Sunday, 14 December 2008

Thy will be done

Deccan Herald. Sunday, December 14, 2008.

The heavens reached out to us the other night. Jupiter and Venus shone bright-eyed side by side and the moon, in resplendent splendour, smiled joyously upon us. While a dear friend (among a host of others, I now gather) was fortunate to witness this celestial merriment, I, courtesy cloudy intent, had to make do with a journalist’s report in the next day’s newspaper. The picture alongside, of the unmistakable smiley against the dark sky, was breathtaking.

Galactic businesses aside, we have always believed heavenly bodies to be personal scribes of our individual destinies on Earth. So whose destiny were the heavens condoning on the night of the second of December?

And what need could be so great as to bring about a planetary repositioning that manifested a message such that all the addressee had to do was look up and receive? And if this hallowed recipient is techno-savvy, then this message would have been interpreted without any error, whatever the perspective.

But all perspectives that day were directed at a single event. And all personal destinies were infringed upon and trespassed by each other, in varying magnitude. Those grieving a personal loss, stepped back to take note of a larger and even more unfathomable massacre. Those mourning their daily nitty-gritty, took a moment to consider their purpose. Few are yet to understand why.

Sacrifices were made, some taken. Honours were bestowed, some slighted. Homages were paid, some disregarded. Sympathies were extended, some mocked. Dignities were upheld, some scorned. There was reaction - and the ripples roll on fast and feverish, to circles further and further from the core.

Discussion gains credence, now that this heavenly phenomenon can be contemplated as a collective conscience.

The bloody Wednesday of 26/11, just six days prior to this cosmic conjunction, saw horrific death – death of peace, death of trust, death of faith, death of a sense of security, death of tinted perceptions. A lot more than lives were lost that day.

A lot was born too.

Hurt has raised its embittered voice and question has lifted its weighty head. Eyes cry tears of reckoning and minds have come together on common ground. Dividing lines show diminishing proportions as balcony curtains tear themselves loose. Masks are off, excuses stand for nothing. Gloves are off and tones are terse.

But why have we taken so long? For decades, we have endured horrors perpetrated by meddlers inside and sustained insufferable insurgencies from outside. As people of our country, why did we let this happen? We are a nation, a powerful one. We are an ideology that gives us countenance. We are a spirit that has withstood time and risen out of it. We are a force that has overpowered incarceration and shaped progress. We are a people of infinite potential and yet we succumb to mean and momentary whims.

Cloistered in the arrogance of our own intellect, we have allowed ourselves to become prisoners of our times, yet again. Diving into the shallow waters of our own egotism, we have drowned under the deluge of insensitive leaders, empowered by us. Ramming into walls of our own making, we have lost sight of what lays ahead, what can be. Gluttonous in our strife for acquisition, we are now starved of basic sense and pragmatism.

But the hunger pangs are now screaming for justice. A new wave of awareness craves action. An awakening borne out of sound knowledge and informed stance, seeks a change with tangible parameters. Solutions are being debated and daring alternatives suggested.

Unorganised initiatives like peace marches and light parades aim to motivate sensibilities. They attempt to stimulate positive polity and effect proactive participation in its governance. The people of this country seem to have shaken free of their complacent slumber and are taking charge of their collective responsibility to the state. And to themselves.

This is a test of democracy. And India stands challenged. The heavens did smile on us the other night. Are we finally in orbit?


Thursday, 20 November 2008

Woo-Man-ly pursuits

Bangalore Mirror, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why, at 8:45 am, is an attractive, young girl in ill-fitting mens’ trousers, short, braided hair and a purposeful smile, strutting bare-footed by the central reserve on the high-speed airport road, chatting up rather eager truck-drivers?

Hmmm… quite.

So why did I not stop watching this gaucherie? Because Britney Spears slithering ‘Toxic’ out of the radio could not have added more masala to this highway drama unfolding before me. There were 112 more seconds on the traffic lights countdown. There was nothing else to do. And I would give this intriguing little interplay, my absolute and unadulterated attention, anyway.

In the past, I have adhered to repeated warnings by well-wishers, to be wary of ‘sidey’ attractions along these parts, but this brazen encounter was too enticing not to give audience to.

For goodness' sake! This was early morning, on a working day where fleets of school busses ferrying less than happy kids, plied at that very moment, past this very scene. My presence was indispensable.

98…97…96… she didn’t have much more time and I had to know where this was going. Oblivious to everyone outside the ‘tiransport diriver’ demographic, this charmer gesticulated, animated and pouted. There was not much scope for imagination and yet nothing prepared me for what actually was.

73…72…71…she swaggered away as white teeth flashed through dark weather-beaten, leathery smiles in rear view mirrors. And she touted. 43…42…something quickened. Time was slipping by. Her eyes darted vehicle to vehicle and she flitted between the four trucks, spending less and less time at each.

19…18…17…16…a hand reached out. What an outrage! This was not a no-go area, it was a traffic stop at a main road on a busy highway that respectable people commute on!

Currency exchanged hands and I gaped, beside myself with disbelief.

This show was not just haemorrhaging my eyeballs, it also had the perfect twist in the script. My dilating pupils beheld a substantial garland of jasmines being thrown into the driver’s side and a burst of laughter. A thumb wagged in mockery and like lightening, she meted out the same embarrassment to the others before skipping away with a basket of flowers whisked out of nowhere!

5…4…I sat, immobile. Sheepish looks reflected in rear views ahead, fellow commuters shook their head in amusement and engines started rumbling.

Amber…green…the day's trade comple, this victorious flower vendor was laughing on the other side of the road.

Incredulity or even plain and simple curiosity compelled me to follow her. I took a U-turn and slowed down on the service road. She set down her flower basket on a bicycle parked a little way ahead, ruffled her hair loose, pulled something off from under her shirt and straightened herself.

