The Vernacular

Everytime my Achan comes to Bangalore to visit us, he brings a suitcase full of vegetables and coconuts for my sister and a book or two for me.  This is a bit of a ritual. Even if he doesn’t bring a book for me per se, he’ll bring one for himself which, chances are, I will nick. Having been at the wrong end of the book-theft-program quite a few times, he now travels almost always with a spare book for yours truly.

This time when he came to visit, he bought me the Malayalam translation of a Kannada book named “Bhujangayyana Dasavataragalu” (which can be roughly translated as the Ten Avatars of Bhujangayan, the protagonist) written by Srikrishna Alanahalli. I started reading it, got hooked and swore to finish it, only to be frustrated by how slow a progress I am making.

You see, there is a pattern here. Everytime I start reading a Malayalam book, I start off with a lot of enthusiasm – grand plans on how I’m going to read it, absorb it and talk about it eloquently to anyone who will listen. And almost everytime, I lose interest halfway through. Well, lose interest is too broad a term. What actually happens is I give up on the language.

I am extremely ashamed to admit this, but it is true. Malayalam is not my mental home ground. One of my English teachers in school used to tell us that to master a language, we have to start thinking in that language. “Most of you”, she used to say, “think in Malayalam and then try to convert it to English. That is why you find English frustrating. Think in English. THINK in English”, she used to repeat time and again.

For me, the case is often opposite. This is not to say that I don’t know Malayalam. I speak fluent Malayalam, I write, I read – all good. What I lack is the ability to appreciate Malayalam literature, the ability to articulate emotions or experiences beautifully. And I can’t put in plain words how much this frustrates and depresses me.

To be fair, I was not always like this. For a better part of my life, I was not aware of what I was missing. I have officially studied Malayalam till 4th std. After that, I took up Sanskrit as an elective. (if you have an hour or two to spare, lemme know. I can rant on and on about how ‘raama, raamau, raamah!’ screwed up my life) And it amuses me to no end what followed. Around 6th std or so, our school saw an influx of NRI malayalees – kids who had grown up in Dubai or Kuwait. Kids who spoke flawless English and took pride in saying “enik Malayalam korach korach ariyam” (“I know very little Malayalam). Stories of how they can’t read Malayalam and how they ‘speak only English’ at home were shared with a lot of panache. Not to be left behind, I decided to follow suit.  No more Malayalam. Na-ah. I became a I-am-too-cool-for-Malayalam person. I wrote out notes to my amma in Manglish. And when she pulled my leg about it, I ignored her.

Somewhere in 9th std, a lot of things changed for me. I don’t remember why or how, but looking back, I think of that period as ‘the time I grew a spine’. Among other epiphanies, it dawned on me how shameful it is that I can’t write a word in my mother tongue. And being the stupidly persistent person that I am, I decided to rectify this by spending an entire summer vacation copy-writing the headlines of each day’s Malayalam newspaper until my handwriting stopped resembling that of a 5-year-old.

But somewhere in between all this, I forgot to learn to appreciate fine Malayalam literature. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that good tastes are acquired, not instinctive. Sure, the effort that you are willing to put in matters a lot, but it also matter when you put in that effort. There is such a thing called the ‘formative years’ and what you are exposed to then is likely to stay with you forever.

As I grew up, I often lamented (albeit privately) that I didn’t put in enough effort into understanding Malayalam literature. Today I have an additional concern. My baby niece, my MiniatureHuman (or Mihu, as I call her) is growing up in Bangalore. A place that is an amalgamation of all cultures and lifestyles. A place where she will learn a lot of things that I hadn’t. But will she learn her mother tongue? When she hears a poem in her mothertongue, will she appreciate the emotion in it or will she just…process it? I am worried, because as Vineeth Sreenivasan said in an interview, there will come a time in every person’s life when he/she will feel culturally adrift. It is only then that you will realise how closely linked your identity and your roots are.

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The Bad Bad Day

It was a bad bad day. It was a not very feel-good day. You’ve probably experienced one of those before. I have too. No matter how many times you’ve had it, it is one experience that I hope we never get used to.

