SOLITUDE SCRIBBLES

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Customer, No Care!


This Sunday, when petrol dealers decided to stay at home leaving vehicle owners high and dry along the highways, we (I, wife, kids and  a cousin brother) were among many who were calling up to the heavens to help our cars push a few miles more before the fuel tank ran dry. 
The Civil Supplies Corp-operated fuel pumps had also exhausted stock by afternoon, and for the first time since I started driving, we just hoped to see at least a Reliance fuel station somewhere on our way (someone had told me that they aren’t part of the Sunday Shut Down). But that was not to be, as the last one (as per the World Wide Web) on our way was somewhere in Alappuzha and we had rode past it already. (Hope Mr Ambani realises he has a good business opportunity on Kerala’s highways! Go for the kill, dude.)
And then, suddenly, the yellow indicator screamed out to me that I was on reserve fuel. Tension started building up and we were making plans to check into a hotel en route and resume journey the next morning. But then, as cousin bro suggested, we quickly dialled the Maruti Customer Care to know how far the remaining fuel would take us.
Excerpts (not verbatim, though) from the conversation that followed:
Us: Hello, Is this Maruti Customer Care?
Them: Yes sir, how can I help you?
Us: Okay, we just wanted to know what distance would an Ertiga petrol vehicle travel on reserve fuel after the low fuel indicator lights up?
Them: Oh SORRY, we won’t be able to tell you that as it depends on each city.
Us: We just need an approximate number. You may give us an approx. distance as it’s a must that we know from you.
Them: Sorry, I’m afraid we won’t be able to help you. We don’t have the figures to tell you.
Don’t have the figures even after so many years of ruling the Indian road? Just a question included in your umpteen feedback calls to new Maruti Suzuki car owners would have given you the numbers for each road and highway! One driver’s feedback could be another driver’s bible, at least in times of a crisis. And, after all we asked you for only the approx. numbers, didn’t we?
Convinced that the Customer Care is manned by aliens from another world, we continued to drive on. In the meantime, wifey looked up the Net to know what other Ertiga owners thought about the reserve distance that the vehicle would run. The answer was of course there. User reviews on the Net had provided the info. We were glad to find the Ertiga would easily run 39 to 40 km on reserve fuel (petrol, in this case). And we drove on.
Lady Luck and the local deity Parabrahmam seemed to have conspired to get things right for us and soon we spotted a petrol station along the Ochira-Kollam highway awaiting us. The vehicle had its fill and we drove home in gay abandon, with the air conditioner and music player switched on.
The hilariously silly add on to the above narrated story happened the very next morning. As the customer care was contacted from the cousin brother’s phone, he started getting calls right from the next morning.
Maruti dealers from umpteen spots in south Kerala have been making it a point to call him, offering him a good deal on the new Ciaz awaiting buyers in showrooms. He had to keep on explaining to them that the call made the previous day was related to an urgent fuel enquiry, and not because he was planning to buy a new car. But then, they never wanted to give up.
The calls continue to land on his phone! He just called me to say he has gone mad and tired of responding to Ciaz sellers!
Hey Maruti Suzuki Guys, if you are somewhere out there and sane, stop offering carrots when someone asks you for a sip of water, and that too, after 24 hours have run past you!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tolerance is What 2016 Taught Me


On November 9, the morning after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed the DeMo demon among his subjects, I, like any middle class citizen wasted no time to lash out at the move which, I believed, wreaked of foolishness. Rendering 85 percent of the currency in circulation was as foolish, if not more, than any other such act piloted by the man who makes it a point every time and all the time to proclaim that he is the “Prime Servant” of the people.
As soon as I made my thought vocal, came a retort, in the form a question, from none other than a friend for several years. His question ran thus: “Tell me how many sacks do you have?” Obviously, he meant how many sacks of black money I had at home. I laughed with an embedded shock, as he went on talking of the benefits of demonetisation, which was already taking the form of a real demon for people like me.
I asked him: What would people who earn their daily wages do to gulp down at least a black tea before settling down to rest that night? Pat came the answer: Why can’t they use their debit cards to pay for their tea? My heart skipped a beat. As soon as I recovered, I tried to control my pain, telling myself, “Oh sorry, I never knew I was talking to a bhakt”. I should have realised that the depth of foolishness can never be gauged when it comes from the prime servant’s servile lot.
As year 2016 rushes to let go of its earthly existence, I tend to rewind on this episode, time and again, and again. Every time the episode plays on the back of mind, I realise nothing is more stupid that talking to a bhakt. 
And, that is what 2016 taught me, and the gratitude for making me learn that, goes to the man who unchained DeMo to inflict pain on you and me, making us all stand in long winding lines in front of banks to lay our hands on the currency notes we earned the hard way.
2016, to me, has been a year of realisation. A year that upped the benchmark of tolerance in me. If I weren’t so tolerant, just imagine the plight of a sanghi who advocates the use of plastic money by menial labourers who get paid in Rs 500, Rs 750, and Rs 1000 after toiling all day under the blazing hot sun.
Prime Minister Modi is, no doubt, an honourable man. He left his home and family to serve the people of this vast country. The gallons of tears that have flowed down his cheeks stand testimony to the fact that he cares for his countrymen. His tears never stop. Whenever a new policy springs up his hat, tears well up in his eye cavities, so as to let his people know that he lives, and weeps for his people. When tear drops start to take shape in his eyes, his sevaks in various parts of the country, and outside of it, huddle up together with the Achche Din chant reverberating inside their souls. Unity in diversity, in the most challenging of times, indeed.
All images sourced from the web
So, what we see now is that DeMo from NaMo has made India unified. Look around, and you see plastic money and Internet money hollering from all around about how they have helped the Prime Sevak realise his dream of a cashless existence. The saffron glasses I'm forced to wear reveal around me the good new days that have dawned. Virtual reality has taken a giant leap. Mankind, in turn, has been very grateful to the whims and fancies of the man who’s seen the world - well almost all of it.
As the vision fades following the dumping of the saffron-hued pair of spectacles, reality plays in full force in front of my eyes.  The daily-wage labourer seldom goes to work as his master doesn’t have the change to pay him by end of day. Shops that thrived on the not-so-frequent sale of chai and snacks have downed shutters. The old man who worked all his life to save money has been left spending hours in the sun waiting for his turn at the ATM door.  He collapses before his turn arrives, and yet, DeMo is manna from Dilli for the bhakt.
As I tend to counter the Parivarwala Dost yet again, he reminds me of the sacrifices of the soldier standing guard at the border. Before he finishes lecturing, he bumps into a soldier on vacation standing in queue for the money he has earned risking his life at the border.  He changes track and tells me how the reputation of Aamir Khan, a Muslim, should be made to bite the dust through a well-orchestrated beating down of his latest film. He tells me again on how important his boss in Delhi is, and would be, for years to come. He goes on to narrate the manner in which his Khakhi-trousered brethren have been protecting my nation from being hijacked by the external powers swooping in from all around. He reminds me of surgical strikes, and how they call for obeisance to the Delhi deity from Gujarat.
And yet, I smile. I graduate later to laugh him off. I have turned tolerant to the core. My tolerance level has reached a new high that the bhakt who spat out all these nonsense, remains a friend. Dear 2016, I thank you with all my heart, for making me tolerate stupidity.
Even as I wait for 2017, I hear of a calendar with the deity’s face engraved on all pages coming in to all our homes. 2017, I know Achche Din aanewale hai. Even as I stay hopeful of seeing new multi-hued, graphic rich currency notes, and the megalomaniac calendar, and listen to the umpteen number of man ki baats, I wish I could stay smiling when the next bout of "mere pyaare deshvaasiyon" call reverberates all through the new year. Pardon me if I laugh out loud.

