Sunday, October 30, 2005


I have a bruise on my upper thigh the size of a five rupee coin. The strange thing is that I can’t remember at all, how it could have got there. As far as I can recall, no one hurt me or pushed me into a corner where I would hurt myself. No one bit me. I didn’t stumble, and I didn’t wake up from bed to find myself lying on the floor. Although I’ve done that once before.

This bruise looks like something a big cat left behind with its paws, minus the blood and the everything spilling out bit. More like a gentle scratch perhaps. There are five distinct marks, each the precise red of dried petals left in between the pages of an old notebook. If they were any redder, I would mistake them for blood, even though I can’t feel any pain.

People are fond of comparing the mind to a sieve. If that holds, then I must have one with an extra coarse mesh, the kind which is always letting the stones drop out with the flour. When I find the time, I plan to go in to the nearest departmental store and order myself something different. Extra fine, please, I will walk in to the counter and say. Or make it more fancy, I will tell the man standing there, Extra fine and Supergrip, plus a ten rupee worth of add-on features, what do you call them, those dust-sensors to keep out those unwanted bits and pieces of memory, old mould stuck in the mind.

Until then, I will wait, for someone, for something, to give me the keys to the missing parts of myself.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A heavy week

This week has been heavy with weariness; A kind of insiduous tiredness that takes hold of you so slowly - you don't even realise the exact moment when it seeped into you and decided to stay on, virus thrilled at finding unsuspecting host.

The tiredness was wrought on, I suspect, from too many sources for me to even adequately catelogue and allot percentages in a nice, orderly fashion.

There was the cold and arbitrary sneezing at all wrong moments, caught from my dad perhaps.

Then there was the rain, loads of it, that threatened to enter the house from both ends, doorstep and grill-covered-well. To a mind that has seen unending television footage of the Tsunami, the Mumbai rains and the Katrina disaster, all in the space of one year, such rain can seem terrifying. The rains left behind a house steeped in darkness, emergency lamp struggling to hold on for the forty-eight hours till EB officials saw fit to attend. I suspect I am turning into a whiner now, but forty-eight hours without electricity was not romantic, not inspiring, not one of those How-I-got-to-know-my-family-again-without TV things. No it was awful. There was no washing machine, no refrigerator, no mixie, no motor...And whats life without those? (Ok, the family was safe and sound, but you get the drift).

Finally, it looks like the bad news just doesn't end. Beyond my own little gripes and snipes, there is real bad news. The blasts at Delhi are terrible. Not much is clear right away. So I don't want to say anything beyond what a tragedy it is, for those affected and their families. But I am appalled at absolutely senseless coverage on some channels - dismembered body parts and everything shown with gusto, though there is a frantic presenter standing alongside saying how awful it is.

I can only hope next week offers us all something better. May this Diwali bring everyone of us better things.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Just thinking.

I am listening to one of my favourite pieces today after a long time, Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, the sixth symphony, the symphony pathetique. I don’t play this very often despite the first movement being one of the things I love to hear best among every single bit of music I own. This version is by the Philadelphia orchestra, with Eugene Ormandy setting a kind of expansive mood to the whole of the first movement. Music is probably one of the hardest things to describe, and the sixth symphony is particularly difficult.

If one can bring together an imminent sense of doom along with an urgent rushing towards it, towards, not away, that’s the first movement to me. Before the orchestra bears in with the grand theme, the movement begins on a low brooding note, double bass I think, setting the tone for what is to come. From there on, it is alternate flashes of fatalistic acceptance in a kind of melancholy way, and an urgent thunderous striving against it. Sometimes however the darkness is so overpowering that I feel as though Tchaikovsky is really moving towards the abyss, almost as if he wants to get there and be overpowered by it, not get away.

Which brings me to the subject of grief, and how it can sometimes be so absorbing that it is difficult to get oneself to move away from it. When a loved one is ill, and all one can do is stand by and watch the suffering, without really being able to do anything. When heartbreak occurs, and you want to just close those window shades and lie down with your eyes closed. Never have to wake up again.The intensity of grief can be such that it is difficult to break the chains and take even a tentative step towards the light.

At such times, light itself can seem cruel, and anyone who asks us to try and leave the darkness behind, seems cruel and insensitive. What does he know of my pain, I feel, and hug my pain to myself, warming myself with its familiarity and afraid to leave it behind. I am afraid to leave it behind, first of all, because the wounds are too fresh, and secondly because, I am afraid, that to leave behind, is to forget. The pain helps me remember the times that were, the good and the bad, the parts of me that existed once in another time. If I leave behind that pain, I run the risk of forgetting you, and with that, forgetting the me who belonged to you.

