Tuesday, December 2, 2014

That cloud's silver lining

June 2014. I was trying to cope with acute quarter-life crisis. After having quit my job at a daily, I was unemployed for about three months. It was fun in the beginning. Besides OD'ing on Murakami, RK Narayan and Ellen, I pampered myself. Also, once in a while, I managed to dress up, attend interviews and deliver my tried and tested answer for tell-me-about-yourself (quite like Chitti from Enthiran).

When nobody bothered to hire me, it was getting terrible. Murakami became mind-fucking. RK Narayan turned sob-inducing. Ellen was barely funny. And I still continued to dress up and attend interviews. But, the tell-me-about-yourself elicited frustrated responses (quite like Kamal Haasan's from Varumai Niram Sivappu). In between, all the interviews and perennial sulking, I often found time to stalk people on Facebook. Especially those, who could remind me of all the not-so-happy times. I couldn't help. It was that phase of life, when my dreams were always about finishing a race last, being very late to exams, and making numerous attempts to write the story of a battered woman. But I would always wake up, aborting all of it, because even in my dreams, I was tired of trying. Ahem! Ahem!

During one stalking session, I stumbled upon the Facebook page of Infinitheism. The first post in their page read, "Are you an aspiring writer? Email your story on 'Office'. We would be glad to publish it." Although I resigned in April, I almost stopped writing in February. But for reasons that I couldn't comprehend, I chose to write about my first day, at my first job. Words agreed to cooperate. I managed to write a very short memoir. After I emailed the article to them, I realised I had written it feverishly and with some weird vengeance. I also missed to proofread it. But, writing that piece was cathartic.

July 2014. I bought their magazine Infinithoughts (formerly known as Frozen Thoughts) to see if my story was published. No luck. Surprisingly, I was not disappointed. I didn't write back to them asking for status. By the end of July, I started working again and couldn't find time for Murakami, RKN and Ellen. My dreams were mostly about finding typos in a published interview, and reporting incorrect news.

November 2014. Appa, who is a regular reader of Infinithoughts, incidentally found my article that I had sent in June, in their November's edition. For once, my family was proud and delighted. I reread my story and found it cringeworthy. I kicked myself for using too many adverbs (Sorry Stephen King) and not proofreading. I couldn't read it again, for I was angry at myself for recounting a pedestrian experience. But in a way, I was happy too.

A copy of the story:

Even though I'm not THAT proud of this piece, I will always be fond of it, for this is the only physical copy of a story that's published under my byline. When I worked at the daily, it didn't occur to me that I should keep a copy of my favourite stories. Not a single copy in two years. Now, seeing my byline again on paper after ages, feels as good as finding a 500 rupee note in an old pants' pocket.

And Khalil Gibran's quote always comes in handy.

"...in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Memory Keeper

12 years ago, on a balmy evening, Krithika (my sister) and I went to one of the bag shops in Mandaveli (Chennai). She had promised to buy me a bag if I scored 100 in Mathematics in my Class 10 board exams. My sister, unlike me, always keeps her word. And she always works out the budget first. "500 rupees for you!" she declared. I agreed.

We walked a couple of kilometers, from Mylapore to Mandaveli. There were a lot of shops in Luz Corner too. But for some reason, the shop in Mandaveli appeared fancy. I spent five minutes browsing all the shelves and settled with this blue bag.

The price tag read Rs 750. I began to sulk. However, she didn't pay heed. She snatched the bag from me and went to the billing counter.

An hour later, I emptied my old rectangular bag that had The Flintstones' pictures, and arranged my books in my newly-bought bag. In many ways, I reckoned then that my sister's gift made me feel like a big, mature girl. No cartoon characters on the bag. I stopped using lunch koodai. Instead, I packed my steel-boxes in a plastic cover and carried it in my bag. I shoved my water-bottle in the small holder in the side. While a lot of girls still used old-fashioned bags, I flaunted my sister's gift, which I thought was uber-cool.

After all, she bought it with her hard-earned money. She was a tuition teacher then. I also knew that she saved for about five months to afford this bag for me. Despite appreciating her gesture and realising how special the gift was, I never thanked her effusively.

Today, a delivery boy from one of the online shopping portals, knocked on the door, with a gift box in his hands. I hurriedly unwrapped the gift box and was delighted to see this bag.

And this beautiful note:

I've always told my friends that I'm a sucker for tiny warm moments. Tiny, tiny things keep me going. Like receiving a note from friends, a smile from a stranger, reading quotes from my favourite books, buying new books, using a newly-learnt word, and solving a crossword puzzle. It sounds cliched, doesn't it? But, these are the things that define me and many a time, help me find a purpose in life.

Above all, I also glorify memories; memories of all kinds. Every once in a while, when emptiness envelopes me, when I begin to forget all the nice things that happened to me, I remind myself that there are a very few people, who know everything about my bumpy rides and sunny days; the people, who keep the memories that we made together. I go to them when I struggle to recall some of the beautiful times that would restore faith in life. They never fail to pull me out of my abyss. While it's superfluous to say that my sister is one of them, today, I am overwhelmed and so, I am stating the obvious.

It's a luxury to have a sister, who is a keeper of memories that can help one rise above the darkness.

Monday, November 3, 2014

After the Halloween party

Kavitha: Where the hell am I?
A random dude: You are in Heaven. Glad to meet you. I can help you settle down.

K: Oh?
ARD: Yes. You died last night. After the Halloween party. I'm sorry. But this is a beautiful place. You are going to like it.

