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

Random rambles of n
Lost in post

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.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hair virgin

(Inspired by this post. I love Afghans!)

Remember an easier time? When you were 7 and went to the salon with your mother. Threw a temper tantrum and demanded the hair that fell all the way down your back to your once diminutive hips be cut off? Then your mother, embarrassed by your sullen pout-now-full-blown-strop acquiesced. The tears would dry up immediately the snot in your nose would be wiped away and you would clamber up in to that big, plush chair meant for the grown-ups. Returning the smiles of the older women getting the eyebrows and nails done (silently thanking the Lord that their own children were better behaved). The voluminous dark blue synthetic cape would swish around you, enveloping you and chaffing your chin with its velcro strap. The large, buxom woman called Saritha or Kamini who would come up behind you with comb, secret plastic spray bottle in hand (that to this day I’m sure contains dishwashing liquid) and then silently turn and look at your Mother, eyebrows raised.

‘Not too much.’ The defeated woman would say.

‘What style?’

‘Usual. U-cut.’

And that was that. Fringe (or bangs as they are now called) optional. No layers. No high lights. Nothing. Just a U cut. Or a boy-cut. Or the much sought after bob. But for as long as I can remember, the U-cut was the gold standard in hair styling. And it only cost you 60 bucks (this was pre-Lakme Madras of the 90s by the way. Even Ambuli charges more these days.)

So why has it all become so complicated? A trip to the salon is now more nerve-wracking than an appointment with your gynaecologist. My first brush with the salon-elite came when I was in Bombay and realised that I hadn’t had my hair cut in over a year and a half (I can get that way sometimes). Colleagues insisted I go to a tony salon in South Bombay. So I called up their salon to book an appointment.

‘Hi! I’d like to book an appointment to have my hair cut please.’

‘Would you like to book with a Style Director?’


‘Our next available appointment is December 15th’

‘That’s over a month and a half away.’


‘How much will this cost?’

‘Rs. 2500 for a wash and cut. And extra for colouring’
2500? And In December? Was the style director going to grow new hair and then transplant it to my head?

‘Ok what’s the cheapest and quickest appointment I can get?’

‘A trainee will be available day after tomorrow for 400’ was the sniffy reply.

So two days later at the appointed time I found myself in the waiting room of the salon. I think they’d marked ‘cheapskate’ next to my name because I didn’t get the warm welcome and complimentary tea/coffee/overpriced mountain-water-that’s-from-the-tap-outside like everyone else did.

The trainee, a multi-pierced youth, with hair overstyled to look like she’d just gotten out of bed appeared, dressed in clothes that were artfully shredded to look like she’d thrown them to a pack of rabid dogs. I felt about a hundred years old. With each question she asked me I added a year to that number.

‘So what do you have in mind?’

‘I’d like a hair cut.’

‘Right. What kind?’

‘I don’t know. What do you think?’

She critically studied my hair, tossing it about, weighing it, judging it (and not in a good way) before telling me that it was too heavy and had split ends and that the current style made me look old. She said razor cuts and a side parting and Magnolia highlights would make me look 25. I was 23 at the time.

So I agreed to the cuts and side parting, vetoed all chemicals and sat down in the once coveted seat that now resembled The Chair.

I have to admit. I came out looking pretty good that day. Of course, all of you who have every had your hair styled know that it only lasts for a day and after a good nights sleep you wake up looking like the trainee. Which trust me, we all can not carry off.

Since then, my foray in to the world of fancy hair styles has progressed with tiny baby steps. I can now confidently ask for what I want. ‘How about Reese Witherspoon’s cut from Sweet Home Alabama?’ ‘Do you think Sarah Jessica Parker’s look from Season 4 episodes 3-6 would look good on me?’ ‘I’d love a Rachel’. Of course all requests are turned down and I go back to the same layers and side parting. The U-cut of the noughties.

My last hair cut was with a Cypriot called Harry at Toni & Guy. Harry was wonderful. He was in awe of my English “Where you go for classes heh?” and said my hair was in great condition. But when he found out I used no products though, all respect and awe went down with my split ends.

“What? No spray? No holder? No fixer?”

“I use conditioner” I volunteered hopefully.

