Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Season's Greetings

Have a Great time this New Year's!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Time well spent: Books in 2005

After 2 years in a B-School, during which I managed to read just 5 books ('The Goal', 'Cuckold', 'Ravan & Eddie', 'The Rainmaker' & 'The Firm'. This excludes the many management novels that I left mid-way - Akio Morita's 'Made in Japan', Iacocca's 'IACOCCA' & Sculley's 'From Pepsi to Apple'), there was a conscious effort to spend more time with a book this year.
Starting April, these are the books that I read in 2005.

1. Chain Reaction by Eliyahu Goldratt
- First book on the job. Sequel to the much acclaimed 'Goal' by Eliyahu Goldratt, 'Chain Reaction' tries to apply the concepts of 'Goal' in Project Management. I was facinated by 'Goal', but 'Chain Reaction' goes one step further in terms of applicable take-aways. A really Good read.

2-4. The Murakami Novels
a) Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the world,
b) Dance Dance Dance
c) The Wild sheep chase

- Kraz and George raved about Murakami, but I was sceptical - from the Name, to Front cover to Story summary everything looked weird. Decided to check it out anyway.
Started with 'Hard-boiled Wonderland' and the style gripped me instantly. His is the kind of writing you can depend on when you want to re-invigorate your reading habits. 'Dance, Dance, Dance' proved he had a consistent style, though, he was probably not at his best in 'The Wild sheep chase'.

Have already bought his 'Norwegian Wood', 'Kafka on the shore' & 'Wind-up bird chronicle'.
If you thought the names didn't make sense, wait till you read one of his works. It hard to explain the plot and I don't want to try.

5. The Bhuj Story - After the quake by Rishi Sanwal
- Nice to see a friend publish.

6. 3 Men in a boat(Nothing to say about the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
- Witty, humorous and tiresome in parts. Good but not a classic. He has a largely funny and consistent screwball style that may at times make it a bit laborious.

7. 3 Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
- Continues where 3 Men in a Boat left off. Better than the previous one. This one is not so much about the cycle ('bummel') and their journey as his first work was about sailing. Though, his style remains consistent.

8. Seven sixes are forty three by Kiran Nagarkar
- Highly non-linear narrative. A coming of age, autobiographical work. Better than 'Ravan & Eddie' but does not have the Magnum Opus feel of 'Cuckold'. Though, we get more than a glimpse of the talent for intricate character studies that is so glaring in Cuckold. To be read again sometime.

9. 1984 by George Orwell
- A classic that triggerd my interest in Orwell. The explanations on why Anarchy and Class distinction are here to stay is outstanding.

10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
- Like they say, 'A classic account of what it is like to be Down and Out'. An account of Orwell's tryst with poverty. Convinced me to explore lesser known works by popular authors.

11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- Short and 'sweet' read. Have to see the movie to find out why they cast Johny Depp as the free spirited Willy Wonka.

12. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
- Not as great as they have made it to be. You don't have to do a Ph.D and conduct research for understanding many of the day-to-day phenomenon described here. You can ask your Dad for a change!!

13. The Outsider by Albert Camus
- Classic. Nietzsche said,"God is dead" - Outsider will help one understand what he meant. On the lines of Fountainhead in terms of style - conveys a philosophy through stark characterisation. But unlike Fountainhead Camus does the job in around 100 pages.

14. Fear and Loathing in LA by Hunter S. Thompson
- One helluva Joy ride - 'Road Trippin', literally. The damning 'high' of a drop of live human adrenalin.

15. The Talkative Man by R.K. Narayanan
- Average. Fails to inspire one to read more of RKN's - something that 'Swami and Friends' achieved quite easily.

16. The curious incident of the dog in the night time by Mark Haddon
- Amazing work.

17. The Big sleep by Raymond Chandler
- Awakens a genre.

18. Intimacy - Hanif Khureishi
- Fascinating account of one man's arguments and counter arguments for leaving his wife and children. Spiced up with recollections of a troubled life and some interesting couch philosophy.

19. Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Some interesting theories, but an average plot. I will be surprised if the movie survives the opening rush and interest.

20. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Last book I read in 2005 (to date). Failed to understand why this is a master-piece in American Literature. Interesting in parts and long-winded most of the time. Summarises a man's struggle to reclaim lost-love; a story of imperfect characters and the rather realistic decisions they make in life.

Should try more Non-fiction, some of the long pending classics (e.g. Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye, Walden) and inspect some of the younger writers (e.g. Zadie Smith) in 2006. 2005, seems to have produced some interesting books in both Fiction & Non-fiction. Should check them out too.
Recollection by Kraz, Nakul ,Vinod , DSine, Sluggard , Ubergeek , Mridul , Param & Moon Jungle should make a very good compilation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Times We Live In

Male Voice: " Good Morning Bangalore! The time is 9:56 a.m. and this is Christopher on Radio City.

(Sound of Girls wooing)

Male Voice: "Thank you Girls. Now, it's a sunny morning, great weather and we have just the right mix of programs for you on Radio City.
Bangalore, if you are stuck in traffic call us and tell us where you are. While you are with us, you can grab some fabulous prizes by taking part in the following poll.
Tell us what the most common form of public waste in Bangalore is.

Is it
A. Household Sewage
B. Litter
C. Vehicle Pollutants or,
D. Industrial waste
Call us and tell us what you think and win LOTS of Exciting prizes"
(Breaks into Ads)

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Common Man

MG Road, Bangalore - yet another weekday

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"

There was the cream Maruti-Omni, the fat lady in her late fourties inside, and the cop running from one door to the other to either get-in or pull the lady out. The lady was agitated and the cop, confused, but furious neverthless.

Then it happened. One of those gems that one loves talking over and over with friends.

The lady slammed the door wide open, the cop took a step back in surprise, the lady hurtled herself forward. Arms flailing, face contorted as of a woman possessed, tounge lashing like a whip taming a wild beast, she confronted the man. After shouting something at the cop, she swore not to follow his command; two-hoots, that what she claimed she cared for the dictum of his ilk. She got back into the vehicle.
As the play had already begun by the time I stepped out of Higgin Bothams I was unaware of what caused all the furore. Carpedium!!

The fellow, regained his bearings all of a sudden and, started running again from one door to the other, this time more confident and sure of his actions. He barked,

"I public servant. You call me...IDIOT!!.. get out woman.
I public servant. IDIOT eh...I show respect because you lady...GET OUT!!!
You call me IDIOT!!...I Public Servant"

The fellow was trembling with rage by now and his face had definitely taken a darker shade. To the woman's credit though, she was still persistent with her barrage. But I thought, the bit that went "I public servant" helped the policeman score a moral point over the lady; I for one thought it made the woman a bit doubtful. But, she was too deep in it to back-off now and tried to hold fort very stoically.

All of a sudden, one puny little man wearing a T-shirt and cap appeared out of nowhere. He had an impish smile on his face. He watched the proceedings for a few seconds and, unnoticed by anyone (I saw this becasue he made the move right in front of me), took his huge video camera and set about covering the circus. He ran with it to the driver's side of the Maruti, stood with the cop in profile and the woman staring straight at the lens.
A large crowd had gathered around the van by now and some 'elderly citizens' were pressing forward towards the policeman. Then, one man, quite bald on top and wearing a thick black spectacle spoke, in a rather conscientious manner,
"Madam, it was your fault. You shouldn't have..."
I decided to take a walk.

