Monday, June 28, 2010

It Happens Only in India!!

Spend a few months away from home and suddenly you see things you were accustomed to, in a new light. No, this isn't 'Bloody India' syndrome. I can't stand being here anymore sort of rant. No, instead I believe it is us who need to introspect about what we always champion as our cultural superiority. It's time we kept the championing zeal aside and took a second look..

When I got to England, I was uncomfortable acknowledging random strangers saying a cheery 'Hello' or 'Good Morning'. The first thought in a doubting Indian mind is 'What vested interest do they have in saying it?'. I have never cracked a smile at random people while in India, 'We don't want to be thought of as loony, do we?'. Men are highly likely to take it as a come-on, while women would just give a frozen stare back in cold rejection. Why can't this be just a basic civility? One that is such a polite, trusting gesture. It takes no time, but puts a smile on the face, doesn't it? I do it as a matter of course now. The shuttle driver who drove us from the Mumbai airport to the aircraft had a stunned look in his face as I walked out thanking him - wonder if I imagined it or if he thought I had passed a snide remark as I was leaving.

My biggest grouse with people here would perhaps be their need to extract the last ounce out of the money they spend. See it this way, why else would people make such a hue and cry about queuing up to board their flights. As soon as the boarding announcement to Mumbai was made at the Heathrow airport, my Indian fellow passengers showed their true colours. It was a scamper to be the first to board the flight. Could it be the remnants of having to fight for the best seats in Deccan Airways that make people forget they have allotted seats and that the plane won't leave without them? Jet Airways made repeated announcements to ensure people remained seated till boarding began batch by batch. They perhaps forgot they were dealing with Indians. Dutyfree shopping bags jostled with hand baggage ensuring that no one could cut ahead of them, so there formed two lines. Repeated announcements for a single file to be formed fell on deaf ears. Ditto at Mumbai airport too. Boarding call announcements to various cities saw mad scrambles as early as 3.30 AM - as if there was a SALE on inside the plane. No one bothers to check if much time is actually lost in queuing up. I see more time, energy and effort wasted in trying to get ahead of the others. The only thing I see people getting out of jostling others rudely and edging themselves, one-step-at-a-time ahead is the mental satisfaction of having eked out the best value for the money spent by getting in first. After all, doesn't the plane get everyone to the destination at the same time?

Getting out of the airport, I noticed something else, that funnily never bothered me before. Maybe these days, I consider honking horns very rude. Time to report another pet peeve. If your car has to be eased out, you see another car blocking your exit while the passenger loads up his baggage, what do you do? Honk your horn continuously, making life miserable for you and them and anyone else in the vicinity? Does that actually make them stop and move their car and let you move on? Not really, right? Then why the wasted effort? Aren't a great deal of the traffic jams we see here caused because everyone tries to squeeze past - regardless of whether your attempt is inconveniencing fifty others behind you.

It's time we learnt some grace, some consideration for the other person. People who do it as an accepted gesture abroad, turn into heartless natives the moment they breathe in the Indian air. Yes, it might set us back by a couple of minutes, but won't you be in a better frame of mind, better disposition for having done a good deed for a stranger you will never meet again. Why is this culture missing? Will we ever learn? We pick up so many convenient Western customs, why not their civility?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Travails of a Lonely Traveller


I am sore. I have huge bruises on my arms and my neck and shoulders feel like I have been carrying boulders for the best part of two days. I am grumpy, irritated and sleepless. Recognise the symptoms? It is jet lag compounded by my first experience of travelling home alone from England.

So there I was in summery Falmer counting down days to my happy homecoming in rainy Kochi.
Every day, I added a little bit extra to my bulging suitcase. Not much, I figured, definitely not more than the weight limit allowed for students – a good 46 kgs. Now what didn’t penetrate through my thick skull is that I needed to be less worried about the permitted weight limit and more about how I was going to carry it all.  

The roads in the UK might be ideal for rolling suitcases, but unaffordable private transport means that you have to walk long distances lugging a 30 kilo suitcase, a 15 kilo backpack with your heavy laptop in it and a bulging ladies handbag that I positively couldn’t have made light.

