Tuesday, December 19, 2006

We are pleased to inform that normal service has resumed, after an unforeseen disruption..

Dedicated to Avan

You, a dream that burns on in slumber and wake
Wrought in whose blaze, 'morrow's memories held at stake
The thirst of this longing may no fulfilment slake
And no delight surpass this priceless heartache

Reason and rhyme lost in mind's hazy hue
In shrouds of night mists, crazed notions ensue
Patterns I seek in sane moments so few
What is it that enthralls - this turbulence or you?

- Aval

Vidyarthi Bhavan

Sunday morning 9 am. After a long drive to MG road, I pick her up and then we drive round and round trying to get to Basavangudi. I am distracted and not focussing on the road. As it is, my radar is wonky, and the fact that I am more interested in the person next to me than in driving is not helping things at all.

We circle MG road, residency road and then lalbagh a few times. Aval is in a good mood and is wowing herself at the Bangalore traffic, so she does not mind. Anyway, the good mood may not last too long, so I wisely decide to stop being macho man who does not ask for directions. The Bangalore automan, being a kind and knowledgable soul, points me in the direction of Gandhi Bazaar.

Now Gandhi Bazaar, Basavangudi, Bangalore, is deep. This is deep, old Bangalore, where the IT types have still not taken over completely. At least, it is the first time I had been there.

Right in the middle of Gandhi Bazaar is the famed Vidyarthi Bhavan, where the greatest Masala dosas and idli vada sambars of the world are dished out. There are tiny tables on both sides of a narrow aisle. People queue up in the middle waiting for seats, and waiters in Dhotis at half mast ( a mallu touch there!!) and arms full of plates navigate through the crowd, muttering Bisi, Bisi. They actually carry around 15 plates of dosas in one go.

We ordered 2 Masala dosas and one idli sambar. The idli, in typical Bangalore style, arrived bathed in the Sambar, much to Aval's astonishment. She ate up like a good girl though. The Masala dosas arrived next. They were awesome. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and with absolutely divine masala. And small too, not like the ones that hang over the edges of your plate. Also, none of that yucky red chutney that the average Darshinis like to put in their masala dosa.

Soon after the dosas arrived, another man ambled up and poured white chutney all over them, before I could say I prefer chutney on the side, thankyou. While we were blowing on the hot dosas, Aval spotted a plate of puris passing by and immediately pataofied the waiter into getting her one too. Interestingly, the puris also came with chutney!!!.

The coffee was great too, only they could have diluted the decoction a little more. This was industrial strength stuff that would keep you up for the next two nights.

The narrow tables and benches were surprisingly spacious once we sat down. We were definitely among the younger demographic in Vidyarthi Bhavan, the majority being uncles and aunties deeply focused on their Sunday morning Masala Dosa. The only crib is that you have to first stand over someone eating their masala dosa and shame them into vacating their tables fast, and then be stood over and shamed into vacating your own table just as fast. But that only adds to the whole experience.

- Avan

IFFK 2006

The international film festival of Kerala 2006 seems amazingly well organized. And it has not even started. The last date to apply for delegate passes was 20 November. I applied on 30th. Not only have they given me a pass, someone called me from Trivandrum on a Saturday evening to ask me if they should send the pass to me or if I would collect it from them. This man was worried the pass may not reach me on time for the start of the festival. Am highly impressed.

Two years back I landed there and pleaded my way into screenings with no delegate pass. This time I have the pass, but I may not be going.

- Avan

A family dinner

For the first time in the 2 years I have spent in the US, I almost felt at home. My colleague invited me over for dinner, Saturday evening. Now, I have eaten many a dinner at friends' or colleagues' places in this country, but they were always in groups of at least four or five people. With friends, conversation would veer to sports, movies, whose doing what where etc. and with colleagues, the talk would boringly slip to office stuff and I would hit the nearest alcoholic beverage hard, in an effort to numb myself.

But this was different. I spent a whole evening with my colleague, his wife, three kids and the family dog. And it was fun. The talk mostly was about how the wife's brother and his Indian wife have a daughter with blue eyes, brown skin and black hair.

My colleague is half Lebanese, half Polish, and his wife is Irish. But she was born on the island of Okinawa. The dog is half sheepdog, half labrador and half something else. The kids are all American and crazy. The eldest thinks he is a superhero and goes to sleep with a toy gun in the waistband of his pajamas. The middle girl thinks she is a princess and dresses in crowns, diaphenous veils etc. She only walks on tiptoe and changes outfits every ten minutes. The youngest girl eats only chips for beakfast lunch and dinner.

As it was Diwali day, I got them Motichur laddus and pedas from the Indian store. I hate the stuff myself, but thought it might be a nice idea to get my hosts some Indian "delicacies". Everyone, including the dog, hated the Indian sweets. The sweets were supposed to be dessert, but the kids gave up and asked their mommy if they could have something else. Should have known. I myself would much rather have a pastry than a peda.

