Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Finnish King of Spain

Ah! Back in fairytale Europe. Somehow, there is nothing quite like looking forward to a Sunday evening of F1, and the spectacular European circuits nestled among mountains really add to the sheen of the sport.

Home hero Fernando Alonso flattered to deceive as Finland’s Iceman Kimi Raikkonen drove to victory from pole at the Spanish Grand Prix. The weather was perfect for a race, a nice, sunny day (proving the weathermen wrong yet again), and the Ferrari camp made no mistake, Felipe Massa finishing second to give the team their successive 1-2 finish. With three consecutive wins between them, Raikkonen and Massa have managed to steer their team to the top of the constructors’ championship with 47 points, clear of BMW, the best of the rest, by 8 points.

The race at this picturesque circuit of Catalunya was a far cry from the unexciting race in Bahrain. The start itself provided a bit of a shuffle in the orders, as Massa overtook Alonso to move into second place, while Lewis Hamilton eased into fourth in his McLaren Mercedes with a manoeuvre on BMW’s Robert Kubica. Hamilton finished third, coming back on the podium for the first time this season after his victory in Australia. All did not go well for the McLaren team, however, with the left front tyre on Heikki Kovalainen’s car going bust; he slammed into the tyre wall, his car having to be extricated with much trouble. He luckily escaped injury, but the incident did throw the race into a tizzy as the safety car had to be brought out. Nick Heidfeld made the mistake of pitting while the safety car was on track, paying for it later with a 10 second stop-and-go penalty in the pit lane.

Earlier, Adrian Sutil’s race in his Force India came to a premature end as he collided with Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel, putting them both out of the race. Nelsinho Piquet of Renault had a run-in with Sebastien Bourdais, ending the race for the two drivers. Renault’s miseries were compounded as Alonso had an engine failure, failing to finish his home race. The heat in Bahrain apparently overworked quite a few engines, for Nico Rosberg suffered a similar fate in his Williams. However, his teammate, Kazuki Nakajima, picked up two points.

Vijay Mallya might have lost a bit of sleep with things not quite going his way in the IPL. Sutil didn’t do anything to alleviate his sorrow, but thanks to the fight put up by Giancarlo Fisichella, Mallya still has some reason for hope. Fisi staved off Heidfeld’s efforts bravely before being overtaken by the much better performing BMW. The Italian finished a commendable tenth in a race that saw only thirteen finishers. There was another battle between David Coulthard’s Red Bull and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato, which the Scottish veteran won. These were not the only moments of worry for Coulthard; he earlier had a collision with Toyota’s Timo Glock, which sent the German limping with front wing damage, and a problem with his own rear suspension, causing his rear left tyre to wear away and bringing him smoking and bumping into the pit lane.

The safety car periods brought some changes into the race; I believe Raikkonen would have opened a bigger gap on his rivals than he could manage, if not for the stints behind the safety car. I also have a question about the pit lane regulations during the safety car period. If the pit lane is closed and a car is running out of fuel, shouldn’t it be allowed to pit? It boils down to sheer ill luck, then, as was possibly the case with Heidfeld.

The top order remains unchanged, the front runners are doing well. Reliability, however, has become a question with the McLaren team, as they haven’t really been able to match last year’s form. Bourdais and Piquet are yet to impress; freak incidents don’t really raise their stakes in the high pressure world of F1. Rosberg has been having a torrid time as well, and being outdone by Nakajima is certainly not what he is looking forward to. Kubica has been consistent, and it will be good to see him pick up his first win this season, but the BMWs really need to up their game to match Ferrari. There is much at stake, and the picture will get clearer as the season progresses with the next race in Turkey.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What Interests Us Most

Mandira’s saree misadventures, noodle straps and lack of cricket sense are history. When it comes to talking of women in cricket, the focus has shifted to the cheerleaders in their obscene, skimpy, indecent, unacceptable (feel free to add to the list) attire, and their (repeat list of adjectives) dance moves. So now we have politicians butting their noses in as usual, calling for a ban on something that violates Indian culture.

Why are we even paying so much attention to the cheerleaders? When people thought test cricket had got boring, one-day cricket came in. And now that the scheme of 50 overs an innings is also looking uninteresting, Twenty20 is grabbing attention. (Next in international cricket: the six-overs-a-side games that are played in Hong Kong by the bigwigs, along with minnows like UAE. Who is next after Subhash Chandra, if the ICC refuses to recognise it?) To add to the appeal of the game, we have fireworks, Bollywood (as usual), SMS contests, and, yes, cheerleaders. They are just one of the numerous unnecessary elements in the IPL. So why not just let them be, instead of raising such a hue and cry over them? Surely nobody is fool enough to watch the IPL matches just for the girls when there are plenty of them, dressed in a similar fashion, on many other channels?

If they’re thinking of banning the girls, then they should also ban the bicep-flaunting non-entities that yak away in the studio nonstop, talking more of flat stomachs and phone numbers than the actual game. Apparently you don’t need much skill to be a presenter in cricket. You need some credentials as a model/VJ or maybe not even those, and be able to string together three consecutive sentences in English, and there you are in front of the camera, babbling away to glory in the company of better men like Robin Jackman and Greg Chappell. Every few sentences, you hand it over to a girl near the boundary, who will give you ‘exclusive’ interviews with one of the numerous entertainers (read out-of-work, quite-into-retirement ‘celebrities’), specially for the viewers. I think Mayanti Langer did a much better job with the ICL than the pretenders here. She had good screen presence and carried off the show rather well, despite the fact that many of the matches resembled the ones ageing movie stars, who last played cricket in high school, participate in for charity.

