Friday, December 30, 2016

Two Girls and a Car

I’ve read this about hyper dimensions a long time ago (I’m paraphrasing freely, of course): If you are a species that cannot perceive the dimension of height, then if I slip a hula hoop on your head and place it around your feet, you will be my prisoner forever, because you wouldn’t know how to step over it.

I never learned to ride a bicycle or a scooter or drive a car because way back when I was a teenager, girls were not allowed to learn such things.  By the time I was no longer in small town India, the diffidence was overwhelming. “Terrible sense of direction,” I said. “Such a bad sense of space that I’m lethal with the airport cart,” I joked. But really, it was just a hula hoop that imprisoned me.

I am driven everywhere, mostly by men—drivers, friends, and relatives. Even our all-girl trips by road usually has a male driver. Off late, a small percentage of rides are with my girlfriends, but these are strictly within city limits.

So when A suggested a 2000 kilometer road trip, although I concurred excitedly, the “all girl” part of the trip had much bigger significance in my head.

Of course there was enough reinforcement from our environment to make the hula hoop look like a fortress. Wherever I turned, people cautioned me about the safety of it. Making women obsess about safety and crime against women are really the two sides of the same coin, aren’t they?

The Plan
So it was A who was going to drive the entire distance, with me being the navigator and entertainer, it was decided. She figured out the route and itinerary. She picked up Wai near Satara as the first stop, because you know, how could one pass up a place with such a unique name! The second stop was to be Davangere, a city in central Karnataka, for no other reason than the fact that it was at the two-third point. Our third stop was to be Tiruvannamalai, a holy temple town south of Chennai, only because we had never visited it before. We were to make the short trip to Chennai as the tail end of this journey.

What is Wai?
Although we started two hours later than our ETD on the D-day, we cruised comfortably all the way to Wai due to great roads. We even had to negotiate a hill road after sun down, but it was alright.

Our board for the night was the Ritugandh River View Resort, an idyllic resort on the banks of the Krishna river. There weren’t many guests other than us at the resort on that Wednesday night. We had decent food at the restaurant and retired cozily in our cottage, with the plan of doing some bird watching in the morning.

Morning dawned, sharply cold and misty. The river (not very big there) looked enchanting and pretty. There wasn’t much of a walk really. Still, we hung around for a while, sighting the usual suspects such as coucals, sun birds and king fishers.

We set out to the Dhom dam after a lovely breakfast of poha and eggs (go figure). We found the sluices quickly enough. We got out, walked around a bit, wondering how to get to the top. We spied some narrow and steep granite steps and decided to scamper up although it was behind closed gates.
Well, we wandered into a restricted area and more than that, shocked the dam keepers thoroughly. They made a short work of sending us back down.

We then discovered a beautiful but dilapidated temple dedicated to Narasimha at the foot of the dam. A village school picnic arrived after us. We followed them and found a thoroughfare approach to the dam. The kids literally ran up and down and left even before we reached the top.

The huffing and panting was well worth the effort, for the Dhom lake was breathtaking! It is vast, surrounded by hills and untouched by tourism. We then drove into the heart of the town, where the river ghat is dotted with temples. There wasn’t much of a crowd, so we quickly visited as many as we could manage.

Lavangi Mirchi Kolhapurchi
We left Wai and decided to stop over at Kolhapur for some authentic local food. Zomato suggested Patlacha Wada, a nice restaurant in what seemed like the cantonment area. There is also a stuffed jackal in the restaurant (not on the menu of course)!

Alas, the local food turned out to be far too spicy for me and I was able to eat only the rice and curd on the meals plate. A had more gumption and was more successful.

We had plans to visit the Mahalakshmi temple of Kolhapur, but it was already 3:00 p.m. and we had another 300 kilometers to go. So we decided to drive straight ahead and see whether we can hit Hubli and Unakkal lake by 5:30 p.m.