My colleague's wife served a great hummus. Apparently she learnt it from her friend who once had a Saudi fiance. The engagement broke up because the guy hit the girl. But the girl got a great hummus recipe which she shared with my colleague's wife. I can ask her for it if anyone is interested. It was very good. While we were eating, my colleague told me about how his great uncle was the last mayor of independant Beirut and how his granddad was the mayor of a small American city. A family of mayors. Interesting.

I also carved a pumpkin, now that Halloween is round the corner. It was the first pumpkin carve of my life and everyone was very impressed with my carving skills. We put candles inside the pumpkins and set them on the porch. They looked very nice in the foggy night. My colleague took photos of the pumpkin and me. I will put them up when I get them.

When I was leaving, the kids asked their daddy if I could stay the night. Apparently, they do that with anyone who turns up for dinner, but still, it was the first time any kids asked that of me. I must be getting nicer as I get older. My colleague's wife was very pleased that I enjoyed her cooking and promised to send some stuff over to me when she made something nice. Then I left.

- Avan

It takes all sorts

Strange guy, my boss… He is an outcast here. You will understand why.

Proof One: All of us sitting round a table and brainstorming change requests. During a break, the discussion turned to my ethnicity.

Boss: "Oh! So you come from a very poor part of India."

This discussion is not taking place in India, mind you, where anybody, including bosses, can get away with having a foot in the mouth disease. All the other polite people in the room look mildly stunned.

Me: "Err… Well… Not exactly… Kerala's per capita income is higher than the country-average and most Keralites have a high standard of living compared to the rest of the country.

Boss: "No. No. My mother was in Kerala teaching Catechism to the people in the coastal region. So I know."

Me: "Oh! The coastal region! But they are a very small minority."

Boss smiles indulgently. My blood doesn't boil. I wonder why. Truly, I don't care what this guy thought about my country. And I never have the urge to correct/ convince people I don't care about. But I have to say something for the benefit of the audience, I feel.

Me: "But may be your mother would have spent her time more effectively if she had taught Catechism here. Legal gay marriages are not very Catholic, are they?"

Boss: "Well…"

One all. Audience gears up; I get the feeling that I am the favourite to win.

Boss: "Anyway, we import only the best of Kerala here." Indicating towards me.

That did it!!! This time my blood reached its boiling point. But there was no way I could react to that and still look unruffled.

I give up, oh boss. There's no way I can beat you at this game. You, who can make a compliment sound so disgraceful; you deserve the title. Take it, man, take it; and can we get back to business?!

Food for Thought for me: Do I, who value dollars and euros more than rupees, have any right to feel offended when I am considered like an import / export good?

Proof Two: Another meeting; this time there's just me, my colleague and our boss. My colleague has recently had a pre-mature baby, born after just 6 months of gestation. The baby is in the incubator, but he goes to visit her twice daily. He is worried about the baby, but doesn't talk much about it.

When my colleague takes the seat next to me, I move two chairs away and end up sitting next to my boss.

Me to colleague: "I will keep a little away. I have a cold."

Boss, who had his head in some papers until then: "What? I didn't hear what you said."

Me: "Oh! Nothing. I was just sitting a little far from A because I have a cold and he has a baby."

Boss: "But, what do you mean? I have kids too."

Me: "Oh!"

Boss points to a picture on the wall. One overweight lady and 3 teenage girls.

Now I am having fun.

Me: "Oh! I am so sorry. I had no idea. Please excuse me."

I shake my head at my thoughtlessness. I get up slowly, walk to the farthest corner of the table deliberately and settle down, all the while looking at that picture.

Boss looks a little surprised, like he was on the verge of getting the hint. But the moment passed and we got on with the meeting.

Amazing guy, my boss.

Recent Developments

Boss speaks disparagingly to a pregnant secretary about how useless she is since she became pregnant. She apparently has no qualms about reacting to thick-headed, thick-tongued and think-skinned men. Boss looks around at the people within hearing distance, shakes his head paternally and gently asks the secretary to cool down. She is left wide-eyed.

Boss rambles on and on in a meeting in long wound-out sentences. Someone interrupts him for the common good. He rambles on unheeding. All eyes in the meeting room turn towards the interrupter and follow him with unprecedented attention and interest. Boss is left rambling, but I notice from the corner of my ear that he finished his paragraph.

The man never ceases to amaze.

- Aval

When the temple is hot

The room was dark. She huddled under the blanket and shivered. She tried to bring her knees as close to her chin as possible in a fetal position and hugged her legs tight. Her arms ached from the strain but letting go did not occur to her. Her body seemed alien to her. But she was aware of all the small signals it gave out; every hot breath; every rise and fall of the chest, every twitch, every tremble. She pinched herself resolutely. She tried to figure out which was the more unpleasant sensation - the ache in the thumb that pinched or the pinch itself. She couldn't say.

