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Monday, 29 December 2014

Sing Baby Sing!

Whatever our differences, nothing unites India like Songs do. Whatever the region, language or religion, music plays an important; nay integral part in our lives. Right through one’s life, from birth and the three stages of it and finally death, Indians have a song for every stage of it. And more than one song for every occasion of one’s life.  From a “Happy budday ttoo you Sunita” on the day you are born to “O Jaanewaale ho sake to laut ke aana” enroute to your last rites! Be it a festival, be it a season, be it various times of a day, be it hard labour or labour of love, be it success or be it failure. In short any sphere of human activity and we are just one song away from it.

Indian Music encompasses virtually everything from the deepest oceans to the tallest mountains.  Whatever the genre, we are spoilt for choice.  From Carnatic to Hindusthani to even an Ilayaraja symphony. From Ghazals to Thumris to Khayals to Geet to Nazm to Qawwalis to what have yous! An honest confession here. I can hardly spell Carnatic or Hindusthani. As regards the others mentioned above and million others not mentioned I can make them out from one another with great difficulty or as in most cases not at all. Yet! And yet as I said earlier I am one song away from anything and everything, thanks to Indian Cinema!

Suffices if I say that Indian Cinema is not Indian Cinema without its songs! In its earliest avatar, Indian Cinema was essentially a series of songs strung together with a few dialogues which lead to more songs. No wonder Indian Cinemas’ earliest stars were people who were singer-actors. Once playback singing came about, the actors who made it large were the ones who could lip sync to perfection! I don’t think Rajendra Kumar would have made it big but for his ability to emote so successfully in Mohd. Rafi’s voice to quote just one instance. On second thoughts, Rajendra Kumar’s son Kumar Gauravs’ claim to fame was his ability to do his father in Amit Kumar’s voice!  Such are the impact and importance of songs in our films that a taut espionage thriller ‘Andha Naal’ starring the then superstar of Tamil Cinema Sivaji Ganesan, flopped at the box office because it featured no song and the audience felt cheated!

Where are the songs?

Given the fact that I am a self proclaimed music critic, I am now going to propound my views on this act and art. And since I have already hooked you beyond the cursory two paragraphs, you have no choice but to hear me out! Also given the fact that I am not too well versed with the grammar of music, its various traditions, its nuances, its finesse etc., I stay away from the routine classification of singers viz, Carnatic or Hindusthani or Pop or light music and I thus draw my own classification of singers. The first category of singers as far as I am concerned are people who spend years in mastering the universe of music, its every note, its every bar to ultimately receive the grace of Goddess Saraswati herself. The next category are people who are not trained in music but achieve stardom through sheer natural talent and genius. The third category are people whose only qualification as singers is that they claim to be one! But my most favourite category are what I call ‘Bathroom Singers’! People who have talent but no avenue or wherewithal to translate it into success due to either their inability to struggle, for want of a lucky break or simply the middle class mentality. And hence they end up plying their trade within the confines of their bathrooms or office parties/picnics or Kalyana Nelangu levels as a hobby. Without taking away anything from them, maybe they were born a few generations too early from the days of Super Singers, Indian Idols and Sa Re Ga Ma!

One genre of music which has always held in utter dread is what we Indian generically refer to as Western Music. I have never been worried if I can’t distinguish between Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, Rap or what have yous. What has often worried me is my inability to distinguish whether it is a man or a women singing. On second thoughts it could well be a machine doing it! 

And to round off this discussion, I am not only a self proclaimed music critic I hereby declare that I am a singer too! So check this out!

PS: Did you know that once Mohd Rafi sang playback for Kishore Kumar?  In the film Ragini!

Kalyana Nelangu: An family event in Tamil Weddings.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dancing Peacocks and Danish Bar!

15.11.2014, 5.30 AM:

Ola Cabs messages saying the cab I booked has arrived before schedule and I can leave early should I wish. They also compliment me with an upgrade to a sedan. Good Morning indeed!

15.11.2014, 6 AM:

A spic and span Coimbatore Junction anbudan welcomes me! Even the tracks are bereft of you know what we find on railway tracks in most Indian station early in the morning! This I am told is not an exception or a photo-op for Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.  Sorry to disappoint you Modiji, this is the hygiene workers earning their honest bread. Bravo Coimbatore!

Swachch Coimbatore Abhiyaan!

15.11.2014, 7 AM:

Unlike the Coimbatore Junction, the Coimbatore-Mayiladhuthurai Jan Shatabdi express presents a poor picture. Run down coaches, wet washrooms and the stink. The coach I travel in doesn’t have a garbage bin to boot, the place allotted instead to stock the stale and tepid breakfast parcels. Note: Please carry breakfast from home or buy a parcel from Annapurna before boarding the train. And skip the watery liquid masquerading as coffee!

15.11.2014, 1 PM:
The train is late. A growling stomach forces you to detrain at Kumbakonam instead. A full fledged saappadu later, SETC ride to Mayiladuthurai is undertaken. A 50 odd KMs ride for just Rs.21.00. Well done! The bus could have however seen a doctor before plying I felt. The other highlight is a single lane state highway. Single lane yes but as with most roads in Tamil Nadu well maintained. A sort of Single lane- toll free- expressway!

