Thursday, 28 June 2007


Freshly returned from foreign soils and yearning for all things Indian, even those that would have been summarily rejected just a few weeks ago, I bravely decided to pay Rs.170 to watch the Superstar that would be The Boss, in the local multiplex. The fact that many of the seats were empty just meant that the local Ghati gang just did not get the magic of our curd-rice land, of course.

It was a fantastic display as usual, of gravity defying stunts, exquisitely choreographed and magnificently executed dances involving serious amounts of camera panning, fantabulous costumes designed by the best and the brightest, and lastly, the most imaginative story-line ever to emerge from this side of the Arabian Sea. Cha-chink for all the involved parties.

What caught my fancy the most however, was the incredible acting. The following require especial mention –

  1. A dazzling white coat worn by the doc played by Raghuvaran. The coat would have put all the Nirma ad auntie’s saris to shame, for in addition to its impeccable whiteness, it helped the actor describe and demonstrate to us the power of CPR, repeatedly.
  2. The startlingly acrobatic heroine’s (whats her name?) navel. It was hidden well when she was in the avatar of cultured, traditional Tamizh person. Hidden beneath swathes of cloth. But at the slightest provocation it jumped out, and danced with glee, nearly putting Shilpa Shetty to shame.
  3. The three glass domes in the midst of a desert. These glass domes would presumably have proliferated with lush green plants, despite the harsh climate. For the purpose of the movie however, they were rid of said plants, so that innumerable extras, and occasionally the hero and heroine, could prance around in their immense interior. The transparent glass leant unreal glows to the lavish costumes, thus enhancing visual appeal dramatically
  4. In the same set of scenes, the many pairs of gauze butterfly wings sported by the angelic dancers. Borrowed from the local high school, post a very successful annual day function, these silvery wisps made one feel really in heaven.
  5. The Superstar’s costumes. While there were, at last count, at least a thousand of them when you total the costumes in the actual movie, those in the dream sequences, and those shown only in magazine and newspaper clippings, there was a common theme. It has been reported that top Indian designers are squabbling over who exactly is responsible for these designs. I say, there is no fight! Clearly, all of the currently active designers were employed, and the Superstar, humble as he is, wore all the designed clothes & wigs, usually simultaneously.
  6. The dancer’s dancing tummies. These fat things had a rhythm of their own, especially when painted with the Superstar’s face from the early 80s. To see a hundred of these in action, gyrating to the musical score in a theater is an experience akin to watching glaciers melt, at an Imax-Dome-with-3D-effects.
  7. And finally, the blue Halls wrapper. Where did it go? Did it ignore gravity too, and land up miraculously in the wastepaper basket? Did it directly find its way to the municipal plastic dump? Did it manage to maintain its separate identity from sundry wet garbage? It is exactly this mystery that makes the acting by this teeny weenie something remarkable, to remember for generations to come.

Black money & corruption are big problems. Education and health care are important areas requiring serious efforts. Power to the people! Good, if sort of obvious, messages from the movie. Watch it, but if possible avoid the song and dance sequences.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Another Trip

I guess the most important part of any occasion is to find the goodness in people. So it was that a single smile, a single act of magnanimity, these things in total made our visit to Europe memorable. In Athens, we were alarmed at the real small amount of food consumed at dinner by child. A bit of fear in our hearts as people had insisted that our hotel was in a ‘scary’ part of the city. Athens, a big bad city. God knows what vices lurk in what corners. Here we are, with our brown skin, our passports, and a frisky child. But then, we ducked into a side street nevertheless and prowled around in the back trying to figure out yogurt in Greek. Finally tracked it down and counted our Euros to purchase it as healthy protein and calcium supplement to the child’s dinner (yogurt is ideal – it is always loved, and requires no chewing). The child, who could not care less whether we were in Timbuktoo or Goregaon, discovered lollypops and started asking for them. We went through our routine, “How do we ask, where is the key word,” & so on. Then relented and went to count out more Euros for the sweet. The big Greek guy at the counter says, “It is free, for the baby, take it,” with characteristic Mediterranean hand gestures. We were floored. Life is the same. Cute little children are loved. Indulged a bit. Especially when they don’t behave in an abominable manner.

“Kya mein bacchi ko thoda pyaar kar sakta hoon?” asked this scruffy desi guy we ran into at a bus-stop. We were like, aaah dude what does that mean exactly. But then he was just a guy on the fence re: the law, and missing home and family and what not. He pinched her cheeks and loped off at the sight of (I think) cops in the distance, and we continued our musing wait for bus no. 815 till we finally gave up. The metro worked much better for us, and we were all over the Athens metro pretty soon.