And Uncle Murphy who made those weird laws, loves me a lot. So he ensured that he kept peeking over my shoulders throughout my trip to India.  For starters, I miscalculated the time required to walk downhill with the listed luggage towards the station. What is normally a 15 minute trek turned into a 25 minute painful progress. Barely  made the train to Brighton for the connecting one to London. I had forgotten to check if there was enough time between the two trains. So I had just 5 minutes to take my luggage out of the Brighton train and waddle towards the one headed to London.  

At London began the next ordeal. There was a tube strike on – typical of London public transport, but why on the day I was travelling. More delays. By the time I changed lines and got to Heathrow, I could feel my left hand threatening to drop off. The right one had a purplish bruise developing – I haven’t figured when I picked that up yet.  The Indian queues were as usual pretty pretty long. So by the time, I checked in my luggage and headed for security check, I was already late. 

London airports have become notoriously fancy about security checks. So despite  depositing all my lotions and potions in transparent plastic bags, I was one of the unfortunate few who had to stand silently as the security personnel sorted through my toiletries and laptop bag…Aaargh..more time the much praised Heathrow Dutyfree shopping experience mocked me as I rushed to the boarding gates.

A Heathrow-Mumbai-Kochi trip that begins at 9.30am, lands at a highly inconvenient 11.30 PM India time in Mumbai. Though my friends were on hand to help me while away some time, by 3.30 on Saturday morning, I was a grumpy grouch. The flight to Kochi was at 5.30AM, landing there about 7.15 in the morning. What are the chances that you land in Kerala on the day of a hartal? Pretty high. Thankfully, my ever reliable Dad was at hand to cut short the torture in my torturous journey home.  What would I do without him??

A journey spread roughly over two days – the pet peeves that my grumpy, tired and bruised body and mind has about the travails of UK-India travel…that’s episode two.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More on Brazilian Jhatkas and Matkas

A couple of months ago, I'd written this post called 'Indian' Bahu, Brazilian Beefcake and Bollywood Jhatkas (click here to to read that post, if you haven't) Strangely enough, that post seems to have been read pretty widely ( a fact I got to know thanks to Feedjit - the comments on that page are far and few to warrant such a claim)

The other day, I finally I got my flatmate L to send me the link to a lovely montage of all the Bollywood songs she knew. The way she says it, its Kadjrareeeee, Kadjrareeee...and a host of others. To my glee, this link came with the scenes from the Brazilian soap the songs were picturised on. I found it hilarious. 

Point to Remember: None of the actors are Indians, they are all Brazilians who speak shuddh Portuguese. India is still the land of exotica and of course the Kama Sutra. When you watch the clip, notice the exaggerated jhatkas and matkas and of course our own special Sharmila Tagore eye makeup with a Brazilian twist.

I also chanced upon a figure skating team from the US performing an Indian number on the ice skating rink. They won the championship with this performance. While many of my friends critically claimed that their movements looked grotesque, I couldn't help wondering how difficult it must have been to choreograph such a piece to Indian music and try to pull something like that off. India suddenly seems to be the flavour everywhere.In a sense, expanding Indian soft power across the world.

Like the English laud our attempts to speak their language with our own style and quirks, I guess we must give the foreigners a chance to try out our dance and music, cuisine and culture in their style.

Live and Let Live, What Say?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stolen Slice of Sussex Summer