(For those who came in late: The entire stretch of coastal Tamilnadu from Chennai through Pondycherry- Cuddalore- Chidambaram- Mayiladuthurai- Kumbakonam- Thanjavur to Trichirapalli is a veritable treasure trove of ancient temples and architectural wonders. A detour from the highway every few kilometers on either side takes you to further more equally ancient and equally wonderful temples. The standing quip is that it takes two lifetimes to visit all the places of religious importance in this region. And while at it how can one be far away from the very Idea of India. Among the various pilgrimage routes is the one from Mayiladuthurai to Thirukadaiyur, a holy town for Hindus, to Nagore, the city of the famous Dargah built over the tomb of the Sufi Saint Hazrath Nagore Shahul Hamid. Also the birthplace of Singer Hanifa who sang Islamic devotional songs in Tamil, and right down to Velankanni, the city of the holy Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady Of Good Health.  Yes! This is India! Despite the efforts of fundamentalist of various hues, we are like this only!)


16.11.2014, 9 AM:

One of the most expensive taxi rides takes me to Tranquebar! Not a bar literally but a Danish name for the lyrical Tamil name Tharangampadi! The site of the Danish landing and trading centre in India in early 17th century post an agreement between the Danes and the Maratha King Raghunatha Nayak, of Thanjavur. The highlight of Tranquebar is the majestic Danish Fort built right on the beach adjacent to the Masilamaninathar Temple. A part of the fort is now converted into an Indo-Danish Museum. I will stop the narrative and let the pictures speak instead.  

Danish Fort, Tharagampadi Aka Tranquebar!

16.11.2014, 1 PM:

Among the heart breaking sights is the so called renovation/restoration being done by the Archeological survey of Tamil Nadu and the Archeological Survey of India to the Masilamaninathar shore temple. I don’t know whom to credit this disaster but once again let the picture speak for themselves!

Yeppadi Irundha Naan..............

Ippadi ayittaen!!!!

16.11.2014, 8PM:

Why do all European town be it French, Portugese or Danish exude the same look? This could well be a street in Panjim, Pondicherry or Tranquebar!

Panjim, Pondicherry or..............!

16.11.2014, 10 PM:
Onwards Ho to Coimbatore with Rathi and Meena for company!

Rathi and Meena!


PS: Mayiladuthurai literally means Land of dancing peacocks! How is that for poetry in a name! Thanks @ndranandraj!


Anbudan: With love
Swachch Bharat Abhiyan : Clean India Campaign
Sappadu: Tamil Nadu Full Meals.
Yeppadi Irundha naan, ippadi ayittaen : How I was and what I have become!

Monday, 15 December 2014


The recent churn of events in the retail sector of India has turned conventional logic topsy turvy. No, I don't refer to the on now, off now, piecemeal legislation on FDI in retail sector. I don't mean the oft repeated discussion about giant retailers swallowing the Mom & Pop stores. What has caused the churn is the latest disruptor in town the online retailers. Old hat in most developed countries, online retailing is making a splash in India and how. 

Post the plethora of deep discount offers dished out by the fledgling online retails armed with VC funded deep pockets, the first reactions I heard from the bricks-n-mortar store owners was that the new demon attacking the markets from cyberspace was indulging in unfair trade practice! Reminds me of "Frog eat insects, Snake eat Frog" story from Indian folklore! Flashback to a few years and you will see how the "Big retail" defended their right to "deep discount" on the back of volumes and VC funded deep pockets!
Cybermarket War!

However selfish the arguments of the Offline businesses may sound fact remains that Online retail given its wider reach, low overheads (in the long run), 24*7 timings and sheer convenience it offers is a adversary worthy of a digging in and fighting. Rather than bring in pressure through political lobbying and crying foul   about imaginary malpractices, the offline stores must look at ways n means to compete against a business model which offers value to a consumer. 

First things first. It would possibly be foolhardy for Offline stores to compete with e-tailers on convenience plank. They can probably on discounts but beyond a point below the belt pricing is a zero sum game or a me-too! So trying to ape online benefits in an offline environment can only take you thus far and no further.

Me-Too Discounts!

Learn from Lalaji/Sethji/Nadaranne!

A smart retailer today must offer what is possibly the most critical differentiator and in turn the crucial shortcoming of the online retailers, shopping experience. Shopping in India is more than just bargain hunting; it is the sheer pleasure of hunting for the bargain which gives us the high! Shopping is a family outing, a time pass, a relaxation, a hobby. Offline Retailers must today present a store which must enhance the 'Experience' element while shopping. Nice and friendly decors, easy to access displays, convenient zoning, sufficient parking etc are a given. The key to success is to offer all these concrete elements with the personal touch of
a Lalaji/Sethji. Make the consumer feel important, wanted and welcome. Be patient with multiple 'trials', suggest the products best suited, hang around to help   without being overbearing, be polite yet friendly. Post sales ensure to deliver the best in the industry after sales service. In short do what the friendly neighborhood 'Nadar Maligai' has perfected over centuries, make the customer feel like the King that he/she is! Remember every customer is a human being first. Treat them like the way you would like to be treated and you have a business good enough to beat any competition, offline and online.



PS: If the Lalajis/Sethjis could withstand the competition from Ambanis/Biyanis, they can well withstand the Flipkarts/Amazons etc. Like cockroaches, mosquitoes, Rats and Mallus, they are invincible!


Lalaji/Sethji/Nadar Maligai: Popular euphemism for ‘Local’ Businesses/Retailers. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Malang Man!

