Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First Reviews: Tales from the Garden City

The first set of feedback for my book, Tales from the Garden City, has started coming in. Let me share some of them here.

"A story is not just about the literary skills of a writer but her ability to make the reader feel like they are living the scenarios depicted through the course of the story. You have succeeded in presenting a very convincing and visually absorbing kind of story telling. Each story stands on its own and cannot really pick any one as my favourite. The stories prompt us to look at life at a much deeper way, even while each story is presented in the simplest way possible. For people who like to read stories as reflections of life, this is the book to get their hands on...."
- Arun Kunjunny, by mail

"The stories I liked the best are The Well, A Variant Perspective and All in a Day's Work. You have presented the Other Person's views quite well, especially in these stories."
- Mridula Gopakumar, over phone

"While reading thru the stories, something came to my mind. Is there any touch of reality there?
I liked the stories The Well, Rendezvous with Terror, The land of my forefathers, All in a days work, etc.
Its really commendable... that you took pains to do it and focused on it..."
- Manju Sreekantan, by mail

"The stories I liked the most (i) A Variant Perspective (ii) The Well and (iii) In retrospective.
I could feel a level of freshness in your stories and I like the way in which you have carved some of the stories on simple one liners. I did enjoy reading the book and some of the characters refused to leave me for some days."
- Ninan John, by mail

"I liked A Variant Perspective and Premonition the best."
- Prema Itty Eipe, by mail

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The controversial @ShashiTharoor

A few folks up at Twitter must have looked curiously at their hit statistics last week. One million(-ish) new hits would have looked quite ordinary had not all of them come from the same Asian country called India. But the geographical pattern ends there, the pin-points of visits are spread across the sub-continent, and the clicks keep pounding at the rate of one per half-second. Did we do something extra to promote Twitter in India, last week? One of them who was using a magnifier lens would have suddenly sat up and pointed out that majority of the hits are directed towards one user's account. The user name is @ShashiTharoor.

There are a large number of uneducated people in India. Among the educated ones, very few are computer-literate. Among the computer and Internet users, an even lesser percentage are aware of social networking sites and Twitter. But last week, almost one hundred percent of newspaper-reading, computer-illiterate public of India have been introduced to the term 'Twitter', and many of them have been prowling around and wobbling their way across the Tweetland, thanks to Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt of India.

Who is Dr.Shashi Tharoor and why does he find himself so much in the controversy columns of Indian newspapers these days? A year ago, more than half the public of India had not heard his name. A handful who followed his name were aware that he was the Under Secretary General of the UN. That made us quite proud that an Indian has managed to scale such heights. The Malayali-ness of his name brought extra sense of pride to some Malayalis, too. When he left the UN and showed interest in Indian Politics, a few did frown, but most were overjoyed. So much so that his constituency, Thiruvananthapuram (TVM) went to the polling booths in never-before numbers and catapulted him to victory. The path to becoming a Minister was a logical next step and though there were apparently discontented members in the party, his people were happy.

When one basks so much in success, one often misses to see the few disgruntled, faceless entities lurking in the darkness, waiting for a suitable opportunity to trounce him. The Minister started using Twitter to promote his campaign during the election, and apparently got a little carried away by it, like every other user of Twitter, Facebook, Orkut and Blogs. In his eagerness to please his people, - and his eagerness showed when he shed his long comfortable western wear (in which he looked dashing, I may add) and decided to wear desi as long as he is in the country - he was always keeping them abreast of his movements, his work and his travels. It pays to note that he was careful to never give out a bad comment or unpleasant opinion about anyone in his tweets or to give personal comments on anything until his Party/Govt had announced a stand. To be fair to him, his comments are his most frank and careful views on what passes before his eyes, as his 2 lakh and counting (as of now) followers would testify.

It is also true that being new to the Political Scene, he did not completely and easily merge into it and his behaviour was always different from those that we had encountered for a long time. For the people, it was refreshing. For the Government, it was sometimes horrifying and blasphemous. For the Opposition, it was a potential weak-link of the Govt.

No wonder that among his so-called followers there were some who were silently weighing each word he typed and turning them in and out and trying to find different meanings using the Thesaurus. Imagine their unexpected good fortune when the Minister innocently repeated a phrase from a follower's question and answered it - he was trying to show his eager support for his Party's latest stand on Austerity (Another new word that the country has learnt last week!).
"Soup's on!" they cried and splashed it across the newspapers.
"Cattle class?"
"Holy Cow?"
They screamed.
"He is a New Yorker, he does not know the sensitivities of ordinary Indians!"
(Though, if they had really learnt to use the Thesaurus or Wikipedia, they would have realised that there is nothing to howl about.)