K: Okay. Get this straight. I'm an atheist. Now my only question is how did I even get here?
ARD: I knew you would't trust me. I have to show this to you. This is the picture that you clicked last night right?

ARD: How did I get this picture? Let me explain. The Lord of Death asked us to make your character real, because you are an Indian, and you celebrated Halloween. So, we had to punish you. You played a random accident victim last night. And you lost your life in a road accident after the party. I'm very sorry.

K: That's a very blah story, man. The characters have turned real? Okay. So, has Sudhir gone to Gotham City?
ARD: No. He is on his way to Goa with his friends. They are conducting a memorial for you there.

K: That's so sweet of them. But wait. Why was he not punished?
ARD: We chose people randomly.

K: This is so weird. And unfair. I'm going to be here forever?
ARD: Yes.

K: Then I might as well start following my routine. I am going to sleep for a while. I will wake up, and run for about an hour. I can make my own breakfast. I will have some bacon tomorrow.
ARD: We are all vegetarians here. You will have to be on a plant-based diet too.

K: This is atrocious. I need to go for my classes. I dance. And I want some Bachata songs.
ARD: We play Carnatic music for an hour everyday. Will that help?

K: Man, this place is shitty. And I can't party? No alcohol?
ARD: Absolutely no alcohol.

K: May I at least read Harry Potter?
ARD: We have some books on 'life after death' by Osho.

K: This is not helping me. I'm finding this strange. I think I'm just dreaming. This is just a nightmare. I should wake up.
ARD: No. You are not dreaming. You are just confused.

K: Dude, I have watched nine seasons of House. For all we know, I'm just hallucinating. Maybe, I am stuck in an accident. I should wake up. I should. I should.


Sudhir: Kavitha! Kavitha! Ezhundhirru. This Winky wants food. Wake up. Winky, stop biting.
K: Fuck. Okay. Winkoo. I'm coming.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

12 responses that a childfree woman gets

I phone a dude, who doesn't know me quite well. We talk about stuffs related to work first, and end up discussing this and that. Then he asks what my husband does, and if ours was "an arranged marriage or a louue marriage." After I explain, he reluctantly asks how many children I have. I say 'nothing'.

Awkward silence. He clears throat, and says, "I'm sorry." He is really sorry. I smile, and I so want to tell him that he doesn't have to be sorry. But I choose to ignore it. Because almost everybody, who learns that I am childfree, struggles to digest it. Many find my response rude. Some find it naive. And a very few find it sensible.

The kind of reactions that my answer produces are funny, and sometimes annoying.

These are what folks usually say when they face the fact.

1. "Oh. You don't have a child. Oh."
This means, "Oh. You don't have. Interesting. I am curious. I want to know your story. But we are not THAT close yet. I will ask you this question again sometime soon."

2. "You don't have? Why are you wasting time?"
This means, "You moron. You are becoming old. You don't want to look like a granny to your own child."

3. "I'm very sorry."
This means, "I will include you in my prayers. Maybe, next summer, you will call me for your baby-shower."

4. "When are you planning to have? You guys have been married for ages."
This means, "WTF are you doing with your life! Having a child makes you look responsible. Do you even understand it? And you shouldn't miss motherhood. Becoming a mother makes you feel complete."

5. "You can never be independent all your life."
This means, "You will be lonely when you are done with life. You need to have children, because they will take care of you."

6. "Is everything all right?"
This means, "Do you need medical intervention? Is your husband cheating on you? Are you guys going strong?"

7. "Do you think your dog is your child?"
This means, "Stop anthropomorphising. Do you see how empty your life is without a human-child?"

8. "You guys are so different."
This means, "You are very weird."

9. "You don't like children?"
This means, "Do you think it's cool to hate children? Or not to have one? No. It's presumptuous. You think too much of yourself."

10. "Is your husband okay with it?"
This means, "Why are you being selfish? Why are you robbing him of his privilege?"

11. "You are going to change your mind soon."
This means, "You are so immature now. You will grow up soon. I really hope."

12. "Okay."
This means, "Fuck it. It is your life. I don't give a damn about it." I personally like this one though. :)

These responses and questions crack me up. Almost every time. Maybe, I have exaggerated here. But we must admit that so many of us haven't sensitised ourselves to others' non-standard decisions.

I look forward to the day when my answer would be received just as a piece of information, and not as an element that defines my identity.

Also, stealing a quote from one of my favourite articles on being childfree.
"[Legendary anthropologist] Margaret Mead suggested that the generative impulse could be expressed in other ways, such as passing ideas on to the younger generation through teaching, writing, or by inspiring example."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Strange little memories

1.30 pm. I write this tribute for actor SS Rajendran. And I choose five of my favourite songs from his films. A few minutes into my research, I stumble upon this song, which disturbs my universe. Okay. Slightly. :)

That one reminds me of the time, when listening to AIR was one of the coolest things that I did in life.

Just out of school. "With flying colours" and shit.
CA coaching classes and snobbish students.
Shady songs on music channels.
Evening walks with Calvin. Peace.
Some very old songs like this on AIR.
Too much indolence. Bliss. Still.
Sleepless nights.
Lorries of dreams.
Some stolen kisses from a passionate lover. Ahem!

Writing this piece when nursing a heavy hangover. And too lazy to form complete sentences.

And what should one do, when songs fuck the mind up, and exhume buried memories? Succumb to that bitch.