Here’s wishing you bahut achche din ahead!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sarva Bhuvana Janahithaaya Sarva Mangalam


BORN into a family of exceptional singers, I have always found myself in the lap of morning ragas, sandhyavandanams and lullabys that kept flowing out of each room in my ancestral home. The wooden walls between rooms never stood in the way of celestial Carnatic raagas and keerthanas as they breezed past in gay abandon every morning and night. I then regretted the fact that I happened to be the only soul around who couldn’t sing or understand music.

Apart from the hushed bathroom croons that never came close to what a song would be like, I never had my bit of stardom whenever there used to be a family get together. Every year, when granny celebrated her birthday, all uncles would drive in, families in tow, to celebrate the aging soul. After lunch, everyone would sit together in one of those large rooms and sing. From the broche va revaruaas, the harivaraasanams, the praanasakhi njan and sangamams to the old time Mukesh and Salil Chaudhury numbers that made their appearance one after the other, music turned out to be the flavour of the afternoon, every year around. I, as a kid, slowly learnt to appreciate good music not because I knew all about the ragas and the lyrics, but thanks to the beauty of the voices that flowed around. After they all left by dusk, the music lingered, making me croon putting my crude vocals into play, and at times inviting the wrath of my Carnatic music-oriented mom.

I wanted to sing. I still do, but can’t even risk the ire of those around. Tape recorders were rare those days, but one day Dad came home with a brand new National Panasonic piece that belted out songs in the most admirable voice. As if to add to the excitement, he unwrapped two cassettes that had figures of two famous musicians on their covers. One was of course, the one and only K J Yesudas and the other, totally alien.

The Yesudas tape started playing that night, and I still remember the night I dozed off to Thaaye Yeshodaa and Adri Suthaavaraa. As dawn broke the next day, the tape was still playing, but this time it was Ksheera Sagara rippling down my soul in Yesudas’ melodious voice.

I wondered why the second tape never got a chance to demonstrate itself.  I didn’t have to wait too long. It was a Sunday, and after lunch when everyone dozed off for a light afternoon nap, Achan, plugged in the tape recorder and inserted the second tape. Unlike the chaste Ksheera Sagara rendition by Yesudas, this one started belting out Entharo Mahanubhavulu Anthariki Vandanamulu in a voice so unmusical. I slipped in close to the easy chair where Achan reclined with a smile, which broadened with each second. I too started to lend an ear, and that was a voice that seemed too different coming out of the Panasonic piece’s speakers.

I started falling in love with the voice that flowed out of the tape recorder, and Achan was happy to introduce me to the world of Dr M Balamuralikrishna, even as the music grew in me, subduing me. Ever since, this great man has been part of my inner soul.  Achan made it a point to bring home new cassettes soaked in Balamuralikrishna’s voice, his experiments with the Carnatic way of singing and his soul.

The manner in which Achan, who never sang or had been acquainted with the Carnatic stream of music in his early years, immersed himself in Carnatic music’s stalwarts like Dr Balamuralikrishna, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, K J Yesudas, and the like, every Sunday afternoon, was encouraging for a lad like me who could never sing. And I joined in to listen, but not sing, so as to feel the cold breeze of melody whiffing past the hot afternoon.

Dr M Balamuralikrishna was always a staple diet dished out on those Sunday post-lunch afternoons. From the Sri Ragam-enriched Entharo Mahanubhavulu to the Abheri-straddling Nagumomu to the Saama laden Manasa Sancharare and many more, the legend continued to enthral.

Years have passed, and this evening, the news channels brought in the news of Dr Balamuralikrishna’s passing. Dr Balamuralikrishna has left behind Carnatic songs and his unique experiments for me to stay captivated. Here’s my Mangalam, to the legendary singer who infused a sense of love for music in me. 


