Monday, December 29, 2008


Last year, I spent Christmas in Chennai. It was blisteringly hot all day on Christmas eve but I was is the acid green Haptics lab poring over code, so I didn't notice. That night, Chitti was expecting carol singers from her church so we sat up waiting for them, dozing on the living room sofas and occasionally taking a crack at the exceptionally hard smowman cookies my cousin and I had baked.
The singers came at around 4 am. Around 10 of them wrapped up in sweaters and mufflers for protection against Madras' mincing winter. They were blustery and cheerful as they handed out hymn books to us and made us join them in their carols. We sang hymns about God's forgiveness and the goodness of mankind, all of us in different tunes while an energetically played guitar kept us vaguely in scale. Then the minister gave us a sermon asking God to bless us, every one, and everyone yelled Amen whenever he paused.
All the people in that room seemed so happy, so secure in their faith.
Last week Amma, Appa and I took a walk to the local Ayappa temple. The aarathi was about to begin when we entered. A priest closed himself in with the idol in the central chamber while we waited outside with about 50 other devotees listening to this strange music they played- all mridangam beats and nadaswaram. As the music rose to a crescendo, the chamber doors were flung open and we saw the deity in fresh golden robes, encircled by leaping flames, while the priest blew on a conch shell.
Despite my professed atheism, I was intrigued. True, it was a ritual designed to impress and done mostly for effect, but for the brief time that it lasted I felt a strange kind of kinship with the fifty other strangers in that temple.
My mother has a small corner in the house where she keeps a motley collection of photographs, prints and figurines of various deities. Every evening she lights an oil lamp before them and reads a shloka in stumbling Sanskrit- a language she does not understand. She follows this ritual every day.
I remember a school project we had in 9th standard. We were all to write what we thought was the greatest evil in the world and why, on a chart which was then put up for display on our classroom wall. People wrote of unemployment, illiteracy, pride, prejudice... I wrote that religion was the worst of all evils because I believed that it was at the root of almost every dispute.

I don't believe in thousands of Gods in human form with all the weaknesses of mankind. I don't believe in beings of infinite patience and forgiveness who were crucified for mankind's sins. Nor do I believe in long winded ceremonies that no one understands, done in the name of faith. But there are times when I crave that simple peace that I see in Amma's eyes when she lights an oil lamp in front of a faded print. I long for something to believe in.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Today, I was sent to cover a press meet held by the World Telugu Federation. All the members I met referred to the federation (quite seriously) as WTF.
When my editor gave me the project I asked him rather dubiously if I was the right person for the job, seeing as I don't speak a word of Telugu. He reassured me saying that since it was an international conference, it would be in English. He couldn't have been more wrong. I was handed a two page press note densely printed in Telugu as soon as I reached. An elderly man was holding forth to a bunch of TV cameras in chaste Telegu. Everyone else in the room spoke the language and they were nodding sagely and laughing at his jokes. From what I could gather, he was holding forth the youth wing of the WTF (I couldn't help giggling whenever he said WTF. I got a lot of frowns).
Gradually, a sense of the ridiculous dawned on me- I'm an Engineering student who's studied nothing but Physics for the past three years, working in an English newspaper, attending a conference in Telugu- a language I don't understand- which is presumably about the preservation of a culture I don't relate to. How did I get here?
After the press meet, I found a kind faced gentleman who was nice enough to sit me by his side and translate what happened.
It has now been two weeks of worrying over punctuation, peering closely at comp screens trying to fit small articles into minuscule spaces, poring over google maps, making innumerable phone calls to strangers and reading up on matter that ranges from anti rabies vaccines to employment portals.
Life can be crazy, but it sure is fun.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blogathon :(

The fates are conspiring against me. I type these words with my last few minutes of battery power. There's a power cut here. I'm still going to try and stay awake for another half hour in the hope that electricity returns, but if it doesn't, well, that just sucks.
Especially since the essay's finally starting to come together. Also especially since there's a very green, very scaly frog locked inside my bathroom and now alone in the darkness, I'm going to have nightmares about it escaping into my room.


We've moved into this huge, very old house. It's a house that the British built and once lived in and is simply lovely, but far too big for just the four of us. The ceiling is so high, the slightest sound echoes. So, we spend most of our time tiptoeing around, trying to make as little noise as possible.
Amma recently acquired this huge pendulum clock for the living room. It's impressively varnished and has a giant gold pendulum that swings importantly from side to side. Amma is very proud of it, she thinks it lends a certain air to the room. Unfortunately, the clock displays a sadistic nature quite unexpected from its ponderous appearance. Every hour it announces itself with a tune. And not the same tune, mind you, for that would be so passe, but a different tune each hour, which seem to grow longer as the hour lengthens. And when you lie in bed with your pillow over your head and wait for the tune to end, the clock still isn't done with you. For, once the tune ends, the clock tolls the hour- in great ringing notes that echo in every room of the house.

