Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Havyaka Brahmins, in Himal Southasian

When I first heard that Havyaka Brahmins were contemplating bringing brides from amongst the Kashmiri Pandits, I burst out laughing. After I was done mocking them, I realized it was a serious issue. The shortage of girls of marriageable age, due to many reasons, is a story I hear all the time in family gatherings. (Did I mention that I was born a Havyaka Brahmin myself?) When I started to research for the first person account, I was faced again with the supremacy attitude that I am repulsed with. What came out was nothing short of a rant against the prejudices and rigidity of the community. I half-jokingly told ma that I hoped the article would get me ex-communicated!

So Himal Southasian, among my favourite places to read, and to write for, decided to publish the story. Read it here. And because I would like people to also read the original, here below is the complete, unedited rant.



On the day that the Mayans prophesized the world would end this December, my little

cousin got married. He is 23, going on 24. He still likes sleeping on his mother’s lap and enjoys being pampered by us older cousins. He is still a kid, even if he is legally allowed to marry. I could predict the pattern; he will get married and within two years, be a father.

The family is very well off, the lineage a respected one in the region. But the urgency
springs from the fact that he lives with his parents and looks after the vast family estate about 20 kilometers from the nearest big town. Even one of these was enough to keep him off the eligible bachelors’ list; all combined was a disaster that was mitigated by a frantic search for a bride high and low. His mother started looking the day he turned 21. His now wife is two years younger.

This is the latest, albeit rare, triumph that I am hearing about in my community. Here
is my full disclosure: I was born into the Havyaka Brahmin community, the coastal
Karnataka wing of a sub-caste of Brahmins that is, supposedly, perched on the top rung of an already tall order. The Havyakas have their own dialect, a version of old world Kannada. The cuisine is distinctive from those from the kitchens of other sections of Brahmins, with coconut shreds in nearly everything- a regional influence that- and an array of traditional recipes for jackfruit, raw banana and breadfruit. Again, cultures are different; the Havyakas of central Karnataka have another dialect, different cuisines and lesser rigid practices. The Havyakas are Rama worshippers and owe allegiance to a religious order in central Karnataka, headed by a portly guru who has his share of corruption charges and illicit relationships whispered about from the hallowed halls of many a rumour mill. Ideally, the Havyakas wouldn’t inter-marry with other Brahmins, everyone else is a “step down”; though the liberals would go as far as to seek, forge alliances with the Trimathasthas, in which the Havyakas, along with the Shivalli Brahmins and the Kota Brahmins, make up the trinity of Brahmin elitedom.

This rigidity, apart from attitude shifts, is what is giving the community much grief, I observe, perversely, I have no shame in admitting. My grouse arises from the regressive ideas about women that the community I was born into has, so rooted that the dialect assigns only a neuter ‘it’ to the female gender. This from those of the learned class! I mock the irony every time an uncle or the son he is bringing up to be just like him makes a flippant comment on women. Sometimes social obligations stifle my urge to let loose some feministic outcry. I hate that.

So the point is that a very large number of Havyaka boys and men remained unmarried, for reasons such as these: not in glamorous enough professions, a skewed sex ratio and if they still live with their parents, girls these days couldn’t be bothered to put up with the in-laws, referred to in certain circles as Rahu-Ketu, the inauspicious ones.

Though in keeping with several Indian communities a son would be the apple of his parents’ eyes, daughters are well loved too. There has never been a known case of female foeticide or infanticide. So I couldn’t explain the reason for the skewed sex ratio. Though traditional professions were agriculture, the culinary sector and priesthood, the silicon valleys of the world are where you would find more Havyaka people these days. The ones who continued family traditions and became farmers, chefs and priests and scholars in temples have the hardest time finding girls willing to marry them. If the prospective groom lives in a village, then he might as well sign away his dreams of a family. And so a race, a pure Aryan one at that, is on the verge of extinction, says M G Sathyanarayana.

M G Sathyanarayana is a man on a mission to almost singlehandedly “save” the community from going the Parsi way. When I call him, he is in Varanasi, sourcing girls to bring back to Sullia, some 4,000 kilometres and 43 hours by train away, in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka. I don’t tell him of my connection with the community, though half way through I sense that he is desperate to ask me which caste I belong to. He proceeds to give me an introduction to the Havyakas and I pretend to make notes. The economics of the trade follow. And I near bristle with indignation and outrage at how matter-of-factly he explains the whole business of sourcing the brides for the boys back home. Though I want to smirk at the state of those that were intolerably chauvinistic, who I grew up watching at every community gathering, as a woman, it offends me to be made part of the purchase deed.

From Kashmir to Karnataka
A body of ‘social service’ people, called Kashyap Yuva Brahmin Vedike in Sullia, led by Sathyanarayana, arrived at this idea that since both Havyakas and the Kashmir Pandits were “pure races”, what better way to “save them from their refugee plight” than to buy the fair, beautiful Kashmiri Pandit girls as brides for the boys and men back home! The idea was mooted in March but took off only a few months later. Families that had unmarried boys could register with the association and they would bring in Kashmiri girls to match with the boys. The association was in for a surprise. Sathyanarayana tells me that they discovered some 3000 men between the ages of 22 and 45 who wanted to get married. There are many others who wouldn’t openly admit their inability to find wives. Where the association expected up to 50 registrations, there were 300 that attended the meeting and 180 who registered. “As of now we have 384 men ready to get married to any girl as long as she is a vegetarian. We have stopped taking on more names now until we finish a trial round of marriages,” Sathyanarayana tells me, proudly. In an instant, he manages to objectify women and trivialize marriages, reducing the whole thing to something that reeks of condescension and chauvinism coated with the arrogance of being a superior race that is making great sacrifices to uplift and protect other pure blood.
There is something fundamentally wrong when you approach the act of marriage as a business transaction. And trade it is, when I hear of the economics at play here.

