Friday, February 5, 2010


Idlichutney is moving.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Associations inevitably come into being aided by memories. And years later when the memories have no co-relation to the present the association still sticks, perhaps this is what constitutes nostalgia. Like or dislike for a place can stem in various ways. Some places have a romantic air about them that lend them a quality of Shangri-La. Some have an oppressive and foul name attached to them, like a malignant canker. The former and latter are talked often talked about leading us to attach epithets to those places. Some places are famous because of some natural attraction, or political importance. And there are some places that exist only on maps nestled along treacherous contours or nested unluckily in between page folds or margins; places that are just meaningless dots on a railroad.

For someone who is in the lesser twenties, talking about any earlier era seems redundant, even if the ensuing decades are littered with major changes. Even if I am a child of the new age, googling away to glory and crippled without wikipedia I cannot but look at the nineties with a simple longing. And my memories of the India I saw and experienced then threaten to go away to that wispy place where all memories eventually go to. The more I remember, the more I hazy it seems until the past and present merge into a continuum. So cutting a long thread short, my associations with places date mainly from the nineties. Chennai was the sunrise, temples and strains of MSS's suprabhatam. Kolkata was a thirty six hour train ride on the Geetanjali and the fervent bleats of a goat before it splotched in blood, Mumbai was Bollywood and gangsters and Bangalore was for retired people.

Today's Bangalore contrasts with my minds Bangalore with a violent clash amidst honks of incessant traffic. For a wide eyed kid taking in notes furiously ( yes yours truly scribbled in notebooks while travelling, made lists of stations encountered and described landscapes ), Bangalore was confusing even then. Was it a small city? Was it a large town? How could it be a city if it had such gorgeous weather ? I remember standing with my mouth wide open at the Visveswaraiyya technological museum, especially at a display showing a continuum machine with balls running though it. My mouth remained open as I awed at Kids Kemp, and stubbornly refused to close strolling along M G road with its book shops and old fashioned coffee houses and a tree lined pavement, Brigade road with all its 'modern' shopping and Ulsoor which suddenly seemed like a suburb of Chennai (I know I'm ruffling feathers here :P ). When the train pulled out of Cantt station, I silently prayed we got transferred and could live there. A recent trip to the city also had me agape, at the airport first, then at MG road where trees were furiously being hacked, but as India moves so must old sensibilities.

I wish this wizened twenty something could visit the Bangalore of the nineties again, but don't we all want to relive the past?

PS: Happy birthday, to a pesky Banglorean.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Vadivu sniffed the air, something was not right. And whatever was not right, was attracting her irresistibly. Something rose deep within her, almost like the rush she felt at nights with her husband. But this was different. She sniffed deeply again, inhaling fully and the scent left her before she could completely explore it. Dropping the basket she was carting she stepped back a few paces and looked around. Just another normal day. And no one had time to notice a low-caste woman who carried excreta away. In a back alley of all places. Untying her saree’s loose end to fan herself in the hopes of trapping the scent within its folds she inhaled again in quick short bursts this time. And it hit her. The most blissful divine scent. Definitely masculine, full bodied, rich dark and enticing beyond rapture.

Dhanammal wished the tonga would move faster. It was hot and she dare not uncover her face lest any man set sight upon her. Her mother-in-law sat next to her and her husband Thannilaipadi Narayanaswami, in front of them. She was new to Madras and the sights and sounds awed her and scared her at the same time. Narayanaswami worked for the East India Company. It was a prestigious position and he often reminded Dhanammal of his importance by unleashing English words at home. Sometimes in passion, sometimes in fury, sometimes in boredom. Many of his words were poorly pronounced, some bizarre to the point of offense but the illiterate Dhanammal had no way of knowing his folly.

