Judging a Book by its Cover

It was a typical Saturday at home. It was around 7.00 am, Dad was out for his walk and no one had picked up the newspaper. The coffee was just being brewed and amma was persuading (read soapifying) me to prepare breakfast. And it was over smell of Nescafe coffee and hot dosa that the discussion about “What do you want to do in life?” proceeded.

This was our favourite game. My amma’s and mine. While discussions between my dad and me tend to be intellectual and earnest – about politics or religion or philosophy – discussions with amma tended to be louder and revolved around more mundane topics like neighbourhood gossip (which I eagerly listen to and then tell her off for spreading), college, studies, marriage, boys…you get the gist. And all these “discussions” invariably end up in me storming off, pissed off by something she said or vice versa, to followed by being exceedingly polite to each other for the better part of the rest of the day. As my mother wasn’t home daily, it was a weekend ritual we seldom missed.

So it was with as much sincerity I could muster in my worn-out PJs and cuckoo’s-nest hair that I responded to my amma’s enquiries about my future plans. All that I said was duly approved or opposed as per her convictions and my declarations of not wanting to continue further studies in engineering was met with a not-unpleasant silence. Strangely, it seemed to be one of those days when nothing seemed to piss her off. 

Wanting to take full advantage of the situation, I settled myself on the kitchen-slab with a cup of coffee and smuggled pieces of hot, straight-from-the-tavi dosa and asked, 
 “Amma, what is it that you really want to do in life? I mean, after you retire and you have a comfortable income and lots of free time at hand and if you could afford to do anything you wish, what would you do?”

I had expected her to laugh it off or say something vague like travel around the world. Anything except what she said. Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded, 
 “I want to do 2 things if I can do anything I want. First I want to learn how to play veena…just for my personal pleasure. I mean, come on, I am too old for me to be any good at it, but it is just one of those things I’ve always wanted to do. And secondly, I want to write short stories.”

I was silent for a moment. The answer had caught me-off guard and I needed a moment to collect my thoughts. The veena part, I wasn’t all that surprised with. I’d once seen her all excited when a music master we were acquainted with said that anyone can learn to play veena, age-no-bar, provided they are ready to slog for it and had inferred that she was interested in it. But the writing part – I hadn’t seen that one coming. Maybe it was just a wish thing, I thought. And so, the conversation continued thus.

Me: “I didn’t know that you were into writing, amma.”

 Amma: “Well, I am. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer like Agatha Christie and Ashapoorna Devi. Speaking of which, have you read her ‘Prothom Pratisruti’? It is one of my favourite stories ever – actually, it is a part of the trilogy. If you want I can get you a copy.”

 Me: “Ah…that would be great. But amma…you never told me you liked writing so much. And I haven’t seen you reading any non-academic books of late.” 

Amma: “Actually…2 of my short stories have been published, you know.”

Me: “What? When? Where? How come you didn’t tell me?”

Amma: “It was a long time back. I was quite young and…erm…the stories reflected my age, you know…”

Me: “You mean…chick flicks?”

Amma: “Not exactly…but kinda the same. Anyways one of my friends sent them to ‘Womans Era’ and they published it.” 

She then proceeded to give me a general idea of those stories. And it struck me that one of the stories seemed vaguely familiar. In fact, I was pretty sure that I had read it a very long time back – it was definitely not a chick flick; I remember being pretty impressed by it back then. But I was also certain that I would’ve noticed if I had seen my mom’s name on it. Which was explained when she said that she wrote those under a different name. “Because” she said, “if my dad ever saw that, he’d have skinned me.”

It did take me a little time to digest that my mother was perhaps much more talented than I have ever given her credit for. Amma was a geek. Her idea of relaxing was curling up in sofa with ‘Sudoku’ and she considered a 500 page textbook on ‘Industrial Psycology’ as light-reading. Moreover, she read Agatha Christie back-to-front. I mean, who in their right minds would do that?? If truth be told, the only time I’ve seen her do something ‘normal’ was reading ‘Vanita’ and ‘Jyothisharathnam’, so while I was incredibly proud of her numerous academic achievements, it had never crossed my mind that she might have some…hobbies.

The 9-year-old Scout, the female protagonist of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, once says

Our father didn’t do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone. He did not do the things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read.”

I was pretty amused to realise that if you replace all the ‘father’ with ‘mother’, Scout had pretty much captured what I had thought of my mom for a large chunk of my life.

B’lore Diary

Being somebody who is very self-conscious about what I jot down, I’ve spent quite a few sleepless nights wondering what to blog about and quite often, it so happens that I spent so much time analyzing what I SHOULD write that I end up deciding that the topic I chose is too insignificant to actually devote an entire post to. However, now that I’ve decided that it’s time to throw caution to the winds and start blogging fervently (aah… a girl can hope!), I thought why not write about my trip to Bangalore a few weeks back.

Bangalore or B’lore, as it is popularly referred to nowadays, was literally a breath of fresh air for me. So what is the big deal, you might wonder. For one, that was the first time I’d ever traveled alone in my 21 years of strutting around on this Earth. Okay correction – I wasn’t exactly alone; there were 4 of my friends too. Girls (in case you are curious). But the point is it was a girl’s trip. No parents. No sister to watch over. Just me in charge of myself. 

And what fun it was. Right from the train journeys where we got the customary murderous glances from our fellow travelers (Can’t blame them, I guess…I mean, even you would be pretty pissed off if your co-travelers stayed up till 3.00 am giggling and singing really crappy tunes plus munching Laysand Kurkure and fighting over the Pepsi) to the strolling through the streets at night going ‘brrrr..’ in the chill.

