Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Amusing People

Every once in a while, on weekends, I go to my best friend Manju's house. He lives with his family on a resort near a little village called Nelamangala, about 50 kms from Bangalore. I usually take a bus to Nelamangala and he picks me up from there. All the times that I have been there, Manju has been late (not intentionally, of course!) and I have had to stand outside the bus stand for some time, much to the amusement of the people there.

I really stand out there with my jeans, kurta and sunglasses with a backpack on my shoulders. I would stand next to a market that sells all kinds of colourful flowers, buy some chocolates for Gowri, my friend's daughter and look around. As I often say, I am fascinated with villages. Madikeri is a place where a stylish person is gaped at too, but then it is my town and I don't really stand out there. All the other villages I have been to, I have been greatly amused by the people there. The villagers have been equally amused with me too. When I was in my early teens and that rebel streak was just emerging in me, I would deliberately dress up in shorts and wild hairdo and junk jewellery for that shock value when I went to my cousin's village several miles away from Mangalore. And shock I would, much to my aunt's horror!

I no longer do that of course. But I have become legendary for my antics there, so no amount of prim and proper behaviour helps now (Thank God!) ;-) Going back to Nelamangala, I continue to interest people. So much that, there was once a man there who actually stopped his bike and stared at me for a full two minutes! I laughed my head off later.

To be honest though, I don't mind all the attention I get. It is not vanity. It is just a genuine, almost innocent interest that these people have that really does not bother me. They are unabashed, not conscious at all that they are staring and that it is not polite to do so. It is that innocent, almost child-like curiosity that amuses and interests me no end. I now tell my friend to be deliberately late, so that I get to look around, get nostalgic about Madikeri, look at the couple who are flirting quite discreetly in a corner, listen to the crude, and loud, language of the countryside, watch people haggling, look at shops filled to the ceiling with cheap wares and plastic toys, smell the mud, see the colours, feel the pulse and be back in a village, where I sometimes think I really ought to be.

I tell him to be late every time for it makes for a new story, a new discovery, an interesting day.

Little Dreams of My Heart

I suppose you could call me ambitious. Well, not from the career point of view really. I do want a good career, but not anymore at the cost of life. I am ambitious in my dreams and wishes and the things I want to do sometime in life. Earlier, I would keep telling ma about my crazy desires. She was so used to it that her reaction was always a “hmm”. After moving out of home, I had thought I had lost that edge to be. Thankfully, I am as crazy and spirited as ever.

I have had some crazy desires behind me. There was a time I wanted to be a hippie, minus the drugs. I even used to dress up like one, at home of course, because ma forbade me from venturing out looking like we could not afford to buy decent clothes for me! I would wear weird clothes and several beads and look rather silly, come to think of it. Raksha and I have experimented quite a bit over the years with looks, jewellery and clothes, very often with disastrous results.

All my life, I have wanted to do a lot of things, apart from the usual traveling around the world bit. When I was a girl, I had planned this world trip I would go on after I was all grown up. I had a little book in which I had charted out a route that covered all the continents. I had the complete itinerary ready with the number of days I would spend in each country, what I would need to carry with me. I was to go on this trip alone, of course (I grew up alone, so probably the thought of taking company never really struck me) and I had even decided that I would need Rs 3 crores for the trip!!! Don’t ask me how I arrived at the figure and where I proposed to get it from! I suppose I expected dad to pitch in with the money!

The famous Tamil film ‘Roja’ has this song about the little desires of a little heart. That is how it is with me. Over the years, I have wanted to go on a fishing trip with fishermen out into the sea, ride on a road-roller, graze cattle for a day, milk a cow, sell wares on the street, yelling out the names of the wares in a weird voice, live and travel with nomads, especially the migrant workers, drink hot coffee in glass tumblers from a very dirty looking tiny hotel on a highway, plough, sow fields, bungee-jump, sit up all night talking, go trekking when it is raining (not very safe, I know)…. More seriously, I have wanted to quit my job and become a writer, honestly. I have wanted to start something really really off-beat, travel around the country clicking pictures and writing, start farming, get involved in agriculture, study something, write a book……Phew! The things I have wanted to do! I have done some, will do some others, I know. There is something about these little dreams that makes life so nice, something to look forward to. And moreover, these are not really hard either, nothing impossible, just crazy, weird perhaps but definitely possible.

