Tuesday, April 4

Smiley Faces

A small room.
An absurdly minuscule kitchen.
Rows of vessels of different textures winking in the light.
Barani jars of mango pickles made in 4 ways.
Cylindrical aluminium patrams packed with the summer's quota of vadaam.
Stainless steel ones, some of which reveal home-made thattai, thengoyl and cheedai, if you're lucky. 
A stone grinder-mortar-pestle that weighs a ton and hasn't moved in years.
An ancient fridge in repose.
A large drum of water.
The floor of greenish tile.

On which a little boy sits cross-legged.
The small plate before him full of ice-cold mor-chadam.
Separated into morsels with his fingers.
Scooped up and held aloft. Waiting.
For his grandmother to smile and churn the vettal-koyambu with a karandi.
And let a few drops fall into the waiting palm.
Over and over.

What do we call this confluence of hot & cold, tangy & mild, solid & liquid?
This quiet intimacy of a mealtime ritual between a pati and her peran.
Every moment as delicious as the next.

A childhood pleasure. 
   
Song for the moment: Crazy - Ray Lamontagne (Original by Gnarls Barkley)

Tuesday, March 21

Think

They say you learn something new every day. 
They never tell you that every lesson isn't easy.
That some are hard to understand the first time.

And, many we never notice.

I learned something from a house plant. It was an innocuous specimen. Maroon and emerald shot through the veins of each large leaf. Packed in a plastic pouch, it stayed in a corner of the house till we could find a pot for it. Since our gardener had gone missing, it was left to me to figure out the details.

A year later, I was puzzled by the plant's stubborn refusal to grow. No new leaves, no increase in height, nothing. As if it were sulking. So, using a sickle, I gently dug around the roots, hoping to give it some air. And hit something that definitely wasn't organic. Further investigation led me to discover a minuscule plastic bucket-like contraption encasing the feeble roots. Completely covered in mud, it had cunningly masqueraded as a clod a year earlier and escaped scrutiny. I snipped the abominable piece off and re-potted the plant. Watered it, uttered a silent prayer (more of a cajoling threat, really) and mooched off.

Two weeks is all that plant needed. Freed of the choking plastic, it's now bursting with leaves and is even putting out a few tentative new tendrils. This episode made me think about how some people never seem to reach the dazzling heights of success/living we think they're destined for. Maybe they have some invisible collars choking them. Maybe we all do. And, perhaps it's time to examine, excavate and get rid of whatever is shackling us.

Easier said than done?

Song for the moment: Iron Sky - Paolo Nutini

Wednesday, January 4

These boots are made for walkin'

Today, I returned a pair of leather boots. And felt wonderful.

I don't know when I quietly began adjusting to shoes and clothes. A number of shirts and trousers in my wardrobe are a shade baggy. While I have no fanciful notions about tight tees and jeans that seem painted on (still don't get the point of slim fits), I am certainly not fond of garments billowing like the Spanish Armada either. Yet, anyone with reasonable vision only needs to glance in my direction to understand that I don't wear clothes as much as they envelop me. Shirts that are an inch too long. Trousers waists with interesting drag coefficients that cling limpet-like for dear life to various belts. And then, there's my ancient nemesis - shoes.

To say that I have a difficult relationship with shoes is like saying ice cubes have a troublesome time with heat. It's practically an independent branch of the occult arts. Take me to a shoe store. Ask me to pick a shoe. Then ask the sales chappie who has oiled over to find it in my size. He will confidently tell his junior associate (Raju, Chottu, Munna, etc.) to find it in the storeroom. I will spend the time perfecting my Dalai Lama expression. The rummaging will begin energetically and noisily enough. Within a minute though, it will begin to tail off until there is complete, sepulchral silence, so thick that Agatha Christie could easily slather generous portions of it onto her books. Said junior associate will then peep out of the storeroom, the light of defeat shining brightly and announce what I've known all along - it's not available in my size.

The salesman will smile helplessly. I will smile back. Full of desperate hope, he will suggest another shoe, something way more expensive and equally hideous. I'll look at the price tag, feel my kidney, then shrug and refuse. The salesman will let out a sigh and tootle off to his corner from where his eyes will then follow me as I root around the store, looking for something to salvage the day. 9 times out of 10, I won't find anything. On the 10th occasion, I'll discover another bearable option and we'll get back on the merry-go-round. It never fails.

In college, I realised life was not going to be kind to me in the shoe department. I'd spotted a pair of Reebok sneakers somewhere and decided to purchase them. The Camp store had them all right. In a bigger size. I bought them, brought them home and wore them. My mother dryly observed that I was a shoo-in (hehehe) for Clown College. Chastised, I returned them, hunting and haunting the J.M and F.C Road branches for a month before I found them in my size. Of course, they weren't available in the colour I wanted. I bought them anyway.