Blogathon: Terror of the night

Thre's a frog in my bathroom. 
I dropped my toothbrush and when I bent to pick it up, found myself staring into a pair of intensely black, beady eyes. I did not scream. I'd like to claim that was because I remembered my hard working and tired parents asleep in an adjacent room, but I think it was simply because I was paralyzed with horror.  
I stared into those eyes and they stared back at me. Then the creature gave a horrid little gurgle and jumped at me. I ran out and double bolted the door from the outside.
Now I can never enter my bathroom again.
And the essay's barely begun. I'm still recovering from a serious case of jangling nerves.
It's gonna be a long night.


Okay, I have an essay to write folks, and I've pushed it as late as I can. So, I'm gonna pull an all nighter now while bemoaning my stupidity. But, nightouts at home simply aren't as simple as nightouts in IIT where you have company at all hours of night. Amma and Appa are already asleep and the whole house is dark and silent.
So, this is what I propose. I'm going to blog once every hour until I finish my essay. Having made this public declaration, I'm counting on my pride to make me stick to it and hopefully keep me awake till I finish. A written chronicle of how painful a nightout is might also perhaps serve as a reminder to me to plan and do work in advance (And the cynical half of my brain is going "Yeah, right")
It is 2339 by my comp's clock, so see you again at 0039!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Never Again

I've tried to blog several times this past week. I thought I had something to say, about terrorism and fear, the killing of innocents, the pointlessness of it all... I wanted to write a tribute to the heroes who died in the encounters, to speak of the photos I saw of CST, its floor smeared with blood or about the candlelight vigil I witnessed where strangers stood together and paid homage to those who were gone.

As I sat in my room, trying to understand everything that was happening, to frame sentences of the flurry of thoughts in my mind, someone let off a firecracker outside. Immediately, I froze. For one brief second, I was afraid it was a grenade, that a terrorist had found his way into our campus. I held my breath, waiting for screams and gunfire.

That moment of terror made me furious with myself. For it was conceding victory- to those terrorists who went from room to room in the Taj hotel shooting the guests they encountered, to the terrorist who dropped a rucksack with a bomb in a marketplace in Ahmedabad that was picked up by a four year old girl, to all those mindless, faceless cowards who resort to violence against defenseless people in the name of religion. They had made me afraid for one brief second.

This blog has always been about the simple pleasures of life, food and travel, love and epiphanies. Tomorrow, it will return to that. But today, I vow, never to be afraid again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Happy Place

I have traveled quite a bit around this country of ours, but whenever people ask me my favourite place, my reply is always the same- Himachal Pradesh. Perhaps it was because that was the first posting of Appa's I was old enough to remember clearly, perhaps the wild, cold beauty of the mountains appealed to something in my impressionable ten-year-old soul, but I have always known that some day I will return there.

We lived in a house on the side of a mountain. A road wound in lazy spirals around the entire girth of that mountain, hedged by wild honeysuckle that bloomed in giant sprays of pink and yellow. The valley was almost a sheer drop from the side our house was on, with only one steep gravel path leading down. A stream flowed in that valley- icy cold in the winters and angry red in the monsoons. The sound of that stream was a constant in our lives, I came to associate the sound of running water with silence. The view from our terrace was breathtaking. There were giant mountains all around. the nearest one was just across the valley- terraced mustard fields dotted with yellow farmhouses. Behind it were dark green mountains covered with fuzzy pine trees. And further behind was a giant, craggy peak always covered in white, even in the summer.

One winter Appa, Ken and I set off in quest of snow that we could see on that faraway peak. But the further we trudged, the more distant that elusive snow capped peak seemed. We walked through the pine forest and discovered a forgotten pool in its heart. We imagined leopard treads and collected pine cones to take home for Amma to exclaim over. We kept expecting snow, just after that next peak we'd cross. We stood in the middle of a cloud on a mountain peak and looked at the mountains around us, in the winter sunshine.

We never did find that snow- the fog rolled over and we had to turn back.

When I was writing that article on life in the Army, Appa hunted out a few photos of the Kangra valley for me. They reassure me that the valley is indeed as beautiful as I remember it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The King is dead. Long live the King.

I first read that line in an Asterix comic, I think. I never thought then, that it would apply to my life. Of course, I was six years old and not really worried about philosophy. My primary obsessions were food and dogs at the time.

This is going to be one of those ranting, self deprecating, insecure posts, I can feel it coming on. Lately it seems that no matter how much work I do, there always seems to be more. Just as I finish one giant task, another one looms up, too urgent to be ignored. A great deal of this is my fault, I agree. I can not seem to make myself do work ahead if time. Don't get me wrong, I'm great at planning. I can make excel sheets and calendars with the best of 'em. It's the doing that always fazes me.

