Making both ends meet

I have never worked more than 4 hours a day for the last 10 years. There I have said it. Is there a greater sin than this in workaholic India Inc. where employees are afraid to take even their due leaves? A much greater transgression than that is the fact that I have been in full time unemployment for half the time during the past decade. Yes, unemployed and making the most of it to further my vagabond plans! There’s nothing more repulsive to a man to see a fellow being unemployed and enjoying it! Seriously, there is no redemption for me in this sacred land!  

Of course being the irresponsible bastard that I am, I hardly give these issues a thought unless and until I’m back in ‘civilized’ society.  It doesn’t get more civilized than in Kerala, God’s own country, populated by the Devil’s own people. Less than a week into my stay here I’ve been ripped apart wherever I go. And go I must! The younger sibling’s getting hitched and I have to tag along with the parents for the dreaded ‘invitation ‘ rounds, where close relatives and so called friends of the family are formally invited to the wedding, which often involves meeting people I have not set eyes in a million years ! A typical encounter unfolds thus:

(All conversations translated from malalyalam so loses a considerable amount of punch and meanness!) 

Host uncle/aunty: Hey I haven’t seen you in years. Mone, (son) what are you doing these days?

Pan (with a touch of pride and arrogance):  I’m in the Himalayas…

H (a bit bewildered but makes a smart comeback):Oh, kollam,(good! Good!) How wonderful! What WORK do you do there?

Pan(intuitively sensing danger): Err, I just chill around, a bit of social service, helping…

H: That’s marvelous, but what WORK do you do there ?

The father now steps in…

Father:  Actually he’s a bit into meditation and all that kind of stuff.

Pan doesn’t fail to notice that Father cringes a bit while giving explanation, almost as if his son is involved in the gigolo profession.

H: (with narrowed eyes sizing up Pan): What kind of stuff are we talking about?

P: He He (artificial hollow laugh trying to lighten up the mood) you know Yoga, Pranayama, and…

H: But what about your career, your savings? Is this the way responsible people live?

P squirms uncomfortably in seat yet tries to look at H with compassion as befitting a wannabe Yogi from the Himalayas !

P: See Sir, the thing there’s something in life apart from money coz you see…

H: But mone, you’re ruining your life. You know my son Thankappan, who was in the same class as you is now a radiologist in Canada. He’s happily married and VERY well settled too.

Pan thinks fondly about his dear friend Thankappan and even more fondly about his gorgeous wife.

P: Uncle, I understand. The thing is…

H: And for God’s sake you are not even married. You look so thin. How can you be otherwise when you have none to cook for you?

H now gets real excited and turns the guns on the Father, who was carefully studying a stain on the floor throughout the conversation, as if it was the subject of his Phd thesis. H really goes after him for not reigning Pan in, and for letting Pan do what he likes. You would have thought that Pan was still in his teens.

Finally the massacre is over and Pan and Father troop out of the room with hung heads with absolutely no scope for redemption in this life atleast !  Host uncle has a smug look on his face which proclaims that he’s done his social dharma.

Emily Harper - Story in a Song

From my days as a pimpled teen I have been a sucker for songs that tell a story. This song is an all time favourite. Enjoy !

Lyrics :-

Emily sat right next to me
Five days a week in the same bus seat
For a girl she was pretty cool
She wore an old ball cap, hated lace
Played a mean shortstop and second base
Never missed a day of Sunday school
And I never told a soul back then
That Emily Harper was my best friend

We carved our names on an old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
We ran barefoot through the garden gate
All afternoon we'd laugh and play
'Til the sun went down on me
And Emily Harper

About the time I turned sixteen
I noticed Emily's eyes were green
And how they shined when I made her laugh
I liked it when her hair was down
I hated other guys around
I played it cool but I had it bad
Lord, her Daddy had a fit
When he caught me stealing my first kiss

We carved a heart on that old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
We used to sneak off in my daddy's car
Sit on the hood and count the stars
'Til the sun came up on me
And Emily Harper

It all seems just like yesterday
We grew up but some things never change

We still hold hands by that old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
She sure did make a lovely bride
We vowed to grow old side by side
'Til the sun goes down on me
And Emily Harper
Emily Harper
Me and Emily Harper


Independence Day Special

15th of August , as far as I can remember, has been a non event my entire life. The holiday aspect had been the only highlight during the student years. A terrible sense of disappointment ensues when the day falls on a Sunday. I have never even bothered to go to school/college on the day for the flag hoisting ceremony. So it was just a holiday like every other holiday, with nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the red letter days on the calendar. I wonder how many of us born post independence feel anything for those people who gave up their lives for a free India, even on Independence day.

But one year, not so long ago, was different for me. I was in a small village in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, working (for a change!) for an N.G.O. in a small school. Over the course of several months I got close to most of the kids. Due to a genetic anomaly, I seem to communicate better with the shorter version of human beings. Most of them seem to look at me with a mixture of awe and bewilderment, as to why a guy who could ‘enjoy’ life in the city would want to spend time in a god forsaken place. Most of the little ones  have never been outside the village and the only information they have of the city is through the television.

Yet they definitely saw me as a hero. Not in the bollywood league but someone who cares to stick it out with them, share their food, homes, dreams and life. Anybody from the city who visits a village school and cares to stick around to help will definitely earn the admiration of the kids. Definitely much easier to impress kids from the villages than the city !

So here I was having a whale of a time and suddenly it’s Independence Day. All the kids are lined up in assembly waiting for the unfurling of the tri colour and the more important part, sweet distribution at the end of the ceremony. I was chatting up a newly joined not bad looking  ‘Miss’ when the Principal comes and pulls me  along with him. 

