Road Series : Madness !

I have a few habits. Hey stop. I am going to spare you from the gory ones. But this one, is quite innocuous : taking a quick walk in the vicinity of the office building post lunch.

As is with other oddities, comments / remarks / jokes / nudges etc etc, have come my way. Ranging from ‘do you want to buy up the building’ to ‘its bad for health’ to ‘you must be plain nuts’.

Well, everyday afternoon the sun tests my ability to withstand the heat. And i try and test the sun to beat me down. In under 10 minutes, the sun overwhelms me. In no time, beads of sweat form on the forehead, the shirt is drenched, the skin burns.

When all of the the above happens, i know that it is time to turn around. I feel like a local college champion, overwhelmed by the likes of a Roger Federer , just by his showing up! In no time, I rush back to the cool climes of controlled temperature of the office.

Today too, that’s the scene. The sun is at the top his bent. The March madness rules. I walk. In some time, beads of sweat are beginning to form on the forehead. Very soon, the skin sends a SOS beep to the brain, warning of the threshold level heat being crossed. The legs involuntarily turn around to head back.

And just then, the eye spots them.

Four boys. Sitting under the open sun. Not a tree or shade in sight. On the edge of the road. Two of them on a stool. Two on what appears to be brick, propped up by a broken down computer monitor. An inverted vessel holds a carrom board. And there is a game that is on.

I stare in disbelief. I look up to check if it is the same sun.

I watch for about 3 minutes. I don’t have to pinch myself. The sun does it for me. I lose today’s battle with the sun. Too. Soon, I head back to office.

I keep turning around to look if boys and their carrom game are done. The carrom game is on, till the last, the eye can see. The Sun doesn’t seem to be winning this battle.

That image of those four boys in mid day sun stays in my mind. In some time, i head to a meeting. And make my grand pronouncement : “You win some. You lose some. Even if you are the sun !”.

Others in the room look at each other. They smile a weak understanding smile. They know me by now. They know March. They know the Sun. And i guess, they think they have an understanding of the first signs of madness.

Ofcouse, I know too : Give me a carrom board. Three other blokes. An inverted run down monitor. And one huge brick. And ofcourse, the sun !

Pretty Woman !

I wrote this on our family blog. A letter to my nephew, introducing my dream woman ! I am just compelled to post it here by a strange force ! She was was a tremendous influence on me. And i am just telling the world !

Dear K !

Someday, I’ll talk to you about her. I need to.

For you ought to know that this was the lady that made me. And she had grown her ears. Gusty, fearless, compassionate, beautiful, wealthy, steeped in values and of course, ever loving. Those could be the traits of a dream woman. That she was one, i have no doubt. She also happens to be your great great grandmother !!

She told me stories. Of another time. She spanked me when i lied. She hugged me when i cried. She put the fear of God in me. She held me when i trembled at the distant sound of thunder. She urged me to stretch. She taught me to love and to laugh. She walked a fearless walk. And when she talked, the neighbourhood would rumble.

And of course, she fed me ! With a silver spoon !!

A lady with such class, that class would show, when she showed up ! Ever immaculately dressed. Notice all the jewellery in the photograph (clicked in her younger days ) ?!! I have seen them all, on her !! She always moved with great poise and dignity.

There is a story in the family that her husband whisked her away in a horse carriage to tie the knot !! ( In my time there weren’t horse !!)

Would you believe that she was the first woman in the family to fly ! And no i am not kidding. She flew in the 1930s i am told. Taken to see her city from air, by a husband whose wealth and stature is talked of to this day !

And then, one day, this day, many years back, she passed away. There are a few people who continue to live despite them being long gone away ! She is one.

I somehow feel that she watches over us. Listens to every word that we speak. And to the words that we don’t as well. She didn’t grow her ears for nothing !!

And so when you step out into the sun, do so confidently. For a gusty, fearless, compassionate, beautiful, wealthy, loving dream woman is watching over you as well.

“Be bold, my boy. Do your duty. And The world is yours”. That was her most favourite line. That sounds valid till date ! Doesn’t it !?!

( The ‘Road Series’ continues from the next post on )

Question D !