But eventually, when my sins catch up with me, I have nothing left to do but put my nose to the grindstone, surfacing occasionally to write rant filled posts on my blog. This here's the first of what I gloomily predict will be a long series.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Clawing my way back

It's been a week of suspended reality. Home was wonderful, as was Diwali. Unfortunately, even after I returned the suspension continued. Have you ever felt like you're caught between two worlds and you're not really sure where you stand? You wake up in the morning and wonder why you should ever get out of bed, brush your teeth and face a new day. Now however, I'm reluctantly wiping the mists of the past few days away and returning to this which is my life.
At times like these, cake always helps. More so, when the cake is the exact colour of sunshine. Our new house has a plethora of lemon trees, so Amma and I went scavenging one afternoon and returned with scratched arms and four gorgeous lemons still warm from the sun. So it is that in this, the last of my food posts for a while, that I bring to you the lemon pound cake I baked for all my friends at IIT. The cake is long gone, but the pictures remain.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A better view of the dessert I made. Pound cake, coming soon.

Apple Galette

Galettes are rustic french tarts. This was the first time I made then and I'm in love. Their rustic appearance belies the richness within. A salty, crumbly buttery crust filled with juicy apples, cinnamon and raisins. Utterly toothsome.
Lemon pound cake coming up next. Stay tuned.
Oh and if anyone wants the recipes, leave me a comment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Home cooking

I'm at home for the next two days folks, so Colours is to become a food blog. You see, I've always wanted to become a food blogger, but sitting in a dusty hostel room, that wasn't really an option. So expect daily posts here on all the stuff I'm cooking.

Yesterday, Amma and Appa were to throw an official lunch. The spread was lavish- four starters, three main courses and two desserts. I was in charge of two starters, one main dish and of course the desserts. We had two cooks to help out, so everything went pretty smoothly. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to snap pics of the final dishes- I had to sit at the table and concentrate on not dropping my napkin as the waiters brought the food in. I did snag a few preparation photographs though. Please excuse the bad quality- I'm new at this.

One of the starters was tandoori vegetable- speared on toothpics and baked in the oven. This is the first time I tried them- I had to play about with the masala a little to get it right, but these little morsels were absolutely delicious.

Here the tandoori vegetables are baking in my trusty little oven alongside my other starter- cheesy eggplant. Eggplant was rubbed with lemon juice, smothered with creamy cheese and spices, then coated with breadcrumbs, spotted with butter and baked. I didn't get to taste these, 'cos none of them returned from the service.

My main course dish, in preparation. This was actually the filling for this trusty little invention of Amma's that we simply call bread dumplings. The recipe's very forgiving. Just throw together any ingredients you like, stuff the mix into moist slices of bread to form balls, and smother with spicy curd. This one's always a winner. The filling I used yesterday had pomegranate, coconut, ground peanuts, green chillies, mint, sultanas and roasted almonds. Yum!

Stuffed capsicum- this was made by one ofthe cooks, but the capsicums looked so pretty and shiny with their paneer and corn stuffing, I couldn't resist posting a picture.

The table looked pristinely lovely with all its cutlery and flowers. Again- not my work.

And finally- one of the desserts. This was actually the one that required the least work. It's coconut barfi and jangris from Pahalwan-di-Hatti in Jammu- they make the best jangris in the world. Appa brought them back from his recent trip to Udhampur, especially for me. In the centre is homemade rabdi, and it's dotted with tuitty-fruity, simply to provide a colour contrast.

The other dessert I made was a sophisticated take on the standard brownies with ice cream. I decided to turn the dessert topsy turvy, making it a scoop shaped brownie atop a square of ice cream. This was then topped with rum- caramel sauce and a chocolate coated hazlenut. The brownies were my old favourite- trusty cocoa brownies. They always bake up densely fudgey with a sugary crust. The caramel sauce also came out shiny and deliciously boozy. Unfortunately, since I wanted the brownies hot and the ice cream cold, I had to serve these up quickly and couldn't pause to snap pics.

Do visit again soon. I'm baking apple pie today with the Kashmiri apples Appa brought.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Festival of Lights

Up till 10th standard, we would write essays in Hindi class about our favourite festival. I would always pick Diwali, mostly because I knew that essay by heart. But when you pause to think of it, A festival of lights... how wonderfully evocative that sounds. Even if I was a foreigner who had never seen Diwali before, that description alone would let me picture it. Homes lit up with glowing lamps, skies brightened with sunbursts of colour, music, laughter and sweets.

This is a really wonderful country we live in, isn't it? We have festivals of light and colour, of harvest and rain. We have music festivals that last for months and dances for every one of our thousands of Gods. We have more languages than states, and poetry in all of them. But, I digress from Diwali.

We celebrate our Diwali in the Indian style, with some allowances for Army traditions. We wake up early in the morning and bathe. Amma does her puja while K and I take turns ringing a little brass bell. Amma then force feeds us Diwali marundu (A mixture of herbs sweetened with jaggery, said to help digestion. This is served during Diwali in anticipation of all the feasting to come) We then sit about over a leisurely breakfast, wearing brand new clothes and awaiting our guests. Amma and I will have spent the past week slaving over the stove, and as a result the kitchen will be full giant plastic and aluminium tins holding fascinating things. Then our guests will come and we'll wish them and make small talk and exchange sweets.

