Friday, December 31, 2010

The Obligatory Year-End Post

(A painting by Philip Imti, Lizzie's dad, that I particularly loved. The painting that he told me is of the rainbow of dreams that translates into solid reality.)

I don't quite remember what I was doing on New Year's Eve last year, maybe I was home, I can't be sure. I have never been the partying kinds, so I was definitely not out on the dance floor. It has always been just another day, and this year is no different.

I went back to my blog archives and saw what I had written. I had just finished my big speech at the trust function. This year too, the event went on much better. Last Dec 31, I chose not to dwell on the events of that year, by far the worst I have lived through. It was a year where I was left gasping for breath but managed to see through, of course with scars that you would not see outward. I wrote about hopes for 2010. Did they work?

Well, this year has been a year of changes as well. For one, I quit my job to face the uncertain. I travelled extensively, tried to write, prioritized and embraced the fact that my family comes before anything else, went through ideas, people, lessons.

2010 was a year spent trying to recover from the after effects of 2009. In the process, I dare to say that I emerged with bruises, but as a stronger, hopefully better, human being. I learnt, the good and more importantly, the not-so-shiny side of things. Through all that, I lived a life. And won that battle of waking up every day and putting a smile on my face.

I dare to say that 2011 will see more goodness and love and more changes. I don't make resolutions. But as with every year, there is fresh hope. And the key word is going to be to 'Let Go'. There is much on the mind, not just emotional, but otherwise too; many ideas, things, people that I need to get off my brain.

I just got off the phone with a dear friend who called up to say he had decided his new year's resolution. Weirdly, he was talking about the exact same thing! There are rocks that I feel we carry in our heads, pitfalls that strangely translate into the accumulation of another load on the mind. Here is hoping 2011 will be a lighter year, light from letting go of the too-many things on the mind, including the fear that there might be hurt again, a crippling fear that allows not to move forward. Here is hoping for openness and for the courage and strength to keep steps ahead. Here is to letting go.

Let the sun shine. Happy new year everyone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Do It for Pain

Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it's absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six-hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you have a kind of hall pass, and don't have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute.

There is an unthinking simplicity in something so hard, which is why there's probably some truth to the idea that all world-class athletes are actually running away from something. Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. "Pleasure?" I said. "I don't understand the question." I didn't do it for pleasure. I did it for pain.

From Lance Armstrong's autobio It's Not About the Bike.
Words that are partly why I seek to climb so much. Partly why I do the things I do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Well, What Do You Know!

I like to believe that I live my life with passion. I try to do that which I have the passion for, try being the operative word. Passion for work, for people, for things and activities. But when I apply it to people and my relationships with them, I recently discovered that passion and giving is NOT the way to go. This end of the stick always, always falls short. A certain coolness is perhaps more advisable.

And this is one of the primary lessons for 2010. It was also for 2009 and several years before that. I seem to have a stubbornness in not learning my lessons right.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some Super Great Travelling Happened

The last two weeks have been utterly amazing. The best friend Lizzie and I bonded some more, did more of the 2AM routine and had a fabulous time. Ma and I travelled to Nagaland, Shillong, Cherrapunjee, Mawysnram and several little villages. Cherrapunjee was especially great because several years ago, I had promised myself that one day I would go there.

Mom loved the whole trip. Even for the seasoned me, it was one of the best trips ever. Officially, the east is now one of my most favourite places to travel to! And I think I found something there in the last two weeks. I think that something might just be inspiration again!

A travelogue will be up soon. Watch this space, dear readers :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Me Thinks

Me thinks that a tide just turned over.

Me thinks things may finally be working out, good or bad, I can't say. But working out. There are a lot of things that are happening, moving ahead.

Me thinks there is great momentum at the moment.

Me thinks the Great Northeast trip that starts later today will be a happy one.

Me thinks me is mighty excited.

Me thinks Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence is a tad too long, but good nevertheless.

Me thinks me has to sleep, it is 3.01 AM!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Surviving a Non-bloody Battle

It is a battle, a battle that stops short of turning bloody. It is a battle between me and my body, between the mind that urges on and the body that threatens to stop following orders. It is a battle in which, I like to believe, both of us win.

The morning is fine enough, fresh after a good night's sleep, I wake up and dress hurriedly. It is nice to dress up warm, with a long shirt in muted colours and a jacket that I zip up close to my neck. I wrap around a stole next and lace up my shoes. The blue backpack is filled with some food, sunscreen, glasses, crepe bandage and pain spray, for I no longer trust my leg not to tear up a ligament yet again.

Soon thereafter, the preparations for the battle begin. It is slow going, initially. After a while, my legs get into a rhythm, it is left after the right, the right after the left. Once a while I look up and around, and my eyes set on the river snaking around the fields, the trees in the distance, a lone eagle gliding by. An insect almost hits me square in the face, unable to control itself when the wind blows hard. I put up a hand just in time to swat it away, the reflex is fairly good.

So are the instincts. We give those less credit than they deserve, I believe. Instincts are the first on the checklist when you are treading the path, or making your own. Instincts that were once, in ancient times, the only survival kits around. Instincts to judge which rock is OK to step on, which blade of tall grass might hold the weight of you pulling yourself up, which part of the rock might not slip and land you several feet below with broken limbs. I rely on my instincts, they, yet again, don't let me down.

On top, the wind is fierce. You stand firm on your feet or it pushes you about. The body is silent even then, there isn't a word, except for a break of sweat. All it is asking is that you take deep, loud gasps of breathe and feed it. You take them in, breathing deep. Way down below, there are cars, very tiny. A train chugs by, looking like the ones that you had in your toy set in childhood. It lets out a whistle and you count the number of wagons. A pair of eagle circle above your head for a while, then fly away, for you are uninteresting to those that fly free. A little cloud waves by as it goes to the east of you. There is the wind again, blowing fierce, drowning all attempts at conversation. But then, you don't want to talk, you went there for the silence and song of the wind below a blue sky.