I need some help. Read on.

Preserved by a dotting mother who doubles up as a collector of family memories, this chap remains. Many decades after he was slapped, thrown about, trampled all over and sometimes washed up and decorated ! Yes. This chap was my toy !

And i was reacquainted with him last week. And promptly clicked !

And what an aspirational toy ! At that time, there was desire. To wear those bell bottom trousers. For that long wavy hair. And yes. For that bright yellow shirt and sky blue trousers ! For that red guitar and lovely music, that i saw film heroes spew !

And this chap is symbolic of a time when there was innocence in the air and the thinking was as wide as the vast expanse !

As education seeped in, one after the another, the tastes changed. For the whatever remained, reality reared its stark face. The last on that list being ‘wavy hair’ !

More importantly, this chap reminded of a time when you were asked four questions. All the time. Many times over. By new people. Same people. Half people. At dinners. Get togethers. When people visited. When you visited.

a. Which school do you go to ?
b. Which class do you study in ?
c. What is your class teachers name ?
d. What do you want to become when you grow up ?

Of course, there would be a few more questions. And there were those who would ask the same questions all over again, in the same interaction so much so, that you wondered if could make the earth would part ways. Then and there !

The answer to question D, on that list, would vary. Many times according to mood. The intensity of the sun. Of course, on who was asking, and who all were listening. The answers used to vary from, ‘Pilot. Journalist. Prime Minister. Policeman. IAS officer’ and the like. These were my oft quoted.

The more libellous ones were, ‘Film star, cricketer, Astrologer..” Whatever the answer, without doubt, there would be those who would probe further. ‘Why’ they would ask. Or sometimes, smirk / laugh / nod head and say, ‘really?’.

There was one gent who used to be a master at this. He would ask me this question, over many years. And when he did ask me this question, for the 2,33,678th time, i remember, having my hands on my hips and telling him, ‘ Superman’.

The man’s eyebrows widened. And there was momentary surprise. There was a plan. That if at he would ask me ‘Why’, i would muster all courage and state that Superman got to wear blue trousers for underwear and read underwear for trousers. And of course, had a curtain cloth hanging on his shoulder.

His surprise had him mute. There was no need to muster the courage. I remember wanting to go on. And tell him, “Phantom”. “Tin Tin”. “Batman” and each had equally powerful reasons. Surprisingly the 2,33,679th time didn’t come.

This chap with the guitar reminded me of that time ! Now, If you spot a dark chap in a bright yellow shirt and a sky blue bell bottom trousers, with a guitar slung across the shoulder….well, spare a second look ! It could be me, wanting to recreate that time !

Many decades later, the toys have changed shape. Size. But hey, the questions remain too. Slightly different though.

a. Where do you work ?
b. Where do you live ?
c. How many kids do you have ?
d. How much do you earn ?

And this is where i need some help. Can you help me with a ‘superman’ kind of answer for ‘question ‘d’ ‘ !?!

Going Home.

The plane taxis off the runway & kisses the clouds. From up above, i see the Mumbai skyline. I am far close to the sea than i can imagine.

The plane continues to climb. The low cost airline has not been low cost exactly. But it did take off on time. And it did soar into the sky. There is a pilot with a distinct kerelite accent, asking announcing that we should be landing on time.

I peer through the window. And see the receding skyline of the city that i call home now. In about a hour and a half i will be touching down in Bangalore. A city that i used to call home until a year and a half back. For ten odd years.

The books that i have picked up at the airport lounge invite some browsing. Some habits stick. Most, like this one, make the missus sick. But she isn’t here today with me. So.

I am lost in my own world. Memories come rushing back. I think of the next few days. And i have so many things to do. Discussions to have. And just be present. The sun beats down the other side of the plane. God is kind. I think.

And look at the big mountains that appear far too small. Far beyond. Far below. There are announcements for refreshments. I can hear only parts of it. The other i leave it to conjecture. The handlers from Pakistan did a better job, i think. Of speaking into the phone, that is.

