Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Walking at the Gurdwara

I had got a job in Mumbai. Filled with uncertainty and foreboding, I arrived in the city. The first place we visited to look for paying guest accommodation belonged to a very nice Sikh family in Sher-e-Punjab, Andheri East. They looked like very sweet people, and the place was just 2 km from my place of work, and so I took the place without a second thought. After a day or two of unpacking and settling down, I set out to explore the locality.

The house was situated in a quiet, friendly street, and just a couple of roads away was the main road. I was pretty thrilled to see that everything was close by. Medical shops, General stores, a supermarket, eateries, everything. For the rest, we had to go to Andheri station, which wasn't too big a deal, anyway. I settled down, glad that I had chosen this place.

But only one thing was missing. A park for my daily walk. I asked the girls in my pg, whether there was a park anywhere around, where I can walk. "A park? In the middle of Andheri? Do you know how much paucity of space there is out here? And you want a park. A park! Ha!" They said, and laughed derisively. Half of the derision seemed to be directed towards Andheri, and the other half towards me, fresh from the Garden City and expecting parks and gardens in the middle of Andheri. I refused to believe that there could be no place for little children to go and play, for old people to go and sit and talk, or for people to just spend some time, or walk. But these girls had been here for over a year, and they would have known!

I gave up and decided to walk on the streets of Sher-e-Punjab. Now, anyone who knows this locality knows how much of a risk I was taking. Tiny, narrow roads, going nowhere and everywhere. A largeish road where traffic was in full swing, where BEST buses zoom back and forth. Nothing resembling a footpath. But walk I did. Past the shops, past the bus stops, past the gurdwara and the temple and the church, past the hospitals, the cybercafes. I started enjoying it too. I discovered more shops, more places. With familiarity came boldness. I walked through strange new roads. I explored every nook and alley. Until once, when I got hopelessly lost and had to catch an auto back home.

I went home, forlorn, and went to Auntie (who owned the pg accommodation) and poured out my sorrows to her. "I have no place to walk here", I said. "Every locality in Bangalore has a number of good parks where I can walk. Why aren't there any parks here?". The Mumbaiya in her rose immediately. "Who said there are no parks in Mumbai? I have heard there is a park behind the Gurdwara", she said. "But I have never seen it", she added.

A park behind the Gurdwara? And Auntie, who goes there everyday, hasn't seen it? Then I don't think any such park exists. I tried to remember if I saw anything when I had gone to the Gurdwara the previous week to see what a "Langar"(community dinner) is like. I remembered no park. Auntie must be mistaken. I dropped the idea from my mind.

But the next evening, my sneakers-clad feet automatically took me to the Gurdwara. I walked past it a couple of times, peering in to look if I could discern any magic chink anywhere which would open into a park. Nope. No luck. But how can Auntie be so confident? I anyway decided to go in and have a look. But as I approached the gate, I stopped. While going to the Langar, Auntie had told me that I could wear whatever I wanted, but I should cover my head. I was covered from top to toe in a track suit, but i had nothing to cover my head. Ok, I was not going inside the Gurdwara, but could I enter the premises with an uncovered head? To add to it, I saw a group of old Sikhs in big turbans and long flowing white beards, standing around in their typical dress, and conferring among themselves. They looked so serious and dignified, and I felt very shy and small. I could not enter. I just hung around, intimidated. The guard came to me and raised his eyebrows. "What?" he said. "I...err... Park?" I ventured. "Inside", he pointed with his thumb and walked away. Just as I stepped into the gate tentatively, a lady, dressed like me in trackpants and walking shoes, walked in briskly. She had not covered her head. I immediately followed in her tracks. She skirted the main gurdwara, went a few steps towards the right, and made a sharp turn. There was a small gate, and she disappeared through it. Following her, I stepped out through the gate and could not resist a cry of surprise.