This is part 2 of Brighton on My Blackberry Series

Every now and then I see a compelling frame that I must record for posterity. Some moments captured to remind me of the good one year I spent in the lovely English countryside of Sussex.
I have often spoken of how I love to watch the English sky. It is magical, very often as you drive along, you feel the sky is awaiting your arrival in the horizon, with the clouds spreading a fluffy blanket for you to step on. I have never felt the sky so close to the earth in India.  My Europeans friends mock me, but I have taken atleast a 100 pictures of the Sky. Shall post more if you share the craziness
By the way, did you think I sneaked in an Indian picture? This is the only picture I treated a bit with Picasa. Just to fool you a bit. 
No, this is no Indian Palace, but the Royal Pavillion in Brighton which was built by the Prince Regent as his summer retreat in the style of an Indian Mahal in the early 19th century. The first time I saw this building, there was a connect..inexplicable, profound.  
Doesn’t this look like a picture postcard? It is the church on the estate near the University. This is the Stanmer Church which stands opposite the Stanmer House. 
My friend and I go for walks on every summer morning…We take new paths everyday, a little exploration. The other day, I met him – more inquisitive about me than I was about him
And this little lady, shied away from my constant 'bug'ging. But I wouldn’t let her hide her face, I persisted till she gave me a little peek
There are still some more months left in the Brighton journey. More pictures will be posted here. If you liked them, don’t forget to drop me a word. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Football Manners Simplified for Desis


Dos, Don’ts and Whys of Watching Soccer in English Pubs or with Drunk Englishmen
1. Choose your pub mates wisely – those who can hold their drinks along with their emotions are the only ones you are safe with. A rapidly deteriorating match is  directly proportional to the copious amounts of ale and beer in the English belly. What follows a defeat or draw will depend on your wise choice of mates
2. Keep in mind that the English are crazy – they bash you and then question whether you deserved to be bashed
3. Cheering for the right team can earn you a free pint, wrong side a blackeye. 
4. Learn to look the other way when the Englishmen make on-field or off-field blunders.  Sniggering at their goof ups and merry clapping when the opponent scores can land you in the situation described in point 2.
5. Remember to cheer for any team playing against France – the English and the French can’t stand each other much like India and Pakistan. 
6. Choose the venue to watch the match carefully. If you opt for a pub far away from home, do a quick recce of the drinking quarters to acquaint yourself with possible hiding places to hide for that drunken football slob keen to bash up the first thing he can get his hands on to vent his ire at his team’s shortcomings.

7. Indians would do well to keep their ‘chugli’ (rabblerousing in broader context)well under control. Deliberate attempts to needle the already irritated football fan can cause grievous injury to your health and well being.
8. Indians need to remember that matching a European in size and girth is like Jerry thinking he can fight Tom on equal terms without cheating. You are advised to look into the mirror before puffing yourself up on beer and bravado.
9. Deliberate sniggers at levels audible over the pub din , merry clapping when the English team appears like eleven uncoordinated village bumpkins or loud whoops let out to celebrate  misguided Anglo missiles meant for the goalpost that land somewhere in the far corner of the stadium will not be taken too happily by the humourless Brits.
10. If unavoidable situations do come up when the urge to indulge in behaviour explained in the above point happens ( like when Rob Greene decides to offer USA a draw in a platter by trying to scramble on the grass mimicking a toddler around a ball) refer to point 2 and 6 and 8
11. Indians have little to cheer for during the World Cup other than for countries imagined as one’s own. However, if the bug to cheer for something desi bites hard, check for the Mahindra Satyam boards that can be sometimes spotted around the stadium among the sponsors.
12. Learn to separate your sports passions. Revelling in Australia’s nightmarish mauling at the hands of Germans can also be seen as reverse racism for all the grief India has faced from the Aussies in Oz land and on the cricket field. (Psst...warning:There are also many Australians roaming incognito on the streets in UK too. Point 8 applies in this context too) 
13. Hooting loudly or appearing to be enthusiastic about the game by doing the bhangra before and after each goal also can cause untold damage to your health and property. The threat can be from not just angry Europeans but also from unexpected corners thought to be occupied by deshvasis.
14. The vuvuzela might look like a cool instrument to you and the Africans. The rest of the world would rather they remain largely unheard of. The 'pleasure' you render to eardrums with a cheerful rendition might lead to 'counter pleasure'  from a hearty slap delivered across your face.
15. Learning the theory of living and let live might come in handy while watching a football match in an English pub. Choose your matches wisely. It's preferable to stay indoors if an English match is scheduled for 7.30PM UK Time on a Fri, Sat or Sun..

