Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Clash of the Epics

Disclaimer: Going by the recent events, this post is not meant to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments. This is purely an evaluative opinion on two books and its central characters. 

I have always been a little guilty over me vociferously insisting that the Mahabharata was better than the Ramayana when my knowledge was largely based on stories told by my grandfather and Amar Chitra Katha. So I decided to solve this once and for all, I went and found Ramesh Menon’s copy of the Ramayana in the Public Library and decided to give it a fair shot. 

And the guilt vanished more and more as I read. 

Where, in my opinion, the Mahabharata lies eons above the Ramayana is its multiple shades of grey. Nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. You abandon babies, kill somebody when they are defenseless, gamble your kingdom away and insist that an entire war be fought just for revenge. People are, in fact, people with all emotions, jealousy, greed, anger and lust. 

In the Ramayana on the other hand, all the central characters are perfect or as near perfect as they can be. We have a father who dies pining for his son within a matter of days, a princess who leaves the palace because her place should be with her husband, one brother who abandons his own wife to be with his brother and another who refuses to rule the kingdom his mother won for him. All for one person. 

And Rama makes no mistakes. I was very consciously trying out to pick out some human failing in the central character and failed miserably.

I thought I had my first chance when he, a kshatriya warrior, kills Vali while being hidden and from behind which is against all ethical principles. Vali looks into Rama’s eyes and asks him the very question that was swimming through my head at that time ‘Why did you kill me from behind? Why did you have to interfere in a fight between brothers that did not concern you at all?’. There it was, my human moment. Or so I thought. Rama begins a long speech about how Vali is a vanara and that the normal rules of fighting do not apply to him while how the rest of the book continues to talk about how these vanaras were not mere animals but creatures of great intellect and might. And there it was again, the perfect man who could not make a mistake. 

I was sure I had my second chance, when for no reason at all, after rescuing Sita, he becomes concerned of what his subjects think of him and his duty as a king and sends her away while pregnant. And there it was, the justification again, about how Vishnu was cursed to be separated from his wife and he chose to do this when he was born as a avatar. 

It made me miss the totally human moments of Mahabharata: Yudhishtra with his head hung in shame after gambling his wife away, Draupadi seething with anger when the peace talks begin insisting that the war must take place for her revenge, Gandhari cursing Krishna for the absolute destruction of her clan, Arjuna hesitating with fear at the beginning of battle despite being touted as a great warrior and Yudhishtra uttering a lie to kill his guru just to win at any cost. All are beautiful, poignant and more importantly, realistic. 

I cannot digest a Sita who says to Lakshmana after being abandoned in an ashram for no fault of hers ‘I forgive your brother. I understand why he had to do this’ nor can I accept a Bharata who lives like a mendicant in the forest in a self imposed exile because he isn’t meant to rule or a Vali who dies with a smile on his face despite being killed unfairly? 

Surprisingly, the only characters with any possible shades of grey are the Rakshasas in Lanka. Vibeeshana, torn between doing the right thing and loyalty to his brother. Kumbakharna, who warns his brother that it is folly to keep another man’s wife but is willing to go out to battle and give up his life for him. And the most important character of all, Ravana. The whole character was so beautifully etched that I couldn't help feeling conflicting emotions of both awe and despair when I read about his life. 

He was a powerful king who was very aware of the awe he inspired. The prosperity of Lanka, Antapuras filled with women who were madly in love with him, Indra being intimidated by him, his penance being strong enough for Brahma to grant him this powerful boon and all of this threatened by one major failing- Lust. 
You cannot help but feel sorry for the majestic king who cannot help himself against wanting the only woman who resists his charms. He is warned multiple times and you can almost discern how helpless the man is. The beauty about this depiction is that even his love or Sita isn’t ideal. When he is maddened with grief at the loss of his sons in battle, he rushes into the Ashokavana to kill Sita the cause of all this destruction and Sita is saved in the very nick of time by another lucky coincidence. 

Now I can safely say without a guilty heart, The Mahabharata continues to be my favourite. If the aim of the epics was to show us how the gods lived and for us to learn from the same, then I would rather look at a Karna who was willing to refuse his own mother for the sake of loyalty to his friend than a man who was picture perfect and seems like an impossible ideal to achieve. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Great Divide

Dear Open letter writers (this seems to be the season of them, really!),

It is not a South Indian Vs. North Indian thing. I am sick of stereotypes. Really. There is no point in sugar coating this or being venomous about it. We ARE different, all we need to do is be aware of that and live with it.

