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Monday, 9 November 2015

Nosy Parkers_Gulf News 2007

Just thought of sharing this one from my once upon a time humour slot in Gulf News' Off the Cuff (Published in August 2, 2007). The lesson we learn from a nosy parker is how not to become one... when we meet and greet people/strangers on festivals/occasions! And that is the victory of light over darkness ;)

Happy Diwali! :)

... starts....

Hi!" and then... "How are you?" Why do we greet and then immediately ask a question? When we meet someone, can't we just wish a "hope you are fine" and push off?
I was thinking about the various questions one has to deal in a lifetime. They are just too many to mention. Too many to think, ponder or respond... and most of all funny if you can see the lighter side of the frustrating ones.
One of my friends is having a tough time battling questions from one and all on when she is planning to have a baby, ever since she tied the knot four years ago. It is like everyone's right to ask the question. So? It is high time she had a baby? Why doesn't she consult a doctor? Unbelievably so common and true. Questions flow from all over. Even from strangers who meet her for the first time. So, you are married? Any kids? Are you planning? Why do people want to know so many things? Are they planning to sponsor the unborn kids of the world? Who gives them the licence to ask private and much-confidential things a couple chooses to keep?
Dreadful questions
If it were not those dreadful questions one has to answer, we would not have been what we are. A lot of us would not have even got married. I am reminded of this other friend who was seeing someone and everyone was keen on knowing when she is tying the knot. Is it some sort of a quiz?
Taking about quiz, most of the quiz masters are gossip mongers.
The questionnaire takes you by surprise, even when you are prepared with a not so great answers. They are direct and unwarranted. Most of the time the quizmaster knows the answer or at least the many options one can pick from. But then he still chooses to ask. He loves to exercise his right, as he is your friend, relative, family or just a passer-by.
Is running away a solution? But who says answering is any solution? If you do answer, you let them pop another one. If you keep mum, which is difficult most of the time, it works. Silence is hard to break. The big question is that actually do we need to answer anyone and everyone we know, love and care about? I don't think so. But it still, depends, I must confess.
Once, while attending a family get-together, my baby brother whispered to my mother: "Mummy I want to ask something". She looked at him sternly and and placed her index finger on her pursed mouth.
Mother wanted to prevent him from any gibberish nonsense, that would potentially embarrass all. But the poor fellow only wanted to go to the washroom. Had she let him ask, she could have averted the disaster that followed soon after he kept quiet.
Asking questions to oneself is a good idea. It helps you check yourself before someone else gets a chance to point that out to you. Helps to introspect.
It is a mind bogglingly refreshing hobby. Try it. It is highly recommended.
Harmless question
Sometimes simple and seemingly harmless questions find deeper answers and expose things that one would rather keep than tell.
It is but questions that help the doctor find his way through appropriate cure. Questions that solve a case. Questions that enlighten our need to know more. Questions that keep life rolling. Questions that tell us what holds beneath. Questions, that define a deed. Questions, that yell out the truth of life.
Questions are sometimes the answers to what most of us seek. The wise one says, that if we ask the right question we might even find nirvana.
Life is all about newer questions and answers. Is that so?


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Get Your Chai On!

Society Insider Magazine's November 1, 2015 edition
Have you ever wondered why Facebook does weird and magical things to people? Some suddenly become the persona far removed from their actual selves. It exaggerates and alters behaviour. Smart people write silly things. Airy people write heady stuff. Quiet people abuse awkwardly. Of course, hot red, raving people still rave. Sometimes it is weird how generous people are with appreciation. Have you stumbled upon some praises that are absolutely cringeworthy? It's a doting crowd out there. Why do we turn to our phones every now and then? Why do we scroll or look for people or follow what they do? Why has social validation become a trend?

While we think about that let us take short break. Let us make some chai! I invite you to blukitchen - my own kitchen cum play area of experiments and dreamy escapades. ‬For the first time Gujarati-staple and my personal favourite ‪snack ‎dhokla‬ fluffed up while the morning ‪‎tea‬ was made to stretch and fall into the cup like a waterfall in ‪‎Kerala‬. Have you tasted the elastic tea? This one is popular by that name. I am not very skilled in this act of jugglery that involves hot tea being thrown from the pan to the cups. This almost-martial-arts-sort of-act of stretching arms, aiming and throwing the hot tea from a cup and catching it with the other was a spectacle for me the first time I saw this at a roadside tea stall in Kerala. Recently an experienced elder demonstrated this to me in my own kitchen! And am learning this new skill that calls for aim and efficiency. The net result is an aerated tea. Refreshingly different from the usual flat one it has a soft and fluffy froth floating peeping above the rim of the cup. One has to softly blow through this mountain of foam to get the tea to the lips. If lucky you get a tea-moustache too! Simply fantastic!

