Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lankan Tamil Crisis - Reconstructed from Memory & Hearsay

I gained first hand information of the Sri Lankan Tamil crisis in the early 70s. The college in Chennai where I did my PG had Sri Lankan Tamils who told stories about how essential items in the Tamil dominated North east region cost four times more than they did in the rest of Sri Lanka. Items like sanitary pads were available only in the black market - at a ridiculously exorbitant prize. These students used to carry home dried chillies, essential spices from the then Madras when they went home.

So a problem was there. It was genuine, I realized. The political murders that Sri Lanka was infamous for had a background that could not be dismissed. There was some sort of an economic embargo in the Tamil areas which made life difficult for them.

I do not know when exactly LTTE and its supremo caught my attention. But I do remember thinking that a separatist movement was ineveitable. That view was based on my interaction with my Sri Lankan Tamil friends a few years earlier.

Velupally Prabhakaran caught my attention – don’t know when - ‘cos of the name. My father had a friend called Velupilla. You know for some reasons certain names stick in your mind on account of quite insignificant associations. Gradually Prabhakaran began to haunt my imagination. The media took care of it.

The stories of his personality, his ruthlessness crept into my consciousness from the magazines and newspapers of which I was once an avid reader. I could empathize with the cause – the end- for which he fought. My friends from college and their tales never really deserted me. But I grew angry with his methods – the means.

I love Christ.
I love Gandhi.
And Prabhakaran did not fit in this company.

Imagine killing people by garlanding them with burning tyres! No cause justifies such brutality.

And then Rajiv Gandhi happened.

In fact, the people with whom I shared my views on current issues had all expressed anxiety about Rajiv Gandhi playing with fire when he invited Prabhakaran to Delhi and messed around with him. One does not turn a traitor on a person like Prabhakaran and get away with it. We became more anxious when the IPKF became the foe of both LTTE and The Sri Lankan government. with it.

Our anxieties soon translated into reality. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

LTTE was messing around with our leaders, our sovreignity. Of course we were all angry.

Stories about LTTE reached us from our friends working in the Gulf and Saudi. They told us how Sri Lankan Tamils there - from house maids to top executives – had to contribute to LTTE funds under threat of harm to their loved ones back home!

Whatever little sympathy I had with for this terror outfit and their cause faded away without my knowing it.

And then of course there was the issue brewing trouble on our doorstep. Tamilnadu politicians were making hay while the sun shone. They continue to do it – espousing the Sri Lankan Tamil cause- now that elections are in the offing. The flip-flops by the leaders of the DMK and its variations, the filmy fast unto death drama by Karunanidhi, no doubt after getting unofficial information that qualitative ceasefire is about to happen, and the dramatic break of the fast on the Marina beach like a well scripted film – it’s sick. Absolutely sick.

A gigantic humanitarian crisis exists. The Lankan army cannot be blamed. No nation can tolerate separatist movement. No Indian political group should support separatist movement. But Tamilnadu has always done it (especially when the atmosphere gets charged with electioneering) and got away with it.

The LTTE cannot be justified. It’s cowardly to use human shields comprising even children and the aged. The honourable thing for the militants to do is to lay down arms, and for Prabhakaran, to surrender.

This is my take There could be inaccuracies as it is reconstructed from memory and my understanding of the situation. However, I can safely claim that this is the take of the average apolitical Indian citizen of my generation on this issue.

Monday, April 27, 2009

a jumbled but honest confession

Dhanya picked me or picked on me for the HONEST SCRAP award. tank you dhanya. am flattered. but i wish the award came without a prize tag. nevertheless, here i go fulfilling the first condition - to list 10 honest things about myself

i always think the creator made a mistake
while allotting me my gender.

while learning needlework in the Nazareth convent
i have yearned to be out there
climbing trees like my brothers
or playing cricket
or scream from the galleries during santosh trophy.

i have wished i could jump into the periyar river
like my brothers
with only swimming trunks on
and not that horrendous five metre swimming dress
my mother designed for me.

i now wish i had listened to my father
and taken economics instead of literature.
my encounter with literature would then have been
much more pleasurable.
And i'd have been able to talk intelligently on the recession.
tho' must confess i secretly fear i'd not have graduated
had i listened to my father.
My cerebral capacity has its limits.

