Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Loving La Vida Loca

Come come now
don't you know how it is
that thing called love,
it dies in busy cities.

I love cities. Having been a city girl all my life... I love their power, their fluidity. All cities are so alike in some respects and so different in some others... the millions of contrasting rich and poor of Bombay, the financial district mingling with the historical architecture in London, the nasty politics cohabiting with the strong, spirited resilience of Delhi, the sparkling clean roads and sweeping skyscrapers of Singapore... at their core, they all are about one thing, getting on with it! Matter-of-fact and in your face. They are always on the move and they have no time to idle or romance or grieve.

They don't have the idyllic pace of a village or the inertia of a small town. People bomb them, riot and kill in them, rape, thieve, kidnap, extort, threaten.... and yet the cities keep ticking. Nothing stops or slows them down, nothing fazes them, they are old, wise, hardened things who have been there and done it all and yet harbor young, hopeful hearts.

In all the cities I have been to... there is that all pervading smell of power and money. Yet the cities are not all about power and money alone. They are also about ordinary people who oil the humungous wheels of the city's machinery. They are about rags to riches stories that everybody knows of and riches to rags realities everyone forgets instantly. They are about the bourgeois, the nouveau-riche, the old money, the proletariat, the slum dweller and the pavement bummer. All of them own the cities collectively, and collectively they own each other.

I love this about the cities... their collective life, their collective labor... all of it moving together like a giant juggernaut. In the mornings when Bombay goes to work, commuting by the local trains or BEST buses or shared rickshaws or pooled cars with people of all classes, communitites, religions... packed like sardines breathing each other's air and thinking similar thoughts; I love to stand quietly in the corner of a crowded station and watch the world buzz by. In the evenings when the lights go up and cars whizz by, tired people return home and lovebirds meet to walk hand-in-hand on crowded roads, I love to stand in the middle of the busy Marine Drive, with my back to the roaring ocean, standing tall among these teeming multitudes, my arms outstretched and the wind in my hair and feel the life flowing through my body.

I love the 'aliveness' of the cities. I love to be a part of the incessant hum, the laughter and the nightlife, the fast music, fast food and fast life. I love the purposefulness of all things in it. I love the impersonal coldness and the strange relationships that city people forge. I love the slang, the attitude, the boldness, the city life... they are all a testimonial to the invincibility of the human spirit, the tangible proof of life's power and life's triumph over everything that tries to hold it down.

Oh dear no, you are mistaken...
there's love in the cities am sure.
How could lady love have forsaken
a place where dame life endures?

But this love's not that fabled kind
living fatly in cupid's cushy fence
It thrives in busy people's mind
and lives on hardy common sense.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The ghost of Jimmy Roach

I am quite fearless about most things. And people don't scare me ever... unless there is this madman with a gun in hand, in which case it is only fair to the guy that I let him scare me.

But there are 2 things which can scare me without any weapon and without even trying... roaches and ghosts! As a rule I never watch horror movies. Whenever I have broken this cardinal rule, I have regretted it no end and forfeited many nights' worth of beauty sleep. And here I have my imagination to blame. Even after the movie is long over, my imagination keeps spinning yarns around the story and the slightest of noises are accorded to this ghost whose sole pupose of existence is to possess me or kill me in the most yuckiest manner conceivable. Though I do believe the ghost will not need to labor much in that department, I will kindly save him/her the trouble of having to kill me. One look at a ghost and I will join his/her league.

And that brings us to roaches. Ek akela cockroach is enough to make life living hell (which I suppose is worse than dying and many times worse than being possessed). If a roach is foolish enough to appear when AG is around, I dispatch him, broom/bathroom slippers/baygon spray in hand to go play knight-in-shining-armour and murder the beast which scared his darling. There have been times when I have kicked him out of bed, reminding him of his duty towards his helpless lady, and motivating him with speeches about how it is his foremost duty to go wreak revenge on the roach who brought tears to the lovely face of his beloved and also how famous lovers have gladly drunk poison to prove their love and all he has to do is to go kill a puny roach. Though I have to admit, it is none of these things that inspire him to go and murder that disgusting creature but rather the murderous joy he derives on squashing the roach and seeing his entrails sticking out of him. His 'ha-ha-ha' after the shameful act is very reminiscent of the little boy who has crushed his first bug underfoot. (See!!!... goes to show how these guys never really grow up). Anyways whatever the reason be, I am not complaining, for I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But then there are those nights straight out of scary movies when I am all alone at home. And as Murphy's law would have it, everytime I am home alone, a roach appears from nowhere to keep me company. I at times suspect strongly that it is the same guy who keeps appearing everytime and that he has this powerful sensor which lets him know when it is safe to come out of his dungeon and scare me. I even have a name for this scheming guy... Jimmy. (Methought, naming him might help me feel more companionable towards him and that would make me less scared, btw ... didn't work but the name has now stuck!). So Jimmy Roach is a survivor who lives well by his wits (I have to hand him that). He knows when it is safe to show himself and when it is advisable to stay hidden, biding his time. The other day when AG was in India, he came to visit in my kitchen cabinet. And I had to go hungry the whole night. Jimmy always appears in the very same cabinet and at the very same spot, between the frying pan and the wok. Last time he unprecedently made an appearance on a night when AG was home. So off I sent my knight-errant and waited safely behind closed (and locked) doors to hear the happy news of Jimmy's death. For a few minutes I kept hearing a lot of noises from the kitchen, vessels being moved and clatters and clangs. After some time curiosity got the better of me and I crept within a few miles of the kitchen and peeked in to check on what is happening. 'There is no roach here and now I am off to sleep. You might have imagined him.'... said AG on spotting me.