Refreshments are served. And charged too. This is a low cost airline. The middle class me, loaded with the guilt of having bought books, keeps me restrained. In the row, just ahead, a family sits. They order sandwiches and juice. Sandwiches and juice and hand, the air hostess announces, ‘thats Rs. 510/-, sir !’ The plane shakes a bit.

I look through the window. Into the mountains. Into a dried river in the distance. I think of the next few days. There is happiness. Anxiety. Purposefulness. Hope. And resolve. The pilot is back again. Announcing something. I hear parts of it. And don’t hear most of it. The air hostess is having a word with the passenger in front of me. In a distance, i see greenery.

Frankly. Nothing matters. For i am flying home. From the new home of Mumbai. To the old home of Bangalore. And then, home ! Home to Madurai.

Home. To amma and appa. Today, nothing else seems to matter. The sun continues to beat down. The other side of the plane.

Riders of the lost ark !

If you are struggling to figure out what in a safari’s name was that..well, i clicked that close to office. Not that i work in a zoo or anything like that. For some reason, there was this strange urge to clarify. Having done so, i move on.

In case you are still wondering where the hell the tiger is roaring from, well, that was the seat of a motorcycle. That idea beats the hell out of me. Would i ever want to paint a tiger’s gaping mouth on my seat and sit on it ?!? What would you call that behaviour ? Sadist ? Masochist ? What !!!

That too, on a bike ? On the seat ? Phew ! Pray tell me, why would this biker ever do that ? I want to see this chap.

But hold on, i can think of a few plausible reasons…. Perhaps its just that the biker doesnt want any other person sitting on the seat, while the bike is parked !

Or is it to scare away the odd crow. What the hell ! With one last lingering look at the tiger, i walk away.

Perhaps this was a devious biker. And, this was a plan to attribute to the tiger, the odd natural noise that could straddle the space between the riders rear and the seat…Suddenly the tiger seems to beseech me to save him !

And this was clicked at Mahabaleshwar. ‘Don’ it says. And something to the effect of ‘catching the Don is not difficult, it is impossible’ !

I want to see the dude who did this to his seat ! If you want to call yourself a ‘Don’, you would do it to that part of the bike that would be visible when you drove ? Right ?!?

Or is this another chap who wants to proclaim to himself that when he rides the bike, he sits atop a Don !

Well, well, well…people. I knew the world had strange tastes. And i wonder what choicest adjectives the riders of these bikes ( and people with similar tastes) will have for me, if at all they read this post.

In all sincerity, i remind myself that i must have a wider perspective. An inclusive mindset. And a temperment that seeks out and revels in diversity.

And then i think of the tiger and the Don. Call me what you will, an image of a roaring tiger (or a mafia dude) under my rear, (given the condition of our roads) is sure prone to get me uncomfortable !

Recession Romance !

So there is a recession. Or atleast a recession in the coming. I wonder how lives will change. Especially so after reading this.

For those readers whose sentiments are down, and who wouldnt want to read that piece, here are a few thoughts & ideas that caught my attention !

a. Recession would perhaps mean more people cheating in exams !
b. It would bring about a reduction in birth rates and an increase in suicide rates
c. Women omen selected to be Playboy Playmates of the Year look more mature !
d. Hemlines go down..

Now, these made me look up. And think about what else would change? I wonder if a recession would lead us to the following…

a. would hair lines recede ( & if so, by how much ). And would anybody care ?

b. Would waist lines change ? If people stay indoors that much longer, well, i would imagine so !

c. Would that mean love marriages blossom? And how about the Gay types ! ( I read somewhere, ‘when you are Gay, your choice set, compared to a straight person, doubles’ )

d. Will prices of apartments, tomatoes, newspapers et al…come down ? Will it be like the old times ? Can we get petrol for Rs.7 / – a litre ?

e. Would TV programming change ? Would we have re-runs ?

f. With every body throwing money into a safety vault of sorts, will elections be fought on counterfeit money ?

g. Would people just relax a little bit, take time off, wash their own cars, drive ways, stay home and read those books that they bought long time back, in the hope of reading it someday ?

h. Would there be lesser cars on the road and lesser carbon di oxide in the air, and more space for pedestrians ! Will bicycles stage a stellar comeback ?!

