Category Archives: writing

Sixty days of summer

It was when the first lady of the market forgot her name that everyone knew that the mangoes had arrived. For weeks the market sweat, stank and perspired through the long days and slept deliriously through the night. As the days got warmer and the stench of jasmine stank unbearably, and banana blossoms wilted and fell off, the wait increased for the mangoes.  And finally one day, the mangoes came. But nobody forgot their name, or the smell of jasmine and therefore they were declared not real mangoes. Then the green ones came, plump and tight, raw and pert. They went ‘click’ against the tongue and made cheeks shudder and hence, they were pressed into service: shredded thin and floating in oil and chilly; sliced thick with lumps of jaggery, diced into geometrical cubes and served fresh with just so much salt. And they were pickled by the hundreds.  The rough knives of the butchers cut no meat that month; they only thwacked raw mangoes by the tens, by the hundreds. Every household brought them. Salted them, chillied them, oiled them and stored them in huge jars. The whole city urgently made pickles and the mangoes kept coming. One day they lost their tartness. One mango came, just a little sweeter, then a little more and then some more until they could no longer be pickled. But the city’s wives were smart; they curried them. Beat them into yogurt curries, disciplined them into mildly sweet sambars and enterprising rasams.

One day the markets’ first lady forgot her name. She was there before anyone else sat down to sell; she was there before anyone was there to buy, first in the morning before the fishes came, before the flowers came. She sold ginger and coriander, curry leaves and mint and she knew everyone who went into the colossal building and everyone who came out. And at the end of the day she spoke to the mice and cats and dogs, the names of people who had remained in the market, rotting amidst leftover mogras and champas, aralis and mullais, roses and daisies.  She forgot her name because she came late that morning, after sunrise and the mangoes had preceded her. She, who came before everything and everyone, lost that day. In her place sat fat yellow mangoes oozing suppurating mango pus, soft and sweet. Other subtle mangoes, yielding neither in flesh nor in color but with madness in their taste. Others too, shamelessly yellow and curvy, delicately tipping towards a perfect finish.

The wives of the city hurried past her, trampling over her and stomping her ginger and sneezing her mint. They rushed to the mangoes, some wrapped in red gelatine paper, some in cardboard boxes with more hay than mangoes, some rolling on the floor in old cabbage peels. The mangoes were touched and prodded, pinched and pressed, smelt and sneezed upon, thrown, tossed and bruised, worried, fought and haggled over, purchased, brought, bought. Some stolen.

And in the homes of the city the mangoes finally died their deaths. In discarded peels and sucked out seeds. Blue mangoes and red ones, Alphonsoes and inferior Devgads, fat Banganapallis and nostalgic Benishas. Hindi Payris, Gujrati Kesars and Bihari Dussheris.

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On Asimov

Years ago, when I was a young lad with the first stirrings of facial hair, I had made it my life’s mission to woo and win the heart of one Priya Padmanabhan. Priya, it was rumored, liked books. This boded exceedingly well for me and when I had mustered sufficient courage to start a conversation, I veered the topic to books. At first she was ecstatic that I was a ‘reader’. I say at first because in a short while, upon listening to my tastes (which I always thought eclectic) her beautiful nose gave an imperceptible twitch and inched a little higher. “Pah, twiddle, piffle and prat you read. I couldn’t be paid to read this kind of droll trash”. I was sweating by then, and my heart was already broken. “At least you don’t read Asimov” she said, patted my head in a way remonstrative of showing affection to a lost canine and moved off, her nose still twitching.

This encounter left a deep impression on my heart and in my mind and hence as I read all that I could lay my grubby hands upon, it was never an Asimov. I was intrigued and tempted many a time and would furtively gaze at stacks of ‘Foundation series’ but Priya’s perfect nose would vividly flash by my eyes and I would go back to glancing at other age-inappropriate novels.