You have won half the battle. The second half demands more strategy, more use of those instincts that you are so proud of. It demands control of the body your mind is in battle with. The instincts are to be sharper, a slight waver of concentration can be fatal. You step on a stone, the hand goes up to control balance. After a while, you think you have won again, and let go a little of the control. The body is quick to punish with a nasty bruise, a dozen thorns that go deep into your feet and a footing that slips. You gasp and reach for a rock in haste; another bruise on the palm appears, a deep red.

After negotiating with the legs to keep walking despite the thorns that are going in deeper, you promise them a good rest later, it is flat ground again. Another long walk. A bus journey back. A hot bath. That's when the rebellion starts.

On safe, flat ground again, my arms and legs don't listen to me anymore. The face is burnt and so are the arms; I have anti-tan skin, I don't burn till severe exposure; but the winter sun, deceiving, has burnt the skin off my forehead and nose. I cringe when water falls on the burning skin. The arms don't move to the back, the leg muscles are locked in. Climbing up the stairs to my house is excruciating. The head is throbbing. I have to sleep on the hard floor that night, that is the only thing that will give relief. I wake up with several locked in muscles. It is cold and I have to sit in the whole day, working. I do not do myself a favour by not walking about. The body is taking its revenge.

The battle is addictive, so is the pleasure in that pain. It is quite a soul-spa.

I cannot wait to trek and climb some more again.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Who Can Say Where the Road Goes....

Who can say where the road goes,
Where the day flows,
Only time...
And who can say if your love grows,
As your heart chose,
Only time...

Who can say why your heart sighs,
As your love flies,
Only time...
And who can say why your heart cries,
When your love dies,
Only time...

Who can say when the roads meet
That love might be
In your heart
And who can say when the day sleeps,
If the night keeps
All your heart

Night keeps all your heart...

Who can say if your love grows
As your heart chose
Only time...
And who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows
Only time...

Who knows?
Only time...
Who knows?
Only time...

Only Time, Enya

Thursday, December 02, 2010

More Writing

Been busy usual.
Here is a quick update.
Now, Tribal Health Initiative is the organisation I work with, they let me call myself the Communication Officer! The organisation does some serious good work up there, in interior Tamil Nadu.

Starting yesterday, I will be updating their blog/website every 15 days, with some lovely stories, once in a while, something newsy, but mostly cute stories, incidents and what I hear and see and feel when I go there. Do click on this: to read them.

The first one is about training of health auxiliaries in the thicker, deeper forest regions of Kalrayan Hills. The HAs are crucial for the health of several remote villages. Next up is a cute love story! Watch that space! :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Good November. Tripping.

There is no sun out today. I like that, though of course it is not as cold as I would want it to be. I sit and watch The Motorcycle Diaries, fatal a thing to do when my mood is the way it is. And then I went and bought a book on Trekking Holidays in India. I don't seem to learn some things. Not stopping there, I go yesterday and buy one of the most professional trekking/ mountaineering backpacks there is (I remind myself not to think of how much I paid for it), plus another small bag and some other outdoor gear. My Quechua backpack sits by my bed, already looking accussatorily, for it is ready and I have yet nowhere to go. Suitably forlorn, that's what I am.

I look back at the years gone by and I don't remember a single time when I was comfortable to sit in one place/city for long. Itchy feet. Maybe that has been the last nail in many a box for me, but it has also led into roads that I would have otherwise not known about. Well, that's the story of my life.

As for now, the backpack sits and I wish, more than anything else, to be away from civilisation and to be close to the feel of the earth, to climb, to walk where there are not many people, to be quiet and listen to the wind and the souls, to feel the physical pain and after that, that feeling of nothingness when you go beyond pain, when you stop feeling the pull of muscles and all you do is walk on. I wish, more than anything else, to be somewhere far away, walking.

I wish, also, more than a lot else, to have a team that is just like me, with backpacks by their beds, plotting to walk off the maps all the time. That is much easier to ask for than world peace, aye?

That said, a week from now, I and ma will take a train on a 4000-kilometre trip to one of the farthest states of this country, Nagaland. It will take us nearly 5 days to get to our destination, Mokokchung, a name I had to memorize a dozen times over. We will tour the villages and see a world very different from what 'India' looks like. I will, needless to say, have much to take in, once there. We will hopefully see a famous peak there, then go further south-east to see root bridges, maybe some rain and many more wonders in Meghalaya. Needless to say again, I am mighty excited.

The last time a major trip happened, it was after planning for three years with three different sets of people. This time, it is a year old plan. Last December, I tore a part of my leg and couldn't go. Next time a big trip is on the cards, I hope, for my sanity, it doesn't require YEARS of planning, weeks is just about what I am ready to handle.

After three weeks of work madness, I have time to breathe again. November was good this time. First was a lovely Deepawali at home, then a week of films, then a nice time in the forests of Sittilingi and then a lot of work back in the city. Between that, I went and judged some kids on their creative writing skills (much fun, a separate story that), bonded with family, planned a trip, went to the hills and celebrated my birthday. The birthday was good, with a day trip, many calls and text messages, though there is nothing much happy about growing older. It was a good November. December promises good times too.

Today, for a change, it is cold in Bangalore. Hope it gets colder.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Update (Really?)

Busier these days than I would like to be at this time.

Drinking more cups of very strong coffee than I should be.

Not eating the food I am supposed to be.

Not writing enough, as a result. Rather, not writing the right things.

Gasping for breathe, and a few more hours each day.

Thinking: too much or not at all, alternatively.

Liking it all. Most of the time.

This sounds exactly like those university days!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Those Days...

Even as I type this, BK and I are texting each other on that one month last year, one month that probably changed everything back here, in me, everything.

We are talking of very fresh mooli-paranthas at Panch Pula, Dalhousie's Cafe Snow Bell, of Dharamsala and Khajjiar and that one month. I look back at all those pictures and that one month and everything that happened flashes by. We talk of those old days. And make new plans....