Gully cricket! Those who have played it know it has uniqueness written all over it. The rules of the game are as varied as the gully themselves. And the only common one among those varied rules is the absence of a Cricket copybook. Not for us the coaching manuals. You struck the rising ball pitched outside off to Rina aunty's balcony somewhere in the deep thirdman's direction to score the 'declared two'. You moved inside the line to scoop the full pitched ball straight above the mid on's head simultaneously imparting heavy top spin on it so that it misses Ghosh uncle's protruding television antenna and still hits the C Block water tank for an 'aththa'! You also cheekily but skillfully pushed the ball square to ensure it went below Raman uncle's Ambassador parked there since eternity so you can score a ' all run 3'. Imagine an 'all run 3'! In gully cricket! Now tell me when have you seen me do this? You haven't? Means you have not prodded your mind enough! I have seen me do it. I have seen you do it too! And I saw it everytime Virendra Sehwag padded up and took strike. That audacious 'upar cut', that walking away from the ball to nonchalantly scoop/hoik it above the mid on's head and yet place it beyond the unorthodox long on's reach or the cheeky push away from the slip to a ball which has beaten you on its flight. NOW you get the connection! 

Ganguly retired, a part of my childhood memories vanished. Dravid took away a portion when he hung up the boots. VVS did the same. And Sachin..............sigh! They all helped me get nostalgic. They kindled fond memories about my past. They made me miss some of the most beautiful moments of my life. But I lived on. But Sehwag? Sehwag killed my childhood! He was me! He was you! He was us! With all our shortcomings and infirmities. The lack of footwork and straight bats. He was that imp who stole an 'all run 3' in gully cricket. He was that supreme exponent with the bat who conquered the world with all our limitations, blemishes, drawbacks and weaknesses. I am Viru! The gully cricketer who could dream and then win the world. 

Topspin to take it past Ghosh Uncle's TV antenna! 
Cheeky push to send it below Raman Uncle's car!!
Malang! Mast Malang!!

Malang. Malang! No it is not an ode to Aamir Khan and Dhoom 3. Malang is a word used to describe the ascetics and sufis who live in a world of their own oblivious of everything that goes around them. In a communion with whoever they are in love with and despite the distractions of the world. Beyond love or hate, beyond the plethora of material needs at their disposal or none of it. In a daze, in a zone of their own. Nothing affected them, nothing could upset their veneer. A seering bouncer fended off awkwardly is wiped off from memory. An ugly swipe at the swinging delivery leaving you looking foolish. An unorthodox reverse sweep attempted off an express paceman. Nothing affected him, nothing could upset his veneer. All that mattered was that the next ball was on its way and presented an opportunity to belt it to the boundary or beyond it. Equanimity never lost and never needed to be restored. Peace reigned in his mind as the bowler lost it. MalangMan!

I have this nagging feeling that whenever the history of modern Indian Cricket especially its willow wielders is written the writer may run out of space, pen and ink by the time one is done with the Fab Four and leave a gaping hole in the narrative which will never be noticed by the generation to follow us. Mundane statistics will be quoted and what will be missed is the essence. You will talk about Dada's aggression with bat as well as a captain. Paeans will be written about Dravid's struggle. The languid slayer that the Very Very Special player was. And Sachin.................sigh! They gave joy, they offered delight, happiness from the platform built by a certain Nawab of Najafgarh! Remember the roller coaster, the giant wheel, the horror movie? They didn't give joy or delight or happiness. They gave you pure, unadulterated thrill! Thrill that the Sultan of Multan packed into every minute of his stay at the crease. Whether he scored 2, 22 or those monster  hundreds! THRILL! 

Rewrite the Books! It is Fabulous Fivesome!!


PS: I first heard Imran Khan of Pakistan call him 'Malang'. One of the few occasions post retirement from active cricket when Khan got something right!


Aththa : Delhi slang for the one which goes beyond the rudimentary 'Sixer', an 'Eighter'!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Miracle Makers!

Indians are a gullible people I am often told. So gullible that they may actually be convinced into believing that the earth is flat. Or else explain to me the emergence of Godmen/Godwomen, self styled or otherwise like a veritable assembly line. Poor Indians, rich Indians, illiterate Indians, educated Indians, rural Indians, urban Indians, resident and non resident Indians. All Indians! Caste, religion, sex, geography, language no bar.

The myths, legends and stories of this land are laced with a unique amalgamation of mysticism, romance and fantasy. From flying chariots to flying carpets, Indian mythology encompasses the entire spectrum. The ability of Rishis, Babas, Saints and Sufis to deliver you from any and all suffering, real and imagined has a pride of place in holy books as well as popular folklore of this land. Given this foundation it is no surprise that our minds are programmed to accept the modern day Babas who while living a life of opulence and luxury pretend to possess a hotline to God! And some require a private army trained in modern warfare to help them send you on a path of salvation without a return ticket!

Given the above it would come as no surprise to anyone that I too am afflicted with an urge to believe and follow! Who after all doesn’t want to experience miracles!  In fact my list of The Miracle Makers is long, very long.

"Annadana Prabhuve!"

Two hundred years of slavery had reduced the land of prosperity and plenty to one of poverty and penury. As India attained her freedom the overwhelming narrative was one of it being seen in the capitals of leading countries with a begging bowl, the permanently hungry pariahs wailing ‘bhavati bhiksham dehi!’ And amidst this prophecies of gloom and doom arose a Baba, a Saint who conducted what is thus far the greatest ‘Annadaanam’ Scheme this country has witnessed and continues to do so. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan weaved his magic wand and along with his army of fellow scientists and farmers changed the destiny and with it the landscape of India. From famines to self sufficiency of food. Green Revolution! The Miracle and the Miracle Maker!
'Doodhwala' Of India!

