Saturday, September 29, 2012 18 comments


I know it has been a really long time since my last post..! No,  it is not as though I have  been busy (being busy has never stopped me from finding time for blogging). It is just that I have been feeling rather disturbed during the course of the last few weeks… as I have been trying to push myself into making a decision!

A job offer  has come my way. A job with a very respectable organization which would offer me an opportunity to move out of my current sector into something else at double the salary and an arena which is hitherto un traversed.

So what you may ask is worrying me so much? It is a very simple thing- CHANGE!! I am experiencing feelings that I never thought I ever would..

For starters, I wish I would get over the illogical feelings that I seem to be having – particularly about this lap top on which I am currently typing! This battered old DELL  machine has come to symbolize my creativity. I am increasingly beginning to feel that like Samson who lost his strength when his hair was cut, I might lose my intelligence and creativity when I give up this machine!

I have been lying awake at nights thinking about how I used to work for nearly twelve hours – those were the days!!! We were a lovely team of people who used to argue endlessly with each other about almost everything and a boss with whom one never felt that one was working. He used to have music playing as he worked. Actually all of us did..  He had the habit of picking up CDs from our desk and forgetting to return them..I have had dozens of fights with him accusing him of “stealing” my CDs. He moved on to the head office to a more senior position and slowly others in the team either moved out of the organization or to other offices.  And there I was left all alone with a group that I could not relate to any way- socially, culturally or intellectually…

Over the last two years I have had a slow erosion of  passion and motivation until it reached a stage where going to office would be the most difficult thing for me..! Seven and a half years in the same place doing the same thing in an environment that I could no longer relate to, was beginning to take its toll on me.

So, why am I feeling like this when I get the opportunity to leave for something better?  My sister says it is a phenomenon called “inbreeding” where you do not like something but are reluctant to get out of it…Some call  it “getting out of one’s comfort zone”.

I  call this “getting older”. I see the world differently now. While I used to in my earlier days be constantly seeking change today the same change seems to be intimidating me. I am wondering whether status quo –however boring may be more tolerable to this change?   

There is also the fear of the unknown as I move into the “for profit” sector ! I feel like I am poised for jumping out of a plane. Fears like “what would happen if the parachute does not open up?” “what if I fall down and die” What if … What if ? So many questions!
There are more things at stake in terms of how this change may affect me and my life. I never knew I had become so “risk averse” in my forties! The “rolling stone” in her twenties and thirties has today gathered so much of moss around that it is now unable to move

But I made that decision finally last week and it has taken all my inner strength to do that  and set this stone rolling!

Insha Allah… the parachute will open up and I will have a smooth landing!

Sunday, September 16, 2012 13 comments


Okay, tell me folks, how many of you have traveled by that last coach on every train- the coach that goes by the name of “General compartment” in Indian railways parlance but which we lesser mortals call “unreserved”? I am sure many of you have seen the crowds milling around it as touts and porters rush in to grab a seat for people for a price- a price that must be far higher than what is the actual amount charged by the Indian railways!

My father being the  railway man always had that attitude of scorn where it came to the people who traveled by this “janta class”. His argument being – “if people can plan their journeys and book their tickets well in advance there is no need to travel like cattle”. However  what he probably does not realize that traveling in India is often fraught with unexpected hurdles where planning usually does not help. Besides, everybody is not as senior as he is ( or was) within the railway establishment to get things done at the click of a finger  or a telephone receiver.

My first experience traveling by this unique class in the railways was when I was doing my post graduation. I was to return from Bombay to Hyderabad for my break after the third semester. I had done some bungling where the dates were concerned and so when I reached  the Victoria Terminus railway station in Bombay, I found that I did not have a ticket on the Hyderabad express for that date. The option was to go back to the institute and come back couple of days later for which I did have a confirmed ticket. However, I decided against it as  all my friends had left by then and I had no intentions of staying alone at the hostel for two days. I called my father’s friend and told him to inform Appa that I would be traveling on that day. Khushalani Uncle was aghast when I told him how I proposed to travel! He suggested I contact a TTE and try to get into a reserved compartment using my gender and railway heritage as excuses. But unfortunately there was no time left. I just told him “Okay Uncle” and proceeded towards the train with my huge “Aristrocrat” molded luggage in hand ( the wheels had come off so I HAD to carry it).

But getting into that “ladies compartment” ( to be referred to henceforth as ladies unreserved) was in itself becoming a challenge! There were porters offering to enter the coach for a fee and reserving a seat. However I was young and full of ideals. I shouted at them to leave me alone and rammed my way into the coach using the suitcase as a bulldozer as the hundreds of women in front of me cursed in various Indian languages. Once, I had made my way in, I found there were no seats to be had.  Just as I was wondering how I was going to travel that entire distance standing, I heard a hoarse voice call to me from the upper berth.