Though I did have a good laugh over this, I am fairly certain (knowing me and my rage issues), that I would have been hopping mad if anybody had tried describing what a typical South Indian is like and how yevarybody eats curd rice and is covered in coconut oil.
I detest being called a Madrasi, thought I often wonder, not without a little guilt, when I will stop rolling my eyes and saying 'You're SO Delhi'.
I am tired of hearing Rajnikant jokes. I guess I should probably stop making Shah Rukh like blubbery noises in the middle of the movie then.
For every one of the guys who rev up their engine and flex their muscles in Delhi, there is one wonderful south Indian guy who says 'Super figure, machi!'(For the benefit of those unaware of Tamil slang, translated roughly to "What a babe, yaar")
I have minor palpitations when someone tells me I have to go to bed without eating curd rice, who am I really to pass judgement on a rajma fetish?
Everybody has to deal with the fact that I have difficulty speaking Hindi since the two languages most familiar to me-Tamil and English have none of those sounds or gender (How on earth is a train feminine anyway?), just like I will deal with the fact that the people who don't know Tamil or Malayalam can never say 'Mazhai pozhigiradhu' or that some people call a door a gate.
Please never resent the fact that when two south indians meet each other they talk in their native language, just like how I went through two months of barely understanding any conversation since it was all in Hindi. It IS exactly the same.
I admire some of the delhi boys who are more chivalrous than anyone I have ever met and I love Saranath who can talk to me about just about anything under the sun from a beautiful tamil lyric to psychoanalysis and uses words like 'Staccato' in everyday conversation.
I am in awe of the effort that Pups and K take in dressing up before we head out and I totally identify with Thoppi and Priyams when we don't mind going for dinner in a crumpled t-shirt and old jeans.
I love the chapathi and paneer binges in Ashirwad and yearn for the 'Eat dosa till you burst' moments at Dosa King.
That is exactly what I love about all of us. Snegama and me can make fun of a rajnikanth movie and still defend it in indignation when somebody who saw ROBOT made fun of it. Puppy and Joop can call me madrasi but still use 'Aiyo' and 'Da' just as much as all of us. I could say a 'Bas Bahut ho gaya' and mean it and could also hear choruses of 'Polaama?' before we went anywhere.
They now love rasam and I now wear colours other than dark blue, black and brown.
That, I believe, sums up the situation in a nutshell.

A south indian girl who went from the very south to the very Jharkand and now eats Roti with Rasam much to the disgust of her fellow diners

Monday, March 28, 2011

Looking back..

If there is one thing that I have consistently prided myself on it is the fact that I do not get sentimentally attached to a place. Despite being in the same school from 3rd standard to the 12th, I was quite ready to leave it all and move to Bangalore. Despite loving my undergraduate degree and having an enormous circle of friends, I was very excited to begin work. Despite going through what was the most exciting phase of my life at work, I was ready to go do my masters.
I always presumed that the same logic would stick to XLRI as well. I would simply move on and be excited about working again. I told myself this over and over again- through the convocation, through the final dinner and through the final, hurried goodbyes in the airport. It's the proverbial morning after now and I realise that I miss XL with an intensity I didn't know existed.

It hits me suddenly that I can no longer sleepily walk into a friend's room and crib about not wanting to go to class. There will be no more hurried searches for a book to read in class despite not having a pen to write notes with. No more long chai sessions with random conversations. No more power naps. There were will be no more quizzes which reinforce how little I know of the world. No more midnight craving for cheese paratha and convincing four other friends to go stuff their faces with you and then realising that adding a fried maggi and bread burji to your original order is not a bad idea after all. No more making presentations till the very last minute and then eventually presenting a video which says 'Insert text here'.

Looking back, I can now see how much these two years have taught me.
I am glad for those bad grades which taught me that failure is an inevitable part of life. I am even more glad for the friends who hugged me when I couldn't stop crying when I got my first bad grade and even more glad for the friends who laughed at the bad grades along with me and reminded me how little it mattered.
I am relieved for the fights that happened because they truly made me realise exactly how much a few people meant to me.
I am surprised by how much I have learnt outside the classroom and how a plate of cheese maggi with hippo can solve almost any problem in the world.