Focus...Stiffen...Click...another one for the album.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Reader's Bloc

Vikram Seth released his latest book and I decided to check him out through 'An Equal Music'. After a point I gave-up on the same - the reading got a bit too laborious and I was in no mood for reading about someone in a mid-life crisis. My friends, though, tell me that if one is willing to plough through the same one is rewarded with gems of musical prose and prose on music. Another day, another place (2-3 years on a 1000 page book - just that and nothing else!! Baffles me, the sense of purpose of a writer of fiction. I guess that is a mould one is born into).
I decided it was time to try something light. I decided to read my 2nd Agatha Christie novel. I had read 'And then there were none' (or 10 little niggers) years back and was rather impressed by it then. On a friend's reccomendation, I decided to try 'The Hollow'. I did not get past the 5th chapter.
One thing that I notice, and have thereafter confirmed as a recurring phenomenon in Agatha Christie novels, is the character study that the author ventures into at the start of her novels. For a novel in the 'who-dunnit' genre, character study of about 5-6 characters for about 60-70 pages right at the beginnig of the novel can be rather frustrating.
I moved into the children's section; picked up my first Roald Dahl novel, 'Charlie and the chocolate factory', and thankfully, finished it. Very light and hilarious read and definitely of the children's section. Though, I felt the book ended rather abruptly and a bit too soon. Guess 'Charlie and the Great glass elevator' takes-off from where this left.
Tried reading comedy of Spike Milligan. Did some cursory reading. Found it 'OK' - nothing to spend too much time on though. It's time I tried something concrete in the non-fiction genre - Guns, Germs and Steel,maybe.

Friday, October 28, 2005

O Captain, my Captain

" I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life... to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
- Dead Poet's Society (Quoting Henry David Thoreau)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Bhuj Story ( After The Quake )

My colleague just published "The Bhuj Story ( After The Quake )", a book about his experience during the relief work he undertook at Bhuj after the quake in 2001. The book focuses on the people he met there and their resilience to the tragedy. Rather, it does not churn out a grim narration of the catastrophe.

Short and light reading by an aspiring writer. Requesting all to grab a copy of the same.

PS: This is not a selling strategy to take advantage of the recent earthquake; he had finished the book months back.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

One Saturday morning in July..

I was in Coimbatore, en-route Bangalore to my home in Kerala; I was on the lookout for a quick connection home having already lost two precious hours of the weekend. As soon as I had set foot in Kovai, an agent of one of the local Private Travels had approached me, and on knowing my destination promised me a seat in a bus that he said left within the next ten minutes. The bus was already late and I didn’t have another idea to toy with. The Travel Agency had more than one agent, obviously, and the crowd gathering around that morning meant that some promises were sure to be broken.

Coimbatore was shaking dreams off and waking up to what looked like a bright sunny day. Shop owners who had hurriedly closed shop the previous night were cleaning their place before the first customers arrived. There was hardly a soul on the streets except for the occasional newspaper boy and the stray dog.

After a while the bus appeared in the distance, a good twenty minutes late. Right from the distance one could make out that the Cabin was already full. The bus ground to a stop ahead of us as many a sojourner dropped his plan - much to the chagrin of their respective agents. I decided to try my luck and took a cabin ticket – my agent definitely had his luck running for him that morning. One more desperate soul joined me.

At this point it is essential to write a few lines about ‘Cabin Travel’. In a semi-sleeper (Cabin Travel, as a practice, does not exist in Sleeper buses. Though one sure can let one's imagination draw out a desperate traveler sleeping foetus like on the floor next to the driver during a mad-rush), a cabin ticket would fetch one space enough to rest the upper part of one’s arse right under the rear end of the protruding TV, kinda back-to-back you could say. This came, of course, for the price of the regular seat. It gives one an excellent view of the hamlets, hillocks, paddy fields and palm trees that pass by – the catch being it is meant to be a play in one act. After a point, you'd rather meditate on the wonders and mysteries of nature with your eyes closed, coddled in the luxury of a cushy push-back seat with hands clasped over your tummy, than sit chin in hand, elbows poking thighs all over and your arse discovering bones that it never new existed till then. Basically, Cabin Travel, is for people who have bosses who wouldn’t let them know if they can take the weekend off from work till within hours of departure.