Afternoons will generally be spent by K and me in a sugar coma, while Appa and Amma go about doing their social rounds. In the evening will be the military fireworks display, an event that takes weeks of preparation and planning. The first fireworks are timed to go off with the last rays of the sunset. They will be closely followed by wheels and snakes of fire, giant flowerpots and multi-colored sparklers. While the display continues, we delicately nibble on cakes and sip lemonade while trying to make polite conversation over the explosions.

Night time is my favourite though. When we return home and have seen off the last of our guests, we go to the roof and stand there watching the fireworks, just us four. It's like a giant show especially for us. We point out sunbursts to each other and exclaim over misfires. Gradually, we fall quiet and simply watch.

Happy Diwali everyone!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One from the archives

This is a post about a performance I gave over a year ago, that I'd blogged about but not published then. Now, when I read it though, I can still remember that sense of perfect calm I experienced that day.

Yesterday was a small triumph of sorts. I performed on stage after practicing intensively, for a lot of rather snarky reasons. But up there, with a spotlight glowing on me and my voice booming from huge amplifiers, I had a sudden moment of clarity. I couldn't remember my reasons coming here and singing any more, and I had to think up some new ones quickly, because the audience was waiting. So I took a deep breath and began to sing. My voice was shaky at the start, but it smoothed soon, and for the first time in my life, I experienced the novel sensation of singing without a single thought in my head. I didn't think of the sound or of how I was sitting, I didn't worry if I would forget the lyrics or try to pose to show the best angles to my face. I just sang. And for the first time in a very long time, music made me happy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I should do this more often

This morning I woke up rather early and since there was no LAN yet and as usual, I had rather do anything but study, I decided to go for a jog along the lakeside. For company, I loaded the iPod with songs from Kandukondein Kandukondein and set off. Morning air is generally something I catch a few whiffs of while gnawing on a piece of toast and hurrying to class. Today, as I tripped down the steps by the guesthouse leading to the lakeside, I breathed it in deeply and it was strangely uplifting.

There were a few people around and lots and lots of trees. The Mumbai rains may be annoying but I could forgive them anything for the glorious wash of green they've given to the landscape. From lime to olive to emerald, every shade of green danced on leaves and blades of grass and mosses. The lake itself was very still with the occasional ripple from an adventurous tadpole. At its edges, the skyscrapers looked very small and far away. For a while, it was easy to forget I was in the most populous city in the country.

The music in my ears was the perfect accompaniment. The title song of Kandukondein... is this lovely soaring melody, the chorus covers a complete octave in each line. But more than the melody itself, I fell in love all over again with Hariharan's voice. I'm both jealous and mesmerised by his voice- of how he can so effortlessly sing the most complex of gamakas. For a singer, your voice is your instrument, and he has such complete mastery over his, I can only listen in worshipful silence.

So I stopped and stared at the lake and the grasses and the egrets and let the music and his voice wash over me. Then I turned around, climbed the steps up to the guesthouse and returned to reality.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Someone I could have loved has left. I might never see him again. We were very different- the two of us- and yet so alike. He'd pore over Mechanical Engineering text books, but always look up when I spoke. He'd always hold doors open for me and never let me stand in line. I'd drag him to concerts he couldn't understand and he'd come amiably and even tell me he enjoyed himself. He'd crack terrible jokes and then stare at me expectantly till I laughed, more at the expression on his face than the joke itself. He'd talk to me about his bike for hours but never get annoyed when I yawned. He loved cooking too and we'd swap recipes and plan the meal we were going to cook together someday. He'd listen patiently, with a smile, while I explained the meaning behind hand gestures in Bharathnatyam and he taught me how to do Fourier transforms in Matlab. We'd talk about our dogs and our families, then go on to talking about our plans for the future. He taught me to think of possibilities I never even knew existed, of how wonderful life can be if you do what you love.

But now, we might never again run together laughing, for shelter from the rain, or stay up all night talking of life and philosophy. Now he writes to me of far away snows on mountains I might never see, while I write to him of traveling in autos and my literary ambitions. Between us, there was always this possibility. A delicious possibility neither of us chose to explore in our brief time together, in the fear of ruining what we had. But now he's gone, and I'm left... wondering...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Adventure Camp

I've finally finished that article on life in the Army that was harrying the life out of me. It took almost a notebook full of notes and two nightouts, but is still pretty terrible. It somehow reads like a bad recruiting brochure.

However, writing and researching it dredged up some long forgotten memories. Thanks R for that long reminiscing chat, it really helped. I recalled my experiences at the Young Lions Adventure Camp, that I attended in the summer vacations when I was 10 years old. I had quite forgotten about it (and this might've been my trauma response) until our chat that night. The camp was for the children of officers, to give them some experience of life in the wild. It lasted ten days, but after three, I called home and bawled so loudly, my parents came to get me. Three days were quite enough for me though K- trooper that he is- stayed the whole ten.