I am grateful for the wonderful bunch of people I was always with and I can't help being choked thinking of what a difference each one made in my life those two years. They were my family in the truest sense of the word. I could go crying into any one of their rooms and each one in their own special would know exactly what to say. I could make fun and be made fun of. Being part of such a large group made every dinner out a celebration of sorts with a jumbling of orders and eventually ending with ten spoons fighting over a bull's eye. Even going to fill water was an expedition with no less than four people being a part of it. And I can't even begin telling you the advantages of having five friends jostling you out of bed or calling you from class when you have overslept.

It will never be the same again. The emotion at this moment goes way beyond mere nostalgia and the action of 'missing'. XL meri jaan.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A promise

Meow boy has been asking me to write something for quite some time now. I initially blamed the writer's block due to stress and academics and the like but as time passed I have realised that it goes a little beyond that. I have never been so pressurised as to ever stop writing. I have always loved the whole ritual of writing right from the silly detective stories I wrote as a child to amuse myself to my modest beginnings at a novel which was entirely lost due to a faulty hard drive.
When I look back, I now realise that my writing reduced the more I read. As a child I had no inhibitions and could sit and write for hours without realising it. I wrote as much as I could from Dear Diary entries to poetry which I struggled hard to rhyme to obituaries for dead pets. I was always looking at a different angle to write a story from. Becoming my writer was what I wanted for the longest time. My reading which, I believed, would add value and flavour to my writing however worked in a very different way.
The more I fell in love with the writing styles of other authors the more critical I became of my own writing. I wrote and rewrote because the lines had to be just perfect and over the years, I seem to have given up on it altogether.
This blog post is not merely a forum to crib and analyse why I stopped writing but a promise to be a little kinder on my own words and ideas in the future.
Here's to more baby steps that go beyond a nostalgic blog post!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Once upon a summer..

There is a certain allure to being a tourist in Europe. To having a checklist of must-see places and getting a grin of satisfaction on your face as you tick them off.Today I was a whole new different kind of tourist in Europe. The spontaneous one.All we knew in the morning was that we had to go see the Rhine falls. We surprisingly left on time and managed to land up in Schauffausen. We had no clue which direction to head in and managed to reach a place with 500 different sign boards all saying Rhine falls. We decided to walk in one particular direction we felt fondly towards and walked up a slightly inclined road. We could hear it first. Then we took a turn and saw the falls in all its glory. Out came our cameras and our tourist-ness. We photographed anything and everything that looked remotely pretty.We ate a typical European lunch (quick and not satisfying) at a picturesque restaurant overlooking the falls. We then took a boat ride which led us straight to a steep flight of stairs which gave us the most spectacular and breathtaking views of the falls. Then we got ourselves a bottle of coke and two glasses and headed to spot in a park under the shade of a tree. We sat and drank our cokes in states of complete contentment looking at the river flowing and the mountains in the background.We found our way to the station and decided that we had enough time to stop at Zurich for a while. Both of us had not even a remote clue of what to see or where to go. We took the safe way out. We asked for the closest water body and headed straight to Bellevue. My first point on the agenda was to get some ice cream in that heat. With ice cream cones in hand we walked along the bridge enjoying the view and people watching more than anything else. We found a small colourful fair and I insisted that we had to take a giant wheel ride. As the wheel moved higher and higher, the city just got prettier and prettier. All the colours of the boats, the people on the shores, the tulips, the solid, old churches were too much to take all at once.
A little stroll across the shore. An impromptu concert. A Jim Morrison sound alike. Pictures with a painted golden man. A cold can of beer. Window shopping. And we had somehow reached the station again.

We noticed a little park tucked away just before the station and entered it almost on impulse. One of us chose to tuck her jacket around her and lie down on the grass and look at the blue sky while the other chose to take his camera and take pictures of everything around us.