So there I was, standing on the foot-board, waiting for some divine intervention, tectonic or not, to shift the masses that were so precariously filling up their allotted spaces. All eyes were fixed on me and my gaze shifted from one face to another, pausing slightly to see if there was any space that could be usurped in between. As I stood there, waiting for something to happen, something did happen, to my surprise - a man got up from his seat and offered me the same! As he perched himself on the edge of an already occupied seat, much to the evident discomfort of its occupant, I, after a moments pause grabbed onto the seat that was offered, my bag thrown somewhere in the main seating area. Just for the record, the seat that was offered to me was the top of the gear-box right next to the driver - the Good Samaritan (GS), was obviously someone of importance in the scheme of things. The chap who got in after me made his way back to sit on the floor.

The GS gave me a benevolent smile and queried – “Bangalore?”, to which I replied, “hmm”. Guess I forgot to thank him then.

Tickets were paid for and the bus started its journey.

I was seated in a way that I had to turn 90 degrees to see through the windscreen, sliding myself further down in the process. My co-cabin travelers looked very distraught and the sight of me moving back and forth over the box, thereby polishing its surface, I thought caught their fancy. The seat, the edge of which the GS usurped, belonged to a teenager who wore a t-shirt that went “Nobody is Perfect…I’m Nobody” – for some reason he looked a bit more morose and grumpy than the others. Guess they contracted Cabin fever in Paradise also.

I started looking around and my eyes soon fell on my fellow travelers, the lucky ones seated on push-backs, who were catching up on dreams still undreamt of. As I let my eyes laze around the bus my vision suddenly fell on an empty seat right at the end - straight ahead of me. I quickly turned to the GS and asked him why we had a seat empty right at the back. He gave me that benevolent smile, yet again, and answered – “ Athu saar Walayar Check-postilindhu officer varum. Avarukku reserved” (It was reserved for the Road Transport Officers from Walayar Check post).

Though, at that moment, I was more concerned about getting myself a seat and was entertaining thoughts of occupying the seat till Walayar – what if they did not turn up, what if they had caught the previous bus, what if their work was delayed so that they had to catch the next bus – What the hell, I was in no mood for debates. I went back to my book. I was reading Orwell's 1984.

After a while, when the strain of reading fine-print in a moving vehicle began to tell on my eyes, I casually turned around to glance at the empty seat. To my surprise an old, frail lady was dozing off on the same. As a result of some seat adjustment that had taken place while I was engrossed in the novel, the chap who had boarded the bus along with me had got a seat for himself. He seemed quite pleased with himself, nestled in a push-back listening to his walkman. 'Wait for Walayar', I tried to justify some vague act of inaction I had committed.

As we approached Kerala it started drizzling. It was the kind that left pearly beads on the windscreen - beads with just enough water to form a drop, but not enough to overcome the surface tension and trail down. Soon the wipers were switched on. The wiper squashed the beads, mixed it with the thick layer of dust on the glass and left a wide sweeping trail that made it even more difficult to see what was coming toward.

We crossed the Kerala border sometime then and approached Walayar checkpost. The site of Kerala during monsoons had still not wiped the moroseness from the face of Mr. Perfect. As we approached the check-post, the bus started to slow down. The cleaner boy, who was coiled up on the footboard for a quick nap slowly stirred up.

The bus came to a stop at the check-post. The driver searched around and gathered few sheets of paper and put them into an already full file. After this he had a small chat with the cleaner boy, as if he were clarify what was to be done one final time. Then, as if by habit, he slid a 100 rupee note (or did I miss a few?) under the sheets of paper. The cleaner boy collected the same and made his way towards the office. After about 10 minutes, I heard voices outside the bus. Two middle aged men made their way in followed by the cleaner boy. The men carried a plastic bag filled with something I couldn’t see. They had a smile across their face and walked in as if it was their domain. They knew exactly where they had to go and made their way over luggage and cartons lying all around. I looked back through the hole in the wall. As they reached to their predestined seating location they saw that their seats were occupied. Nobody wakes up an old sleeping lady. All of a sudden two other men got up – guess they had been given the seats on the condition that if need be, they had to part what was dear to them – and offered their seats to the new travelers. The men with the plastic cover gladly accepted the offer and sat down. The stranger, who had boarded along with me, was still sleeping, quite unaware of all that was happening around him. The bus started and we moved on.