The numbers game
There are approximately 4.5-5 lakh Havyaka families out there, Sathyanarayana tells me. They live primarily along the Konkan coast, from Karwar to Kannur in Kerala, apart from in parts of central Karnataka. He vehemently denies that the sex ratio is skewed, claiming that there are 93 girls for every 100 boys. I cannot prove either ways, the census figures don’t account for this sub-caste. He blames attitude shifts, holding girls responsible for being educated and making their own decisions and thus leaving the cooks and the priests unmarried. I am reminded of a girl who, amidst the theatrics of meeting boys in an arranged alliance, refused to marry my cousin and was condemned far and wide for doing so – imagine a girl saying no!

The Jammu and Kashmir government is promising to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits and give them their land and houses back. So now they are a little hesitant to take up our offer, says Sathyanarayana. “But when has the government ever done anything it has promised? We are still hopeful,” he adds, not willing to let go of the Aryans just yet.

Meanwhile he is in Varanasi, getting the papers ready to bring down ten families to meet boys. The train charges for a girl and her parents plus other expenses will come up to Rs 45,000. Each girl will meet at least three boys. Once the match is fixed, the boy’s family has to pay all the expenses.. The other two need not despair, “they will get another chance to see a girl,” Sathyanarayana says, rather benevolently. The idea is to get more than a few girls to marry local boys, so that they wouldn’t miss their hometowns all too much.

But isn’t culture, food habits, language, wholly different? I ask. Sathyanarayana, I imagine, is shaking his head vigorously as he tells me to look at history. “Over 600 years ago, we all came from the same Sindhu Valley, the Kashmiri Pandits and us
Havyakas. We came down to the south with Shankaracharya. We all have the same religious beliefs and customs,” he insists. And the girls will learn and adjust, is the obvious assumption, regardless of lifestyles so different they might as well be from another country. It isn’t that women over the years haven’t adjusted drastically in marriages, but the natural assumption that these women ought to be grateful for getting the chance to do so is what angers me.

His view and that of several, several others in the community is the same. They believe that integration with the other pure Aryan races will help develop the communities and preserve purity. “Brahmins are known for cleanliness, for discipline and intelligence. We have to ensure that the community does not disappear,” he tells me.

Though a Havyaka Brahmin by default of birth, I have no sympathy for the perils that my community perceives itself to be facing. For the slights I have seen passed around by the male elders, for every time I have been referred to as an ‘it’, I want to feel vindictive. But more than that, at a fundamental level, as a woman, I hate the way these dealings are conducted. The buying of brides isn’t uncommon in other parts of the country, the world. It has been happening for generations, in one form or the other. But when you hear the stories from inside the house, listen in on the business dealings and hear of the furtive attempts at clever matchmaking, you cannot help but feel the blow. Of being the perpetrator, and the victim, of the derision of womankind.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Life sure does look incredibly good at 4 am on a cold December morning in Bangalore! :)
*Touch wood*

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elephant Talkies

I miss the old days of real cinema, when computers were not part of the film making process.

I am getting a little tired of being asked to enjoy the graphics in a movie. Sure, they are amazing, what you see in 3D these days. The graphics will keep getting better. But give me old world cinema with much dialogue, the montages, the simple editing and smart camera angles any day. The more technology advances, the more I realize how much old world I am.

So the other day I had a bad mood day and went to watch Life of Pi, because everyone said I just had to watch it. One of the lenses of my 3D glasses had fallen off. Even if they hadn’t, I would still have gotten bored. I got thoroughly bored watching that movie. There, I said it. I haven’t read the book, so it isn’t my traditional dislike of movies that are based on books. Richard Parker is good, no doubt. But to me, the movie was way too artificial for it to stay on in my mind after I left the theatres. Sure, I agree that without the help of technical wizardry, the film couldn’t have been made, not with that kind of story. But there is nothing moving about computer generated shipwrecks and struggling tigers. No sir, that don’t impress me much. I am happy to be in the era of The Artist and Cinema Paradiso.

Today, being in another of those many moods, I decided I had to see mountains and animals. Having heard the Tamil film Kumki was good, I bought myself a ticket and settled in, nearly squealing with joy that there were no screaming kids in the entire row! (A whole different post on kids in public places, I must write.) There was a couple eating popcorn noisily, but that was ok. Given my jinxed histories, as long as I cannot see a kid in my immediate line of sight, I shall be happy.

So Kumki was a film I had heard the songs of and quite liked. The story is of a mahout and his elephant going to a village to deal with a lone tusker that is causing havoc in the fields and killing people. The mahout, a handsome Vikram Prabhu, falls in love with the headman’s daughter and stays on, even though his elephant isn’t trained to be the kinds that can chase away a wild lone tusker. So the story goes on.

I thought the cinematography was pretty good. But then, show me green dense forests and many shots of tall mountains and I will love the whole film. The village is planted in a valley and is surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains. The shots of the forests are picture postcard perfect, with sunbeams falling in through the trees and the water in little streams glistening like silver fish. Shots of the skies are shot in HD format, I thought. I don’t care much for those kinds of photographs, the colours are too enhanced for my taste.

Kumki is quite a good film, overall. The hero is nice eye candy and the little village love story is rather cute. Unlike most Tamil films, there is no separate comedy track, which is a relief. The pace is rather slow; but the songs are catchy. Towards the end, it falters and stumbles. SPOILER ALERT: The whole movie builds up to an event where the tame city elephant is supposed to drive away or kill the lone tusker. The fight, when it happens, last all of less than five minutes and is computer generated. Which is fine, I wouldn’t have wanted them to hurt a real elephant but the graphics aren’t exactly the best in the market. After the lush green fields and clouds kissing mountains, the fight, with swift editing and on slippery mud, provides a very jarring effect. That spoiled it for me.