Friday, August 12, 2016

What the Kilippaattu taught me




DECADES ago, when my grandma realised her eyesight was failing her, she called up to me to read out the Ramayana to her. I obliged, as I had been told by my father that the best way to learn the Malayalam language was to recite Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan’s Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippaattu at least once.  So, after my return from school, I was summoned before the sun went down every evening, to read the Ramayana.
I began reading it to her, and it continued day after day and stopped in time for mom to light the lamp and usher grandma to the pooja room complete with the Sivakasi printed pictures of all the gods in the pantheon.
Reading out poetry penned in chaste Malayalam, and that too aloud so that granny wouldn’t stop me in between and ask me to re-read a passage or two again, became a daily evening task. Ezhuthachchan was too much to handle for a small town boy attending the fifth standard. Convent education had forced me to speak English at school, and coming home to some chaste Malayalam every evening was a pain. However, with granny halting in between passages and elaborating on why Lakshman’s sacrifice was to be seen as ultimate and why Urmila was destined to stay single even after being married, gave me much energy to go on and seek more characters of their ilk.
The daily exercise came to a halt when the Ramayana limped on to the last page. But that was not to be.  A fortnight later, granny called out to me again. The task was the same. To read the Ramayana yet again. The tough shlokas and the language that gave them their shape stood as hurdles in front of my little mind.
But then, there wasn’t any escape route. Granny added importance to my task by telling people that this tiny kid of hers reads out the Ramayana every evening so that she can sleep in peace. I too saw an importance being thrust on me, when neighbours and visiting relatives looked upon me as someone special. The pride grew when they spoke to their children and grandchildren to learn from my act.
The second reading too ended soon afterwards and I too was feeling a bit comfortable with even the toughest words and phrases in the language.  Father was right, I was transforming myself into a Malayali who dived deep into Malayalam’s most precious epic.
And then came the third reading, as granny wasn’t ready to let go of her evening pastime. I started over again, reading Ezhuthachan’s opus the third time around. This time I was familiar with the characters and what they felt and uttered. I made friends with Hanuman and Lakshman, I felt a sense of sympathy to Urmila, and Shurpanakha. I wanted to hug Mandodari for what she was. I shared Bali’s pain, I started detesting Vibheeshana’s selfish act.  I began applauding the heroics of Meghanada and Kumbhakarna, and I felt sorry for Jatayu. I felt helpless when Sita was abandoned by her husband.
To the dismay of my granny, I started developing a hatred towards Rama, who killed the valiant Bali by treacherous means. I began disliking the man who was otherwise called Maryada Purushottam. I disliked the manner in which he abandoned Sita for no fault of hers. Granny told me it was royal dharma on play, which I never wanted to subscribe to. I saw in Rama a coward, who could kill or despise someone to attain selfish gains.
Ravan, Kumbhakarna, and Indrajit played heroes in front of me. I looked for negatives in them, and could find none. To me, Ravan, the villain of the tale, proved to be noble to the hilt. Kumbhakarna and Meghanada were epitomes of valour. To me, Lakshmana was godly than his elder brother.
Years later, when the Babri Masjid issue started taking centre stage, Rama was doing the rounds. Building a temple in his name by razing down a mosque came about as another nail in Rama’s coffin to me. Having been taught in school to be a citizen who would keep the secular pride of my country alive till death, I wasn’t ready to attest to the idea of building a temple by bringing down a mosque. Rama was at the centre of all that.  My hatred grew.
It still does, when Ram sevaks of the ongoing era swear by this so called Maryada Purushottam. I wouldn’t build temples for such a man. I wouldn’t want my kids to seek solace in him. Give me Lakshman or Ravan any day. Or Mandodari, or Urmila. I would fall at their feet. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good Day, Ugly Days

It’s December yet again! Icy nights and hot afternoons have dawned. Heralding the birth of a fresh new year, the culmination month of 2014 has started galloping toward a new sunshine. The dying year is already wrapped in the best of costumes and carried to the funeral pyre. The good, the bad and the ugliest of happenings came unto us over the past 12 months. We patted ourselves for being at the centre of it all. We also rued the mishaps that over ran our conscience. We stayed neutral when certain elements posed the threat of hijacking our very lives. And yet we lived on, so that we could stay witness to yet another sunrise.
And, the sunrise is just round the bend. But as we look back, we are sure to recall the highs and the lows that became part of our lives. Looking at the past 12 months through a kaleidoscope, I find myself in a maze of all that’s good and bad. The ugly too walked in unawares once in a while.
So, how do I rate year 2014? It’s been sort of hobby for me to rate the years I have lived through every time the death knell is sounded. It is now time for 2014 to start its final lap. What a year it has indeed been!
2014, unfortunately enough, is the year that forced me to live the life of a citizen ruled over by the men and women I loved to hate. Over the period, I had to be witness to a phenomenon where the color of Indian psyche faded steadily through the year to somewhat saffron. I’m not against the color, as such. But when the hue reveals the tears of my brethren writ large over it, I tend to worry.
I was also witness to a handful of messiahs parroting the phrase achche din aa gaye over the past few months of 2014. Even as I dig deeper, I fail to find one. I keep digging.
On the global arena, and in my conscience, I had to stay muted even as gunshots took the lives of innocent school kids.I curse myself for being part of this planet where even our children are dragged into the ugly quagmire of religion.
Closer home, I saw the people I voted to power go bonkers over wine and women. It was fun watching the circus where people in power totally banked on a couple of not-so-adorable women and a few cases of not-so-vintage wine for their existence. The drama has been entertaining, to say the least. After all, the Kerala tradition has been such that an existence sans wine and women is highly improbable.
On a positive note, I watched from my living room the way my nation took wings to kiss the surface of an alien planet. It gives me immense hope as I ride into a New Year in a short while. On a sadder note, let me also add there wasn't a second instance of a good deed before or after the Mangalyaan adventure. The moral of the story, for me, thus turns out to be this: When you are beaten down in the political, cultural or the financial front and are forced to lie low, look skywards – there could be glimmer of hope blazing through the clouds with a lonely planet out there as destination.

On the personal front, Year 2014 brought to my lap the happiest and saddest moments in quick succession. But then those are personal stories, I’ll keep them to myself. Here’s wishing you all a 2015 where Hope hopefully would help you live on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Man Who Told Me More about the Mahatma


It was late evening, and that night too, when everyone in the family had sat down for dinner, the Gandhi name cropped up yet again. This time it wasn’t about another episode from The Story of My Experiments with Truth.  It was about a life translated on celluloid.