Well, on 2nd thoughts maybe Jimmy was a roach whom I got AG to murder many suns ago and now the ghost is back to seek its due vengeance. That is like my worst nightmare and Halloween rolled into one! I have been saying a prayer of repentance every night ever since!

Friday, May 27, 2005

What's it with life...?

You live, shit happens, you move on, good happens, that too moves on, you plan, and you plan some more, diligently, carefully, thoughtfully and then the bitch pulls a fast one, you never know when the house of cards came tumbling around your ears... but yet when you almost give up, something pulls you up, an incident, some memory, somebody... someone you know or someone strange... and if nothing and nobody comes by, you still find the strength somewhere inside you, someplace which you didn't know existed and you get by... and the cycle continues. Each day you learn, some days you celebrate and some days you curse but each day you hope anew.

You climb your alpine path, you put your whole self into getting to the top, reaching for those impossible things, those big wins and when you reach there, you look for bigger peaks to conquer and you drudge on... you tell yourself... when I get there I will be the happiest person alive and so you put all you have into getting ‘there’... and when you do arrive it is nothing, all sand thru the fingers, you are happy but it is incomplete, there is this nagging feeling that there is more and there is still a long way to go. So you break your promise of happiness, you simply move on… you feel… 'well, if I made it, maybe this is not big enough, big is what I can’t get…'

Down the years you have these suspicions… maybe life is not about BIG, life is really about smaller things… those childhood days when you laughed over nothing, when you COULD laugh over nothing, when you could... well… laugh just because you want to and just because you are feeling good… over nothing, when you would dance to yourself and skip and run down over wet grass barefoot. You suspect that the ladder to ‘success’ leads to nowhere… it just keeps climbing up and gets steeper in the bargain. Success is relative and success is what you define it to be. And life is maybe simpler. Rainy days, sunny days, springtime, cool wind, new flowers, fresh grass, childhood friends, little sister, first love, lifetime love, dad’s smile, mom’s hands, GOD, faith, laughter, family, homemade food, rice-dal-mango pickles, music, silence, twilight, sunrise, morning walks, picnics, secrets, long talks, stolen kisses, whispered passion…

And life is beautiful… not because of all those heady, huge success, but those smaller things. You top the class and all you remember down those years are the tears of pride in amma’s eyes… not how you felt because YOU topped but how you made amma feel. Success is then maybe not about you but about the people you love and about how you shaped your life with the tools that life handed you. Did you do well, did you live well, were you happy and did you enjoy the journey? For maybe in the end that is all that matters. And that is all that lasts. And I hope I am right… for I have but one life and I don’t wanna screw it up!!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Banging my head as I write this...

Watched 'Chicago' recently. Needless to say... loved it!! And my favorite is the song done by Queen Latifah... 'When you're good to Mama'

But ugh!! stamp! stamp!roar!bang!ouch!bang!bang!.... can't get the song out of my head and it's been 2 whole days now!!!!!

btw herez the lyrics (And hey Thels' am sure you will love them or maybe you have seen the movie and you already do!! )

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The keeper of the keys,
The countess of the clink
the mistress of murderers row,
Matron Mama Morton!

(Queen Latifah)
Ask any of the chickies in my pen
they'll tell you I'm the biggest mother hen.
I love them all and all of them love me
because the system works,
the system called reciprocity.

Got a little motto,
Always sees me through:
"When you're good to Mama,
Mama's good to you."

Theres a lot of favours
I'm prepared to do,
You do one for Mama,
she'll do one for you.

They say that life is tit for tat,
and that's the way I live.
So I deserve a lot of tat
For what I've got to give.

Don't you know that this hand
washes that one too.
When you're good to Mama,
Mama's good to you

If you want my gravy
Pepper my Ragout
Spice it up for mama
She'll get hot for you

When they pass that basket
Folks contribute too,
You put in for Mama,
She'll put out for you

The folks at top the ladder
are the ones the world adores
So boost me up my ladder, kid
and I'll boost you up yours

Lets all stroke together
Like the princeton crew
When your stroking Mama,
Mama's stroking you

So whats the one conclusion
I could bring this number to -
When you're good to Mama,
Mama's good to you

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

After a while you learn

There is this poem which someone send me many years ago and since then I have tacked it up over my desk wherever I go. (I still don't know who the poet is).

