Saturday, August 21, 2010

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch...

...but there always is a free ride, atleast on campus.

Its been a month (and running...) since I shifted out of home, Bangalore to Men's Hostel 'J'-Room No. 113,South Campus(affectionately called 'The Village'), University of Hyderabad -home for the next couple of years. The first thing that welcomed me as soon as I landed at the hostel was an open door to my allegedly allotted room, bereft of the mandatory fittings of a single steel cot and a Malaysia wood-topped desk. Since class started in half an hour investigations into the current state of my room was postponed to a later time. After quickly dumping my bags in the adjacent room, ablutions completed, I proceeded to trek the distance of 4.5km to the School of Social Sciences. Having located the class, I walked through the doors to my preferred seat in any class environment-the last bench. A sweeping survey of the faces of fellow classmates left me a tad disappointed and much older. The average age of the class should hover around 22 I guess and here was a bearded, fast receding hair lined student of 25 (I have been asked if I was married and was a father 4 years back!), vigourously swabbing his face and neck post the excruciating half hour walk trying to locate a seat in the back, right below the fan. It was only later while establishing credentials with some of the classmates (I still do not know a majority of them, plain laziness and more so disinterestedness to blame)that a girl sheepishly mentioned that the first row of students (invariably girls, though that trend has changed in the one month since) attempted to stand up as soon as I entered confusing me for a professor! A lot of other people I meet around the campus feel surprised that I am pursuing a masters, they naturally assume I am an M.Phil or PhD student. Be still my creaking bones...

Post classes, investigations were afoot to determine the cause behind my furniture-less room. A quick word with the hostel in-charge later I was assured that there was no foul play and that the original room which was on the ground floor was reserved for physically handicapped students and that I was allotted a room on the first floor. Further investigations revealed that my room-mate had replaced the original lock, before heading home after admissions and would be back only a week later. I shifted in temporarily into the room opposite- 114, which thankfully still had not been robbed of its cot. Purchases to set up room- bucket, mug, mattress, washing powder, et al. made I settled in comfortably, deviously grinning to myself that the whole room was mine, when most others had 3 students in residence. The weekend ensued. I continued to wait for my room-mate. The following Tuesday, I returned as usual to the temp room at around 12:00AM (with little else to do in the room apart from stare out the window at the enshrouding darkness, the main campus with its attractions of a shopping complex, canteens, classes[but naturally], library and the venerated 'Gops'- the quintessential melting pot of food, conversation and general hang out on the campus [fossilised souls who have spent years on campus opine that with the departure of Gopal, the man who lent his name to the eponymous gathering spot, 'Gops' has lost its charm. Apologies! I stand corrected. Gopal still occupies the store, nevertheless the captivation eludes, I believe reminiscing always makes you yearn for the good ole days] necessitates that you return to 'the village' as late as you can) to find someone else had converted it into their permanent room. I also noticed that my allotted room was not locked up and a tube light streamed from below the door. Quickly having explained and clarified the situation with my new neighbours I shifted in officially into 113. They had packed my belongings in a haphazard manner into my bags and neatly rolled up my mattress, though the case of a missing towel still remains a mystery.

I did not invoke the phrase popularised by Milton Freidman in vain. The prospect of walking 4.5km from the hostel to class and back again in the night with a good 3-4km stretch covered during the day in various short saunters around campus though a healthy option, especially for people of my slightly rotund disposition, can leave one tired and without energy for much else. The late night trek back in the fading moonlight is an ideal setting for some romance to flourish, but considering that the only residents in the direction of the south campus are men and largely sanitised international students, not to belittle my social skills (the first one week on campus was magically delightful thanks to Ms. T)I generally plod back in silent soliloquy. Unless of course you hitch your thumb out and wave an approaching vehicle down. Students generally halt be it on their bikes or bicycles. I generally do not bother the latter, though a couple of them have kindly offered to take me (though they offered to drop me only because they expected me to decline in the first place needs to verified). On one occasion the tables were turned quickly and I had to pitch in on the pedals while the offerer peacefully settled on the carrier. Official looking people, noticed by their smug faces, white shirt- unbuttoned at the chin till halfway down their gullet and strangely buttoned up at the cuffs can be a bothersome tribe. They do not slow down near you, but a few metres ahead of you and then make a strange gesticulation involving the left hand and head indicating they are not headed in your direction. There are exceptions to the rule though. Cars are a strict no-no on the hitch-hiking list. Ambulances can come in handy and one afternoon I was speedily transported from the village to the shop-comm on a stretcher, sitting, thankfully and not lying on it. Tractors too come handy, especially if it has a trailer attached. Ignore the mud and grime, but hang on for dear life when he takes the sharp turn to the right on the last gentle knoll leading to the village, light grips could land you on the road or even worse the stream running at its margins.

Conversation and experiences are never low in supply. Political Science being my subject I find the politics of the people around me more interesting. The campus is so small when it comes to gossip that if someone sneezes in south campus, the rest of the people all around should know of it by the end of the day. Politicking of the various student wings are restricted to poster-sticking and occasionally a protest march from the shop-comm to the admin block. Talks ranging from Kashmir Killings to the Telangana issue pop up on a daily basis. While fresh unwrecked minds could be brain-washed my cynicism protects me like a wall from such demagogic talk. Or maybe its my ignorance and sustained attempt to remain ignorant. In class too there is hardly a moment when Maoism, Hindutva, ideology and other such profanities is not called upon. Sides are made fast with the left oriented appearing to be in majority for now. Sometimes they appear very school like in their attitude with instances of clarifying doubts just for the sake of it, repeatedly coming up with an opposing angle to a particular subject and then looking back at his/her cohorts and sniggering, all attempts at one-up-manship- for what? Then there is the other issue of hiding books in complete disrespect to the Dewy Decimal system to prevent others from reading those particular books! I have decided I am here to learn and not take sides. Question everything and work on the reasons at the root of things

For someone who has spent all his life so far at home, the campus offers wonders- unrestricted freedom topping that list of wonders. Biting into a shawarma at 3:30 AM while strains of Uday Bhawalkar's sonorous voice stream from the open doors of the auditorium- I haven't tasted a better shawarma so far. Walking shoulder to shoulder down the stairs of Mayuri Bar with autorickshaw drivers post a session of MC whiskey and Congress mixture and top that off with a healthy serving of beef biryani at Kalyani Restaurant (though not as enticingly juicy as the beef doled in Khazana, Johnson Market, Bangalore.)Washing clothes is a completely new feeling when you land at the room at 12AM to realise they have been soaking in the bucket below the cot since the previous night. The mess remains my greatest enemy on campus for serving highly proteinicious food, read as dal, dal and more dal. Meals is very simply rice, some dal curry which masquerades as sambhar and a rather decent rasam. The highlight of the meal is the chutney and small portion of vegetables which features on your plate. The loos reek a distinct smell of dal post meals, pungent and nasal-hair destroying- making you ponder on the digestive abilities of the fellow mess-mates. "Please sir, can I have some more?" will probably never feature on your thoughts during lunch or dinner. Facing a full day can be heartbreaking when one stuffs voluntarily a whole portion of a sour rice garnished with groundnuts and topped with an even sourer chutney for breakfast. And so on and so forth.

