Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Tale Of Four Cities

At this time of the year, my traditional post is one of the year’s round up of music. There will be a gap in that pattern this time. Last year, I was extremely disappointed with the quality of music being dished out. While this year has been marginally better, I haven’t been able to motivate myself to go through the painstaking exercise of chalking out my favourites.

I did, however, make a second trip to India in two years. Do give me my bravery award, for making the jump across the ocean with a toddler with such frequency. While last year was all about the one year old getting to see everyone and enjoy his share of religious ceremonies, this year was all about weddings. When weddings happen in close family, there is work, there is pressure along with any enjoyment that comes along.

Two of the three weddings were in Mumbai, while the third was in Baroda, which entailed going in a baraat from Surat. For one of the Mumbai weddings, the reception was in Sriharikota (yes, the place they launch rockets from) and we traveled – packing bag, baggage and baby. Here are some impressions from the cities this India trip covered

Mumbai
How transformed can a city be within a year? The answer is – clearly a lot when it is Mumbai. Andheri, my home for as long as I can remember, again bears no resemblance to the place I have grown up in. The Metro construction has picked up pace in the past year. The extent is such that it is impossible to know when a particular street is coming up, for taking a turn. From Lokhandwala to Juhu, traffic has deteriorated furthermore, however improbable it may have seemed last year. Cool cabs were extremely hard to find this time, and so the intake of fumes was constant. Double-decker buses were hard to spot, and I have been told that is a deliberate move. We also completed what we did not manage last year – made a touristy visit to the Bandra-Worli sealink. Given that we did it one way gave us a good perspective on how much time it actually saves by going over the sea. Very impressive work.

Surat
Surat is a city close to my heart. My vacations were spent there, most of my family functions have happened there and vestiges of my childhood can be traced to the small bylanes crowded with two wheelers and cows. By some coincidence, me and my cousin were there minus wife and kids, and it almost felt like a blast from the past – before we had significant others and kids. Most of our dealings with Surat then were with the old city, before the expansions on the other side of the Tapi river had picked steam. In many ways, going back to the old city, and the waadi is like traveling back in time once you cross the bridge. The feeling was nice, nostalgic, and a distinct reminder on how much we have changed and moved away from it.

Chennai
I went there once in 1995, right after my twelfth standard exams, for a tour of the South. I remember it being really hot. That’s about it. No other pleasant memory came to mind. This time though, we were greeted with some gentle breeze from the ocean (I was told our hotel was pretty close to the beach) and rain. This was absolutely the best weather I got all trip long. The city was crowded, shop-keepers in several places had a penchant for spelling Biryani as Briyani (twice is coincidence, four times is a pattern), and I had to constantly remind myself to stop talking in Hindi, especially when the shop-keeper is trying to tell me how much I owe in Tamil.

Sriharikota
The groom’s parents (from a close family wedding) were employed in Sriharikota, hence the trip to the God-forsaken part of the country. I guess if you are to launch rockets and maintain high security, it makes sense to have it in a place that is God-forsaken. Interesting place – I got reminded of the IIT campus in Powai, which I had the opportunity to visit frequently, since one of my closest friends studied there. In fact, we stayed in a hostel reserved for visiting ISRO employees. The bare bones place was frequented by cockroaches and rats that ate through AC wiring. Clearly, mad-cap scientists do not expect much in terms of luxury J Aarush was mighty pleased at being able to see so many cows, sheep and monkeys. I don’t suppose I can simulate that environment for him in Sammamish.

This turned out to be the most un-Indian of India trips, with practically no home food, no TV, no friends and certainly no relaxation. You can eat only so much food at weddings, and if you are me, there is only so much hard core South Indian food that you can take J The wedding expenses are insane, and the money spent on clothes you are not likely to wear more than two three times is mind-boggling. With the Bollywoodisation of weddings, I also got to participate in the sangeet of my cousin’s wedding. A hired choreographer, who surely must justify his salary by teaching people like me with two left feet how to dance, had me and my wife and a couple of other married couples dancing to ‘Zor ka jhatka’. While the dance itself looked like a bunch of kindergarten kids doing uncoordinated steps, we have a fan in Aarush. He has clearly inherited his father’s wit, because he keeps asking me to play the video by saying ‘more sazaa’.

On the bright side, the trip was extremely beneficial for Aarush. He has fully internalized the value of an audience and maximized it by winning hearts and minds while there. By the end of the trip, he would not eat food unless there were a bunch of people around to cheer him while he did it. How I envy those couples in India who have so many helping hands when bringing up kids. The exposure to so many new things and new people meant good things for him. We have brought back a naughtier, fiestier, masti-er, talkative version of the toddler we took there. That being said, people in India, please stop getting married. I really would like to avoid making one more trip next year!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seattle, Are You Ready?

