Saturday, January 23, 2010

GREAT NEWS : Police Books Rally Organisers for Paralysing Traffic.

KOCHI: On a day the SNDP organised a massive rally and held a convention in Kochi `to get due rights denied to us,’ the police slapped a case against its general secretary Vellappally Natesan, his son Thushar Vellappally and prominent SNDP leaders for violating the directions of the High Court and organising a rally in the city


A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday said that people should not be denied the `right to move’ while massive processions and rallies are conducted.

High time citizens’ rights were respected.

High time the system paid heed to the judiciary.

Agreed, the right to hold demonstration cannot be curbed in a democracy. But the right of the citizens to go about their lives undisturbed by these demonstrations too cannot be curbed.

This appears to be a people friendly and bold step by the police – this slapping case against political heavyweights like Vellappally Natesan.

It however would be interesting to see if the police will slap cases against the leaders of the Marxist or Congress parties if similar demonstrations, which disregard court ruling, are organized.

Anyway, let us wait and see what happens.

For, it is not enough a case is charged without any immediate outcome.

My take on it: Some strict measures should be taken to take this bold step forward to protect the citizens from such show of strength, which disrupt the daily life of the people.

  • Any party which violates the court ruling regarding demonstrations (not more than 5000 people) should be banned from holding any demonstration for at least 2 years.
  • A heavy fine should be slapped on the party leaders who call for the demonstrations
  • All rallies should compulsorily follow certain regulations like 1. The participants in the rally should move ONLY IN A SINGLE LINE. Not even two in a row should be permitted. 2. The single file should confine itself to one side of the road. 3. The rally should be subjected to traffic rules like crossing at cross roads etc 4. Traffic should not be adjusted to accommodate the rally. It should be other way round.

Id these rules are observed, I wouldn’t mind having a rally every day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Knocked down with a feather!

The influence of the Bible on the English Language was the topic I wanted to cover that day, as part of a dozen lectures allotted to me on Creative Writing in English. Some misguided soul had suggested my name to the Director of the Press Club, which was offering a short-term course in Journalism and in a weak (or confident) moment, i agreed to do those lectures. (I must confess that I was not called after the first experiment).

A knowledge of what constituted the substance with which the language was made up of would help in using it creatively, I thought. Among the major influences on the English Language in its formative stage were the discovery of the Printing press,the translations of the Bible and the printing of the King James version /Authorised version in early seventeenth century. These two factors happening almost simultaneously had the impact of standardizing the language.

One would be amazed at the huge number of the very very common words that we utter on a daily basis as well as the figurative and metaphorical usages that are drawn from the Bible. For some reason, I thought that it would help a person who is to take writing seriously to know the impact the Bible had on the language.

Thus it was that I took a lot of pains to prepare the lecture in which i highlighted the combined impact on the English language of 1. the translations into English of the Latin Bible and 2. the advent of printing into England.The impact was

  1. of standardising the language and establishing the victory of East Midland dialect over others and
  2. introduction of an incredibly large number of words and expressions from the Bible.

I wanted to amaze the students with astronomical contribution of Bible to the English vocabulary. I wanted to surprise them with the list of words that come so easily to us, which could be traced back to the Bible. I wanted to demonstrate how a familiarity with the associative and connotative value of words will give a depth to their use, and would also help in the application of such techniques as, say, extended analogy.

I concluded the lecture with the list that I wanted to surprise them with. After reading it out, I looked up with what I’m sure was an expression on my face that reflected the satisfaction of a job well done.

Any comments, questions? I asked.

He was a frontbencher who on the first day had asked me, “Can CREATIVE writing be taught?”

I don’t remember him asking any more questions after that, but I remembered him ‘cos I was grateful to him for that question which gave me a chance to discuss with them the concept of creativity.

I remember he wore glasses. He always had a smile on his face, the nature of which I couldn’t quite decipher.

After my lecture on the Bible, he asked me his second question – second and last.

“What’s this ma’am? Proselytizing?”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ?????????????? :-(

Wonder if he is a professional scribe now!

Monday, January 18, 2010


Striking work, mass leave, dharnas, demonstrations, setting buses on fire, pelting cars, buildings and policemen with stones, beating up fellow citizens – these are some of the most common and, sadly, accepted forms of protest in our country. This speaks volumes about the leadership post independence in a nation which experimented successfully with nonviolent resistance to overthrow the British empire over which the sun never set for a few centuries.

Today, there was a heartwarming piece of news in The Hindu.

Vengeri takes the lead in resisting Bt brinjal.

Vengeri a small village near Kozhikode is launching a protest against the BT Brinjal about which there is so much misgiving among the public, agricultural scientists, environment activists and certain political parties.

The controversies surrounding it is reason enough to shelve this genetically modified variety of vegetable - temporarily, at least.

"After what Bt cotton did to the farmers of Vidharbha, methyl isocyanate to Bhopal residents and Endosulfan to Kasaragod’s children, we do not have faith in the prescriptions of multinationals" said Babu Parambath, co-ordinator of Niravu.