I'm glad i had the guts to allow my children
to follow their passion for economics and chemistry
tho i'll make that confession only in the blogsphere.
sour grapes, the world would say
'cos they are not doctors or engineers.

i always wonder what people with truckloads of money
do with it.
and why they need so much money.
all those stars and sports stars with the millions.
maybe i'll stop wondering if i make that kind of money.

between twelve and twenty five
i've asked my maker
why he didn't add another two inches to my stature.
I wouldnt have had to hobble around on high heels.

i love blogging.
tho i wish i could write a novel
and have the felicity of expression
and honesty
of arundathi roy and kamala das.

there was a time when i wished
i were beautiful
and brilliant
and talented
and admired
and envied.

today, i am glad to be just alive and kicking.
it's nice to be around still
in this beautiful world.

now for the next condition:
Choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have seven friends. Show the seven random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.

Arun, Aswadhy, Chandy, Jina, Sujatha, Silverine, Mathew

my seven blogger friends - do forgive for harassing you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Idle Mind

I am an idler. I love doing nothing. When I travel by train, I’m in a hurry to finish reading whatever reading material I have with me so that I can spend the rest of the journey looking out of the window and allowing thoughts to wander wherever they wish.

I love looking at the landscape that flies past and allow it to play on my thoughts which, in turn, take me to regions inaccessible to man.

As a kid, I have traveled to the world of stars on wings which I got on request from my fairy godmother. I have seen my self as Heidi wandering up the hill and down the dale tending my sheep. I have seen myself as Jill, wearing outlandish British clothes and going up and down with Jack, carrying water in the pail.

As I grew older, I loved to dream of shocking my Malayalam teacher by answering all the questions she put to me, and reading like Chitra who was the teacher’s pet. I have, with glee, seen myself punching that boy on the nose when he complained I was copying from him the multiplication table for three fourth.What I actually did was to hit him on the head with my slate and then was made to kneel down for two periods till I apologized to him. The forced apology made me want to see his nose bleed like my brother told me it happens when boxers punch each other on the nose.

Around this time, I’d have delightful visions of my music teacher Sr. R (who used to shake me up as though I were a rag doll) going up in the air (like I saw in some Tintin comic), as the dynamite on which she sat went off. Of course, I would have had a hand in the dynamite finding itself on her chair.

In high school, I saw myself topping the class and being the envy of Bharathi Balasubramianam who always topped the class. I would also see myself surprising the PT teacher who always admired my never-say-die spirit, by beating Vandana by one metre in the 100 metres race from which, in reality, I always got chucked out in the very first heat.

Still older, I saw myself as a tall and slim airhostess (in reality my stature has always reminded me of the teapot of the nursery rhyme fame), going around serving in the flight, with a charming smile on my face, impervious to the envious admiration of all the female passengers. Around this time. I’ve also seen myself acting in Hindi films. Of course, I’d be stunning, wearing a midnight blue chiffon saree with sequins work on it and dance around the trees with the hero who would keep a minimum distance of six feet from me (so much for my puritanical Nazrane upbringing).

As I grew older, I saw myself - - well. I think I’ll skip that or my near and dear ones who read this will say ambadi kalli. ivulu kollamalloo –

And then there was a time when I saw myself as a globe trotting professor, sporting a dark horn rimmed specks, delivering lectures is the most prestigious universities in the world, the talk of the town, the pride of my community and family. Of course this vision presented itself mostly during my commuting days as I sat (if I managed to find a seat) in the Madras Mail looking out of the window (if I got a window seat and not a space into which I squeezed my seat and did the a magnificent balancing act to prevent myself from falling off), after the superhuman one hour feat of cooking breakfast for the family, packing lunch for the children, preparing snacks for teatime, taking a shower, draping starched saree, jumping into the car whose engine would be kept running by my tense husband and charging into the ladies compartment as the train started moving. Whew!

