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. ;-)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Temple-haunters

"Suddenly the heavens opened up for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him."(Matt 3:16)
I saw it happen,at the Basilica last Sunday!
The Holy Mass at 9:30 had started 15 mins late and the priest was racing along trying to make up for the lost time.Even the choir with their keyboard,guitars and tabalas hardly kept pace with him.And then it happened.
A grey pigeon landed gracefully on top of the Crucifix at the altar.

The Sanctuary at the Basilica is quite ornate with the entire heavenly fleet painted on it's vaulted ceiling.(When the homilies get boring the ceiling provides an ideal past time.Papa once told us that faces appear there when people die.As kids,Neil and I used to look for Appapan there.)The Eastern wall features the Crucifix in the center with the Nativity scene and the Risen Christ on either sides.The pillars in between have a spacious landing which is the roost for a couple of pigeons.From the ground level it doesn't seem to be particularly comfortable but the pigeon-tails are always seen whisking away in industrious haste.They keep flying in and out at whim,never once disturbing the sacred procedures going on below.A family of sparrows inhabit yet another wedge in the Sanctuary.They too twitter in and out with their birdie chores,deftly avoiding the blades of the numerous fans that dot the ceiling.They build a nest,lay eggs,hatch them and feed the little ones and see them take wings in the austere air of the church.

There is a quaint monastery church in Trivandrum which has a dovecote beside it and the inmates of the seminary feed the birds.It was in the same place where I've seen the birds perch on every saints head.
The old Portuguese-built church at Palayam with it's tall turrets is home to a murder of crows.These fellows don't care much for grace and timing.Sometimes they fly low,straight at you,missing your hair by inches.(Probably because you weren't saintly enough).They also occasionally "bless" the pews with their droppings.
Our parish church was one of those modern buildings which didn't attract similar roosts due to lack of dark nooks and corners.

Another favorite perch of birds are statues of great leaders.Sparrows on the outstretched arms of Christ atop churches, pigeons on the shoulders of a sad faced Gandhis,and a lonely crow on the raised arm of Subhash Chandra Bose.There was once a newspaper snap of the statue of Akkamma Cherian(freedom-fighter),near the Raj Bhavan in Trivandrum, with feather on her Gandhi cap!

I was visiting a friend's flat on the fifth floor when she pushed aside the curtains to reveal a plastic basket tied onto the window rails.In it were a couple of long leaves.It was brought in by a pair of tiny little birds trying to build a nest on the curtain rod.However hard they tried it would never stay and my friend had this bright idea of helping them out by providing a basket.Her 4 year old was seen guiding the birds, appealing to them with "killee ivide vekku..."However they didn't seem interested in the "rented" home.The pair took turns to bring in blades of grass,and by the time I said goodbye,there was a heap of grass on floor by the window.My friend was muttering that the silly birds had dirtied her floor.Mr and Mrs 'Bird' were not giving up yet.
On my next visit, the birds had finally succeeded in building a huge nest which looked like a bearskin hat.And my excited friend informed that there were already eggs in it.

"This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his loved mansionry, that the heaven's breath
Smells wooingly here: no jutty, frieze,
Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle:
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed,
The air is delicate. "

(Macbeth, William Shakespeare)

That the Bard uses these lovely lines as an instance of dramatic irony is a different story.But I guess that's how dwellings should be,in harmony with Nature.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quoting away...

It was our viva voce yesterday and they asked me to quote the apostrophe to Helen from Doctor Faustus.I come back to find Silverine asking me to quote some more.:-)

Colourless green ideas sleep furiously -Noam Chomsky's famous example which illustrates grammaticality and acceptablity.Words make sense when they mean but they turn magical when they have a heart.Jotting down quotes is something near impossible because scores of lines that can touch, chance your way everyday.Our HoD used to say,"Good literature is wasted when it is printed in newspapers."

Jot down 5 of your favorite quotes from the various books you’ve read. If you don’t have the books with you now, googling (Wikiquotes and the like) can be used to find them. Tag five people and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

1.
Jack : " I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we still had a few fools left.
Algernon : We have.
Jack : I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?
Algernon: The fools? Oh, about the clever people, of course.
Jack : What fools! "

The Importance of Being Earnest ,Oscar Wilde.


2."Faith in God is an opening up,a letting go,a deep trust,a free act of love-but sometimes,it was so hard to love."

Life of Pi
,Yann Martel

3."The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh."

Waiting for Godot
, Samuel Beckett

4. "The hardest arithematic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings."

- Eric Hoffer

5. "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy,nor give with mindfulness of virtue:They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth."

- Khalil Gibran

I tag

Deepti
George
Merin

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Streak of Gold

Olympics in the air and India shines golden for the first time.
A perfect time to think about the sports I ever dared to engage in.Now if you thought I was a budding P.T Usha or an Anju Bobby George,well ,I'm not responsible.

Though I made it into the world three minutes before my brother,it didn't exactly make me faster for life.My Ammamma used to recount how we mastered clambering up the stairs at our ancestral home a few weeks after we flipped over and started crawling.Neil zoomed up to the seventh step on all his fours while I languished on step one with a slow but determined pace.
The next target was the mango tree in our frontyard of our home in Trivandrum.It was the kind which was "climb-able"and provided an alternative entry to the terrace apart from the stairs behind the house.Neil devised systematic method to climb up and I naturally copied it.We had capital times on that mango tree though it was home to an army of red ants.

Neil's school provided him with all the official sports like cricket,football and basketball.It was during our summer vacations at Kothamanagalam that our girl cousins and I got to see his sporting talents.All of us, girls were good sports(if I may use the term)and shared the natural interest for cricket.We had matches with two member teams,rubber balls and madal bats and somehow Neil's team always won.We also played a crude sport which involved a wicker chair and a beach ball.One stands about 20 meters apart from it and aims to put the ball into the chair.My team lost many a time in that one too.

We got our first bicycle on our fourth birthday.Neil insisted on a BSA Champ while I settled for a pretty Russian doll.Ofcourse he didn't learn to cycle at that age nor on that cycle.However it catered to my purpose several years later.And I am proud to say that I learned it by myself(with a little help from the compound wall and the gate which sustained several scrapes and grazes).Shuttle cork caught us like a rage.We spent days playing tournament after tournament on the terrace.This sport also involved adventurous activities like dropping down to the sun-shade,trespassing the adjacent terrace and chasing the neighbour's dog to retrieve the cork.Sometimes we used to play past twilight with the emergency lamp on.

We were seven when Roller Skating became the talk of the town.The mornings early 90s saw a small group of people-young and old-on colorful skates, gliding around the Museum grounds.It was again Neil who signed up for it first.Papa and I would jog along while he "walked" with heavy skates with red wheels, falling down occasionally,only to get up with his characteristic smile, though his knees bled.A few days later,I decided to join in.We get a new pair of skates from the dusty old sports-shop at Pulimood and the next morning, I'm on wheels!

It was hard,the first few days.I scraped a lot of skin off my knees,and bit back the pain.But gradually the baby steps gave way to a smooth glide and soon I was zooming around with the others.There was a Skating rink at the Shangumugham beach and we spent a lot of our evenings there.We were enrolled in a local skaters association who called themselves the "All Kerala Skating Federation"(just like there is a Taj hotel at Thrikkariyoor ).What more,they conducted All Kerala Skating meets too.So one fine morning Neil and I geared up for our first ever 1 Km race.The race course was the by-pass at Chacka(back then it was under construction).There were four guys and me(for some unknown reason girls of my age kept away from the sport) at the starting point.

On your mark...get set...ready....go!

The guys lunged forward and were gone in a flash! Though taken aback for a moment, I dashed forward to join them.Soon I was out of breath.1 Km was a long way for my dainty legs.I could hardly see the retreating backs of my co-participants.Tears leaked out of my eyes.The toast we had in the morning had long been transformed into calories.My vision blurred,the few onlookers on either side sniggered,but Papa, who was jogging alongside,egged me on.I crossed the finishing line to find the boys already cooling their heels.

The next event was a State meet which was held at the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium.It was our birthday and we signed up for "Free Styles",Time Trails" and "Pair skating".Pair skating required partners to display those postures like "half-camel" ,"full-camel",spin and jump(if you can) in perfect sync.The lights are on us and the music begins.Neil and I glide smoothly over the floor.We do couple of "half-camels" and trace out "eights".There were moments when we fumbled in indecison.
However when the results were announced, we won the gold medal !
More than anything,I suspect ,we might just have looked natural together,and after all it was our day! I still remember skating forward to receive the medals We had them around our necks till it was time for bed.Just a tawdry piece of metal plated in gold with a navy blue ribbon,but that night it was pure gold!

It didn't take a genius to tell me that I was not the athletic kind.So I settle for the next best way to be a "sport"-Watch it on Tv :-)!