Dalhousie is that less frequented gem that I want to go back to, simply because there aren't many tourists around. Dharamsala is too highly over rated, though a friend insists there are hidden places away from the cocaine snorting backpacker crowd.

That one month. Those old days. Sigh...

Friday, November 12, 2010

OD-ing Cinema

I think I now have a fairly steady list of my top three films, of course subject to constant change.
-- Casablanca, but of course
-- Motorcycle Diaries, but of course again
-- Postmen in the Mountains, a new one. A new one that I watched today, I meant.

This whole week I have been happily OD-ing cinema, some of the finest, at the international film festival organized by Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy till this weekend. Yours truly is anchoring it at one of the three venues and bringing out a newsletter at the end of each day. It's been utterly fun, being paid to sit and watch films all day! It feels so much like being back in college.

Thanks to Poorna sir at university, the Film Studies class has remained the finest class I shall ever be in. Over a year, we watched films nearly every day, sometimes two per day. The best part was the discussion after the film. After a few dozen, we had all become quite good at noticing little details and paying attention to angles and lighting and such like. I have been trying to do the same here too. Sometimes there is company to sit with, sometimes I find myself a little corner. Then there are new people to talk to about cinema and that director and this story and what was good. There have been tales of experiences I am incredibly jealous of, some acquaintances that I earnestly hope will turn into friendships.

I meant to write on the films. It started with the incredible Whoopi Goldberg in Sarafina, a South African musical. Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God was beautiful and reminded me of the Amazon trip that I had promised myself when I was 15. National award winning Kutty Srank (Malayalam) was interesting too, reminded me of Akiro Kurosawa's Roshoman. Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington was funny and so was The General, an old silent film; watch it for the beauty of communicating without words.

That brings me to Postmen in the Mountains. I must say, it is by far one of the best films I have ever seen. The Chinese film was made by Huo Jinqui in 1999 and tells the story of a postman who hands over his duty to his son to deliver letters to highly inaccessible villages in the mountains of Hunan province, China. On the son's first trip, the father accompanies him and the story is about the bond that forms between the two. I care not to write a full review, read this instead:

What bowled me over was the cinematography. Just like Motorcycle Diaries, this is a image-heavy film. Lots of green fields, tall mountains, stone-laid walking paths, a moving didn't take much for me to love it!

I must mention a few scenes here. In one village, the father reads out a letter to a grandmother, supposedly written by her grandson. But in fact, the grandson never writes to her and it is the kind postman who slips in money and an empty sheet of paper to her to keep her going. There is one shot of the grandmother looking out of the door as the 'letter' that the postman makes up, is being read. The lighting is so fantastic, I can still see it before me.

There is another where the father tells his son that he has delivered letters all his life but he had got only one letter all his life and that was written by his wife telling him of the birth of their son. A very poignant scene. Towards the end, there is a role reversal where the son advices the father about the things he has to do in the village; all these years, he was delivering mail and is ignorant of his village.

There are some very emotional scenes in the film. Every shot could be a picture postcard. I will stop gushing now. Just watch it.

My eyes are tired. There are four more films to watch tomorrow. Ciao!

Wonder Where I can Watch This....

This new film called Slackistan by Hammad Khan is doing the media rounds quite a bit. Khan is an independent film maker and the film is about 20-somethings in Islamabad. Wonder where I can watch it...

Given my new found interest in our neighbour, I have a lot to write, owing to what I have been reading. Tomorrow, I promise myself. There are some very thoughtful things I need to share.

Friday, November 05, 2010

It's Been a Great Festival This Time...

Here is to a great Deepawali, dear all. I am home again this time, and its been a specially great festival. There are many mud lamps that we have at home; lamps are where I get my name from. I read somewhere, "I don't believe in convention, but I believe in tradition." That's sort of totally me.
That line was from this great political history book I just finished reading. I must write on that. For now, my eyes are very droopy after a great festival oota. Stay happy you all. Happy Deepawali.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Seal's Commitment

(Well, the embedded YouTube thingie didn't work, yet again. Here is the link instead to the video: )

OK, so I find Seal hot. His voice too, yes yes. Thanks to my highly (not) eclectic (!) taste in music, besides Sinatra, Seal's new album Commitment is currently playing hot on my laptop.

Love Secret and Weight of my Mistakes.

Now who do I bulldoze into giving me a copy of the entire collection of Seal and/or Sinatra?

More irritated that I thought I would be that I am going home tomorrow, instead of tonight, no thanks to the damned crashed KSRTC website. The few hours make a difference.

Yes, irritated! Very.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Here is Looking at You, Kid

Pic souce: internet

The other day I was watching The Holiday and realized that Jude Law is kinda cute, plus Kate Winslet is a beautiful actor. There is a reference in that really nice feel-good movie to Casablanca, one of the finest pieces of art in cinema. I knew I had to watch it yet again.

So Sunday afternoon was spent in the manner I mentioned in the post below, feet outstretched, with my back against the wall, watching Casablanca for the umpteenth time with the volume turned up and the curtains drawn. I watched it like it was the first time, such is the art of that film.

It's a very simple story, a love triangle that has been explored in cinema at least a million times. Rick Blaine is the cynical sentimentalist (Humphrey Bogart plays the oxymoron to perfection) who runs a saloon in Casablanca, Morocco, the transit point for people escaping from the war in Europe to free America during WWII. He wrinkles his forehead, lights up a cigarette and sips on gin through most of the film, managing to look intensely handsome all the while. Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman, so so beautiful), an ex from his days in Paris walks in one day with her husband, an underground revolutionary leader, both seeking the letters of transit that Rick is in possession of. What follows is the most gripping story with not a slack moment. Every frame of the film is a masterpiece, the pace of the story, the camera work, everything. There is a reason why Casablanca is in the list of every ten top movies ever made. Simply that it is one of those perfect products. I love the music too, love the way 'As time goes by' is played throughout as a leitmotif.

That and other Frank Sinatra is what is constantly playing in my house at the moment.

