Sunday, September 28, 2008

Death


I dread the thought of your birthday. Even after all this time, I can’t bring myself to think about you. When I meet anyone with your name, I feel sad. Not a melancholy silent sadness that is mature, but a raw sadness, raw and painful. One that probes the darkest recesses of my mind and wracks me with guilt. The day it happened I prayed for you. I remember the evening become night, as I constantly chanted every prayer I knew. I waited near the telephone a sense of horror creeping, increasing with every minute. I knew that something was terribly wrong. I prayed and slept.

The next morning crows cawed and you were no more. Strangely I remember nothing of that day. I cried, I must have. How the day passed I know not. Yet all the while I was conscious of a feeling of guilt. Of not having seen you for a long time. Of Mama and Mami. And Paati. I remember holding Amma. Being stoic and emotionless in front of Appa; breaking down in front of our friends. Images, snatches of conversations. Of meeting people, of a sense of doom. Bloody guilt all the time.

I barely saw Mama’s face. We were not allowed to see you. I remember being repulsed. Being scared. And today I regret not accompanying you on your last journey, a thought that pierces me. Bathing later was cathartic. Blessed sleep put me out of my misery.

For months later I was scared of the dark. And I hated you. For going away. For changing your seats in the van at the last moment. I hated you with a vehemence I did not know or understand. In vain I try to forget you. I don’t remember our joys, I vividly recall every fight we had. Vacations. Movies we saw. Of being scared and scarred on the way to manhood. Of a glorious friendship that could have been. Of a brother that was.

I feel the need for a grave. Hindus must have a grave. I need a place to mourn you. To cry beside you. I need some connection with you, however tenuous. Come back…

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We are like this only


“You are going na?”

“He drinks cigarettes”

“I am working at Tata Motors”

“I was just telling only ki…”

“Righta leftaa?”

One aspect of modern India sorely lacking serious study is one of its most prolific languages, English. It is everywhere; blending with local languages sometimes, at others being elitist. With English literature having a decent repertoire of Indian author’s works and with English newspapers and television channels reaching the masses, it has come of age in India.

We often speak of good English and yet our brand of the Queens tongue rings of certain peculiar oddities. These not only stem from our mother tongues, but also from the delightful hot-pot that is Indian culture. Our inability to distinguish sometimes between simple and continuous present tenses, of making strange nouns even stranger verbs lend to Inglish a quaint air. The accent stresses more and bends around anglo-saxon oddities, the language however claims absolute loyalty to British English. Quick to throw some of English archaisms, quicker to add new ones, it evolves, grows and is the gateway to a better life for many in the sub continent.

A brief look at Inglish then, with words, their origins (where possible) and context, along with general bits of information that add to ones sense of knowledge, make one smile, but are essentially useless. Inglish Trivia if you will.

Among general words that English absorbed include catamaran, pundit, jute, jungle, juggernaut (from jagannath, Puri; referring to the rath yatra), bangle (bangdi), gym (gymkhana), shampoo and cheetah (sources are in conflict, but their Indic parentage seems doubtless). Also bungalow (hindi bangla), coir and teak both of Dravidian origin; kayir(rope) and tek (teak).

Our obsessive mentality to neatly slot people into classes has burdened English with aryan and pariah. The former from Sanskrit arya meaning noble and the latter from Tamil parayan (outcaste) (also something my grandmother used to refer to me first thing in the mornings it has definite racist connotations). Aryan and the Swastika have negative connotations, thanks to you know who and pariah isn’t a whole lot nicer either.

Enriching the Anglic palate are curry and ginger from Tamil kari and inji Mulligatawny is a bad corruption of milagu tanni (pepper water). Americans, true to their bland tongues shun all spice from it and actually put boiling rice in chicken stock, elsewhere it is just badly made rasam. It doesn’t take large amounts of intellect to connect mango with tamil manga. What is interesting is that the Portuguese also call it manga, and the Alphonso got its name from the Portuguese king, who was served it for dessert by a resourceful chef, as legend has it. The raj hangover left not only a legacy back in India, it also took with it loot and thug (Gabbar Singh immediately springs to mind) and the palanquin (palki).

Much more can be studied, greater minds will deduce more. Inglish is more than a variant of English languishing in the sub-continent, remnant of past greatnesses and follies, to many of us it is lingua franca, lingua prima and most of all the mother tongue.