There is no one right way to make a tea. By the way 'chai tea' is an oxymoron. I have no idea why they call it so in menu cards. I like the Delhi-style masala chai much stretched and dropped from high above to fall into my mug like Kerala's elastic tea. There are so many delightful options to make a break mindful that all you need is get a little nostalgic or think about how best you like your cuppa and get from there. Just like there is no certain 'right way' to make a tea there is no one solution for that which distracts you. We are free humans. Your life is nobody else's business. First of all it is not a business! Like a delightful chai can be a priceless experience. 

The day offers many chores between chais. Some chores you don't like usually are the ones that will drive in boredom. That boredom can be broken by scrolling the screen of your touch phone. This activity has the potential to open cringe gates so wide open that a certain thought creeps in and stays with you and feeds on your positivity like a parasite... for days, or months together. Make the simple chai break mindfully so. Chai has the potential to be a spectacular drink and give you a phenomenal experience. 

Sharing my chai recipe here. The aromatic chai's masala mix is not just a heady mix of spices that has an awesome aroma, they are full of well being. Do try making the masala at home, t is aroma therapy in itself. Dry roast few pods of cardamom (mood enhancer), cloves (antioxidant), fennel seeds (digestive), peppercorns (anti-inflamatory) and pound them in a mortar along with some grated dry ginger (antiseptic). Add a teaspoon of this mix to boiling tea leaves. Strain to add little milk and sugar... do the elastic-tea gig. Savour the exotic whiff and take a sip while enjoying the taste of a revitalised drink, the warmth of the cup that you hold and the beautiful day light that dances in as shadows into the room. Aah! More sips! Aha! This exercise transports me to the mountains that grow this magical brew. I can almost hear a bagpiper in the backdrop and instantly feel I am floating amongst the clouds that stoop down to kiss the tender tea leaves. I can keep the chai time on for as long as the brew lasts. Every sip is a ticket free trip to some exotic dreamscape! Why not?

Once the chai time is over, reality strikes back. As far as possible I keep away from opportunities to cringe and away from social networks not because am an introvert. I do this only so that I can behave my best without any network inflicted baggage when I meet a new face or an old friend. There are so many interactions in a day that demand more attention than those virtual ones. We are a net result of all people and activities we choose to keep in our day. 

So why is this a trend - looking for validation online? Is it lack of creativity and thus resultant boredom? I have observed that it is not that people are not creative. Most are perhaps not creating anything of actual value. However, everyone needs some sort of self assurance of their social value and hence they seek it through virtual social opinion. This most often results in increased stress, anxiety and nothing remotely phenomenal. But there is a solution.

Einstein believed in something called Combinatory Play. The idea is simple. By expressing creativity in one realm, you could get inspiration for another. So whenever he was blocked, he would spend some time playing his violin. This activity opened up some channels in his mind, and he could go back and solve that tough mathematical equation easier this time. Whatever it takes to get the inspiration flowing, get it flowing. Get on it right now! For starters, switch off that damn phone and simply get your chai on! Make that chai with some profound TLC. And sit down to enjoy the best cuppa made exclusively for you. Make the moment count.

Thank you for being the change! Happy Chai!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Keemayanam_Blu&Simi with Pappa

Dear Friends... I like to share some nostalgic stories from my childhood. Will be posting them under 'Blu&Simi with Pappa'. When I look back I realise they were timeless chats we sisters had with our late maternal grandpa... on various topics. Not sure who among us asked the questions to pappa... mostly both asked in turns... or were both present at the time of these chats.

