Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last leaf out of my secret diary

Many a time, I scroll my Facebook wall, see my posts and tell myself, “Oh! My life is an open-book!” From posting myriad of status messages about trivial things to blogging about some earth-shattering topics, I’ve been constantly striving to record my life. Despite being self-expressive, I realised that I haven’t let a word out about a couple of incidents that have scarred me for life. I wanted to write about it when people came to roads to express their solidarity with the brave heart, who lost her life in the Delhi gang rape incident. I wanted to write about it when I read indefinite number of articles about young girls being molested. I wanted to write about it when girls were raped by their own family members. But there was an unknown force that stopped me from penning down my thoughts. Maybe, it was an apprehension about telling the world that I am a victim too. Perhaps, it took a tad too long for me to realise that the incident should not be kept personal anymore for it teaches a crucial lesson. Today, I understand that there is no shame in telling that ‘IT’ happened and the story has to be recounted.

When this incident occurred, I was about seven or eight and we were living in a place that’s considered the cultural hub of Chennai. It was a sultry evening. As I was used to spending time with my friends every evening, I was too bored that day since I couldn’t find any of them. We lived in a small lane and our house was the first one. To cope with boredom, I sang to myself and kept walking from one end to the other end of the lane. There weren’t many people in the lane on the day that it happened. My mother was at home and she was chatting with a relative. I used to have long hair then and I vividly remember what I was wearing that day. A white colour hair band decorated my hair and I wore a long blue-colour frock. I was fatter and taller for my age and I was always considered older. I continued to walk in the lane for a while before I chose to ascend the staircase at one of the houses. As I was climbing the stairs, a man, who might have been in his early 40’s emerged from his house in the first floor. I had known the man because he was my neighbour, he was married to our family friend and his daughter was my sister’s friend. Although I was a kid, I had observed my parents discussing this man’s behaviour. He was aloof and his wife was not happy with him. His daughter spoke with him only when she needed pocket money. That man led a ruined family. Nobody had seen him smile. But much to my surprise, as I was on the stairs, he grinned from ear to ear. I couldn’t see the evilness in his smile. He descended a couple of steps to come close to me. Only God knows why I didn’t run away from him. Maybe, it was because I hadn’t seen a demon before. I was stationary there while he slipped his hand into my underclothes to feel one of the most personal belongings of a woman. Although his abuse went on for a few minutes, I didn’t seem to understand his idea. He stopped suddenly. Perhaps, he heard footsteps or he generally feared being caught red-handed. As I turned to head home again, I realised that he had left a one-rupee coin in my underwear and that made me see his wrongdoings. I knew that nobody would carry a coin there. I ran back home and narrated the entire story to my mother, who fumed with rage. She employed profanity to the highest degree. She said to me, “You wait here! I will kill that man. How can he do this!” She ran to his house and willfully yelled so that everybody could hear. I wasn’t with my mother to learn what happened then. But she told me that he wouldn’t do that again and she said, “Next time, if somebody does that to you, you should tell me.” I understood what he did was just wrong and I was grateful to my mother for allowing me to bring it up if it happened again. Unlike others, she didn’t conceal it nor did she think it was shameful. However the understanding was not deep enough I suppose for it happened again and someone whom my family knew so well did it.

I was almost of same age when this relative of mine, who visited us quite often, abused in a subtle fashion. He was in college then. I presume he was around 20. He would come home to meet my parents, savour my mom’s food and to lay on my lap. While my parents thought he was just being extra-affectionate to me, little did they understand that he wanted to lay on my lap to feel what he was not supposed to touch. Despite knowing that he was being a little creepy as he constantly did that every day, I succumbed to his fake affection. The kid didn’t understand her mother’s advice when she was abused the first time and so, she didn’t report it this time. He had to stop visiting us as he was getting busy with life and now I can’t envisage what he would have done to me if he continued to come home.

Only when I was a teenager, I found out what they did was sexual abuse only after I attended an awareness program in school. I gained more insight only after I discussed it with my school-friends. Thankfully, after my relative, I didn’t fall in anyone’s trap. However, when discussions on ‘abuse’ happen, I tie my tongue to refrain from sharing my experiences for no valid reason. But today I asked a couple of questions to myself? By blogging about my nighmare, am I going to be judged? Am I going to lose anything? The answer is negative as I honestly don’t care anymore. And will this be of any help to people? Yes! I plead with all parents to be extra-cautious to save children from those, who succumb to carnal pleasures, to save children from being victimised and to save children from what might scar them for lives. We are certainly at a juncture where children have to learn about ‘touches’, gain knowledge about that we shyly utter ‘sex education’ and understand whom to trust. As it happened in my life, the perpetrator might come in the form of your neighbour, relative or best friend. But I certainly don’t suggest that no one should be trusted. Trust, as they say, should get better with time.

From boarding a bus to taking an elevator, women and children have been asked to be vigilant to ‘save’ themselves from the abusers. While I wholeheartedly loathe that concept of ‘being alert and learning to defend oneself’ (as I expect the scumbags to be put in their places), I also reckon that these kind of stories should come out more to realise that it can happen to anybody and it can happen anywhere. I often tell myself ‘It happened to me and the perpetrator would suffer at the hands of Karma. However that gruesome act will never cow me down for I am bigger than all that. And if it happens again, I will be my own voice. It will not be part of my secret diary neither will I shed tears. But I will bring it to light.’ And that’s what I would love my female friends to do too. Although I’m trying not to be preachy here, I would still like to underscore the importance of bringing the wrongdoers to gallows. Not to execute them but to tear their masks off.

What happened to me when I was a child might have scarred me, but it can never sabotage my trust in men for there are many gems, whom I have found by taking my own time.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Writing woes! Whew!

When I am often asked about the purpose of my life, I usually roll my eyes, oscillate my hip like a little girl, scratch my head and nonchalantly say, “Maybe, just to read and write!” That’s how simple are my ambitions in life. Although I cultivated the habit of reading quite recently (say five years ago), I have always liked writing. I still remember the first essay that I wrote about my family. And I wonder how I could frame sentences when I was not even seven (because I still get stuck quite often). I could constantly practise writing, thanks to my school, where I could participate in many essay competitions. During my school days, little did I realise that I was fond of languages. If I had known then, probably, I wouldn’t have chosen to study Commerce in school and Chartered Accountancy after that because I couldn’t cope with both of it. Then life took a detour and I worked in a BPO for about six years before I managed to get a job in journalism. Fortunately, for the last one year, I have been writing almost every day and I have to be grateful for having got what I didn’t expect. But today, I’m here to whine again for the very reason that I’m not writing enough. Quite contradicting, isn’t it?

Maybe, I should take you back to 2008 when I began blogging. It all started with a couple of short stories, which I have chosen not to read again in my life. But I was proud of the fact that I could write stories and I went around telling people, “Look! Look! I can write!” And that was when a super rude acquaintance chose to quell my spirit with his negative criticism. I stopped writing for a while. Then I tried to hone my skills. And yes, it worked to a decent degree and I thought, perhaps, I was ready to resume scribbling. I started writing again in 2010 and since then, I have been trying to update my blog quite often. After taking up a reporter / sub-editor job at Deccan Chronicle, I couldn’t blog much. But this October, I was addicted to the pleasure of writing flash fiction and I even wrote two stories a day. For a month, the flow was not disrupted at all until a lot of friends wrote kind words to me. A lot many told that they log into Facebook everyday to read my stories. And many told that they thoroughly liked reading my ‘kutti kadhai’. Despite accepting the compliments humbly, I experienced withdrawal symptoms. The frequency of writing two stories a day came down to one and I gradually stopped writing. Now many friends inquire why I have stopped writing. Honestly, negative criticism and excess love in the form of appreciations bog me down. I quit writing when my style was ridiculed. Now I again battle with another phase of dryness because I realise that there are some people, who look forward to reading my pieces. Their expectations pressurise and I succumb to the stress. I end up not writing anything at all because I worry about meeting my readers’ expectations. That mere headache makes me forget my belief that I write for myself and I write to nourish my soul.

