Wednesday, July 16, 2008

By The Cherwell

A poem written by my wife, Shuvashree, during her recent visit to England (the picture is taken by her as well):

As we glided down the river path
Lush green grass on both sides we passed
The soft beam of the evening sun
Warming our faces under a bridge we passed

The flowers swaying in the moist chilly breeze
As varied in color like the rainbow that peeked
The smell of the woods inhaling deep
We brushed the light drizzle from our sleeve

As I lay back on the cushioned plank
In level with the water like a raft
I looked to my right and what do I see?
A little duck struggling to keep pace with me

I closed my eyes to seal the beauty
That around me was abundant and free
When again I opened my eyes to see
A group of ducks was floating alongside me

Under a pretty bridge once again we passed
The blue eyed Punt girl in English accent said to us
Magdalene Bridge off the River Cherwell it was
Punting downstream in Oxfordshire we were.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

16 Points About Me

Time was when I would sit in front of the computer, and eventually find something to say. Not that I had nothing to say: just that I would wonder which of the thoughts needed to be shared most urgently. I would sift through them while sipping my drink, and finally decide what exactly was churning my mind at the moment -- it could be a Sahir Ludhianvi song, or some childhood memory suddenly gushing up decades later.

These days, thoughts still run around in my head, but the urgency to share is no longer there. Most of the time I find telling myself: "So what? Who is bothered to read what I have to say about it?" That's dangerous for a writer: if the ability to think is his heart, the urgency to share is his lungs. The two have to function together. Sharing his thoughts is his breathing -- if he doesn't share, he dies. It is the fear of death that has made me sit here at 2 am, so that I could share something. But what do I share? There's nothing to share. Or maybe there's so much to share. As of now, I will sign off by sharing a few personal details -- trivia, thoughts and takes. It may or may not interest you, but it is the question of my survival:

1. I write with my left hand and wear my watch on the right.

2. I could be the laziest person on earth -- I type 1000-word stories/posts with the index finger of my left hand. But then, what is the hurry? The idea is to savour your thoughts, not gobble them up. Your mind dictating you words is different from your biss dictating you a letter.

3. I laught at -- and feel sorry for -- people who, against the 'My ideal match' entry in their Orkut profiles say, "Already married to him (or her)." What a lie!

4. I love my wife. I need to say this (and I really mean it) because some of you will misinterpret my previous statement. Yes, I do love my wife, but even she would laugh if I suggested that we are an ideal match. It is the things that we don't like about each other that bind us end of the day. In any case, I would get bored with an 'ideal match' sooner than the sun rose. But at times, you are compelled to use the word 'ideal', or else what will people say?

5. There is nothing called an ideal match because what is ideal today might be not-so-ideal five years hence. After all, it was a wise man who said that grass is always greener on the other side. Actually, even a child knows that. In the initial days, you are blind to the greenery. After that, you pretend not to see the greenery. But finally, you say, "What the hell! I am gonna hop over." And then you hop over, only to find the previous stretch of grass greener. But too late. Tch! Tch!

6. I have immense respect for people who respect greenery -- be it on this side or the other side. They are the ones who have their cake and eat it too -- and you should envy them rather than bitch about them.

7. Maybe you envy them, that is why you bitch about them. Didn't another wise man say something about grapes?

8. My favourite actor today is Akshay Kumar. As a child, however, I loved Sachin (Geet Gaata Chal), then Rishi Kapoor (Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin) and then Amitabh Bachchan (the list is endless).

9. I love Shakti Kapoor.

10. I love women (which man doesn't).

11. I love sex (which human being doesn't, though they'll say stuff like, 'But sex isn't everything.' Come on, give me a break).

12. I am crazy about women who hide their sensuality behind their glasses.

13. Women whose names begin with 'S' have mattered to me the most. Even now. Initially I thought it was a coincidence, but now I am convinced it is cosmic conspiracy.

14. If anyone supplies me with videos of all the studio recordings of Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman, I would instantly lose interest in sex and spend the rest of my life watching those videos and converting people into watching -- and liking -- them.

15. Me, me, me. You must be wondering how selfish I am -- to be only talking about myself. But then, isn't this my blog? Similarly, isn't this my life? If you want to fit in, fall in. No arrogance here: there are times when I too give up being who I am in order to fall in line with you. End of the day, it is the matter of convenience, something like 'Your place or mine?' And you make such a choice not out of awe or kindness or coercion, but purely out of selfish reasons.

16. Stupid is the man who believes that he has successfully tricked a woman into the 'Your place or mine' situation. A woman makes up her mind long before a man's thought process would have even started rolling. But then, she chooses to let the man feel like a king. Do you still wonder why I like women so much?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The City That Is Chennai

I have been living in Chennai for more than seven years. But it is only now, since the past three months, that I have begun to understand the city better. All these years, my job with a Sunday paper, which was eager to be representative of the whole of south India rather than just Chennai, kept me insulated from the city. By and large, that is. Whatever little exposure I had was through the TASMAC bars, where I saw low lives on a high. Rest of the time was divided between home (where I entertained friends), work and travelling. I rarely read the papers: I coudn't be bothered what was happening in Porur or Thiru Vi Ka Nagar. To me they were as distant and irrelevant as Latin America.