After a while, you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't always mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises,
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open,
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans,
and futures have a way of falling down in midflight.

And after a while, you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure...
That you really are strong,
and you really do have worth.
And you learn and you learn
With every new day, you learn.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Long Weekends?? No thank you!

Another long weekend. Have had a succession of long weekends and have been undecided on whether I like them or not. Well now I know... I don't! I would like them only if they were a rule not an exception.

Had a good time nevertheless. Saturday... more house-hunting. AG and I are getting more and more warmed up to the idea of not moving! Gorged on the Indian buffet at the Tiffin Room in the lovely Raffles Hotel for lunch. They have a great selection of Desserts. Tried all of them ;) and diet sensibilities be damned!!! Evening, went to Kent Ridge Park for a walk. But the rains followed us there. So we got on a bus to Esplanade. Spent some time there and then walked to Boat Quay. Sat at the steps watching the river, talking (i.e. me talked, AG, as usual, pretended to listen). Some rich man's kid was getting married and the whole area around the Asian Civilizations Museum was lit up. They even had a beautiful fireworks display to the tune of an orchestra!!! Flagged a cab to China Square and ate at this new place called Mumbai Makan. The owners are Maharashtrians and the wife is chief chef so the food is authentic. They have good Vada Pav and are planning to introduce Misal Pav and 'Bombay style Falooda'

Sunday... spent the day at Sentosa at the Coastes Beach bar. It is a cool place to hangout. Lotsa swimsuit clad people, taking in the sun and music, also good cocktails and decent food. Tried their chicken curry... was surprisingly good!

Monday... Brunched at Oscar's at Anchorpoint. Great pineapple chicken fried rice at the Viet-Thai stall. Went across the road to Ikea and spent a coupla hours there. Shopped a bit too. Evening... had tickets to Star Wars Episode III but didn't feel like going so ditched it and wott else... shopped! Dined at Mumbai Makan again. This time we hogged... Dahi Bataata Sev Puri, Sabudana Wada, 'Indian Chinese' Hakka Noodles, Pani Puri and Pav Bhaji. Finally my search for good Pav Bhaji in Singapore is complete!!

Got back home and watched Angela's Ashes. The movie is good and Robert Carlyle as Malachy Sr and Emily Watson as Angela are convincing. But the book is a must read before you take to the movie.

All that brings me to today. And the less said about it the better.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Whatz in a name?

Got to office grinning from ear to ear... And herez why...
Was watching the morning news section on the bus and the female reader had a tough time pronouncing Srinivasan Balakrishnan Muthuswamy. She first did some breathing exercises (inhale-exhale-inhale...) and then gathered some courage and then faltered, and grimaced and went... "Sri-nni-vvva-san (audible sigh) Balaaa-kkrishhhh-naan (another phew) Mutt-hooo-samy" (phew! again). By this time my smile which had hinted around the corners was now a broad grin and a small cough (which in such situtations sounds suspiciously like the startings of a guffaw in my case).

But don't you just love it!!! The unpronounceable, 10 feet long names we Indians spring on the rest of the world. The Indian Prime Minister with the longest name is someone we all know merely as Deve Gowda but his complete name would fill up a few lines... It goes... Hardanahalli Dodde Gowda Deve Gowda, where Haradanahalli is the name of the village in Karnataka he comes from, Dodde Gowda is his father's name and Deve Gowda is his own, Gowda also being the family name. Traditionally names in India tend to pay homage to the person's father and the village. Alongwith is also attached the family name which is usually indicative of caste, community and at times even ancestral occupation. Some of us do love the long name which when translated to English almost sounds like a whole poem by itself. This guy from Andhra Pradesh named his daughter Sri Arunachala Kadambavana Sundari Prasunnamba Kanyaka (the blessed virgin who is beautiful and carries with her the radiance of sunshine, the fragrance of garden flowers, and the presence of God). And mind you, this is just the girl's own name. Added to this will be her village name, father's name and family name. If she goes to one of those schools which insist on calling every student by his/her complete name during roll call every morning, the recess bell will ring by the time the teacher manages to wade through her name. Anyways no self-respecting person in Andhra will sport a name shorter than 3 feet. So what would happen in this school which is full of kids from AP? Go figure.

And then there are those unpronounceable Keralite names and words which include syllables that are non-existent in any other existing language spoken on earth. Having grown up watching scores of Malayalam movies, I manage to pronounce these words correctly but have met numerous authentic malayalees who go through life grappling with words like ... Kozhikode, Pazham, Alapuzha, Nyazhaycha... mind you the 'zh' does not contain either 'zzzz' or 'hh'. It is this unique 'zhr' which sounds like a cough married to a deep throated, tongue twisting 'rh'.