Flash forward five years. I was to be stuck on a long journey and in my haste, I picked up a couple of novels from my grandfather’s shelf not noticing what I was carrying. Imagine my consternation when I found myself with two books of the foundation series. With a resigned air I started reading; after all if I read trash anyway this wouldn’t make a difference. And that was perhaps the start of my love affair with the Asimov world; I was hooked within a few chapters of the book. The next few days passed by in a blur of reading all the Asimov’s I could find, and did I find them! The aforementioned grandfather’s book shelf carried neatly arranged volumes of Asimov’s work, his short stories, his essays and I devoured them all missing buses and trains, walking into ditches and abruptly finding myself 20 miles away from where I wanted to go.

I read the Foundation series somewhat in a crooked order and then realized there was a correct order to the books so I re read them. The brilliance lies in the fact that the three main books were written in a series, then a couple were sequels and two more were prequels. A nifty seven pack of novels with a flawless timeline. The Foundation series picked up where the Empire series left off, and there is a beautiful rounding off to the series, with a connection to robots thrown in. This as I was to discover as central to Asimov’s work. Whatever he wrote neatly tied up to his other series. There are books which stand alone, unencumbered by his fictional set-ups, yet there is a clear sign of possible seamless integration.

A theme central to his work is the oneness of life. Not a oneness merely encompassing all humans, but a oneness that transcends all barriers of Linnaean classification, one that includes rocks, trees and rainfall. There are then his books on the human body, very detailed yet lucid enough for intrepid biologists. There are short stories on love, loss and sex.  In any case anyone accuses him of sexism (which in fact has happened), there are busty female robots too and one very determined female robot, Dors Venabili. There is a very beautiful and openly sexy Blissenobiarella, an astoundingly intelligent Marlene, a villainous Harla Branno, a prostitute cum spy Manella Dubanqua, the prim and proper Susan Calvin, a courageous Bayta Darrell and a romantic yet very witty Arkady Darrell. No discussion on Asimov can be complete without mentioning his three laws of robotics and those heroes among robots, R Daneel Olivaw and R Giskard Reventlov. Then there is Hari Seldon (widely believed to be his alter-ego), the science of psychohistory and a million other concepts that speak volumes of his general scientific understanding.

Last week I bumped into Priya at a railway station. I was reading and didn’t watch my step, literally colliding against her perfect nose; and after a second of awkwardness we spoke. All was going well, she even flashed those pearly whites at me when she noticed the Asimov dangling by the edge of my fingertips. She scowled magnificently and walked away in a huff. It took me all these years of avoiding Asimov and a few months of embracing them to realize what a bumbling idiot of gigantic proportions she was. Very pretty nose though.

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Note: This as an entry for the short story writing competition at The Banyan Trees.

Monsoon

In the monsoons, coastal Maharashtra revels in lush greenery. Flora abounds with an obscene fluorescence. Every local hill boasts a multitude of waterfalls cascading in all their effervescent glory. Even the concrete jungle of the Mumbai Metropolis, unable to deter the onslaught of greenery lies decked with festoons of moss, garishly leaved branches and a confetti of a permanent light drizzle. Within homes tea was consumed in clattering china cups, steam wafting upwards before becoming one with the light morning mist. Dark mornings loomed with the promise of collapsing infrastructure and powerless nights, sweaty in their embrace with the promise of love, lust.

Aparna imagined all of this, envisioned as a rich tapestry of colours. A screen overhead displayed a map with a diagrammatic aeroplane flying in a wide arc over Iran. 47 dashes to Mumbai, Aparna counted on the map stirring awake. A few hours later just before the flight’s rocky monsoonal descent into Mumbai Aparna craned her neck to get that first elusive view of Mumbai from the air. She spied sheets of gossamer threads moving in symmetric waves and spotted far below a sequence of yellow lights. Landmark after landmark she postulated incorrectly and the aeroplane made a final lunge piercing through a pregnant cloud, looming overhead flimsy slums and landed with a mighty heave as a collective sigh left the passengers.

Sadly, Aparna was disappointed with her imagination, or rather with the fecundity of it. Life was undoubtedly the picture perfect monsoon she imagined, it also co existed with pools of fetid slush, never ending humidity (and besides, sweat ceased to be sexy immediately after lust was satiated) and damp corners and clothes that were somehow never completely dry. Distance romanticizes, she concluded. Even the people around her seemed somehow more intense in their flaws, and muted in their munificence’s. Moss however pretty did beget slime, cracked walls and made humans slip. And fall.