That weekend, a close friend narrated to me the troubles he was facing dealing some of the corrupt bureaucrats in the State’s public offices. How bribes were a norm than something shunned as immoral. How bribing was a part of his life and how he made officials feel indebted to him by bribing them than sprouting a grudge by turning them down. Yes, it was immoral, but that was the order of the day, or so he made me believe then. Also, some prominent Malayalam newspapers carried the following headlines –

· 8 (or so. I’ve lost count) MLAs quit ruling Congress party and join ex-Congress leader Mr. K.Karunakaran in his new formed Indira National Congress (Karunakaran) Party.

· Student activists charge the police in Calicut Medical College as a part of their protest against policy changes affecting the backward communities

· Hartal to be declared on someday the subsequent week to protest against the rising petrol, diesel prices

· National Survey rates Kerala as the least corrupt state in India

Guess, All’s well when Gods own the country.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chandler, Marlowe & "The Big Sleep"

“So you're a private detective,' she said. ‘I thought they only lived in books. Or else they were fat little men looking through keyholes in hotels."

There was nothing in that for me, so I didn't touch it.

Raymond Chandler created Philip Marlowe sometime in the 1930s, thereby creating a stir in the detective genre of fiction. The incisive and streetwise character that Marlowe is stands on his own in a genre already filled with creations quite distinct by their nature and modus operandi - from the broody and analytical genius of Sherlock Holmes to the womanizing and daring James Bond.

"The two rooms showed lights on the ground floor and a car stood on the drive in front. That must be Mr. Canino's brown car, I thought. He lets her drive it sometimes. He probably sits beside her with a gun. The girl Rusty Regan should have married. The girl Eddie Mars couldn't keep. The girl that didn't run away with Regan. Nice Mr. Canino."

He is probably one character, that I know of, who does it for the money – unlike Holmes whose reasons are more pedantic and have a lot to do with improving once trade, or Bond, who did it for the Queen or just for the thrill of the chase. Like Marlowe puts it in 'The Big Sleep',

“I have no feelings, I only want money. That’s why I work for twenty-five dollars a day, I do my own thinking. The police hate me, and so do Eddie Mars and his friends. I try to miss the bullets and stay alive. It’s difficult. I ask for trouble. I do all this for twenty-five dollars a day. And perhaps I feel a little sorry for an old man as well.”

Though, if you thought Marlowe was all work and no play, then you would be wrong.

“Her face under my mouth was like ice. She put her hands up and held my head. She kissed me hard on the lips. Her lips were like ice too.

I went out through the door and it closed behind me. The rain blew into my face. It wasn’t as cold as her lips.”

He does play the hermit quite often though.
Though, the main attraction of Raymond Chandler is not the character that is Philip Marlowe, but, is his style of writing. It’s made for a movie, this one. If Robert Rodriguez made 'L.A. Confidential' with Frank Miller’s dialogues and the scene templates of 'Frank Miller’s Sin City', the result would be the cinematic recreation of Chandler’s narrative. Philip Marlowe could very well be Jack Nicholson out of Polanski’s Chinatown, a Jack who spoke much lesser of course.

'The Big Sleep' is short, just like its style, and comes across as very refreshing to someone trying to discover a new style or character in the genre of “who-dunnits”. The story comes with the usual set of Rusty Regans and Eddie Marses, twisted plots and sub-plots, crisp action sequences and an always on the move feel. It’s like the experience of watching Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) - a story that has been done a lot since but a narrative and a central character that stays as new now as it was then, yet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

In Conversation

9:41 a.m., Outside an FMCG major’s office

The Youth, in his White & Black formals; his laptop slung across his shoulder, briskly walks through the gate when a Metallic-Blue 6 point something slides by and eases down in front of the main lobby. A man, possibly in his early fifties, gets out. He is tall, has an unobtrusive paunch and wears a striped short-sleeve.