With the abolition of Zamindari and land reforms, the farmers of India breathed a tad easier. But for a country which lived in her villages and populated by mostly illiterate people with limited resources, Independence did not result in any significant change in their lives or livelihood. Political freedom is a misnomer without economic equality. The village economy still centralized the entire economic and political power into select hands comprising of middlemen and mahajans . While the Shylock took more than his pound of flesh, the middle man usurped the rest. The unorganized small farmer and worker might have felt like still living under the shadow of alien rule. Till one man decided to dirty his hands. To organize the poor Indian villager, bring them together and convert them into a single entity so powerful that it transformed the lives of millions. And in the bargain created what the self proclaimed followers of Marx couldn’t but an unassuming man did, Utopia! Also known as The Milk Cooperatives! You and I identify it more easily as the ‘Taste of India.....AMUL!’ Operation Flood which turned India into the world’s largest producer of milk, the White Revolution, the Miracle! Verghese Kurien. The Miracle Maker!

Bhabha and not just any Baba! 

Independence came to Indians the hard way. 1962 taught her that a thin line divided the hard won Independence and slavery all over again. India was again seen at the capitals of the super powers and its allies, once again chanting ‘bhavati bhiksam dehi!’ Only this time it was for the toys which will protect India’s freedom by protecting its borders. These were the times when India’s foreign exchange reserves were not measured in $ Millions and Billions but by weeks, days and hours. For an impoverished nation the choice was of whether to allocate the scarce resources to either feed her people or to protect them from invasion yet again. In the end India did both. While the men mentioned in the above paragraphs helped give directions for the former, yet another laid the path which lead to India developing technology which not only helped her indigenously build deterrence strong enough to ward off her enemies but also help her address her energy needs. The trail blazed by him sowed the seeds which later revolutionized science and scientists in this country. Homi Jahangir Bhabha, the Father of India’s Nuclear Programme, The Miracle Maker!

Indians are a gullible people I am often told. I too am afflicted with an urge to believe and follow! Who after all doesn’t want to experience miracles!  Go ahead, you too. Believe. Choose you Miracle Makers wisely. And follow!

PS: With sincere apologies to Ramlals and Nityanandas of this world for whom all I have is 'Babaji ka........!' 

Rishi, Baba, Sufi: Ascetics, Saints etc.
Bhavati Bhiksham Dehi : Sanskrit. A beggers’ cry for alms.
Annadanam: Gifting food.

Zamindar/Zamindari: Landlord/Landlordism prevalent in pre Independence India 
Prabhu: Lord.
Mahajans: Shylocks

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I, Salesman.

People who have kept pace with my random musings posted here would have noticed my views on the tribe mentioned in the header. In case you didn’t here are the ready refreshers!. Before you groan “Oh no not again!” let me confess this is a new beast I am talking about. A ‘retail’ Salesman! Salesman all right but a new animal in town!

While I could identify, understand, empathize, and even joke about the two species discussed in the previous note, the latest avatar only brings my deepest sense of sympathy and often agony in my heart. For those who came in late, the ‘Retail Salesman’ is nothing but the customer sales assistants, floor managers and the other staff in a retail store. The ones who man and manage what is called the ‘organized’ retail stores which is relatively a new bitch in town. I am sure you can place this variety now. And if you detect a bias in my words while speaking about them, you are right! As I am one among this crowd for the past few years!

Organized Retail - The new bitch in town! 

Retail salesman in this new environment has 24X7X365 as the primary pattern written into his/her DNA. Suffices to say that this is a breed which is always on work. When the whole world is holidaying, celebrating, taking it easy, these folks are up early to ready up the store so that you can holiday, celebrate, take it easy and spend in style at your neighbourhood store, Shopping arcade or a Mall.

If you think these are lucky dudes who spend their waking hours in swanky showrooms, world class malls, air conditioned stores etc. just remember, they are not permitted to sit while on duty! (Except for a tightly rationed and closely monitored tea/lunch breaks) Try it for a day and I am sure you would bless your stars you don't belong to this section of humanity!

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Salesman!

There is an old quip about this set of humans. “If you don’t like family life, have no social circles worth mentioning, hobbies are nothing but a word in the English dictionary, are an insomniac and generally don’t prefer doing anything except work, Welcome to the world of retail!”

If you think all this is a fair bargain if it leads to loads of money in the bank then you have another thing coming. You will see some money only if you achieve your targets and above, ensure the products under you care are not shop soiled or are not pilfered and you have above average attendance! Essentially it means you need to be a Teflon coating for the products, be a surveillance camera of the store apart from being a consummate politician who can sell anything by glibly lying about any product by promising something which you know you cannot live up to! Engineers who crib about their life may kindly spare us your bilge!

The other well known and oft repeated quip about this group is “Whenever I look at my targets, it is month end already and when I think of the payday, it seems a million years away!” Faint hearted among you may kindly stay away from this mode for earning your daily bread. And if you think this is a story restricted only to the ‘lowly’ Customer Sales Associates, the ‘Floor Manager’ is afflicted with the same disease, the magnitude being much higher. Even the security guard at a store who is forced to double up as a ‘walk-ins’ counting machine!

Spare this variety a sympathetic glance when you visit the friendly neighbourhood mall the next time. Now that you know their story, hope you will understand the pain that goes behind giving you ‘Service with a smile!’

The pain of 'Service with a smile'!


PS: I often say, the Police, Fire Service, Hospitals and Salespersons have a common thread running among us. All of us, it would seem are covered under the Essential Services and Maintenance Act (ESMA)! Always on duty!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Show Me The Money!

