Saturday, January 28, 2006

Back to the Bluegrass

The queasy feeling at the pit of my stomach whenever I reach an airport started showing itself again when I arrived at Sahar International Airport, Mumbai. I have learnt to live with it now. I suppose it is the fact that I'd have nothing to identify myself with for the next 24 hours except my passport. No address; no family; no friends; just a few printed sheets of passport. I know that perhaps this is making too much of a big deal about nothing..:) So I am going to stop. After traveling for 2 hours by car (another of Mumbai's travails), we arrived at the airport a bit off schedule. I am not one for saying goodbyes. A brief nod at my parents, a kiss on their cheeks and I was gone. I didn't look back.

Well, after a long and tiresome journey, I was relieved after I cleared customs at Atlanta. The sight of 'Starbucks' warmed my heart..:) After Paris Charles de Gaulle, I have realized how well equipped American airports are. Rather thankful for it. I peeped out the window at Lexington before landing. I was happy to get back to this sleepy little town that has been my hometown for nearly 2 years now. Frankly, I have become rather wary and sick of big, huge cities. Boarding and arriving at these monster cities leaves me exhausted. Mumbai is one monster of a city. Though I did enjoy some aspects of Mumbai, I figured I'd rather not spend my life there. Endless traffic lines, crowds and queues for everything from groceries to airport check-in lines have left me rather jaded. Atlanta was no relief either. I had to wait for a long while before my baggage even showed up and the jostling crowds didn't ease anything. I don't mean to complain. I guess these are the normal appendages of being in big metros.

The flight arrived in Lexington. People didn't jostle to get out of the flight. Everyone was leisurely sitting in their seats waiting for the line ahead to clear up. I did the same. I liked the relaxed atmosphere..:) The sight of k and rs bought a smile to my face. I picked up baggage with little problems and in a few minutes, I was home.

After the crowds of Mumbai, I confess Lexington looks like a ghost town to me! My apartment feels even more weird. I have become used to the colour, liveliness and throb of India after nearly 2 months there. I miss the noise. Sigh. It will be sometime before I get used to this again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't Think. Blink.

Michael Gladwell's "blink" bore me company on Dadar Express from Chennai to Mumbai. For anyone who doesn't know the agony of a 24 hour journey by train, the Chennai-Mumbai leg would be a good starter. After the initial curiosity of gazing at bucolic landscapes and gulping one absolutely horrendous railway Idli-Vada-Chutney (reminded me of 'Anniyan' and 'Kumbee Bagam'), I settled down to read this book.

There have been times when I've taken ridiculous likes/dislikes to people and things. An instinctive feeling of warmth and trust creeps in when I meet some. There are moments when a little voice murmurs, 'No. This thing is BAD for you.' When people belligerently ask, 'So, why in the world don't you like her? You just saw her!', I've never been able to explain WHY. This book explains how we 'thin-slice' all the time and form opinions. The 'Adaptive Unconscious', as Gladwell calls it, guides you surely and firmly in the right direction before your conscious mind even realizes anything. Perhaps this is the 'gut instinct' that people rely on so much.

One thing I found interesting is the fact that people who instinctively make a decision and people who are given time to make a decision eventually make the SAME decision. Perhaps, taking "time" to make a decision is irrelevant? Do we agonizingly confuse issues by poring over too much fringe data? Maybe. Personally, I agree with the author as far as decision making goes. There is only certain core data we need to make a decision and usually, it is available at hand. The other fringe information is for confirmation and safety. And this information, at times, does serve to confuse the conscious mind instead of clarifying it. So we begin to second-guess. Doubt creeps in and the conviction needed to execute actions goes missing.

I believe in instinct. It has saved my bacon a lot of times...:) People sometimes criticize the so-called "feminine instinct". I don't think there's any sort of gender in instinct. I think women are more prone to recognize their emotions and feelings. Perhaps, in the process they end up being more sensitive to that little inner voice.

Definitely worth a read for the examples and real-world incidents that the author details. The good news is that we are born with this instinct and we can hone it. Don't think, Gladwell says, Blink.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Indian Artwork!