With time ofcourse, the pain recedes into the background, as the business of day to day living takes over. But once in a while, it comes into the forefront, rearing its head at the most unexpected moments. An old letter that my grandfather wrote to me when I was young. A sari that belonged to your grandmother in another era of puff sleeved blouses. The soulmate who let you down dearly now has her name up on batchmates. Someone on the street looks just like friend A who left us so early. On such days, the past threatens to overwhelm the present and overcome its tenous normalcy. The hardy soul tries to take these in its stride and move on.

Move on. That most overused of words. Move on, move on, everyone says. Don’t brood over it. There is sorrow enough though, in each of our lives for every single person to sit on that ledge and cry forever. It is tempting to go back there and cry all over again, reopen every page of my life, examine all the writing, assign cause and effect, blame and reward. Which is why I don’t play the last symphony as often as I would like to. A great piece it undoubtedly is, but it encourages me to cry when I should be working, bringing up old hurts that ought to lie buried. Turning over scraps of memories that are better left alone.

Memories, go take your places in the albums and the poems of our youth, fly to us when called, entertain us for a little while, and then quietly, slink away to your homes, waiting, until you are called in another day.

Another writer. Another talk.

Another writer, another talk. Not Vikram Seth on his all around India promotional tour of Two lives, which has been covered at a whole lot of places, including this very entertaining read by Sonia Faleiro at the Colour of Water.

Rather, Umberto Eco was in town, well, not in Chennai itself, but close enough - at Pondicherry, for me to feel a kind of hallowed connection.

The wind-up bird is pleased to report that The Hindu saw fit to place a photograph on page one, followed by a long-ish half page interview inside. Nice reading for Eco fans. I havent yet gotten around to the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, but Foucault's Pendulum, The Name of the Rose and Baudolino all went down my gullet very well, thank you.

The name of the rose in particular, is, I think a superb novel, and deserves many other superlatives as well, blending as it does, detective fiction with philosophical enquiry in a manner that the likes of Dan Brown will never figure out, should they try for half a century. In this interview, Eco is asked, whether he is not surprised that a high-brow novel like this one, should become such a best-seller. Eco has a suitably acerbic response.

"No. Journalists are puzzled. And sometimes publishers. And this is because journalists and publishers believe that people like trash and don't like difficult reading experiences. Consider there are six billion people in this planet. The Name of the Rose sold between 10 and 15 million copies. So in a way I reached only a small percentage of readers. But it is exactly these kinds of readers who don't want easy experiences. Or at least don't always want this. I myself, at 9 pm after dinner, watch television and want to see either `Miami Vice' or `Emergency Room'. I enjoy it and I need it. But not all day."

Eco was there in Pondy at the French Institute, not to talk about his novels, which he classifies as the work of a professor who writes on sundays, but to give a talk on the intricacies of translation, in his capacity as an academic and respected semiotician. He has an interesting anecdote on why translation is not beyond moving meaning from one culture to another, although a different one.

"For instance, the philosopher [Saul] Kripke illustrates an entire discussion on translation of proper names with the case of a certain Pierre who, being French, knew London as Londra. He was convinced that Londres was a
beautiful city. He visited London without realising that it was Londres and wrote that London is an ugly city. Pierre is an idiot or a laboratory fiction. Human beings are not like that. You cannot create a philosophical discourse on the behaviour of a mad person."

Read the entire thing here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why I wish I was at MIT

Ok, this post has nothing to do with me really. It is actually a Murakami update.
Haruki Murakami was at MIT recently as part of their writers series talks, and the lossless blog has a nice write-up on his talk there, including videos of the event.
The write up says, "Wearing a sweet green t-shirt that proclaimed "PICKLE", Murakami began by telling a few stories to the delight of the crowd. He then read a little bit of the short story Super-Frog Saves Tokyo in both Japanese and English, before letting a host from MIT (a literature professor?) finish reading the story. Murakami reappeared to answer questions from the audience."
Oh, oh, oh, I love that story, Super Frog saves Tokyo.
* Gnashes teeth enviously thinking of audience who managed to be there and resolves to make up for feelings of self-pity by buying oneself another Murakami as soon as pay cheque arrives, perhaps, the Sputnik Sweetheart which one has already read but not yet purchased?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wretchedness... being in desperate straits, locked up in prison, usually in terrible conditions, away from friends and family, tagged a criminal forever, no hope to look forward to, and...not even having a decent sari to cover yourself with.

Please read on about a good deed that needs to be done.