Bablu and Simi with Punalur Pappa
1. Keemayanam

b&s: pappa why don't we celebrate dushhera and burn ravan statue?
pappa: ravanan's burning is done in the north not here (south of India).

b&s: why are there different festivals when all are hindus?
pappa: vishnu and shiva followers celebrate differently. vishu had many reincarnations (avatar) and each avataram has its own believers and followers... celebrations. we were together called hindus by explorers from the west. they wanted to understand or categorise us as people who lived beyond river sindhu. hindusim is a faith, not a religion.

b&s: what is religion? pappa: it is an organised system of faith.

b&S: what is better faith or religion. pappa: you must have faith, whether or not religion.

b&s: whom do we follow?
pappa: shivan

b&s: let us burn ravanan in our front yard. please! he was evil!
pappa: no need for that. if ravanan is burnt raman may cry.

b&s: btw why should raman cry? ravanan was his enemy. no? can dead people cry?
pappa: raman and ravanan are symbolic. and made into characters in a story. don't take them literally as two people and evaluate who is good and bad. don't get carried away in praises or curses. you will understand when you grow up.

b&s: when will we grow up?
pappa: some day

b&s: why do we call ram as raman and ravan as ravanan.

pappa: one is hindi other is sanskrit.
b&s: but there is rama and ravana also. which one is right - ram, rama or raman
pappa: rama & ravana are used by english writers who did not wish to get caught between followers in north and south... hindi or sanskrit. there is no right or wrong. take any you like.

b&s: you like raman or ravanan?
pappa: if you read ramayanam you will see it's hero is raman and if you read keemayanam, ravanan is the hero.

b&s: what is keemayanam? tell us about it please.
pappa: long story. read it when you grow up.

b&s: is raman god?

pappa: yes

b&s: do you believe in god?
pappa: yes

b&s: raman?
pappa: shivan

(shortly interrupted by the power cut. pappa gets up to bring a battery run light source to the porch)

b&s: if we are shaivaites why is your name ramachandran? why didn't they name you shivachandran?
pappa: that you must ask aiyya (great grandpa). but he is no more what to do! anyway they call me chandran.

b&s: aiyyo (oh!) pappa you should have asked aiyya about this. no!?
pappa: sorry i was very busy when he was around.

b&s: busy? doing what?
pappa: doing nothing in particular. mostly avoiding aiyya.

b&s: why were you avoiding him? how did you avoid him?
pappa: i was avoiding him because i did not know how to face him. once i hid on top of a huge cashew tree for a whole day.

b&s: whole day? were you not hungry? did you do something bad that you were hiding?
pappa: i climbed up with a bunch of plantains. i sat up there and ate it when i felt hungry. i must have done something bad according to him. my favourite spot to hide was on that tree. nobody found me out.

b&s: hahaha and did you throw the plantain skin down... and did anyone skid and fall?
pappa: no. there were no people walking below the tree. only snakes. there were a lot of them in our estate.

b&s: snakes! were you not scared of snakes?
pappa: no. snakes don't hurt you simply

Monday, 12 October 2015

I Felt Like Tossing the House Keys High Up in the Air

After a month of nosyparkers - an impromptu series on facebook for which I donno how and from where I got stories and ideas pouring in all of a sudden [not so all of a sudden but it is ok to say so!] - I have decided to stay in the moment, without much judgement that follows interfaces of obstructed thoughts... alias procrastination. Am not good with procrastination anyway... I may just think aloud while procrastinating. Don't ask me why! But I have been there seriously few times. Once was hilarious. I wasted 5 years. Completely gutted. Now it is funny when I look back.

I carry safely carry the keys to my castle in the air... and a silly moment takes over... and I toss the key high in the air!

Today after almost a month of starting two lines on this window. I have finally decided to let go. And get this one done anyway by allowing free flowing thoughts. After all bluvian is all 'random thoughts'... why am I so bothered?

Just a few minutes back beating the bright noon sun, I was pacing by the sidewalk to a reach a shade as soon as possible. I remembered mother's impromptu song... as I would crib and cringe incessantly if we had to bear the harsh sun while waiting to cross the road... in Delhi summers. This is really a very old memory. Secondary school days, to be precise!

The song: "Ice ice mountains... cold, cold mountains... snow capped mountains... glaciers! oh! glaciers! oh! glaciers..."

Forgetting the boring wait and the harsh sun on my face I would at once sing along with her with each "oh! glaciers" louder than the previous one... this would continue until some other distraction came our way. Like the mango-coloured Rasika van that sold refreshingly cold and fresh mango juice!

So coming back to the Abu Dhabi sidewalk that I wanted to badly cross to reach that shade few gasps away... I noticed these small slots in the tiles [were they stone tiles? concrete, may be! where was the time to have registered all that... I was in a hurry to get rid of the afternoon sun!]. I could hear the sound of gushing water from beneath. It sure must be a drain. Of course what else. But then together with the birds cackling in the backdrop, this gushing sound made it unreal. It was 12:30pm in a desert city! And here these sounds rendered a park-like ambience while I was walking between mountains of brick and steel. Summer or winter... Delhi or Dubai! I resist noon walking! [Wow! It so rhymes with moonwalking. My favourite MJ. Sigh!]