Principal Sab whispers something in my ear.

‘What ?!! Are you insane? You can’t be serious!’, I say.

‘No, I’ve talked it with all the staff. It’s all fixed.’ 

Principal Sab doesn’t look like he’s kidding coz he’s dragging me to the flag post. I pinch myself to confirm that I am in the real world and not in a nightmare.

The thing is I have a very bad case of crowd phobia. I don’t see the flag pole, only 300 faces looking curiously in my direction. Then there is a bloody announcement of who is doing the dirty job. Princiapl Sab rubs it in real nice shouting over the microphone:

‘Do you know who this is ?’ pointing in my direction as if I am an exotic animal behind bars in a zoo cage. Funnily, I don’t feel much different from a caged animal.

A big roar from the kids. They are loving this Independence day surprise. Principal sab gives a short account of exactly what I am doing there for the school, just in case anyone has forgotten. By the time he’s finished I feel it would be a good idea if the earth opened up and swallowed me. My shirt is soaked in sweat and my heart is going around 300 beats/minute. The suddenness of it all took me completely unawares. I managed with great difficulty to convince the authorities that I was in no position to deliver an extempore speech. Then came the big moment!

I zombie walked to the podium. Principal Sab explained in detail how to pull the string to let the tri colour free. After two failed attempts, I was third time lucky. The kids were cheering as if India had won the World Cup. The relief I felt was indescribable !

 But that Independence Day changed something inside. I felt a certain commitment and love for this country. Maybe it’s up to the privileged among us to help those in need, in whatever small way we can and not wait around for the Government to set things right. Even if it means having to be out of our comfort zones . A small sacrifice compared to what our countrymen did 60 odd years ago...

Snow in Kerala

It’s raining cats and dogs in Kerala, or more colloquially it’s raining coconuts here! So much so that the temperature during the day time is around 24°C. Do you guys know what that means?

This is all I’ve been hearing during the past few days :

“It’s freezing boss”
“Tonight’s gonna be realllllll cold , 22°C !!!”

Sometimes I take them on :
“You think it might snow?”

They look worried.
“You know the way it’s going I wouldn’t be surprised if we have snow in December”, they reply.

I half expect to see people wrapped in sweaters and jackets when I step out with all this talk about the chill factor!

I vividly remember the time when I first went to London after having lived my entire life in the tropics. I was travelling alone and the jet was about to touch down in Heathrow Airport. The pilot’s smooth husky voice floated over us. Have you ever wondered how most pilots have a deep husky voice? I bet they get voice training as part of their course. Husky voice to most people, especially women, equates to a tall dark handsome stranger who can weather the craft(any craft!) through all storms. So I’m pretty sure that husky voice training is part of the pilot syllabus just to reassure people. Anyway our pilot was growling thus : “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to touch down in Heathrow Airport. It’s a sunny day outside and the temperature is a pleasant 16°C.”

I thought the guy was surely being sarcastic. How on earth can 16°C be pleasant? I think I had at least 5 layers of clothing when I came out of the airport and STILL I was shivering. People were looking at me as if I had landed from Mars or something. An acquaintance who had come to pick me up was full of sympathy and assured me that I would get used to it. Sure enough in six months time I was walking around in T shirts at 16°C. Yes, it was definitely pleasant! It really is  incredible how quickly the body adapts to the environment.

Yet the funny thing is that if I stay in Kerala along enough I get the cold bug and soon start shivering at 25°C, even doing the unthinkable like having hot water baths because it is colddddd! But on the plus side this mallu body is cool in heat, no pun intended. I remember trekking in the Himalayas and my companions from the North of the country used to marvel that I never used to sweat walking long distances carrying heavy bags while they used to get drenched. They put it down to my fitness but I guess it’s the mallu body factor that comes into play. We are born into heat, live in heat and die in heat! 

Back from the Dead

What do you do when you forget the way to the place that you once called home?  24 hours back a strong urge overtook me to dive back into my blog. 1111 days ago I last posted here. Ok Ok the number is slightly exaggerated but only slightly.  Does the blog still exist ? Do people still stop by? For the life of me I just couldn't remember the name of the blog or the web address ! No need to even ask if I remembered the username and password. After trying hard to squeeze my non existing brain I suddenly remembered a gorgeous blog friend's name. She used her real name for blogging and not a phony one like me, so I googled her name , got into her blog follower's list and found my name and blog. Yipppeeee!!! So surprisingly I didn't have to do anything illegal to find my own whereabouts in the net !

I had taken a similar break before  from blogging and then as of now the majority of people who used to blog have died a cyber death. I wonder about these folks, people whose writing I admired , whose angst I shared, whose humour had me in splits. Wherever could they be now? And of course even I have died thrice on blogsphere but with the heavy unabated  fan mail that I receive urging me to come back I had little option but to return .Ah the prize one has to pay for being  great !

Except for the sporadic access to the net, I was in a different world altogether cut off from civilization. Even writing this seems somewhat strange as if I'm just learning to read and write again. Now don't get any ideas folks. I was not jailed although considering some of my activities in the preceding years it was always going to be a close call !  High in the Himalayas by the side of Gangaji I spent 3 blissful years truly forgetting that a world existed outside.

In all likelihood this will be another short innings in cyberspace necessiated by an itching to put my thoughts  down to paper screen. But the road to the mountains always beckons me ...So make the most of it my dear fans... ;)