The lackadaisical throw of leg over the seat and the even more masculine gait while pedaling, rendered my hair on end. This couldn’t be happening.

As this boy turned off to the main road, I noticed that the last remnants of feminine profile lay in a blue heap, in the flower basket behind him.

He was still laughing.

~>> Bangalore Talking >> blog talk >> Woo-man-ly pursuits

Monday, 3 November 2008

‘Left’ enlightened.

Since being back in Bangalore, it would have been my third or fourth solo drive in my dad’s car, in the city’s rather exuberant traffic. This time, however, I had with me a wholly participating witness to yet another Bangalore Bombaatness* (as I have come to lovingly call my experiences here).

Scene I:
RT Nagar traffic junction just after the Hebbal flyover. I was among the first line of vehicles. Having just caught up with my friend for the first time since I last visited, I was relying on the movement of other motorists around me instead of paying attention to the traffic lights ahead.

As engines started to rev, I pushed the pedal and inched forward before noticing that the green light was still off. A good few vehicles had sped past and I hesitated, though way ahead of the stop line.

As a driver new to these reformed and ill-marked roads, my confusion was mounting to near panic. My friend had gone completely quiet and I was solo again.

Never to be beaten, this is what ensued between me and the policeman who sprung up from nowhere.

Me: (pointing to the lights) ‘not working?’
The policeman was now by the side of my car. I lowered the window.
Me: Sorry sir, lights out of order?
PC: (Huffing and all worked up, yet thoroughly pleasant) No madam! This no America. You not go to straight.

From the corner of my eye I see my friend turning maroon. I continued earnestly, though for the life of me I have still not figured out why I felt the need to level my English with this man’s.

Me: Sorry sir. I was looking for green light (pointing up ahead). No red light also. Other people all going.
PC: (still panting) No. No. This no America! Here you not look front! All here. You look LEFT !

America? Left?!! My confusion was beyond gauge. My car was almost at the centre of the crossroads. My friend was bursting at the ears, her eyes fixed ahead and lips dangerously stretched. This had to end fast!

My resolve turned to steel. After attaining a driver’s license despite relentless trials and inexplicable agony at the hands of the notoriously stringent licensing authority of London, I was not about to leave this country with a police entry just because a traffic light can’t be kept functional at one of the busiest junctions of Bangalore!

I persisted with this enthusiastic English-speaking police constable, who was simply too amusing to offend and, I insist, too nice to try.

Hoping to strike a comfortable chord, in my now (very slightly but nonetheless uncomfortably) anglicised Kannada, I perservered.

Me: But Sir… I no… naanu America hogilla. Leftalli enidhe? Traffic lights mundhgade idhe, alla. (I haven't been to America. What's on the left? The traffic lights are ahead, right?)
PC: Iyaaa! Light no work! You look LEFT!

Again! Left?!

Me: (Beyond confused now and struggling with the ever-so-composed stance). Sir, leftalli en idhe? (What's on the left?)
PC: I madam! I on left!

Silence... My friend is really worrying me now. Just how stupid could I get! What was I thinking looking for the traffic lights ahead to guide me, when I should have been peering LEFT, trying to locate the friendly policeman directing traffic from some invisible gap between crowds of people constantly moving under the shade of trees lining the pavement! Preposterous.

Me: (dumbfounded) Ah! Aithu aithu. Thumba thanks Sir. Hogla? (Ah! I see. Many thanks, Sir. May I go ?)
PC: (In Kannada! Finally! And as pleasant and as breathless) hogi, hogi. (Please go)

We drove off, and my friend lifted her shaking frame, every pore, the darkest shade of red I’ve seen on any human. Had my charming tete-a-tete carried on a sentence further, we most certainly would have been booked, albeit for a different offence.

Relieved at being let off, incredulous laughter burst forth and tears streamed down flushed cheeks. But just how close were we really?

The malfunctioning traffic lights (if the constable is to be believed, 3 months is inexcusable) were relegated to the miscellaneous as we somehow got embroiled in an intense discussion on how today, more than ever, proficiency in a particular language, defines a person’s self-worth.

To me, as a domicile of the state, being conversant in Kannada, is paramount to my sense of belonging – specially now, that the lack of practice shows.

To the aspiring policeman, speaking in English with me was his moment of prestige. I am not sure what lead to his (flawed) assumption that I was accustomed to American ways, as I was turned out just as casually cosmopolitan as any other Bangalorean of my background. Also, I had not spoken a word to him until then, to give away my accented Kannada – my English, thankfully, bears no British influence.

Whatever it was, he slighted my valiant attempts at claiming my rights to the vernacular, while he flourished his modest linguistic prowess over a (imported, essentially) language he clearly looks up to. I dread to imagine his plight, had this been Mumbai and my guffawing friend was local lingo autocrat marathi manoos Raj Thakaray!

To turn my learning completely on its head, I soon got to encounter a language enthusiast from the other end of spectrum. On the eve of Rajyotsava (entirely incidental), we happened to visit the temple at Chamundi hills, Mysore. Far from the comedic embarrassment fresh in my mind, this one was rather petty.

Scene II:
Waiting patiently in the ‘queue’ at the ticket counter for a direct darshan, I was superceded by another customer. I smirked all-too-knowingly and let him be. In a second, another man came up and stuck in at the counter, hovering over the other guy. Patience lost, I tersely pointed out that they had come in out of turn. While the first person promptly stepped back to give me way, the second man sheepishly mumbled.

Man: Ticket bekaadre, takolbeku. Summge queue alli nithkolodhalla. (For a tickets, you must go and take it, not simply stand in the queue, waiting)
Me: (now enraged, I snapped) Thapaithu. Queue ge illi artha illa antha gothaithu. (My mistake. Queues have no meaning here, I now understand)
Man: (obviously not expecting a Kannadiga and trying to save face. Still mumbling) Kannada gothidhre yake Englishalli mathadodhu? (If you know Kannada, why speak in English?)
Me: (I glared back) Innomme, thanpaithu. (Once again, my mistake)

Whaaaat?!! please enlighten me, was the exact connection between my speaking in English and his cutting the queue to then inanely justify his stand? And the events did not even happen in that order!

