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about anything under the Sun!

Category Archives: Memories

Remembering Shankuntala

You know how we all have certain images that made their way into our brains for whatever reason, perched themselves in some remote corner, and never really go away? People…places…objects…events…you name it, and they are all there. Quite often, there isn’t a great deal of significance attached to these, but yet, they have become quite the permanent fixture and one struggles to understand why. And its not like they surface every other day – on the contrary, they rarely come up for air. And even when they do, its usually tied to some train of thought that eventually triggered pertinent memories. I’ve always had the urge to write about some of those lasting impressions in my life, and as is the norm with this blog, for no real reason of any value but write I shall! What better excuse than NaBbloWriMo to make that happen?

So yeah, I am going to make it a point to write about these images every now and then, and here is the first one – its about a lady who answers to the name Shakuntala. Absolutely no connection to Hindu mythology, this is someone that was very human, very alive and very active, at least until a few years ago when I used to know her. She was the maid at our neighbor’s – a strong, determined lady on the wrong side of 60, she would come into work every single day and religiously go about her chores. Worn down by age, fatigue and years of hard work, her face wrinkled beyond reason. She wasn’t exactly pleasant looking and had a fairly rude disposition, so one didn’t really venture into any normal conversations with her. But work hard she did, and that image is so fresh in my mind, even though its been almost 20 years since I last saw her. She would be there every morning, carrying two pots of water, one nestled in her left arm and rested on her hips, and the other hand clenching the second, making the long walk from the water pump to my neighbor’s house, with her typical hunched walk. Back in those days, Chennai was reeling under a perpetual scarcity of water and every morning involved a few trips for Shakuntala to store up water for the entire day’s usage. It was like clockwork, I could tell time simply by tracking her schedule. And it wasn’t easy work, she would make at least a dozen trips back and forth, and at her age, that spirit was inspiring, to say the least – or should have been inspiring, in any case.

Reality however, was different. The kids in the neighborhood were scared of her and back then, it was funny to watch them get in her way and promptly be at the receiving end of a fine lecture, with the choicest of words and expressions thrown in for good measure. We, the slightly older boys, always found ways to make fun of her, mock her and generally play a lot of practical pranks on her. No, I am most certainly not proud of those actions now, but back then, as an adolescent that was looking for some random entertainment, and she was an easy target. We would simply justify our gross insensitivity by reassuring ourselves that she was rude, and so probably deserved some payback! The poor thing would endure it all and scream out every now and then, but she knew it was all falling on deaf ears, so at some point I guess she just gave up. I don’t quite know why she has etched herself so firmly in my brain, its probably because there is some guilt laced with remorse there. Looking back, I feel bad…and I feel sad. Given her age, I doubt that she’s still around. But if she was, I’d want to go apologize to her – for all the things we did, for all the sad tricks we played and for just being plain old jerks. Sorry Shakuntala, you deserved better!

Happy Birthday, Bapuji!

141 and counting – one more year goes by, and the memories continue to fade a little more. The shy, peace-loving barrister that was the architect of India’s independence, now hardly finds mention except in history books, and except on this day, his birthday. Officially, he is still the Father of the nation, a nation that is now a billion-plus people – a fact that even Gandhiji, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t probably anticipate. For if he had, I doubt he’d have invested as much energy as he did on winning our Independence from the British. Surely he’d have known that they’d have left on their own accord by now?

But I digress…the fact remains that Gandhiji was probably the single-biggest influence in shaping our nation’s independent future, back when we were an oppressed colony, an integral part of the Empire on whom the Sun never sets. And he did that in a totally unconventional, radical yet peaceful fashion that he has become the epitome of non-violence the world over. And how do we pay our tributes to this great soul? Well, for one, we give ourselves a holiday..and the kids even get candy. Back in the day, it used to be the sour, orange-colored ball-shaped ones – it was the same every year, and what correlation it had to Gandhi and why that candy was picked, I will never understand. But, truth be told, its not all about just fun and candy. We do make some big sacrifices to celebrate this day, however. Its a dry day for one, so you will absolutely not be able to drink to the Mahatma, no Sir! (Unless of course you are the kind that plans ahead and stocks up the bar for the special occasion). And no meat either! That should count for something?