A huge, huge, huge park! Complete with a walking track around it! Trees and bushes lining the walking track. Benches with people sitting on it. A small lawn with little kids tumbling about, and their parents watching and talking to each other. There was an entirely different world here! I trotted down the dozen steps, and fell in step with the dozens of walkers and joggers. As I walked briskly, I noted the surroundings. The park was enclosed by a tall compound on three sides. The fourth side was the wall of the gurdwara. No wonder this place wasn't visible from outside! It took me almost 10 minutes to finish going round the park once. It was that big. I walked to my heart's content and went back home, gave Auntie a thankful hug, and went up to my derisively laughing pg-mates, and laughed back derisively at them, while telling them of my find. "Just 5 mins from here? A park??" they said. Their incredulous expressions made my day! ;)

I became a regular at the park. On most of the days, I returned late from office, and could get to the park only at 8 pm in the night. It was a race against time to finish three rounds of the park, before the guard blew his whistle, signalling that he was going to close the gates. But this walk at night was the best. There were very few people, and I could walk and swing my arms as much as I wanted without worrying about hitting somebody else. Though it was dark, I never felt scared. The lone bright light came from the Gurdwara. I guess the proximity to a holy place put me at ease. And to add to it, every night, I walked accompanied by the sonorous drone of the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, which came out of the loudspeaker at the entrance of the park. This sound was strangely comforting. As if somebody was accompanying me during my walk and talking to me. At the end of a year, I could recite most of the verses, in the same tune, same style, but I think I got most of the words wrong. :)

My walks ended abruptly when I fell and had a ligament tear. I had to leave Mumbai to come back to Bangalore even before my leg healed and I could resume walking. So I could never go back to my beloved park to walk there one last time.

Recently, I was surfing channels on TV and heard the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. I was immediately transported back to my walk. All the feelings rushed back to me. The slight out-of-breath feeling. The hunger, thinking of what delicious dinner Auntie would have cooked. The mental exhaustion that comes after a hard day's work at office. The loneliness and emptiness in the heart. The feel of the mobile phone in my pocket, waiting to ring and bring the voice of a loved one to me. Bitter-sweet memories. Strange feelings. But an experience I would not have traded for anything else in the world - Walking at the Gurdwara.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

An open tag!

I made two lists -
1)Things that make me go Grrrr....
2)Things that make me go Mmmmm.....

I had good fun making them, and it looks like my readers enjoyed reading them. :) Suyog suggested that I convert this into a tag! So, I am tagging anybody who reads this ;). Or rather, I would say, try it out... it's good fun!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Things that make me go "Mmmmm...."

.... In no particular order.. (written to compensate for this rant!).

1) Desserts

2) Fresh and shiny fruits and vegetables lined up in a bright shop.

3) Food

4) A baby's toothless smile.

5) A baby's fist tightened over my finger.

6) Babies.

7) A beautiful, affordable piece of dress/accessory.

8) Polite people.

9) Energetic, enthusiastic people.

10) People with real smiles.

11) Hugs

12) Thoughtful gestures.

13) Stationery displayed in shops.

14) Linen displayed in shops.

15) Crockery displayed in shops.

16) Good music.

17) A clean, firm bed with fresh, crisp bed-linen.

18) Clean, dry, pleasant-smelling toilets, with tissue in the right places.

19) Different types of cosmetics and body-care products on display in shops ( I never buy them, I just love looking at them).

20) Well-displayed jewellery. (same as above ;))

21) Flowers.

22) A clean bench in a green "tree-y" park

23) The beach.

24) The ocean.

25) Hills and mountains.

26) Cloud-swathed hills.

27) Snow-covered mountains.

28) Rain.

29) Rain on the beach.

30) Rain in the mountains.

32) Sharing an umbrella with a special person in the rain.

33) A well-stacked, non-dusty library, with a window seat and lots of time.

34) Drinking tea and chatting with loved ones.

35) A leisurely hair and/or body massage.

36) A long bath on a holiday.

37) Old friends.

38) Old pajamas.

39) A good book.

40) A hot cup of beverage on a cold day.

50) A cool drink on a hot day.

51) A warm blanket on a cold day.

52) A cool breeze on a hot day.

53) Dry leaves rustling beneath my feet.

54) Flowers descending on me from a tree during a drizzle or a slight breeze.

55) The sound of the breeze in the trees.

56) Baby animals.

57) Fish in an aquarium.

58) Potted plants in an apartment.

59) A good piece of writing.

60) Chatting all night with my sister.

61) Talking about myself non-stop to parents (They are the only ones who will truly listen) :)

62) Watching mom cook.

63) Eating mom's cooking.

64) Discussing any topic under the sun with dad.

64) Having my hair ruffled.

65) Walk with hubby

66) Praise.

67) Compliments.

68) Attention.

69) A piece of code that works the first time.

70) A call from a long-forgotten friend.

71) A thoughtful and heartfelt gift.

72) Laughing until I choke.

73) Acting silly.

74) Dancing.