I’ve been telling myself that I should clear the cobweb that's formed in my blog soon. However I had to push myself to reappear here. When I feel the impulse to write a piece, I pen it down come what may. But when I’m not inspired enough, writing a small blog also comes across as a herculean task. I am constantly trying to overcome what seems to be one of the biggest challenges. However, one of my favourite writers Ernest Hemingway comes along to help with his inspirational opinions!

Eight and counting...

It’s that time of the year again. Although I can say certain things in a few words, much to your bad luck, I am addicted to the pleasure of writing. Hence I would go about writing 1500 words to take a trip down memory lane and share a few beautiful thoughts.

Thanks to all the big fat weddings that I attended and the ones that I watched in films, as a kid, I thought that my wedding would also be a glitzy affair. But I fell in love with a unique guy, who was victimised by destiny’s schadenfreude and so, on a rainy evening in 2006, we decided that we would tie the knot that December. In unison, we questioned ourselves, “Can’t we simply live together?” After giving a thought about all the brickbats that my parents would have to face, we chose to get hitched. It wasn’t a big fat fairytale wedding that I dreamt to have. At the same time, it wasn’t an adventurous one that you watch in movies. Our wedding was a calm two-hour ceremony. We were enveloped by our immediate families, who were happy-not-so-happy about our decision, but still they respected our choices and we were ‘blessed’ by folks, who tried their best to not ridicule us. They were not to be blamed. Despite being a part of the world that was developing exponentially and in spite of witnessing quite a few inter-caste marriages, our wedding still came across as a rude shock to many, as the bride was in her late teens and the groom was in his early twenties. With a lot of indifference and defiance around, we entered what one might consider one of the most important phases of life – matrimony.

December 6, 2006, we were pronounced husband and wife. Unlike the reel couples, who would scream their heads off saying ‘Yes! Yes! We did it!” after tying the knot, we realised that nothing changed in our lives. It was pretty much business as usual. Except for the fact that we enjoyed a sense of relief that we had crossed the biggest hurdle of our lives, everything remained the same. The next day after our wedding (December 7), I was at work, much to the surprise, of my colleagues. Honestly, after wedding, we seemed to have realised that we belonged to each other since the time we met. So the one day drama of doing the incomprehensible rituals and striking awkward poses in front of a strange photographer, didn’t affect us much. 

Gradually, life picked up pace. It wasn’t a bed of roses and quite fortunately, we learnt it at an early stage of our marriage. From gathering courage and sagacity to make four individuals, who were as different as chalk and cheese, live under the same roof to battling with internal and external demons, life clearly taught us that marriage is not child play. Thanks to my loved ones, who let us experiment and learn from our debacles, we coped with what seemed close to impossible. Our target was not just to cope with an avalanche of challenges that we later faced, but to come out lustrously was our objective. There is a warrior and sage in each of us, who take in charge when time comes and clears out all that bothers one. Or it might be the game of kismet that sometimes life is veered to the best side. Whatsoever! In the name of marriage, life taught us crucial and subtle lessons that we have gladly imbibed.

Today, we enter our eighth year of marriage (I think I have done my math correctly :D). I realise that I thoroughly enjoy living with this one hell of a man, who is an epitome of quite a few nice (and not-so-nice) things. But I love him for what he is. (Can I also say that he loves me for what I am? :D) Although, almost every woman longs to marry a nice man, through my experience, I learnt that that man has to be the best roomie and needless to say, he has to be the best friend. And naturally, he would turn into a good husband too. 

So, yeah, Sama, you are my perfect roomie, bestest companion and a super-cool husband! And yes, I will tell this every year. If you choose to get married in your next birth too, just keep in mind, I’m game for it. Yes, for another lifetime! Because you know why! 

Writers' block

After a hiatus of few days, today she forces herself to write. She realises that she has gradually gotten rid of the healthy addiction. It’s been a while since she opened MS Word. Today, she is in no mood to let herself go. She reluctantly opens her computer to write something, but she begins to socialize with folks on Facebook. Then she kicks herself and exclaims, “I’m supposed to write! But wait! What do I write about! I’m so dry for ideas today.” The word ‘ideas’ frightens her. She has to conceive of ideas to write stories at work too. But she loves ideating to write some teeny-weeny stories, that she really enjoys writing. But her brain plays spoilsport today. Nothing is inspiring for the tired soul. She doesn’t want to give up. She thinks hard. She thinks of the work that is peaceful these days. She thinks of her family that’s even more peaceful of late. She thinks of friends. They are those same old weirdos and too-busy-with-life guys. She thinks of current affairs. Talwars and Tejpal are beyond her comprehension. She looks at her pet dog with a sense of belief. At least, will that old boy come to her rescue to help her with some inspiration to pen a few words? Negative! The fur baby is fast asleep. He looks like he is dreaming of chasing off a bunch of dogs on the streets. She switches on the TV. There is this old actor called Livingstone, who walks in woods, as he sings a romantic number and his love-interest is mesmerized. Sigh! She checks time again. It’s 1.10 am. It’s witching hour. Witching hour! The term is a not-so-good one. She is reminded of the thriller that she watched the previous day. It wasn’t scary. But it makes her feel eerie now. She flushes the thought out forcefully. She thinks hard this time around. There are a lot about people that she wants to write. The absurdities, generosity, compassion, passion, love and lust fascinate her. When she began to think, there was no thought that impressed her. Now after having pushed herself, she has too many thoughts that raise hands and say, “Write about me! Me! Me!” She wipes off all of it. The strong urge to attack the keyboard incessantly hasn’t surfaced yet, she reckons. That compelling thought, which should do the much-needed arm-twisting hasn’t emerged yet, she believes. It’s yet another day. Writing just doesn’t happen regardless of how genuinely she attempts. She throws her imaginary pen. She tears off her imaginary paper. She scratches her imaginary unkempt hair. She comforts herself, as she says, “It’s okay. There is a tomorrow. I shall try again!” Before she lets her mind to rest, she ascertains that it’s 461 words long already! :)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

An unquenchable thirst

When I woke up this morning, I honestly didn’t know that I would take a break from work for a couple of days. There was a tiny wish that grew up to an avalanche and I willfully succumbed. I decided that I would take off from all the madness to catch up with all the reading that I have dearly missed this year and spend some time irritating amma and Calvin. I lounged on the sofa for hours, downed two cups of filter coffee, savoured vendakkai sambar and beans curry and discussed animal cruelty, health and our star Calvin with amma. During my light chat with amma, an unexpected emptiness enveloped me and I have chosen to rant about it today.

Although it’s been a year since I joined a newspaper, amma hasn’t read more than a couple of news item that I have written so far, since she can’t understand English like we do. And she doesn’t have an idea that I blog and write stories. It wasn’t a sudden discovery for me. But the realisation hit me harder this time. As we conversed, I told her that some of my friends like my stories and articles. She wore an innocent smile as she said, “Oh! Good! Okay!” I longed like a child, who expected to be showered with her parents’ appreciations for crayoning a mountain, sun and a few birds. I wanted amma to use more words. I expected her to ask me how I learnt to write and who my inspirations were. But she simply smiled. She couldn’t pose questions nor did she pass better remarks. She left me in a state of uncertainty or let’s say, I felt like I was in a limbo. As an aspiring writer, my unquenchable thirst of my works not being read by my own mother, who taught me the rudiments of the language that I use profusely, was almost like a stab at the heart.

When I write interesting articles for work, as soon as I wake up in the morning, I ask my father if he read it. Then I ask my husband to give it a glimpse. And as a ruthless daughter, I usually don’t check with amma if she would want to understand what I write. I take her for granted. I take her disadvantage for granted, which today I understand is unfair. I’m unsure if she would love to read my writings, but I went on a guilt trip for not hearing her.