“Seattle, are you ready?” is a question Mr. Palash Sen, the lead singer of the band Euphoria, asked all evening long. Ready for what, Mr. Sen? And if we are not ready yet, then what state were we in when you asked the same question three songs back? Aah, well. Such was the nature of the concert, entertaining and in part, mystifying. The venue was King Cat theater in Seattle, and I was positioned in an aisle seat all by myself in the balcony section. With a two year old, you either have the option of hiring a baby-sitter, a practice we are not yet bought into, or taking turns to either the same movie or picking entertainment events suited more to one person. The third option, which would involve taking the kid to the concert, is a no-go. The music can almost make you deaf, and if Aarush wants to avoid listening to us, I am not going to give him a handy excuse. He is more likely to end up attending classical concerts first, perhaps someone with an extended name like Madurai Thirumalai Nambi Seshagopalan. The only way he is getting out is he pronounces the name right, to our satisfaction.

However, I digress. Euphoria’s strength has been their ability to do Hindi Rock well, if there is such a genre. Their songs are tinged with folk tunes and their lyrics are easy on the ear. No wonder, the crowd was able to sing along their hit songs. Which brings me to the mystical part of the evening. Where exactly were the Euphoria songs? Yes, they did their usual hits from Dhoom Pichak to Mehfuz, which I really liked, but a large part of their show was peppered with Hindi film numbers and other oddities ranging from ‘Dhagala laagli kala’ to ‘Another brick in the wall’. I would have imagined that they would not need to resort to these options if their repertoire was strong enough. Then maybe, it isn’t.

I guess the restorative point of the concert was the main man himself. I did not have much expectations from Palash Sen as a performer (you have to know that I HAVE seen Filhaal), but he was very good on stage. His energy levels through the concert, his interactions with the crowd, his on stage rock star moves (quite manufactured) and his unfailing ability to ask us if we are ready carried the concert. I don’t think anyone is under any misconceptions about his ability as a singer. He isn’t Sonu Nigam, but he doesn’t need to be. His insistence that everyone needs to be on the dance floor was irritating though. I had expensive tickets specifically because the cheaper tickets had dance on the title. Its alright. I maybe of the arthritic crowd, as Mr. Sen mentioned, but that didn't stop me from stomping my feet and clapping when it appealed to me. I found Mr. Sen's ability to jump up and down and still continue singing without a hiccup fairly impressive. The jumping was a criticial tool he used to engage the crowd. It would also have helped to overcome the limitations of the sound system, where the mixing and the volume left a lot to be desired.

Lastly though, mention must be made about the volunteers from AID who put this together. Or for that matter, volunteers of CRY or Ekal or other NGOs whose chapters I have interacted with. Planning this kind of event takes a lot of time and effort, and for the most part, the people who are doing this are salaried folks who have a family to attend to. You have to be fairly passionate about your charity to invest the kind of time that goes into it. If by chance, an AID volunteer reads this, pat yourself on the back for today’s work.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Terrific Twos

My son is fast approaching his second birthday. The one whose lifting of his little finger seemed like the high point of activity when he was born, is a tall lean force of nature who is incessant through the day and restive through the night. The first words that come out of his mouth every morning give great insight into what he was dreaming about. Like the pants that always seem to be getting shorter and a vocabulary that always seems to be extending, the past two years have been the perfect metaphor for change being constant. Here’s an attempt to arrest those thoughts and capture them.

Terrible twos?
I had not heard the expression terrible twos before children started appearing left, right and center in my social circle. My first instinct was that it must refer to the second year of the child’s existence. That surely must be a banshee that gets banished when the child blows the candles on his second birthday. Turns out I was a little off. Maybe by a year. Surely then, my child must be precocious, even if relates to being his own man at a little under two. If the terrible (oops, terrific) twos aren’t meant to end by the time they are two, there are contingencies that I must conjure up for the upcoming year.

Repetition
Ever heard the same song 25 times in a row or gone up and down the elevators 30 times and not complain about it? Well, then you must be a parent. You may love your spouse to death, but there is little chance you will put ‘Re mama re mama re’ on a loop and listen to it over and over again for their pleasure. What’s more, you’ll smile each time the child smiles at a particular phrase that he or she finds funny or beam at their attempt to sing along, as the seven notes ease their way out of the little bodies in a mellifluous voice.

Language
This is a tricky one. You see, I am a Gujarati. My wife is Tamilian. We speak English and Hindi at home, but my son speaks American. In the midst of this Tower of Babel comes the thorny and tricky question of how and what languages to teach. Do you confuse the living daylights out of the child by teaching him what “spectacles“ are called in four different languages or do you secretly rejoice at the fact that he has caught on to words like “khallas”? Do you go against your intuition and trust the research that says that it is ok to expose children to multiple languages at a young age or do you trust that somewhere in those billion synapses, the right connections are being formed? In the midst of all this, as the words come by – first in a trickle and then in a rush, you will be filled with so much enjoyment at the ease of communication that comes with it. The sight of your child beaming with joy because he just uttered a new word and that you understood it is priceless. An additional thing is that their mis-pronounciations are way cooler than the correct words. I never want to say hippopotamus now that I have heard my son say “popopus” or “baak” for bike. Eight hours of the day at the daycare also ensure the emergence of an American accent; the one dreaded by the grandmothers!