Maybe it was the Rajyotsava spirit, but Kannada fervour was his weapon then – luckily for once, so was mine.


* Bombaat : Colloquial Kannada - super

Saturday, 25 October 2008

On par with instinct

- Bangalore Mirrorr. Monday, November 03, 2008.

Coorg was out. There was simply no time. Mysore was too far. Everything else was sold out. My son had already spent an entire week of Dussehra holidays sitting quiet and being exceptionally good. There was one more week to think about and nowhere to go.

Raves followed rants and everyone who was willing to listen, got an earful of our bleak situation, courtesy an unforeseen, unrelenting and grossly unwelcome commitment.

It really got ugly when I lost availability of the last vacant accommodation in the only resort that was still taking bookings for that weekend. The camel’s back broken, my husband hit the finger on the key and we decided that for the first time in our settled lives, Ayudh pooja would be spent travelling and Vijayadashmi would bring us, for that one day, prosperity of fresh air, fortune of being close to nature and good health that comes as a package deal with the other two.

We told our son of the tent and log hut only later, when all payments were accepted and even internet delays could not stop precious confirmations from coming through.

And so it was. The widely broadcasted plan discarded, we landed, instead, in the wilderness, to spend two nights in a tent and come as close to camp living as the Indian Forest department had safely catered for.

Simple neat and thoroughly self-sufficient, this little jungle camp is laid out in the middle of the Bannerghatta biological park, a wildlife sanctuary 25 kms from the hustle of Bangalore.

At the outer gates cups of hot tea welcomed us and the manic drive through the choking southern artery to Electronic City was soon forgotten. Within minutes, a safari jeep came to escort us to the camp site and our adventure began.

Hammocks outside every tent and log hut, shady trees with robust roots sinewing across the ground and scheming monkeys lying in wait for the unsuspecting visitor holding any food article visibly – this was a refreshing retreat, tastefully cultivated.

Yelps of glee and excited scampering of six year old feet, banished all traces of skepticism. Our thatch-topped tent was explored thoroughly and within four minutes, my son was gravely taking in the ranger-caretakers’ stories of how greedy monkeys had torn two holes in the windows that held tough darns as evidence of a menace that we were warned of repeatedly.

Lying in the hammocks, gazing at the starry sky above, all fatigue of previous weeks eased away. In the quiet of the night, a camp-fire glowed near-by and a resident spotted deer touted for attention, it was clearly accustomed to, from children and adults alike.

For the first time in many years, with every muscle relaxed and every synapse at rest, I ruminated endlessly on how easy it is to be happy and how adamantly we let our practical lives supercede our deepest longings.

Out in the real world, it is always a race against time. A steady contention of desires. An unforgiving struggle to conquer. The basic instinct to survive has become an evil dynamic where want incessantly defines the reason for need.

And in spite of this bizarre order, there we were, arms open, legs out, embracing nature’s irrevocable promise- freedom.

Every turn of the safari we went on the next day, reiterated this premise of nature’s intent.

Oblivious to the wanderings of my mind, my son squealed in innocent delight at every grizzly bear he spotted and curiously looked on at them fervently digging the earth, their snouts all muddy and fur far from glossy (unlike Mowgli’s Baloo). My attention, however, froze on the bear that grovelled away and growled in frustration as nothing edible came forth from the one-odd foot crater that he had dug and continued to scour.

Mental snap-shots from the previous week abounded and I was restive for less grim pursuits.

Certainly not grim and definitively regal, the big cats round the corner could have turned the lights off our condescending damsels setting fire trails along big city ramps.

All shrieks of excitement settled to awestruck whispers and hushed wonder. The majesty of the tigers’ deep yellow coat striped with black set a fiery contrast to their albino cousins, equally classy and intimidating. While the lions and their manes merely served to thrill at their sighting, the tigers exuded a bewitching dignity. The demure glances, the occasional glare, the nonchalant stride … oh! what a marvel of creation.

The mood softened slightly when one of the children pointed to two white tiger cubs hiding behind the bushes and looking at us as if through curtained balconies of an open-air opera house. Their ochre bodied mates cajoled and the nudging and unmistakable exchange of looks that ensued between them changed the dimensions completely. Suddenly, we were the show and these, our wild spectators! Going by the demeanours exhibited around though, this seemed a rather fitting equation.

Rippling pockets of admiration and snippets of wariness in our guarded van, this unflinching observation subdued the tone a bit, only for a brief while though. Spirits were chirpy again amidst agile deer and broods of antelopes.

Always a happy vision, their quick moves and alert stance leaves something stirring in me.

I was smiling again and completely at peace with my sentiments. My husband had finally unwound, his mind grazing pastures brighter than greying London he was taking a break from and his face glowed with contentment.

A brisk game of volley ball and a few good shots of badminton back in the camp, cleansed the last remnants of our clogged souls. Going back to our drone-like assembly line hankerings after career, acquisition and position didn’t seem all that claustrophobic or sacrilegious now.

The friendly staff bid us goodbye and the deer family pranced away. Strangely, we looked forward to going back home, vicious traffic notwithstanding.

~ >> Bangalore Talking >> Blog Talk >> On par with instinct

Friday, 17 October 2008

A sojourn of remembrance

Why pull a page out of history when you can step right into the book? And in a repository of such eminence, every one of my steps bore the entire awe and reverence of my being.

The art connoisseur’s fantasy, the historian’s paradise, the devotee’s sanctorum and the cynic’s crucible, this sovereign city-state, seat to the catholic authority - the Holy See - contains itself within two square miles of the city of Rome.