I miss Poorna sir, my college professor who taught us Film Studies, the one subject we were all absolutely in love with. There cannot be a better teacher than him. I miss his classes because that one year was when I learnt all that I know about good cinema. We watched the best movies then, some of the finest in Bengali, German, French and world cinema, from Kurosawa to De Sica to Ray to Makmalbaff to so many others. That was the time we saw into the techniques of cinema, dissected every frame and noticed every nuance. I no longer can do that. I miss it.

I wish I could watch Casablanca as a class again (I think we did..I forget) and spend a hot afternoon in the campus discussing the whys and whats of the film. But then, it is one film that you can watch without going into details like that and still marvel at its brilliance. There is probably more written about Casablanca than any other film, that is the kind of interest the movie has continued to evoke ever since its release in 1942. If you haven't already, watch it today.

There are rare times when it all comes together perfectly, the cast, the music, the story, the dialogues, the direction. There are rare movies that manage to appeal and still stand after the test of time, even nearly 70 years after it was made. Casablanca is one such.

Meanwhile, some quotes I love from it:

"I am not fighting for anything any more except myself. I'm the only cause I'm interested in."

"Play it again, Sam." (though these exact words are never spoken in the film, it continous to be associated with it.)

" Here is looking at you, kid." (But of course!)

"We will always have Paris."

...and so many others....

Here is what a reviewer online had to say:

There's a reason the world loves this wartime film, now digitally restored: more memorable dialogue than should be strictly legal, heartbreaking performances from the two leads and a plot that works with Swiss-watch precision.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

As Time Goes By....

Pic from the internet

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

I have found that there are these little perfect moments that you create, as you go along, holding Life's hand. A train journey with a great book. An evening by a pond and a very soft, cold breeze. A quiet evening spent listening to music with the lights turned off. There are many such.
I add to that watching Casablanca (1942) on a Sunday afternoon, feet outstretched, my back against the wall, the curtains drawn, the volume turned up.

"(you will regret it) Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life..."

What a fabulous movie, one of the best, one of my most faves. As time goes by....Frank Sinatra's...what a fantastic, fantastic song! What a pair, the intense Humphrey Bogart and the hauntingly beautiful Ingrid Bergman. What a movie!

"We will always have Paris"
"Here is looking at you, kid."
Such wonderful quotes...such great cinema...

Just as I about to post this, I realize this is my 400th blog post. Ah well. That's some milestone of sorts, I suppose.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tripura Anyone?

Pic courtesy: Miss Imti!

Ma and I are planning this long long trip across thousands of kilometres and I am suitably mighty excited! I was juggling between multiple websites to figure out a rough plan when I realized that India also has a state called Tripura. No, of course I knew the state existed, but that's just about it. I don't remember reading anything of significance from there, though I think it did figure in my granny's stories. Neither do I know anyone or heard of anyone who is from there. Nor do I know anyone who has ever been there.

Nagaland is where Lizzie is, so I know. Manipur I have friends. Mizoram I used to know someone. Sikkim I have been to. Arunchal Pradesh, yes the controversies. Asom (is that how it's spelt now?) is known. Tripura slips in somewhere now. That very fact makes me want to go there. What is Tripura?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rakta Charitra and Other Inroads into Culture!

The only reason I thought I would watch Ram Gopal Varma's latest gory offering Rakta Charitra part 1 was because I wanted to make sense of the second part. Now why I wanted to watch the second half is very obvious, for it is Suriya's first Hindi film. And as you all know, I have a huge sized crush of him! But what I thought would be a chore left me quite impressed.

I switched off my TV just now after watching the film and had to write this. The movie is everything you have heard it is: gory, very violent, dark, vintage RGV stuff. The frames look similar to those from 'Satya', 'Company' and his other films. Most actors look menacing and have a grimace permanently pasted in their eyes. The background score is again loud. But as with the two films I mention above, Rakta Charitra is disturbingly good.

I have never liked Vivek Oberoi much, there was something about him that I didn't want to pay money to watch on screen. But he knows how to act, I must say. His performance, as a guerilla style rowdy, then as a suave politician is smooth. Abhimanyu Singh is great too, as the deplorable Bukka Reddy. Then there is the spurt of blood in every second scene; you can almost hear the liquid gush. It is touted as the most violent film in Indian cinema; it must be, given how someone dies in almost every scene. But the killings make sense somehow, with the conspiracies and political games that the characters, inspired from gangster and film stars turned politicians in real life play. There are typical RGV dark corners everywhere along with generous doses of the rest of his trademarks.

What I found terribly irritating was the voice-over that sounded like something from the age of DD's Mahabharatha serial. It is loud, as is the score, and sounds very forced and fake. RGV tries to shove the Mahabharatha parable in the film down your throat, with the aforementioned voice over and mantras almost constantly ringing in the background. To me, the Hindi sounded very South Indian too. I don't know if that was deliberate, given that the story is set in Andhra Pradesh politics, but it sounds more like a poor dubbing of a South film.

RGV does what he does best, with gangsta meets politicians to the background of much dishum-dishum and bang-bangs. One made-for-boys film! LOL!! As for me, I can't wait for the second part and Suriya!

In other explorations into upping my cultural database, I have been reading much. Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Sword and Blood, an account of her family's violent history, reads like a fiction thriller. I re-read Moth Smoke on my train journey to Bangalore last week, came back, picked up the latest issue of Granta on Pakistan, read Mohsin Hamid's short story A Beheading in it, and promptly, fell back in love with his writing. The story is online, at

I went back and read all that he has written online. Found his articles a little usual, but I love the way he writes entire novels in monologues so smoothly. I love that he breaks the expected rules of writing. In Moth Smoke, there are multiple first person accounts, while The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a book I finished in a noisy room in New Jalpaigudi, West Bengal last summer, is an entire story delivered in a monologue. Love love love the book.

That brings me to the topic of Pakistani culture. Let's get past the shared history talk. We are a bigger country, yes, but as I see it, they make use of what they have in a better way. I envy them their culture. There, I said it, so sue me. I could never get enough of India's music, different cuisine and the people. But as far as writing goes, I prefer the Pakistani writers. Here's how.