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft' is the first non-fiction that I could finish reading in two nights and this is the only book that I will keep revisiting. Forever! If not for King, maybe it would have taken eternity for me to realise that every writer is ashamed of his or her work while creating it with the door shut. Next time, when I approach a story with nervousness and excitement, I am for sure not going to beat myself up for not being sober. It's comforting to know that King feels writing's an intimate process and a writer should make the first move by succumbing to the impulse to catch the thoughts that float like clouds and to recognise the shapes that those clouds form. And, there is nothing more inspiring than learning that you are not alone with your battles.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The English TeacherThe English Teacher by R.K. Narayan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even before you begin to read my review, I must confess that I'm a die-hard fan of R.K. Narayan for his poignant stories bail me out of this mundane world effortlessly. While all the authors, whom I have acquainted through their books, help me escape reality, R.K. Narayan makes it hard to go back to the real world after reading his books as readers like me suffer from the inability to comfort our souls that want to live in Malgudi and refuse to accept this sphere. Yes, so, please forgive me if you find me gushing here. But I really can't help.

I started reading R.K. Narayan a couple of years ago and I have read 'Malgudi Days', 'A Tiger for Malgudi', 'Swami and Friends', 'The Bachelor of Arts' and just finished reading 'The English Teacher'. Thanks to a lot of unexpected turns that my life took, I could buy a lot of time to read and I decided to rekindle my love for R.K. Narayan. I read 'Swami and Friends' last week and chose to finish the informal trilogy 'Swami and Friends', 'The Bachelor of Arts' and 'The English Teacher'. While I found 'Swami and Friends' and 'The Bachelor of Arts' heartwarming, humourous and insightful, I was moved by 'The English Teacher'. It was heartbreaking and after God-knows-when, tears rolled down my cheeks and landed on the book as I followed Krishna, the protagonist, who's an English teacher, as he suffered irreplaceable losses and struggled to make peace with his past.

Although many of my friends raved about this book, it didn't occur to me to google about it for after all it was R.K. Narayan's. So I read it with an open mind and was surprised when the second part of the book travelled to metaphysical and supernatural grounds. I was certainly not shocked nor disappointed by the way the story de toured as I could closely follow Krishna in his search to gulf the abyss between the past and present.

And on top of all these, it was even more harrowing to learn that 'The English Teacher' is autobiographical.

R.K. Narayan's books don't fail to touch its readers' souls and with 'The English Teacher', it goes a level deeper. When Krishna smiled, I smiled. When Krishna cried, I cried. When Krishna was engulfed by loneliness, I was lonely too. Finally when he understood 'The Law of Life', he made me appreciate the law as well. And unlike R.K. Narayan's other books that leave the readers with a sense of happiness and satisfaction, 'The English Teacher' leaves the readers with a lump in their throats that doesn't go down for a few days after finishing reading and the readers can't help but mull over and make conscious efforts to disconnect themselves from the masterpiece. Not that because it's morbid, tragic and touching. But because readers can find a 'Krishna' in themselves. Krishna's conundrums, losses, searches are strikingly ours too.

Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the book:

"The twists and turns of fate would cease to shock us if we knew, and expected nothing more than, the barest truths and facts of life."

“I returned from the village. The house seemed unbearably dull. But I bore it. "There is no escape from loneliness and separation...." I told myself often. "Wife, child, brothers, parents, friends.... We come together only to go apart again. It is one continuous movement. They move away from us as we move away from them. The law of life can't be avoided. The law comes into operation the moment we detach ourselves from our mother's womb. All struggle and misery in life is due to our attempt to arrest this law or get away from it or in allowing ourselves to be hurt by it. The fact must be recognized. A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life. All else is false. My mother got away from her parents, my sisters from our house, I and my brother away from each other, my wife was torn away from me, my daughter is going away with my mother, my father has gone away from his father, my earliest friends - where are they? They scatter apart like the droplets of a waterspray. The law of life. No sense in battling against it...." Thus I reconciled myself to this separation with less struggle than before.”

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

ROFL, HMMM and LOL don’t work offline

A week ago, I packed all my personal stuff, bade adieu to a couple of friends and left the organisation, where I pursued my dreams for about one and a half years. While I wasn’t emotional, it occurred to me that my colleagues couldn’t find a minute to move away from their desks to send me off. Their ‘bye’ sounded like ‘see you tomorrow’. Blame it on their unreasonable amount of workload or the acute pressure to meet deadlines, but as I walked out I realised that humans are slowly forgetting to be humane. Going by the way we choose to react and we choose to ignore, it implies that we have reached that ultimate point where we belittle everything that doesn’t concern us.

We might believe that we have broadened our views on everything under the sun. But the more I go out and meet people, I learn how gleefully we bask in our own delusions. The more number of open conversations that I have, I realise how much we lag behind. From all the good and the not-so-good folks I have met, I understand that humans don’t try hard to be empathetic for we are incorrigibly obsessed with our own passion and problems. In this world, where being ruthlessly competitive and self-centered are hailed, perhaps, it’s too idealistic of me to expect empathy to be considered a virtue. Although I’m sane enough to recognise that every human being is bogged down by myriad of challenges, is it too much to ask for people to make genuine efforts to listen, respond and make an attempt to see through others’ minds?