I am the sort of person that bawls at the slightest hint of an animal being hurt in a film. I never watch dog movies, because the dogs always die and I weep endlessly. I like my animals alive and happy at the end of stories. Which is never the case. Which is why I never watch animal movies. With Kumki, though the animal-human bonding is shown beautifully, when the killer fight does take place, there isn’t any time to feel sorry for the hurt animal. Plus with the graphics in place, I wasn’t moved at all. SPOILER ALERT: So when the lone tusker is pushed off the edge and then Manickam, the tame one, extends a hand to the mahout before it falls on its side, shedding a few tears before it dies, I was not touched. I did not even get misty eyed.

It must have been the graphics. The movie stops short of being really good. I would watch it again for the mountains, the Jog Falls and sunbeams spilling in through the trees. But to hand it to the director, the ending didn’t have the threads neatly tied up and presented to the audience as a going away gift. I quite liked that.

Now I am thinking of mahouts and their relationship with their elephants. Sometimes, they grow up together, I hear. The Jenu Kuruba tribe in Kodagu is good at this. The last time I was home, there was a sports day for the elephants at the Dubare camp. Before every command, I saw the mahout and his helper repeatedly touch the elephant’s forehead and legs, respectively, and say a quick, silent prayer. The elephants are mild creatures, most times, but the men are always in danger. I found the mutual trust and respect heartwarming.

That leads me to another story. But that is for another day now.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome
Some day --- very soon. I promise.
You hang in there for me.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A Shout Out to My Lovelies

Typing this in a taxi en route to that little space called home after a flight that threw the baggage of too many thoughts into my head, I am more grateful than I have ever been for my women friends and how important they have become for me. Thank you my lovelies, especially S, B. Thank you for understanding my insanities.
And I must add a hug of gratitude each to L, A, S for being not-normal. Thank you for being you, for loving me for being me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ನೋವನ್ನು ಬಯಸದಿರು ನೀನು

ಬಿರುಗಾಳಿಗೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕ ಹೂವಾಗದಿರು ನೀನು 
ಬೆಂಕಿಗೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕ ಮರವಾಗದಿರು ನೀನು 

ಶ್ರುತಿಯಿಲ್ಲದ ಹಾಡಾಗದಿರು
ಶಬ್ದಗಳಿಲ್ಲದ ಕವನವಾಗದಿರು

ಕಣ್ಣಹನಿ ನೀನಾಗದಿರು
ನೋವಿಗಾಗಿ ಹಂಬಲಿಸದಿರು

ಮುಳ್ಳಿಗೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕ ಎಲೆಯಾಗದಿರು ನೀನು 
ಕಲ್ಲಮೇಲೆರೆದ ನೀರಿನಂತಾಗದಿರು ನೀನು 

ಹೊಸ ಶತಮಾನದ ಆದಿಯಲ್ಲಿ
ನವ ಜೀವನದ ಹಾದಿಯಲ್ಲಿ
ಕಾದಿರುವುದು ತಿರುವೊಂದರಲ್ಲಿ
ಸುಂದರ ಪ್ರೀತಿಯಾ ಓಲೆ

ಬದಲಾಗು ನೀನು 
ಬದಲಿಹುದು ಜಗವೆಲ್ಲ 
ಕಾರ್ಮೋಡದ ಕಗ್ಗತಲಿದು 
ಇದರಡಿ ನೀ ಬೆಳಕಿಗಾಗಿ ಕಾಯದಿರು.

೨೫ ಏಪ್ರಿಲ್ ೨೦೦೫ 

Someone today asked me if I wrote poetry. I write, or used to write bad poetry. Some were scribbled in the middle of class, some between assignments, some in the depths of misery. While thumbing through an old notebook this evening, I found this poem I wrote for a friend in 2005. 
Thankfully, I have stopped writing poetry now. 

Edit: For those who asked, here is a very rough translation.

Don't wish for pain

Don't be the flower caught in a storm
Don't be the tree stump caught in the fire

Don't be a song without melody
Don't be a poem without words

Don't you be a tear in the eye
Don't wish for pain

Don't be the leaf stuck to a thorn
Don't be the water poured on a stone

Mad one,
In the beginning of the century
In the path of a new life
There awaits around the corner
A beautiful love letter

Please change
The whole world has changed
This is the darkness of black clouds
Don't wait under them for light.

25 April 2005

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Epiphany About Writing

Let me be a narcissist today.

On days just before when I know something bad will probably hit the fan above me, I like to write these kind of things down, to remind me of those times when I was smiling.

This blog gets its little pile of fan mail, I have to report. 'Fan' is too fancy a word, they are people who are nice enough to write me, telling me what they think. I like to assume they continue to read these pages. These mails mean so much more to me than what I hear from friends, not to say that I don't appreciate that. I do. But hearing from those anonymous strangers who have a nice word to say always makes my day. I have saved all those mails.

I even amuse myself with the slightly bizarre ones. Some want to make 'fraandship' with me. A favourite is one that I still can't make sense of. To this day I am not sure whether it was a brickbat or a bouquet. Another seemed like a description of a date in a faraway place. I save those too. 

If you are reading this, I thank you. Do keep writing in. I always reply.

In a series of epiphanies that I have been having off late, today's was, predictably, to do with writing. I got commissioned to write something for a place I have huge respect for. That, and other things in life, other writings, toned down the restlessness, the panic I was in yesterday. For sometimes, it is best to carry Bohemia in your hearts. 

And then I and a former colleague, an editor I have good respect for professionally, and is a much loved mad hat friend personally, were chatting this afternoon. Nearly three years after I left, it feels really good to hear my writing is still remembered, and to an extent, missed. Then there was this person I was talking to today, a colleague from some six years ago when I was just starting out as a reporter. Though in the same newspaper, we had never met; he being in a smaller town. As before, again today, he still remembers the stories I wrote back then, the many bylines, the many reports. I admit, when your name, your writing garners instant recognition, it is quite a high. 

This is the best reward for the months and nights of questions I have asked myself, to write or not, to answer this call or not. I realize that I don't have a choice here. I am answering it, just by these words that I cannot stop myself from writing.

This was narcissistic. I shall not apologize. For I may soon need to remind myself these words.

