Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year Gone By

I feel as if 2011 has just whizzed by. It only seems like yesterday that I was praying on New Year's Day, and here I am, ready to welcome yet another new year. I have read a number of blog posts about the past year, the most recent being Sumitra's and I thought it was a great idea. So here's a list of my cherished memories from the year that just went by.

January
I had come back home for the semester break, and my parents and I traveled to Muscat for the New Year. I remember I had just finished reading William Dalrymple's Nine Lives and my last blog post for 2010 was a review on the same. My new year resolution was to stop eating chocolates and ice cream (what was I even thinking!), and I determinedly refused the ice cream cake that we bought to celebrate my uncle's wedding anniversary, which was just a few days after New Year. A week later, I returned to Singapore, and fell into the routine of yet another rigorous semester.

February
My nineteenth birthday coincided with the Chinese New Year, so I was lucky enough to get a holiday- went shopping and had dinner out with a few friends. I don't seem to recollect anything else, apart from updating my resume and sending applications for my summer internship. Oh yes, I had a tough midterm and was pleased to find out that I hadn't done too badly as I thought.

March
This was one hectic month. I attended my first ever corporate interview in Singapore. I remember being extremely nervous and slightly overwhelmed. A few days later, I received an email stating that my summer internship had been confirmed. I was over the moon! In late March, my guru, Ammachi, had arrived in Singapore, and I went for darshan. As usual, it was a deeply moving experience and I felt blessed to simply be there at that time. Loads of projects and deadlines; I spent hours on group meetings, every Tuesday for an audit project and every Sunday for a tax project.

April
The month of exams. Nothing else to write about.

May
The exams were finally done, and I got a two week holiday. I came back home for a week, and we went shopping (as usual!). My cousin was getting married, and I was determined to get a sari for the occasion. After hours spent at the shop, contemplating which was the best of the lot, we finally zeroed in (to Appa's great relief) on a grey sari with a deep red border and another sparkly pink one. A week later, we traveled to India for the wedding. I met all my cousins together after years, and needless to say, we had a great time. I read Subroto Bagchi's Go, Kiss the World in a record three days' time. Before I knew it, the two weeks came to a close, and I had to return to Lah Lah Land for my internship.

June
The month sped really quickly, considering the fact that I kept myself incredibly busy, thanks to the internship. In fact, I don't think I really missed home during this phase. Most weekdays, I would be at the office in Shenton Way, or would be assigned to a client's office. I was allotted to one audit client for the entire duration of my internship, and juggled between Shenton Way and Hillview for most of the time. I got to meet a lot of people, and made new friends. I will always cherish the lunches I shared with my fellow interns at Lau Pa Sat, the busy food court in the middle of Singapore's major business hub, or at the ever bustling Amoy Street. Towards the end of June, we had an office picnic at Sentosa Island- I spent the entire afternoon with my intern friends, soaking in the sunshine and the warm waters of the beach; another beautiful experience that I continue to cherish. On weekends, I visited my cousin and began attending Sunday morning prayers. (satsang)

July
I began to make earnest visits to the NUS Library. Prior to the internship, my visits there had been sporadic, given that I always brought back a few of my own books from home, and didn't quite have the time to read during the semester. I began reading regularly again, during the bus trips, to and from office, and also after I came back from a busy day at work. I devoured quite a few books, but I liked Christina Lamb's The Sewing Circles of Herat and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus the best. I also read Simone Lazaroo's The Travel Writer- through this book I came to learn more about the Eurasian community in Singapore and Malaysia and found it quite interesting...Before I knew it, my ten week long internship came to an end. I had learnt a lot during these few weeks, and was feeling almost wistful on the last day.

August
Appa and Amma came to Singapore for a week, just before the new semester began. I spent more time with my two year old niece and we all had a whale of a time. My parents helped me change hostels, and I was a wee bit homesick after they left. And that was the start of my third year at NUS. I had six modules to deal with- five core modules, and a sixth writing module, as well as CCA commitments.

September and October
Busy months. ALL my modules were demanding, to say the least. Whilst the accounting modules were indeed tough, they all had group projects and it was through these projects that I got to make a lot of new friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my writing module- it dealt with Slang in Society and I came to discover many aspects of Singlish slang. One of the module requirements involved choosing a Singlish slang term, and writing a paper on its etymology, usage and how it has come to fit as slang. I remember coming across a lot of terms for the first time- terms such as Ya ya papaya (which refers to a pompous person; a show off), blur sotong (which is used for a person who is often lost) and shiok (which is a term used to denote a state of pleasure). I also began blogging and reading other blogs on a more regular basis.

November
Exams. Sigh.
Nothing more to talk about, apart from the fact that I got my first paper published! :)

December
End of semester and now, I'm back home! I started reading William Dalrymple again, first with The Age of Kali and right now, From the Holy Mountain. Currently, I'm also busy indulging in a lot of yummy food that only Amma can make, and watching Malayalam movies on TV after a long time. I began another audit internship the day before yesterday, this time in Dubai, and I'm looking forward to learning more in the New Year, before I go back to college in the end of January.

As I reflect on the past year, I realize that I have met a lot of people. Some were very nice and friendly, a few were unreasonably rude- I have learnt to take it all in my stride. I am comforted by the thought that I did my best in everything that I undertook, and that's what matters at the end of the day.

Thank you, Lord, for all Your infinite mercies. May Your Grace take us through 2012 and the rest of the years to come by. Happy New Year! :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Buttercups and Butterflies

I just finished reading Ruskin Bond's Roads to Mussoorie. The book, covering numerous anecdotes from the writer's life, in and around Mussoorie and other places in the Garhwal Himalayas, is wonderfully written, peppered with humor and seasoned with sarcasm. One cannot expect anything less from a writer like Ruskin Bond. Reading Roads to Mussoorie brought back a stream of old memories- as a fifth grader, I would spend the winter afternoons in Dehra Dun, reading Ruskin Bond on the lawns, under the mild warm winter sunshine. This book is a gem, classic vintage Bond.

It begins with a 'Backward' instead of a 'Foreword' and ends with a 'Forward' instead of an epilogue. Beginning with a backward, Bond reasons, is because the book looks at the past. And it ends with a 'Forward', because 'forward we must march, whatever our age or declining physical prowess. Life has always got something new to offer.'

What struck me the most, as I read the book, was Bond's humility. He writes about traveling to Delhi in shared taxis, how he prefers to live in a 'tiny bedroom-cum-study' and long treks in the Siwaliks and Garhwal Himalayas. He also describes sacred shrines in these mountain regions, such as Nandprayag, where the Alakananda and Mandakini rivers meet, and the shrine of Tunganath- so vividly described, you can almost visualize it in your mind's eye!

The book has a chapter that is entirely devoted to hill-station ghosts. Even while describing the sinister Bhoot Aunty, a woman in white, who has come to be Mussoorie's resident ghost, Bond ends on a humorous note- he draws comparisons with Britain and Romania, where haunted homes and Dracula's castle attract numerous tourists, and suggests that Bhoot Aunty could also be promoted as a tourist attraction for Mussoorie, provided she stops sending vehicles off the hairpin bends that lead to the town!

In another chapter about hill towns, Bond tells us the story of how potatoes came to India. Captain Young was an officer in the British army in the early nineteenth century, between the Gurkha War and the Mutiny. Being an Irishman who was fond of his stew, he was disheartened to find no potatoes in the region and so, decided to grow them on his own. And that was how, the humble potato, hitherto unknown in Indian cooking, came to be a part of Indian cuisine. As Bond wittily writes:
For aloo-mutter and aloo-dhum,
Our heartfelt thanks to Captain Young!

The book sparkles with other anecdotes that are bound to make you smile. Ruskin Bond simply weaves magic into his writing- I couldn't describe it better! I found a part of the 'forward' (or rather, the epilogue) very inspiring and hence, thought of sharing it here- I have never been a fast walker, or a conqueror of mountain peaks, but I can plod along for miles. And that's what I've been doing all my life-plodding along, singing along, telling my tales in my own unhurried way. I have lived life at my own gentle pace, and if as a result I have failed to get to the top of the mountain (or of anything else), it doesn't matter, the long walk has brought its own sweet rewards; buttercups and butterflies along the way.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Day at School

Tony yawned as he made his way to the seventh grade classroom. Another boring day at school. He would have given anything to skip his lessons. Anything to escape from the drudgery of memorizing the dates of long forgotten wars, complex algebraic formulae, verses by Wordsworth and Shelley, the source and destination of each river in India... Tony just couldn't get the point. Wars had been fought centuries ago- what was the point in learning about it now? He didn't understand any of those verses by Wordsworth and Shelley anyway- what was the point in memorizing, or as his teacher put it 'learning by heart' those old poems? Learn by heart the first two stanzas of the poem 'Daffodils', that was his homework. It just didn't make any sense in twelve year old Tony's mind.

The worst of the lot was math. He just hated it. He loathed it with such passion that even Harry Potter's hatred for Dolores Umbridge would seem tame compared to it. Now before you jump to any conclusions by donning your judgmental caps, it wasn't that Tony was stupid or slow to learn. In fact, our Tony was a very intelligent boy. He just felt trapped in a vicious cycle. Economists talk about the cycle of wages and prices. As wages increase, disposable income levels increase and thus the demand for products increases. So the prices for goods also increase. Rising prices cause a demand for higher wages which leads to further higher prices. So you see, it's a cycle which seemingly has no end. If economists talk about this wage-price spiral, Tony talks about the exam spiral. Exams chase marks, marks lead to comparison with peers which leads to unhappiness which in turn leads to a loss of interest in the subjects. Needless to say that brings Tony back to exams and the vicious cycle never seems to end. His elder brother once told him that this ruthless spiral doesn't stop even at university.

Yes, so that was the real reason why Tony hated his lessons. Math, his most hated subject, was taught by the fierce Sister Agnes in whose lessons even the naughtiest students would maintain 'pin-drop' silence.Tony decided that he would try his best to skip the math lesson that day. An idea dawned upon him. It seemed to him like the first star that appears on a gloomy dark sky- it brought him that much happiness, the fact that he could actually miss the lesson! He could go to the library and read all he wanted, or even better, he could just pretend to be sick and go lie down in the 'sick room'.