So the sidewalk had slabs with slots through which one could see the water gushing beneath. Peep, and I could see a hurrying shadow as it jumped along with me from one slab to the other. Peep, it was me! Peep, me again! And then something happened.

The mood changed. I walked slower. I did not mind the bright sun above me suddenly. Actually it was not so hot. I felt like tossing the house keys high up in the air to catch it. Just like that. This was exactly the same excitement long back one day while prancing home from school bus, that I lost the home keys in the gutter!! A gap between the tiles swallowed it! My heart sank while I watched it go down into the deep... like Jack in Titanic movie!


Oh don't even ask me the real drama that followed. After a bit of hungama. Children crowding around to take a peep... some stick and poke action by moi. I remember it was the ironwala bhaiyya [the man who used to press our clothes in his mobile table] who removed the slab, went right inside and took it out for me. And when he was inside all gaped at how deep that stupid drain was. He came back with the key... all drenched in filth! I was so grateful. But had to tell mother before neighbours did. Mother paid ironwala bhaiyya some money and thanked him. I got an earful of the obvious! I never walked for a long long time on the sidewalks with such slabs! Obviously! What if one such weak moment struck again and I start playing with the keys! I couldn't afford this adventure again!

All the growing up in between made me forget the slab walking, key tossing incident. But see how that random memory came just in time to rescue me! I quickly stepped out of the line of slab... put the keys back into my bag's pocket before a silly moment took over. Control freak! That is what we want to be at the end of the day! All the poetic liberty and meditation has not got me there yet!

This will pass too! ;)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Spread Your Wings

Sometimes you catch a hobby just like the season's new flu. These days I got one. Bird watching! Literally just that.

My attempt with oil and palette knife to recreate the white-eared bulbul couple who visit me regularly.

Have named them chulbul and babli

I am inspired to fly [sorry not the Icarus way! Science doesn't always fascinate me as much as flight of thoughts do]. I believe that each one of us have our own special wings too [some call it their poison, passion, mojo... but I like the word wings.] I wish each one of us spread our wings and flutter free! Just for once - I urge you - to do a small exercise. 

Turn your neck left - over your shoulders. And now to your right. [Like checking for wings sprouting from your scapula]. No wings? [Oh! I can see gorgeous Victoria Secret models sauntering the ramp with those hot wings! and hear an unlikely background score of the Red Bull ad that claims that drink will give you a pair of... never mind.] Could you turn to each side fully?

Long back when I struggled with severe spondylitis (stiff neck due to long hours by the desk) I did not know/care much about these wings one have. [Yes we all have them!] Creative wings to be precise. [Don't believe me?]

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”  ― Maya Angelou  

And how is that possible? To keep courage always? Or be creative always? There is no one answer but we are all born to create [no the word is not procreate!]... it is also called self discovery. Take a deep breathe... [like how Kung Fu Panda does before whipping the hell out of the wind to practice his passion for martial arts.]

That is a cartoon. How does a human do that in real life? 

Right now as am writing an important email I can hear the bird song of the white eared bulbuls in my balcony [I bet they are soon going to build a nest!]. I am distracted into taking a closer look at this curious bird. It preens its wings, shakes, wiggles and does all bird-like things. I wonder how it knows all these birdie stuff? Every day it is just growing up to be more like its own kind without once wasting time in self doubt. A true bulbul knows nothing but to be a true bulbul. How honest are we in our 'being human'? [ok I did not have Salman Khan's brand in my mind though it can be relevant here]. Are we really human-human or some-kind-of-human? Can we do everything a human is designed/meant to do? Like turn the neck to the right and then left... and see turn around to catch a glimpse of the scapula?

Well, I could avoid all the typing and simply say that the intention of this post was to collect my thoughts and stay inspired in the moment but I guess without my bulbuls this process wouldn't have been as much interesting.  

Staying in the moment is courageous, contagious and has only good side effects. It rewires/energises better [than Red Bull for sure!]. It helps rethink and convert the ordinary boring into sweet mundane... thus spinning off/creating a phenomenal moment... a day... and a lifestyle... a greater but slower, blissful one!

Thank you for staying strong :)

PS: Trust me art/yoga/meditation are not for freaks! I don't even want to get there to start describing who are! ;)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Naadu Evideya?