I was introduced to Amitav Ghosh's writing in college and after the initial hiccups trying to get used to his writing, I went on to read all of his books. Except Sea of Poppies, never managed to get beyond 20 pages. Then there is Vikram Seth, who I didn't read after enduring half of Two Lives. Kunal Basu's Japanese Wife was nice, though his Racists disappointed me. I talk of fiction only here, and of the big writers, the ones on a 'literary' plane. And I don't include several names here, I know. Save for Chetan Bhagat (hardly literature), none of these writers have acquired a cult status, though all are fantastic writers.

On the other hand, take Mohsin Hamid. His Moth Smoke is supposedly a cult in Pakistan. Then there is Mohammed Hanif, Aamer Hussein, Hari Kunzru, Daniyal Mueenuddin, the others. Most follow the coming-of-age story route, but the liberal strokes they have taken with the narratives is what I appreciate. I am hooked to those.

No writer can be better or worse than another; they can only be different. Just maybe there is a more identifiable, more relate-able brigade in Pakistan for a generation like mine, a generation that is often in limbo, between home and other places, between what it thinks and what it feels, between a modernity increasingly hard to keep up with and a traditionalism that it knows is never in totality regressive or orthodox. Perhaps Pakistan just does a better job at playing up its cultural beings. Even Noam Chomsky thinks the media there is freer and more liberated than in India. That and I like them their music.

I have written about it previously. I love the fact that we have Indian Ocean, Swarathma, The Raghu Dixit Project and others to follow but I envy them the Coke Studios. The music that comes out of collaborations there is fantastic. Sigh! I am hooked to Overload and Meesha Shafi and Zeb&Haniya too.

So, much culture has been happening. On another impulse, I picked up a M Hohner's Puck Harmonica yesterday, a C Major one. It's less than three inches long and is super cute. One day, the disjointed notes that come out of it will turn into music. I have promised myself that! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Onboard the MAQ-YPR Express

The rather famous train route reopened a couple of years ago between Bangalore and Mangalore, with there being a train every night between the two places. More famously, the day train started last year some time, on alternative days from both places.

The Sakleshpur ghat section is super good, even if you choose to drive through. The Kumara Parvata (on the Kodagu side, it is called Pushpagiri, the second highest peak in the district after Tadiyandamol) rises up like a wall to the sky, the Sahyadris are, as always, soothing green and the air blows slightly cold. There are the other standards as well, green rolling fields, coffee estates, winding roads, the works. Not that any of these is new to me. But there was much raving everywhere about just how beautiful the train journey is. The original plan had been to take the train from Bangalore to Puttur and then take a bus back, the journey being the destination concept, with friends. Never happened, never got tickets.

So all of last week I was home (sigh, the mountains, I miss them!) and after a brief stop near Puttur, had to be back to the damn city (Now why is it that I come back again?) I even managed to get a ticket on the day train. Lucky me, I told myself.

By now I have decided that, after much thought, and many thousands of miles accumulated by various means of transport, I love train journeys. Not so much the trains themselves, but the journeys, the swish of air that blows in my face, the chance to people-watch, and the face that there is something slow and unhurried about trains. More on that some other time.

Now listen carefully. Here is a tip for a getaway for under Rs 1000. If you live in Bangalore, take an overnight bus to Mangalore or Puttur. Don't stop anywhere once you reach the bus stand. Head straight to the railway station and board the MAQ-YPR Express, that's train no 6516. Take a sleeper ticket, put up your feet and trust me when I say this, you will soon see the BEST view of the Sahyadris that you can ever hope for. The ticket from Puttur, where I boarded, to Bangalore, cost me just Rs 118!!! Add a few hundred for the bus and a couple more for food and for within one grand, you get the whole day to yourself, to just be. Another tip: don't do the Bangalore to Mangalore trip, by the time the train passes the mountains, it is evening and the view isn't too clear. For a weekend, the train runs on Saturdays from Mlr to Blr. There are no trips on Sundays. The disclaimer being that you are one of those people ok with continuous travel. I am. Or you can always stay some place and then do get the idea.

The route, when it was closed for many years, was very famous among trekkers. I was told that no more trekking trips were allowed along the railway tracks, but thankfully, that turned out to be not so. I saw some trekkers along the way and was incredibly jealous. There are plans to go on that route soon. Is anyone interested in this trek? Call or mail if you want to join in, I intend to do this sometime soon.

That said, well, the journey from Sakleshpur Road to Yedakumari/Sakleshpur is fantastic. Seasoned though I am with mountain views and thick forests, the route that is almost parallel to the Western Ghats took my breath away. There are several tunnels that the train goes through, I didn't keep count after 10. Immature college boys yelled out sidey Kannada film dialogues when the train was passing each of these, created hell of a ruckus and I was suitably irritated. But then, I also discovered that there are few things more wholly in tune with each other than a moment that involves a train journey, a view of blue shaded mountains outside, an iPod that decides to play just what my mood needs, for once, some coffee, even if it's the railways' very watered down apology of a coffee, and a great book.

Perfecto. Until of course I get down in the city and start a fight with an auto driver and it takes me 30 minutes to go home, a distance of 2 kms!! Remind me please, why am I still here?!

Highly recommended. The train journey.

The 400-odd km trip takes the whole day. After the mountains, I took to people watching....always a great time-pass.

Need I say more....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Disappearing of the Water Balloon and other Madikeri Dasara Stories

There are times I desperately wish I had the faith. But I don't, most often. That is the fact of the matter. But I do believe, with an innocent vigour, that it won't rain on Dasara in Madikeri. The temples in town collectively offer prayers for the rains to keep away and it usually works. There is rain on the morning of the 10th day of the Navarathri festival, there is rain the next day, but not that particular night. There have been exceptions though. But that it won't rain is something I like to believe, I am part of that one collective faith.