When they said the camp would provide hands-on experience, they weren't kidding. We lived in tiny tents pitched on grass. The facilities were rustic, to say the least. During the welcoming dinner, we were asked what our favourite music was. Everyone yelled either Ricky Martin or Celine Dion which were both names I hadn't ever heard of then. Their reason for asking was apparent the next morning when we were woken up at 4 am by Ricky Martin proclaiming his love for Maria. We had to rush, bathe in icy and not very clean water and then report for PT in the ground by 4:30. The end of some pretty vigorous exercising was proclaimed (rather ironically) by Celine Dion informing us soulfully that her heart would go on. It was in camp that I conceived my deep and lasting hatred for that song.

Breakfast would comprise muddy toast and a strange looking poha before it was off to the field for different sessions and workshops. In my three days, we had workshops on fire safety, horse riding, rope climbing and most interestingly, knot tying. Knot tying was most interesting because the first half of the workshop comprised only a lecture by this old JCO. He constantly mispronounced knot as nut. So, I spent the first half hour of the lecture wondering what thumb nuts were, till he finally whipped out a piece of rope and demonstrated.

Evenings were times of peace and quiet in the camp, we would gather in this communal tent and socialize. I made many new friends there, some of whom are in touch with me to this day. Camp wasn't all that bad, though I was horribly homesick and wanted my mother, after being woken up at 4 am two days in a row. Still, the event that pushed me over the brink was the snake's visit. On the second day, when we returned from morning PT (Celine echoing that her heart would go on) there was a tremendous commotion in the girls barracks. A snake had been found in a tent. Soon, these brave looking officers came running with pitchforks and killed it. After breakfast, the snake was displayed to us with its head cut off. We were all invited to touch it while an officer told us with relish that it was a harmless grass snake and that it would make a tasty meal on the field. I took the time to be quietly sick in a corner. That afternoon, the snake was cooked in gravy and served for lunch. That evening, I called home and bawled till my parents promised to come and get me the next day.

I was told that the day after I left, they demonstrated how to kill chickens. You're supposed to flick your wrist while holding a live chick by the neck, till the neck breaks.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Something to look forward to

Life would be so colourless if we didn't always have something to look forward to. There are the tiny things like birthday cake and weekends, and the bigger things like going home or the end of exams, but I always like to have some small secret pleasure tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Then, no matter how bad the day has been or how tired I am, I know there's the promise of something pleasurable ahead.
I'd love to know what you look forward to. Do tell me in your comments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where to begin...

My nose is a lot better now, thank you. It drips a lot lesser and is only a faint pink today.
On the other hand, the ennui of the past few days is costing me dearly, I'm running behind on pretty much everything.

I've been asked to write an article on life in the Defense services. You'd think I'd be overflowing with words on the subject, I certainly thought I would be. But I'm drawing a strange blank. I have pages and pages of notes, points to mention, anecdotes, but no structure and no place to begin.

How do I describe in 800 words, a way of life so alien to civilians? A life where every man who sees your father on the road snaps his heels together and says "Jai Hind Saab". A life when you transfer schools every year making new friends each time, some of whom you discover ten years later on orkut, changed beyond recognition. A life in which your father goes away when you're eleven for Operations, and you aren't told where he's gone or what he's doing. A life where a huge community of women left alone with their children in a military camp, spend their time cheerfully organizing Coffee Mornings and Welfare Meets.

I love the Army life, it has made me who I am, and it has given me a tremendous respect for these men and their families who have such indomitable spirit.
Still, none of this is getting me any closer to a smashing opener for my article, and the clock's a ticking.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Hab A Cold

My body's a little strange. Generally, you're supposed to have a cold, which you carefully nurse so it develops into a fever that then merrily runs its course and leaves you with a hacking cough as a parting favour. This season, my body went all topsy turvy on me, beginning with the fever last week and waiting till I was almost recovered to launch the cold on me. I bet the graveyard cough's just around the corner too.

I've sniffled so much in class today, I annoyed myself. I've sneezed seven times in the past 30 seconds (Yes, I counted) and my eyes are watering so badly, I can hardly see what I'm typing, so please excuse any spelling mistakes. I slept this afternoon with my nose pillowed in a handkerchief, because it's been dripping like a broken tap all day. I've lost the ability to pronounce certain words properly and the moment one nostril gets unclogged, the other one fills up. I've given up hope that I'll ever be able to breathe freely through my nose again. My entire outlook on life has changed, it seems hopeless and filled with hours of shivering, red-eyed torture.

I had a bunch of whimsical posts about frivolous things like Mumbai autos and south Indian food lined up for posting here, but none of them suited my mood. I know this blog generally contains the 'Stars are God's daisy chain' type of posts, but I'm only human. I really needed to rant. And now, I'm off to bed. At ten thirty. Life can really suck sometimes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My pillowcase

Yesterday in one of my rare fits of cleanliness, I cast around for a rag to wipe my table and mirror clean. The only one I could find was an old, ripped pillowcase. The pillowcase happened to be one I'd embroidered about 8 years ago, as an anniversary present to my parents. Looking at the faded cloth and trailing stitches brought a whole wave of memories.