And then, as I grew older still and more acquainted with the ways of the world, of politics and governance in my beloved country, my dreams took a dangerous turn with sting operations and Suresh Gopi/For the People style of violence dominating them.

My dreams grew toxic.

I stop here. The last thing I want to do is to poison the blogsphere.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I finished my business at my daughter’s school and walked down to the bus stop at the junction just a stone's throw from the school.

It was a beautiful junction. A gigantic tree stood in front of a temple, and spread its branches right across the street. The tree was easily more than 100 yrs old. I stood in its shade, my eyes running over the trunk for some label indicating its age. I found none.

I waited under the tree on that hot day, but enjoyed the wait.

Then it happened the first time.

A car pulled up across the street, bang opposite where I was standing. A gentleman looked out, joined his hands in a namaste. There was an expression of deep devotion in his eyes. Without thinking, I acknowledged the namaste with my own. The car drove off.

I was puzzled. Why did he greet me? Did I know him?

As I stood there trying to solve the mystery, another car pulled up. There was a repeat performance, both on the driver’s part and mine.

No sooner had that car left than another one stopped opposite me. Again that reverential namaste, and I, though flustered, reciprocated.

By now I was confused. And alarmed. Just the previous week Doordarshan had aired Satyajit Ray’s Devi, in which the head of the family gets a vision that the new bahu is a Devi. I tried to remember how my face looked in the mirror before I left the house. Yes, I sported a gigantic Sringar Bindi (Size 1) as also the scarlet red Sindhur. Could it be that -- - - -I brushed aside the silly thought from my mind.

And then another car stopped. This time it was an antique Benz. The person sitting in the back seat rolled down the dark tinted glass and looked out. Apparently he was a Tamilian, and wore a safari suit. The namaste again accompanied an intensely worshipful look, with eyes shut for a few seconds. The glass rolled up again, and the car sped away.

I was totally perplexed and terrible uneasy. I was more or less convinced that I was being mistaken for a Devi? I started looking around for an auto.

Before I could hail the auto that was cruising down the street, another car stopped, right in front of me and not across the road as it was going in the opposite direction. The man sitting in the back seat looked out with joined hands. Automatically my palms too joined in a low confidence namaste.

And then I noticed that he was not looking at me but at something behind me.

I whirled around to discover/remember that I was standing right in front of a temple whose deity was prominently visible. I remembered someone say that the deity of that temple was a very powerful one.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catch Them Young and Safeguard Secularism: The Need For A Central Board For Regulating Textbook Contents

I remember, as a school going child, my day at school began with India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters being shouted out in as many pitches as there were students in the general assembly in the quadrangle. The immense beauty of that cacophony!!

That practice, sadly enough, appears to have vanished from schools now.

I do not know if this practice was prevalent in all the states in the country, but as a student in schools in Kerala and Tamilnadu , I remember vying with the students around me to be heard when I proclaimed my Indianness, my fellow feelings for the other Indians and my love for my country. It was a good practice. It had a subliminal effect on me, and had a role in creating a sacrosanct aura around the concept of ALL INDIANS ARE MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, irrespective of caste and creed.

The site given above, which appeared in Hindu op - ed page a couple of days ago, is indeed distressing. It talks about injecting communalism in the minds of unformed, tender minds of children in Gujarat as a strategy to usher in Ram Rajya. Indoctrinating communalism in young minds can ensure only intolerance and violence in these future citizens. We see it happening with the Taliban and other fanatical religious groups. The world is reaping the harvest of uncontrolled violence sown through ‘religious’ instruction divorced from secular humanitarian values. An irony, ‘cos religion cannot be divorced from these values.