Viva Olympics! Congratulations to Abhinav Bindra!
and
Happy Independence day to all!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Masquerade

The other day a friend of mine asked me to help him out with a speech for his 7 year old nephew.Now I am no Demosthenes or Aristotle to deliver authentic speeches on "Mother is a teacher".But I comply and sit down to rack my brain to squeeze out ten decent lines.It turned out to be like an MA essay,where one goes off in a tangent.The result is yet to be known.

I was discussing the incident with Mum when she fondly remembered that it was time for youth festivals in schools.It's a time when the schools buzz with creative activities of teachers,children and most importantly their ambitious parents.Singing (solo and group in all three languages),dances(folk,traditional and western),dramas, speeches(declamation,extempore),writing(essay, poetry and short story), drawing(painting,sketching)fancy dress and recitation;the usual items in every youth festival.Our school had a special competition called Flower arrangement with subdivisions like fresh flower,dried flower and vegetable carving.It was the fancy dress and flower arrangement competitions that caught my fancy as a 6 year old.

My Mum,a perfect sport in all the things we did,plunged herself heart and soul into getting me ready for the two.I turn up in the library where the event was to take place and realize that,the flower arrangement competition was not child's play.My tiny vase and a motley assortment of flowers(for which we hunted all over Chalai market the previous night and a few wild ones from the wall across the road) stood no chance among the exotic orchids,fragrant roses, gay anthuriums and colourful asters.Most of them had exquisite vases and pretty decorations like miniature fences, swings, wicker baskets and ribbons.Undeterred,I set about with the arrangement when the kid next to me whisked out a vase and an already set oasis from her big-shopper and smiled glibly at me!That evening Mum and I consoled ourselves with a declaration that we always believed in creativity.

The defeat at the flower-arrangement boosted our enthusiasm for the fancy dress competition.Mum had found this great book at Paico called Children's Fancy Dress & Parties which was exclusively on simple do-it-yourself fancy dress costumes(primarily meant for masquerade parties,quite unheard of in our country then).We browsed through a gallery of costumes ranging from Fairies to Red Indians and Robots to Clowns .There were a set called "Cheap costumes" which featured hula skirts and paper rabbit costumes.I was particularly impressed by the Fairy who looked quite pretty in a frilly sea-blue dress,gauze wings,a pearly tiara and a wand.I tried persuading Mum to settle for it but it turned out to be one of the most expensive costumes in the book.Somehow the stuff considered 'waste materials' in foreign homes are to be bought from stores here;those who watch 'Art Attack' on Disney channel will agree.Mum didn't want to let me down and settled for the Angel costume on page one.The book had a picture of an angel in golden robes,a blue and gold halo,a pair of golden wings and a harp.Not bad! I thought.

We soon set about making the costume.We hunted high and low for gold satin but in vain.So we settled for blue instead.We planned it with golden trimmings and star-shaped sequins.The harp,halo and wings works were undertaken by Mum herself,
armed with sheets of cardboard,a pair of scissors and gold foil.Soon the place smelt pleasantly of Fevicol and voilĂ  !, they almost resembled the ones in the picture.The local tailors,however, accustomed to stitching only sari blouses and salwaar kameezes did a shoddy job with my costume.It looked like those dress robes in Harry Potter.Nevertheless I was excited about the competition the next day.

Mum helped me to dress in the green room, powdered my face with rose powder and stuck a few star-sequins on my forehead and there I was, a little blue angel! I could read satisfaction in her eyes.

We were soon asked to queue up according to the chest numbers.I joined the long line right behind my classmate who looked grumpy in a rabbit outfit with cloth ears hanging from his head , munching a carrot.The nun-in-charge mistook Neil sporting a camera,to be a participant and said sweetly, "And you are...ah! a Photographer,lovely! get into the line,dear!"

After a long wait in the queue of "doctors","teachers","Santas","fisher women","beggars" and "brides",it was finally my turn.I stepped lightly across the school portico (where the competition was held)stringing the harp and smiling the best I can,with a number of missing milk teeth.Our headmistress ,a very feminine nun,watched me with a puzzled look on her face until the compère announced "Chest no 23-The Angel".I spent about a minute putting up a cherubic performance("But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home:/Heaven lies about us in our infancy!")*.I was received warmly by my proud mother,off stage.We took a couple of snaps in very angelic poses and returned home immensely satisfied.

The results were announced the next day and needless to say my name was missing from the list."Maybe they didn't like an angel in disguise" said Papa,struggling to keep a straight face .Ofcourse we weren't disappointed;we still believed that participation was more important.However, it was a comment from a classmate that made the whole episode a hit.He spots me in class and exclaims"Hey ! weren't you the one who turned up as the bird!!!"


Dedicated to all those great parents who take efforts and delight in encouraging their child's dreams in the right spirit.

*
From:
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,
William Wordsworth.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Silver Spangles

Mathew send me this 'spark' to brighten the Bower :)

8 things I am passionate about

Faith (...like a tree planted by the waters..(Jeremiah 17:8)..)
Family (including the large extended family)
Friends (People who add colour to my life)
Writing (no matter how I fare in it;still cherish all those handwritten letters and my diaries worth a decade.)
Kerala (Maamalakalkappurathu marathaka pattuduthu....)
Monsoon (thankfully it has caught up here,though late)
Good music (as important as life air)
Being myself (don't care how old fashioned it might make me)


8 things I want to do before I die (a.k.a wild dreams)

Write a book
Learn to swim
Learn to dance
Travel wide
Sing a duet with Sonu Nigam(the "Pal,pal,pal "song or the Parineeta songs)
Master a couple of foreign languages
Teach in the school and colleges I studied in.
Find Mr.Right (if there's one.And I hope it isn't the doctor who administers me on my death bed ;-D)


8 things I say often:

Eeshoye
Aakemotham(irritates Mum to hear me use it)
Nera
Honestly
Hi
Ok
well...
Maybe

8 books I last read (thank God it doesn't specify 'last'!!)

Afterwards-Jaishree Misra
To Sir With Love-E. R. Braithwaite
Nectar in a Sieve-Kamala Markandaya
India:From Midnight to the Millennium-Shashi Tharoor

Currently my table has a pile of books that have the slightest mention of words like "Orwell","Animal Farm",and "hegemony" as part of my project work.They want a 40 strong bibliography(sigh)

8 songs I could listen to over and over again(who ever made this tag...this is uncomfortably restricting )

Pinneyum pinneyum aaro kinavinte-Krishnagudiyil oru Pranaya kalathu
Sahyasaanu shruti cherthu vecha-Karumadikuttan
Aakashagopuram-Kalikkalam
Ethalurnnuveena paneer dalangal-Thanmathra
Nee Madhu Pakaru-Moodal Manju
Nila Kakirathu-Indira
Super Trouper-ABBA
Nahi samne-Taal

I tag

Deepti
Merin
Emily
George

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Down memory rails...

Look to the right,then to the left and then to the right again.If both the sides have a red light you cross.Don't think I follow the directions word by word,but this is one activity I do when I make my way to church and back.Most of the time I get a clear path or else there would be a 25 bogie long train blocking my way.

Trains were part of our life ever since Neil and I turned one.Mummy recollects that we made the grand first trip to Trivandrum from Ernakulam on the evening of our first birthday.Ofcourse we don't remember that,but that was not a loss at all because umpteen train rides awaited us in the years ahead.

The visit to native places during vacations started and ended with journeys by train.These were trips between Trivandrum and Ernakulam or sometimes Aluva and took 5 hours.The Onam and Christmas holidays were short so we started right on the evening the school closed.The summer vacations saw us leaving by the early morning train from Trivandrum.I especially liked these trips because it had scope of the enjoying wayside sights in daylight.Neil and I always fought for the window seat and most of the times,I lost.I would find myself sulking until Papa declares the seat should be swapped at regular intervals.Usually,I didn't have to wait long, because Neil would nod off before the train reached Kazhakootam when he'd be gently removed from the window seat and I take his place to watch Kerala zoom past me.The break of dawn,the cold morning air being warmed by the rays of the sun,the houses in slumber waking for the day,the wind against my face,the rhythmic rocking of the train were all the things that delighted me as a child.Once I ventured to write down the names of all the stations but fell asleep on reaching Varkala.
Neil and I were quite a boisterous pair and often attracted the attention of fellow passengers.Mum recounts that I was once howling because of the heat and the co passengers actually took turns to pacify me!We do have a couple of family friends whom we met on train journeys.Once the train was stopped for a signal.Neil and I kept bombarding Mum with "When will the train move?".It must have either sounded cute or irritating, for two amused men told us the train would move if we tried pushing it.We listened in open eyed wonder and almost immediately started pushing the seat back with our little hands!The people sharing that berth laughed until a red-faced Mum convinced us that we had given our best.
The stretch we traveled had certain landmarks to look out for.They were the model of a rocket at the VSSC,the Perumon bridge,the two tunnels before Kottayam and finally the marsh filled with colocasia where the train would stop for a maddening half an hour just before chugging into Ernakulam South.
The tunnels were the most fun.We'd be busy playing Rock,Paper,Scissors when we are suddenly plunged into darkness.We were not the kind to howl in the darkness(maybe we were a little scared in the early years too) but we would press our faces against the window bars to see the thin line of light at the end of the tunnel.The position of the rocket at the VSSC always confused us.We would wait in the aisle, ready to dash to the right or left with a cry of "Dei,Rocket !"
The little red tug of the emergency chain was an eternal temptation to Neil.We would make Papa explain how it works and how they would find out if someone pulled it for fun.Mum discloses that she did fear he would give it a try sometime and land us in trouble.However,the warning painted alongside kept him at bay ever since we learned to read.
Sometimes the journeys started off with adventurous dashes across the platforms and long treks to find seats.Once we traveled without tickets because we turned up just in time for the train.Papa got off at Kollam to get them because it was the only place the train stopped for 10 minutes.
There were rare occasions when we indulged in the luxury of traveling in the A/c Chair car.Neil and I were very excited and kept experimenting with the push back seats.We have seen the other extreme too when we actually slept on the floor of the general compartment while returning on the eve of a school reopening day.