75) Singing at the top of my voice.

76) Massaging somebody's hair.

77) Getting teased mercilessly.

78) A green signal on a busy road.

79) Little kids playing together.

I just realized that I have reached 78 and there is no end in sight. I could just go on and on! Besides, there are lots more things which I just cannot write about! So to save myself and you the agony, I will just stop here :)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Gifting love...

Heard of the story "Gift of the Magi" by O Henry? Its a touching story, where there is a young couple who love each other very much. They are very poor. Christmas is approaching and they want to give each other gifts, but have no money. The wife wants to buy her husband a gold chain so that he can hang his beloved heirloom gold watch, and not carry it in his pocket, . The husband wants to buy his wife a set of pearl combs for her long, luxuriant, beautiful hair. But neither has the money. Finally the wife sells her hair and buys the chain, and the husband sells his watch and buys the combs. So the wife is left with combs and no hair, and the husband is left with a chain but no watch. Very touching, very heartbreaking story. Fine. But I had never realised, why did they have to give each other the gift in the first place? What is the need? Both of them know that they love each other a lot, and that they don't have money. So why the compulsion?

My parents tell me often of their experiences in Germany. They had made plans to visit a German colleague's mother in another town. On the way, the colleague stopped at a florist and bought a bouquet of flowers to take to his mother. He explained that you should never go empty-handed. How strange! Such compulsions to go and meet your own mother! (Of course, he must have taken an appointment before that!).

I heard of an Indian lady working in the US. On her birthday, she received no flowers from her husband, and her co-workers came to the conclusion that her marriage is on the rocks. Exasperated by their commiserances, she took to sending a bouquet of flowers to herself every birthday and valentine's day and signing her husband's name as the sender. What a pathetic state of affairs!

Ok, I agree, giving gifts is a beautiful concept, it shows that you care. But what irks me is that it is made into a compulsory ritual, a symbol of love, whether you like it or not.

Sandesh and I had our birthdays last month. I did not give him anything, and he did not give me anything. Does that mean we don't love each other? If I had known that he wanted something, but had not bought it, I would have gone and gifted it to him as a surprise. In fact, if I get to know something like that now, I will not wait for an occasion, I will just go ahead and gift it to him anyway! Why the compulsion? Around my birthday, a score of people asked me, "Soooo, what did Sandesh give you for your birthday? Especially, the first birthday after the wedding!" I said, "Nothing!". So they said, "Nothing??" and their faces grew troubled and their voices grew soft with sympathy, and some of them even whispered "But why?". I don't have an answer to that!! I was so bugged, that I told Sandesh that on my next birthday, I would go and get myself some useless expensive gift and tell everybody that he bought it for me, just to shut their big mouths. He just laughed and said, "Tell them that your hubby gave you L-O-L. What's that? Lots of love."

I remember reading a very sweet story in Tinkle, ages ago. It was called "Jose's Christmas gifts". Jose is a boy who lives in a Goan village, with very friendly neighbours. Its Christmas time, and he knows that everybody is going to give him nice gifts. He does not have any money, and his mother doesn't either, so he has no idea what he is going to gift everybody. On his way home from school, he is deep in thought, when he meets a neighbour who is suffering from arthritis, and confides in Jose that he can no longer tend to his beautiful garden. He meets his old neighbour with failing eyesight, who tells him that she is not able to read the newspapers and magazines anymore. He goes home to see his mother hard at work, and very tired. Then he comes up with an idea. He gifts everybody his time. He gifts his mother an hour everyday to help her cut vegetables and clean the house. He gifts his old neighbour twenty hours every month, to read to her. He gifts five hours every week to the arthritic man to tend to the garden. This way, everybody in the village gets a thoughtful gift from Jose, and his gifts are the talk of the town! Now isn't this a beautiful concept? Gifting someone your time?

I remember when I was a kid, and I asked my mother what she wanted on her birthday, she used to tell me, "Be a good girl, keep your room clean, and do things on time. I don't want anything else". I remember being very disappointed. But now I know, that would have been the perfect gift for her. And living up to it would have been very difficult. So if I had done it sincerely, it would have expressed my love effectively for her coz I took so much trouble over it!