Recently while chatting with a few friends on the micro blogging site Twitter I got into what I thought was an innocuous chat-fight. And I am hoping it is indeed innocuous and the dudes in question have not unfollowed me yet! The point under consideration was, what else but Cricket. More specifically the deeds of two Indian Cricketing legends, Sachin Tendulkar and Ravi Shastri.

The former, dubbed ‘God of Indian Cricket’ and the same being not far away from the truth, was in the eye of the storm as he took potshots at the long sacked  former Indian Coach Greg Chappell in his autobiography Playing It My Way. The issue was not that Sachin Tendulkar waited a decade and pulled this episode out to plug his book, which he is well within his rights to. The issue was also not whether Sachin Tendulkar broached this episode up with the powers that be at BCCI as and when this happened or not. The fact that Greg Chappell was sacked a few months after the World Cup 2007 fiasco might just well mean that Sachin indeed had. The point was the fans of the God. And their defending Sachin Tendulkar on his mentioning the episode in his book as if it were a divine gospel alone and not an attempt at clever marketing to boost its sales! The highlight of the entire event was that most of the people who were defending Sachin Tendulkar’s act of bringing out the goriest of episodes in the history of Indian cricket in his book a decade or so after the event occurred were the ones who had laughed out the loudest at Vinod Kambli and his allegation of match fixing decades after the said match was over!

Everyone has a book to sell!

The other issue under the radar was on the way Ravi Shastri was apple polishing the BCCI, his employers. Why many asked should a once successful cricketer and currently a very successful cricket commentator be sucking up to the powers that be at the BCCI and not call spade a spade? If I remember correctly, ‘shamelessly’ was the word used to describe Shastri’s efforts. This brought out an honest-to-goodness question in my mind, WHY SHOULD HE NOT DO WHAT HE IS DOING? I mean, how many among us have the guts to stand up and question our bosses or the company fiat? How many of us would risk our very livelihood, career, progress at the altar just to prove a point that the Boss is not right? Negligible if not none! Why shouldn’t Shastri who is already financially well off they asked? Who says only money is the motivation I ask. The allure of being among the powers that be in the administration of a high profile sport and who knows maybe a chance to head the body in the future is a strong enough motivation. Why would Shastri put himself out as a sitting duck to public ridicule they ask? Why not I say! What is some impotent outrage and ridicule after all? Zilch when compared to all the money in the bank. However much you may yell, you will ultimately be out shouted by the jingle of coins and the flapping of hot currency. Remember nothing speaks louder than money!

Has the money been credited yet?

My final words brought the house down and every  ridicule that is mentioned in the above lines and many more not mentioned and unmentionable was directed at me when I said that I too will kiss the BCCI president’s ‘dicky’ should I be paid a few crores of Rupees every year. While it might be hard for you to imagine doing so mates, all I say is SHOW ME THE MONEY!!

PS: Thanks Jerry Maguire for the title!


Dicky – Euphemism for back, arse etc!

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Match Making!

He was good looking! In fact I lie, he was very good looking! His eyes bright and alive, jaws chiseled and nose sharp. Pitch black and wavy hair, suitably long gave him the perfect “born to model” face. Add to it the fact that he was well built with the muscles threatening to rip apart the linen he was wearing. And despite the fact he was sitting I was quite sure he would measure up enough to match the inevitable ‘Tall, dark and handsome’ cliché! And to top it all was the smile as he played with my niece! Enough to shame Adonis and make him burn in the fires of jealousy!  Happy smile, cheerful smile, warm smile, smile which made his eyes glow. A smile which, without the attendant warmth would have reduced this charming person to a mere Casanova!

More than a handsome hunk! 
 As we exchanged our first glance, Cupid struck me, struck me hard. And my womanly intuition told me correctly that Cupid had struck him too, equally hard! Electric when our hands brushed against each other as I extended the filter kaapi and he subtly tried to grab at more than just the tumbler! We were allowed a brief exchange of words in the adjacent room amidst the din that arose from the drawing room where the parents were busy discussing what parents generally do during match making ceremonies! And I came to know that he was more just a piece of handsome hunk. An engineer and a successful one at that, employed with a leading MNC in Bangalore with ‘kai niraya sambalam’ to boot. But what took my breath away were his words after the mundane introduction. A declaration of Cupid having found his mark, quite accurately, delivered matter of factly.  Words failed me, my eyes rescued me. And with that he walked out of the room having read my eyes!

The next 48 hours were like a million years as I awaited the inevitable phone call inviting us over to his house as is the practice.  I pretended to go through the daily chores while always within hearing distance of the phone. And finally it did ping!  A message, from him! His family had found another girl for him with a larger dowry and he didn’t want to break their hearts it said!   


She was good looking! In fact I lie, she was very good looking! Her eyes bright and alive, jaws chiseled and nose sharp. Pitch black and wavy hair, suitably long gave her the perfect “born to model” face. Add to it the fact that she was built well, with just the right combination of bones and flesh, slim yet blessed with the right curves at the right places. And despite the fact she was draped in a pattu podavai, I was quite sure she would measure up enough to match the inevitable ‘Tall, dusky and lissome’ cliché! And to top it all was that smile as she played with her niece! Enough to shame Eve and make her burn in the fires of jealousy!  Happy smile, cheerful smile, warm smile, smile which made her eyes glow. A smile which, without the attendant warmth would have reduced this charming person to a mere Nymph!

