Sunday, October 31, 2010

As Time Goes By....

Pic from the internet

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

I have found that there are these little perfect moments that you create, as you go along, holding Life's hand. A train journey with a great book. An evening by a pond and a very soft, cold breeze. A quiet evening spent listening to music with the lights turned off. There are many such.
I add to that watching Casablanca (1942) on a Sunday afternoon, feet outstretched, my back against the wall, the curtains drawn, the volume turned up.

"(you will regret it) Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life..."

What a fabulous movie, one of the best, one of my most faves. As time goes by....Frank Sinatra's...what a fantastic, fantastic song! What a pair, the intense Humphrey Bogart and the hauntingly beautiful Ingrid Bergman. What a movie!

"We will always have Paris"
"Here is looking at you, kid."
Such wonderful quotes...such great cinema...

Just as I about to post this, I realize this is my 400th blog post. Ah well. That's some milestone of sorts, I suppose.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tripura Anyone?

Pic courtesy: Miss Imti!

Ma and I are planning this long long trip across thousands of kilometres and I am suitably mighty excited! I was juggling between multiple websites to figure out a rough plan when I realized that India also has a state called Tripura. No, of course I knew the state existed, but that's just about it. I don't remember reading anything of significance from there, though I think it did figure in my granny's stories. Neither do I know anyone or heard of anyone who is from there. Nor do I know anyone who has ever been there.

Nagaland is where Lizzie is, so I know. Manipur I have friends. Mizoram I used to know someone. Sikkim I have been to. Arunchal Pradesh, yes the controversies. Asom (is that how it's spelt now?) is known. Tripura slips in somewhere now. That very fact makes me want to go there. What is Tripura?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rakta Charitra and Other Inroads into Culture!

The only reason I thought I would watch Ram Gopal Varma's latest gory offering Rakta Charitra part 1 was because I wanted to make sense of the second part. Now why I wanted to watch the second half is very obvious, for it is Suriya's first Hindi film. And as you all know, I have a huge sized crush of him! But what I thought would be a chore left me quite impressed.

I switched off my TV just now after watching the film and had to write this. The movie is everything you have heard it is: gory, very violent, dark, vintage RGV stuff. The frames look similar to those from 'Satya', 'Company' and his other films. Most actors look menacing and have a grimace permanently pasted in their eyes. The background score is again loud. But as with the two films I mention above, Rakta Charitra is disturbingly good.

I have never liked Vivek Oberoi much, there was something about him that I didn't want to pay money to watch on screen. But he knows how to act, I must say. His performance, as a guerilla style rowdy, then as a suave politician is smooth. Abhimanyu Singh is great too, as the deplorable Bukka Reddy. Then there is the spurt of blood in every second scene; you can almost hear the liquid gush. It is touted as the most violent film in Indian cinema; it must be, given how someone dies in almost every scene. But the killings make sense somehow, with the conspiracies and political games that the characters, inspired from gangster and film stars turned politicians in real life play. There are typical RGV dark corners everywhere along with generous doses of the rest of his trademarks.

What I found terribly irritating was the voice-over that sounded like something from the age of DD's Mahabharatha serial. It is loud, as is the score, and sounds very forced and fake. RGV tries to shove the Mahabharatha parable in the film down your throat, with the aforementioned voice over and mantras almost constantly ringing in the background. To me, the Hindi sounded very South Indian too. I don't know if that was deliberate, given that the story is set in Andhra Pradesh politics, but it sounds more like a poor dubbing of a South film.

RGV does what he does best, with gangsta meets politicians to the background of much dishum-dishum and bang-bangs. One made-for-boys film! LOL!! As for me, I can't wait for the second part and Suriya!

In other explorations into upping my cultural database, I have been reading much. Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Sword and Blood, an account of her family's violent history, reads like a fiction thriller. I re-read Moth Smoke on my train journey to Bangalore last week, came back, picked up the latest issue of Granta on Pakistan, read Mohsin Hamid's short story A Beheading in it, and promptly, fell back in love with his writing. The story is online, at

I went back and read all that he has written online. Found his articles a little usual, but I love the way he writes entire novels in monologues so smoothly. I love that he breaks the expected rules of writing. In Moth Smoke, there are multiple first person accounts, while The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a book I finished in a noisy room in New Jalpaigudi, West Bengal last summer, is an entire story delivered in a monologue. Love love love the book.

