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.