Life had lost all its complexity. Her body was the epicentre and its myriad functions the only reality. The alarm clock was ticking away; some seconds seeming longer than others. Her arms slipped up her legs towards her knees. And when they broke loose, her body went limp and she felt like she had let go of something vital. She could hear the thump of her heart against her chest and feel the strain of the pulse in her forehead against the pillow. She shook her head clearing it of the bad thoughts. Some loose hair had found its way to her face and lips. She wondered how long she could tolerate that irritation and let it be.

She slid her palm under her pyjamas to feel the smooth warmth of her buttocks. Commmforting... There was dust shimmering in a small column of light that poured in from the ventilator. She fingered the air with renewed awareness. She toyed with the idea that may be they were all living in a matrix. Occasional columns of streaming light suggesting a bigger plan. She couldn’t understand how she could fall prey to the maya of ambition and regrets; the vicious cycle of daily duty; all seemed so inconsequential and petty. She knew better now.

Suddenly she broke into sweat. The fever had passed. She was ravenous. "What have you made for lunch today, Mummy? I feel like eating fish fry." Matrix reloaded.

- Aval

Living in the mirage

I was beautiful, I know it
Now that I am not
I was living, I know it
All zeal now laid to rest

It was the mountain climbing
That gave my cheeks a bloom
And the trials looming
That lent my steps a tune

I left all else behind me
People, places, songs
I left my nest and said good bye
My smile I did not veil

I picked a far-flung mountain
Where men lived and let live
I craved an existence unknown
Known faces, times, to drown

Too soon I reached my summit
My mountain 'neath my feet
I tied my tent down sturdy
And called that summit home

I waited for the chimes to peal
Heralding bliss 'n glee
I had it all; a fairy tale
Why then do spirits fail

I looked back down the path I came
My feet had left no trail
I willed to silence doubts that grew
Was I falling up this hill

The stars are closer to my reach
But how less brighter seem
Though freed from bindings of my birth
Caught in webs thus far unseen

When mists blow off and spirits soar
I find some mountains new
But now I know what lies in store
And so I climb no more!

- Aval

Oru "Dinesh" beediyundo sakhave? ( Got a "Dinesh" beedi on you, comrade?)

This post has been inspired by bvn who commented about those catalysts of leftist thought in Kerala, Dinesh beedi, kattanchaya (black tea) and parippuvada (a tasty sort of vada!! ) in my earlier post, Che Guevara in Kerala.

Sometime in the late 50s or early 60s, when the cold war was just heating up and all the world was making up their minds which side of the iron curtain they wanted to be, one small state on the southermost tip of India had decided where its heart lay; to the left.!!

The first democratically elected communist government in the world had just settled into the business of governing, when its cadres in Malabar, north Kerala, decided that the local beedi factories were exploiting their workers way too much. Peaceful demonstrations, threats of strike etc. were used to make the point that such exploitation would not be tolerated anymore, especially since the portals of power in Malluland had been captured by the proletariat.

The leading beedi manufacturer of Malabar, Mangalore Ganesh Beedi, refused to capitulate, like any good capitalist. Mangalore Ganesh explained to the striking proletariat in no uncertain terms that either the beedis had to be rolled, or they would shut shop and go. Obviously, the proletariat, in their revolutionary fervour, refused to roll a single beedi, and Mangalore Ganesh Beedi, true to its word, packed up and left.

The proletarian government was in a fix. Thousands of its loyal cadres had just been made jobless. The government had to quickly figure out a way to employ them, or lose any rights to the use of the proletarian trademark. This was the time when some clever soul decided that the answer would be Kerala Dinesh Beedi.

One of India's most successful workers' co-operatives was about to be setup. The government provided half the seed capital and the other half came from the workers, at Rs. 20 each. By the way, the Kerala government loaned each worker 19 out of those 20 Rupees.

Broadly, it appears that the workers' co-operative that was setup to run Kerala Dinesh Beedi did a good job of producing high quality beedis at a decent price, and the beedis sold, initially because of the proletarian image and later because the quality was good. More importantly, the workers at Kerala Dinesh Beedi got benefits like paid leave, pension, cheap loans etc and worked 8 hour days in humane conditions, yet managed to be cost competitive. Miraculously, the success story has continued till date and as I can vouch, Kerala Dinesh Beedi is one good smoke.

One worker gets a full day's wage to read newspapers aloud, from morning to evening, so that everyone else on the shopfloor can get the days news while rolling beedis. To me, this captures the essence of Kerala's literacy and sense of social equality.