Early Winter

December was undoubtedly the best time to visit Tamil Nadu. It was merely hot, unencumbered by its nastier superlatives, dawn and dusk were actually pleasant and then there was the music. Setting out from Chennai the very atmosphere exuded mellowness. The normally fierce sun shone benign, the sea waves lapped softly, the delicate sea breeze was only broken by the clang of a distant temple bell. Aparna’s parents set out to appease multiple Gods, three planets and in the process enrich a few corpulent priests.

They travelled in a rented Ambassador, the symbol of a solid, accident proof India along a circuitous route all over Thanjavur district (the old district as Aparna’s father continually reminded her). Every town seemed to look the same; a tangle of wires dangling overhead, buildings looming over a narrow central street, a mammoth tample ‘gopuram’ suddenly rising into view. And despite this unerring familiarity every temple was different. Well of course they were different; what Aparna felt, or what she thought she felt was the soul of each temple. Despite the neck craning and subtle pushing to get a good view of divinity and the hurried giving away of a 100 rupee note for a few more seconds of gazing into a dark statue, despite the rotten bananas and comforting smell of camphor.

They camped overnight at an ancient relatives place in a village near Kariakal. In the evening as they ate by falling light, someone sang an apt Kalyani from within the dark confines of the house and the sun left with a final bright orange ray with birds flying over. Sadly for our city bred, foreign returned Aparna this postcardness was not to continue for more. The next morning saw her aghast at the thought of deposing her bodily wastes in a field with an old dalda can filled with dubious brackish water. When she finally did finish her task and rose, she realized with a creeping horror someone had been spying upon her. Disgusted and frustrated she made her way home as a pig broke into a run and happily gorged on the recently departed contents of her bowels.

Late Winter

January however is undoubtedly not the best time to visit any part of Northern USA. Airports, with their propensity to insulate one from the outside world, don’t help matters much. After perfunctory procedures Aparna squinted at the bright sunlight and a minute later frowned deeply, many lines etching her dark face. This sudden induction into coldness always left her flustered no matter how used to she was to it. She reveled in the crispness of the cold air and confidently crunched snow with her boots always sure of her step.

She felt comfortable with every increasing mile and eventually risked it to get off the freeway and step onto a country road. The small road had not been salted and earlier vehicles had left deep ruts in the packed snow. Slowly she inched across passing by a frozen expanse that passed off as a lake in the summer. The bright white ground contrasted with the blue sky, with the occasional scrawny branch bringing in browns. The ruts slowly disappeared with the advent of a light snowfall and within minutes Aparna was relying on blind instinct as she fought to stay on the road. At length she stopped knowing that she was lost. To her credit she only panicked after she discovered her cell phone wasn’t reachable in this wilderness. She desperately tried to reposition herself using her practiced geography but gave up, parked her car and began trudging back when it hit her. With a slow dread that turned her bowels to water she realized she had driven off right onto the frozen lake. She half ran, then went back, retrieved her cabin luggage alone and made the most arduous walk of her life, over ice and snow towards the nearest tree. Her fingers had almost frozen over her phone keypad, poised to hit 911.

Later she warmed her hands considering herself terribly lucky to have escaped. While her computer whirred to life, she thought of wording the incident and posting it on facebook, then decided against it. She settled down, logged onto gmail as her contacts flashed by, some green (available), some red (busy) and some orange (away). The screen showed a cluster of unread mails, and someone pinged her. Aparna finally felt at home.

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Pithy prose

I am never too enthused about grammar. There are those who ponder for hours thinking if a participle must be gerunded or if the adjective clause satisfies causal requirements for it to be one. I am not one of those. In fact grammar can go take a hike as far as I am concerned. This is not to say that I sentences constructs this like, but that as long as I can get my information across I am good.

Clauses and the like only serve to confuse the already bewildered writer, who has reached this state of bewilderment because of the many eccentricities that bedevil this English language. Anyone can attest to the fact that English is a minefield of traps of various forms, and the unwary are often causalities in its complex constructs.

