Bill-dings (BH:D72)

October 14, 2011
While waiting for the architect outside Kotak Mahindra bank's building this morning, I saw an old lady with a twisted stick, almost as tall as her, for support, go from window to window of the cars parked on the road. When she was done with the Hyundai i10, she limped over towards me. She had a deformed jaw that slurred her speech. But I could make out her saying, "Enniku anjooru roopa thannu, makkale" (I was given 500 rupees, son). I am pretty sure such a generous car driver existed only in her imagination.

I pulled out a 5 rupee note, the reasonable alms amount these days. She gave me the expected, most sympathetic look. "You cheap beggar!" her eyes said. "vendengi venda" (it's fine if you don't want) I said pulling my hand back towards my pocket. She quickly grabbed the money. A real 5 rupee is better than the 500 in her mind. "Mani ethrayayi mone?" (What is the time, son?) she asked as if to diffuse any tension that might have risen between us. "Ettara" (8:30)I wondered what appointment she was limping off to. The bells of the Yakshi Amma temple nearby were ringing.

Showing the architect our old home that needs demolition and reconstruction meant telling him all the juicy gossips about the neighbors. You see, the neighbors' consent is mandatory to avoid leaving any land as boundary to the sides. On one side of this house is a rented home where I am told a few bar boys and waiters who double as henchmen and hitmen crash for the night. 

To the other side is a newly walled off vacant lot that is in dispute. When I was a kid, a family from Assam who had settled in Kerala lived in the huge property that contained this lot. The old man and his wife died in the 90s. The daughter married a big shot archeologist. She has left him since then to be with a driver. This couple "sold" the property to an out of town businessman. He went to court when he realized that the ownership of the land actually lies with someone in Mumbai. So for the past few years, this lot has been home to a massive array of wild plants. I am sure there are rodents too but they are happy in their dark tunnels during the day when the human pests forage.

In front of the house, a beauty parlor runs from the ground floor of a home. It is the home of one of the two sisters who dont talk to each other these days. She has recently given herself over to the Pentecostal cause and her husband has put his faith in alcohol. The other sister lives next door. Their dad owned one of the oldest hotels in the city.

As he dropped me back, the architect promised to give me a thread for a new play soon. I guess I was rather dramatic in presenting the neighborly slandering.

Around 11am, Achan and I showed up at the BSNL accounts office near the government press. Luckily, no student agitation to block the roads in that area today. At the downstairs counter, we were asked to go upstairs to get the matter of the nonexistent bill sorted out. 
Chaos upstairs! 
Bunch of people crowded around each of the five counters. We wait with a fair amount of confusion, a tinge of anguish and a sprinkle of irritation on our faces. A staff member who walked in after presumably his tea break takes notice and pity. 

He listens to our problem and leads us into the office of the Chief Accounts Officer.
The CAO was on the phone while trying to get a file emailed from his desktop. Our friendly guide told us to take the seats. This windowsless office in the old building is what Stephen Fry compared the Microsoft Windows environment to. 

The CAO looked like a Brahmin version of Mr. John from the Vellayambalam office. Thick head of hair graying at the roots, unshaved one day beard, a spot of kumkum on the forehead. Exceptionally emaciated forearms that end in disproportionately big palms come out of his half sleeve red shirt with thin white stripes.. He had a white paper on a clipboard on the glass top table. He was scribbling down the list of complaints on it. A lady staff member entered carrying a thermos flask and went into a side room that had a placard saying "no admission". 

Finally, the file was emailed. He turned to us, "Entha prashnam?" (What is the problem) with an accent that confirmed my suspicion that he hailed from north Kerala.
"Sir, combo1350 plan August..." I began the epic saga but what cut short by his cellphone ringing. He took a few minutes to note down the complaint from the lady at the other end. "Refund undavum madam, njan parayam, refund kittum" (There will be a refund madam, I will tell, you will get a refund" He ended the call with that promise, blocked out that complaint on the paper with a squiggly ink boundary and turned back to us.

I felt like we were in a doctor's office. I told him about the connection, disconnection and the bills that remain illusive. 
"Image illatha bill aayirikum" (It might be a bill without an image!) he diagnosed immediately. 
I had no clue what that meant. Neither had Achan. But we both shook our heads in agreement. Of course, that must be the problem!

He dived back into the abysmal (as in deep) database of BSNL subscribers and did not find our bill. He clicked on a few tabs hoping to enhance the bill's self image. Fruitless. He explained our problem over the phone to someone. "Onnu nokkane" (Please take a look) he ended the call.

"Hyderabad officil paranjittund. Sheriyakkum. full year bill with discount varum" (I have told the Hyderabad office. It will be taken care of. varshika varisankhya kizhivu sahitham will come)
"Ini cut aakumo?" (Will service be disconnected again?)Achan expressed his doubt
"Illa, ini cut aayal ente uthavaditham aanu" (No, if it is disconnected then you can hold me responsible) He assured us. It was good to find such dedicated employees at the top. 

Tomorrow morning I am off to Mumbai for the weekend. Looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends and relatives and meeting a good friend for the first time in real life. Facebook has provided a handful of great friends. It should be an interesting experience to be back in the IIT campus. Will update the notes on Monday when I get back. 
Quick Hindi film music trivia for the day: In the song "Pyar kiya to darna kya" from Mughal-e-Azam, though Shakeel Badayuni wrote the lyrics, the most famous line in the song, "Pyar kiya koyi chori nahi ki" was composer Naushad's contribution.

Manual Labor (BH:D71)

October 13, 2011

I have been reading some manuals towards clearing some modules of the National Stock Exchange's Certification in Financial Markets. These are a must-have to do any kind of financial market related business in India today. As soon as I get the all powerful PAN card, I hope to start knocking these certifications off one by one. 

At IIT, among other things, I was exposed to textbooks written by foreign authors. The utter unfriendly nature of Indian textbooks was obvious immediately. Numbing passages packed with unending sentences is the norm of Indian texts. They are written as if the author is ashamed if the reader manages to grasp the meaning in a single reading. What a disaster it is if the poor reader manages to enjoy reading the scholastic outpouring! I haven't seen the new editions of Indian school and college textbooks but I think it is safe to assume that the attitude of whatever is serious has to dull and fun means frivolous still continues. At least it does in the NCFM manuals. 

