Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Missing Report: Navratri Celebrations

Is it always the case that the days past always seem romantic and the present day will be the romance of a later time? No really, nearly everyone seems to talk in those terms:

"You know, those days when..."
"Its really nothing like how when we were kids...."
"You should have been there when..."

But is it really mere romance and the perks of a claim to nostalgia?
I am now in Bangalore (don't bother keeping track of the places I have been in the past 2 years) and ... where is the Navratri? Pathway to a smaller heaven I am not interested in the sales (actually, I am), or shows or fireworks. What happened to those simple joy that everybody was party to?


To those who aren't familiar with that, it was basically an assembly of planks along an incline, much like a staircase, on which a variety of dolls and trinklets were assembled in the most colourful manner. The golupadi (hereafter called GP, because I anticipate I will be using it often) was covered in a cloth (usually a veshti) and we found great pleasure in tucking it in alignment with the edges of the GP. My uncle is the finest at assembling the GP. The GP at their house was enormous and would cover the entire living room. The GP was not the only thing to focus on. Around the GP on the floor, parks, beaches, swimming pools, marriage processions and the like would be assembled. Let me describe the process in a little more detail.

On Amavasya night, we'd start lowering the cartons from the attic/loft. When we were kids (and this is no romance) we got to climb into the attic space which couldn't hold an adult. So it was a privilege to be crawling in there. I would be on my knees crawling all over and pushing cartons closer to the mouth of the loft, and dad would lower it with the help of mom. Then, mom and my sis would start unpacking stuff and marking the cartons (to ease the process of re-packing). Mom would have packed some of the porcelain dolls in one of my old shirts or shorts and then there would be squeals and sighs from the floorspace about how I have grown up so fast! Geez! Give me a break.
Once the cartons were all on the floor, we would complete the unpacking and start assembling the wooden GP (this was later replaced with a nut-n-bolt iron GP). What followed was mayhem while deciding which doll should go where. The night was usually consumed in this chatter and whimpering about how "my idea never gets an ear".
The next day mom would light the kerala lamps (polished with tamarind paste or vibhuti) and the rangoli would be spread well. Years of watching her and my sis do the rangoli helped me in competitions that my companies held.
Silken AngelsAs the name goes, Navratri is all about what happens at night. The house would be well lit with lamps and the smell of sundal (a mostly-dry dish made of legumes) would fill the air. Ladies from all over the neighbourhood would come over and bring their daughters along (this is also why I liked the Navratris ;-). The girls would walk in in their fresh pattu pavadais (set of silk blouse and skirt) and look so devastatingly beautiful. Did you by any chance catch the advt. on the hoarding about the reversible pavadai? Wow! That kid looks so beautiful. I personally think pavadais were invented to make fathers and in general guys develop jelly knees! Anyway, so these lovely ladies and their mothers would walk in, admire the GP and all the arrangement and either sing or recommend that their daughters sing (which worked fine with me) some carnatic piece. This went on for 9 nights and everyday there was a different sundal at our place. I am not particularly a fan of sundal unless there is some element of spice in there. No, I am not talking about the girls.
Another part of the evening found my sister and I walk into the houses of people who had also assembled a GP. These people would usually come over home to invite us, or we would go to their place and invite them. So, we'd walk in, admire their GP (I invariably spotted areas of improvements which were promptly shushed by my sister). I got to be cute and smiling and allowed every elderly lady to ruffle my hair while I smiled cutely at them. My sister took great pleasure in showing me off as her stuffed toy and for reasons best left unknown, I let her. We would sit there for a while, collect the packets of sundal (some places I got a chocolate or an apple for accompanying my sis) and then bear my sister singing a song. Frankly, she's not bad, but somehow she always managed to go off-tune at a particular point in the song. Those days my voice was easily matched with my sister's (and I even got to talk on her behalf when she didn't feel like talking to her "friend" on the phone) and I would try to fill in those places where she erred!
There was always the fun of picking the best sundal, and I would make it a point to visit that "auntie" once more!! Saraswati puja gave us legal excuse to stay away from books (although of late I find it very difficult to stay away from my instruments and books) and we enjoyed the act of going to each and every room and painting every item with sandal wood paste and kumkum. Then the party would end.

