Sunday, April 3, 2011

It’s a Job for a Common Man!

It was just another Thursday. I had ample time after my morning chores so I walked slowly to the bus stop. A few of us had just won a deal with our travel admin to board the second bus in the route as the first one always had most of us standing or perched uncomfortably in the ‘kili’s seat. My colleagues turned up one by one to wait for the bus. We all exchanged formal pleasantries and continued our wait. I struck up a conversation with a senior manager, a hale and hearty man in his early fifties. Flashy Sparks,cool i10s and stylish Figos cruised along with their sophisticated owners strapped in while a parade of college buses took future engineers to their classrooms. Suddenly, an antiquated KSRTC bus with an obscure name board grinded to a halt in the middle of the junction. A breakdown. Impatient horns rent the air as the driver tried in vain to revive the engine. In no time the NH 47 clogged like a drain in June. We watched as the traffic police struggled to manage the angry motorists, while a few puny men in shirt and lungi took up the task of pushing the bus. A small knot of clueless women remained glued to their seats in the bus. All the men could do was make the bus budge a few inches. The clocks were edging towards 9 and there were about 200 people stranded on the road.Everyone tutted and shook their heads at the inconvenience caused.

I looked around to find the senior manager missing. One of my male colleagues, who had gone to investigate the situation, came running towards us with an excited face and exclaimed:"He’s pushing the bus!!". All of us looked up to see the bus making a slow but steady progress to a parking space on the side of the road. Among the lungi clad men, was the senior manager, immaculately dressed in office formals and shoes, pushing the dusty old bus,with the expression of a participant in a game of tug-of-war. The other male colleagues (all in their late twenties) continued to watch,cross armed, their office clothes intact and their ID tags caressing their A/C freezed hearts. Soon the road was clear for traffic and the senior manager walked up smiling, moping his sweaty face and dusting his hands like a satisfied farmer returning from his field. In a short while we were seated comfortably in the air bus headed to office where each of us would resume doing what did the previous day.I was reminded of Clark Kent slinking away to a telephone booth to transform into Superman and save the day. But do we really need a superhuman to sort things out when all it takes is a common man with a universal spirit?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Earnest and young

For someone who picked up the very first copy of The Hindu Young World, its 20th birthday is a matter of great pride and nostalgia. My family subscribed to two dailies but the big black letters failed to impress Neil and me as 6 year olds. It was then that The Hindu announced the launch of the Young World. I still remember the excitement of being initiated into the world of newspapers through this special newspaper designed for children.

The first issue came out on a Saturday. It was a delight to see the quarto size paper with colourful pages with articles suitable for children. The Crayon Corner, Heathcliff and Batman comic strips, the creepy stories in the Strange but True column,the quizzes, crosswords and puzzles were sufficient to keep us glued to it for the whole weekend. The articles were of supreme quality and dealt with reviews on children’s classics, writers, current issues and hobbies. I remember the first logo had a boy on it which Neil and I saw as a matter of debate. After a few months its creators thought it fair to include a girl in it too. My parents who understood the value of the newspaper took pains to retain the copies and bind them into a large book at the end of every year. Those archives have been great research materials while doing school assignments. V.V Ramanan’s quizzes deserve a special mention as they have, till date, been able to keep the spark of the quest for knowledge alive. The Young World quiz still remains the hot favourite among young quizzers.

Twenty is a significant milestone to cross and the newspaper has evolved adapting to the changing times and reader requirements. There have been other pullouts like The Quest and Signpost which catered to young readers but did not gain Young World’s popularity despite being of high standards. Congratulations to the editorial team (old and new) behind this children’s newspaper. May you continue to inspire thousands of young readers in the years to come.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pularkala sundara swapnam

The Easter Mass got over at 5:30 am. The dawn was already breaking when we were returned home. The kitchen got busy with the Lent-breaker beef stew and palappam. I happened to find the camera which had a blow by blow report of how our Easter chicken got to the table. Appalled at the unethical "lensmanship", I stepped out into the cool morning air to capture the beautiful day of Resurrection and new hope. It had rained on Good Saturday, quenching the summer heat and washing off the dust from the foliage.

The jasmines before ammachi claimed them to decorate the crucifix, and the pictures of Our Lady and Alphonsamma in the prayer room.

The bounty of jaathikkas (nutmegs) that burgeon in appachan and ammachi’s dreams.