Now, the RSS-run publishing house in Gujarat has taken a leaf out of this practice of catching them young and poisoning their minds. Yes. It is poison. Hatred is poison. Any text that legitimizes and officialises hatred and violence is poison. Detoxification of the collective mind raised on such ‘righteous’ hatred and violence is a near impossibility. The process of communalizing the tender minds of Gujarat is in full swing now, if the article is to be believed. The motive is political – to ensure vote bank in future for a divisive political outfit.

The centre must step in. Not only in Gujarat but in all states and monitor and regulate the text books prescribed for schools, right from the nursery where, in some states, it is reported that pictures are shown demonizing minority groups.

We need a central regulatory board, totally apolitical in nature, comprising intellectuals of renown. The Board should have a set term and should not be dismantled every time the Central Government changes. Political appointments should not be entertained. Regarding the text books, social studies and history text books should have the same content through out the country The state specific chapters and lessons should be designed by the state board which should be governed by the central board. The content and syllabus designed by the State Boards should be prescribed and published only after getting the approval of the Central board. The state boards should be given strict guidelines to conform to ALL- INDIANS- ARE- MY- BROTHERS- AND- SISTERS CONCEPT.

I wonder if this sounds crazy but unless some bold step like this is taken, India’s secular credentials will become history. The process of sabotaging it is already in the works. A generation anchored in lethal communal ideology is emerging in Gujarat while intellectuals and industrialists sing paeans to the Gujarat mode of Development.

I foresee the type of comments this post will throw up. I will be questioned on why I have no problem with Christian indoctrination and Christian nations’ indulgence in violence through history, or the cracking down on the Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s death, or Islamic terrorism. Why single out Gujarat alone?

My answer is this. I do have a problem with all this. I do have a problem with every religious or political outfit that brainwashes young minds into accepting hatred as a laudable emotion, and violence as a permissible tool for achieving desired ends. No religion justifies violence and murder. True, Christian nations from the middle ages onwards have indulged in the worst form of violence in the form of Crusades, Holy inquisition etc. But these are shameful chapters in the history of civilization which no one should emulate. These dark, cruel and shameful happenings should not be used as justification or precedence for inculcating hatred among people. The attack on the Sikhs or terrorists attack elsewhere in India are no justification for a State government to officially indulge in the type of indoctrination in the name of Hinduism which is a great religion of peace, a religion which does not provide space for violence. The engineering of the text books to create a generation of hate filled Hindus is NOT the way to counter Islamic terrorism. My problem with Gujarat is that communal politics is slowly but surely gaining legitimacy there, and the path is being made clear to make possible a theocratic state within ten years. For within a decade these fledglings who are being systematically indoctrinated through schools will become competent practitioners of communal politics characterized by hatred, violence and exclusionism.

Let’s remember that much quoted saying that an eye for an eye makes the world go blind. Gujarat is heading for this blindness, for seeds of vengeful hatred are being systematically sown in the minds of the children by the official machinery. All that talk about the sensational and successful development agenda of the Gujarat Government is a ruse to deflect attention from this dangerous, long term strategy to destroy the secular fabric of India.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Are Mallu Males Perverts? The Answer - Straight from the Horse's Mouth

Today, i got a very interesting response to my post titled ARE MALLU MALES PERVERTS?. Click on the link below to read my post.