While writing this, I referred to and borrowed from When a worker's cooperative works - The case of Kerala Dinesh Beedi, published in the UCLA review. Having some background of the politics of north Kerala, I feel the writers have been somewhat coy about the very strong nexus of Kerala Dinesh Beedi with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). As anybody decently clued into Kerala politics will realise, the political affiliations of the UCLA review article authors lie strongly left of centre. Perhaps for this reason, they project the succcess of Dinesh Beedi as a case of workers being inherently good and incorruptible. The government and political patronage aspect seems to have been played down.

Whatever the reasons are, the fact is that Kerala Dinesh Beedi is a successful workers' co-operative providing a decent livelihood to thousands, and that is reason enough to appreciate them.

- Avan

Going to the dogs

Parukkutty, if you remember, doesn't read the news papers. Slowly but steadily she found herself being ex-communicated from adult company. Dinner discussions always revolved around politics or sports. Everyone would try to beat the other in the number of articles they could quote from and in the number of statistics they could spout. Parukkutty felt sick of it all. Parukkutty told herself that she was not the kind of person who did something just because other people did; she wouldn't do something merely for the sake of impressing a few people who had nothing better to do but keep track of what other people were doing. Now, of course, you and I know that she was simply finding excuses.

Naturally, she started gravitating more and more towards the under-5 category. She was in her element when it came to Tom & Jerry. She knew the names of all of Donald Duck's nephews. Not only did she not mind watching Lion King for the millionth time; she guffawed through it. She probably was the only adult who didn't think Shrek was such a big deal. So she decided that the child was indeed the father of the man. And so, she found her place among the terrible-two's, horrible-three's and dreadful-four's. Until, mind you, until, that black day when unleashed upon the unwary cartoon lover was Pokemon!

Parukkutty pressed Pause on her life and took stock. The kids seemed to be ignoring her. When did this start happening? They seemed to be talking in tongues too. Dreadful-four asked Parukkutty in a very authoritative manner "Paru auntie, Pikachoo here needs a new weapon. Can you make one for him?" How they laughed when she brought forth a clumsy contraption made of some loose broom sticks (you know from those brooms made out of coconut leaf ribs). She thought she heard words like laser gun and electricity amidst the cacophony. Terrible-two lisped "Paaranthee Paaranthee, digimon poked me." "Eh! Till yesterday he was called 'Jomon'". The discussion turned to Electrabel, and Parukkutty felt the last straw in her sea of social existence slipping away. She rushed to google for help. But it seemed even more complicated than keeping track of Who was Who in Which group of the Kerala Congress and since When. Did you know that even Wikipedia has a section called Wikimon dedicated to these 'mon'sters?

Parukkutty sat with her head in her hands - her social life was going to the dogs. Going to the dogs? Hey! But why not? That seemed to be the only option left. She decided to take a pet dog in spite of all her misgivings in that quarter. She did not think much of the canine breed in their capacity as mates - sitting on laps and distributing their hair everywhere like election leaflets; eating cookies off the guests' plates and subsequently licking their faces; sleeping on freshly laundered white bed sheets, and other such "What's the world coming to?" proceedings.

But human beings have this un-overcome-able urge to communicate and the next morning found her at the door of her neighbour, an old lady whose bitch had just delivered a litter. She was duly introduced to Cleopatra, a crumpled-looking black girl pup. Cleopatra erupted in a volley of welcoming coughs and sneezes and Parukkutty politely scratched her neck. Formalities complete, they were pronounced mistress and dog.

But, as they say, once bitten, twice shy. Parukkutty knows that the day is not too far when even this loyal companion of hers will grow out of its blissful state of ignorance and betray her. She has noted down the co-ordinates of a few trees in the park to befriend, for those ugly times to come. Information Age, she muses, is way colder than the Ice Age.

- Aval

Che Guevara in India

Somewhere in deepest Kerala, the day's news is carefully analysed for any signs of impending revolution!! For those who do not read Malayalam, the board says "Comrade. Santo Gopalan memorial library and reading room". The sketch at the back is of course, Che, the Jesus Christ of Communism.PS: I did not take this photograph and have no idea who did. Apologies for any potential copyright violation. Or should that be copyleft? :-)

- Avan

Avalude Ravukal: The movie

I recently made an attempt to watch Avalude Ravukal, the movie that "inspired" the name of this blog. Alas, the attempt has remained just that. I got through half the movie before giving up.

The good parts first. Seema, who spurred a million Malayalee libidos, made her debut in this movie. And she has enough oomph, even in this black and white movie. All the failsafe recipes- topless but with the relevant bits invisible, being drenched in the rain without much evidence of undies, a shower scene, walking around for extended amounts of time in just a shirt - were trotted out in the first half hour itself. What's more, she has done a fairly good job of acting as well.

The bad: and this is really bad. Every melodramatic situation that can be thought of has been brought in. Orphaned children, exploitation of women, etc etc etc. The actors other than Seema are so inept that even the pathetic Mohanlal of recent movies seems awesome in comparison. Soman, Pappu and gang, sorry, but I have to tell the truth, as I saw it.