My father, who had the chance to watch the movie running in a cinema in distant Thiruvananthapuram that morning, had already made plans to take us all to watch it the next day.  Father was all awe when he narrated the story of a man who successfully toppled the reign of a nation so large and powerful wielding the power of non violence. He had told us many a tale earlier too, but on that day, the significance of his elaboration was the celluloid narration that kept him over awed.

Quite naturally, he wanted his family to watch the film. And so, the very next morning, we were in the train to Thiruvananthapuram to catch an early show so that we could return home before dusk. In a while, Gandhi was on celluloid before us, shaking up my conscience.

The story of a man who sacrificed all he had, to bring the smiles back to an entire nation, was being retold on the screen that stood large in front of us. From start to finish, I, as a student so naïve, watched the visuals that brought to life a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, reel after reel.

The gunshots and the He Ram chant reverberated in me as we caught the next train that would take us back home. It was all silence, as no one spoke all through the journey. It was as if we were all in mourning. It was as if we all had travelled back in time. We were part of the massive crowd that followed the Mahatma as he led us all, walking in front, swift and strong, wielding a long staff that would support his gait. That evening, father told us that the film was directed by an Englishman called Richard Attenborough.

Years later, as a communication student, when I secured access to the British Library in Thiruvananthapuram, one of the books that called out for my attention from the racks was the detailed screenplay of Gandhi, as laid out by Lord Attenborough.

The book was a revelation. It had shot-by-shot accounts of how Lord Attenborough conceived Gandhi before translating it into the masterpiece it turned out to be. The realization that this great film maker had understood and imbibed the Mahatma brought in me a sense of pride. For, Gandhi was still unknown to many Indians around me.

Years later, Lord Richard Attenborough opened up in front of my probing eyes from the pages of Google. The internet brought to me more about this man. Actor, director and social being, Sir Richard Attenborough played out all roles in front of me.  More movies, literature and citations explained to me what this man was all about.

As I continued to learn about the great actor - filmmaker, many more celluloid creations played in front of me. From The Great Escape to Chaplain to Shantranj ke Khilari to Jurassic Park, Lord Richard Attenborough continued to hold an entire generation of film goers in awe.

A genius on any count, Lord Richard Attenborough lives within me as the director of a movie that narrated to me who Gandhi was! The effort, as I learned later, was stupendous. The hurdles he faced to put India’s most significant pages of history in their true form on celluloid make him stand out as the essential film maker of our times.  

His sense of commitment to his work had come out in the open when he had to produce Gandhi, his dream project, himself, after a reluctant Hollywood producer predicted that there would be no audience for “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.”  Lord Attenborough, of course, proved the producer wrong.

As Steven Spielberg, his Jurassic Park director, paid tribute on his passing, the world now stands in an endless line of those who completely adored him. I too am in the line.  And beyond all that, a tear rolls down my cheek as I remember the cute old Englishman who spurred a big bunch of incorrigible and arrogant Indian morons to realize the Mahatma in a half-naked man called Mohandas. 

Lord Richard Attenborough, India will miss you forever! 



Pic courtesy: LA Times

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bhai, Where Do We Go From Here?

Dear Mr Narendra ‘Bhai’ Modi,

Congratulations on managing a convincing win and here’s wishing you the best as you pack your bags to 7 Race Course Road.  Kudos to the way you managed to spur a nation to dream of a stable government, sustainable development, eradication of inequality and what not.  
When you walk up to the highest office of my country, I can only congratulate you for the excellent public relations exercise you had triggered over a year ago. The strategy has paid off, and enticingly well, indeed.
But then, Mr Modi, though I congratulate you, I do it not from the bottom of my heart. For, whenever, I see you smile, the weeping souls of 2002 appear, soaked in blood and tears, in my conscience. Whenever you address my Muslim friends out there as bhais, I know you don’t mean that at all.
The whole of India is now reverberating in joy on your election and what a massive one it has turned out to be. But then, does that mean the whole of India is celebrating? When you thank the voters profusely for giving you the mandate to rule, have you ever thought of what secular India has been thinking of?
In case you haven’t realized, Mr Modi, life in secular India has ceased to exist. And through that, secular India is dead and gone too.   I, and many like me, who have always taken pride in calling ourselves the children of a secular India, are in mourning mode.
 I’m sorry to say that you and your parivar have now put an end to the secularist beliefs that have helped my nation survive. When your cronies start to talk of building the Ram temple at Ayodhya, it gives me the jitters. A secular nation that we are, why do we need temples or mosques that build boundaries among brethren?  Why do we need a Hindutva way of thought when we are all Indians?
In case you didn’t realize, your parivar folks have been out in the open doing all sorts of things possible to make sure that we all love you. Frankly, I did try. But my conscience doesn’t let me speak good of you. Simply because, I find the goodness to be spoken about missing in you!
 Now that you have become PM, my hopes go for a toss. My hopes of India being seen as a secular nation take a backseat. I find it difficult to mingle with my Muslim brothers as they see me as just another Hindu.  Till recently I was one among them.  And now, see how things have changed. I’m a Hindu in Modi’s Hindustan. I’m just another thread in the saffron fabric. I hate this existence.
Will Modi give me, and the secular India I belong to, something to be happy about? Or, are you bound on following the Sangh Parivar’s way of fanning Hindutva thoughts in my secular nation? What we need are not temples, or the trident sporting kar sevaks that will now come out in the open with renewed vigor.
I’m a Hindu and I’m of course proud of being one. But more than being a Hindu, I feel myself proud of being a secular Indian. This is something you or your men may not understand in its essence. For, you have always thought through your mind that has been programmed to be partial to the Hindus. But then, you need to realize, India is a country populated by not just Hindus.
Mother India has provisioned space for all to live comfortably once they are born in her lap. Bharat Mata, as you would love to call her, is also mother to the Muslims, Sikhs and Christian who are born or brought up on her soil. Refusing to wear a Muslim skull cap, while readily putting on any other variety of headgear whenever possible, doesn’t sound secular to me.  
Even as the 2002 riots were raging, while working in Mumbai, I had played host to a Hindu friend who had to run away on a night train after being confronted and threatened by armed Hindus in your state just because he sported a beard. I recall with fear the agony on my friend’s face on that night.  It is then when I decided to stay away from you and your beliefs.  You have, unfortunately, done nothing to sweep away such fears from my mind with whatever you did ever since.
You are now PM. Congratulations. But my heart goes out to the hapless souls out there who think their existence is now worth just another question mark. Do you have anything for them, something that will make them feel better?  