The highway continued to be fantastic. We were making good time on it, enjoying the sights of prosperous looking towns that passed us such as Karwad. The sugarcane flowers sure are beautiful!

Suddenly, outside Karwad, we heard a weird flapping sound. Turned out that our rear fender had come unstuck (the lock was broken), which made the fender and left mud guard flap ungraciously and loudly in the wind.

We decided to get it repaired in Belgaum. We held the offending fender in place with a couple of kicks and drove slower than desired, lest it should come unstuck again.

Alas, Belgaum did not sport auto mechanics on the highway. We stopped at several places only to be directed to the next one. Finally, one guy told us to get Kwik Fix and stick the fender back on!

We had lost about 45 minutes in this pursuit so Unakkal lake and Chandramouleswara temple seemed unattainable. We decided to keep on driving until Davangere—we had driven after sun down the previous day, so we were feeling confident.

Halt and Hubli
The drive towards Hubli was made interesting by the SuvarnaVidhan Soudha or the legislative building which comes upon us on the highway itself. It is humungous and looks a little incongruous, sitting on a hill amidst fields.

Unfortunately, the road after Hubli suddenly narrowed down to a two-lane, no divider, old trunk road. The winter sun set in a hurry and suddenly, we were on one of the trickiest driving challenge. While heavy truck traffic on the other side nearly blinded us, the shadows on our side held lurking  pedestrians and cyclists. It was nerve wracking driving on the road, so we decided to halt at Hubli.

We booked a hotel from the road, but the drive to it was again stressful, as the old roads of the town were terribly narrow, uneven and super crowded! We sweated and swore and finally reached our destination.

Hotel Ananth was a clean little hotel near the railway station. The food was heavenly. We slept that night to the faint background of trains and the general hubbub that usually surrounds Indian railway stations.

The Long Haul
The stressful last hour of the previous day made us determined to reach Tiruvannamalai as quickly as possible the next morning. It was a 620 kilometer stretch, so we decided to drive non-stop through the day.

We started at 7:00 a.m. from Hubli (escaping the roads from hell of central Hubli was an added motivation) and hit the highway soon enough. Surprisingly, the terrible road that preceded Hubli again turned into the wondrous six lane highway right after the town!

But we wouldn’t have driven more than 30 kilometers, when our rear fender started flapping again, with loud noise. We needed a wire to hold it in place—A was quick thinking and used an old iPhone charger to do the job. We are happy to report that our handiwork was so neat that it held for the rest of the journey, under very trying circumstances later!

We set out happily on what turned out to be a bloody long drive. But until 5:00 p.m. that day, it was great fun because we played old and new songs (yours truly being the DJ) and sang loudly along with it. Nothing cements a sisterhood as strongly as driving on the highway and singing old songs together!

We had breakfast at the redoubtable Kamat Upachar outside Davangere and then lunch at another Kamat Upachar somewhere near Tumkur. Very happy to report that the food was simple and tasty, the environment was hygienic and the restrooms were clean (bless them!)

The highway of course was excellent. But the most remarkable stretch was the NICE road that runs between Bengaluru and Mysore. It wounds its way through the hills as a silken stretch.

A Hairy, Scary Ride
We made a filter coffee pit stop at Soolagiri at around 5:00 p.m. Google map indicated that we had to get off the highway soon after to get on to NH 77 to drive to Tiruvannamalai. It was 150 kilometers away, so we reckoned we should reach by 7:30 p.m.

We found the exit easily enough. However, right after getting on to the road, it became an old trunk road that was barely held together. Worse, it seemed to pass between hills and jungles (made famous by Veerappan) and tiny hamlets.

As we drove on, hoping for the road to get better (we were under the false impression that state highways in TN are all uniformly good), sun set again, plunging us and our environments into pitch darkness.

And to our great panic, we discovered the roads in fact got worse! Human inhabitation continued to be sparse. I was also wary of asking random people on the road lest our “two girls and a car” status might expose us to any nefarious activities.