Seasons come, seasons go…. serenely flows the canal.

Guess this is how people having more than one social network account would look like :P…

A moldy old electric post that stands in the farm.

“Calvin”…”Hobbes” has the camera..:P

In hope of more April showers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Midas Touch

”Your kind attention please, We wish Anita and Baiju who will be getting married at St.Mary’s church, Chalakudy, on Dec 30, a happy married life. We dedicate this song for the young couple.” The strains of “Anuraagavilochananayi...”rent the air.

This announcement that caught me by surprise was not at the railway station or on FM radio, but in an overcrowded showroom of the one of the biggest jewelers in the city. Guess that’s what connects a railway station and a jewelry shop. The huge flat screen TVs in the waiting lounge at Chennai Central , keep playing ads where nubile beauties simper, and bat their eyelashes because they were draped in silks from Pothy's or adorned with Kalyan jewelry .Not to forget the Saravana stores ad with a robust splash of colour and a lot of frisky actors. The same monitor also runs an awareness documentary of the Indian Railway on sinister co-passengers who might drug you and rob you off your valuables.

My two trips to T Nagar gave me and insight into the shoppers psyche and that I am not wired to be one. I had been to most of the big shops, bustling with shoppers as though Doomsday was near. Last time I accompanied an obsessive shopper who not only shopped her purse dry but also irritated me with rhetorical questions, while she displayed two equally garish salwaar sets. I stared at her in wide eyed wonder when she described her shopping trips to the big textile marts and jewelers unable to take in the fact that there exist people who live just to shop. Infact she used to say she wants to get married so that she can buy all the saris and ornaments she ever dreamed of!

Come January and it’s time for weddings. I have two on my list already. The big shops bustle with the bridal entourage consisting of a dreamy bride, a bored groom, anxious parents of the bride, cynical parents of the groom and an assortment of excited aunts and girl cousins. A classmate of mine had to miss the golden chance to shop for her sister’s wedding and had to make do with status reports between classes over the cell phone. “They got the engagement sari!!! She announced excitedly and immediately got an audience. “It’s maroon and gold and costs Rs.19000!” A gasp went around the room as the sister of the bride-to-be smiled nervously, at a loss on how to judge the reaction. The already married classmates saved her by launching into their own wedding trousseau stories. The other day I was at the engagement of a good friend of mine. It was, in two words, simple and sweet. She wore the best jewel a bride could wear,(but is mostly paled by the glare of the yellow metal. I have to mention those Vivahitarayi photos that appear in newspapers where the bride and groom sulk as they flank an austere bishop.)-a beautiful smile. The sari, I was told, cost less than Rs.5000 and she wore a single string of pearls. I couldn’t help remembering of my old roomie who went around the jewelry shops, armed with a copy of the Vanitha , asking them where she could get the exact manga mala that Kavya Madhavan wore, for her nischayam!

I came across yet another situation on the day they call Akshaya Triteya. Most of my colleagues hurried away to buy a bit of auspicious gold to keep their lockers blooming through the year. I accompanied a friend of mine to a Tanishq showroom,where the security was in the danger of being crushed by a beehive of shoppers collecting their lucky gold coins in a makeshift counter right at the entrance. My friend placed her request to see the rings section and proceeded to choose from the display. After umpteen looks at two almost similar designs she settled for one to seal her prosperity for the year. There were a couple of other colleagues who settled for a pair of miniscule ear-studs saying it was essential to have the Midas touch that day even in the size of a pin prick. It was quite ironic that one of them lost the ear-studs and other valuables in a burglary a week later.

That same evening another friend of mine was telling me about her innocent fiancĂ© whose job was at stake. Her words of resilience were powerful though drenched in tears.”I believe in a living God. He will make a way”. Yet another hope for prosperity; another belief. I was left wondering which one was right and strong.