Means, where are you from? [Or to be specific, which part of 'Kerala' are you from - as the question is in Malayalam - by a Malayali for a Malayali]. I have no clue why this is the most asked question when you meet another person from the state of Kerala. To be fair, this query is not unique to Kerala or among just its people. Recently in Spain, I encountered two French women who were happy to learn they both belonged to a certain province in south of France. Well France is a country, luckily they all speak French there and Kerala, though called God's own country by its tourism board is only one tiny state in India [a country of so many languages/divides].

For a long time I was not sure of the right answer to this 'where do you belong' query. I usually say Delhi, until someone further asks 'Punjabi or Marwadi'? As am neither, I tell I am from Kerala. Oh! so you are a mallu? [mallu is a shorter word for Malayali and almost derogatory but not many including Malayalis know that it is name-calling and is used innocently by the ignorant masses, of course!].

You 'look' Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Irani... [what not!]' I am also not sure what those 'looks' are meant to look like... I fail to find any such certain 'look'. When I look at the mirror in determination to solve this... I see a stupid face looking for some stupid answers.

To those who seek more I have responded - I am from Kollam district in Kerala [as my mom's ancestors are from Punalur, a small town in Kollam district's jurisdiction... Kollam and Punalur are 45 minutes away by road]. 'Naadu Evideya' must be a silly thing that people do out of just being their usual whatsoever... but am not sure why or how your diaspora matters today when most of us are born and brought up anywhere else than where our parents were born /or raised. 'Naadu evideya' questions one's roots. Roots are arguable. [Especially if you can overcome nostalgia of your parents and seek for more clarity... i.e. digging deeper into the history beyond distractions/skeletons in the cupboard.]

We all relate to our origins from what our families teach/tell us... some of us simply learn through language, customs, preferences... and most importantly by deeming certain things/places/foods/people more special than others.

Am I a Tamil?

My folks [mom's people who live in Kerala] put kolam drawings with rice flour on the front yard and speak Tamil fluently... and they refer to next-door neighbours as Malayalis. So I assumed we are Tamils. I really did not give it much thought until I reached Dubai few years back. Here there is a larger population from the state of Kerala and speak malayalam more than one would encounter in Delhi. And once the guessing games start with your connection with Kerala they unfailingly ask the inevitable - 'Naadu evideya?' Am sure it is just an icebreaker for many. But a head banger for me. How am I supposed to say I belong to my mom's hometown that is mostly in my childhood vacation memories? How does that qualify me from there?

I asked mother recently who we are really. Are we Malayalis? Is it appropriate to say we belong here as generations have been living in this state? She said we are not Malayalis but yes we have lived in the state and you don't have to feel any different because we celebrate Onam and Vishu too [state-specific festivals one to celebrate the sowing of the seeds and the other for harvest] and officially you are listed in the ration card. So yes you are Malayali, if you insist. This politically correct and winding answer confused me further.

The story goes few centuries back, she said. 'Our ancestors travelled from Andhra to Kerala. If we still lived in that state our surnames would not be necessarily Pillai, but Gouda [rings a bell HD Deve Gouda, the Indian PM with the shortest office term].

Apparently, the ancestors - a clan of few families who were learned [knew ancient scriptures] and were farmers and consultants to the ruler's court somewhere in modern-day Andhra Pradesh] - fled that land to save a young girl. The whole clan left in support of the family of the girl, and fled overnight, leaving behind land and livestock... crossed mountains and rivers to protect a 13-year-old from the king who wanted to marry her - and make her his 16th wife!

To learn the sound of Andhra, I decided to watch a Telugu movie. It was titled 'Life is Beautiful' and truly beautiful it was thanks to subtitles in English. After the Telugu dose for the first time in my life, I thought of making 'pappu' - one of the dishes they talk about in the movie. Pappu is simply paruppu (in Malayalam/Tamil) or daal (for North India) or lentil curry (for rest of the world). I followed this youtube video to make this simple and yum tomato pappu from Andhra ;)
The clan came to Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, a cultural heaven those days, and settled there for the longest time before crossing border to Kerala for trade and business reasons. In Tamil Nadu, the clan found *similar people - Kaundars or Tamil Pillais or Shaiva Vellalars ["We are not chetty pillais and we don't marry them or muthaliyars or  nadaars who also speak Tamil. Remember we are saivam (tamil for vegetarians)," insists grandma (punalur amma lovingly called pullu), making it obvious that she belongs to an era she belongs to!]. *Similar people those days meant those who bond more on premise of common deities and interests. In our case, worshipping lord Shiva, agriculture and education [including active participation/support of arts and sports] were of common interest.