As soon as Sister Agnes walked in, he went up to her and said. 'Sister, the Prize Day practice is going on. I'm a part of the play and I've been asked to go now for rehearsal'. This was not really untrue. Tony was a part of the play indeed. He had a minuscule role and his only dialogue in the whole one hour drama consisted of just one line-'Make way for His Majesty the King!' That didn't stop Tony's enthusiasm for attending the practice sessions. Sister Agnes looked like she believed him, and was about to let him off (a feat by itself!), when the villain entered the scene. Tony's arch rival, John, immediately said 'But only the main characters for the drama are required to go!' He asked Tony, a glint of malice in his eye, 'You only have one dialogue, no? I don't think you are required there!' With that, Sister Agnes twisted Tony's ear, and sent him back to his seat, after she had given him a earful for trying to bunk her class.

Tony stared at the window. Clouds had begun to gather over a gloomy sky. He sighed as he thought of his failed plan. The rain began to fall onto the window pane. Pitter patter, pitter patter, the drops hit the glass of the window as the skies lit up with a stroke of lightening. This was going to be another boring school day. Sister Agnes was explaining some algebraic formula- A plus B the whole square or something of that sort. Tony couldn't follow the logic- when did they start using alphabets, in math of all things?

*******
The bell finally rang. Sister Agnes sighed as the class of relieved students made their way out. Of all the students, Tony worried her the most. It wasn't that the boy was stupid, he just didn't want to learn. That attitude, reasoned the passionate teacher in her, along with laziness, was the culprit. It had to be corrected. She noticed something on Tony's desk. She bent closer to look at it and found a rough sketch, in black ink on the desk- a gravestone, complete with an R.I.P sign that read In memory of those who died, waiting for the bell to ring.

Post Script:
Appa, as a teacher, had the same experience. A bored student had drawn a gravestone on his desk with the exact words, and needless to say, Appa hasn't forgotten it till date. :D

Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Places- The 10-Day 'You' Challenge

I started this challenge a long while ago, and I am STILL not even half way there yet. I just promised myself that I will complete this by the end of the month (and the year.) This list is all about six places that I never get tired of visiting, or those that I crave to visit someday.

1) Coimbatore. I've never lived here in the actual sense, except for holidays when I visit my aunt. But I've always considered it to be namma ooru and it is definitely home for me- maybe because my parents and I have been going there for the holidays ever since I can remember. I can never get tired of this city. Visiting the Murugan temple on top of the Marudamalai Hill, shopping around RS Puram, the beauty of the surrounding Velliangiri Mountains, the spectacular drive around the Anaikatti Hills, the numerous 'gossip' sessions with my dearest achema... these are certain memories that I continue to cherish. Here's my favorite photograph of Coimbatore. This was taken two years ago, when I was volunteering at a rural school, on the outskirts of the city. It never ceases to make me smile- Reminds me that life can be a bed of marigolds, if only we looked at it from the sunny side!



2) Avalanche. Many people are not aware of this paradise, a few miles outside Ooty, hidden deep in the blue Nilgiri Hills. Google tells me that the place derived its name from a mud avalanche that rocked the area in the early nineteenth century. Do not let the name alarm you- the scenic tranquil landscape is a sharp contrast to the turbulent images that the word 'avalanche' often brings to mind. I had the fortune of visiting this awesome spot twice- what's more I was lucky enough to camp here! Canoeing at Lake Avalanche, pitching tents in the middle of the woods beside the lake, the heady scent of eucalyptus trees in the air, sharing stories at dinner over a bonfire, gazing at the twinkling stars in a sky, pristine and unpolluted by the glares of city lights... I could go on. I would give anything to go here again. Enough said. I tried googling images for Avalanche and found one that I could instantly recognize from some long cherished memory of my childhood. Here it is!


Image courtesy: deals4travels.blogspot.com

3) Mussoorie. I grew up reading Ruskin Bond. And the mountains never cease to amaze me. So it's little surprise that Mussoorie, at the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayas, is on this list. Each time I pick up my copy of the Childrens' Omnibus by Ruskin Bond (which is quite often when I'm back home), I somehow or the other come across a story that has a reference to Mussoorie- Panther's Moon, for example, a touchingly written tale about Bisnu, a young lad in a Himalayan village, a few miles away from Mussoorie and how his village is plagued by a perilous panther on the prowl. Another favorite is the hilarious Life with Uncle Ken stories- how Uncle Ken, who seemed to be perpetually unemployed, took a group of American tourists, for a sightseeing trip around Mussoorie (or was it Kempti?) and got them all lost! These magical stories have created wonderful pictures of Mussoorie and the surrounding region in my mind's eye and I would definitely love to visit this place sometime in the future.

4) Kanyakumari. My geography lessons in school drilled it into my head that 'Kanyakumari, also known as Cape Comorin, is the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula'. Also, the fact that the city stands at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. This guy tells me that sunrise and sunset at the confluence is a spectacular scene. Moreover, I have come across a number of slokas and bhajans, in praise of the Goddess at Kanyakumari (indeed the city itself is named after her) and I would like to visit the temple some day.

5) Oman. Since my parents are based in the Emirates, it's quite simple to drive across the border onto Omani soil. A six hour journey from Dubai, across the Hatta border, and you're in Oman! Now that my parents have shifted to Fujairah, in the eastern Emirates, the journey is shortened to three hours. Oman, without doubt, is a beautiful country. Largest among the six Gulf countries in terms of geographical area after Saudi Arabia, the country has many geographic variations- the Hajjar Mountains extends into the northern region, moving south one drives along the Gulf of Oman, followed by vast stretches of the Rub al Khali Desert (also known as the Empty Quarter), and culminating in the craggy Dhofar mountains, flanked by the Indian Ocean, in the southern most region. I have traveled a number of times to Muscat, and fondly remember its beaches, the harbor and the silver souq where Amma and I succumb to our greatest temptation- earrings.

A couple of years ago, my adventurous Appa decided that we (or rather he) would drive the 1000 km distance, across the Empty Quarter, from Muscat to the southern city of Salalah overnight. It was an amazing experience, given that the desert roads were unlit and there was no trace of civilisation whatsoever. Salalah is said to be the town of the Queen of Sheba. Myth has it that the Three Wise Men, who visited the stables when the infant Jesus was born, were also from this region. Salalah, in the khareef season, is said to be a splendid sight. Green wadis in full bloom, lush waterfalls, misty mountains... Unfortunately we visited in the wrong season (middle of December), and yet we were so struck by the wonder of this city. I cannot help but imagine how grand it would be to go there in the khareef.

Apart from Salalah, I would also like to explore Sohar (supposedly the town of Sindbad, the Sailor), the 'turtle town' of Sur and the historic al Hoota caves at Nizwa. As they say in this part of the world, inshallah! Each time we return from Oman, Appa says 'O Man, what a country!'

6) Bhutan. Some story I read donkeys' years ago introduced me to a character known as the Abominable Snowman. This supposedly scary creature is also known as a yeti and is said to be found in Himalayan regions. We were living in Dehra Dun at that time and I think, Appa, tired by my constant badgering about whether the yeti would attack us, said that it could be found only in parts of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Coincidentally, at that point in time, I was fond of eating bread with a brand of marmalade called Druk. Appa patiently explained that Druk referred to the dragon, which is a reference to Bhutan. The interesting-looking dragon on the marmalade label and the yeti got me quickly interested in Bhutan. And then, like it happens to most children, I forgot all about it.

However, a little while ago, I came across a rather curious concept- Gross National Happiness. The term was coined by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the king of Bhutan, who declared that 'Gross National Happiness was more important that Gross National Product'. If this report is to be believed, Bhutan is one of the happiest places on earth. Moreover, it has some of the most amazing, jaw-droppingly spectacular scenes in the whole wide universe. Take a look at Paro Taktsang or the Tigers' Nest Monastery, hanging quite precariously over a cliff. My mouth just falls open (quite literally) every time I see this.


Image courtesy: bhutantour.bt

Mountains? Yes. Dragons? Yes. Mysticism? Yes. Monasteries? Yes. Happiness? YES!
Any other reason not to go there? :D

Post Script:
Namma ooru is a Tamil term which means my town or my village.
Achema is a term I use to call my aunt.
Slokas are traditional chants, invoking the blessings of God.
Bhajans are devotional songs.
Souq is the Arabic word for market.
Khareef is the Arabic term for the monsoon season in July.
Wadi, in Arabic, refers to a ravine or a valley.
Inshallah is a phrase that means God Willing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plump Cake

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man's hat... The lines of this carol have been stuck in my head for quite some time now. Apt indeed, given that the festival is only ten days away. The ubiquitous red Santa hats and plastic green Christmas trees that line the shelves of the supermarkets seem a tad incongruous in this land of sand and sunshine, but I definitely do not deny that they do add to the festive spirit.

And what better way to celebrate the season other than indulging in plump, err I mean Plum Cake! The other day I went to the supermarket with Amma and to our delight we saw a collection of absolutely delectable plum cakes. Christmas has always been synonymous with plum cake at home. Needless to say, we brought home a small cake so as not to hurt our guilty consciences and voila! It was over before you could even say The geese are getting fat.



We will be going back to the supermarket soon... to get a bigger cake this time. The person who said 'Anything good in life is either illegal, imm
oral or fattening' must have been truly erudite.

*Image courtesy
nemausa.wordpress.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Paradox of Our Age

I'm reading William Dalrymple's The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters currently. The title of the book is with reference to the Kali Yuga, which according to ancient scriptures is the darkest of all the ages. As I read the book, I discover interesting aspects about the great nation that India is (but that would be another post altogether)- For instance, I discovered that the four ages or yugas- Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali were named after the four sides of a traditional die. Dalrymple writes 'Each successive age represents a period of increasing moral and social deterioration'. If we were to believe the scriptures, we are currently in the Kali Yuga, rife with strife, corruption, chaos. As I look at the happenings around the world, this certainly doesn't appear false.