Little man
Did I say I have a two year old child? I must have forgotten to mention that he is a little man. One capable of looking you in the eye with defiance and saying “No”. One growing into a phase where he realizes that he is an individual by himself; not attached to his parents. Independence comes with a streak of rebellion, a bag of opinions, and the will to test out what his limits are. Oh I get it, that’s why they say toddlers are hard to manage. It is also fascinating to see them want to do everything that others are doing. The new-found confidence in the use of their faculties makes them want to ride a car and jump from the sofa and generally do six things out of ten that the parents don’t want them to. If you thought David versus Goliath was a fable, come to my house. I should also add that David has more tricks up his sleeve, including such “astras” as tantrums, tears, puppy eyes and a sweet imploring voice. Goliath needs to be very resolute to survive the attack.

Fresh Perspective
I had heard a botanist once say that his best time in the trade was when he was one; where he would be on his all fours in the lawn, noticing everything from the minutest of leaves to the giant trees. The infinite curiosity rubs onto the parents. You start looking at world through fresh eyes - notice everything they notice. I should also note that the kids also notice everything you do, so watch out.

Teaching life's lessons
You suddenly have a captive audience and you are expected to deliver – trigger their curiosity, teach them good habits, inculcate good values. You are handed life’s biggest job without a driving license. You suddenly discover you have something to offer, and also realize that you don't have everything to offer either. Surely your child is a progidy, but you are not tapping into their potential. There is so much you may not be doing right and there is a chance that your child will turn out right despite you, not because of you.

The chauffer and the cleaner
This will be your job for life, especially if you are a parent in the US with no support system. As early as six months, the cycle of classes, birthday parties etc. starts. The car is your means to an end and good music a life saver. Life goes on a timetable like never before, but you’ll thank all the classes you are putting your child into, because you really need to find ways to redirect their boundless energies. It is also a projection of one’s inabilities – in my case, my inability to swim, which prompts the parents to make sure their children start early enough.

Parents of toddlers
I have to have a section on the parents of toddlers (actually, parents of young kids in general), a difficult breed to which I belong. Ever seen a conversation between two sets of parents? It is like watching a tennis match. Each statement is accompanied by a counter statement from the other parent. If one comments on their son’s sleeping habit, the other follows up with what’s going on with their daughter’s nighttime activity. It is a cross between insecurity and pride about kids that gets them to behave that way. Parents really have it both ways: they love the kid and nobelize the responsibility. They complain about not having the freedom and feel guilt when they do take it up. They are the sole entities that they child looks upto and yet they need to figure a way for the child to look and learn from beyond. Another role that these parents have to play is of translators. Children are cute, but they sure aren’t easy to understand when they are trying to learn new words. Without the parents translating, that “wolly” stands for Diwali, you are not getting anywhere. However, their biggest task is accepting compliments on the cuteness of their little one. What a hard job it is!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tainted

And then we proved ourselves
Better than our hearts
Fie upon them!
Erecting walls
To keep the good away from the bad

We mixed them together
And eked out
A civil society
And enough unrest
To engage us
Millenium after millenium

Friday, October 22, 2010

Transference

She stroked the photograph
Lying in her bed
Her love, transmitted
Through a two-dimensional surface

To a weary cheek in another continent

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Alcoholic's World

Who needs a sun
When you have
A bottle as a consort

It is night when she empties
And day when she greets
With luscious lips
And a full body

Friday, September 24, 2010

Emotional Aachaar

Where there is a television and a remote control in an Indian household, there is an audience transfixed on the great stories of our time – the Hindi television serials. My mother is no different, and with her visiting us at our American cable infested household, we were brought onboard to the mystical land too. From 8.30 in the night to 10.30 in the night for the past two months, Suhana and Naitik, Akshara and Shakti, Durjan Singh and Pratigya have flooded through the pixels of my television. I have the pairings wrong, but such is the overarching and confusing impact of these melodramas (which are anything but mellow), that there is no defense. This concept is not alien to me. I had explored this landscape a few years back when I suggested that Ekta Kapoor be made president. Some things have remained the same and some have changed in the past five years. Here’s my take on it.

Serial Titles
It has become an almost golden rule that a serial be named after a Hindi film song. ‘Tere Liye’, ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai’, ‘Sasooral Genda Phool’ are examples. My simple question for those who bother to compose new songs as the title songs for these serials: Why?

Impoverished Nation?
You will never get the impression if you look at the women in the serial. They go to sleep dressed like they are going to a wedding. They show up in a wedding like they are royals about to donate alms to the poor. Who would have thought that TV actresses could lead the way in setting fashion trends?

Dropping eves
No serial would progress if someone was not eavesdropping. Almost every important discovery in every serial is made by the simple act of someone hiding behind the door and hearing a conversation between two people who clearly don’t know the concept of closed doors.

Mahila Mukti ya Mahila Shoshan
The more progressive India gets, the more regressive the serials get. In one of the serials (Pratigya), there is a message that runs at the bottom stating that the serial makers oppose any and all forms of atrocities against women. If you take your eyes off that and look up, you’ll see the women in the serial being treated as dirt.