I had taken my first, inauspicious step on my shoe journey. It has left me footsore. Every now and then, I'll give in to a moment of weakness and order a pair online or try it in-store. And quietly return the pair the following day, promising to bring my optimism to heel. But it would seem there is still a sliver of hope buried deep within my sole. How else can I explain my recent interest in a pair of leather boots? It was sheer lunacy. But I bought them (in the smallest size available) anyway. The moment I slipped my foot in, I knew massive fuck-up-ery had happened again. They didn't fit right and were god-awfully uncomfortable. Rather like walking with a pair of weights tied to my feet. Weights that bit into my heels. It was a day of misery.

As I plodded home last night, wincing with every step, I thought about the stupidity of the situation. Here I was, an adult, making independent choices on a daily basis. Was I actually trying to convince myself that the pain and discomfort were worth it? I got home and eased the shoes off. The flood of relief that washed over me was, well... beyond words. Right then, it struck me - I didn't have to suffer this. The shoes could be returned. Life is too short to put up with, adjust to, compromise on many many things. I've started with shoes. What about you?

Song for the moment: I walk the line - Johnny Cash         

Monday, January 2

Break it down again

Lots of people would say the changing of the year is an artificial construct and serves no purpose. Part of me agrees.

Another part of me is flipping those people the bird. In the greater scheme of things, maybe there's nothing great about going from December to January, 6 to 7. In the greater scheme of things though, nothing really matters.

The changing of the year allows us to drop anchor. Close doors. Turn the page. It helps fool our minds. Considering how dangerously powerful the brain is, that's a good thing. Otherwise, what's stopping us from giving up? From staying on the stationary bicycle of bad habits, pedalling away to nowhere?

We / I need the changing of the year to want to make some difference in my life too. I'm not saying this will be the year I meet the girl of my dreams, come up with the kick-ass, award-winning ad campaign and finally achieve a measure of sustained satisfaction. But I want to try. And, if the new year is what it takes to fool myself that I can change myself and taste even a sliver of the cheese cake of happiness, why not?

2016 showed me a few things. About work, love, luck, foolishness and even making plans. Whether I learn anything from the milestones of the last year is something to see.

Sometimes, the main road was so damn smooth, I rode right past interesting side lanes.
Which was stupid.


Sometimes the dreams were so beautiful, waking up was the last thing on my mind.
Which was a pity.


But all that is history. Or so I like to tell myself. Either way, 2017 deserves a fair chance. All I can do is unfurl the sails and hope for fair winds and smooth seas. And the strength to endure.

Better new year everyone.

Song for the moment: Mad World - Tears for Fears / Paul Kalkbrenner Remix

Saturday, December 3

Lonely Fire

"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." - Khmer Rouge

People at work think I'm crazy. Not the "let's avoid this geezer, he makes strange jokes, giggles at inappropriate times, probably has a head in a jar at home" mad. More the "why does this asshole care?" insane.

It's true. I do care. Heck, I'm a completely different person in the office. I openly admit I'm an ogre. A miserable, grumpy bastard. It's not even like I want to be that way. I actually am quite cheerful and foolishly optimistic on Mondays. After my first coffee of course. Let's not get stupid. I look at my job-list and think "What can we do here?" Every week, I do this even though I am a raging monster, lashing out at all and sundry by Friday. Why?

Because I am passionate about the nuances of my work. The creative, psychological, witty aspects, sure. Most people in advertising are. But also the dull stuff like meeting deadlines, wanting to spend time at work working at ideas. At the craft of writing. And it frustrates me no end when my colleagues spend their days gossiping, browsing bloody FB and just generally wiling the time away time. Wasting it, rather. It's like watching water being poured away into sand.  

Yet I can't blame them. We're a remarkably gloomy species. There are too many things that are structurally fucked up and we, the foot soldiers, bear the brunt of it all. Many an upper management butterfly flaps its wings and the tsunamis appear in our lives. Whether it's ridiculously lazy strategies, self-defeating client servicing or half-baked, peculiar creative stuff, it's pretty rusted across the chain.

Who the hell keeps reiterating that advertising is a wonderful, satisfying and fun industry? If we ever ran into the fuckers who say this, we'd tear them limb from limb. We aren't having fun. We're getting beaten up, slowly and methodically. And, there comes a point in every boxing match when the loser knows it. The moment when he stops competing and starts waiting for the sound of the bell, praying that he can make an exit covered by a smidgeon of self-respect. Most of the people I know have reached this point.

One friend is quitting the planning department because she is tired of fighting her boss. Tired of knowing she is right and that her boss is wrong. That the person who is supposed to inspire her, teach her and help her, is essentially a successful fraud whom no one calls out. That the supposed briefs they send out aren't worth the paper they're printed out on.

There are countless folks in client servicing who are tired of fighting the client. Tired of the mindless, MBA-brandishing brand managers, wet behind the ears but arrogant enough to think they know everything. Who incessantly plague the servicing people with feedback that would make an idiot blush and deadlines which have no meaning.