My concern here is not the veracity of the theories doing the rounds, but the initiative taken by the a village near Kozhikode, in this state of Kerala which indulges in the most revolting, arrogant, unethical, lawless type of protests, at the drop of a hat. A group of people have decided to protest in a civilized, creative and constructive manner, by growing traditional brinjal to produce enough seeds to pose severe competition to the multinationals BT.

Brinjal campaign from today

Special Correspondent

KOZHIKODE: Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran will launch a campaign on Sunday to popularize a traditional variety of brinjal found in rural areas as an alternative to Bt brinjal.

The function will be held at an organic farm near Netaji Library at Vengeri. The farm is managed by Niravu, a collective of 101 people of Vengeri. A. Achyutan and Shobhindran, environmental activists, and Sister Ancilla of Providence Women’s College will speak. Niravu will distribute nearly one lakh saplings of the brinjal variety in the coming day

It is significant that the official launching of this protest project is by the minister. Of course, considering the official stand of the left against the multinational invasion into the agriculture sector, it is not surprising that the present Kerala government should get enthused over this project. But, this is a matter that goes beyond politics. It is recognition of a new type of politics - politics by the enlightened mass. Here, a small innocuous village in Kerala is showing 1. the way to protest democratically against a policy decision that is perceived to be anti people and 2. how an enlightened people can be meaningfully and constructively involved in governance.

It is significant too that an Educational institution - Providence College - is a leader of this movement.

Can we call it a modern day Salt Satyagraha?

I do not know if I am technically right in drawing that comparison, ‘cos Salt Satyagraha was based on deliberate violation of the ‘law of the land’.

The Vengeri model is a sustainable mode of protest that invests power in the hands of the people, provides an opportunity to walk the talk regarding an alternative mode of development and enables the literate people of Kerala to utilize their enlightenment to evolve a manner of protest different from the teeth gnashing INQUILAB ZINDABAD.

It, however, waits to be seen how the BT lobby reacts to this.

More important, it waits to be seen how supportive the government will continue to be, once the multinational lobby become proactive against this.

My father used to say (am not sure if he was right), the Japanese mode of protest post WW II was working overtime!

Nothing brings the authorities to their senses and to the realization of the legitimacy of a protest other than the ethicality of the means and the public weal consciousness that informs the end. The latter shouts out loud and clear through the former. It puts the authorities on the defensive, making it difficult not pay heed to the concerns of the people expressed in a calm, moderate, civilized and PRODUCTIVE manner which cannot in any way be faulted as lawless.

More than half a century after the death of Gandhi, Gandhiism shows signs of rebirth in a little village in Kerala.

Today, I am proud to be a Malayalaee.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Home, Warm Home

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

This nursery rhyme kept coming back to me from 22nd of December when it started snowing in Chicago. The tiny flakes of snow floating down fascinated me and from the window of the house, I looked out to see it accumulating by the roadside, topping bare trees and pine trees like icing. People wrapped up in heavy clothes and many booted till the knees moved like automatons determined to brave the cold.

AS I looked out of the window, my fascination for snow-covered land, which had developed in me from childhood from the xmas cards, comic books and Enid Blytons came to my mind. Looking from the window of the house in Chicago the thrill I expected gripped my heart.

And then we went out. Wrapped up in layers of clothes, I still froze – just covering the distance from the house to the car, which was very short! It took a half a minute for the car to get heated. Till then my teeth went takatakatakataka. My nose felt like a piece of ice. I had just begun to literally warm up when we reached the destination, I was dropped off right in front of the restaurant so that I could just rush into it when the car was taken for parking.

There was wind! OH, I thought rather desperately as I negotiated to the 15 short steps into towards the doorway. This is why this place is called the windy city! As the door of the restaurant closed behind me, I remember thinking that it was like someone was shoveling ice on me – ice which penetrated through my clothes and chilled my very bones. Christ’s words describing the end of times came to my mind from out of nowhere. Pray, he said, these things I told you about do not happen in winter!

Ever since that first trip outside the house after it started snowing, my perspective changed. The childhood fascination turned into horror when I looked out of the window; the white snow covered landscape filled me with fear. I comprehensively experienced the full implication of the term BLEAK. And the nursery rhyme kept coming back to me, over and over again.

“What will poor robin do then, poor thing?”

God, what a sensitive little song!

He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under the wing, poor thing.

The poem, I thought, was written with my 2009 - 10 sojourn in Chicago in mind. It was exactly what I did. I kept myself warm in the already centrally heated house in a sweater, jacket and a muffler and refused to step out of the house unless I absolutely had to.

Poor me! The weather is not meant for a tropical creature like me.

I started speaking out loud and longingly about the warm weather of Trivandrum! About the greenery of the land. Of the heart warming view from my apartment, of the tops of the green spread of coconut tree tops from which a house here or a high rise there peeped out apologetically.

