… So little time to do it in!
I’m leaving India in less than a week. I have a lot of pics to share, a lot of feelings to blog about, a lot of nostalgia to express.
So many people to meet! If by chance I’m not able to bid you goodbye in person or over the phone, I’m so sorry, but it’s not because I hate you.. I’m on a forgiveness spree where people I hate are concerned. I mightn’t be able to say ‘bye because there’s simply too much I need to do that I remember/am reminded of only in the very last minute.Do call me this week, if you want. My home number hasn’t changed in ages, and my mobile has remained the same for two years now.
I don’t quite know when we’ll meet again, if at all. I’m going to begin living from deadline to deadline again. And if we’re on different timezones, our correspondence is done for, especially if you love your sleep.
I’m not thaaaat social a person, so chances are high I keep to myself in a new place, reminisce like crazy… which means I’m thinking of every person I ever knew. And for once, I’m going to a place where I actually know no one I knew before. Not like PU College where everyone knew (or atleast knew of) everyone else, or NITK where there were quite a few people I knew from school or PU, or office, where the NITK gang was quite populous. And it was easy keeping in touch with people from the past back then. Now however, it’s not going to be easy to keep in touch on a daily, or even weekly basis with all but a few people I regularly interact with. There is no easy conversation-starter like common friends or something. Things are going to be different.
The easy comfort I drew from the past is going to be even farther away, so I’m going to be going deeper in my head than before to draw comfort. So call me this week, keep your memory fresh in my mind. God knows I’m going to need it. Thanks.
I’m excited about new prospects, new everything. I sure hope once I’m at Irvine, I have enough time to write about all that on this blog.
And sure hope I manage to record the happenings and feelings of the past few days here before next week comes along with stuff that’s really exciting and hence this week is forgotten… I just want to record it somewhere.
As I’ve discovered, I’m lousy at saying ‘bye, and other sorts of endings. So.. uh… see you ’round. We’ll meet again.
Bad-bad words: “Bleddy Bhaskar! Thisis your Last Morning! I’ll hit you meeeans you’ll go fall in foreign”
So there was this tag on Twitter called ThirdStandardClassics. It reminded me of some of the misconceptions I had in those glorious days.
First, I wondered where exactly this place called “Forin” was. Uma Chithi went to America, and she was supposed to be from Forin. Raju Thatha was from London, and he was also from Forin. Vadi Mama was said to be in this place full of kangaroos called Australia, and he too was…. From Forin. And Sidhart’s father got chocolates from “the Gulf”, also known as Forin. So confusing.
All I knew was Forin was really far away (I wondered if it was Far-in, and that my granny was actually pronouncing it right when the rest of them were merely ignorant), because Hemant in my class threatened me with “If you actoff meaaans I’ll kick you and you’ll go and fall in Forin”.
Right from Class 1, we got various threats of “This is the last morning* I’m giving you”, “This is your last morning”. Given that corporal punishment wasn’t exactly banned then, and Mrs. Meera Sarkar was one crazy female who slapped you if you lost your water bottle, I assumed it meant she’d hit you so badly, you wouldn’t live to see another morning. *Shudder*. [Aside: I had a phobia for the name Meera and always imagined witches to be dark-dark-skinned people with black curly hair and black lips so thin they'll give a Motorazr a complex, because Meera Sarkar looked like that. Thankfully I didn't have much of her, though my sister suffered like crazy with her].
And then, the bad-bad words. The usual ones – kaththe, kothi, naayi, handi were staple, and we routinely looked up words in other languages. I remember my friend Thrilok being in demand for bad-bad words in Tulu.
But once, there was a fight in class 1 where one boy called another a “Bleddy Bhaskar” [Someone else on Twitter said "Bledy Basket"]. They both had to kneel down for an hour or something.
At around the same time, there was this family friend called Bhaskar. I didn’t like him very much… he didn’t seem to like children. He gave the five-year-old me a formal smile instead of the usual ragging reserved for little children. It didn’t go down well with me, though I really detested the leg-pulling some of my parents’ friends indulged in.