We both go back home with memories of a different kind of Europe. It wasn't special only because of the places we saw, it was the sheer joy of discovering bits and pieces that we didn't know existed.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The top 10 invaluable life lessons I learnt as a child

  • Be a little more caring and loving towards your grandmother lest one day a wolf impersonates her and you don’t even notice.
  • If you think you are likely to get lost, put more reliable markers along the way apart from food in a forest full of hungry birds.
  • When you plan on breaking into a bear’s house, be a little careful with the evidence. Half eaten bowls of porridge, broken furniture and sleeping on their beds after a heavy meal is a strict no-no.
  • If your head is an egg then it is highly suggested that you do not sit on precarious walls.
  • When you have seven dwarfs as friends, it is advisable to keep one or two at home as body guards, especially when you have evil step mothers with poisoned apples lurking about.
  • When your fairy godmother appears in front of you, ask to marry the prince himself rather than asking for shiny shoes and a carriage and then wait for the prince to find your feet.
  • Never, ever, put a baby in a cradle on a tree top.
  • If you have been cursed and find yourself trapped in a castle, either grow your hair long enough or sleep till your Prince charming comes along.
  • A pea under ten mattresses can be very uncomfortable to sleep on.
  • No matter how regal an emperor you are, be smart enough to realise the difference between wearing good clothes and no clothes at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alphabet Soup!

Always. Silence. Comfortable.
Remembrance. Affection. Evident.
Closure. Romance. Undercurrent.
Hearty. Avaricious. Time.
Immense. New. Dreams.
Tender. Abduction. Thoughts.
Her. Tangle. Emotions.
Always. Half. Better.

First words together...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Muse: Finani

10 easy steps to completing an assignment in corporate finance

Step 1:
Receive mail about assignment. Look around for more people to crib to about the incessant workload. Mark it as starred and promise yourself to look at it soon.

Step 2:
Morning of the day before the assignment is due, talk to people and nod along when they say 'It is going to be a long night today. It is quite difficult'. Promise to start by afternoon itself so you can sleep early in the night.

Step 3:
Wake up from your long afternoon nap and tell yourself that you needed the sleep to be alert and work on the assignment all night.Get yourself some snacks. Afterall, you need the energy to work all night. Chat for a while over coffee.

Step 4:
Read the assignment once and exclaim loudly to no one in particular that the analysis needs to be done for your peer company too. Feel free to add expletives of your choice to this step.

Step 5:
Read class notes furiously and try to see if any familiar words correspond between yours and his.
Try to interpret your sleepy handwriting to figure out what exactly you meant when you wrote those words.

Step 6:
Officially give up on figuring out the assignment on your own and start pinging everyone on your gtalk furiously to figure out if they have figured out what to do. Ideally in this step, there will always be a few souls who have figured it out and will tell you what to do.

Step 7:
Start the assignment with all intentions of doing it properly and pore over annual reports hoping that the necessary question is irrelevant to your company

Step 8:
When sick of Step 7 [hint: words will start blurring in front of you and Microsoft word will be a distant white haze], start writing random answers and somehow aim to complete the assignment.

Step 9:
Send shoddily done assignment and hope your roll number is not picked by the random number generator. As you go to sleep, Promise to start early next time and do full justice to the assignment.

Step 10:
Next assignment arrives in your mailbox. Repeat Steps 1 through 9.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anything but blue on a saturday night

The best part of any week is a Saturday night. You have the whole emptiness of Saturday to look back on and the whole emptiness of Sunday to look forward to. Ever since I came to XL, weekends have lost the significance they used to have in my life. It is merely days which pass here with no clear distinction between the days of the week.
Saturdays in Bangalore used to go along the predictable lines- wake up late, eat a heavy lunch while watching mindless television, read a nice book while lying down and fall asleep with the book on my face, wake up to have tea and then finally venture out for some unplanned shopping or a drive followed by dinner at one of our usual places. The night inevitably used to end with us having Kulfi at Bowring and a maghai paan while we lazily drove back home discussing whether our Sunday morning breakfast plans would culminate at Koshys or Adigas.
They say change is the only constant and change did come to our saturday night routine at XL. :)
It was the alumni homecoming week so the atmosphere in college was a lot lighter than usual. The college was decked up and we had a cultural program and a bodhi tree performance to look forward to that evening. I had gone to Brindha athai's house to spend the evening there and came back to college around 10 very well-fed and content.
We stormed up to the empty common room while the whole batch was listening to Bodhi Tree and got the whole TT table to ourselves where we let Pandey fool us into thinking that he was a loser when it came to Table Tennis. Very soon, we discovered that he was just about smashing everything in our face and that Priya could play table tennis on a 'whole new level' :P
As Bodhi Tree wrapped up, we decided that change of game was 'on the cards' and slowly moved to my warm room to play Uno.