These manuals trace the growth of Indian stock markets from the early 90s to the latest innovations like the introduction of the volatility index. So it is surprising when in some parts, there are instructions for saving your work to the A:\ floppy drive! The manual urges one to save to C:\ before going to A:\ to avoid delays. There is a generous sprinkling of MS-DOS related commands as well. When I mentioned the anachronistic tendencies of the text to Achan, he recalled having an old history professor in his college in 1970 who used notes from his own college days thus leading to lectures that start "Recently, during second world war...".
The booklets reflect the society remarkably well; gently incise the ultra modern veneer and the past bleeds out!

Early in the morning, I read and study while walking on the terrace. The child's cry from the neighbors at the back has become my 7:30 alarm. It must be a 4 or 5 year old boy. He is absolutely against bathing. Staunch anti-bathist! Shrill shrieks and gut wrenching pleas continue for the 10 minutes that his dad struggles to give him the bath before school. I hope it is entirely psychological and there is no physical pain he suffers from contact with water. Considering how most of us completely reverse our childhood likes and dislikes later in life, he will one day be a great swimmer or model for Lux soap in a candle-lit bubble bath with rose petals like Shah Rukh Khan.

Went with Amma in the afternoon to the Hercules car dealership to get the invoice. The shop looked bombed. A strange kind of bomb that had selectively gutted the floor and ceiling of the building leaving the walls and pillars in all their glory. Sanoj, the sales rep, explained that it was indeed a corporate bomb. Maruti has decided that all its showrooms should look exactly the same across the nation. 

I am not going to point any fingers but I will leave it to your discerning intelligence by mentioning that all the dealers have been instructed to get the new material for flooring and roofing from the same Delhi-based business that wasn't having much sales in the last few years! You don't need an MBA to predict that in a couple of years some MBAs will advise Maruti that sales will improve if each showroom had its own distinct local, ethnic look.

Sanoj prepared the paperwork amidst all the debris. I felt I was in the set for a shoddy, low budget world war movie. Thankfully there was one airconditioned office still left intact where we could hear each other over the banging and scrapping. Amma signed off on all the papers for her new red Alto K10. Delivery is expected by next week. 

While coming back from the car dealership, I noticed two men on tall stilts and clown costumes handing out pamphlets near the entry road to our housing colony. A "Party Factory by Rebecca" dedicated for "all your party needs" has been inaugurated. I used to look at such shops in the US, dedicated to partying "needs", as a symbol of wretched American profligacy. Now I have one right outside home here!

Achan was wrestling with an obstinate stone when I returned home. He had begun digging a hole for the tissue culture banana saplings bought yesterday in the backyard when the stone blocked his plans. Pick-axe, spade, 'paara': all the tools had come out for assistance. I turned on the hose to wet the soil around. After ten minutes of patient prodding, the little rock gave up. A solid piece of granite with a lovely flat face glistening in its wetness. It could be big business if we install it on a pedestal, sprinkle some sandal paste, saffron and turmeric on it, garland it and create some stories of its effective interference with human fate. May be such reverential treatment is not in its destiny! Perhaps in next birth! 

Thanks to social networking sites, learnt about the death of Dennis Ritchie this morning. It went unnoticed compared to Steve Jobs passing though Ritchie's contributions have been equally important to the world. The Malayalam newspapers had all honored Steve Jobs with front page coverage and they all managed to get photographs of Jobs in which he resembled Mahatma Gandhi. Manorama had a well-written editorial dedicated to him with the title "Nandi Steve, ee lokathe mattiyathinu" (Thanks Steve for changing this world). I feel very lucky to be alive in a world that is so connected. Thanks, indeed, to the tremendous talent and effort of personalities like Jobs and Ritchie.

Here's the Hindi music trivia for the day. The first solo song of this all time great singer shows his imitation of K.L. Saigal just like Mukesh had done in "Dil Jaltha hai" song. To get to the studio for the recording, this new singer followed Lata Mangeshkar from the railway station, scaring her into running to the studio as she suspected him to be a crazy stalker!

Fertile (BH:D70)

October 12, 2011
Within 15 days, the government has promised me my PAN card now that I have submitted the application. The lady at the counter had exquisite handwriting with which she put down my name and receipt number in the acknowledgement card. In the building that houses the UTI's PAN card office at Vellayambalam, an incredible array of businesses running out of tiny offices. Mutual funds, printing services, software outsourcers, travel agents!

After successful application, onward to BSNL office to pay up for a whole year of broadband connection. Misplaced hope. The office was understaffed. The Junior Telecom Office, the energetic Mr. John, was on leave. We explained our situation. Paper bills are not coming. We don't want to be disconnected again. We would like to pay for the whole year thereby getting 2 months off and have the 20% discount available for government employees and pensioners applied. Yet another form to be filled. 

"Bankukarku discount undo ennariyila," (Don't know if bankers get the discount) a short, dark, bald uncle with a thin mustache, expressed his doubt. We invoked Mr. John's name. The uncle dialed John to find out. Yes, the discount is there. Promptly, power failure. We wait outside in the worker's union lounge that consists of 4 chairs and two tables and numerous notices pasted on the boards and walls all around: "No smoking" "Protest the withdrawal of medical allowance" "Voluntary Retirement Scheme is a scam" etc and finally "Silence". 

I guess only the notices are allowed to scream in slogans.

Power comes back on. The painful wait for Windows boot up on HCL machine. I tell the bearded, long haired, younger man at the counter our telephone number. 
"Ningalku bill illa" (You have no bill) he says with a justified confusion in his tone. 
"Ini connection cut aavaruth, advance aayittu paisa adakamo" (connection should get cut again, can we pay in advance) Achan asks. 
"Ethra venamengilum adakkam, bill varumbo deduct aavum" (You can pay as much as you want, it will be deducted from the bill) 
"Pakshe bill varunilalo" (But bills are not coming). 
The short uncle comes up with an explanation. "Ippo Keralam, Tamil Nadu, Andhra..."(these days Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra) he pauses to recollect the other neighboring state's name while chewing on some bit of breakfast he has managed to discover lodged in his molars. "Karnataka!" he says with a flourish sucking in that piece into the oblivion of his stomach and smacking his lips. "ee statesinte ellam billing angu Hyderabadil aanu. Pandu ivide thanne aayirunnu. Ippo atha ellam delay" he finished the explanation. (All these states are no billed in Hyderabad. It used to be done here in the past.  Hence all the delay now). 
The younger man at the counter sips hot milk from a glass as he prepares the receipt for our advance payment. Two three men appear in lungis from inside as if they had just woken up. I wonder if there is a BSNL staff quarters operating out of the same building. One of them carries a glass of black tea. I think all the milk is being consumed at the counter. Our next destination was the fertilizer depot inside the city near Chettikulangara temple. We speculate that there must be an outlet somewhere near by. 
"Ivide aduthu valam depo undo saare?" (Is there a fertilizer depo near by) I ask. The in-counter specialist wipes his milk mustache. Of course, there is, he says. An organic one, on the way to Sasthamangalam. 