A strange feeling of being disconnected arises though, specifically since I lack a laptop at the moment. The joys of trawling the net unrestricted, are to be postponed till I purchase a laptop and also till the LAN connections are open in the hostel. As of now I have seen trenches being dug to lay the lines, but given that its a central university, it might take a full semester or a year for the lines to become functional. For now I battle with slow ancient machines, waiting for five seconds before the full word which I type appears on screen. The battle is extended to students too during the day when it becomes impossible almost to sit down at a free system.

I switch off most times when jargon erupts during conversations. The deconstruction of the post-modernist cognitive perspective of the moral and social fabric evidenced in 'biped featherless chicken'-and I would probably excuse myself feigning a crick in my left little toe that needs to be attended to at the earliest, with an equal earnestness to will a large object like a grand piano or Fort Knox safe falling on the said person or being slowly gnawed away by birds or better still ants while the person lies awake, witnessing himself being cleaned to the bone without the powers to shoo them away- ok that might be slightly over the top, but an academic atmosphere does not mean conversing in such rarefied language. Thankfully the people I have got know better over the last month don't fit into such categories. Higher stuff will eventually start spouting from me too, but right now I need to solidify my base in the social sciences. As the Deep Purple song goes the next two years will be to-"Listen, learn, read on".

There is probably more stuff to add to this post, but-
a) I cant remember
b) I am too tired and lazy to remember...for now,
Ching ching!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Reading, Writing and the Internet

The last few months have been spent in preparations for a few entrance tests. Preparations have predominantly been reading, reading and more reading. Given the obvious part of reading up for tests the other half of the preparations should, also in retrospect, have been a liberal dose of writing-in long hand, the pen and paper variety. The prospect of writing continuously for three hours, ideas brimming one after the other, mentally making a note to include point (a) and then suddenly realising that I am already at point (e) made me wish I had an 'enter' button to add on a few lines of space. At other times while throwing a frantic line for the precise name of a treaty or date of an event, the ease with which one could Google it made me let out a low whimper akin to a dog unsuccessfully searching for a buried bone.

After four years of not having done any serious writing on ruled exam paper, apart from general doodling during official meetings and a couple of notes to potential paramours (neither were too well received), those three hours on two separate occasions, on alternate days were seriously painful. There was a visible depression on the tips of the right thumb and the index finger and it required vigorous twirling and coaxing before any semblance of life returned to the numb digits.

Reading on the other hand is more passive. Well not exactly if you are studying for an exam where it is required of you to read, understand and conceptualise it for later to tackle a question and derive a suitable answer which can lead you to a seat in a particular university. (At least that's the end of my recent bout of preparations.) It has been rather enjoyable given the style of some of the author's who I have been reading. Some are dead (literally too, bless their souls) in their approach to the subject as well as metaphors rendering the books unreadable.

Which leads me to the internet. With its vast all encompassing web, it throws you such a wide variety of voices which makes reading exciting and at the same time enervating. Exciting because of the rich multimedia, the different schools of thought and style, the ability to cross-refer and the beauty of hyper-links and algorithmically generated related and relevant subjects. Suddenly you think, "Oh!I am so enlightened now." There is so much information I have gathered, which is when the enervation sets in. The information glut begins to sap you.

Most times with hyperlinks et al, I have atleast 10 tabs open varying from currently an article on how urban sculptures can clean the air we breathe to the death of publishing. I haven't read them in detail still. I hope to soon as I finish posting this. At the same time Echofon pops Twitter updates from the hundred odd users I follow.

Most of my reading on the net is now highly based on recommendations or links which these users post on my time-line. With selective following it gives me a veritable smorgasbord of all the required reading for the day. In the time I started writing out this post forty tweets have appeared, ten of which have links with what I deem necessary reading. And so the process continues, with many more tabs opened until I end up a nervous wreck battling between a need for the next fix of information and almost drowning in a digital deluge. Until I find a quick fix solution- the 'power off' switch and curl up on bed with a peeling, musty smelling paperback. Or even better an Indrajal comic inherited from my father.

The web has certainly changed the way people read and write and most definitely the way we analyse information. Like contemplating to swap the newspaper for his Twitter stream on the pot. Potty pips apart, it gives a better platform to connect both readers as well as writers. It also gives you complete freedom on what you want to state. Feedback comes almost instantaneously. And the best part- its in the public domain, making the net easily the most democratising factor in today's society. Technology and the net empowers people. It also gives a renewed coat of strength to Francis Bacon's signature- "Scientia potentia est"- "For also knowledge itself is power".

P.S.- Continuing on the hyperlinked reading style that most above average internet users have adopted, I forgot to mention about the Google Reader. Half day of neglect and the stuff you think has to be read, clogs the whole system up. Return from a holiday sans the internet and more than the pending inbox (now that I am unemployed it doesn't affect me much)the 'Unread' list on Reader gives me the jitters. The immense pleasure derived from marking unread to read is something else as Nitin Pai explains here. In case where the reading runs in lengths unfathomable for my level of reading interest at that moment I just Read It Later, whenever I find the time and the interest. With the continuously dropping attention spans most times its-Never.

P.P.S.-On a slightly related note, I just don't seem to not stop hyper-linking up. Here is Robert Fisk on the death of 'deep reading' and the political power-media nexus.

Image Credit- Peter Steiner via The New Yorker.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kayal Calling

The sun breaks the dawn as the temple bells begin to chime. I look at the time and turn to the other side cursing the devotees. Soon the resident geese honk and join the merry clanging of the bells. It’s time to get out of bed. I step onto the patio outside the bamboo cottage as the geese flap out their wings and walk single file to the pond slightly away from the cottage. There are other birds, storks being the easily identifiable ones, flying past. The early bird catches the worm as they say, or presumably fish- from the kayal. I needed breakfast...

The steaming puttu and kadala curry, pappadam powdered by hand into the mix, is decimated in a trice. Our first objective for the day is set- locate a retired merchant navy captain, K. U. Crispin, owner of the eponymous kettuvallom, the quintessential experience of the Vembanad. A short jaunt down the jetty and the canal snakes towards the big lake, women washing clothes and vessels on either side. A blind turn reveals the canal chock-o-block with kochu valloms- dwarf snake boats, some carry vegetables, others fish- a veritable gliding grocery shop and even others carry what was explained later to be sludge, apparently good for cementing houses; and a host of kettuvalloms in shapes, services and storeys that would suit budgets from us (read middle class) to former Prime Ministers of India. St.Crispin hides behind a huge double decker, Kottayam Kunchachchan eye-catchingly noticeable because of its enticing bar, an array of the best tipples on its upper deck display. Ret. Capt. Crispin (his parents and later him are ardent devotees of the saint, interestingly the saint had a twin brother, Crispinian and together are the patron saints cobblers, tanners and other members of the leather sub-culture) is counting crisp new 500 rupee notes as we board and the guests from the previous night bid him farewell.