You know those little multi-colored houses that dot highways and inner roads all over the country? The small houses with the blue doors, mud walls, thatched roof, a stone to wash clothes on one side, clothes hung in the front to dry, a thin dog that has been tied with a piece of string, naked children running around, that strange whiff of something cooking mixed with smoke, a young girl washing clothes or vessels, bright, gaudy plastic flowers stuck in a cane vase on the shelf, a couple of toys lying around, pictures of Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon cut from calendars hung on the side….you get the picture. I have always been fascinated with such houses. every time I travel and we pass by villages that lead off the main road, I try to peep into the dusty lanes and catch a very quick glimpse of the lives that are lived on those streets. I have always wanted to stop by and walk into one of those villages, but never did. Last Saturday, I was sent to Ramanagaram, about 40 kilometres from Bangalore, to do a story. I walked into Wodeyarahalli, one such village that I had always fantasised about. I got to walk about a bit, I even went to one such house. With our sunglasses and modern clothes, my friends and I were a source of great amusement to many little kids who openly gaped at us, to shy women who peeped from behind doors, to old men wrinkled with age and experience and to the rest who simply stared at us. Period.

I was telling Manju about my long time desire to go to a village, a house that was fulfilled that day. He could only shake his head, finding my crazy desires a bit amusing. One more down, several to go, my desires, my dreams, my wishes….

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Coming from a small town, I have always had a fascination for small towns and more so, for villages. Though Madikeri is by no way a village, people are still intrusive, as a city-slicker might call it. Everyone knows everyone, everyone wants to know what the other is doing. Privacy is almost an alien word. Supposing I were to walk the streets of my town with a guy no one had seen about, I could be sure that the entire town would be whispering about me by the end of the day, and before long, my parents would have heard of it from a friendly and concerned person!

The population of Madikeri is some 40,000 people and a lot of them know my family and my father. But it’s ok really, there is a sense of belonging there, something I write about constantly. If I go for a walk on the main road, I can be sure that at every other shopkeeper there and many others on the road will stop and ask me how I have been, where I work now, whether I am on holiday….That’s the beauty of my place for me. What I previously thought was intrusive is a concern and a genuine interest in everybody’s affairs, I understand now. Of course, there are several scandalous people and families that get gossiped about and do not mind it. There are ways to get by without being “caught” too but then….you learn to curse it for a while and then succumb to it too. What was that about if you can’t stop it, join in…?

I remember when I was growing up, I hated it to the core. How my every trip to town would be reported back to my dad without fail. Raksha would crib about how you could not run away with anyone too, jokingly of course! In many ways my Madikeri will never change, thank God for that! There are a lot of new people in town these days, little kids who studied in the same school as me are now grown up and are the latest hip and happening crowd. I don’t recognise most of them when I go back home. But the old faces are still there. My classmate’s dad still calls out to me and asks me how I have been, the guy who owns the only big newsstand in town, the guys from the Bata store, the old man from the supermarket, the guy from Shahin’s who used to carry me while mom shopped, ages ago, the uncle from Komal’s, the one time most happening store in town, my classmates who run shops now, the vegetable seller, the chubby old man from the video rental store who always mixes up stories of movies and ends up recommending the worst of films to me, the lanes, the same old stores, everything is there.

I remember the few quite unsuccessful attempts to make the town modern. Some brave people opened Periyan’s restaurant when I was in high school. It was the only place where you would get a burger and was very popular with the young crowd. But eating out is not a culture we follow there and despite initial success, it went down. There is a new place now, I have never been there. Another place announced that it would sell pizzas and burgers but as far as I know, nobody ever bought anything from there twice. Another that became popular with us when we were in college was Juice Point which served milkshakes and ice cream and had some computers along side with internet. We thought Madikeri had arrived until it shut shop a few years ago, almost the time we moved out of college too. The point is there is today no place where people can “hang out”. There is Raja Seat of course, but we are all so fed up of it that only young boys go to try and spot a pretty face from among the tourists. All you can do is walk around town and go back. East End, the best and most elegant restaurant in town, is too far.

Growing up, we never used to “hang out” except at each others’ houses. Even today, when I go back home, Raksha comes homes or I go to hers. There is no where else to go….But because of this, friends became family friends, you know. Raksha, for instance, talks to ma and goes home even when I am not there. There is this whole relationship that builds up around the place, the people. I can never ever hope for anything of that sort in Bangalore. And that is what I miss the most....

PS: When I began writing this post, it was meant to be about a totally different place but somehow ended up being about Madikeri.....