i. Will we fish less, farm less, eat right and just stay still ? Will all the still people, be nice to one another !

j. Will boys give reusable plastic roses to prospective girl friends ?

k. Would MBA schools have ‘Monopoly’ as part of economics curriculum ? Perhaps ‘scrabble’ would become the best game! Would ‘bailout’ be a seven letter abuse ? Perhaps replace the four letter swear words of the current day world ?

l. Would people get tired of depressing news and tune out of news channels. No advertisements. Would that put news channels out of business ? Ditto with radio jockeys too. And those honourable men and women in Bigg Boss too.

Suddenly the recession doesn’t seem to be all that bad. And before the bad mood affects the sentiments of the visiting public to this blog, my romancing of the recession, goes no further !

A fleeting thought comes up…can i ‘recede’ to being a little boy clinging to his father, as he drove that Vijay scooter ?

Whats with glasses ?

Picture of Kim Jong II from the web

It is time to change my glasses. Its been years. My glasses have seen all the sights that i have. From the plains of Madurai to the peaks and valleys of Mahabaleshwar. The chill of the Bangalore air and the seething summer heat of Delhi. The coasts of the Arabian Sea to the Bay Of Bengal. My glasses of seen it all. ( Other sights, tears, laughter, and insightful moments are not getting mentioned)). Somehow, sticking to geography seeks to override all else !

So, this discussion on the glasses was at the dinner table. This is a style statement. A friend said. Its a style accessory another cooed. It gives you a certain image…a certain personality, said a dear friend with glasses that were flown in from Kolkatta. Please don’t ask me why. I don’t know.

As the conversation rolled on, snide remarks on how i was going blind cropped up. And then, out of nowhere came a comment : ‘Reconsider glasses. Obama doesn’t wear one’.

That was the inflection point. And as the discussion on the dinner table raged on, my mind wandered to world leaders who wore glasses. And i couldn’t get many. And the list that was coming to my mind didn’t exactly swell my chest.

a. Kim Jong – II ( North Korea )
b. Hun Sen ( Cambodia )
c. Manmohan Singh ( India )
d. Robert Mugabe ( Zimbabwe )
e. Asif Ali Zardari ( Pakistan )
f. Dick Cheney ( Vice President of USA )

And of course Sarah Palin ( Attempted Vice President of USA )

There, am sure, and HOPE, that there are other heads with glasses on ! But this list somehow does get me hurtling towards discomfort. If some historian and an avid blogger with imagination and time at his hands were to do some mapping in the centuries to come, where would it leave me, i wonder !!

That leads me upto this door.

Do all world leaders have clear vision ? Can they see well ? Why dont people wear glasses ? Are you thinking that they perhaps have crystal clear vision ? For instance, can George Bush see ? His dad used to wear glasses. But he doesn’t. Hmm !

I wonder if we can fix the problems of the world by just administering the correct prescription for the eye to all our world leaders ! After all, vision is important !

There seems to be a whole lot of need. For good vision !

As for me, i would be trudging to the eye wear store soon. My problems are more plebeian. I just need to see clearly when i read…

A post gave me a whole deal of comfort. Its all going to be in the other persons mind i tell myself. ‘they both wear glasses. which one do i vote for?’ caught my attention!! Do Read it here.

So i trudge along to the eyewear store. Berating myself to stop making Kilimanjaros out of mud heaps.

And as i trudge along, i think of the others that wear glasses, in addition to that list above. Raj Udhav & Bal Thackery, Karunanidhi i think. I shake my head, as my confidence starts to slip. Again

I try a new trick to get my mind to give me some other name and some additional confidence too : ‘Think International’, i tell myself.

And then, my mind says :Donald Rumsfeld.

My purchase decision has been postponed for now.

In praise of the leaf !

Being born a South Indian has many de riguers and ‘typical of’ comments associated. Right up there, amidst the top percentile is the practice of eating out of a banana leaf.

For years, i used to dread eating out of a banana leaf. The reason was simple. The leaf didnt have the boundary wall that a plate offered, and you had to be careful, not to spill food on you. That was the quintessential slip on its way to the lip, that caused a ton of anguish and another of reprimand from your folks !