Update:

Historiophile reminds me that one of the most important foods gets its name from the tamil arisi (rice). The Latin orizia, Italian riso and the French riz also owe their existance to arisi. Thank you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Love


She came, whiffing of that elusive perfume. He had searched for that fragrance in vain, at stores he knew she shopped, on his mother’s dressing table. It still eluded him. An elegant swish of her dupatta as she sat down.

“Why always the salwar kameez ?”

“I’m not comfortable with jeans”

...their favourate argument at a different time. Now however both wore a veneer of distant friendship, past ties notwithstanding.

“It’s good to see you”

“Same here. One year’s a long time”

To forget, yes but apparently not enough time to forgive.

She spoke of her life, of how she juggled home and work after her mother’s illness. Over coffee reminiscences occurred. Then he spoke of his life in the new world, of loneliness and new friends. Of his job and the bitter cold. Of the ease of American life and the glitter. Of magnificent cities and his longing for Indian food.

“So you have to cook now? No amma in America? Paavam you”

Sarcastic but friendly, he admired the way she jabbed with a smile, drawing blood always. Flashes of times they had together. Always food, the focus. Cooking together, shopping for groceries, more exotic with every meeting. Relaxing on her low divan, sighing after an exceptionally tasty meal. Together in their exhaustion of having had oversweet payasam, in their fiery exultations after a spicy meal.

“So hows the weather nowadays?” Lunging for neutral ground.

“The rain is as thick as the masiyal I make, the sun as scorching as that thokku you liked”

“V…”

She continued ignoring him. You were always too flexible, she thought. Na├»ve. Someone serves you beef stroganoff and you lap it up. Typical immigrant attitude. Too much change in you. I hope….

“I’m thinking of calling the gang over for lunch. This Sunday. You don’t have to come early to help, just be there on time.”

“…”

“I will see you then, you take care”

She got up to leave. Adjusted her dupatta, and left. He noted with a smile she hadn’t offered to pay for her meal. She hadn’t changed at all. He would go on Sunday, just in time for lunch though.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blahdder


I have a long and complicated relationship with my bladder. Twenty three years ago, newly formed and all, my bladder was unaccustomed to social niceties, and so it went as it pleased. I was an innocent kid, happily peeing, unaware of the urinary restrictions placed upon us by the wider world. Strangers who lifted me often were peed upon, much to my mother’s embarrassment.

As I grew up, I learnt of the dikats. Of a concept called toilet where one peed. My mind, body, legs and bladder worked at different speeds, sometimes leading to emergency situations and sometimes beyond help. As I climbed up the ladder of age, my bladder behaved itself apart from the occasional mishap.

School was another story altogether. My school believed in discipline, the kind where children couldn’t pee when they wanted. My bladder was most offended by these new rules, but peer pressure won over pee pressure. I often used to be the first kid to run to the loo during breaks. Any requests for ‘teacher toilet’ weren’t entertained. The only way then was to say ‘teacher fast toilet’, something I learnt quickly.

Now we have reached a compromise, me and my bladder. All through the day I do as it pleases, when I sleep it won’t disturb me. Occasionally it breaks the rules and I grumble as my dreams (usually involving Mallika Sherawat, Angelina Jolie or both) are interrupted. Life goes on though.

Last week something happened that shook the very foundations of our deal. As part of a ‘drug test’ that my new employer (yes thank you thank you, big company and all) wanted to conduct on me, I was expected to give a urine sample. Acquaintances warned me not to take cough syrups and the like. Friends hid my weed. On the designated day I presented myself at the clinic. A large woman with a Mississippi accent took care of my paperwork as I set out to do the deed in a paper cup. Then it happened. I couldn’t go. My bladder refused to co-operate. I was puzzled. Usually I am the one to know where all the loo’s in a building are. I know the nearest loo from any point, in any direction, in my university. And it was embarrassing. So I had to do the unpleasant task of telling the Oprah-lookalike that I couldn’t sample, and wouldn’t be doing so at least for some more time. She gave me a look that would make most men pee in their pants, but bladderji just wasn’t in the mood. So I sat there, reading last season’s gossip, and waited. Forty minutes later I stood up, did the job and Oprah gave me a smile and said “Thank ya honey, its fresh, coz you just made it”.

Outside I slapped my forehead. Cursed myself, slapped my forehead again. Halfway home, I felt the need to pee.