Adding to the list of irritating elements in the IPL, and perhaps topping it, is the Bollywood contingent. Why on earth do our actors feel that they simply have to make their presence felt everywhere? SRK definitely goes overboard with his antics, and to someone looking for refuge from his constant onslaught on television viewers through advertisements, game shows, movies, promos and the news, the IPL matches are certainly not the answer. Has he forgotten about the movies that he has on hand (if there are any, that is)? Is the IPL also responsible for amnesia, then?

When I look at Sharad Pawar, what come to my mind first are the air-conditioned boardrooms of the BCCI. It only strikes me later that he is also a Cabinet Minister. After all, cricket is what hogs the headlines all the time, and the new controversy involving Harbhajan and Sreesanth is only making matters worse. Cricket is important, the crisis in Vidarbha can take a backseat. For the first time, I feel more interested in the stock markets (of which I’ve never understood much), than in cricket. For the same old debates on ethics in cricket will play themselves out, we’ll have Barkha, Rajdeep, Arnab and co. conducting serious debates on whether cricket really is a gentleman’s game. Rajeev Shukla and Kiran More will be seen on three different TV channels in one evening. There will be talk of how the incident is being perceived in Australia after the fiasco during India’s trip there, and comparison perhaps with the Shoaib Akhtar-Mohammad Asif incident. Ban the cheerleaders? Maybe we should start with the news channels.

Bans seem to be the only solution to every problem in India, especially when a thing is alien to ‘Indian culture’ (which, apparently, only our politicians can define best, even if they send their children abroad). I’ve seen a sticker my father bought when he was young; it said: ‘Ban Teachers’. Of course, that is how we feel in college when we have unending lectures from self-professed experts, especially during the last period. You can feel badly about anybody or anything under the sun, but you possibly can’t always call for a ban. Rational thinking is a term that seems to have got obsolete. Anyway, if it is right to call for bans and if it does work, then I’ll call for a ban on SRK, even if I’m putting my blogging career in jeopardy by doing so.

So what is the situation like on Dalaal Street?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spiritual Intrigue

Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda’s description of the life and trials of a yogi, has been a rather intriguing read. While I knew I’d come across some ideas that I wouldn’t be totally inclined to believe, I tried to read the book with an open mind. There is definitely a lot to be learnt from it. Sometimes, when religion and the existence of God don’t entirely make sense in the wake of all the trouble around us, this book comes as an affirmation of faith. The inclination to question and to look for proof is getting stronger as the days pass by and misery seems to dog people around the world; why is it important to keep faith in a God that nobody has seen?
Perhaps it is because faith helps, and can possibly serve as a deterrent to further misery. It can drive people to do good and help, instead of being constantly cynical and waiting for miracles to come about through means other than themselves. There are many instances in Autobiography that seem absolutely incredible to me; however, if they have been so openly described and circulated through an increasingly cynical world, there must be some truth to these inexplicable miracles.

The mysteries of life and death yet remain unsolved. The idea of an astral world after the casting off of this human body to which we are unduly attached, and then a causal world, can seem absurd and unrealistic. However, can such claims be made without some kind of substantiation? I hardly know what to make of it all. Astral travel, interestingly, has been mentioned in Paulo Coelho’s book Veronika Decides To Die- here, the woman experiencing the phenomenon feels disembodied and sees other disembodied people wandering around in a different plane. Some of these spirits have perfected this art and are here on their own (like the state of samadhi?), while some others don’t know they are here because they are asleep. Another idea mentioned in Autobiography is that pure-minded children can see fairies and other astral beings; Coelho talks of something similar in The Valkyries, where he mentions how children communicate with their angels when they are young, and as they grow up, are convinced by ‘wise’ adults around them that such outer-worldly beings don’t exist, so that they gradually give up all such associations.

Autobiography says we are constantly working off the results of the karma accumulated in previous births. This is one concept that I have found extremely difficult to understand. Are we wholly responsible for our own actions? I always thought it was God who guided people, for isn’t it to Him that we pray when we need strength and guidance, or when we want something to happen. Many people, with good and evil intentions, put their trust in God. I believe that nobody is intrinsically evil- it is certain circumstances and situations that influence a person’s actions. In that case, the circumstances are created by powers beyond our comprehension. Or do we create them? I don’t understand why anybody should be made to do evil and then be forced to pay for his actions through future incarnations. If the world is all delusion, why has it been created? Or doesn’t it exist at all?

According to Autobiography, things don’t end with death on this planet, for they are followed by work in the astral and causal universes to get rid of whatever vestiges of karma remain. I cannot comprehend these various levels of consciousness, and the bigger question automatically arises- what is the purpose of it all? To which, of course, there is no answer. It is just explained away as one of the mysteries of God to be left unsolved for the moment, the solution to which God will Himself reveal when the time is right.