Above: Zari work on a silk saree

Each time I set foot into a bazaar in India, it fairly whisks my breath away (even now). Clothes dyed artfully with striking colors, tastefully hand-embroidered handbags, mirror work wall hangings, bedspreads, jewel-encrusted paintings, bronze artfully sculpted into myriad gods and godesses all continue to dazzle the visitor. It is not the presence of these works of art that is impressive; it is the fact that these are so omnipresent and abundant. Even the vendor hawking wares on the sidewalk has goods that have a certain degree of artistry and workmanship!

I recently purchased a painting made on silk that has been so finely woven that it feels like paper. The painting is no Van Gogh or Rembrandt...:) But it is attractive enough to be hung in a living room. From huge silk houses that weave intricate designs on sarees to the simple hawker who sells beautiful accessories by the roadside, here's my salute to Indian artistry and workmanship! :)

How would you phrase it?

Kerala has the evocative tagline of "God's Own Country". Malaysia is "Truly Asia". England has "Cool Brittania". Mumbai is searching for one such logo..:) Image is everything. A tagline describes the city/country in one line. It should have spice and punch.
Why, of all things, does Chennai have to have the unimaginative logo of "Singara Chennai"? Apart from the feeble attempt at alliteration, no one who looks at Chennai would say it is "singaram". I did rack my brains to think of something. I couldn't come up with anything decent but I am sure there are thousands who can do it....:)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Row 1 (Left to Right): Sunset over the Arabian Sea, "The Queen's Necklace" in Mumbai's Marine Drive, Golden sunset over the Arabian Sea

Row 2 (Left to Right): Srirangam railway station captured on my whim, Teppakulam (Temple tank) in Trichy, Tiruvanaikkoil market with the Temple tower in the background

Row 3 (Left to Right): Banana vendor in Tiruvanaikkoil bazaar, River Kaveri in Trichy, Temple tower of Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, Trichy

Row 4(Left to Right): Srirangam temple tower decorated at night for Vaikunta Ekadasi festival, Mumbai's Gateway of India commemorating the arrival of George V and Queen Mary, Statue of Chatrapati Shivaji

Sunday, January 15, 2006

பொங்கல் தின சிறப்பு நிகழ்ச்சிகள்- சில குறிப்புகள்!

பொங்கல் தினத்தன்று 'அண்ணனுக்கு ஜே' என்ற தலைப்பில் நடிகர் சூர்யாவுடன் ஒரு நாள் சுற்றினார்கள் விஜய் டிவி யில். மேக்கப் எதுவும் இல்லாமல், சாதாரண நடுத்தர தரப்பினரை சேர்ந்த ஒரு பிள்ளையாக, வலம் வந்தார். சொந்த ஊரில் தனது உறவினர்களை அறிமுகப்படுத்தினார். குளத்து தண்ணீரில் குதித்து நீந்தினார். கல்லூரி மாணவர்களை சந்தித்து பேசினார்.
இவ்வளவு படங்கள் நடித்தும், சூர்யாவிடம் ஒரு அழகான கூச்சம் இருக்கிறது. மனிதர் காமிராவை பார்த்து மிக பாந்தமாக பேசுகிறார். பொதுவாகவே, நடிகர்களுக்கு காமிரா முன் நின்று, நின்று ஒரு consciousness வந்துவிடும் என்றுதான் நினைக்கிறேன். 'நான் நடிகன். காமிரா முன் நிற்கிறேன்' என்கிற ஒரு நினைப்பு இருந்து கொண்டே தான் இருக்கும். ஆனால் சூர்யாவிடம் அது இல்லை! அழகாக, தன்மையாக பேசினார். டான்ஸ் ஆட சொன்னால் மிகவும் வெட்கப்பட்டு, இரண்டு ஸ்டெப் போட்டுவிட்டு ஓடிவிட்டார். தான் மிகவும் கூச்சசுபாவியென்றும், தானே இவ்வளவு வெற்றி பெற்றால், நிச்சயம் சாதாரண மனிதர்கள் எல்லோரும் வெற்றி பெறலாம் என்று சொன்னார். நிகழ்ச்சி choreographed என்றாலும், சூர்யா பேசியது எதுவும் பொய்யாக தோன்றவில்லை. மிகவும் பிடித்திருந்தது.