That brings me to the topic of Pakistani culture. Let's get past the shared history talk. We are a bigger country, yes, but as I see it, they make use of what they have in a better way. I envy them their culture. There, I said it, so sue me. I could never get enough of India's music, different cuisine and the people. But as far as writing goes, I prefer the Pakistani writers. Here's how.

I was introduced to Amitav Ghosh's writing in college and after the initial hiccups trying to get used to his writing, I went on to read all of his books. Except Sea of Poppies, never managed to get beyond 20 pages. Then there is Vikram Seth, who I didn't read after enduring half of Two Lives. Kunal Basu's Japanese Wife was nice, though his Racists disappointed me. I talk of fiction only here, and of the big writers, the ones on a 'literary' plane. And I don't include several names here, I know. Save for Chetan Bhagat (hardly literature), none of these writers have acquired a cult status, though all are fantastic writers.

On the other hand, take Mohsin Hamid. His Moth Smoke is supposedly a cult in Pakistan. Then there is Mohammed Hanif, Aamer Hussein, Hari Kunzru, Daniyal Mueenuddin, the others. Most follow the coming-of-age story route, but the liberal strokes they have taken with the narratives is what I appreciate. I am hooked to those.

No writer can be better or worse than another; they can only be different. Just maybe there is a more identifiable, more relate-able brigade in Pakistan for a generation like mine, a generation that is often in limbo, between home and other places, between what it thinks and what it feels, between a modernity increasingly hard to keep up with and a traditionalism that it knows is never in totality regressive or orthodox. Perhaps Pakistan just does a better job at playing up its cultural beings. Even Noam Chomsky thinks the media there is freer and more liberated than in India. That and I like them their music.

I have written about it previously. I love the fact that we have Indian Ocean, Swarathma, The Raghu Dixit Project and others to follow but I envy them the Coke Studios. The music that comes out of collaborations there is fantastic. Sigh! I am hooked to Overload and Meesha Shafi and Zeb&Haniya too.

So, much culture has been happening. On another impulse, I picked up a M Hohner's Puck Harmonica yesterday, a C Major one. It's less than three inches long and is super cute. One day, the disjointed notes that come out of it will turn into music. I have promised myself that! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Onboard the MAQ-YPR Express

The rather famous train route reopened a couple of years ago between Bangalore and Mangalore, with there being a train every night between the two places. More famously, the day train started last year some time, on alternative days from both places.

The Sakleshpur ghat section is super good, even if you choose to drive through. The Kumara Parvata (on the Kodagu side, it is called Pushpagiri, the second highest peak in the district after Tadiyandamol) rises up like a wall to the sky, the Sahyadris are, as always, soothing green and the air blows slightly cold. There are the other standards as well, green rolling fields, coffee estates, winding roads, the works. Not that any of these is new to me. But there was much raving everywhere about just how beautiful the train journey is. The original plan had been to take the train from Bangalore to Puttur and then take a bus back, the journey being the destination concept, with friends. Never happened, never got tickets.

So all of last week I was home (sigh, the mountains, I miss them!) and after a brief stop near Puttur, had to be back to the damn city (Now why is it that I come back again?) I even managed to get a ticket on the day train. Lucky me, I told myself.

By now I have decided that, after much thought, and many thousands of miles accumulated by various means of transport, I love train journeys. Not so much the trains themselves, but the journeys, the swish of air that blows in my face, the chance to people-watch, and the face that there is something slow and unhurried about trains. More on that some other time.

Now listen carefully. Here is a tip for a getaway for under Rs 1000. If you live in Bangalore, take an overnight bus to Mangalore or Puttur. Don't stop anywhere once you reach the bus stand. Head straight to the railway station and board the MAQ-YPR Express, that's train no 6516. Take a sleeper ticket, put up your feet and trust me when I say this, you will soon see the BEST view of the Sahyadris that you can ever hope for. The ticket from Puttur, where I boarded, to Bangalore, cost me just Rs 118!!! Add a few hundred for the bus and a couple more for food and for within one grand, you get the whole day to yourself, to just be. Another tip: don't do the Bangalore to Mangalore trip, by the time the train passes the mountains, it is evening and the view isn't too clear. For a weekend, the train runs on Saturdays from Mlr to Blr. There are no trips on Sundays. The disclaimer being that you are one of those people ok with continuous travel. I am. Or you can always stay some place and then do get the idea.