Here's the response- a confession, rather:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Are Mallu Males Perverts?":

every word in this blog is sad but true . Being brought up in Cochin I have done many things which I feel ashamed of now - How ever those days the general attitude of the crowd is to look at every women as a object for pleasure - even though we had good female friends, the moment we are out from their company the natural attitude is to look and strip ever women in the street . In crowded places we have shown atmost vulgarity too - The point is men/boys in general thinks it is OK to do that - After leaving Kerala and living in a different state/country 1. Feel sad and ashamed of how I treated women. 2. Feel pity for all the women in Kerala . All the movies during those times made sure women was abused and pushed down and glorified all that "Very Macho "" !! It is not that I have become a Saint now - I still ogle women - How ever I make sure I dont stare at them constanly and look at them when they are not watching . And stopped taking advantage of the situation where they are in - totally! - even started helping women to some extend - Finally a piece of advise to all Mallu men -If you have even the slightest intention of getting a girl the only way is to show some decent behaviour - Think with your head and not with your co##

Monday, April 13, 2009

Random Thoughts on Elections 09 - Shashi Tharoor, Advani, Narendra Modi et al

The man who jumped on to a rath and traveled from Kanyakumari to Ayodhya to demolish a mosque and let loose communal disharmony in the country now writes to religious leaders swearing to protect “the multi-faith spiritual heritage of India if voted to power”. Not that people don’t change over the years. Had his present posture been prefaced by an apology for his role as the architect of a divided nation, his words would have carried conviction. As of now, one can only say that Advani sure has a perverted and cruel sense of humour!

* * * * *

Coming out of the church after midnight mass on Easter, I collected the longish card that was being distributed at the gate of the church. Distributing novena or prayer cards after service is a common practice. I looked at it to find Shashi Tharoor smiling up at me under an overhanging konna branch with a hand symbol beside his face, wishing me a happy Easter and Vishu. I felt happy. Is it symbolic that this should be given out on Easter? It is predictive of the resurrection of morality in public life in India? Ha ha, if wishes were horses - - - Anyway, Sashi Tharoor’s face is the most visible one in Trivandrum. Congress posters are all over the place and very very prominently pasted. A very different face (he’ll make an excellent poster boy for anti-aging creams, I must say). Taken from many imaginative angles. Seemingly innocent of the filth that distorts the image of our politicians. Once he gets elected (a foregone conclusion or wishful thinking?) will he turn out to be a Dorian Gray? God forbid, but such is my faith in the polity of my dear country.
* * * * *

Meanwhile, netas - of left, right and Centre (read Congress)-are descending all over the state bullshitting the same old stale or toxic crap. When will they realize that they cannot fool all the people all the time?
* * * * *

Elsewhere in the country, Narendra Modi comes up with a metaphor reminiscent of Hitler’s holocaust policy. Congress, being an old lady, is of no use to the country, he says. There is grave danger lurking in this metaphor. In the Jewish concentration camps, the category consisting of the old, the women and children were marked out for the first rounds of gas chambering, ‘cos their utility value was none. If metaphors are windows which expose the hidden recesses of the human mind, Modi is a danger man who can subvert the humanitarian values that form the foundation of a civilized society. And, oh God, he has his eyes on New Delhi!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday and Indriappam

I have always loved the Maundy Thursday. While it is not all about Indriappam (Kerala version of unleavened bread) and the pesaha paalu (Passover milk), it is also about them. A Maundy Thursday without them is unthinkable to me.

For this pesaha, my maid was on leave. I know many nazarane families have given up this practice of making appam and paalu – but not for a moment did I think of not making it. My eighty plus ammachi (mother-in-law) with poor eyesight and a weak heart and I, still treated like cut glass after my brush with cancer, decided that maid or no maid, appam and paalu we shall make. How can you think of Maundy Thursday without them?

Why is it so, I wonder.

My earliest memory of the Indriyappam and paalu goes back to the days in DARE HOUSE, where I lived from the age of four to ten. The Maundy Thursdays have always been the same. Ichayan (my father) at the head of the table and amma and eight children sitting on both sides of the big dining table. A short prayer and then Ichayan symbolically cuts the first made Indriappam which has a cross on it from two small pieces of palm leaf received on Palm Sunday. Then amma takes over; cuts that appam into as many pieces as there are people seated at the table and staff in the house. Ichayan then dips each piece in the Paalu and gives to each of us and the staff of the house.