The shift to Ernakulam put an end to the regular train journeys.These days they are very rare.But trains and rails are very much part of our life.Our home being just four blocks away from the railway track,constantly keeps us in touch with the rattle,the hoot, and the sheer magnificence of the locomotive.The railway clearing is one place every kid in the family must have seen.It was the trump card used both to pacify a tantrum or as a reward for being good.As kids we used to scramble over sleeping uncles to look out of the window whenever we heard a train pass.The house still trembles when a goods train thunders by.
Everytime,I cross them I look wistfully at those tracks that stretch to infinity,and then take this jolly trip,down the memory rails!

"And when the tramway down the hill
Across the cobbles moans and rings,
There is about my window-sill
The tumult of a thousand wings."

(A Town Window, John Drinkwater)


Picture courtesy
http://www.canada-photos.com/data/media/1/railway-tracks-yale_413.jpg

Friday, June 27, 2008

What's Cooking?

One lazy morning,I was reading an article on how a blog is the live plant which can supplement the cut and dried stump of a resume.Mum had been telling me off for spending time blog-hopping when I should be learning the secrets of meen-curry.I march triumphantly into the kitchen where she is engaged in the "Battle of Breakfast" to read out relevant lines from the article to vindicate my habit.

"...that's fine,but how do you expect to eat without learning to cook?"

Normally, I would have given a tongue in cheek reply and dived for cover.
That morning,the question didn't have any barbs (of the 'managing-your-
own-home-someday' kind),for once I realize the sorry state of my culinary skills.

The first thing I ever learned to make was of course,tea.Since I was not a culinary enthusiast this feat came around the age of 11 or 12.The first tea I served,to demonstrate my skill,took half an hour and was declared "excellent"by the tasters,who had given up the prospect of tea that evening.Well,if one has perfected the art then why try any more.So that was the end of brewing tea for a long long time.It was only after the shift to Ernakulam that I made enough tea to compensate that long gap.The place is thick with relations who keep dropping in and volunteering to make tea is the best way to escape the company of relations who keep asking the same questions everytime.

Back in Trivandrum,Mum and Dad used to leave us to ourselves occasionally on short visits to the native places like weddings,functions or emergencies.Those days we lived on Maggi noodles and "bull's eyes",and the best part was that Neil always joined in.Parents out of station also meant parotta and chilly beef from the fast food shop.So who cares about cooking!

Things however took a turn (for good,obviously) two years back,when Mum took occasional breaks to visit her parents,leaving me to manage the household.She did try frightening me into learning to cook with dire warnings like leaving an empty fridge.But she knew better and wouldn't have dreamed of letting Ammamma or Dad starve.I took over with a fully stocked fridge and my sole duty was warming up things and fixing all the meals,going by the instructions jotted on the yellow scrap pasted on the fridge.
Not surprisingly,I put up an impressive work by doing things ahead of time;the lunch boxes packed and breakfast laid out by 7:30am.The only things I would have to make would be puttu ,dosa or appam and tea.The thermal cooker is one of the miracles in kitchendom,atleast the rice gets cooked without any fuss.
After a few easy "duty days" like those,Mum began to reduce the number of things to be warmed and served.Now the instructions read "Soak green peas
at night,boil in the morning,after a whistle turn down the fire....".
Piece of cake,I tell myself.
I opened the cooker at the first whistle(I swear it sounded like one) only to find the peas still green,grinning back at me.My reputation was at stake that day,with my NRI uncle included in the mouths-to-feed list.I was determined to get that peas curry and paalappam done for breakfast.The stove was lit again and this time the cooker whistled as many as three times.I opened the cooker to find "ghosts" of pea-skins floating around in the excess water.The residue(discovered under the water) now looked like badly made dal.It must have been my exasperated cry that brought uncle to the scene of the 'tragedy'.Sweet as he is, uncle took over and tried his best to salvage the curry.My folks were courteous enough to taste the 'disaster' before asking for the sugar bowl.The garbage bin that day,had a considerable amount of yellowish green gooey stuff,among its contents.Thankfully Mum returned just in time to save the lunch from a similar fate.

The only thing I really volunteered to make was chocolate.There were several irresistible pictures of chocolates in Mum's collection.(She has an entire row of glossy cook books and several scrapbooks with hundreds of recipes carefully chosen and cut out from magazines and newspapers.).I had brought cocoa pods from Mum's home and went through the entire process of drying the seeds,pounding and processing them to make the chocolate powder.The first time it turned out in liquid form and the second time it remained a semisolid.But chocolate is chocolate afterall;the smacking of lips was appreciation enough.
The chicken and meen curry still remain secrets.So do that unending list of sadhya side dishes.Never had a palate for the fancy or exotic dishes so no regrets about the ignorance there.
Though I manage to conjure up four square meals,the best thing I make still continues to be tea.My Mum continues to lament the lack of the hereditary skill in me.As for me,I always say "The best is yet to be!"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rat-a-tat-tat

It isn't Diwali yet,nor is it Vishu but a crackling sound,sparks of yellow and the smell of burning hair are now common phenomenon in the evening air of Cochin.It could either be that the IPL failed to impress or Kerala's dismal performance at the Santhosh Trophy,but the citizens of Cochin seem to have suddenly taken to tennis.These days we find a whole lot of them brandishing rackets.Ofcourse they do not promise a Leander Paes or a Sania Mirza to Indian tennis,because they play against a non human-the Great Indian mosquito!
From recorded time,Ernakulam has been known for it's thriving mosquito population.My dad,a 'Cochinite' by birth,recollects days of his childhood when they used to swish plates coated with oil to trap mosquitoes.The mosquito net was an integral part of very household in the city.
The advent of a battery of mosquito repellents;coils,mats,creams,liquidators seemed to solve the problem for a while but had their side effects in the form of allergies and pulmonary diseases.Next came the idea of barricading the doors,windows and ventilators with nets.The pesky insects were smarter by developing an extra sensory perception for finding a neglected gap or a hole just enough to squeeze in or simply waiting for the door to open!

With the garbage disposal and the drainage system in a mess the mosquito population find a happy ground to breed and multiply,bringing along with them a set of vector transmitted diseases,some of which leave the victims marred for life.The vicious chikungunya that swept Mid Travancore last year will not be forgotten soon.

A brainwave from some mosquito-bitten soul created the Mosquito bat.Shaped like a tennis racket,the bat has a mesh that can be electrified at the press of a button.All you have to do is swing the bat when you hear the irritating buzz and Zzzaap! One electrocuted mosquito,at your disposal.The bat caught the attention of Cochin dwellers like a rage.Multicoloured bats ranging from Rs 120 to 400 sold out like hot cakes.These days we see lungi clad,bare chested,potbellied men pacing up and down their gardens with the bat for a mosquito-free evening walk.

We were a little late to discover this wonder machine.We had spent the initial days of the last summer in misery sleeping inside stuffy mosquito nets and being choked in the fumes of the Good Knight mats(someone found out that burning used mats was more effective).Sure it was, the mosquitoes fainted,so did you!.Dad tried camphor and incense and a whole lot of fumigants until Ammamma lost her temper.Nothing seemed to work.The worst time was the family prayer time.The winged pests somehow inferred that people tend to be passive while praying and had their prime time 'meals' scheduled for that half an hour.We must have looked like a Pentecost group, praying with claps and jerks!(no offense meant).It was when dad went to investigate a persistent crackling sound we used to hear from the neighbour's garden that we found our best weapon.No time was lost in procuring one,complete with a torchlight( maybe to hunt for the "enemy" during a treacherous powercut!).Nobody seemed to have the patience to get it charged(8-15 hrs the instructions said) before launching the attack.And after a couple of hours,it was Vishu.
"Buzz....swoosh....zing....Rat-a-tat-tat!".For four long suffering souls,we enjoyed the sadistic pleasure of seeing mosquitoes drop dead in a heap.Soon we had another one bought to use upstairs.It became our bed-time companion.You hear the buzz any time in the night, just pick up the bat and wave aimlessly around you and the reassuring crackle is guaranteed!(Might look ridiculous but definitely effective.)