Like a jewel, Vatican City stands tucked within its impenetrable walls, in the middle of all the din and razzamatazz that the Italian capital is famous for. Inside, its serenity is as imposing as its flamboyant opulence.

Where the present is a breathtaking legacy of yore and the past just eyefuls above, the psyche becomes a humble melting pot of emotions that linger on forever.

In this vast conglomeration of museums beyond compare, each sculpture, painting and tapestry, passionately delivered and blindingly precious, recites its legend.

I drifted into a sublime state of consciousness when it sunk in that these works of art panning walls and ornate ceilings, to this day, bear the actual touch, hold the actual breath and have witnessed the actual toil of the great men who created them. I was not turning the pages of a sacred book. I was part of the air these greats shared and stood surrounded by the original testaments of a history and lore that continue to mould our modern destinies.

A poetic extravaganza to the romantic soul, every artifact is an academic’s oasis. Even the less eclectic would struggle to escape the magnificence of imagination contained seamlessly within its tactile forms. While intellectual prowess dominates each work, as a lay person, I am marvelling as much now as I did then, at how such precision in line, light and colour could be achieved at that scale, with only manual dexterity and physical resilience to count on.

Walking further in, my trance got deeper. From periods of defining hues to renditions in white lime with lines as transient as the rays of sunlight that strobe in on them, a journey had already transpired. An age cart-wheels into the next and then again, as Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval reflections transcend each other, new regimes cast their shadows, political commentary dons the veil of artistic expression and the likes of Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael become objects of ardent devotion.

Time is simply not enough to fully appreciate all there is to behold. It has, in fact, been speculated that even if only a single second is committed to each piece in the museums, it would take years to cover its inventory. So vast is the Vatican and such is the greatness of the treasures it houses.

Deep within the entrails of these papal corridors, when I was beginning to panic that I might have missed my raison d’être, a dark recess opened ahead. A quiet sanctity emanated its stoic power and suddenly all voices dropped. We were entering the inner-most chamber, most famous for its vaulted ceilings and Michelangelo’s greatest enterprise.

The Sistine Chapel, sacred to the religious and astounding anyway you look at it, is a vision in every sense. While my eyes took a brief moment to get accustomed to the dimness, mellow beams of the sun danced in from the window opposite me. Motionless in the natural spotlight, I gazed mesmerized at what greeted from above.

Nine breathtaking frescoes by Michelangelo, illustrate the story of the biblical origin of man from the Book of Genesis. Starting from the creation of Adam and Eve, his fine detailing narrates the saga of the Apostles and ends with the tales of Noah and resurrection of Christ. This masterpiece resulted in three thousand figurines, immaculate in their scenic proportion and reality of perception.

Hoisted atop scaffolding and lying on his back for four dedicated years, little would Michelangelo have thought about the magnitude of his contribution to world culture and heritage or how he would be worshipped for his talent, in posterity. That he could not eat properly again or see very well for a year after completing the ceiling, seems a small price to have paid.

His genius brings together in one close space, an astonishing imagination, a thorough sense of form and grandeur of style. To a large extent, this is true of all the other artists showcased in the papal palaces.

The immensity of wealth, religious domination and bounty of knowledge are simply too overpowering to walk away from. This supreme convergence of master craftsmanship, unconquerable, remains a prevailing remembrance in the pages of my mind.

This was not a flying visit. I never really left.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Importance of being earnest

- Coffeland News. Fri, September 12, 2008.
- Bangalore Mirror. Sun, September 14, 2008.

I walked into my parents-in-laws’ house one day, to find the kitchen and part of the dining room under siege.

Warm and sweet-smelling, the vapours of steaming rice filled my senses, as I stood in the familiar aroma of my favourite dish. For a quick moment, I tranced back to a life I was married away from, just months earlier.

As my husband pushed past to get the car ready for the long drive, my mother-in-law was already onto her second round of kadambutté.

The sekala simmered away on the hob and the pandi curry came to a boil. As I tucked into the putté - my first involvement with a community I was yet to meet, my father-in-law wore a beam on his face and proudly educated me on what was to come.

We were getting ready for the annual gathering of the Coorgs in the UK- an eagerly awaited event at home. For six long years, my father-in-law oversaw these re-unions, with my mother-in-law in the background, constantly encouraging the cause. And as a family, our commitment to Coorg will only continue.

Since my first koota as puthangarthi, way back in 2001, I have watched the UK Coorgs, each one valiant in their efforts, championing the endeavour to retain the affinity to their roots and propagate the pride of their race down the line.

The full significance of an initiative such as this came home to me along the years that followed, as I, guided by the exacting precision of my father-in-law, mulled over drafts and re-drafts of the newsletters that chronicled all the gatherings he had presided over.

Pre and post these meets, the many stories told during our frequent family dinners in front of warm gas fires, made me realise, afresh, how fragile the sustenance of our community really is- and how earnestly we need to address the truth.

Far away from a land that gives us our identity and strong sense of self, there is always a longing, unfulfilled.

Somewhere, in the contention between homeland and home, roots and fruit, and head and heart, intentionally or on impulse, we tend to flock together and seek out our kind.

Somewhere, a common bond keeps us tethered to what we know as our own. Call it strength of blood or even a well-wrought web cast by the veterans of our cozy community, the confluence of thoughts, variously modified beliefs and an incessantly evolving culture, ramifies a lineage well alive and holding ground.

While our genes dictate who we are and our aspirations define our lives, an institution brings us back together. At least once every year, we remember what makes us proud. We re-connect with what makes us one. And we awaken to what will keep us going.

The elders have, with experience and foresight, nurtured a quiet movement. Now, I find the current generation taking on the onus with pride, and making their own difference come alive.

Looking from the other side today, I see even more clearly, how distinct we are as a people. How progressive we are of tradition. And how indomitable we are in spirit.

With warm regards to all seniors, love to the little wonders and cheers to those in between, I wish the Coorgs in UK, a happy Kailpodu and all the very best for the London get-together, 2008.