He had barely managed to scrape through this controversy, thanks to PM Manmohan Singh laughing it off as 'a joke', and Sonia Gandhi giving a stern warning to the Minister, when he found himself in hot soup again. This time due to the use of the term 'ridiculous' to describe his schedule.
"Have a ridiculously full schedule tomorrow with 17 meetings/engagements. You always pay a price when u come back from a trip."

"He is mocking his schedule! He is laughing at his work!" they said. There they go again, groaned his followers (and maybe he himself). Fortunately for him, this did not seem to have caught fire, and it died down as soon as it sparked (I sure hope so, maybe I speak too soon!).

There are many others - intellectuals, journos and the like - who have not voiced disagreement with Dr.Tharoor's tweets, but who would prefer to tread carefully to avoid stepping on anyone's toes. Their message to him is "Tweet less, work more." Though Dr.Tharoor has not directly replied to any of these comments as far as I know, I believe he would say, "Can one not do both?" An ordinary voter like me does not know what a Minister of State for External Affairs is supposed to be doing. He is expected to travel a great deal, meet a lot of people, have a handful of meetings and come back home once in a while? He does all that; is he not doing his work? He is new to this, for God's sake. Let's show him some patience and trust.

One cannot say that all these controversies have not affected him. He sure seems to have, consciously or not, reduced his tweets considerably.

Ah, the woes of Democracy!

Friday, September 25, 2009

TVM diaries: Water crisis

I am sure every adult goes through a stage, once every few years, of looking around at his/her hometown and sighing, "How my Town has changed!" I guess my grandparents must have (though in their days the differences must have been less pronounced), I know my parents have, and now I do. Sometimes the changes are very welcome, and sometimes not so much.

A few years ago, my Father told me about a senior colleague of his, who did not belong to Kerala but loved it very much, who was asked what he liked best about Trivandrum. He got up, opened the tap, drank some water from his cupped hands and said, "Where else can you drink such pure and tasty water directly from the tap?"

When we were children, we used to drink water from the tap - there was no concern about its 'purity', it was the purest one could find on Earth. There were no water cans to hold water in case of a scarcity. In fact there was no such thought as "water scarcity." When we read about drought in the newspapers, we did not understand what drought meant.

Those days are long gone. Water that was always taken for granted, is a scarce, precious resource. We do not drink directly from the tap any more, we need to filter and purify it first. Late last night, I noticed that there was no water in the direct connection tap (we had to resort to the tank-connection) I asked my Mother if it was because the main water supply line from Aruvikkara was burst a day ago. She said, No, direct water comes only some time late into the night, and stops in the morning. So, all through the day, she uses the water from the tank. The tank is large enough to hold water for an entire day (or more if required). To think that ten years ago, we did not even have a tank. It was built only as normal life became difficult when water stopped coming in the mornings.

There are a lot of good things happening in TVM - developments, progress, technological advances, etc. etc. But some of the little luxuries are disappearing as well. We live with it, we find ways to get around their absence but still somewhere inside we feel, aren't we losing something precious?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TVM diaries: TVM Airport

I love Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum / TVM) airport. It is small, cosy and has a homely feel to it. The airport terminal is a small building, with "Arrival" on one side and "Departures" on the other. With a few planes on one side and mundu-wearing public at the other.

I use the word homely with a purpose. I doubt if there are many other airports (of course, my knowledge of airports is limited to TVM, Kochi, Bangalore and Mumbai) where your aircraft glides right to the doorstep of the "Arrival" Terminal, you step out from it and take five steps to reach the sole luggage conveyor belt, collect your bag and turn around to face the sliding Exit doors. Nothing could be simpler. And when I compare this with the new Bangalore International Airport (inaugurated last year) where we have to ride a few kilometers by bus to reach the terminal, walk miles inside the terminal to reach the conveyer belt, and look around for "Exit" signs to find the escape route, this is Simplicity itself. Speaking of Bangalore International Airport, it has a past too, the old HAL airport was almost as small and homely... but I do not intend to digress.

One would find it difficult to believe that this little airport I just sketched out for you has an "International" to its name, (as in "Trivandrum International Airport") and, as per statistics from the Internet, is the second busiest airport in Kerala. I just heard that the terminal is coming of age - to try to do justice to the 'International' in its name - there is a new, big terminal under construction, and a state-of-the-art runway getting ready for the International traffic. Soon the facet of the airport will change, this could as well be the last time I am seeing my favourite little airport as it is now.