The tonga stalled. Apparently there was some commotion in the road ahead. Narayanaswami got down to investigate. As they sweated it out in the blazing midday sun, Dhanammal smelt it. Her first reaction was to turn up her nose at what she perceived as an alien stench. Then a curious secondary sniff and the slow realization that she was smelling something new, something different. She turned to see if her mother noticed anything, but Periya Meenakshiamma was asleep, her drool coating the edge of her widow’s saree, her tonsured scalp sweating freely. Slowly she raised her head out of her veil. She turned around to the source and saw an Englishman’s mansion. And amidst the noise and stench of the city, amidst the perspiration of a hundred men, the distinct flavor wafted to her. “Like Radha to Krishna” she thought. Several well dressed men and women were seated around tables. Just as the tonga lurched, she saw a dirty ragged half caste woman sniff the air vigorously. Dhanammal felt sick to her stomach and retreated in the veil again, content to sniff the diluted scent that spinned her head.

The incident was a few months ago. Deepawali had come and gone and the winter chill was upon them. “Ice falls in England. Ice katti. brrr” Narayanaswami shivered one particularly cold day, refusing his cup of buttermilk that Dhanammal had churned for him. The couple had settled down in Madras in a tiny house near kotai. Dhanammal had busied herself in domestication while Periya Meenakshiammal acted supervisor tut-tutting her disapproval more often than not. Come margazhi and Dhanammal requested her husband to take her to see the magnificent Kapaleeswarar temple at Mylapore. Now and then Dhanammal would recall the day she smelt ‘that’ but she never whiffed it on any of the innumerable trips she made to Mylapore. At the temple market she kept herself unnaturally aware of her surroundings and yet she never whiffed that scent. It must have been magic, or the heat she thought to herself. Yes the heat.

Narayanaswami was deferential to his bosses at work and played the role of a subservient dull clerk to boot. He befriended no one from his office preferring to rush home and immerse himself in brahminical rituals of yore. Occasionally Dhanammal would sing to him what she had learnt in her childhood. A mixed bag of bhajans, prayers and the occasional keerthanai. She would often try to impress him with a Dikshitar krithi (to whom Narayanaswami was partial as he claimed descent from the composer) but failed miserably. Life went moved on in the slow sedate way that urbanity sometimes brings.

To be continued…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mee Marathi

For someone who has grown up speaking Marathi, the whole mee Marathi thing seems a little jaded. Even since Raj Thakeray went from being a on the sidelines to a politician of prominence the debate has raged endlessly; to Maharashtrianize or not that is the question.

And I have no easy answer. I have found myself vociferously opposing the man’s strategies and vehemently endorsing what he says at times. Maybe it is the Marathi boy in me speaking, maybe this is what philosophers call ‘rationale’. I do not know, but the Marathi issue is too close a topic to the heart to not talk about or to brush under the carpet.

Mrs. Pawar was my first link to the Marathi world, a burly woman, she babysat me till while my parents went off to work . It was at her place that I took my toddler steps and ate varan-bhat. I learnt to cuss in the way to school sharing meager space in an autorickshaw with seven other kids. I learnt to read at tuition classes (Mrs. Koregaonkar, who prayed to all the Gods in the pantheon for my passing) and learnt the ‘gavthi’ accent from our bai. I have more friends to whom I speak the language than I care to admit, and have sighed endlessly over ‘davya dolyavar vat’ all the time maintaining my innocence with a studied ‘khara ki!’.

The charm of Marathi is lost in Mumbai people will moan but ask anyone to speak hindi and the words will be littered with offerings form Marathi. Scores of words I use to express myself in lose their beauty in sore translation. How can one explain to a non Maharashtrian what ‘halkat’ is. Or when someone is being a ‘bawlat’. Or what the meaning of ‘maaz’ actually is? To date I call the potato batata and onion kanda regardless of the language I speak in. And what can replace the mellifluousness of a sighing heart, lost in its sweet nothings of ‘premat padloy’. The exclamation ‘haila’ (immortalized by a Mr Tendulkar) to a coy ‘laaz’ and the versatile ‘ai gaa’.