So I assumed when someone yells “Bledy Bhaskar”, they are referring to this frown-faced guy. That he was such an evil person (when you’re a kid, you only have extremes) that his very name was a badword. I wondered for long why parents still continued to give their kids such names, inspite of this glowing example of a man who visited us every Friday. [I also used to assume that everyone had the same set of relatives you did, only they looked different. In my world-view, it was okay if your parents and grandparents had different names, but I assumed everyone had a Krithika-akka, a Vinu-anna, Seenu-mama... until I finished kindergarten. Hence, I assumed everyone would have a frown-faced Bhaskar-uncle who visited them every Friday. When I was in primary school, this notion stopped persisting, but at the back of my mind, I had a notion that adults knew everything]
For a very long time, I kept away from people named Bhaskar.
*It turned out to be ‘warning’. Such a relief that was.
Why isn’t this a major motion-picture yet, with Ilayaraja/Rehman soundtrack and Surya in a double role?
This book made quite a few waves when it first came out. It was supposed to be a really brilliant book, nicely written etc etc, and Mr. Davidar was the other reason for the hype. The man who brought Penguin India from being a publisher of a handful of books every year to one of the largest publishing houses in English in India had written a novel. It seemed quite full of Raj reminisces, caste violence, and all that staple Indian English fare. There were murmurs that it was semi-autobiographical.
Me, I was in no mood to read another The God of Small Things. The reviews were goddamn all over the place. All the more easier to gloss them over. [Aside: I read on a blog somewhere about how online advertising co.s like Google should penalize bad ads, because they make users more resistant to ads, making the jobs of even the good ads more difficult]. Just like it had been for Arundati Roy’s magnum opus. And the plot seemed to be set in Kerala. God, just some smartass publisher who hoped to capitalize on the success of The God….
So I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked it off the rack at Blossoms a couple of weeks back.
But I’m glad I did.
(It later turned out to be set in Tamil Nadu, in some places bordering Kerala, but it’s not about a bunch of Malayalees who have descendants who come up with those irritating Mallu jokes. But the reason I’m glad for it being set in Tamil Nadu, I will come to very soon. Oh, and those of you wondering how to pronounce Davidar, after reading the book, I guess it doesn’t have an outlandish pronunciation, but probably something like David-err… just like Kalaign-err, Chozhiy-err, etc.).
The plot line is quite simple… tracing the travails of three generations of the Dorai family, who find true happiness and purpose only at their ancestral Neelam Illam, the titular House of Blue Mangoes.
The story starts in 1899, the first generation of Dorais we are introduced to are lords of a village… Solomon Dorai is the village headman, a just, kind and stable one. Caste violence tears the family asunder, taking with it Solomon and his cousin, and separating his wife and older son from the younger son.
The next generation consists of his sons – the studious Daniel, and the volatile Aaron. Aaron is lost in the freedom movement, while Daniel becomes a successful doctor, combining the best of traditional and Western systems of medicine, going on to become very wealthy after coming up with a skin-lightening formula.
The story follows Daniel’s son Kannan in its last third. It is now close to independence and WWII, and Kannan finds himself a brown man in a white man’s world. This part of the book deals exceedingly with his identity crises, and his journey of self-discovery.
Themes of family togetherness, father-son conflicts, and stubborn pursuits of idea run throughout the story.
While the book deals mainly with the men of the Dorai family, Mr. Davidar does do the women justice. Be it the strong Charity, or the Anglo-Indian Helen, or even the calm Lily, they have a depth of character, elaborate character sketches, strong likes and dislikes – enough to feel very real. Though they are mainly relegated to the background in their lives, their importance to the plot is not undermined by Mr. Davidar, who goes on to give them engaging, powerful and empathy-evoking personalities.
Mr. Davidar does the same for even the minor characters. Be it the sneaky Vakeel Perumal or the sturdy Joshua, or Cooke, the good Brit, or Hall, the Brit with his own axe to grind, Mr. Davidar does enough to ensure they aren’t stereotypes who exist to perform fixed roles in the story, but characters good enough to have their own birth certificates and passports.