A few days ago, I came across The Paradox of Our Age by His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama. It seems to epitomize the current Kali age we live in:

"We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less health;
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet
the new neighbor.
We've built more computers to hold more
information to produce more copies than ever,
but have less communications;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These times are times of fast foods;
but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It is a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room."

Profound. Enough said.

P.S: I thought the holidays would allow me to blog away to my hearts' content. Sadly, I seem to have run out of anything witty/funny/sensible to write about. Hmph. OK, being the 'quotehanger' that I am, I shall end this one with another quote, this time from the legendary Mark Twain- 'Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most'.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seven Wants- The 10 Day 'You' Challenge

It's been nearly a week since I last blogged. So ironical how I would want to blog just a few days before the exams, and now when I'm absolutely free, I seem to have arrived at that annoying phase where you want to write, but are absolutely clueless about what to write on. Then, I suddenly remembered this challenge that I had left uncompleted. In case you're keen to start at the very beginning, you can read Ten Secrets, Nine Loves and Eight Fears. So, here goes!

1) To be successful in my career. Obviously, this is something that each one of us aspires to achieve. However, the answer to what success really is differs from person to person. For example, as a child, I thought that to be successful as a modern, independent woman, focused on her career would mean lots of fashionable clothes, make up and high heels. Then, at high school, I thought that success equaled an enviable academic track record, a place in the highly coveted Prefects' Board or Student Council, and to be part of the debating team that brought back all the laurels. When I did my internship this summer, I considered encouraging words and a show of appreciation for my work from my audit manager to be signs of success. Looking back, these 'definitions' of success are not wrong. However, I have realized that in each case, I considered myself to be successful, if I had simply done my best. There have been times, when I have not been successful (so to speak), but by virtue of simply doing my best, I have already achieved success. In the long run, that's what I want - simply to be able to give everything my very best shot!

2) To teach at a rural school. Sometimes, as I think about how I can really make a difference and give back to society, teaching comes to my mind. Maybe it's because both Amma and Appa began their respective careers with teaching. I would really love to teach at the grass roots level, somewhere back in India, and it would hopefully help bring in some change. (I know this sounds idealistic, but then we all live by dreams!) A couple of years ago, I spent a fortnight teaching at the Isha Vidhya Rural School on the outskirts of Coimbatore. (I blogged about my experience here.) Ever since then, I have always felt an intense desire to go back to Isha Vidhya. God willing, one day I will be able to do so... I cannot wait for that day to come!

3) To write a book. This has been a dream for many many years now. As a child, I used to write silly stories in black ink and pretend that it's been published. I would even sign the book to give it to my imaginary fans! :D

4) To get a dog, with specific preference for a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. It's so true when they say that 'a dog is the only creature on earth that will love you more than it loves itself'. And of course, in the bargain, you get a best friend!

5) To learn how to sing. When I was in primary school, I used to be part of the school choir, and later, I used to sing bhajans at small prayer gatherings. I sometimes regret that I never took singing seriously, and wish that I had pursued it. Now of course, I have lost touch- when I try to sing a favorite bhajan, Appa asks me 'What were you saying just now?' Hmph. I really really want to learn this art some day.

6) To learn Arabic and Mandarin. I spent seven years of my school life in the Middle East, and yet, I've really not learnt Arabic. I spent three years in Bahrain, where it was not necessary to learn Arabic. Then, we shifted to the Emirates where it was compulsory to study the language at school. However, it was very basic Arabic, and once I finished grade 10, my association with the language also ended. Today, although I can read the script, my spoken language remains limited to a few basic phrases and I can hardly understand when it is being spoken. I wish I had adopted a more enthusiastic attitude towards learning the language, back in my Arabic lessons with Arif sir and later, abla Sameera. *sigh* I would also like to learn Mandarin- I'm hoping that staying in Singapore will give me an opportunity for that in the near future!

7) A house in the mountains. Having spent the first few years of my childhood in Ooty, I have this unexplainable love for the mountains- first the Nilgiris in Ooty, then the Himalayan foothills in Dehra Dun, and now the Hajjar Mountains in Fujairah. I often dream of a little house where I can gaze at the mountains, out of the window and write away to my heart's content- much inspiration derived from Ruskin Bond!

It feels great to just put my feet up (quite literally) and read William Dalrymple- and the only question that plagues me (for the time being) is What's for lunch/dinner/tea? :D

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Going Home- A Fibonacci Sonnet

Finally.
Home.
I'm going.
My heart sings.
Thinking about my home's warmth.
The familiar couch where I lie reading books.
Watching the silhouette of the Hajjar Mountains in the distance, always so picturesque.
Trying to stay awake as the Thousand Names of the Goddess are chanted every Friday; sleeping under the pretext of meditation.
Drinking in the wonderful fragrance of incense sticks, the alter adorned with flowers.
Reliving long forgotten episodes of a cherished past.
Postcards, letters, knick-knacks and souvenirs.
Cannot stop smiling.
I'm returning.
Finally.
Home.

Wohoo, it feels good to even say 'I'm going back home!' :D

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Girl Who Slept

There was once a girl who loved to sleep
Each day she slept on for hours, long and deep.
And then suddenly, the exams were drawing near,
She found herself trembling in fear.
She looked at her books and began to weep.

This is my very first attempt at writing a limerick. And the girl in this limerick could well be me, unfortunately. I'm nearly done with my exams, but, still have one more to go, and like one of my friends said, all I can ask anyone who cares to listen is 'Why this kolaveri di?' :P

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gloves

A few years ago, my uncle bought a flat and the rest of the family had gathered for the house warming ceremony. It was a wonderful occasion, filled with laughter and jokes and warm moments. A priest had been invited to conduct the rituals and later, we all gathered in the pooja room for prayers. I tried to ignore the appams and payasam placed at the alter, and focus on bhakti but that was an impossible task. At the end of the prayers (phew, finally!), I thought we could begin attacking, when my valiacha decided that the occasion called for some devotional singing. So, someone offered to chant sing a bhajan. I was relieved at the end (and I'm sure the others were too), and not just because, I could finally get to sample those absolutely delectable appams and numerous other delicacies prepared for the occasion...

But not so fast! The guests had arrived and like any good host, all of us were expected to 'mix and mingle'. At first, I stuck to my cousin clan, but after many a bulb moment, I realized that they were no longer taking notice of what I said or laughing at my jokes, which I agree were mokkai, but then, come on, so were theirs! Anyway, I decided not to sulk and proceeded to 'mix and mingle' as Amma had suggested. It was again a difficult task, given that I had to be careful not to trip over my pattu paavadai and at the same time, pretend to know everybody I met. Almost everybody I met asked me Ormayundo ee mukham? which roughly translates to 'Do you remember this face?' (This was also a popular 'punch dialogue' from a popular Malayalam movie at that time) 'Errr, oh hahaha, yes yes of course I do!' would be my standard answer.

After what seemed like an era, it was time for lunch! Nom nom time! My favorite time! And the food was absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious. The menu was Indo-Chinese. So we had Roti and Paneer Butter Masala; Fried Rice and Cauliflower Manchurian. I thought the latter was representative of real Chinese cuisine till I came to Singapore! It was in one of those epiphanies that I realized how much we have 'Indianized' Chinese cuisine- right from Schezwan Fried Rice with molaga to 'Gopi Manchurian'. Aaah, but I digress. Anyway, that day we also had thayir sadham with aavakai pickle and vanilla ice cream with gulab jamun for dessert. Apart from the yumminess factor of the spread, I noticed the cleanliness factor of the serving team. No wonder these caterers were so famous! The team was decked in crisp starched uniforms, complete with hairnets and plastic gloves. Epitome of professionalism. My my, I was impressed indeed!

Having eaten my fill, I decided to wander around. I caught Appa helping himself to the forbidden ice cream and dutifully reported it to Amma. It was at that moment that I noticed the gentleman serving the food. His hairnet was in place. His plastic gloves used to serve the food were also there. No problems at all. Except he was delicately scratching his ears, with the gloves fully in place! I thought of the Cauliflower Manchurian I had eaten with gusto just a little while ago. Gulp.

Post Script
Appa had visited my blog a few days ago, and he told me that my blog should cater to a wide range of readers. So, in the hope that my blog does get attention all across the globe (a snide inner voice says, Yeah right!), here's a translation of some of the regional words I've used in this post.

Appa and Amma is what I call Dad and Mom respectively.
Bhakti refers to devotion, usually in a spiritual context.
Appams and Payasam are absolutely delicious sweets, mostly prepared for special occasions.
Valiacha is a Malayalam term for Uncle.
A bhajan is a prayer, that takes the form of a song.
A bulb moment is when you get embarrassed or made fun of. I've had plenty of these moments in my life.
Mokkai, in this context, refers to something boring, uninteresting or useless. In other words, a poor joke.
Pattu paavadai is a traditional long skirt (that usually threatens to trip you over) and blouse, made of silk, worn on festivals and special occasions.
Molaga refers to chilly/pepper which is a must have ingredient in Sambhar, but I doubt, if it's the same in Schezwan Fried Rice.
Thayir Sadham in this case refers to its actual meaning- curd rice. However, it could also be used to refer to someone who is boring/uninteresting.
Aavakai is a form of mango that tastes its best in pickles, which in turn taste their best with the above mentioned thayir sadham.

I swear on my pinky finger that the above incident is true.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gunpowder

What does gunpowder remind you of? Dumb question, right? Obviously, it reminds you of guns, explosives and what not. Some might recollect that Gunpowder was the horse that Ichabod Crane, the lanky hero from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, rode when he went to meet his lady love Katrina Van Tassel. (That's another book I'll never tire of reading!)

However, for me, the mere mention of the word 'gunpowder' brings to mind Amma's crispy white dosas and the humble molagapodi. Molagapodi, for the uninitiated, is a spicy powdery mixture of... (err, I really don't know what, any help here?) that tastes absolutely divine with dosa and its steamed version, the idli. You add a dash of oil, mix it with the fiery molagapodi and your taste buds are in for a treat. Come to think of it, gunpowder indeed is a truly apt nickname!

