Monday, February 06, 2012


Today morning I looked at faces on the way to work.
Its interesting when you look at faces. Most of the faces on the streets are closed books, pinched into masks of intense concentration.
Concentration on what..? I wouldnt know that.. maybe on thoughts, maybe nothing.

But its very rewarding when you scan faces and find a couple of books that are open for the time being.

I passed an ubiquitous temple.
I could look over the wall inside the temple compound. It was a very plain temple, not a very fancy God... unlike the big wigs at tirupati and madurai.
A common God for common problems.. Thats funny, sounds a little bit like the Government.

I saw two women.

One of them was sitting on the floor in front of the sanctum,
And the other standing a fair way back - as if afraid to approach any closer.

She had a look on her face.

She was pleading the God to intervene with her current problems.
Was it faith, or hopelessness?

I couldn't tell..

She looked like there was nowhere else she needed to be at this point of time.
With the commute traffic roaring by, it presented a contrast.
Two women in a temple while traffic and pollution roar outside.

A while later I saw a bum.
A ragpicker, I think. He had a huge sack on his cart.
Full of garbage, or what we privileged in this country call garbage any way.
He was sitting next to his cart. His head in his hands. He was dressed in white, dark skin and white hair.
An old man, probably someone's grandfather.
He was muttering to himself, and wringing his head in his hands in utter despair.
His face was contorted, agony etched in the many wrinkles.

I wondered for a moment, what could it be that made him so unhappy, that he had to stop his work, sit on the pavement and writhe?
Did the Government take away his ragpicker license?
Did his grandchild ask him for something he cannot give, like food,
Or worse, contracted some horrible illness and/or died?
Was he not well? Had he some terrible disease, that made him a vegetable for a moment?
I used to have grandparents, who did.

I couldn't tell..

Am I being too sensitive? After all I see this everyday, and pass by in air conditioned comfort without a thought.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Live together, die alone

Is how the saying goes, right? Its part of what makes everybody so afraid of death. The loneliness on the other side.
But what if it were not so....?If all the people you love, people who have been important to your life (and you to theirs) can just agree to sit down together, and move on. To the next stage. Then it would be so scary now would it? It would be like that vacation to Rishikesh, a long train journey through the countryside... No, it would then be something you looked at like a trip you know you have to undertake in the distance. The creators of the massively appreciated TV show Lost try to convince us that this can be the case, death need not be faced alone. They do make a convincing argument.

But at the back of your mind, you know this isnt true. Jack was right all along, even though Lost conspires to give us a happy ending that a TV series must have.

Friday, February 06, 2009

benitez and the art of ululation

Rafael Benitez told the press today that the reason Liverpool lost the FA cup game to Everton was "bad luck". It completely pissed me off.. He ll be saying it was the gnomes burrowing in the field next. Why cant he just accept that Liverpool played badly and proceed to duly fix the damn team, instead of blaming luck and assorted fairytale creatures! He's like the headstrong kid in galli cricket who will simply not give up batting when he is bowled out clean, just because the bat belongs to him. Dumass..

There.. some of the steam is let off.

I believe that over the last few days I have witnessed something that everyone must at least once in their lifetime. A Bengali wedding.

The wedding was at my ancestral village. The place isnt a real village. At one point of time it was a thriving industrial town, where the officers club served amazing chicken rolls and fish fries. However, it was "Singured" long before Ratan Tata hatched his evil Tata Nano plan. The town has, since then, settled into peaceful and sure decay.

I had been to bong wedding before, but being a secondary (or worse, tertiary) relative of the families and the people involved, I had satisfied myself with munching down tray-loads of fish fries and bucketfuls of mutton Kosha. This time though, the relation was more immediate and I had some actual responsibilities apart from being the guy who ll take care of the leftovers. I was, thus, a close, and many a time shocked, observer to the myriad rituals of a bong wedding.