"Draw 4. Red"
"Damn you, Pandey!"
"You forgot to say Uno. Draw one now."
"Actually the rule is: you draw 5 if you forget to say Uno"
"Shut up, Dixie"

Then began a session of Taboo. After briefing Priya and Sumesha with the rules we began the game.

"Where do babies come from?"
"Things that are in the aquarium"
"Yeah. Those babies"
"Fish babies?"
"Really expensive!"
"Really expensive eggs? What? I don't get it!"
"Argh!! Never mind"

"What am I?"
"Loser" "Stud" "Monitor" "Class representative"
"What am I to all the girls in class?"
"Aaaa! Never mind! Give me the next card"

Through all this madness, poor Astha was curled up quietly on her bed with the headphones on watching a movie amidst all the crazy loons gesticulating wildly. Finally at 4 we decided to call it a night.

For the first time in all these months, I went to bed on a Saturday night not missing Bangalore. Difficult achievement that! :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy birthday!

November 10th and 11th have always been a special part of my life. Two people who make up all my childhood memories celebrate their birthdays today and tomorrow. Many years have gone by now and we never speak as often as we should but some relationships, I have always believed, never need to be reinforced by contact. These two days in the year always sets the clock back for me as I think of all the wonderfully ridiculous things that we have done and how there was never a dull moment thanks to three overactive imaginations always at work.

As my birthday gift to the two of you, here is a trip down memory lane…
  • The summer school/crèche idea that we pioneered in Sri ram avenue with business foresight rare for such a young age and our absolutely brilliant pricing strategies for the school. “No, of course, we can give you a discount” “So do we give each child two erasers or one?” I still wonder why the plan fell through. :P
  • Our trips to the ‘secret’ garden with lemonade and biscuits to discuss absolutely ‘critical’ matters sitting in a dark and dingy hut worrying what was going to crawl out of where and then being absolutely heart broken when we discovered our ‘secret’ garden was the most preferred walking trail of more than half the residents of the colony and that it wasn’t so secret after all.
  • Playing hide and seek and all of us running to the terrace of Kleen systems and hiding there every single time.
  • Making up secret languages and driving the third person mad by pretending it was a real language with one person begging to be taught the new code.
  • Strutting around the colony refusing to socialise with any kid other than each other presuming we were the ‘elite’. 
  • Swimming for 2 hours in Emperor's club and then eating Chilly Gobi and Panner manchurian like world starvation was at end.
  • Making prank calls to half the world and finally being sheepish when we were busted by the telephone department.
  • Solving elaborate detective mysteries with our heads full of Famous five and Secret seven.
  • Playing WWF cards with a vengeance and grinning like idiots when we saw that our next card was going to be Hulk Hogan.
  • Finding cow jaw bones during our many excavation sessions and then going into a tizzy of excitement because we were certain it was a dinosaur bone, and then spending an hour under the sheets with a torchlight to add to the ‘allure’ to discover which dinosaur it was by comparing the bone to each dinosaur in our dinosaur cards pack. It is only now I can understand why our mothers reacted the way they did when they saw us with bones of dead animals on the bed.
  • Playing cricket with Kalavathi Ma'am's wall as the boundary line and arguing about who should scale the wall to get the ball from the farm.
  • Making elaborate make believe dishes and making a reluctant boy pretend to eat them all.
  • Hosting grand insect cum craft exhibitions and actually charging people to see our tomfoolery.
  • Creating a new e-mail ID each week with no one to mail but each other but the excitement never ceased. “Put a dot between my initials.” “Put Cool after my name”
  • Burying each dead pet with a grand ceremony and a funeral that most undertakers would be proud of.
And they go on…

It was not that our relationships ever lacked the numerous fights and the enormous tantrums but we still had one heck of a time and a childhood that most people would envy. People often ask me if I felt lonely as a single child. I always meet them squarely in the eye and say “Lonely? I grew up with a brother and a sister.”

Anjali and Govind, Happy birthday! Wishing you both the very best in life.