I remember a few months ago, a friend and I went to a restaurant known as Murugan's Idli Kadai (a local favorite, you can ask anyone here) and we just pigged out on dosas, (ok am tired of italicizing this already!) idlies and molagapodi. An uncle was sitting on the other side of the table and he was looking at the molagapodi with a lot of interest. He didn't know what it was and I tried my best to explain it to him- 'It should be eaten with idlies and dosas, with a tinge of oil, and it'll taste really really good!' 'What's it called?’ he asked. 'Gunpowder', I promptly said. You should have seen the look on his face! :D I quickly reaffirmed that it was indeed edible, but I don't think he liked it much. Oh well, if you decide not to like something, nothing can be done about it right?

I remember the countless times Amma would pack this delightful combination in a little dabba for my recess breaks at school. And being the rather stubborn idiot that I am was, I would take it back home, because I was too busy at school. Hmph. Anything to get it back now, neatly packed in a plastic box; a reminder of Amma's love and sacrifice. (That's what she would say each day I took it back without eating- Here I am,waking up at 4 each morning and making things for you- and you say you're too busy to eat! Will a donkey be able to realize the fragrance of camphor?! I agree, the last phrase doesn't sound right- I tried my best to translate :D



Well, what's the point of this rather pointless post? I'm just craving for some dosa and my favorite molagapodi and it looks like I'll have to wait a long time to get it, thanks to my nightmares exams. Fair enough, don't you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nagavalli and Mr Bean

Well, it's been a rather blah day and my blogging this post seems to be the only good aspect of it. Things cannot go the same way all the time, I tell myself. But it's been the same way, every single time! Yes, a student's worst nightmare indeed. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, and I shall not refer to it by its name. I'm weirdly superstitious and I think by calling it what it is, I become jinxed. Stupid, I know.

I originally titled this 'Eight Fears', as part of the 10 Day 'You' Challenge, and then decided it was too mundane. In the unlikely event that you are curious, please read on.

True to the intent of the challenge, I hereby unleash the 'horrors within' me:

1) The aforementioned nightmare. I have anyway polambified to Amma, as usual. More than the event, I'm worried about the aftermath, I think. How it will affect everything. I often imagine that because of this, everything around me collapses like a stack of Dominoes. And the worst thing is, I keep thinking about it. It's like this invisible burden that is always there.

2) The future. Situations like the one described here lead me to worry about the future. Not exactly a fear, but a definite worry. And this leads me to a what-if hypothesis. Which leads me to further gloom.

3) Fear of disappointment. Very cliched, I agree. But it really hurts to disappoint Amma and Appa and numerous others who put their trust and hopes in me. I hope such a situation never comes. :(

4) Fear of spirits. Even today, talking about things like the Ouija Board and the Mohini pisasu* sends shivers down my spine. As a child, my holidays in Kerala, would often involve talks about things like this with my cousins, and I'd always be scared to go to a dark room later. One cousin, in particular, had this habit of yelling Nagavalli's dialogue, just so he could scare the wits out of me. Actually, it's still rather scary!

5) Fear of losing my hair. I know it sounds funny, but it isn't! Every time I run a comb through my not-so-lovely tresses, I see so much hair falling out- I could even make a wig if I begin to collect it, just like how Mammachi in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things did. Oh well, it runs in the genes- Appa already has a shiny patch on the head, of which he is rather proud. A sign of being wise, he says. I think otherwise.

6) Now this is weird, but I sometimes fear not being able to take my lenses off. I have, on numerous occasions, dozed off, having forgotten to take the lenses off, and each time I wake to reality, I see my eyes as red as Nagavalli's. That being said, lenses are really inconvenient sometimes. Every time I'm running late for a class, the lens has a tiny bit of dust and I spend nearly ten minutes, jumping around and trying to wear it. I know, my sense of 'eyegiene' should improve. I'd go for glasses any day...if I weren't so vain.

7) Fear of being alone. Solitude is great, but not loneliness. Subtle line of difference. I'm terrified that one day I'll have nobody to turn to or talk to.

8) Fear of losing loved ones. To death. To dementia. To oblivion. I'm also scared that I lose them, simply by being too busy wrapped up in my own little bubble.

This is indeed a gloomy post. Matched my mood anyway. Now for the Mr Bean part of the post- I came across this and now, I cannot stop laughing! :D Mr Bean FTW!

P.S: Weirdly, I stopped worrying about fear 1, at least for some time. Note to self: Keep calm, and move on, Sruthi, just move on!

*A mohini pisasu is supposed to be a female ghost, often depicted on the silver screen, wearing a white sari. She makes her presence known by wearing anklets that jingle as she goes about searching for a victim.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Karpoora Deepam

I'm going through a horrible, hectic week. Loads of deadlines, tests and presentations and my stress levels are at an all time high. But I suddenly remembered a bhajan that my cousin used to sing, and the words brought a lot of comfort to me. I don't know why, but I feel much happier after listening to it, despite the mountain that looms ahead of me.

Karpoora deepam thozhuthu nilkumbol
Ullathil engo nyaan mohichu
Amme devi, amrita varshini
Karpooram aayirunengil
Nyaan aa karpooram aayirunengil...

Here's a rough translation:
As I prayed before the lamps, filled with burning camphor, I found myself wishing that I was the camphor in the lamp... (Gosh, it is hard to translate!)
I consider the camphor to be a symbol of surrender. It burns itself in the fire and thus completely vanishes. In a similar vein, I shall seek refuge in the Lord and surrender to His Will.
And so, I shall continue my climb. :)

*Image courtesy Google

Sunday, November 6, 2011

True Blue Mallu

I am a true blue mallu Malayalee. I might tend to get defensive when people make fun of the so-called 'mallu' accent, despite the fact that they have one themselves. I remember a time in Grade 9, when I got into a cat fight with someone because she made fun of a friend who referred to the Ganges as Genga during the geography class. To be honest, it was funny and I laughed myself (I still do)- for the first or second time. But come on, after repeating it nearly ten times, it does become rude and annoying. I was a new student at that time and my school was a girls' school, so I practically ruined all my chances of making good friends. Thankfully, as time went by, we forgot about it and things became better between us-we came to a stage where we made fun of each others' accents, but not so much so that it annoys or hurts the other. Personally, I cannot understand why such a big thing is made out of accents- surely, for a person whose first language is not English, a touch of the vernacular is bound to slip in. And the same people declare that they know Tanglish, Hinglish, and all other forms of Inglish (Indian English). If that's okay, what is the problem with accents? Defeats me.

Anyway, apart from accents, another issue that irks me is the fact that a lot of people (not generalizing, but it's happened to me before!) believe that when Malayalees get together they always speak in Malayalam. They say, when two 'mallus' get together, the first thing they ask is "evide naa?" And the rest of the conversation is fully in Malayalam. Oh come on, don't tell me this is not true for any other linguistic group! I'm sure if you happen to be from our neighboring state and you insist on carrying the conversation in English, you might well be classified under one of those peter types. Don't tell me you talk strictly in English when you get together, because that is not true.

Another oft repeated way to identify 'mallus', it seems, is just to ask a person whether he/she is from India. 99% of the time, the person is bound to say, 'No, I'm from Kerala!' Now, this is funny just because of the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing. Whoever came up with it?!

And the Gelf connection. It's not like each and every one of us has an ungil there, although if I were to quote Shashi Tharoor (who is yet another Malayalee :P), the Kingdom of Bahrain, at one point in time, had more Malayalees than Bahrainis! (I'd know, I spent three years on the island.)

On a more serious note, if you happen to travel in and around the remotest corners of a GCC country, you are very very likely to find a Malayalee there. Heard of an Omani town called Liwa? It's a small, dusty town north of Sohar, home to the legendary Sindbad. While we were traveling from Muscat, back to Fujairah, we stopped at a shop in this remote town- surprise! It was owned by another ubiquitous Malayalee. In fact, we even had pazham pori and kattan chaya there. And it was indeed interesting to watch two Omani gentlemen, in their flowing white dishdashas and dashing turbans, attack a plate of Kerala Porotta and Beef Ularthiyathu.

Okay, now let me clarify things- This was not meant to be a post glorifying Malayalees as a group, nor am I a person who believes that my language and culture is superior to that of others. I consider myself to be a global citizen, but at the same time, I am a true blue Mallu. The two terms are not mutually exclusive. So, why am I a true blue mallu?

1) I love puttu, kadala and nendram pazham. Also appam and stew.
2) I would prefer to watch Lal ettan's movies any day over Thalaivar (ooh, blasphemy!) or for that matter, Amitabh Bechen, sorry Bachchan.
3)
I will watch Idea Star Singer on Asianet, no matter, however irritating the show gets.
4) I will also watch the Cinemala parody of the same and laugh my head off at the anchor who says, 'Welcome to No Idea Star Singer!'
5) I have, at least once, considered the possibility of opening a chaayakkada. (Don't worry Amma, just a passing cloud. I hope.)
6) I don't discuss viplavam, but sometimes the idea excites me, and sometimes I like to pretend I am one amongst the comrades. (Blame Lal Salam!)
7) Kerala and West Bengal are supposed to be those so-called 'intellectual' states, mainly due to the red fervor- I like to pretend that I am a budding buji* novelist. You know, those nerdish glasses (I already have those), long kurtas, swinging jhola bag types.
8) Even though my own Malayalam is kind of funny at best, and atrocious at worst, I will laugh at the Malayalam spoken by the malayalam korcha korcha ariyaam wannabe kochammas.

Hmm, that's enough, don't you think, to qualify me as a true blue mallu? Like most Malayalees, I do enjoy jokes cracked at us (we crack them ourselves sometimes!), as long as they are not used tauntingly or mockingly. So I'll end this post with one of my favorite so-called mallu jokes.

Why did the Malayalee go to Rome? No, the answer is NOT 'simbly'.
He went to Rome to listen to Pop(e) music!! Got it? :D

*buji is short for buddhi jeevi . Could mean bookworm or pseudo intellectual. Guess I fall under the latter category!