Very few of you know that I once did a great deal of embroidery. It was in the summer after 5th standard, and Amma was at her wits end with two rambunctious children always in the house. So we were unceremoniously packed off, K to basketball and I to embroidery and music. We lived in Yol then, a tiny military camp next to Dharamshala. Summers in Yol were sunny and carefree. We lived in a house on the side of a mountain. The top of the mountain would be covered in snow every winter, but in the summer, green things grew and honeysuckle covered everything. If you peered down the side of our mountain, you would see a grumbling stream cutting through the valley. On the other side rose more mountains, covered with pine forests and further away- with snow. One of our favourite walks was to wade across the stream and lose ourselves in the pine forest. Whenever Appa was free from his Commanding Officer duties, we would take long hikes to try and reach the snow covered mountain we could see from our terrace. We never did though...

But I digress. I have always admired embroidery and the lovely things you can create with it. After those classes, I also learned to appreciate the tremendous labour that goes into it. But for my restless 10 year old fingers, it was too much to ask to sit patiently and set stitch by tiny stitch. I raced through all the stitches, from the basic chain stitch to the herring bone and shadow work. A cross stitch tablecloth plagued me for two whole months before I gave it up in disgust. Amma was showered with embroidered handkerchiefs that summer, they were the only things I had the patience to make. Appa was also proudly gifted a large white handkerchief with a violet in the corner. To his credit, he carried it around for weeks.

So when my parents' anniversary came around, it only made sense to embroider something for them. We were big on DIY gifts then, and K and I would always compete on who could make the better present. Most of our presents were shamelessly mercenary like cardboard furniture for Barbie or friendship bands, but they were always received by Amma and Appa with exclamations of joy and pride. Monogrammed pillowcases were the way to go, I decided. They would put K's bookmarks to shame. I ruffled through my embroidery book and found a lovely rosebud pattern. I decided "His" and "Hers" would be too much effort, so reasoning brillliantly, settled upon a giant "A". It could stand for either Amma or Appa for weren't they both as one?
I worked late into the night and set the stitches for a huge, curving "A" with yellow rosebuds in the side. The next morning, my parents found the pillowcase gift wrapped and ready on their bedside, and they made several very proper exclamations.

That pillowcase travelled with us, from Yol to Jabalpur and to Secunderabad, then to Meerut and then Secunderabad again, and finally with me, here to Mumbai. I gave up embroidery long ago, but I could still point at that sweeping "A" and proudly tell people that I made that when I was twelve. Now though, the pillowcase has lived its life. It was finally used to wipe my mirror clean yesterday. But it deserved one last hurrah here, before it went. You see, I embroidered it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's raining again

Mumbai weather... I've lived here three years now, but I still can't predict it. All I can do is always always carry an umbrella with me, between the months of August and October.
This morning, sun rays from my east-facing window woke me up at an unearthly hour. Now, at 4 in the afternoon, it's dark and rainy and the sky is rumbling like it ate something bad for lunch.

My moods are very attuned to the weather. If it's sunny, I feel sunny, if it's cold, I'm rather sniffly. Rain- that makes me reflective. I've wondered about my purpose in life, about how much I can procrastinate the mountains of work I'm reluctant to do, and generally contemplated my uselessness. (This is not a hint for you to leave reassuring comments contradicting me. I'm not that desperate) In short, I've thought about just about everything these past three hours, but Nuclear Physics. God, give me some concentration!

PS: It's definitely a sign that I'm out of ideas if I dedicate an entire post to the weather. But I had rather blog than mug, so bear with me.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Time and sticky sweets

Two topics that would seem hard to link together in a metaphor, right? But somehow I managed it today in semiconductors class, in that half a minute before I jerked back to attention again.

Time sometimes feels like those brightly coloured sweets you see in shop windows. You pull and pull at it and end up swallowing a great chunk. It isn't possible to delicately nibble, you don't get the flavour or enjoy the sweetness. They come in all colours, from vermillion red to emerald green, to sickly yellow and burnt black.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Classroom notes

Over the past couple of years, it has become a habit for me to trace the wanderings of my mind in boring classes, by scribbling on the last pages of my notebooks. Now, as I distractedly attempt to study for the midsems, I find myself flipping to the last pages of every notebook, to see what I've written. Some of the jottings don't make any sense to me, some are quite surprisingly profound. There's a smashing idea for the start of a story in there and several abortive blog ideas. Here are some of them, for you to make of what you will.

The sky had been a sulky gray for days, the ominous silence only interrupted by a few grumbles. Finally, all that frustration burst out in a deluge of rain. But although everything is soaking wet, from the trees to the buildings to me, the sky's anger doesn't appear much appeased...

This was written in a rather blue mood, all the world was wet, I was annoyingly damp and the class just wouldn't end.

There's apparently a difference between logic and commonsense.

I can't remember what happened to make me scribble this, but every time I try to think about it, I get a headache.

Some of my greatest feats of composition have been accomplished in some of my most boring classes.

I've gotta admit, that's spot on.