The Bat caught the fancy of visiting friends from other parts of Kerala and they actually placed orders to get it for friends back home.My NRI uncles who grew up in this mosquito paradise received the new wonder with glee on their visits here.Ammamma was scandalized to see her 45 yr old son clamber over the chairs,on to the dining table, to reach the flies perched on the ceiling!
We added 3 more to the collection,in due time.But like all good things the bat also has its weak point.It breaks down fast and cannot be repaired.
However, this does not douse its market demand.And what is more,there has been a decrease in the nuisance,atleast comparatively.

p:s The existing mosquitoes have developed in size and now look like a huge ants with wings.Must have been buzzing over Darwin's "Origin of Species" sometime ;-).

"Rat-a-tat-tat" happens to be the title of a Russian short story collection for children by Nikolai Nosov.One of my favorite books and a treat for anyone who enjoys children's literature.

Friday, June 6, 2008

That Yew-tree's Shade...

Mum and I are seated on a rickety bench at the rear end of the cemetery chapel.There are a few other women seated,at random in the faded plastic chairs.The altar wall features a huge Crucifix with the sculpture of the Pieta at it's foot.The tabernacle is conspicuously absent.The floor of the chapel is made of marble slabs,all black,bearing the inscriptions of the ones that sleep beneath.We are here to attend the funeral of some venerable old man who passed away the night before.We were in no way related to the departed soul except that we belong the same parish prayer group.We wait in solemn silence as a small group of mourners slowly make their way towards the chapel.The cross and candle bearers in front,then the young asst.vicar walking with brisk steps,the bereaved family and friends and finally the coffin.They place the coffin on a table ominously covered in black ,in the center of the chapel.The priest and his assistant begin a brief prayer while the rest of us look on ,occasionally throwing furtive glances at the open coffin.
Soon the prayers are done and the coffin is carried to a six feet long ditch among the numerous graves in the yard.Mum and I are relegated to the outer circle and hence cannot see what is going on.A few minutes into the prayer,one of the prayer group leaders' is seen handing out frankincense to the ones in approachable distance.The priest's voice is heard saying "...to dust shalt thou return."A few audible sniffs from the inner circle(which was relatively silent till now)tell us that the old man was saying his final goodbye.Some move forward to throw the incense into the grave,the sound of ropes slipping,and then of soft mud falling in.Another laid to rest.

The last time I was at a similar function was for my dear grandmother's funeral.I surely was not the unaffected observer then.Ammamma now rests in the row immediately near the chapel steps.Someone had then joked "Teacher(as she was popularly known)can hear Mass everyday!"

Graveyards were always disturbing places to me as a child.It still does, but for a different reason.I never liked attending Requiem Masses unless it was for family members.The prayers gave me an eerie feeling,the tune of the hymns,haunting and the piece of silk with a cross that was spread on the floor,scary.As I grew older I decided it was high time I tried understand the inevitable truth than trying to shy away from it.The stint in the parish youth organization gave me several occasions to conquer my fears.It was part of our duty to keep prayers going in a bereaved house.Being in the church choir meant singing at Requiem Masses and that made me realize the beauty and solace in the prayers involved.

The cemetery here must be unique with it's custom of a regular Eucharistic celebration.After Ammamma's passing I make it a point to attend Mass there atleast once a week.I was surprised at the turn out there.About a hundred turn up at 8 in the morning on weekdays.Most of them have their dear ones interred in the thirty cent cemetery.One of the asst.vicars,announcing his transfer,remarked that the gathering at the cemetery were well acquainted with the sorrow of parting.On the chapel floor one finds the rich and famous parishioners, showing off even in their final sleep,with the details of the positions they adorned when alive and kicking.It used to give me the creeps to think about standing or sitting over a dead person.The tombs outside are also an interesting study.There are a few elaborate marble tombs with carvings and some with engraved pictures of the deceased.Some of them have ornate crosses and mournful angels while one,I noticed with a shock, sported a skull and crossed bones!

Ammamma had a freedom fighter spinster for a neighbour until the latter's term was over and they buried someone much younger there.By the gate ,is a tiny tomb,about one feet in length,of "a warrior who fought bravely"(the epitaph read),a baby who lived only for two days.

I've always wondered the paradox in celebrating the Eucharist(the sacrament of Life) in the house of the dead.There is nothing about the chapel that is soothing ,comforting or hopeful.Yet why does such a big crowd gather there every day and pray with devout fervor?The answer probably is,the awareness of the absolute truth,that lies under their feet.

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

-'I Had No Time To Hate, Because', Emily Dickinson




Picture courtesy
www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/mba0630l.jpg

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Monsoon revival

It's June.Goodbye to the warm mornings,hot noons and balmy evenings.The monsoon's here in style.Sonorous cracks of thunder,scintillating streaks of lightning, gusty winds and a torrent of rain.Yesterday,we woke up to find our house in flood downstairs.(thanks to the 'efficient' drainage system in Ernakulam).
The jasmine pot(a gift from a dear friend) on which I lavished my attention,bloomed for the first time,sporting three pearly white starlets perfuming the air.
The kids in the neighbourhood ,who made my study leave miserable by rending the air with the spirit of summer games while I was trapped under a mountain of xerox copies,will soon head to school.The ads on TV reflect the season with the school accessories,clothing and umbrella companies vying for attention.Still remember that old ad of St.George umbrella starring a famous child artist,which made umbrellas seem like the lifeline of every school kid.The school reopening day is never complete without the shower that drenches all the new clothes and bags.The new white socks and shiny black shoes turn a nasty brown from the wading through the puddles.In its wake follows colds,flus and a series of fevers and visits to the doctor.
Most of the large government school students find themselves back at home again when their schools are turned into monsoon relief camps especially in the coastal and low-lying areas.
The smell of new books,the new accessories,the new classroom and a whole new year of promises and adventure are truly felt only when in school.
Once in college the entire routine changes and everyday is reopening day.
This monsoon ,however,is different.

Last Thursday saw our farewell party.A quiet affair with teachers and juniors,good food and a few words on the batch that was leaving.We were mostly left to ourselves to mull over the two years that sped by.For many this might be the end of student life.A professional course or a job with a hectic work schedule would definitely be different from the dreamy,relaxed years we leave behind us.Our farewell ceremony lacked teary faces which struck us as strange.Only a few thought about the autograph routine.We were a close knit group in perfect harmony with each other.Unlike the other PGs we had more outings together and celebrated birthdays in class.We indulged in simple pleasures like a walk to the lake front,dividing a tiny bar of chocolate between the 16 of us,enjoying those coloured sip-ups(an interesting scene to watch;both 35 and 21 look like a 5 year old),or just standing around the lectern (under the lone fan)cracking jokes.

Our small group had a wide range of people with five qualified teachers,a judo champion,a religious brother and a married student with a 4 year old kid.In course of time we saw one of our classmates get placed as a government employee and another engaged and married.I was lucky to experience the warmth of my group when they turned up en masse at my grandmother's funeral and when they made my birthday memorable during our excursion.
It is notable that we never had clashes or sparks in class.A jolly group that always saw the sunny side .Our Brother was the glue that kept us together for being the oldest and a religious he was the undisputed Godfather(in the right sense).When the other three of the tiny male population occasionally played truants,he would find himself(in his own words) "blessed among women"!
Every function we organized was pronounced a success and won much appreciation for our unity.The play we rigged up for the Association day discovered many latent talents.I was so proud of the little choir I trained which performed at most of the functions.There were many who made the most of soporific hours with creative sparks like instant poetry and sketching.(This poem(Farewell day Musings) was written amidst "The Colonizer and The Colonized" on the last working day.)

It was more than coincidence that our course officially came to an end on 23 April,a day dedicated to the memory of someone synonymous to English literature.Everyone seemed to understand the importance of the day.We treated ourselves to biriyanis at lunch break with the entire class sitting around in a circle.That evening no one seemed to be in a hurry to go home but lingered to fill the blackboard with our signatures.Our teachers saw us off with blessings and invitations to re-visit often.

As two years of friendship,fancy and fun comes to an end this monsoon eve and we part ways to seek new pastures with memories worth a lifetime,I have only one prayer on my mind,"Lord you have given me so much,please give me one more thing - a grateful heart!"