Having spent practically every summer vacation listening to the wind whispering in the coconut fronds, downing tender water from the nut by the dozens, gazing at green paddy fields and experiencing various other sensory soothing balm qualities in Kerala; we weren't enthused by the idea of doing the same by day and night atop a kettuvallom. Besides, a 24 cruise, a majority of it anchored in the middle of the Vembanad, the authorities prohibit kettuvalloms from plying the waters from early evening to just after dawn, would have set us back clean by 15,000 Indian monies. A chat on how he set sail on the kayal in late 2008 after having seen enough of the high seas later he heads home for a short nap before his next ‘full day-night’ cruiser couple arrive, leaving us in the company of the affable Sunil, the pilot; Rahul, the deck hand and an Old Man Mozz-esque achchayan (my fading memory is responsible for not remembering his name) who runs the kitchen on board St.Crispin.

Guided by poles in the safe hands of Old Man Mozz and Rahul and gentle coaxing of the brand new Yamaha engine we putter past other kettuvalloms getting readied for their next batch of occupants. At the meeting point with the outer reaches of the Vembanad where the canal ends many a local youth and a couple of septuagenarians stand on the concrete pier awaiting their dose of eye feasting on the bare white skins of phoren madamas. Our feasting (a precursor to the spread being prepared at our heritage home-Tharavadu) begins with a bunch of poovan pazham. Sunil who hails from near-by Vechoor soon takes us past the waterfronts of the 5 star and boutique variety hotels with snazzy jacuzzis that overlook the banks of the Vembanad. While a lone electric blue kingfisher flits across the surface, successfully having mouthed his lunch, Sunil explains how the kettuvallom industry is only close to two decades old. With the road connections to the three bordering districts- Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Kottayam, improving drastically during the 80’s and early 90’s it became uneconomical to ply boats, leaving the boat-owners to either move out to the coast to take up fishing or change their lines of business. An enterprising few however decided to redesign their boats to look like mansions on water and welcome the cash rich tourist to the veritable experience of the Vembanad.

We pass vast paddy fields which are actually below the level of the kayal, which is at sea level, and need to be pumped out during seasons of plenty to avoid the crops from getting damaged. Infact a majority of the fields were reclaimed from the kayal. Sunil’s free hand cuts an arc into the horizon to demarcate one of the richest achchayan’s (name escapes me again) fields. Like most other rich agriculturalists he too escaped much of the wrath of EMS and his Communist brethren during the Land Ceiling days of yore aided by his vast siblings, cousins and other blood brothers. He even had a church built bang in the middle of a field, so that his labourers could get back to work immediately after service!

Vembanad, herself is an undulating, sheer glazy green, dotted with hyacinth and the occasional vallam in any direction the eyes gaze. At some point, having lost ourselves in our thoughts of the emerald expanse below, we realise we are floating back on the canal that leads to the municipal boat jetty.

Our appetites perky, we head to Tharavadu, in the process passing by what the locals call “Pambu”- a drunk, splayed on the ground, occasionally attempting serpentine movement in the direction of his home or ultimate destination- in all probability the next TASMAC parlour. Kerala has the highest incidence of alcoholism anywhere in India; the papers carried an article the next day of how Chalakkudy district topped its previous record of drunken revelry on Christmas Eve, a record it apparently breaks annually.

On the spur of the moment we decide to lunch in Alappuzha and then explore the place. The road curves over tiny canals, the bigger ones away from the town have a few kettuvalloms ready to head out into the kayal and then we pass over the immense Thanneermukkom salt water barrier, which prevents the salt water from entering into the Kuttanad lowlands. The divide is clear- brackish sea water on one side, in clear contrast to the clean jade of the river-fed Vembanad.

Alappuzha, after the serene Kumarakom, is a hot and overcrowded town built around canals, which are mostly covered in water hyacinth. Though we didn’t have much time to explore the Venice of the East, (it being half past three by the time we drove into Alappuzha) we hurriedly down a rather late lunch comprising of toast, scrambled eggs, cutlets and cold coffee at the Indian Coffee House opposite the Beach. A mandatory photo session among the sand and waves later we are headed towards Ambalappuzha, famed for its Krishna Temple and more interestingly for me the prasadam offered- the famous paal-payasam. Legend has it that Krishna himself, in the guise of a sage, challenged the king of the land to a game of chess. The prize the king had to pay if defeated was ‘a few grains’ of rice which was to be laid on the chess board in a particular order- one grain on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and so forth with each square adding grain worth twice the previous square. The king readily agreed and unsurprisingly lost. On realising the geometric progression involved in the scheme of the prize, the king panicked, naturally, considering the final figure would empty not only his but his neighbour’s granaries many times over. The ever-pardoning Krishna reveals his true form and in probably the first case of a financial reconciliation- agrees to aid the king with an installment scheme; viz. a promise to serve paal-payasam to devotees daily till the debt is paid-off. Presumably the debt was paid off by the time we reached there, for we did not receive any. It was indeed, since it is apparently dished out only in the mornings. Being wary of temples apart from the architecture, myth and history behind them the only thing that interested me was the mizhavu used by Kunjan Nambiar, the satirist poet who invented and popularised thulllal.

The sun was lowering itself into the western horizon, setting the sky ablaze as we approached the banks of the lake Punnamada. Our object of interest: the centuries old black granite statue or at least the half that remains of the Buddha. Karumadikuttan as he is locally known is covered by a small concrete stupa and a pathway leads away from the stupa to the banks, across which lie what in the late evening sunlight look like fields of gold. Buddhism was a prominent religion in Kerala circa 200 B.C. to 800 A.D. until the revival of Hinduism under renewed royal patronage. Why exactly was only one half shorn of the statue remains a question as we drive back to Kumarakom.

As promised earlier in the day a feast awaits us at Tharavadu. Raw rice, a spicy sambar liberally filled with the delicious small onions, a carrot-beans-cabbage thoran (finely diced vegetables stir fried with grated coconut and assorted spices), the ubiquitous yet meal completing flared pappadam, avial, a beetroot pachchidi (again grated coconut plays an important role with thin strips of beetroot curried in curd) and the protagonist in the symphony being played out on the table- karimeen pollichathu, a double my palm sized roasted pearl spot fish brought straight out of the kayal earlier in the day onto my plate in a banana leaf. Feasting complete, there is little else to do but reflect on the true nature of happiness (something which I was experiencing contentedly at that precise moment) on the bamboo chairs of the portico outside our room. A late onset of mosquitoes, aided by general lethargy prompts us to vacate the chairs and seek the comfort of the bed.

We were advised the previous evening to be ready by early morning for a walk at the bird sanctuary adjacent to the Taj Garden Retreat. Considering the heavy meal hanging in our digestive systems it took a while before we threw off the final vestiges of drowsiness and bought our tickets for the walk. Enveloped in an incessant chirping of crickets and other insects we were warned of not sighting much since it was not the breeding season. Our twitching antennas raised we kept a keen look out for any sight of feathers and beaks. Instead, we cut across a thick copse of tropical trees and bushes with overhanging creepers and bridges over shallow pools looking much like what Ophelia could have drowned in. After covering the circuitous path we encountered- two cormorants, a muster of storks on the far end of the Vembanad which bordered the sanctuary and three men in kurta-pajamas out for their morning constitutional.

After sufficiently fortifying our cells with some fluffy palappams and coconut milk it is time to settle dues and be headed out. We pass the Bay Island Driftwood Museum and decide to give it a miss due to time constraints to accommodate visits to the Vaikom Shiva Temple, the eye of the storm of the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924-25; a host of relatives in Ernakulam and then onward to Trichur, our base-camp.