After much mumbling under his breath (no doubt calling upon the Greek god of fortuitous hair) he palmed off a bag of styling products that cost twice as much as my hair cut and taught me how to use them. Of course when I went home and tried them out it was a complete disaster. The sea salt holding spray got in to my eyes and nearly blinded me. The banana flavoured volumiser was viscous and sticky and reminded me of certain scenes from There’s Something about Mary and the strange hair serum made my semi-living hair go in to a deep coma. All three products now rest in peace at the bottom of the bathroom cabinet.

I realise that in a world of £1000 hair cuts, Zen Masters who feel the chi of your hair before styling it (I wonder if it involves bowing repeatedly and apologising for the carnage) and extensions and weaves I’m very much a hair virgin. I’m all for letting my stylist go to first base with my hair but no more. I’m just old fashioned that way. Give me Saritha and U-cuts any day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Feeling at home

I am an unwanted guest. The kind that eats noisily, rummages constantly in the fridge and takes forever in the shower. I leave near empty coffee mugs on the side table stained with the sticky, obstinate residue that will be hard to wash out. I listen to music others may not appreciate, and relish loud tamizh films with lashings of violence and tears. I leave the newspaper mangled and dismembered. The first page in the bedroom, the sports section spread out under my glistening umbrella, Inzamam catching the drops of water that slide off the edge.

The rightful owners stare at me dispassionately from the walls and cosy nooks they have occupied for over a year, unable to voice what they really think of this intrusion. Perhaps I should have given them more notice. Given them the chance to say no and make excuses. Instead I have steamrolled in to their home without even bothering to wipe my feet at the front door.

I would like to tell them to carry on as they were. ‘Don’t mind. I’ll just sit here in the corner and help myself to some of this vanilla tea cake. Sorry – was that the last piece?’ In an effort to redeem myself, I do the dishes. Pick up the dry cleaning. Go for long walks to give them some time away from me. And whisper disapprovingly behind my back.

I get a chance to meet the other house guest. I try to strike up a conversation with the snail on the window ledge. But he refuses to come out and say hello. I try after a few hours. But he just won’t budge. Literally. I stroke his bumpy, patterned shell. ‘No wonder they like you. You’re harmless, sitting in the same spot all day long. Not giving anyone any trouble. Making no demands. Is that why you won’t talk to me? Don’t want to jeopardise the high esteem in which they hold you?’

His stubborn silence enrages me, and with a vicious yank I dislodge him from his spot in the sunshine and toss him in to the garden.

I settle down in the sofa with a mug of coffee. They’ll just have to get used to me being around.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Last post...

... from work. I've written most of my posts from office. On this computer. On the sly. This is the last one. Bye work. Bye Rombout's Coffee. Bye hour and a half commute. I think I might miss all this.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

on independence day

Early morning cool gives way to searing heat degree by degree. Attendance is taken, suitable punishment for the absentees are devised. Single file we march out in to the quadrangle. A sea of bluish-white uniforms, frayed collars and white tennis shoes. Hair oiled and braided, adorned only with tattered ribbons and lice. The scruffy ones are made to stand at the back.

One arm distance to the front and double arm distance to the sides. Ahalya Bai, Sarojini Naidu, Vijayalakshmi Pundit. We are divided along these names. But they mean nothing to us. Instead we worry that the green belt is not as nice as the bright, red one.

We whisper about what we will do when we get home, what movies are on television and speculate on the choice of sweet distributed this year – Lacto King again? Rottweiler Ruby tells us to keep quite. The chief guest will be here any moment now. Bets are placed on the length of his speech. Will he pronounce banyan as baniyan like the last one did?

The Chief Guest is late. He will no doubt stress the importance of punctuality in his speech later on without sensing the irony of it all. Irony. A word we did not know then. But sensed.

He tugs at the flag. It unfurls slowly, releasing rose petals, hanging limply in the still air. We salute.

Inside the cool, dusty auditorium we sit on the floor glaring at the smug, prize receiving class mates in the VIP section. We sit patiently through the speeches – the chief guest, the trophy hoarding 11 year old who gesticulates wildly as she quotes Bhaarathi and the fawning Principal – her beehive bun threatening to fall over and crush the chief guest. Or so we imagine.

The national integration cultural show. Song, dance and skit. We clap – not because we enjoy it but because everyone else is. We shift restlessly, our behinds sore, our calves patterned with dust and the zig zag imprints of our rubber soles.