As we leave the other uncle promises to get our details into the system in "5 minutes". After that we simply have to the office at Statue Junction and pay.
We collect the receipt and head over to that depot. On the way Achan wants to stop by at the plant nursery to check for tissue culture banana saplings. Achan is on a horticulture spree after the coconut tree has been cut down. Yesterday he planted brinjal, tomatoes, okra, thulasi. In the afternoon, he cut down some of the overgrown trees and shrubs in the garden. 

Disappointment at the plant nursery. They don't have banana saplings. And only one kind of hibiscus. But the young man assisting the toothless old lady who manages the nursery in her traditional lungi and towel attire, guides us to two outlets near Ayurveda College Junction. We recognize the places he mentions because both of us, Achan and I, grew up in that area. 

We head to that location in an autorickshaw named "Krishnendu Ragendu" . I presume those are the names of the driver's kids. The windshiled of the rickshaw has numerous miniature Hindu gods stuck on it. 

As we near the old secretariat, the police are putting on their riot guards and helmets. Yet another round of student strike is schduled for today. We curse this daily hassle and destruction of public property. "Ivaru prathipakshathirunnale valla anakkavum ullu," (But only if the Left parties are in opposition, there will be some movement like this) our driver expresses solidarity with the young comrades about to block the road. 
"Will you be happy with the 'movement' if a stone breaks your vehicle's glass?" I ask him. He smiles. We become friends. He drops us at the perpetual horticulture fare outside the Khadi sales outlet and waits while we buy two tissue culture bananas: Njalipoovan and Koombilakannan. 
"Vere enthu vennam?" (what else do you want?) asks the sales lady impatient to get rid of us. She refuses to make eye contact.  Achan picks up two packets of organic fertilizer. "One spoon each every fortnight for vegetables" she gives the instruction while scribbling down the receipt. 

The rickshaw takes us next to the Indian Potash Limited's outlet. Traffic congestion on the way since the main road is closed thanks to students agitating for their rights by not going to their classes. Achan goes inside to make the purchase. Driver initiates conversation, "ithinu munpe tissue culture vachittundo?" (have you planted tissue culture bananas before). 
I nod yes claiming the success of my cousin's Robusta bananas as our own. 
"Chengadali vaykumbo sookshikkanam" (you should be careful when you plant chengadali variety) he becomes serious. 
"Athentha?) (Why?) I get curious. I anticipate a dose of great Indian "wisdom" coming. And sure enough it does, "Sthreekal aduthu poyale athu pattu pokum" (It will dry and die if women go near it). 
"Chumma" (Nonsense) I say half dismissively and half prompting him to go on.
"Eee mensus aayirikumbozhe" (When they have their periods) he clarifies
"Oho" (Really?) I pretend to be impressed by his "logic" bit.
"Pinne! bhagawante pazham alle" (Of course, it is god's banana)
"Veruthe" (Can't be true)
"Angane aanu parayunathu" (Thats what they say) he concludes with the classic Indian disclaimer which brings in the hidden 'they'!

An old lady, fair, a bit plump and sweaty, walks up the rickshaw. She shows us the photocopy of a newspaper cutting that has her photograph on it. "Heart Patient seeks assistance for surgery" it says. She doesn't say anything. I give her some money. She takes it. Walks a few yards. She coughs. Spits phelgm. Continues to walk into the Mas hotel in the same compound. The sun is hot. She has no umbrella. She uses the paper for shade.

Achan returns with two packets. Sterameal, the old reliable, and Micronal, supposed to be fantastic mixture of copper and magnesium for coconut trees. "As soon as you have sprinkled it under the tree, brand new coconuts will fall on your head," he jokes. He was delayed in the shop becomes some retired employee was engaging the staff in useless conversation. Further delay because he called somebody as "Susheela's guy" leading to much protest from Susheela and her friends in the staff. 

We proceed in search of the new location of Krishi bhavan. The brand new building of Bhima gold jewelry had displaced it much like how agriculture has been replaced by gold in the Malayali mind. The old building housed some of my oldest memories. I would accompany Achan there to buy full banana fruit stems. I used to be fascinated by the flat beam weighing scale with the movable balancer on top. 

We find the old, tile roofed, tottering building that is the new home of Krishi bhavan office,  a few meters down the road from Dhanya-Ramya theater. 20 ft cut-out of Karthika Nair in her Makaramanju costume towers over the theater. A fading blackboard hanging outside Krishi bhavan announced that it is a center for "parasite breeding". That is not a comment on the state of the building. It is indeed one of the seven centers in Kerala that supplies bio-control parasites that destroy coconut leaf eating caterpillars. 

Rickshaw driver follows Achan into the building, looks around and comes back. "Saarinu chembarathi vennam alle? (He is looking for Hibiscus stem cuttings, right?) he seeks my confirmation. I tell him that we had over a dozen different types of hibiscus in our garden ten years ago. Now all of them are gone. Achan is trying recreate that garden. Hibiscus needs minimal attention and maintainence. The driver points to the two hibiscus plants in the house across the street. "Poyi kambu chodikkam" (Shall we go ask them for some stems?) he is keen on our garden too. Achan comes back with the telephone number of the Agriculture officer. He will call us once he collects varieties of hibiscus. "Who on earth would pay for hibiscus?!" he had asked Achan.
In the train, while returning from Munnar, a middle-aged lady had come from the next compartment to chat with her friends in ours. She was one of those desi henna-dyed brunettes. She had the perpetual expression of a kid in a candy store. It is impossible to imagine that face unhappy. When it was time for her to go back to her seat, she stopped to ask the TTE sitting next to me, "What time it will come? Trivandrum? When it will come?" 
It is common in India for places to come to the train rather than the train getting to places. So the trees outside the train window are indeed speeding past, perhaps on errands like the tree in Transtromer's garden on the rainy night! When our train was delayed with unscheduled stops, I presumed that the proud, old Thiruvananthapuram had an incredible capacity to delay coming!