We reached a little village with a busy market street, where we stopped and asked a woman whether we were on the right track. She confirmed it, but gave us no other big hope.

We still had about 100 kilometers to drive at that point! Turning back was not a choice, so we decided to press on.

It was the scariest drive of our lives! We couldn’t see a thing around us except for what was illuminated by our headlights. We seemed to discover terrible potholes and breaks in the road only by falling into them.

We tried following other vehicles, but they were few and far between. At one point, we came upon a mound about four feet high so suddenly that the car almost went sideways. At another point, we were interrupted by a bridge construction which had left a 15-ft hole in the ground.

The ride required nerves of steel, A’s quick reflexes and a whole lot of gumption. A and I go a long way back—our association has been characterized by many perilous journeys (metaphorical and physical) together.

We got through with this one too, supporting, cheering and depending on each other.

The Tail Ender
We reached Tiruvannamalai at around 9:00 p.m. We stayed at Hotel Arpanaa—a lovely place with fantastic food!

The next morning, we abandoned our earlier plan of walking 14 kilometers around the hill (which is the deity) as is the tradition. We were too tired and rattled by our experiences the previous day. We hired an auto and went around. Tiruvannamalai is a pretty little hill town and the weather was balmy that morning.

The medieval temple at the base of the hill was beautiful and imposing. We finished our darshan quickly and set out to Chennai.

The treacherous NH 77 towards Chennai turned out to be fine. We made good time, crossing several interesting places such as the Gingee fort.

We reached Chennai by 4:00 p.m. A’s mom received us with thick, strong filter coffee, which made up for a lot of things!

A tells me that her mechanic admired her quick fix with the iPhone charger and did something similar to fix the fender problem.

So our 2000 kilometers journey has given birth to our own AP’s razor: “Is there an iPhone charger that will fix this problem?”

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Family that WhatsApps together…

…talks a lot. And it is a good thing.

A few months ago, my nephew, the budding film maker, made me walk through the streets of old Madurai city, as part of recci for his script. We randomly rambled around one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, feeling a little awed by its imposing history and complex cultural subtext.

Then suddenly, we arrived at the site of some personal history. It was the street where his parents were married 31 years ago.

Never before have I felt the weight of three decades as heavily as I did that day, because I wasn’t able to locate the wedding hall. There were a couple of them, neither carrying the name that is on my sister’s wedding card.

We asked the guards and they scratched their heads. I called my mom, who also was not able to recall which end of the street the hall was.

31 years were long enough to change things around even in a forgotten little street in a city where changes happen very slowly.  

31 years are significantly more time we siblings spent apart than the time we spent together. Even the 27 years that my other sister has been married outstrips the often tumultuous years (we suffered from a rather strong case of sibling rivalry) we spent together.

In the years we spent apart, we were all busy finding our feet, tackling the curve balls life threw at us, and evolved into three very different individuals.

And we hardly kept in touch.

The tragedy of not keeping in touch never registered all those years. Our common point was our parents, so we broadly knew what each other was doing. Somehow, we seem to have felt that was enough.

Until my mother’s fascination with the smartphone changed it last year. I got her a smartphone that she almost pined for and to on-board her to the joys of social networking, started a family WhatsApp group.

First time in over 30 years, the four of us—my mom and we sisters—started talking to each other on a daily basis.

There are easy parts and tough parts. There are still areas of our lives we are reluctant to let each other in.

But we’ve discovering each other through the stream-of-conscious minutiae we share every day. From daily menu to family, health, friends, music, philosophy, insights, jokes and life hacks, our conversations meander as we develop appreciation and empathy for each other’s lives and personalities.

There is something tremendously healing and nurturing in just talking. I would like to believe that we have been able to bridge the gap from mere curiosity to real caring. We worry about each other’s daily challenges, small health issues and big life problems. We root and pray for each other regularly.

The engine of our group is my septuagenarian mother’s spirit. It warms our hearts and has melted away the freeze.

