Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pune X'mas

This was my first Christmas away home. And this was one of the most memorable Christmases I had. More than 1000 km away from home I had celebrated my Christmas with three others who I used to meet every Christmas in our small village Seetha Mount. During most of such holiday seasons there, we visited each other’s home. We Shibin, Riya, her younger sister Unni and I have got such a wonderful and longstanding connection which dates back to our ‘Kalari’ days. May be, even beyond that.

There will be an ominous factual error if I say Shibin, Riya, my brother Manjush and I sat on one bench in our kalari (the country side kindergarten) because we did not have bench there. I don’t even remember whether we bothered to sit anywhere those days. But in Sunday classes we had benches. There we led a formidable rebel gang till we ourselves got sick of those shadow fights with our own neighbours who disguised as do-gooder teachers for a few hours on Sundays. But in our school (a good 6 km daily walk, to and fro) we were all studious, purposeful and relatively well-mannered favourite pupils.

Now, a decade later, whenever all of us get together I feel proud. Because the connecting thread of friendliness is still as alive as in the boyhood days and we all have thankfully travelled far beyond the muddy roads, `kammanist’ bushes and pepper wines of our distant village. A software engineer, a bio tech scientist, a business executive and a journalist.

About eight months back, when software engineer (shibin) married scientist (riya), it was a big celebration time for all of us. Now they hosted me for Christmas in their Pune house, three hours away from the Mumbai suburb where I live. We had midnight mass, cake, wine and loads of beef, quite in our traditional style.

Father's pork fry

Another Christmas in my memory is when I was in fifth standard. Mother was bed-ridden with a typhoid attack and father prepared pork fry for us. It was one of the most delicious pork fry dishes I ever had. It was a lovely Christmas because we rarely found him so ‘homely’ those days.

Easter in Indian Coffee House

An Easter six years ago brings humorous memories of those days when we were deep in romance with penury. (Not a choice but an imposition of course). It must be my first Easter away home. Caught in the film festival fever, we, three student journalists bunked Easter at home and stayed back in Thiruvananthapuram. In between Gloomy Sunday, To The Left of The Father, Taxi and Posthumous Memoirs we had our Easter lunch in the Indian Coffee House near KSRTC Bus Stand Thampanoor. With the yummy nostalgia of a minimum of three non-veg dishes at home, we happily shared one plate beef which then cost Rs.10.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


It is a good time of reading. However it is far from catching up with all the relevant stuff being poured in. Yet, my theory is that one should be satisfied if he is lucky enough to have a fairly good reading of two newspapers daily, one or two periodicals a week and a novel to rely on during the free hours. At the moment I am happy.

Green debate

What does dominate the newspaper space these days? In my opinion, it is ‘global warming’. Be it pink or white. For us, the lay readers, the transcript of the Walk the Talk with Montek Singh Ahluvaliah, appeared a few weeks before in Indian Express was very enlightening. He exposes the absurdity behind the West-US combine’s argument for emission reduction. That developed countries will reduce emission by 80 percent and developing countries 20 percent.

The fact is that this proposal is still tilted in favour of the most industrialized nations which have been emitting green house gases for about 150 years. He argues for a per capita approach in estimating pollution which will show that developed countries’ emission level is four times higher than ours. 'Everyone in the world should have an equal carbon footprint. Pollution per person should be equalised', says Montek.

Welcome Rudd

One positive development in the world politics is the election of 50-year old Kevin Rudd as Australia’s new prime minister. His ratification of Kyoto Protocol, isolating US in their arrogant defiance against mandatory emission cut, is a sign of promise. In US presidential run, all candidates are on back foot when they are asked about their commitment towards emission cut. In Al Gore, we missed a great American President.

I had a sudden disappointment to read Chavez can’t contest in the next poll because I believe we need him for some more time. I have been noticing him since his G77 chairmanship. He caught the imagination of every one who retains little bit of socialist sentiments with them. Yet, his bid for constitutional reform was ambitious and far-fetched. In a way, it is good that he bowed to democratic pressures; because absolute power leads to absolute corruption.

Putin personified confidence and a nation’s resurgence. However, the story of he sitting on a huge empire of parallel wealth aroused curiosity.

Modi and a few questions

Back home, things seem to be disillusioning, for all humanists. Modi’s landslide victory on the back of lies, murders, hatemongering and demagogue exposes Congress weakness than his skillfulness. A ‘Maut Ke Saudagar’ attribute to Modi in front of a crowd which is largely insensitive to communal killings apparently had no appeal. Though, the Indian liberal elite cheered Sonia.