One of my pets was severely ill and I walked up to my boss to request permission to leave early. With his eyes fixed on his computer monitor, he said, “You finish your work and then leave!” Quite expectedly, he didn’t turn to see what my reaction was. I didn’t expect him to empty his Kleenex with me nor did I want him to let me go without posing another question. All that I wanted from him were two ears that could take in information.  For a girl, who made ends meet with the peanuts that were given by those multinationals, I feared leaving work without completing my tasks, although I wanted to be with my furbaby. For him it was just a dog. But to me, he was my sibling. And every heartless imbecile like him taught me how imperative it is to be empathetic even in times when I really don’t see what others see and how I could come across as a person with fine sensibilities, if I make that dash of effort to listen and understand regardless of my state.

If that was a simple example of how people love living in their islands and severe real communication, then comes the art of conversation. I am flabbergasted about how mindlessly, from our best friends to our recently won acquaintances, lack the skills to exchanges words, in its real sense. The  kind of conversations that we have these days are futile. Our dialogues aren’t really dialogues. Our exchanges have become lifeless and are mostly infested with ‘I’ and ‘my’. If our discussions are filled with songs about ourselves, then it is needless to mention that we have lost out on humility too. Despite spending massive amount of time on social networking websites, where we chat away to glory, where we are bombarded with information, where we are constantly exchanging and expressing views, where we learn some of our crucial life lessons, it looks like we haven’t begun to learn the art of conversation and being empathetic for we haven’t learned that our ROFL, HMMM and LOL don’t work offline. In times like these, when I struggle to cope with all the ‘I’ that is thrown at me (no offence to Ayn Rand), I think of what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird – “Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.”

While we are constantly making friends (virtual and real), we must also realise that there are a lot of tiny, beautiful things that help to form friendships. Although those elements seem trivial, they are complex enough to sabotage harmony. Building a healthy relationship is not as simple as ‘liking’ or writing comforting comments on Facebook, but it is also about learning to be tactful and well disposed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Backyard Heroes

At 6 am, as the morning joggers throng Palavakkam beach on East Coast Road, the members of the Palavakkam Cricket Club (PCC) also gather to begin their morning practice. Captains Gnanamurthy and Karthik instruct the boys to take positions, the senior most member of the team, Guna, helps the beginners with the nuances of the game. The 55-member club is quite famous in ECR for their feats in gully cricket (backyard cricket). The team has won many tournaments against the prominent teams across the city. In a discussion with DC, the team opens up about their love for the cricket and the future of gully cricket.

One of the founding members of PCC, Sasi tells us about the history of PCC, “We formed PCC in 2005. We would all play cricket on the beach and with time the number who came to the beach kept growing. PCC is comprised of three teams, each of which was formed based on age,” he says. The oldest member of the team, Guna, who is a Physical Training teacher at a local school, is proud of the boys. “I'm proud of the sportsmanship these boys bring to the game. It can only happen when there is a love for the game. There is absolutely no politics. Everybody is willing to learn and improve their skills. It is their hard work and dedication that is the reason behind our club's success,” he proudly states.

Membership to PCC is open to all ECR residents, but conditions apply! “Every member should strictly adhere to the rules and regulations,” Sasi states, adding, “We practice in the morning every day. We go across the State to play in various tournaments and we want our players in their best form. So whoever joins the team should be open to learn and work hard,” says Sasi.

Captain Gnanamurthy’s obsession for the game, however, defies logic, “We once had to play in a tournament and unfortunately I was not granted leave at work. So I decided to quit my job,” he says to this stunned reporter. “That is just an example of the passion we all share for the game,” adds Sasi.

Gully cricket might be popular in the city, but the players of PCC reckon that it still hasn’t got the recognition that it deserves. “We really wish that there could be many more tournaments and it would be great if the government and corporate organizations do their bit to popularise gully cricket. Even the pitch that we play was laid by us. There aren't too many people who come forward to help us,” says Sasi.

In a country, where cricket is considered a religion, we hope that the boys' dream to popularise the street form of the game comes true.

Friday, April 4, 2014

That 'homely' girl doesn't exist

When we hear about women, who are ill-treated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and a few other countries, we often catch ourselves being happy about living in India, where we presume that many women are independent, safe and considered ‘equals’. While the recent crimes unleashed against women prove that this country is not really women-friendly, I reckon that we must also think of how women are oppressed in the name of marriage (more specifically arranged marriage) regardless of their education, upbringing and financial independence.

In the last few years, to help a friend, who wanted his parents to find a girl for him, I visited a few matrimonial websites. Although I was honestly ashamed of checking matrimonial websites, for I am strongly against the whole system of arranged marriage, I gave in for my friend, who couldn’t make up his mind about his life partner. While he didn’t have any expectations, his parents had a list of things in mind, ideally, which the bride had to meet. For instance, the girl was expected to go to work, wake up early, cook for the whole family, take care of the household, should have long hair, shouldn’t wear sleeveless clothes, shouldn’t wear jeans and kurtas to any occasions, shouldn’t be fat and on top of all that, the girl should look ‘homely’. And when I was informed of this list, I squirmed and rolled my eyes!

While I couldn’t reason with the old parents of my friend and make them realise that their thoughts are regressive, I thought I should at least write here for the men, who are going to let their parents choose their wives and to the men, who are dreaming of marrying ‘homely’ girls.

What exactly does the word ‘homely’ mean? Does it mean that the girl should wear traditional clothes? Does it also mean that the girl who wear salwar kameez and saree only conduct themselves appropriately? Does it mean that the girl should cook and take care of the house, while the men choose to watch TV? I can’t assimilate the fact that I am writing about the word ‘homely’ in the 21st century. But I think I should be loud about it because this attitude of finding ‘homely’ girl doesn’t seem to die with the old generation.