We had gone to Chettalli, 15 kms away along lovely roads with tiny waterfalls gurgling on to the road, on the morning of Dasara last Sunday. It rained along the way and back. But by 2 am, when we were out of the house, the sky was a deep dark blue and there were stars everywhere, like in early April. I did not remember to look for my favourite Orion. Some rare times, your belief does not also let you down.

Madikeri Dasara is a big deal, at least for me. I hadn't missed it for the first 23 years of my life. There are lights, music, dance, street food and a procession that lasts all night and part of the next morning. Ten temples have one mantapa as we call it or tableaux each where they depict a scene from Goddess Durga's tales or something from mythology, complete with flying demons, screeching birds and canned laughter (not the funny kind though). Each vie for an award, they are to line up by morning, in a particular order, near Raja Seat where a team judges them. There are usually fights about the decision, fuelled by a night of drunken dancing before the mantapas. Dancing, that ma has never allowed me to do, it is a small town after all.

It wasn't cold this year, it usually is and there is much fun in trying to bury your hands deeper in the folds of your jacket. It wasn't much crowded, as it usually is, maybe people went to Cauvery Sankrama, another HUGE festival that happened to fall on the same day as Dasara this year.

I suppose I go every year for sentimental reasons, because of the memories I associate with the event. Other than that, there really isn't anything very sophisticated about the festival. Dasara is loud, gaudy, call it even pedestrian. It is like a village fair that found itself in a small town and did not know how to behave itself. Most of the 'audience' is village people, usually from estates for whom the event, in the absence of a TV in earlier days, served as once a year entertainment.

Having wiggled out of work the next day, they will typically come into the town by evening, walk about, a little wary, wide eyed at the lights, in torn shawls and worn out chappals, clutching maybe a cheap plastic toy that cost a princely Rs 15. Or maybe they will hold tight a bunch of bright pink and yellow flowers to decorate the wooden shelf in the corner of their one room homes with. They will dance, the younger men, the teen boys, some drunk, some drunk on the headiness of being in a town and seeing things like lights and loud music.

They will listen to music from the mantapas, very loud, from Praveen Gokindi to the Kodava snake dance beats to Hindi songs sung hoarsely to Swami Aiyappa chants to anything with much drums. They will buy toys and plastic flowers, after bargaining and still over-paying. They will have bought water balloons, red and yellow filled with dirty water and a little rubber tag closing the mouth that they will tie around their finger and make the balloon blob up and down like a ping pong ball. The water balloon will have eventually disappeared, more sophisticated toys will replace them.

They will eat the churmuri and buy one ice candy for two and wash it down with watered down tea or bad coffee that would not come from the beans from the estates they work in. The older men will have got drunk on country liquor and will try to navigate their feet along the steps about town to go catch the best view of the tableaux. Or maybe they will stay put at a vantage point they came early to secure and the drunk guy will slump back on the wet grass. The loud absurd music, interspersed with the inaudible narration of the story of the depiction on the tableaux, will not wake him up. His wife, her saree draped in the style of the innerlands, will not care, her eyes will be lit up by the garish pinks and bright kingfisher blues behind the idol of the fuming Goddesss Durga.

Her son will have joined the dancers by then. He need not be drunk too, but he will surely be dancing in his own two inch wide personal circle, trying not too often to catch a belle's eyes, the dance is enough for him. Hands in the air, his moves will be uninhibited. The temple committees have begun to appoint separate vehicles to fix a few dozen boom speakers on top of, the music from several such quickens. Most can't keep pace, most are beyond the desire to do so. He will wear a grey and black jacket that won't do much by way of keeping the cold away. The jacket will have fake logos of Honda and Ferrari and lately, Playboy embossed on the back. He will buy them off the shack that sells them by the side of the roads on the day of Dasara for cheap. He will walk with a special swagger reserved for that night, hoping he will catch the eye of the group of giggling girls on the other side of the road.

His sister will look up and see fireworks. She will gape when there is a burst of golden stars in the sky. She will stretch out her hand, imagining a star or her dream falling into her palm as she keeps her head up in anticipation of the next burst of orange and gold. The stars in the sky, the ones sent up in a tube with a fire at one end, they are for her alone, she will think.

There will be lakhs of people milling around the sides of the mantapas. There will be many more under the large waterproof canopy at Gandhi Maidan where an orchestra will be playing under bright disco lights. They will be singing songs of love and dance, sounding hoarse from all the forced enthusiasm all night long. But they will have an audience that will sing softly under their breathe and louder as the night deepens. The singers will try to dance a bit, the guitar-man will sweat under the pink and orange lights from one corner of the stage. A policeman will look on, wishing just to go home on the cold night and sleep. There will be many policemen and women brought into duty from elsewhere in the city who will have no idea how and where to guide the vehicles from out of town. But they will stand their guard all night.

Then there will be the locals who will know all the inner roads and be able to navigate their cars to as close to the mantapas as possible. They will know where to get the best views from. There will be groups of local boys who will walk the town, girls with their parents and cousins who will meet other families and their cousins and sisters for a quick hello. They will stand on the sides of roads and the men will complain about the rain, the women about the crowds, the girls will giggle while the boys will try not to catch their eyes. They will flirt, as best as possible. Like in movies, there will be background music, for one night, in real life.

It will soon be dawn and there will be piles of trash left behind. The drunk, so much a part of Dasara night, will stagger along, the music still ringing faintly in their ears, from the night before. Those who braved the winds and the orchestra the whole night will trudge along, bleary eyed, into warm homes and bring in a whiff of the smoky mist as they open the door. The warm blankets and hot cups of real coffee will be much appreciated. The music will slowly die down, masked every passing minute by the growing daylight and car horns and kitchen sounds.

Then the Dasara night will be over. For another full year, people will wake up in the morning, eat, go to work, work. Then they will pass by the town, talk about the older married mother-of-two woman who ran away with the younger man as they pick up their groceries. They will wave their hellos to other people they have known all their lives and come back home to fight, scold their kids, eat, watch TV, and get to bed by 10 pm.