So where was I? Yes, bad day. What was so bad about it, you ask? Oh nothing. Nothing in particular. Just a day where you mess up a lot of things you could’ve not. You know, work things. Nothing major, just….things. I’m not being very eloquent, am I?

So what do you do when you have such days?  Seriously? The old me would’ve headed to the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, shouted a bit at amma and sat in a corner reading a good book. The new me, on the other hand, deals with such days by heading home, switching on the laptop and going through an entire season of FRIENDS/The Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother/Mentalist/…., you get the gist. Effective, you’d think.

Nah.

So that’s what this post is about. (Yes, there is a purpose to this, you-snarky-person-who-is-grinning-as-you-read-this). This post is a celebration. For what, you ask? Celebration of an aberration. An anomaly. A deviation from the well-treaded path. This post is a hurray to the old-turned-new-turned-old me who is dealing with a bad, bad day by crawling in bed with a cup of coffee and a fascinating book and ending up writing a short post about it, that, in retrospect, doesn’t make much sense.

WTH!

Since time immemorial, scientists across the world have been working on trying to come up with logical explanations for many a head-scratching questions like why the bread always fall on its buttered side or the velocity with which Poonam Pandey was dropped when she was a kid. One of the many questions which have baffled the best of the better brains of the universe is deceptively simple – what prompts a guy to offer a random girl a lift? (Nope, not looking for the obvious answer)

Now before the awesome male population that happens to be reading this blog starts writing the script for a “my choice” male-version-video type response, allow me to put out the necessary disclaimer. To quote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,

“Any resemblance to persons living or dead should be plainly apparent to them and those who know them, especially if the author has been kind enough to have provided their real names and, in some cases, their phone numbers. All events described herein actually happened, though on occasion the author has taken certain, very small, liberties with chronology, because that is his right as an American.”

The basis of this sudden reflection of an age-old phenomenon stems from an experience I has while I was out for a run today. It was around 10 at night and I was jogging (read panting like a sweaty, headphone-wearing doggy) when I saw a car slow down a few meters in front of me. I was about to pass it when a young man driving it did the whole “Excuse me” thingy and asked me where BTM 2nd Stage was. Assuming that the poor man was lost, and being the queen of FGCP aka Federation of Geographically Challenged People and hence sympathetic to the plight of fellow members, I pointed out with a pleasant smile that “this is BTM 2nd Stage”. And since he continued to look lost, alternatively peering at his phone and saying “Just a moment”, I asked him where he wanted to go. (Of course, HE didn’t have to know that I’m almost as lost as him, did he??) He mentioned another landmark, which I pointed out and proceeded to jog. I had barely gone a few meters when he slowed down again and did the whole “Excuse me” process all over again only to ask me if I am a localite. I was like “Erm..depends”.

And then he asks me if I want a lift.

I was like “Wait…what?” I mean, I was in my track pants and running shoes with headphones in my ears, puffing like a choo-choo train…which part of that spells “I-need-a-lift” to you? I gave him The Look and he speaks again “I could give you a lift” . Me, being the epitome of politeness, goes all “I don’t need a lift, thanks” (yeah, I tend to be excessively polite at times, without meaning to be. Chances are if someone comes with a gun at me, I’d probably be like “Nah..I don’t need a hole in my heart, thank you very much”) By now, I was pretty creeped out. I mean, yes there are people around in a if-I-shout-they’ll-hear-me distance so I’m not outright scared, but the itchy feeling that says “let’s get outta here sweetheart“ was on. So I jogged on, a tad bit faster, two blocks away where there were plenty of PGs (and hence couples – which count as people, I suppose). All good, right?

Nah.

The guy comes in his car and slows down next to me. Again.

And he goes “Hi”. With a grin. Creepy grin. By now, I’m all “WTH!!” And a tad bit worried. Images newspaper headlines that goes “Single lady raped in car in Bangalore” starts floating around my head. And I go all “What is wrong with you?” and head home taking the long route through the main (aka plenty-of-people) road.

So there. Now you know why I asked what I asked. So what am I supposed to take away from this episode? Was that guy harmless? Or was the whole asking-for-address thing a smoke-screen for something more sinister? Was he drunk? Or was he like “I’m bored. Lemme go scare the bazooga outta some random girl-on-the-road”?