Neruda's The Word

You can say anything you want, yessir, but it's the words that sing, they soar and descend . . . I bow to them . . . I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down . . . I love words so much . . . The unexpected ones . . . The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop . . . Vowels I love . . . They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew . . . I run after certain words . . . They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem . . . I catch them in midflight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives . . . And I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go . . . I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves . . . Everything exists in the word ... An idea goes through a complete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expecting her but obeys her...They have shadow, transparence, weight, feathers, hair, and everything they gathered from so much rolling down the river, from so much wandering from country to country, from being roots so long...They are very ancient and very new... They live in the bier, hidden away, and in the budding flower... What a great language I have, it's a fine language we inherited from the fierce conquistadors... They strode over the giant cordilleras, over the rugged Americas, hunting for potatoes, sausages, beans, black tobacco, gold, corn, fried eggs, with a voracious appetite not found in the world since then... They swallowed up everything, religion, pyramids, tribes, idolatries just like the ones they brought along in their huge sacks... Wherever they went, they razed the land... But words fell like pebbles out of the boots of the barbarians, out of their beards, their helmets, their horseshoes, luminous words that were left glittering here... our language. We came up losers... We came up winners... They carried off the gold and left us the gold... They carried everything off and left us everything... They left us the words.

Excerpt from Pablo Neruda's Memoirs.

Neruda! In the grip of Neruda!

Lot of the Lamp

Here is the thing about lamps. When dark falls abrupt, like night falling over Africa, people seek out lamps, flooding onto its edges like their lives depend on it. Which it usually does, for who likes the deepness of a moonless night? Who wouldn't then prefer the glow of a lamp?
Here is the thing about people then. After the night is pushed over by the first rays of the morning sun, when spring winds rise up to hug the cherry trees, the lamps are put out. Who needs a lamp when you can hold the sun within your outstretched arms?
Perhaps to wait for people upon whom night falls like in Africa is the lot of the lamp. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Like a Rolling Stone, Now and Then

So where was I? Between work, books and loves of many manner, with thought-worms in the head and fidgety in the feet, I have been keeping these pages at a slight distance. Like a beloved pet, I take it for granted, expecting it will understand when I come back, expecting it will embrace me with the same love again. Presumptuous hasn’t yet bitten my behind; it is the quiet over confidence that I dangerously flirt with. Yet, here I am, again, oftener. Because writing in catharsis. And a lot more else. I am a much nicer person to people in my life when the restlessness is channelized through these words here, now.

Where was I? As I sit here on Deepawali day wholeheartedly cursing the boys on the street for the bombs they are lighting up (how that noise is fun is beyond me), the last few weeks goes by in a flash. I travelled in the North East again, on work though, this time. There was a too short holiday in Wayanad from where, as a souvenir, I brought back an injured hand. It was in those two weeks of absolute rest when I couldn’t type a word that I realized how much I need writing for my sanity, to remain insane. Then there were some emotional ups and lows, the usual, the usual though. Life would be awful, my writing would die if the days were all rosy and pink and happy. *Shudder*

And now where am I? I am in a very happy place right now. And that is not merely because I am writing again. It is more do I put it…that smile I wake up with every morning, that blanket of goodness that envelopes me the rest of the day…that happiness for the world. I don’t remember how long ago it was that I felt anywhere close to this. I like to be a creature of instinct. One day, it felt right, even when it didn't make any sense. It all felt right and I decided not to fight and push and run this time. Happiness was available and I decided I want to take it, in pounds and barrels this time.

Bohemian rhapsody. Storytelling. Neruda (Neruda did it!). Life is good. I smile again.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ah Neruda!

After 1 am one night, we read aloud and were overwhelmed by Neruda. Trying to answer - "How old is November anyway?" - we discovered surreal-ty in our loves for Cohen, Dylan, Sinatra. And Piano Man.
And thus, thinking it was about time, I remained overwhelmed.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Diary of a Wounded Writer

A short holiday led to an injured hand. And forced rest, off work another week. And because I can't write, I now think up all kinds of things and get frustrated because I can't write. I read, at near marathon speed. I get irritated because my hand movements are terribly restricted.

I watch dozens of birds feed and chirp and make a racket. A squirrel tries to chew its way through my roof. A snake I haven't seen this time.

Cyclone Nilam has sent rains by. It is very cold and rather misty today. My dog Blacky is a lump of black, so black that he doesn't show well in pictures.

I miss writing, more desperately than I could miss anything, anymore. Much as I try to live in denial, I don't feel alive if I'm not writing. That acceptance now brings its own set of issues right now.

Then there are new people and hence new issues in life. The calm lasted three years. Now there is a hurricane in my path.

Well, bring it on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What moves me? A dear friend asked this morning. I didn't, don't know the answer. Perhaps it takes a mountain to move me, a real or otherwise mountain. A book, a song, this beautiful window, they don't do that for me anymore.

It would be depressing to think nothing moves, overwhelms me happy. This friend promised to help me answer this.

Seriously, what moves me now?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ought we to honour our natural tendencies? Ought we 'flow with it'? Ought we not resist what feels natural and right? Or ought we adhere to what is told to us to be the way it is/should be? The dilemma, the drama. Weary. Tiresome. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Finally succumbed to the worldwide cult and bought my very first set of Moleskine journals. Overpriced, of course. But still...they are Moleskines.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hurried Pictures from the Habba

I usually hate being alone on festivals. Not that I am the religious sorts, but I do believe in tradition and in the tradition of great feasting! This year, Ganesha Chathurthi, one of our biggest festivals fell on Wednesday, a holiday neither this side of the weekend nor on that side. None of the usual suspects were around to come by for lunch either. Just for the heck of it, I rustled up something, bought some stuff and lunched over some TV.

Photographed it promptly too on my lovely little phone.

The previous evening though, on my way from work, I took a hurried walk through Malleswaram, hurried because the mill of people were jostling me forward. I couldn't linger and attempt any composed pictures. I didn't want to either. There is only so much I can take of crowds.

There were fresh vegetables direct from the farms.

And colourful hair accessories.