After having been addicted to the pleasure of writing a story or an essay every day, I have gradually earned a few friends of same feather, who read my works regularly and help me with constructive criticism. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them for walking this beautiful path with me. My sister is one of my regular readers. She likes it or not, she doesn’t miss reading it. But she dons the hat of my mother, when it comes to reviewing my works (I presume that that is how my mother would review my works if she reads). My sister doesn’t hand me brickbats at all for she always chooses to give me bouquets. Once in a while, I force my father to read my short stories. He begins with the first word, skips a couple of sentences and then directly goes to the last sentence. I reckon that my writing is not gripping for him. My significant other is my proof-reader. Even when I finish writing a story at the wee hours, he happily agrees to give it a read and helps me clean up my copies. In spite of posting the stories online and taking feedback from many chums, today I learn that there is a tiny spot in my heart that is waiting to be filled with my amma’s feedback about my writing. I know that it is not practically possible. But this is how a budding writer feels about not being recognised by her mother. Even if she grows big to garner more attention and recognition, there would be a wish in her bucket list that will never be checked – to hear some simple words from her mother about her works. It is a curse, if I may use a harsh word, something of that sort, to not to be seen as a writer by one’s mother. But it’s certainly not a curse that dampens one’s spirit. Like I mentioned earlier, it is an unquenchable thirst. The little girl continues to draw mountains, rivers and birds and longs to be acknowledged by her loved one.

I used to write a lot in Tamil often. In truth, I even wrote amma a beautiful letter, when she was not enjoying good health. And I must admit that it strengthened our bond. I wish that I could create more time to resume writing in Tamil soon for many a reason.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Life is good'

Internet is full of pictures that make us go 'awwww' and 'cho chweet'. Many like seeing photographs of actors and many more love to see babies' pictures. And there are many like me who can't resist photographs of animals. The pictures of cute doggies, cats, elephants, tigers, lions and every other animal on the planet make us feel I-want-them-all. And in my case, if I waste so much of time on the Internet, it is because I keep seeing some doggie picture and say 'so sweet' some million times.

Few sites post theme photographs of dogs. For instance, recently I laughed till my belly hurt when I saw pictures of dogs with human-like expressions. And I was disturbed by photographer Martin Usborne's pictures of 'Dog in Cars'. Those pictures can shake even a stone-hearted person. So, when I was scrolling my Facebook page, drooling over all the doggie pictures, this random thought occurred to me. How would it be if I created an album of some quirky pictures of my pet dog, my angel, my furry-friend, Calvin! How cool would it be to show-off some dainty pictures of Calvin wearing myriad of expressions! So, this blog is dedicated to my bestestest ever companion Calvin and to all animal lovers, who would love to destress seeing my cuddle-bag's pictures! 

My baby brother is 10-years-old. But he has conveniently forgotten that fact. And so, he chooses to show that puppy face and bulbous eyes quite often. We couldn't afford to take plenty of pictures of Calvin, when he was a puppy (as in in the real sense). But these days, I leave no stone unturned to capture the melange of expressions of my blessing. 

The baby potato aka Calvin always looks cute. However he looks cuter when he puts up an act to taste human food. So, I have photographed some of those moments, when Calvin fixed his big eyes on our food. He doesn't throw tantrums or he doesn't bark when he wants to relish our food. The bubble-boy just sits in front of us, keeps seeing our food, drools buckets and chooses to look pitiful. So, when our friends and relatives visit us and find Calvin acting like an Oscar winner, they advise us not to starve him. But everybody doesn't appreciate the fact that this baby-admirer is greedy. He downs his bowl of Pedigree first before he shows us that deplorable face asking for dosai and idli. All the pictures that I have posted here were taken when his mammoth-tummy was full! Whenever I shared all these delicacies with him, he just didn't use words to say that 'Life is good'. But he licked me generously to thank me and tell me how much he loved these foods! So scroll down and bask in his cuteness!

The orange colour piece that you see is thattai, which is Calvin's favourite snack and he has been strictly forbidden from savouring it. But once in a while, I feed him. (Shh! Nobody knows!)

Rava laddu is my husband's favourite sweet. But now you know, who else likes it too. Often, we call Calvin rava laddu. That's one of our terms of endearment. And he enjoys that! Totally! 

I read somewhere that Labradors dream of Bananas. Calvin loves those too. But we frequenly buy apples at home. And our Laddu swallows one or two pieces hurriedly when no one is looking. Yes, sometimes he steals if it's his favourite bite. Bad habit! I will take the onus of reforming him! :)

My brother seems to know how to take care of himself. He chooses to relish a lot of healthy foods and Sundal is one of his favourites. He prefers it when it's less oily. But he doesn't mind anyway! he he he!

Another picture of Calvin waiting for my nod. Apples! He can't resist!

If you ever thought that children and animals won't like to have medicines, think again! You are now seeing the picture of a canine that loves tablets. But those have to be drenched in honey. Calvin knows his routine quite well. After he munches a bowl of senior pedigree, he walks right to the kitchen to threaten my mother to give him his daily medicines! Quite a disciplinarian, it seems!

So if he can see the crow in my neigbour's terrace or the baby-lizard on the ceiling, that's because Carrot is one of his favourite vegetables. There was a vegetable vendor, who used to visit our house daily just to feed treats to this four-legged silly fellow. And his favourite treat is this orange colour veggie!

When it comes to vegetables, this lazybones like chewing potatoes, carrots, beans and onions. This picture was captured when he couldn't take his eyes off the beans that my mother was chopping!

And finally, he loves to pamper his taste buds by relishing chappathi, dosai and idli once in a while. There was a time, when my mother meticulously prepared oil-less dosai for her boy. But we have restricted him these days. So he steals a bite or two from me!

As you have scrolled down so much, I thought I will give you some complimentary pictures also on the theme 'Life is good'

My baby-brother is not annoyingly naughty. But once in a while, he shows his mischievous side too. He had to wear this cone of shame when he scratched his ears vehemently and we had to treat him for some ear infection. He completely detested this whole idea of wearing this cone and we all teased him a lot too. Doesn't he look like a speaker? Like the ones that go baaaaan during aadi maasam!

Although I love to dress him up, this Rasagulla doesn't co-operate at all. Look at his chagrined face when I tried to make him look a pirate or something!

But he loves to do this. He whiles away all the languorous evenings by chilling on my parents' bed. But nobody minds that anyway. He doesn't have any deadlines, right!

And he does this, when he warms our bed too much!

Bathing is one activity that he despises the most. I drag him to the bathroom and give him a nice message. But his brain still doesn't seem to recognise this nifty routine. However when he wants to play in water during summer, he goes in of his own accord and refuses to come out. We even threatened him to lock him up once in the bathroom. But he didn't give in at all!

And yes, he plays too - mostly, when we are not around. The LHS picture was taken when he tried to be nice to the soft toy since we were around. The RHS photo was taken when we weren't watching and so he decided to tear it up.

Finally, this picture is a killer. That's Calvin watching a weekend flick. Didn't I tell you that he thinks he is not a dog, did I? In his mind, he is a human too. But he is not egoistic. So he doesn't carry any weight around him and he doesn't hold grudges. He might be possessive. He might expect you to be all his. But even if you breach his rules and disappoint him, he forgives you in a blink of an eye. He prepares himself to love you all over again. And that's precisely what makes him special. His attitude towards life is something that teaches tonnes of lessons!

I hope that you liked my Bamboosa's pictures and I will post more as and when he strikes pretty poses! :) Cheerio!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Tiger for Malgudi

A Tiger for MalgudiA Tiger for Malgudi by R.K. Narayan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when I was whimpering about my inability to read more books this year, something pushed me to start reading 'A Tiger for Malgudi', which I bought in last year's annual book exhibition. After almost a year of hibernation in my wardrobe, the tiger Raja chose to befriend me. :)

I'm a big fan of R.K. Narayan and who wouldn't like the poignant stories of 'Malgudi Days'. 'A Tiger for Malgudi' is the second book that I read of R.K. Narayan and I must say that he didn't cheat me. He has now made me ask for more of him. The ecstasy and the big-sigh moment that I experienced while reading 'Malgudi Days', grew upon me when I read 'A Tiger for Malgudi' too. I love animals and philosophy and this book gave me the pleasure of learning more about both in around 170 pages.

One might think that I have overrated this book. But I couldn't give anything less than five for this marvellous tale that was gripping and insightful at the same time. And you have to forgive me, because at the end of the day, I'm an animal lover. Any book that's got animal in it and if it's a touching and beautiful story, it will certainly be given high rating by me. It's a word of caution to you!