R. K. Narayan wrote an essay in the 70s about Nobel prizes. I don't know if mentioned it in earlier notes. He correctly points out that though people don't talk much about the Nobel winners in Physics, Chemistry and Life Sciences, every Shaji, Baiju and Soman (Kerala equivalent of Tom, Dick and Harry) considers himself fully qualified to pass an opinion about the prizes for Peace and Literature. R.K. mentions how the prize hardly makes any difference to an aged and established writer. Kawabata told Narayan that he was planning to buy a chair in Sweden with the prize money for guests like Narayan who find it difficult to sit on the floor. I read Kawabata's acceptance speech today. For someone who committed suicide soon after, in the speech, he is strongly against taking one's own life!

I had written a two line appreciative email to Shanti Acharya whose pithy poem, Beware, I had posted last week. She replied inviting me to attend her poetry reading in London to be held tomorrow. She asked if I was a poet myself or just an enlightened read which according to her is as good as being a poet. 

I cannot speak for anyone else but the structure of my thoughts are inseparably tied to what I read or listen to. This is why I prefer reading quality poetry or slightly philosophical meaningful prose. Over the years, I have realized that any new medium has the capacity to weak havoc on my thought process. I remember the dreaded days in which my thoughts resembled movie dialogues, comic strips, TV headlines, facebook status updates, formal dissertation, sales pitches, MATLAB commands, comedian routines, text messages, tweets and so on. It is conscious effort to avoid the overwhelming onslaught of any new "channel" these days. But worded thoughts do need a channel and I'd rather it be poetry, lyrics or prose whose meaning endows it poetry! 

And with that thought onto the musical trivia for the day. This song heralded the Lata Mangeshkar era in Hindi cinema. Nobody had cared much about the new singer when the recording started. But there was pin-drop silence when Lata finished singing. Composer Khemchand Prakash was the first to run to the singer to congratulate her. Director Kamal Amrohi soon followed. 
The heroine was to enter the frame singing and move towards the camera, so in those days of primitive recording technology, Lata had to walk towards the microphone from a distance. But the actress never succeeded in lip syncing correctly to this song so it was used mostly in the background. Nevertheless, the song made the leading lady Hindi cinema's first dream girl. In those days, the singers' names were rarely mentioned in the record label. The character's name would be used. So against this song, the heroine's name, Kamini, appears. Lata Mangeshkar has not yet received her payment for this song!

Beats (BH:D69)

October 11, 2011

In school, I was taught that India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. More importantly, it is the only alive civilization in the world. All other great ones are either extinct like the Greeks or have radically altered themselves without any trace of the ancient like the Egyptians and the Chinese. To be civilized, as I had understood, meant, to be less animalistic, less tribalistic etc. 

Within India, Kerala supposedly is fully literate and has been the proud home of one of the very first lineages of mankind out of Africa. According to Michael Woods, the very evolution of human language can be noticed in prevalent rituals in north Kerala. 

Clearly, all these are ideals visions. 

The main news today in Kerala has been the horrible murder, by beating and kicking, by the passengers in a government run public bus, of a suspected pick-pocket. The man had some money with him which he pleaded was his own. But the mob would have none of it. 
They beat him to death!! 
Please read that again. 
A bunch of people beat another unarmed, defenseless man to death! 
Without trial, without jury, without even a visit to the police station, without any forethought. 
Men who have looted billions of this country's wealth are scotfree, drinking their scotch and plundering even more by the hour. The public worships them, elects them, elevates them! A poor suspect becomes a punching bag and dies of internal bleeding!

The police has charged three passengers for manslaughter. Shouldn't every single passenger be charged for not preventing this? Where is the humanization that thousands and thousands of years of continuing civilization is supposed to have provided?

Afternoon TV news showed the shocked relatives huddled outside the victim's home. Couple of kids were getting excited about the TV cameras without realizing what had happened. The loss will entirely be the family's. After a couple of days, may be by tomorrow itself, the media and the rest of us will become too busy to care. 
But each of us should be aware that this is the society which we walk into from our homes everyday. This is the lawless mob who surround the children when they go to school. 
If anything the oldest surviving civilization has taught, it is to keep your head low, mouth shut and weep inside in silence and fear of the barbaric urban jungle outside. 
This timesless culture will help you with its hundreds of millions of gods and more created everyday because when your daughter is raped and brother is beaten to death like a straydog, only imaginary sources of power can be your refuge. 

Elsewhere in the state, buildings are stoned and vehicles are burnt because a young man has been admitted to the 5th semester of engineering course into a government college, without the proper channel. How much violence does it take to resolve this issue? For how long will the society provide reckless young men ready for destruction and bloodshed at the beck and call of the so called "leaders"?! How long will the democratic system continue to churn out such sub-human leaders?

On one side, India's supreme court stays the death sentence of the terrorist who murdered dozens in cold blood in Mumbai. The supreme judges believe that he should get a fair hearing. On the other side, the great Indian mob executes a suspected pickpocket with their bare hands. He will not speak anymore.

My society: the planet's oldest running and stupendously successful Stanford prison experiment!

Musical solace from all this depression. Introduced Achan to Coke Studio via youtube while he was making beetroot 'mezhukkupuratti'. There was an article in today's Manorama about the composer/singer Jassie Gift being called to lecture at the University of Chicago. Amma doesn't have a high opinion about him. So when I read to her that he is finishing his PhD in Advaitha and Buddhism, she assumed a stoic silence. I think she didn't want to tell me that these days anyone can get a PhD!

Achan has become a fan of Noori, Tina Sani and Sanam Marvi. After lunch, watched a few minutes of the old Tamil film, Vanjikottai Valiban. Remarkably mature performance by the villain for that era of that industry. 

I booted up my old laptop this morning to get the presentation at IIST ready. But by afternoon, it was confirmed that the talk is postponed to next week. 
The slight unease that came back with me from Munnar is refusing to leave quickly. Wonder if the devil from old Chekuthanmukku had something to do with it! Nothing happened yesterday (BH:D68) except nursing this dis-ease and typing up three notes.