All the while on our kayal sojourn we complained of the heat and how the rains could have eased the temperature as well as enhanced the ethereal beauty of the Vembanad and its interlinked eco-system. That evening while driving on the highway from Ernakulam to Trichur-it finally rained- by the ‘vallom’ loads! Maybe I shall return to gaze upon the Vembanad under the reign of the monsoon magic. Soon...

Images 1, 3,5 and 8 credit: Vandana Nenmni (fellow traveler and sister)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spool's out and in again

A little box in a translucent black, white or grey with blank strips across its dual faces to fill in neat minute hand-writing is probably my earliest visual memory of music. (I remember my father's LP and EP collections, especially the broad and colourful covers, but that was something which was strictly out of bounds for inquisitive yet destructive toddlers) A black magnetic tape (with immense powers to attract one) hangs loosely between two spools. A light tap on the side to make sure there are no loose loops - a pen rotated around one of the spools to doubly make sure - locked into the safe cavernous desk of a National Panasonic mono-speaker - just push play. Scratchy sounds greet you as the ticker starts to count like a very slow slot machine minus the fruit pictures, before the music emanates and envelopes you.

The National Panasonic was sold to my mother's tailor (it presumably still entertains him and his troupe) and a BPL Stereo came in. Later everyone was talking about the quality of sound and the experience of a CD and that was something we audiophiles cannot resist. So out went the black BPL with plain dual speakers and in came a silver hulky looking Philips with a CD/DVD and of course the cassette player. Over the last few years music has predominantly been of the downloaded variety which is played over the computer system or on the move on my phone.

One reason - convenience,better sound quality and other technicalities apart - for the cassette player being ignored was the squeaky heads of the dual cassette desks that were running faulty or so we were led to believe by the local technician. Our repeated cleaning of the head unit with cotton and a tinge of after shave did not solve the problem. A month or so later the squeaky sounds magically vanished, but not for long. Months of dust gathering by the cassette unit later we called the Philips service centre who immediately sent home a uniformed technician with a huge bag of tools. After opening the bag much like a doctor from the Victorian times visiting a home to attend to a delivery, the uniformed man deftly located a pair of pincers, some cotton and demanded any kind of spirit available in the house. Aftershave being the only available spirit was promptly handed over which was used to douse the small cotton wad. Soon he was wrist deep into the cassette player deck, twisting and prodding, teasing out what looked like dust and grime from when Knopfler had sailed to Philadelphia. Half an hour of such sound dusting and 200 bucks richer the technician left, a bright, resuscitated cassette player in our midst.

As I mentioned over the last few years it has been only listening to music online or offline after downloading it. Thats easy. Playing music too, is easy and mechanical. Ctrl F and run through albums, enqueue songs and press play. Cassettes on the other hand involve a lot more, hand-eye-mind coordination. It takes a while in hunting down the exact song you want to listen to especially if you have nearly a thousand cassettes to burrow through to find that epiphanic album. Cassettes have the romantic ability to escape your scanning eyes for a long while and then sticking out just a bit on that left corner of the highest shelf almost out of reach. But only almost...

Cassettes also have that immensely pleasure giving quality of jumping at you point blank when you are least expecting them. Thats exactly what happened earlier this morning. While searching for a recorded version of Zappa's "Joe's Garage", the Saint
manifested himself, eyes meditatively closed, leaning slightly forward, fingers taut, lips pursed around the reed with Giant Steps. After that it was pure bliss...A Spiral.

Image via David Airey

For more magnetic tape memories go here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'King'size shopping the Big B Way

The spring cleaning bug made a mighty bite into the family sans the sister earlier this week. The Great Indian Exchange Mela is on at that temple of new age middle class consumerism- Big Bazaar (henceforth BB). Their clarion call to convert even garbage into money drives most bargain hunting (minus the haggling) households into a frenzy of hunting down everything worth dumping except maybe that family heirloom which the mother-in-law passed onto her son in the hope that it bypasses the daughter-in-law and will without much other familial cartography be bestowed on his only girl at her marriage in the near future, unless there is a crafty mistress who has attacks of attention deficit disorder prompting the son to appease her with that very dusty heirloom. Ah well, possible Star One, ZEE TV, (insert your preferred marathon family saga television series network here) scripts apart a lot of families do indeed spend quality (excuse the dust and rising tempers on what is dump-worthy or not moments) time together cleaning out attics, investigating suitcases filled with what looked like gifts from the parents wedding, tearing apart cardboard boxes hoarding dinner ware from a different era, shedding a tear over a prematurely retired Snow Job (I had a fascinating collection of GI Joe play figures, most of which was later given away to a younger relative, with much grief despite having achieved a mature facade with a french beard and a job in the financial services sector) after his leg got disengaged in combat between a door caught in the wind. The official story for the minor lachrymal precipitation is however the dust and grime which had a strange knack of attacking the eyes whenever I was in the vicinity of the boxes/suitcases.

Such sterilising activities also can lead to a catharsis of sorts. Two full boxes on being dumped out were found to contain trophies collected over the academic years: 2000-2006 for all kinds of non-academic pursuits ranging from music, drama, quizzes, mock business scenario events to shockingly dance! Metal, plastic, wood were all summarily boxed back and eventually found themselves on the scales at BB, gone in a trice at 25 bucks a kilo! Now while I sit typing this out- a certain sense of nostalgia creeps in. Memories start bouncing like dashing cars inside my brain of the final buzzer that gave us those essential five point lead to trump the favourites at a quiz in Vijaya College, the waltzing steps which led to me being awarded the Most Outstanding Dancer of the Evening (me?! of the minimal ass wiggle under extreme duress after a few knocks of the tipple), a first prize trophy which was mistakenly awarded for a second place sneaked back home unknown to the oganisers. All gone. In all probability, they should land at some trophy maker's factory, melted and remoulded into awarding someone more deserving than me for having abandoned them. But I have never felt a deep attachment for such things apart from rejigging my memory for anecdotes over drinks/dinner with friends or for the blog. Maybe 20 years from now this spring cleaning might evince a greater feeling to kick myself in the behind, but the memories will remain, suffice I am not downed by those whatchacallthems- I forget...
If you too have forgotten they are what they call age related diseases including Alzheimer's and dementia.

Having arrived at BB post dealing with all the above, the actual process of the exchange starts. A common occurrence at all these events is the snaking queue. Add the sneaky, hoity-toity, God! This is gonna take a while glances, the others behind you give you after they notice the semi-truck load of stuff you plan to exchange for some slips of paper and you begin to wonder if it was worth the trouble to drive all the way from Cambridge Layout to the BB on Old Madras Road. To tell you the truth it wasn't but I had to humour the family! Besides the kitchen was bereft of baked/fried/powdered/salted snacks, cheese and such life saviours. Aperitifs sadly didn't make the list.

Then the weighing began. While the process was on I took a quick scan of the surrounding hills of stacked newspapers, bottles, rusted cans, chairs minus the backrest, bald tyres, a broken commode! A slight satisfactory smile creased my lips- our slightly more than Bantamweight waste did not include broken WCs! Now at this point I would like to explain to all readers who are not aware of the conditions that apply to the BB exchange- after having allocated coupons depending on the value per kilo and total kilos handed over at the exchange counter, shoppers-to derive maximum benefit of the coupons must purchase four times the value of the aforementioned coupons worth of goods at BB over a specific period of time. This effectively translates to a flat 25% off on your total purchases, but on the bright side you can purchase more items which you will not need in a year's time which can be converted into coupons again that can get you more stuff. Kishore Biyani and team have a neat racket running round here.

