’d had for breakfast I settled back in my seat, tilted my head back and closed my eyes. I felt a twinge of guilt when the old Mama whispered to his companion
“So young, but see how entranced she is by the performance.”

As a Luz-vaasi, I also used to attend the concerts leading up to Pillayar Chaturthi at the Warren Road Pillayar Kovil. The temple is actually a part (for want of better word) of someone’s home and every year in the courtyard a stage is erected and concerts are given by the likes of Sanjay Subramanian and other acclaimed artists. If I’m not mistaken the concert on the very last day is reserved for KJ Yessudas. It’s been over four years since I’ve been in Madras, so I don’t know how the performances are attended now. But I do remember the packed crowds that used to congregate there. Music lovers would sit, stand and lean against poster clad and beedi stained walls for a chance to listen to these concerts. Like many others who lived in close proximity to the temple, an aunt and uncle of mine would simply draw two chairs out on to their balcony, and enjoy the music and cool evening breeze.

Both my school and college were big on promoting ‘Indian culture’. This meant having to sit through annual Thyagaraja Utsavams and listening to seniors and juniors sing (and sometimes screech) through a repertoire of songs that never changed during my time at these institutions. I of course was never considered good enough to go up on stage (could have something to do with the fact that I slapped our music teacher when I was in class 7. It was an accident. Honest), which is just as well since I knew the kind of catty comments that circulated through the audiences while these poor girls sang their hearts out.

I’d think I now know enough to be able to appreciate a concert more. I know that I should clap only when other’s clap, not to eat a heavy meal right before one, and that if I am going to fall asleep it should only be done when seated in the very last row. The last point was added to the list after attending a performance by Nityashree at the Asthika Samaj a few years ago. We knew the singers family and they had graciously invited us to sit in the front row with them. In my defence it was getting pretty late, so there was very little I could do to stop myself from nodding off. My mother realised something was out of order when an irregular sound not in sync with the music was emanating from her left. If my sleeping wasn’t bad enough, my snoring was the last straw. And no, she wasn’t singing Neelambari.