Gifts are lovely, yes. A thoughtful, sweet, small gesture of love. I love to receive gifts. But I don't judge people by what they do or don't give me. What is a gift? A way to express our love. There are a hundred million little ways that my loved ones express their love to me, every single day. If I start counting each one as a gift, I would be the richest person ever. If I counted all the material gifts, it would not amount to much. But the only difference is, that when people, for whom it matters, ask me, I can SHOW the material gifts to them. I can say, this is what she gave me. I cannot show them the gestures of love. How unfortunate! But I would prefer the gestures of love any day!

Things that make me go "Grrrrr"

...In no particular order of irritation

1) People who sing off-key, but think they sing very well. They screech along loudly to a beautiful song right into my ear. It makes my knees shake, my stomach lurch, I hear a strange sort of ringing deep in my ears, and tears prick my eyes. I love music and cannot bear anybody murdering a good song.

2) Dirty toilets, that look like somebody just had a bath in there. On top of it, when I go in, take utmost care to avoid all the mess, make sure that I don't add to it, and come out, the next person to go in darts a dirty look at me, as if I made the mess.

3) People with stale jokes about cooking. If I say I made laddoos, they go, "How many hammers did you need to break them?". If I say "I cooked last night's dinner", they say, "Are your family members alive today?". They might be funny at first, but they get very irritating with time!

4) Insensitive and childish people. When I say "Oh no, it is already time for the first bus, and I just have to finish testing this! I will have to take the second bus home!", they say "Nya-nya-nya-nya-nya.. I am going ho-oo-ooome!" I think it is terribly childish.

5) People who assume that since you are a girl, you cannot lift heavy things, and should love gossipping, and should buy lots of clothes and should know how to draw rangolis.

6) People who assume that I am a sissy who cannot live without her husband just because I'd rather spend a quiet, quality day with the hubby, rather than go to some silly movie with sillier people.

7) People who love to probe and ask me "Any good news?? *wink wink*" (for the uninitiated, that just means whether I am going to have a baby) just because I happen to be married.

8) People who look at me with the utmost sympathy when I tell them that hubby did not gift me anything for my birthday. I have an exclusive post on this

9) a) People in huge cars who spit out of the window or throw garbage out.
b) People who do not litter the streets when they go abroad but think nothing about doing the same thing here.

10) People who say "I hate books" without having read even a single one.

11) People who say "I hate that kind of music" without having listened to it, or having tried to understand it.

12) People who say "I hate it" to anything, without having tried it.

13) People who listen to a song, read a book, or taste a dish, and say "It is horrible! How can you like it?" Say, "I don't like it". Period.

14) Fanatics.

15) Narrow-minded people.

16) People who indulge in the indiscriminate bashing of the city that houses, clothes and feeds them.

17) People who indulge in the indiscriminate bashing of the people and language of the city that houses, clothes and feeds them.

18) Girls who think that marrying and becoming a baby-producing machine is the only thing worth living for.

19) Girls who think that you don't need to dress up and look after your body once you are married (read "snared a guy").

20) Girls who attain the holier-than-thou look immediately after they attain the Mangalsutra.

21) Saas-bahu serials.

22) Vamps in saas-bahu serials.

23) The goody-goody goddess-like ladies speaking about "sanskaar" (culture) in honey tones in saas-bahu serials.

24) People who don't look at you when speaking to you.

25) People who have zero general knowledge.

26) People who have zero sense of humour.

27) People who do not know how to have fun and enjoy themselves.

28) People who ask me with (fake) concern why I have lost so much weight, making sure to add "after you got married". What is with the theory that women put on weight after marriage? In my case, I was a sleeping and eating lazybum, and the hubby, being a fitness freak, is making me run around, and hence I have lost some of the extra fat, and am proud to look slimmer and trimmer. And here are people sympathizing with me. Any amount of explanations fall on deaf ears. So I have just started saying, "Oh, what can I do? My hubby beats me and starves me". That shuts them up for a while.

Aaaaah! That was therapeutic! (Now I sound like Oprah)

To compensate for this rant, I need to come up with a list of Things that make me go "Mmmm"! :) Very soon, very soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things is a much reviewed, much discussed book. Everyone seems to have read it, and everybody has differing views on it. I had read it when Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for it, and I remember being vaguely intimidated by the novel. I do not know now why it should have had that effect on me. Moreover, I did not even remember what it was about. If I remember right, I had borrowed it from somebody and had to return the book very quickly, so I just rushed through it.

Anyway, I got the chance to read it again. I still don't know if I like it or not, but it has affected me deeply.