Even if you aren't an animal lover, give it a shot for this has so much philosophy to offer. Lose yourself in the thought-provoking dialogues that are written in the simplest form, which, in my opinion, can only be penned by R.K. Narayan.

On a rainy day, I finished reading this book at work. And on the same day I realised that this book did some inexplicable magic to the soul and mind! It could have been the rain that played with the mind! But I think it was just the word of R.K.Narayan that piqued my emotions and made me feel better.

And finally, I'm even more thankful to the book for I was suffering from readers' block for around six months and 'A Tiger for Malgudi' came as the best cure. I closed the book and I found it hard to realise that I don't live along with Raja and the Master in the woods. I have a life that I have to carry on and there is a wicked world that needs my existence. I refuse to claim a piece of my heart that I left with Raja and the Master! Sigh! If I couldn't forget Attila, the dog that appeared in 'Malgudi Days', I can't stop thinking of Raja, the tiger, the protagonist of 'A Tiger for Malgudi'.

The book has myriad of brilliant dialogues. But I would love to quote this one, which represents my mindset too. "Man in his smugness never imagines for a moment that other creatures may also possess ego, values, outlook, and the ability to communicate, though they may be incapable of audibe speech. Man assumes he is all-important, that all else in creation exists only for his sport, amusement, comfort, or nourishment."

'A Tiger for Malgudi' has it all to season your brain and soul!

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 20, 2013

This is a hairy issue

We live in a world, where almost everything is marketed well. From food to fairness creams, many commodities are palmed off to us and let’s not put the blame on ad agencies, which make such ridiculous advertisements. But let the mindless buyers take the onus of becoming victims willfully. I’m not a careful buyer. But I have never fallen for fairness cream or soap that promises to make me look beautiful, for I completely appreciate that beauty is beyond what one sees. If those absurd advertisements made by some nincompoops annoyed me to a great degree, of late, an obnoxious question that is posed by many of my folks transport me to hell in no time. And the question is, “Don’t you wax your hands?” Or sometimes, people choose to ask bluntly, “Don’t you remove the hair above your upper lip?” Why would these questions irk me? Yes, this blog is going to be quite a rant.

Since the time I began to understand my body and mind, I have always been a tomboy. Although I studied in an all-girls school, I preferred hanging out with men and unknowingly I began to dress up like men too. I visit beauty salons once in a couple of months to get a haircut and maybe three times a year to trim my eyebrows and wax my arms. The habit of trimming the eyebrows and waxing the arms caught on when a friend pushed me to give it a try during schooling and I had to continue doing it because I began to believe that I look bad when I don’t doll up. And that illogical belief is what that I try hard to give up. Even if I think that I look okay and decide not to do all those things, there are people around me who ask some vexing questions, which make me feel awkward. Finally, I end up at the entrance of a parlour. Few questions that I regularly encounter are, “Why don’t you trim your eyebrows? Why don’t you groom yourself at least for your husband? Eek! Why is your hand so hairy?” Once, I lost my cool when a colleague, who tried to banter said, “Deepika, at the end of the day, we are all brothers. Because, we all have moustache!” I laughed along with him awkwardly. But when I was tired of my own laughter, I had to give it a thought. His remark made me believe that many men think women look less feminine when they have facial hair and when they refuse to do all that waxing drama. And a gynecologist, whom I had to meet to understand more about PCOD, added insult to injury. She asked me, “You don’t remove the hair above your upper lip, is it?” and she looked at my face for around 30 seconds. Although I understood that she was a narrow-minded gynecologist, my heart couldn’t buy my point and her question shrunk me for a while. And I did a bit of Googling and spoke with a few good-hearted friends, who explained that a woman, who has PCOD would naturally develop excess facial hair and it can be controlled with few lifestyle changes. The gynecologist gave me a long list of tests that I had to do. But the woman didn’t elaborate about the new sort of biological change I was going through. Thanks to Google, we get to put up with such silly doctors too!

I would like to marshal few questions to all the men and women, who are reading this blog now. I’m not trying to be preachy here. But these questions are absolutely genuine. “Why should a woman compulsorily doll herself up? Why should she remove facial hair or clean up her armpit and so what if it’s dark? Doesn’t she still deserve to be respected if she chooses to live with all that hair? Why does the society refuse to believe that it’s her personal choice? Will a man ever be disrespected if he chooses to grow beard?” Forgive me please, if my questions are nauseating. But won’t you agree with me if I believe that these questions make absolute sense? But I have found my answers - the answers that determine my actions.

I still stand in front of the mirror. I think of the guy, who passed that caustic remark about me. I laugh at his insensitivity and untactfulness. I see all that hair and the acne on my face. I pat myself for not becoming a prey to those cosmetic products. I pray for more courage and sense to not to brood over such futile things. I prop myself up to face those questions again. I prepare myself to discriminate between what is real beauty and what is believed as beauty. I brace myself to live in this world that’s enslaved by vanity and I wish for a world where a person is respected before being judged. And I tell myself that this is the real ‘me’ after all!

Monday, October 14, 2013

‘We shall get there someday'

There was a time when I always carried a book in my bag. There was always a book by my side on the bed. I took secret breaks during work hours to read a couple of pages. I willfully chose to travel on bus to steal some more time to read. Sama despised me for I sat in the restroom for hours. Amma thought that she had given birth to a genius. Krithika believed that I was a snob. Appa reckoned that I would go places. Thanks to the books that made me look like an intellectual. It made me earn respect, offered a world that I could effortlessly escape into, drove me to realise that I was not alone in this wicked planet, connected me with new friends, gave me more words to write and cleansed my brain. Books were an integral part of my life. Yes, they ‘were’!

Reading was not a fascinating hobby for me, till I completed school. But a couple of years later, I slowly began to read a few fictions. Then the addiction gradually grew on me. I began to read a bit more. For the last three or four years, on an average, I managed to read 15 to 20 books every year. I used to wait for the annual book exhibition like how I would happily wait to buy the best clothes for Deepavali. Sama reserved a part of our salaries to buy books and very fittingly, he said, “It’s not an expense. It’s an investment!” When we visited Express Avenue or Citi Centre to watch movies, we started quite early to hang out in Odyssey or Landmark for a while. Visiting Landmark was a monthly ritual. Seeing a huge room full of books was ecstatic. When friends wanted to gift for my special days, I shamelessly asked for books or gift vouchers to buy more books. Getting ready to work was so excruciating when I was engrossed in a book.  Spamming Facebook feeds with quotes from my favourite books was one of my hobbies. The wait to receive books through Fipkart was painfully sweet. Books, books and books! Books were synonymous for ‘Good life’.

If I were asked to identify myself, I would say that I’m a bookworm. I found immense pleasure in keeping my head buried in a book. But life is a cruel-master, isn’t it? It chose to malnourish the bookworm in me. It gave me a better job and ruthlessly took away one of the simplest joys, reading. The change in my occupation cast a shadow on the only good habit that I had. My focus was on getting a hang of the new role that I had taken and put the blame on my poor time management and stress management skills, it resulted in sacrificing one of the finest pleasures of life. If I have to confess barefacedly, I have managed to read only four or five books this year. And we are already in October. I am so red-faced that I have stopped myself from logging into ‘Goodreads’. 

The new job has given the biggest opportunity of writing every day. But I work for six days a week. The sixth day seems to be a time-robber. But every beautiful thing that we earn in life has got its dirty side too. The dark side of my new job is that it has looted my quality ‘me’ time. Although life seems to be on-track, the heart thinks that life has lost its sheen. While the brain is celebrating life’s course, the heart whisperingly reminds that this celebration is transient and the eternal pleasure lies in gathering knowledge. 

I wake up every day with a decision that I will start reading today. But the day flees. I crash into the bed with a heavy heart for not reviving my lovely relationship with books and I curse myself for not keeping up my words. I pity myself for not being able to cosset my soul. I repeat the cycle every single day and deep down the heart, the thirst to read is intensified. While I whimper to Sama about my inability to wield the wand, the budding psychologist deems that my problem is conscience incompetence. I agree with him as I understand only a wee bit and wonder about what holds me from taking a dive. I think harder to get some profound thought and realise that I am walking a tightrope. I am trying to give my best to both worlds – professional and personal. The loss that I have had this year is justified if I presume that I have managed to settle in quite decently in my new job. Is this how life works? Yes, life is not a bed of roses. I get it!