There was on the upper berth a “lady” of the third gender. She beckoned to me to climb up and sit next to her. She even helped to haul that bulldozer up and gave me a hand. Once I was up, I found that this was probably the best seat I could have had because no body was even interested in competing for it because of two reasons- one of course being the acrobatics involved in accessing it( these coaches do not have any support to climb on to the upper berth) and the second being that special  person of the third gender that they would have to share the seat with.  So I had what could be called a very comfortable journey given the circumstances spending  time talking to “her”. “She” taught me a few  tricks about luggage management from that point. The slippers/ shoes had to be tucked above the fan so that they were safe.  I even managed to sleep through the night resting my head on “her” shoulder. When the Begumpet railway station came, my father was horrified to see me emerge like a “wounded soldier” from the ladies unreserved followed by a “lady” of the third gender handing me my slippers. “Why did you travel like this? Didn’t Khushalani Uncle tell you to catch hold of a TTE and request for a seat?” he scolded me all  the way home.

I often used to think of this experience with nostalgia. So the gods decided to favor me with another such experience- this one being a couple of days ago from Mysore to Chennai. This time I had company-two young girls working with our organization as interns!

It was at the Gudalur bus stand that we came to know about the Kaveri agitation in Karnataka . We were on our way to Mysore from where we had reserved tickets on a KSRTC bus to Chennai. Some one also informed us that  there was a KSRTC strike. We finally managed to get a cab whose driver agreed to brave the Kannada crowds who might be “stoning vehicles with TN registration” and drove into Mysore from where we decided to take the Kaveri express. I knew very well that no tickets were available on it but anyway, we decided to try out luck.

The train was scheduled to leave by 8.30PM and we reached the station by 8.10PM. With just 20 minutes to go I asked the girls to wait with the luggage while I ran for the tickets. I must say that today’s generation is more pragmatic One of the girls went to an ATM nearby and drew some money to “bribe someone if required” ( they were quite willing to go with the fact that they would not be able to claim it from the organization).

However we found out soon that bribing was not necessary. The ladies unreserved was quite empty. We got comfortable seats and good luggage storage space too. The crowd from Mysore to Bangalore was largely of local commuters- simple and gentle ladies talking to each other in soft tones. There was an earring seller from Chennapatna who was rather curiously dressed – in jeans with a water proof jacket and a big bindi and flowers. She was obviously familiar with the regular commuters younger ones of whom she called by first name and the older  ones “Aunty”! She took a fancy to one of our interns telling her in Kannada ( which S could not understand) about the toys of Chennapatna.

But the crowd that got in from Bangalore was a different cup of tea altogether! Mostly Tamil women, they were extremely aggressive. Special mention must be made of a mother in law / daughter in law duo who came in with an eight year old boy. Their son/husband was banished into the “general compartment” and asked to “stay put there”!. Between the two of them, they tried to make themselves comfortable. They made the boy sleep under one of the lower berths astounding  my young friends! The mother in law then spread  a bedsheet and stretched out on the aisle while the daughter in law squatted on one of the seats with us. Somewhere along the way at a wayside station, the husband came by and tried to wake up his sleeping wife asking for a bed sheet. She was in no mood to oblige and gave him an earful. He replied back crudely demanding for his bed sheet. She continued to be rude saying that she could not give it to him as it was inside a bag which his mother was using as a pillow. The mother in law meanwhile woke up and cursed her son for “troubling the girl” asking him to leave. The daughter in law used that opportunity to grab the bag, remove the bed sheet and fling it out at her husband through the window! Wow! What a loving family..!  I was just thinking about how she might deal with the guy if he ever disturbed her at night demanding his conjugal rights ( and he looked the kind who would be inconsiderate enough to do so, concerned as he seemed to be only about his own needs)

Come Arokkonam and there was a flood of female commuters who wanted us to move so that they could squeeze in- it was amazing the idea that they had! On a seat meant for three, on which there were anyway four of us, they wanted  six to sit! They felt that if we unfolded our legs and put them down it might work. However we could not do so because our infamous co passenger – the mother in law had now shifted to sleeping on the floor between our seats. Just as the fight was reaching its climax, Mrs Kumbhakarna woke up and bared her fangs!! She used words that would put CMWSSB to shame!! We listened open mouthed ( and then with suppressed laughter) as she compared the commuters to “hair growth” at unmentionable parts of the body, questioned their ancestry in very creative ways and then rounded off by asking if they were “concubines of the railway minister”!! The commuters were shocked! “Tcha your mother in law is too much” they complained to the daughter in law who ignored them stoically !

When both women exited at Thiruvallur, it was like people were returning after watching the latest Rajnikanth movie. They discussed the old lady’s performance all  through their journey right up till Perambur where they disembarked!