I had once asked my dad about what was his first impression of my mom. He said he found her “native”—he meant it in the sense of original and unique.

That’s exactly what we are discovering on WhatsApp. She is witty, intelligent, articulate, curious and uses these most adorable original spellings (she spells ‘em as she says ‘em). She talks about recipes and the misogyny of kaph panchayat with the same ease. She is game for anything—from ingenious tips (she’s some really creative ideas) to movies, music, and poetry (has a deadly ear for a particularly nice turn of words). We are also discovering that she’s got a working knowledge of multiple regional languages.

She tosses aside various challenges of old age with a joke. She enjoys small things with the relish of a child. The other day, she saw the picture of Inca tern in the newspaper and was very amused by its big mustache.

We take cues and strength from her. And we continue to talk.

Thank God there’s WhatsApp!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Dozen Confessions of a Facebook-aholic

  1. It’s been observed that the only time I’m quiet in a group situation is when I’m posting pics and writing about them on Facebook.
  2. I get very antsy and existential (“nobody loves me!”) if I don’t get at least six “likes” in the first 15 minutes of posting something. Recently, I cribbed so much that everybody in the group “liked” my post just to shut me up.
  3.  It’s also been observed that my selfie arm has become some kind of a bionic extension of me and I take incredible selfies and groupies. It is true that the same bionic arm posts pics on FB almost real time.
  4.  When I was of a suitable age (probably 10 or 11), my dad said: “Read the newspaper. It improves you!” Never did. Still don’t. Cannot. Read. Newspaper. The FB news feed is my newspaper. I find it pretty absorbing, entertaining and educational.
  5. I don’t understand when people say they have quit FB because it was getting to be “too much.” WhatsApp and its Babel-eque group chatter is too much. Twitter with its opinion-a-minute-athon and trending stats is too much. How could FB with its weak social networking and weak opinions be too much?
  6.  A couple of years back, I ran into a friend at an airport. The first 5 – 7 minutes of the conversation was supremely disorienting for me. Then I realized that she hasn’t commented/asked about my activities as reported by me on FB. I asked her and she told me that she’s not on it. I’m so used to all conversations starting in the context of my posts that I think I’ve lost the ability to talk to people who are not on FB and following me.
  7.  It pleases me that I have a diverse network, comprising people that range from family members to school teachers to ex-bosses to friends from around the world to friends of my nephews/kids of friends (I think those kids are just being polite) to acquaintances from various walks of life.  They make a very colorful multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-interest world for me to step into every time I access FB.
  8. I have some remarkable nature photographers on my network. I admire their dedication, skill and passion. I’m happy that an army of them are out there, scaling every peak, scouring every forest, diving every water body to catalog our richly bio-diverse but rapidly depleting world. Don’t know whether there is any hope for the species that are going extinct every day, but at least there will be some memory of them left somewhere.
  9. I agree that FB has rewritten “Catching up with the Joneses” to “Catching up with the Joneses’ happiness.” I often wonder whether FB has made us all bi-polar: manically happy posts interspersed with very low and blue silences.
  10. I find it amusing that people equate my high Facebook activity to having a thoroughly public forum life. Like everybody else, I have clearly delineated private and public life/persona too. Yes, I’m an iceberg. My private thoughts are restricted to a small set of people very close to me, who unfortunately have no escape from being privy to the minutiae of my life.
  11. I fancy myself as some sort of a decoder, scanning my world through photographs and posts to detect little blips that indicate larger upheavals/events lurking below the surface. A Sherlock Holmes of the Social Network, if you will. I, my friends, often know what you did last summer. Or fall. Or winter, for that matter. And who you did/didn’t do it with. And what does that mean.
  12. I find FB Messenger a completely useless app.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Connected Silence

Circa May 2012. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. I was standing on the grassy carpet that would be a lake bed in monsoon. But now, the water had receded far, drunk by the greedy sun that was beating down at a relentless 45 degrees. All around me was the deceptive quietness of the forest.