Other details that surfaced during this unusual chat with mother stretched my imagination to bullock-cart days... when my little grand dad [Punalur pappa... whom we lovingly call pulpa] must have crossed the streams and rivers of Punalur ['Punal' means water 'ur' means city] in a bullock cart to nearby Tuticorn (in Tamil Nadu) where his father [referred to as Aiyya by the family... and I know there is a recent Bollywood movie by that name too!] and grandpa [Periya Aiyya, name to refer the elderly] traded ink [remember ink pens? still love them... and love to use inks mostly for painting/art needs]. Rewinding back in time... I imagined lil pulpa. He must have looked a bit like my brother appu. It was easy to imagine him as everyone says brother got the same eyes that ran in the family... maternal uncle [maman] had em too. In my imagination appu looked a wee bit funny with his oil-slick hair parted in the centre and same just-wept eyes that pulpa had.

Our family of traders sold ink and bought writing paper/raw materials for stamps in return. These were used for office work. Because periya aiyya collected tax as the treasurer to the king. He maintained all documents with the help of a large team of accountants who reported to aiyya. The tax probably was sent to British East India Company too. This story makes our aiyya a bad man in the colonial India despite his just-wept eyes. He must have been a terrible landlord who must have tortured the poor Indian farmers. Was he the villain sort? There is no tax on imagination. And there is no point killing the dead!

I have enjoyed long stares standing beneath aiyya's large oil painting that hangs in pulpa's office. I always felt the portrait's expressions changed everyday - from peace to anger to joy to pensive. But pullu always felt 'he looks very stern/strict' and that the picture frightened her somehow. Anyway, it is a brilliant piece of art! Aiyya was strict with his boys. He must have pushed all the young men out of the comfort of homes/hometowns for better... and that is why probably they had a good exposure to the world through university education and voracious reading [pulpa's library is huge... with old books in English, Tamil, Malayam fighting for space with Reader's Digest and other magazines he used to collect].

Though a small community in Kerala, like his contemporaries in Tamil Nadu, pulpa continued aiyya's interests and supported by donating land to set up educational institutions to strengthen the aim of Vellalar Sabha, that of educating the young. Pupla was not simply a countryside landlord with community headship... he was a lawyer by profession and one of the earliest Rotarians in the country.

The 'naadu' query ended there when mother told we are not Malayali. "But" she added, "you have your father's mother's (muthashi) mannerisms and voice and her sister's (pappamma) facial features, so probably you are one Namboodiri than a Saiva Pillai like me. In that case, you are probably more a Malayali," she said. And are Namboodiri's pakka Malayalis? Mother's answer to this catapulted me to another plane altogether. She read in some book that Namboodiris migrated from a land called 'nabadri' in Europe, somewhere near current Jerusalem. [Holy shit, so am not an Indian?]

Am not Indian?

Namboodiris are aryans whereas rest of South India is of dravidian origin, so there is no explanation but invasion/migration from North India centuries back. Legends add to the confusion - that they were the Brahmins who were promised the land (Kerala) by Lord Parshuram who reclaimed the land from the sea between Gokarna and Kanyakumari and created the present day Kerala. This brahmin community from Kerala are similar to Brahmins in Canera coast who speak tulu [a language that has no written form, and so is only spoken]. Anyway, Namboodiris are responsible for creating this 'naadu evideya' Malayalam by mixing Sanskrit with Tamil.

So what is the right answer for 'naadu evideya'? Mother says you can say it is Punalur, which is al right to say or simply stick to Delhi as that is where you grew up. [Well that throws me back to square one!].

She paused and added, "Or just keep away from people who probe too much... that sort of detailing is not required in an ice-breaking conversation."

Bet mothers always know the right answer! Whether or not it answers your question is arguable. ;)

PS: During an interview with KG Subramanyan, one of the pioneers of Indian Modern Art and author, for my column 'Diaspora Matters' in Times of India, he asked me who this diaspora is and if it really mattered so much that it must make it to a column head? He went on to enlighten further saying 'if you dig deep you won't be surprised to know that we are all Africans! We are all one.' That was a moment of truth. I think I finally got the answer! If you ask me 'naadu evideya'... I might just give you the absolute right answer... angu afrikela [there back in Africa!] ;)... On a different note, I wonder why people want a different passport or citizenship when all our ancestors did was heed to man's eternal nomadic instints and move about without bothering much about fringe benefits of staying put somewhere temporarily most-often compromising one's dignity. I also feel like laughing at racist remarks by intolerant fellas who hate immigrants and think they have a right to hate because they belong 'more' in the whatsoever country/place as they arrived a bit earlier/or were born there somehow. Seriously! I think I should simply say I belong to mother earth as Mars is not yet open... or open my palms and pretend dumb... Those who ask may not be aware how prepared I am finally to answer this one! Mother will sure pardon this dumb one! ;)

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

This Kind of Charity...