A friend of mine, Uma, is collecting funds for women prisoners in the Vigilance Cell (Chennai), who are in dire need of clothes. What they have currently is completely tattered and beyond repair. There are around 100 women and each require 5.15 mts for a sari. Even if she buys the cheapest of cottons, it will amount to Rs.15,500/-

She is looking for help in the form of good samaritans who would be willing to donate for the cause. Donating old clothes will not help, since these women are allowed to wear only a specific type of sari.

This is being co managed by Relief Foundation, an organisation that works primarily in the area of criminal systems and juvenile delinquency.

Naturally, one would ask, why should individual citizens chip in to provide uniform material for prisoners. Isnt this something the government needs to look into? However I believe their condition is indeed very wretched, and government aid is slow in coming, by which time, they may have very little stuff wearable left.

Those who feel it is a worthy cause, please contact Uma for further information at : Uma doesnt belong to the Relief Foundation, and this is not one of their long-term programmes, I gather, but she is acting as a volunteer and helping out on this project. She will be buying the saris herself, and I can assure you that every penny will be usefully spent.

Cheques need to be made in the name of 'Relief Foundation' and sent them to Relief Foundation, B-6/2, 11th Cross Street, Besant Nagar, Raghu Block, Besant Nagar, Chennai. Ph:044-52150706.

Please do mention specifically the cause that you are donating for, and also include your mailing address so that you can get a receipt for tax rebate. Details are also available on their site for online donations. Again, please do try and drop Uma a line if you choose this option, so that she can keep track.

Even if you are unable to contribute, you could help by spreading the word. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


* The restaurent at the end of the Universe, is where every gourmet fantasy comes true. Specks of basil lie over a half-eaten bowl of fettucine, the momentary grace of aroma fading swiftly. The remnants of greens rest in the salad bowl, leeks, beans and spinach, all limp now. A fine jug of water, transparent as its contents, stands on the table, spout curving away from the sides like a pregnant woman’s full belly in profile. Potent is the chocolate mousse, placid in its little porcelain cup, creamy skin untouched, waiting to be scooped. In the moment between meal and dessert, lies the contented rumbling of the stomach, digestive juices working, clearing the ground inside.

Outside waits a solitary boy, hopping on to the junction plane, where lunch ends and leftovers begin.

* All copyright and apologies to the late Douglas Adams

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The wonderful staircase

Mallorka made her way up the spiral staircase to the Chairman's room. The spiral staircase stood at the entrance to the Splendid-Biscuit Biscuit Making Company, its curvilinear bulk almost obscuring the passageway that led to the sales cubicles. Its wide girth could hold four people abreast at any point from floor to landing. Wrought iron railings ran along its sides and onto each railing clung a tiny wrought iron cherub, obscenely plump and holding a wand in its tiny hand. It was not clear if he was meant to be Cupid or simply a decorative detail that had caught the Chairman's fancy.

In any case, it was part of the loving attention that had been lavished on this staircase with its finest imported marble, its steps carved with a wild extravagance of tropical African doodles and its landing covered by the softest, cushiest, brightest-red Persian carpet. It was not a staircase that just anyone could be allowed to step on to. Like Jack’s beanstalk, everyone knew that a Giant lived above the landing, but few had ever ventured up to see him. It was implicitly understood that the spiral staircase was reserved for the Chairman and his special guests. And for good measure, made explicit through a circular.

* Part of something I wrote, when I was slogging away at my old job. In case you were wondering, there really was a special staircase reserved for the CEO.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Never let me go.

I am not posting a desperate cry here for some Tender Loving Care. What it is, is a desperate cry for some kind soul who will lend me Ishiguro’s Never let me go, which I need to read.(Disclaimer : No relation to winning or not winning the Booker) The need to read doesn’t mean it is prescribed reading or something, just that I need to read it, and somehow will not shell out the Rs. Five-hundred-odd required. I don’t know what it is in my genetic make-up that prevents me from crossing the magic five hundred barrier. (Ok, I made an exception for Kafka on the shore a couple of months ago, but then that was Murakami.)
Someday no doubt when the Human Genome Project is finally completed, scientists will triumphantly pull out that gene from its hiding place. Some enterprising soul will possibly also come up with a genetically-modified more spendthrift version of the book-buying gene and cross-sell it along with GM options for those Marilyn-Monroe-legs and Monalisa-smile. Until then, I remain, my shortlegged, bespectacled, unsmiling, miserly self. If you still want to lend me that book though…

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Goodbye to the Goddess


The makeshift golu stand will be dismantled, the books placed at the goddess’ feet returned to their shelves, and the gods and goddesses, carefully wrapped up in odds and ends of cloth, will go back to into the old irumbu petti, itself hoisted up into that little dark corner in the attic. There they will stay for another year, patiently awaiting their turn, until it is time for another navaratri, another puja, another ten days worth of celebration when they will be feted with sundal and payasam, a different variety each day.

