18 till I die

18 till I die

I spent the last evening watching a delightful show ‘Tarang’ put up by the Indian students of NEU. Amidst the gambol; the foot-stamping Punjabi-bollywood music; the argument over dinner with a friend about why the south Indians are always (un)der-represented at any “Indian get-together” in the USA; the conversation about college and school binge….. I re-called many a things which was sub-consciously buried deep down within me over the past two years…

As I watched the simulating dances, many a bright perky girls and boys entertaining the two hundred odd crowds, I was surprisingly feeling weird and restless. It took me many moments to sink in that for the very first time in my life at a party of performances and total vitality; I was a mere sitting-spectator and not the howling hooting cheering and dancing hooligan in the crowd. I tried to remember when the last time was, that I had some mindless fun and jumped to my favorite tunes in a company of friends.

It was the ever crowded raucous Rock-show at IIT-Saarang; The smooth yet loud show of KK; The vivacious merry-making at a birthday party; Dancing in gaps of the bus during school excursions; Making the human chain at the school fest of ‘Magnum opus’; The college day celebrations and after; And many more rollicks that made ‘student life’ a trip to harbor!!

I had a sudden rush of deja-vu and wished I could re-live times spent and moments bygone and join the yowling bunch. At the very same time, I felt drawn back. May be I was growing up too fast. I wanted to be 18 again. I fought the mixed emotions and concluded it was all part of moving on. It was part of evolving from an insouciant student to an independent responsible individual?. May be I have had my share of breezy unguarded lark. But certain facts were glaring right at me — I had lost the appetite and gaiety to blend into ‘any’ crowd for a round of fun; I had forgotten to be the bubbly popular-self in a throng of classmates; I could no longer enjoy a party and not worry about waking up late the next day.

When was it that life had become a four-walled cube in a remote office; a countless dry dishes in the sink; post-it notes of pending errands; basket full of laundry and working-from-home weekends??

I didn’t have time to ponder over these thoughts as I had to hit the bed to be able to get to work early. I left the day to a fond smile and gave it up to the life at 18!

Are we ready for a round of poker??

Are we ready for a round of poker??

My earliest experience with playing cards was that, they were taboo when grandparents were around in the house. Card games were meant for the un-couth and considered synonymous to gambling. However, over the years, cards had turned out to be the best form of recreation when cousins got together over a lazy afternoon after a heavy meal until the evening coffee and snacks. Games varied from rummy to ass to bluff and many a little monkeyshines that went along with it; but poker was an absolute NO-NO.

It was not until a few months back that I was introduced to the game of poker by my friends in Boston. We had watched the game being played with heavy stakes at the casino in Connecticut, which seemed like an engaging sport?! We of course didn’t have the money, valor or foolhardiness to try our hand then, but over one cold afternoon in the cozy room on the fifth floor of Huntington Avenue, we had indulged in playing the forbidden sport to capacity and frivolity! However the bids have never grown beyond the color chips that the poker pack accompanies. Ever since, no outing or coffee meet or movie meet or a just-for-the-sake meet has gone without a round of poker.

What is it that makes a game of poker, so special that even after 8 months of 10 people playing it at least twice a week doesn’t make it boring?? Is the infinite supply of coffee, chips, salsa that often accompany the fun?? Is it the indefinite possibilities of the game that no two plays are ever the same and for once permutation and combination actually makes sense?? Is it the colorful money and materialistic you that plays?? Is it the only sane thing a group can get involved to kill time??? Or is it the people who you play with and the shenanigans that make poker-time a memorable one???

I wonder why these questions ever pop up within me, when I do look forward to some good-humoured poker every weekend with my good friends and share many a joke over the hot cup of coffee; As I sit back and flip my two cards and glance at my depleting coin stack and yet proclaim to raise the bid, I stifle a smile to make the perfect ‘poker-face’ and sneak a peak into my friend’s cards – I realize that life wouldn’t be any good without a bunch of pals to horse around, make perfect sense of every non-sense, laugh at instances that don’t seem to make sense later, to share your child-likeness and tom-foolery and above all to make even an intriguing game like poker seem of no avail without the perfect friend-circle!! J

A child’s diary

A child’s diary

I was reading ‘swami and friends’, last week; the book has always been a subtle reminder of my amusing experiences as a child! But unlike and like swami, I spent the better half of my innocence in a small colony in trivandrum, with two dear friends – Nandu and Ninju.

We were inseparable playmates who fought, laughed, cried and shared every puerile emotion together. Life then was a happy-go-lucky routine… School, play, Padmanabha swami temple, homework, dinner and sleep!! Amidst the visits to the temple of the reclining god and instances of sheer laughter, the three of us had created a world where we spent the best days of our lives.