As I walked around, training my camera at anything of interest, I discovered something profound. Under my feet was a universe of microscopic dimensions! What I took to be grass was not really just a homogeneous spread of indistinct greenery—it was actually a teeming world of multiple species.

What’s more, every single one of them was blooming in a kaleidoscope of colors, much like the coral reef. Deep purples, shocking pinks, striking whites, bright yellows, and arresting blues were the flowers whose detail I could see only through my 70 – 300 lens at tight close up! And they were fed on by even tinier insects, bound to this world in a symbiotic marriage.

And my God they were busy—with this business of living, feeding, blooming, reproducing, competing and surviving! Even a clumsy gargantuan intruder like me was helping them by crushing some competitors and propagating some afar.

This world conquered me. Stripped me off my intellectualism, big world concerns, emotional baggage, human superciliousness and pretentious beliefs. Because none of it mattered there. In that moment. Amidst that violently colourful microscopic Garden of Eden.  

And lightened of my burdens thus, I felt connected. To nature. To this very ephemeral, undefinable phenomenon we call life. To all the species under me. Around me. Above me. Away from me. To the world. Probably to the universe.

The moment felt pure and joyous. Mystical even. And heady!

I keep retuning to this world, whenever I can. And I gain rich dividends. I discover tiny spiders eating tiny butterflies in my garden. I discover a passion fruit bloom on the way side in Kerala. I discover the sun trapped in a tiny dew drop under a small tea leaf in some tea garden in Kaziranga. I discover a small worker ant lumbering under the weight of a larva in the park. I discover a complex conical spider web catching the sunlight brilliantly at Maharashtra Nature Park.

Unsurprisingly, all these moments are quiet. Born out of exercises in solitude. No conversations. No philosophies or minutiae. No buzzing thoughts. No worries. Just a stillness.

A state that flies in the face of my general personality—loud, restless, talkative, and energetic. I used to wonder about it. I have now concluded that contradictions are good. Even gregarious souls need silences.

I started meditating somewhat seriously from 2013. And being silent and watching my breath has taught me much. I have learned that if I slow down my heartbeat to a soft thud, I can hear the grass growing and flowers blooming. I can even hear your heart and its many burdens, wisdom and desires.

I feel connected to you, without conversations.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Lost Art of Conversation

15 years ago, I met a boy from South Bombay. He was quite ridiculously intelligent and creative. He was funny and crazy to boot. I was a neophyte in Mumbai, all wide eyed and wondering, with the metaphorical small-town-South-Indian-coconut-oil still on my hair. For all our cultural differences, we could’ve well been from two different planets.

No this is not a love story. Definitely not one with a happy ending.

This is the story of the fast vanishing Art of Conversation a.k.a. “talking shit.”

We talked miles and miles of deserted streets in Fort, Church Gate, Nariman Point, Colaba and Marine Drive. We talked hours and hours of Roxy, Metro, Sterling, and Eros theatres. We talked years of All Stir Fry, Under the Over (alas, not there anymore), Churchill and Crystal.

We talked shit man. From “leading a life of quiet desperation” to Douglas Adams, Martin Scorsese, Incubus and Succubus, Warm Water under a RedBridge, sizzling brownies and the “greater creative question.”

We discovered each other, the world around us and a few higher truths. We played with ideas, challenged notions, comforted each other and made each other laugh—a lot.  We built intimacy and empathy.

Other friendships often followed this template—“Let’s sit down and talk all night.”

When I went to the US, it was literally talking all night, but enabled by G Talk. I just checked and I have records of 11,990 chat conversations dating from ’08! I kid you not!

And we only talked shit—bad poetry, good poets, movies, minutiae of our lives, a shoe rack so expensive to custom make that it assumed a life of its own as a Goddess named Xu, and intimate details that we might have been embarrassed to talk in person.