I wonder how this lifestyle would suit me, nine days of unlimited splendour, one day of victory over the demon Mahishasura, and then....

A very long rest indeed.

It is critical

...That in our own little ways, we voice our support for Rashmi (Youth Curry)and for Gaurav who are being called some vile things, for daring to raise some pertinent questions about a so-called premier institute. I am not getting into the issue of whether the institute really is or isnt all those things that these bloggers said it was, but it is appalling the way they have reacted to criticism; Its like they want a blanket immunity on any kind of criticism. And if you cant defend yourself with a coherent argument, the way to get back is with legal notices and some name calling. Read on here.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Entrance to the temple

Dharasuram, a quiet place on the edges of noisy Kumabonam, is the site of an ancient temple of the Cholas. This is one of the Big Three Chola temples, the other two being the temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. I visited this place on a sunny afternoon when there was no one else around here. A 12th C temple built by Raja Raja II, this temple is dedicated to a form of Shiva called Airavateshwara - Shiva worshipped by Indra's elephant, Airavata. The Archaeological survey of India and the Temple board have worked out an amicable compromise here - the temple board takes care of the garbha griha alone, while the rest of the complex is well maintained, thanks to the ASI.

A long corridor

On all four sides of the complex run raised corridors, which are likely to have been ornamented in a different age and time. Only some of these remain, like a pannelled wall which you can see above - these are the Nayanmar saints singing the praises of Shiva.In the centre of the complex stands the garbha griha surrounded by a splendid Mandapam. The Mandapam has many pillars, all of these carved and decorated with images of gods and goddesses, singing and dancing women, and many miniature sculptures, including a ganesha an inch and a half tall.


The Chola artists certainly had a different conception of the human body, and the contortions that it can be twisted into. Somehow this whole concept of "illusions" or "trick sculptures" seems to have been popular. I saw this kind of thing in Konark as well, a mingling of images, so that the viewer is lured into following the sculpture more closely, like a puzzle, figuring out who the limbs belong to!

Joint venture

Another one here...What exactly is that animal?

Clash of the titans

And they didnt hesitate to use the temples like a kind of vehicle too, to express the ideas of the age. The ASI guide informed us that this sculpture here, the lion devouring the elephant, was meant to be a symbolic representation of Hinduism triumphing over Buddhism. Buddhism at the time had a profound influence and was posing a serious threat to Hindusim with its promise of liberation from caste.Interesting to think that eight hundred years down the line, much the same thing is being repeated. Depressingly, caste still rules, and conversions to Buddhism still often happen not due to any interest in the teachings of the Buddha but as a desperate measure of escaping the oppressiveness of caste enforced roles.

Dharasuram is a beautiful reminder of an older age, but sometimes, time seems to have stopped where it was.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tuesdays with Morrie. And why I miss my Granddad

Tuesdays with Morrie. I read this book over the weekend over two interrupted hours, being called out from time to time to help with setting up the Navaratri Golu, move assorted furniture and generally move my reluctant butt. Though the reading was haphazard, I enjoyed the book very much. Touched is the right word. Mitch Albom shines a close spotlight on his teacher Morrie, a man he loved, the view so subjective, so intimate, so replete with affection. Or maybe that’s why it shines through. In cynical times, unselfconscious writing on love, family, death and its converse, life and what makes it worth living. The writer must have had some guts to write like this. I say guts, because if I even tried something like this, I would be checking myself all the time for overt sentimentality, mushiness, you know, that Anne-Geddes-card kind of thing. This post isn’t about a book review though.

Reading the book set me thinking about my own grandfather. Not that Morrie resembles my granddad in any real way. But I got to thinking about a person who played such a big role in my life, and influenced me in many ways. Neelu thatha was a person with a quick temper, sometimes a harsh tongue. But he was the first person I knew who ever treated me like an adult. Even when I was a child. When I was about eight, I used to cry often with real and imaginary stomach pains, my fears subsiding into the pit of my stomach and turning into aches. I feared ghosts, I feared the darkness and I feared many other things which I did not have a name to call. Neelu thatha had come to visit us then. One day, when my mother was giving me a tonic as usual, he started telling me a story about himself. I loved stories.

