Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Teething Tamil troubles

The frustration felt at not being able to read is something indescribable. It is like the loss of an arm, or misplacing your spectacles, forcing you to see blurred images. I can read, as evidenced by my writing (duh!). What I am trying to rant about is my inability to read Tamil. Having grown up far away from tamizhland, I juggled Devnagari scripts at school, read English and scribbled in Aryan tongues. I never realized what I was missing until the train one day refused to move. Let me explain. I and my mother, journeying across the country, and Indian railways decided to prove its unreliability. With nothing to do, amma started reading out loud a Sujatha novel. I was hooked. I did not understand some phrases, but I desperately wanted to read. And couldn’t. Chennai was a tortuous maze of squiggles. And I learnt the intricacies of pa and ba, ka and ga, the ever comforting zha. Ra ra, na na and na confused me. The absence of several consonants worried me, but if Tamil had survived two millennia without them, then it must be ok. I struggled. I read children’s books. I started watching mindless soap operas, and read characters names. I read ribbons under sun TV. I pored over Kumudam. I pestered all my grandmothers to teach me the alphabet. I fed young cousins barely three feet tall with the tastiest of chocolates in return for their textbooks. My efforts to read Tamil would often result in temporary suspension of all work in my house, with everyone in splits. I gave my parents headaches with my persistently silly questions. Suddenly the language I was speaking for so long refused to exist. It was a new language, with rules and grammar. With history. It wasn’t Tamil anymore, it was Tamizh. I looked longingly at bound volumes in my attic, stories waiting to be read, worlds waiting to be explored. I even procured an English translation of Kalki’s epic and read it in one go. Amma thought it remotely funny, Appa snorted. I haven’t given up as yet. I can now read bus destinations, hero’s names and simple jokes. I hope to read Ponniyin Selvan (hah!)..still I hope.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rhyme and Reason

I have never been able to write poetry. Unlike most of my friends who can wax eloquent, complete with rhyming words and all, I cannot for the life of me rhyme. Maybe it is because I have a predilection to use big words. Maybe it is because when I was little, I thought every line in a poem must rhyme. By the time I learnt of non rhyming poems, my mind had already been restricted.

The joys of haiku.

Never will I sample.

Pedestrian prose I write alas.

Coming from a family of poetry lovers didn’t help either. Dinner started with Thiruvalluvar and Kamban and dessert was served with a good portion of Khayyam. All I did was eat at that time. Sure, I do appreciate the occasional poetry, it moves me sometimes. What I cannot do is ooh and aah at implied metaphorical marvels that I cannot get. Nor does it irritate me to see people get Goosebumps at the mention of a particularly meaningful line.

Prose is capable of stirring emotions and encouraging thought. Prose is abstract and grounded. Beautiful, earthly, and solid. Poetry shifts meanings, allying itself to one of the many moods of the fickle mind. Vande Mataram makes me all quiet and contemplative. Jana Gana Mana commands respect. An occasional Gulzar or Vairamuthu will stir me. Random lyricists will have me in splits. But somehow I feel the pull of prose. Poetry is like the hot girlfriend. Prose is a comforting mother’s arms. The effect Tolkien has with his words, or the way Archer moves crisply, the way technical manuals go on for pages, without actually saying anything, crappy page 3 news full of rubbish with words littering the glitterati. Words by Bachi Kakaria and Bill Bryson will have you laughing, Lahiri makes you see futility and Tolstoy reduces to a teary rubble.

I try and try

But cannot rhyme

The output of my efforts, wry

Not worth a dime

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Me and the racist store clerk

Just because my skin produces more melanin, does not make you superior. I am probably more educated than you ever will be, and you have the IQ of a platypus’s ass. I could have said all of this to her face, but all I did was give her a look of supreme disgust, mumble something under my breath and leave.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cyclic redundancy

A warm evening, so unusual for this part of the world. As I lay at home curled with a novel I thought of the bizarre turn of events that had left me employed, but unemployed. With nothing to do, I would have breakfast at noon, lunch by five and drop off to sleep whenever the fancy struck. I took long walks by myself which manifested themselves in weird dreams.

A few days into this, I suddenly rediscovered the joys of cycling. Cycling not only exercises the calves, but also sets the spirit free. Sounds like something a nineteenth century French philosopher would say, no?

Still. It is true. As I began going around the familiar streets encircling my home, I forgot distances and a few minutes I was roving like never before, one minute huffing, gasping and cursing up steep hills, the other moment, rewarded with wonderful views, steep downward slopes and the feeling of flight. My feet, that night were in their own world of pain but that did not matter. I’ll keep this up after I start working, I promised. Cycling I went twice more till the email came asking me to join ASAP.

Now the borrowed cycle sits in the hallway, gears set, greased and seat adjusted to my height. Probably its own purpose in life was to keep me sane all this time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Come on…quick…don’t be scared, Solapur is a water filling station, half an hour to go

And so the day would begin. The Madras mail left Mumbai at midnight, and this was the first thing I would hear the next day, with my father prodding his scared son to leave the confines of the great carrier that is the Indian railways.

Summer vacations invariably meant heat, mangoes and trips to madras. I used to love travelling by trains, I still do. I’m a complete sucker for trains. There is an irresistible romance associated with train journeys that flights just can’t make up for.

And we always took the madras mail, even though it took 30 long hours to cover the distance between home and a city very very close to home(not geographically, of course…of all the insanities that one could attribute to me, geographical incorrectness is not one of them). The train would speed through the fertile landscape, cutting across states, blurring views, relentlessly southeast. Solapur would be followed by Gulbarga, and the names of the stations would no longer be in comforting Devnagari, but in alien squiggles. Karnataka would pass by in a blur of a small novel and lunch. Andhra was always dreaded because of the heat. The landscape was unforgiving as well, barren parched earth, clumps of trees. Here and there a farm would exist, defying the lack of water and the killing heat, shoots of rice swaying to the trains slipstream. Crossing over the Krishna and Tungabhadra granted views of sandy expanses, dry riverbeds and occasional relics, sure to be submerged with the oncoming monsoons.
Another thing that would occur would be that chaiwallas no longer served chai, but coffee. South India slowly began, Hindi would be replaced by a patois, of Telugu and Tamil. Rotis would be quickly consumed and curd rice would be the main course. Onward we would go, Cudappah and Renigunta and finally Arakkonam in the wee hours of the morning. The train would suddenly bustle with the eagerness of people to leave the train. Groggy eyed, I’d embrace the hot morning air (only in Madras, can even the mornings be hot). And near basin bridge, the inevitable stench of sewage, as the train pulled into central. Sunrise and I’d be bear hugged by any aunt, (who had managed to wake up by then). Madras. Marina. Grandmom’s. Cousins. A whole month of fun. Aah…nostalgia.