Now let’s dissect the word ‘homely’ layer by layer. So if a girl will be judged based on what she wears, one will definitely go wrong. A friend of mine, who is single and who doesn’t wear anything other than salwar kameez has had four one-night stands and another friend, who is also single and who is always seen in a tee and jeans, is still a virgin. How would one go about judging those girls then? Why should they be judged in the first place?

And a homely girl is expected to take care of the house. What does that exactly mean? When a man and a woman agree to live together for the rest of their lives, the responsibility of maintaining the house lies equally with both of them. Why should a woman alone cook, wash and clean the house? Why shouldn’t a man cook? Who categorized these responsibilities?

Okay! Let’s presume that a woman chooses to be ‘homely’, does all the menial chores and provides everything that is expected out of her. But why don’t this new age men understand that women choose to be ‘homely’ at the rate of giving up their individuality and independence? That ‘homely’ girl doesn’t exist. Who looks homely is just a mirage. Why wouldn’t these modern men appreciate that marriage shouldn’t clip women’s wings? Was ever a man questioned about continuing to work after marriage or after having a baby? While my questions might look superficial and clichéd, deep down the heart I’m deeply upset about the young crop, who are well educated and who work in reputed organizations, still expect to marry someone, who is ‘homely’. Why should I quote my friends’ lives, when quite a few men and oldies often throw disgusting look at me when they see me wearing jeans to a wedding, when they learn that I don’t cook, when I dismiss their question ‘When will you give us the good news?’, when I openly say that life is just not about having a child, when I cut my hair short, when I talk about sex, when I confess that I have had a drink or two, when I support my LGBT friends, when I agree that ‘virginity’ is a myth, when I loudly record my opinions about pre-martial sex and when I ridicule this futile system of arranged marriage!

To all the men, who are planning to get married, please keep these points in mind. Marriage doesn’t give you the rights to choose someone just to take care of your parents, cook for your family, work and give her earnings to you, bear your offspring, satiate your carnal pleasures, wash your clothes and raise your children. Marriage is about choosing that one person, whom you will respect and shower with unconditional love. In my opinion, marriage is about making that ultimate choice of sharing your life with another person, who makes you a better person and who gets kicked about being their real-self with you! Let all the other trivial things be buried forever when you thoroughly enjoy living with the love of your life, whom you choose for yourself without delegating the responsibility.

Monday, February 24, 2014

'Nobody will become ‘The Next Sridevi''

The atmosphere was electric on the grounds of Sathyabama University, as   young college girls waited with bated breath for the arrival of one of the evergreen stars of Indian cinema, Padma Shri Sridevi. The actress was in the city to receive her ‘Inspiring Icon’ award presented  by the Sathyabama University, as part of their annual FEMFEST, where they honour women achievers. Clad in a simple, yet elegant royal blue blouse and white pants, the celebrated actress sashayed in to deafening applause from the audience, as Senthoora Poove from 16 Vayathinile aptly played in the background.  The astounding welcome accorded by the college students indicated that despite the absence of a Sridevi film in the theatres (until she came back with English Vinglish); the actress is still the bold Mayil of 16 Vayithinile and the child-like Viji of Moondram Pirai. Sridevi beamed her signature effervescent smile, as she enthusiastically waved to her young fans. After the audience was satiated, the unassuming actress sank into a plush davenport for an exclusive chat with DC. In a quick tête-à-tête, Sridevi spoke about her secret dreams for her children, still loving Chennai from the bottom of her heart and how nobody will ever become ‘The Next Sridevi’.

Sridevi was about four, when her first Tamil film Muruga hit the screens in 1967 and she almost didn’t cease to act till the late 1990’s, when she decided to become a ‘homemaker’ and give undivided attention to her children. Although, the actor began to act when her peers were busy attending kindergarten, Sridevi revealed that she had led a life like every other child, despite acting in films. “I have no regrets whatsoever about starting to act early. My parents ensured that they struck a balance and I lived like a normal school going kid. I still remember celebrating festivals with my family. I am happy about how my life has shaped up and I am glad about the films that I have done. I am grateful to God for the great career and family that I have,” said Sridevi. Quickly adding, “I must say that I missed my school and college days. But we must understand that we can’t get everything in our life.”

The doting mother, Sridevi spent about 15 years looking after her family before she made a commendable comeback with English Vinglish. However, the actress was constantly in touch with the film industry, thanks to her husband Boney Kapoor. “I didn’t miss films when I was on a sabbatical. I was helping my husband with his productions. So I wasn’t completely out of the industry,” she said.

Her kitty might not be full with films, but Sridevi is a busy homemaker, as she leaves no stone unturned to ensure that her daughters are well cared for. “I go to the market to buy vegetables and groceries. I order the right food for them. I am busy as a housewife,” said the mother of two. Her daughters Jahnavi and Khushi bask in Sridevi’s unconditional love and the actress too has some dreams for her children. With a huge grin on her face, she said, “My secret dreams for them are that they have to get married and settle well.  I want to see my grandchildren.”

Besides taking care of her family, Sridevi loves to paint.  She wields the brush like a pro and her artworks were recently auctioned. “I started painting when I was about eight or nine. I never took it seriously. But now I realize that it is one of my main hobbies and it makes me really happy. Painting is soothing for my mind,” she said.

When she isn’t too busy, she unwinds by watching Tamil comedies in TV. In addition to being a versatile actress, Sridevi is known to have pulled off comedy roles too with conviction. “I love doing comic scenes. It is more difficult than doing a serious scene. Fortunately, I am told that comedy scenes work out well for me. My family says that I am funny off screen too,” she laughed.