Disclaimer: This is just a paavam girl's idea of having fun- a few minutes of laughter when caught in the dreary process of studying for exams. Any offense caused to anybody is unintended and regretted.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year Gone By

I feel as if 2011 has just whizzed by. It only seems like yesterday that I was praying on New Year's Day, and here I am, ready to welcome yet another new year. I have read a number of blog posts about the past year, the most recent being Sumitra's and I thought it was a great idea. So here's a list of my cherished memories from the year that just went by.

January
I had come back home for the semester break, and my parents and I traveled to Muscat for the New Year. I remember I had just finished reading William Dalrymple's Nine Lives and my last blog post for 2010 was a review on the same. My new year resolution was to stop eating chocolates and ice cream (what was I even thinking!), and I determinedly refused the ice cream cake that we bought to celebrate my uncle's wedding anniversary, which was just a few days after New Year. A week later, I returned to Singapore, and fell into the routine of yet another rigorous semester.

February
My nineteenth birthday coincided with the Chinese New Year, so I was lucky enough to get a holiday- went shopping and had dinner out with a few friends. I don't seem to recollect anything else, apart from updating my resume and sending applications for my summer internship. Oh yes, I had a tough midterm and was pleased to find out that I hadn't done too badly as I thought.

March
This was one hectic month. I attended my first ever corporate interview in Singapore. I remember being extremely nervous and slightly overwhelmed. A few days later, I received an email stating that my summer internship had been confirmed. I was over the moon! In late March, my guru, Ammachi, had arrived in Singapore, and I went for darshan. As usual, it was a deeply moving experience and I felt blessed to simply be there at that time. Loads of projects and deadlines; I spent hours on group meetings, every Tuesday for an audit project and every Sunday for a tax project.

April
The month of exams. Nothing else to write about.

May
The exams were finally done, and I got a two week holiday. I came back home for a week, and we went shopping (as usual!). My cousin was getting married, and I was determined to get a sari for the occasion. After hours spent at the shop, contemplating which was the best of the lot, we finally zeroed in (to Appa's great relief) on a grey sari with a deep red border and another sparkly pink one. A week later, we traveled to India for the wedding. I met all my cousins together after years, and needless to say, we had a great time. I read Subroto Bagchi's Go, Kiss the World in a record three days' time. Before I knew it, the two weeks came to a close, and I had to return to Lah Lah Land for my internship.

June
The month sped really quickly, considering the fact that I kept myself incredibly busy, thanks to the internship. In fact, I don't think I really missed home during this phase. Most weekdays, I would be at the office in Shenton Way, or would be assigned to a client's office. I was allotted to one audit client for the entire duration of my internship, and juggled between Shenton Way and Hillview for most of the time. I got to meet a lot of people, and made new friends. I will always cherish the lunches I shared with my fellow interns at Lau Pa Sat, the busy food court in the middle of Singapore's major business hub, or at the ever bustling Amoy Street. Towards the end of June, we had an office picnic at Sentosa Island- I spent the entire afternoon with my intern friends, soaking in the sunshine and the warm waters of the beach; another beautiful experience that I continue to cherish. On weekends, I visited my cousin and began attending Sunday morning prayers. (satsang)

July
I began to make earnest visits to the NUS Library. Prior to the internship, my visits there had been sporadic, given that I always brought back a few of my own books from home, and didn't quite have the time to read during the semester. I began reading regularly again, during the bus trips, to and from office, and also after I came back from a busy day at work. I devoured quite a few books, but I liked Christina Lamb's The Sewing Circles of Herat and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus the best. I also read Simone Lazaroo's The Travel Writer- through this book I came to learn more about the Eurasian community in Singapore and Malaysia and found it quite interesting...Before I knew it, my ten week long internship came to an end. I had learnt a lot during these few weeks, and was feeling almost wistful on the last day.

August
Appa and Amma came to Singapore for a week, just before the new semester began. I spent more time with my two year old niece and we all had a whale of a time. My parents helped me change hostels, and I was a wee bit homesick after they left. And that was the start of my third year at NUS. I had six modules to deal with- five core modules, and a sixth writing module, as well as CCA commitments.

September and October
Busy months. ALL my modules were demanding, to say the least. Whilst the accounting modules were indeed tough, they all had group projects and it was through these projects that I got to make a lot of new friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my writing module- it dealt with Slang in Society and I came to discover many aspects of Singlish slang. One of the module requirements involved choosing a Singlish slang term, and writing a paper on its etymology, usage and how it has come to fit as slang. I remember coming across a lot of terms for the first time- terms such as Ya ya papaya (which refers to a pompous person; a show off), blur sotong (which is used for a person who is often lost) and shiok (which is a term used to denote a state of pleasure). I also began blogging and reading other blogs on a more regular basis.

November
Exams. Sigh.
Nothing more to talk about, apart from the fact that I got my first paper published! :)

December
End of semester and now, I'm back home! I started reading William Dalrymple again, first with The Age of Kali and right now, From the Holy Mountain. Currently, I'm also busy indulging in a lot of yummy food that only Amma can make, and watching Malayalam movies on TV after a long time. I began another audit internship the day before yesterday, this time in Dubai, and I'm looking forward to learning more in the New Year, before I go back to college in the end of January.

As I reflect on the past year, I realize that I have met a lot of people. Some were very nice and friendly, a few were unreasonably rude- I have learnt to take it all in my stride. I am comforted by the thought that I did my best in everything that I undertook, and that's what matters at the end of the day.

Thank you, Lord, for all Your infinite mercies. May Your Grace take us through 2012 and the rest of the years to come by. Happy New Year! :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Buttercups and Butterflies

I just finished reading Ruskin Bond's Roads to Mussoorie. The book, covering numerous anecdotes from the writer's life, in and around Mussoorie and other places in the Garhwal Himalayas, is wonderfully written, peppered with humor and seasoned with sarcasm. One cannot expect anything less from a writer like Ruskin Bond. Reading Roads to Mussoorie brought back a stream of old memories- as a fifth grader, I would spend the winter afternoons in Dehra Dun, reading Ruskin Bond on the lawns, under the mild warm winter sunshine. This book is a gem, classic vintage Bond.

It begins with a 'Backward' instead of a 'Foreword' and ends with a 'Forward' instead of an epilogue. Beginning with a backward, Bond reasons, is because the book looks at the past. And it ends with a 'Forward', because 'forward we must march, whatever our age or declining physical prowess. Life has always got something new to offer.'

What struck me the most, as I read the book, was Bond's humility. He writes about traveling to Delhi in shared taxis, how he prefers to live in a 'tiny bedroom-cum-study' and long treks in the Siwaliks and Garhwal Himalayas. He also describes sacred shrines in these mountain regions, such as Nandprayag, where the Alakananda and Mandakini rivers meet, and the shrine of Tunganath- so vividly described, you can almost visualize it in your mind's eye!

The book has a chapter that is entirely devoted to hill-station ghosts. Even while describing the sinister Bhoot Aunty, a woman in white, who has come to be Mussoorie's resident ghost, Bond ends on a humorous note- he draws comparisons with Britain and Romania, where haunted homes and Dracula's castle attract numerous tourists, and suggests that Bhoot Aunty could also be promoted as a tourist attraction for Mussoorie, provided she stops sending vehicles off the hairpin bends that lead to the town!

In another chapter about hill towns, Bond tells us the story of how potatoes came to India. Captain Young was an officer in the British army in the early nineteenth century, between the Gurkha War and the Mutiny. Being an Irishman who was fond of his stew, he was disheartened to find no potatoes in the region and so, decided to grow them on his own. And that was how, the humble potato, hitherto unknown in Indian cooking, came to be a part of Indian cuisine. As Bond wittily writes:
For aloo-mutter and aloo-dhum,
Our heartfelt thanks to Captain Young!

The book sparkles with other anecdotes that are bound to make you smile. Ruskin Bond simply weaves magic into his writing- I couldn't describe it better! I found a part of the 'forward' (or rather, the epilogue) very inspiring and hence, thought of sharing it here- I have never been a fast walker, or a conqueror of mountain peaks, but I can plod along for miles. And that's what I've been doing all my life-plodding along, singing along, telling my tales in my own unhurried way. I have lived life at my own gentle pace, and if as a result I have failed to get to the top of the mountain (or of anything else), it doesn't matter, the long walk has brought its own sweet rewards; buttercups and butterflies along the way.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Day at School

Tony yawned as he made his way to the seventh grade classroom. Another boring day at school. He would have given anything to skip his lessons. Anything to escape from the drudgery of memorizing the dates of long forgotten wars, complex algebraic formulae, verses by Wordsworth and Shelley, the source and destination of each river in India... Tony just couldn't get the point. Wars had been fought centuries ago- what was the point in learning about it now? He didn't understand any of those verses by Wordsworth and Shelley anyway- what was the point in memorizing, or as his teacher put it 'learning by heart' those old poems? Learn by heart the first two stanzas of the poem 'Daffodils', that was his homework. It just didn't make any sense in twelve year old Tony's mind.

The worst of the lot was math. He just hated it. He loathed it with such passion that even Harry Potter's hatred for Dolores Umbridge would seem tame compared to it. Now before you jump to any conclusions by donning your judgmental caps, it wasn't that Tony was stupid or slow to learn. In fact, our Tony was a very intelligent boy. He just felt trapped in a vicious cycle. Economists talk about the cycle of wages and prices. As wages increase, disposable income levels increase and thus the demand for products increases. So the prices for goods also increase. Rising prices cause a demand for higher wages which leads to further higher prices. So you see, it's a cycle which seemingly has no end. If economists talk about this wage-price spiral, Tony talks about the exam spiral. Exams chase marks, marks lead to comparison with peers which leads to unhappiness which in turn leads to a loss of interest in the subjects. Needless to say that brings Tony back to exams and the vicious cycle never seems to end. His elder brother once told him that this ruthless spiral doesn't stop even at university.

Yes, so that was the real reason why Tony hated his lessons. Math, his most hated subject, was taught by the fierce Sister Agnes in whose lessons even the naughtiest students would maintain 'pin-drop' silence.Tony decided that he would try his best to skip the math lesson that day. An idea dawned upon him. It seemed to him like the first star that appears on a gloomy dark sky- it brought him that much happiness, the fact that he could actually miss the lesson! He could go to the library and read all he wanted, or even better, he could just pretend to be sick and go lie down in the 'sick room'.