Firstly, I met many of my relatives who I didn't even know existed. They all knew who I was, my mum had told them I presumed, and I was thus embarrassed as a regular feature when an uncle or aunt hauled me up and demanded I identify them. Roaming around aimlessely in the biyebari (wedding house??.. I dont think theres an english parallel) I was time and again accosted by relatives who were apparently very pissed me asking, "Keyechhish!!!???" (Have you eaten!!!!????). The first time I said no I was near bodily dragged and put down near the eating area. Thereafter, I usually said yes, and if circumstances (like the presence of a nearby relative who knew I had been lolling around all morning) I followed the no with several reasons as to why that was. It was all very cool, meeting cousins and others I had never known. I found out I even have nieces and nephews who go to school!! Sigh! We all played friendly games of Family Cricket: a sport bearing a vague resemblance to the sport from which it was derived (dont even think of the Hum Apke Hain Kaun version - this was much much cooler - played on the ghats of the Ganga as it was, and no doggy umpires either, no umpires at all actually. Why have an umpire when an elder will do?). Teams were made of people ranging in age from 5 to 75, and it was such good fun that the resident elder was caught fielding at silly point when he had wedding businesses to perform.

The wedding itself was a spectacle to me. That it involved a fish (dead or.... dying I think) dressed up in a red ghaghra, nose rings and assorted finery is all one really needs to know. I have a sneaky suspicion that the purohit was inventing up rituals spontaneously for the bride and the groom to perform. There was also intense ululating for every time anything of significance happened, like the groom closing the door of his car on the way to the brides place, or when the bride and groom completed successfully the ritual involving the grindstone. I was tempted to ululate mightily, but chickened out due to stage fear. (also, ululating is the preserve of the bengali woman, men have no business ululating. Unfair, I think.)

I think I ll practice in private.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Field Boy

I have had my resume on the internet since the beginning of last year. I therefore get emails from all sorts of job search engines, many of whom I have never visited or even heard of. I routinely get offered jobs with titles such as Front Desk receptionist, Accounts manager, HR Reviewer... you get the idea. I usually get a slew of emails on monday - sort of jobs for the week. I open them, or sometimes not, and press the spam button.

Today morning I see an email from the new kid in town (apparently) BRV Jobs. Respectable name. Not trying to sell me junk. I therefore open the message and see what its about. As I press the spam button, I see something unbelievable towards the end of the mail.

The mail has since gone into spam. I go into my spam folder, open the email and look the job offering in all its glory. I wonder at the potent algorithm for matching jobs to resumes that BRV Jobs must possess.

I realize that I have scaled a new height today.

I am not sure I am qualified... actually. This is definitely not good for my Monday morning blues.

Maybe its a sign.

I reproduce the page here.

The recession has truly hit India.

It you are in office and cannot see the image above click here to view the posting.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Joy and Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

The last few weeks have been especially tumultuous . My parents have decided to move on (for the time being) from Hyderabad, and a few weeks ago I dropped off the last of my family in Hyderabad at the airport. Sort of overseeing the transition. All grown up. Hmm.. well... during this trip I visited Gitanjali, my school in Begampet. Since I have been away on college and work for a long time, I find that my memories of Hyderabad have increasing become also the memories of my school days. I hadnt been there in a long long while, and decided to poke in.

The school looked exactly the same. Nothing in the building had changed too much. Same old three storey pile of bricks and window grills that it used to be then. But, for the entire time that I was there, I was extremely aware of the vast extent to which I have changed. I guess it helps when you are at a point of reference.

The school building that inspired such awe in me back then, was just a plain old building now. The vast playing field of my memory now seemed like a much smaller, rather cramped yard. I remember flying out of class with my cronies back then, during lunch break or PT.. or on toilet breaks between classes, running down the stairs, across the stage where assembly happened. I remember the feeling of absolute joy when we cleared the stage with a leap - jumping into the field and running across to play our game of raggedy football. I felt a bit deflated that this was all it really was.

But maybe it wasn't. As a few days have gone by the memory of my recent visit has faded away, but I still remember the vast sunlit field that I ran across a several hundred times - where serious friendships and rivalries were played out everyday - away from the censure of adults. The vast brown field will always be more real the rather cramped yard that deflated me.