Things have changed. Today I have a job that requires me to go through a lot of city copies. Suddenly, I realise that Chennai is not just about T. Nagar Or Adyar or Besant Nagar or Nungambakkam. It is also about Porur and Thiru Vi Ka Nagar and Royapuram and Nanganallur. I also realise that it is not just about labourers drinking in a TASMAC bar and Page-3 aspirants raising their glasses in an upmarket pub. Between the two varieties of highs, there are many lows. Such as people dying -- by way of accidents, murder or suicide. Not a day passes when I don't come across a news that invloves either of these.

What depresses me most are the accidents and the suicides. Usually, readers tend to brush aside 'One-man-killed' kind of news, especially if the victim is faceless and doesn't belong to their neighbourhood. Ditto for suicides: why on earth should you bother about a 45-year-old woman killing herself in north Chennai?

But then, the story behind every such death is the story of you and me. A family of four -- parents and two young sons -- was driving on a pleasure trip to Mahabalipuram when a drunk driver coming from the opposite direction turned their car into a mangled coffin within seconds on the East Coast Road. The family hailed from Indore, and they had been coming to Chennai for the past 13 years to treat a heart condition of their younger son (who, incidentally, topped the CBSE exams in Madhya Pradesh this year). This year, the doctors gave the boy a thumbs up, and the relieved family took off for Mahabalipuram in celebration, little knowing that they were embarking on their final journey. The sad part is one of the sons (not the one with a heart condition) survived. I say sad because I believe that in such extreme cases, a single person should not be left alive to cope with a tragedy that will haunt like a terminal disease. But then, many would see the practical side of it -- that each one of us has his or her life-span already written out. Destiny, basically.

And then the case of a class 12 student, who had just finished his board exams. One day, during his vacations, he returned home after meeting a friend and found the lift not working. The same morning, someone in the apartment got stuck in the lift and the glass window had to be broken open. So when the boy pressed the button and saw that the lift was not coming down, he peeped through the broken window of the door to take a look. The descending lift smashed his head. When the class 12 results were out, he scored 70%-plus marks -- posthumously. Destiny can be cruel, but so cruel?

I don't know, though, how much of a role does destiny play in suicides. One young mother, whose daughter could not get admission into a decent kindergarten school, committed suicide. The woman did not have the money or the influence to get her daughter an admission, so she preferred to leave the girl motherless, unable to bear the sight of other children going to school while her daughter stayed home. She hanged herself.

But the most common way of committing suicide in Chennai is by self-immolation. It is so common that the moment you read about a suicide, you know it is self-immolation. It is really getting on my nerves, so much so that this evening I didn't even bother to read the story when I saw a colleague typing a headline, 'Woman sets herself afire a month after marriage.' If someone is being burnt forcibly, I can understand, but why roast yourself alive? I still haven't figured why. The idea of committing suicide is to free yourself from the burdens imposed on you by this world, and the quicker the death is, the better. I still can't understand why people choose to take such a long, painful route to death. If you think death frees you, then at least die in a manner so that you are carried to the pyre with a smile on your dead lips -- the smile of being freed from this life. Why put your loved ones through the torture of seeing you being burnt twice?

But then, that's how it is here. And it is very depressing, I tell you. Exactly a month ago, one morning, I got a call. The caller informed that my driver, Suresh, won't be coming because his parents had committed suicide. I was half-asleep when the call came, and by the time I was fully awake and understood the gravity of the situation, the caller had hung up, having fulfilled his duty of informing me. For long I wondered if should call my driver on the mobile phone that I had given him. My heart said I should call him up and extend every possible help, but my head said I should leave him alone: he would call in case he needed me. Eventually I decided to call, but the call refused to go through. That evening, when I went to work, I learnt the details of his parents' suicide from the crime reporter: a man and his wife in Royapuram had committed suicide by burning themselves because they felt their son -- my driver, that is -- was not taking proper care of them.

The next morning, I looked for more reports. One English paper had invented a 'brother' for Suresh, called 'Ramesh', and said the two sons had ignored their parents so much that they were forced to take the extreme step. The Tamil papers went a step ahead: they said Suresh and his 'wife' had ignored his parents. I alone knew the truth, and also got to know the truth that goes into police press releases and the copies of crime reporters with fertile imagination.

The truth is that Suresh's father was a drunkard who was extremely bitter about losing his job as a loader after an accident. And that drunken night, he perhaps feelt slighted by some inadvertent gesture of his son, so he took the extreme step along with his wife. After a month's absence, Suresh is back in my life, as if nothing has happened. But his parents must have charred his youth in some way or the other. Or else, he wouldn't look 42 at 24.

Then, another report. Two labourers, one old and one young, have a verbal duel. The younger one says somthing nasty, which the older one takes to heart. Eventually, the older man douses himself in kerosene and kills himself, unable to stomach the insult. Whoever said the poor didn't have dignity? Perhaps that's their only wealth, which they don't earn easily.

Some weeks ago, the paper carried a story about a man who, for decades, had preserved Mahatma Gandhi's sole autograph in Tamil. The man, 84-year-old Seethapathi Naidu, had got the autograph in 1938 when he was a 14-year-old boy. Gandhi was then touring Nagapattinam to collect funds for flood-relief in Bihar. Seethapathi found no takers for the rare autograph all these years till the story broke, after which the Tamil Nadu government acquired the piece of paper to showcase it in the Egmore museum.

On Monday, Seethapathi was suddenly dead, not because of old age, but because he had committed suicide for not being able to live his life the way he wanted to. And how did he die? Self-immolation. Gandhi surely wouldn't have approved of it.