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.