Anyways, history will provide you with a seat in its pages. We now have a new PM. Wishing you all the best! Wishing my brothers who aren’t Hindus, also the very best!  As for me, I hate this moment. 
Yours truly, bhai
Secular Indian

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Signing Off, to Stay On forever


Every evening after school, as we (my sister and I) walked close by you as you propelled us toward the 6 pm train that would take us home, you narrated to us the day’s happenings around the world in a nutshell. From Rajiv Gandhi’s first press conference as Prime Minister to Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic  re-narration of the Gandhian tale, you kept us engaged with all that was happening around us in a world we never knew in full.
More than the Pythagoruses, Lincolns, Grays, or Edasserys who played to full potential in the class rooms, your narrations of the world’s tale triggered the spark that led us to explore more, each day, every minute.  Stopping in between for a hot cup of tea and snack before the railway station showed up yonder, you provided us with much food for thought, before the train finally chugged on to the platform where we waited.
Once settled comfortably inside the train, you gave us the latest Amar Chitra Katha or the Balarama to imbibe, and that was where the mythical beings and the social reformers performed in front of us. Anant Pai soon turned out to be my hero, and you made it a point that I graduate to Rajaji on a solid base of Uncle Pai. Karna, Bhima, Duryodhana , Kunti, Draupadi, and later on Panditji, Patel, and the Mahatma checked into the sanctorum of my mind, offering companionship whenever I wanted.  
Later on, after the pre-degree hurdle swayed to stoop, you told me how the world around was dancing to the Engineering tune. But, when I uttered journalism, your eyes lit up, as if slamming the stamp of approval on my decision.  That was when you actually donned the role of a hero to me.
The treasure trove that stored the hundreds of back issues of the Illustrated Weekly of India was thrown open in front of me to explore and excavate. Along with them came Readers Digest and fresh issues of an awesome magazine called the Frontline. From Dharkar to Nandy to Ram, many stalwarts wrote in an amazing language that enticed my soul. I always knew you enjoyed it when I strived to emulate them.  I was proud, so proud to be doing what I wanted to do, and your silent approval of whatever I was doing helped me do better in the world of news writing, thus spurring me to have a go at everything that took me to the path of good journalism.
Whenever we got to sit or travel together, you told me tales of how the wise men changed the world with their simple lives. You narrated stories of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with truth, how one frail old man walked so fast and alone to extinguish the pride of an empire that never saw the sun set on its terrain until then.
You kickstarted my thoughts on how Hinduism stood tall as a unique way of life than a religion where men faked the existence of a 33-crore member pantheon.  You reminded me of how even the gods were classified as Class One and Class Two by the many men and women who always looked at bronze, concrete and stone idols as profit-machines. You warned me against men and women who posed as God Incarnate so that they can dupe everyone who had a wavering mind.
You read, chewed and digested whatever text that was thrown at you, and emerged out of the heaps of letters with a clear opinion that was uniquely yours. You even told me how vulnerable the concept of astrology was, by listing down examples from the Ramayana.  That, in fact, prompted me to look at age-old beliefs with a critical point of view. You made it a point to prod me to lend my eyes and ears to great men who spoke sense. You watched and listened to the Bhartadarshanam series of Thuravoor Viswambharan with amazing regularity, to dissect and explain to me later what the learned man said and how to interpret things. The manner in which you adhered to ideals that were sane made you someone worth looking up to. You know, I always did.
The manner in which sacred groves were pulled down to make way for concrete temples pained you and you never hid your ire. You slammed the ones that wore vermilion and saffron to pose as messengers of celestial beings and told them how bad they irked you. You tried to tell them the significance of Hinduism and the contributions of the Hindu way of life in the making of India, long before saffron turned out to be a community mascot.
Significantly enough, you never preached. You acted the way you spoke and believed. You never shied away from calling a trident a trident. You even went to the extent of believing the trident was better in Lord Shiva’s hands than in the arms of a saffron clad kar sevak. You never stopped short of leaving the novice in me amazed and yearning for more. You sketched the way I thought, lived and wrote, minute after minute.  You guided me through the maze of life with your way of life.
My teacher, friend, guide, you continued to be. Every time I came home to be beside you, you told me something new.  One day, you told me everyone has to die someday and when the soul leaves a body, what remains is just useless junk and there is no point whatsoever in mourning over a dead body. You even reminded me of the Bhagawad Gita verse that said a soul leaving a body is akin to how a man changes his soiled clothes to wear a fresh new one.  You made life look so easy and simple.
The day you made me sit beside you to warn me against cutting down a full grown tree to burn your soulless body is still fresh in my mind. You never wanted to kill a tree to gift yourself heaven. When you wanted your earthly remains to be confined to flames with just a bunch of firewood that a firewood vendor would sell for his livelihood, you made sure a tree was not cut down. 
As you now start your journey to a world unknown to me, tears rush to my eyes, blurring my vision. But then, I know you aren’t happy about that. For, you lived and died a happy man. You just do not want anyone to weep over your passing.
I wouldn’t want to say good bye. I never can. No one who knew you would want to either. You continue to inspire. Your way of bidding goodbye while in the midst of your daily routine, watching television just before sleep perched on your eyelids, was indeed unique. You always had your own unique style of doing things. In your passing away too, you made sure you had your own style.
Looking back at the night of March 18 gives me the shudders, as I realize I wouldn’t be sitting beside you listening to your anecdotes and tales of people who changed the world.  You wouldn’t be voicing your disagreement with the people that ruin lives and the environment anymore. As I come to terms with the fact that you aren’t beside me to tell me what is good and what is bad, I realize it is just your physical presence that is absent.  