And the creative teams, most of who wouldn't recognise inspiration if it were blowing them. The less said the better.

I'm telling you - ply the lot of us with enough booze and you'll uncover enough rancour to put us on a saline drip of Valium and Prozac. At the least, most of us would be locked up in a good sized psych ward on a temporary basis.

Amidst all the broken-hearted surviving we do on a daily basis, there's senior management and their machinations. Having seen it at every place I've worked, I was reminded of the Khmer Rouge's chilling words. Make no mistake, I am not disrespecting the victims of the KR. I'm saying the same callous philosophy, watered down, is at work in every office and every agency. Most of us know the feel of it. The only thing we don't do is put it into words. That would make it more real than we could bear.

Song for the moment: Body and Soul - John Coltrane 

Friday, November 11

A singer must die

A good friend sent me a message today.
Which said that Leonard Cohen had died.
I stared and stared till my knees trembled.
Then I sat down and cried.

I shed some tears for that fine mind.
And some for that voice so deep.
Some for the simple beauty of his words.
They're all we have left and it made me weep.

Then I gathered up the pieces of me.
And left home, lost and grim.
Something has changed forever.
This world is poorer without him.

We'll carry on without you, Leonard.
We'll shoulder our burdens again.
We'll listen to your songs over and over.
And one day, they'll dissolve the pain.

Rest in peace old man.
Though you've left me a little broken.
I'll never write as well as you, perhaps.
But maybe, you'll look kindly upon this token.

Tuesday, November 1

Liquid Spirit

My blogging schedule is somewhat akin to what regularly used to happen to friends on bike trips. Like their rides, the year started decently enough and I averaged a steady 2 posts a month. Which, considering my 'dull-as-ditchwater' life, is awesome. Then the wheels came off in August (like a Bullet's silencer on one ride) and there just wasn't anything to write about. Nothing cheerful anyway, and my loyal readership of one hinted strongly that I should put a sock in the melancholy blathering. So that was that.

But Diwali happened and it's given me an excuse to pen this.

I like Diwali. The goodwill, warm wishes and hope for the new year affects even a curmudgeon like me, so there's some mighty powerful waves floating around I reckon. The sibling and I gave up on the dreadful Tamil Diwali custom of waking up at dawn for an oil bath many years ago and our parents got the message. Of course, the fact that we'd get to burst firecrackers and eat like starving animals right after was awesome, but the enthusiasm wore out. I used to love having legiyum (and it is yum indeed) before pigging out shamelessly on Thattai, Thengol, Nada, Mixture, Ribbon Pakoda and what have you, right around breakfast time.

Used to is about right because nowadays I feel blessed to even get legiyum. See, the art of making Diwali snacks has evaporated in my family. Most of the women are now elderly or unenthusiastic, preferring to buy it outside. And who could blame them? It was a heck of a lot of work to begin with. And I can't imagine how galling it must have been for the ladies to see their backbreaking efforts scarfed down along with hot coffee by the clueless, lazy men of the house without so much as a smidgeon of gratitude.

Also, with expanding waistlines and lungs that feel like leaky bellows, we've become health-conscious, which is a polite way of calling ourselves boring. So, nowadays most of our efforts are geared towards distributing whatever dreadful sweets we get somewhere else, faster. Like dealing cards at Rummy, we just shuffle all the boxes and start handing out stuff.

We stopped bursting firecrackers years ago too. Don't get me wrong. Unlike much of 'Hysterical Twitter', I like 'em. Fountains, rockets and the colourful stuff, mainly. I never could enjoy the noisy ones. But the sibling and I felt strongly about the issue of child labour and simply quit one year, much to our poor father's confusion. However, he eventually cottoned on to the fact that it meant massive savings and no more was said about it. We dutifully tried to enthuse ourselves about getting new clothes. It's a lovely custom, but the charm is that of another age. Back when we were middle-class poor, new clothes were rare, reserved for birthdays, the arrival of generous relatives and Diwali. Now, we're blessed to be better off and pick up clothes whenever we want so don't feel the need for a special occasion. Though I still am very careful to make my clothes last for years. Some things, you just don't forget.

10 years ago, our lives changed forever. So did Diwali. I don't know how or why, but the onus fell on me to do something in the festive season. I made sure the brass lamps were washed with tamarind a couple of days ahead. I learned to trim the wicks, placed them in diyas around the house and lit them along with the sibling. It's the only thing we do for Diwali. 5 days a year, we try to embrace the spirit of togetherness. It's also a way for us to signal the heavens. That the years may go by, furniture may be different, kitchen get remodeled multiple times and rooms get exchanged. But there will always be a light on in the window. For her.

Besides, who can argue with the loveliness that is the light of a simple lamp on a moonless Diwali night? It truly is symbolic. Darkness is always around. But all it takes is a little crack in our veneer of cynicism for the light to get in.

Here's wishing you a wonderful festival of lights.

Song for the moment: Idea Spiral - Cell (Ozora Festival Edit)