And oh yeah, the Gandhi statue that stands innocently by the street corner, serving more as a landmark for driving directions than anything else, gets its customary annual ritual. A sculpture that was erected to honor the man spends most of the year as the favorite resting and relieving point for the birds passing through the neighborhood. This one day, the structure bears a true resemblance to what it was meant to be. Washed, decorated and even garlanded by the local politician, its appearance today could almost lull one into thinking we actually care! Then there is the tradition that our friends in the Television world have so religiously adopted. At least a couple of channels will show Gandhi, the movie…and I am glad they do, for I will shamelessly admit that this movie was my biggest source of information on the man’s life. Yes, there was ample coverage in the history books, but all of those lessons largely centered around the Independence struggle and his role in shaping it. There was the odd anecdote or two that I remember reading here and there, but otherwise, what I learned about his life was largely thanks to Ben Kingsley and Richard Attenborough. Lately however, even that seems to be a thing of the past – the real Gandhi has been replaced by a more current practitioner of his philosophy, who goes by the name of Munnabhai and is supposedly better at demonstrating the principles of Gandhigiri even better than the inventor himself. Back in school, there was at least a semblance of homage – there were activities and competitions of various kinds – debates, quizzes, essay-writing, fancy-dress, maybe some social causes that the students participated in etc. that weren’t always the most fun, but certainly helped create awareness on the Mahatma. Sadly, one of that seems to happen these days – schools seem to simply declare a holiday and close, plain and simple. So yeah, quite the celebration for a man who lived such an inspiring life and made such a big impact during his time on Planet Earth! And that begs the question – why do we even deserve a holiday on this occasion? Its not like we did something to earn it, and we definitely aren’t honoring the man like he deserves to be?

What are the odds that the next generation India will even remember the man? I want to say it couldn’t get any worse, but I am pretty sure it will. Wanna place any bets on what Gandhi Jayanthi will look like a few years from now?

First Day First Show

Its Oct 1, 2010…and if you have any strands in your DNA that remotely connect you to the Chennai area, you’d immediately recognize that today is the worldwide launch of Endhiran, Superstar Rajnikanth’s latest and possibly grandest attempt to date at making history. And the expression “First Day First Show” has been synonymous, for most of us growing up over the years watching Thalaivar perform his magic like only he can, with a release of his latest movie. Today, several years later, was no different – there it was, like clockwork at 7am, a dear friend text-ed me to say she was headed to the First Day, First show and how excited she was about it. Of course I was jealous…but that also brought back some awesome memories.

Going and watching a Rajni movie on the first day, and especially the first show, is an experience in itself. And funnily enough, it is hardly about the movie itself. Instead, it is about the adulation, the hero-worship, the devotion and the love that is showered on the phenom that’s Rajnikanth. Getting in as a fan is obviously a privilege, a sacred honor, and an opportunity that is not going to come easy. In fact, for a lot of us growing up, it was a lofty goal in life, an aspiration, to someday make it in life to be able to command a First Day First Show invitation to such an event. So, when that day did come, I finally felt like I had arrived. I lost count of the number of times we tried to fight our way into one of those gala events back in those days – taking the money route was just out of the question. Not only was it simply unaffordable back in the student days, there was no guarantee that money would actually get you in. We tried going the influential way, only to quickly realize anyone that we had considered an important personality was a nobody in Thalaivar’s universe. Muthu and Jeba, the friendly custodians at the cycle stand in the theatre complex, who we could always count on to get us in on any other day, would plead complete helplessness on this special day. We put ourself through wretched insults, just abject humiliation, all in the hope of getting that all-powerful ticket, but to no avail…until the glorious Padayappa came to life, this was a mission where I had nothing but complete failure to show for. And somehow, when the title song for Padayappa started playing, it all seemed so apt. I felt like I had finally arrived. One minor detail – I went to the launch at a local theater in Wisconsin, far far away from Albert theater, which is where you really want to be. Even if it was on foreign soil, it felt like an accomplishment worth recognizing. And the desi fans of the Superstar in Wisconsin didn’t disappoint – they put on one terrific show to make it a true celebration. The arathi/puja to kick things off, the deafening whistles when the screen credits for the Superstar in his typical style come on, the shower of dollar bills for the first fight sequence, joining Thalaivar with some nifty dance steps of their own, on stage right in front of the screen, and of course, one can’t forget the thundering applause for the classic “punch” lines – just a complete celebration of the occasion in all its glory. Simply unforgettable!