Picture courtesy:Manorama online

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Exam Fever

A University,which was in news for breeding a rare species of termites,with a nutritious diet of Under graduate answer papers,suddenly decided to mend it's ways.The axe fell on a batch of unsuspecting PG students enjoying the final semester in college.The prescribed 90 days for a semester,cut short to 75 and the dates announced for the final exams.A certain group of dreamy-eyed arts students who did their "Doctor Zhivago" in movie form,watched "Throne of Blood" with Chinese subtitles for Film Studies,slept through "Pedagogy of The Oppressed",and listened to"Chicken Soup with Barley" with a growling stomach(because the professor droned on past the lunch bell),found themselves with hardly three weeks for a recap.Then began a flurry of xerox copy sessions. Notes,prints,scraps,manuscripts,anything that came their way,now lie in neat piles on study tables,hot from the xerox machine.Some got carried away in the frenzy and ended up with two copies of the same text !
The study leave kicks off with the ceremonial preparation of the Time Table which makes things look like a piece of cake.Since most of the day goes by in deciding what to study,most of the action takes place at night.They soon realize that Kafka needs atleast two days to sink in.The time table already in disarray.Their sleep haunted by nightmares varying from turning up late without the hall ticket to mixing up the serial numbers.
Ahead are days of umpteen swigs of black coffee,frantic phone calls,and litanies of "Lord of the Lazy bones,Study (atleast) for us!" if you are caught lazing around(harmless but unsettling).

Hark ! I hear one!

In view of the decisive exams it's restricted creative activities(except, in the answer sheets) this month.Catch up with all of you soon!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Seven, eight, lay them straight..."

It was at a personality development workshop that we were first asked to write down our weak points.The task was over in a jiffy.Next we were asked to jot down our fortes.It dragged on for minutes.
Some tags are like that.

Rules for this tag
1. Each player starts with 8 random facts about themselves.
2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.

Here I go...

1. I am a dog lover who never really owned one.My favorite nursery rhyme "How much is that doggy in the window?"

2. Used to think bonsais were cute,not any more.Bonsais and tiny fish bowls seem like torture to me.

3. I tend to think I'm the tallest among women in the bus.Guess tall women don't use buses these days ;).

4. The sight railway tracks fill me with an urge to travel.Love the rattle of rails and journeys by train.

5.I like reading about Kerala in English.Anita Nair's anthology "WHERE THE RAIN IS BORN"on my books-to-own list.

6. The question paper always makes me feel guilty of having ignored that one little chapter.And that happens all the time...!

7. Feel choked wearing a helmet so usually don't use one.But my helmet-shirking days are over with the traffic police planning to fix hidden cameras at junctions :(

8. I don't think heavy metal rock is music or that bawdy stuff are jokes.


I tag Merin.

Silverine, do pass me that tube of Moov too! Merci beaucoup!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Queen's Meet

March 7, 2007 : the world's largest luxury liner Queen Mary 2 visits the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
One of the first luxury liners to touch the shores of Kochi,it's sheer size and magnificence made it the talk of the town in no time.The 2000 odd passengers on board were received warmly by the Cochin Port Trust and the Kerala Tourism department with the customary thalapoli, garland and tikka.However their joys were short lived.The one day they had on shore turned out to be a full fledged hartal in the State.The tourists who decided to stay back and shop instead of going to Kumarakom and other tourists places found themselves on a sparsely populated street with shops shuttered tight.

Dad and I, always on the look out for an adventure, decided to go watch the ship as it set sail .Dad decided the island of Vypin would give us a vantage point.Though it was almost a year of my stay at Ernakulam I had never been to this part of the city.So we glided through the traffic-free Goshree bridges enjoying the breeze and the breathtaking view of the Port and Marine Drive.

The Vypin island and Mattanchery town form the two banks of the estuary that opens into the Arabian Sea.Both shores are dotted with Chinese fishing nets and fishing boats.There is a boat jetty that caters to a bustling ferry service.

Reaching Vypin,we were greeted by a teeming crowd of enthusiasts who had come there for exactly the same purpose.The platform on the banks were overflowing with men,women and children of all ages.It was the mood of a fair or a palliperunnal.Everyone in gay holiday(hartal holiday)mood and bubbling with excitement.We found ourselves a place with a little difficulty.
The scheduled time as said in the newspaper was 1pm.The clock inched towards 1 and all eyes scanned the horizon for signs of the ship.

From where we stood we could not see the ship but dad said we might see the smoke when it set sail.Time moved on,still no sign of the ship.The crowd kept themselves busy by discussing the ship from what they read in the newspapers.Most of them had mobile cameras ready to capture the sight.A few channel men and photographers were also spotted.A group of adventurous boys distracted us by climbing on to the nearest Chinese fishing net.A school of dolphins breaching the water kept us all enthralled.A couple of smart peddlers decided it was the best hartal ever, brought out their wares and found many customers.We could see a brimming crowd on the opposite bank of Mattanchery.It seemed to grow every minute.

It was nearly 2 ,the Queen was trying our patience now.But everyone hung on with remarkable calm.A pilot boat cut across the waters in the direction of the sea to warn the little fishing boats.A resounding horn rent the air.Queen Mary 2 heaved to life and we could see a whiff of smoke at a distance.She glided into view with majestic grace.Everyone gazed with awestruck wonder as she sallied down the estuary towards us.The 13 decker giant of a ship was the most stupendous sights ever.

On her black hull gleamed "QUEEN MARY 2 CUNARD".On the deck stood a huge red chimney,and on the side,a row of life boats .I'm sure everyone watching would have been reminded of the Titanic atleast once.The passengers(probably the richest people in the world) who stood waving at the deck and windows seemed so puny. They flourished their shawls and hats.Cameras clicked ceaselessly.Some even tried getting themselves snapped with the ship for a backdrop.And as if to thank the denizens of the host Queen,the ship let out another blast of the horn.John Williams' music for a background and it would have been just perfect for the elation it created.A loud cheer rose from the crowd in return as the Queen weaved her way into the horizon.


Picture Courtesy:From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Seasons in the Sun

The other day I was hurrying along to catch Remadevi in time for college,when I noticed a knot of kids on the pavement.All of them engaged in animated discussion,carefree and gay.I was wondering where they were headed to,when one of them did a pirouette on a lamppost and the entire group burst into joyful laughter.The very embodiment of pure joy.I passed a church,while on the bus,and saw yet another bunch of children gamboling in the front yard.I was wistfully sent back to the summers of yesteryears,of school days which seem so long ago,when I was very much a child drinking the summer joys to the lees.

Summer vacations of early childhood were invariably spent at native places.We'd wait for Neil to arrive from school,(my school usually closed early),bags packed and the rickshaw waiting,and speed off to the railway station to catch the Venad Express.A week at Ernakulam and another at Kothamangalam and then back to Trivandrum.
It was in those days before the Sunday school started having Intensive courses during summer that we spent the holidays at the Jawahar Bal Bhavan.
Set in a sprawling campus,adjacent to the magnificent Kanakakunnu Place, the Bal Bhavan catered to shaping the budding artists,dancers,actors,and singers of the city.For a modest fee of Rs 15,one could enroll for courses of their choice.Neil and I signed up for Clay modeling,Drawing,and Drama.I also took up Dancing lessons.
There was a course called Aero-modeling which caught our fancy but unfortunately it had an age bar and was expensive.

The day started with Dancing lessons.The first step involved an akimbo pose and a rhythmic stamping of the feet which seemed to go on for ever.I hated those lessons because I was no dancing doll.However the stage at Bal Bhavan became the first stage I danced on,at the tender age of 5.I did a couple of dances later(in school) and called it a day.

The Drama classes were more fun.There was a large crowd of drama enthusiasts and an articulate director.Most of the stories were from the Panchatantra and had animal characters.This was a huge disadvantage because you wore fox-shaped or lion shaped masks which did not give scope for facial expressions.Due to the large number of wannabes the dramas to be enacted always had a group of children as characters.This was an effective method to slyly avoid bad actors as well as to appease the budding Big Bs.I belonged to this group and thought it beneath my acting prowess to be just a face in the crowd.One fine day, the director chose me for a different role.I was asked to stand on a stool and move my arms, up and down,in slow and graceful motions.I was immensely pleased at the promotion and plunged into the role with my heart and soul.The director applauded my perfect movements and pointed it out to the other kids.Proud of myself, I went on,till I realized the Butterfly was only a minor character and all it had to do with the story is flap its wings! My talent affronted, I quit the stage;the director heaved a sigh of relief.Good riddance! I am a pathetic actor till date.

In the Drawing class,we were given large sheets of paper and a tray of crayons.We could use the floor for an easel and pour out our imaginations through colours.Neil showed me how to draw a house and I copied it.We drew umpteen number of houses with a triangular roof,square windows and rectangular doors.Neil was not one for perfection and moved on while I added domestic touches like the chimney,the curtains and fountains to my house.The last picture we drew together was a helicopter which looked like a battered dragon fly.How proud we were!