Although in hindsight, professing to write without heed to grammar is like attempting to sing without following a raga, ie. Simply noise. A friend of mine, a grammar nazi, spends all his free time hacking away my beautiful prose with the axe of grammar and punctuation. I call my prose beautiful only because after all the grammar bashing I was left drained and my self confidence languished below a heap of incorrectly used adverbs.

Spellings are another grey area, or is it a gray area? I know not, but my friend the spell check that Microsoft so kindly provides wildly gesticulates with red undulating waves and lets me know of lexical malapropisms among other things. It also fancies itself by neatly underlining all of my prose with green waves. Apparently this signals bad bad grammar. Wren and Martin (who are to English Grammar what Rakhi Sawant is to the Indian Media) would frown with extreme displeasure.

Perhaps I must take to writing in French, although I am entirely unsure how the French would react to moi butchering through their pretty cedillas and cute accents. Also if memory serves right French objects carry genders, rather all objects when referred to in French, must be addressed respectfully by a gender, failure of complying to which leads to a report of sexual abuse and a stint in the prison linguistique in Montreal.

Which is when I realize the versatility, beauty and brilliance of ‘it’. It effectively desexualizes any lingering masculinity or femininity in objects and clears our obfuscation in addressing things. It also lets you insult subtly a male or female by referring to them as such thereby effectively rendering genderless (Although some species of homo sapiens may be too dense to get the intricacies of this, in order to insult them, just slap them. Once should do the trick).

Rambling along and ranting about positives and negatives has made me weary and wise

Off I go with the rest of my damaged poise

All of this dear reader isn’t just noise

I shall post regularly or may the Gods smite my voice.

PS: Apologies for the absence, and failure to reply to previous posts.

Regular programming hopefully resumes.

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There and back again

Dedication to writing is one thing I admittedly lack, as evidenced by the gaps in my blog archives. I would rather it have at least four posts every month and be a neat 48 to close a year but then life rarely moves in symmetrical progressions. Nastiness abounds in various forms and blogging is the first casualty too often. I admire some who keep managing to spew words out week after week irrespective of what offerings they chew in life. A recent blogging behavior of mine has been to trash almost everything I write as un-blogworthy. As a result of this incessant trashing I lost focus of what was blogworthy and gave up writing altogether rather than face complex theological conundrums.

I blog because I write. And when writing itself is stilted, blogging automatically stops. Why then , I thought to myself in a rare moment of self introspection did I not write anymore? Writing is impulsive stemming from a momentous inspiration I reflected. Images, people, words, music and all of the aspects that go on to making our daily life are reflected in one bright nanosecond of a realization that writers expound in words.

Or writing springs from a carefully collected repository of ideas. Ideas that have been examined for fallacies and stored. Ideas that are to be written about because of their very fallaciousness, ideas that are hilarious and ideas that are profoundly interesting. But this would involve a certain degree of discarding time since reflections are rarely pertinent to the current real world. These I like to write and there is a certain degree of comfort that comes from dipping into ones thoughts and not having to worry about how those fit in with the times.

The cynic in me then pops his head to say that I write merely for an audience. I shamelessly concur. What art is not driven by the thought of praise or of moving the masses? Although it will take a lot more than my pedestrian prose to move masses I yearn to see my words in print, with my name bolded. So the lack of a discerning audience is the real reason for my intermittent hiatuses. There is a part of me that still thinks that writing that is for fame’s sake must be shallow and will cause the well of ideas to dry up as a vengeful curse, very indicative of my minds medieval weirdness. A small conscience wanted to write for humanity when the cynic replies that words do not fill stomachs.

So I a fit of cognitive blogging I write about writing thus metablogging and also pushing another of my digressive ramblings into blog archives. Here’s to hoping the metaphorical well never has to dry up again!

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This and That

Bringing to you offerings from my drafts folder. Enjoy.