However, what I remember most about Bengaluru is its attitude. I’ve often heard and read that in urban cities (especially Mumbai), nobody gives a damn about how you look or what you wear and I’ve always thought of that with a dubious mind. It was when I actually experienced it, that I realised how cool it is to be able to dash out to buy a dozen eggs in your PJs. (Yup, I actually did that and nobody gave me a second glance.) Right from the time I first entered into the city, I was surrounded by all kinds of people – the seedha-sadhafolks, the school girls with rather cute ties and pigtails (speaking of which, how is it that the school kids of these days look as if they’ve come out of Femina? You should’ve seen me in my school uniform. On second thought, I’m glad that you haven’t!) And of course, the super-stylish teens and mommies. To be honest, I’d always reckoned that that super stylish moms, in jeans and tees and shades, swinging their adorable kids into school buses with a kiss on their cheek was a figment of imagination, planted into our heads by evil men in Dharma Productions…but no – they did exist. As did the endearing grannies with their pattu saris and mookutti. In here, everyone had a nook, regardless of their occupation, sex or financial set-up.

And of course, there was the novelty of being able to walk around at 10.00 pm and still being one in the crowd. Not to mention the street shopping (for a self-proclaimed shop-o-phobic, I didn’t do too badly) and the food, which was, hands down, the highlight of the entire journey. As a rule, people tend to return from Bangalore with their pockets considerably lighter and suitcases proportionately heavier. But in our case, heavier than our suitcases were our tummies. Taco Bell, Subway, KFC, Chaat, McDonalds and my personal favourite, Coffee Cafe Day – the list was too long (And yes, we did try to list the places we ate at – very meticulous bunch of folks, we are).

Bangalore also brings to my mind fond memories of the cozy apartment where I spent 3 days with my best buddies, cooking our own food, staying up late watching movies on laptop, and generally making a nuisance of ourselves to Ammu chechi (who was our trip coordinator-cum-associate sponsor-cum-food & accommodation in-charge) and having a taste of life at a bachelor-pad, surrounded by the people you are utterly comfortable with. It still amazes me that in those few days, we were able to soak up the essence of Bangalore – from the posh malls to downmarket streets, the tour through IISc (made me wish for a moment that I was actually into engineering), the glimpse of BEL and what not. 

“Did you visit any pubs? Discos? Chalo at least did u get drunk?? Nope..?? Ayye..pinnendina Banglore poye..” This was how most of my friends reacted on our return from Banglore. And do I even need to say that our negative replies have brought us down a notch or two in many eyes..?

Adieu to the Fountain of Memories

 It was the first day of X’mas hols and I’d already had my fill of movies, movies and more movies. It has been too much movies & facebooking and too little reading. This was NOT how I had envisioned me spending my hols. In my dreams, I’d been engrossed in book after book, and spent the rest of the time updating my blog and indulging in some quality writing (yeah right! *snort*). And let me tell you… the writing part – that has been a fantasy. And the last book I’ve read (or tried to read) is “Emma by Jane Austen”. Given the fact that I’ve tried to complete that book thrice without success, I think it is the most boring book I’ve ever encountered in my short book-addicted life. And I keep going back to it. Emma is kinda like a bug that I’ve tried to swat and swat but keeps getting away and keeps buzzing near my ears. Gosh! That, my dear friends, was probably the worst simile that you’ve ever had to read. My point is, I find the fact that I cannot complete a book, especially a world-renown classic, extremely irritating. And so I plough on. 
Fuelled by that irritation and a fair amount of guilt, I went to the Thrissur Public Library with the hope that I would stumble upon a book so engaging that I can’t put it down once I’ve picked it up. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book like that, you see. Besides, I just wanted an excuse to breathe in the smell of thousands of dog-eared books and to walk around the grounds, plucking leaves, feeding non-existent rabbits and prodding ants into the water lily leaves in the fountain, as I have done throughout my childhood/teenage. 
So I headed to the public library, picked up some books and proceed to make my way to my childhood playground. And imagine my surprise when I found that the fountain (which didn’t work) was missing and in its place was something which looked like a man covered by tarpaulin. Well well… that can’t be true can it be? So I move in for a closer look only to be thwarted by a lungi-clad worker’s evil eye with a beedi and his hoarse-voiced “പണി  നടക്കണ കണ്ടില്യേ പെങ്ങളേ…?” 
It was only later as I headed home that my father told me that the fountain is being demolished and is being replace by Mr.Karunakaran’s statue, to commemorate his death/birth anniversary (I’m still confused as to which). At this juncture, allow me to clarify that I’m a person not affiliated to any political party. The truth of the matter is, like scores of Indians, I’ve not taken the trouble to delve deep into any party’s policies or fundas and so based on their public performance, they all appear quite corrupt and fraudulent, at least to my uneducated eyes. 
Having said that, I must also say that more than the destruction of my childhood memories, what bothers me is that from now on, a politician’s statue is to adorn the entrance of the library. I am aware that the library is not an apolitical body as I had believed before and that there is a fair amount of political intervention in its functioning (I mean, is there any organization free from party-affiliations in Kerala?). 
However, Mr. Karunakarn doesn’t seem to be a person who is to be honoured in front of a library, particularly since not everyone would sing the same tunes about his political journey.  Place his statue in front of his party office – yes that’s alright. But a library is a place where, as clichéd as it sounds, young minds are moulded…ignited. You want to place a statue, the put one of A.P.J Abdul Kalam. Or Kunjunni Mashu. Or V.M Basheer. Well… what is done is done. All I can do is rant about it in my space. And wonder whether I’m the only one who is as disturbed by this as I am.

On a brighter note, wish you all a Merry Christmas!