Not just a Nymph! 
As we exchanged our first glance, Cupid struck me, struck me hard. And my manly gutfeel told me correctly that Cupid had struck her too, equally hard! Electric when our hands brushed against each other as she extended the filter kaapi and I subtly tried to grab at more than just the tumbler! We were allowed a brief exchange of words in the adjacent room amidst the din that arose from the drawing room where the parents were busy discussing what parents generally do during match making ceremonies! And I came to know that she was more than just a piece of beauty. An engineer and a successful one at that, employed with a leading MNC in Bangalore with ‘kai niraya sambalam’ to boot. But what took her breath away were my words after the mundane introduction. My declaration that I had taken a vow never to take dowry at my wedding!  Words failed her, her eyes confused me. And with that I walked out of the room, sanguine I had read her eyes right!

The next 48 hours were like a million years as I awaited the inevitable phone call accepting our invitation to visit our house as is the practice.  I pretended to go through the daily chores while always within hearing distance of the phone. And finally it did ping!  A message, from her! She didn’t want to get married to a loser who refused dowry it said!   


PS: Please comment which of the two stories you found reflecting the reality more!

Filter Kaapi: South Indian Coffee

Kai niraya sambalam : Handsome Salary
Pattu Podavai : Silk Saree

Saturday, 9 August 2014

I Quit!

Though I have not recorded the exact date but I think it would be around this time of the year I should have been celebrating my twenty fifth anniversary. Whoa! HOLD! Stop those congratulatory messages that you are drafting in your minds even as you read this. Because it is not my marriage anniversary that is under discussion here as you wrongly assume but the silver jubilee year of my smoking! Looking back I marvel at the perseverance with which I cultivated a habit out of something which started off so innocuously with my attempt to ape a far more successful  Anand, Dev in this case, nonchalantly singing ‘har fikr ko dhuaen main udatha chala gaya’ in an effort to impress the girls in college. Somewhere between blowing rings of smoke a La Pran in many a movie and as recorded elsewhere in these pages, a mega  failure in my efforts to  copy the ‘flip-to-the-lip’ of Superstar Rajnikanth, I was hooked! The girls meanwhile fell head over heels for Anand, Dev again much to my disappointment, despite my experiments with ‘kingsize’ and quietly walked out of my life.


All my life since that momentous day, I decided that I will do my utmost to our Nations’s progress. And by jove haven’t I! From sales tax to excise duty to import duty to whatever cess, whichever surcharge, I have contributed to every one of these revenue streams, quite handsomely too, to make my country and its
economy stronger. To the extent that I and the others of my ilk are called the finance ministers’ best friends! I at times feel so proud that I might claim a halo of martyrdom as and when I kick the bucket due to cancer or otherwise. So huge I believe is mine and my fellow smokers’ contribution to the country’s exchequer!


The devout will tell you that the toughest part after deciding to undertake the Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai is not the actual trek up a torturous mountain but the penance of 41 days preceding the yatra! Like any other penance this too is designed to prepare the devotee and enhances their endurance and ability to withstand the arduous trek from Pampa River to the Sannidhanam. And like all penances, abstinence is one of its key elements. Abstinence from sexual relationships, abstinence from liquor, abstinence from Rajasik palette and most importantly for me abstinence from smoking!


As I moved along, the need to impress girls was soon replaced with a need to influence customers. That Purchase Manager who will sign the orders, the Chief Accountant who will sign the cheques, that Babu in the commercial taxes office  who will assess your books or the TTE who could allot an out of turn berth in a train. While the heads to impress and influence changed, so did the brand. The down market ‘filterless’ poison stick was upgraded to filter, double filter to kingsize filters. And much later ‘lights’, ‘milds’ and ‘ultra milds’ as I became ‘health conscious’!


For a veritable chain smoker, the sudden dip in nicotine content in my blood stream was like being hit by a sledgehammer to say the least. Every smoker on the road, every paan shop assumed demonic proportions out to wean me away from the chosen path of abstinence. On many an occasion the feet would develop a life of their own and walk you to every potti kadai on the route. On many an occasion the hand would automatically reach out to borrow a stick from a smoker colleague. And on most days the mornings were spent in the washroom awaiting the pressure to build up without the assistance of nicotine! What helped me see through this torture was the fear of God and the love of devil! Fear of God punishing you for breaking his codes while observing penance and the overwhelming love to see devil busted in his attempt to lure me away from the path of probity!

If it was not the need to impress or influence, then it was the need to keep boredom away. Those lonely nights, spent alone, away from home, on work are a killer. “No! Not sticks! Gimme the whole packet!” Or it was the pressure of targets, targets and more targets, month in month out, day in day out! “Where is the goddamn lighter?” The high of a promotion or a deal cracked, low of an order lost or unimpressive increments. Whatever the scenario, the Cigarette was smoking me!

While staying away from smoking was tough during the penance, the period post the penance is what the womenfolk will call labour pain! With the love or fear or both of God removed from the equation and with the Devil glowing in his full splendor, the risk of relapsing and lighting up was quite severe and well within the realms of possibility. Without the above mentioned anchor, I tried giving myself excuses not to resume smoking. I conjured up the gruesome images of cancer patients, the devil threw dashing ‘Marlboro’ man at me. I imagined my family and children beseeching me to prevent the relapse into smoking, the Devil waving the ‘Target vs Achievement’ spreadsheet at me. I visualized my friends laughing derisively at my going back to the obnoxious habit to strengthen my determination; the Devil flashed my impending loooooong travel schedule at me. At the time of going to the press the duel is on between what I often quote, the irresistible force pitted against the immovable object! A fight to finish! And I hope and pray that your blessings, wishes, prayers are with me to ensure, sooner rather than later, I too can proudly proclaim “I QUIT!”