Of course in the Pelopponese region of Greece where we hung out for a bit, we had friends, so that was different. It just felt good to see them after so long (I was in graduate school with them, my husband spent enough time with us to be friends separately with them from those days). We brought along the children (one each) as report cards. It felt in many ways the same as back when we used to agonise over our graduation dates. It felt a bit different too, with the children liking each other and playing a little, and what not. All awesomely nice. And they discovered for us vegetarian Greek food beyond Spinacopita. Eggplants, and tomatoes stuffed with rice, and chili peppers, and these really yummy Zucchini balls. Not to mention Tzatziki. Washed it all down with local Mythos beer and the Licorice strong Ouzo on ice. A gastronomical feast if anything. We met the owner of the little taverna by the beach we went to on day one. We charmed him and he charmed us in turn. We became quite the regulars there after that, and I think hugs were exchanged when we left.

In Bucharest, we were received by an eloquent Romanian student who drove us around the city to point out sights before dropping us off at the University guest house. His English was perfect while his despair over the changing face of Bucharest was touching. His complaint – trees are being cut down to make way for progress. And here we were, after Mumbai, exclaiming over the fact that there are so many forests and trees in that city!

In the remote areas of Romania we went to later in the week, our highlight was the incredible variety of birds we could see. Cruising around with a bunch of Chemists in a chugging motor boat of indiscernible speed, we saw Ibises, Pelicans, and god knows what else. In mostly black, white, and brown, and an occasional bright blue too! The delta of the formidable Danube river with the Black sea, an incredible morass of islands and channels of water big and small. One of the Polish chemists that was with us turned out to be quite a bird-guy with a book on birds of Europe and a list of what he expected to sight on our trips. To our collective relief, he declared at the end of two days that he had seen all the species he expected to. For sure, so had we then! Only, neither did we know the names nor could we pick out a spoonbill from a cormorant in a police line-up, but hey!

When I met a real surly girl at the reception desk during check out in the wee hours of the morning, I knew it was time to get back home. Could not resist giving her a small piece of my mind, mostly my chagrin at her assumption that I did not understand her arithmetic and/or English. Excuse me! The boat-guy that took us back was really happy in a shy smile when the child thanked him and blew him a kiss. Not a word of English, but when is language a barrier for anything.

After ten years of being married and a dozen of living independently, this place of five years here in Mumbai, despite the roads, the traffic, the annoyance at the repeated requests for loans, feels like home. And as in previous times, it feels good to be back on this wet muddy soil. The new bridge is in tatters, like someone tore at it with claws, prices seem to have risen further, people are still not separating wet from dry garbage, and I have a billion emails and the phone rings continuously, I suppose it is time to get back on the rails of routine life. Shove away the memories, download the pictures into an obscure folder on the computer, call the Aquaguard guy for servicing the water filter. It is fine, there is always curd rice for comfort. It is the first thing all three of us attacked, at midnight, when we reached home finally.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Take a bow!

A new discovery about myself was made over the weekend. I cannot hang out at home for long, have to go out and do something, anything. The past week was the launch of ‘Homemaker Kenny’ – I was back from vacation early, the maid & cook were unaware of this, and so all the work had to be done by me. I had a good system going, dug out the vacuum, changed the curtains, did several loads of laundry (washing machine, thankfully no washing by hand), threw away about 20 kgs of unidentifiable rubble from various parts of the house, cooked, did dishes, mopped, harpic-ed, the whole works. Made up a schedule where I still got to go to my office in the morning session with the child in tow, did some minimal set of meetings there, and returned to homemaking by lunch time. It was a good life.

Then it happened. Over the weekend, husband showed up and scolded me for overdoing such things. He also got furious at maid & cook (who were supposed to come on Saturday, in any case, but did not). It did not help that I had twisted my ankle on Friday in my exercise class. I had a doctor’s appointment at an odd time on Saturday. We decided to eat at KFC, as we were just next door buying gifts. Bad idea. Everything sucked there, there was a fly buzzing around, child refused to touch anything we got her, had to return home and mix up a bit curd rice, she was tired, cried, finally slept. Then I had to go to my appointment & there was traffic. I think with that Homemaker Kenny died a premature death.