Congress should have first created an environment that is receptive to the ideas of secularism, peace, brotherhood and love before going on offensive against Modi for his excesses. Such build-up was not there. The Congress network was practically absent in entire Gujarat while Modi was ruling the roost. An organizationally weak party can hope nothing but to remain a meek opposition.

Modi’s observation on Gujarat Pradesh Congress allows a glimpse at this man’s incisiveness. He was correct in saying that “the local team of Congress was a complete disappointment as opponents” (ToI, Dec 26). “Congress lost election much before election. It should have played an aggressive opponent from the beginning. It could have occupied the entire opposition space. But it didn’t do what any opposition is required to do”. The post-election performance analysis for Congress was also done by Modi.

The vigour shown by English print media was not seen in Congress’ attack on Modi. Among all the write-ups condemning the hate politics practiced by Modi, I liked ‘Why Modi must go’ by Shiv Visvanathan (Indian Express, Dec 14).

In spite of all sincere efforts to evoke the conscience of the electorate, Modi emerged more powerful, a challenge yet to be effectively dealt with by the liberal India. Modi’s success also points to the little influence India’s liberal elite has in its mass politics.

The best election reporting I spotted was Varghese K. George’s coverage of Modi’s speech. Reporting a speech can at times excel all the labourious political analysis we do.
‘In 30 minutes, Modi names himself 29 times, BJP 6, and in slip asks: me as PM?’

The megalomaniac shade of Modi, repeating his name in every 60 seconds, his intention to outgrow his own party and an indomitable secret desire to conquer Delhi, everything is best explained in Modi’s own words.

Monday, December 24, 2007


When giving it a title, an alternative idea was ‘tale of two break-ups’. To be autobiographical, I had two affairs in the last 27 years on earth. Both were short-lived. Given their brief existence, one would even wonder whether they qualify to be called ‘love’.

My first love, which the later years taught me, was an adolescent infatuation, collapsed in a month’s time while the second one (so far the last), which happened many years later, was a one-week wonder. Both were followed by years-long emotional trauma and persistent sense of defeat. Both had left me all the more lovesick.

These days I have reasons to be reminded of my former loves. There have been intermittent visits of sweetness and bitterness from the bygone years. Other than a lot of private time and lonelydom, what did induce the revisits of good and bad feelings which were lying dormant deep within the heart? It is the queer connection between them, other than their premature end: both my former girls, months older than me, are going to get married in the space of a fortnight.
If this logistical constraint was not there, I would have been a definite presence in one of their weddings while I am the least expected for the other one.

Nine years after the departure, which always left me wondering why it happened, I met my first love some time back. By the time, for me it was a thing of past to which I have developed an effortless indifference. But the frank admission that there was a vain hope of a re-union and an enduring fondness gave me a soothing shower in my love-starved pursuit along the dreary desert.

We wished good things to each other. A relation passed through the phases of painful breakup, absolute silence and indifference finally turned into an innocent friendship. (To describe a man-woman relationship, `friendship’ is the shallowest word, but I find no substitute here). She will ever be a good friend.

But all is not sweet with the later one, a storm that came and gone, that left the clich├ęd ‘trail of destruction’ at the fag end of my student life; a one week rollercoaster. It inflicted a deep hurt within me. More than the shattered promise of a romantic deluge what kept my hardfeelings always awake was its ruthlessness. The usage 'rocking the boat by doubling its speed,' in a novel reminded me of that damning pace followed by a head-on hit. I was reading that novel while savouring the bitter after taste of the lovewreck. It quoted Oscar Wilde to say "Love begins with deceiving oneself and ends with deceiving the other".

However, both the brief encounters with this magic thing you all call ‘love’ had given me a wealth of experience; an ability to be self-analytical and a gift for character study. And a relevant observation about my self – I love and I hate, with utmost sincerity.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My new world

My dear friend,

Hope you are doing well. One month away from your active circle, a sense of dejection has crept in that I am slowly sliding into obscurity. Of course, I am fighting obscurity on a different plane as well, you know it.

Then Manu, baffled by the big city, writes to you. To begin with, Mumbai was not the city in my dreams. It was Delhi, the centre of power where every aspiring political journo want to be. If there was a second preference, it was Bangalore, the global gateway, which is six-seven hours away from pristine Wayanad woods. Then where did Mumbai figure in? I don't know. The pulls and pressures of life, ambition and anxiety; I landed in Mumbai Mahanagar of Money and Masala.