Well, the journey post Perumbur was very uneventful! My young friends felt cheated of further entertainment considering the train was made to wait for about 45 minutes outside Chennai Central before we finally pulled into the platform.

I think this was one of the most fun trips I had post college! As far as  entertainment was concerned, it was priceless considering that the princely sum of Rs 325 that the three of us paid from Mysore to Chennai was lower than what we might have paid for a movie in a multiplex. Yes, it was tiring but then what are weekends meant for if not to sleep off such tiredness?  The most curious comment came from one of our interns “Ma’m I don’t think anyone other than us would have bought tickets. And I doubt any ticket checker would have dared to ask THAT old lady for her ticket”!!

I agree, there are certainly advantages of being undesirable company !

  ( for the uninitiated – CMWSSB stands for the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board/ KSRTC stands for the Karnataka Road Transport Corporation,  Kumbhakarna was a character from the Indian epic Ramayana. He was a demon and was blessed with six months of continuous sleep every year. He had to be woken up in between his sleep cycle by his brother Ravana who was fighting a losing battle with Rama- the exiled prince of Ayodhya. I will not explain who Rajnikanth is - I refuse to believe that there may be people who do not know HIM!)

Sunday, September 9, 2012 10 comments


My visits to Kerala so far have been in a way only “duty visits” – visiting family (read inlaws) and attending family functions. So, it seemed like a good idea to do a bit of tourism after attending my husband’s niece’s engagement on Saturday at Cochin. With our daughter being away on a school excursion, it was also a time to get that much needed time together ( after may be fourteen years?)

The first thing that struck us when we drove from the airport towards my brother-in-law's  house were the hoardings –most being ads for jewellery shops and for a  ( hold your breath) clinic that addresses “sexual problems”!! Strange combination that…!!! And ofcourse not to miss the fact that every other place is land marked through a bakery- there is “famous bakery’ . “Wonderful bakery” etc etc. While Cochin may have lots of places whose locations are marked by various bakeries in Trivandrum they do not bother about the name of the bakery – an important junction just goes by the name “Bakery Junction”!

The engagement was a  simple and small event at a popular hotel. However what really had us interested was the official photographer from the “would be groom’s” family! A short man with  curly hair, beard and a pot belly  he had the appearance of a  hyperactive orang-utan. One could see him jumping from here to there aiming his camera like a AK47 gun. He was also what I would call “an extremely creative individual”. As the guests started trickling away after lunch, he caught hold of D and her fiancé making them strike different poses and clicking away. So we had the groom –to- be go on his knees and offer her a bunch of flowers ( hastily pulled out from the flower arrangement on the dais),   all the bride’s friends were made to stand one behind the other in a line holding each other’s shoulders ( like how we used to stand in our childhood while playing “in and out the sparkling bluebells”) with the bride-to-be resting her hands on her fiance’s shoulders. It had all the girls giggling and the elders irritated. My husband and myself decided that we absolutely needed to click the photographer in action. While I was game for chasing the guy with my camera my husband decided against letting me do it. His explanation being “you never know in Kerala – someone may think you are interested in that guy”. So he offered to do it. After about a quarter of an hour he came back – with just two snaps of the (in) famous photographer saying “It must be easier to shoot a tiger through a camera than this guy. He is so restless! Does not stay put in one place”. Finally the elders got antsy about all the posing that D and A were doing ( after all there is many a slip between the cup and lip)  and indicated their displeasure by telling our photographer hero to end the “photo session”. He agreed grumbling all the time that he was not allowed to “finish his work” properly.

Post lunch we drove to Allepey and got on the “Rainbow Cruise” boat for an overnight tour of the Vembanad lake! I did not know what to expect – I had only seen these boats on television programs on tourism. My better half was worried about swarming mosquitoes ( “All that water around”).

But we were in for a pleasant surprise! Not only were there no mosquitoes – the weather itself was very pleasant and windy. The boat was very well maintained and had a bedroom with a four poster bed and an attached bathroom! What impressed me most was the almost near absence of water hyacinth on the vast stretch of water body. This obviously meant no mosquitoes! However there were other insects that began to buzz around post sunset resulting in the sliding glass doors around being closed. I had the feeling of being in a “bell jar” experiment in a science lab- floating on water!

Dinner aboard the deck was excellent! The cook had excelled himself with an assortment of vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes! Our only regret was that we were too sleepy to do justice to the complete meal. The boat was moored to a side later in the night. The sound of silence was something that we people from the city do not hear very often- pleasant indeed, broken only occasionally by the sound of lapping water against the side of the boat. My last thought as I feel asleep was that this would be a great honey moon destination  for a young couple!

I woke up in the morning to a strange sound- it was the sound of a coconut being scraped. The men in the kitchen were busy. We could hear them just behind our heads! So this was obviously NOT the right place for a honey moon destination- given the close proximity of everyone on the vessel. “Everyone would know what the honeymooners are upto at any point of time. These cruises are  good getaways only for much married couples like us” said the husband a grin!