And flowers in many shapes and hues.

And inexpensive clothes.

And more gorgeous flowers.

And party lights spilling on to the pavement.

And coconuts from the countryside (not as good as the coastal ones).

And the lovely smells and vibrancy and contagious energy that I couldn't take a picture of.

Deliver Me from this Evil!

Give me a phone that does not catch any mobile network between 9 am and 11 pm. Give me a laptop from which I cannot access the internet. Give me also a mud thatched hut in the middle of a forest. And I will write my stories!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Unravel. Unlearn. Untie. Unleash.
Quirky how the un-ness of things do many a volte-face in how you live from day one to day another one.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Thank Friends Week

Just the other day, I met an old friend, G. Old for me is six years, that's when I moved to this city and began my first friendships. G was a sort of colleague and almost neighbour; on a couple of occasions, he had dropped me home. Like in another similar happy case, we instantly connected and from well known acquaintances, we turned friends. And I thought I had to observe this thank goodness for friends post.

Talking to the mad friend Liz the other day, about life and relationships and other friends and their lives, I told her how I often felt like we were living the Hollywood movies we were watching. She promptly tweeted it! Incidents of the following few days gave credence to my sweeping statement, evenings where I met different friends and exchanged stories. Relationships; now that's a funny enough word, isn't it? That thing which brings everyone the most grief.

I have been mentally thanking half a dozen of my friends, all of whom have been sounding more mature than I was used to from them, this last few weeks. Thanking them for their words, for their non-judgmental acceptance, for this 'adult-ness'. The more life transpires, the more I realize maturity has nothing to do with what age you say or think you are.

I don't really know what I want to write here without having to go into specifics. It is just that life and friendships have made me examine how much of adults we have all turned into. When you are with people you have shared histories with, somehow age seems to stand still. While you celebrate each other's birthdays, the progression of years somehow goes unnoticed. There is little to give you a perspective of how you have grown over the years.

And then one day, you have a conversation, a drink and then it hits you quietly. That you are this adult. That you are making choices and living a life. That often, life isn't too different from the movies. That at other times, things are very different from how you imagined they would be. It strikes you, not too politely at that, that you made some stupid choices too, so stupid that you want to face to meet palm, wondering just what you were thinking. Then there were wise choices, those that offer some consolation to the face-palm moments. But everything was a good story, you tell yourself. That makes you feel a little less stupid.

Through these discoveries and ideas and identities and transitions, you also notice that on the sidelines, there are these wonderful people who are looking at you, some cheering, some exasperated, some with that annoying I-told-you-so look. But you know that they all love you and while they might think you are a bit of a mad maverick, they will always stand by you. I rarely let people be my 2AM friends. One day, a little while ago, I decided to let the old guard go. And I discovered these lovely people had always been on the sidelines. It was I who hadn't noticed.

Tempted though I am, their initials in this very public thank you note won't go here, for reasons which will also not go here. Well, gushing and a slightly all over the place post later, all I can say is, thank you all. For signing up willingly. For agreeing to always take my call. For being my charmed circle.

Uff, full love happened here!! :)

Monday, September 03, 2012


Toska (n): Russian

No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.
--Vladimir Nabokov

Nodding my head vigorously.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Thank You

One evening this past week, a print of this super cool Shiva like my favourite mental image of him was what I got presented with. For this, for some of the most sensible pieces of advice I have ever been given, for the acceptance and the understanding, for the laughter, for the honesty, my dear A, thank you so, so very much.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Cross posting from here:

I dreadfully envy people who are complacent, you know. Because only when there is a want, a desire, a passion, that is where restlessness springs up like a Jack rushing out from the box and yelling 'surprise!!' into your ear. I wish I could be freed of this restlessness and be accepting of what life tells me to take. I envy people who go down without a fight and hug to themselves all that the days of their lives rations out to them. In a way, I feel, I would be freed of most miseries if I didn't fight every rule, every diktat, every new surprise and learned to accept my 'lot'.

But then, I imagine that would be a "normal" boring life. And I like the line 'normal is boring' a tad too much to settle for anything less.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Writing, Again

I re-wrote again, one of the more tiresome of the writing process. But it was still writing, putting together my thoughts into words. The headache I suspect to be a migraine, suspect, for I don’t know what they are supposed to feel like, still lurks. The light from the laptop screen is blinding. But I am writing this and more. When I know how cathartic writing has always been for me, why do I ever stop? Stupid, stupid me.
I want to quote whole paragraphs from Letters to a Young Poet, a collection of Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to a young boy who wrote to him seeking advice. I want to quote the whole book for how much sense it makes to me now, at this stage where I am. I told someone that it could be amongst the books that changed my life, perhaps it will be the book that does.

Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. …Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? …And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it.
I must.

I Did Not Want to Write This Post

I did not want to write this post.

A few years ago, I had this blinding headache one evening, the kind that, thankfully, I haven't had since. It made me cry and moan and ma had to sit next to me the whole night. Like my insomnia phases these days, that headache came and went without warning. Having the folks hovering around helped; sometimes you just want to be the child and be taken care of. That is not a weakness, you know.

I did not want to write this post. Over an hour ago, I switched off the lights and slipped into bed. A terrible headache has been nagging me all evening, naps didn't help, thoughts of various kinds didn't do any good either. I want ma, I miss her tonight, desperately. Funny how human beings have this notion of missing people, mostly during the oddest times. I would rather have been any other species.

So with the headache and the general blah feeling, I felt I had to sleep it off. I squint from the dull ache behind my eyes, hated having to open the laptop, yet I couldn't win the fight against opening this file and typing this out.

Where am I these days? I wish I had an easy answer. Between the morning and the groan when I fall into bed at night, the hours seem to be merging into the days and into the weeks and months. I wish I could say I had something to show for the year that is passing by.

(Bear with me, this will turn out to be a disjointed post, I get the feeling.)