Gujarati is the new Punjabi
As the default family in Hindi movies are Punjabis, so the default family in television serial is Gujarati. The serials are set in Baroda and Ahmedabad and characters with the surnames Shah and Patels abound. Oh, and there are the characters who have a “sa” tagged at the end as a mark of respect. I wish at least one character was named Hansa. Imagine “Hansasa”. Africans would have been proud.

Special Effects
No more camera panning through shots from the left, top, bottom, and right everytime a character has realized that his wife is cheating on him. The cameraman must be as thankful as the audience is, as the directors have decided that the only special effect worth continuing with is slow motion. I can see the point of that. Less work for the cameraman and more screen time consumed while doing nothing

Disappear, Reappear and Duplicates
The theme of people disappearing and reappearing is popular. Those presumed dead show up alive as someone else. There are those presumed alive who are actually duplicates of those now dead. A lot of energy is spent in trying to figure out if you are who you claim you are. The methods vary from a sophisticated DNA test to a crude questioning of old facts. Can’t accuse them of having a lack of drama.

Employment Discharge
The women never seem to work outside the house, the men disappear for hours but don’t seem to work much either. The palaces they live in seem to be sustained on a mixture of huge inheritance and oxygen. If a lawyer, as one of the characters is, can live in a house the size of the Aga Khan Palace, then he clearly must be the best of his kind.

My parents will head back to India soon and I will be left with the hard decision of whether to continue or not to continue with the Indian channels. Is a serial called ‘Kya Karen, Kya Na Karen’ being made somewhere?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bulldozer

I watch
The slaughter of the moments
As the hand mercilessly
Ticks over
With unfailing regularity
Running over the hapless
Lines on the clock.
Barely will they rise
Before they get eclipsed again

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Apotheosis

Did we ever give our Gods a choice?
Or were they elevated by force,
Once we removed
the deadweight of human frailty?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Completion Conundrum

Off all the pits and falls
One endures
It is the snake at 98
that hits you the hardest

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Miranda’s Right

The car screeched to a halt
Five feet too far
For the comfort of the law


The cop sauntered by
Aviator sunglasses firmly in place
Hands gently caressing the butt of a gun


"License and registration, Ma’am"
The polite inquiry shot through
The tainted windows of the old car


Miranda kept her gaze down firmly
Hoping to hide the betrayal of her pigments
Writ on her dark-brown, weathered, lonely face


It must be the distortions caused by the Phoenix heat
That sins multiply for the chosen few

And a right goes only thus far

Friday, August 06, 2010

When The Coffee Cup Empties

The stain arranges itself in a graceful arc
At the bottom of the cup
He sees it, for the fifth time
And shuffles, unsure
He turns his hand slightly to look at his watch

Her hand emerges from within the shawl
And lands gently on his wrist
Putting a shroud over time, as if

There is a time to go
And then
There is a time to stay

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Aur Yeh Lagaa Sixer!

The title notwithstanding, this is neither a post about cricket nor is it about pencils. It has been six years since I started this blog. I have been posting a celebratory note practically every year for the past two-three years on this day; mostly because it is a pleasant surprise. It is like a miracle - you might believe in them, but don't really expect one to happen for you.

This is also the chance I take to thank those who have stuck with me on the journey. Lately, the number is down to a trickle, sufficient to ensure that this isn't a monologue. Thank you for your support, feedback and criticism. I have also heard rumours of a great many silent readers visiting this space. If you are reading this, please accept a note of acknowledgment. It would be good to hear from you on occasion.

There is still wind in the sails. Onwards then!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Death By Batting

You don’t know what a sigh of relief is unless you have had one now that you have realized that the ongoing test match between India and Sri Lanka just ended. In five days of relentless onslaught by batsmen, only 17 wickets fell. Not a single session was dominated by the bowling side, though there was only a small point in the match where Sri Lanka could have gotten through to India, but then Tendulkar the immaculate accumulator stepped up to the plate. Cricinfo ran a good stats article today about the batting averages of Asian batsmen within and outside Asia. Not surprisingly, only Tendulkar has an average of 50 both inside and outside the sub-continent. Players like Jayawardene confirm their stature as subcontinental batting bullies. Jayawardene in a classic case. In this test match, he broke Don Bradman’s record for most number of centuries in a particular location. This was his 10th or 11th century at the SSC. Ask yourself: how valuable is this record if this is the regular fashion in which this pitch plays? In fact, Sri Lanka has a simple plan – win the toss, rack up a big score, and hope the score induces enough pressure that the team chasing cracks for them to win. This happened in the first test match, where Malinga and Murali (with Malinga in particular) exerted the pressure and got through to India. What is remarkable is that Sri Lanka seems to win the tosses with regularly frequency! Maybe Dhoni should skip batting practice and do some practice to ensure he calls the toss right :)

This match brought back memories of test matches in Sri Lanka in the early 90s. Sri Lanka consciously prepared home tracks with the objective of ‘not losing’. Winning would have been a bonus. Batsmen racked up huge scores at that time (and of course, India was on the receiving end on several occasions), including the highest test score of all time. But it made for terrible test cricket, with no hope of a result in sight. Sub-continental pitches are notorious for being batsmen-oriented, but statistics highlight the attitude of teams in play. Sri Lanka and matches played in Sri Lanka have the highest percentage in terms of number of draws for matches played.