சூர்யா- மென்மை.

மீரா ஜாஸ்மின்!

வணக்கம் தமிழகத்தில் மீரா ஜாஸ்மின் பேட்டி அளித்தார். எனக்கு இவரிடமும் பிடித்தது - அழகாக தமிழில் பேசுகிறார். வார்த்தைகள் தெரியாதபோது, டி.ஸ். ரங்கநாதனை கேட்டு தெரிந்து கொண்டு, உபயோகபடுத்துகிறார். 'இமேஜ் கெட்டுவிடுமோ?' என்று பயந்து கொள்ளாமல், தப்போ தவறோ தமிழிலேயே பேசினார். அவரது credit-கு, வெகுவாக சரியாகவே பேசினார். தமிழ் நடிகைகளே, தமிழை மிக கொச்சையாக பேசும் காலத்தில், ஒரு மலையாள நடிகை தமிழை தெரிந்து கொண்டு பேசுவது மிக பாராட்டப்பட வேண்டிய விஷயம். மிக சரியாக யோசித்து பதில்கள் அளித்தார். பாடவும் செய்தார்! :))

டி.ஸ் ரங்கநாதன் பேச்சை சுவாரஸ்யமாக எடுத்து போக மாட்டேன் என்கிறார். மீரா அடுத்து மேலே என்ன சொல்லுவது என்று தெரியாமல் திணர, இவர் பாட்டுக்கு வேடிக்கை பார்த்து கொண்டு இருக்கிறார்! கூட இருக்கும், இன்னொரு பெண்மணிதான் cue குடுத்து மேலே நடத்தி செல்கிறார். இம்மாதிரி பேட்டியெடுக்கும் வகையில் இருக்கும் நிகழ்ச்சியை தொகுத்து வழங்கும் மனிதருக்கு சற்று presence of mind வேண்டாமோ??

மீரா ஜாஸ்மின் - ஜில்லுனு ஒரு தென்றல்! :)


சாலமன் பாப்பைய்யா தலைமையிலும், லியோனி தலைமையிலும் பட்டிமன்றம் நடந்தது. நன்றாக சிரிக்க, சிரிக்க பேசினார்கள்.
அது என்ன, ஒரு பண்டிகை வந்தால் தான் பட்டிமன்றம் வைப்பார்களா? வேறு எந்த சமயத்திலும், இதெல்லாம் பேச மாட்டார்களா?

பட்டிமன்றம்- அலுப்பு!

பெப்சி உமா

பெப்சி உமா இன்றும் 'உங்கள் சாய்ஸ்' நடத்துகிறார். பொங்கலுக்காக 'திரை கண்ணோட்டம்' நடத்தினார். இன்றும், இவரது பேச்சு எனக்கு அலுக்கவில்லை. மனிதர்களை எரிச்சலூட்டுவதர்கென்றே பேசும் சில தொகுப்பாளினிகளுக்கு (உதாரணம் சன் மியூசிக் ஹேமா சிங்) இடையில், இவர் ஒரு இனிமையான மாறுதல். நல்ல குரல். அழகான உச்சரிப்பு. இயல்பான பேசும் முறை. எவனோ தெரியாத ஒருவனிடம் போய், 'உன்னுடைய மனைவியின் மிக அழகான அம்சம் எது?' என்றெல்லாம் அச்சு பிச்சென்று கேள்வி கேட்காமல் (அய்யோ, நான் பொய் சொல்லலைங்க! நெசமாவே இப்படி ஒருத்தங்க கேட்க, தொலைபேசியின் மறுமுனையில் அவர் நெளிய...என்ன கருமமடா!), contextual-ஆக பேசுகிறார். எல்லோரையும் comfortable-ஆக பீல் பண்ண வைக்கிறார். அந்த நிகழ்ச்சியை உமாவுக்காகவே உட்கார்ந்து பார்த்தேன்.

உமா - கம்பீரம்!