Ravi Menon's book lists 15 of Lata Mangeshkar's self-sung favorite songs. The first in the list is from the film Padmini (1948). Ghulam Haider, the composer, immigrated to Pakistan soon after this movie. In those days, every song had to be recorded twice, once for the film and once for the record disc. Lata and her sister waited all night for Haider to finish composing. By 7am, when the tune was ready, Lata had nodded off. But in a couple of hours, she was ready to record. Two weeks later, a slightly shorter version for the long play record was made. Here's the song:http://youtu.be/JFLlRA12KP0

Since I mentioned Coke Studio, here are the links to some of my favorite songs from that collection. Much gratitude to the good soul who provided excellent closed captioning for these youtube videos
Tina Sani: Nawai Ney, Tina Sani, Coke Studio, Season 3 "Kaat kar laayi neisitaan se yaahan, mard o zan meri nawa se, khoon chakan" Heartbreaking lyrics
Noori: Aik Alif, Noori & Saieen Zahoor, Coke Studio, Season 2 "Jo na jaane haq ki taaqat, rab na de wei usko himmat". 
Sanam 'the queen' Marvi: http://youtu.be/lxFaUIxezkc "Sachal sach kareenda zahil, illah kaan qital"

At the RBI cash dept in Kochi with public counters for exchange of coins and soiled notes, there is a quote from the Atharva Veda posted on the door: “The wealth earned through pious means flourishes. Those who earn through dishonest means are destroyed“ Perhaps this is why India has been making snail-paced progress over the centuries. Well, you rule the airwaves and airways for two decades and then the Central Bureau of Investigation comes knocking on your door!


Back from Munnar (BH:D67)

October 9, 2011

Sunday morning at 9am we began our return journey to sea level Kochi from the 5000 ft altitude of Munnar. When we went to have the resort breakfast buffet, we could see Murugan cleaning the car with much care and affection. 

A young man was walking around the resort taking photos using his sizeable tablet PC. He saw me looking at him. The great tool-user pain expression came over his face. It is an expression that shows a tinge of anguish at being technologically capable. Mechanics have it even when they are doing something as simple as unscrewing. These days it is easiest to notice on the faces of mobile phone users. It says, "What a pain this exclusive gadget that I have is! Look I know how to use it, but believe me, you don't want to get into this previleaged predicament!" This must have been the expression visible to rest of the tribe when the first man who tamed fire showed up with the burning twig at night. 

The young man tapped a couple of times on the screen and pulled the leather cover over the device. He moved to another location for some more of the sweet pain.

I had woken up thirsty earlier in the night, if you can call 2am night. Since the night was clear, I went to the balcony to check out the night sky. What a glorious sight! Thousands of stars on the eastern sky. The moon on the west. Couple of planets under the big dipper. I wonder why Munnar is not considered for locating an observatory. Since such a vast expanse of the universe was visible, I decided to wait till a shooting star blazed through. 

In the distance, a few scattered, isolated lights in the valley. The high beam of a vehicle snaking through the highway resembled a firefly. During this time of the night, the water fall resounded even louder. Then all of a sudden a white cloud rises from the valley. Like the softest downy white pillow has been torn. It rises gently like a magicians smoke and covers the village. For ten minutes, may be fifteen, it stays and then disappears, disperses just as gently as it had come. The magic worked. The lights in the village have shifted. The vehicle lights were no longer visible.

Suddenly in the southern sky, the flash of a meteor. 2:33am. I went back to bed, muted the TV and watched the stars on earth dance in the two dozen channels.

While waiting for Murugan, Achan suggested that we imagine the large rock nearby to be a mountain and the moss and lichens on it to be the forests. He tried remembering lessons from his geology days. He had been to most of the dams in the area then as part of study tour. "This is a straight gravity dam," he said imitating the accent of his professor, but he couldn't remember which dam it was or what straight gravity dam means!

The descent in broad daylight was easier than the headlamp assisted climb yesterday night. The fox was not there. Only some cows. The discussion turned to elephants and elephant training. Murugan explained that there are 16 pillars in the arena where new elephants are brought into train at Kodanadu. A mahout with a cane stands hidden behind each pillar. The elephant is secured by ropes. The main mahout faces the elephant and issues commands. Every time he strikes the elephant with his cane to make it obey, all the 16 hidden men bring down their canes simultaneously. Thus the elephant associates this disproportionate pain with a single cane. 

One more stop at the Kannan Devan outlet to pick up tea packets for neighbors and friends. After Chekuthanmukku aka HMC Junction we stopped at a plant nursery. Amma picked up some rose saplings, I picked up a Heliconia, Achan got a Krishna Tulasi (basil). We were pretty sure that the deep violet color of the Tulasi cannot be recreated in our garden because of the different climate.

The forest department has installed signboards intermittently on the road urging conservation. The Neelakurinji flower features prominently in these signs. These blue flowers are expected to carpet these parts in 2018. Murugan narrates the mythology behind the flower. His namesake is the god of the mountains. When upset with his parents, Murugan (Subramanian) moves to the mountains, his brother Ganesh comes to calm him down. Ganesh succeeds and Murugan rejects all his venomous anger from his body and mind. This blue venom scatters in the mountains and becomes Neelakurinji. There was nothing in the legend about why they bloom in 12 year cycles.

We came back via Kothamangalam, Malayattoor and Muvaattupuzha. All three rapidly expanding towns which will soon count as suburbs of Kochi. Lunch at Amrita restaurant which was once a toddy shop associated with a villain actor in south Indian cinema. We were back in Kochi by 2:30pm. 

Murugan works for Broadway taxi service that charges Rs.10 per km and then extra for driver's overnight stay. The trip turned out to be pretty cheap for a great weekend. Our train was at 5:25. Murugan agreed to drop us at the railway station. Till 5:25, sat at Vijayakumar uncle's apartment watching Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan speak in their dubbed Malayalam voices for the Just Dance show finale. Luckily, the celebrities in this show speak very little. It is most ooh, wooh, whoop etc which are easily dubbed. 

I wonder why lots of models resort to undressing to grab attention. All you need to do is carry a Heliconia plant in a bag through a crowded railway station. Everyone, young and old, men and women, follow your progress with the plant. Feeling like a celeb, I reached platform number 4 and waited in the area where bogie number 5 would stop. 