I worry about all the time that I have lost this year. I think of all the books that I have missed to embrace. I question myself about when I would compensate for all the quality time that I have wasted. I log into Facebook. I scroll, scroll and scroll mindlessly till I find this beautiful quote of A.A. Milne, who is one of my favourite authors. Who doesn’t like Winnie The Pooh?

I read the quote. I reread the quote. I sigh. I smile. I feel light. ‘We shall get there someday. Rivers know this.’

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Let’s become pen pals all over again

In the times of Facebook and Twitter, almost everybody is a writer. We seem to have understood the importance of expressing ourselves. We have begun to develop a fondness for translating our thoughts. While we frequently strive to master the art of weaving words and cleansing the mind, we also seem to have forgotten the simple and authentic tools that we used when we were kids. Pen and paper have taken a back seat. They have made way for social media. I understand that its practically impossible to courier your status messages to folks if those are hand-written.  But on the other side, in my opinion, we dearly miss the pleasure of putting our thoughts to paper. We miss reading and re-reading our loved ones’ letters. We miss the surprise that we enjoy when we find an old letter unexpectedly while cleaning the closet. We miss laughing at the silly spelling and grammatical errors that our friends make. We miss smelling the scent of papers. And this realisation hit me when a friend couriered a 10-line hand-written letter to me, when all that I expected from him was just a book. As I opened the book, the letter that was put in a neat envelope slipped out. I was taken aback to see a lovely hand-written letter. Although it was a short one, I basked in the happiness of reading a letter after ages. But don’t I experience the same kind of ecstasy when someone sends a nice email? Don’t I feel special when someone posts a Facebook status about me? Yes, I do! But the sort of contentment that I enjoy when I hold the paper, lose myself in someone else’s words and preserve it safely for future reading is invaluable. It is a magical experience. And it occurred to me that social media is gradually taking away that priceless treasure.

When my husband and I were experiencing roughest time of our lives, I wrote a four-page letter to him, although I had a computer and printer at home. I wrote, stroke off and rewrote. And the process was repeated. But when I placed the last period, I knew that I had told all that I wanted to. It was a cathartic experience. And when my husband read the letter, we realised that the gap lied between us was effortlessly bridged by the simple letter that I wrote. But unfortunately, that was the last letter that I wrote to him. After that, I began preferring email to paper and quite honestly, email doesn’t come any close to writing a letter. It’s been almost seven years since I wrote that letter. But my husband still reads it once in a while and indulges in banters. He quizzes if I am still mad about him and I ask him to replace ‘about’ with ‘at’    A letter gives us quite a few golden opportunities. It helps us to relive our best experience and it also aids in purging out those memories that we try hard to forget.

In this journey called life, we learn some of our best lessons from unexpected sources. I was inspired to start writing letters again by my seven-year-old nephew Shravan. For our birthdays and wedding anniversaries, the little boy surprises us with hand-made greeting cards. Those modern-art sorts of paintings and illegible handwriting of Shravan convey so much that even an articulate person can’t. My pet nephew also rekindled the spirit in me. Thanks to my favourite boy! I have stopped buying greeting cards. I have started to spend at least two minutes to write a tiny letter to my loved ones to wish them on their special days. Yes, I’m guilty of reducing the sales of Archies’ cards.  But there is nothing more special than writing a touching note all by myself to give a sneak peek in to my heart.

I used to be afraid of making grammatical errors. I dreaded the idea of writing a long letter without making any mistakes. But the more I have started to write, I feel liberated. Social media does a great job in pronouncing our feelings. However that inexplicable feeling that I get when I see the excitement of my loved ones when they read my letter, is so beautiful. It is one sort of an addiction – a healthy addiction. It makes me want to write more. But where do I go for so many people and special days? I wish I could write at least one letter a day. If you haven’t received a letter in a long time (besides the so-called friendly letter that you get from your banks), email me your address. I would love to write to you too!  Let’s become pen pals all over again!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who’s behind that bommai?

A night of torrential rains hasn’t deterred the determination of the doll makers nor the festive spirit in Mylapore, the cultural hub of Chennai. It’s business as usual at the Mada Streets, which are thronged by patrons choosing the best dolls for their golu. Amidst the incessant honk of vehicles, calls of vendors and raised voices of bargaining customers, we talk to the doll makers who live on the streets for around 20 days to sell their bommais (dolls) that decorate many houses during Navarathri.

Almost every doll seller, who has set up a stall on Mada Street, has been in the business of making and selling dolls for around four generations. Jagadheeshwari, who hails from Panruti, a town in Kadalur district, visits Chennai with her family every Navarathri season to sell the dolls that her family makes throughout the year. “My father-in-law was an expert at making dolls and all of us learnt the art from him. Although he made them, using clay, we make them, using plaster of Paris, which is what the customers prefer,” says Jagadheeshwari before she is interrupted by an inquisitive kid, who wants to buy Chotta Bheem. She politely says that it is not available and assures him that she would make it for him next year. “These kinds of customers are the ones who keep us going. The more they ask for different kinds of dolls, the more innovative we can get,” she says. Jagadheeshwari promptly updates her to-do list with the young customer’s request. “A customer wanted a grahapravesam set. Another customer has placed an order for Vishnu’s vishwaroopam,” she laughs, “Not Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam!”

Kumar, who has a stall next to Jagadheeshwari’s, tries to be tactful with the customer, who tries to bargain unreasonably. While he refuses to sell the dolls to the patron, Kumar tells us, “These dolls are the result of a year of hard work. Some customers come with the mindset to negotiate illogically. I wish that they would understand the kind of massive efforts that we put into making these dolls.” The sellers set up the dolls on the roads a week before Navarathri begins and the sale goes on after a couple of days of golu. “If we deny the customer their price, the dolls are left unsold till the end of the festival, and eventually, we are forced to sell at unreasonable prices to make ends meet,” Kumar says.

Kumar and Jagadheeshwari, who are not from Chennai, seem to have completed their school education. But the next vendor we meet is a mechanical engineer. Anand Babu forayed into the business of selling golu bommai for his doting mother. “I have completed my B.E. and taken a break from my job-hunt to help my mother, who has been selling dolls since her grandfather’s time,” says Anand. The family visits Punroti and Kanchipuram to order and buy dolls. “The makers have increased the cost so much and because of which, the prices have gone up a lot. This year’s business isn’t going well,” says Anand.

The doll sellers concur on the sharp fall in profits from year to year. “Many people have changed their traditional practices and working people like to keep three or five small steps of golu. In spite of the decrease in sale, we would not want to give up our family business,” says Anand. Every doll maker manages other petty businesses during the rest of the year and some export to the USA too.

The doll makers are undoubtedly out-of-the-box thinkers and constantly strive to create new dolls. But the makers reveal that the demand for traditional dolls like Chettiar Bommai, Marapachi Bommai, Dasavatharam and Kalyana Set is still high. “This year Mysore Dussehra, Kumbh Mela Rishi and Sakkarathazhvar are in demand. Sometimes, to meet customers’ requests, we source dolls from Mumbai and Kolkata too. Some customers come back year after year without fail and it’s important to keep them happy. Our CM Jayalalithaa used to visit our stall when she was young,” reveals Ashok Kumar, another doll seller.

Doll making is a constantly evolving process. If makers moved from clay to plaster of Paris, now they try to be inventive to entice their customers. Anand thinks that education plays a vital role too in understanding customers’ minds. “A lady, who works in an IT firm, wanted to place an order for a ‘Facebook Pillaiyar’ — a figure of the Lord Ganesha with a computer on his lap. Maybe, my mother wouldn’t have been able to visualise it. But thanks to the exposure that I have had, I can precisely deliver  what that customer wanted,” says Anand, as he gathers feedback from customers to create a better offering of dolls next year.