I longed for the warm sultry weather of Trivandrum! For the ‘heat and dust’ of India!

I browsed the net and got this explanation of that nursery rhyme:
The purpose of words to 'The North Wind doth blow' is to ensure that a child associates security with home whilst empathizing with the plight of the robin.

I saw myself as the robin with its poor head tucked away under the wing. I empathasised, no experienced, the panic that can seize you when exposed for the briefest moment to that biting windy weather. I comprehensively experienced the full implication of the term WARM. The word acquired a new meaning when I realized that it evolved in the language of a people who battled with this terrible weather most of the year. For them warmth was security.

Am back home and it’s heaven!

Friday, January 15, 2010


Here now, gone the next moment. The age old truth is ever new and never ceases to fill us with horror, resignation and a sense of futility of human existence.
The appalling figure of the Haitian tragedy – Is human life so worthless? Are human achievements so fragile?
What are we going around for, with chests inflated with the air of perceived omnipotence, with a smugness and complacency fed by megalomaniacal cockiness?
We can land on the moon, conquer it and colonise it. But can we prevent its gravitational power from causing the oceans to rise and submerge man and his work?
Nature has always reminded us harshly about the existence of the human LOC. Through deluges and earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis, hurricanes and colliding meteors, she has claimed her victims in this war with man outside this LOC, in proportions that are mind boggling. Her ravages are indiscriminate, not selective. She is no respecter of man made hierarchies or categories. Lazarus and Dives, Satyavan or Savitri, Sarah or Hagar, Pandavas or Kauravas – it does not matter: all is fair in war.
Is this a war between man and nature?
Scriptures explain the disasters as divine intervention to bring man to his senses.
Modern day’ rational’ mythologies float popular theories that disasters are nature’s intervention to check population growth.
These theories and interpretation have got man nowhere near prevention of massive disasters. He is helpless against nature’s fury, for whatever reason she chooses to be furious.
The technologically progressive man continues to be in infancy when it comes to controlling nature.
So what do we do?
Honestly, we have no idea. Just sit back and throw up my hands in helplessness, I guess.
There is no escape from the visuals of the disaster. And I tell myself we should not try to escape from them, no matter how painful. If the visuals are painful, what about the actual thing? I was spared this time. So I have the opportunity to feel for my fellow human beings. To empathise.
And we need to manage our responses which more often than not run amok. We need to be stoic, I suppose and subscribe to that Byronic posture of revering the power that does not revere us – whatever that might imply.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's wrong with Amir Khan movies?

I saw Three Idiots and laughed my guts out. I loved the movie. A super entertainer.

But if I have to vote for the fifty good movies I’ve ever seen, will I vote for it?

The answer is NO. As for that matter, I wouldn’t vote for Lagaan, or Tere Zameen Par. The latter would perhaps just about make it into the 100 best movies. But I’m not sure.

Why is it so, I asked myself. I never go by the critics review. For me a good movie is what I enjoy and what keeps coming back to my mind long after I have seen it – you know like the taste of a dish you have eaten, or is a regular part of your eating habit which you want to think of with longing?

Yes. Now I realize that’s what’s wrong with the Amir Khan movies I have mentioned. They are all forgettable movies. They have no lasting impact on me. Good while they last – and then - - well that’s it.

So I decided to look into my response to these films and find out why I feel this way, why I cannot wax eloquent about them. And these are my conclusions:

· These movies have greater commitment to the box office than to the art form. In the bargain, art suffers. Clichés, stereotypes, slapstick formulae, the usual formulaic fare that cater to the perceived demands of the audience (I always feels the directors underestimate the audience) take away from the internal consistency and the cogency of the theme of the movie which becomes heavily diluted, and sometimes run haywire. This also compels the director to resort to simplistic, shallow execution of the project, totally sidestepping the nuances and subtleties that cause a film experience to rankle in the brain. All the three movies in question here have great themes which could have been explored in an infinitely more sophisticated manner. But the makers decided to keep them basic, naïve and one dimensional. Of course, one cannot blame the film makers for focusing on the box office considering the mammoth investment. But that is no excuse to compromise the internal demands of an artistic piece.

· The second reason that I find these movies not up to my expectations is the obsession with Amir Khan. Again this supports the earlier point that I made. His market value has to be exploited – even at the cost of compromising a potential classic which explores the gray areas of an issue and gets closer to human reality. The movies revolve round the superhero Amir khan, and not the character he represents. The plots, episodes, the script and all – all made only for Amir Khan, the actor who can garner crores on account of his superstardom. Art is compromised to narcissism. Amir Khan is going the Dev Anand way. The latter became a very irritating actor- director ‘cos of his self love which made him impose himself on the audience irrespective of whether the role and the film demanded it.