Breakfast aboard the deck was much more enjoyable than dinner. We were able to do better justice to the dosas, chutney, bread and the pineapples. The boat had resumed it journey and we passed emerald green paddy fields –some of them located at levels lower than the water. The water community was also alive- we passed nearly a dozen boats in less than 20 minutes.

The secular culture of Kerala never ceases to amaze me- we passed an Orthodox church with a loudspeaker chanting prayers in Aramaic at one point only to emerge at another point where there was a temple with Sanskrit chanting being played on another loudspeaker. Devotees of both religions were on board boats visiting their respective places of worship.

This same amazing amalgamation of cultures was visible as we went into the “Jew Town” in the Fort Cochin area-Synagogues and old buildings with the star of David still engraved on their grills. Kashimiri shopkeepers tried to entice us to buy pashmina shawls as we walked into the synagogue. A group of old ladies  who were ahead of us inside the Synagogue suddenly kneeled down in front of the screen behind which is the  “Torah”  and closed their eyes in prayer after which they crossed themselves. They had me confused…!!! There were a couple of old buildings with signboards in a strange script – probably Yiddish or Hebrew.

The Dutch Palace also was a very interesting reflection of the  cultural mix of the state. Thampurans whose fathers were Nambuthiris- a matrilocal system that was abolished by the British and a dress code that introduced a sense of morality that was totally out of a western culture! A fine martial art “Kalari” whose practice was banned by the British and former kings who were now chartered accountants!

The culture of Kerala is something that has transcended religious identities. While not denying that these identities do exist- I think the state has been able to stay away from letting communal and caste identities from creeping into the creation of exclusions. Call it the influence of Communism or the result of a Social movement –Kerala has been able to move ahead in terms of development indicators and preserve the wealth that nature bestowed on her in terms of flora and fauna!

Not surprising that they call it “God’s own country”!
Tuesday, September 4, 2012 15 comments


I chanced upon a facebook “status” today. A wife had posted a very “mushy” message wishing her husband a happy birthday. There was mention of how they had met and how many happy years they had spent together blah blah followed by  the Happy Birthday message. And guess who was the first person to hit the “like” button?- obviously the husband! 

Call me cynical but I was wondering what was the need for  this considering that they were in all likelihood together and she could have wished him directly ? Even if they were not together on this day, she could have called and wished him – after  all what are telephones there for? My husband with his nasty sense  of humour tells me with a grin “May be that is how they communicate”.

While I am all for display of affection – PDA or otherwise, I draw my lines when it comes to PDA for PDA’s sake. If you love someone and you want to spontaneously hold his/ her hand then sure go ahead  but holding someone’s hand or hugging someone  just to prove a point that you are in love is nothing short of exhibitionism!

And conversations… god! How false can they get… I was on a train and I heard a woman on her mobile talking to someone loud enough for people two cubicles away to hear. From the tone of her voice it was clear that she was talking to her husband giving him a laundry list of things to do / check up on while she was away. And guess how she ended her conversation ?  “Love you”!!! I guess the guy at the other end must have been some sort of a masochist!!

This “Love you” is  getting on my nerves. I hear teens using this on each other so often that it fails to mean anything …It almost sounds like the American term “honey”.  I am convinced that American couples have trouble remembering each other’s names and that was how this “honey” thing emerged. My cousin who has moved to the US has also been afflicted by this amnesia.. she has switched to calling her husband “honey”.  I guess she might have felt that if she had called him by his given name her American neighbours may have thought  she was calling the dog …!

I remember there was a time when there was an Indian slant to this “honey”/ “honey bunch” thing – “Jaan”! I think it was  later discarded as being too cliched or filmi.

While agreeing that much of social behaviour is  learned , what I fail to understand is how much of what we do is because we believe in it and how much of it is because others do it ? I mean, we cannot live a Yashraj film as our life can we?  While life does derive inspiration from art what beats me is why is it important to demonstrate this to the world ?  Are we so insecure in a relationship that it requires such behaviour to make us feel a sense of comfort? Or are we so used to watching displays of affection in movies that we feel some one ought to watch us enacting some scenes or mouthing dialogues? It saddens me that these acts may have become so hollow that they have ceased to mean anything between the people who are involved other than may be proving to the world that they care for each other! It is almost like celebrities performing for the media.

People who genuinely care for each other do not have to announce it to the world. It is so obvious to anyone who sees/  them together or happens to overhear them when they are talking to each other. The chemistry around them cannot be missed. They, on their part are usually oblivious to the world around them.  It is only with those who try hard to convey to the world  that “All is well” that there may be an  issue of “All not being well”.

What do you think?