So where has all of this disappeared? It seems to linger a bit in Madras, although most of my fun times and memories come from the Navratri celebrations in Bombay. Madras was fine too, but nowadays there isn't much of this "visiting-collecting-singing-inviting" role being played. Pattu pavadais seem to become drab after the age of 6-7 for girls nowadays. Some lingering whiffs of those wonderful days still hang around the corners of my world, but it is definitely nothing like what it was then.

Now in Bangalore, our neighbour was telling my mother last night, that she has never been invited to a Navratri evening at anyone's place. I rolled my eyes over and over again, till I felt dizzy!

Now people have shopping festivals and the like... I miss the festivals we once had which were available to everyone... In case you are celebrating it the old fashioned way, do let me know. I promise to behave and will surely sing a song. You can even give a shot at ruffling my hair (not much of it remains). All I want is a golupadi, some sundal, lots and lots of girls in pattu pavadai and a willingness to accept my invitation to visit our golu. Anyone?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Now showing...

Before I get to this post, let me point readers to the conversation on an earlier post and my response to it (for sake of clarifying).

Its been a while since I deliberately watched TV. Passing by the screen on your way to the wash basin or similar activities forgotten in the drudgery of the day, are not counted as watching TV. The past few days found me returning to the TV nearly after a 2-3 year hiatus. I wonder how long this would last! I wanted to share a couple of things that I enjoyed.

Friday night presented "Shadows in the sun" starring Joshua Jackson, Claire Forlani and Harvey Keitel (in the order of appearance). Copyright 2006 The New York Times CompanyThe story had 2 things very appealing to me: it was about the travails of a writer in self-doubt(though not much was discussed about that) and it was set in (ummmmaaaaa) Italy! One thing disappointing was that there was very little of Ms. Forlani (isn't she pretty? And her eyes always seem to laugh whether her lovely lips give her away or not). Whatever there was, was of her in very short shirts and mostly bouncing away on her horses. I liked the lightly paced story and the very convincing portrayal rendered by Harvey Keitel (as the ex-writer Weldon Parish). Joshua is very cute and with that unshaven face, does appear quite sexy (if I may say so). The end was straight out of a fairy tale and goes as predictable as most movie endings go nowadays (am I becoming cynical?). I enjoyed the sunny settings and the very Italian way of living life (I still to find sufficient argument against my opinion that the best of life is packed in the boot shaped land). There are some light moments (like Joshua being thrown into the lake) but it was the dialogue towards the end that I liked (not all of them!). At one point, Weldon Parish says: "You don't choose an art, art chooses you." I liked it because I belong to the old school of thought. :-) I also liked the quite elegant way in which a father doesn't get possessive of his daughter and enjoys her move towards a man (as if that is the one of the most important things for which a daughter is raised).

What is it about standup comedy serials nowadays? Is it just me or are they all getting so predictable? Friends, Seinfeld, Caroline in the City... you name it. The dialogues and jokes are getting so awfully predictable that I fail to laugh anymore. No, seriously, study the dialogues (I realise that studying standup is not really an interesting task) and you will find a pattern: do something, and then do just the opposite to make it appear funny. The typical "What can go wrong now?" prod that humour writers use is starkly visible. I can effortlessly predict the nature of the next shot (maybe not the exact dialogue) and the whole joke is lost. Compare these with pure fun like Tom and Jerry or Calvin and Hobbes. When tom runs around a corner, and Jerry is waiting there with a flat wooden plank to knock him, can you say what will happen? Do you know that Tom will be smacked into the shape of a coffee table with his face as the top? Did you know that he would fly off in the shape of a baseball? Did you expect that his butt and tail would stay stuck to the plank while the top and feet kept running? The possibilities are infinite and hence the novelty of the shows. I don't know, these comedy shows are not really that anymore to me.