Harsha Bhogle’s article today talks about how curators are burying bowlers with these kind of pitches. That is spot on. I’d like to add that they are burying the spectators and the game too. Test cricket has enough going for it to thrive, but you need to get the bowlers back in the equation. The ongoing matches in England are a case in point. Australia is due in India in October for two test matches. The Ashes hype aside, this particular match-up has been consistently produced good cricket for a few years now. I hope the pitches for these matches are sporting enough to have a chance for a result. That’s the least that can be done. And oh, no more India-Sri Lanka matches please!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Migrated Decade

It has been ten years to the day since I made my move from the Orient to the Occident. The day I would board my first international flight with one of my closest friends as we headed to the land of Uncle Sam under the guise of getting higher education. The day I would acquire my FOB (Fresh off the boat) status. (It never made sense to me, unless boat is a metaphorical representation for an airplane.) The day I would journey in the footsteps of other immigrants who left a known world to pursue an unknown dream. Leaving behind family and friends (yes, yes, a girlfriend too), my city, my country, my identity in pursuit of an unknown adventure, with a nebulous idea of what lay ahead. Ten years is perhaps a short time to call the adventure complete. Ten years is perhaps a long enough time to judge how the adventure is going.

From finishing my studies that I thought would be hard to finding a job that I thought would be easy, from getting married to the aforementioned girlfriend to being a father of a lovely little boy, from possessing unbridled curiosity to maturing – in age, looks and hopefully wisdom too, from sharing a love-hate relationship with my country to sharing a love-hate relationship with this country, from vacillating between the need to go back to the need to stay here, from the successful exploration of one’s abilities to the lonesome discovery of one’s inadequacies, from pursuing old passions to exploring new ones, from slowly shying away from people I was close to only to discover some others that I might never part away from, from finding a comfort point in life only to determine that you can never really get comfortable, the last decade has been a lifetime within a lifetime.

The tale of immigrants is so similar to others and in its minutiae, so different as well. We fly out of our homes with two bags of belongings, and two decades of experiences. The destiny we shape is often uncontrollable even though we may think we are our own masters, but we forge a new sense of identity each day of our passing lives in a foreign land. Perhaps the new identity entails always treating yourself as a displaced entity in a foreign world, or perhaps it sees itself as expanding our horizons in a global village. Decade after decade goes, and just like the start of the previous one, I wouldn’t hazard an accurate guess on how the next one will go. For the moment though, I will celebrate ten years gone by, a life not derailed, an adventure developing as we speak, a story not yet complete.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Silence

It must be the fissures
In relationships
Where the words disappear

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Slumber

The television and the dragonfly
Joust through the night
The dragonfly: with a constant hum
The television: with constant light

The arbitrator sat through all of this
Eyelids closed, breath heavy
As the remote lay in his right hand
With a finger on ‘Mute’

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Romeo Juliet conundrum

What of love stories that achieve greatness ? Did the lovers set out with aspirations of immortality – that little irreplaceable slice of eternity’s memory? Did they always sense that their seeming innocuous actions would illuminate the path for generations of lovers? Did they know that tragedy lay in their future? For immortal love stories are inked with the blood of the protagonists. A tragic end is a balm for the saga to protect it against the ravages of time. An insurance, if you will, against the simple abject possibility of normality. Did the lovers live a normal life not knowing what lies ahead? What of normal love stories then? Those guided by the simple matter of heart and head. Are they blessed with the kind of banality that inspires comfort? Should those lovers comfort themselves that immortality is too high a price to pay? Would it better to go down in history or to not go down at all?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Beacon of Liberty



Captured this photograph from the Staten Island Ferry last weekend. Got lucky with the time of the evening. I thought I might share this here since it has been a while since I have uploaded any pictures.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tourist

I was in New York City in the recent past. Walking on foot like a dutiful tourist, to places I was told are the heart of the place. I walked around looking not at the sights with which I was already familiar. I walked around looking at the hands and feet and visages inhabiting the place. Walking around in seemingly Brownian motion, each one of those pairs of hands and feet were guided by a pair of eyes to a fixed location. It struck me then that I like cities with histories. Not recent settlements like Seattle, which are a century old, but places where generations have trodden and made the place their own. A city is a new shiny firmament built on ruins. A city is a ruin waiting to give way to a new path. The rubble is lost, but the myths are never buried. They are carried through across generations. The stones and pathways and the buildings each guide its latest inhabitant to live within this newly created environment. Without the knowledge of its denizens, it creeps into their language and lifestyle and accidents and successes and instills a sense of pride as a long lasting scar. I did not see New York City the way the brochures intended me to. I saw it spread thin and luminous and lonely, on those faces, carried by a pair of hands and feet to their destinations.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stasis