Friday, June 11, 2010

Life at Crossroads - A Set of Framed Pictures

This post deserves a dedication - To my parents who have stood by me through thick and thin, to my aunt who lost her husband very young, to my 'sanity holders' who have held my hand through the toughest times in my life and to my friends who bring so much cheer into my life. 

There are some moments when Life flashes by, in little neat packets of frames - You drop everything that you are doing or thinking to stand in awe of those moments. 
Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But that's how it has been for me. Sometimes it is like an out of body experience, where you feel like you are standing on the side, a silent observer as your life plays itself out around you. The real You is there, playing out her part while the other You stands on the side, in quiet observation.

I can vividly recall three huge moments in my life, when life has flashed by in frames. Every time, life was at a turning point. The crossroads beckoned, I stood there on that deserted road, looking in all directions, dazed. With each choice, flashed different moments of life...Faces half forgotten, expressions that remained engraved somewhere on the corner of the mind. 

The first time I felt like the audience in my own life was surely on that horrible day in June, over a decade ago. On route to Pune, our car turned turtle, my uncle who was driving the car got trapped under the upturned car. I, who sat an arm length away, was thrown out of the car. I lived to tell the tale, he didn't. I don't remember the last moments before the accident vividly. However, every now and then, the memory of the next ten minutes comes to haunt me - that bitter mix of helplessness as you lie dazed on the grassy turf by the side of a slippery road. The impact winded me..I lay there, trying to get a bearing of myself, hoping there was someone to turn me over. In that moment, I saw my first trail of snapshots. I was sure I heard noises, I saw my uncle's face and the jokes we were cracking in the car before the string that held the chain together burst. What followed remains like assorted pictures I rarely want to see. That feeling, though, of utter helplessness, lying face down bleeding while life whizzes pass - someday I'll figure out the words to explain that hollowness...

The second time, I distinctly remember was in Mumbai. My personal and professional life was in tatters. I was spending nearly 18 hours in office, 7 days a week. On one of those days, I remember standing on the footboard of a speeding local train, looking at the railway track. Fascinated. Knowingly fully well that all it would take was for me to leave the handlebar I had my grip on. Another set of snapshots, this time mostly sad...were there faces? I'm sure I saw my parents...more compelling reasons to surrender to that vacuum I could feel inside. At that moment, if you had thrown a coin down my soul, it would have clattered a million times. A young girl who moved forward as the train approached the Lower Parel station broke my trance. She smiled as she walked out of the train, I remember so clearly...I smiled back, shivering in the knowledge she did not have. That she had perhaps saved a life without even knowing that her interference had meant that a choice was made.

The third time - this seems anticlimactic as I write it. There I was, sitting in a TV studio, all ready for a show, my hair set into place, my emotions hidden behind a mask of makeup. All that was allowed to be let through was the facade of cool professionalism. As my producer gave me my 'On Air' cue, I felt that again - that old, by now familiar feeling of an out-of-body experience. The Me somewhere by the side, watching my automated performance. A question asked, a reasonable answer given - the other Me feels proud of the real Me's performance. Through the ten minute 'On Air' performance, the other Me was busy tallying up the losses and gains, getting rapidly disillusioned with the futility of it all. That was the moment I decided it was time to end this phase of life. Time to pack bags, unsettle the seemingly settled. Draw new patterns, see new horizons.

The other day, I went with my friends to Seven Sisters - chalk cliffs along Seaford in UK. One of the cragged edges really looked like the endpoint, were the earth really flat. I walked till the tip, like an explorer, keen to stand on the edge and stare out down at the waters hitting the rocks and foam that spewing. Just when I thought I reached my end-point, I realised that was not the Land's End...

The landscape stretched on, it was my mind that saw it as the end. In reality, life lies elastic, ready to be moulded and stretched, the way you want to. Shorten it, and  it condenses itself. Stretch it and it expands to encompass everything. This time too, the neat frames of pictures flickered through my mind. But for once, I was at peace - with life, my place in this vast universe. 