And while you are at it, do check out Games People Play by Joe South.Pithy lyrics.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life in a Metro

The cell phone beside my pillow goes beep..beep..beep. It’s 6:40 am and I roll myself out of bed and glance at the bathroom door. My roommate was still enjoying her one hour bath. She steps out at 6:55, ten minutes late of her allotted time slot. I am out in 15 mins and another of my sleepy roommates slouch in to claim her turn. I am ready for office by 7:30 and go downstairs where breakfast stands ready in tall steel utensils. It’s the pongal day and I groan as I open the lid of a vessel containing the gooey white dish. In no mood for heroism, I conveniently skip breakfast and settle for tea alone. Soon I am headed towards the bus stop where I am joined by several serious looking people. It is not hard to spot an IT employee in Chennai. They invariably look nonchalant, with tags around their necks, Tupperware lunch bags in their hands and earphones plugged in all the time. A huge bus transports it’s “precious cargo” to the far flung offices in the suburbs of Chennai. Nine hours roll by, punctuated with breaks and trips to the washroom. At the end of the day I find myself in another bus which takes me back to the hostel where my primary duties are taking a bath, doing the laundry, eating and ringing up my folks.

I still remember alighting at Chennai central last September. The huge crowd swept my parents and me towards the main exit and out of the grand building of the railway station that features in almost all Malayalam movies based in Chennai. An A1 bus took us to Thiruvanmiyur where we could see the neon lights of Tidel Park which marked the beginning of the Old Mahabalipuram Road a.k.a the IT corridor.

After three days of induction we were transported to Siruseri in the outskirts of the city for the soft skill training. A week later we found ourselves reporting at ASV Suntech Park where we spent almost 2 months in training. The independent stage of life revolved round ASV and the hostel in Adayar.

Being away from home for the first time in life I was bound to be homesick. I was lucky to find myself amidst people from my home state in hostel. When our tastebuds revolted against the insipid hostel food we find refuge in the Malayali restaurants like Kumarakom, Tharavad or Naalukettu where the avial, buttermilk, sambhar, and thenga chammanthi and the Kerala special red rice tasted like ambrosia.

Hearing the familiar sound of one’s mother tongue in a strange land is something anyone would enjoy. Such is my joy when I come across one of the many on-exile-for-IT’s sake Malayali on the bus, at office, at the supermarket or at church. This is exactly why my favorite place in Chennai happens to be the SanThome Cathedral Basilica in Mylapore.

The 10:30 Mass every Sunday creates a small Kerala in Chennai. Young men and women from my home state gather for worship and social interaction. Infact the buses headed to SanThome at that hour would invariably have guys and girls chattering rapidly in all the dialects right from the Kannur to Thiruvananthapuram. One can find shopping bags with names of places like Adimali and Kuravilangad printed in Malayalam which certifies that you are in the company of a Malayali. The FM radios in Chennai fail to cater to homesick Malayalis so the Malayalam Mass at Santhome Church is a musical treat. Apart from these reasons the church is just the place where one can be at peace and reflect on the otherwise mundane life.

Twelve months as an earning individual and the above said is pretty much my routine. Except for the pleasurable refilling of my savings account at the end of every month, life has lost its vitality. During our training lessons we learned the basics of writing technically and missed out several important details in our assignments. Our eccentric trainer, after ripping our heads off, consoled us with “Don’t worry, people, you all are here because you love writing”. True, I thought, I sure love writing. It is something that comes to me without an effort. Little did I realize that learning to write technically would block the kind of writing I used to do. One year into the job, my Bower looks like a deserted shack. I have been using it as a window to watch my gifted friends in the blogosphere and then wallow in self pity of being left behind.

This post is a deliberate attempt to overcome the writer’s block that has fettered me for the past one year. Hope to break the chains and be back in full swing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spreading my wings...

I wander'd lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

This was more or less how it was when I chanced upon blog world.
A host of brilliant writers.My brother was into blogging right from the first year in college and I used to read his blog alone.It was only 4 years later that I took up the art.What surprised me the most was that the majority I found were of non-literature or arts background.It was challenge enough for a student of Literature to wake up and squeeze out the creative juices.

Now,consistent encouragement and appreciation are the essential babyfood for any blog-ling(if I may call new bloggers so).I was lucky to be fed in plenty by none other than the likes of Silverine and Mathew.These two geniuses also happen to be wonderful people.Blogging has also given me virtual friends; total strangers who connect with the simple things I write.Deepti who recently touched and surprised me with a sweet gesture is one unforgettable name.The other names on my blogroll are people who enthrall me with their versatile writing and make blogging a very entertaining and informative hobby.Since this is not a milestone post I do not engage in a detailed gratitude acknowledgment.Heartfelt thanks to all who have visited and encouraged The Bower.