How else would I have it? I told you these movies hardly impacted me, and so I cannot really recall details. No frame is etched permanently in my mind. Yet I remember thinking that in Lagaan, the strategies used to carve BHuvan into heroic proportions were silly. The final winning shot in the cricket match was most laughable. Perhaps if someone else had done it, it’s have been less comical and I’d have been more willing to accept it. The dyslexic background of Amir Khan (TZP)violently yanked into the film towards the end is most irritating. This probably was done to prevent the little boy from stealing the show - which he still did despite the production efforts. The attempt to blow up Amir Khan into superhuman proportion is so blatant, naive and inartistic. In Three idiots, all loose ends are neatly tied up. But the purpose is not to enhance the theme of a faulty educational system but to enlarge the Amir Khan cutout. The end result was that the blow up was so disproportionate that it spilt outside the screen space.

Amir Khan should show a greater willingness to share the screen space with the other actors, if the story demands it. To manipulate the script to revolve round only himself will bring huge profits to the investors, but will cause the movie to be reduced to just another bollywood bash. Classics are made of different material.
You might argue Ami Khan movies are terrific hits, and that’s what movies are all about – acceptance by the audience, entertainment for the audience. I suppose there is a lot of truth in this argument. But I am one of those who want the film to remain with me subliminally long after the laughter or tears subside at the end of the show. Flat characters, formulaic plots, total reluctance to plumb the depths of human experience – all these make Amir Khan movies a very forgettable experience for me. Fills me with a sense of terrific loss, of what might have been if if if - -

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Curious Case of Dr.Shashi Tharoor , the Thinking Minister.

“I think his (is a) very clear summary for us of the way in which Indian foreign policy drew from our founding fathers’ sense of our civilization heritage, the extraordinary contribution of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to the articulation of that civilisational heritage, the manner in which that both enhanced India’s standing in the world and gave us the negative reputation for conducting foreign policy as a sort of moralistic running commentary on other people’s behaviour.” said Shashi Tharoor , summing up Bhikhu Parik’s presentation at the event organised by an association of Indian diplomats at Delhi’s Indian Council of World Affairs.

Parekh’s talk on “India’s place in the world” called Nehru’s foreign policy a mistake. Mr. Shashi Tharoor endorsed Parik’s position - and is in a soup. The Congress party is peeved that he dared to criticize the policies of Nehru.

“I am very surprised by Tharoor’s style. He is a member of the Congress and his responsibility is to carry forward the legacy of Pandit Nehru and not to be critical of it,” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said.

The height of sycophancy! How else can we describe this ridiculous attitude?

Dr.Parik is a renowned political theorist. Dr. Sashi Tharoor is a renowned intellectual and writer. Has he signed a contract with the congress party to shelve his brains temporarily into the deep freeze while he serves the country as a minister from the party?

Mind you, Tharoor was not commenting, this time, on a current policy. It was his perception of India’s early foreign policy. People see things differently. Also, in hindsight, our perceptions can alter. Is it fair for the Congress party to crack whip on the partymen on the position to be taken on the policies of the Indian National Congress for the past 150 years? Well, they had then better issue tickets to zombies and empty vessels who are capable of only echoing the inane rumblings of the high command on issues which are of interests and concern to researchers and theorists.

And why flay him for faulting Gandhi? Did not Gandhi believe that perception of truth will change with time and situation? Did he not provide for differences of opinion? Hasn’t he stated that "Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress" and "Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress"

I belong to the school of thought which endorses Nehruvian economic and foreign policies. But does that mean I must block from my mind all other perceptions of it? Does it mean I should condemn or silence hindsight wisdom?

Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s role in this meeting is not clear from the reports. Was he a moderator? If he was, his function was to be an objective chairperson in an intellectual discussion and not that of a spokesman of the Congress party. Even if he were a mere participant and not a moderator, it was his honest perception that was relevant in a debate following a scholarly presentation. It would be ridiculous, and unbecoming of a thinker to capitalize that platform to toe the party line.

Regarding Shashi Tharoor, the politician, there is every indication that he is getting sick and tired of the his cerebral activity being cabined, cribbed and confined by the lobby of seasoned politicians who never miss an opportunity to cut him down to size. Tharoor’s success would usher in a new type of political leaders who might eventually form the think tank of the party, much to the chagrin of those who stay in power by their sheer political acumen and Machiavellism innocent of intellectual content.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Aishwarya Rai Complex

She came to me to ask for an extension for the submission of the assignment on the date which was already an extended one.

“Sit down, Jasmine”, I said, pointing to the seat in front of mine at my table in the staff room. I made a mental note of the fact that she chose a time when she knew I’d be alone in the Department.

“You know I can’t extend it anymore. It was already done – and I made it clear that this was the final deadline. And I noticed you were nodding your head vigourously in approval”.

Jasmine was a good student to have in the class. Always sat in the first row, was most attentive, laughed at all the jokes, asked questions (which sometimes were obviously for the sake of asking). I always looked for her as I entered the classroom. In fact, if I didn’t find her in her usual seat, I’d even feel a little lost.