I was glad this novel was set in TN and not Kerala, not because of any innate hatred towards the redflag-toting football-loving neighbors to our south, but because I’ve been so long cut off from Tamil literature, I know very little of the place beyond what I see in movies… which I don’t watch much on a regular basis. I cannot read my aunt’s columns and short stories in various magazines, because I can’t read Tamil. The cap on all this came last month, when I was visiting an uncle of mine. For half an hour or more, he kept slipping in references to various Tamil authors, what they said, and all that, none of which I could comprehend. And after forty-five minutes, he finally understood that I can’t read/write Tamil, and with a flourish, brought out a book of children’s stories by Sujatha. I hadn’t finished reading even one line, when he’d interrupt me with some other quote by some 16th Century saint, to ask about Lennon’s lovelife, trying to get me to spar with him on a K’taka-vs-TN argument which would put Ka.Ra.Ve and the cable operators of Bangalore to shame… I haven’t read even a single story in Tamil yet.
But anyway, any Tamil writer on the same topic wouldn’t be as passive as Mr. Davidar, but take on a more activist role. Most Tamil writers who would generally deal with caste violence in their books would take a stand, mostly on the side of the lower castes, and yell Death to Brahmins, mostly in verse, obtuse verse a noob like me wouldn’t be able to understand.
And that’s where Mr. Davidar’s brilliance lies. He doesn’t preach, or take sides. He presents the caste wars as just another agent of change, nothing more, nothing less. He doesn’t decry the Englishman’s apathy towards the native… it’s left to the audience to do so. There is absolutely no overstatement, no underestimation of the reader’s intelligence.
What makes the book all the more refreshing is that Mr. Davidar doesn’t write from the point of view of the urban Indian or an NRI rediscovering his roots, but as someone writing about something close to his heart. There aren’t outlandish references, or an overuse of vernacular words [though one minor irritant is his spelling Avvaiyyaar as Auvaiyar.. but that's towards the end of the book, by when Mr. Davidar has established his credentials as a non-pseud-Indian]. There isn’t any of the mandatory description of traditional rites and rituals from an outsider’s perspective. That makes you feel one with the characters, not like some fly on the wall. You care about the characters. You worry when Charity Dorai begins to lose her mind. You rejoice when Rachel’s wedding with Ramadoss comes off successfully. You feel the desperation when Kannan sets off to bag the tiger. You feel the same sense of homecoming when Kannan comes back to The House of Blue Mangoes in the end. You don’t turn the pages of this book and keep at it for four-five hours because there are strange twists and turns in the plot, but because you care about the characters.
What, for me, added a touch of honesty to the whole thing is the Author’s Note near the end, where he announces that the story is fiction, and the castes mentioned in it are, too, and it shouldn’t be construed as autobiographical, or as family history masquerading as fiction, though inspiration for bits of the story came from places he lived in during his childhood, and a grandfather who had a family settlement. That bit makes me like the book a lot more, as that makes it less like other works of Indian fiction, more notably The God Of Small Things which everyone thought was Ms. Roy’s autobiography with fiction thrown in here and there. It’s also great to come across a plot which has been conjured from thin air, with only the implementation details inspired from real life.
And you’d even know which bits are from where… the Acknowledgments page is more than just a boring collection of sources… Mr. Davidar acknowledges in detail seemingly everyone who had to do with the book, including “Vivek Menon who pointed out that ‘nightjars drift and do not whir’”.
All in all, a nice, well-written book with characters you can sympathize, if not empathize with. A good read.
It surprises me that no one has yet made a movie out of this plot. The narrative has been so gripping, I can see prospective trailers in front of my eyes… a collection of clips where the village gathered on the beach for Chitra-Pournami, Aaron jumping the well, Rachel blushing when she first meets Ramadoss, Solomon jumping into a well and playing with the local boys, Aaron and the Andavars practising silambattam under the guidance of Joshua, Kannan bagging the tiger, Solomon and Muthu Vedhar locked in a fight, Aaron assassinating a police officer, and a flash of an Indian flag, Daniel’s visions of his mother after she dies, Aaron calling Daniel anna before dying, Kannan getting ragged at the Madras Christian College, Kannan and Helen having long walks around the tea estate, Charity, Daniel, Rachel and Miriam on the way to Nagercoil, with wistful music in the background and visuals of evergreen forests… and finally members from different branches of the family coming together to celebrate Christmas together, and graphics of a house and a mango tree, and the title “Neelam Illam” falling into place next to it.