The practice is identical in my husband’s house too. I suppose it is the same in all Nazrane houses.

To come back to the question, why is it that I am so particular about this practice? Why is it that I am filled with a sense of guilt? sadness? whenever I have remotely contemplated skipping this custom just for once?

I suppose nostalgia has something to do with it. Sitting around the table for this ritual always takes me back to the many many years we’d done this before. As we children grew up and flew away one by one, the number around the table dwindled. On some Maundy Thursdays, our little nephew and nieces would come home for the breaking of the unleavened bread. Their young bright faces and enthusiasm and chatter would make up for the missing siblings. There were times when my brothers’ friends joined us for this ritual. Yes. There was plenty for the mind to wander and linger over. Nostalgia is certainly not innocent of complicity in creating that compulsive need to perpetuate the practice.

But that is not all. There is something more to it, something more compulsive than nostalgia, something which admonishes the mind when it toys with the idea of skipping the practice. That something has a deeper appeal, but I cannot put my finger on it. The emotions evoked by it defy clear definition but I will try to analyse them here and now.

I think it has something to do with the shared knowledge in the collective consciousness of the nazranes who, for generations have been fed on the Biblical story of Jehovah’s protective arm over the chosen people in slavery, which the feast of the Passover commemorates. Equally if not more important is the fact that it is a reenactment the Last Supper. The text is translated into action year after year in the family on Maundy Thursday, and the whole ritual brings with it a complex interplay of tradition, myth, shared knowledge and spiritual experience which constitute the sense of nazrane identity.

And thus it was that we got the neighbour's maid to grate coconuts. The rest, the two of us managed.

By one thirty indriappam and pasaha paalu were ready.

Once again achachan (my ninety four year old father-in-law) cut the indriappam i.e. broke the bread -unleavened one on this day.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Shashi Tharoor in the Fray: Why we should Give him a Chance.

Why is he in the fray at all?

Possibly because of the weakness the President of the Congress Party has for intellectuals, technocrats and political novices. Also because she has an incurable faith in mallus (!? :-))

My take on Tharoor

He is a true global Indian.

I think most of us in my profession began to take him seriously as he made his presence felt through his literary works. Then, of course, he became the Under-Secretary General of the UN and all mallus were proud of him. When his claim for the position of UN Secretary General was rejected, all Indians were angry. Mallus were more angry. Many said that the US manipulated the appointment ‘cos they knew that Tharoor couldn’t be manipulated. Well, what the truth of the matter is, no one knows. Whatever it is, Shashi Tharoor’s image suffered no damage. He became a man of character and a man with a mind of his own despite his well celebrated super diplomacy.

I attended the inauguration of his AABC at Technopark. Mr. Tharoor impressed me by his very difference. He was picture perfect on the dais which he shared with MA Baby and VS. We saw the diplomat in action on that occasion - strict adherence to protocol, all the right moves and gestures like escorting the CM and The Education Minister to the lectern which was hardly 10 feet from their seats, when the MC invited them for their messages. Tharoor played his role as the host and organizer with much charm and élan.

After the inaugural function in the common hall of Technopark, we had to move towards the AAbc building which was bang opposite the hall. I saw a strange sight which both amused and impressed me. Mr. Tharoor put the ministers in their cars and instead of getting into another AC car and following them to the office , he ran across the compound, across the road and disappeared into the gates of the building! No doubt he was waiting for them when the VIP cars reached the building.

I cannot think of many public figures who would have run like that in the hot sun( except perhaps Alphonse Kannanthanam), totally impervious to the fact that he is a celebrity and a person who missed the highest position in the world by the skin of his teeth.

Why should we elect him?

The points stacked against him are 1.he is inexperienced in Indian politics 2. He is too westernized in his thinking 3. He is not in touch with the ground reality in India.

Let’s look at each of these problems.