As I wind up for the long weekend some thoughts visit me uncalled.

One morning [long long ago] after the assembly prayers, the school's principal announced about the importance of helping people who are less privileged.  'Let us all collect money for CHARITY'. It was the first time I heard that word. The girl who stood behind me in the assembly line was a compulsive speller. She spelled it out in my ears see-aich-aye-aar-aie-tee-vai. [I suddenly remembered my class teacher from the previous school - Miss Charity who was Mercy Daniel's mother. They had the same face, also same earrings - shiny white pearl studs held by golden claws].

The assembly was dispersed and we all came back to our classes without making a noise as there were line monitors, floor monitors and others watching us as we marched, back to our seats. After attendance, class teacher Miss Malini gave us a packet each. 'You all know what you have to do. Let our class win. And the child who brings highest donation will get a surprise gift from me'. Her eyes twinkled!

Actually I didn't pay attention to what the principal said as I was probably revisiting Ms Charity's pearl earrings [and wasn't sure if the pearl in her earrings were slightly bigger than her daughter's].

The packet had 'Helpage India' coupons. Each of us were handed 10 booklets. Each booklet had 10 leaves. One leaf was for Rs10. [Ok, you do the math please!]. The girl who stood behind me [the spelling expert] was also the class topper and sat just behind me. Anytime I was confused I could just turn around and she would make sure the world made better sense. She pressed her fingers on the forehead and said in her all-knowing-wisper - 'Didn't you hear what Principal sir said? The class that collects the highest amount will bag a special price.' She continued spilling knowledge generously... spelling out the two words that sounded the same - principal and principle. I wrote a sentence using the two words and showed it to her. She giggled and continued in her all-knowing-wisper 'You should have told you want to be a writer yesterday, when miss asked about careers. see-aie-aar-eee-eee-aar-ess.' In my little head, I thought everyone knew to write so that did not qualify as a work/job/profession etc. I was confused. I still am! [ahem!]

That was it! Our lives changed. Competition ran in and the act of kindness just got weird.

Back home each child had to convince parents to pay or allow them go out to collect money. My apartment building had two more children who joined me in the school bus. There were 10 more apartment buildings in the society and we were 11 kids who went to the same school. The bus stopped at every society in that row. There were about 5 of them from where children climbed in. The girl who knew everything came in another bus else she would have told me how many leaflets would be collected from Bus no 13 alone!

Children stopped playing after school... bullied by teachers and peer pressure went on a collecting spree. Parents spread it further to their workplaces. I remember a child in my class donated 50,000 rupees. A big amount. And our class won the price. [Honestly I don'y remember my contribution... I think mother tore off few leaflets and paid me whatever its worth was... and told me to take this off my list to wander about ringing calling bells of neighbours. I was doing it a bit much - just about anything was important enough to stay out of the house playing!]

Principal announced the winning class and the child was called to join him on the podium. Everyone clapped. A voice from behind whispered - 'Does the Principal have any principle?' She remembered the sentence constructed the other day. ;)

PS: I completely forgot why I started writing on charity today. Honestly it bugs me when this kind of stuff is done for just publicity/fame or to bag a price/scholarships/other benefits. Today so many are standing out from the crowd that they are a crowd on their own. It is tough to be ordinary ;)

Saturday, 11 July 2015

13 Until I Die [Chapter 11: Video Killed the Radio Star]

The Buggles number expires with the role of serving the title ;). Why is radio today the topic?

[Because I heard my voice on air after ages?]

My first VO was recorded for mother's TV campaign for good old Doordarshan. Mother was the first private producer for the national channel in India. I was in the 7th grade then and could mimic the voice that fit a 20 year old. Later, after finishing school and college, I came face to face with VO once again.

In 2002.

"You are born with a radio voice," said Radio Mirchi's sound editor who auditioned me on a random sentence written by somebody in the studio... meant for anyone who came in to record their voices for the first time. Because those days I did not have many voices telling me what to do [as in what job to take or leave etc... career counsellors in form of friends/family basically]... I could simply skip joining the radio without letting them wait for days for a response.