The Clay modeling class was the place where we had the best of times.We were provided a slab of cool,soft clay and left to ourselves to mould different shapes.Our creations were exhibited on a shelf,by the window where we left them to dry.The first few days we rolled out little balls,on a plate of flattened clay.The instructor soon got tired of the pairs of 'a plate of laddus' on the display shelf and taught us to make snake-boats and the oarsmen.We were thrilled at the new lesson but however hard we tried the boatman refused to stay put on the stern.So we spent the rest of the days adding pairs of snake-boats to the display shelf.We were really interested in the art that we got mum to buy a huge slab of clay so we could practice at home.It was only when we started sitting down to meals with dirty nails that mum pulled the plug.Thus went a pair future Picassos down the drain!

We did not realize our artistic dreams at the Bal Bhavan;Neil and I found our skills in totally different fields But those days certainly proved to be a happy playground of the unadulterated joys of childhood.

"In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means, "

- 'Fern Hill ', Dylan Thomas

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tagged for the first time!

I was in a fix last week.We had just seen two farewell sessions at college,I had a couple of assignments edging towards the deadline,a dissertation topic in indecision and a half formed post in mind.Was crammed for creative expression when Silverine saved the day.I take up my first tag enthusiastically.

1. LAST MOVIE YOU SAW IN A THEATRE:

A Malayalam movie called "Chocolate".Was no good, but we went from our class and cheered loudly when our principal's name flashed across the screen and everytime they showed our college.

2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING?

"Nilathezhutthu",by Rev.Boby Jose Kattikadu

3. FAVORITE BOARD GAME?

Good old Snakes and ladders,Luddo and Monopoly

4. FAVORITE MAGAZINE?

Reader's Digest(before they started the Indian edition),Don Bosco,The Week.

5. FAVORITE SMELLS?

Smell of mummy's sambhar and lime pickle,new books,roses and kundirikkam (incense).

6. FAVORITE SOUND?

The lunch bell,wind chimes,church bells,flute and harp

7. WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD?

When Mum's cross with me.

8. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU WAKE?

Snoozing 5 more mins wont hurt...

9. FAVORITE FAST FOOD PLACE?

The only place I get food(fast or otherwise) is mum's kitchen.Seldom have to eat outside.

10. FUTURE CHILD'S NAME?

Emma,Amy,Manna,Elizabeth....haven't found interesting boy's names yet .

11. FINISH THIS STATEMENT. "IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY I’D...?

have a difficult time keeping count of it....!

12. DO YOU DRIVE FAST?

Not more than 40 km/hr on my scooter.
Better late than never!

13. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL?

Thought it was fashionable to do so from the illustrations in Enid Blyton's"Bedtime stories".Had a Winnie-the-Pooh(a long time back) who found himself on the floor by midnight.

14. STORMS-COOL OR SCARY?

Somewhere close to scary

15. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?

The brand new blue Maruti 800 from the driving school.Didn't expect the instructor to ask me to get behind the wheel right on day one.

16. FAVORITE DRINK?

Water flavoured with ramacham,sambharam(butter-milk),lemonade with soda.

17. FINISH THIS STATEMENT, "IF I HAD THE TIME I WOULD

...waste more,probably;24 hrs is enough for me...

18. DO YOU EAT THE STEMS ON BROCCOLI?

I hate leafy vegetables!

19. IF YOU COULD DYE YOUR HAIR ANY COLOR, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE?

No way,my hair is beautiful as it is.

20. NAME ALL THE DIFFERENT CITIES/TOWNS YOU HAVE LIVED IN.

Kothamangalam, Trivandrum, and Ernakulam.

21. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH?

Wish Rahul Dravid played something else.

22. ONE NICE THING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU.

Sterling Silver (ine)!

23. WHAT'S UNDER YOUR BED?

A lot of dust(because i haven't bothered to sweep under it)and one amused spider I chased under it last night(spidy,you are done for,I'm going to get the vacuum cleaner!)

24. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE BORN AS YOURSELF AGAIN?

Anytime!

25. MORNING PERSON, OR NIGHT OWL?

Morning person on normal days,night owl on the eve of exams.

26. OVER EASY, OR SUNNY SIDE UP?

Sunny side up...

27. FAVORITE PLACE TO RELAX?

Home sweet home

28. FAVORITE PIE?

Not a Simple Simon!

29. FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?

Any flavour would do because ice creams are forbidden to me....Tonsillitis

30. OF ALL THE PEOPLE YOU TAGGED THIS TO, WHO'S MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND FIRST?

Emily

Im tagging

Merin
Emily
Anish
Neil

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lenten Graces

Lent has always been special to me.
As a kid, I used to realize it only when Mum stopped cooking meat and fish.It used to be hard to abstain when we were in school but practice and the enlightenment on the significance of the observance made things manageable.
Palm Sunday,which opens the Holy Week sees the procession with yellow green fronds,the mini-stampede( that results from the mad rush to get them),and artistically gifted dads making crosses (and even other shapes)out of the fronds to amuse their bored kids.The media men jostle with each other to get the best shot of the day.Incidentally,my first appearance on national television was on one such a day.The prime time news showed me, a toddler of four,frolicking on the church ground ,brandishing the palm leaf.It had a wide viewership among my relatives(it was those dark ages with only Doordarshan)who describe the scene whenever they see me and make me go pink in the face.
On Maundy Thursday we would be at our native place in Ernakulam,gathered around the table for the Pesaha feast.It was an occasion for a family members to gather.The men folk turn up only when it was time to partake of the Inriappam and the Pesaha paal and declare that those in nighties are representatives of Judas Iscariot! This would cause the poor women to rush to their rooms and change into their saris.The ones who get the small crosses,made from tiny strips of the palm leaf, were pronounced 'lucky'.
I used to be scared to sleep at night, with the moon light streaming into the room,for fear of the Angel of Doom looming outside.It took an explanation from Dad, that we had marks on our heart to save us from the angel's sword,to calm my fears.As kids,we never saw the inside of the church during those three days.It was naturally crowded and Dad gladly took the opportunity to take us for a stroll by the lake behind the church and meet up with his old friends,doing exactly the same thing with their kids.
When we reached high school,Neil and I declared that we'd rather celebrate our Holy Week in Trivandrum.By then we had become fans of church music and bought prayers books to use for those days.
The Way of the Cross caught our special interest with it's magnetic music inlaid with cathartic pathos.We even started doing it in our home with rosaries positioned in 14 places around the living room.
Back in Trivandrum they annually conduct a combined Way of the Cross which brings together the Catholics of the city.It gave a sense of pride and unity to be a part of the solemn crowd that paraded the city.
Good Friday sees the maximum turn out at our parish.Classmates whom we never knew to be of the same parish,teachers,friends, good-looking gals and guys(wonder where this group hibernates for the rest of the year ?) ; a sea of familiar faces.The hot 'kanji',and mango pickle served for the lunch on Good Friday fast always tastes like ambrosia.If the volunteers were your friends you were sure to get a liberal helping of the 'kaippu neer'(juice of bitter gourd leaves) .The wry faces after tasting the juice and the railings of the church stained in green(that's the fate of the 'liberal' helping) ,the heart wrenching song "Gagultha Malayil ninnum..",the crowd elbowing each other to kiss the life-size statue of Jesus are all vivid memories of the day.As on cue down comes the Good Friday special rain.The perfect end to the day of sorrow.
It was only five years ago that I made my first pilgrimage to Malayatoor.The first visit was more of a pleasure trip because we went as a group from the youth organization.We started the ascend at one in the morning.In the dim lights it was impossible to guess the topography of the place.Far above, shone star like specks which later turned out to be the street lights positioned along the route.I was out of breath before I reached Station One.Atop the mount, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the place than it's religious significance.A panoramic view of the Periyar flowing serenely into the valley ,the valley draped in mist with a thousand shades of green,the cool breeze at 2 in the morning;how I wished to paint it as it was!
The next day however I was down with my legs revolting in pain.The second visit gave me an opportunity to sing during Mass at the hilltop.I was thrilled to hear my voice ring in that sacred chapel blessed by presence of the saint.
The Saturday before Easter is like limbo.We wait eagerly for the big day ahead.By evening the kitchen bustles with activity.Smells which had gone missing for 50 days waft about temptingly and give you a glimpse of the scrumptious feast in store.
Easter Sunday rituals begin at the wee hours of the morning and hence is usually characterized by a sparsely populated church.It takes a mammoth effort to stay awake during the homily.And when you have just thought you have done a good job,the priest sharing pleasantries after Mass,says"Hey, I saw you nodding off!"
Easter dishes feel like them only if you follow the abstinence rigorously.Dad used to hide Easter eggs (those Cadbury ones with Nutties inside)and sent us on a treasure hunt.

Last year,I celebrated Easter Mass at the Basilica in Ernakulam.Inspite of the Mass by the Cardinal,the spectacular and dramatic staging of the Resurrection,and the presence of a very fashionable crowd and I felt hollow in my heart.
Not a single familiar face,in the 500 strong crowd that night !
The biggest deprivation of our transplant to Ernakulam - the social element.Now I understand what used to make the days of this week so special.The Lord rises without a doubt,the rituals and prayers are almost similar in both places,the feast is equally delicious but the real cheer lies in the friendly faces,the smiles and simple wishes of "Happy Easter!" which flow from the profundity of the heart.