Jan Shatabdi arrived from Kozhikode promptly at 5:15pm. The great Indian rush to get in. Kids getting crushed. Luggage squashed. Ever changing tableus of grotesque choreography by some BDSM fetishist. Finally somehow we are in. The plants are safe. 

This time our seats are split. I am in the middle seat of the first row left side. To the right side, there are only two seats and one is reserved for the Train Ticket Examiner (TTE). Amma and Achan are in the row in front of those two seats. The window seat of their row is a young man who insists on sitting there. 

Three girls show up and ask if I would mind exchanging to the seat next to the TTE's so that they can sit together. I didn't mind moving to the window at all. The TTE also didn't mind the switch. The girls chattered nonstop right from the time they got in. They looked like freshmen. Now the young man at the window in my parent's row wanted to exchange the seat. "We have been talking continuously for the last three days," I told him, "so you can sit there now!". The TTE went about his duty. In his dark suit and tie, he looked like a young Gordon Greenidge.

The setting sun blazed a trail on the Vembanad lake. A million ripples on the lagoon. I wonder if there is one ripple in a lagoon for every twist of a tail fin in the ocean.

Soon, the coconut groves become silhouettes. Each coconut tree has a distinct personality. It is unfair that we assign uniqueness only to specimens of our own species and dogs come a distant second. 
Oil lamps flicker for the gods who live in little temples beside the railway track. Electric lamps for the human homes. A buffalo submerged in a backyard pond. A human submerged in another with his arm held high for soaping. A bunch of young men playing football in the sand. 

TTE comes back to his seat in an hour. I offer him water. He gulps it down. "Why do you guys still have this British era costume? Isn't it horrible to wear this in the hot Indian summer?" I ask. "it is most uncomfortable," he agrees. I suggest someone should mail about this issue to some newspaper. He leaves the passenger chart on the food tray and goes to the other compartment. 

Gone are the days of compartments with booth seating. Now the coaches are airline style. The emergency chain is no longer a red bit of a nunchaku. It has become a light brown grenade.

I cannot help noticing the three girls' names on the chart. Two F22s and one F23. A Miss Bhatt, a Miss Talreja and a Miss Shefaaz. My brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out who is who. After five minutes of staring into the darkness outside, I come to a conclusion. The fairest of the all must be the Bhatt girl; the one with the nose stud Shefaaz's daughter and by the process of elimination, the shortest and most talkative one is the Talreja progeny. After congratulating myself on the Sherlockian powers of deduction, I look for our names in the chart. Bummer! This was the chart of D10 and we were in D11. 

TTE comes back to his seat. He hails from Mavelikkara. We make conversation. "thante ee prayathil ente makanu vayasu aarayirunnu" (When I was your age, my son was already 6) he comments on my single status. He has two kids now. Younger one is in UKG. He has been in service for 13 years. For two months every year, he is on Jan Shatabdi. Six days a week duty. Railways provides accommodation, food is up to them. He mentions his favorite Murali hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, near the MLA hostel, "Puttum Meenthalayum kittum. Randara kilometer njangal nadannu pokum. Thirichu auto." (We get 'puttu' and fish head curry. We walk the 2.5Km to the hote and take a rickshaw back) He enquires about the heliconia. They had plenty growing wild in their yard. Without knowing the upcoming star status of the plant, they had destroyed it all couple of years ago. 

He gets busy writing receipts of the fines he had issued. Rs 900 each for the two passengers who had been travelling from Kozhikode without reservation. I can see the D11 chart now. All 3 F18s. All three malayalee names. I didn't want to waste another five minutes trying to match the names with the faces. 

Train makes an unscheduled stop at Sasthamkota. I look at the all powerful TTE for answers. He telephones his friend on duty at the station. There is a passenger train traveling a little ahead of the Jan Shatabdi. Earlier, they used to hold that train and allow this express to overtake. But then a few hundred season ticket holding passengers petitioned the MP against the loss of 12 minutes of their life. So now Shatabdi waits and follows the slow Passenger train till it comes to its last stop at Kollam. 

A bunch of M19s and M20s soon show up to chat with the F18s. It was some kind of mild locomotive ragging. First, it was the tall girl's turn. As soon as she started answering the questions from the senior boys, couple of Kerala Police constables came to the compartment. "Podei, podei", the constable with the larger potbelly waved the boys away. They dispersed. The police intervention saved the girl. After a few minutes, the boys were back. The next girl was summoned. Half an hour interrogation session. The girls hold hands in solidarity when she manages to come back to her seat.

TTE takes off his suit and tie and relaxes as we stop at Varkala. Other unsuited TTEs show up. Inside his VIP suitcase a photograph of Sai Baba who died recently. I was glad that topic never came up in our conversation. 

9:15: back at Thiruvananthapuram Central Station. Back in my bed by 10:30. Invariably, the best part of any trip is coming back home...with refreshed eyes and a rejuvenated mind!


At Munnar (BH:D66)

October 8, 2011

Sunrise viewed from the balcony of our room was spectacular. As the sky gets broad strokes of red, orange and grey, Pallivasal waterfall roars loudly. Since the resort hadn't woken up, the only other sound was a whistling bird. The sun ascends like a magical golden droplet. The mountains stretching as far as the eye could see resemble a crumbled bedsheet. One sunrise is inconsequential for the geological forces that twisted them up. Misty clouds shift between the ranges. Despite the rising sun, the mountains refuse to give up their white blanket.

Murugan had promised to pick us up at 6:30 am. But 33 drivers in a dorm,including some all night drinkers, with only two bathrooms, meant he was delayed by fifteen minutes. We set off on the sightseeing mission. Right outside the five star resort, Jose (pronounced in the mallu way not the Hispanic way) runs his tea stall. Murugan had eaten dinner there.Turns out Jose supplies chapatti and chicken curry for the 5-star buffet we had the previous night. Dramatic escalation in the cost once the dishes make it through the gate of the resort. 

Munnar (3 rivers) gets it name from Madurapuzha, Nallathani and Kundala. Of these, Nallathani has been reduced to a canal. The original plantation workers and settlers are all Tamilians though the town is very much inside Kerala. Announcements and notices are in Tamil.Munnar has been declared a linguistic minority region.