We invested time. In each other. In connecting. To talk.

Then we all changed jobs, moved countries, got married, got divorced, became parents and moved out of GTalk.

Maybe we all got older. Busier with our lives. Carrying mountains that we were only meant to climb. Caught up in situations where there was nobody to talk to.

Or maybe our smart devices and social networking platforms have increasingly isolated us from each other. We are probably prisoners of our own device—we share more and more and talk less and less.

WhatsApp is the chief offender, I feel. There is much chatter and noise, but no real conversations. We have become a species of forwards. We hide our emptiness behind borrowed self-help thoughts, the latest meme/trope, strident fascistic political views, videos and jokes. There is no depth, emotion, vulnerability or empathy. There is no give and take, no comforting or challenging. Days are full of pings, but of no real connect.

And in real life, nobody has the time to sit up all night talking. Where we are running and why are we running so fast?

The scariest part of all this isolation is another burgeoning phenomenon of people who have forgotten how to have conversations! There are no dialogues any more—only multiple monologues.
Off late, I’ve been experiencing bizarre group situations where there are multiple overlapping monologues going at a steady stream. Everybody is talking, nobody is listening. It’s like sitting in the middle of a conversational zombie convention!

I also find the need for alcohol to fuel conversations weird. When and where did we lose the ability to be ourselves when sober? Why do honesty, openness, tolerance and friendliness need a formal setting or a lubricant? When did they get replaced with pretensions, catching up with the Joneses, and consumerist displays on steroids? What have we done to ourselves?

I think we are in an age of crisis. And we need to cure ourselves of this malaise, quickly. Before the aliens or AI take over.

Sherry Turkle in the New York Times says, “Conversation is there for us to reclaim. For the failing connections of our digital world, it is the talking cure.”

Perhaps we should declare a “World Conversation Day”—every month. On that day, we switch off our smart devices and other intrusions and sit down with our friends, acquaintances, strangers at the museum. And talk. Talk shit.

I’m always on for a conversation. Bring me poetry (Tamil, English, Hindi—in that order), information on aliens, knowledge of history, insights on spirituality or stories of nature. Hook me, fascinate me, and challenge me. I would return the gesture. I might even be coaxed to hand over my next bonus for a particularly nice turn of phrase. If you throw in a sizzling brownie with hot chocolate sauce, I might even take a bullet for you. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Messy, Boozy, Bro-y, Funny World of Tamil Movie Heartbreak

Season of Love
It seems like every young person in the 16 – 22 age group in Tamil Nadu is in love—with someone unacceptable to their parents. They are expressing their feelings vocally and dramatically, through TV music channels, FM channels, friends, WhatsApp and other social media.

They are shaking up the very fundamentals of societal structures and hoary traditions. They are eloping or standing up to opposition; they are marrying in police stations, registrar offices and temples. Some end tragically, but a lot of them seem to be thriving, as parents are resigning to the new order.

Sociologists might talk in terms of social mobility, aspirations, westernization, urbanization et al. Be that as it may, every time I call home, I hear one more story. Of clandestine actions, dramatic proclamations, and cinematic gestures.

And Tamil movies—that bastion of “energetic physicality and frank passions”—supply the voice, plot, lyrics and music for these micro-epics unfolding in the lives of millions of young people!  

Heartbreak Hotel
Where there are relationships, there are heartbreaks. And Tamil cinema might have just invented an original and engaging standard for depicting this.

The meme of the heartbroken swain from the wrong side of the tracks indulging in a booze fest with his bros, lamenting the loss of his fair lady’s love—the “Soup Song”—is one of the most evocative and deliciously-full-of-subtext representations of “love failure.”

As far as I can tell, this meme has its roots in Gana songs that Music Director Deva introduced in the mid ‘90s. His blockbuster hit “Kavalaipadathe Sagodara” blasted from every street corner for months back then.