The story is told as seen from the eyes of seven-year-old Rahel. She, and her twin Estha are typical Indian kids. They have the run about the old, ancestral home in Ayemenem, a village in Kerala. They have come back there to Ayemenem, unwelcome, with their mother, Ammu, a divorcee. The story revolves around the twins, the high point in their lives being the arrival of their cousin Sophie Mol from London. The story moves back and forth through time, and the shadow of "The Terror" lurks in every page. Even as you are getting comfortable in the happy child play of the adorable twins, there appears the dark, foreboding figure of The Terror . As you read, A.Roy drops hints here and there of what the Terror is. You can guess what it is by and by, just as all the pieces fall in place one by one, like a jigsaw puzzle. And what a jigsaw puzzle! Intricate, dense, crammed with images. The novel is more about the characters and the settings, than about the actual story. The story , as such, is very little, but heartbreaking, and it totally changes all the lives in that old house in the little village.

The characters are larger than life. I could identify with the kids so well, right down to Rahel's hair in a "fountain", tied with a Love-in-Tokyo, and her feet in brown Bata sandals. I mean, how much clearer can the character get? Their thoughts, fears, fantasies, are all very real, very true. The entire story is told in the high imagination of the young mind. The imagery is detailed, intense. Sometimes too much to bear. Just as the suspense builds up, and you start reading faster and faster, A.Roy comes up with a detailed explanation of some totally unrelated thing, which slows down the pace, throws you off-balance and makes you lose your patience. There are a series of anti-climaxes like this scattered throughout the story. Yes, the explanation of that thing, if you read it with patience, is usually very good. She notices small things, observes intricacies of human nature and behaviour, which you would have seen, but taken for granted. That talent is abundant in her writing.

But yes, she goes overboard at times. I felt that the novel was like a lady decked up in all her jewellery. Each and every piece of jewellery she owns. The jewels might be beautiful when worn in moderation, but altogether - sometimes it gets nauseating. Maybe she knew she would be writing only one novel, so she poured everything into this! Just like a lonely lady who knows she will be invited to only one party and wears all her jewels for that one party! [Help! I am becoming like A. Roy!]

One more grouse - or should I call it that - I have against her is her excessive use of non-English. There is poetic license, and there is A. Roy. Just one example - "Scurrying hurrying buying selling luggage trundling porter paying children shitting people spitting coming going begging bargaining reservation-checking. Echoing stationsounds.". This is totally not English - these are random words thrown together. As a stickler for good English, repeated use of such language made me uncomfortable. But you know what, it works. That whole sentence conjures up the familiar railway station image so well, that it is astounding. One more example -' "Stoppit", said Ammu, and Rahel Stoppited.' - It is like A. Roy thought, "This is funny and conveys what it wants to. The English be damned." Makes me wonder!

The whole story has been woven together as if in a hazy daze - it has the nature of a disturbing dream during an afternoon nap on a very hot summer day. It is like you are asleep and dreaming, but you are aware of what is going on around you. In short, it is like you are hallucinating. That's it. The entire story is like a string of Hallucinations!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shoplifting!

There are very few things in life that I am scared of. And most of these are totally inane things, which make people laugh at me. One of these silly things is exiting a shop, through a door which has those detectors fixed. (I don't know what these detectors are called, those that buzz when you take out an item that has not been paid for. If you know, please enlighten me!). I keep feeling that it will start buzzing any moment. Why am I afraid of that? There hangs a tale.

It was one of those months when I found that I have a shortage of clothes, and I just had to go and buy new stuff for myself. Thankfully, my roommate R also wanted to go shopping, and we decided to go and check out that huge mall at Malad, Mumbai, which has both Shoppers' Stop and Lifestyle under the same roof. As we were leaving, X said she would join us. The more, the merrier, we thought, and we set out together. At the mall (Whatzitzname?), we found that we wanted to go to different shops, and buy different things, and we had only a couple of hours before we ought to be heading back. So we separated out and went our ways, deciding to meet at the billing counter of Lifestyle at the appointed time.