Seetha lake falls which is couple of minutes drive from the resort, supplies drinking water to the area. There are clear signboards requesting tourists not to pollute. Yet the area and the edge of the tea estate on the downward side of the road are covered with litter. Plastic and paper utensils, cans and cola bottles. Yesterday, on our drive upwards, we had noticed some groups parked on the small meadows by the road. They had come fully equipped for cooking and eating. Later at the resort, I noticed the open boot (dickie) of a tourist bus from Karnataka. There were enough steel utensils in it for a bachelor apartment. Cooking gas cylinder, stove and a bucket full of dried twigs even.
"ee uploadinginte kozhappam, ivaru same spotil downloadum cheyyum!" (the problem with this uploading is that they download at the same spot) remarked Murugan. Some of these tourist groups have no qualms about defecating at the same spot where they had been eating a while ago. 

I read online later that Munnar used to produce 20 tonnes of waste a month two decades ago. Now it is 25 tonnes per day. Our species has the habit of leaving a mess wherever we live. Agriculture and domestication of dogs have been positive fallout of this. But gone are those days of biodegradable waste. At the current rate, there will not be any pristine natural beauty and fresh air to enjoy here in a couple of decades. It will become just another "ritual" tourist spot where one can meet other harried tourists trying to carve another notch on their travel post with the visit. The good thing is that we are creating a generation of children who won't miss any of the natural bounty. When all your looking at is an LCD screen it doesn't matter if you are in congested Mumbai or the misty Ghats.

Few kilometers down the road from the Seetha falls, a viewing location. Nobody else on the road. Clouds and mist have hidden the far away mountains. Otherwise,according to Murugan, Idukki hydel power project and Ramakalmedu wind farm can be seen. We were overlooking Bison valley.No bisons in sight. Isolated human dwellings on the mountains. A lush paddy field at the bottom. 
"It must have been a river long time back," the old geology student in Achan came alive at the site. "No, I have never seen a river there," said Murugan with the authority of a native. "Not your life time. I am taking thousands of years," Achan clarified.

Later during the day as well, we could make out small shacks and sheds built in the forest on the mountains forming national parks. Murugan became vocal about the forest encroachment. "First they will plant two bananas; then coconut trees, then a small shed with four stumps and a plastic sheet roof will show up. It will soon transform into a small shack and before you know it, they will claim a couple of acres of land as their ancestor's." 
"Sometimes fully grown coconut trees are uprooted, transported and replanted to show that they have lived their for long," Achan joined in. 

At the Harrison Malayalam estate, a cloud refused to reveal the plantation workers village at the bottom of the valley. We got out of the car to admire the view. Naturally, we wanted to taste young leaves in the plants nearby. "It is very high nicotine and has traces of cynide," Murugan continued the warning as we were busy spitting out whatever we had chewed. At a turn of the highway as it winds downwards by the side of the estate, a quick brown fox appeared in front of the car. It was in no mood to be photographed and ran into the jungle bordering the estate. Down the road, we met a lot of lazy dogs.

As we neared Munnar town, Murugan showed us the engineering college and a posh resort where Bollywood stars stay during their visits. "It is still old British equipment that is used in the labs of this college," said Murugan, "in a way it is good. Once you know how to use the old stuff, it will be easy handling the more convenient new ones." 

Small break in the town for tea and some snacks. There was a deep fried banana "bonda". "Indians invented zero and round things like bondas"
Our climb to Top Station around 20 kilometers away took us through Maattupetty, Kundala dam and Devi Kulam. Maattupetty has a beautiful dam lake. It is home of the famous for the Indo-Swiss cattle project. Murugan claimed that he has seen cows as big as elephants. He asked us to keep a watchout for bisons and elephants on the road. 

We halt at a turning. Murugan asked us to go look at the trees growing from the downside slope.The branches had huge bee hives hanging from them like stalk-less jackfruits. The tribals in the area harvest and sell the honey but we were advised against buying those from the road side because they would be adulterated with jaggery and sugar syrup. 

Kundala dam is rather small. A bunch of boys were brushing and getting their horses ready for the tourist rides. One of them got the horses to gallop pretty fast. Future stunt dupe in south Indian cinema. Amma wanted to get some bread omelette. There was a small shack which sold breakfast dishes. The three signboards around the shack was a smorgasboard of spelling mistakes. You could have 'Omblet' or 'Aamblate' with 'kadamam' tea or go traditional with 'thosai' as it is pronounced in Tamil. 

There were boating services available. Recently, this spot was in news for a murder. The wife of a honeymooning couple had asked her lover to wait at a secluded spot near the dam. She brought her husband there. The lady and her lover murdered the hubby, dumped his body and returned home. Since we knew this story, we were looking at all the couples suspiciously. Some boys were selling something called 'tree tomatoes'. "Best for diabetes" was the sales pitch. 

Mattupetty and Devikulam markets were barely waking up when drove through. All the shops sell homemade chocolate. Even in this age of ubiquitous cellphone camera, plenty of young men offering to sell 'instant photos"

When we reached the outer perimeter of 'Top Station', a water fight was in progress. Not the sexy kind with wet tshirts but the real kind which will be the fate of majority of our planet very soon. Some woman had removed the plastic pot another one had kept under the public government tap. The de-poted one was furious. She challenged every other woman from the nearby homes for a verbal duel. All the houses had shops running from their front end. Quail eggs, guaves, gooseberries were the main merchandise.

By this time, BSNL has the courtesy to text me that I had crossed over to Tamil Nadu and roaming charges will apply. 'Top Station' is private property (of Tata of course) but by charging Rs 15 per head they were making good business out of the view. The proper view station required climbing down couple of hundred feet. This meant climbing back up as well. So the sign at the entrance warned heart patients and those with blood pressure against the adventure. As we began going down the steps, a group of young men crossed us, coming up, sweating and heavily panting. Amma proceeded to give a short lecture on the unhealthy life style of IT professionals. 

The view was worth way more than the fifteen rupees. The majestic Ghats forming the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Small multicolored squares of vegetable cultivation in the valley. A road zigzagging on the central ridge of the mountain straight ahead. Atop, hidden partly beneath the clouds, the first plantation and factory. Absolutely stupendous human effort getting there and setting it up. The rope way and old train station that helped in that construction now survive only in bits and pieces. No mountain is too tall before the lure of profits. We climbed back up from the viewpoint in three stages taking totally 15 minutes. 