Thanks to Seema, an otherwise forgettable movie is etched in the mind of every Malayalee, even of those like Aval and I, who had not watched the movie.

- Avan


Avan is a bit of a foodie. Not that one would suspect it from Avan's famished looking frame. But that is the way it is. Well, guess Avan should count himself lucky, that he can tuck into plate after plate of the good stuff, and not let it show. He is not sure when he turned into a food lover, because his childhood memories are filled with those of being force fed all kinds of healthy stuff, that he did not want anything to do with. Perhaps, leaving home, and the subsequent decision to not consume anything that has green leafy vegetables in it, has something to do with the metamorphosis.

Avan's area of expertise and special interest within the gastronomic universe is biryani. A plate of good biryani accompanied by a beer is one of the easiest attainable forms of nirvana in his book. Beer of course needs a post all by itself, later. His hometown was not very rich in biryani matters. One of the half decent versions was to be found right across the road from the illustrious institute of technology there, that he (hardly) attended. But alas, it was nothing more than half decent. He had a stroke of luck in that the even smaller town where his roots are, is particularly rich in matters of the stomach. Many of the best makers and eaters of biryani in Kerala are to be found in this town. Perhaps the British, and other foreign visitors before them, dropped anchor in above mentioned smaller town, to sample the local delicacies. That such sampling led to some of the younger denizens of the smaller town becoming taller, fairer and light eyed, is purely Avan's hypothesis.

On the whole, it can safely be assumed that the roots of his affair with biryani, lie entwined with some of his other roots in the smaller town that is so familiar to us by now. Just when he had managed to extricate himself with minimum damage from the illustrious institute of technology, and thought a lifetime of biryani eating now lies before him, he found himself in the land of paneer eaters for two full years. The only biryani available was the vegetable kind and Avan would never stoop to those levels. His biryani longings would hit a peak on the long train journeys back home. It was one of those moments of intense longing that drove him to take a risk with the rather dubious looking chicken biryani from Shoranur railway station. Surprise surprise, the biryani was awesome. Just to make sure quality standards stayed up, he tried the Shoranur biryani every trip after that. As of five years ago, the chicken biryani at Shoranur railway station was definitely one of the better ones in Kerala. Avan is too far away to check out the quality now, maybe one of the readers can try it out and tell avan if the standards are still high. Sagar hotel in Kozhikode and Kayikka in Kochi, Avan shall sample your wares when he gets the chance. Perhaps the railway biryani will lose its Kerala top spot then.

One of the leading biryanis in India can be found in Bawarchi in the city of Nizams. Avan prefers it to the more famous Paradise biryani, to be found in the same city. The only irritant at Bawarchi is that the queue for your seat is three deep by the time you finish eating your biryani. Still, the taste of the biryani at Bawarchi refuses to fade. Bangalore seemed strangely deficient in biryani matters, except for Biryani Merchant. Biryani Merchant had a wide variety of biryanis, from all over the biryani consuming universe, but after an extensive, year long sampling exercise, Avan decided that variety is not a substitute for quality. But yes Biryani Merchant did introduce avan to the Awadhi and Kashmiri versions of biryani. The lack of a good biryani is about the only crib avan has about namma Bengaluru. Recently, Avan came to know that Biryani Merchant has closed down. Poor Bangalore!!!

Mumbai has its own version of the biryani, which, replete with potatoes, has never been to avan's liking. But the Berry Pulao at Britannia in Mumbai is a close cousin of the biryani, though sailing under a different flag. And what a cousin it is. The dish is supposedly a native of Iran and is spiced with sharply sour jerez berries. Avan has been planning to launch a full investigation into what these jerez berries really are. If you are in Mumbai, go to lunch at Britannia. And if Avan remembers right, it is only open for lunch.

The best biryani that has graced Avan's tongue yet comes not from any of the illustrious cities above, but from a Pakistani restaurant where he currently lives. Their goat biryani is proof that there is a greater power that guides all of us, but they make it just on Fridays. Every Friday Avan can be seen pacing around the restaurant, waiting for the biryani vessels to be opened. The chicken biryani too is excellent, but it is the goat that takes the cake!!! Avan will definitely miss this biryani when he returns to India.

- Avan

First Love

She was on the Executive from Trivandrum to Ernakulam. It was raining when the train pulled in at the Kollam station. She rubbed the glass of her window pane in an effort to see the outside better. She stared at the dirt on her palms and felt the return of innocence. The innocence of the love they once shared. "It's been so many years now and I can still feel that strange tug at my heart."

The train would leave in a few minutes and take her from the place that had known them and their love. She got out. Looking around, she saw the shuttle on the other platform. A scene from the past flashed into her mind. He was running towards the shuttle with a bag in each hand; she was leaning out of the door; the train had started moving. She urged him on with all her will; she panted from the strain when he finally threw the bags in and climbed in next to her. They laughed a lot that day. They couldn’t unlock their eyes from each other's during that whole journey and her heart beat faster now thinking about it, just as it had then.