My own name, Anupama, I have always considered a tad long but then easy on the tongue. Apparently not! It has been mauled badly through the years. Starting from our very own Mallu friend who insists on calling me 'Anubbama', which sounds convincingly like someone cussing me and calling me a bum! And then the American version which goes... Ey-nupaama. Also the British style of... Anu-pha-ama where the pha sounds as if, midway through calling out my name the person has taken to imitating a soda bottle 'pop'. So now I have learned my lesson and introduce myself as Anu for the sake of the severely phonetically challenged.

Why, I have heard of this German backpacker (Aren't they everywhere? and in that case are there any Germans left in Germany), whom someone I know met on the train to Delhi and who wanted to go to the beautiful town which he pronounced with... 'Aaa' followed by a mumble. In India when you meet any tourist who wants to go to a place which he can't manage to pronounce beyond the 1st syllable of 'Aa' you confidently send him on his way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Only in the case of our backpacker it went a bit off the mark. Turned out his 'Aaa-mumble mumble' was supposed to be a seaside town with many lagoons and Chinese fishing nets. I can only imagine how forlorn he must have looked when he was told that he was on his way to Delhi which is landlocked and his seaside town, which my friend rightly deduced to be Alaphuza, is at the other end of India and a great deal further south! My friend tells me he now knows how Colombus would have looked when he realized that the 'India' which he has discovered was a few latitudes and longitudes away from where it is supposed to be.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Beyond Vengeance

Watched The Interpreter. The usual movie with an unusual message... that of forgiveness. It does not make the common mistake of equating forgiveness to cowardice. It is a delightful thriller and then there is the superb Nicole Kidman, who keeps getting better with every movie and in this one manages to look her most vulnerable but yet essaying some hidden, inner strength. After her brilliant performance in 'The Hours' I can go watch a Kidman movie on the strength of that name. But then in 'The Hours' all actors performed their best. The movie is quite extraordinary, and we will save it for later. For now getting back to The Interpreter... am not reviewing it here.

Just wanted to blog about this dialogue in the movie, which caught my attention. Sylvia's (Kidman) parents and sister were killed in a landmine in Matobo, a war torn country in Africa, ruled by a dictator and a country she calls home. Later when working as a UN interpreter she overhears a whispered conversation which reveals a plot to kill this dictator when he arrives at the UN headquarters to deliver a diplomatic speech. She reports this conversation but ironically finds herself a suspect due to her tragic past for which it is assumed she blames the evil dictator. When Sean Penn alludes to his suspicion of her, she tells him about this tribal tradition, native to Matobo. When a man is killed his murderer is thrown in the river, bound head to toe so that he cannot swim to safety and save himself. And then the victim's family has a choice... they can choose to let the murderer drown and in this way justice shall be done. But in Matobo, they believe that after this the family will grieve forever. If they choose to jump in and save the drowning man, they would have accepted that life is unjust and once they do this their mourning will be over. Then she says... 'Vengeance is a lazy form of grief'

And that got me thinking... Isn't it so true? And if it is true then the world around us is so lazy. People wreak vengeance as a form of grieving, hoping that revenge will be the nostrum for their grief. Though revenge can never be a balm. It only serves to aggravate.

At the same time, we have to understand that forgiveness is not turning the left cheek towards the one who slapped your right. Am not a Gandhian, simply because it requires a different kind of person and a rare kind of wisdom to be able to understand Gandhian principles. But I do believe that at times forgiveness is the best reaction. And I don't believe this on the strength of some sublime, saintly ideals. I have my selfish reasons. I believe that a lot of stress that I carry around like an accumulating time bomb is because of my incapability to let go. I hold on to incidents and I stack up on rage. And eventually the dam bursts and overflows, upsetting me and my loved ones. Many are the times when I have regretted what I have said in the heat of the moment and wished I had bitten my tongue off before I uttered those words which have cut through the heart of someone who loves me. And many are the times I have bottled up my anger for days on end, only to have the bottle burst and destroy or badly damage priceless relationships. Finally, stress has been found to be the root cause of many an illness, both physical as well as emotional and mental.

Simply not worth it! And all it takes to escape this terrible monster is one extraordinary word... forgiveness. Indeed we are all lazy. Because, initially, it takes a lot of effort to be able to forgive. It takes superhuman strength and one goes through a lot of mental agony before he/she can learn to be forgiving. Most of us are unwilling to do the hard work it takes. We instead prefer the easy way out and hence seek revenge. Yet forgiveness is such a simple thing once mastered though so difficult to bring oneself to commit to. All one has to do is to open the clenched fist and let go. And yet don't we all hold on and bottle up, until one day, we can take it no longer?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Kamat's Potpourri

Rediscovered this multiple award-winning and truly great website called Kamat's Potpourri. Used to read it regularly about 3 years ago and then somewhere down the line lost track. Found it again when I was searching for something the other day.