PS: While I am at it, I have received a huge leg up from an unexpected source in my fight against lighting up! Arun Jaitley and his ‘world record’ increase in rate of excise duty on cigarettes in Budget 2014!!! Bravo!

Thank you @ashwin_nat for all the help and moral support!

har fikr ko dhuaen main udatha chala gaya’ : Classic Hindi film song. Lines mean “I blew all my worries in a puff of smoke” featured on Dev Anand.
Sannidhanam:  Sanctum Sanctorum
Rajasik: Rich Palatte which induces physical urges!
Babu : Clerk
Paan : Betel Leaf
Potti Kadai: Roadside kiosk selling tobacco products and other knick-knacks!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Gold, Smoke and Plastic Devotees!

The Coimbatore-Palakkad highway must one of these days find entry in  the Guinness Book of Records for being under widening  or 4- laning ever since………….err the Big Bang! It has been WiP since time immemorial. My oft repeated and lame attempt at comedy that while it takes 2 hours to drive this 40 kms odd distance by car, I could possibly do the same in 90 minutes in a brisk jog is still not past its sell-by-date! The shocking aspect of this roadway to Gods Own Country story is while work is underway albeit snail paced in the Kerala side of the border, it is in the Tamil Nadu side where it has ground to a standstill for obvious reasons unlike the general rule of it being the other way round. Kerala 1, Tamil Nadu 0!


I am not heavily given to pilgrimage. I can count barely a handful among the plethora of religious/holy places in India that I have visited purely as a pilgrim. Among the more popular Temples (meaning richer temples) that I have visited are Tirupati, Vaishnao Devi and just recently, Sabarimalai. The last named ranks 4th in hierarchy and bank balance among temples in India I am told, with Shiridi rounding off the list. (Till the assets recently discovered at Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram are audited and published, this ranking will hold good. Post the audit the last named will jump straight to top slot if the rumored value of the treasures discovered is true).


(For those who came in late, Sabarimalai Temple, the abode of Lord Ayyappa in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, atop the Western Ghats is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India. The temple is open for only 4 odd days during each of the eleven months of the Hindu calendar. The twelfth month is the ‘Peak season’ for the temple, generally around mid-Dec to Mid- Jan period when the temple is open every day and attracts millions of devotees) 

I as a habit am not given to unnecessary outrage, a streak of chalta hain being predominant in my attitude towards many a thing in this country. However post my recent experiences at Sabarimalai, I will fail in my duties if I do not give a piece of my mind to the members of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) which is the organization responsible to manage and maintain the temple affairs. And post my first hand experience as a visitor, during ‘non-peak’ season to boot, I am confident of being very objective in my assessment of the TDB’s performance. Read on!


The first thing that hits you as you alight early in the morning on the banks of Pampa, the starting point of your ‘shortened’ trek up the Sabari Hills is the pressure of err…………..the call of nature! Once you manage to push back the pressure and manage a brisk walk for a few minutes, you will find yourself at the banks of the Pampa river and adjacent to a row of public ‘pay-n-use’ toilets. All pretty commendable till you enter one of them. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that the toilets were built on the river rather than the banks. If the mounting pressure prods you to wade through the accumulated lake, you can then start the hunt for a bucket to fetch water and then try and deposit your ‘contribution’ with eyes firmly shut and nose tightly plugged!


The other claim to fame of Sabarimalai is that it is situated within what is officially Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest, encompassing parts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala. One of the enduring and highly revered pictures related to Sabarimalai is the one of Lord Ayyapan as the young Prince of Pandalam riding atop a Tiger as Manikanthan. While I was fortunate not to run into one, what did catch my attention was the notices placed in strategic locations on the trek which had the national animal of India beseeching us to love it just the way the Lord did! (A curious thought strikes me here. Did I fail to see tigers because they were avoiding the route taken by the most ferocious animals created by nature, Humans or is it because there are no tigers left in the designated tiger reserve?)

Ayyappa! Where is the 'Vaahanam'?


However to give credit where it is due, halfway up the hill, one comes across a series of urinals at various spots right up until the Sannidhanam, the Temple premises. Kudos! (But a few signs along the way informing about their presence would have prevented the devotees from indulging in our favourite pastime of ‘watering the plants’ in the open!)


Two example of a wonderful departure from the routine that comes to my mind are Tirupati and Munnar.  Among the other excellent arrangements that these two destinations have managed is to make the respective hills plastic free. An oasis in the otherwise gloomy scenario that confronts us at most tourist destinations in India. Sabarimalai is also a declared plastic free zone. As regards the effectiveness of the implementation………………………..behold the picture below!


While many of the above mentioned issues may well be brushed under the excuse of ‘too many people, too little space’ (Money can’t be an excuse here) and all of them relate to the infrastructure or the lack of it, what take this to blasphemous levels is when you see the Temple employees indulging in smoking! Inside the temple premises!! Right under the ‘No Smoking’ signboards!! Swamy Sharanam!! Herewith hoping Arun Jaitley is much more severe come the next budget!


Dear TDB! Must you take the ‘Kallum mullum kalukku meththai’ so seriously? Or else please explain your deed of throwing concrete and stone chips all along the route so randomly and which are so effective in not living up to the chant that even mother nature would have been more sympathetic and less punishing to our feet!