~ -- Bangalore Talking -- Blog Talk -- Importance of being earnest

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bangalore Belles Rock On!

Aha! Got you there.

Now, for the mix: A bit of movie. Four belles. And a lot of Bangalore.
It wouldn’t work any other way.

There would have been more of us, but hey! you can’t have it all. Not always. Why, we even had to make do with Arjun Rampal in a 2D 70mm format. And then, we were crazy enough to miss him in the flesh too!!

Ok, we still don’t know how Rock On! starts, but by the time magik’s reunion got underway, we had our own little magic working outside the cinema.

Time, it seemed, had stood still all those years we’d been away, and yet, a city had metamorphosed.

Here we were, the four of us, springing up with funny incidents at college, not allowing any to be forgotten.

All characters – the poker-faced prankster, the ever-hungry foodie, the always agreeable rebel and the invincible bright-eye – well alive, it was a back-in-college-on-the-bunk escapade, as perfect as the richly iced chocolate cup-cakes we greedily devoured.

But this came at a price. After my usual grind on the road and, now, customary speed attacks between gaps in un-indicated lane changes at break-neck speeds with barely inches in between metal (sorry, my pet moan will not escape expression), you’d think a manned basement car park would have more order.
I was helplessly amused at what awaited me.

To monstrous 4x4s and elongating sedans, the manoeuvrability in our new-found car parks under self-contained malls, remains in inverse proportion.

So, while a hapless pubescent dealt with his embarrassment at having to do the forward and back routine about eight times, I sat back, turned on the music and fixed my hair. Madonna’s Ray of Light melted down and the X-trail grudgingly heaved into the miserly bay.

Calling from a restaurant close-by, the prankster was on to me. After my own struggle into a space meant for a kitten and an invigorating bout of giggles inside and outside the phone, we finally met!

Still giggling, and with KD lost in magik world, we sneaked our way into the packed, dark cinema hall and settled to enjoy an afternoon that had already started with a tickle.

Through all the dynamics on screen and our unanimous declaration of going back for it with the other halves (the only time they were missed- sorry guys), I noticed something fantastic.

Time indeed had retracted a while and the four of us there, were just that - four girls. We were not wives that day, not mothers and not women who had been regulated by life. For those few moments, we were who we were, those many years ago - young girls, full of beans. Our memories were bound by each other, the places we haunted, the tricks we got up to and the city we obsessed about.

This would not have happened anywhere else in the world. As I bid farewell to my friends that evening, everything came together - the mad crossing of the road, our unending indecision as to who waits and who goes, the spitting rain that cleared as soon as I found shelter and on my drive back home, an automan’s ‘hogo llllo!!, suitably accompanied by the gesture, loud, over no one in particular.

I am bound to this city. And the four of us, no matter where we go or live, will always be Bangalore girls. First and final.

Friday, 5 September 2008

A Date with Time

The Temple of Divine Caesar immortalized the greatest ruler of the largest empire in history, by inscribing his words ‘Veni, Vedi, Vici’ on the altar erected where his body was cremated. After he came, he saw, he conquered Imperial Rome, he made another conquest. A conquest as significant then, as it is now. From January, through July and every fourth February of our present times, an ancient verdict keeps our busy lives on a track that remains consistent - all eventualities calculated and logically catered for.

This fascinating story begins in ancient Egypt, picks its threads through various civilizations, withstands many political deviations of the Romans and after a long period of sustenance, finally settles along a more stable course only in 1582.

Three constants remained - the natural cycles of days, (lunar) months and (solar) years.

And though our perspective remains largely influenced by the shape Julius Caesar gave history the way we know it today, a very mature civilization, much before his time, and deep in scientific understanding, had become obsessed with harnessing the synchronies of the sun, moon and stars, to account for life in a tangible context of time.

With their advanced knowledge in astronomy, the Egyptians constituted the ‘Sothic’ year of just over 365¼ days, with the earth taking 365.25636 days to complete one revolution around the sun.

Their solar calendar, spanned 12 months of 30 days each, leaving them with 5.25 days less to complete the year. Taking a very uncomplicated approach, they added 5 days every year, and one extra day every four years, to synchronise with the solar year.

The precision of this system is proven conclusively, by the illumination of the statue of Ramses II, placed, among other statues, 180ft away from the only opening to the Abu Simbel Temple of Ramses II. For more than 3200 years, this statue has been illuminated by the sun on 22 February, every single year.

If the minute difference of 0.00636 days per year (365.25636 - 365.25) had not been accounted for, this date would have changed from the original, many years ago. Over the 3200 year period, the discrepancy would have been of 20 days!

However, this placement did not align with an actual year and the Greeks finally added the concept of a Leap year, adding a day to the shortest month, every four years. In another era, the Romans reinforced this concept when they re-structured the calender during their rule in Egypt.

The consequences of this momentous re-formulation were substantial and the reason is a long-winded tale of multiple theories, incessant discoveries and gross misuse of power.

Romulus, the founder of Rome, devised a strictly lunar calendar with ten months, six of 30 days and four of 31 days, making a total of 304 days. This calendar started with March and ended with December. After a gap, the next year would start on a new moon to bring it back in sync with the lunar cycle.

Many such failures at synchronising the lunar calendar with the solar cycle continued. Numerous more attempts were made.

An extra two months were added- January in the beginning and February at the end. Now the lunisolar year had 354 days. To undo the inauspicious effects of the even number, more days were added and deducted variously across the months to make the year 355 days long.

Another modification changed the order of the months, so that February followed January. A deficit of 10 ¼ days resulted.

The solution seemed to be the introduction of the intercalary period- a buffer of around 23 days. The Intercalans or Mercedonious, as it was called, was inserted in February, every alternate year, while five days were dropped in Intercalary days. What presented itself at the end, was a rather compliant four year period, averaging 366 ¼ days per year. The one extra day was adjusted every 24 years, by dropping one of the Mercedonious months.