This post is however, not about the lost joys of childhood. Its not, really. I have recently come to realize what I think I have known for some time now. The opposite is also true. This post is, therefore, about discovering the joys of adulthood.

I had tried reading Rushdie a few years ago when I was in college, urged on by a few of my friends who were Rushdie fans back then. Midnight's Children annoyed me, I remember. I found his process of story telling too tedious, too roundabout. I wonder if there is a saying somewhere that some things in this world one enjoys better with age.

I had managed to go through my relatively sparse but rapidly expanding bookshelf of my home in Bangalore. During a visit back to Hyderabad, my grandmother, a reader with a voracious appetite, handed me Shalimar the Clown. Fueled by my memories of Midnight's Children the book spent a fair amount of time being neglected before I decided to give it a go.

In Shalimar.. Rushdie goes on talking endlessly about his characters, their thoughts, there routines, the story is made to seem almost incidental. An aberration to their daily lives. Is that not how any story really is?

I have never been to Kashmir. I have heard it being called "Paradise on Earth" before, but I have never been imaginative enough to really understand what that meant. Rushdie told me in Shalimar... He also told me, with immense sorrow, how Kashmir has been smashed between the two heavy grease coated metal plates of the Indian Army and the Pakistani terrorists. I feel a sense of loss now. Kashmir had ceased to be a paradise long before I was born and I, thus, could never experience what I envied the characters in the book for having experienced.

The book made me at once curious to visit Kashmir and see it for what it is today, and apprehensive of visiting it in a way. I was afraid, sorrowful at having lost what I never had.

The book starts off magically. And holds on to the magic until about three fourths through. It degenerates into a mere story once Kashmir has efficiently smashed. Once the iron mullahs have forced the women into wearing veils, the army has started using rape as a tactic to demoralize the population, a pogrom against the Pandits of Kashmir goes virtually unnoticed...... the magic is lost. Its impossible to hold on to it... no?

Maybe I will visit Kashmir one day, and compare what my eyes see with what I saw in Shalimar the Clown. In the meantime, I am overjoyed at the hope that there is an antidote to discovering that your childhood palaces are merely modest houses built into life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I am currently on a trip to what must be the Vanilla ice cream of all foreign Locales. The US. In fact one hardly even feels like calling it a Locale. This trip though, thus far, has been pretty interesting. For one I have experienced first hand what people assured me I would once I started working - Corporate seduction.

Now that the fantasy has formed in your head I must disappoint you.

A car, for myself, was awaiting me at the airport. A hotel room, plush in its comforts awaited me at the end of the car journey. I couldnt help but contrast it to my time as a student here - getting ripped off by cab drivers, trudging a mile every day through ankle deep snow with my nose completely frozen, sleeping on a ball on the floor... I now admire the snow covered landscape form the window of a heated automobile and instead of muttering choice hindi gaalis when the snow comes down, I say "How quaint."

A short visit to my university was also squeezed in. I feel like I have made my peace with the place. My departure was very hurried, I was out of the country before a week had passed after my Defense. I hadnt even got my degree then. So going back, after such a short time, felt good. Said goodbye to two of my favourite restaurants - had two lunches - something I hadnt done in the brouhaha of relocation. Young chow still makes a killer Black Pepper Chicken. Also felt great going back to my Lab. The place is the same, as messy and paper strewn as it used to be. It was fun meeting up with the guys, everybody is very excited about something new that is being researched. Felt good.

However, the most awesome experience of the trip (unexpectedly, I must admit) relates to my present job and I am glad that it turned out to be so. I drove a vehicle that runs on hydrogen. And it didnt have any funny dials and spewing gas ducts and it looked absolutely nothing like the Batmobile George Clooney drove. It was just like a vehicle you drive to work everyday. I knelt down near the exhaust of the car and took a deep deep breath. Even stuck my tongue out. It was water vapour.. steam - the kind that comes out of the pressure cooker - only a bit cooler.