You can take sides all you want, I am content sitting on the fence here. Or maybe even on the other side, where comfort takes precedence over language and words are no longer hindered by thoughts. It is not years of schooling that have made me Marathi, neither is it long nights of mugging up textbooks. Belonging doesn’t stem from laughing helplessly over PL Deshpande’s works or from sipping the perfect solkadhi. I can live in the USA, consume mounds of rice drenched in rasam but when the going gets tough I sigh a fortituous ‘sagla bara hoil’ and that’s really all it is to it.



gavthi: pertaining to the country, rural

davya dolyavar vat : curl of hair over the right eye, line from a famous song

khara ki: really?

halakt: a man of loose morals

bawlat: irksome, troublesome? I cannot find an exact meaning, peevish maybe?

maaz: charbi(Hindi), kozhupu(Tamil)

premat padloy: fallen in love

haila, ai gaa: exclamations!

laaz: shame, blush

solkadhi: a Konkani dal with kokum in it, is simply awesome

sagla bara hoil: all will be well

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pithy prose

I am never too enthused about grammar. There are those who ponder for hours thinking if a participle must be gerunded or if the adjective clause satisfies causal requirements for it to be one. I am not one of those. In fact grammar can go take a hike as far as I am concerned. This is not to say that I sentences constructs this like, but that as long as I can get my information across I am good.

Clauses and the like only serve to confuse the already bewildered writer, who has reached this state of bewilderment because of the many eccentricities that bedevil this English language. Anyone can attest to the fact that English is a minefield of traps of various forms, and the unwary are often causalities in its complex constructs.

Although in hindsight, professing to write without heed to grammar is like attempting to sing without following a raga, ie. Simply noise. A friend of mine, a grammar nazi, spends all his free time hacking away my beautiful prose with the axe of grammar and punctuation. I call my prose beautiful only because after all the grammar bashing I was left drained and my self confidence languished below a heap of incorrectly used adverbs.

Spellings are another grey area, or is it a gray area? I know not, but my friend the spell check that Microsoft so kindly provides wildly gesticulates with red undulating waves and lets me know of lexical malapropisms among other things. It also fancies itself by neatly underlining all of my prose with green waves. Apparently this signals bad bad grammar. Wren and Martin (who are to English Grammar what Rakhi Sawant is to the Indian Media) would frown with extreme displeasure.

Perhaps I must take to writing in French, although I am entirely unsure how the French would react to moi butchering through their pretty cedillas and cute accents. Also if memory serves right French objects carry genders, rather all objects when referred to in French, must be addressed respectfully by a gender, failure of complying to which leads to a report of sexual abuse and a stint in the prison linguistique in Montreal.

Which is when I realize the versatility, beauty and brilliance of ‘it’. It effectively desexualizes any lingering masculinity or femininity in objects and clears our obfuscation in addressing things. It also lets you insult subtly a male or female by referring to them as such thereby effectively rendering genderless (Although some species of homo sapiens may be too dense to get the intricacies of this, in order to insult them, just slap them. Once should do the trick).

Rambling along and ranting about positives and negatives has made me weary and wise

Off I go with the rest of my damaged poise

All of this dear reader isn’t just noise

I shall post regularly or may the Gods smite my voice.

PS: Apologies for the absence, and failure to reply to previous posts.

Regular programming hopefully resumes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


For me Bombay has always been home. If anyone asks me “favourate city” I say Bombay in a heartbeat. There are several reasons I am attached to the city, apart from the fact that it always spells out home. So recently I was myself stumped (discombobulated, googly-ed, startled senseless out of my wits) when someone asked my what’s my favourate city and I said “Chennai”.