And also the cook returned on Sunday morning, and I convinced another lady to do the maid’s work for fifty bucks. So I was left free to do what I normally do. Morning became evening, and after the hundredth pleeeease I took off to the park with the child. Husband made himself busy watching the making of Ocean’s Thirteen, his educational fix on the idiot box. We were in the park for five minutes, going high, high, higher on the swing when the winds started. It churned up the sand into our eyes, made the world dance. We did a quick, obsessive slide down the blue slide and ran into the lobby and sat down near the pillars to watch.

An amazing sight of course. It’s the beginning of the monsoons. I don’t hate it yet. It does not remind of wet smelly clothes or slush or worse traffic situations. We both sat there and watched in awe. The trees were dancing and swaying, looking remarkably green. There is that one tall palm tree near the new building that was going berserk. Birds were flying away fast and sheltering under awnings. We found a perfectly aligned set of leaves on a branch, it came flying over to us. The smell of fresh wet mud, the winds buffeting the rain from all directions, making an ‘X’ in front of us, and we both sitting there eating colourful goldfish crackers. It was, by Mumbai standards, not very heavy rain, and thankfully motherhood tensions and fun did not have to clash as the kid did not ask to go out and get wet in the rain, so we had fun, watching the show and breathing in fresh air.

Finally, we convinced husband to give up on George Clooney and took a drive out. Presumably to give the clothes to the laundry. We stuck that branch on the back windshield wiper of the car for effect. We had not been in the car five minutes when the kid found it.

Stretched out across the sky, this splendid display of colours. Raindrops, white sunlight, diffraction, words in my head. The two bows across the sky, one perfectly crisp, and the other a little diffuse, just spectacular. We chased it, talked about gold at the end of it, a shiny yellow metal, she said (this is from Winnie the Pooh, she does not yet connect it to jewelry). Went to the nearby stadium so we could get a clear uninterrupted view. Took a photo (bad camera on mobile though).

I enjoyed being at home, but now this Monday I am ready for the world, for work and for running around the place. Perhaps I will get to see more rainbows this way. Housework will always be there, I will get to it sometime, maybe next year.

Friday, 1 June 2007

A long overdue visit

Whats in a name, you say? Well, possibly, quite a bit. It identifies you. There is music in it. That sort of thing. It tells your caste and such things that I don’t care about too, but that’s incidental to me. Although when parents name a child it is occasionally a bit random, I suspect that child as it grows tends to live the life of the name in some ways. People will argue in favour of priests and other such ‘learned’ folk who can point you to certain names that will be beneficial, starting, say, with the letter Pa or Da or whatever. There is also the business of numerology lately. I don’t go in for such truck. Not for me. If it works for you, that’s okay, I will still be your friend, but this stuff is not for me.

Take my name for example, Kenny. When my parents named me Kenny, it was just so it rhymed with my elder sister’s, who was named, perhaps, Benny. I doubt that they pondered too long on it. I bet it was my mom’s idea. Dad would have said ‘hmm’ and that’s all. He did wakeup though when we were admitted to school. He gave us both our last names. As in, he bulldozed out people when they said our last names should be his first name, and, with his tendencies to romanticize the smallest thing, gave us the name of his village as our last names. Mind you, he was not even born in said village. But our family is nevertheless from this village, and he had spent his summer holidays there being an unruly boy. He had fond memories of cows, a tree, a creek, and his grandmother making sweets with tons of ghee in them. It was enough.

After she got married, my sister dutifully adopted her husbands family name as her own, in addition to the automatic conversion of gothram. Me, I have resisted it. Gothram has changed, apparently, but my official last name remains my maiden one. Aghalayam. That’s it. It occurs variously as Aghalaya and Aglaya as well, in some of my relatives names. None of my relatives spell it with the m at the end, like I do, as least to my knowledge. So there is a vague feeling that I am the last surviving person with that last name.

Anyway, this vacation, my primary thing was that this place ought to be visited. Cant be that big a deal to just go there. I mean we are okay, don’t need to drive a truck with full laundry and toilet facilities, necessarily (like SRK in Swades). Just rent a car and go over. Literally two hours out of Mysore. My sister was going to be in Mysore, with the kids. So it was a good occasion for all of us to go. I had been prepping mom and sis for this for nearly a month. They were cool about it, they have gone there once before, and are generally both of them grounded in reality. The living in fictional spaces and getting unnecessarily romantic has been inherited entirely in me from my father. As an unexpected bonus, my husband was there too. He has also been quite enthusiastic about going to this village. So it was good.