Y: Casuals - no more formalities at the work place; the sign of a man who has made his indelible mark.

The Man takes out his bag and laptop. He stops to give instructions to someone in the car.

The Youth studies the car as he approaches it. The Man turns around and sees the Youth doing the same.

M: Years of smart-work and perseverance; that’s what it takes my Son. You better work your ass off if you want to succeed.

Y: Hmm. "Honda City", up-close and personal. Nice. Waiting for the weekend till I reach home and get my hands on Dad's new car. Why is the guy looking at me like that?

The Youth catches up with the Man. They start walking toward the elevator. The youth suddenly makes it for the stairs. He bounds up, taking those 3 at a time – the only exercise of a sedentary manager. He glances back as he takes the turn at the top of the flight.

He catches the man glancing at him.

M: Wish I could.

Y: Ha! - The joys of youth. You better take the elevator.

Or so the Youth thought.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lalettan does it again!!

Mohanlal has been offered the role of "Thakur" (Sanjeev Kumar) in RGV's remake of Sholay. One can only wait.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Lost in translation

MG Road, Bangalore City
A damp, rainy, traffic-clogged Saturday evening

A youth jaywalks across the road, quite an expert at it by now, and heads for Brigade - to meet a friend, to have a party, to shop a bit if time permits; another typical IT-bachelor evening beckons.

A woman, penniless and pitiful, her child wailing in her arms, approaches. She extends her arm - for a thought to spare, a rupee to share.

He avoids the eye and moves on without a sigh; scratches the flab at the side of his tummy, scratches it that has grown over the last couple of months.
A thought is lost somewhere.
PS: The youth suddenly realises that what has passed, a good journal entry he could be proud of.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Two things attracted me to this book. One I got curious with the name and the cover. Two, I saw a comment in amazon.com from an autistic claiming that the author has been able to capture, rather fantastically, the way the mind of an autistic worked.
About the story, you couldn't be further off the mark if you thought the book was a whodunit involving a dead-dog and a kid with a photographic memory. The way you feel when you read about "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time" is the way John Malkovich would've felt in 'Being John Malkovich' - the writing gets into your head. Mark Haddon should have named it 'Being Christopher Boone' (the protagonist).
It is a quick read, took me just a few hours. Its all the more enjoyable if you are nestled in a couch on your veranda on a sleepy Sunday afternoon with the rain pouring outside.
Customer Rating: Five Red Cars!!!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Books it is

Kraz tagged me. Books it is then,

Books I own

Two cupboards full.

Last few books I bought

Dance Dance Dance - Haruki Murakami
The curious incident of a dog in the night - Mark Haddon
1984 - George Orwell
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The complete novels of Franz Kafka
Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain

Last book that was gifted to me

Calvin and Hobbes: Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'
..... Never a dull moment

Last few books that I have read

The curious incident of a dog in the night - Mark Haddon
..... The writing gets into your head. World through the eyes of an autistic.

Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world - Haruki Murakami
..... Fresh, Enjoyable, Weird, Great translation

Bhuj: After the quake - Rishi Sanwal (This one is yet to hit the stands. My collegue)
..... About the people who fought the disaster

Chain Reaction - Eliyahu Goldratt
..... Great read to follow-up "The Goal"

Books that mean something to me

PAI&CO Classics (1st one - Robinson Crusoe) and The complete Amarchitrakatha series
..... Priced possession.

Hardy Boys series
..... Growing up

Kane & Abel - Jeffrey Archer
..... Next level

Short stories by Vaikkom Mhd. Basheer (Malayalam)
..... Intro to the fascinating world of Malayalam literature


Roots - Alex Haley
..... A Life's quest captured beautifully in 1000 pages

Randamuzham - M.T. Vasudevan Nair (Malayalam)
..... One of my top 3. Takes an amazing view on 'Mahabharata'

Freedom at Midnight - Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins
..... Great book about Partition. Too dramatic and glorified though.