This thoroughly complicated system still fell short of synchronising with the phases of the moon, so decisions on additions and lengths of Intercalary months, became the onus of a panel of high priests called pontiffs.

Political agendas flourished and abuse of power thrived. Inconsistencies caused the months to waver across seasons. Ridiculously, by the time Julius Caesar ascended the throne, the civil equinox was three months away from the astronomical equinox!

To put an end to the farce that the Roman calendar had become, Julius Caesar, in consultation with Alexandrian astronomers, abandoned aligning the months with lunar cycles and reformulated the year as we recognize it. In honour of his contribution, the Roman senate named the sixth month, July, after him.

Starting in 45BC, the Julian calendar was configured as 365.25 days long and came to have, on a regular basis, 365 days across 12 months, with a leap year every 4 years, when February got longer. The year began in January, saw spring in March and contemplated fall in September.

With due attention to the detail of individual days, each month, was divided into three points of reference.

The Kalends was the first day of the month. It was the day debts were due and interests were incurred. Books maintained to track payments were called ‘calendarium’ – our modern day ‘calendar’.

The Ides was the 15th day in a 31 day month and the 13th day in the other months.

The Nones was the 9th day before the Ides, hence being either the 5th or the 7th of the month.

In tune with our penchant for countdowns, the Julian calendar calculated days inclusively backwards from one of the three points of reference.

Thus the 25th of December would be written as, ‘VII kalends January’, the 11th of April would be, ‘4 days before the ides of April' and our 5th of September would be the Julian ‘nones of September’.

Had he paid heed when the Soothsayer warned, 'beware the ides of March', Julius Caesar would have lived to learn the depths to which greed and power mongery could take even the most trusted coterie. The 15th of March spelled doom in Shakespeare's play and was quite the reflection of what went on in Rome during the time.

The Julian calendar recorded most of what we know of their history and beyond, until the Christian church started gaining ground. In 1582, yet another problem was discovered. The calculation of the leap year would amount to nearly 11 days more, in a thousand years, as the true calculation was not six hours over the 365 days in the Julian year, but five hours and 49 minutes.

Based on the motion of the earth around the sun, while the months have no connection with the motion of the moon, the Julian calendar was reformed. Pope Gregory XII brought forward the Julian year by ten days. The 5th of October became the 15th of October.

This rule was then prescribed for all Christendom. Barring Russia and the Greek church, most of the world had moved toward adopting the Gregorian calendar.

The length of the year is 365 days, 5hrs, 48 minutes and 46 seconds and the time between two full moons is 29.53 days. There's a leap year every 4th year, where February has 29 days instead of the usual 28. January, March, May, July, August, October and December have 31 days and the rest have 30.

This is essentially the modern calendar, where every page, however formatted, bears testimony to Egyptian exactitude, Julian grit and Christian endeavour.
And going against the Julian manner of looking back on things, we count forward.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Maid-en over

aka One-Day maid service is here
- Bangalore Mirror, Wed 3 Sept, 2008

At a recent gathering, the topic of conversation, inadvertently, settled upon domestic help. As always, there was a lot of cricket in the background.

Both, subjects that everyone has ample to contribute to. That day was no different. While the men whined about missing crucial cover drives and third eyes, one senior lady went glum just thinking about her predicament at having to endure an in-form-out-of-form-out-of-town kaamwali. Another friend posed smug at the loyalty her mother enjoyed irrespective of malle, jaatre, habba, maava or akka na thangi!

Woes of trauma followed. Few scored and two were caught behind. India, in the meanwhile, was doing well with Dhoni on strike. That’s when a phone rang. Smug friend’s maid needed a week off! Her maava na magaa had been put into aaspatre. Well, well.

While the rest of the crowd looked on half amused , half sympathetic, my mother revealed our unique situation. With apartments springing up everywhere, home owners like us, have become a troubled lot. Floor-hopping holds greater sway over these maids who are reluctant to be stuck in one house for half a day. Fed up, my mother changed her approach. Dinaa cooli became the new mantra.

Post breakfast, my parents would go out scouting for a maid and anyone that looked safe enough to approach and was ready for a quick single, was brought home. The maid-of- the-match would save the day, and walk - never to be called again. This carried on for a couple of weeks. My mother would roll the pitch, the maid would run her innings and … out.

Our friend watched this show, curiously, on one of his visits. That same week, he donned the cap of Captain- Team Maid. Sticky wicket, yes, but took spin well. He would go out for the grocery and dutifully return with a new maid!

We were just laughing over the whole thing (cricket score in due check) when my smug friend’s dad clapped his hands and said, ‘First class! I’m doing the same as him now’.

Like a shot, our friend’s grandson, all of five, concluded, in a high pitch, for everyone present.
‘Yaaaaaaa! Just tell my Thatha. He buys them from the shop, you know? He brought one yesterday only. They are goooood.’ Eyebrows perked, he nodded earnestly.

Uproar from the TV corner. Beautiful timing. Dhoni hit another six and our host settled down with the remote. Beat.

Match over, the jibes that followed are best kept out of print.

~ -- Bangalore Talking -- Blog Talk -- One-Day maid service is here

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


printed as Vicarious pleasures
- Deccan Herald. Sun, September 28, 2008.

The stole clung to me in a frantic embrace as the howling wind soared phoenix-like, as if to obscure me from a vision that unfolded numerously in an age of ravenous cats and human game.

Rising heat, the damp of perspiration, raucous jeering of a throng of fifty thousand, mounting rapidly to a crescendo … and a gasp! A deadening quiet ... The air hangs thick with anticipation. Every muscle tense, all eyes are on a distant figure, far, far below. Nothing moves except the wind, wailing its solitary song. An owl screeches past. A deafening clang of heavy iron echoes ominously, way below, somewhere in the incongruous maze of sand and structure.