The book explains God wants to drive us to search out the truth of our lives. A bothering aspect of this idea is why He should want us to go through so much suffering. Perhaps it is to strengthen and condition us; but there are certain forms of exploitation and evil that are just too complex to comprehend. The mind has to be free of all desire to finally proceed to the next level. Another question that came to me: What is the difference between ambition and desire? There are techniques mentioned through which ordinary people can work towards elevation; what of the uneducated or ignorant who never even come to hear of such ideas? I don’t expect a man struggling for a square meal a day, sleeping on the pavement in the bitter cold of winter, to worry about spiritual elevation; he is more likely to be thinking of how to earn his next meal or find shelter. Especially when everything often comes at a price- even spiritual enlightenment.

I like Autobiography for its philosophy, intrigue and mystery, and for the deep faith it promotes. For, certainly, Paramahansa Yogananda didn’t have everything come to him on a platter. He had to work for what he gained, go through misery, but he remarkably kept his faith through it all. It talks of different religions as different paths of reaching God, and attempts to explain the fact through examples. Autobiography mystifies and inspires the reader to set out on further journeys of seeking and learning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Conversation With The Stars

Why is the moon so lonesome tonight
Where have the stars gone and hidden?
The moon is a grumpy grouch tonight
We stars don't arrive unbidden.

Why do we go to bed at night
And frolic by light of day?
Because the night is dark and dull
But sunshine's for fun and play.

The night is dark and I'm afraid
Why does it scare me so?
Feel our light, make friends with the night,
Just watch your fears go.

Enough said, now go to bed
In deep slumber may you lie
As dreams stream into your head,
And winds outside sough and sigh.

The clouds come sailing through the sky
Hark! How softly the rain falls.
Let it lull you, may you sleep till
The first of the morning birds calls.

Rhythm, rhyme, metre, cadence- I don't know much about these words. I don't know how they are used. This is my first ever attempt at poetry as an adult. I should have written all this in an introduction before assaulting your senses with this pretence at poetry, but I was afraid it would make you overly critical of or generous to this very schoolgirlish attempt. I can never understand complex emotions in poetry, so my poem naturally has to be plain and unembellished. If you're a casual reader, this piece might have amused you; if you're a purist, you might use this to tell people how not to write poetry. At all events, I am convinced of its usefulness.

PS: This piece draws no inspiration from 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'. My stars here can actually talk.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Strictly If You're For Indolence

Languid Idleness

I can’t remember the days of the week. I just know that I’m two weeks into the vacation and, I hate to admit this, a trifle bored. Okay, I’m not complaining, but sometimes you just feel that way when you have plenty of time on your hands. I know it’s not correct to complain about something you wait the entire year for, working and hoping that the pleasant days will arrive soon. Summer holidays, right from school, are probably the best time of the year. (I would have gone for the monsoons, only, Vizag doesn’t have a regular rainy season; the rains are mostly caused by cyclonic depressions in the Bay of Bengal.)

So I lounge on the sofa with the TV running, stumbling upon watch-and-forget English movies, T20 matches, the news (which is almost always, irritatingly, about SRK and his huge contingent in black and shining armour). I have the day’s Deccan Chronicle crossword puzzle (the only good thing about the paper, ever since they stopped the Saturday Paulo Coelho column) or a book with me. I go out on the balcony. The sky is a maddening bluey-white, a sure sign that the sun is shining bright, and in a few days, the blue will give way to a blazing white. Summer in full force.

The day before yesterday it was, I think, that we had some rain. There was a light grey cover of clouds in one part of the sky- the other was bright and sunshiny. Lightning and thunder accompanied the showers, but the rain wasn’t refreshing or cool. It fell even as the sun cast its faint rays on the streets, the raindrops glistening as they dripped off the thick, glossy green leaves of the ornamental plants across the street. I couldn’t smell the earth. It was like being in a tropical forest- the rain stopped in a short while, and thick vapours of heat rose from the ground.

But I’m not complaining.


Sometimes, when I go out on the balcony, I see this neighbour, an elderly woman, putting clothes out to dry on the clothesline. She looks up and glares when she catches sight of me, the kind of look that makes people go off into highly imaginative fantasies about what would happen ‘if looks could kill’. I don’t know what she holds against me, or against humanity in general. She got locked out on the balcony one afternoon (reportedly), and banged against the door and screamed till she was let in again. In all fairness to her family, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but I wouldn’t be very surprised even if it were.

I have been trying to break the ice, wondering how she would react if I smiled at her. I have been attempting to gather courage to do so, but the moment our eyes meet, my facial muscles paralyse temporarily. The only muscles that do work then are those in my feet, for they help me flee instantaneously. Apparently she has that effect on not just me, but other people as well. God bless her.


Weddings are supposed to be fun. They are, but strictly when you are in the company of people your age and actually have something to do or talk about. At other times, they’re just an exercise in politeness and courtesy. You get introduced to numerous adults who are so distantly related to you nobody knows exactly how, only to forget who they are by the time the next wedding comes around. These are people whom, for some reason, you meet only at weddings.