The real Me and the other Me were in sync. That's the moment you know you have anchored your life right. 

I might see those neat packets of life frames someday, but now I know how to create equilibrium. 

I'm a survivor. This is catharsis.

( All the pictures taken at Seven Sisters - Berlin Gap and ahead)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Ayyo, What to Do With This Crazy Language?

For long, I have resisted the attempts by friends and colleagues to tag me as a desi-firang. It does sound like an oxymoron in Hindi, but in fact there is hardly another way to describe those who have lived in India most of their lives but think in English and find it easy to express themselves in that language. So for the sake of convenience, a desi-firang can be categorised as those desis who are more comfortable speaking and thinking in English. My mother and friends would mock the way I speak Malayalam claiming it was too 'Anglicised'. Should I blame it on English medium schooling that I got trained to think in English and translate it into the language I call my mother tongue? 

So there I was, a desi-firang, bag and baggage in the land of all yuppy-puppy desi firangs - UK. It took a couple of months for the realisation to dawn that I was an Indian English desi-firang. (Confused, dont be! I shall explain the premise) 

The way I speak English is typically the way most hoity-toity Indians speak it. Grammatically flawless, but peppered with Indianisms for want of another word. While in Bangalore and Chennai, I liberally sprinkled my sentences with da and machcha ( What you doing on Saturday, da?) in Hyderabad it became ra ( Will you be at the press conference? No ra, too much work already) Replace the 'a' with the 'e' when you are in Mumbai ( What re, not going to work today kya? or I tho just wanted to die when she came wearing that same top, re!)

While in school, Amma used to mimic the way we girls used to talk to each other ( What ya, you can't even say these things to your mother ya) Basically a ya was required to add the stamp of English. Even better - how many times have we created new words because we can't find the right English word to convey the meaning? Haven't you ever maroed (cracked) a couple of smart lines in front of a girl or stood chummified( that's Malayalam-English for embarrassed) when your tall claims came crashing down. If you are in the north, there is no way you would have escaped wedding-shedding jokes or the Punju-vanju types.

These usages seem perfectly sound till you export it to England. And then begins the fun.

While talking with English friends, the Indianisms liberally sprinkled in your 'flawless English' cause puzzled expressions. Just as you are wondering whether you have grown two horns comes the realisation : my phrases are too Indianised to sound intelligible to the truly firangs.  (Try telling someone you just want to do some general stuff or that It's all for timepass)

They don't get my word play nor do I understand them when they talk of 'being knackered' or 'having the mickey blown out'. Do you? 

The funniest moments are in the way we describe food. We call food without spices 'bland', while here that without any flavour is called bland. So when I refer to hummus as bland food, out come the shocked expressions. The Brits are masters at bland food, they can't stand some puny Indian calling food bursting with flavours as bland, you see!!

There is also our innate flair for description. As adjectives and adverbs decorate every noun, the resulting sentences are so flowery that it leaves them confused. Sample this. " I belong to the great land(adj) called India that is a wonderful( more adj) example of unity in diversity( cliche!!!). We are extremely, funloving and friendly( Moreeeee adj) group of people who believe in spreading the lofty ideals of peace and harmony wherever we go." Very mildly improvised form of flowery description that I heard at one of those Freshers' Ball at the University.

 I have come to realise that there is a huge disconnect between people speaking the same language. Primarily between Indians speaking English believing they speak the Universally understood form and the others who often get lost somewhere between the accent and the usages. 

Just the other day( so typical of Indians to begin with a clause), I was telling someone that my English has gone to the dogs( few relate to this phrase here) after arriving in England...( Did you realise how colloquial this is?) Few Indians would think of it as a very convoluted sentence. What we want to convey is the sheer irony of it. English worsening in England? Well, it is true. It can happen.

Now you understand why I say, Ayyo, how to speak this crazy language?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Memories are Always in Exaggerated Technicolour

I'm heading to India for a short summer break at the end of this month. I already have a set of things planned out. Quite high on the list of priorities is watching a Malayalam film at one of the theatres in Kochi. Reminds me of an old post made during my last trip to Kochi. Reposting it...