ரம்யா கிருஷ்ணன்

சிறப்பு 'தக தக தக தக தங்க வேட்டை' நடத்துகிறார் ரம்யா. அவரது தமிழ் உச்சரிப்பே மிக வினோதமாக இருக்கிறது. அவருக்கு, நல்ல husky குரல். அதை கத்தி, கூச்சலிட்டு பாழ்படுத்தி கொள்கிறார்! கேள்விகளோ அதற்கு மேல் அபத்தம்.

"எருமைப் பாலின் நிறம் என்ன?"

இதற்கு வேறு helpline ஒருவர் கேட்க, என்னால் தாங்கமுடியவில்லை...:(

ரம்யா - All glitter, no gold.


'பரமசிவம்' படத்துக்காக மிகவும் இளைத்த, பழைய 'ஆசை' அஜீத். உடலில் நல்ல மெருகு. படம் எப்படி இருக்கிறது என்று தெரியாது.

அஜீத்- புனர்ஜன்மம்.

விஜய்யின் 'ஆதி'

விஜய் கூடிய சீக்கிரத்தில் முடி திருத்தம் செய்யவில்லையென்றால், புறா கூடு கட்டுவது சர்வ நிச்சயம். காய்ந்து, வரண்டு போன வைக்கோல் நிறம் வேறு பூசியிருக்கிறார்...:) நான் விஜய் ரசிகைதான். அதற்காக இப்படியா?? :))

Friday, January 13, 2006

Quite Contrarily...

"Mary, Mary quite contrarily
How does your garden grow?"

I was reading "The bad Times of India" a couple of weeks back when this poem popped into my head. Two news times were arranged side by side in the newspaper.
The first one was that some ruffians had gotten into a train (I forget which one), forced a 22-year old married woman into the toilet and gang raped her.

The second news item was that the Mumbai Police squad had taken moral policing to heart. They swooped down upon some married couples in a public park. Their crime was that they were sitting very close to each other and holding hands while walking. The lady police, being the great Kannagis and Savitris of our era, beat the women with lathis and used obscene language to abuse them! The couples protesting that they were married and they had done nothing "indecent" was of no avail.

Perhaps the editor didn't have the irony in mind when they put these two news items side by side.

Happy Pongal!

My wishes for a very Happy and Thithikkum Pongal...:)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Conversation - The Aftermath

"My village in Palakkad was old-world and quaint. Mud roads and bullock carts were all that connected us to the outside world. A friend escorted me from Varanasi to Palakkad and took leave of me at the railway station. From there on, I was in the care of my mother.

I was just 17 years old then- playful, flippant with no cares in this world! There I was in my mother's place with a 1 year old kid, with no belongings, my husband still in strife-torn Burma, no ideas about the future but my life was laughter-filled. Youth does tell, no?"

She laughed softly, nodding her approval at her younger self.

"My mom used to bemoan my fate. She would beat her head and cry, 'What is going to happen to you? Your husband is somewhere. God knows if he will return. Even if he does, will be accept you again? What if he leaves you here for life? And here you are, laughing and playing without any responsibility. All this is my fate.' She would chide me severely and cry. But all those scoldings never bothered me too much. 'Amma, tomorrow is always uncertain. Who knew that I would return to India as a destitute? You didn't know that a couple of months back. But here I am. I mean to be happy in this present day. I shall face what comes tomorrow when it arrives!' This served to annoy her even more but child, what was the point of being upset?

Meanwhile, I contracted an eye infection (Trachoma?). It was severe and it was blinding me slowly. We had no doctors in that little village of ours. My parents tried all known local medications but it was getting worse slowly. My dad had gone on a journey somewhere. While he was returning, he met a country physician on the train. The physician was going to Trissur. My father told him about my eye problem and asked if he could help. He was reluctant but my father offered him money, transportation and shelter for the days he'd spend at the village. The physician consented.

The doctor had two bottles of salt water. In each of those bottles, he had live leaches."

I was reminded of the scene in 'Anniyan' and I shuddered...:) I told her about this and she laughed out aloud. She hadn't seen the movie.

"Each day, he would pin my eyelids open and put one leach above and one below my eyes."

I really was feeling nauseated when I heard this.