My room smells of termite medicine. Chunks of the wall covered with gauzy fungus, float down dismally, at regular intervals. A whole bunch of dead insects lay in front of my monitor this morning, probably poisoned by the medicine and somehow thinking of the glowing screen as their salvation... I'm allergic to the fungus, it makes me sneeze. Everything I've eaten has smelled like termite medicine. If I was a bird, I'd be really worried about laying eggs without shells right now.

This was one blue mood. I later made it into a rather more optimistic post.

Everything about Mr. Chatterjee droned boring. His clothes were boring, his voice was boring, even his face was boring. Skin neither fair nor really dark, a bulbous nose and small bored eyes. A thin, greying moustache with short, bristly hairs that still managed to droop. His handwriting on the board was boring. Round letters ran into each other as if they didn't think it worth the effort to spread apart. The chalk squeaked in an excruciating monotone, as he dragged it listlessly across the board.
Whenever I sat in his class, I felt my senses suspend, my eyes slowly close and my mind wander off into far more interesting places.

I thought this was an excellent beginning to a short story, but I could never get beyond this point.

The difference between the elderly and the young- when an older person asks you to email him, there's a hint of triumph in his voice.

She had a tendency to put everything in quotes. So, she would talk about the "strength" of the "forces" being "short-lived". As a result, you never quite believed what she told you.

This scribble was for an interesting character in a short story, somewhat inspired by a prof this sem. For other hilariously inappropriate quotation marks, check out this blog.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm back!

It's been nearly four months since I last posted here. There's no earth shattering reason for my lack of posts, I just couldn't summon up the energy to type up a decent post somehow. I have 11 new drafts though. That doesn't mean these haven't been an awesome four months, they have. But now I'm back here in rainy Mumbai and everything is comfortable and familiar.

The hostel walls are still a shocking pink, although thankfully, a little faded now. I'm in a new room, in an opposite wing, but the lizards and monkeys are just as sociable. This room's shocking pink too, and the walls clash horribly with my orange sheets.

The whole hostel's having a seepage problem and a termite infestation. Talk about a homecoming. Until last week, there was a nasty brown line snaking across one wall of my room, proof of termites feeding off the cement. Talk about ewww! The exterminator who came last week told me reassuringly that I needn't mind these little critters, apparently they don't bite. He then proceeded to curdle my blood with stories of other species of termites that crawl over people's skin leaving a trail of rashes behind. Of course, after that I refused to enter the room until they were gone. So a whole bunch of exterminators came in and drilled holes in every available corner and filled them with vile smelling medicine. Now, all that's left of my termites is a light brown stain. But, as the exterminator warned me in his parting shot, they might be back.

I mentioned seepage, didn't I? The termite medicine might have been poison to the termites, but it was like Boost for the fungus. Great clumps of filmy white fungus sprang up on my walls almost as I watched. When I switched on the fan, delicate white flakes flew down to settle on my keyboard.

Stifling my disgust I liberally papered the entire wall- which come to think of it, is quite convenient. Now, all I need to do is look up to read of anything from Michal Phelps' gold medals to picking the correct bathroom tiles.

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ah, life

I had an epiphany this morning, as I sat at 7am outside my room, trying to blow soap bubbles.
James Herriot said of the veterinary profession, that it offers you innumerable opportunities of making a total chump of yourself. I found myself thinking of his words this morning as I watched a particularly large bubble pop.
Since I've come to college, I've done a huge number of things I never in my wildest dreams planned on doing. I've run barefoot around the deserted Open Air theater in IIT at 2am, behind a stray dog that had stolen my shoe. I've I've spent infinitely many arduous hours making 'cheat sheets' and constantly marveled on just how many words you can fit into a single A4 sheet, if you just write them small enough. I've acted in a play in which I mouthed the dialogue, "I'm dying, dammit! I'm dying!"
I have also walked barefoot along the entire length of the IIMA campus, while carrying a Veena, thanks to a broken sandal strap. I have driven a 20 year old, rickety kinetic honda at 60kmph in blinding rain, while pulling along a laughing foreigner on a cycle. I've fallen passionately in love with my bed, and for once, in this relationship, I'm the more communicative one. I've made one serious attempt to choreograph a classical-style shadow dance, to a piece of music that opens with heavy breathing that merges into hip-hop beats. The dance was thankfully never performed. Once a year, I wear ridiculous clothes and practice my 'come hither' look on a bunch of screaming girls, for the honor and glory of my wing. I've painted my face white and blacked out my eyes to look like a zombie for the department Halloween day celebrations, only to discover that I was the only person in costume in the entire class of 60.

Every ridiculous thing I do is chalked down on the slate of experience. At the very least, some of my friends did have a good laugh at my expense. So, I disagree with Herriot. It isn't only the veterinary profession that offers you infinite opportunities of making a fool of yourself- it's life itself.