Coupons handed over, the next leg of the adventure was about to begin. Being some what veterans at this game we braced ourselves for the amount that had to be purchased for the maximum benefits- suffice to say Bantamweight translates to 51kg - 54kg! After a hurried recco of items I might require I retire to the ground floor where my aforementioned necessities are stacked. I quietly fill the trolleys with the requirements and inform the famliy that I shall be waiting near billing counter number 14. Three hours of laborious struggle over four floors, groceries piled into three trolleys, clothes and shoes/sandals for the rest, 10,000 odd points gathered on mobile Jumble game while waiting for the family to return after their peregrinations, a cheese croissant and soya stuffed puff thrown in to revitalise the dying cells, dirty glances from a couple with 2 cans of diet coke and a couple of cups of flavoured curd behind us in the queue, purchases billed later we take five to take stock of how much more shopping to be done the next time. Again, suffice to say there is more, much much more in the pipeline in aiding increased stock valuations of the Future Group.

PS: While trawling old photo folders I came across this, something which will be more than just an image or a memory. The only trophy on display in the drawing room, gold plated, the value which was announced that night when we won it escapes me now, but something in the range slightly more than a quarter G. Ah, for nights like those again.
Below: V and me circa Feb 2006.

PPS: The second trip to BB ended with an electronic upgrade in the drawing room. Out went the 21" Philips and in came this:

Its an LG 26" LCD. Visually speaking Life's indeed Good.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Absence makes the mind wander
A heart or two drawn asunder
Messages and mails make me wonder
Could there be days fonder?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fashion is bad for you

Because I and most likely most boys of my age in their formative years were denied a healthy, unhypocritic sex education, our resort at better understanding of the fairer sex was taken up by Michel Adam and his team at Ftv. Hmmm...thats just an excuse for my voyeuristic tendencies. Though I had a late awakening (cable took a while in entering my household) many nights were spent in the drawing room on the pretext of burning the midnight oil for approaching exams. Under the fat BS Raman text books were neatly camouflaged Grishams and Higgins, which would eventually be put away sharp at 00:00 hours for some visual feasting sponsored by Midnight Hot. I wouldn't say it was my first sight of minimalism, but it did develop a short lived lively interest in haute couture. My philosophy in fashion sustains though, since those early easily influenced days- summers are for minimalism and all seasons for all things pretty and beautiful.

Now, Ambika Soni and the team at the I&B Ministry decide that a whole generation of teenagers raging hormones and all will have to be bereft of the coming of age ritual of tuning into Ftv for their daily fix of titillation for the next 10 days! Obviously there is the internet which has various sources to bypass the I&B order. But it just doesn't match up to watching it on TV in mute, ears perked to approaching feet, index finger twitching on the next channel button on the remote, in anticipation of someone entering the room.

Apart from nipping bright Bals/Valayas/et al in the bud it is also a strong indictment that watching fashionable things trotting down a ramp is a crime! In that case wouldn't it be even grievous a crime to broadcast shows like MTV Roadies, Big Boss and such? Oh, that's reality focused programing delving into human emotions under duress, a social experiment. Excellent! Repeated news flashes of Nityananda's friskiness did not cause a shut down of news channels? That would be termed social awareness I guess.

So why cant we choose what we want to watch? Because the I& B guys think "The visuals were found to be obscene, denigrating women and were not suitable for children and unrestricted public exhibition." There is absolutely no denigration of the woman or child as is the case in pornography, in fact it is more like a method of advertising your ware to potential clientele. And its perfect viewing for children in their talkative teenage prime. Have you noticed how they turn quiet when a modestly dressed woman appears on TV? Hell, most adults also do!

This suppressed hypocritical moral policing will continue in the name of saving the child from culture which is clearly anti Indian, more so anti Bharatiya Nari- until maybe the I&B guys do a workshop with Mr. Howard Stern or more locally maybe Nityananda himself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Morning Beat

Key turned right. Choke pulled up. Petrol tap down. A gentle kick and a deep throated thump emanates, shattering the early morning quietude. A gentle nudge from the right toe and I glide out of the neighbourhood, sadistically pleased that the aerobics instructor lady (attemptee) will now be wide awake. She must have got back home a couple of hours back. HA! WAKEY WAKEY!

The throttle is slowly released as I settle into the saddle, palms caressing the handles, as I reassure my black and silver stallion. The chrome tank, shiny (I spent most of last evening wiping it, hawing steam from the mouth for the final glint) winks occasionally under the street lamps. I move up to second and quickly into third as the road widens, it welcomes me like a long lost friend. Sandwich boards whizz past like a toned down version of the Wachowski Speedracer. The needle advances beating a steady time. The black tarmac shines like a coiled cobra.

Islands of sodium luminescence vandalise the sooty morning. Barreling ahead on fourth the wind bites into my eyes. What started as a low moan is now a frenetic wail. Tears stream down, cool on the face. Every cell is active, alert, lucid, waiting...

Through this thunderous gallop, however, a strange calmness envelopes me. The seething rage extinguished, insecurities thrown to the wind, cynicism emptied, unmindful of ironies, peace reigns. I ride into the wild, unknown, on and on into the horizon until I am a small speck and then....POOF! I am gone.

Or so I think. Escapist!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Here comes the sun

One downside of going the full tonsure is your scalp fights a lost battle against the sun. Stepping out for lunch turns into an excessively perspiring expedition unless you have protection of a cap/hat, which doesn't give you that naked feeling on top.

Ri-baldry apart Bangalore has turned quite into an oven over the last couple of weeks. And its only February! Climate change is here and its on your (at least my) head. When was the last February night you remember having turned the fan on full blast, apart from the last two weeks? Never in my living memory! An Uncle of mine mentioned of how they hadn't even installed a fan when they initially settled in Bangalore some 30 years back. Air conditioning is the norm now.

I have always hated the heat. Even though I was born in Madras and root around Trichur in Kerala. Summer holidays were never as romantic as in Enid Blyton stories. A month would be spent half naked fakir like in Trichur, gulping down coconut water by the dozen from the decently endowed garden in my grandfathers house. Sweet mangoes would be decimated after lunch, only to lead to further discomfort with their strange ability to increase gastronomic combustion. Just as we were getting comfortable with the frying pan we would be shunted right into the fire, a moist one at that, to Madras. A city known for its wide variety of weather conditions- hot, hotter, hottest. I would invariably land up around the peak of the last option. The evenings would provide some respite, from the sea breeze, but you would still look like you have just emerged from a sauna right after a shower. I never found much reason to having a shower in Madras. The only right thing would be stay under it-forever. In hindsight, despite the flak against heat, those days were enjoyable-they were after all the summer holidays, a time when you had absolutely no responsibilities, no deadlines, no bosses, no most things that irk me now.