So what am I doing about Endhiran? Well, I guess I’ve fallen back in the rat race, so I couldn’t qualify for a First Day First Show pass this time around – and had to therefore be content with a Second Day Second Show ticket, so will have to make do with that. I hope His Highness does at least one more movie before he rides off into the sunset, just so I can climb back into that First Day First Show status if not anything else. Call me an optimist, but something tells me I have good reason to hope for another shot at redemption 🙂

Distance only makes the Heart grow fonder!

The better-half recently helped me realize that it has been 6 years since we moved back to India from the US. Wow, time sure flies when you are having fun! A lot has happened in those 6 years and those are worth a few blog posts, but it also got us thinking about all the stuff we miss in our lives now. Here’s a list for starters – not in any particular order

The Outdoors Not that we did this every day, or even every week but you could do it when you wanted to, and have a whale of a time. A fun back-country camping trip, a walk by the waterfront, weekend hike up the mountain trails, riding the ferry, or maybe just a scenic drive with the windows down – all of those count. And yes, I know you can do a lot of these in India as well, but it takes a lot more planning, effort and just isn’t the same.

Watching NFL games on a Sunday This is a big one. Yes, Lalit Modi and the IPL have tried really hard to compensate, and maybe even succeeded partially but the excitement of the NFL was just something else, especially the Playoffs. Irreplaceable loss, really!

Just getting things done What used to be an organized, take-for-granted setup for whatever tasks you needed to get done has now been replaced by chaos, disarray and rampant inefficiencies. Miss those times!

Drivers that can co-exist aah, The orderly roads, Drivers that follow rules, stick to their lanes and actually stop at red lights, and are just plain courteous to fellow-drivers on the road. It wasn’t always perfect but was a helluva lot better.

Cricket at Marymoor Yes, they consumed an entire day and the 40-over a side games tested your endurance but the passion and the spirit were infectious and made it all worth looking forward to. The NWCL and the Microsoft cricket teams rock, period!

Sunday breakfast at the crepe store @ Pike Place Market No, we didn’t do this every Sunday but the luxury of being able to walk down and get one when we felt like it was pretty awesome. Now that is reserved just for those occasional trips back to Seattle – sure wish they were more frequent.

The Jay Leno show Another classic. Yes, we can still watch him in Bangalore but they are really reruns and the timelines are out-of-whack. And when you don’t live in the US, its hard to relate to some of the stuff. In short, it just isn’t the same!

Starbucks coffee! I cannot believe I am surviving without it. The fact that I have so much of the java in my blood is probably why. One of the very first things I do after I land in the US is to run to the airport Starbucks store and grab myself a Grande Americano w/ room for cream. The South Indian filter coffee is awesome and I love it just as much, but Starbucks was special – and I am sorry, the Cafe Coffee Days and Baristas are just plain lame imitations!

My apartment in downtown Seattle Overlooked the Puget Sound with the Olympic mountains in the background. There is something very calming about looking out your window and seeing the water and snow-filled mountains first thing in the morning, even with the usually grey Seattle skies. Just makes the rest of the day go easier.

The International cuisines I miss the endless options. No matter what cuisine you fancied on a given evening, there were tons of options to pick from and they were pretty darn good. The options do exist in good old Bengaluru as well, but they just don’t cut it.

Circle of Friends And last but not the least, the truly wonderful circle of friends we had built over the years. They made life what it was and needless to say, are irreplaceable. I had made a commitment to do a good job of staying in touch, but sadly haven’t been able to do justice there. And the distance doesn’t make it any easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I love India and I love Bangalore – the crowds, the colors, the smells, the people, the chaos, the extremes, the seemingly mad rush for everything…I am sure I am biased, but life here is an amazing blend of so many varied constituents and just seems much more enriching for us, given our personalities. But that doesn’t take away from what we dearly miss. Every time we go back to the States for a visit, we try and experience a slice of that – and the rest of the time, the memories will have to suffice!