I’ll never miss you, dear Acha. For, you continue to live within me, and I now have the privilege to call upon you anytime. I know you would be more than willing to walk up to my soul any time now and extend a hand  that I can hold on to forever. I can sense your presence around me now, more than ever before.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Past Tense; Future Imperfect

So, it’s an end to a year that threatened to do away with the planet altogether. If the Mayans had forced us to believe that everything would end in a jiffy, what actually ended was the cricket god’s ODI outing – though not many bothered. India, in the meantime, was out on the street protesting the end of a life mangled by vultures in men’s clothing.
Magnanimity is Mother Earth’s trait. She too seems to have thrown prophesies to the wind so that the sinners would be forced to live, and die, here. The year, however, saw such beliefs too die, when one man, ‘revered’ for the most sinful deeds, lived happily and died happily. Another one experienced the noose sans any pain.
Pain came only to those who lived in the midst of all these sinners. Sinners were many - right from the ones who swallowed billions in the name of serving the people who voted them to power, to those who promised to make the aam admi live in a corrupt-free nation. And, all of them had the guts to tread over the billion heads that bowed before them in anticipation of a happy existence.
Pain also came to many who spent months together to see the Supreme Leader utter something – at least something! Pain also came unto all those who saw the betas and the jamais call the shots even when the nation was on the verge of sinking.
Even as the New Year gets set to dawn, pain threatens to ride the crust when massacre specialists in development messiah’s garb promise to lead the nation to paradise.
Heaven or hell, pain continues to rule. Mediocre leaders, more mediocre subjects and even more mediocre hopes tend to take the nation to a much more mediocre existence when the New Year waits to bloom. Marauders of sane minds get ready to climb on to the nation’s treasury to make a killing.
Year 2013 isn’t going to be any different. There isn’t absolutely any hope out there, whatsoever. But, we as a nation would spend time on social media channels scribbling down the most inane of thoughts. We will continue to bow before monsters that act as monks. We have grown to be a nation that would accept anything lying down and make fun of ourselves on Facebook.
We, as a nation, would topple the life of the farmer who gave us our daily bread, so that Wal-Mart and others of its ilk rob us of our daily bread. We, as a nation, would spend our lives singing eulogies to those who garrotte us.
We would build 14-storey buildings to live in, but will not, just because the Vaasthu practitioner says no. We would continue to gun down tigers in their habitat claiming ownership of the land they actually own. We would make contributions from our hard earned money to build temples and mosques.
We would throw our kitchen waste on to the neighbours’ backyards just to prove we don’t care. We would continue to shout slogans so that the most criminal of beings get to rule over us again.
We would also go gaga over children born to celebrities and make them look like young super stars. We would tweet, re-tweet and write loads about them so that we feel blessed to have them in our midst.
We would, but, never feed a hungry man on the street. We would never do our bit to see children go to school, at least to have a morsel served for lunch. We would also never try and help the miserable old farmer out there live. Never would we think a minute about the days when the frail old man fed us, after fighting continuous battles against the weather, machinery and the babus.
As 2012 gets going into oblivion, we are the only ones that would refuse to change. We are like this, as we excel in seeing mediocre men and women rule our minds, existence and all that we are. 2013, do we have a tear in store for you too? Or, should we expect something new this New Year?

Thursday, February 23, 2012


It is that time of the year yet again, and I’m forced to travel down blog-memory lane and look at what I had written two years ago. Time tells me nothing has changed – and nothing will. I have this urge to write again on this, but I guess it would be better to bring back the same post of February 2010 so that you will also realize nothing has changed. So here goes!)

FAITH, ANYONE?

What spurs faith? Decibel-spewing loudspeakers? Or sweat stinking bodies in a traffic-jam-inducing crowd? Sad, temple festivals are fast taking out the little faith I seem to have in the gods.

Year after year in the place where I live when the crowds arrive, I experience a chill down my spine. Anywhere is offering space for the faithful, it seems. Bus stations overlooking drains, railway tracks stinking of human waste – offerings are made to the goddess anywhere. And, we take pride in proclaiming to the world the greatness of a women’s congregation.

I woke up early today after my deep slumber got snipped by the roaring loudspeakers. I’m pretty sure the gods they sing in praise with those high decibel sounds have long gone. Not even the gods, leave alone lowly humans like me, would stay on after being subject to such torture. The legal system has long back abhorred of such loudspeaker torture, but who cares?

The festival day is close to a month away, and in a few days, when I venture out on to the roads I will be confronted by heaps of bricks that would transform themselves into makeshift ovens to cook the boiling effervescent offering to the goddess in a matter of a few hours. Don’t I have my right of way, when festivals unfurl. Population explosion is a fact, I tend to believe when I see the whole of Kerala descend on to a single spot in the name of faith and the goddess. Can anyone tell me where faith resides in these men and women who strut around restless armed with a mini-kitchen under their arms. They are unmindful of whoever comes their way or even a slight sense of civic behavior. You call it faith? I disagree.

Blocking traffic in the name of God is not faith, I call it criminal. Shouting chartbusters into my eardrum and wrecking my physical and mental balance is not faith, I call it irresponsible behavior. Burning hundreds of fluorescent lamps in the name of festivals all through the night in the name of God is not faith, I call it arrogance. Mind you, we are a State where electric power is rare commodity.