Man and beast stand face to face – terror rife, in the space between them. Each one, the hunter and the hunted.

Thoughts freeze, fists clench, chests heave and jaws tauten as the audience sits on egde, aroused.

The lion shifts its steady gaze … the gladiator moves, eyes fixed in shrewd strategy. His ankles cross each other and the slightest clink of shackles sounds out in the amphitheatre, shattering the silence.

Meat-on-meat-blood-on-blood. A vile chant picks tempo. And one man stands alone - torn.
A worthy spectacle.

Hell heaves open as the multitude rises in mass hysteria. And the heavens, unable to behold this gory scene, break down on all of us.

Reeling from what I’d seen, I gratefully stand in the rain, drained of emotion. Dazed, I look around me - the bloody tale of a ghastly tradition, nearly 500 years long, resonates in every grain of every stone.

The inescapable shadow of a pursuit so horrific and gruesome, lingers poignantly to this day. And through this dark cloud, rises an icon of Roman imperialism, an intimidating testament to its indomitable glory.

The arrogance of its power emanates from every column. The magnificence of design, the perfection of symmetry, the enormity of scale, all celebrate an architecture and engineering as grandiose as the empire they flourished in.

The past lives on with the present. Influences and reflections juxtapose each other in a fantastic draw of sensibilities that simultaneously celebrate a flamboyance of art, and contemplate a history as infamous as it is revered.

With my back to the Forum, I look again at the ruins of this masterpiece. My thoughts canter as I ponder the significance of its saga in our lives today.

In the collosseum of our minds, how many beasts have we not bred? How much sand have we not kicked? How many battles have we not staged? Are our own gladiatorial conquests and contests so different from what shocks us in history? Have we never screamed for blood and climaxed in our own sadistic pleasures? Have we not built our castles of toil and run the maze of time? And yet, we stride along, cautious step on cautious step - catching up and moving on.

We live our lives in history and make another as we go along. We stand for our influences and stand by our dreams. And as we pull the baton of our achievements, there is always the finish looming large. When we do take a minute to reflect on our choices, time's Collosseum rises forth, again. Another gladiator stares destiny in the face.

~ pleasures

Friday, 22 August 2008


Turn left, off Wimbledon Broadway, and take the 4th right into Effra Road. Tucked away at # 124, the temple priests piously go about their daily rituals - intermittent jingles of the holy bell soundless, outside double-glazed parameters.

For the uninitiated, a Hindu temple in the middle of SW19 is the ultimate paradox. To those home away from home, this is a charming microcosm of a vast envelope that is the Indian subcontinent. A cozy bubble that will not burst.

Hands folded and eyes closed in humble resignation to the remover of obstacles, I let the calm radiate through my being, disentangling my thoughts and revealing the way forward. Every once in an infrequent while, when my world closes in around me with conflicting desires and hazy identities, I look to my sanctuary - an oasis that keeps me from wilting. I stand, sound and proud in the knowledge of who I am. And I leave, reconnected to my soul and poised for another day.

In the comfort of its quiet dignity, thus, thrive a people who uphold their faith and spirit, undeterred, in a foreign land as much home as the soil that remains dear.

The amalgamation is complete. Tough roots nurture a community that keeps generations wrapped close. Family values hold and propagate their resilience down the line. The allure and proximity of a lifestyle more permissive than native contraptions notwithstanding, new blood toddles on, finding its way through the labyrinthine melee of culture, cross-culture and opportunity.

Spread far across the city of London and beyond, the custodians flock together regularly, to regale in festive fervor and reiterate their cognisance in a country unnaturally theirs.

What with the bustle of an unstoppable high street in the skirting, the swift drive up the hill into quaint Wimbledon Village replete with chic boutiques and top-end chains, the fabled serenity of Wimbledon Common with its sprinkling of woods and water holes and the all-imposing tennis with resident reverend Centre Court- the contrasts are unflinching.

Yet, an institution, ethnic in stance, prospers. And a country, staunchly protestant, revels in the multitude of colours as foreign as those who bring them in.

Constantly, silent and sure, mindful and determined, considerate and considerable, a new wave tides in and out of this idyllic suburb. Like clockwork, the priests chant their verse, the temple bells ring and the incense wafts its scent.

And every now and again, for redemption, blessing or on a whim, # 124, Effra Road, SW19, gets a visitor.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


printed as Adjust maadi, with a vengeance
- Bangalore Mirror, Fri 22 Aug, 2008.
I drive in this city, out of absolute vengeance. A pleasure I would play any prank to get my foot on, is now short of thrill and purely and utterly a means to an end.

Some time ago I would refrain from any opinion on the simple basis that I have been away and the ‘locals’ (a privileged nomenclature that had applied to me) would tut-tut at my sudden and ‘typical’ foreign scoffs. But now I find that, even in my head, I am more local than most locals I know. Hence I am entitled to every serif, dot and crossed t to follow henceforth.

Roll away smogged eyes and claim greater right on any judgment because- and this is true- I have only seen the result of and not the actual day-by-day and systematic smothering of a city that once breathed pure.

But not one of you can take away from me, my prerogative to mourn. And I mourn my loss of belonging. I mourn my loss at understanding how getting to Cunningham road, the other day, could take not 40 mins but 1 hr 40 mins!

I have been introduced to my new city of dwelling- Bengaluru. I have been acquainted with new roads, construction corridors (newer roads), ambitious projects (signal-free roads) and dream parades (all the digging for the metro rail, on perfectly good roads). I have been familiarised with ‘lanes’ on these new roads, with the exhilarating ‘outer’ lane. Globally understood as the ‘fast lane’, this third lane has been formulated by the traffic police as an 80 kmph lane, for drivers such as me who will invariably have a place to get to ‘within’ a certain time. But this lane is domicile to thelawallahs and trucks spewing loose jelly and overhanging rusty iron rods. They will not drive beyond 35 kmph and God forbid, no! also never allow vehicles with speedometers that accommodate numbers up to 200kmp to overtake and find their hurried way.