By the time we got back to the car, the water fight was resolved. A granny shopkeeper was trying to sell boiled quail egg to the little boy in a Kannadiga tourist group. "muttai saapitta thaan valibana vara mudiyum"

From Top Station to Vattavada, the border village of Kerala, famous for vegetable cultivation. Murugan was planning to take the road from Vattavada to Marayoor. But the forest officer at Pampadum Sholay wild life preserve had other plans. He refused to let the car through. He said there is no such road to Marayoor and the farthest we can get to is Koviloor. Murugan came back to the car fuming. We would have to turn back. The other road "Kochi Kodaikanal" was also closed. There was board that said that it is the highest highway south of the Himalayas. Only for marijuana planters, I presume! 

Amma went to meet the forest officer with her ID card. He clarified that if we took a detour into the forest without a proper guide, he would lose his job. He took Amma's word that we were law-abiding citizens. The check post gate lifted. We were on our way through the jungle road. Mostly tall eucalyptus trees which are harvested by Hindustan Paper mills. Some "not-so-proper" looking side roads leading into the forest. 

Amma claimed that it is thanks to the self-less work of some environmentalists that at least this much forest is presevered. Murugan disagreed. He said there were "proftable" business operating inside the forest and it was in their business interest to preserve the forest cover. As if to prove his point, a brand new Mercedes SUV, appeared out of nowhere and continued on the road! We met a forest guard who discouraged us from any trekking. "There are leeches this season" he said. Leeches, indeed!

The forest officer turned out to be right. The road connecting Koviloor and Marayoor was closed. "You can go walking" said a villager sitting under the lone flagpole that stood for 'downtown' Koviloor. "Where can be buy some vegetables?" Amma asked. An toothless old lady laughed heartily, "Who will sell vegetables in this sun?! Come in the evening!" 

We retraced our route back to Munnar town. A family of Nilgiri langurs were playing on some branches by the road. Quick lunch at heavily crowded Sharavana Bhavan and on our way to Muniyara via Marayoor. 

Eravikulam National Park falls on the way. Hundreds of people were waiting in the queue to get into the park safari bus. Lot more monkeys on the road in this route. They carefully watch the vehicles and have been habituated to people feeding them. When we slowed down to negotiate a potholes, couple of them came leaping towards our car full of hope. Any hope of seeing wildlife on the road was dashed by the constant honking of the vehicles passing by the twisting turning road. Even after seeing each other, some drivers tap a couple of cursory horns. No self-respecting wild animal was going to come around this cacophony.
Aanamudi, the tallest peak in south India, looms into view. 

Murugan's cellphone rings. He pulls over and checks the caller id. It is his brother. "We are having a fight over inheritance. If I talk to him now, I will get angry and won't be able to drive," Few minutes later, phone rings again. He pulls over and picks up. It is his sister-in-law. "I am driving now, will call later in the night!" Apparently his relation with his sister-in-law hasn't soured.

The route to Marayoor took us through the Talayar estate, another one among the 24,000 hectares that form the Kannan Devan plantations. Smell of fresh tea while passing by the factories. Lot of picnickers at the Lakkam water falls. Numerous falls in the area. Murugan said there was a shop that used the constantly flowing cold water as its refrigerator for cold drinks. Even in the presence of such brilliant water falls, there is a market for cold Pepsi!

At different points during the trip, we bought guavas, oranges and gooseberries from boys who were selling them by the roadside. Wild gooseberries are hardcore in their bitterness and the subsequent sweetness. Guava is a gamble. Some sweet, some ripe, some sour. When we stopped by for oranges, a few other cars also stopped. Murugan said this is common. Seeing a KL registration number Kerala car stop, all the other mallu cars coming that way also stop to check out what is going on. Murugan told us not to eat the orange right there. He said the sweetness settles into them only later once they have been warmed up the in plains. So we saved them for the train journey back home.

Marayoor is famous for two things: sandalwood and jaggery. Tall metal fences have been erected on either side of the road to protect the sandal forests from illegal lumbering. Well, the fences also prevent common folk from finding out what kind of dealings happen in the forest. Murugan remembered that there was a sandal stump somewhere on the roadside that a few drivers had maintained so that they could give tourists a whiff of fresh sandal. It is the old core of the stem that has the sandal scent. The stump hadn't relocated. Even more surprisingly, it hadn't been stolen. Fresh sandal smell is quite addictive. The forest provided wonderful shade on the road. Half harvested sugarcane plantations took over from the forests after a couple of kilometers. 

We had to stop couple of times to ask for Muniyara's location. Murugan remembered that it was in the campus of a government school. The school also hadn't moved. 
Beside one of the classs room buildings and behind a lab, the neolithic dolmens. A remarkable sight! 
Huge flat pieces of granite, broken from the nearby rock formation, fitted together to form four walls and a roof. It is said that these dolmens were burial sites. The Adi Chera tribe inhabiting this forest had used it for their royalty. But the name "muniyara" implies that Jains and Buddhist monks might have used it centuries later as monastery rooms. Murugan said that a rock tank was shaped around the source of the Seetha lake falls and there were 'muniyaras' even on top of that rock. I sat inside one, barely large enough for one person to lie down, wondering how many had sat there before me and how far back in time. 

Sun was setting by the time we were back at Munnar. Heavy traffic. Brief stop at the Kannan Devan outlet to buy tea powder. The climb back to the resort guided by high beam headlights. Increased heart rate. Thankfully no mist. It being a saturday night, lot of youngsters on motorbikes, overtaking on the narrow road. "After couple of hours, all of them will be fully drunk or stoned!" snaps Murugan as yet another motorbike speeds past. "They want to use our headlights to see the road better," he complaints, "some day I will turn off my light and let them fall into a pothole!" I don't think he has the heart to do that.

7pm back in the room. Lot more activity in the resort. More guest, I suppose. Bellboys in their yellow tshirt uniforms appear rather busy. There is a bonfire organized outside the reception area. Very loud music. A few people shuffling their feet while decideding whether to dance. 

While showering, I notice that the glass window of the bathroom provides a clear view from the balcony of the adjacent building. If someone had seen me showering, apologies in advance for the nightmares!