Every second day, I have the urge to write on these pages but it makes me anxious too. I have had near strangers walk up to me and say that they follow my blog, apart from the known friends and some family who tell me they read what I rant. It is scary. While I always knew there was a readership here, it only recently sunk in that people actually read what I write. And they remember. They remember things I have forgotten I wrote. As a writer, I know it is supposed to make me happy but...well, it feels like a huge responsibility. I unconsciously want to monitor what I write, though my posts have never revealed much about the people in my life, beyond the basics.

This self-censorship, to me, goes against the very reason I have stuck onto this blog for so long. This was meant to be the one place no one, I reiterate, no one could tell me what to write and how to write, my place for experiments and thoughts and rants. Yet, nearly every other line here has supposedly been messages, taunts, hints to people. I have laughed those accusations off. But in the light of recent developments, in terms of a search and new found changes in my thoughts (dare I call it maturity?), I want to know how I could reconcile the two.

I deactivated my Facebook account a few weeks ago. In previous months, every time I thought of doing so, I would know that I couldn't do it, there were things to keep track of. I don't now remember what the trigger was, but one day I closed it, without warning. And I haven't missed it for even a minute since. Some called me to ask why I did that, for some it was an act of rebellion, apparently, some still ask me when I will be back, most didn't notice, I am sure. I am not sure if I will ever be fully back again. I don't have to explain why. Mostly because I don't know myself. Perhaps it is a vain attempt at keeping to myself, perhaps I am a little tired of the frivolous excesses that FB insists you subscribe to. It doesn't matter.

Come to think of it, what does matter? My writing here? My thoughts, opinions? This isn't any legacy I leave, that would be too pompous of me to say so.

A few weeks ago, I made this speech to someone about how there must be trust in any relationship. This person, very wisely, now that I think of it, said something to me that I will always remember. That trust is in some sense political, a prison of sorts. I can't explain it here like the way this person meant it and I understood it. Post the discussion, we settled on honesty being the best thing. You like something, say so, don't like something, say so, that sort of honesty. It isn't too easy, bound that you are by political correctness and etiquette and the rest of its ilk. Yet you strive, you live and you grow, you learn.

I have been learning, these past few months. Much, about myself, about people. Not much of it is pretty when you decide to be honest with yourself too. But I am calling it an expedition and like with all open roads, I am living the experiences. Perhaps that is why there have been long silences here, because I have been moving faster than I can keep pace with.

Is that good? I am not sure. I don't know what these new ideas, ideals, thoughts will do to me. But honestly, I want to try giving it a chance. I have not felt this creative in a very, very long time. My mind is constantly abuzz with words and ideas and sentences that I think are great. And for that one sole reason, everything else would be worth it. Growing up and learning is doing wonders to my art. That is my excuse.
As when I am in the grip of ranting and my thoughts are tripping over each other, this post doesn't adhere to norms of cohesive construction of paragraphs. Yet, in my mind, there is a connection here. Let me suffice to say that I am living and learning and writing again. I am back in business, baby!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rain in Tormented Cities

In what language does rain fall over tormented cities?

I will take rain, even if it messes up my new red shoes and runs over my freshly washed hair and straightens my curls. I will take the grim on the streets, stench from the drain, the crawling cars into the night.

I will take all of that because when there is lightning, the hills of Madikeri lit up in my stories and the fat rain drops on concrete roofs wash away the weariness from my soul. I will sleep well tonight in memory of those rainy months in the hills. Yes, I will take rain today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Long Line on Identity

I questioned myself this weekend. Are we who we think we are? Not existential or identity crisis thinking, this. I began to wonder what makes us, us. Is it what we think we are or is it our actions? Am I what I perceive myself to be, even if my actions may contradict those perceptions? Or am I what my actions make me, even if they go against what my definition of self says? I am not what people perceive me as, not that I have ever cared for external validation to my existence. But this weekend has made me wonder, am I my perception or am I my actions? I think I want to know the answer. But if I were to dust off some dormant instincts, I am thinking they would point at the latter.

Which is good. At least my art would evolve, or so I want to think. And that would be a good price to meet the consequences with.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Speaking of an Old Book, Omair Ahmad's Encounters

This is not a review.

A newly acquired friend, SS, recommended to me one of his writer friends, Omair Ahmad and said I should read his books. We had arrived at it in the course of discussing Pakistani literature. I talked of how much I loved the writings of Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif and the others. I think we got to The Reluctant Fundamentalist when this friend said Ahmad’s first book stylistically pre-dates Hamid’s work. A few days later, at a book sale, I happened to come across Encounters, Ahmad’s debut novel. I started reading it about 3-4 days ago and was blown away by the writing.

You, Omair Ahmad, are amongst my favourite writers now.

This was Aligarh, where I had no friends; it would have been hubris indeed to want a lover.

Encounters is set in small town Aligarh, where Rahman and Saleem grow up like brothers. There are riots, ideologies get in the way, injustice happens, religious politics spring up, people die, love happens.

In October, my favourite month, she spoke to me.

Rahman is writing all this in a notebook that he knows no one will read, before he attempts to shoot the Home Minister with a locally made illegal gun that remains in his possession. He writes of growing up, boyhood adventures, influences and the feeling of being enclosed in their little worlds, before the worlds from outside, from the cities, come barging into Aligarh and destroy the world they had seen surrounding them.
He writes of indulging in a forbidden love. In the fashion of first loves, it consumes him until he spends his days and nights in an intense derision of worship, dreams and madness. 

She bit her lip, and that one gesture, I knew, would cause me many sleepless nights.

Rahman’s story is about being a Muslim and by the time he ends the book, he has gone from Muslim being a religion he was born into to being happy to be a ‘Muslim’, a tag that he consciously sports. ...against Pakistan, that Muslim state, the renegade province of united India.

I loved the book, though it was rather disturbing as well. The torture that the state decides to try on the boys isn’t glossed over. If I hadn’t read reports from Kashmir and elsewhere, I would have presumed it was the writer’s imagination at play. The book disturbs and brings up several questions, which I think was the intention.