The other reason for dreading the banana leaf was because it used to offer expanse ! Expanse enough to make many heaps of rice appear like a spoon full. And of course, complimented by many mounds of vegetables, served by what i recall as a set of people who seemed so passionate about getting men and women to believe that ‘pear’ was an exotic shape !!

Where best to see this but marriages. Every guest had so much rice that sometimes used to give me a complex. On two counts. Both on account of speed of the clean up operation and the quantity of the clean up ! For within minutes, the leaf used to be shimmer ! And the green would show. And there i would be, huffing and puffing to see if i could finish the first serving. Morsel after morsel !

The banana leaf has always been a tradition that you couldnt miss if you travel to the south of India ! Biodegradable! And very special ! And of course, quite an honour !! And by the way, the food takes a new taste when served on the leaf !

For all those years that i steadfastly stayed away from it, i miss the good old leaf these days.

Today, when i nibble at my chappati thinking of how many calories went in with each swallow, the carefree, boundary less banana leaf seems to bring a new definition to the word ‘temptation’ !

Inside my head, i try hard to close my eyes. And think of something else. The futility of the excercise make me realise how difficult it can be…to turn a new leaf !!

One morning at Mahabaleshwar !

The still chill morning air of Mahabaleshwar was inviting. Inviting enough for me to ensure i won a battle with slumber and was out on the road that you see here. Of course with the camera slung across the shoulder and wife in tow !

We marvel at the birds chirping. In the silence of the morning, many new sounds come alive. Like a distant rustle of the undergrowth. The swoosh of the shaking tree, long after a bird left its perch. A dog urinates in a distance with gay abandon.

Today, there is just nobody on this road. Just me. My wife. My camera. And a great passion to soak up that morning spirit and perhaps capture as many images as the camera would allow and perhaps have simple conversation.

We walk. And walk. And walk. I notice we talk less.

I spot a bird sitting right up on a tree. In complete serenity and comfort. I take aim. A few snaps later, i zoom in. Suddenly his head pops up. He looks in all directions and with a great hurry flies off. I wonder why. The camera was silent. So was my I. So was the misssus. Then ?

We continue our walk. I see a unique flower in royal splendour. I try hard to get all of it on the camera. With a focussed mind, arched back, squinted eyes and a mild tremble in the hand.

And then I begin to hear movement. Some rumble. At that moment, up ahead where the road curves, i spot two men jog towards us. I shake my head. ‘Ah. The fitness types.’ I think.

And return to look at the flower by the road, through the lens of the Canon.We hear a dog bark. A loud bark. The beauty of the flower overrides the ferocity of the bark. I continue staying where i was.

Click. Click. Click. As though moving an inch here or there would cause the flower to wilt !

And then i hear engines. A distinct slow yet steady engine. Engines. I look up from the flower, wincing at the noise. I notice that the stick in my craw, happen to be the two gentlemen who are jogging towards me, followed by two monstrous Land Cruisers at a steady trot.

With a sardonic wince at the interruption to a quiet morning, i go back to the beloved yellow flower. Only to be disturbed by louder barks. Boww Boww Boww ! The barks go.

Now i am alarmed. I look away from the flower. And then at the two men running towards us. Followed by those oversized white vehicles on this narrow road. I still am looking for those dogs.

At that instant, one of the two men, a big burly fellow, shouts. ‘Boww’. ‘Oww’. ‘Boww’ ! I am now really alarmed. I pay real atttention to the two men now.

The one running ahead is in a red tracksuit. Goggles. et al. The big burly fellow is in a safari suit. At that instant something strikes my infantile mind. I look at the chap in the red track suit with a lot more intent to identify.

Anil Ambani !

Ah. I think. In a few seconds, he passes us by in brisk pace. Followed by the big burly gent in a safari suit, shouting like a dog. At 6.15 in the morning.

And then, the first big car passes us. And then, the next one does. A few pairs of eyes look at us from within. An egregious air permeates what was pristine, just a few minutes before.