But she rarely did well in her tests. I have had to give her repeat tests to push her through. The problem was language. She came from Marathi medium and hence did not have a sense of the English language while writing. But she spoke without hesitation, mistakes and all.

I was the deliberate choice as a teacher for that class, ‘cos I knew little Hindi and less Marathi. Malayalam wouldn’t work. So the students would mandatorily be exposed to spoken English by a conservative speaker of English.

“Ma’m I had some problem. I couldn’t sit down to write it the past few days”.
I looked at her ‘cos I was always wary of being a confidante of students whose autobiographies, I was warned, could sent your head reeling at an incredibly fast spin.

“Ma’am. I had to get this done”, she said pointing to her hair. I’m very tardy, I must confess, at noticing cosmetic changes which are not glaring like, say, a shaven head, or cropping of long hair or shocking pink or scarlet lipstick.

I looked at her hair and noticed that she had streaks of three subtle colours on her hair. Streaking the hair was just becoming common then (this was in 1998).

“Does it take a long time to get that done?”

“Yes, Ma’m”, Jasmine said animatedly. This parlour is near my house. I always go there so that even if I am late, I can just take a rick home. If I do it here in Santa Cruz, I’ll have to take the train. The rush would be heavy”.

So much of planning, I thought.

“Where do you live?”


“When did you do this to your hair?”

“You don’t like it Ma’am?”

“Oh, you look good”

I did it yesterday-took nearly an hour and a half. By the time I reached home, I was tired, and went to sleep. Had to start early ‘cos I had the 8 o clock lecture today”.

“But the project was given a month back. The date extension was given a week back”.

“I’ know ma’am”, said the crestfallen Jasmine.

“What were you doing for a whole month?”

“Ma’am. Next time I’ll submit on time. Just this once, please.”

“Sorry Jasmine. Your reason is not good enough”.

“Ma’aaam. How can you say that? See Aiswarya Rai. It’s all the job of the makeup artist”, she declared. “I’ve seen her when she came for a shooting here. She is so ordinary. And my skin is a light as hers!”

You could have knocked me down with a feather!

“Are you trying to be an Aishwarya Rai?”

“It’s not impossible, you know.”

And then I looked at Jasmine. She’s right. It’s not impossible if she added 5 more inches to her height, subtracted 10 kilos from her weight, did a face job around her cheeks to lengthen her cute moon shaped face.

I kept my thoughts to myself and let her talk. It was a revelation to me, that this chirpy girl who sat in the front bench was actually obsessed to the point of distraction about turning herself into a classic beauty. I smiled to myself when she rattled off the names of a few makeup artists who changed ugly ducklings into the glam girls of Bollywood.

“You planning to enter movies?”

“No ma’am. Everybody says I’ll get only small roles which are usually bad roles.”

Things were getting complicated.

“Jasmine, believe me when I tell you are an extremely beautiful girl, but in a different way. About Aishwarys Rai, it’s her business to be glamorous. Your business is to be something else. That’s why you are here to do a specialized course. You beauty lies in being yourself. You know no matter how much she tries, Aishwarya Rai cannot become you, or acquire your innocent charm and your type of special good looks”.

Her face brightened up.

It was advantage me.

“I’ll give you another extension, but that is between you and me. Submit the draft you have brought now, and give the final draft on Monday. This is the only time in my whole life as a teacher that I have made this concession. That’s because I know if you put your heart and soul into this, you’ll pass with flying colours”.

She jumped up and touched my feet which I quickly pulled away ‘cos I have the ugliest feet on earth. This habit the students in Mumbai have of touching the teachers’ feet at the drop of a hat was always a cause for worry for me. But then, I too should have told myself that it is not my business to be an Aishwarya Roy!

Jasmine submitted an excellent project, with no mistakes in the language. I didn’t want to ask her if it was her own work. I wanted to believe in her.

I left that institute before she qualified. But for nearly five years, she sent me a card on my birthday. Fours years after this episode, she sent me a letter with the birthday card to tell me she had picked up a job in a multinational pharmaceutical company. She wrote without mistakes (for which I don’t take the credit. I was her teacher only during the initial two semesters).

But I like to think that I did play a role in curing her of the Aishwarya Rai complex.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Christmas Then and Now

Was reading a few blogs and looking at pictures and reports on Christmas – in Dubai, New York, Florida, in the giant metros and in small cities, towns and rural areas too in Kerala. And my mind slid back to sixties and seventies - - -

My earliest memories did not involve Xmas shopping, ‘cos I was a kid. Shopping must have been there, but the instant ready to use items, I’m sure were not there. Not just us children, but those of all age group got involved inn making the pulkoodu (Crib). I still remember a day before Christmas. My father in a Jubba, with his hand on his hip discussing with Mathai who was employed in his office across the street, about the ideal spot for the crib (and mind you, my father was a very busy business man!). I remember anxiously waiting to see if the spot I preferred would be decided on. It wasn’t, and then the six year old me threw tantrums. I was given a hearing and Ichayan (that’s what we called my father) agreed there’s a lot of sense in what I said – on the narrow veranda it was to be. It faced the front compound which could be accessed by a small flight of steps. It would look like the crib is on top of a hill, I said excitedly (am not sure now if the manger where Christ was born was on top of a hill). Yes, the hill effect could be easily achieved if the crib was where I wanted it, agreed my father enthusiastically. Mathai also agreed. And my day was made.