So I spent the next hour and a half shopping by myself, checking and sorting out clothes. I was blissfully oblivious of the whereabouts of both R and X, and that made it all the more enjoyable. (You should try shopping alone. Nothing like it. You don't have to wait infinitely for your companion checking out stuff you are not interested in, and you don't have to worry about making your companion wait or give her the wrong impression while you get inexplicable urges to check out some horrendous stuff). Anyway, I got my stuff, and came back and stood at the billing counter, waiting for my turn. I found that R and X were already waiting. Both of them had full shopping bags in their hands. After paying for my clothes, I took my bags, and joined them. We got to the door and exited the building together. Just as we passed through the detectors, "Buzzzzz Buzzzzzz" went the buzzer. "Stop please", said the security guard, "Please give me your bags". My heart was hammering against my ribs. Had something got into my bag my mistake? I could feel the heat in my cheeks. R was totally shaken up. Both of us handed our bags to the guard. Another guard had joined him, and he took the bags and walked through the detector. It did not buzz. "Not in these", said the guard, and asked us to pass through the buzzer one by one. Just as this was happening, X suddenly decided she needed to go to the washroom, and she dashed through the detector into the shop. The buzzer dutifully buzzed again. "Please stop", said the guard to X, but she did not stop. "Stop her!" he called, and a female guard ran after X. All this while, R and I just stood there, mouth agape. "Sorry, ma'am, you can go inside if you want", said the guard politely and handed our bags to us. We went back in like zombies and stood, not talking. We could feel the eyes of the other shoppers on us. We felt guilty for no reason at all. We looked around. Neither X, nor the female guard could be seen. I looked at R. She seemed to have tears in her eyes, and looked terrified. "I thought... something has accidentally got into my bag", she said. "Me too", I said, and we just stood there, not doing anything.

Before long, another guard came and told us, "Your companion is upstairs - you can join her". R and I went up to find her at the first floor billing counter, paying for something. As soon as we went there, she became a blur of explanations. "The key my pocket caused the detector to buzz! Can you beat that? I argued with the manager and made him apologize. And I had bought a kurta and given it to them for alteration. Now I am taking it back from them. I am terribly insulted. So I am paying for the kurta and getting out of here. I will not come back here!"

I found two mistakes in her statement -
1) The detector is not a metal detector - its the bar-code detector - or whatever its called.
2) If she had given the kurta for alteration, she would have paid for it before. These shops do not accept clothes for alteration unless you produce the bill of payment.

I duly pointed out both anamolies to her.
Her answers -
1) No, no, the key caused the problem! The manager apologized.
2) No, here they said I could pay for it later.

Did she think we were a pair of fools?

Anyway we did not say anything. After she paid, we went back downstairs. We could feel the stares and the glances. Back to the exit. Back to walking through the detector. Heart-hammering, fists clenching. But we passed through it. We cleared it. I heaved a sigh of relief. I turned to X and asked her, "So where is your key now? Why didn't it buzz this time?". "Oh that's coz the key was in the pocket of my jeans at that time. I have now kept it in my purse".

Yes, she did think we were a pair of fools.

We went back home in silence. We did not mention this again, but needless to say, we did not go shopping with her again. Also, she left the city within a month, and we haven't been in touch ever since.

Anyway, this incident seems to have scarred me for life. Whenever I exit a shop walking through those detectors, I hear imaginary buzzings and "stop-please"s and my heart beats faster and my breath becomes laboured. When my sister is with me, she, in all her sweetness, takes one look at my expression and holds my hand each time we walk through a detector. The fear seems to be slowly subsiding. But I don't know how long it will take before I can walk confidently out of a shop!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Eerie!

Two inexplicable coincidences, in a span of 24 hours - it sends chills down my spine!

Yesterday, I was reading the book "Bangalore through the centuries", about which I had written some time back. The radio was on in the background. As I was immersed in the book, I was not really listening to the radio. I was reading about the British in Bangalore. I learnt that Residency Road got its name from The Residency, a building built in the 19th century for the British Resident. It stands on one end of the Parade Ground. It said that in those times, the Union Jack fluttered on a pole in front of the building. I stopped, and closed my eyes, trying to recollect if I ever saw such a building anywhere on Residency Road. In this pause, I heard someone speaking on the radio, and I caught the word "Residency". I quickly turned my attention to the radio. It was the "Did You Know" section on Radio City. I heard something like this. "The Residency Road in Bangalore ....... British Resident ..... Residency ....... Union Jack...... " She seemed to be telling me the same thing that I was reading!

Now what are the odds of this happening? I had never read this book before. I had never heard this snippet on "Did You Know" before. I had not even heard of the Residency before. How can everything come together at the same time?

This is not the first time this has happened. It has happened at various times, in various levels of disbelief. Each time, it excites me, but at the same time, gives me the creeps!