(The story was originally published in Deccan Chronicle)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Inji's road of rusk to freedom

Chapter 1:
Inji, a stray dog, whom we feed quite regularly was marooned in a locked house in our street. We couldn't find her a couple of days and she managed to make some whiny noise to garner our attention. For the first two days, we thought that she was willfully staying there since nobody lives in that house. But only after I found her in the same place for two days, we realised that she is stuck there. We tried contacting the owner to get the key. But nobody seemed to have his number. Then with the help of a few construction workers in the street, we tried to lift her out. But she tried to shoo us away by growling. Eventually, I phoned Blue Cross this morning. Without even paying heed to my complaint, that lady snapped at me with a curt reply. She told that the Blue Cross team will not enter a locked house. So, should the animal be let to die? I didn't want to argue with her further. So, I called up Mr. Dawn Williams, the GM of Blue Cross. He was so sweet, listened to me completely and suggested a couple of ways to rescue the animal. But every method ended in vain because Inji was naturally timid, so, she wouldn't cooperate and top of all these, she seemed to be pregnant. I phoned Mr. Williams again and he promised to send a couple of boys. But my mind was so full of the dog that's incapable to find its way out. Poor thing! I waited for a call from Mr. Williams.

Chapter 2:
As soon as my husband returned from work, I pestered him to figure out a way to rescue Inji. Yes, I have immense belief in his presence of mind. :) So both of us clung to the compound wall for some time, before he decided that the policy 'Patience is a virtue' doesn't hold good all times. Hence my significant other chose to break open the garage door of the house and much to our chagrin, terrified Inji hid in some corner of the abandoned building. If breaking into the house was a tiring task, getting the timid dog out of the house was brain-draining. Inji seemed to have ensconced in a stinky bathroom. We managed to lure her by showing a pack of rusks and believe us if I say that we had to leave a track of rusks from the ill-scented toilet to the road, to lead her out. The dog took almost half an hour when she finished eating all the rusks on her way and eventually ended up reaching the road. Phew! I am now a happy dog-mama and thanks to everybody, who prayed for her. And million thanks to my husband, who always manages to make the most critical decision. :) To liberate the animal from distress, we trespassed. But, who cares when the animal is happy and free! I would have been happier if Blue Cross showed little more involvement. No complaints! Nothing at all! All is well! :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Do you suffer from 'good news' syndrome?

Questions – I like them. I like questioning and I like being questioned. But, there is one question that I loathe. There is one question that I wish that nobody asked me. There is one question that is posed to every married couple in our country. Yes, you guessed it right! The one that I have named as the ‘good news’ question is what that I face with so much awkwardness. But why should I be embarrassed? It’s because I’m 26, I have been married for seven years and I haven’t planned for a baby yet. It might absolutely sound simple or even trivial to a person, who is busy with his or her own life. But it might look like a crime to many, who think that it’s the sole responsibility of a woman to become a mother. And that thought is what that I try to set straight with this piece!

A couple of years ago, my mother went through a minor surgery and my father was admitted in the same hospital at the same time to treat his broken leg. My father’s colleagues visited them. While we casually spoke about many irrelevant things in the hospital, one of the visitors nonchalantly asked me, “How is your husband?” I replied politely. The man then rubbed me the wrong way. “Do you have kids?”, he asked. My response was negative. He then shamelessly asked, “Why? When would you tell us the good news?” What did he expect me to tell him? I was taken aback by his audacity to ask such a sensitive question to a woman, whom he didn’t even know well. I chose to ignore the question. But why would anyone cause such a rude shock? So, that was one case!

Then come my Facebook well-wishers, to add insult to injury. There are few friends on my friends’ list, who ‘like’ my posts or chat with me, when a film of Rajinikanth releases. Such is the rarity! Or there are people, who wouldn’t exchange pleasantries when I bump into them. But, those are the ones, who act like major extroverts in the virtual world. They catch hold of me on Facebook and I detest those rare occasions, when they try to build conversations unwarrantedly. I always wonder how insensitively people can begin a chat. The webtroverts say ‘Hi’, ‘how are you?’, ‘How is life?’ and tada! They jump the gun! ‘When are you going to give us good news?’ Now what should I tell these people, who don’t share a bit of my life? What should be my response to those, who pretend to don the hats of sympathisers, but end up being gossip-mongers? I ‘like’ babies’ pictures on Facebook and these people openly comment, “Oh, you like this baby? You should have one.” How! How could people go down to that level!

Tamil films and serials don’t seem to stereotype people. People, by nature, seem to become blind while following few customs. One of my aunts, who might come across as a Tamil-soap mamiyar, comes home for an occasion. We chat away to glory, talk about Tom Dick and Harry and finally, she chooses to ask how I like my job. I go on with my monologue for few minutes before she stops me impatiently. Then she chagrins me with the ‘good news’ question. She says, “What’s the use of working like this when you don’t have a child? You have to have a kid. There is nothing more enjoyable than motherhood. If you like what you are doing, when will you have time for all that?”

Phew! I should also write a couple of lines about some bestest friends, who show their TLC through the question, "When will I become an aunt? When will I become an uncle?" Bloody, these friends of mine are old enough that even a teenager can call them aunts / uncles. :) And again, they try to play the role of a gynaecologist to shove their half-baked medical knowledge on me. "Don't push it too long. You might not be able to have a baby at all later!" Now who wants such free advice when this world already has narrow-minded gynaecologists galore. (That's a different story. I will write a blog about doctors, who still belong to stone-age) Finally, the worst thing about friends, who persuade me, is they all believe that my husband and I don't give a damn about life and we end up spending all our money on curd rice, icecream and cigarettes, so they have to take up the onus of 'reforming' us! :P

I always struggle to assimilate the fact that those who don’t know anything about me, who don’t even know my husband’s full name, who are unaware of my lifestyle, who don’t bother to pay heed to my ambitions, who don’t give a damn about my financial conditions, choose to force-feed me with their futile and uncalled-for suggestions.

Yes, I clearly understand that parenthood is beautiful. But, why is it that people refuse to accept that some might choose to bask in its warmth and some might choose to go with the flow of life. So, why would anybody who would want to sound sensible, discuss such a private theme quite casually? Why doesn’t it occur to people that it’s indecent to discuss others' personal lives? When a couple takes some time to move to their next phase of life, they have to be given that space to contemplate and decide. A couple, who are married for a long time and who doesn’t have a child, in my opinion, should not be pitied and the assumption that they have some medical challenges, should be eliminated. Just because a woman postpones or skips motherhood, her choice doesn’t make her less feminine nor does she become an object of ridicule and so should be the case for a man!

Life seems to be quite eventful and it’s already filled with myriad of challenges. At the same time, there seems to be a million things that fascinate and many more things add value to this precious life. One should appreciate that having an issue is certainly not the prime focus of life or the only source of happiness for some. All that anybody would expect from society is less intrusion and more openness towards others’ opinions and decisions! So, the next time, when you see me striking a pretty pose with a baby, please don’t ask me the ‘good news’ question. :) Because, I will make you read this painful blog again. :)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

There is life in the darkest places inside us

Even before you read this blog, please forgive the cynic and the pessimist in me, who have chosen to surface after ages. You may move on to read what has made me whimper today.

Every day, on my way to work, I see many homeless people. I see many, who suffer from senility. I see many, who are differently abled. I see many, who start their day, with a hope that, at least, today is going to be a better day. I see many ambulances squeaking its way through the sea of vehicles. I see many road accidents. I see many men beating up their wives. I see many patients and impassive-faced relatives waiting for eternity in hospitals. So, don’t I see happy faces at all? Of course, I do. But, humans tend to remember the dark faces that translate emotions seamlessly, don’t they? And it happens quite naturally. You don’t need words to explain those feelings, but those voiceless emotions scar your hearts for life. Out of all the moving images that I encounter every day, there are few faces that make my heart grow heavy. Those faces create a lump in my throat, which I find hard to swallow. And those are the faces of those stray dogs that have no clue of why they were born, the innocent eyes of cattle at the butchers’ stalls and the sad faces of the cooped chickens.

Humans suffer. Animals suffer. But, involuntarily, my heart goes out for animals. But that doesn’t mean that I am ruthless towards humans. My love for animals is truly unconditional. I was even told by a friend once, that he found my thought-process absurd. I agreed with him. But, at the end of the day, this is ‘me’. I’m not the one, who would sadistically enjoy when humans are in trouble. But my heart bleeds for the animals that are in predicaments. Let’s put it that way.