Every bit of item for the crib was gathered by my brothers and I. Some supervised, some moved in an out of the house, in the compound and the adjacent vacant plot getting bits and pieces to put the crib together . I still remember Mathai telling us siblings that if he could cover the superstructure we had built up with brown paper which could be crumpled to get that crushed effect, that’d make it look like a mountain. Some paint was remaining from the maintenance that was done in the house a couple of months back. It could be used to touch up the brown paper to improve the effect. It meant a lot of brown paper, and a lot of money.

“Mollykochey”, suggested Mathai. “You ask Ichayan. He will agree”.

I do not know if I was the favourite, but I remember I was not scared to ask him. He readily agreed, took out a note and gave me.

There was jubilations when I ran back with the money.

It was a great crib that year! Grass was uprooted from the vacant plot and arranged at the bottom of the step to create an impression of a green valley. There was even a lake in front of the crib, at the foot of the mountain, in the middle of the grassland! Mathai dug a shallow hole on the sand, placed a basin in it poured water into it and even put a few live fish into it.(I do not know if there was even a puddle in Bethlehem! But that did not matter).

In the kitchen, amma would be making cake in bulk. Yes, really bulk. Baking was done in the most primitive manner. The small oven which could be kept over the aduuppu (firewood stove) was inadequate. So a temporary firewood stove was made in the backyard, and a huge bell metal vessel (chembu) was kept over this make shift aduppu. It was filled with sand which took a long time to get hot. My brother who was closest to me in age, and I used make occasional inspection of this outdoor oven to see if the sand was hot enough for the cake mix to be arranged in the many dishes it was already poured into. Amma kept a hawk eye on us to make sure we didn't land up in the oven.

Regarding the wine, amma would have bottled it a week before Christmas.

The spade work for Christmas cooking would start late in the evening. The only thing that used to sadden me was the sight of the chicken and duck that were awaiting slaughter. I remember asking Verghese, our very versatile odd job man and who took over the role of the supervisor on that day if it would hurt them when he cut their heads off. We were shooed off when the actual killing took place.

Of course, I could block out that part of the story of the duck roast which was served with appam for Christmas breakfast.

Every Christmas of those decades has memories for me. In my time too, I have tried to keep that spirit of Christmas in my home. Even today, my crib is a cardboard carton, with some grass from the roadside and a few painted clay figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, three kings and shepherds, a few sheep and cattle and an angel suspended from the hole pierced through the “roof” of the carton.

But the world has moved on, while I continue to wallow in nostalgia. How different things are now! How commodified is that festival now! The malls and shops glitter with optic fibre lights, eco friendly glare, bright colourful and fluorescent decorations. Cakes – you get any variety of them from the shops. And wine too.

Guess I’m an old timer. All these glitter and glare leave me cold.

Monday, January 04, 2010

God's pet

I am God’s favourite.

Now hang on! Don’t jump to the conclusion that all my castles in the air have materialized into bricks and mortar.

No. Far from it. Far far from it.

Guess that wil happen someday. But by then, I’d, perhaps, have made greater acquisitions besides which all those realized castles will pale into insignificance.

What irony, eh?

The long and short of it is, our aery castles are not what really matter. They turn out to be false dreams. False in the sense they limit our aspirations to easily accessible destinations.

If God picks you as his favourite, the first thing he will do is to destroy those castles, those limiting dreams that cut short ‘a branch that might have grown full straight’.

Guess you might have recognized the last quote. Yes. It is from Marlowe's Dr. Faustus – which tells the story of that brilliant versatile genius who turned to necromancy to give substance to the castles he had built in the air. Remember what a pathetic figure he was at the end of the show? Screaming and yelling for another chance, having realized he had been chasing the wrong dreams! Poor man! The guy ignored that spark which humans tend to ignore, while chasing castles without assessing their worth.

So if your castles start vanishing from your horizons, do not worry, my dear friends. God has picked you. You need not ask to be picked. It is not your choice. It is His.

Now you may ask, why does he pick A, V, L, and Z only and leave out the rest? My answers:
1. I don’t know. God’s logic is light years away from human’s. One life time isn’t enough to travel all that distance. So better to know our limitations and leave it at that.
That’s frustrating, you might say. Yes, it is. But there is a formula which can tackle that frustration. It is: THY WILL BE DONE. It works, you know. Just try it, and see for yourself.
2. You will not really pose this query if you know what it is to be in the A, V, L, Z league. Have you read the Book of Job? Before you ask to be in the AVLZ league, read it. You’ll kick yourself for even wondering at God’s partiality, and you will shout out to him, SPARE ME LORD. I DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR FAVOURITE.