Just fifteen minutes ago, I was commenting on somebody's blog - I wrote something about "vicious circle". I got a prompt saying that I have a new mail in my inbox. I finished the comment, and checked my mail. It was the daily word-mail from m-w.com - and the word was, you guessed it "vicious circle".

How can you explain such things?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Skywalk at the Grand Canyon

Definitely tops my HAVE-to-go-there list. Check out this snap and you will know what I mean. Also, while you are there, look around - it will be well worth your time!

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Summer of Katya

I have never tried my hand at reviews. My opinions of books usually are "Wow! You really should read it!", "Hmmm it was okay, if you have some time on your hands, read it", and the like. But this fascinating book, and the fact that I blog nowadays, and this neat review, drove me to write this.

The Summer of Katya is a powerful tale, set in the Basque region in France, just before the First World War. The story is told by Jean-Marc Montjean, a young doctor, who is enchanted by Katya, a beautiful and elusive young woman.

Jean-Marc, just out of medical school, works as an assistant to a doctor who specialises in pandering to the hypochondriac ailments of middle-aged women. With a lot of time on his hands, and being of a romantic temperament, the young doctor, intoxicated by the beautiful spring, spends most of his time wandering around the picturesque Basque village and penning random thoughts in his book.

On one such idyllic day, he meets Katya, and his world changes entirely. Katya is unlike any other girl of that time. She roams about on a bicycle, escortless and hatless. She loves nature and the outdoors, and has a zest for life that Jean-Marc cannot believe could ever exist. She is charming, witty and intelligent. Jean-Marc falls in love with her almost immediately.

He goes to her home, which is a derelict old building, situated away from the main village, to treat her twin brother Paul's broken arm. The twins, and their father, Monsieur Treville, an old and forgetful, but brilliant scientist, are reclusives, and hardly interact with anybody in the village. Jean-Marc finds the family, and of course, Katya, very interesting and frequents their home, often staying on for supper.

But the Trevilles are shrouded in mystery. the entire village speculates about them and many rumours are whispered about their past. Even as Jean-Marc tries to woo Katya, indulges in sharp and sometimes caustic banters with Paul, and listens patiently to Monsieur Trevilles' long-winded scientific monologues, he senses that there is something wrong in the family. Some sadness, some fear, something is lurking all around. In the enthusiasm of youth and his love for Katya, he tries to dig in, find out their secrets to help them, but is prevented from doing so by an adamant Paul. What the secrets are, and how Jean-Marc finds out about them makes the rest of the engrossing story.

The characterization is brilliant. Jean-Marc is a young, idealistic, over-confident, yet self-conscious youth who is a bit like each one of us. His is a very endearing personality. Paul is enigmatic, prone to mood changes, and very secretive, keeps you guessing as to his intentions, and Jean-Marc is never sure if Paul likes him or not. He himself is slightly wary of Paul. The old scientist, with his lapses in memory, comes across as a very likeable, albeit crazy man. Katya herself, wild, charming, witty, full of life, and elusive - drives Jean-Marc crazy.

With very strong characters, and a wonderful use of words, the story flies to a thundering and electrifying climax.

Rodney Whitaker, writing with the nom-de-plume Trevanian, is brilliant. I had not read any stories of his before, but this one made me sit up and want to read the others.

Go for it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

All the best, Nikhil

Many years ago, I was reluctantly attending the basic course of Art of Living. One of the guys attending the course looked vaguely familiar. He was tall, wiry, shy, and carried with him, a big pillow to sit on. He introduced himself as Nikhil. I was the chatty kind back then, and within two days, I had made friends with him. As luck would have it, he and I got grouped together in one of the interactive sessions. In the course of the discussion (about our lives), he revealed that he was a badminton player. "Nikhil + Badminton-player" resulted in a google-like search of my sparse brain, and a tiny bell tinkled somewhere in the depths of my mind.

Me: What's your full name?
He:Nikhil Kanetkar
Me:*mouth agape* THE Nikhil Kanetkar? I've seen your photo in the papers!
He:*Smiling unassumingly* Yes, you might have.

My brain morphed the shy, unpretentious guy in front of me into a sportsman, racket in hand, and a steely determination on his face. Then it morphed him back into the guy in front of me. I now knew why he looked so familiar.

I took some time to come back to normal. My head was whirring. I was in the same room as an international level badminton player from the past two days, and I got to know it only after he told me! And there he sits, completely unknown, without anyone gawking or asking him for autographs!