It was created and is maintained by a family of four, the Kamats, and I take the liberty to quote them here "Kamat's Potpourri is the personal home page of the four members of the Kamat family: Krishnanand Kamat, Jyotsna Kamat, Vikas Kamat and Hiryoung Kim Kamat. Among them, they share three Doctorates, Five Masters degrees and seven other University degrees, and Kamat's Potpourri constitutes over a hundred person-years of work."

The Kamats have put in a lot of painstaking efforts in the making and running of the website. It is a veritable treasure trove of information on India's culture and some of which is fast vanishing. Their documentation of many of the endangered communities and practices is highly commendable.

They have probably the biggest collection of pictures showcasing India and its varied culture. And the writeups are pretty fascinating as well.

Again I quote and this time, one of the reviews the website has received...
"It's presumptuous to create a site on Indian culture. To encapsulate the country's diversity in a few hundred web pages and explain its mystery in user-friendly language, is usually a disappointing attempt. The Kamats didn't attempt anything so ambitious, and succeeded beyond all expectations."

They have even been awarded the 'Site of the week' by Encyclopedia Britannica!

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


India, you come to me unheeded
in surprising places, unexpected times
bringing fresh and sepia memories
of a life I loved and left behind.

Mornings I wake up nostalgic with
the pungency of mama's rack of spice,
the strong mogra of her incense,
her morning bustle, her cajoling voice.

I walk past one of your women here
bindi on forehead and docile expression
and I encounter your moustachioed men
eyes filled with lustful attention.

Everywhere I go, an army of desi tourists
are already proclaiming their global presence
with their loud talk and spoilt kids,
pure vegetarian food and poor civic sense.

You pour in when rains paint a green blur
or when the sun seeks its vengeance.
The cacophony of crows and scolding mynahs
and the strong, sweet jasmine fragrance.

You come to me in hot tumblers
of filter kaapis and masala chais,
steaming sambhars, black makhani daals
puri bhaajis and long basmati rice.

In traffic jams and foreign lands,
city lights and littered roads,
stinky corners, dirty plastic bags
and tall temples with colorful gods.

Every Diwali away from you
I remember your jubilant lights
Every Holi that I miss here
I think of colors and balloon fights

Every day I long for you
and strangely though, i want you not.
Yet you come blessed with awkward grace
beauty, blisters, warts and all.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Weekend Log

Ami was here on a 2 day visit on her way to LA. Reached Friday morning and left Sunday morning. So I was on sick leave on Friday (wink wink!!). After fetching Ami from the airport and breakfasting with her, went straight to the doc and confused him with a dozen symptoms. Actually started with a humble nightly headache and sleeplessness complaint but he looked unconvinced (mebbe it was my guilty conscience) so then added weakness, nausea and threw in giddiness for good measure. Also showed him some bumps which had fortuitously developed under my chin. By then the poor guy looked tortured and just tossed me a medical certificate and some medicines!

Back home, my symptoms magically vanished and Ami and I went sightseeing. We started with taking the MRT to City Hall for which we needed to change at Dhoby Ghaut. I had warned her of my legendary abilities to get lost and also to not get off at the right stop so she was not too surprised when Little India came by and I started with ... 'This is Little India and this is where we get off when we need to go to Mustafa... and oh!! oh!! we need to get off now' And off I rushed in the most Phoebe-esque manner, tagging her along before the spiteful doors slid close on us. Had to take the next train back to Dhoby Ghaut! Anyways after all that hard work and chatter we were hungry and stopped at Raffles' 'Out of the Pan' to feast on Iced Tea and Crepes stuffed with Tandoori Chicken ... yummm! Then in typical girls' day out fashion we devoted the next few hours to window shopping at Suntec and Orchard Road stopping only for some Affogato at Haagen Dazs and for breath! We also poked around at Esplanade and I gave her a tour of the Library at Esplanade. At 5:30 in the evening our feet were crying for mercy and our legs were on the verge of mutiny, our stomachs were growling loud enough for the shoppers around to hear and look at us quizzically. We stopped for refeuling at Shaw House food court. Ami went for some Pasta and I chose Kadhi, Dal, Chole with Rice and Naan. By this time it was twilight (don't you love that word) and we flagged a cab to the Merlion. Spend the evening taking in the sights at the Merlion and the CBD area. Walked down to Boat Quay and flirted with the old boatmen there, also took the customary boat ride on the Singapore River. Had planned to dine at Clark Quay but after the boat ride we had barely enuff energy to get us back home.

Saturday early afternoon we planned a trip to Sentosa. Started with lunch at the local food court at Harborfront Centre, introduced Ami to some local food, drinks and dessert. Got into the cable car to Sentosa. At Sentosa took in all the touristy sights... Carlsberg tower, Fort Siloso, Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon. Unwinded at the Coastes bar and then took cable car to Mount Faber. Mount Faber does afford one, the best view in Singapore, especially in the evening. You can get up there and feel Lord of all you survey.