But it’s of no use, you know. Like I said, the option is not yours. The choice is His. And if you are chosen, you’ve had it.

Poor Job, he just wanted to lead a quiet life, minding his own business. And see what happened. He was chosen as a favourite. And he lost everything. His land, belongings, children. On top of that he got the worst diseases one can imagine – both painful, and in appearance real eye sore that people avoided him like plague. Some of the images of him dealing with his scaling skin are ugh! Yukky, to say the least.

But he came out of it! Yes, he did. You know how?

No. don’t think he grinned and bore it like a true stoic. He didn’t. He cribbed a lot. And cursed a lot too. He cursed the day that he was born and wanted that day to be deleted from the history of man!
But he didn’t curse the architect of his misery. He didn’t look up at the abode of his God and curse! For he KNEW, up there was a force which had a REASON for piling these misfortunes on him. Job trusted him absolutely. He knew he will not be abandoned. And he waited.

And one fine day, that force talked to him. Yes. God came down to speak to man to salute his spirit – that never say die attitude anchored in TRUST.

At this point, let’s just take a look at what this ‘trust’ implies. It means humility. An acknowledgement of human limitations. An absence of arrogance. A realization that nothing is really in our hands.

I must admit there was a point in my life when I thought I could turn the world around my little finger! Set your target, go after it – and it is yours. I think that cockiness showed even in my gait. And then it happened. I was diagnosed with a deadly disease! Down came crashing my arrogant philosophy. It overhauled me, my very thinking process.

Like a flash it came to me. I was a modern day Job. I was handpicked. I was the chosen one. Isn’t that a privilege?

I must admit it was with great reluctance that I accepted my recruitment into the AVLZ league. True, I wag my forefinger up at that divine manipulator on and off and tell him, “Hey, I didn’t ask for this privilege”. Then I heave a sigh of resignation and tell myself “Ok, if I am destined for something, there is no running away from it. After all, it’s HIS choice. He’ll take care”.

Believe it or not, that dialogue (monologue?) makes me FEEL GOOD.

And I move on. It’s not difficult, you know. This autosuggestion can work miracles.

I don’t know how I am going to link up what now follows with the rest of this piece. There is no apparent connection. Maybe you can find the link. But I feel I must conclude this piece with it ‘cos from the moment I started writing this, that telephone conversation kept coming to my mind.

I was talking over the phone to my friend Sister GM, who is a nun – one of the finest human beings I have ever come across. She was one of the few persons I chose to talk to after my diagnosis. I told her I’ll be coming down to Kochin for treatment ‘cos Dr.Gangadharan, the oncologist, is being recommended even by the doctors of St. John’s Medical College.

Silence at the other end. And then in a subdued, strange voice: “Is it to be Dr. Gangadharan?"

Despite being updated about my medical condition, she was hoping against hope for some miracle that would deflect my road to treatment from the Oncology Department. Dr. Gangadharan, for the layman, meant nothing pleasant. He was associated with the killer disease.

A year later, I told Sister GM: “Sister, I consider myself privileged to have been Dr. Gangadharan’s patient”.

I don’t think she was too surprised at what I said. She had been closely following my treatment and had associated herself with Dr. Gangadharan during this period for organizing awareness lectures.

Honest. I simply don’t see the connection between the last episode I mentioned and the rest of the post. It could have been the talk of ‘privilege’ that took my mind to this doctor who is doing God’s own work in this pain filled world.

Or is it that I found some answer to the Job predicament in Dr. Gangadharan? You know something like a model for the castles in the air that evolved human beings should build?

Am not sure.

Any ideas?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How I tackled the Obama dispute

Christmas 2009 found me in my niece’s house. It was a beautiful family affair with ten adults and eight children.

The celebrations began with drinks and starters. That company of adults consisted of maximum- two -pegs and teetotaling young men and women below 45. I mention this just to tell you in advance what followed was not the upshot of inebriation.

By the way, it was a bitingly cold winter day – at least for me who just landed from the warm weather of Trivandrum. Even indoors, I refused to divest myself of my jacket and the other warm outer garments that could be discarded by a seasoned New Yorker. Bundled up in the warm clothes which not only hid the beautiful salwar suit I had on, but also made me look terribly close to a female mallu version of ST. Nicholas, I sat there among my children, my nephew and nieces and their spouses, feeling good.

Being the oldest in the company, I was the grand old lady – and was genuinely enjoying the status and the attention I was getting by virtue of that status, when someone casually mentioned OBAMA and made an off the cuff remark that he can start packing his bag to go back to Illinois in 2012.

And then all hell broke loose. Well No. Not hell really. Can’t call it that if I want to revisit that hell once in a way to get recharged!