It was he who knew it first; that it existed. She was afraid to love. But she trusted him with all her heart and when he asked her to love him, she simply did.

One morning they came early to the station and she wanted to walk on the tracks. She held his hand and walked as one would on a tight rope. He kept looking around and saying "Enough! Someone might see us." He had a macho image to protect and couldn’t be seen with a giggling girl walking on the tracks. She almost laughed out loud thinking about that. And when she reached under the railway bridge, he told her about the night he and his friends had pissed on the tracks from the bridge overhead. She had found it so brave and boyish. How she loved him… for everything!

She saw the graffiti on the walls. It was the same! It hurt to see that the wall could stay the same after all these years while he was so beyond reach.

He never bought her any gifts. He never sent her cards or love letters. He said he was afraid of what would happen if their forever wasn't really forever. She, on the other hand, showered him with surprises; she planned till the end of her life with him; French windows for their living room and names for their babies. But ultimately, he turned out to be right.

Her room mate had told her one day that she was tossing her head and saying his name in her sleep. That was the night after she saw him talking to Soumya for a long time. He loves me, she was sure; but why did he have to talk to her for so long… He laughed when she asked him if he would ever have extra-marital affairs after their marriage. He told her she was being silly. He looked at the bow-tied front of her dress and told her to go in and change into something less revealing. She could still feel the mortification. Oh! the love!

Even now, when she talked to herself when she was agitated or angry, she would go "Bala, I wish I didn’t leave things for the last minute always." It was a habit from the days of their love; from the days she believed in dreams and in the immortality of youth.

The railway speakers announced the departure of the train. She got back in. After so many years she had allowed herself to think about him. Her eyes looked around for some comfort. But she knew it now; the loss and how much it mattered. She didn’t want to forget. And she did not cry.

- Aval

11th Commandment - Thou shalt not argue

Yesterday Parukkutty fell
Into a hole, dark as a well
A hole which we'll call "argument"
Later she knew, 't was time misspent.

Parukkutty was in a pub drinking beer and wondering if the waiter thought she was pretty. Her friends were animatedly voicing their opinions about, hmm… lets see… stuff. When Parukkutty was in her formative years, Parukkutty's Dad had gone hoarse trying to get her to read the newspaper and listen to the television news. But that was easily solved, because they had a Thulasi plant in their backyard that her father had planted for such occasions. He plucked a few leaves off it, masticated well (a friend of Parukkutty's was asked by a handsome dentist if she masticated and she blushed to her roots because she thought it was something that boys did when they were alone, but that’s beside the point) and swallowed it. His voice regained its former grandeur in no time.

So there she was, nodding intelligently at the right moments and asking safe questions. Typical safe question when someone talks about the war in the Middle East "How do you actually pronounce Lebanon – LebaNON or LebaNUN?" And the guys generally loved talking to her; she would look deep into their eyes and hang onto every word. This was a good arrangement for both parties; because in the meanwhile Parukkutty would be filming mental scenes of her getting lost in the forests on the way to Ponmudi because her bus had broken down and getting rescued by a liberal and underdressed group of men who all looked like Adonis.

Then she fell into the hole (Refer poem above). The conversation in the hole was more or less along these lines. To preserve the anonymity of the people who fell into the hole, colours have been used to represent subjects of discussion.

Beer mugs were banged on the tables, chairs were scraped forward and tongues were drawn. Decibel levels were steep.

Guy 1: "I think Blue is the best."
Parukkutty, looking astonished: "Oh, no! Red is the best."
Girl who thought she knew everything (Girl 1): "How can you say that?!! Everybody who is proud of their heritage should be ashamed of liking Red."
Parukkutty: "But I like Red a lot."
Guy 2: "Come on!! Red has got only three letters. Look at Blue, it has four. How can someone even think that Red is better?"
Another girl who liked Red (Girl 2): "Actually, Blue should just have been spelt 'blu'. Things started going wrong right from the moment they spelt it 'blue'."
Parukkutty, stunned at the lucidity of that argument: "Exactly."
Girl 1: "57 students in my class liked Blue".
Guy married to Girl 2 and who according to this transitive property, also liked Red (Guy 3): "But what is the percentage?"
Girl 2: "Huh?"
Guy 3: "What is the percentage? This 57. What is that in percentage of students?"
Girl 2: "50 %" (looking very rebellious because she herself didn’t like the statistics).
Parukkutty: "In my school, almost 90 % of the students liked Red."
Guy 2: "Were all the students allowed to participate in the polls? Or were the ones who liked Blue not allowed to?"
Parukkutty, pointing her fork menacingly: "No. There was no such bloody screening."
Guy who had kept quiet so far and acted as if the hole was beneath his standards, but could no longer resist the pull (Guy 4): "What is the idea here? What are you trying to prove? The preamble of this discussion is … (Point where Parukkutty digressed to Ponmudi again.)"
After a minute or two...
Parukkutty, jerked back from a Ram Teri Ganga Maili scene of herself in the forest spring, but looking very thoughtful: "I think there is a point there."
Guy 2: "Parukkutty, do you think your children will like Red? Come on, tell me."
Parukkutty: "Absolutely."
Guy 2: "Aha! You think so?! You just wait and see, OK?"