At my cousin’s wedding a few months ago, we had the same kind of experience. My cousins and I were introduced to some people, and of course we were, to put it politely, not deeply interested in remote relations that we couldn’t remember. I happened to run into a lady I was supposed to have met six years ago. How on earth did she expect me to remember her? I blundered into a correct guess, thanks to my unexpected good luck, and spared myself the blushes. People do feel terrible when they’re not recognised, don’t they? Anyway, not all the encounters were sorry affairs. I got to talk with one of the groom’s cousins- a nice girl with the tragic tale that is becoming all too common- engineer-to-be-who-wanted-to-be-a-journalist.

Mealtimes are an ordeal at weddings. Eating off a plantain leaf is difficult, especially when there are numerous small heaps of unidentifiable dishes, variously flavoured, piled on in quick succession. How can you possibly eat something whose ingredients you are unaware of, and if you don’t know whether it’s something you like or not? And just when you’re struggling with your food, somebody comes along and asks how you like the food. How can you be honest without being rude? I’ve never really mastered the art. White lies are all I can manage. (I learnt of them from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time- great book!)

My cousin said he missed the sight of little girls running around in colourful silk paavadais, the sound of anklets etc. I was really surprised- do boys really care for traditional weddings? I felt sorry for the bride and the groom, left to sweat it out under the camera lights, constant smiles affixed to their faces, gradually losing any semblance of emotion. Why can’t weddings be short and quick? It’s funny how people stand around, trying to look important when they’re as jobless as can be. We dress up for everyone to see, and once we’re in the crowd, we’re only bothered about how we look, with a few casual compliments thrown in someone’s direction so we get noticed.

That’s enough cynicism for a day, I’m sure you agree. It’s time I went back to the hard-earned peace of joblessness.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Close To Reality- 'The Zahir'

What does Paulo Coelho do that no other writer I’ve read seems to have done? He raises the questions that are always at the back of our mind but never spoken about, for fear of derision and embarrassment, or out of plain timidity. His books are always extremely compelling and realistic, and each book of his that I read is memorable in its own way.

I have just finished The Zahir, and what a remarkable book it is! It is the story of a writer who goes in search of his wife across continents. He doesn’t know what is wrong, if she has been kidnapped or walked out of a seemingly happy marriage, and wonders what he should do to get her back. This book, like his other works, is about courage and love, and the struggle people have to put up with to get to what they want, to figure out what they want. The Zahir, as explained in the book, is something that a person becomes obsessed with when he comes in contact with, to such an extent that he can think of nothing else.

When people have the means to make their dream come true, what comes in their way of realising it is the fear of failure, and of what life will be like in case things don’t work out. Coelho talks about it as he relates his own struggle to begin writing a book, once he knew that was what he wanted to do and had the means to do it. The love and support of his then wife, Esther, came to his rescue.

The book says it is important to forget the past to move on with the future. This is something we probably know; only, it is not easy to get rid of the baggage we carry. Maybe it is possible through conscious effort. The means used here is repeating the story of your life to another person, as many times as possible, so that it no longer belongs to you.

One of the things I identified with, and shall not be afraid to mention, now that it has been talked of by Coelho, is making weird pacts with God. I don’t know if everybody does it; I have never asked anyone. It is like asking for a sign from God that something will happen the way we want it; for example, if the phone rings in the next five minutes, we’re going to have some rain tonight. Illogical pacts. It is just a strange form of seeking assurance from God. I’d like to know if there are other people who do it as well.

The book explores unhappiness and loneliness; the need to feel wanted at all times, to know that you matter to your friends and family. The part about loneliness really touched me; it was another of those things that I’d often felt but never spoken out about. Which is why we have Coelho.

There is one thing that is often advocated by several religions and traditions- whirling and dancing, to get in touch with the energy of love. The Witch of Portobello introduced me to the idea, and reading about Sufism and Rumi, I have come to learn that this seems to be quite a popular, ancient practice, and it is perhaps our inhibitions that prohibit us from taking to such demonstrative forms of getting in touch with the energy that pervades the universe. The Zahir mentions it as well.

The courage to do what we really want to doesn’t come easily, especially when it is something that doesn’t conform with the rules that were once set down as proper for societal living. Love and courage, as I mentioned earlier, form the theme of this book. No amount of effort on my part can do justice to this magnificent book; there are parts of it that each of us will certainly identify with. Coelho sets down on paper what we always think about but never dare to ask. It helps alleviate the loneliness to know there are other people who think the way you do, and you’re never alone in the world, no matter what you feel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shashi Tharoor's Fascination

When Shashi Tharoor runs out of ideas, he gets down to writer bashing. I don’t read his column regularly, but on two occasions, I have seen him get rather critical of a couple of the finest writers the world has known.

Yesterday’s (April 13) Hindu Sunday Magazine carried a column by Tharoor, in which he has denounced the importance given to Rudyard Kipling. He describes how his teenage fascination for the much-celebrated poem If wore off as he came to realise the true story behind it. Kipling, in short, was allegedly racist. Which is why, Tharoor says, we should ‘relegate Kipling to the darkest recesses of our history’, and get rid of the poem If from school curriculums. In the past, Tharoor has also criticised RK Narayan, and though I don’t remember the exact language that was used, I believe it was something to the effect of Narayan not being skilled enough. Narayan, a people’s writer who contributed much to the growth of Indian literature in English and gave us what we could understand and relate to.