The route, when it was closed for many years, was very famous among trekkers. I was told that no more trekking trips were allowed along the railway tracks, but thankfully, that turned out to be not so. I saw some trekkers along the way and was incredibly jealous. There are plans to go on that route soon. Is anyone interested in this trek? Call or mail if you want to join in, I intend to do this sometime soon.

That said, well, the journey from Sakleshpur Road to Yedakumari/Sakleshpur is fantastic. Seasoned though I am with mountain views and thick forests, the route that is almost parallel to the Western Ghats took my breath away. There are several tunnels that the train goes through, I didn't keep count after 10. Immature college boys yelled out sidey Kannada film dialogues when the train was passing each of these, created hell of a ruckus and I was suitably irritated. But then, I also discovered that there are few things more wholly in tune with each other than a moment that involves a train journey, a view of blue shaded mountains outside, an iPod that decides to play just what my mood needs, for once, some coffee, even if it's the railways' very watered down apology of a coffee, and a great book.

Perfecto. Until of course I get down in the city and start a fight with an auto driver and it takes me 30 minutes to go home, a distance of 2 kms!! Remind me please, why am I still here?!

Highly recommended. The train journey.

The 400-odd km trip takes the whole day. After the mountains, I took to people watching....always a great time-pass.

Need I say more....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Disappearing of the Water Balloon and other Madikeri Dasara Stories

There are times I desperately wish I had the faith. But I don't, most often. That is the fact of the matter. But I do believe, with an innocent vigour, that it won't rain on Dasara in Madikeri. The temples in town collectively offer prayers for the rains to keep away and it usually works. There is rain on the morning of the 10th day of the Navarathri festival, there is rain the next day, but not that particular night. There have been exceptions though. But that it won't rain is something I like to believe, I am part of that one collective faith.

We had gone to Chettalli, 15 kms away along lovely roads with tiny waterfalls gurgling on to the road, on the morning of Dasara last Sunday. It rained along the way and back. But by 2 am, when we were out of the house, the sky was a deep dark blue and there were stars everywhere, like in early April. I did not remember to look for my favourite Orion. Some rare times, your belief does not also let you down.

Madikeri Dasara is a big deal, at least for me. I hadn't missed it for the first 23 years of my life. There are lights, music, dance, street food and a procession that lasts all night and part of the next morning. Ten temples have one mantapa as we call it or tableaux each where they depict a scene from Goddess Durga's tales or something from mythology, complete with flying demons, screeching birds and canned laughter (not the funny kind though). Each vie for an award, they are to line up by morning, in a particular order, near Raja Seat where a team judges them. There are usually fights about the decision, fuelled by a night of drunken dancing before the mantapas. Dancing, that ma has never allowed me to do, it is a small town after all.

It wasn't cold this year, it usually is and there is much fun in trying to bury your hands deeper in the folds of your jacket. It wasn't much crowded, as it usually is, maybe people went to Cauvery Sankrama, another HUGE festival that happened to fall on the same day as Dasara this year.

I suppose I go every year for sentimental reasons, because of the memories I associate with the event. Other than that, there really isn't anything very sophisticated about the festival. Dasara is loud, gaudy, call it even pedestrian. It is like a village fair that found itself in a small town and did not know how to behave itself. Most of the 'audience' is village people, usually from estates for whom the event, in the absence of a TV in earlier days, served as once a year entertainment.

Having wiggled out of work the next day, they will typically come into the town by evening, walk about, a little wary, wide eyed at the lights, in torn shawls and worn out chappals, clutching maybe a cheap plastic toy that cost a princely Rs 15. Or maybe they will hold tight a bunch of bright pink and yellow flowers to decorate the wooden shelf in the corner of their one room homes with. They will dance, the younger men, the teen boys, some drunk, some drunk on the headiness of being in a town and seeing things like lights and loud music.

They will listen to music from the mantapas, very loud, from Praveen Gokindi to the Kodava snake dance beats to Hindi songs sung hoarsely to Swami Aiyappa chants to anything with much drums. They will buy toys and plastic flowers, after bargaining and still over-paying. They will have bought water balloons, red and yellow filled with dirty water and a little rubber tag closing the mouth that they will tie around their finger and make the balloon blob up and down like a ping pong ball. The water balloon will have eventually disappeared, more sophisticated toys will replace them.