And the landing at TVM? Ah, the landing! You would not want to miss it for the world. If you have a weekend to spare, try visiting TVM. Just land, and take off in the next flight. Breath-taking is too mild a term to describe the landing. (I admit that I may be biased in my recommendation, one always finds one's hometown breathtaking, no matter what.) If you have more days to spare, you would like to visit a few places - but I warn you, the heat that hits you right in your chest could make your knees buckle.

I tried to find some good snaps of TVM International airport in the Net, but could not. If you have access to any, do leave them here as links/comments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I got Gifts!

How many gifts can one handle in two days? Last week, I received the following gifts from two very special people and you can imagine how excited I was!

First, I got an unexpected parcel from my friend anupsar.

It was yummy and we were sorry when it got over!

She also sent me a Pierre Cardin pen.

Thanks a lot, Anu! It meant a great deal to me!

Peg sent me this gift for winning her June contest. The snap does not do justice to the earrings, they are lovely! Thanks a lot, Peg.
You should visit her site and read her experiences with jewellery and weaving and a lot more (with pictures!)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Long weekend!

Holidays have a pace of their own.
When you look at them eagerly ahead from a working day through a zoom lens, they appear magnified, as though they have 32 or 40 hours per day. We plan a million things for the day(s). It is only when we reach them that we realise that holidays have even lesser hours than a normal day.

This weekend is quite long in this part of the world. Friday was Mahalaya Amavasya and today, Monday, is Eid. Many of the schools have closed for Dussehra vacation, my son's school closes on wednesday (for ten days).

Last week, when I remembered that this weekend is going to be this long, I had made innumerous plans - in my ToDo list. Now three days are almost over and my ToDo list remains almost the same. A few items ticked off here and there, but on the whole, a great deal left intact.

Where do the hours go?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thoughts for the weekend

1. My Father's advices and my Mother's home remedies seemed so incredulous and insignificant in my childhood, now I find I rely on them more than ever.

2. Little kids are very smart, because they pick up everything learnt by their parents and grandparents by the time they are five.

3. I am glad of all the afflictions I suffered from in my childhood, for it helps me to understand what my son goes through in his days of illness.

4. When the traffic signal is green, the vehicles coming from miles away pick up speed trying to hop the light before it turns red.

5. The thought that you have nothing to lose gives you the motivation to do your best.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Book has arrived

My book on display at Gangaram's, Bangalore

At last I am getting somewhere. And I feel great.

My book, Tales from the Garden City, is up for sale at Gangaram's, M.G. Road, Bangalore. And a consignment is on its way toward Landmark, Forum Mall. Yes, you heard right. The same Landmark, Forum, that has provided me all the books that I have read (and reviewed) in the last one million years.

Is there anything more that I can wish for? Hmmm... yes. That my book would sell. That people would read it. That they would like it. And so on. Nothing more.
Bas itna sa khwab hai

Bangaloreans, feel free to check it out from Gangaram's or Landmark. Non-Bangaloreans are welcome to check it out here.

Update: The pictures above were taken from Gangaram's Book Bureau, MG Road yesterday and added after this post was published.

Update 2: I am told that the books will also be available in Crossword and Shankar's, but only in a month's time.

Be Cool

"Be Cool !"

If I hear that phrase one more time I may murder the speaker! I have warned my friends already.

For one thing, it is so much overused that it makes me want to hit my head against the wall whenever I hear it. For another, some people use it at the most needless places, where "be cool" is the last thing one should be saying.

There are several words that have, over the years, crept into the English language to give birth to a new version called "Indian English". Apart from them, there are phrases that are used to the point of exhaustion, whose existence cannot be justified even by the term 'Indian'. "Be cool" is comparatively quite harmless except when the listener is someone like me who has an obvious aversion to being cool (or compares oneself already cool and cannot be cooler).

The following are some wrongly used phrases that have penetrated deep into the English speaking minds of India, that even the most educated of all are at the risk of getting infected.

1. "One of my friend" is a software engineer.
[One of my friends]

2. "I could not able to" locate the issue.
['I was not able to'
'I could not']

These are just a few samples of the so-called Indian English. I will list more as and when I remember or encounter them! If you recall any, do share them here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Old friends

It is always a pleasure to run into old friends. More so when it happens after a gap of 7-8 years, and we have lost touch so much that we barely recognise each other, and haltingly ask 'if you are she?'