I listened as he reeled out all the tournaments he had won, the championships he had played in, and the countries he had visited. "I am out of action for a while", he said. "Jaundice and a leg injury". Well, that explains the pillow, I thought. "Gopi (Pullella Gopichand) says he benefited highly from the Sudarshan Kriya (taught at the Art of Living course). So I thought I would try it out".

That night I went home and googled him out. The information about him was painfully little, but what was there, was very impressive. I remember being very proud of my new celebrity friend :) I was also suddenly intimidated, but his easy demeanour put me at ease. He even gave me a very sweet card, thanking me for being a good friend. (Yes, I still have it, and treasure it!).

We met once or twice after the course, at one of the follow-up Kriya sessions. After that we called each other a few times. He was training at the Prakush Padukone academy, and stayed in a flat with other players. He told me that the female players stayed next door to them, and they all ate dinner together. Calling his flat was a kind of thrill. When someone else answered the phone, I would wonder which player was on the line. If it was a girl, I would think "Could it.... could it be Aparna Popat?" :)

In later years, we kept in touch only through email, as he was travelling a lot. I kept him informed about all the milestones in my life - my degrees, my change of jobs, my wedding, and I also sent him a birthday wish every year. He kept me updated on his life too - but still, our correspondence came down to half a dozen emails a year. I kept track of him through the World Badminton site, as the newspapers talked next to nothing about badminton. Sometimes, caught in work and other activities, I would neglect to see the site, and would lose track of what was happening in the Badminton arena. Then out of the blue, I would get a mail from Nikhil, which would be just like him - Simple, straight, to-the-point. It would update me and some other of his friends, on the latest. And the mail was always from some other country - Germany, Malaysia, South Africa.

One of his mails read "I am happy to tell you that I got selected at the last moment to represent India at the Athens Olympics, as someone else dropped out." I whooped with joy. I hold the Olympics in great esteem, and my friend was actually getting to play there! Added to that, Indian Oil(with whom he was employed), had put up huge hoardings on the Mumbai Highways. It carried photos of the four badminton players in their employ, who were representing India in the Olympics, and wished them luck. Nikhil looked very good in that hoarding, composed and smiling softly. I would silently wish him the best. At the actual event, he cleared the first round, and entered the second, before being beaten by Peter Gade of Denmark. Both his selection, and his first win, were just given a one-line mention in the newspapers.

Another mail in June of last year informed me "I am glad to inform you that I won the South Africa International championship". A couple of photos were attached. It was a big thing for him - the first international event he had won (He has been runner-up in a number of prestigious events, though). I was thrilled. I took down the newspapers, and combed the sports pages for a mention of this victory of his. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Shunya, etc.

Last month, I received a mail from him. He had attached a scanned picture in a German newspaper. It was the news of his engagement to Shruti Kurien, another elite badminton player. The photo was quite a big one, and the write-up seemed substantial. In my initial joy, I almost missed the irony. That the news of his engagement, which occured in India, between two top Indian players, was conveyed by him to his Indian friends, through a news item in a German newspaper. Well, what can I say about that?

Today I read the news that the National Badminton Championship is beginning today, and Nikhil is playing. As usual, here is a silent wish from me to him.

All the best, Nikhil.


Update: Happily, this inspired an excellent post by Sue at Dutch Diary.

Bangalore's traffic - laugh it off!

Check out this set of jokes on a cool new blog!

Monday, January 02, 2006

A new year...

What is a new year, other than a change in date? The air looks the same, the water tastes the same, the sky seems the same, people seem the same - but for everybody, it is like a new milestone. A hope for a better future.

My personal 2005 went very quickly. It was the year I got married. To a wonderful person. So naturally, this year will remain a landmark year, like the year I was born, the year I got my ug and pg degrees, the year I landed my first job, etc., etc. But ask me when I graduated, and I have to think for a moment. Ask me when I was born and I don't bat an eyelid. Similarly, 2005 will be one of the not-batting-an-eyelid years. Like all years, there have been bitter incidents, some best-be-forgotten moments - but nothing that I could not withstand. In that sense, it has been one of the best years of my life.

It would be foolish to expect the same from 2006. But all I hope is that it brings with it peace, hope and joy. A better world. A more peaceful world. [Cliched? Maybe]

I do not have any resolutions for the new year, but I am going to strive to be more organized. And that should solve any other problem!

For all of you reading this, I wish you a very happy, healthy, successful, fun-filled year ahead. Be happy! :)
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