There was silence, the kind associated with a patriarch revealing incestuous facts of a family. Friends opened mouths and forgot to close them, others looked at me and wondered if the flu hit my brain and as for myself I sat in a quiet daze of shock still ruffled at the alacrity and the gall of my response. Later that night I took in a deep breath and came out of the proverbial closet. To myself first, then to family and friends. It was true I liked Chennai, ok loved. Yes I had always had these aberrant desires. No it wasn’t my parent’s fault I assured them. It must be the trauma of a scarring childhood experience my wise counselors sighed and concluded. Maybe it is.

Vacation for me always meant gallivanting off to the south by whatever means of transport available. And vacations were never complete without Chennai. The city played host to me several time a year, lulled me to sleep on lazy summer days, fed my appetites on breezy evenings and watched me grow with a matronly eye. As a kid, and a Bombayite I hated Chennai. I wanted to Gestapo the auto-karans, outlaw Saravana Bhavan and revamp the Marina into a mega-mall. No one travelled by trains, buses ahd alphabets and no one spoke indhi. And yet I unfailingly visited the city, my visits held together by a gaggle of endearing relatives and affectionate grandparents.

Very much like the prodigal son coming home, slow realization dawned on me. Like the first soft rays of dawn that broke over the Bay of Bengal, like the subtle aroma of coffee assaulting nostrils, like the gentle whiff of malli on a hot summer’s day. Every time I visited the city I was hit by a wave of nostalgia and a realization of returning to something inherently comfortable. Chennai did not have Bombay’s sense of acceptance or Bombay’s kill to get to the top attitude, but Chennai felt different, felt like home.

Childhood remembrances are important clues to personality traits my psychiatric friend says. If ever mine was analyzed there would be an entire kaleidoscope of images. Of Mylapore in the mornings, T. Nagar in the evenings. Of going up and down the 1A with cousins, running on the endless expanse of sand on Marina and a thousand other inconspicuous, innocuous memories all of which climax into a giant snowball of emotions leading to lumpy throats and misted visions.

So there. I’m coming out on my blog now. I love Chennai, I think it rocks and I’m proud of it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

There and back again

Dedication to writing is one thing I admittedly lack, as evidenced by the gaps in my blog archives. I would rather it have at least four posts every month and be a neat 48 to close a year but then life rarely moves in symmetrical progressions. Nastiness abounds in various forms and blogging is the first casualty too often. I admire some who keep managing to spew words out week after week irrespective of what offerings they chew in life. A recent blogging behavior of mine has been to trash almost everything I write as un-blogworthy. As a result of this incessant trashing I lost focus of what was blogworthy and gave up writing altogether rather than face complex theological conundrums.

I blog because I write. And when writing itself is stilted, blogging automatically stops. Why then , I thought to myself in a rare moment of self introspection did I not write anymore? Writing is impulsive stemming from a momentous inspiration I reflected. Images, people, words, music and all of the aspects that go on to making our daily life are reflected in one bright nanosecond of a realization that writers expound in words.

Or writing springs from a carefully collected repository of ideas. Ideas that have been examined for fallacies and stored. Ideas that are to be written about because of their very fallaciousness, ideas that are hilarious and ideas that are profoundly interesting. But this would involve a certain degree of discarding time since reflections are rarely pertinent to the current real world. These I like to write and there is a certain degree of comfort that comes from dipping into ones thoughts and not having to worry about how those fit in with the times.

The cynic in me then pops his head to say that I write merely for an audience. I shamelessly concur. What art is not driven by the thought of praise or of moving the masses? Although it will take a lot more than my pedestrian prose to move masses I yearn to see my words in print, with my name bolded. So the lack of a discerning audience is the real reason for my intermittent hiatuses. There is a part of me that still thinks that writing that is for fame’s sake must be shallow and will cause the well of ideas to dry up as a vengeful curse, very indicative of my minds medieval weirdness. A small conscience wanted to write for humanity when the cynic replies that words do not fill stomachs.

So I a fit of cognitive blogging I write about writing thus metablogging and also pushing another of my digressive ramblings into blog archives. Here’s to hoping the metaphorical well never has to dry up again!