Just for the alliteration. Not enough material for a nice long post about it that won’t be password protected and will be able to attract a lot of comments.
Just couldn’t pass the title up.
Just as I finished posting the previous post from my mobile, my landline began working. My, blogcribbing does work!
BSNL down where I live. I don’t have a job anymore (Yay!) which might let me access the Net. And I hate using cybercafes. GPRS keeps me just about sane. But I reply to mails with few words, don’t blog to the extent I’m simply bursting with ideas for works of fiction, and Google Reader unread count seems to have touched five hundred despite reading the text-only feeds as much as I can. Pray for my sanity, folks!
WARNING: Maybe Extreme Tech for your taste!
So, I just found a way to make contact lenses! Im not sure if this is the normal way they make them.
To fit the lenses, or to get better vision, you need to control the curvature of the lenses. And of course you need optical clarity.
Using PDMS solves the problem of optical clarity.
Now to control the curvature and hence the Power of the lens. Take a bottle of a small diameter. Now you can consider the bottle to act like a capillary. Pour some water in it. Because of the surface tension, a neat depression forms. Voila! Youve just got your self the basic mold for the lenses. Instead of water, pour PDMS and let it set. You just made the solid mold.Pour another thin layer of PDMS and then peel it ( there might be a glitch here, PDMS might bond with the older one).
How do I control the power, you might ask… So now, the curvature depends on the diameter of the bottle and the material of the wall. Choose them appropriately and you got yourself your home made lenses.
So, Google just gave me another reason, why I should hate them! With its web history … Yet another step to intrude my privacy.
You might say, why do you want to use google accounts? Use something else!
So, thats another reason. First they hook me on to them what with that brilliant seach engine. Then comes gmail, higher storage, cool chat, labels and yada. So, they have access to the whole of my personal life. Phew! I say, no one is reading this mail. But then their bot crawls over it and neatly places “relevant” ads besides it. Do they have an option for me to disable them? NO. But they every other inane options to change the colors of my labels, and personalized themes and the like.
No Thank you! Im not using more of their products. Yet they have reader. So thats fine? Now they know what all I read, and when I read and how much I read. So thats not eough for them to find out or give me “better” search results.
They bring out this web history thing. What with a whole packaging of personalized results for that. No it was not enough for them to keep a copy of all the words I searched for. But now they want to know which site I clicked after I searched for that elusive keyword. Oh! so, How many people know about it? Not many. Its just one of those little prices you pay for using their services. Oh you can set up what or how you want your web history to be stored. No thankyou, Im not even going near it.
So Im going to see if I can switch this whole brower history off? Nooo! Google wants me to go and delete every item if I dont want to use it. After all the heavy searches I do, this is the least I can help them out, nein?
Oh and they also have this whole list of stuff for Privacy and security for google accounts:
Someone changed you password? Keeping you account secure? Detecting suspicious activity in your account? Removing malware from my computer? Dont you think its just what google could do with all the information it has access to?
Third party access to your account information? Sharing your data with other sites? Isnt google already using it for more monopoly?
I suppose im being cynical about it. But all the over dependence is killing me.
Do tell me if youve figured out if there is a way to turn the damn thing off!
I’ve always wanted to write an anthology of short stories for children, which would then have a title like the one above. But my talespinning talents let me down… so I’m reduced to blogging about some or the other sort-of-mundane incident in my life.
Like my trip to Chennai to get my visa. No, it’s not about how to get visas. If you like, F1 seems rather easy to get apparently these days, you don’t need to attend coaching classes for that. This post is a lot of other digressions put together.
My neighbor is part of this organization which conducts personality development classes, summer classes and other fun activities for schoolgoing children. And their latest activity was an interschool contest of some nature. Mostly Lit events, it later turned out. “Are you free on Sunday?”, she asked me. I said I was. And got invited to judge an elocution contest.
I felt rather unqualified to judge something like this, I felt, thinking of all the times when my legs turned to jelly in front of large audiences at school… but, oh, well, it’s an experience. And I certainly don’t have stage fear now.