It happened to me at Bangalore International Airport the day I returned from Kerala. We were waiting for the baggage to arrive and I was seated with Munnu asleep in my arms. The turbulent weather had made us all rather queasy and we were glad to be on terra firma again. A woman carrying a child walked towards me and entered the room behind my seat. When I saw her, I was immediately reminded of an old friend, who, when I heard last, was settled in Bangalore. Could it be she? But she had glanced at me and looked away. I considered going in to the room. Just then she came out and I seized the moment to ask, "Are you S-?" She turned around at the question and immediately recognised me. Whew.

I am glad that I did not suppress the urge to ask, to confirm that it was indeed she. Had I not spoken up, I would have missed the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and would forever have regretted it.

Sometimes we are given a moment to make a choice, perhaps nothing significant or huge, but important nonetheless. At times we let it slip by, and wonder, "What would had happened if I... ?" But then there is no going back to correct it. I know that a small chance encounter does not warrant this much of philosophy, but for a long time afterwards, I felt really content that I had not let the opportunity slip by.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Greatest Love of All

A Mother's courage and love for her child often takes the weirdest shapes. When the whole world is against her child, she would find ways to protect him. When the world starves, she alone would find food for him. When the world keeps her from her child, she would devise methods to reach him. And when the world decides to destroy him, she would send him to a safe and certain death with her own hands, to save him from the world. Such is the love of a Mother, and as such is the greatest love of all.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Glimpses of God's Own Country - during Onam (part II)

In the previous post, I shared some snaps from Ernakulam and the road to Kottayam. Here are the remaining snaps, from Kottayam to Thiruvananthapuram. Please read the captions below each snap. (As before, many of the road snaps were taken from a moving car, so the quality may not be excellent.)

I wanted to capture a beautifully illuminated shop at Kottayam, but a bus got in the way. Then I spotted this coconut tree and tried to shoot it instead. I know it doesn't look great, but this was the best of three attempts - it was late evening, and we were in the middle of crawling traffic, and unable to stop for a snap.

Josco, Kottayam - on the other side of the coconut tree. Same condition as above.

It was raining the entire week, almost non-stop. Here Munnu stands getting drenched, wondering whether to continue or come into the house. He finally took off his clothes and took a bath in the rain. Ah, the joys of childhood!

Onassadya - the lunch, in traditional style, on banana leaves.

This monkey loves mango trees!

We encountered a khoshayatra on Avittam day, and the 'deer' came to make friends with Munnu.

Munnu and his grandpa at Shanghumugham beach (Thiruvananthapuram.) The only thing that Bangalore lacks is a beach!

The sea was rough - the tide was high, it was noon-time and the day of the full moon.

Munnu tasting sea water!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Glimpses of God's Own Country - during Onam (part I)

Here are some of the snaps from our trip to Kerala last week. Do read the captions below each. (Most of the road snaps were taken from the car, and hence lack clarity.)

Oberon Mall at EKM

Had to capture this hoarding on the roadside. But could not manage to avoid the electric lines!

The writing on the auto (pic taken from the car) says, "Roadside Friend"

Ernakulam - Kottayam Road

As we passed a bridge...

Couldn't resist this - looked very colourful!

Ernakulam - Kottayam Road

View from another bridge

We managed to meet King Mahabali and an elephant on the way. Munnu was excited ! The elephant isn't real, by the way - though the King is. Both were advertising "Archana Textiles."

More snaps in the next post...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thoughts for the weekend

1. Someone once told me, If you can't beat them, laugh at them.

2. If creativity wakes you up at night, get up and create.

3. I am happy that sometimes my son does not listen to me and adamantly keeps up after what he wants to do - because at the end of it he emerges having learnt to do something by himself.

4. There is a good amount of (bad amount, more like) road rage gallivanting around the streets today. And it is not going to do any good to anyone.

5. If you want something very badly, keep up after it for hours, days and weeks on end. By all theories of probability, persistence and coincidence, you will finally get at least a slice of what you wanted. The magic words are "keep up after it" and "at least a slice."

(Pre-scheduled post)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Thiruonam. The most important festival of Malayalis, celebrated across Kerala irrespective of religion or caste.

Most of the major festivals in India have more than one story associated with them. Onam is one of the festivals which have only one legend describing it. The banishment of the good King Mahabali of Kerala by Lord Vishnu and his arrival every year to see his citizens. Gods are sometimes unfair to man, in the name of fulfilment of their dharma.

Not a Malayali?
Read this website for the story of Onam.

(Pre-scheduled post)