Finally it is over. We stand up, legs, feet and backside numb. We limp towards the exit taking the chocolate we should be so grateful to receive and walk home. Finally.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Will work for shoes

So this time next week will be my second last day at work. It's been a good 15 months at this job. I've learned some really interesting things about English people (they make awful tea) and their shopping habits (they need some serious help), but it's time to move on. To what I have no idea. So till I find out, I plan to pursue my career as a writer. That sounds very grand, but what it really means is that I'll be in sweats watching Trisha and Oprah and eating oats.

So if anyone needs a writer let me know.Till then cheques can be sent to Shoefiend, P.o Box 222, London. Shoes will be accepted in lieu of money and food. Size 5 please.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

commitment issues

The evidence of her infidelity. Crumpled and stuffed beneath the sofa and dumped in the garbage. Pinewood Forever and Poison heavy in the air killing the sweetness that had taken flight an hour ago. She scrubs hard when she bathes and brushes her teeth. Thrice. Any lingering scent or taste that might give her away is obliterated.


Her voice breaks as she promises to be loyal and faithful – vows she knows she cannot keep. She looks across the room and wonders how many of them cheat. All of them. She’s sure of it. She hates their smug piety. There’s still time a tiny voice tells her as a latecomer sneaks in to the last row. As the door creaks back in to place she worries that it will shut forever. She might never be able to escape. She turns around mid sentence and runs. Her words and silken skirt trailing behind her. She answers the shocked gasps with mumbled, half-hearted apologies. She reaches the door before it fatally clicks in to place and heaves it open. Satin pumps crunch against the gravel and she throws herself inside the car. Trembling hands grope inside the cavernous depths of the glove compartment until they close around the shiny smooth oblong.
She takes it out and smiles.


“I wonder whatever happened to Linda.”

“Just as well I suppose if you can’t commit. It’s not for everyone you know.”

“That’s enough chatter ladies. Now today at Weight Watchers we’ll be looking at how to eat what you like. In moderation.”

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The keys to home

She is frantic. She cannot find the keys to her flat. It’s cold. She needs to pee. And the phone is ringing from inside. Each shrill ring adding to her urgency. She falls to her knees and begins to empty the contents of her bag on to the concrete ground. Her diary. The black leather notebook she bought to writes poems and feelings in but has filled with doodles of three leaf clovers and little hearts instead. Bills, receipts and sanitary napkins follow. Tissues soiled by pink lipstick stains and her runny nose.

She calls her husband. Perhaps he is on the way and she won’t have to wait that long. It goes in to voice mail and she is asked to leave a message. She curses him instead.

Her wallet, lipstick and the crumpled see-through wrapper of the chocolate muffin she can’t remember when she had. Tiny chocolate crumbs cling to the folds of the wrapper and reminds her that she is hungry. It can’t be that old she reasons to herself as she licks the wrapper clean.

Ipod ‘How long has that been playing? I’m sure I switched it off’, headphones and six pens clattered to the ground. Her bag is almost empty now. And still no sign of her keys. Her bladder begins to send messages to her brain that it is ready to go in to action. ‘Did his phone actually record what I said?’

A pay slip threatens to take flight. And the balled up tissue papers rolls away like tiny snot filled marbles.

She is scraping the very bottom of her bag now. A length of yellowing twine catches her eye. She takes it out and studies it. It is knotted along its length and a black hair slide dangles at one end. She looks back inside her bag. Scattered among the dust and errant chocolate crumbs are the tiny, shrivelled corpses of wilted flowers. Jasmine. She takes a few in her hand.

Her mother had caught hold of her as she left the house and tucked the then fragrant strand of fresh flowers in to her hair.

‘But Amma! I’m wearing jeans. Next you’ll make me wear a pottu.’

‘It’s ok. Fusion fashion. Take it out after you’ve checked in. And wear a pottu – what will your maamiyar think?’

She had grumbled about not caring what anyone thought and then agreed.

The ride to the airport, the long queue, checking in, tearful goodbyes, the dull ache in her chest.

As she had leaned back in the narrow, faux plush seat on the plane something had poked the back of her head. Her fingers had fumbled in her dense black hair, searching for the offender closing around the slide and pulling it out, stray jasmine buds freeing themselves from the confines of the twine only to be trod on by the heeled foot of a snooty air hostess.

She had dropped the flowers in to her bag, rubbed off the pottu and taken out a magazine.

The twine appears blurred.

‘Hey! Why did you swear at me on that message?’

She looks up at her husband.

‘Is everything ok? Why are you sitting out here? Why’s everything on the floor? Have you been crying? Why are you crying?’

‘I can’t find my keys. I can’t get home.’