That was it, 2 days had gone whizzing by and Sunday morning it was time for Ami to leave on her 18 hour flight to LA. She had opened up a bottle of lovely, old memories of the days when we were flatmates, of days of fun and reading Harry Potter together, gossiping into the night, giggling over nothing, cooking together, fighting common enemies together, breakfasting in the Infy foodcourt and then meeting for late afternoon tea, spending lazy weekends and solving the Hindu cryptic crossword. During the 2 days she spend here, we had talked non-stop and laughed a lot, gossiped, caught up on news and now that she has left, am missing her terribly :(

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cafe Culture

Spent the best part of the evening lounging in a Starbucks outlet. Walked out of GV Marina after watching the afternoon show of 'The Interpreter' and encountered some good weather... not sunny but pleasant daylight. So AG and I filled a bag of nougats and marzipan and bitter chocolates at a local Pick-a-Bag chocolaterie and walked down in search of a place to sit and read. The best place on offer was at a Starbucks, close at hand. As an aside... did you know... they are now offering low-fat cold coffees?? Have always been a coffee lover, coming from a south Indian family where strong filter kaapi in the morning with M.S's Suprabhatam in the background is part of the hallowed morning tradition.

Cafes seem to have spouted a whole civilization of their own... the gang of students lionizing the sofas and cramming in their textbooks, the trio of girlfriends with huge bags comparing their shopping, the European tourist filling in her postcards, the busy banker working at his laptop, the couple in the corner who had run out of conversation a coupla years back and now sleeping with their coffees going stone cold... all these and more of their kind make up the species you repeatedly run into at the cafes. I take a lot of clandestine joy in staring at the people, noticing their clothes, shoes, the books they are reading, the shopping bags they are lugging, eavesdropping into their conversations... all this while feigning to look beyond them into the distance.

Cafes have always drawn me to them with their fascinating mix of people. As a kid when Dad used to take me along to the city to buy books at Strand and Bookpoint, I would look forward to our sojourn at the nearby Irani cafe or Mahesh tea stall to have hot steaming chai and bun after a few hours of browsing and shopping. These places were poor cousins of the modern day air-conditioned Coffee Days and Baristas with their 'in' mix of 'cool' crowd, music and generous spaces. The erstwhile cafes and chai-stalls were utilitarian with white marble topped round tables and heavy chairs or sunmica topped tables and plastic chairs and the humble ceiling fan. There would be a 'chotu' dressed in torn shirt and shorts serving you your tea in white ceramic cups and saucers and thick glasses of water which he would pick four at a time by dipping a finger into the water and wrapping another across the rim. AIR would be playing old or new hindi film music from an antique radio which graced the place of honor at the owner's cash counter.The cafe patrons would be a varied and interesting mix of old retirees, busy young executives, gossiping babus from the nearby office, 'jhola' carrying journos, khaki uniformed rickshaw drivers, smartly outfitted car drivers and merely tired shoppers like us. There would be a mirror over the wash basin with a sign over it saying... 'No combing hair here'. The element of coolness came from the automatic, sensor-equipped tap fitted at the washbasin! As I grew up I frequented different and progressively 'cool' versions of cafes.

College days saw me paying daily and day-long homage to that all-important shrine... the college canteen! Here we would sit... me and my gang and be plied with mountains of misal pav or vada pav and gallons of 'adrak-walli cutting, paani kum, doodh jyaada' in glasses so thick, they could have been bulletproof. The smokers among us would chain-smoke through their customary packet of ciggies while the rest of us would shell peanuts and chew on gum 'cowboy-style' and all of us would through all this manage to look cool in the inescapable tradition of the college crowd. There was also Mani's coffeeshop round the corner which stands till date as a defiant competitor to the brand new gleaming Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) opposite to it. Only the crowd has diminished. The college kids now patronize the CCD outlet while Mani still attends to retired Mr Iyer and his friends who drop in regularly after their morning walks or in the evenings. You will also see Anna who comes to get his kaapi and idli sambhar leaving his neighbouring 'Chainese' stall for a few minutes under the management of the Nepali cook who has been employed only because of his resemblance to the Indian idea of Chinese. Mani still sells his strong sugary kaapi in small tumblers placed in wide mouthed vessels which you can use in conjunction with the tumbler to whip up more froth or simply to cool ur coffee in.