This yardstick should then be applied to every author or poet whose morals and values go against what is part of our society and culture, and who are not talented enough to match up to the exacting standards of self-appointed critics. We should stop reading Frances Hodgson Burnett because of her denigrating depiction of the ‘lascars’. Enid Blyton was often denounced because the children in her books represented the white, well-to-do families; critics also said she had a limited vocabulary. So maybe we should clear our bookshelves of all those adventures that we read with much enthusiasm while at school. George Eliot lived with a man she was not married to, because she didn’t believe in the sanctity of a relationship that could be easily dissolved. Isn’t that opposed to what the traditions of our country say? Off goes Eliot. And so do all the other writers of the British era in India, who were guilty of racist mindsets. Continue with the list, and it is doubtful we will be left with anybody at all who has managed to please absolutely every section of society without drawing a single word of criticism.

Racism is unforgiveable. But a person’s beliefs and ideals should not be used to judge his/her literary skill. A piece of work should first be admired for its literary merit. The questions will automatically follow. If might have been racially motivated, and such ideas definitely need to be denounced, but that cannot be done by ignoring its writer altogether. I don’t know much of Kipling; I have read only two of his books- Puck of Pook’s Hill, a fantastic tale of adventure and war, and Stalky & Co., a delightful schoolboy story. But the insular idea of ostracising a writer for the beliefs he holds would not exactly help the cause of literature. Why, then, the hue and cry over Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen? They could simply be asked not to write, and that would solve all problems without violence and unrest. After all, in today’s volatile world, it doesn’t take much to create controversy, even though the implied crimes may in no way be as heinous as racism. Mein Kampf will continue to be read, and if I read it, I don’t become a dictator or a Nazi. I read because I like to, and because I want to learn. If I don’t agree with a particular blasphemous idea, I ignore it.

Teach people the history behind If by all means, but don’t ask them not to read Kipling, or any other writer, for that matter.

Friday, April 11, 2008

These Lovely Journeys

Beginning a new book is like going on a journey. The actual reading is preceded by days of longing, anticipation and excitement. I plan, I contemplate, I dig through all my unread books, quite making up my mind that this is the book I’m going to read next, and I let my anticipation rise accordingly. Then, all of a sudden, my eyes fall on another book, and it beckons invitingly. Change of plan. I simply have to read it, shooting down all my earlier ideas.

I had quite decided to read The Children of Hurin, when I realised that it has been atleast two months since I last read a Paulo Coelho book. Except for excerpts from Like A Flowing River and pieces in the ‘Deccan Chronicle’ on Saturdays, I haven’t really seen much of him. Reading Coelho always seems to me like an unpredictable journey, with lessons of life strewn along the way without being preachy. The best thing about his books is that I feel like imbibing from them. I remember what I like in them. They don’t make me sceptical; even the most incredible things seem possible. So, yielding to impulse, I picked up The Zahir.

Probably nothing matches a book for company and comfort. These long summer afternoons will be made enjoyable through all the random bits and pieces I will end up reading. I always smell a book before I begin it. I feel the cover, the letters, the spine- a book can really put you on a high. There’s nothing like a book that’s pretty inside and outside.

Now I’m looking forward to this new journey. I’m just a few pages into this book, but I can’t wait to finish it. This is one more feeling that’s really hard to understand. I can hardly wait to begin a book, and once I’m into it, I can hardly wait to finish it. And once I finish it, I feel like the journey ended all too soon. Can somebody explain?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Long Afternoon

The house felt strangely empty as Priya tiptoed through the large hall into the verandah. The usual patter of busy feet, the loud voices of the adults raised in mirth, or indignation, or teasing superiority, did not grate in her ears any longer. She didn’t miss them. She couldn’t hear her cousins and their friends; they were probably outside, playing in the dust, doing exactly what they had been forbidden to do. The only thing she missed was the kindly, reassuring presence of her grandmother.

Her grandmother was the only person who always took her part in those never-ending quarrels with her older cousins and against all the grown-ups who constantly seemed to be laughing at her weird ways. She had taken seriously ill in the night, and been taken to hospital in the city. Her parents, her aunts and her uncles had gone along, taking with them their little children. Thankfully. She wouldn’t have wanted to baby-sit a couple of sobbing, incoherent, messy toddlers. Of course, one of her older cousins would have been asked to do so, not she, but then the bullies that they were, they always palmed off any responsibility they were entrusted with onto Priya. In her little, limited world, she was the butt of all ridicule. People thought she was crazy because she had imaginary friends, and talked to them whenever she was alone. Even in a house as big as this, with all the people living in it, privacy was a precious commodity, much sought after but extremely difficult to get. Priya resented it whenever her cousins spied on her and told the adults about all her role-play and soliloquy. They would shake their heads at her, tell her she would be put in an asylum before she was fifteen, and then go about their own business. Her mother and her aunts would dress up early and be ready to regale all their friends who dropped in for a chat at all hours of the day; her father and her uncles were perpetually frowning over a little money lost in some transaction. The house held no joy for her; her ten years had been spent in solitude mixed with wistfulness.

The only silver lining in this cloud of childish gloom was Priya’s grandmother; a cheerful, considerate lady who understood the needs of the most insignificant creature on the earth. It was in her company that Priya found solace. But the guardian angel of the house, and indeed, the locality, that the popular lady was, Priya didn’t have as much time with her alone as she would have liked.