But, honestly I can tell you, I started loving this city. The reason is simple, personal and practical: I see an obvious improvement in the comforts of life I am enjoying. I only wish, it must not be a passing fad, a honeymoon excitement about which I made a loud comment, quite impulsively. Given the minimal means on which I have lived so far, the comforts which the new job offers me is something good.

In the first fortnight I was living on the upstairs of the office building. Day begins with a cup of hot filter coffee on your bedside and three newspapers. And the rare privilege of walking down to the office. Everything was good except the feeling that the days in this plush apartment are numbered. As in most other cases, the dwelling place also came my way when I was heading a different direction, a hostel accommodation. But a much cheaper and comfortable option of renting an apartment just came across.

A BHK flat to be shared with another malloo in an entirely different profession, an hour of train journey to office, an option to cook; there was no reason to reject it. In certain ways, I became lazier than I was, it has just become impossible to wake up before nine. By 11, I will catch the train. At 12, when I reach office, I will be the early bird. Trains are overcrowded. But in most cases, this non-peak hour commuter gets a seat in the privileged first class compartment, thanks to the company-provided season ticket. Once settled into the seat, I start reading Economic Times. One obvious difference in my reading these days is the complete shift to business dailies. Other than the ET's political theatre section, a quick glance at Hindu is my remaining association with general news, and of course rediff.

From covering Kochi Corporation to tracking Indian automobile industry; transition is not very easy. Yet, I am warming up to the challenges it offers. The other day, I made an investment; subscribed `Auto Car magazine' for a year. (It cost Rs.720, after having signed in the order form at an auto show event here, I questioned the righteousness of my action a hundred times. You never know, only the results can justify an action. Let's wait.) Tehelka and Down to Earth are the two magazines I always wanted to subscribe. Some day, I may do that.

After a fortnight of incubation, I got down to the business. There was occasional relief of seeing the name in print. My first auto story is yet to come. Hopefully, very soon, just a matter of time. The days are spent working on a story, pursuing a BSE announcement, attending press conferences, events or meeting people. The work engages you meaningfully, but it has never felt exhaustive. I only pray it to remain so, because I have got my own pace for doing things.

In the evening, mostly by 8 I leave the office. Will go strait to the VT station, my boarding point or wait for Sailesh on Marine Drive. We meet almost everyday. I don't know if two years is a reasonable time to call one a long-term pal. But he is just that. And for us, the Marine Drive meetings are the re-enactment of our Kochi evenings. The subjects are invariably, inevitably the same; quite youthful, peppered with loads of humour, philosophy and pragmatism.

By the time he catches up, I will have a one lonely round across the long line of love-laden Marine Drive walkway. It is surreal and cinematic. The mutually indulged lovers smooching and cuddling. Turning away from the crowd, the sea-faced open demonstration of love goes on in a blissful unawareness of the surrounding. Thanks to sodium vapour lamps and the anonymity assured by the urban environs. Frankly, I love a glimpse of it; don't accuse me of extracting a vicarious pleasure.

Coming back to the personal life, I have developed the habit of carrying handbag. The contents are newspapers, magz and books, may be a water bottle too. In Mumbai, I don't find the multitude of churches we have in Kochi. I can't just rush to one when I want to. Yes, in a still alien place you will feel more often than not to resort to a place of comfort. Anyway, in Dombivli, a malloo dome, I can at least have Sunday mass, that too nalla malayalam kurbana.

The triumphant feeling of finishing yet another good novel is slowly fading away. It's about two weeks since I finished it. An injured right hand shoulder gave me three idle days. Reading a novel which adopted the running of a country newspaper as its background was a pleasure. Last Juror by John Grisham.Though I was not in a position to note down the good expressions and coinage of words.

Well, it all doesn't mean that it is a perfectly happy phase of life, though on the whole, it appears to be distinctly positive. The scary incident of being in a kissing distance with a grave danger is best left unsaid. I got away with a bruised shoulder. An immediate random dip into Bible gave this message; "Don't be afraid, it is I".

And there were a mild cultural shock, occasional bouts of self-doubt and a perceived struggle for space. Yet I say, things are positively progressing, I am happily getting along.

I have no intention of making it an acknowledgement piece, so no mention about the love and care I received from every one including who dropped me at Kochi airport, received me in Mumbai, who was on my bed side during the sick days, and those who always lent an ear, who dispatched my belongings.

Hope all you will get back to me with your news. This is something special to you. Thank you and my prayers.

(Originally written on November 25)