So. Many. Questions.

LFB #2 – That Bus Ride

It was just another day. As usual, my 5 friends and I boarded the bus from our hostel to work. It had been around 2-3 weeks since we had landed at Bangalore. The city was becoming less alien and was fast losing the “Wow!” factor in our eyes as was evident by our choice of local bus over the AC-fied, extremely sleek-looking BMTC buses. Being the responsible adults that we are, we preferred skimping 20 bucks by compromising on our level of comfort so that we can hit the Commercial Street and blow up twice the amount we have saved on shoes that we’ll never wear and books that we’ve already read. Like I said, responsible adults and all.

Back to my story. So here we were, in the local bus, cramped between a cute girl with a nose-ring and enough perfume to drown out the stench from the nearby gutter & an aunty with long, loose hair which, I know not how, kept finding its way into my mouth. The conductor came in and I gave him the customary 10 Rs. And as was the practice, he didn’t give me the ticket. My friend, who asked for the ticket was dismissed with a shrug and some muttered words (most probably, it was Kannada). Nothing unusual in that. In Bangalore, you get tickets only in the above-mentioned sleek-looking BMTC buses.

In the next stop, the aunty with long, loose hair that kept getting into my mouth (and tastes disgusting, btw) got down only to be replaced by a kakhi-wearing uncle. He came in and asked the cute-girl-with-the-nose-ring for her ticket. She promptly explained that she had already paid but was not issued a ticket by the conductor. She looked towards our conductor, who looked rather frightened and said that since she didn’t give him 2 Rs. change, he had not given her a ticket. On hearing this, the kakhi-clad conductor said (in Kannada) “Alright then. Travelling without a ticket is a crime. Pay Rs.140 as fine.”

And thus started the drama.

Within seconds, the cute-girl-with-the-nose-ring turned to a Kannada-spouting version of the girl that the author of the lines ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ had in mind. She went on and on in full steam, alternately shouting at the conductor (who, by now, was feebly trying to say “she did take a ticket”) and volubly refusing to pay the fine. And with good reason. Apparently, she HAD given the prefixed amount of Rs.12. The conductor, in order to slip that amount into his pocket, had not accepted that 2 Rs. and not given the ticket too. This, we later came to know, was a common trick in local buses.

In between all this hungama, that girl somehow got down at her stop and the kakhi-clad conductor turned his fury towards us. We explained, rather tried to explain, that we had paid the amount and didn’t receive the ticket. But the kakhi-clad conductor wouldn’t listen to any of it. He kept on saying “Fine of Rs.140, fine of Rs.140” By then, in true Kannada movie style, another kakhi-clad conductor got onto the bus and blocked the back door to prevent us from getting down at our stop. As things started getting a bit ugly, one of my friends (who, incidentally, is the perfect example for the quote ‘appearances can be deceptive’) suggested that we pay up, only to be silenced by 5 pairs of Bharatanatyam-style stares.

By now, the kakhi-clad conductor had started scolding us in Kannada. Not to be left behind, we retaliated in a mix of Hindi, English and Telugu. Next he came up with a “brilliant” idea – we pay up the fine, he’ll question the conductor ‘properly’ and if our claims were found to be true, he’d send us back the money to our address!

When we refused to give our address after repeated ‘instructions’, he took out the ‘Brahmastra’.

“Take the bus to the police station,” he shouted, rather dramatically.

“Alright then, take the bus to the police station”, we retaliated.

This went on for a few minutes. By this time, all the locals in the bus, with the exception of a gentleman (alright, a good-looking gentleman. Gawd! Just let me get on with my story, will you?) who worked at UST Global and had supported us right from the beginning, had started getting pissed off with us and the drama. Unable to withstand the pressure, the kakhi-clad conductors made our bus conductor pay Rs.720 as fine right before us, and let us go. Finally.

So the moral of the story? If you get into a bus at B’lore, before you give the money, always ask “Ticket kodi..”  Might save ya quite a bit of trouble later on, you know.