What is happening to all this solar energy anyway? Apart from making us and other natural entities we share this planet with tick, what does it do? Oh, it makes a lot shiny panels generate electricity which is then used to cook food, heat water and an assortment of such nice stuff. What happens to the rest of it? I am sure there is a lot which is wasted, being absorbed by the earth to bake one hell of a huge pie. What are the scientists and other knowledgeable characters in such matters doing? Can't all this energy be tapped to run- more air conditioners? There's also the catch, the more we use such equipment, the more chemicals released into the air, blocking the sun's rays from escaping back into the upper zones of the atmosphere and leaving us hot (not just under the collar).

If things are so hot why doesn't it melt all the fat stored under my skin? Just imagine the possibilities, eat, drink, lead a merry life in say Manali or Ladakh and come down to Chennai for therapy. At the rate Bangalore's temperatures are soaring, we could heat up the competition. After reading news bits about melting ice caps and glaziers, increasing sea levels and becoming a victim of a burnt scalp I have resigned to my fate and decided to wait and marginally increase the waistline of a polar bear:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jahaan Pyaar Hota Hai Vyapaar Bankar

But for the bomb blasts at German Bakery, Pune, the media would have been quite happily covering the sappy story of how Valentine's Day is being celebrated across the nation. While Arnab Goswami might have been quizzing Muthalik on why he suddenly feels democracy has been kidnapped by gundas in the background of his face blackening at a chat show discussing the much debated V Day, he will now focus on internal security lapses or how David Headley could be connected to the blasts and where will the diplomatic talks with Pakistan now lead. Bigger issues at the heart of it, more research and fleshing out of details for journalists following the story, negotiation scripts to be redrafted for the Indo-Pak diplomats and on a lesser note, lesser stupid cupid stories thankfully on the news.

Now this is not a rant from an embittered soul who has minimal experience in the what a close friend calls "complicated human emotion that has done so much destruction rather than construction of good faith between people" department apart from the unrequited and familial variety. This is more a rant against what shenoy refers to as the Love Day Cabal- A group of money-minded publicity-hungry companies that seek to make money from unsuspecting suckers on the great Day of Love. So while restaurants exhort that food and wine is the right way to your darlings heart (what if she has a bad case of indigestion?) and multiplexes proclaim to spend a few cozy hours, hands clasped around each others stargazing at what must be the most creatively titled rom-com till date Valentine's Day, I spent a quiet afternoon (for lack of anything more exciting) scanning the TV.

You are not spared much on the idiot box too. While The Wedding Singer clears his throat on WB, Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy have Just Married on Star Movies. World Movies redeemed Cable TV itself by showing Fran├žois Truffaut's Jules et Jim. What arrested me for the next couple of hours however was Doordarshan which has a series on Sunday's titled Film Utsav. The programmer must have presumably undergone what I was going through (though mine was more of a self pitying nature) and decided to wreak hell on the big V Day with- Guru Dutt's Pyaasa. For all the venom and vitriol I attempt at venting, not just on the V Day itself but other larger issues, it will remain a rant on this digitised diary. Which brings me to my moment of realisation brought on me care of Messers Sahir Ludhianvi, Mohammad Rafi, S.D.Burman and Guru Dutt and thebollywoodfan (for the translation):

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Parading charading

My earliest memories of Republic Day are probably from the mid nineties Doordarshan telecast of the Parade. After a cursory glance of the headlines in the paper my father would switch the television on right after the morning dose of patriotic songs on Vivdh Bharathi. I was lost among the aggressively swishing hands of the thousands of soldiers marching and the greater wave of humans witnessing the spectacle on Rajpath. As the National Anthem would sound I would stand to attention ignorant of why the Red Letter Day was constantly being mentioned and also quite stumped by the commentary alternating in a rather officious sounding Hindi and sonorous English. As soon as the aero display finished I would run off for things which I presently donot remember.

Through the years Republic Day's significance (at least in historical terms) dawned on me, apart from the fact that its a day of rest and general display of patriotism at the local welfare hall. The last few years have also been taken over the manic thirst for consumer gratification through reduction sales to a new height by that 'Retail Raja'-so to speak, Kishore Biyani, whose Big Bazaar sales culminate on Republic Day.

The media typically playing to the gallery takes on 'tough' debates to dissect the Indian socio-political scenario, raising our polity's consciousness, covering stories which cover the spectrum of the burning issues of the hour. Sagarika Ghose in a poll on State of the Nation deciphers that one in two people across India consider themselves a misfit in age terms while the ungraciously aging, Shobha De with a sprinkling of vampish grins declares she never felt better. Such is the state of the nation not worth a nano-glance rather than a whole hour suffused with the necessary 'inflows into coffers' breaks.

India has come a long way since drafting and amending the longest written Constitution of any sovereign nation. Its role of inclusiveness rings in its assurance to citizens- of justice, equality and liberty. A fact belied in Manmohan Singh's response to India being a slow elephant at the recent Pravasi Divas function, he said- India is a slow elephant as it has to accommodate the various sections of society which believe in the process of a democracy, but when it moves it leaves a deep imprint.

In an age of instant gratification and messaging not many subscribe to the old school of thought of informed deliberation and much want the pachydermous pace to hasten. Speed and development would come at a cost though, but surely not at the cost of the ecology, human dignity and the society.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saving Heaven on Earth

When in Kerala it is almost a ritual that I watch at least one of the latest releases in a theatre. Last week after much exhortation by posters proclaiming a ‘Realistic thriller’ I watched ‘Evidam Swargam Aanu’. Falling many miles short of the claim, it is at best- in movie parlance- a wholesome family entertainer.

Rosshan Andrrews who made his directorial debut with the much acclaimed Udayananu Tharam (2005) and Notebook (2006) returns with Mohanlal as his lead again in Evidam Swargam Aanu. James Albert who scripted the campus politics and after related ‘Classmates’ follows with a tale of one man’s (Matthews-Mohanlal) battle of brawn and wits against a real estate mafia don, Aluva Chandy (Lalu Alex).

The first half of the movie draws laboriously with unrelated plots attempting to set a comic tempo ending with a faint fizzle. Matthews, a conscientious farmer runs the Jeremias Farm House (named after his father played by Thilakan), a model bio-vantage farm in Kodanaadu, an idyllic village on the banks of Periyar. The heaven like peace is shattered when Aluva Chandy and his goons start tormenting Matthews into selling off his hard earned and well nurtured land- first through physical threats and later false legal and criminal cases. The director not only highlights the modus operandi of fly by night real estate agents in sky rocketing the price of land through false promises of developing townships but also the depth of rot in the socio-political system through the numerous corrupt officials who all receive a pretty packet from Aluva Chandy.

As Matthews steps from one sinking stone to the other his counselor turns up in Sumathy (Lakshmi Rai) a bright and upright lawyer. Advocate Prabalan aka Koshy (Srinivasan) with his inherently left leaning dialogues and his amicus curiae proves to be the last nail in the extended mafia’s coffin.

Aluva Chandy rides prominently throughout the 2 hr 35 min duration as the stronger character with deep pockets and ready wit. Lalu Alex gives his performance of the decade clearly overshadowing the now (or rather of late) sagging and dullish Lal. Till the end atleast-when the tables are upturned, the movie heading to its logical conclusion with Chandy and his gang strangely bereft of their senses and schemes. Shankar-the star of the 80s before the arrival of Lal- makes an apologetic comeback as Sudheer, Matthews’ trusted friend. He and the other veterans like Thilakan, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Sukumari and Maniyam Pillai Raju have sadly underdeveloped characters reduced to a few lines of dialogue and minimal onscreen time.