Cuckold - Kiran Nagarkar
..... Fantastic imagery, better perspective on a spec of Indian History

Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world - Haruki Murakami
..... Out of this world

Books I plan to read soon

1984 - George Orwell (Reading at the moment)
Amritsar - Mark Tully
Dance Dance Dance - Haruki Murakami
Seven Sixes are Forty-Three (Saat Sakkam Trechalis) - Kiran Nagarkar
Khazhakinte Ithihasam - O.V. Vijayan

Thatz it then. Tag on,

1. Mridul
2. NY
3. Shreyas
4. Nakul
5. Gopakumar

So long

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Indigo Blues - II

The Experience
We made our way past shops selling hot kattori-milk and flee contaminated oily samosas.

We found our way through roads congested by emaciated cows, potholes and dumps.

We walked past the abandoned town tank - larger than the temple premises, perhaps.

We twisted, turned and shooed our way through cacophonous street urchins – a mysterious nonchalance about their face.

There sure were no evergreen gardens, no murmuring brooks and whispering winds, no peacocks and milch-cows and, definitely no overflowing ghee pots. Though, at this point, let me avoid further description of the not-as-significant details of the town, its people and the mood, and get straight to the purpose of the visit.

As the temple at Mathura is very high on some Jihadi’s ‘Places to visit’ list, we had to leave half our belongings in the bus and undergo a thorough body check before we could get in. Once we were through, our guide, a local Brahmin, gathered us at the base of the temple - he sure looked the part with his ‘tikka’, accent and the Brahmin’s hair knot. As he started his monologue on the temple’s history and religious significance, I began to notice that the locale had a dark motley shade to it. A quick enquiry confirmed that it was the week of Holi and we had just missed the celebrations. Pilgrims, town-folk, shopkeepers and whoever else was around were all dabbed, slapped all over rather, in violent violets, bottle greens, Govinda pinks and mixtures of these in varying degrees to spectacular effect. I think that’s when I first thanked God.

The guide covered the bit about how Lord Krishna was born within the confines of the prison walls of King Kamsa and moved on to recent history of the temple. History had literally taken its toll on the temple at Mathura. It had witnessed, and withstood, for a large period in history, repeated attacks from the various foreign rulers of India. The structure that housed the main shrine, the sanctum sanctorum to say, had been renovated just a few years back by some corporate house of India Inc.

We did not proceed directly to the main temple. Rather, we visited some satellite shrines and made our way straight for the prison cell where the Lord was born. Now, I expected a deep-damp-dark and labyrinthine dungeon made of impenetrable stone walls and unbreakable iron bars – some place heavily guarded and, where I unconsciously believed, I wouldn’t be let in due to archaeological and religious reasons.

We experienced nothing of the sort.

We were led through some narrow corridors; straight into the room where it had all began many yugas back. A simple plastered and painted room, with a few idols to offer our prayers to, greeted us. As I turned to see where the way from the cell led to, I drew a blank. I literally faced a plain wall (and nothing on it said “Sorry for your inconvenience”), the wall of the structure adjoining the disputed Mathura temple.

Mathura temple is one of the top targets for perpetuating communal disharmony, not just because it is what Jerusalem is for the Christians to the Hindus, but because of the fact that it is a disputed territory. A part of the Mathura temple, part of the prison to be precise, actually falls inside the confines of a neighbouring mosque. The wall that I saw was that of the mosque. Let me not describe the history behind the same as that information is readily available. I was told Mathura, along with Ayodhya, was (is?) part of the saffron brigade’s hidden agenda.

We moved on.