Everyone was talking over everyone else and Parukkutty heard a voice in her head: "Shut up, damn it! All of you just shut up." She shook her head to clear it and said to Guy 2 that his teeth were so yellow because he probably brushed his teeth with blue toothpaste. He looked crushed.

Things started looking very ugly. Girl 1 was standing up and stamping her feet on the floor at irregular intervals and trying to get everybody's attention. Guy 4 was leaning forward to convince Girl 2 who was at the other diagonal end of the table and in the process spilling beer all over Guy 2's lap. Guy 3 was shaking his head to and fro. Guy 1 who did not agree with Guy 3, was shaking his head fro and to.

At some blurred point in time, they marched out of the pub amidst stares of disgust from neighbouring tables and a weak smile from the waitress. The next morning Guy 3 told Parukkutty that the voice in her head actually came from a man at the next table. And thus, it came to that Parukkutty added the 11th commandment to her confession checklist.

- Aval

Padmarajan trip

Have been on a Padmarajan trip of late. To those unlucky souls not familiar with Malayalam cinema, Padmarajan directed some of the most interesting movies made in Malayalam. Uniquely, almost all his movies were commercially successful and critically acclaimed as well.

Being an award winning novelist and scriptwriter, Padmarajan's success as a movie director was built on the oustanding scripts that he wrote, many based on his own novels or short stories. Contrastingly, Bharathan, maker of equally artistic and watchable movies of the same period, based his direction on his skills as a painter, creating visually rich movies like Vaishali. Of course, Vaishali is a movie avan remembers more for the company with whom it was watched than anything else.

This is being written early on a Saturday morning, after a night when both bacchus and sleep were forgone in favour of two of Padmarajan's best, Thoovaanathumbikal (Butterflies in the rain) and Desadanakkili Karayarilla (The migratory bird does not cry!!! - My English translation does little justice to the poetry of the Malayalam original). It was pure coincidence that both these movies also featured virtuoso performances by Mohanlal (The 80s-90s version that Mallus love, not the current caricature).

Padmarajan was a keen observer of human relationships, especially those on the margins of social acceptability. Thoovanathumbikal is made around one such, between a mildly debauched young landlord and a girl, whom he initiates into prostitution. Watching this movie last night made me realise that multiple levels of meaning are a feature of most good movies. The same movie that I enjoyed as a simple love story nearly 20 years back, now reveals itself as a complex web of relationships, with no clear heroes or villains.

If there was anything Padmarajan was better at than directing movies, it was naming them. Peruvazhiyambalam (The wayside inn) , Thoovanathumbikal (Butterflies in the rain), Kariyilakkaattupole (Like the autumn breeze) are the best titles I have seen for Malayalam movies.

Hope aval is not pissed off with me for writing another movie review. She has been making noises about this blog turning into a movie review forum. Maybe I can get away with calling this a tribute to Padmarajan.!!!!

Bharathan, do not be concerned. You will get your tribute too, as soon as I re-watch a few of your movies :-)

- Avan

Blue elephants have feelings too, you know

Neelakandan is a blue elephant who hails from the North of Kerala. He has only one dream in life – to make ends meet. Can he make the tip of his tail touch the tip of his trunk? He kept trying. He had heard about Robert Bruce and the spider when he was a little bugger, you see. But no, he couldn't do it even on the seventh try. It seemed impossible. His Dad recommended Yoga. But Neelakandan only managed to twist his trunk around both his tusks and the SPCA had to be called in, who after unravelling him, proceeded to campaign against Yoga and langottis.

Neelakandan started losing hope in ever being able to achieve his dream. He became moody and listless. Nothing interested him any more. Juicy sugar canes seemed like brittle broomsticks. He started forgetting things. He merely started and gave a blank look when the local tailor pricked him with a needle.

His Mom and Dad decided to take things into their trunks. Yes! Marrying him off to a girl from a good family seemed to be the thing to do. They searched high and low for a girl elephant who would be the perfect mate for Neelakandan. It was no easy task. Most parents of girl elephants were looking for sons-in-law who were willing to sell their tusks and the strength in their trunks in the US market. Neelakandan however had an awesome pair of tusks and the longest trunk in the area; which he had hardly ever put to any use, let alone sell!