"Didn't it hurt you?"

She smiled and said,

"There's something to be said for youth. I was young, careless and fearless. I didn't know what was going on. And anyway, it wasn't that painful. The leaches would have their fill of my blood and fall off. He would then put them in salt water and soak them till they threw up all the bad blood they'd sucked out of my eyes. Then he'd repeat the same procedure. He told us that this had to be continued for a month with intervals in between.

Meanwhile, he had to go to Trissur and he insisted on leaving immediately. My dad wanted him to be by my side till I was cured. He was adamant and said he didn't have the time. Meanwhile, there were others in the village who suffered from the same disease. My father pleaded with him and asked him to treat all these poor souls who would otherwise become blind. My dad promised him lots of money. The doctor finally relented and said that he would come back after 3 days and shuttle back and forth between Trissur and my village after that. And he did keep his promise. However crude or unbelievable his treatment was, the leaches sucked all the bad blood near my eyes and I was fully cured. I could see again.

The doctor came for a month and cured so many other people in my village. We were thankful! After that, my husband returned from Burma after 4 months. To have a husband abroad and not knowing whether he will return or not is one of the worst possible punishments for a woman! I suffered through it silently. There were days when I thought I'd never see him again. But he came back to me. We settled down in Trichy after a few years."

She beamed at me.

"You know, life is not a bed of roses. Thinking back to those days now, I wonder how I survived. I've been through a lot of hardships. To live through them is one thing. But to survive them and live to tell the tale to young people like you is something remarkable, I think. And I haven't lost my enthusiasm for life yet."

I have heard of resilient people before but this was the first time, I was in the presence of one. I don't care if this seems stupid or exaggerated, but I was in awe in the presence of that frail, old lady. She looked straight into my eyes for a few moments trying to read my heart. I looked down after a while. I was a bit troubled about something and I didn't want her to read it in my eyes.

"Kuzhandhai (Child), I repeat: Life is not a bed of roses. Don't ever think that life should be perfect. You may have problems and some may seem more insurmountable than others. Time solves all problems. At my age, when I look back, I find most problems trivial. But think about it. Someday, you will be in my chair and another young kid will be sitting where you are sitting right now. Without all those problems (or what you think of as problems), will your story be as interesting when you tell it to her?"

I looked up. Her eyes had a twinkle. I took my leave of her but I don't think I shall forget her that easily. She narrated everything partly in Tamizh and partly in English. I haven't written down many other by-stories and details she furnished during my talk with her. It would take a couple of more blog posts to detail everything. What I had earlier dismissed as a routine meeting with an old lady turned out to be really memorable! Perhaps youth is more dismissive of old age than it should be?

"Come back some other time, child and I shall tell you some other stories."

Her words are still ringing in my ears.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Conversation - The Exodus

I would like to call it an idyllic Srirangam morning. The Sun God was struggling to pierce through the hazy skies. The air was heavy with humidity. The devoted were making a beeline towards the Srirangam temple tower unmindful of the heat. It was late morning when I set out to pay a visit to an 82 year old lady I hadn't met before. I hadn't paid any thought to this appointment. I had this vision of a frail, demure, soft-voiced lady who would perhaps be a bit incoherent and wander during her conversation. So I was rather jolted out of my complacence when a sharp, old thing opened the door to my bell ring.
"Who is this?"
I introduced myself and immediately the lady came forward spryly to open the door.
"You've come a long way from the US. I see you've been to the temple. A rather humid day, no?"
She spoke in crisp, fluent English tilting her head a little to the side as she asked the question. She, obviously, expected an answer.
I acquitted myself rather clumsily. After all, this certainly wasn't the 82-year old I had envisioned!
"Make yourself at home, dear. I have a bit of asthmatic trouble. So you may find my breathing a bit laboured when I talk."
She smiled.
After some mundane conversation about the recent rains, my life in the US and local news, I asked her if Trichy was her native place.
"No, dear," she replied in Tamil "I was born and brought up in Rangoon, Burma."
I was a bit surprised by this but I nodded my head.
"So, how did you-?"
I suppose she saw the unasked question in my eyes because she continued.
"17 years of my life I led in Rangoon. I was married at 16 in Rangoon and I had my first child there. The second world war was on. On my child's first birthday, I left Rangoon for a long walk to India. They were evacuating us."
She paused, her eyes wandering amongst the ghosts of the past.
"I left with my mother-in-law, brother-in-law and my young child. It was a long, exacting trek through forests, hills, rivers and roads. 35 long days we trekked till we reached the soils of Varanasi. We went till Imphal before some sort of help reached us. We had packed rations to carry us through the exodus. The British helped where they could but again, they were partial to their countrymen. We had a separate route and the white men had a separate, easier trail. They hired elephants to carry their women and children. We didn't have that luxury. We trekked 8 hours a day and then we would rest in small shelters. The shelter was just a raised, mud platform with a thatched roof. They had put up temporary dividers to afford some degree of privacy to each family. These were the dwellings of the Nagas (tribals inhabiting the north-eastern forests of India). They were a rough people, clad in almost nothing, but they helped us out in many ways."