Just when the black clouds gathered to send a bolt of thunder warn those who had no business to be out on the roads about an impending thunderstorm.

I was in the throes of making elaborate plans for the day. A movie, I decided was on the cards. The weather be damned..what were rickshaws for after all? And it was to be a family production - get my mom and her always gungho sisters together, lure them with the promise of a movie and lunch out. And as we stepped out, it was pouring as if there was a massive cleaning operation happening up in the sky and buckets of mucky water were being splashed down on earth...

But then I was determined to relive the good old days of watching movies in theatres. The old fashioned way, come rain or shine. So there we landed, dripping enough to make the theatre manager wonder what sort of dementia drive women to movies in a pouring thunderstorm . In fact, my mom even apologised to the rickshaw driver for our lunacy, explaining to him how the tickets had unfortunately been booked in sunnier times and then tipping him a twenty extra to hide the embarrassment of willing participation in her daughter's mission..

There you go - small town living . Everyone deserves an explanation. No matter that you will never see that bloke ever in your life again. But all this was forgotten as soon as I entered the theatre. Like most ones in Kochi, they too are named after women- set of three - Savita, Sarita, Sangeeta. Trust Malayalees to come up with rhyming names for siblings -so what if they are theatres? Sangeeta is more like a preview theatre by any big city standard - seats about a seventy - has a tiny screen compared to its more preferred siblings. But to be fair, I have watched a lot of good movies here. Today too, I saw a very good one...Ruthu( Seasons).Hope I spelt it right..( psst...for those interested, a film review can also be attached) But for me the movie wasnt the only attraction...

It was all about revisiting an old haunt - a swanky theatre complex of my childh. The popcorn stalls looked the same, no tampering with layouts here - the coffee machines were new. Different from the huge coffee filters kept then. but otherwise, it looked like I was in a time warp.The huge elephant's head carved in wood looks a hundred years old and its still there where it hung from nearly 25 years ago, my first memory of the theatre, the woodden balustrade,the chandelier. Nothing has changed. The ticket rates were a hoot -40Rs ticket - the best of the best on offer, printed on cheap purple paper.

My nostalgic nose couldn't have been tickled more. Walk into Sangeeta and you realise why they still charge the same. The red carpet running through the length of it, hadnt been changed since the time I toddled through there blackmailing my dad to get me peanuts to keep quiet through the climax. The seats looked the same too -narrow, uncomfortable with woodden handles. A raddiwala's treasure trove in these days of plush multiplex comfort. But I put it all down to those oft quoted 'walks down the memory lane' and sat down...

And as the movie began, and the lights dimmed, started the real live action. Rats scampering up and down with little animated squeaks to make their presence felt. At first, we laughed, till I felt a furry body scamper past my toes. Or did I imagine it? I can't speak with total authority, but there I was watching the film for the next two hours with both my feet cramped into the narrow space on my chair. And then, I realised I wasn't the only one. Wonder if it was one of those creative minds watching the film who started mimicking the sounds of a tabby cat. For a while the movie was forgotten, half the audience had their feet up, waiting for the cat to advance till one of them spotted the rat scampering across the theatre screen and there was spontaneous laughter....

The film's director would have been crushed were he there. The scene was a teary one, that was to hold his viewers in its grip and here was a little puny rat stealing the thunder.  Add cockroaches and a generous army of mosquitoes to the mix and we had quite a number of characters off screen too. I don't think I'd thought of rats and cockroaches back then. There were the popcorn packets and the other munchies to look forward too and bottles of fizzy drinks to chase the fear of little creepy crawlies away. Or is it that all these theatres have now gone to seed? Dont know if the dirt and grime is more obvious to me now that I too am a visitor seeking the same rich colours- from the screen to the carpet.

The movie to be fair was a really good one...another one I'll be proud to claim is from Malayalam stables. But the 'holistic' experience I'd say was more memorable...