Evidam Swargam Aanu refreshingly lacks songs which have become mandatory in any Lal entertainer. The movie in spite of its larger message ends a tad foolishly with the ultimately successful Matthews having to choose his bride between Betsy (a TV journalist played by Priyanka, Maria (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy), who loses contention midway through the movie for a lack of bovine love and Sumathy who is finally seen being pulled by a calf before Matthews enters the scene to signify the return of heaven on Jeremias Farm House.

All in all a worthwhile Rs. 30 spent at the Ragam Theatre, Trichur. Would I pay Rs. 180-200 at a multiplex for the same? I guess heaven could wait.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Of Buses and Lores in Kannur

The wrought iron gates are padlocked. We peek through the slits in the gate and our eyes cannot comprehend the vast eden-esque patio which possibly ends in a promontory opening onto the Arabian Sea below. Disappointed we line up against a wall, set the digi-cam to auto shoot mode, attempted smiles lighting up our faces as the flash turns on. The touristy siege of Bekal Fort needless to say was abandoned, the attempt being prematurely fizzled out before the (now non-existent) draw-bridge itself.

About thirty hours into the our recent past we arrived at Kannur, six disheveled characters emerged from a semi-sleeper bus to be picked up by a seventh not so disheveled character who had landed in Kannur a couple of days earlier. After being deposited at a rather neat three starrer (the name of which eludes me now), express instructions given to bathe and get ready to be picked up again in a couple of hours, the seventh disappears. The former six, post critical ablutions, troop into the restaurant of the three starrer mouths salivating about plates of crispy on the sides and fluffy in the middle appams and steaming mutton stew. The drool is quickly wiped off as we are informed in not too courteous a manner that the orders will have to be restricted to poori-sagu, masala dosa and possibly if lucky (were the hens striking?) omelets. The dosa soon arrives cold and limp, the pooris look a tad more attractive, omelets thin and short of runny accompanied by grape juice which was well past its expiry date by a few months. Hunger satiated we head out onto the streets in search of Sulaimani chai, which remained as elusive as the appams and stew. (A slight aside- appams and stew were consumed with much fervour and delight a week later at the reception of the social engagement for which we had landed in Kannur-Ms. V’s marriage) After hurried baths and attempts at making ourselves socially presentable we proceed to the marriage hall.

Kannur’s sultry weather and more so movie posters for B Grade porn with titles like ‘Black Lady’, the said lady crossing her legs much like Catherine Tramell tempted Detective Nick Curran, leave us a bit hot under the collars. The air conditioned hall and liberal quantities of lime juice solve issues, at least temporarily. Soon the bride and groom arrive, immediately whisked away by young ladies (future brides in the making) brightly draped, jasmine decked, leading with flickering if not kindly lit diyas, musicians furiously blowing, drumming and clinking following them. They soon emerge on the stage of the hall, in front of thousands of eyes blinking, another dozen upfront squinting through viewfinders, flashes fulminating across the length of the stage.

After what looked like introductions of the bride and groom to the poojari, the music suddenly reaches a crescendo and the knot is tied. Garlands exchanged, we suddenly are undecided on the next course of action-what is the protocol? Senior family members were already flocking around the newly wedded couple, blessing them, hands dipping into a vessel of paddy circling the heads of the newly weds and spraying them with the sativic arsenal. Would it be sacrilegious to suddenly see seven dressed up rogues mill around Ms. V and her spouse congratulating them on their recently alt‘a’red marital status? A debate ensued on the various complexities and protocols involved. Theories floated amongst the knowledgeables- friends were relegated to the bottom of the congratulatory milieu. Factions were quickly formed and Maachas and I opposed the premise. We strode onto the stage -in spirit hitching our mundus up- awaiting our Copernican moment of proving the other theories wrong. A sudden scramble ensued and the hitherto seated couple jumped to their feet, we apologizing for broken traditions if any. Having been assured that none were, warm wishes extended, we came down the steps, smug that the others had now begun to line up at the other end. Confidence levels soaring I joined the queue again to pose for another photograph with the complete set of friends who had traveled from Bangalore to attend the wedding.

Wedding lunches always require negotiating a rather dangerous gang of famished characters. They almost have a crocodilian glint in their eye, one that anticipates a fresh gazelle between their snappers within a few moments. And they have the strange knack of assembling like vultures around carrion, only much more densely packed and they squeakingly demand- the doors of the dining hall to be opened immediately. The easiest method to negotiate the mosh-pit like crowd is to sneak in skillfully around the hulky ladies and overbearing men until you wedge yourself in-between the door and the controlled violence of the hardcores around you. Being undernourished helps to squeeze through- a handicap across my name (waist?). The downside of course is that your olfactory senses take a severe beating from being in close proximity to the toxic combination of jasmine, sweat and coconut oil. Having successfully ridden this wave of people- comparisons drawn to crowd surfing at extreme metal concerts- feasting followed.

A couple of bananas and burps later, social engagements dealt with, it is time to explore Kannur. Kannur according to legend gets its name from Kannande Ooru- Kanna’s (Krishna) place, though in all practical purpose it could be Kanathur, an ancient village which exists still as a ward in the municipality. With limited time and knowledge of the area (any tourist’s laments) we approached a localite enquiring directions to the St. Angelo Fort of him. “St. Angelo’s Fort?” a blank stare, rather many a blank stare and wild gesticulations from one old man (his hands flew like a compass gone haywire) later we stopped an autorickshaw. Quietly he excused himself mumbling about heading in another direction; we stopped another, who too refused to be employed of his services. The auto-stand quickly emptied itself of all available autos leaving us worried that the fort might after all be a figment of the tourist department’s imagination.

Finally two drivers relented and we piled in zipping through by-lanes till we reached the Cantonment area. After a short discussion with a shop keeper the auto drivers exclaim, “Kannur Kota (fort)!?, never heard of whatever fort you are mentioning” and turned, we slightly pleased that comprehension had dawned and that we were heading towards our first sight worth seeing. And quite an impressive one it was! The roughly triangularly planned fort built of solid laterite towers on top of a rocky promontory overlooking the Mapila Bay on one side and a cliff that drops into the Arabian Sea on the other. It was constructed during 1502-07, under Dom Francesco d’Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy to India after having won the Kolathiri Raja’s confidence. Protected by the sea on three sides the only approach was from the land side which would also be cut off when the Portuguese later built a water moat.

Colonial supremacy being the favourite European pastime from 16th C onwards, St. Angelo’s fort changed keepers from the Portuguese to the Dutch in 1663, later sold to the local Ali Rajas and finally seized by the British in 1790, transforming into the largest military base on the Malabar Coast. The architecture too reflects this colonial imperialism with the Portuguese having built the chapel, prison, administrative offices and other amenities for the officers stationed here. The Dutch added horse stables and ammunition stores. The Ali Rajas probably did not have much time to settle in to modify it to their tastes. As for the English, military affairs overrode architectural and interior designer issues. Cannons stride the bastions pointing out towards the sea. We walk along the rampart as fishing boats ply in the distance. To the east of the fort in the Cantonment a few Army jawans in shorts and vests warmed up for a session of PT. After passing the roofless chapel we stopped for water, brined pineapple and raw mangos. Refreshed we continue through the horse stables which were large enough to house elephants and reach the rocky edge dropping off into the Arabian Sea. Waves crash as crabs play hide and seek in the millions of geomorphic pockmarks created by erosion of the laterite rocks, now covered by a greenish grey carpet of lichen.