Wish you all a warm and Grace filled Easter!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Parent's Marks

There was not much of a confusion when it was time for Neil and me to start school.We were put in a small convent school in the city.Our parents were particular about our education and sent us to Catholic schools without a second thought(this was way before issues on education of Catholic children came up).However that was the only place where we shared the same classroom.When we completed one year there,Neil left to join a famous boy's only Jesuit school.It was only after I completed my KG that I joined my school where I was to make my destiny for 12 years to come.I was enrolled in one of the prestigious convent schools of the city.Run by foreign nuns,it was a typical convent school which aimed to make perfect ladies out of girls.We received training for the same in every aspect of school life.The timetable always had hours like Needle work,Singing,Moral Science /Catechism,Drill,and S.U.P.W .They did not distinguish between the boy (the school admitted boys till class four) and girl child when it came to all these practices.I still remember 'roguish' boys trying their luck at threading a needle and singing "Do re me...'
Discipline was the watch word of the school.Everything worked on a set of infallible rules.They taught us to pray with "Join your hands,bow your heads,close your eyes and pray...".Catholic students had special intensive training.We were to gather, regularly, at the grotto every morning for the "Morning prayer".There we would say the Our Father,Hail Mary,I Believe,and the Memorare and then wind it up singing a hymn we learned in the Catechism class.In lower classes, the third hour of the day was invariably marked M.S/Catechism on our timetable.Catholic students headed to another classroom while the others read their moral science texts in our own classrooms.We had end of term exams for these subjects too.This was where they included the parent's marks.It might have been a brainwave on the part of some venerable founderess of the school,that it was necessary to have a knowledge of the child's growth in his/her domestic ground.
Parents were required to mark out of 5,their wards scores in"Obedience",Respect for Elders",Improvement in Studies",and "Rendering help at home".
These marks were to be written on a paper,totaled out of 20,signed by the parent and send to the class teacher.My parents were only too happy at this provision and plunged enthusiastically to testify their daughter's progress.
Even though we weren't supposed to open the envelope most of us could not resist the temptation to know our marks and compare it with that of others.The first version of the marks I got was 13/20.(Rendering help at home 2.5/5 (because I wouldn't water the plants),Obedience 3/5 (for refusing those vegetables on my plate)).I was pleased with myself and kept it ready for submission.It was a shock to find that a huge majority had 20/20 ! It seemed like I was the lone un-tameable shrew in the class.However the teacher noticed it too and announced the unsaid clause that parents are not to give full marks at any cost.I resolved to be my best around the time due for the next assessment.This time it improved by one,while the rest of the 'angels' in my class got 19 (some even 19.5).

We had this assessment till class 8 and the best score I ever got was 17/20.No amount of cajoling,reasoning or threats could
make mum put 4's for all the choices."It's for your own good",she'd say.
Now when I think about it,I still cannot hope to get 20/20,but I am sure Ive learned something more important.I imbibed the virtue of honesty from my parents.My school did succeed in it's vision but with a difference,it moulded me and my family.
"God bless our own dear convent school..."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Twenty leap years to 80

A leap year is special, so are people born on February 29.My Appachan is one such special person and this time it 'leaps', appachan reaches milestone no 80.
Hailing from an agricultural family and being the eldest son to marry(his elder brother joined the Jesuits) appachan is a farmer by destiny.Though they had a sizeable land in his hometown of Arakuzha,in Muvattupuzha,finding more cultivable land became a necessity to sustain the 9 member family.So my appachan decided to move.He came upon a piece of land in the then Godforsaken hamlet of Ayroorpadam,in Kothamangalam.From what was just a part of the forest he carved out what later became my mother's home.Paddy,rubber,nutmegs,cocoa,pepper,vanilla,coconuts and a cornucopia of fruit trees flourished under his green thumb.It was only after my mum,(the second of four children)was born that my grandmother joined him at Ayroorpadam.Back then they lived in a tiny little house which served as the granary,as well as their home.The livestock included cows,goats,hens,rabbits and a huge pond of prawns.
It took years of hard work and sweat before they built their new house and saw their children settled.
The earliest memory I have of appachan is from the video tapes that my dad painstakingly took when my brother and I were babies.Dad had this weird notion of planning home videos by making people walk up and down the driveway.So there's appachan marching up and down with Neil and me in his arms,beaming like any proud grandfather rightfully should.(Ofcourse we were a cute pair of twins!)
Kothamangalam was always naadu because it looked like one, unlike our paternal native place in Ernakulam,a city just like our Trivandrum.
We'd arrive to the loving embrace of ammachi and the smiling face of my uncle(who used to stay there) but appachan, being the busy bee was seldom seen in the house during the day.If we made an entry through the paddy fields behind the house,we might see him somewhere in the farm,his broad,muscular frame glistening with sweat, his sturdy legs caked in mud and a smile of joy on his face and invariably the first question was"Which bus did you come by?".How refreshing it sounded unlike the formal "sughamano?"

Wake up at 4,milk the cows,clean the cow shed,inspect the rubber sheets hung up to dry,newspaper,breakfast at 8,farm chores till 1pm,lunch,farm chores again,tea at 4,tie up the cows,lock up the storeroom,bath,DD news at 7(years later when the TV came),prayer time at 7:15,supper at 8.To bed by 9.

This was appachan's life for the last 50 years.

I remember the few times he visited us back in Trivandrum.He never used to stay for more than a night inspite of the 8 hr journey saying he had to rush back to tend his cows.
Though only a 6th grader of the pre Independance educational system appachan is an avid newspaper reader.He literally devours the papers because when he's done with them,all we have is shreds of the Malayala Manorama scattered on the verandha.
He used to own a rickety old cycle which took him on his trading trips.(Back in the 50s he used to walk about 25 kms every weekend to Arakuzha to be with the family.)
It was routine for appachan ask us kids,what we wanted when he gets back from town.To me it was like the question of the genie in the bottle.But my cousins were smarter and always asked for plastic bangles.We'd wait expectantly to hear the tinkle of his cycle bell and rush to meet him when he appeared at the gate,our little hands held out for those coloured bangles and naaranga muttayi.Dont think I ever said "Thank you,appacha",inspite of my convent school training.

My mum recounts this from her college days.Appachan took her to the ophthalmologist to fix her up with glasses.She is on the seat reading out the letters,when appachan butts in"Moley,you are reading it all wrong,It's like this..."
His efforts in farming were recognized by the Malayala Manorama and they honoured him along with four others from the taluk for Life-time achievements.The trophy and the photo now stands proudly in the show case along with a couple of recognitions from the panchayat.
A religious movie goer of the past,appachan has seen the entire lot of the black and white Malayalam movies released in cinemas at Kothamangalam and Muvattupuzha.
Appachan enjoys playing cards.Once we sat down to play and went on for hours with appachan playing with professional zeal,suspending his grandfatherly duty to let any of us win once in a while.

The diagnosis of diabetes came as a blow.For someone who relished hot bondas,vazhakkaappams ,and parippu vadas, from the glass jars at the chayakada ,it was the end of the world.
We kids used to watch in awe and fear,the nonchalant way he used to bare his thigh and jab a needle of insulin;thankfully the new insulin pen substitute makes the process less gory.
His hypoglycemic bouts have always been nightmares.Once he almost got swept away in the canal as he dived to retrieve a runaway coconut.By Providence Divine,someone saw him half a mile down the canal and dived to his rescue.Another time we got a call from ammachi at 6.30 pm saying appachan was missing.We spend one horrible hour,helpless in far away Trivandrum, till ammachi called to say they(the neighbours)found him unconscious in some remote corner of the farm.
Life has been tough for them since my uncle left for the US.If it were not for the farm chores they would have found themselves imprisoned in their own paradise.
Nowadays he spends a lot of time sleeping.Age is catching up soon and so is the loneliness.Of late,I have seen tears streaming down his gaunt face when we say goodbye after a joyful gettogether.

This February 29,he will savour his birthday cake and the payasam with least worry of his sugar levels,flash that handsome smile with the new dentures,sit with ammachi and enjoy the chatter and laughter of his children,their spouses and his grandchildren.Only last month he posed with his first great-grandchild.How would his thoughts read?

I'll never know till my turn comes...


" Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor. "

'Elegy written in a country churchyard',Thomas Gray

Happy Birthday Appacha! I Love you!

Friday, February 22, 2008

'Juggernauts' of Kochi

Once upon a time the mark of the commercial capital of Kerala was the noisy front engine autorickshaw which gave you the bumpiest ride in the world.The front engine autos have now almost disappeared being replaced by their purring back engine cousins.Not to forget the latest five seater which is so spacious and feels like a chariot of old days and is rather embarrassing to ride on if you are the lone passenger.