Now as I stand at the threshold of a change in my life status from a dreamy student-hood to the fast paced corporate life, I am at a loss for words.Don't seem to be able to fix the tone of the post.Is it a valediction or just a "be right back"? Life's taking a drastic change, from the cozy walls of home to an independent life in a big metro.In fact, thanks to blogworld I already have a patchworked picture of what to expect out there.I have found people from all walks of life;students,professionals,homemakers and old timers blogging away with exemplary spirit.Really hope I'd be able to make a come back once I get settled down with the work life.There are umpteen number of blogs that are proof that nothing can kill the writer in you.So I leave with a consolation from the Bard himself :

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. **

Adieu! for the moment, dear friends,will miss this space,hope to be back among you soon...!

*Daffodils, William Wordsworth.
**Sonnet XVIII -Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day, William Shakespeare.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To health, the sweet way...

Tiny white plastic bottles with multi-coloured caps, labelled and filled to the brim with balls of sugar.Once upon a time our medicine cabinet used to be full of such bottles.A sneeze,a cough or a slight temperature change, and we'd be bundled off to the clinic of a famous Homeo doctor in town.A handsome old man with the sweetest disposition treated us of most of our childhood ailments.The two clinics he ran,one at Jawahar Nagar and another at Pazhavangadi were our regular haunts and the long wait in the lobby,an adventure to two very active kids.

To Neil and me, he was the epitome of the art of homeopathy.We mistook the picture of Samuel Hahnemann hanging on the wall to be that of the old doctor himself.His home in Jawahar Nagar was perhaps one of the pioneer modern homes in Trivandrum with a landscaped lawn, a pond with lotuses ,a grand aquarium and a beautiful view from the window of the consultation room.Perhaps it was because we were his regular patients,the softspoken doctor gave a patient ear to any complaints we had.Even if it was just one of us that had an illness ,the other would also be considered for any discomfort of health.That I once told him in a grave voice "Doctor,my finger hurts when I break pencil nibs" remains the most cliched and embarrassing anecdotes of our visits there.After the consultation we'd wait to get the medicines at the dispensary and were friendly with the staff there too.They let us go inside the counter and watch with wide eyed wonder as they opened a huge bottle of sugar balls.Neil and I ventured to ask where we could find a similar bottle.The heady smell of the medicine,the trays of empty plastic bottles,the colourful collection of caps,the label strips, all caught our fancy.Sure enough the healthy one was given a bottle of plain sugar balls as a compliment.

Now the problem when you have sugar balls for a medicine is that the prescribed 3 pills twice a day is hardly satisfying.So half the bottle is over before noon(one more won't hurt,being the thought behind the stealth).Once it got over too soon that I had to refill it with sugar from the kitchen lest Mum noticed!Thankfully we never suffered from an overdose.
Apart from the sweet pills we also used to get tasteless fine powder in neatly folded packets.Now those powders went down only with a spoonful of sugar.
Homeopathy was always the remedy for minor illness and preventive medicines.Come summer and there would be fresh bottles of the sweet preventive medicine in the cabinet.

I have come across very interesting people in this profession.The most memorable one was Ammamma's doctor who claimed to be treating her with imported German medicine.Mummy has this habit of reading all advertisement boards on the roadside and she found this lady doctor in a unfashionable house, brimming with confidence.The consultation took as long as three hours during which Ammamma and the doctor shared pleasantries,sob-stories and gossip and if they had time,the stomach trouble, while Mummy dozed in the other chair! The lady burned a huge hole in Ammamma's purse and sent home enough bottles which helped me practice abstinence.

One of the common things I've noticed about most Homeo practitioners(especially ladies who run clinics at home) are their unassuming consulting rooms(living or dining room or the balcony),messy tables(the stethoscope and pens resurface after a frantic hunt),and an unimpressive dressing sense.I once consulted a nighty-clad doctor looking every inch sickly herself and another time a cat jumped on to the table while I sat with a thermometer clamped between my teeth.Nevertheless their prescriptions worked just right.Sometime back a doctor surprised me when she cured my chest congestion by giving me an oral shot of the medicine.It was immediate relief.

Homeopathy is one branch of medicine which has always faced ruthless criticism from their counterparts.The homeopaths valiantly defend their profession where "like cures like".The argument continues.But for me, it is a 'sweet' memory and a very sweet reason to fall ill. ;-)