Our next port of call, Parassinikadavu Muthappan Temple, was something I had planned on the itinerary right from the start, the offerings of toddy and fish being prime reason. Having boarded a rather crowded bus, with a deranged driver at the wheel, we hung onto any area of railing offered to avoid pinning the person in front like vertical wrestling match. A quick conversation struck with the conductor revealed that Muthappan was of a fiery temper and would be cooled down with offerings of the country liquor, fish and other meats. Once when he was in the middle of his escapist sessions atop a tree he was disturbed by a localite. Muthappan with one cold stare turned the gatecrasher into stone and promptly disappeared. Later another localite sensed a divine aura around the area and having gathered forces built a temple to honour Muthappan. Muthappan has had a few lessons in anger management since and welcomes people of all castes and religions now, with the warmth inducing-barrier breaking toddy.

After enduring a drive, rocking around like a limp rag doll for about 45 minutes we arrived at Parassinikadavu. A trek down a flight of steps finally ended up in a complex of shops displaying pictures of gods and goddesses interestingly fighting for space with Comrades EMS Namboodiripad and Krishnan Pillai, various accoutrements which are generally seen around temples and blaring devotional songs later we could here muffled beats of the chenda and maddalam emanating from within the temple premises. As you enter we notice the hundreds of devotees thronging the prasadam area for their devotional quota. It reminded me strangely of the obedient throngs who line up outside the government regulated liquor shops in Kerala, the only place in all probability where queue protocols are followed with Swiss watch like precision.

The main area of the temple itself was quite packed; as devotees teemed around waiting to be blessed by Muthappan theyyam. The theyyam in a bright red costume and carrying an over sized head gear with a mask and false canines painted on the face weaved through the crowd occasionally breaking into what appeared like screams or as the devotees would take-blessings. He waved his sword and bow and arrow around in a drunken sort of way, dancing and keeping time to the now frenetically drumming musicians. As we sensed the end of the theyyam was approaching we quickly sneaked out before the mass exodus and prepared for the all-muscle-workout drive back to Kannur, this time we managed to get seats.

We had booked into a resort a little away from Kannur town for the night. After checking out of the three starrer we boarded a local bus to our destination for the night- Seashell Inn. A drunk boarded at the next stop turning many noses and heads in the opposite direction. Muttering to himself he came suddenly to life when a question from a co-passenger made him irate. Thankfully with no powers like the Muthappan he got off after a couple of stops, a stony look in his eyes indicating he was at the edge of wakefulness and exhaustion after what must have been many rounds of foul brandy.

Adikadalayil finally appeared and with it in the darkness, Mr. Haris, the proprietor of the resort. A short walk, guided by torch light, led us up a gentle slope. A turn right and we could hear the waves lolling onto the sand below hidden by coconuts and a cliff. The resort perched on the cliff, 3 houses with some more under construction. Our rooms showed, Haris took us on a tour of his property in the light of a hurricane CFL including to the bottom of the cliff where the waves were getting a bit rough. The way down reminded me of Famous Five mysteries where rotting doors would creak open revealing a smuggler’s den or an abducted child. Our door, not in the best of conditions (and that’s where the similarity ends) revealed a flight of steps cut into the rocks leading to the rocks and beach beyond. Tired and in the mood for merriment we decided to skip the beach till later and returned to the open dining garden where a grill spat quietly. Chicken, mussels, squid, potatoes in their jackets, yams awaited their turn on the last leg of their journeys to attain nirvana on our plates. The festivities were on…

Bob Marley’s strained voice, “The sun is shining” momentarily made a spiritual appearance in my ears as I stepped onto the portico the next morning. As the others emerged plans were already afoot to hurriedly do with ablutions and head down to the beach. The Famous Five look-alike path looked less mysterious in the morning. Once across the rocks at the bottom- practically empty beach stretched into eternity lined with coconuts. The sand in places was black and I reasoned it to be silt from a river at least that was my theory. The water was calm and ideal to splash around and we didn’t take much time to dive in head long, lolling in the sea, occasionally heading back to sand strip and resting, wishing for beach umbrellas and chilled beer served by earthy beauties. Water sport done we headed back to some piping hot sulaimani chai and excellent pazham pori (banana fritters). Chai washing the pazham pori down, we departed to the town for a late lunch and then our final destination for the trip-Bekal Fort.

Alighting at the Caltex Junction we strolled across to the first thattu-kada (roadside restaurant/tea-shop), neatly dropped our luggage at the cash counter and slowly decimated numerous plates of kerala parathas, succulent beef fry and a most brilliant beef biryani. At first sight the biryani looked rather queasy with a semi gravy topping the rice. The essence actually was in mixing the rice first and then wolfing it down with thick chunks of the softest beef I have had in a biryani. The full effects of the meal started settling only once we boarded the bus to Kasargod, enroute to Bekal. The heavy lunch and little sleep due to the festivities of the previous night knocked me out for about an hour on the bus. When I was jerked up and enquired if we were anywhere near Bekal, the conductor said we should take another half hour to a place where we would have to take a different bus to Kasargod and this would take us through Bekal, the current bus we were traveling in was to take a bye-pass route. “Damn!” I cursed, it was 4:00 PM already and our bus to Bangalore from Kasargod was scheduled for departure at 8:30 PM.

An hour later we boarded the other bus, this time via Bekal. Half an hour into the journey and we braked, a railway crossing, blocking our progress. The waiting time was spent in debating if we should alight and walk the rest of the distance or wait for the train to pass, as slowly the skies turned dark and birds tweeted their way back to their nests. An hour later and an enormous gate stood in our path -padlocked- and with it ending our two day campaign.

We slowly walked back to the bus stop where we had alighted a few minutes back and despondently waited to board our third bus heading to Kasargod. A common occurrence across the three legs of this slightly long distance bus journey was- the smells of the road and within the bus itself. A strong waft of atar would hit the nostrils at the least expected times knocking my senses for a few mili-seconds before the open window would provide respite. The other was of dried fish and the third most interestingly was the acrid smell of burning grass (what variety eludes me), but nonetheless interesting.

The bus stand at Kasargod loomed ominous of the end of our journey. Still a tad depressed that we couldn’t walk the ramparts like Arvind Swami did in Bombay we settle to liven up the spirits-with some appams, chicken masala and ghee rice. Spirits soldered we settle into our seats in the KSRTC Rajahamsa Semi-Sleeper. Quiet conversation ensues with each others aisle mates with a few all round laughs and curses. It’s been a while since the boys (minus Pallu) were out on a trip like this. And it all started with a call from Ms. V on a Wednesday while I was out for lunch, “Hey. I am getting married the week after next. It would be great if you could come to Kannur.”

The next day, on the local Volvo home, the only thought on my mind is, “When do we go back to Bekal?”