If this is faith, I can’t have it even if I need to. I wouldn’t want my gods to shower blessings on me only if I wake up people in the night with my blaring loudspeakers. I wouldn’t want my gods to smile on me for blocking traffic and causing a poor soul in a rushing ambulance to die. I wouldn’t want to be burning electricity 24x7 in the name of god and push my fellow beings to worrisome nights when global warming is already giving them sleepless nights. Faith isn’t what loudspeakers or traffic jams can bring to me. They never can.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Sunrise 2011: A Brave New World
Oh yeah, yet another year draws to a close. The death of the latest 365-day stint on the face of the earth doesn’t call for mourning, though. As 2011 grew from infancy to teenage and then from midlife to old age and then to the grave, I too grew up I guess. May be not, in the strictest sense of the term! On retrospect, I realize I grew younger than ever with an adorable bunch of youngsters giving me company. Active, extremely competent go-getters all, they have managed to pull down my age by a few years.
Year 2011 has seen me stare at it with utmost scare in the beginning. Later on, I made friends with 2011 - rather, the year made friends with me. Lauding, scolding and making me believe in all things positive, the year has been the best of buddies. Even as entrepreneurial dreams were held aloft, I managed to do what I believed in – writing, and editing news. And, the focused efforts at writing news on technology and environment had a young brigade (who incidentally, were alien to the jaded, flawed copy book called journalism when they tried it out for the first time) backing me with ideas, words and crazy thoughts.
We – I and them – wrote, edited, packaged and rolled out a brave new world of content for the serious reader who read, dissected, praised the good work, mauled the bad ones, and also pointed out the genuine flaws to make us do things better.
Year 2011 opened before me one major career truth. To be in journalism, one doesn’t need to have a formal journalism degree. All it needs is sense, sensibility and the courage to present facts in the most readable manner. Sense prevails when factual errors turn minimum, and sensibility rules when one realizes what to write and how.
As 2011 bids goodbye, I tend to smile for leading a pack of maverick multi-taskers who write the way things need to be written. Flaws are many, but then everything is a learning process and every one around me learns from every mistake he or she has made, without being scolded or ridiculed. Instead, we ate, drank and made merry, we made each other laugh, we gave shape to crazy plans, we made things happen. And, see, we are smiling together as the sun sets on a fruitful year.
Good writers have come and gone, and the process might continue. But then, that’s how careers are made. People move from good to better to best organizations. What we do together may not be ‘The Best’ at present, but ask me and my boys and girls, and we will tell you for sure that the tag is just waiting to come unto us, and is waiting round the bend. We, together, will make it happen. 2012, come on in, buddy!

Friday, February 25, 2011


Goodbye to the story teller extraordinaire



Night after night, when my little six-year-old cuddles up to me in anticipation of a new hero’s tale from the Mahabharata, Uncle Pai has always been there to help me remember how an Abhimanyu pierces the Chakravyuha or how Babruvahana makes it to the Kurukshetra to his father’s rescue. Blood and gore apart, the tales he had once upon a time told me still reverberate in me thoughts of the victory of good over evil. And, that makes me pass it on to my enthusiastic kid who loves to sleep thinking of these heroes and the heroines of the mythical yore.

This afternoon, as every website I visit tells me the news of the passing away of Uncle Pai, I get transported to my school days when my father made it a point to buy me and my sister at least two copies of the Amar Chitra Katha every month. This happened without fail till we – me and my sister - thought we had grown up beyond that so-called childish chitra katha regime.

Uncle Pai is no more. But then, tears fail to roll down my cheeks even as I confirm the death of the man who told me tales of even the most inconsequential asura or a rare weak meek soldier in the Kaurava ranks. Mahabharata, Ramayana and even modern age personalities and saints who did the universe proud by their inventions and thoughts were whispered into my inner ear by this man, who for me, had been the master story teller of granny tales. For me, in fact, Uncle Pai never dies. He never can.

Reading aloud every new copy of the latest Amar Chitra Katha volume had spurred in me the reader I am today. May be, the varied volumes have even influenced the way I write too. It isn’t just me, though. Hundreds of thousands of kids still continue to learn the subtly told narratives of the mythical and historical realms by way of those enticingly illustrated pages churned out in quick succession month after month from the Amar Chitra Katha presses.

And, every page that taught me and the kids of my ilk during our formative years still continues to educate us, every time we revisit those days. Duryodhana, Krishna, Bhima, Ghatotkacha, Pururavas, Uloopi, Gandhari, Mandodari and Urmila still talk to me, spurring me to run down memory lane where good always triumphed over evil. At an age when the Sanskrit slokas failed to dwell in my tongue and heart, Uncle Pai had been there for me as the quintessential tutor, story teller and guide to the mythical and historical texts.

Even as I narrate to the sanctum sanctorum of the mind a fresh tale from the Mahabharata that will be the sweetest lullaby for my daughter tonight, Uncle Pai seems to be bidding goodbye. May be, he has already stuffed his pockets with innumerable stories he can narrate from now on to the beings of the other world, up above.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011


Five school children and a staff member of Little Hearts School, Pettah , near to where I live, were killed in an accident today. A school van carrying nine nursery children fell into the Parvathy Puthanar canal. My heart goes out to the parents and teachers of the tiny kids, who never realized they were having their last ride. The caretaker Bindhu also passed away. The reason for the mishap is said to be high speed of the vehicle.


Adieu, Tiny Souls

Morning blues,
Time for school,
Irked parents,
Hesitant tots

Pushed, punished
And tagged,
A smile forced,
Along with the breakfast snack

School van rolls in
Devil at the wheel
Little did they realize
Farewell art so painful

Smiling kids, waving on
In the company of friends,
They bid goodbye,
The van gains speed

Blazing tarmac,
Satanic speed,
Kids inside,
No one to care!

Carelessness at the wheel
Deep below, hell beckons
Five kids, they go down smiling
Human error, unpardonable

To err is human,
But no pardon here,
Divinity unwarranted
Lynch the devil

Smiling kids,
In deep slumber
Adieu tiny souls
Rest in peace!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


It is that time of the year yet again, and I’m forced to travel down blog-memory lane and look at what I had written a year ago. This particular post tells me nothing has changed – and nothing will. I have this urge to write again on this, but I guess it would be better to bring back the same post of February 2010 so that you will also realize nothing has changed. So here goes!)


Faith, Anyone?



What spurs faith? Decibel-spewing loudspeakers? Or sweat stinking bodies in a traffic-jam-inducing crowd? Sad, temple festivals are fast taking out the little faith I seem to have in the gods.

Year after year in the place where I live when the crowds arrive, I experience a chill down my spine. Anywhere is offering space for the faithful, it seems. Bus stations overlooking drains, railway tracks stinking of human waste – offerings are made to the goddess anywhere. And, we take pride in proclaiming to the world the greatness of a women’s congregation.