For another full year, they will lead the days of their lives. Until it is Dasara again and they stay up to live one night.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It's the lovely Dasara season again, a tradition that I had not missed for the first 23 years of my life. Between then and now, several things happened, several traditions were lost. This year began with the mandatory jing-bang all over the place.

Some of us went to the Bengalee Association Dasara in Bangalore the other night and ate till I thought I would throw up. Before that Jay and I spent a day in Mysore, where predictably, all kinds of things happened. It was maddeningly hot, then rained on our day. Lunch was a strange combo of akki-roti, without egg curry for me and a glass of wine which we had bought thinking it was fruit punch! Strangely, at the Mysore Palace, we even heard Hotel California at full blast, was rather odd at that place, to say the least!

I say this often, that I love India the most for the sheer riot of colour I see all around me. Dasara is always just that. I have this collection of colourful picture that I shall put up soon.

For now, here are some very random, not too great pictures. I like them for the memories and times they evoke.

Maa Durga at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

The too-good food at the Bengalee place. Rice, dal, poshto and potatoes...knee-weakeningly good!!! Add to that two fabulous rosho-gullas.

A poster...

These balloons were all over the place. This is the 400th year of Mysore Dasara, a fact at Karnakata's warring government conveniently forgot till almost the last minute.

Mysore Palace. I love the sepia look.

Just like that, I like the lighting in this one.

Mysore Silk sarees, fabulous to feel, prohibitively expensive. And the colours!

Happiness!!! (Mostly)

I went about town this morning. Ma and I had a lot of girly things to do. We did the usual rounds of the shops, each place, stopping a wee bit longer to say hello, ask of family, work and smile a lot. I had written this a long time ago, how I come home to Madikeri to smile, that I do.

I met an old friend of a friend, jumpy and very sweet. Then there were half a dozen other people, shop owners, people I have grown up seeing and smiling at. With Baghi aunty, one absolute darling of a person, there was the usual books-beauty-life-gossip. It was hot this morning. Lot of tourists about town; I walked with the pride of belonging here. I hear rain outside now, it will start to get really cold in a bit. I can't wait.

Its festival time and people, random people, smile at each other. Its glorious Dasara tomorrow.

Plus, an old classmate called to say he postponed his return abroad to attend the big reunion next Sunday. Sweet! I hadn't spoken to him in the last 7 years. That reunion I'm supposedly organising is generating much excitement, the instincts tell me it'll be super fun.

I really have nothing to say here. Just that I am home, in the hills, it will be cold, there is good coffee, some travel, many people I love, Madikeri. Happiness!!!!! :)

(Is it me or is this post way too disjointed?)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Its a Lot Simpler in the Hills

You, you there, can snigger all you want. But in the hills, there are no plain (the hills versus plains) problems. People let you down there as well, that's everywhere. But there, you don't get treated as a prop in some drama that is being played out to suit someone's fancy. The hills are home turf, so the attempts at futile drama are brushed off like a biscuit crumb off my shawl.

There are similar kinds of people in the hills too. But in the hills, it is all a lot simpler. Simply because I would be walking the hills instead of having to deal with them in the plains, where there is little escape.

And to walk the hills, I am off later today. Am I glad!!!!

Friday, October 08, 2010

(Pic from a community album on FB,taken somewhere in Kodagu)

And then the sceptics ask me why I hanker after the hills so much! Huh! Opening my front door to something like this versus a tall concrete building that is, unimaginatively, painted pale green. Will you still ask me why I crave for the hills?

The Condition of Claustrophobia

In a form listing my allergies, not that I have any, maybe I should list claustrophobia the next time around. I suffer from it. And I have long suffered because of it.

This condition does not allow me to remain in one place for too many weeks or months. The time is shorter in cases of cities, such as in this one that I am right now. After a while, I get so terribly claustrophobic that I just have to get out somewhere, even if it's for one day. The unease is nearly physical and have been known to cause acute irritation, impulses and exasperation in those who are subject to rants from me!! The parents understand this all too well, ma has a milder version of it. The world's best roomie, Sush, also tried to get it. And some Sundays at uni were thus spent waking up early and heading off alone somewhere, anywhere. She never asked, bless her, if she could join in.

I have been told it is a vice to have this condition, that I cannot expect to go out every few months. Maybe it is a vice. Maybe I have learnt life this way, lived because of this urge and those itchy feet. Or maybe this is just me. I don't think I ever wish to be cured.

Not many weeks past, that claustrophobia is creeping in again. I can see it at a distance. I haven't been travelling enough to keep this restlessness at bay, that means. Not good. Now where do I go? Home and hills I head to next week. Then there is a Kerala plan, a possible TN plan and another far far away land plan. Between these, where is a one-day trip place near this walls I live in? Where where do I go?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


The title is borrowed from my friend Krishna's Facebook status.

I watched the event called 'Endhiran' today. Do I have to even say more? THE Rajinikanth rules. To borrow from KK again: Respect. And Whoa!!!

I could never do justice to the fantastic phenomenon called Rajini. I won't even try. I have remained another of his great fans. For now, I bow down to his brilliance again. I am Endhiraned!

For a great review of the film, see Krishna's here.

Manu Joseph, the editor of Open Magazine, wrote about Rajini here. Most readers did not get the point he was trying to make. But with phrases like 'Dravidian ugliness' and 'Rajini has no talent' (no matter how he meant it), Joseph pretty much did himself in. Do not, I mean it, do not miss the comments on that article.

He was right in one thing though. Rajinikanth cannot be analysed. Dot.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What is Doing the Rounds in My Head

It didn't take much planning, surprisingly, this reunion that we girls from the BCom class had yesterday. The idea started after many years of planning to "catch up" individually, something that of course didn't happen. And then, out of a casual Facebook message that spiralled out of control, a plan was born. Girls I had scarcely thought about in the last six years, except in stray conversations, began to call up. It grew so fierce, the enthusiasm, that I was fielding calls throughout the day, earning very angry looks from ma who I had taken out shopping.