As soon as Sister Agnes walked in, he went up to her and said. 'Sister, the Prize Day practice is going on. I'm a part of the play and I've been asked to go now for rehearsal'. This was not really untrue. Tony was a part of the play indeed. He had a minuscule role and his only dialogue in the whole one hour drama consisted of just one line-'Make way for His Majesty the King!' That didn't stop Tony's enthusiasm for attending the practice sessions. Sister Agnes looked like she believed him, and was about to let him off (a feat by itself!), when the villain entered the scene. Tony's arch rival, John, immediately said 'But only the main characters for the drama are required to go!' He asked Tony, a glint of malice in his eye, 'You only have one dialogue, no? I don't think you are required there!' With that, Sister Agnes twisted Tony's ear, and sent him back to his seat, after she had given him a earful for trying to bunk her class.

Tony stared at the window. Clouds had begun to gather over a gloomy sky. He sighed as he thought of his failed plan. The rain began to fall onto the window pane. Pitter patter, pitter patter, the drops hit the glass of the window as the skies lit up with a stroke of lightening. This was going to be another boring school day. Sister Agnes was explaining some algebraic formula- A plus B the whole square or something of that sort. Tony couldn't follow the logic- when did they start using alphabets, in math of all things?

*******
The bell finally rang. Sister Agnes sighed as the class of relieved students made their way out. Of all the students, Tony worried her the most. It wasn't that the boy was stupid, he just didn't want to learn. That attitude, reasoned the passionate teacher in her, along with laziness, was the culprit. It had to be corrected. She noticed something on Tony's desk. She bent closer to look at it and found a rough sketch, in black ink on the desk- a gravestone, complete with an R.I.P sign that read In memory of those who died, waiting for the bell to ring.

Post Script:
Appa, as a teacher, had the same experience. A bored student had drawn a gravestone on his desk with the exact words, and needless to say, Appa hasn't forgotten it till date. :D

Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Places- The 10-Day 'You' Challenge

I started this challenge a long while ago, and I am STILL not even half way there yet. I just promised myself that I will complete this by the end of the month (and the year.) This list is all about six places that I never get tired of visiting, or those that I crave to visit someday.

1) Coimbatore. I've never lived here in the actual sense, except for holidays when I visit my aunt. But I've always considered it to be namma ooru and it is definitely home for me- maybe because my parents and I have been going there for the holidays ever since I can remember. I can never get tired of this city. Visiting the Murugan temple on top of the Marudamalai Hill, shopping around RS Puram, the beauty of the surrounding Velliangiri Mountains, the spectacular drive around the Anaikatti Hills, the numerous 'gossip' sessions with my dearest achema... these are certain memories that I continue to cherish. Here's my favorite photograph of Coimbatore. This was taken two years ago, when I was volunteering at a rural school, on the outskirts of the city. It never ceases to make me smile- Reminds me that life can be a bed of marigolds, if only we looked at it from the sunny side!



2) Avalanche. Many people are not aware of this paradise, a few miles outside Ooty, hidden deep in the blue Nilgiri Hills. Google tells me that the place derived its name from a mud avalanche that rocked the area in the early nineteenth century. Do not let the name alarm you- the scenic tranquil landscape is a sharp contrast to the turbulent images that the word 'avalanche' often brings to mind. I had the fortune of visiting this awesome spot twice- what's more I was lucky enough to camp here! Canoeing at Lake Avalanche, pitching tents in the middle of the woods beside the lake, the heady scent of eucalyptus trees in the air, sharing stories at dinner over a bonfire, gazing at the twinkling stars in a sky, pristine and unpolluted by the glares of city lights... I could go on. I would give anything to go here again. Enough said. I tried googling images for Avalanche and found one that I could instantly recognize from some long cherished memory of my childhood. Here it is!


Image courtesy: deals4travels.blogspot.com

3) Mussoorie. I grew up reading Ruskin Bond. And the mountains never cease to amaze me. So it's little surprise that Mussoorie, at the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayas, is on this list. Each time I pick up my copy of the Childrens' Omnibus by Ruskin Bond (which is quite often when I'm back home), I somehow or the other come across a story that has a reference to Mussoorie- Panther's Moon, for example, a touchingly written tale about Bisnu, a young lad in a Himalayan village, a few miles away from Mussoorie and how his village is plagued by a perilous panther on the prowl. Another favorite is the hilarious Life with Uncle Ken stories- how Uncle Ken, who seemed to be perpetually unemployed, took a group of American tourists, for a sightseeing trip around Mussoorie (or was it Kempti?) and got them all lost! These magical stories have created wonderful pictures of Mussoorie and the surrounding region in my mind's eye and I would definitely love to visit this place sometime in the future.

4) Kanyakumari. My geography lessons in school drilled it into my head that 'Kanyakumari, also known as Cape Comorin, is the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula'. Also, the fact that the city stands at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. This guy tells me that sunrise and sunset at the confluence is a spectacular scene. Moreover, I have come across a number of slokas and bhajans, in praise of the Goddess at Kanyakumari (indeed the city itself is named after her) and I would like to visit the temple some day.

5) Oman. Since my parents are based in the Emirates, it's quite simple to drive across the border onto Omani soil. A six hour journey from Dubai, across the Hatta border, and you're in Oman! Now that my parents have shifted to Fujairah, in the eastern Emirates, the journey is shortened to three hours. Oman, without doubt, is a beautiful country. Largest among the six Gulf countries in terms of geographical area after Saudi Arabia, the country has many geographic variations- the Hajjar Mountains extends into the northern region, moving south one drives along the Gulf of Oman, followed by vast stretches of the Rub al Khali Desert (also known as the Empty Quarter), and culminating in the craggy Dhofar mountains, flanked by the Indian Ocean, in the southern most region. I have traveled a number of times to Muscat, and fondly remember its beaches, the harbor and the silver souq where Amma and I succumb to our greatest temptation- earrings.

A couple of years ago, my adventurous Appa decided that we (or rather he) would drive the 1000 km distance, across the Empty Quarter, from Muscat to the southern city of Salalah overnight. It was an amazing experience, given that the desert roads were unlit and there was no trace of civilisation whatsoever. Salalah is said to be the town of the Queen of Sheba. Myth has it that the Three Wise Men, who visited the stables when the infant Jesus was born, were also from this region. Salalah, in the khareef season, is said to be a splendid sight. Green wadis in full bloom, lush waterfalls, misty mountains... Unfortunately we visited in the wrong season (middle of December), and yet we were so struck by the wonder of this city. I cannot help but imagine how grand it would be to go there in the khareef.

Apart from Salalah, I would also like to explore Sohar (supposedly the town of Sindbad, the Sailor), the 'turtle town' of Sur and the historic al Hoota caves at Nizwa. As they say in this part of the world, inshallah! Each time we return from Oman, Appa says 'O Man, what a country!'

6) Bhutan. Some story I read donkeys' years ago introduced me to a character known as the Abominable Snowman. This supposedly scary creature is also known as a yeti and is said to be found in Himalayan regions. We were living in Dehra Dun at that time and I think, Appa, tired by my constant badgering about whether the yeti would attack us, said that it could be found only in parts of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Coincidentally, at that point in time, I was fond of eating bread with a brand of marmalade called Druk. Appa patiently explained that Druk referred to the dragon, which is a reference to Bhutan. The interesting-looking dragon on the marmalade label and the yeti got me quickly interested in Bhutan. And then, like it happens to most children, I forgot all about it.

However, a little while ago, I came across a rather curious concept- Gross National Happiness. The term was coined by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the king of Bhutan, who declared that 'Gross National Happiness was more important that Gross National Product'. If this report is to be believed, Bhutan is one of the happiest places on earth. Moreover, it has some of the most amazing, jaw-droppingly spectacular scenes in the whole wide universe. Take a look at Paro Taktsang or the Tigers' Nest Monastery, hanging quite precariously over a cliff. My mouth just falls open (quite literally) every time I see this.


Image courtesy: bhutantour.bt

Mountains? Yes. Dragons? Yes. Mysticism? Yes. Monasteries? Yes. Happiness? YES!
Any other reason not to go there? :D

Post Script:
Namma ooru is a Tamil term which means my town or my village.
Achema is a term I use to call my aunt.
Slokas are traditional chants, invoking the blessings of God.
Bhajans are devotional songs.
Souq is the Arabic word for market.
Khareef is the Arabic term for the monsoon season in July.
Wadi, in Arabic, refers to a ravine or a valley.
Inshallah is a phrase that means God Willing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plump Cake

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man's hat... The lines of this carol have been stuck in my head for quite some time now. Apt indeed, given that the festival is only ten days away. The ubiquitous red Santa hats and plastic green Christmas trees that line the shelves of the supermarkets seem a tad incongruous in this land of sand and sunshine, but I definitely do not deny that they do add to the festive spirit.

And what better way to celebrate the season other than indulging in plump, err I mean Plum Cake! The other day I went to the supermarket with Amma and to our delight we saw a collection of absolutely delectable plum cakes. Christmas has always been synonymous with plum cake at home. Needless to say, we brought home a small cake so as not to hurt our guilty consciences and voila! It was over before you could even say The geese are getting fat.



We will be going back to the supermarket soon... to get a bigger cake this time. The person who said 'Anything good in life is either illegal, imm
oral or fattening' must have been truly erudite.

*Image courtesy
nemausa.wordpress.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Paradox of Our Age

I'm reading William Dalrymple's The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters currently. The title of the book is with reference to the Kali Yuga, which according to ancient scriptures is the darkest of all the ages. As I read the book, I discover interesting aspects about the great nation that India is (but that would be another post altogether)- For instance, I discovered that the four ages or yugas- Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali were named after the four sides of a traditional die. Dalrymple writes 'Each successive age represents a period of increasing moral and social deterioration'. If we were to believe the scriptures, we are currently in the Kali Yuga, rife with strife, corruption, chaos. As I look at the happenings around the world, this certainly doesn't appear false.