The tap was dripping water with the comprehension of one who possesses a sense of rhythm. The laya was vilambit, Arun would have said. Arun knew all about rhythms. Arun knew a lot about everything. Arun would have surely said that, and much more. But Arun hadn’t said anything for the past year, thought Vishruti, sitting crouched at the other end of the bathtub, watching the tap release water with unerring accuracy. Tulips smiled at her, mockingly, through the photo frame across the wall. Her neatly stacked array of shampoos, promising her vibrant, bouncy, radiant hair teased her from their vantage point on the edge of the bathtub. Her hair, tousled, tangled, fell over her shoulder and covered her right hand. Her eyes, swollen, empty, soulless, stared into the vast emptiness in front of her. The answering machine was pretending to be her ears, taking in the pleas of her parents to call back, trying their perfunctory daily call in the hope that she would pick it up. They were worried, especially today. A year since Arun’s death. A year since a promise of a lifetime together was broken. All that was left behind was a life derailed, and a woman, trapped in the amber of an unfulfilled pledge. “Is there such a thing as too much love?”, she wondered, catching a glimpse of herself as she lowered the shiny new blade to her wrist.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Father's Day

I saw you tiptoeing around the house with a glint in your eye. Was it for the mischief you have done or intend to do? I would never know. I saw the edges of your lips curl into a satisfying smile. Was it from something that made you happy or some joy you are going to bring about? I could never guess. To decipher it would require me to make an objective observation. From the moment you opened your eyes to every occasion you call me “Pappa” in those dulcet tones, you have robbed me of any objectivity I could possess.

Here I am: your old man. Brown-eyed, fair-skinned, receding hair, bespectacled, chastened.
Here you are: my son. Brown-eyed, fair-skinned, silky hair, wobbly, animated.

We meet in the middle: two worlds residing under the same roof, two lives colliding and intertwining in a curious mix of head and heart, genes and emotions, love and admiration.

You are an eighteen month young boy. Young enough to wear your emotions on your sleeve, with not a deception in sight, not a shred of malice, not a bias in place. Young enough to laugh with your mouth wide open with the sparkle of teeth matching the unbounded sounds of rapturous merriment. Young enough to dance with unbridled joy at a song, admiring the strains of melody as they fill the space around you.

You have grown eighteen months old now. Old enough to look straight into my eyes and speak a thousand words without a sound. Old enough to invent new games and draft people into playing them. Old enough to have a curiosity that questions the humdrum existence of everyone and everything. Old enough to let me have the pleasure of teaching you something. Everything.

I have grown eighteen months wiser now. Wise enough to wake up each morning with the knowledge that the best lessons in life come with responsibility. Wise enough to know that a study in flailing arms can teach you all about surviving. Wise enough to laugh and worry to my heart’s content about the smallest and biggest things related to you.

I have grown several years younger too. Young enough to learn a new language that you put together. Young enough to let go, even for moments, of my biases and inhibitions. Young enough to be a boy, even if the slight traces of grey in my hair dictate otherwise. Young enough to know what it feels like to be a child. Young enough, to learn.

So, there we are; parent and child, guide and student, brothers in arms, rogues in merriment, father and son. The other day, I saw you trying to slide your foot into my shoe. I am sure you weren’t looking for symbolism like your old man was. I am sure you weren’t trying to bridge the gap between our worlds, trying to see what it would be like to be me.

I am sure you didn’t see me playing with your shoes either. Happy Father’s Day, my son.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Customer Service

Dear Sir,

We apologize profusely
But the volcano obtusely

Kept throwing up ash
Preventing our mad dash

Your order is on hold
And can’t be foretold

How long it will take
So for your sake

Please refer to this manual
Very descriptive, very visual

Refer to page thirty-nine
“The use of a hammer to break a spine”

Your ordered assassin is running late
But if you absolutely cannot wait

We hope to help you proceed ahead
Anything to make sure your spouse is dead.

Yours sincerely,
Hitmen Inc.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Last Stand

The candles challenge
the primacy of the wind
And the wind Gods too.

Huddled in droves
like Spartans in Thermopylae

Fighting the giants
Those gargantuans

with colossal mouths

Who snub the candles
With mirth and laughter
And sing wild songs
To celebrate their victory

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Morning After

She stared at her palm
Through her clouded eyes
At smudges of blue
Where his number once was

Was the destruction
During, or after
A night of clasping hands?

She couldn't remember
All she saw were smudges
And a ring with a glowing stone.

Synopsis

Lived, Loved, Lost, Lived, Loved
Is it your life's story?
A little rearrangement
And it well could be.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Punch-drunk

“It’s for better oxidation”,
She said.
Explaining the design
Of the red wine glasses.

Her earnest clarifications
Highlighting
Her sea-green eyes

He smiled.
Half at her,
And half to himself.

Some intoxicants
Are so blissfully aware
Of their effects.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Double Negative

She was called a Rose
Once. In Error.