The descriptions of growing up in the midst of curfews and riots took me back to my childhood in my town. The changes that were sweeping the nation passed us by. We never had Coca-Cola while growing up, so I don’t think I realized when it was banned and then brought in later. The liberation era affected everyone but back then, it didn’t change my life. Neither did the Babri Masjid incident. We were aware of it of course, but our daily lives were instead consumed by the hills and braving the leeches and keeping books dry while walking in the rain to catch the school bus. My world was my home and my town where nothing happened back then. At least now married women are eloping with their much younger lovers, there is some gossip.

I don’t know why I write this here or how it is relevant. But perhaps it is because we grew up in such a calm, settling environ that we don’t feel the kind of anger we would want to feel. We meaning I. I don’t talk of personal anger, which I have; my short temper was known far and wide. I talk of that sense of urgency, that anger, that reaction to the world and its events. I have opinions but the angered reaction is perhaps muted. It is so in my own eyes.

If oppression and strife and violence is a good breeding ground for beautiful art, like the romantics like to tell the town, then that passed me by. I tend to lean towards the beauty of art from conflict areas, conflict being personal or political. Is an intolerant society good for art? I often wonder. Ahmad’s book made me think about it again. I don’t have the answers. I don’t think there are any. Neither do I wish to examine where my art comes from. Perhaps it is from personal conflict, from the upheavals and changes and the near violence of my different lives. But then we all go through it.
The point is, there is art that leaps out of my head. For that, forever, I am grateful.

This post was to be about the book and religious politics and much else. But a story I heard tonight from Dubai lead to a whole hour of déjà vu and this became something else.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Writers, Writing

"It wasn't the English language that was responsible for my heresy because the first thing I understood when I began to really get to know it was how crude it was. It is a mechanic's language; good for hammers, spanners and telling you how an engine works. There are no Iqbals, no Rumis, no Ghalibs in English, though Eliot makes up for some of the lack. It is a language in which plays can be written, but is clumsy in expressing love, and not one in which you can speak of love restrained. For poetry you need Urdu, or Farsi. For power you need Arabic."
Omair Ahmad, Encounters

By the time I got to this passage, I was officially in love with this man's writing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thoughts on a Sunday Night

Much is on my mind. I stop myself from writing about them here until the feeling should pass. That is so because every passing day, I realize that these pages no longer remain a shout in the dark, that there are readers here. And I am made aware of what is at stake.

These quotes saved in a draft in my email account have been making sense. If I had not deactivated my Facebook account (finally! It struck me that when I have the urge to pull the plug, planning doesn’t let me do so; it is a sudden impulse, an instinct that makes it happen.), these would have found their way into status messages.

“In the end, all our stories, they are the same. No matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth and loss and the yearning for redemption.” Rohinton Mistry

“One can promise actions, but not feelings, for the latter are involuntary. He who promises to love forever or hate forever or be forever faithful to someone is promising something that is not in his power.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

"Don't trust love unless it comes in a slightly twisted form." Ayn Rand

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bird Song

What does the koel bird sing about so urgently every morning?

These days, I stumble out of the bed, usually cursing the clock, the yet to rise sun and all sundry, at about 5 in the morning. Once the utter disgust at the hour passes, I pull up my nice chair with the ivory inlay work to my balcony, put my feet up on the edge and settle in with the laptop, house coat and all, for there is a nip in the air. Then I write, or work, most often it is both.

The koel is my companion every morning, though I don’t see her very often. She has issues with her appearance perhaps, of her voice she is immensely proud. I don’t know what she goes on about; she is loud, and if she were a crow, I would have called her cantankerous.

I sit outside and let my lungs breathe in the only pure air I shall probably get all day. The sky is dark. Perhaps the koel is urging the sun to come out the horizon soon. He does, exasperated at her tone of urgency, anything to shut her up. One or two squirrels are slowly stirring out and greeting each other loudly too. Does everyone in the city have to be so loud? How else would they hear and be heard above the honking, the voice asks me in my head.

My horizon from the balcony, above a clump of coconut trees on the next road starts to brighten. Little puffs of spotless white clouds appear over my head, looking the way a roll of cotton would look after it fell into the hands of a child, all torn apart and scattered over the floor. A wood pigeon in the city sits on the neighbour's terrace, silhouetted against the light blue sky this morning.

The koel is louder now. The squirrel is too. They hurry the morning in. Life stirs up below my first floor flat. The temple door opens, an auto honks and whizzes by playing loud music, people come to fetch water from the public tank, my neighbours, a family that, like mine, loves to sit out and talk to each other, wakes up, we greet each other. Maids come into houses, a rice cooker whistles somewhere, the first of the vendors enter my lane selling vegetables and strings of jasmine, someone retches, disgustingly loud.

The koel is singing still, though her voice is masked a little now by people and cars. Mr Squirrel is harping on too about something. I think of the little houses we have built for squirrels, back home. The sun is up now and so are people. It is time I went back in then.

I tell the koel I will see her tomorrow morning. I still don’t understand why she sings so beautifully or what her song is for. Maybe she sings for the mere joy of it, I could understand that. Maybe I will ask her tomorrow.

She will be restless again tomorrow, I know her. I am restless too. She sings what I think about every morning. We suit each other that way, us morning creatures.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Another Year

Have the number of days in a year reduced? It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that I wrote of how long I have been around on these pages.

June 03, 2012. Its seven years of living and writing about my life and how I like to live it. I know, for many reasons, that there will be many more years of this.

Now I suppose I can presume to be out of the seven year itch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My First Published Fiction!

I feel like a seasoned actor who suddenly develops a stage fright. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, this blog has been around for more than half a decade and I have been a journalist for just as long, used to people reading stories that have carried my byline. Yet, it is with a strange nervousness that I post the link below, that of my first published fiction story!

The good people at Himal Southasian, that very respected magazine published (only online now) from Kathmandu, Nepal published my story today. I cannot say I was happy with the editing, for I think they have completely messed up the style. But this is my first published story and I shall not crib.