Some of my most-wonderfully-started days have been grayed by the sight of a dog’s carcass that’s smashed by vehicles on the roads. All that I could do for the animals that suffer meaningless death was to pray that they should never have such a pitiful birth, phone up the corporation to clear the carcass, talk to empathetic people and ruminate for a while. Is there anything within my capacity that I can do  to avert such accidents? The answer is negative. But, all that I intend to do is to be kind to animals. Not just dogs, cows or cats; but every animal that I meet. From smiling at them to feeding the strays, I am determined to do my wee bit to help them. Will that help? I really don’t know. But for the nonce, helping them is the least possible way that seems to give me the much needed peace.

So, whenever I meet an animal, (let’s say a dog) I smile at it, say ‘Hello’, shake hands, talk to it for a while and feed it. Many find it endearing and many more find it ridiculous to smile at an animal and exchange pleasantries. But I totally believe that animals reciprocate all that I do to them. So the smallest displease in their face creates an amplified distress for me. And through Facebook, I learn that I’m not alone and what I’m doing is not lunacy.

One such person, with whom I travel on similar lines, is popular photographer Martin Usborne. If you haven’t seen his ‘The silence of dogs in cars’, please visit his website http://www.martinusborne.com/ to see 41 heart shattering pictures of dogs that are left in cars and his moving description about the project.

Martin Usborne wrote,“I was once left in a car at a young age. I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever. Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals – in particular their plight at the hands of humans. I saw a TV documentary that included footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back. I should say that I was a well-loved child and never abandoned and yet it is clear that both these experiences arose from the same place deep inside me: a fear of being alone and unheard. When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark. In a sense, I was attempting to go back inside my car, to re-experience what I couldn’t bear as a child. What I didn’t expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected. It was as if upon opening up a box of grey-coloured pencils I was surprised to see so many shades inside. There is life in the darkest places inside us.”

After seeing his pictures and reading his write-up, I realised that I am not alone. All the sadness that I see on the faces of those strays, cattle and the pets that are ill-treated by humans piques many and those voiceless emotions are the ones that cause depression. The animals that suffer at the hands of humans are the ones that need to be salvaged.

As I scroll the disturbing pictures captured by Martin Usborne, I think of a handful of strays, that I feed on the road, Inji, Juju and an unnamed dog. As I see the photographs that convey immense emotions, I think of late Brownie and Whitie, that I used to feed. As I think of the dark world where those animals are lost, I think of my neighbour’s pet, Buddy, who is perennially locked up in a small space and waiting to taste freedom. As I realise that I share Martin’s perspective, I think of all the animals that are being eaten and all the animals that are being tormented.

I see their expressive faces that say a thousand words. I see a world of sadness in those lustrous eyes. I see a pinch of hope in the way they look at me. I see them yearn to spend more time with me. I hear them whisper ‘Take me home’. But all that I can do is capture their beautiful faces, close my eyes, keep their images in a virtual safe and lose myself in their dark world!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

This day, that age

When Guardian crosswords couldn’t hold our attention for too long and when the midnight snacks weren’t tasty enough, Sama and I decided to watch television for a while. We couldn’t manage to see Rajinikanth romancing Revathi, neither did we enjoy Columbiana or something, so our last resort was a music channel. It’s Independence Day. Hence, naturally, Tamil TV channels competed amongst each other to play songs from Indian, Indira and Jai Hind and I was told that Kadal and Neethane En Ponvasantham were scheduled to be screened as special movies, it seems. I was impressed! When we settled with the last channel, Kappaleri Poyaachu from Indian was playing. Tears rolled down the cheeks of actress Sukanya, as she expected the freedom fighter, Kamal to reunite with her. As we watched that song after ages, I took a trip down memory lane. I have a strong connection with this song, Kappaleri Poyaachu.

Perhaps, it was 1996 or 1997. We were living in Mylapore and I was in Class 4 or 5. Just a week before Independence Day, suddenly, my sister proudly announced that, “Deepika will participate in the singing competition too!” I cleared my throat and asked, “What? What competition?” She explained that the members of some association in the street had arranged for Independence Day celebrations. Firstly, I was clueless and I couldn't understand why my sister nominated me when she was a good singer herself. (Ouch, now that’s a confession). However, I –  the self-proclaimed eager beaver – was all excited and pompously agreed to participate in three categories – Singing, Oratorical and Quiz competitions.

My sister, who chooses to be thorough in everything that she does, decided to prepare me for the singing competition and as usual, she delegated the responsibility of prepping me up for Oratorical and Quiz. She is, usually, allergic to general knowledge and cerebral activities. (I’m abreast of all consequences, Krithi) So, Dad wrote a killer piece for me to deliver on Independence Day and he helped me with some GK questions too. After a long brainstorming session with the family, my sister picked the song Kappaleri Poyachu from Indian. Her reasons for the choice of song were, a) It’s a patriotic-cum-romantic song b) It’s a peppy number c) It’d go well with my voice. Done! I was flattered! So this big sister of mine believed that I could sing too. She still hasn't divulged the reason as to why she put me in that competition, but she honestly helped me to cope with the situation.

We had intense rehearsals for a couple of days. She made me listen to that song some one hundred times. To Rewind and fast-forward were some of the tough jobs then. If you remember the good old days when cassettes existed, you would be able to follow me. So we did this play-stop-rewind-play-fast-forward process zillion times. I sang till my mother searched for cotton to plug it in her ears. But I stayed focussed in my vigorous practice with my master. And finally, August 15 arrived.

A big stage was set in the middle of the street. As usual, roads were blocked. I ascended the tiny staircase in the stage to deliver my motivational speech on Independence. It was more like a child’s play. I finished my speech in a blink of an eye. Yet it was powerful (I heard). Then I teamed with a couple of boys for the quiz competition and answered for questions like, “Who is the Iron man? Who is known as the nightingale?” I managed to stay cool till the quiz competition wound up. But I began to perspire excessively when I had to go to the stage again to render Kappaleri Poyachu. Winning was not my focus at all then. But I had to give my best for my ruthless trainer, my sister. She just didn’t fine tune my Shruti and Talam, but she went an extra mile by giving me tips on how my face should look and what kind of hand movements I had to do and all that. It was a patriotic song. So she warned me umpteen times that I had to sound and look confident. I went to the stage, stood in front of the mic, fixed my eyes on the corner of the road, where there was nobody and began to sing. I ensured that I averted my eyes when my family cheered me up and I just sang. When I was all done, there were a couple of cheerful audiences, who chose to motivate me by generously applauding, while the others tried hard to suppress their yawns. I joined my family, who were all elated and proud of me. I told dad, “Appa, I have already won the quiz competition. I will win oratorical too. But my performance was pathetic in singing competition.” Dad consoled me with his typical advice, “Participation is more important than winning.”

From Kaatrinile Varum Geetham to Vande Mataram, many budding singers performed. Finally, one of the judges took the mic to announce the results. The old man called out my name as the first runner up in oratorical competition. I ran up to the stage to collect the stainless steel tiffin box and posed for the shutterbugs. I came down, showed the box to mom and went through the certificate a couple of times to ensure that my name was not misspelt. Out of blue, my sister nudged and yelled, “Hey, go go. First prize in singing!” I fainted, literally! I gathered myself and asked my sister, “What are you saying?” She pushed me to the stage. I went their again to collect another tiffin box and smiled widely for the photographs. I was certain that my family couldn’t believe that I was given the first prize. I concurred!

Almost after 17 years, on the same day, I happily recall the riddle wrapped up in an enigma. I still can’t figure out how I managed to sing and win that day!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

Dear Appa,

It’s Father’s day today (The third Sunday of every June is celebrated as Father’s Day). As I was writing a long article about a dad for Father's Day, I realized that I haven’t written anything for my own father. Oh yes, I wrote an emotional letter to amma when she was hospitalized last time and you must understand that our bond had strengthened after she understood how much she means to me. So yes, this is my first letter to you. Why should I write a letter, when I can just walk up to your room and tell these things in person? But I love putting some of my special feelings to paper. And so here we go! A letter to you, Appa!