A few days ago, I came across The Paradox of Our Age by His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama. It seems to epitomize the current Kali age we live in:

"We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less health;
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet
the new neighbor.
We've built more computers to hold more
information to produce more copies than ever,
but have less communications;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These times are times of fast foods;
but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It is a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room."

Profound. Enough said.

P.S: I thought the holidays would allow me to blog away to my hearts' content. Sadly, I seem to have run out of anything witty/funny/sensible to write about. Hmph. OK, being the 'quotehanger' that I am, I shall end this one with another quote, this time from the legendary Mark Twain- 'Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most'.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seven Wants- The 10 Day 'You' Challenge

It's been nearly a week since I last blogged. So ironical how I would want to blog just a few days before the exams, and now when I'm absolutely free, I seem to have arrived at that annoying phase where you want to write, but are absolutely clueless about what to write on. Then, I suddenly remembered this challenge that I had left uncompleted. In case you're keen to start at the very beginning, you can read Ten Secrets, Nine Loves and Eight Fears. So, here goes!

1) To be successful in my career. Obviously, this is something that each one of us aspires to achieve. However, the answer to what success really is differs from person to person. For example, as a child, I thought that to be successful as a modern, independent woman, focused on her career would mean lots of fashionable clothes, make up and high heels. Then, at high school, I thought that success equaled an enviable academic track record, a place in the highly coveted Prefects' Board or Student Council, and to be part of the debating team that brought back all the laurels. When I did my internship this summer, I considered encouraging words and a show of appreciation for my work from my audit manager to be signs of success. Looking back, these 'definitions' of success are not wrong. However, I have realized that in each case, I considered myself to be successful, if I had simply done my best. There have been times, when I have not been successful (so to speak), but by virtue of simply doing my best, I have already achieved success. In the long run, that's what I want - simply to be able to give everything my very best shot!

2) To teach at a rural school. Sometimes, as I think about how I can really make a difference and give back to society, teaching comes to my mind. Maybe it's because both Amma and Appa began their respective careers with teaching. I would really love to teach at the grass roots level, somewhere back in India, and it would hopefully help bring in some change. (I know this sounds idealistic, but then we all live by dreams!) A couple of years ago, I spent a fortnight teaching at the Isha Vidhya Rural School on the outskirts of Coimbatore. (I blogged about my experience here.) Ever since then, I have always felt an intense desire to go back to Isha Vidhya. God willing, one day I will be able to do so... I cannot wait for that day to come!

3) To write a book. This has been a dream for many many years now. As a child, I used to write silly stories in black ink and pretend that it's been published. I would even sign the book to give it to my imaginary fans! :D

4) To get a dog, with specific preference for a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. It's so true when they say that 'a dog is the only creature on earth that will love you more than it loves itself'. And of course, in the bargain, you get a best friend!

5) To learn how to sing. When I was in primary school, I used to be part of the school choir, and later, I used to sing bhajans at small prayer gatherings. I sometimes regret that I never took singing seriously, and wish that I had pursued it. Now of course, I have lost touch- when I try to sing a favorite bhajan, Appa asks me 'What were you saying just now?' Hmph. I really really want to learn this art some day.

6) To learn Arabic and Mandarin. I spent seven years of my school life in the Middle East, and yet, I've really not learnt Arabic. I spent three years in Bahrain, where it was not necessary to learn Arabic. Then, we shifted to the Emirates where it was compulsory to study the language at school. However, it was very basic Arabic, and once I finished grade 10, my association with the language also ended. Today, although I can read the script, my spoken language remains limited to a few basic phrases and I can hardly understand when it is being spoken. I wish I had adopted a more enthusiastic attitude towards learning the language, back in my Arabic lessons with Arif sir and later, abla Sameera. *sigh* I would also like to learn Mandarin- I'm hoping that staying in Singapore will give me an opportunity for that in the near future!

7) A house in the mountains. Having spent the first few years of my childhood in Ooty, I have this unexplainable love for the mountains- first the Nilgiris in Ooty, then the Himalayan foothills in Dehra Dun, and now the Hajjar Mountains in Fujairah. I often dream of a little house where I can gaze at the mountains, out of the window and write away to my heart's content- much inspiration derived from Ruskin Bond!

It feels great to just put my feet up (quite literally) and read William Dalrymple- and the only question that plagues me (for the time being) is What's for lunch/dinner/tea? :D

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Going Home- A Fibonacci Sonnet

Finally.
Home.
I'm going.
My heart sings.
Thinking about my home's warmth.
The familiar couch where I lie reading books.
Watching the silhouette of the Hajjar Mountains in the distance, always so picturesque.
Trying to stay awake as the Thousand Names of the Goddess are chanted every Friday; sleeping under the pretext of meditation.
Drinking in the wonderful fragrance of incense sticks, the alter adorned with flowers.
Reliving long forgotten episodes of a cherished past.
Postcards, letters, knick-knacks and souvenirs.
Cannot stop smiling.
I'm returning.
Finally.
Home.

Wohoo, it feels good to even say 'I'm going back home!' :D

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Girl Who Slept

There was once a girl who loved to sleep
Each day she slept on for hours, long and deep.
And then suddenly, the exams were drawing near,
She found herself trembling in fear.
She looked at her books and began to weep.

This is my very first attempt at writing a limerick. And the girl in this limerick could well be me, unfortunately. I'm nearly done with my exams, but, still have one more to go, and like one of my friends said, all I can ask anyone who cares to listen is 'Why this kolaveri di?' :P

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gloves

A few years ago, my uncle bought a flat and the rest of the family had gathered for the house warming ceremony. It was a wonderful occasion, filled with laughter and jokes and warm moments. A priest had been invited to conduct the rituals and later, we all gathered in the pooja room for prayers. I tried to ignore the appams and payasam placed at the alter, and focus on bhakti but that was an impossible task. At the end of the prayers (phew, finally!), I thought we could begin attacking, when my valiacha decided that the occasion called for some devotional singing. So, someone offered to chant sing a bhajan. I was relieved at the end (and I'm sure the others were too), and not just because, I could finally get to sample those absolutely delectable appams and numerous other delicacies prepared for the occasion...

But not so fast! The guests had arrived and like any good host, all of us were expected to 'mix and mingle'. At first, I stuck to my cousin clan, but after many a bulb moment, I realized that they were no longer taking notice of what I said or laughing at my jokes, which I agree were mokkai, but then, come on, so were theirs! Anyway, I decided not to sulk and proceeded to 'mix and mingle' as Amma had suggested. It was again a difficult task, given that I had to be careful not to trip over my pattu paavadai and at the same time, pretend to know everybody I met. Almost everybody I met asked me Ormayundo ee mukham? which roughly translates to 'Do you remember this face?' (This was also a popular 'punch dialogue' from a popular Malayalam movie at that time) 'Errr, oh hahaha, yes yes of course I do!' would be my standard answer.

After what seemed like an era, it was time for lunch! Nom nom time! My favorite time! And the food was absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious. The menu was Indo-Chinese. So we had Roti and Paneer Butter Masala; Fried Rice and Cauliflower Manchurian. I thought the latter was representative of real Chinese cuisine till I came to Singapore! It was in one of those epiphanies that I realized how much we have 'Indianized' Chinese cuisine- right from Schezwan Fried Rice with molaga to 'Gopi Manchurian'. Aaah, but I digress. Anyway, that day we also had thayir sadham with aavakai pickle and vanilla ice cream with gulab jamun for dessert. Apart from the yumminess factor of the spread, I noticed the cleanliness factor of the serving team. No wonder these caterers were so famous! The team was decked in crisp starched uniforms, complete with hairnets and plastic gloves. Epitome of professionalism. My my, I was impressed indeed!

Having eaten my fill, I decided to wander around. I caught Appa helping himself to the forbidden ice cream and dutifully reported it to Amma. It was at that moment that I noticed the gentleman serving the food. His hairnet was in place. His plastic gloves used to serve the food were also there. No problems at all. Except he was delicately scratching his ears, with the gloves fully in place! I thought of the Cauliflower Manchurian I had eaten with gusto just a little while ago. Gulp.

Post Script
Appa had visited my blog a few days ago, and he told me that my blog should cater to a wide range of readers. So, in the hope that my blog does get attention all across the globe (a snide inner voice says, Yeah right!), here's a translation of some of the regional words I've used in this post.

Appa and Amma is what I call Dad and Mom respectively.
Bhakti refers to devotion, usually in a spiritual context.
Appams and Payasam are absolutely delicious sweets, mostly prepared for special occasions.
Valiacha is a Malayalam term for Uncle.
A bhajan is a prayer, that takes the form of a song.
A bulb moment is when you get embarrassed or made fun of. I've had plenty of these moments in my life.
Mokkai, in this context, refers to something boring, uninteresting or useless. In other words, a poor joke.
Pattu paavadai is a traditional long skirt (that usually threatens to trip you over) and blouse, made of silk, worn on festivals and special occasions.
Molaga refers to chilly/pepper which is a must have ingredient in Sambhar, but I doubt, if it's the same in Schezwan Fried Rice.
Thayir Sadham in this case refers to its actual meaning- curd rice. However, it could also be used to refer to someone who is boring/uninteresting.
Aavakai is a form of mango that tastes its best in pickles, which in turn taste their best with the above mentioned thayir sadham.

I swear on my pinky finger that the above incident is true.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gunpowder

What does gunpowder remind you of? Dumb question, right? Obviously, it reminds you of guns, explosives and what not. Some might recollect that Gunpowder was the horse that Ichabod Crane, the lanky hero from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, rode when he went to meet his lady love Katrina Van Tassel. (That's another book I'll never tire of reading!)

However, for me, the mere mention of the word 'gunpowder' brings to mind Amma's crispy white dosas and the humble molagapodi. Molagapodi, for the uninitiated, is a spicy powdery mixture of... (err, I really don't know what, any help here?) that tastes absolutely divine with dosa and its steamed version, the idli. You add a dash of oil, mix it with the fiery molagapodi and your taste buds are in for a treat. Come to think of it, gunpowder indeed is a truly apt nickname!