© 2006 NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved.Discovery Travel and Living is the best of channels I have ever watched. Nearly each and every show is spectacular, but there was one that caught my eye recently. I hate these American Idol, Indian Icon, Popstar of the Year kinda shows. It is outrightly annoying and such a sham. But this show on D-T&L called The Runway, is very interesting. For one it is about fashion designing and two, the judges are knowledgeable and clear in their decisions (unlike some judges on some shows who stick to being nasty and stupid and think that that is cool). They explain their judging criteria and methodology and I find that very impressive. Since I enjoy designing, I was able to follow the activities of the contestants and was able to reach a judgment on my own before the judges announced theirs. Our judgments matched and that made it appealing to my sensibilities. Its all about theme, stitch, cut, pattern and design. In short, its about work and not people's attitudes and how they respond when they fail and all that bullcrap. Very enjoyable show.

Steamboat. Photo by Ian Wallace (© Viking–Penguin/ABC Books).Cookery shows excite me like no woman does (sorry about that, ladies). The sheer colour, settings and the aroma (what? you can't smell it? :-O ) send me on a high. The shows on D-T&L take the cake but other shows (Zee and Star) are interesting too. I like the sets in which Kylie Kwong cooks. It is so correct for the dish that she prepares and you know she is passionate about the food that she cooks. Unfortunately a lot of it is non-veg, but is sufficient to roll me on my own adventures in the kitchen. One thing that these shows seem to tell me: Never cook by following instructions; let your heart flow. Works well with me! :-)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The inevitable

Swathed in light blue, the skies laughed as God and Devil stepped lightly over the clouds. The nimbus dipped oh-so slightly and spread themselves to grasp the wide feet of the God and Devil. Carpet of the heavens...Have you felt the loveliness of a child's breath on your neck? Have you? You might then share the smile and joyous tears that the nebulous white shed in the sheer bliss of holding the Divine pair. Young thunderclouds flexed their bellies and stitched together frivolous tufts with the needle of the bolt in order to prevent the Pair from falling. The older scanty clouds smiled benevolently at the knowledge that falling and floating were but Divine will. Larks and hawks darted between the fingers of the Devil and the hawk fed on the slower bird on the palm of God. The Devil smiled and the hawk flew away with the remains. The blood mixed only with the rains of the younger clouds. The older clouds knew that none would remain through the distance of space and time to the rock hard earth and let the blood flow through.

It was early noon and the Pair was above the sun. What fed the sun couldn't be affected by it. They were involved in a deep discussion about the inevitable and the cupidity of the human mind to ensure the working of their will.

"Brother, tell me why did you let them think if you never wanted them to will?" asked the Devil. He snapped his fingers around a beam of sunlight and lo! out flew a skylark.
"Isn't it fun to watch them quibble over their petty lives which is but ephemeral? I was afraid someone would read this man's words and start ruining the fun."
"You are at once gracious as you are wicked. No wonder people worship you."
"That is something we will return to on another day, my dearest brother, but why do I sense a tinge of envy in you?"
"Dear brother don't you know that although envy is attributed to my ways, I have no reason to be envious." He smiled and turned around after catching God's frown.
"So in the matter of the inevitable, what is your say?"
"I feel that you create the inevitable, and I create the human will and the human folly is always in pitting the ways of yours with mine and often confusing one for the other."
"Bravo! Bravo! Well said, oh king of the spoken word! In all the kind words that I can utter and in all the truth I might speak, when have my words danced a tango like in yours?"
"And you wonder why I have no reason to be envious?"
"Let us put a human mind to test. Are you interested?"
The Devil saw the setting sun shake its head in despair. How many days had the sun been audience to God's tests? Did the sun shine brightly with the hope of sheltering the ways of the God from the human eye? Such a loyal servant of the God can only redeem such pitiable truths by burning itself and not uttering a single cry, thought the Devil.
"The day is yours, brother. Can Time stop you?"
God swelled with pride and tossed a subservient cloud farther into space where the luscious blue precipitates to darker and gloomier shades.
"Come. Let's go."
As they walked amongst markets full of men and women they watched several people swear by the name of God and curse a shrewd bargainer as the Devil's child. The Pair smiled, but for different reasons.

