Friday, April 28, 2006


My mother used to peel onions a whole lot of the time. Or atleast that’s what I thought when I was young. Whenever I saw her face watery, her eyes blurred and fixed vaguely on nothing, she would be quick to say that she had been peeling onions. Too quick, almost before I could ask. It didn’t matter that we had a cook and she didn’t really have to go into the kitchen too much. As I grew up, I knew that there was something mysterious about this whole onion peeling process. Where were the special onions with that pungent aroma designed to make her cry? Did they grow with an extra special something that triggered off an explosion in her slightly squashed nose and wander up to her dull eyes, I wondered. Whatever it was, they didn’t seem to affect anyone else in the same way. My sister showed signs of developing some of this affliction, but she stopped it, the day they compared her to my mother. It was slightly embarrassing to her, I could see that. Like she couldn’t come out with it right away and say, How could I be like you, what resemblance do they see! And yet it was obvious what she felt. Not that we didn’t love our mother. We did, really. But most of the time, we didn’t want to be like her. If we had to have a model, couldn’t we choose our friend Amita’s mother, so elegant in her chiffon saris and single strand pearls. Not like mother, who wore saris most of the time and never left her hair untied. And that awful crying she did when she thought no one was looking. Especially when father wasn’t around. I never learnt my mother’s story truly, the way you hear a good story from the start to the finish. It was always a jumble of scenes, moving from past to present in disconnected moments that I couldn’t make sense of. Maybe I didn’t listen hard enough. Sometimes, I even wonder, whether she had a special fondness for onions. Although I know it wasn’t true.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Old Thing

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an archaeologist, digging away for hidden treasure. It wasn’t really the treasure, which interested me. It could have been a dusty bowl, a limb intact, a head undone, a string of beads, that dancing girl, anything. So long as it was old. So old that the mud and clay would have leeched out all the colour from it. It would be the colour of nothing, and yet it would be beautiful and I would love it for its subtle beauty. It would be hidden deep down, somewhere under the earth, in a corner that all hands and minds had forgotten. In a dry field lying fallow. Or under a snow covered mountain which didn’t exist before. (Ice ages creep up suddenly, you see). Or it would be sleeping below a rhododendron covered avenue, waking quietly to the dull plodding of a million feet every morning. Living out its boring life, listening to the voices of the million people walking by, their exciting lives bared in the highs and lows of loud conversation. Yes, it would be sitting there quietly, waiting for me to come by one day. Then I would find it. And it would be mine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New short story

Part 1 of a new Murakami story, Thanks to Uma.

I didnt like it too much. Dont that let bias you though :)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Murakami release

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman", Murakami's new collection of short stories (Some of them already published elsewhere in places such as New Yorker) is due to be released sometime later this year, possibly August.

The official site is releasing one of these stories prior to the book release, for subscribers to Murakami news. Needless to say, I have signed up.

I think I am in danger of turning into a dangerous tyre-burning, shop-shutting, stone-throwing, Rajkumar-fan-type. Gulp. Save me!

Writing block

I don’t know if you’ve ever faced a writing block. Hell, I can’t even call it a writers block when it comes to me; I’m not a real writer yet. Notice how careful I am to say, Writing Block. I choose my words with tenderness, I pick them out from the archives of memory and imaginary otherworlds. I use the ends of my brain like chopsticks, left and right, slithering around for material tucked away in those archives. Sometimes I encounter strange new thoughts, God-knows-how-they-found-their-way-here kind of thoughts. Sometimes I am original, a positive new genius, shooting like a ball from a cannon’s mouth, straight into the arms of the Almighty Booker. And sometimes. I encounter Nothingness. The nadir of the mind, a temporary descent into zero.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The man who died

I read a book
Where a man waited with bated breath, for a woman.
He died, I suppose.
(When I was young,
I was taught
That life abates with breath.)
It is strange –
I never knew a broken heart to kill anyone
Although it pinches the skin with its sharp edges
When no one is looking.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Not Classy

Two separate events that I noticed recently have set me thinking about our notions of class and what constitutes it, therefore affecting our ideas on how we ought to behave towards ‘People like us’ and ‘People Not like us’. Make no mistake, PLUs and PNLUs are two very distinct sets of people entitled to different norms of respect or even just, ordinary courtesy.

The first of these wasn’t actually an event. I’ve been watching recently the new HP laptops advertising, with the King Khan as model. Now, the King Khan changes whatever he touches to gold, or so it seems the makers of the ad do think. Why else would someone bother with such a silly ad. The execution is poor, with a simpering ‘phoren’ model and little focus on the brand itself. The hope is that the charm of white skin will seduce all male viewers since fair can never fail to attract, never mind how un-lovely the acting. Besides that, there was one scene which caught my attention. The attendant at the HP showroom interrupts Shakrukh while he is trying to impress the girl (posing as an attendant himself), and Shakrukh shooes away the poor man, saying “Go, go…..”. Now this Go, go is uttered in a tone much like one would use with a stray dog. On second thoughts, I take that back – one would probably be kinder to a stray dog, but yes, it is ofcourse acceptable to speak like that to a sales attendant. It was quite trivial, but it struck me that we don’t seem to think twice before speaking to a certain class of people in a certain manner, namely, leaving out all the common courtesies which we would otherwise use with PLUs. This is reflected in turn, in our advertising.

Now to real life. Today, while in queue at the ATM, I saw a woman outside the door knocking for the security guard to open the door for her. The guy inside was just on his way out, so the guard asked her to wait for a minute. I could practically see the filmi dialogue inside her mind, “Iski aukaad kaise…” She didn’t actually say that, but she shook her fist at him and mouthed clearly, “you stupid”. I wondered, would she have dared to talk like that to any of the other well dressed people standing in the queue.

So what is it which makes us forget all our norms of nice-ness and feel that it is ok to be obnoxious to some people – salespersons, security guards, delivery boys, office peons, assorted people who just don’t look as well educated as us or speak the English with the right accent that we have? I’ve read occasionally about how the original system of caste has played a role in how we see us versus others. Still, in urban areas these days, notions of caste are breaking down. It is perhaps true though that the caste system has left us with notions of which professions are superior and which are not. So, anything intellectual with three and a half degrees attached to it is great, while anything related to physical labor or non-intellectual activity is rubbish. I could ofcourse be wrong here, not being an academic in these matters, but in practice, it does seem to work that way.

Another reason seems to do with power by virtue of superior economic or other status. We can be obnoxious in situations where we feel we can get away with it by and the other person does not have the power to confront us for our obnoxiousness. Imagine a waiter asking a nauseatingly loud and offensive customer to pipe down. The chaos that would ensue!

Never having lived in another culture, I am not sure if this is something unique to Indians. If power is the key (and the economics behind power), then it would seem that such behavior based on class distinction should be the norm everywhere. Popular fiction and movies seem to belie this however.

Whether or not this is something unique to us as a culture, there is no justification for it – I mean, even if the whole world behaves this way, surely it is wrong to deny some human beings the dignity to which they are entitled, simply because we don’t think they are educated enough or wealthy enough or any other reason that makes sense to us. I think its time we started doing a little introspection on the way we behave, not just to PLUs, but PNLUs and everyone else out there…Why, maybe, its time we started looking at the underlying basis of those classifications, and see if we can’t break them down a little!