If the TDB thinks that this is nothing but an exercise in nitpicking, let me assure them it is not. While conceding the thankless job they have of managing crowds often numbering a couple of lakhs in a few hundred square meters area, I think the Devaswom Board should immediately take a trip of Tirupati, a study-cum-pilgrimage, to understand how to manage not only the crowd but also the attendant facilities to ensure safe, hygienic, peaceful stay and darshan at the holy places. TDB should remember, unlike Sabarimalai, Tirupati temple is open 365 days and almost 24*7. The Tirumala Hills is a few hundred square meters too. And attract numbers which would be at par with Sabarimalai’s if not more..............daily!


Time I gave TDB a break and picked up gauntlets against that industry which is supposedly the epitome of India Shining. Sorry all you so called world class telephony companies. Your network in Sabarimalai is well…………………………..absent! The network that follows me in Sannidhanam when I am there next can be assured of my patronage!


You will not be able to miss a gold plated plaque at the beginning of trek route which grandly informs us that the gold plating of the vimanam of the Ayyappan Sannidanam is courtesy a certain Vijay Mallya. To refresh your memory, he is the same dude whose company has singlehandedly contributed Rs.4052.00 Crores to the Non-Performing-Assets count of various Indian banks. However to be fair to him, I think the contribution to Sabarimalai's kitty is likely to have been made much before he stopped paying salaries to many of his employees!

PS: There is more to Sabarimalai than just what is written here. Maybe one day!!!!

Chalta Hain: ‘Its Okay’ culture!
Swamy Sharanam: Chant meaning I surrender at your feet.
Kallum Mullum Kalukku Meddai: Popular chant while trekking. Literal: Stones and thorns are like beds. Figurative:  By your grace even the Stones and thorns massage my feet like soft beds.
Vimanam: Roof above the sanctum sanctorum
Vaahanam: Mount of the lord

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Story of a 'Madrasi'!


I wrote this originally in Hindi thinking that if an article which in principle disagrees with the recent note from the Government of India to ensure primacy of Hindi as a language of governance were in Hindi, it would be quite cheeky and in principle, apt. Those who missed it may check here!  However many friends, especially Mr. Husain Sadar of Canada suggested that if the same may be translated and posted, it would be useful for people who cannot read/write Hindi but are equally interested in this issue. So here goes! Thank you Mr.Sadar.


A few words about me to start with! My mother tongue is Tamil and despite this, I am not a foreigner. I am an Indian and possibly as much an Indian as you, whose mother tongue is Hindi. If you are confused with my above statements, I don’t blame you as this discussion leaves me in such a state too. You would have noticed it often and this was making headlines recently too that Hindi language should be given primacy in all government work. You would have also noted various views expressed on this subject, some in its favour and some otherwise, some in civil words and some…………………sigh!

Our history is witness to the importance Language or Languages have in our society. From Linguistic based reorganization of states to pro and anti-language agitations, we have seen all. People have sacrificed their lives on this issue and from the looks of it would seems that they are quite willing to sacrifice as well as take a few lives too. This is reason enough to ensure that whenever we have a debate on such issues, we do it sanely and objectively sans emotions. “Unity in diversity” is one mantra which is taught right from our primary schools the way a mother would feed her new born. Our Constitution is primarily based on celebrating this diversity. Among the various instances of diversity in this country, Language possibly takes the first and most important position. They say, in India “कोस कोस पर पानी बदले, चार कोस पे वाणी", meaning  “Taste of water changes every mile, and the language every four”! In such a social cauldron, it is imperative that any decision which can jeopardize the plurality of our society should not be taken with narrow political gains in mind.

It has often been said of people like me especially by the folks up in the northern part of India that we ‘Madrasis’ don’t know Hindi and we take special pride in being ‘Anti-Hindi!’. “’Madrasi’ doesn’t know Hindi, has no enthusiasm to learn it too, should someone be interested they wouldn’t permit it, even if he knows Hindi he would deliberately feign ignorance of it!” I am sure most of you would have used the above lines or heard the same being said some time or the other in life. I for one am tired of it! Very very discriminatory indeed! I mean have you ever heard a ‘Madrasi’ on reaching Delhi complain, “This ‘Hindiwala’ doesn’t know Tamil, Doesn’t want to learn Malayalam either, If someone wants to learn Telugu he is discouraged, even if he knows Kannada he would deliberately feign ignorance of it!” (My dear countrymen: Did you just notice the diversity that exists even within what you think is a homogeneous ‘Madrasi’? Welcome!) And this is not restricted to ‘Madrasi’ alone. My other friends who subscribes to Bengali, Oriya, Ahomiya, Gujrati, Marathi etc as their mother tongue are feeling the same way!

I am not only a South Indian whose mother tongue is not Hindi but I also reside in South India where the usage of Hindi is not very popular. The primacy of Tamil in Tamilnadu or Marathi in Maharashtra is after all expected and should be so too. Despite this handicap, today my children study Hindi in their school. Do you know why? Because it is a voluntary decision and not because Hindi is being imposed on us. Our belief is  we will anyway end up learning our mother tongue/regional language, with the International language English being mandatory, knowing Hindi opens up for us opportunities in those parts of the country where this language dominates! In short for economic gains and opportunity, not for any special love that we have for Hindi. While you keep debating emotional appeal of Hindi, we ‘Madrasis’ are already learning the language and it is but a matter of time when we will swarm all over the Hindi heartland. The moot question my friends though is when will you learn ‘Madrasi’!


Q: Do you know which institution has rendered yeoman service to popularize Hindi in Tamilnadu?
A: ………………………………………………………Bollywood!

Madrasi: An term used to describe South Indians. The present day South India was one administrative unit called Madras Presidency during the days of British Raj in India!

Thank you @atiyaz for "कोस कोस पर पानी बदले, चार कोस पे वाणी"!