When the note passed
In Chemistry class
Reached the wrong Shruti

She smiled through her braces
Surprisingly unsurprised
And looked over
To thank her admirer

Justice on earth
Manifested itself
As she glanced
Through her heavy set glasses
At the wrong Vinay.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Burn After Reading

Four little flickers were seen in a distance. They were the embers of a dying night. They were like the first sparks of fire that would turn on the cauldron that was the sun. They were four little glimmers suspended in mid-air, forming an arc, as they travelled in a parabolic motion. The flickers weren’t without company. They had owners. The banished gathered around in the dying cold waving those flickers. Was that a sign of protest or a sign of surrender? Were they mourning their loss of right to burn away where they wanted, when they wanted or was that a sign of defiance? The faceless vigilantes were burning their lungs and lighting up the universe. Smoke hung around them with muted admiration. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the congregation came to an end. The lights went out, one after another. Dawn engulfed them, and robbed them of their masks. Heads hung in shame (or thought), a wry grin to boot, and a throaty cough to enunciate, the newspaper men headed back to their truck. The world was going up in flames. At least their fire has been put out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Imaginarium

Don’t fear me.
I am just a thought;
Common as the wind, the sun, the stars.
Take me in and fly with me.
Through air, through water, through time


Don’t be afraid.
At best, I’ll vanish as if by some sleight of hand
At worst, I’ll consume you
I’ll cover you up in my tight embrace
And leave you; famished, insane, refreshed.
Right on the doorstep
Of new possibilities

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Imprints

I like the notion of photographs on film. The days when one would buy a roll of 24 or 36 photographs, depending upon the size of your ambition and the generosity of your pocket. There was none of the cowboy attitude to photography, none of the profligacy in taking pictures, none of the devil-may-care attitude to clicking incessantly. You had to wait for the moment; prime yourself for that exact location and the exact expression that would summarize your visit to the sunset point. You couldn’t afford to blink to the flash, couldn’t afford to let the hair fly in front of your face, couldn’t afford to let passers-by intrude the sanctity of the frame. Each photograph was a precious occasion and it had to be treated honorably. There was then the charm of how many photographs would turn out good. Maybe 21, maybe 23. The day long wait would seem interminable and the suspense would be heightened when picking up the photographs from your neighborhood studio. There was poetic justice, if you had such a bent of heart. What does it mean to have an over-exposed photo? Or a blank? Should I seek metaphors in the results of clumsy technology? There is something to holding an actual print in the hand, and poring over the minutiae on it. Something to lie down on your bed and look at the face of the one you love; which for narcissists could be themselves. There is something to insert the pictures into a big album, and sit with the tome on your lap as your friends and family gather together to reminisce the old times. Yes, the old times. Unlike Dorian Gray, you get old, and the old faithful print gets old with you, torn at the edges with the colors fading away.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Notes From A Graveyard

One wonders if he chose to live his life that way. Selecting brevity over loquaciousness, precision over vagueness, certainty over ambiguity. I wonder if he knew that your life in all its glory will be summarized in a few words written over your dead body. I wonder if he had envisioned his epitaph written over his tombstone. I wonder if he thought that the elegance of the carving on that piece of rock should be matched with the elegance of a few words that would capture his essence. I wonder if he knew that long after he was gone, he would be introduced and summarized to anyone visiting him as a man of few words. I wonder if he had chosen those words: “He lived”.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Marked

She bends the edges of the day to leave it dog-eared. The act of marking a memory. She has no option but to continue the story. Written more quickly than can be read. There is no time to pause and ponder, to make the tock after the tick wait a little longer.

All she has is this book, bent in places, torn in others; that she closes tightly, lest it fall apart. On days when the story inches through the hours, with nary a tragedy or success, she revisits those pages. Bent at the edges. Left dog-eared.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ab Main Jaan Gaya Hoon

The quiz is done and it was a success! Over 85 teams of two showed up, with kids and other spectators which led to a full auditorium bursting at the seams. Yet, they all stayed for the elims and they all stayed for the finals and loved every moment of it. Generous support through the quiz and generous applause at the end dispels the notion that quizmasters can't be made to feel like rockstars! All the hard work and the long hours were made worth by the feedback and acceptance of the event. Time to kick back, and ... err, get to the taxes, work etc.

I have uploaded the questions used on event day online for your perusal. Please note that the files are fairly high in size.

http://cid-994235a3f10dad2e.skydrive.live.com/browse.aspx/.Public/Jaane%20Tu%20Ya%20Jaane%20Na%20-%20Bollywood%20Quiz

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jaane Tu ... Ya Jaane Na!

I have been busy using my spare time to compose and conduct a big, bad Bollywood quiz at the end of this month. I have written before about the quiz club that I am a part off. Our quiz club is collaborating with Ekal Vidyalaya, an NGO, to host this quiz in Seattle on the 27th of March. I get to set the quiz (which is something I love) and the NGO benefits from it (which is something they'll love)

The scale is big and we expect people in the droves, which also means that the it needs time and energy to set up something that will be high on quality and also high on public appeal. The subject however combines two of my passions: quizzing and Hindi music and movies; so the pressure is a welcome challenge.