As they walked past the shops into the settlement along the banks of the Danube, God clapped his hands and every human pair of eyes looked heavenward at the young thunderclouds.
"I know what we'll do. There lives a man and his wife out there. Both of them are known widely for their charitable ways. Its his day today. You know what I mean?" he winked at the Devil. The Devil knew exactly what God had in mind and made his plans accordingly.

God pointed his fingers to the earth and slowly raised a mendicant from his shadow. He breathed over his palm and into the beggar's being. The beggar bowed low and walked towards the hut.
"Let watch the fun now", said God and rubbed his hands in glee.
"I'd prefer sitting on top of the hut and watching it, if that's ok with you."
"Well, I have to be with the beggar, so I'll stay around him on the ground."
The Pair walked their paths but it was never a departure. How can water and wetness be separated?

The beggar walked up to the hut and called out.
"Anyone home to give some food to a hungry beggar?"
Bending under the door of her hut, the lady walked out to see who was calling out to alms.
"Aah! The generous lady of the house is here. My name is Heinrich and while passing through the market filled with stingy devils", and here God looked up to see a non-chalant Devil on the roof, smiling, "I heard great tales about your generosity. Is it true what they say?"
"We offer what we can in the name of the large-hearted God", and it was time for the Devil to look at the guilty frown on the God's face.
"So would you have enough to fill my shirts pockets?"
Frau Oliva looked at his shirt and noticed the shallow pocket with a wide mouth. Half a loaf of bread is all that it can hold, maybe a full loaf, she thought to herself.
"Definitely, Brer Heinrich", she said and turned to re-enter her hut.
"Beware of hollow promises, lady. The God shall take away your husband who is still in the forest and feed him to the wolves, if you go back on your promise."
Frau Olivia shuddered under her skin. How did he know that my husband was away in the forest? He must be very powerful and capable of doing harm to my husband. Let me fill his pocket and see him off.
She returned with two loaves of bread and offered it to him. He grabbed them and stuffed them in his pocket and turned to her.
"What? That is it?"
"No, no Brer Heinrich. I was merely waiting to see how much space was left and what should I bring next."
"Some potatoes would be good."
She rushed in to bring a bushel of potatoes and offered him a handful. He grabbed her basket and stuffed it all in his pocket. He bent over to pick one that had slipped away and stuffed that one too.
"What else do you have to offer?"
She rushed in and brought all the grains, wine and vegetables that she had stacked and he kept piling them all into his pocket, but the pocket would never fill. She went out into the kitchen garden and plucked all the tubers and gourds, even the ones which cried out for some time before the ripen. She rushed back, her hair tousled by the impending misfortune on her husband and her hands trembling under the weight of his imminent death.
"Take all of this, all of this, but please be satiated."
He filed them into his pocket and looked up for more. She sank to the threshold and was the shade of the mercy she sought from the God above.

God smiled at the Devil and spoke in a voice none could hear.

"See? When the inevitable is right before you, the human mind thinks it can still rearrange Fate, rearrange My Will."
Devil smiled and whispered into the woman's ear in a voice which the God couldn't hear.
"You missed looking under the wicker basket."

She looked around startled wondering who spoke to her and decided it was the all knowing beggar. She ran into the hut and tossed the basket aside to find sacks of grain buried in the floor. She cried aloud in happiness and dragged them out to the beggar. He frowned at her but opened his pocket. She poured the grains carefully with the silly fear that a few grains that might fall out would refuse her husband a chance of returning safely. After emptying 6 sacks of grain, the beggar looked up at her with a smile of triumph.

Again the Devil whispered in her ear, and she rushed to the rear of her hut. She founds four cartloads of vegetables. She yoked herself to them and pulled them to where the beggar stood. It is amazing, how a God fearing woman can age in the matter of a few hours, under the pinning thumb of fear.

She emptied them one at a time into his pockets but there was always space for more. She collapsed at his feet and wet his feet with dearly begging tears. God knew that this game that the Devil was playing in response to his would only amount to the wrong person dying tonight. He thought a bit and smiled.