And then, it all fell into place. Most were free and after six long years, a bunch of us girls met on a Sunday under the threat of a very angry grey cloud. Need I say that it was super fun? I was nearly made to take a bow for getting it together. None of us could stop laughing, most times for no reason. Girls then, women now. Working, married, with a kid, with the air of the women we have all grown up to be. Yet we giggled and the psst...psst...began. My girls. Three years, a long time ago, spent in surviving college, what we all now see as the best years of our lives. Years spent eating ice candy that cost Rs 3. Years spent in friendships, exams, naughty jokes, silly fights, chalk piece days. College. Memories.

A bigger one is up next, sometime next month. So if you were my classmate at some point in life, call, mail or text me.

On days like this, when people who love you the most in life, your parents, have just left after a long holiday, when the smell and sprinkles of rain is in the air, that thing called nostalgia hits the hardest, doesn't it? It's strange how much I have come to be re-associated with Kodagu and people from there these past few weeks. I have never been big on the past, call that a vice, if you will. I am that way, it didn't work trying to change that. I rarely sit for coffee with my memories. There is in me an inability to cry easily, again a vice, if you ask me. People from college, school used to be left back there. Is that just me? Or something that a part of a personality I did not previously have, led me to?

Why do we peek into the past? Why do we seek out people we used to know and try to rekindle some connection? Could it be the Facebook phenomenon? Why dip into the years past? I don't know. I can't answer that except to say that we do. Maybe as we grow older, there is something tugging us back, some want for a period of innocence. I don't want to think the stone on which 'Nostalgia' is carved gets heavier as we grow older. But maybe that is what it is.

There are reasons that are forming in my head, but even before they form fully, I tell them to go away. That can't be it. Could it be the roots that can never be fully uprooted? Could it be the constant, unconscious yearning for a simpler something? Why does the past always seem better than what is there now? I wish I could write forth my half baked ideas that I know are not really the answer. But they don't sound right even in my head.

In the last few days, I learnt several things about people I know. A friend is managing a plantation. Another is getting into an arranged marriage (the last person I would have expected to). Another married a college sweetheart and has a beautiful kid. Another is using technology to design for an automobile company. Another is seeing another friend. Another was supposedly murdered. Yet another eloped. Another is DJing. One is moving countries, one marrying a classmate, one a citizen abroad, another something else....that is a great deal of information to handle. I don't quite know what thought are running around my mind now.

The past forces you to look at your present in a new perspective, I suppose. Is life about walking on without looking back or is this nostalgia thoughts of an undecided mind?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Those Tiger Hills

I don’t cry while reading books. Neither when I watch movies. (Not counting movies where cute puppies/other animals get hurt/die) Period. That is not something I do.

Except maybe having become weepy on two or three occasions. A long time ago, when I was reading Maupassant’s Une Vie, I remember feeling all choked up. But then, I was very young and the book cover said something like ‘if you have tears, prepare to shed them’. Maybe I was just compelled to think so.

The next time was when I was reading Alex Haley’s Roots. I was so upset about Kunta Kinte being captured by the slave traders that a hint of a tear glistened at the corner of my eye.

That being the history, I did not expect to be emotional while reading Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills. Just your normal book, a sweeping saga of drama and love it was supposed to be. But once I picked up the book, there was no stopping the weepiness. I cried through bits of the book (sometimes even literally), and I hated doing so. Though I finished the book after a marathon reading at 3 am one morning, I still couldn’t sleep. The book disturbed, I didn’t like that either.

I don’t expect most people to think so highly of it. Just Google her book and you can read about all that is wrong about Tiger Hills. All that is written is right. The book begins and continues fantastically, a gripping read for most of it. Towards the third part, the pace unfortunately slows down and falls almost flat by the end. The epilogue is almost straight out of a soapy Bollywood film.

And surprisingly, for Penguin publishers, there are several typos. Devi, the protagonist, is too much like Scarlett O'Hara for it to be a mere coincidence, though I didn't think it resembled Gone With the Wind in any other way. Some passages have apparently been lifted from Kavery Nambisan's Scent of Pepper, according to Tehelka magazine. I can't say, I haven't read that book.

Surprisingly too, there are no other non-Kodava characters in the entire book, save for the missionaries, the servants and stray others. I hadn't noticed that, until a friend told me that on a day when we were discussing the book. He said that the book had the potential to be a great love story; I agree. It falls just short of it.

Finally, we agreed that there is a lot that is wrong with the book. But still, it is definitely one of the better fiction books in recent times. The language is a bit too flowery, like an overdose of red and pink on Valentine's Day, but with phrases like 'kingfisher skies' and sentences like '...the unfreckled skin, tinted tea and clotted cream, honey gold, or a rich, brooding coffee', the book left me mighty impressed.

Maybe it struck a chord because of the lengthy descriptions of the hills, the people and the estates that I grew up around. I could relate to the yearning for the hills. Maybe the weepiness was for that cornerstone of nostalgia, that yearning for the hills that I so constantly miss.

Claustrophobia is something I have long struggled with, be it in places or with people. No, I am not proud of it. There is really nothing very nice about wanting to get away constantly, if only for a few days. It has led me to lovely places, ruined my relationships with people, gotten me to quit my job and I don't know what else in the years to come. I can't control it, maybe I don't want to either, for the things that happen because of it. One thing remains constant though, the hills are where I have, so far, never had that claustrophobic feeling.

Am I destined for the hills then, I ask myself. I wish the "yes" was an easy one. On Facebook, elsewhere, I rant about missing the hills all the time. I am sure I exasperate myself too. There was one on wanting a glimpse of the rolling green hills so that I could endure the city again. A trip to Sittilingi happened soon after where the Kalvarayan Hills were green, rolling and utterly gorgeous. I came back with a loud sigh.

Following my 'hill' wishes, a friend wondered why I wouldn't just MOVE to the hills. I wonder too. If only it was easier than a fantasy to open a tea stall at the foot of the Himalayas. If only those 'yes' and 'no's were easy said.

"For it never left him, the shape of these hills, the lay of this land."
From Tiger Hills