Nowadays the first thing that catches the eye when one sets foot in Ernakulam is a host of bright red giants,with equally colourful names,
promenading the roads ready to take you to any place you want to.They are the private buses of the city,the lifeline to thousands of daily commuters .
How much a Cochite depends on the private bus is quite evident on a hartal day when we find throngs of passengers at the bus stops,hoping against hope, for a flash of red.

St.John,St.Joseph,Christ,Maria,St.Jacob and Melkisadek are not the heavenly hosts,nor are Jismol,Remadevi,Sudha,and Laila young ladies, but roaring buses that ply my route.Then there are a set of names like CEEYEM,PEEYES,KAYKAY,VEEKAY probably christened to numerological perfection.

My tryst with the Kochi buses started when I joined college.It's a half an hour journey from home to college and does not involve long waits for a bus on a normal day.When Remadevi rolls into my stop with a maidenly gait,there would be enough space on the footboard to accommodate one foot.No wonder they call it the "footboard".I'll have atleast six other women hanging on with me and all of us supported by the 'kili'.
Now a 'kili' in every bus is necessarily a young man of lean built(so he uses up minimal space),with the agility of a monkey(waits for 5 seconds after the bus has rolled on,to spring on to the footboard),sticky as Spiderman(acrobatic skills are a prerequisite for the job),and perhaps the happiest of working men.How many men work being jostled by women!The conductors of the buses are recruited with preference given to men capable of rude behaviour and tempers that flare especially at the sight of the uniforms or the Student concession cards.
A Private bus driver in Kochi is one person ,whose path you'd never want to cross.I think it is a national waste for Cochites to spend huge amounts going to Veegaland.Take a one way ticket from Kacheripady to Aluva and find a seat adjacent to the driver where you have the driver's view of the road Thrills,chills,screams and fears all come naturally especially between Kaloor and Edapally and that too without a seat belt!And the fancy name of the ride: "Hit or Miss"!(Warning:Pregnant ladies,children below 10,heart and pressure patients and the lily-livered are prohibited).
These 'experts' sometime fancy driving with a single hand,sometimes without any, and sometimes facing the horrified ladies behind him with a greasy grin!
They hardly tolerate overtaking and along with the 'kili' and conductor are one happy union when it comes to the use of colourful expletives.
The other day a priest got run over by a bus quite ironically named 'Heaven'!

The buses headed in my direction invariably have Naval Base printed on the windshield.In all my years of studying English I've never doubted my spellings until I saw "navel base","neval base",and "nevel base" printed on the glass.

Riding in a bus is certainly an adventure even after you get a promotion from the footboard.One loses the sense of the individual,the stifles,the cramps,the groans of people sardined inside are then a collective response.For all I know my arms are longer in one year's time from hanging on the bars and being flung to and fro when the driver pleases to slam the brakes.

I am most creative when on the bus.My head buzzes with the artistic afflatus.Unfortunately one can't jot down while hanging off the footboard.In anticipation of a wonder gadget that converts thoughts into words just like that, Viva private buses!

Picture Courtesy:From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=102498392&size=l
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Funny bone

"Rs.1000 for a good laugh and we are not joking!"read the ad for the Reader's Digest jokes column.It was those times, when I was a naive reader who digested everything I read and started keeping my senses alert for the slightest tickle of the funny bone.Inspite of my lazy habits, I managed to send in a couple of entries too.However, there were better laughs at RD and my 'laughs' went down the drain.I add a few from my collection before they are lost when mum sells my old physics record to the paper hawker.

* My brother Neil once broke his arm and had a cast on it.Back from school the next after noon,it was covered with "plaster art".The best one was "Neil Arm-broken".

*The bus we hired for our class tour was named "Suganthy".I was commenting on what an ridiculous name it was for a bus to a classmate when she said,quietly ,"That's my mother's name".

*Discussing his future plans my 10 year old cousin declared his ambition take up their family business.His
entrepreneurial skills were evident when he stated a name change for their store,"Chris & father"!

*My aunt named her two sons John and Paul and her daughter Liz.At a family gathering,where we were discussing names,she observed that it was fashionable to name kids after the reigning Pope.My little cousin turns to Liz and says,"so you should have been "the Second"! ".

*Our aunt used to ask us what we wanted to have whenever she visited from the US.Not wanting my little cousin to make tall demands,my aunt kept the news of their arrival a secret until the were safely on board the plane.Undaunted,my cousin asks"Can we call them up on the flight?"

*We were taking an evening walk when we came across a car which had large "WALK WITH JESUS"sticker across the windshield.Passing it my mum quipped"Funny people,they still needed a car and wont bother to give Jesus a lift!"

*Our poetry professor was musing about the paper valuation camp that she had been to.There was an essay on Browning's "My Last Duchess" and many had written on the evil 'Duch', and the 'Duck' instead of the Duke.

*Our moral science paper coincided with the chemistry practicals.In the essay many confused "morality" and "molarity".

*We were having a hectic day in the chemistry lab analysing the salt mixture when the peon brought in a lunchbox someone had forgotten.Our teacher rapped the desk and said"Hurry up girls,we've got one more analysis to do."We looked up exasperated when she added with a smile,"Lunchbox analysis!".

*In our Chemistry class the lecturer hung up the Periodic table and asked a guy to spot Pottasium.He frantically scans the Table and minutes later, triumphantly plants his finger on "P"!

"A smile is a fortune but you can't sell it,
you can't buy it and you can't steal it,but it isn't any good to anyone until it is given away."
(Anonymous)
So there.... :)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Date with Mars

“Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are”

August 27,2003 dusk. A clear sky over Trivandrum city. Anyone who ventured to star gaze that night would have noticed a bigger and brighter star with an orangish hue. It was Mars, the Red Planet. The newspapers had announced this vision beforehand for it was on of the rare occasions in which the Sun, Earth and Mars fall in line. Mars comes closest to Earth in such a rendezvous.

Dad and I were not content by the naked eye vision of this ‘rare visitor’. So we ventured out that cool night to the Observatory where the local Amateur Astronomical Society had set up a telescope. We were surprised to see a long queue of bleary-eyed people ranging from babies to old-timers congregated there. We joined the queue and were told that there was a five-rupee fee being exacted for the vision. We rejoined the queue after purchasing the tickets. The man ahead of us, sporting a mobile, complained loudly of the five-rupee fee.

The telescope was nowhere in sight from the ground and no one knew the length of the queue. It winded up all the way up a 4964000-litre capacity water reservoir (which provided eleven hours supply to 71000 souls-a plaque said). Each time someone in front moved we climbed a step. After several weary minutes we reached a landing on the staircase. It was dimly lit. People who had their chance were descending. All of us in the queue scrutinized the expressions on their faces, which were quite discreet owing to the darkness. Even bits of their conversations were vague and implied nothing.

After an hour we reached the top of the reservoir. It had a concrete terrace with air vents like huge mushrooms. Most of the people were feeling under the vent holes, so did I, out of curiosity and found it warm. It was terrifying to be standing on top of 4964000-litres of water. The telescope looked like an overgrown fountain pen. It was inclined at a very steep angle and the observers had to crouch under the eyepiece. The planet rises as the night grows due to the rotation of the Earth, my dad explained.

A family ahead of the man with the mobile was taking a peep. The man tried first and moved away satisfied. It was the wife’s turn next. She ducked under the eyepiece and in the process disarranged the apparatus. The man sitting beside the telescope had a look and said it was out of focus and adjusted it for her. The woman had a look and said she saw something white. The man stared at her in disbelief and had a peep again. Then he jumped up and pulled down the other end of the telescope and wiped the lens. It was fogged he explained. Then it was the chance of their little boy, who declared he couldn’t see anything. The man patiently readjusted the telescope again. The kid looked again and exclaimed, “Why it’s just like a small moon!”

“What did you expect for five rupees?” snorted the man with the mobile impatiently. It was his turn next. He had a peep and commented loudly that it was only the size of a five-rupee coin.

It was my turn next. With bated breath, I ducked under the eyepiece, bracing myself for the historical vision and much to my disappointment all I could see was a small white orb akin to the moon. I had expected at least an orange one. I moved away and my dad had his chance. He took a peep and asked the man at the telescope whether he could have a clearer view. The man obediently got down and fumbled with the telescope. My dad looked again, this time longer. The people behind him were getting irritated and had started making waspish comments. Embarrassed I urged dad to get over with it. Finally after about ten minutes dad joined me. As we made our way down we could see more bleary-eyed people queuing up. My dad was blaming the authorities for not having efficient machinery. The telescope, my dad suspected, was the one the erstwhile king had owned. We returned home at around eleven to find my mum and grandmum eagerly waiting to hear our story. They sympathized with us.

Anyway we are part of history. Such an event will come next only on 28 August 2287.