The beggar finally spoke.
"You are indeed generous but my pocket has space for just one pumpkin. Give me the best you have and I shall walk away happily."
She shook her head and her lips scraped the earth for some mercy. The Devil smiled and whispered again. She looked up with some hope and thanked the God for whispering in her ear. The last straw...She dragged her worn self across the ground and pushed the pile of washed clothes out of the basket near the door. There, under the clothes, lay a bright pumpkin. She clutched it to her breast. She dragged herself on her elbows and raised the pumpkin to his pocket. When she was just about to stuff it in, God blew the hair away from her face. Astonished at the amorous act of this beggar, she let the pumpkin slip. It fell into his pocket and tore it apart under its weight. Out spilled all the grain and vegetables that she had poured in generosity.

The beggar stepped back and was trembling in anger.
"So this is how you treat a mean beggar? This is how you wish to show off your well being? What greatness have you gained by ridding a poor man of his only way to carry his mouthful of bread? Arrogance hasn't brought a man to His doorstep. Your arrogance shant bring your husband home."
He spat on the earth and walked away.

A while later amidst the clouds the lark heard its Master's voice.

"As I said, brother, you are at once generous and wicked."

Tell me...

I wonder, as I have little else to do in this wonderful world. I was pondering over the possibilities that are open to a man's character. Reader's opinions are invited (a level between requested and demanded ;-)

A, is an alpha-male. He is physically gigantic and is an achiever. There is nothing that he or the people around him consider impossible for him. He was a wonderful sportsman in his younger days. He was a wonderful businessman and always made the right moves in the market. What he set himself to achieve, he achieved.

A was also a man a great virtue. People knew him to be very generous and kind hearted. He never wronged anyone and held some very solid beliefs. He wasn't very religious, but respected everyone in a manner they should be. He had no apparent weaknesses. He did drink and smoke. About women, no one ever spoke ill of him or even suspected that he might be immoral.

A got himself a wife in an elegant woman from a rich family of kings. Such a woman was she that he was the envy of several cities along every direction of his town. She was very talented and beautiful too. He loved her and took great care of her. He believed in family and respected the institution very much. One day (let's say 20th June 2006) they planned to have a child and went about the usual biology of ensuring one in the wife's womb. Even after his wife dies, he doesn't allow another woman to enter his house.

B, is a woman who is extremely beautiful. Her beauty is unmatched but she is born amongst the servant community of that village. Men would kill for her attention even if it were only for a quick 20 minutes. She knows about her beauty and doesn't resist enjoying the attention of the men she fancies, be it for money or for the sheer joy of knowing that they are her slaves in bed. She undoubtedly believes that she deserves the best amongst men.

My question is: do you conceive the possibility of A slipping to B's charms during the phase (sometime between 15th May 2006 to 15th July 2006) when he is planning a child with his wife and have a one-night's stand with her and impregnate her? Here is a man who has all the respect of the world and holds high values. Do you think he would have slipped? Here is a man who loves his wife so dearly and is currently working with her towards a definitely emotional bond, a child (not sure whether you can imagine the emotional high involved therein). Do you see him slipping? Here is a man who believes in being respectable in society and earning the constant awe of the world, and B belonged to a low class in society. Do you see him slipping and allowing evidence of his mistake (the child that B bears him) exist?

My next, though related, question is: If he still did slip (let us assume that he did sleep with B and impregnated her), do you see B, being the kind of woman that she is, to allow A's child to grow? Do you see her delivering the baby and then vanishing without staking claim to a share in A's life? Esp. after his wife dies (say, she died in the 6th month of pregnancy)? Why would she give up the luxury of a life with him? If all she wanted was more and more men, why would she let his child grow in the first place and jeopardise her beauty as well as several months of no men!?

Given a sketch of both these people, do you think it makes sense if I told you that A had a one-night stand with B and both of them let the child grow within her and be born? Do you see that act (the one-day/noon/night stand) being in accordance with their character and temperament?

Do ponder over this (while I work on another story) and let me know...