I remember a few months ago, a friend and I went to a restaurant known as Murugan's Idli Kadai (a local favorite, you can ask anyone here) and we just pigged out on dosas, (ok am tired of italicizing this already!) idlies and molagapodi. An uncle was sitting on the other side of the table and he was looking at the molagapodi with a lot of interest. He didn't know what it was and I tried my best to explain it to him- 'It should be eaten with idlies and dosas, with a tinge of oil, and it'll taste really really good!' 'What's it called?’ he asked. 'Gunpowder', I promptly said. You should have seen the look on his face! :D I quickly reaffirmed that it was indeed edible, but I don't think he liked it much. Oh well, if you decide not to like something, nothing can be done about it right?

I remember the countless times Amma would pack this delightful combination in a little dabba for my recess breaks at school. And being the rather stubborn idiot that I am was, I would take it back home, because I was too busy at school. Hmph. Anything to get it back now, neatly packed in a plastic box; a reminder of Amma's love and sacrifice. (That's what she would say each day I took it back without eating- Here I am,waking up at 4 each morning and making things for you- and you say you're too busy to eat! Will a donkey be able to realize the fragrance of camphor?! I agree, the last phrase doesn't sound right- I tried my best to translate :D



Well, what's the point of this rather pointless post? I'm just craving for some dosa and my favorite molagapodi and it looks like I'll have to wait a long time to get it, thanks to my nightmares exams. Fair enough, don't you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nagavalli and Mr Bean

Well, it's been a rather blah day and my blogging this post seems to be the only good aspect of it. Things cannot go the same way all the time, I tell myself. But it's been the same way, every single time! Yes, a student's worst nightmare indeed. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, and I shall not refer to it by its name. I'm weirdly superstitious and I think by calling it what it is, I become jinxed. Stupid, I know.

I originally titled this 'Eight Fears', as part of the 10 Day 'You' Challenge, and then decided it was too mundane. In the unlikely event that you are curious, please read on.

True to the intent of the challenge, I hereby unleash the 'horrors within' me:

1) The aforementioned nightmare. I have anyway polambified to Amma, as usual. More than the event, I'm worried about the aftermath, I think. How it will affect everything. I often imagine that because of this, everything around me collapses like a stack of Dominoes. And the worst thing is, I keep thinking about it. It's like this invisible burden that is always there.

2) The future. Situations like the one described here lead me to worry about the future. Not exactly a fear, but a definite worry. And this leads me to a what-if hypothesis. Which leads me to further gloom.

3) Fear of disappointment. Very cliched, I agree. But it really hurts to disappoint Amma and Appa and numerous others who put their trust and hopes in me. I hope such a situation never comes. :(

4) Fear of spirits. Even today, talking about things like the Ouija Board and the Mohini pisasu* sends shivers down my spine. As a child, my holidays in Kerala, would often involve talks about things like this with my cousins, and I'd always be scared to go to a dark room later. One cousin, in particular, had this habit of yelling Nagavalli's dialogue, just so he could scare the wits out of me. Actually, it's still rather scary!

5) Fear of losing my hair. I know it sounds funny, but it isn't! Every time I run a comb through my not-so-lovely tresses, I see so much hair falling out- I could even make a wig if I begin to collect it, just like how Mammachi in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things did. Oh well, it runs in the genes- Appa already has a shiny patch on the head, of which he is rather proud. A sign of being wise, he says. I think otherwise.

6) Now this is weird, but I sometimes fear not being able to take my lenses off. I have, on numerous occasions, dozed off, having forgotten to take the lenses off, and each time I wake to reality, I see my eyes as red as Nagavalli's. That being said, lenses are really inconvenient sometimes. Every time I'm running late for a class, the lens has a tiny bit of dust and I spend nearly ten minutes, jumping around and trying to wear it. I know, my sense of 'eyegiene' should improve. I'd go for glasses any day...if I weren't so vain.

7) Fear of being alone. Solitude is great, but not loneliness. Subtle line of difference. I'm terrified that one day I'll have nobody to turn to or talk to.

8) Fear of losing loved ones. To death. To dementia. To oblivion. I'm also scared that I lose them, simply by being too busy wrapped up in my own little bubble.

This is indeed a gloomy post. Matched my mood anyway. Now for the Mr Bean part of the post- I came across this and now, I cannot stop laughing! :D Mr Bean FTW!

P.S: Weirdly, I stopped worrying about fear 1, at least for some time. Note to self: Keep calm, and move on, Sruthi, just move on!

*A mohini pisasu is supposed to be a female ghost, often depicted on the silver screen, wearing a white sari. She makes her presence known by wearing anklets that jingle as she goes about searching for a victim.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Karpoora Deepam

I'm going through a horrible, hectic week. Loads of deadlines, tests and presentations and my stress levels are at an all time high. But I suddenly remembered a bhajan that my cousin used to sing, and the words brought a lot of comfort to me. I don't know why, but I feel much happier after listening to it, despite the mountain that looms ahead of me.

Karpoora deepam thozhuthu nilkumbol
Ullathil engo nyaan mohichu
Amme devi, amrita varshini
Karpooram aayirunengil
Nyaan aa karpooram aayirunengil...

Here's a rough translation:
As I prayed before the lamps, filled with burning camphor, I found myself wishing that I was the camphor in the lamp... (Gosh, it is hard to translate!)
I consider the camphor to be a symbol of surrender. It burns itself in the fire and thus completely vanishes. In a similar vein, I shall seek refuge in the Lord and surrender to His Will.
And so, I shall continue my climb. :)

*Image courtesy Google

Sunday, November 6, 2011

True Blue Mallu

I am a true blue mallu Malayalee. I might tend to get defensive when people make fun of the so-called 'mallu' accent, despite the fact that they have one themselves. I remember a time in Grade 9, when I got into a cat fight with someone because she made fun of a friend who referred to the Ganges as Genga during the geography class. To be honest, it was funny and I laughed myself (I still do)- for the first or second time. But come on, after repeating it nearly ten times, it does become rude and annoying. I was a new student at that time and my school was a girls' school, so I practically ruined all my chances of making good friends. Thankfully, as time went by, we forgot about it and things became better between us-we came to a stage where we made fun of each others' accents, but not so much so that it annoys or hurts the other. Personally, I cannot understand why such a big thing is made out of accents- surely, for a person whose first language is not English, a touch of the vernacular is bound to slip in. And the same people declare that they know Tanglish, Hinglish, and all other forms of Inglish (Indian English). If that's okay, what is the problem with accents? Defeats me.

Anyway, apart from accents, another issue that irks me is the fact that a lot of people (not generalizing, but it's happened to me before!) believe that when Malayalees get together they always speak in Malayalam. They say, when two 'mallus' get together, the first thing they ask is "evide naa?" And the rest of the conversation is fully in Malayalam. Oh come on, don't tell me this is not true for any other linguistic group! I'm sure if you happen to be from our neighboring state and you insist on carrying the conversation in English, you might well be classified under one of those peter types. Don't tell me you talk strictly in English when you get together, because that is not true.

Another oft repeated way to identify 'mallus', it seems, is just to ask a person whether he/she is from India. 99% of the time, the person is bound to say, 'No, I'm from Kerala!' Now, this is funny just because of the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing. Whoever came up with it?!

And the Gelf connection. It's not like each and every one of us has an ungil there, although if I were to quote Shashi Tharoor (who is yet another Malayalee :P), the Kingdom of Bahrain, at one point in time, had more Malayalees than Bahrainis! (I'd know, I spent three years on the island.)

On a more serious note, if you happen to travel in and around the remotest corners of a GCC country, you are very very likely to find a Malayalee there. Heard of an Omani town called Liwa? It's a small, dusty town north of Sohar, home to the legendary Sindbad. While we were traveling from Muscat, back to Fujairah, we stopped at a shop in this remote town- surprise! It was owned by another ubiquitous Malayalee. In fact, we even had pazham pori and kattan chaya there. And it was indeed interesting to watch two Omani gentlemen, in their flowing white dishdashas and dashing turbans, attack a plate of Kerala Porotta and Beef Ularthiyathu.

Okay, now let me clarify things- This was not meant to be a post glorifying Malayalees as a group, nor am I a person who believes that my language and culture is superior to that of others. I consider myself to be a global citizen, but at the same time, I am a true blue Mallu. The two terms are not mutually exclusive. So, why am I a true blue mallu?

1) I love puttu, kadala and nendram pazham. Also appam and stew.
2) I would prefer to watch Lal ettan's movies any day over Thalaivar (ooh, blasphemy!) or for that matter, Amitabh Bechen, sorry Bachchan.
3)
I will watch Idea Star Singer on Asianet, no matter, however irritating the show gets.
4) I will also watch the Cinemala parody of the same and laugh my head off at the anchor who says, 'Welcome to No Idea Star Singer!'
5) I have, at least once, considered the possibility of opening a chaayakkada. (Don't worry Amma, just a passing cloud. I hope.)
6) I don't discuss viplavam, but sometimes the idea excites me, and sometimes I like to pretend I am one amongst the comrades. (Blame Lal Salam!)
7) Kerala and West Bengal are supposed to be those so-called 'intellectual' states, mainly due to the red fervor- I like to pretend that I am a budding buji* novelist. You know, those nerdish glasses (I already have those), long kurtas, swinging jhola bag types.
8) Even though my own Malayalam is kind of funny at best, and atrocious at worst, I will laugh at the Malayalam spoken by the malayalam korcha korcha ariyaam wannabe kochammas.

Hmm, that's enough, don't you think, to qualify me as a true blue mallu? Like most Malayalees, I do enjoy jokes cracked at us (we crack them ourselves sometimes!), as long as they are not used tauntingly or mockingly. So I'll end this post with one of my favorite so-called mallu jokes.

Why did the Malayalee go to Rome? No, the answer is NOT 'simbly'.
He went to Rome to listen to Pop(e) music!! Got it? :D

*buji is short for buddhi jeevi . Could mean bookworm or pseudo intellectual. Guess I fall under the latter category!

Disclaimer: This is just a paavam girl's idea of having fun- a few minutes of laughter when caught in the dreary process of studying for exams. Any offense caused to anybody is unintended and regretted.