As we entered the main temple we became part of a great commotion. Women in their late 40s were playing cymbals and drums, and dancing in a circle chanting praises of the cowherd Lord. And there was hardly any man participating in the fun. As I observed the spectacle, it became clear that they were playing Gopis - Gopis dancing to the tune of an imaginary flautist. That was probably their way of pleasing the Lord. It was something novel, something that made logical sense if one considered the Krishna’s tastes according to mythology and definitely something that the women who offered the prayer enjoyed.

As we came to the end of the Darshan our guide pointed to us the directions of Gokula, Mount Govardhana, Lake Kalindhi and other places related to Kisna. Then, as we had come to the end of our guided tour, he folded his hands and chanted a prayer for our health and well-being. Thereafter he proclaimed,

Anyone who wants to perform a good deed in this holy land, and thereby receive the direct blessings of Lord Krishna, can do so by providing free meal to the poor. All you have to do is to give me the desired sum - be it Rs. 50, 100 or 1000. I will see to it that the bhiksha is taken care of.

It was probably the blunt abruptness with which the attempt was made – quite contrary to someone who had been very matter of fact till that point. The group remained confused and suspect for a while, slowly realized the nature of the intention, turned their backs to the confused chap and started walking out of the temple.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Indigo Blues - I


Gopis dancing to drum-beat in a garden of thousand roses
Mathura, the holy land
Where, behind bars a stormy night, the flautist cowherd was born

Murmuring brooks, whispering winds and ever-green pastures
Mathura, the holy land
The birth place of Radheshyaam, the butter-thief

Pious brahmins, purifying prayers & offerings of ever-abundant ghee
Mathura, the holy land
Womb to the Uncle-slayer, nemesis of Kaaliya the serpent demon

Crafty temples & serene villages house to saadhus & the temple-folk
Mathura, the holy land
Witness to avataar of Paarthasarathi - the blue-skinned Yaadava king

These were the pictures that came to my mind when I thought of Mathura, (or Gokula for that matter. They are just 21 kms apart anyway) the place associated to Lord Krishna’s birth. This is courtesy primarily to Amarchitrakatha (more on that another time). Hence expectations were sky-high when our tourist bus took the diversion from the Delhi-Agra highway for Mathura.

Next, “Experience”…

Friday, May 20, 2005


00:30 hrs - 29.Mar.05, Chennai

The couple stood at the edge of the beach. The foamy waves fast swept away the earth under their feet. The man and woman were in their mid 50s. They stood hand-in-hand their gaze fixed on something beyond the pitch black that surrounded them, something invisible to the naked eye.

A month ago, Singapore

The fish-eyes darted across the path. A dark mix of sweat and mascara accentuated the palpable fear on the face. Suddenly, sensing imminent danger the girl shot across the path and just as suddenly she stopped on her tracks. Her hands slowly extended skywards - as if she was pleading for mercy. In the next instance, the body writhed, paused and then collapsed under the folds of scarlet that covered her torso.

As the crowd rose to their feet and erupted in a thunderous applause, the girl ran to the woman and started to cry in joy. As the lady pressed her daughter closer and dug her face into the hairdo of jasmine, she reflected on the last two decades – the time it took her child to learn, choreograph and perform the particular form of Natyashastra at the international arena.

Sometime early March, Chennai

“The symptoms resemble those of the commonplace viral fever making diagnosis difficult until the final stage. In its final stage the disease causes rupture of blood vessels resulting in profuse bleeding through pores of the skin. Then, death is the only deliverance. ”

00:40 hrs - 29.Mar.05, Chennai

Tears rolled down the woman’s cheek, collected near her chin and lost itself in the vast ocean. The man tightened the hold on her hands. The deafening waves dampened the wailing sirens of the police cars in the distance.

They waited as the water started to rise.

The killer wave spared the Indian coast on the night of 28th March 2005. The alert was called off at 02:30 hrs, 29th March in Nagapattinam, Chennai and other coastal areas of Tamil Nadu.

Authors Note: Quite often people react uniquely and rather uncharacteristically to tragedies in their lives. More often than not, they try to inflict bodily harm unto themselves. The above narration is based on a true incident.