He is inexperienced in Indian politics – true, I guess. But what are these experienced guys doing? The more experience they acquire, the fatter their pockets become, the greater their nexus with anti social outfits and greater their propensity to play the communal card.

He is too westernized in his thinking

So what? A refreshing change, a new perspective and a global outlook. The country can do with it.

He is not in touch with the ground reality in India.

How many of our netas have that? They are in touch with party's ground realities, not the country’s. Besides, Shashi Tharoor is learning - and learning pretty fast. He’s improving every second.

And then of course, a whole lot of pro Israeli articles he wrote which can be dismissed without much ado. He wrote them not in the capacity of an MP.

Will he win?

No idea. Hope he does. The differences in the party over giving the ticket to Tharoor have been ironed out. The campaign is in full swing. And he is media’s pet.

A word of advice to Tharoor from a well wisher.

Build up a rapport with the intelligentsia of Trivandrun with whom he is very popular. They have a great reach and are a sure route to the common man. They are waiting for a change, for a new face and new mind free from the frog in the well syndrome.

Wish you success Mr. Shashi Tharoor

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Chilled in Venice and Capuccino

“It will be windy”, Antonio, the travel agent’s local man who accompanied us through the tour in Italy, had cautioned us. “Put on something warm”.

So I pulled the sweater over the salwar suit. My feminist husband who turns macho when it comes to braving inclement weather, chose, however, to wear a half sleeved shirt, and , as a concession (I was nagging) a sleeveless sweater. I must say he looked quite handsome!

As we entered the bus, I noticed that most of our friends were also clothed as though to beat a mildly chilly weather. Of course, none was as inadequately dressed for the weather as my dear husband.

The short walk from the hotel to the bus was brrrrr cold! I got nervous and offered to run up to the room and get the windcheater and the cap for both of us. As expected, the hubby vetoed contemptuously with an upward turn of the left corner of his mouth.

WE soon reached the spot where we had to alight from the bus to board the boat that was to take us to ST. Marks Square.

As we walked, the realization hit us with the bitterly cold blast that greeted us, that we had seriously underrated the weather. It was windy all right but the wind bore no resemblance whatsoever to the welcome breeze or even the occasional chilly wind of our tropical homes. This was terrible - felt as though someone was shoveling ice on me as I walked along. I looked around and saw everybody shivering shamelessly. Some were trying to control the jaws which went kadakadakada.

“They should have told us it’ll be this cold”, someone grumbled.
“They dihidihidihid”, voice unsteady.
“They should have told us it’ll be freezing cold! Pah”

As we waited for the boat, we noticed that the water between the jetty and wall was full of rotting leaves.

The Keralites among us tried to make a joke of Venice being the Alleppey of the west but couldn’t get to the end of the joke as our voices dwindled off into a freezing halt. We tried to smile at each other but ended up grimacing.

I looked anxiously at my husband. He grinned at me nonchalantly, but I thought I saw something laboured in that grin.

“Not freezing?”, I asked him.
“Will survive, don’t worry”. Casually.

The boat arrived and a batch of Chinese tourists came out. All of them looked double their size from the layers and layers of clothes they had wrapped themselves in. Their headgear reminded me of the pictures of Eskimos. And as they passed us, they were grinning at us and at each other, hugely amused at us, the poor tropical creatures, shaking and shivering and crouching in the most undignified manner.

The boat was warm and soon we were in our elements. The view on either side was incredible. It felt as if we were moving through the medieval ages. Cameras were clicking furiously but I sat back and enjoyed the feel – the feel of traveling through some age in the remote past, the feel of the romance of a bygone era.

Oh, it was lovely.

How well these Italians have preserved their heritage! The centuries old structures were well maintained. How well developed is their tourism industry. Why can’t we also do this, I thought sadly. We too have an equally great heritage to preserve. Why don’t we get our act together like these people who are so proud of their history and heritage?