After I left college and Bombay for the IT haven, B'lore, I started spending time at Coffee Days and Baristas. In fact we had a CCD outlet in the Infy campus and every morning I would enter my cubicle with my cappuccino 'to-go' firmly in one hand and my slice of walnut cake in the other. I slowly acquired the aristrocratic taste of speciality coffees from exotic, faraway places like Sumatra, Java, Kenya and Ethiopia. I learned the difference in these coffees too, the chocolatey aftertaste of the Javan and the strong blueberry flavor of the Kenyan. And slowly I transformed... from the Kaapi slurper to the Coffee sipper! When I went to the UK, there too, I would regularly seek out the Starbucks outlet every weekend to plan my sightseeing plan in peace. During the months I spent in Mangalore Infy, every weekend saw me and Nits and Rags ensconced in the airconditioned environs of the CCD at Balmatta Circle. Here we sat, reading our books, playing Scrabble, discussing books, poetry, cribbing, bitching about the project, people-watching, gossiping, quizzing and yes... gulping down endless cups of coffee and demolishing the veggie grilled sandwiches.

You can usually recognize veterans of the cafes by the way they swagger in, claim the best seat and most importantly by the manner in which they order. They walk to the counter and confidently ask for an iced latte, having here, low-fat, grande, no cream and walk away coffee in hand and 2 bags of demerara sugar. The newcomer meanwhile walks in looking confused and spends a lot of time perusing the menu on the board behind the counter, holds up the more experienced and impatient patrons in the line behind while he/she hems and haws and asks for an iced cappuccino. The confusion mounts, when the kid behind the counter politely and in perfect English (!!) runs this frustrating customer through a customary set of questions... short/medium/tall, decaf or not, to-go or having here, with or without cream...

The cafe atmosphere also does this amazing, unexplainable something to me nowadays... and before you have any ideas let me explain. In addition to the horridly ill-mannered staring that I carry out, I also tend to delve on matters both deep and shallow, mundane and philosophical while getting my fix of caffeine and people-watching. I debate vigorously in my mind over many heavyweight issues. And so there I was, yesterday, in Starbucks when a series of deep and ponderous thoughts came floating by to roost in my mind. And me without my laptop or even a pen and paper! So I committed them to memory, resolving to write them down later and maybe post them. Got back home and rushed to my laptop only to discover that whoosh and gone... and now there was nothing... nada... couldn't think of anything :(

Grrr... it is so frustrating to sit facing a blank post, scratching your head till it bleeds but yet have no creative success. Maybe next time am down with a bout of writer's block will lug my laptop to the nearest Starbucks or Pacific Coffee or even the local Kopitiam!

Until then enjoy your cafe Diablo and Cheers!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Charlotte Gray

Watched Charlotte Gray the other day. After having read the book and having loved it... I was prepared to be disappointed by the movie. Surprisingly the movie does justice to the book. Of course you miss out on some things which only a book can hand you but overall the movie captures the essence of the novel.

Faulks has this inimitable style of storytelling in the tradition of other great storytellers. He is able to breathe life into his characters and create each one as a unique person with his/her own moral strength and weaknesses. When you get to know his characters you revel in their human-ness and you identify with their reactions. And then there is the landscape he provides and the authentic setting for the story. His research to this end is faultless.

Have always considered Sebastian Faulks' war triology an education into the effects of war, not just on the frontline soldiers and civilians but more importantly on generations thereafter for whom the war and its brutalities are a grotesque legacy they can't escape. It will indeed take a whole post by itself to write about 'Birdsong' which is my personal favorite. But since this post is about C.G. let me stick to it.

C.G is about an ordinary woman's journey through the roller coaster of war and her subsequent emergence as a different woman, now touched by the ghost of war and made extraordinary, stronger by her experiences. She loses her lightness of spirit and naivete and gains a strength and steeliness of heart which her earlier, normal, pre-war life would never have afforded her.

Charlotte Gray is a young British woman whose lover is a fighter pilot. She is inordinately fond of France, having been exposed to Parisian life when she was younger and is quite anguished by the atrocities the Nazi occupation has brought upon France. As a contribution to the war effort and on an impulse she signs up for a training to be a spy. Meanwhile her lover is lost in a foray into Nazi occupied France. Charlotte is quite devastated on learning of this and encouraged by a typically childish fantasy of finding him and bringing him back she volunteers to go into France on a recon mission. This decision of hers is made not with some noble objective in mind. It is actually brought about due to a more personal reason. Later on in the book one of the characters, a veteran of WW-I, says something to the effect that you fight wars not for your country but for someone you love. And as the reader you understand this completely.

In France she meets another man, a different kind of man, stronger, quieter... and the changes that the war has wrought in her enables her to understand more of and relate more to this Frenchman. As far as her recon mission is concerned, she fails. She fails also in finding her lover whom she wrongly assumes to be dead on the basis of some information she collects. But through the book the reader never realises her failures. On the contrary in her struggle and her survival, one sees the truimph not just of one woman but of a whole people who had been beaten down by war and yet were unvanquished because they kept the good in them alive. They loved and they had faith. They touched many other lives and inspite of their own misfortunes, they helped someone else get by.