Bitten by the travel bug, Sridevi often visits virgin destination across the world. But the actress is incredibly loyal to her hometown. “Although I travel a lot, my favourite place is still Chennai. I was born and brought up here and my roots are here. I really enjoy myself in Chennai,” said Sridevi.

Considered one of the artistes, who has defied age, Sridevi avers  “I am very health conscious. I lead a systematic life. I don’t have junk food, at all. No pain, no gain. So I willingly go that extra mile.” When she is reckoned as one of the most beautiful actors of all time, what is ‘beauty’ in her opinion? “Beauty is certainly just not about how one looks outside. A person has to be good from within. One’s heart should be pure for the beauty to reflect in the face,” she quipped and switched to her mother tongue, “solluvaangalla, agathin azhagu mugathil theriyum!” (They say, “ Face is the index of mind”)

Almost every young actress looks up to Sridevi, whereas  she drew her  inspiration  from legendary actors like Sivaji Ganesan, MGR, Savithri and Bhanumathi. “I have a huge list. When I was a child, I used to watch them act. They made a great impact and I have admired them  a great deal. When you watch them quite often, their acting naturally stays in your mind and heart,” she said.

The actress catches up with Tamil films regularly. Is she particularly impressed with any actor from the young crop? Who else can rule the ultimate position that Sridevi managed with finesse? “Everybody has an individual identity. I have observed  the young stars a lot and I see that they are incredibly talented, dedicated and hardworking. They are making their own identities. But, nobody will become ‘The Next Sridevi',” she concluded.

The interview was originally published in Deccan Chronicle dated February 24, 2014.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A teenager turns thirty-two

It’s January 18, 2014 today and my only sibling, Krithika Ramesh will turn 32 tomorrow. (Krithi, now don’t kick me for revealing your age. Anyway, everybody assumes that you are just out of college). Between editing birthday wishes that Deccan Chronicle’s readers have sent to be published in the paper and struggling to cope with the effects of sleep depravation, it occurred to me that I have not written a note on how much I love (and hate) this sister of mine, who is six years older than me. But she is a teenager at heart when she whole-heartedly enjoys watching actor Vijay’s films and she effortlessly slips into the role of a responsible daughter when it comes to looking after our parents. After a lot of tiffs and catfights that changed our opinions about each other, I realised that many a time in my life, I would have been stuck in my abyss if she weren’t there to give me a hand. As some wise men said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Distance does a lot of good to people”, her relocation to the States has made me realise the pivotal role that she has been playing in my life. Although she tries her level best to still do all that she usually does for us, despite the distance, I dearly miss this lady, who drives me nuts and who also helps me be sane. For the first time, she is not going to be in India to celebrate her birthday with us. But our thoughts, hearts and warm wishes are certainly with her.

When I was a kid, some of my early impressions of my parents were formed based on my sister’s opinions about them. She kept telling me about how much they meant to her and how hard they worked to keep us happy. Maybe, my bond with my family was cemented because of her unconditional love for our parents. Since our childhood, we have always been as different as chalk and cheese. If I would wear jeans, kurta and a pair of loafers to attend a wedding reception, you may find her decked up more grandly than the bride herself. If I would choose to lounge at home like a sloth, she would want to be out there experiencing the world. And our differences began to sabotage the harmony and we even ended up telling each other, “I would never want to see your face again!” But when a tidal wave hits me, when life looks hopeless, when snobbish folks bully me, when my parents’ well-being becomes a concern, when I choose to purge out owing to stress and when I decide to reveal some of my dark secrets, without giving a second thought, I dial my sister’s number because after all, she is my sister and she is the best non-judgmental listener. Despite wanting to slap and kill each other at times, we are sure of our love for each other and I blindly fall back with the trust that my sister will hold my back. And that precisely is one of the greatest blessings that I count.

Krithi, I know! It is difficult to be away from us. I know! It is difficult to live without paying monthly visits to your favourite shops here. I know! It is difficult to live without watching a couple of Vijay movies at Sathyam. I know! It is difficult to live without fighting with your favourite tailor. It is certainly difficult to endure a boring birthday in the US. But please understand that this separation is transient and you will be back soon to take us to some fancy hotels and shower us with gifts for YOUR birthday. I love you for what you are and I thank you profusely for being a great support system. And don’t forget to stay confident! Because you deserve all the beautiful things that life can offer. Happy birthday and stay blessed, my love!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mother's Love - From animals' perspective

Mother's Love: Inspiring True Stories From the Animal KingdomMother's Love: Inspiring True Stories From the Animal Kingdom by Melina Gerosa Bellows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last year, I challenged myself to complete reading 25 books. But I lagged behind terribly and managed to read about only five to seven books. For this year, I have again planned to read 25 books and thankfully, I have completed reading two. The first one was ‘The Madras Mangler’ and the second one was ‘Mother’s Love’. To motivate myself or let’s say, to warm up enough, I have decided to read novellas, page-turners and coffee-table books in the beginning and gradually scale-up to non-fiction. That’s my plan for the nonce. But it totally depends on the mood.

So, yesterday I finished reading ‘The Madras Mangler’, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. You may find my review in my blog. Today, I had great fun reading ‘Mother’s Love’, which was published by National Geographic Society. The book features inspiring stories about many mothers and their cute babies from Animal Kingdom and stunning pictures of many beautiful animals. ‘Mother’s love’ is a must-read or must-see for every animal lover. I basked in animals’ cuteness and shed tears sporadically as and when I read stories of animals going to great lengths to save their babies from dangers.