If I am lucky enough to negotiate a gap between two vehicles straddling my lane on either side, I get on the issue of belonging. I have to admit that this is an issue, as such, largely attributed to my going away. But I have been back for long stays every 12-18 months and more frequently over the past two years. And every time, it is a renewed eye-opener. Every time more smarting that the previous- deeming the term ‘shutter speed’ a very human form of defence and less of a technical adjustment.

This brings me, meandering, to a very interesting experience I was recently a part of. Solitary, spot-lit and public humiliation (campus jargon: stress-busting) not being my subject of expertise, I was nevertheless, made party to one such perpetration. Another ‘never’ prefixed to my expanding list of to-dos. Revelation: kids grow out of their title at 8 yrs of age. The increasing number of worldly wise young adults here, coerce me to contemplate- is the welcoming and tranquil Bangalorean I am, a redundant genus? I think not. If it is the non-Bangalorean hard nose and meanness (for paucity of a meaner vocabulary) that my psyche seems stubbornly immune to, it is - and I accept - a grave failing. One I am not mourning.

And so my vengeance carries on. In the face of worldly wise kid-adults who put all I have been taught, to question. In the face of materialistic pageantry and social mortification that has become the anthem of most aspiring and veteran P3Ps. In the face of influential luminaries that enlighten less and reflect more. In the face of propagandists who will existentialise the motive of an entire city.

Bangalore stands proselytised. And I will plough through. I will conquer every underpass beyond every flyover, both of which will portentously have some structural under-completion. I will drive on every road including every deviation and every pompous re-re-re-direction. I will stick to my lane and completely frustrate the bus (yes, bus!) that will manage a niche 7th lane right behind me.

This is it. It is this quintessential simply adjust maadi stance that keeps us going. Just taking it. And giving in.

Bangalore will always remain a golden screen on which the transient hues of Bengaluru will cast filter upon filter and draw new identities, on and on.

With a vengeance, it survives. A vengeance I am beginning to enjoy.

~ -- Bangalore Talking -- Blog Talk -- Adjust maadi, with a vengeance

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Write side up

Writing came to me because of my mother. She was always in the limelight, compering events and organising them. Watching her, I started doing the same with my dolls. I would orate to them, teach them alphabets and recite my own four-line poems. I can’t really pin-point when writing became my own hobby. What I do know is that it gives me a release. There is a sense of finality when I put my thoughts down on paper. The moment they are manifest in ink, my thoughts cease to be mere cranial processes. They become my expressions. I like that.

Two years of copywriting taught me, to an extent, the craft of succinct writing. Considering an average ad. space of 40cc where even nine words of copy were nine too many, crisp writing was really a mode of survival. Such training however left me quite inept at writing anything longer than 100 words. Even at this moment, I find myself straining to stretch my sentences, adding more thoughts and at the same time trying to avoid verbosity and putting you out even before you get to know me. I have experimented with a fair bit of copywriting, now it’s the turn of my ‘writing’. Seeing it published would be nice. Having it read, nicer. Enjoying the comfort of home, the nicest.

My husband keeps dreaming of a JK Rowling incarnation in our house - he is responsible for my daily dose of non-baby humour (did I mention my 6 yr old?). But if he dares to dream, and my mother keeps at pushing, the least I can do is give them company. And maybe even some writing.

So, the word’s out. Let’s see if I read the sign posts correctly.


My eyes are closed. I am aware only of a cold autumnal breeze caressing my face. I take a long whiff of the crisp air and open my eyes, rejuvenated. In front of me, far away, I see a curtain of fog slowly revealing in its translucency, the unmistakable outlines of a fortress. As if hypnotised, the cloud of mist sways to the light filtering in from the street lamps in the distance. The moonlight waltzes in, making the ramparts of the fort suddenly shine out in splendour. It is mesmerising, this sensuous dance between the elements.

Such a magical welcome sparked my romance with Edinburgh almost immediately. Even the taxi ride felt dramatic. The moon was generous with her light and each cobblestone, smoothened with use, glistened its age. The dark, the empty streets, the narrow lanes, the high walls, higher church spires and those cobbles, all told tales many years old. It was as if I was in the 17th century, riding in my horse drawn carriage, as we rumbled through the city. Hiding every now and again around road bends and behind those impressive stone buildings, the fortress on the other side continued its company with us. Never could I ignore its magnificence. That evening I slept with a warm heart, waiting to hear more wonderful stories.

In a city with such a rich heritage, I didn’t really need a plan, the next day. Before I knew it, I was down the famous Royal Mile. If the place looked like a dream the evening before, in bright daylight it looked like a sunflower in full bloom. The market place was vibrant. People were dressed in all colours and wonder of wonders, they all wore a smile. It made sense really. Amid such beauty there couldn’t be room for much more than happiness and goodwill. To prove me right, the bagpipes broke out just then. Three men complete in tartan highland gear turned a regular shopping-spree into grand festivity. Though I was famished, lunch just had to be left for later.

The fort had already impressed upon me its timeless majesty. At 1 ‘o’ clock, it also imposed its power. A loud boom echoed in the mile, and I had to obey my stomach instantly. My little son was most wonderful throughout. It was as if even he was enjoying every moment of the day. Not for long though. And just until I had walked right up to the foot of the castle.

Away from the concrete and plasterboard reality of our automated lives, here was a legacy, treasured with love. In spite of a few modern restorations, the rustic, sophisticated charm and wizardry of an ancient architecture held their own supremacy. No number of tempered glass sheets or shining granite could fade the dignity of this fantastic structure. I would have carried on, had the rain gods remained clement.
The Edinburgh International Festival ’08 (8 August 2008- 31 August 2008), a brilliant spectrum of culture and festivity has the city under its spell. Check out what's going on.