WE reached the jetty near St. Marks Square where the guide was waiting for us. Out of the warmth of the boat, we restarted the uncontrollable shivering act. I saw hands disappearing into the sweaters, noses turning red, teeth chattering as people listened to the very competent guide who was least impressed by our frozen condition. She herself was in a great overcoat with a furry collar, and wore a warm monkey cap which covered her ears well (It took all my self control to restrain myself from snatching it off her head and running away with it). She wore knee high boots, and here we were with nothing more than trousers or jeans or churidars or salwars between us and that sadistically biting wind that was, without let up, sending millions of tiny sharp icy darts.

Needless to say, the square was simply out of this world. Soon it was dark and the lights came. The sight took our breath away –the lights were symmetrically arranged for the best effect. The bell tower, St. Marks Church churches with stunning carvings and pillars – oh, it was all so richly carved with figures from history, myth and religion. Only, we were freezing and wanted to get into a warm place to revive our blood flow which, by then, was beginning to get congealed.

My poor husband by then had given up all his macho pretensions, and was making funny sounds.

“What is it?” I asked.
“Chumma” he said, like Mohanlal.
“What are those strange sounds you are making?”
“Hei, it’s nothing”, he said. He tried that lopsided grin which froze half way thru. I noticed the goose bumps on his arms. He was the only human being in that crowded square who had any part of the anatomy exposed to the stinging wind. I noticed that he too was becoming an item of tourists interest.

I wanted to gloat and tell him “Serves you right”. But I didn’t. After all, I can’t behave as though there is no tomorrow.

Soon, it was time for the gondola ride. We chose not to go. Another couple from Kerala too decided to stay back. We were not sure if we could handle the cold(When the group returned after the ride, they told us that the gondola ride was warmer than standing in the Square). Besides, it was dark and the visibility was almost nil. The guide told us that it was worth going just to feel and hear the sound of the water lapping on the sides of the gondola. Well. We have traveled enough times in the snake boats back home in Kuttanaad. So there was no novelty in the experience, we Keralites who chose to stay back consoled ourselves. It was a different thing if we could see the banks, which, the guide had told us, was not possible in that fading light.

So we hung around in the square while the others went for the gondola ride. The ground floor off the pavement of the square was full of shops where Italian jewelry, Murano glass items and a whole lot of other things were very attractively displayed. We tried window shopping. The rates appeared whopping, particularly when we converted euros to rupees; I guess our frozen state too had something to do with the rates appearing prohibitive.

“Let’s get into a café and have something to drink”, I suggested. “It’ll be warm and coffee will warm us up”

We got into a café and ordered cappuccino coffee. We were thrilled at the prospect of sitting in the warm café and sipping little by little piping hot coffee. Soon the order came. Each of us was served, without exaggeration, half an ounce of bitter coffee! We masked our utter dismay behind a poker face while it was being placed on the table. I even managed a sweet thank you in the direction of the waitress. After all, we are the brand ambassadors of our country!

I wish I had taken pictures of our expressions as we looked at the half ounce blackish coffee and then at each other.

“Maybe more will come”, I said hopefully.
“Mmn. kaathirunno” (you can wait forever for it), my friend said.

We tried sipping the coffee slowly but none of us could go beyond one and a half sips. It was over! One and a half sips for two euros!!(More that Rs.120).

“We came in for the warmth. Let’s think that we are paying for getting away from the cold”, I said weakly. After all it was my bright idea to walk into a restaurant and sip a giant cup of piping hot coffee and feel the warmth seep through your body and thaw the frozen blood. I had to come up with some justification.

All the three nodded somberly in unison.

Looking back, we realized that we should have freaked out on some good food and stopped converting. But I think it takes a few days of transacting in the unfamiliar currency to be able to do that. The Venice trip was in the evening of the day we landed in Italy.

And of course, our brains too were frozen, disabling sensible thinking. It takes sometime to handle the alien climate of an alien place too.