Our wantonness could make a ‘Divya and Friends’ for itself ; If I were to look back at time twenty one years ago it wouldn’t be complete without the little-big things that made it happen —
The time we made a castle at the beach and cried when the sea washed it away; when we were ‘the famous three’ and dug the roots of a coconut tree, hoping to find treasure, which all started from an architect’s view of the house! ; the funniest fashion show we put up for the elders to watch, when the most novel dress was a skirt worn around the neck ; the times we got dressed for the evening ‘kolatam’ ( south indian dandia ) during navaratri ; the carnatic music lessons we took hoping to turn it into ‘kacheris’ someday ; the evening we painted the entire colony road with our ‘kolam’ practice ; the cultural fest we organized with three participants – Ninju, nandu and Divya ; the days we fought over stamps which would go into the obscure philatelist’s bag; the “secret’s secret” group we formed to be clandestine of our supposed missions ; the evenings we indulged in lock and key and the times we fell and let those knees and elbows bleed ; the weekends we spent learning to cycle at ‘traffic park’ ; the crackers we burst during diwali ; the Christmas carols we made up ; the little stories we enacted in our immure play room ; the feast we made with our kitchen sets ; the times we would swing for hours on the ‘atukatil’ and never get tired of it ; the day we enjoyed ‘beauty and the beast’ in theatre for the children’s film festival ; the little picnics we had on the terrace ; the days we cried, laughed and chattered enthralled by the smallest of things that made us who we are…

Life was never better and a mesmerized childhood could never get better … Away from worries, away from sadness… pure fun and true happiness… As I look the picture of the three of us hugging each other on the swing, I can’t help but feel that the child in us still remains…..

The summer of 1996

The summer of 1996

With the cricket pitch soaring high… I am reminded of the world cup of 1996, when India lost to Srilanka so miserably in the semi-finals at Calcutta. It was the year; I had started to understand cricket and actually blend into the cricket fever that India thrived on!

After the victory at the quarter-final match against Pakistan, the Indian cricket players were no less that demigods for me and my best friend Annie. By then we knew every cricket score and every cricketer’s score, who had taken the highest wickets, Number of 4’s and 6’s tendulakar had smashed and blah! (Quiet remarkable for two girls who didn’t know how cricket was played till then!) . We decided to put all this energy into use. Well! Playing the game was out of question and 12 year old girls had better things to do than burn their skin playing cricket with the boys!! We came up with this most time devouring project of making a cricket book, which kept us on our toes the whole of the summer of 1996.

It began with the piles of ‘sport star’ magazines we had collected over the cricket season and the gambit of cricket shots it contained. We had very religiously used a lab-notebook and stuck carefully picked pictures on the left hand side on the plain paper and written out details on the right hand side. Like we had a page with close up picture of tendulkar and the right hand side we had details like – no of runs, average and all possible nitty gritty details! I wonder what we wanted out of this supposed book of records, which we even bothered to update as months went by. The cricket book had become an obsession that I would want to have my eyes on it all the time. It was like we had fallen in love with the cricket book to distraction. As if this was not balmy enough, we also supplemented the cricket book with Sachin and kumble notebooks, with pictures of the two cricketing divas!? [If the NDTV existed then, they could have featured our efforts in the news titling it “‘Two 12 year girls turn berserk, innovative cricket fans’ … After the break”

The cricket fervor caught on to us so much so that we retorted to a zillion superstitions and prayers to make India win. India’s loss depressed us immensely. I would also coax my mother to pray and read her prayer book while India was out at the field. We had even bought the music cassette sung by Sanjay Manjeraker which had favorite songs of all the Indian cricket palyers!! By the June of 1996, we had reached the peak of insanity and cricket(ers) was the world to us. It became an obscene reality that we heard, watched and talked cricket. It had turned from fad to patriotism to personal! It was time to stop…

I don’t recall what happened following that summer… except that we had school to go to ,we were turning teenagers and we had much more to look forward to in life and our cricket book and fanatic-sm was buried deep under the dusty book rack! … 11 years down the lane, the ‘making of our cricket book’ still brings a smile on my face and the remnants of my friendship with Annie.

Lost Identity

Lost Identity

“ I speak tamil at home… it is actually ‘Talayalam’. But my native place is kerala!!” Does it quiet ring a bell??? Having told this over and over again and confused friends over this annoying identity… I belong to the supposed elite class of palakkad iyers. I have heard that my great-great-great-….. Grandpa lived in palakkad (town in Kerala). Technically I belong to Trivandrum, but that has never changed to ‘trivandrum iyer’… ‘Palakkad iyer’ remains! I speak a language that irks the tamilians and malayalees alike. It is a hybrid language not just mixing the words from the two languages, but combining them, making it look like ‘oh! We have the best of both sides!’ [the word ‘understand’ in malayalam is “manasulayo” and tamil is “purinjacha”.. I say “manasulacha”??] Surprisingly, I can handle Tamil, malaylam and talayalam with careful ease, which leaves me as a jack of all trades and master of none!