Anyway, I arrived at the venue on time, and was ushered into a room full of software engineers and aspiring software engineers who had a day off on a Sunday, and who were neighbors of members of that organization, and who were as clueless about judging elocution as I was.
We were sent off to different stages at different parts of the venue. I went to the terrace where there were about thirty kids aged between nine and twelve. Harking back to the times when I’ve troubled many a new teacher, I felt queasy and ill at ease. And was put back at ease because, well, THE KIDS BEGAN TO CLAP!. And then the emcee introduced me. The kids began to come forward one by one and speak. And how confident each one was! They might have factual inaccuracies in their carefully-prepared speeches, but no lack of confidence! Not one ran back unable to speak, not one forgot her lines.
And then we were asked to judge highschool kids. And the levels of confidence just did not match up. So many gave up in the middle, so many forgot their lines, so many were shaking with nervousness.
And judging was a good experience too… we had sheets with parameters given for which we were supposed to grade the kids on a scale of ten. It took a couple of speeches to get used to that. For some, you could give them a 8/10 for expression within a few seconds, whereas for others you wouldn’t be sure till the very last second of their speech. Some were rehearsed, a few were so spontaneous, you were wide-eyed with wonder. But most of all, you had to concentrate. It might be the same point reiterated a million times, but you had to listen with a fresh mind and mark the contestant just like he was the first one.
I was quite shocked at the demonization of computers and technology they were all indulging in…. and said so in my feedback. While interacting with them, it turns out that they all had perfectly normal, realistic views of computer games and things, but well, at that age, you are still coming to terms with black and white and striking the middle ground is something that’s going to take you a couple of more years atleast to get started with. So any side you argue, you end up taking extreme stances. Why, people much, much older than them have trouble with not seeing things in only black and white…. nevertheless, the kids were wonderful, smart, brainy folks. Witty and nice conversation. And how well-informed they are for their age!
I fall ill regularly at two-week intervals, of late. And each time, I harangued my doctor for whether I had contracted swine flu. Not a totally random fear; one of my colleagues who works on the same floor as I do was down with it a few weeks back. And there have been other cases in my workplace. Mainly folks who travelled back from South Korea. The most recent bout of my illness was this Monday. But I couldn’t let that stop me from going off to Chennai.
Travelling by the Brindavan Express, one of my co-passengers was the DMK MP from Vellore, Mr. Abdul Rahman. Three-four hours of listening to letters being dictated in formal Tamil, to Salman Khurshid, to Shashi Tharoor. Regarding facilities for Haj pilgrims, and implementation of the Ranganath Mishra report (which, by the way, includes reservations for minorities). Not just letters, but he made and received a dozen phonecalls on the same topic. His eloquence amazed me. But then, if you’re in that line of work, and have been successful enough to be an MP, I guess you’ll have to have such a level of eloquence for the experience you’d've got. And how much of minority affairs! He didn’t talk of anything else. And I don’t think he even talks of anything else elsewhere also. *Sigh*.
Once upon a time, I came across this thing on the Net that said “One Tambrahm – Priest at Varadarajaperumal temple / Two Tambrahms – Maths tuition / Three Tambrahms – Queue outside US consulate at 4 am / Four Tambrahms – Thyagarajar Music festival in the Bay Area. I used to think it was one of those stupid stereotypes. But NO.
If we had a separate Tambrahms-only US consulate, it would still be financially viable. (Just like if we had a Hajj/Gulf-only Passport Office in Bangalore) There I was, forty-five minutes early for my visa appointment, and the area outside the consulate was teeming with people standing in queue for their appointment much later in the day. And most of them Tambrahms, either students like me, or H1B aspirants, or folks going to visit their kids there…. some of the Ammas came in full madisar and all, and I think I even saw a hint of a manja pai.
The interview hall has two television screens, both showing Times Now. It feels like as if that is done juuust to show all of us US-aspirants that US is an awesome destination, India is a really sad country to live in, just look at the news… parental abuse, ineffective PM, violence, bomb blasts, intrusions on our borders…. and don’t bother going to Australia, you’ll be maimed for life, just look at the videos on that screen there.
My interview lasted forty seconds, and my interviewer was a cheery plus-sized woman who was both intimidating and friendly at the same time. The questions she asked me were totally alien to me; I’d never heard of the likes of them, but thankfully she asked those with a twinkle in her eye, and grinned at my shocked expressions. Total timepass.