PS: This post was actually begun on the day of filming of the InsIghT spoof video, in which we were doing a mock 'soap'box, which explains the bubbles.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

My gilded pen

Today in class, my trusty ballpoint pen ran out of ink. Since I greatly pride myself on the accuracy and speed of my note-taking, I hurriedly begged around for another and R handed me her fountain pen. Writing with it brought back a whole well of memories. Fountain pens have individual characters, something our modern day ballpoints and rollerballs and technotips sadly lack. In most fountain pens the ink doesn't flow unless you hold the pen just so, and each pen has its own 'just so'. Shake a temperamental fountain pen too violently and it'll leave angry blotches of ink all over your notes.

I remember that we were only ever allowed to write with pencil till the fourth standard in school. From fifth standard, we made the drastic switch to fountain pens. I couldn't wait for the first day of school to start, I had such a beauty of a pen. It was made of a heavy metal and was painted bright gold with engraved geometrical patterns. It had a smooth long golden nib and a cap that closed with a most satisfying click. But its crowning glory was a giant plastic diamond, perched cockily right at the top of the cap. when you unscrewed the bottom, there was a tiny little well into which I would fill indigo blue ink with a dropper. My handwriting never looked better than it did shaped from that gilded pen. All day during class, I would secretly practice different signatures on the back page of my textbook.

When I broke the nib of that pen on the fourth day of fifth standard, I had to bite my lips to stop from crying. Big girls of ten don't cry over fountain pens. Back at home that evening, a comforting mother promptly took me to the stationery store where under my critical gaze, the shopkeeper replaced the nib. But somehow, the pen never seemed the same again. It grew more and more temperamental, spewing unsightly blots of ink at the slightest shake and always scratching the paper when I wrote. Still, I bore it all patiently, so infatuated was I with the pen's appearance.

Then one day, a notebook was returned to me after checking and it didn't contain the usual 'neat' comment from my teacher. If you've ever been in fifth standard in Army School Jammu, you'll know how much that 'neat' meant to us schoolgirls. We would gloat over our notebooks and compare the number of 'neat's and 'good's that we got. Losing one because of a giant blue blot that percolated three pages deep was too much for my loyalty to that pen. So in it went to the deep recesses of my pencil box, while I moved on to the safer and ubiquitous Chinese pens that had tiny pert little nibs that coyly peeked out from a plastic body.

The pen stayed there for several years. The shiny gold paint got scratchy and then wore out, the diamond chipped. Once in a while in a fit of pity, or when all my other pens had run out of ink, I would give this one another try. But it would always hold out for a sentence or so, before starting to scratch paper again.

As I grew up, I turned more impatient. I no longer had time to patiently refill ink in pens every evening, or keep experimenting with a fountain pen till I found its sweet spot. I discovered roller balls and gel pens, which would smoothly release ideal amounts of ink while displaying no personality at all. My relationship with my pens became more and more impersonal. Pens no longer have characters, they're just instruments that you take notes with. But today, holding R's fountain pen in my hand and coaxing rows of neat sentences out of it, it all came back.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

panegyric on Grapes

Grapes are perhaps the most perfect of all fruits. They're so easy to eat too, you just pluck them off and chew. There's no business of peeling or removing seeds. There's something quite decadent about eating them off a bunch. It brings visions of Arabic princes surrounded by houris, puffing smoke from hookahs while being fed grapes.
And look at the structure of a grape, especially the long waxy green ones we see. Faintly blushing, they have incredibly taut, delicately thin skin. They're the perfect size too, to just fit in your mouth one at a time. Then when you bite, the skin explodes in a positive eruption of sweetness, with just enough tartness to make you smack your lips in delight.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The final hours

The clock on my desktop reads 2253 as I type this. In another one hour and seven minutes, I will officially be twenty years old. I catch myself looking at the clock with a kind of dreadful fascination.
Twenty... that's an age that once seemed almost impossible to reach. I am no longer to be a teenager. I'm to be a responsible adult in every sense of the word.
I have lived through two decades, and watched history being made. I've lived through the Kargil War and September 11th. Ten years from now, I will be able to tell children reading history books that I saw it all happen. They will stare at me open mouthed and wonder if I've lived forever. I used to do the same with thirty year old Aunties...
I've completed seven years of teenage and not done one crazy teen-like thing. The maximum trouble I've ever given my parents is to go off in a fit of sulks at an inopportune time. Parent's pet, teacher's pet- I've been priggishly, revoltingly good.
Though it certainly hasn't been a bad life to lead- quite the contrary actually- I can't help but regret that I've never done anything honestly crazy or wild or stupid- the kind of thing that a teenager is expected to do. And now, I've lost the chance to do it. Atleast, I can of course do something incredibly stupid anytime I choose in the blink of an eyelid, but where's the fun in that when you're twenty with all the world's cares hanging upon you?

Look at me right now- the last hours of my teenage are slipping away and I'm sitting in a stuffy hostel room writing in my blog. As I think about it though- that wild side- getting bubblegum highlights and a pierced navel- who am I kidding? That's not me, it never could be me, try as I might. I don't like pink and I've heard navel piercings really hurt. My idea of a fun evening is being curled up in bed with a good book, or practicing dance, or baking cookies in the kitchen while listening to music. I guess I was just born grown up.

But thinking about it... I don't think I would have it any other way.