Appa, have I ever told you about some of my early memories of you? I still remember you giving clear instructions to amma to take care of my health, not to wash my hair often, put a kulla over my head, boil drinking water for me and put those special herbs in it. How meticulously you took care of me, when I was a cranky and sick kid! Oh, you might say that it was your responsibility and all that. But not once did I notice a sign of annoyance on your face.

Did you know that I have never looked at a kid and said, “How lucky that kid is!” Really! Trust me! From the kind of clothes that you chose for me and akka to the fancy stationery items that you bought us, everything made us feel very special. I lost many velvet pens, iron ruler, scented pen and erasers because my classmates really couldn’t resist such quirky stationeries. Many were stolen! But yes, I was a proud owner of some brilliant stuff.

When Shravan went for summer camps, workshops and dance class, I remember all the classes that you sent me, appa. From those painting classes to the violin class at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, you didn’t hesitate to spend that little money you had. Please forgive me for not being too sincere and for giving up all my early passions. You never gave me a chance to put the blame on you.

Okay, I have a question now. You started reading Osho when I was in Class 12, I suppose. But even before that, how did you know that children had to be given some space and they had to be let on their own to understand life better. Or how did you know to make children understand your predicaments, without hurting them? I clearly remember what you asked me before I was about to take up the entrance test at Lady Sivaswamy. Do you remember? This is what you asked me. “If I put you in Sivaswamy Kalalaya, appa might not be able to afford all the extra classes that you go to. If you choose to go to Lady Sivaswamy, I can still send you to those classes. What do you want to do?” And I think, that was the first crucial decision that I took in my life and there are absolutely no regrets, appa. Trust me!

Life was so complete when I was a kid, appa, i.e., when you took care of me. Now I’m a big girl and so I tend to mess up things for myself. You gave us all the exposure that we required. You never gave us a ‘no’ for an answer, when we threw tantrums to get some of our favourite things. From the first music system that we bought to bringing Calvin home, you had always known what your family needed. I love you for introducing me to some fine music and intelligent books. If not for you, I don’t think I would have picked up reading. You are indeed one among the very few optimistic and determined people whom I have met. I still admire the way you coped with a broken leg and how you continued to be humorous and happy even during that toughest time of our lives. Thank you so much for all of it. I’m not trying to sound formal. But I feel really good when I thank you.

And now, I should talk about the grey sides too. I certainly know that I disappointed you by being presumptuous. I know that I put you down by making some insane decisions. At the same time, I understand that you consider my mistakes as some of the critical learning experiences that I have had. Appa, I might not have made you proud, but I know that you appreciate what I have crossed so far and the sort of life that I lead now. So this Father’s Day, I thank you for being a super dad to us. And we love you so much!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From Palavakkam, with love

Deepika Ramesh,
AKA A budding journalist,
Tamil Nadu,

The leader of Tamil Nadu,
AKA (Sorry! Too many names to remember)
Tamil Nadu,

Sub: The usual whining and begging

Respected leader,

Before I start explaining the purpose of writing this letter to you, I would like to give a background about myself. I work as a journalist. No, I’m not trying to do any serious journalism here. (You guessed it wrong!) I’m writing to you to put forth certain things to you from a common man’s perspective. (Technically, a common woman too! Buhahaha)

I’m a 25 year old incorrigible woman, who lives in one of the cursed places of Chennai – Palavakkam. Does that ring a bell? Yes, you cross my area everyday en route to work. Let me confess shamelessly. Yes, I used to be a part of the group of people who drop all their work and gather in the main road to get a glimpse of you. But not anymore! I shall explain the reason.

As I told you, I live in Palavakkam and I work in Guindy. I move my lazy bum to work between 10.45 am and 11.15 am every day. Sometimes I take the Thiruvamiyur route or depending on my mood, I take the Old Mahabalipuram Road. A couple of days ago, I was about to cross the manned signal in Tidel Park junction, a cop who seemed to belong to the law and order department stopped me. Well, I understand that he should be older than me. But how could he choose to address me without respect? So what did he say? “Nillu, Nillu! Wait pannu. Mukkiyamaana aalu poraanga. Anju nimisham aagum.” I didn’t have the guts to question him back as to why I had to wait. Yes! All that I know is to write letters. But then I realized that you are a super-being and so I had to succumb. I waited for five minutes. I could see the sign of your cars approaching the signal. There were around 50 policemen. All of them were on their toes. I could hear the sirens screeching. There came four to six Innovas, a couple of Honda Cities and a couple of more cars. (Sorry, I didn’t know their names) I’m sure that the cars were speeding way too fast. Perhaps, they ran at a speed of 100 kmph. Finally, after you passed, the rude policeman again told, “hmm.. po po po.. naguru naguru naguru.”

Well, that was about what happened few days ago. I’ll definitely have to tell you about what happened this morning. As usual, I left home by 11. The East Coast Road was clear and I could see many cops across the stretch between Tidel Park and Neelangarai (I presume that your house is somewhere near Neelangarai). I enjoyed my ride from Palavakkam to Thiruvanmiyur. Thanks to you! There was no traffic. But my happiness didn’t last long. I had a panic attack. I realized that I had left my cell phone at home. So what big deal? I told you that I’m a journalist. Just like how a phone is important to a call centre agent, so it is for journalists as well. I knew that I was already late to work. But there is no use in going to work, when I had left the most important tool at home. So I took a U-turn in Thiruvanmiyur and chose to take one of the right turns in ECR to take the road that goes to my house. A policewoman, who was in the junction, didn’t allow me to take the right turn. I asked her why and she told that you might cross anytime. I told her that I could pass in a blink of an eye. She was so stern and refused again. I really wish that we had her kind of cops everywhere and I wish they had the stubbornness to say ‘No’ to bribery as well. She suggested that I should wait for five minutes. I knew that I couldn’t wait a minute more. So I moved on to the next junction and the situation was not different from what happened in the previous one. Hence I moved to the third right turn, the man with the big-belly told ‘No’ too. And as I chose to move to the fourth junction, I could hear the sirens again and so I waited wherever I was. But in this process, I realized that I missed three right-turns that would take me to my place and I was almost one and a half kilometers away from the last one too. And finally, you crossed with a bunch of cars and I sighed. I’m sorry. But I have to open up about this. I was almost 20 minutes late to work because of you. Hence, I would like to record my thought process here.

I understand that you lead the state
Your responsibilities are critical
Your safety matters a lot
You are under an immense pressure to do some good to the state

Well at the same time, it would be of great help, if you get to understand my position as well.

I’m one of the bread winners of the family
Punctuality is one thing that I’m striving hard to achieve (It certainly goes for a toss since our schedules clash)
I’m answerable to a boss (I’m not sure if that’s the case for you too)
I can’t speed to work, since I ride a Scooty streak (Unlike you, who travels in state-of-the-art cars)

Having understood both of our positions, now let’s try to understand what usually happens on the East Coast Road, which both of us use every day.

The road is full of stray dogs (Your cars might hit one of those)
The road is again full of cows, which await their end in one of the butcher stalls, but which feed on the wastes that are thrown on the roads by the vegetable vendors
The road is extremely full of jay walkers and reckless drivers
People can’t reach their destinations on time (In my case, I just had to go home to pick up my phone. But imagine the plight of people who had to go to hospital or think of situation of folks who were in some sort of predicament)

So what does one deduce from this letter? Well, I don’t want to look like a cynic to you. I should also thank you for some of the nice things that happened after you started using ECR. The roads were widened. There was a huge house that protruded till the road. But it was demolished overnight and the roads were laid in no time. We used to drive almost in dark every night. But now, there are street lamps in working condition for almost a nine kilometer stretch. On the other hand, as an innocent citizen, I really wish that you could understand some of the discomforts (directly or indirectly caused by you) that the common men face. I’m definitely not expecting things to change for good. But I’m at least feeling light for having been able to vent the frustration.

Many thanks,

P.S. – I just have a quick question for you. Since your cars travel in some 100 kmph, how would you get to read the umpteen number of banners (they carry pixilated pictures of yours), that are planted in the medians?