Gana is the music of the migrant workers who settled in North Chennai. These songs have Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and English words and they talk about life in a city—the markets, streets, alcohol, slums, sex, and festivals. Here’s an interesting article on the musical genre of Gana:

And perhaps this genre represents the realities and emotions of the urban/semi urban youth like no other. It has definitely taken Tamil films by storm for the past two decades.

I Like Soup Songs
I like these type of songs because when it comes to heartbreaks, I find the messy and uninhibited way men go to pieces very heroic.

We women have our hearts broken too. When that happens, we cry to drown the oceans, leave alone our pillows. We talk the ears off of our friends. We do all the things that Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl have demonstrated so fabulously in all those chick flicks. Then we move on.

But men. Ah men! How spectacularly they grieve! How palpable and seemingly indomitable their pain seems to be! How long lasting their love for the one that got away is! How deep their depression is—how bottomless their wine cups are! How the contours of their inner world seem to alter irredeemably, even when they ostensibly get on to other relationships!

Their heartache is the stuff of poems, novels, movies, art—classic and timeless. Only men can love in the time of Cholera and make it epic.

And the Soup Songs capture this mood admirably.

The Top 5 List
Dhanush is the undisputed poster boy for this genre. He looks the part. He can act. He can dance. He is funny. And for all that anorexic looks, he dominates the screen when he comes on it. So let me start the list with that viral sensation that made him world famous.

1 – Why this Kolaveri Di?
I had liked this song even when it became viral in 2012 and we heard it in every form that could be rendered in. I liked the slow beat, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and use of the pipe instrument (nadaswaram) as a main accompaniment. It’s strange that I never looked up the video until today. I like the video too—it is quintessentially Dhanush. I also love the re-creation of the beach scene. Don’t miss the discreet brand placement!

2 – Vanganna Vankkanganna
Vijay is indisputably a star. He can make you forget how illogical some of his film plots are, how fluffy—you walk out of the theatre feeling you’ve got your full money’s worth of entertainment. And boy he can dance! In this song, he sings too! A real toe-tapping slow number. The lyrics warn his bros about the perils of love—he claims when quarter (250 ml of alcohol) mixes with water, it makes him a fount of wisdom.

3 – Othakadai Othakadai Machan
There are several things going for this song. First, D. Imman—the most interesting music composer Tamil has now. The music here is a great fusion of Tamil folk and Mariachi genres. Then I like the colours, choreography and cinematography—top notch! The lyrics are great too. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

4 – Pray Pannuven
Vijay Sethupathy is probably one of his kind—a sort of indie actor, working within the commercial framework and gaining a lot of success too. Here’s an example of what makes him stand apart. This song works within the genre of the soup song, but breaks through with the lyrics that are modern, edgy and funny. He is praying for his girlfriend to be kept awake through the night by mosquitoes; that college boys should call her aunty; that all her girlfriends should turn into ghosts and boyfriends should become gay!

5 – Adiye Adiye Ivale

There is an indescribable charm about this song featuring Jayam Ravi. I like the way he cries in a frank and uninhibited way. The lyrics as usual are nice—he calls his lady love a monster that he is unable to forget. It also features the Chennai night life, or the underbelly of it. Ravi is cute. The other reason is of course music by D. Imman. There is another jazz number in the same movie, but that’s for another post.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading with Dad

Every city of character has that one book shop that defines its past, present and future cultural health. Isn't it strange that these book shops are invariably old, cramped with books, and curated in a way that will always surprise you?

Sarvodaya Ilakkiya Pannai (Sarovodaya Literary Farm – a place that sows the seeds of knowledge) in Madurai is one such place. It matches the ranks of Strand Bookstall in Mumbai and Citylight Bookshop in San Francisco for the sheer variety, quirkiness and general lack of modern bookshop fancy-factor. A place for serious book worms, this!

As I was browsing the Tamil pop literature aisle, several titles such as CIA Secrets, FBI Files and KGB Facts jostled for attention with some serious red books. But my fancy was captivated by a thin volume titled (I translate) “Aliens and continuing Mysteries.”