Priya stood in the doorway, watching the dust raised from the dry ground by the slippered feet of the children- her cousins and their friends. The dust was everywhere- it floated on the sunbeams, lay thick on the limp leaves drooping from the trees, coated every single wall and pillar. How she wished one cool shower would wash everything away! That would bring her some comfort, now, because nothing else seemed to. Her elder brother and his friends never let her play with them. "You’re too young for our games! We need strong people, not scrawny kids like you." In the beginning, Priya pleaded with them, even ran little errands so she would be allowed into their circle, but she gradually realised how futile her servility was, and assumed an almost hostile attitude towards all these pretentious ‘grown-ups’ who populated her world.

"Go play with the kids! They’re your age," Anant, her brother, would say.

"They’re not! They’re much younger. And they are playing with little utensils. I don’t want to play those silly games. I want to play with you."

"No, you cannot. We play rough games, and you’ll end up going to Ma, crying because you’ve hurt yourself."

"I won’t! I never cry." Even as she said this, tears would start up in Priya’s eyes, and Anant would turn away, a cruel smile curving across his hateful, pasty face, as it seemed to his sister.

Sometimes, one of the girls, in an unexpected fit of kindness, would intercede on Priya’s behalf, but the proposal would be promptly nipped in the bud. Priya knew then that she was unwanted, and through some bitter lessons, came to accept the reality without protest. Her pride wouldn’t let her play with the ‘babies’, as she called them, and she would retreat into her shell, seeking solace in her imaginary world.

Priya watched the group this afternoon, her heart anxious for her grandmother, seeking some kind of encouragement. The other children were absorbed in play; the games, with their propensity for keeping childish anxiety at bay, had successfully rid their minds of any worrying thoughts. Priya did not know the nature of her grandmother’s illness, or its magnitude, but she felt almost sure that she would never see her only friend again. Childhood often magnifies fears, especially when they are not fully understood. So it was with Priya. She wished she could do something to forget the pain for a while.

As Priya watched, Anant came towards her, accompanied by Nita. Had she done something wrong? She’d just been watching. She cowered into a corner as Anant pushed the grill open and stepped into the verandah.

"Do you want to play with us?" he asked, without any preamble.

Priya gaped in astonished silence.

"Do you, or do you not? We don’t have all day."


"Come along then."

Nita, who had followed him in, spoke up. "Now, Priya, you must understand that we play tough games, and if you want to play with us, we’ll have to do something different. We can’t play our regular games. So you choose. What would you like to play?"

"I…I have dolls."

Anant snorted impatiently, but Nita nudged him. She turned to Priya patiently. "Look, the boys can’t play with dolls, you understand that, right? Think of something else. But be quick, because I think it’ll start raining sooner or later, and then you can’t play."

"Why are you asking me to play today?"

"Because you’re alone."

Priya thought hard for a while, and then said, "I have a top that my grandmother gave me. She gave it only to me, to nobody else, because she played with it when she was a little girl, and she knew I’d take good care of it."

"She gave it to you because you threw a tantrum," Anant cut in. "Priya thinks it’s a precious family heirloom," he smirked.

Nita glared at him fiercely, but softened as she turned to Priya.

"Bring it, Priya. We’ll wait for you outside."

Priya rushed into the house and opened the desk where she stored her little treasures. Her little breast was aflutter with excitement and anxiety- it all seemed so strange! They were actually asking her to play with them. But something didn’t feel quite right. She did her best to ignore that feeling, pushing it to the remotest recesses of her mind, and clutching the sturdy top to her chest, ran into the afternoon sunshine, feeling wanted for the first time in days.

Anant grabbed the top from her and disappeared into a group of boys.


Nita appeared beside Priya and put an arm around her. "Don’t worry, he is just showing it to the others. You know it’s really old. He wants to show it off. He’ll give it back to you after a while. Then you can play with it."

"But you said we’d play together."

"Look, Anant will give you the top back after we are done playing with it. Don’t complain. Nobody forced you to bring it out." Then, followed by the other girls, Nita joined the raucous group.

Grey clouds began to gather overhead. They massed together, coming together in one angry bunch over a group of children, watched from the fringes by one lonely, bereft girl. She tried to push her way in, but was elbowed away. Anant wasn’t even bothered about what was happening to her. Bruised and hurting in more ways than one, Priya retreated to the shade of a tree. She would get her top back. It was the only thing of grandmother’s that she had. Then an agonising thought struck. Did it really matter, now that she might never even get her grandmother back? Tears pricked Priya’s eyes. She watched through her tears as the clouds opened up simultaneously. The rain wasn’t as comforting as she had thought it would be, a little while ago. It fell in big, heavy drops, and they stung.

As the children ran around the spinning top, it suddenly toppled from the slippery surface into a culvert nearby. The heavy rain that had fallen for ten minutes had turned the culvert into a little river, and as Priya and the others watched, it was carried away in the eddies of the brown water, amongst other pieces of rubble and dirt.

It didn’t seem to matter anymore. Priya went back into the house, impassive. She wanted her grandmother.
The other children went in another direction, in search of fresh game.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Massa masters Bahrain

Felipe Massa must be a happy man. He vindicated himself by winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, in the face of all the criticism he was subjected to after his disastrous non-performances in the last two races in Australia and Malaysia. Doubtless he would have preferred champagne to non-alcoholic peach juice during the podium celebrations; he deserved it, considering he withstood all the pressure to put in an almost flawless drive to victory at the barren, picturesque desert circuit of Sakhir, Bahrain.

Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, is not quite living the fairytale season he had last year during his debut with McLaren Mercedes. The ban on traction control seems to be making drivers' lives difficult. Now isn't that just what we, the spectators, want? A run-in with former teammate Fernando Alonso, now going through another unhappy season, this time with Renault, added spice to an otherwise uneventful race. No yellow flags, no safety car, no penalties- the only warning from race control was one pertaining to oil on the track. The much anticipated exciting start did materialise to a certain extent. Robert Kubica, on pole for the first time in his career, was slow getting off and allowed Massa, starting from the dirty side of the track, to power his Ferrari into the lead. This was followed by some smart overtaking by Kimi Raikkonen in his own Ferrari, thus slotting in right behind Massa, and finishing in the same order, with Kubica coming in third. This result has made for an interesting order in the team championship, with BMW leading the pack with 30 points, ahead of Ferrari (29) and McLaren (28).

The Hondas were looking good for a comeback, but Jenson Button collided with David Coulthard's Red Bull, putting paid to their hopes of a strong return. Rubens Barrichello, however, gave them something to cheer about, finishing close behind Alonso in 11th place. Giancarlo Fisichella finished 12th in his Force India, and while that may not exactly make him a household name in India or get our news channels all excited, it was a considerably good result for a team that, in the past few seasons, restricted its competition to Super Aguri. The Italian finished, rather surprisingly, a place ahead of Hamilton. There was a bit of excitement for Fisi in the shape of a battle for position with Hamilton, but that didn't last long as the Briton overtook him on the straight. In the end, however, it was Fisichella who prevailed.

I hold a grudge against the commentators, and it's not just because I'm a Ferrari fan. Steve Slater just cannot seem to get enough of Lewis Hamilton, and most of his commentary is about how circumstances should alter for Hamilton to improve his track position. And those hopes often consist of having one of the Ferraris overheat its engine and blow up, or have a slow pit-stop, or get penalised for a mistake that hasn't even been made. Why on earth is he so biased? If you think it's because Hamilton was phenomenal in his first season, then how can Slater's preference for Coulthard in the early years of this decade, or later, for Button, be explained? When he's not talking about Hamilton, his commentary is about McLaren. He does give the others credit when they deserve it, true, but he appears overly fond of British drivers and teams.

Now the caravan moves on to Europe, and in three weeks' time, the Spanish Grand Prix will take place. At the moment, Dani Pedrosa might be more popular in Spain than Alonso, but Alonso will surely be motivated to do well at home and effect a comeback even with the Renault team that’s just a shadow of its former championship-winning self. With three teams in the fray, though it is too early in the season to talk of concrete results, the battle just seems to be hotting up.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Somewhere In Between

I know very little about Madras. Oh yes, I do know that it is called Chennai now, but what’s in a name? I don’t believe all that they say about colonial heritage and the legacy the British left behind- it would mean doing away with so many things. I like the sound of ‘Madras’ better, maybe because I’m averse to change. The debate over names will probably lie dormant until the next big change comes up, so I’ll let it be. Anyway, what I want to talk about is the city itself, not the names.

I last visited Madras in January for a wedding, and promptly fell in love with the city. As I do, every time I go there (three occasions that I remember). What exactly did I see in Madras? Not much, really. I haven’t even done the regular sightseer’s route. I’ve only been to the Mylapore Kapaleeshwarar Temple, the Triplicane Parthasarathy Temple, Spencer Plaza. I liked the old-worldly charm of Triplicane- the temple, the narrow streets, the temple pond, the little shops- as if they’d all sprouted from the earth, not been made by man. They just seemed to belong there. We passed the Chepauk Stadium. And yes, I went to Marina Beach too, which was on a Sunday, not a very memorable/enjoyable visit. I could only catch glimpses of blue from amongst the sea of human heads.

The ambience of Madras enchants me. The sights, sounds, colours and smells. To be sure, you can see temples and smell jasmines in Hyderabad, and feel the tepid waters of the Bay of Bengal in Vizag. But just being in Tamil Nadu gives me an inexplicable feeling of coming home to where I belong. All of a sudden, everybody seems to be speaking the same language that I do, which makes me a little wary of speaking to my mother in public- people can actually understand what I say. (Never mind if my aunt in Madras says I don’t speak proper Tamil- I know I do.) In Vizag, I enjoy the confounded expressions of friends when I have rapid conversations with my parents in Tamil- they pick up a word hear and there, and try to decipher the meaning of what has been said. Shopkeepers hear us converse and ask us if we’re Tamilians. It’s nice, this feeling of uniqueness. But I lose it in Madras.

On my January trip, I had my eyes and ears wide open. I wanted to absorb the flavours of Madras. For some reason, understanding Tamil became quite a challenge, and I couldn’t quite follow the garrulous man who brought us coffee at the hotel. I realised then that while in Madras, I’d have to relegate our Iyer-esque Tamil to the back of my mind and try and make sense of the delightfully colloquial version that seemed to pervade Madras. It was fun.