She paused. The old lady whom I thought would be incoherent not only turned out to be sharp but also had my complete attention.

"How did you manage with your kid?"

"Ah, yes. The British gave us rations every few days. A packet of beaten rice, some milk and water. But the rations were of poor quality, always left-overs from what they gave to their countrymen. We couldn't eat much of it. We used to cook at the end of each day. I couldn't feed such unhealthy food to my child. I used to give him condensed milk which we had packed from home. There was one designated person from each household who would carry the milk. In our case, it was my brother-in-law."

She chuckled softly.

"You know, my brother-in-law used to drain the milk bit by bit and we used to have nothing left. Poor boy. He was just 14 years old then and he felt the pangs of hunger more than us, you know."

She laughed again and then became serious.

"It was a cruel trek, though. So many died. We used to step over dead bodies as we walked. There was no one to even dispose of the bodies with due respect. They were left to the wolves and vultures of the forests. There were entire families that were wiped out. The young were left to fend for themselves. I remember there was a 12-year old girl whose family had all died during the trek. She was clutching her infant brother and walking. She used to often moan that her baby brother didn't open his eyes, cry or eat anything. We discovered that the baby was dead. Had been dead for sometime. But the girl was holding on to him tight. So, at night, when the girl was asleep, we threw away the baby into the forest. When morning came, we told the girl that the crows had taken away her kid. She cried a bit but then she believed the story. She was, after all, just a child herself. I took her under my wing and escorted her to India. It was cruel, child."

She paused for a moment gathering her thoughts.

"I am wandering. You'd asked about my son. There were days when we thought he wasn't going to see the daylight. The child was under-fed and totally dehydrated. There came a point when my mother-in-law decided that we couldn't carry on like this. We hired a hut from a Naga and stayed there. My mom-in-law took the baby in her arms and walked to the trail. She sat down by the side and started chanting, 'Are there any doctors amongst you? We need help for this baby'. So many hours she shouted her throat dry but none came forward. People kept walking. At last, one doctor she had known from Burma passed by with his mother. She called him by name and asked for help. But he said that he had to escort his 92-year old mother home and couldn't stop. My mom-in-law literally fell at his feet and begged for mercy. At last, he decided he'd stop for a few minutes and tend to the baby.

He told us that the baby was dehydrated beyond hope. I begged him to do something. He boiled a large pan of water with a huge syringe. God knows why he was even carrying such a big syringe. I had never seen anything like it. He filled it with water and directly injected it into my baby's stomach! The treatment was rude and crude. Yes, rude and crude. Glucose is injected into the body only drip by drip. This was a brute force method-injecting to the stomach. I have never seen such treatment before nor after that day. But, child, it worked! My baby survived and we marched on!"

She nodded her head and her eyes twinkled with pleasure.

"We went on and on. When we reached Imphal, Ramakrishna Mission volunteers took over. We were put on a train. And every day, they used to give us one bun to eat. Finally, we reached Benares after 35 long days. From then began my long journey to my village in Palakkad, Kerala."

She stopped to offer me something to eat. But I was more interested in her story...

I shall continue this resolute old lady's story in my next post....:)