It was just the book for me and my reading companion for the past three weeks – my dad.

A rather unconventional book to read with my 78-year old father, you might think. But then, there has been nothing conventional about our reading process.

We started with me reading aloud the newspaper to my dad whose vision has been significantly impaired by a vascular problem in his retina. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Only that I never read the newspaper and I found this task thumpingly boring. I started picking out only those items that suited my taste. We farmed the centre pages for opinions, personalities, off-mainstream news and commentaries (our own).

My dad surprised me with how sporting he was about this new negotiated reading. He would cajole me into reading political shenanigans at the centre and state. I would throw a tantrum and insist on fringe, new age, and business news. We would fall somewhere in the middle, facing off with our socialist-conventional (his) and communist-liberal (mine) ideologies in a friendly manner.

One afternoon, when he asked me to read the newspaper, I told him I will read a book I picked up at the airport - Devdutt Patnaik’s “7 Secrets of Goddess.” I had read a little bit on my travel and I guess I was subconsciously testing him, for it carried some explosive thoughts on gender, sexuality, and status of women in society.

“Explosive” was MY pejorative, I soon realised. “Women’s status in society degenerated with the advent of the concept of ownership and they began to be seen as property and chattel,” he said even before I could finish saying “Goddess.” We read on that Kali is untamed nature, her fierce mien a product of the male anxiety about the potency of female sexuality. And that Gauri is domesticated nature, the consort who is docile and giving.

Our after-lunch hours reverberated with such concepts being read out. In our battle of wits, I didn't blink; neither did he.

We moved on from the Goddesses after I realised that my dad cannot be easily shocked. Subversion was replaced by playfulness. Printed words were replaced by digital content.

A random Facebook post on what excellent teeth the doomed citizens of Pompeii had led us to a long research on the city of Pompeii and its fatal randevouz with Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. My parents completely charmed me by feeling genuinely compassionate and sad about the citizens of Pompeii who were insta-killed by the volcano, 2000 years ago.

My dad’s insistence that he looked like Moshe Dayan after his eye procedure made me look Dayan up and we spent an evening reading up about the Israeli Defence Minister and his contribution to the Six Day War in 1967. And other wars Israel was involved in. And Moshe Dayan’s life history. My dad surprised me by his vast knowledge on the war and Israel.

We spent a riotous evening reading “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” by James Finn Garner, which led my dad to call his barber “Hair Beauty Technician”.

As our reading collaboration progressed, I discovered my father -  a  bright, curious like a little boy, wildly imaginative, witty and liberal man. I realised with a sense of surprise that for all its apparent conservatism, the household I grew up in was actually quite emancipated where no idea is taboo and no view point is abhorrent. And there was an established  process of examining and evaluating concepts that was gentle, tolerant, informed and rational.

No wonder then, that despite my rebellious, iconoclastic youth and life choices, there were never shouting matches at home. No wonder then, that there was so much grace in accepting my defiant points of view for the past two decades.

As my dad and I talked and read non-stop in an unprecedented fashion, I also discovered how much my father’s daughter I am. How similar our interests and intellectual processes were! How much our irreverent sense of humour resonated with each other! How we loved adventures and travel!

It was inevitable  that our discussions should stumble upon aliens. “They exist!” I insisted. “Pseudo science!” He disdained. “Look at Geoglyphs!” I said and off we went on another magic carpet trip of reading. “Look at Stonehenge!” I said and we made another stop as our carpet revved its engines.

I bought the book, by the way. I read out to him that night. We both kept telling our mother “10 more minutes,” as she demanded us to go to bed.

The debate on intelligent aliens visiting our blue green planet was unresolved by the end of our reading, although my dad said, just before going to bed: “You are my last born and I don't want you to go to bed unhappy. So yes, dear daughter, aliens exist and they visit our earth often.”