But finally they found their girl. Parukkutty! She was sweet and she was naive. Her smile lit up the eyes of the beholders. And the only thing her marriage portfolio said was "My dream husband is one who can cook Beef Pepper Fry and who will call me Kalyanikkutty". Mom and Dad were relieved. Easy! They had seen a good recipe for Beef Pepper Fry in
www.pachakam.com and Kalyanikkutty was by no means a tongue twister, unlike the name of their other daughter-in-law "Gajagamini Ajagajanthareyan".

The marriage took place in all pomp and glory. Neelakandan protested merely for the sake of it. In fact, after seeing Parukkutty he was rather disinclined to prolonging his bachelorhood. She seemed to exude a rare combination of animal sexuality and childish loveliness. The two newly-weds would talk for hours on anything under the sun. Neelakandan told her about his dream. She commiserated; she empathised; she shared his dream. And he called her Kalyaneee. The air in the bamboo forests was thick with their love.

Kalyanikkutty was a renowned bathroom singer, though she didn't find it important enough to put in her marriage portfolio. One day, Neelakandan heard her singing the following folk song:

: : "I buy a pig," the butcher said,
: : "And grind 'er up complete,
: : Excepting for the nose and tail,
: : For they ain't fit to eat.
: : That's why I'm always broke," he wept;
: : "I can't make both ends meat."

Oh! thought Neelakandan, so its meat, not meet! The tip of his tail was meat (since he had lost all his tail hair while doing a small role in the movie "Aanavaalmothiram") and the tip of his trunk was definitely meat. His dream had come true. He had made both ends meat. Now he could move on and not be bogged down by an unfulfilled dream.

The dream brought Neelakandan and Parukkutty together; and they lived happily ever after as Neelakandan and Kalyanikkutty.

- Aval

hisss kitten bit herrr

They saw a kitten
With a torn red mitten
He was smitten
And she was bitten!

- Aval

Over to you, Jonathan

Have you noticed during news reports, say in BBC, when the main news anchor from say, the London news room, hands over to a guy stationed somewhere in the middle of the news scene, say Lebanon?

... blah.. blah.. blah.. and over to you Jonathan. Jonathan had his face askew and a faraway look. General public hanging on... And then after like 3 long seconds, Jonathan springs into action. I find this sequence of events always a laugh.

- Aval

The Battle of Algiers, aka, how history repeats itself

Yesterday I read an article on nytimes.com about how the Casbah, the old residential quarters in Algiers is crumbling. It is a Unesco world heritage site and probably is a piece of history worth preserving, but that is not the subject of this post.

The article sent my mind back to where I had encountered the Casbah last; in the riveting movie "The Battle of Algiers". It is a french movie made in 1965 by the italian director Gillo Pontecorvo that deals with the events of Algeria's struggle for independance from France. The movie is set in 1957, when violence erupted in Algeria, with Algerian guerillas battling french police in the narrow, winding streets of the Casbah.

It is not a pleasant movie. Pontecorvo is primarily a documentary director and that is the style of this movie as well, in fact it is difficult to believe the scenes are enacted and not real.

While the movie was shot 41 years ago and is about an incident nearly 50 years old, what makes it relevant is the fact that the same story is being replayed right now, in many parts of the world. The clash of cultures and religions, of the occupied and the occupiers, seems to follow the same story lines over and over. Ali La Pointe, the young Algerian guerilla, and Col. Mathieu, the French police chief, would not look out of place in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course there are differences between Algeria and Iraq or Afghanistan, but the similarities are much more.

All said, a movie surely worth watching, even without the political relevance. Just the starkly real style of acting and direction make it watchable.

PS: Saadi Yasef, who plays the guerilla leader Djaffar in the movie, was exactly that in real life!!!

- Avan

Miss India

i miss homeland...
not the people (not counting the family) but the familiarity and the feeling of being accepted and special.
no, its not that...
its just that here, i can spend a whole day in office not saying a single word to anybody...
walk all the way home from the bus stop without having to smile at anyone...
and so on and so forth

too much of anonymity here, though that is what i wanted.

thoughts of - heavy rains during monsoons, the smell of the earth after the first rains, the smell of jasmine flowers in August, bathing in unheated water straight from the tap, blaring but cloying 'kausalya suprabhatham' from the temples in the mornings, the noisy traffic, crowded trains, even the sweat... oh! yes, beautiful thoughts....

- Aval


Avan paranju - Mayyazhi is Mahi; and the book is depressing. But no, its not depressing. Characters are open-minded and very human. And what I want now is to get on Avan's bike and ride to Mahi and watch the river join the sea behind Moopan sayipp's bangalow.

- Aval

Call in sick

Today, I wanted to call in sick. I was suffering from existential angst.

- Aval


Am planning to buy an Enfield Bullet. Will you grace the seat with yours ? :-)

- Avan


Just clearing my throat. Did anyone hear?

- Avan