My aunt is a lovely creature sometimes prone to fits of efficiency, but otherwise charming and delicate. The only time she loses her charm and delicateness are when she is reprimanding, using a combination of words that would make Shakespeare blush (and get back to work at once). Often softer relatives of ours, God bless them have called upon her to do the dirty job of minding the children. Many an errant cousin has been ‘brought to line’ by my aunts gentle ministrations. Her own daughter once in a fit of boredom I suppose, ran away with her then current boyfriend and was subsequently discovered in a not very reputable lodge outside Jammu no less. Legend has it my aunts screams could be heard all the way to Gilgit, rattled the high command in Siachen and caused an avalanche of Himalayan proportions to hurtle down those gentle hills.

A camera distorts images. At times, it shows more than the naked eye can see adding details to the frame, capturing an image wider than two eyes can. It zooms to objects of dexterity and pans across panoramas. The eye seems curiously deficient in these regards. And apart from all these optical shenanigans, a camera also records images for posterity. But then there are times when the camera seems a poor substitute for the eye. Unable to capture nuances of light as rays of the sun fall delicately, colouring different parts of a vista differently. The eye dims when the sun is up and persists sharply in fog. The camera doesn’t hesitate a second to remind you that the sun is right behind you and throws everything in the viewfinder into black chaos. More often than not I am disappointed when I look at something with a camera because the recorded image does not do justice to the real thing out there. Most of my gripes I realize can be remedied with a better camera and a more talented photographer but a camera is no substitute for the eye. This is not to say that the eye does not manipulate; in fact the mind calculates several parameters (mood, music among others) to suit itself and the image one sees is the very result of all those factors coming together. Sometimes beautifully and sometimes not.

Our society was built in the early nineties. Fortunately or unfortunately the buildings reflect fashion of those times. One of them being symmetry. All flats are identical and I really do have a point to make as you shall see. At a social gathering I excused myself to use the restroom and was terribly perplexed to find myself in front of an immaculate but tiny kitchen. The sink lay exactly where the flush might and condiments occupied the place of other motley toiletries. My face was part wonder, part confusion and the hostess kindly directed me to an orifice in the wall, which miraculously was the toilet. As I did my business I counted the number of airline toilets I had peed in that were bigger and sighed sadly. I am no architect but what I had just witnessed was the rise of an alarming trend. At first I assumed it merely to be a social experiment in testing if one could cook where one used to pee previously but the plot is far more sinister than I had imagined. In a dazzling display of spatial ingenuity people are resorting to bizarre tactics to modernize homes.

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One



Today is one year since I started blogging. And hence, it is time for the mandatory reminiscence post. I could talk about a year gone by and how seasons fly and all that. I could talk about drafts sitting about, words waiting for release. Of songs and singing, of geographical mishaps and maamis. Of temples, travels and meetings. I could unleash a flurry of cheap jokes or write something really profound (both of which I am capable of).



And then again I don’t feel like writing about any of these things, which is precisely why I am doing this whimsical post, hoping that if I linger on those drafts long enough, I won’t have to write them.

Every year leaves its mark in various ways. Some mysterious, some blindingly obvious. And being humans it is a must for us to age and to learn. Make newer mistakes and get over older ones. Fall in love, fall out of it, and go through the entire gamut of emotions (dont’ try this alone at home though). As clichéd as it may seem, writing this mush-ridden post is good. Or so I tell myself.

I have always been writing. I wrote for newspapers (my finest hour), wrote for trashy publications, worded pamphlets for Shantala cooking classes and have written introductions for babas and God-maamis. And publicity shy that I am (Ya right!), I never thought of blogging at all. T’was a fine cold day of -17 when she persuaded me to blog, she would have gladly got a gun to my head but a few thousand miles saved me then. She was to whom I cribbed about my blogging ambitions and the Einstein that she is, she created the blog, sent me the URL and left me to post. Thanks are in due. Also to him, My fiercest critic, foulweather friend and intellectual blogger himself.



Thinking back in time and getting a little philosophical this blog couldn’t have happened at a better time. Instead of being a Tom-Riddlesque diary for my misplaced feelings it has turned out rather fine I think. I have read some great stuff in other blogs and rather surprisingly made great friends, got me in touch with some older ones and made my ancient grandfather click his way here to read whatever the hell I write.

So here’s to a year of blogging, wishing for more to come and lots more to read.

Cheers!

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