How could anyone not gasp with amazement when Scarlett, a cat that entered a building that caught fire five times to rescue her kittens! How could anyone not be amused at the fact that a mommy duck at Vancouver convinced a stranger to rescue her eight ducklings that had fallen into water! How could anyone not wear a smile when the tigress Sita emotionally handled the hostile father of her cubs and slowly introduced her babies to their father, who was a changed-man! There were so many inspiring stories that have been featured in the book and every picture makes it impossible to flip the page. Author Melina Gerosa Bellows writes in Mother’s love that animals are incredibly intelligent and unbelievably affectionate and possessive. Her words reinforced my unconditional love for them.

The book ‘Mother’s Love’ strengthens my belief that every life / animal counts. Perhaps, all those who stage this futile debate on an-animal’s life-is-not-more-important-a-human’s life should read this book and understand the importance of saving an animal’s life. This beautiful planet belongs to Animal Kingdom too and humans have no rights to decide whose value is more important.

When we were once discussing the rampage that a tiger had created when it slipped into a city in Karnataka, an uninformed acquaintance of mine nonchalantly said once, “It is all true that we have encroached upon their habitat. But they should not be creating so much damage to our lives and properties. I’m so glad that a shoot-at-sight order has been given. At any given day, a human life is more important than an animal’s.” He told that in a matter-of-fact tone. I was disgusted and felt so helpless to make such snobbish nincompoops understand that every life on this planet counts and that humans should use their intelligence to co-exist, be considerate and practise love and compassion.

I strongly recommend ‘Mother’s Love’ to learn how beautiful and intelligent animals are. Parents should certainly make children read this book for they are their future guardians. Regardless of one’s values and principles, one should read this book with an open-mind to see things from animals’ perspectives. For once!

View all my reviews

Five reasons to read 'The Madras Mangler'

The Madras ManglerThe Madras Mangler by Usha Narayanan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In November 2013, while I was whimpering about my inability to achieve my reading target for the year, I wanted to help myself cope with the challenge by meeting a few like-minded folks at the Chennai Book Club meet, whom I thought would be a great source of inspiration. As we discussed this and that in the book club meet, an unassuming lady, whom I assumed to be an enthusiastic reader, politely revealed that she had authored a book called ‘The Madras Mangler’, a compelling thriller and she played a catchy trailer of her book. Usha Narayanan, the author of 'The Madras Mangler' and I exchanged our business cards and continued to catch up virtually, thanks to Facebook. When we met, I honestly didn’t have an idea that the high-spirited acquaintance of mine could unleash her creativity to write a page-turner, create a drool-worthy protagonist and feed the reader with twists and turns in almost every page. My husband, who is not a voracious reader, usually struggles to stay with a book till the last page. But much to my surprise, he finished reading ‘The Madras Mangler’ in three days and in between he called in sick. (I still suspect that he took a day off to finish reading the thriller). His unexpected determination to complete reading the book injured my ego. Despite that, it took almost two months for me to have a tryst with ‘The Madras Mangler’ (I surely kicked myself for procrastinating awfully).

The plot is simple yet interesting. There is an intelligent protagonist, who comes down from the States and happens to help a group of girls who are bogged down with life-threatening problems - the most important being a serial killer, who kidnaps girls, tortures and kills them and dumps their bodies in our very own Cooum. How does the able-bodied and bright protagonist saves the girl and nabs the killer form the crux of the novel! So how different is ‘The Madras Mangler’ from the plethora of other thrillers that the market is filled with? From Thomas Harris to Sidney Sheldon, many storytellers have explored this kind of a storyline. So, how does ‘The Madras Mangler’ stand out? Here are five reasons to read this interesting thriller that makes one’s reader’s block evaporate too.

1.A personal and a favourite reason is that the milieu of the book is ‘namma’ Chennai. When the girls’ corpses were being dumped in Cooum, with an excitement of a child, I was telling myself, “Oh! All these things are happening in my city!” Thanks to the author for sparing us from the pain of reading novel that’s set in a foreign place. With the ‘The Madras Mangler’, the connect with the characters and places is established naturally.

2.Fortunately, none of the characters indulge in monologues. Irrespective of their traits, everybody expresses their opinions crisply.

3.Narration deserves a special mention. The college girls don’t sing Fa La La La in the beginning and cry to death at the end. The author’s decision to avoid linear-narration is something that I really found interesting. The criss-cross narration takes the cake and it certainly makes the book more irresistible.

4.The explanations on how the killer unleashes the animal in her/him didn’t make me squirm. Although there were many ruffians like Jambu and Shaitaan, their needs to nourish their carnal pleasures were not so explicitly written. This talented author’s fine choice of words to articulate with clarity is not something that is found in many Indian authors.

5.‘The Madras Mangler’ might not be a great feast to your brain. But every once in a while, one would want to read something as racy as this book to take a break from heavy-reads. Maybe, it doesn’t make one ponder over deep meaning of life. But it surely helps one forget their half-witted bosses and escape from mundane reality.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 10, 2014

When an animal lover becomes a parent

Last October, Inji, one of the beautiful fur babies on my street, littered seven adorable puppies in an unoccupied house next to my apartment. The next day three disappeared. I tried finding adopters for the remaining ones and my efforts ended in vain. (Maybe, I didn’t make justifiable amount of effort. Maybe, I’m guilty!) Out of four puppies that were living in that house, two disappeared. Last week, my mother confirmed that the last two puppies were not found too. So, we presumed that the duo managed to find their way out of the house. But a couple of days ago, my mother told that an unbearable stench emerged from the unoccupied house. On the same day, we also found one puppy that was loitering in the house. My husband and I entered that house to check the status of the puppies. There was a carcass in the portico and the last puppy that managed to survive was sleeping in the first floor. I tried to grab her, but she dodged us, crossed the balcony and sat on an asbestos roof. We couldn’t walk on the roof as it was flimsy. We had to return and we waited for another opportunity to catch her.