We experienced the essence of Madras. We got fleeced by the auto drivers, walked about in bright (wintry) sunshine, felt the humidity (though Vizag has definitely conditioned me for it, and could give Madras a run for its money). The rickety green buses that I saw didn’t seem very fit for travel, but I’d have liked to try out one of them. Maybe next time. We went shopping. Now shopping can have various connotations. It can mean window shopping in malls, browsing for books in a cosy bookstore, or the bizarre variety that some women seem to enjoy. Sample this- two women (with my uncle and me in tow) revelling in the vegetable market at Villivakkam (I had considerable trouble recalling the name that evening when my cousin asked me where we’d been) behind the railway station, the sun shining down in full glory, pungent odours floating in the air. They had a whale of a time ‘shopping’ for traditional medicine, herbs, face packs, vegetables, fruits, roots, turmeric, powder for the Diwali concoctions- everything they laid their eyes on, while my uncle and I watched in impatience. Laden as they were with bags containing numerous little packets of brown, yellow and green powders, they looked as happy as kids with new toys. But this was a Madras experience, and though it was one o’clock in the afternoon and I was hungry, I tried to enjoy it. My aunt and my mother are still talking about it.

Strangely, while I was in Madras, I found myself missing Telugu a little bit. A thrill of familiarity ran through me when I saw a theatre playing the Telugu movie Vaana (‘Rain’). I have got used to hearing Telugu being spoken all around me, and to reading the Telugu script on movie posters, hoardings, buses- everywhere. All my friends come from Telugu-speaking families. I know the kitsch and the entertainment of Telugu movies, I enjoy some of the classic old songs, Shankarabharanam is one of my few favourite movies. Despite my aversion to spicy food, I relish the fiery avakkaya (mango pickle) my friend’s mother makes. The Godavari is my favourite river, and I feel an inexplicable affinity to it. Ugaadi (New Year) is coming around, and my friends will wish me, too. It doesn’t matter that I’m not Telugu. They say I am, though I’m also the Tamilammaayi (Tamilian girl). Maybe it’s the ready acceptance that has made things easy for me. They ask me questions about Tamil lifestyle, food and festivals. They listen to Appadi Podu; a senior in college told me when I was in the first year that he loved Tamil film music. Many people here tell me they think the language sounds beautiful. They inform me when Ajit’s next movie is releasing, and often watch Tamil films on TV. I’ve even known girls from college watch soaps on Tamil channels. Now that, I think, is going a bit too far.

You might think it’s no big deal, that I’m not an expatriate experiencing a culture shock. But sometimes you do like to identify with a single place. In my case, it’s just that I can’t make up my mind. But do I have to? I can surely belong to more places than one. So can everybody, and in the wake of all the recent protests in the country that have further divided people linguistically, I hope everybody realises this truth.

My roots are in Tamil Nadu, but I’ve thrown out shoots elsewhere. I’m lucky, for I’ve experienced different worlds.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Delicious Indecision

That lovely feeling is back. Well, it’s not quite like in the school days, when the end of exams meant the end of it all for a while, and the arrival of summer holidays or a new session. In college, the practicals follow, and until they’re all over, you’re not quite done. But it’s still nice to have finished the theory papers; today I mined and warehoused with, I believe, considerable success, and finally, I can just feel blissful without being troubled. I’ll worry about the practicals when they come around.

The end of the exams leaves students with a heady deliriousness. The boys hooted, shouted and howled on the bus today, as if they were being collectively murdered. For the first time in four days, I noticed the hills gleaming emerald under the bright noon sun. The sky is cloudless and blue, true, but today I can be happy with just anything.

I walked home from the bus stop, my head full of things I wanted to do. Here’s the list: I have to go through the ‘pleasurably painful’ process of choosing between Leon Uris and JRR Tolkien; I want to write, watch TV, read blogs, sleep- and at the same time, do absolutely nothing. But this is one bit of confusion I can do with, as long as I end up doing something.

There is a new Cadbury Bournvita advertisement on TV. It’s about a mother waking up her son (who, I suppose, cannot be more than eleven or twelve years old) so he can study all night. When the boy asks his mother why he needs to study at night, she replies that she wants people to notice her and say, "Look, there goes Ravi’s mother!" I think this advertisement is absolutely ridiculous. Ravi is too young to be studying all night and depriving himself of sleep, in the first place. What does he do the rest of the day, anyway? If adverts really have the amount of influence I believe they do, mothers will probably be quoting from it to make their children study. Why on earth do we give so much importance to exams and degrees? It’s more about how well we score than how much we know. As for forcing kids to study and pressurising them to do well, I think responsibility comes naturally as students grow older and realise the amount of competition they have to face. Pushing children to fulfil their parents’ dreams is very unpleasant and not fair in the least. And the situation doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future.

I climbed the steep slope homewards, my calf muscles screaming and reminding me that I’m- sigh!- not getting any younger. I came home and switched on the television to find out the score. What a mistake that was! Today hasn’t been a good day for sports news, because I read in the papers that Justine Henin lost 2-6, 0-6 to Serena Williams. Now how often does that happen? Looks like a little bit of Roger Federer’s newfound vulnerability is rubbing off on Henin.

I think I’ll stop now and find something to do. Or I might do nothing. Oh, I know, I’ll probably spend the evening trying to decide what to do.