Three groups were formed instantly. Pro Obama (PO), Obama critics (OC) and Fence sitters (FS). I belonged to the last ‘cos I didn’t didn’t know the kuttans of US politics.

The PO launched into a eulogy of his health policy. The OC punched holes in the eulogy. The FS s threw their bit in.

Decibels were on the rise.

The OCs felt Obama’s one year in office did not scale up to his rhetoric.

The POs launched into an explosive defense. Fusillade in the respective directions from the Fence Sitters and high precision bomb from the lead PO. All at once.

Decibels rose still higher, and with that the temperature in the room.

I pulled off my jacket and threw it on the empty chair near me.

And the OC struck the POs Achilles heels.

‘What about the 30, 000 additional troops to Afghanistan?

BOOM!! It came close to the first Pokharan test – not the failed one, mind you.

Splinters, shards, radioactive heat –

I stripped off my sweater and threw it on the jacket.

My nephew noticed my action and saw the approaching danger of an uncomely disrobing, and he warned others. They paused for a second, condescended to indulge in a perfunctory laugh and resumed.

Then somebody threw in Israel. Obama was the only gutsy president ever to blunt talk to them. A huge volley of protests followed.

My muffler joined the sweater and I noticed my poor nephew wiping his forehead.

And then everyone was talking – no. outshouting each other. Israel, Afghanistan, teleprompter, audacity, book, insurance. The shouting match reached a pitch that generated a heat level that made me stand up.

My nephew got alarmed, and he blew the whistle.

M’aunty is contemplating what next to discard, he yelled.


That did it.

The ‘revelation that was at hand’ brought them to their senses. No Obama was worth the nightmarish vision, they decided.

Soon the temperature cooled and we proceeded towards the table where a sumptuous spread awaited us.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year - Happy or Unhappy?

Happy New Year!

What does it mean?

Is it in our hands or any of our well wishers to decide the nature of the year to come?

When I opened the blog page to write about the yet another rise of a new year, I wasn’t sure what my thoughts on the issue were. But then, as it always happens, my fingertips took over, flying over the keyboard, guided by thoughts I didn’t really know were floating around in my mind space.

The thoughts were introspective, and philosophical too, the reason being the usual fare of the New Year eve was not accessible to me. Being away from India, I couldn’t go through the various newspapers and magazines which covered the dying year in all its variety. I missed the explosion of photographs and articles and cartoons and observations by the celebrities, the persons in power and the man in the street. I did not realize how much I missed those till I was actually unable to reach them. I am not an internet person when it comes to news. Guess it’ll take many many more new years to see me substitute the print media with the internet.

And the little bits of news I picked up from the internet were not exactly exciting. The conflagration is Karunagapally was really scary –enough to spoil the New Year mood too. But I will leave it at that.

I missed the Indian news channels also -not that I sit through any of them. I flit from channel to channel, which is enough to put me through a mood of celebration and give me a sense that the world has crossed another landmark. The Time square celebrations are something I cannot relate to. So I retired early and snuggling under the comforter, did what I love best – sleep.

Waking up at three in the morning here, I realize that the New Year day is setting back home in India. And then this urge to express my feelings about it gripped me – and here I am looking back at the year that has gone by, look back at myself in the context of 2009.

Was 2009 a good year or a bad year for me?

I have reached a stage in life where I have ceased labeling anything as good or bad. So shall I say that this question brings before the mind’s eye that proverbial image of the glass tumbler holding half its capacity of water? It is for me to decide if it is half full or half empty.

Well, it is half full. And half empty too. What has to be emptied out has to be has to be emptied out. There’s no other way. If the emptying involved the drinking from the chalice, it has to be done. No point in regrets. That emptying had a purpose to serve. Thy will be done!

And what remains, the other half– yes, it’s something to celebrate about. But then, that half is not going to remain in the glass forever. It has either to be thrown out, or drank as though from a chalice or from a champagne glass. There is no knowing which it is going to be. 2010 will have to roll on to give the answer to that question which has always teased man out of thought.

But I tell you, it is we who decide whether the year ahead is going to be happy or unhappy. We have it in us to turn the chalice into a crystal wine glass holding frothing champagne – no, to drink down the liquid of pain as though it is a moment for celebration. That’s what being a human is all about. Happiness is not out there waiting for us to pick it up and enjoy it. It is within us to create and enjoy and bask in. it is we who decided whether we are going to be happy or not. Isn’t that a great thought? It is for us to decide whether the glass is half full or half empty.

The mind can turn things around. Reality is not an external factor. It is a matter of perception. And that for me is the most encouraging thought. It makes me look forward to 2010 with an optimism I have never before experienced beneath the frothy, superficial celebrations of all the pprevious new years.

I am happy on this first day of the New Year. I am happy I missed the newspapers and magazines and the TV channels and the Malayalam comedy shows that would have distracted me from this introspection which , at the moment, makes me feel like the superman who holds my destiny in my hands.