If you are in and around Seattle, please do attend (and please register on this site before that).
Come support a good cause.
Come support the QuizMaster :)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Battle-worn

He hated it when someone called it a “battle scar”. That little cut that framed his left temple; a landmark of significance on a listless countenance. It was the remarkable outcome of an unremarkable game of football when he was young. Kids played rough and there’s always a possibility of collateral damage. He stroked his collateral damage with his index finger as the cigarette in his hand burned away into oblivion. “How did you get it?”, asked the person next to him, half-expecting a story with angry mobs wielding sticks and sickles carving their displeasure into his face. He looked away, surveying the people surrounding him. All strangers, all expecting a story full of fists and fury, a story with rage against the system and an uncontrollable anger leading to nihilism. After all, no one came to an anger management session without a good story. Not a demolition man. Not one who'd have overseen destruction and hypothesized the consequences of it. Not one who would have had to bear the anger of all he so destroyed. His shoulders dropped some more and with an effort he raised himself to respond to the query. “Life did it”, responded the divorcee, reflecting on the demolitions he did that he never had signed up for.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

To India And Back

Back online baby! Between a three week India trip followed by an excruciatingly long and very stressful bout of illness for my one year old, time has flown. After a long time, I am finally sitting down to jot down some thoughts hoping that ‘normalcy’ is here to stay.

I was in India through the new year, taking my son for his first trip as a PIO card holder to the land of his ancestors. The time was spent in Mumbai to a rather comfortable spell of weather and dotted by some religious functions through that period; mostly aimed at getting my son blessed and tonsured and providing all we know with an opportunity to see him at one shot.

Here are some thoughts from the trip:
1. The change I observed in the previous India trip continues unabated. The construction of the metro rail seems to be in overdrive and there’s hardly any road left to drive on. I wonder if in a 100 years, the only way we travel will be layer upon layer upon layer. To add to the mix, the number of cars on the road have increased and larger models are on display now.
2. I employed the cool cab on several occasions and it was completely worth it. I like how they can be summoned so easily, have electronic meters and provide the comfort a long journey requires
3. There is no substitute for the support system that India provides. It became so obvious in the contrast that our return to the US accompanied by my son’s illness provided.
4. There are also distinct advantages in having kids exposed to more people. Everyone brings in a new way to stimulate/engage the kid and when you don’t have to do that duty 24/7 just by the two of you; you also get to spend some quality time with the kid in an energetic fashion.
5. The kid also gets so used to this. My son would occasionally look past me and my wife once we got back to Sammamish to see if someone else would show up.
6. Why people – just stepping out of the house provides super stimulation! How many times was my son taken out of the house for a small walk and he came back wide-eyed and energized. All he may have seen is a dog fight on the road.
7. Indian mosquitoes love American blood. That’s a tough thing to deal with.
8. My son learnt how to say bye-bye with a gentle yet continual wave of the hand. Turns out auto-rickshaw drivers are likely to stop for that action from a year old kid as well!
9. One of the key highlights of the trip was taking my son to Rock Beach – one of MY favorite places. A connection has been established.
10. You realize you have just climbed down the priority order for your parents once they have a grandchild! Boy, what would I give to be the center of attraction like that. Highlight of the trip was seeing the joy that the great-grandparents experienced. The four generation photo with me, my son, my Dad and my grand-dad will be something I will always cherish.
11. An airplane trip to India with an infant is a scary and tiring proposition. Thankfully, it turned out to be much easier than my paranoia had projected. Can’t blame all those tired frustrated kids; being strapped to their seats for such long periods of time.
12. The Bandra-Worli sealink looked good; from a distance. I need to travel on it the next time I go to India.
13. Indian news channels still continue to exhibit a lot of trash. Indian TV has now gone the rural route – when it comes to the theme for television serials.
14. Someone gift me a dictionary to understand the SMS lingo of this generation.
15. You know you haven’t been to India in a while when your loved ones gift you a shirt that would have fit you two years ago, but is significantly smaller now.
16. When men of my age put on weight; the number of compliments you get for ‘looking good’ will surprise you. I must be fitting the image of a ‘prosperous’ Gujju guy heading towards his middle-age.
17. I was very happy to see the focus on fitness in India. Specifically, the coverage for the Mumbai marathon that was going to happen just after my trip. Conversely, there were also a lot of ads for ‘managing’ the weight through medication, surgery etc. (ala USA)
18. Reading the newspaper; the actual newspaper is such a joy. If only I had the time when in Sammamish ….
19. The international airport in Mumbai has been transformed quite well. Very impressed by the quality of the place and the maintenance of it as well.
20. Not so amusing was the custom guy hauling me up because he did not know what a tripod does!
21. You have no idea how much advantage having children can give you when it comes to queues at the airport. We came back from Amsterdam which was just recovering from the Detroit terrorist incident a day before and had huge queues for security check just before boarding. Have a kid? Breeze right through!

That’s that for now. Hopefully, normal services on this blog will resume soon.