Chennaiyil Oru Mazhai-Kaalam
We reached Chennai to a steady drizzle. Good, for we wouldn’t have to face the oppressive heat the city is famed for. Bad, for I was still down with viral fever. It isn’t a steady downpour that brings down trees and renders traffic immobile. It’s more of intermittent heavy downpours.
Managed to somehow get lost walking between the homes of Aunt1 and Aunt2, a distance of not more than 500m. And also managed to get stuck in the rain while being lost. Plus, my mobile also began to act funny, and I wasn’t able to make and receive calls for a grand total of ten minutes.
And the infamous autorickshaws of Chennai! The distance between the US Consulate and the Hotel I stayed in was what would probably be Rs. 20 in Bangalore. But in Chennai, you pay Rs. 50. It’s considered a standard rate…. everyone else who’d done that distance said it’d cost you that much. Plus, I was with Appa, who pays up without a whimper, and not with Amma, of the dragging-auto-drivers-to-police-stations fame, and who has mastered the art of Autorickshaw-fu. I couldn’t even try out my budding autorickshaw-fu skills, as if it was Amma, she would have backed me up, but Appa on the other hand, doesn’t bargain.
It amazes me that the people of Chennai are so resigned to this dacoity by the band of auto drivers… my aunts, uncles and cousins who’ve lived there for quite a proportion of their lives pay up without bargaining that much. And here in Bangalore I yell at autodrivers who go by the meter, my allegation being that their meter is faulty. My uncle says it’s because they are so used to being looted that they feel weird when they are not being robbed. My mother on the other hand, seems to scare the autodrivers silly, and manages to get trips at Bangalore prices.
The reason I was forty-five minutes early for my appointment – someone advised us that since the Consulate was close to Karunanidhi’s houses, if he or his wives decided to go out, there would be massive traffic delays. The auto driver showed us the residence of Mu.Ka’s second wife like a taxi driver in Mumbai would show you Vidya Balan’s or Urmila’s house. It’s amazing how much of information about Mu.Ka they have at their fingertips – his wives’ names, ages, his children’s names, their political futures, the political fate of Amma as scripted by Mu.Ka, no pun intended…. whoa!
My Tamil Is Not Tamil
“Her Tamil is so weird no?”, said one cousin of mine to his brother. “Yeah, she speaks like Ma”, he replied.
“That’s how Tamil should be spoken”, my Bangalore-born-and-bred aunt retorted.
“Yeah, when you folks come to Bangalore, we all feel you speak like Vadivel”, I added.
So apparently, Bangalore Iyers speak a highly Brahminized Tamil, the likes of which are very rarely, if at all, heard in Chennai. I always thought it was the other way ’round… this Akka in my neighborhood who was fresh from Chennai called us home for Golu, and told us, “Theertham eduththukongo”, for which my cousin and I cupped our hands to receive holy water…. while she gave us regular water in steel tumblers (which we proceeded to drink without touching our lips to the tumbler).
If I want to survive in Chennai, I should apparently understand
- That it is Seekram vaanga and not Surukka vaango
- That it is Dress eduthuka and not Sokka eduththuko
- That SollaraeL, PaNNaraeL should be replaced with Sollareenga, PaNNareenga
- That there don’t exist words like Geli and Galata in regular usage. And if at all they are used, they are pronounced KeLi and Kalatta.
And while we’re on the topic, Tambrahm love songs I found on twitter:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Just 3 strands in my pooNal,
Make it 6, will you?
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Just 6 yards in my saree,
Make it 9, will you?
A few months/years back, Churumuri had posted the One <member of community> / Two <member of community> thing and asked why there were no Kannadigas on the list. So here’s my tuppence… do add yours in the comments section:
One Kannadiga – Udupi Hotel in Singapore/Seoul/San Francisco
Two Kannadigas – Father-son political party
Three Kannadigas – Campus placements at Infy, scheduled to go to the US soon.
Four Kannadigas – Entire Kannada-speaking population of Koramangala and Indiranagar.
Update: Ahh, the tailpiece got churumuri’d. Nice!