I can now bask in the (ill directed probably, but who cares?) glory that I am doing my two bits to save the planet. :)

More about Fuel Cells - here.

As an aside, I also did see the Batmobile that George Clooney drove. It was an exhibit at the Henry Ford museum here - as you can tell I ve been soaking in the Detroit auto culture. Put in the circus over the election of Barack Obama and the current drama about bailing out GM,Ford and Chrysler from bankruptcy - its been an eventful month in the US.

Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Indian Empire and Irom Sharmila

How does that sound? How about Indian imperialism..?

I am back in India. Finished with my Masters and back. Thats right. These past few months have been quite whirlwind, and coming back to the blog feels good. Its also nice that I m back in Bangalore (or Bengaluru as the regional language Nazis have renamed it). The only only thing I miss about the US are the relatively empty roads, when I watch life pass me by in the hours of evening traffic. I guess I didnt really want to have only half a story to tell.

Over the past few months I ve been reading voraciously. I spend two hours a day cooped up in bus to office. And I pass the time with a book, some really good ones (Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi), some pedestrian(...). But it gives me two assured hours of reading. And thats nice.

We Indians are, some would say rightfully, very proud of a free media. Ours is a third world country. We may be on the way out - but its a long winding route. It would be presumptuous of me to comment on all the poorer nations of the world. But I think it is accurate to say that amongst these, the relative freedom our media enjoys is admirable. I read a rather obscure book named "Goodbye to Gandhi" by one Bernard Imhasly - that has made me put that opinion to rest.

How many of us have heard of the woman Irom Sharmila? I hadnt and I watch the news fairly regularly. I m no news hound but I guess I am about as aware of the state of affairs in our country as the next educated 24 year old.

Ok then. This is the load. I guess we are all aware that theres some trouble in the North East. Those guys dont really somehow feel connected to the rest of India. Mighty difficult too, seeing that they are connected to the rest of the country by a strip thin enough to be an umbilical cord. And we all know what happens to the umbilical cord. In any case, my (idle) impression was that things have gotten better over the past few years. I had no idea what better was.

There is an act, named very vaguely the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It is an act that was instituted by the British to curb the violent factions of our Freedom Movement. And it is active today in Manipur. It allows the army to curb "violent" factions of Manipur as brutally as the British would have had the authority to. Indian army (allegedly of course - since these charges have not been, due to AFSPA, put to court) gotten away with untold brutalities - rapes, murders. Rape is not an uncommon word in Manipur, Imhasly says. It is often used in conjunction with the word "Army".

Irom Sharmila is a Manipuri woman who has been on a hunger strike since the 2nd November 2000. She started the strike protesting the mass murders perpetrated by the Assam Rifles. They shot people waiting at a bus - stop.

She has been arrested by the Govt. of India. And has been imprisoned. No violence involved. India - whose most hyped export to the world is Satyagraha - has arrested somebody who is practicing it.

We are all familiar with this bit. When Gandhi did his Satyagraha he was arrested all the time. Irom Sharmila has been imprisoned in a Hospital. And she is being fed through a tube that is attached to her nose.

I dont remember hearing that of Gandhi - do you? The British clearly would not dare to do such a thing. While his death would be disastrous -the news of someone force feeding him through a tube would probably have had consequences as well.

We of course dont hear about Irom Sharmila. We have no clue. The 24X7 news channels do not have a story on Sharmila. Neither do any of our "vigilant...whatever it takes" channels. I guess they are too busy covering their self congratulatory award ceremonies. Our media clearly is not as free as I had thought it to be. Any claims to Integrity will also have to be put in the garbage.

Also I wonder. Would India treat some one from Bengal or Andhra Pradesh in this fashion. We hear about bogus hunger strikes all the time. I dont recall any body being arrested when they declare one. Is India really ruling over Manipur? Are we ruling over Kashmir?

I would like to believe otherwise - but I cant for the life of me think of another explanation.

To know more please follow a few links - here.