They will eat the churmuri and buy one ice candy for two and wash it down with watered down tea or bad coffee that would not come from the beans from the estates they work in. The older men will have got drunk on country liquor and will try to navigate their feet along the steps about town to go catch the best view of the tableaux. Or maybe they will stay put at a vantage point they came early to secure and the drunk guy will slump back on the wet grass. The loud absurd music, interspersed with the inaudible narration of the story of the depiction on the tableaux, will not wake him up. His wife, her saree draped in the style of the innerlands, will not care, her eyes will be lit up by the garish pinks and bright kingfisher blues behind the idol of the fuming Goddesss Durga.

Her son will have joined the dancers by then. He need not be drunk too, but he will surely be dancing in his own two inch wide personal circle, trying not too often to catch a belle's eyes, the dance is enough for him. Hands in the air, his moves will be uninhibited. The temple committees have begun to appoint separate vehicles to fix a few dozen boom speakers on top of, the music from several such quickens. Most can't keep pace, most are beyond the desire to do so. He will wear a grey and black jacket that won't do much by way of keeping the cold away. The jacket will have fake logos of Honda and Ferrari and lately, Playboy embossed on the back. He will buy them off the shack that sells them by the side of the roads on the day of Dasara for cheap. He will walk with a special swagger reserved for that night, hoping he will catch the eye of the group of giggling girls on the other side of the road.

His sister will look up and see fireworks. She will gape when there is a burst of golden stars in the sky. She will stretch out her hand, imagining a star or her dream falling into her palm as she keeps her head up in anticipation of the next burst of orange and gold. The stars in the sky, the ones sent up in a tube with a fire at one end, they are for her alone, she will think.

There will be lakhs of people milling around the sides of the mantapas. There will be many more under the large waterproof canopy at Gandhi Maidan where an orchestra will be playing under bright disco lights. They will be singing songs of love and dance, sounding hoarse from all the forced enthusiasm all night long. But they will have an audience that will sing softly under their breathe and louder as the night deepens. The singers will try to dance a bit, the guitar-man will sweat under the pink and orange lights from one corner of the stage. A policeman will look on, wishing just to go home on the cold night and sleep. There will be many policemen and women brought into duty from elsewhere in the city who will have no idea how and where to guide the vehicles from out of town. But they will stand their guard all night.

Then there will be the locals who will know all the inner roads and be able to navigate their cars to as close to the mantapas as possible. They will know where to get the best views from. There will be groups of local boys who will walk the town, girls with their parents and cousins who will meet other families and their cousins and sisters for a quick hello. They will stand on the sides of roads and the men will complain about the rain, the women about the crowds, the girls will giggle while the boys will try not to catch their eyes. They will flirt, as best as possible. Like in movies, there will be background music, for one night, in real life.

It will soon be dawn and there will be piles of trash left behind. The drunk, so much a part of Dasara night, will stagger along, the music still ringing faintly in their ears, from the night before. Those who braved the winds and the orchestra the whole night will trudge along, bleary eyed, into warm homes and bring in a whiff of the smoky mist as they open the door. The warm blankets and hot cups of real coffee will be much appreciated. The music will slowly die down, masked every passing minute by the growing daylight and car horns and kitchen sounds.

Then the Dasara night will be over. For another full year, people will wake up in the morning, eat, go to work, work. Then they will pass by the town, talk about the older married mother-of-two woman who ran away with the younger man as they pick up their groceries. They will wave their hellos to other people they have known all their lives and come back home to fight, scold their kids, eat, watch TV, and get to bed by 10 pm.

For another full year, they will lead the days of their lives. Until it is Dasara again and they stay up to live one night.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It's the lovely Dasara season again, a tradition that I had not missed for the first 23 years of my life. Between then and now, several things happened, several traditions were lost. This year began with the mandatory jing-bang all over the place.

Some of us went to the Bengalee Association Dasara in Bangalore the other night and ate till I thought I would throw up. Before that Jay and I spent a day in Mysore, where predictably, all kinds of things happened. It was maddeningly hot, then rained on our day. Lunch was a strange combo of akki-roti, without egg curry for me and a glass of wine which we had bought thinking it was fruit punch! Strangely, at the Mysore Palace, we even heard Hotel California at full blast, was rather odd at that place, to say the least!

I say this often, that I love India the most for the sheer riot of colour I see all around me. Dasara is always just that. I have this collection of colourful picture that I shall put up soon.

For now, here are some very random, not too great pictures. I like them for the memories and times they evoke.

Maa Durga at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

The too-good food at the Bengalee place. Rice, dal, poshto and potatoes...knee-weakeningly good!!! Add to that two fabulous rosho-gullas.