With a vengeance i return to my beloved yellow flower. My mind still with Anil Ambani and his safari clad mimicry artist. “Who does he think he is ? The world is not his. Where is equality ? ” and such other sundry questions race to the forefront.

And then i look in his direction. By now, I can only see the backs of those big cars. And think of his life. How must it be to have a truck load of guns following you when you go for a morning walk, i think.

I pity the man. Not that he has asked for any. And not that he will have any value for it. But this is what i feel. I wince through the lens. The yellow flower is shaping up well.

And then i think, ‘what does he have that i dont?’

Well other than, those mimicry artists, huge cars, billions and a mention every other day in every other news paper worth its name, nothing much. Ofcourse, thats not including a fueding brother and a saddened mother!

Click. Click. I get the yellow flower. It looks pretty good.

I wonder if i would like to trade places with this gent.

Not that his place is on offer. Neither is mine! I vehemently shake my head. Of course not. “mera pass ‘peace of mind hai’ ! ( I have peace of mind) !

Anil Ambani and his entourage must be far away. I dont hear them. And where the road takes another curve, there is a new flower i spot. With a dew drop tethered to it by sheer magic. My sentient camera readies.

I am glad i saw him. For suddenly, i seem to relish the dew drop more.

Crateful Markets !

The markets are in turmoil.

People say so. The newspapers say so. Every TV Channel worth the telecast rights says so. Any industrialist who doesn’t say so, is not one. Educationists say so, the world over. Many friends from the blog world says so.

Not to be left out, i want to say something about the markets too.

Ever since i graduated from B-School, ‘Market’ took a meaning of pinstripe suits, mega deals, pink newspapers, intense analysis, luck, spread sheets, mathematics, loads of money. These of course had one element in common : Me ! All of the above had a strange repelling effect on me ! They took the next street, when i came close to them !

Before B-School, ‘markets’ conjured different images : The fresh smell of vegetables, the dirty ground swathed with dropped green leaves, grimy soil, rotten tomatoes, cut coconut, broiler chicken, endless bargaining and a huge amount of energy.

I suddenly seem to get the connection, and understand why stocks are traded in ‘markets’ too.

The eternal construct of the old world market, was in its form. You traded in what you could see. For a price that was by and large equitable to value. The principles of supply and demand worked to ‘real demand’ ! You could touch the offering, and paid in hard currency. If your produce was sub-prime, your price automatically was sub-prime !

Sale didn’t happen because of serendipity. You didn’t buy two more cabbages because some pinstripe told you to. You bought it if you liked it. Or somebody in the family liked it. And those of course were the days of carefree eating, unpolluted by the oil-free-calorie-calculating agenda ! The veritable place offered the best breeding ground for veritable trade.

With a polyannish flourish, and additional inches to a wiseacre chest, here is my theory : The engine of the old world market was its simplicity. Or rather in its abhorrence of anything complex.

You could set it up in a jiffy. When its time to go home you go home with your store. But the essence of a certain degree of a ‘fair exchange’ & commerce took place ! True value was exchanged. And still gets. And these showcased Innovations in simplicity !

Here are some examples.

A foldable cot forms the merchandising area of this store. Infact, that forms the store. The trader displays his material, shouts out to the world, catches the odd mans attention and converts the sale !

Clicked at Malpao market in Goa.

You sure must have heard about Tele-shop. But have you seen an auto-shop ! Well, here is one. The shop is gone by the night. Only to reappear in the morning. With new merchandise and merchandising.

Vegetable / Fruit Vendors at Powai

And oh yes, supply chain, need not be imperious analytical minds, software that would almost get you the moon, heavy duty warehouses and so on. All it could take is a gunny bag and some strong arms !

Clicked on the road. Somewhere in Mumbai

An inverted crate and 2 X 2 ft is all that this lady has to sell a perishable product. She told me she makes about Rs.300/- a day and sleeps a happy woman. I asked her, what does she aim to do ? She told me, ‘ Sell my ware. Earn my money. Get my sleep.’ That was as simple as it could get.

And i sure could tell, she was crate-ful ! Even after her merchandise was exhausted !

Clicked at a market in Goa