Anecdotes of mis-interpreted words, which have different repercussions when spoken in Tamil and Malayalam, have been the family’s source of jokes told at every family get-together. I must admit that many a times, even I have laughed over them n re-told them!
Jokes apart, I have always wondered where this misconstrued identity leaves the Palakkad iyres. Is it possible that the generations to come will transform into the original natives and forget talayalam all-together… OR will talayalam transcend into another language with its own identity? (Considering that there is no dearth of dialects or languages in India, as long as talayalam doesn’t call for another talyangana state, it should work fine!)

Firstly, I see very little of the language surviving in my family itself. My cousins in kerala speak more or Malayalam, ones in tamilnadu speak more of tamil and the ones abroad or in northern India scarcely understand either and may be speak ‘talayanglish’?! Secondly, hardly any of my cousins has married a palakkad iyer, or even an iyer to say the least! Thirdly, talayalam cannot be spoken or recognized anywhere other than family circles and not an easy language to pick up, unless you are born with it.

Amidst all this, what I do observe is the metamorphosis of the language over generations. Additions and deletions of words or changing words back to native languages; each generation has produced a new version. It reminds of the scene at the software industry where no version of the software is ever perfect and there is no such defined version that would outshine the rest. Are, we changing the face of talayalam into a sparsely debugging mode, not knowing what to debug? Is talayalam here to stay or is the original dialect being lost in the myriad of its versions?? I am just left with a bunch of unanswered questions and a sense of belonging to my dear old mother tongue that I call ‘talayalam’!

89/100 in Lesson of life

89/100 in Lesson of life

How important is an 85% anyway?? I had this conflict ever since the day, I was six and my mother beat me hard for not having written answers to questions which could have made me a class first!

Class first…Hmm… does it sound familiar?? Brought up in typical south Indian Brahmin family, I was told that a career came before life. A 100% in mathematics was the biggest achievement and a stepping stone to all successes ahead… Life revolved around scoring marks that made you the top in class and among every cousin in the family, getting into IIT, fly to US for a Masters and becoming a software engineer like every “good” student did or should??!… Well… I sadly never achieved it all… I have never scored a 100% in board exams. Wasn’t the topper of my class… Didn’t make it through IIT… much to my mother’s disappointment … I was a much too a moderate student who ended up being a pseudo Software Engineer, that every city-born, Brahmin south Indian SHOULD! 23 years of birth n later I am a developer like a million others and became part of the Software genre of IT professionals, lost in the grains of sand that holds the US economy together and running after a Dollar dream!! Many a time I wonder is this really what I want and why?? And I am lost for an answer. Is it the way my family wants me to be? Is it the trend for every educated south Indian Brahmin family?? Or is it a simple “Be a roman in Rome” syndrome??

Yes, like everyone in the field, I am good at what I do… But the point is… Does this define life itself??

Is it ethical or even moral to tell a child that scoring more than everyone in class defines her? If she doesn’t come in the first 3 in class, her life is practically doomed?? How healthy is this competition?? Can this be defined as competition?? Is it right to force a child to tread a path she doesn’t want to?? Is it right to make a student feel that a failure can spell hell?? If she doesn’t do as well as half the world, does it mean she is a loser in life??

I spent the last 18 months of my life finding answers to these questions and ended up making my Masters experience a horribly good one… ‘Class first’ turned out to be a sardonic reality! Stuck in a classroom of my country men and women (a home away from home??) striving to be a part of the ‘software imports’, I felt immensely pressurized to perform better than ever. Little did I realize then — that achievement among forty meant nothing when you are thrust against another forty million ; Confidence and time-management spelt success and not a 99/100 ; Working smart helped you get grades and not Working hard(er) ; Masters was all about following your heart and not proving to be better than the best!

My struggle to keep grades high through the ‘Be a roman’ ideals led to my first failure. Failing a course had been the ultimate suicidal experience of my life! I no longer feel embarrassed admitting it to myself or to the world through this blog. What followed in my life was determination and reasons to live, which has brought me where I am right now. I feel re-born, with the right ideals – struggle to follow your heart and dreams ; work to be able to smile and feel contended about yourself and your life ; Love what you do and do it only if you love it.

I look at the report card which reads – Mathematics – 89/100 ( “Can do better “ remark by my teacher ) and my heart no longer sinks with disappointment, but I feel proud that I was able to look at life beyond a piece of paper that said my mathematics score!!

Disclaimer: The author is not targeting south Indian Brahmin families, she belongs to one too!. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.