A poster...

These balloons were all over the place. This is the 400th year of Mysore Dasara, a fact at Karnakata's warring government conveniently forgot till almost the last minute.

Mysore Palace. I love the sepia look.

Just like that, I like the lighting in this one.

Mysore Silk sarees, fabulous to feel, prohibitively expensive. And the colours!

Happiness!!! (Mostly)

I went about town this morning. Ma and I had a lot of girly things to do. We did the usual rounds of the shops, each place, stopping a wee bit longer to say hello, ask of family, work and smile a lot. I had written this a long time ago, how I come home to Madikeri to smile, that I do.

I met an old friend of a friend, jumpy and very sweet. Then there were half a dozen other people, shop owners, people I have grown up seeing and smiling at. With Baghi aunty, one absolute darling of a person, there was the usual books-beauty-life-gossip. It was hot this morning. Lot of tourists about town; I walked with the pride of belonging here. I hear rain outside now, it will start to get really cold in a bit. I can't wait.

Its festival time and people, random people, smile at each other. Its glorious Dasara tomorrow.

Plus, an old classmate called to say he postponed his return abroad to attend the big reunion next Sunday. Sweet! I hadn't spoken to him in the last 7 years. That reunion I'm supposedly organising is generating much excitement, the instincts tell me it'll be super fun.

I really have nothing to say here. Just that I am home, in the hills, it will be cold, there is good coffee, some travel, many people I love, Madikeri. Happiness!!!!! :)

(Is it me or is this post way too disjointed?)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Its a Lot Simpler in the Hills

You, you there, can snigger all you want. But in the hills, there are no plain (the hills versus plains) problems. People let you down there as well, that's everywhere. But there, you don't get treated as a prop in some drama that is being played out to suit someone's fancy. The hills are home turf, so the attempts at futile drama are brushed off like a biscuit crumb off my shawl.

There are similar kinds of people in the hills too. But in the hills, it is all a lot simpler. Simply because I would be walking the hills instead of having to deal with them in the plains, where there is little escape.

And to walk the hills, I am off later today. Am I glad!!!!

Friday, October 08, 2010

(Pic from a community album on FB,taken somewhere in Kodagu)

And then the sceptics ask me why I hanker after the hills so much! Huh! Opening my front door to something like this versus a tall concrete building that is, unimaginatively, painted pale green. Will you still ask me why I crave for the hills?

The Condition of Claustrophobia

In a form listing my allergies, not that I have any, maybe I should list claustrophobia the next time around. I suffer from it. And I have long suffered because of it.

This condition does not allow me to remain in one place for too many weeks or months. The time is shorter in cases of cities, such as in this one that I am right now. After a while, I get so terribly claustrophobic that I just have to get out somewhere, even if it's for one day. The unease is nearly physical and have been known to cause acute irritation, impulses and exasperation in those who are subject to rants from me!! The parents understand this all too well, ma has a milder version of it. The world's best roomie, Sush, also tried to get it. And some Sundays at uni were thus spent waking up early and heading off alone somewhere, anywhere. She never asked, bless her, if she could join in.

I have been told it is a vice to have this condition, that I cannot expect to go out every few months. Maybe it is a vice. Maybe I have learnt life this way, lived because of this urge and those itchy feet. Or maybe this is just me. I don't think I ever wish to be cured.

Not many weeks past, that claustrophobia is creeping in again. I can see it at a distance. I haven't been travelling enough to keep this restlessness at bay, that means. Not good. Now where do I go? Home and hills I head to next week. Then there is a Kerala plan, a possible TN plan and another far far away land plan. Between these, where is a one-day trip place near this walls I live in? Where where do I go?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


The title is borrowed from my friend Krishna's Facebook status.

I watched the event called 'Endhiran' today. Do I have to even say more? THE Rajinikanth rules. To borrow from KK again: Respect. And Whoa!!!

I could never do justice to the fantastic phenomenon called Rajini. I won't even try. I have remained another of his great fans. For now, I bow down to his brilliance again. I am Endhiraned!

For a great review of the film, see Krishna's here.

Manu Joseph, the editor of Open Magazine, wrote about Rajini here. Most readers did not get the point he was trying to make. But with phrases like 'Dravidian ugliness' and 'Rajini has no talent' (no matter how he meant it), Joseph pretty much did himself in. Do not, I mean it, do not miss the comments on that article.

He was right in one thing though. Rajinikanth cannot be analysed. Dot.