This is what he told me. “When I was a young man, much younger than I am today, I was working in Bombay. Your grandmother used to stay in Madras with your mother and uncles. Then I fell sick with a strange illness which no one had seen before. I visited many hospitals, but no one could tell me what it was. Then finally, I went to a big hospital far away, where a famous doctor used to work. This doctor after examining me, suspected that I had cancer. In those days, cancer was still a rare disease which no one knew how to cure. So before confirming the bad news, they wanted to check thoroughly what it was. Every day, I got on to my cycle and rode all the way for ten kms to go to the hospital and get myself checked. And everyday I went through different tests and waited to hear the bad news confirmed. I couldn’t tell anyone. Your grandmother was far away. And I didn’t want to worry her needlessly. So I kept the news to myself, and rode my bicycle everyday, waiting everyday to hear the doctor tell me that I had the cancer. And along the way, as I rode through the town, though my heart was sad, I got used to hearing the news in my mind. In that way, I prepared for it. Finally, the bad news never came. It turned out to be something minor that the doctors could cure.”

When I think about this story today, I find it incredible. Cancer? I didn’t even know what that meant. The likelihood of death? Seems horribly morbid for an eight year old. But thatha was different. Most subjects, he didn’t look at it that way – child-suitable and adult-suitable. If he thought there was something I could learn from it, he would tell me. And usually I did. His stories sometimes had morbid elements like this, but that’s not what they were about. At the end of the story, I would be left with the hope that my granddad had faced tougher situations, and why, he was allright, and so would I be. Today, I am tempted to think that some of my stubbornness and willingness to fight, even in grim situations, comes from him.

Be fair. Be honest. Things will work out. They always do. Have confidence in yourself. No work is mean work. Read, read, read. Learn about the world around you. Don’t worry so much about what others are thinking about you, but be sure what you think of yourself. Always do something new – a new hobby, a new skill. Most of these were extremely simple things that he taught me, and best of all, practised himself. From cooking to making a perfect braid to every electrical odd-job around the house, he could do it all and do it well.

He wasn’t perfect ofcourse. He didn’t know when to step down and give in. He could say harsh words that he would regret later. Sometimes he could get grumpy when things didn’t go the way he wanted. No, he wasn’t perfect. But he was almost there.

Seven years have gone by since he left, but it doesn’t seem so long ago. I miss him still. His stories stay with me though, sad, funny, strong, hopeful, always there to give me that little boost when I am down, and remind me that I was privileged to know a lovely man like this once…

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Project Why short story competition

This post is kind of self-serving, considering that I am one of the candidates..

Honestly, though, it was interesting to see the number and variety of entries that Ammani's idea generated. The thought was, Send in a short story under 200 words on the theme of Childhood, and for every entry, donate Rs. 100 to this worthy cause, ProjectWhy.

She has put up all the entries here where you can visit and vote for your three best stories....Check it out!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A girl who deserves to be admired

Kalpana Sharma writes in the Hindu magazine today on a different kind of breaking news; The story of a girl who succeeds in convincing her parents not to get her married before time, and allow her to get on with her plans for her life, which include a career of her own choice.

It is heartening to read about the determination of this young woman, though at one level it is sad to see how slowly society moves. The young woman says, "Recently there was an open discussion about my marriage with my parents and they were asking me, `What kind of a husband you want?' I could not believe my ears." Being consulted on an issue which will bear on her entire life, the choice of a partner, is still novel, although, as the article points out, attitudes are changing.

The write-up includes a letter from an older reader to Kalpana, and this older woman talks about how she was "lucky" to be rejected by a prospective suitor for being only average looking. This allowed her to study for a few years more and pursue an education and a career.

Finally Kalpana says, "Society, the government and even parents encourage them to study, to think of careers. And then just as they begin to dream, to 'aspire to come up in life', they are told that there can be no future outside marriage. Something has to change."

The contradictions in our society, where we are told throughout school, to study hard, focus, focus, do nothing else. And finally when the time comes for us to really do something with what we have learnt, somehow, when it comes to marriage, the fact of being a woman takes precedence of everything else, and we are expected to make all kinds of sacrifices whether we wish to or not. In this context, this girl's determination to make something of herself is so encouraging.

Read on then...

Insensitive Jerk

So, Raven at the Reality Cafe has this idea about google bombing such that Gen. Musharaf's website pops up when anyone types in Insensitive Jerk Well, that he is, so I have qualms about participating, though my limited knowledge of how google works and other such technological things makes it hard for me to understand the process.

Still. Now when you click on insensitive jerkwhat you will get is a link to Musharraf's website, atleast on my blog.

So, children, now, lets all try saying it together once, ok. Musharraf is an:

Insensitive jerk
Insensitive jerk
Insensitive jerk

Sounds good, Huh!