And as is characteristic of the other books in the triology, this one too has side-stories. One of them is that of Julien's (the Frenchman's) father who is an eccentric painter living alone in a sprawling, dilapidated mansion. Also there are 2 Jewish children whose parents have been deported and they are being hidden by Julien in his father's house.

It is a lovely story, brilliantly told by Faulks and it leaves you shaken and yet touched, saddened and yet oddly happy, horrified by war yet inspired by the moral and emotional struggle people go through to survive it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ruminating over Pi

Current Read: 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel.
Bookmark at: Where Pi has just caught his first Dorado for Richard Parker

Current Thought:
Innumerable times in my life have I said with unwavering confidence... 'I can never do that' or 'If that happens to me I'll die'. But having heard/read myriad tales of ordinary people who have surmounted extraordinary odds and survived or of commonplace people who have climbed some uncommon pinacle of achievement; my confidence in the impossibility of anything wavers like a seismograph needle at 9.0 on the Richter scale.

All of us display unpredictable reactions and hitherto unknown ability, when faced with even the mildest of threatening or challening incidents. Now imagine what would happen when you are cornered in some life-threatening situation where you need to survive by the dint of your grit and spirit and yes... brainpower. You can't predict what you would do! If your will for survival is strong enough you would fight as if possessed by The Almighty.

Isn't it an amazing thing... the human spirit... unpredictable, daunting, invincible yet also compassionate and giving. It is the true superhero and it lives in each one of us. All of us harness that most elemental in us every single day. The frail homeless boy who lives on the pavement surives due to it and the mountain climber who conquers the Everest relies on the very same spirit to help him reach the top.

The more I read this book the more I am entranced by this ability that the puniest of beings has, to fight when cornered and survive the impossible. Truly... Impossible is nothing!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Excerpt from 'The Wanderer'

Upon a day Beauty and Ugliness met on the shore of a sea. And they said to one another, "Let us bathe in the sea."
Then they disrobed and swam in the waters. And after a while Ugliness came back to shore and garmented himself with the garments of Beauty and walked away.
And Beauty too came out of the sea, and found not her raiment, and she was too shy to be naked, therefore she dressed herself with the raiment of Ugliness. And Beauty walked her way.
And to this very day men and women mistake the one for the other.
Yet some there are who have beheld the face of Beauty, and they know her notwithstanding her garments.And some there be who know the face of Ugliness, and the cloth conceals him not from their eyes.
--- Khalil Gibran

Friday, May 06, 2005

'Tis a small world after all

Haven't we all been struck time and again by how small the world really is? And what with all the large scale global migrations happening the world has really become one giant, bustling melting pot of a city where you never know when you will turn a corner and bump into a friend you haven't seen for the last 10 years or more.

Had one of those phone calls which go on for hours and yet when you glance at your watch, you are taken by surprise at the amount of time that has gone by! NCM called and we got talking of ships, submarines and saucepans... and in the course of some flippant howdys, 'ping-pongish' banters and some serious stuff, he let slip a name... supposedly a friend of his whom he met at this organization where he volunteers. And this friend is from the some place in Bombay. But considering how big Bombay is and how not-so-small Mulund is, the probability of me knowing this friend was miniscule to say the least. So when he said 'Sapna' methought, well... that is the most common Indian name after Pooja and right next to Shweta. Then he said 'she is an architect'. That rang a bell which said 'Khakaria'. Bang on... he said it too... Well we knew the same girl!! What are the odds to that really?!!

And come to think of it... this sort of thing happens with eerie regularity and am sure must have happened to all of us and more than once.

Small world, coincidence... wottever it is I love it when it happens. Makes you wonder at the randomness and the vastness of the world and its amazing ability to take you by such surprise.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


'Yesterday' you left like Cinderella
twenty-four suitcases you packed
but you left memories lying around
and all the tasks you slacked.

Nine a.m. filled with the voices
of a daily medley of busy tasks.
A cold breakfast and hot news
and steaming tea from a flask.

'Yesterday' you were so alive
Last morning at sunny nine.
But I slumbered your afternoon away
and I wasted your evening in wine.

After three nightmares and a ring
I wake up with my head crushed in a vice.
Like an overripe melon split-wide-open
The afternoon buzzes in with a thousand flies.

I cut my head and I leave it in
a glass of Alka-Seltzer to cure.
And dumbly I start to go about
the 'Today' that I have to endure.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


You sit in the corner of my eye
like unwashed gob, i can't espy.
i scribble, i slash and... rewrite
rhymes, iambs and dactyls i fight.
You smirk, You sneer, play hard to get
i write, i fight, you make me sweat.
You squat heavily in my head
bursting weak verses. Overfed.

Oh! begone you beast, I order you
sullied are the words you spew.
Leave me alone, Oh begone!
I've a brilliant idea to build upon.

But You stay unheeding, in my eye
causing all my thoughts to die.
i live vanquished, i come undone
You smirk the joy of a battle won.