Yesterday, fortunately I returned early from work. My husband, who was at home the whole day, couldn’t spot her. However, much to my surprise, I found her sleeping in the terrace of the unoccupied house. My mother and I rushed to the house. The puppy fled when she heard my footsteps and hid herself in the house again. My mother managed to catch her and we brought her to my apartment. On our way back, we found that the carcass that I found in the portico that morning was dragged to the terrace and the puppy’s mouth that we just caught smelled of dead body. How disturbing it was to learn that she had been feeding on the carcass of her sibling to cope with hunger!

After we left her in my apartment, she ensconced herself in a corner and she certainly didn’t like the experience of being taken away from her home ground, which wore the look of a graveyard. We took her to the vet immediately and thankfully, the vet confirmed that there were no symptoms of Parvovirus. He was amused at the fact that she ate her sibling’s carcass. He smiled! (I’m not kidding!) She was dewormed and given some antibiotics to treat her gastric infections. We couldn’t vaccinate her since she was not keeping too well. The vet advised us to monitor her stools for a couple of days, prescribed more medicines and put her on some critical care tin food diet.

Anu at the vet

While I was waiting in the clinic to meet the vet, I decided that we would foster her till the adoption drive that is going to happen on January 19. My father, who feared that I might add another pet to the family, detested my decision and advised me to just vaccinate her. He reckoned that it would be too much for us to foster her. But I couldn’t envisage leaving her back on the road at the same time I couldn’t take her home. Hence I chose to keep her in a small space in my apartment. We fed her, set up her cozy corner and kissed her goodnight. She howled for a while in the night and had a good sleep after a while. By the way, we named her ‘Anu’.

Anu at home for the first time

It’s been ages since I woke up before 9’o clock. But today I woke up at 7 am and waited for my father to leave to work. It’s because he wouldn’t like his daughter defying his opinions. I rushed out to see Anu, who was sitting in her corner. She didn’t give us eye contact. She still doesn’t. She shivered when I tried to lift her. I looked for her stools and it was all solid. I was never that happy in my life to see a dog’s poop and sigh with relief. After I gave all the prescribed tin food, after she downed a sachet of pedigree, I tried giving her some milk. She politely refused to drink. She seemed very choosy. I fixed her corner again and left to work halfheartedly.

Luckily, my husband hasn’t been working this whole week. So, he kindly agreed to take care of Anu when I am not around. After I reached office, like a kid who has adopted a pet would go gaga over the animal, I desperately waited for someone to listen to my story. This world doesn’t have too many people, who would willfully listen when an animal lover gushes. While I was in a long meeting, my husband tried phoning me many times. When I found time to talk to him, he sweetly told that he wanted to tell me that he thoroughly followed my instructions to look after her and sent me a cute picture of Anu relishing her lunch. My heart skipped a beat. For the first time in my life, I realised that I had become a parent and that I was talking to my husband about a little kid, whom we had begun to love. I couldn’t wait to return home and see the adorable child.

Anu relishes her lunch

I came back home around 9 pm and I immediately started inquiring my husband to learn the happenings of the day. He patiently explained that she enjoyed her lunch, but she was still scared of us. I realised that we were whole-heartedly involved in the process of fostering Anu. I loved that moment!

We just checked on her again. She now lives in my terrace. We have given her a nice quilt, a carton, some old clothes and water. She was crying for a while. But she settled down after we petted her once. She still doesn’t recognise us. I’m not too sure if a three month old pup would anyway recognise his/her parents. But I assume that Anu will take some more time to forget the trauma that she has experienced. She will begin to trust us soon. I believe!

Whenever I find time, I usually see some lovely doggie pictures and read a few fairy-tale stories in the Chennai Adoption Drive Facebook page. Its founder Jennifer has been a great inspiration to me. Perhaps, only because I found them helping animals remarkably that I pushed myself to do my wee bit to them. But when I spent many hours basking in the cuteness of those animals in the pictures, I never thought that I would become a foster parent soon. I never really thought that I would bring another animal to my place. Maybe, it was all destined. My mother casually said, “Anu pozhakkainumnu irukkupola. Athu appo kandippa nadakkum!” Perhaps, she was right!

I will have to foster her for 10 more days to help her recuperate and to take her to the Chennai Adoption Drive on January 19 to find a family for her. These days, my only prayer is to find a kind forever home for Anu. Today, after we checked on her for the last time, my husband questioned, “What will we do if we don’t find an adopter for her on Jan 19?” I felt a stab of anxiety. I sighed before I said, “Let’s see! She will find a home. If she doesn’t then we will put her in a boarding till we find one!” He asked, “Do you think we will be able to afford it?” I honestly didn’t have an answer. He understood and stopped quizzing.

If you are a believer, please pray for this little girl to recover and find a considerate family soon! That is all that we need now.

Anu will always be close to my heart for she has made us parents for the first time. I’m more of an akka to Calvin. So that doesn’t really count!