So here it is. Do read and let me know what you thought. I called it A Cicada at the Door.

A friend, my best critic who I always show my stories to before I even read them myself a second time, told me that the symbolisms associated with cicadas were appropriate too. Confession, I had named the story thus because I liked how the word cicada sounded, and because we have hundreds of them back home. I did not have an inkling of the symbolism until he told me about it and I looked up cicadas.

Ok, I will stop squirming in my seat and leave you to read the story here or see below.

Postscript: My parents celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary today. Each of them jokes that they have managed to tolerate the other for all these years. But I know that there is their version of love and affection there. Happy anniversary, Amma, Appa. I wouldn’t have been me without you.

Edit: A disclaimer. The story above is NOT inspired by Aamir Khan's Satyameva Jayate episode. I haven't watched that episode and I don't follow his show, but a friend warned me that I would surely be asked about the reference repeatedly. So, again, I wrote this story many, many months ago and it has nothing to do with Aamir's show or any other living person I know.


The long wooden pestle hit her stomach for the seventh time. After the fourth, she had known that the baby had died. Once that thought had faintly registered in her mind, she had stopped crying. All her broken heart and damaged body could now do was grunt, with her arms loosely wrapped around her stomach as if to protect the soul of her dead girl from the fate she would have faced. She knew it had been a girl, for it was the reason the blows landed on her, now for the eighth and the ninth time.

She didn’t deserve a name, her husband had said. She had had one, though the name her mother used to call her by was long forgotten. In the language of their elders, there was no feminine gender. ‘She’ was a soulless, genderless ‘it’, standing in for all the ‘her’s. Womanhood reduced to diktats from the elders, to two-thousand-year old traditions maintained in pristine condition.

Not that her husband adhered to the rules. As a man, his slight excesses were dusted off to a corner behind the door. Excesses like the not-so-unusual social drinks with friends (from all communities!); like the affair with a pretty, long-legged twenty-something girl; like the videos stored on his phone. The affair did elicit frowns, but then his uncles laughed and forgave him. In the days of their own youth, girls had swooned over them too.

Someone handed her a glass of water. But where would she even begin to wash herself? What was she expected to wash away? The sins she had not committed, but that her unborn daughter must have? She looked up at the person who gave her the water. Maybe those eyes would say something soft. But they looked away. She watched those feet hasten out. They had been told not to linger.

The task of cleansing herself was hers alone. She sat leaning against the wall, cold like her husband’s stare that evening when he looked at the doctor’s report. The water was red, like bloody rivulets around her. If she could, she would love to disappear into the wall’s plainness, let its coldness draw away the heat from between her legs. It would get warmer, she knew, and there would be more pain. She had been here, in this room, in this numbness, against the wall before.

The pair of hands that had given her some water reappeared with a piece of cloth. She was not sure what she ought to do with it. Was it to change into? Or was it to wipe away the sweat from her brow? Or tears? But then, the tears had never stopped. She took the cloth, and held it to her breast, trying to decide what it could be for. That was where it hurt the most. She tried to stand up, but her body felt lifeless, a dead weight. Dead like the daughter she would have bought pink frocks and teddy bears for.

Would she die this time? She had long stopped praying that she did. Both the male and female gods had deserted her. But she would live, she knew, like the last time. Because her husband had promised, on her behalf, a new heir for the family. A man, who would grow up just like his father. With his own excesses. She couldn’t die just yet because her husband wouldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t even allow her to cry in this corner. Her weeping, however silent it was, irritated him. And that was just not allowed in their house.

She would have to pull herself up. There would never be any help. This was her fault, her sin. If she had not shown the report to him, wouldn’t he have found out later anyway? Wouldn’t he then have killed both her and her daughter? That would have been preferable. To die together, rather than leave the girl to do so alone. The water in the glass choked her. Just like the way every plate of food had stuck in her throat for days and weeks after the last time.

She had had the luxury of sitting against the wall for a whole ten minutes now. Her husband would walk in again, drunk no doubt. It was time she cleaned up. At the third attempt, she managed to hoist herself up, leaning against the cold wall. But at the first step forward, she stumbled and had to hold on to the long wooden pestle propped against the corner, the pestle that had killed her daughter. The irony almost made her laugh. The pestle was the first thing she removed from the room.

It took her half an hour to scrub the room clean. The last time she had asked for help, her husband had forbidden it, so that she would remember not to repeat her sins. This time, she needed none. Everything physical about her had stopped hurting long ago. Her husband, ‘her man’, as he wished to call himself, would walk in and expect her to be ready for him. Just like he had expected it the last time. Her body no longer hurt, so it didn’t matter what he expected.

In another half hour, she was in clean clothes. Her husband walked in. His presence didn’t reek of rage, or of alcohol. He was looking at her. His eyes were never the sort that told her what he was thinking. But then she was not allowed to stare too long. The rules said that an ‘it’ couldn’t look straight into a man’s eyes while taking his orders. Under his gaze, she began to feel nervous. Would he pick up the pestle again?

Or was he going to say sorry? Was he regretting it? Would he come towards her and brush the uncombed strands of hair away from her forehead? Would he then whisper that he had made a mistake? That it was his fault she was hurt? Would saying that make it all right? She had heard that some men were like that. Gentle towards their wives, whom they called by their given names. No, her husband was not about to do any of that. A man never made mistakes.

“Smile,” he growled at her.

She, trained to dance to his every whim, smiled slightly.

He told her that it was evening already, and that she should not forget to keep smiling. She nodded. ‘It’ wouldn’t have thought there was any other option available.

She had survived again, yet another day. Her daughter hadn’t. The doorbell rang. It sounded like a cicada and reminded her of monsoons at her mother’s house.

He had been made the managing director of the company he worked at. The happily married Mr and Mrs Varma were throwing a party that evening for their closest friends. They would click champagne glasses and celebrate his successes. And she would remember to smile.

~ Deepa Bhasthi is a writer based in Bangalore, but is plotting moving back to the hills. She blogs at