I woke up early today after my deep slumber got snipped by the roaring loudspeakers. I’m pretty sure the gods they sing in praise with those high decibel sounds have long gone. Not even the gods, leave alone lowly humans like me, would stay on after being subject to such torture. The legal system has long back abhorred of such loudspeaker torture, but who cares?

The festival day is more than 24 hours away, and I just venture out on to the roads only to be confronted by heaps of bricks that would transform themselves into makeshift ovens to cook the boiling effervescent offering to the goddess in a matter of a few hours. Don’t I have my right of way, when festivals unfurl. Population explosion is a fact, I tend to believe when I see the whole of Kerala descend on to a single spot in the name of faith and the goddess. Can anyone tell me where faith resides in these men and women who strut around restless armed with a mini-kitchen under their arms. They are unmindful of whoever comes their way or even a slight sense of civic behavior. You call it faith? I beg to disagree.

Blocking traffic in the name of God is not faith, I call it criminal. Shouting chartbusters into my eardrum and wrecking my physical and mental balance is not faith, I call it irresponsible behavior. Burning hundreds of fluorescent lamps in the name of festivals all through the night in the name of God is not faith, I call it arrogance. Mind you, we are a State where electric power is rare commodity.

If this is faith, I can’t have it even if I need to. I wouldn’t want my gods to shower blessings on me only if I wake up people in the night with my blaring loudspeakers. I wouldn’t want my gods to smile on me for blocking traffic and causing a poor soul in a rushing ambulance to die. I wouldn’t want to be burning electricity 24x7 in the name of god and push my fellow beings to worrisome nights when global warming is already giving them sleepless nights. Faith isn’t what loudspeakers or traffic jams can bring to me. They never can.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Goodbye to a Year that Thrived on Mediocrity

Oh yeah, Year 2010 is on its way out. It’s been a while since I wrote my last post, and with the year end staring into my eyes, it’s time for a recap - as has been the practice year after year.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna do a newspaper or magazine or news channel-type recap of the year. In fact, nothing this year calls for a blog post. Every single incident has been an also-ran - be it Kalmadi, Abhishek Bachchan, Radia, Barkha or even the CWG for that matter.

Just also-rans all were, in a nation where mediocrity thrives. Okay, think again, and this being the so-called year-ender post, I guess I should scribble down something about why mediocre people and mediocre events turned big in the Indian landscape.

One question: Who the heck is Barkha? Partner-in-lobbying Vir Sanghvi had been a journalist all these years. Somehow, I adored him for his writings and way with words. May be, I still will love his words on print, notwithstanding the error in judgment he committed. That doesn’t mean he did us all proud.

And Barkha? The day I first saw her on television “reporting/ screaming aloud” from inside a bunker on a battlefield, I had told myself, this woman is fake. It took more than a decade, it seems, for the whole of India to realize that. Barkha, sadly, has corrupted many young minds who aspired (and are still aspiring) to get into television journalism. For, 24x7 journalism meant Barkha to many, Sad!

Sad things aside, what else made year 2010 worth talking about? Indian mainstream cinema had much to talk about. On one side there was Aisha and on the other 3 Idiots. While Aisha proved yet again that it needed more than clout, plastic-faced dolls and a dim-witted director to make a movie, 3 Idiots showed Bollywood why a committed approach was a must to make a movie that people would go watch again and again.

Talking Bollywood, I guess I need to say more. Instead of wasting precious web space writing paragraphs on undeserving stuff, permit me to list them down. Here’s what I understood watching Bollywood during 2010:

1. A Dabaang can’t be salvaged by a beefcake sporting a moustache or an almost-naked sis-in-law.
2. Greek god (sic) persona is fine, but flying Kites on a Juhu apartment terrace could be more rewarding than acting for some.
3. An unshaven visage, bulging eyes or arrogance don’t make one an actor. Ditto if he attempts to play the modern-day demon king.
4. Being married into cinema’s first family doesn’t make one an actress. You need to ACT, madam.


Malayalam mainstream cinema too saw mediocrity hit the jackpot. Chunky old men in military garb drew applause from lazy screen idol-worshippers. Army stories continued to be a rage, even when potbellied protagonists flew combat aircraft.

A whole lot of aged men were forced to dance, love and flirt and combat extra terrestrials in the name of horror-comedies and we, the mediocre audience, laughed out loud so that the producers laughed all the way to the bank. Comedy took the mediocre route, and so did mainstream Malayalam cinema.

Year 2010 saw news television plumb the depths. More so, in the land where I live! Chat shows turned funnier than ever before, while spot reporting exposed added mediocrity, time and again. The thriving traits of mediocre people behind the microphone continued to be applauded. And, on this side of the television set, we had a whole new bunch of mediocre audience. They too thrived, applauding mediocrity aired into their living rooms.

Year 2010 had been mediocre, to the core. We excelled as a mediocre audience. We made ourselves proud by letting mediocrity invade us. We loved being mediocre. We still watch Barkha, we still read Vir. We still let Dabaangs be super hits. We still wait for Hrithik Roshan’s next movie. We still wish to see Mohanlal as Agent 007. We would sit with eyes glued on to television when Abhishek and Aishwarya take the rapid fire questions on a lifeless KJo Show and look forward to see another celluloid trash starring the star couple.

We still watch news television knowing that what we hear and see are made up. We still wait to see Anil Kapoor’s daughters ruin our three hours of quality time again and yet again. We still look forward to a film maker who once used to make watchable movies, but was then enamored by a star couple later on, thereby scripting his own filmy doom. We would still let Raja, Kalmadi and Co re-assume offices in a few years’ time. We still wish to have Chief Ministers of the likes of VS Achuthanandan and Mayawati so that they could always be the leading lights on our path towards mediocrity.

We love mediocrity. We excel at letting mediocrity seep into our lives no end. We love to let messengers of mediocrity rule our lives. We still wait to see Barkha on TV. We still wait to watch Mani’s movies. We still watch news television. We will miss you 2010.

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