Woke up early in the morning and made sandwiches. Had tried unsuccessfully to contact the one relative we thought was still in Aghalayam, the previous night. Then decided to just drive there, walk around and smell the air so to say, eat the sandwiches, and return back. Not being sure of the kids behaviour, we had packed water, juice, biscuits and what not. We all managed to get bathed and ready in time, and when the car (ambassador) showed up, we excitedly got it. Mom refused to go, giving many reasons, principally lack of space.

First stop was Srirangapatna. This is a cute little town nestled near Mysore. It was where Tipu Sultan reigned from, or more famously, where he fought the British. The fort is visible in parts. It is also a Hindu holy place, thanks to the river Cauvery which flows through here, and Sangam, where three branches of the river meet. Oh yeah, most importantly I suppose from Hindu holy place view point, it is claimed that a statue of Lord Ranganatha spontaneously appeared in this place. We paid our respects. Huge imposing statue. He is one of my favourite gods, chilled out, you see. It was lucky that I saw a Garuda and an Adisesha idol together in this temple. My two grandfathers being named after these two gods, I have this association always.

Then we were truly on our way. Except that we did not have proper directions. For the longest time we wondered if the expedition was foolhardy as we did not see any sign boards with Aghalayam or its variants on it. The farmer type dudes on the road did confidently point us ahead, but we were reluctant to trust them. Finally, I found a signpost! Yippee! Aghalaya, land of no sin, 10 km it said. (well it did not say that sin thing, I added it for your, my readers, benefit). We zipped down now, the driver at once enthusiastic. Till then he was acting all funny, what is this expedition into villages, I am a white shirted city person, vibes were emitting from him.

When we reached, we parked, grabbed our bag (in case we found a shady glade to eat our sandwiches in, kids looked hungry), and started walking around. Biggish village. A large Siva temple, a State Bank of Mysore, small shops with the usual stuff. People kept coming and asking us what we wanted, I at least was unable to tell them. What would I say, I want to get a piece of my ancestry into my head? I want to feel like my dad did when he climbed that tree and fell out when he was ten years old? Sister, being the practical one, tried to say that we were looking for a temple. We were promptly pointed to the Siva temple. ‘Oh no, not that one, we said’ Vishnu temple we said. Varaaha we said. An ajji (grandmom) with virtually no teeth came up and tried to problem solve this. We were sort of happy just walking around, but clearly we were treading in their space. Finally, a younger woman cracked it, what we were embarrassed to say. She told her child to show us the street where all the Brahmin houses are, with the small temple at the end. Child, carrying a smaller one, traipsed away with me hot on her tail. Sister and I gave each other looks, Its OK, we could have said it.

Finally, the street. Four to six houses in them. In the traditional, agrahaaram style with the connected verandahs. I looked ahead to the temple tower that gleamed all colourful. I saw him in his dhoti and white beard, reading. I recognized him as the expected relative. He used to visit us often, and talk a lot. I remembered his face. I walked up and tried to tell him who I was, addressing him as uncle, as I always had. His face registered some measure of recognition, he showed us the little statue of Varaaha in his house. This is your god, our god, our house deity, he said. Then he took us to the temple. Eight hundred years old, recently tiled and fixed up a bit thanks to a relative’s generosity. He still did not know us, till sis caught him squarely and told him who we were, starting with our grandfathers home name. Then he was most apologetic, oh ho, Kenny Benny, what a pleasure, what a pleasure. I saw you both as kids last time (not true, I met him five years ago, and he was there at our wedding ten years ago, but what the heck, he is nearly seventy years old). He elaborately told us all about how close he was to our parents, how he always called our mom attige (that’s brothers wife), and how is she, we must give her phone number to him, etc. etc. He rushed about making tea for us, and scolding us for not staying for lunch, and telling us his stories interspersed with trivia about our family.

We saw grandfather’s house (now sold to someone else, the door opening not into the agrahaaram anymore), the well that is common to all the (Brahmin) houses, he gave us coconuts to take back to mom, and we walked around the house through the backyard, used the bathroom, with him fussing about us all the time, and feeling genuinely happy to see us. When he walked us back to the car we met lot of roosters, the kids were amazed to see and hear them live. I did not see the creek, the farm lands that were owned by our family, or the tree dad fell out of. But my heart is full. I can see them in my mind’s eye now. Raju Uncle has taken all our names and stars to put in the family tree, and has promised to pray for us. That little god is perhaps someone I can believe in. My sweat has mingled with that of generations of Aghalayams now. We made a lonely old man sitting barefooted (he refuses to wear chappals now) in his house happy for one morning. It is enough. I know where I am from now.