My reason was simple [and compelling to me at least] - I was bag packing to an awaited destination and the travel dates coincided with the channel's voice training period for new recruits. I had to make a very quick choice. It is hardest when there is no influence. I had only to listen to the sound of my soul's music. The following trip was beautiful. The most memorable experience from this trip to Jammu was having watched and followed lines and lines of tall pine trees up close for the first time like a botanist would. I came back to Delhi to paint as many of these trees possible... and still did not get enough of the misty mountains. [As I write this I can almost tune in to Hobbits OST... Misty mountains... wonder why they play all the time in my head!]

Far over the misty mountains cold. To dungeons deep and caverns old. We must away ere break of day. To seek the pale enchanted gold...

[I ask you my lord - in amitah bachachan's lawyer-voice complete with an intense bollywood score playing in the backdrop - Why my lord... why are you as usual lost in translation... why are you carried away into the bluvian randomness while explaining something that could be really simple? Tell me why you do this every time! I urge you in my thunderous voice meant to question every injustice with a pair of blood-shot-pain-indicative-bollywood-emotion-eyes of amitabh bachchan or may be shah rukh khan... I urge you for the last time to give your verdict! I beg you my lord - why is radio today the topic?]

Years later in the UAE, [last year to be precise] I officially stepped into the world of voice overs after a long break [since Star News days in 2004].

I recorded my first radio spot at Vox's BKP Studio in Dubai Media City. It was one hell of an experience. I shall never forget that day for the amount of fun we had while racing tongue-twisting words to fit the 30-sec slot. Somethings people do for money I tell you!! ;) Honestly this hyper-excited super-enthusiastic ad was exactly the sort that usually makes me cringe and change the channel. O-h-O and here I do that which I despise! [That's why probably they said in the energy healing classes that you should be careful of what you hate... because you may just put so much energy into that and attract it right into your life... And for a living! Imagine!!]

The agency was happy and gave some great feedback to the studio. [You would know by now that compliments are always welcome to a Saggittarian who will elatedly gesture 'Hey you can tell me more... am listening'].

I can still remember the retakes like they happened yesterday. The number of times the ad director insisted on pushing up the speed while saying 'hurry up, go and shop'... that one line alone instantly made me a drama queen! [And I could imagine people running, tugging, pushing and fighting all odds... to reach the shops to nab the offer I just announced.]

Looking back... at the making of that ad [those 30 secs on air made after half a day of retakes at the studio]... I promise that it is the only sort of drama I love/accept now.

Caught in a loop of thoughts that went back and forth like scenes on tv when someone else surfs channels... I let past and present take turns to visit me. I was helplessly stuck/stationary as I continued listening to that one radio channel for half an hour... and heard the ad with my vo repeat at least 4 times! Every time it made me smile and think - hah! I didn't know I could sound like that!

I had enough of that loop... and now it was time to get up and change the channel and move on to other things!

[To those who ask how one does so many things! - Hah! says the saggi after the usual chick-chiki-boom-chick-chicki-boom-chick-chicki-boom... the curtains do not fall! And it is not over!]

… to be continued

General disclaimer: Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reincarnated is not a coincidence. No animals were injured during the making of this novelog although some monkeys may have their feelings hurt. Sorry.

Here is a recap:

Monday, 29 June 2015

13 Until I Die! [Chapter 10: The Long Way Back Home]

There is nothing more cooler than to be able to change a job when you wish to. In India you could. Probably you still can!

It was in the summers of 2005 that breaking news made no more sense to me. TV newsroom can do this to anyone after a few months there. Constantly gaping at three oversized screens - to never miss a headline/deadline/place line/state line/blood line. At a 'soon-to-be-fully' Hindi desk, everyone addressed each other with ji- suffixes (ji in hindi is just like san in Japanese... to address with respect). I had enough of aiji, oji, loji, sunoji… I could no more stand TV especially after they announced that Star News will be a full-time Hindi news channel. [Murdoch pulled out fully and Star News lost its stardom and become ABP... I have no special interest in that channel or Murdoch... but I clearly did not like the new logo or name - sorry no specific reasons].

Banyan Tree Kurtas

Back in my apartment in Mumbai, I was not so happy. Watching TV entertainment that lacked production quality bugged more than the fact that I was not enjoying the Hindi belt. I would lock myself up. Mostly to paint without the TV's background noise. When I got no time to buy canvases I painted the tables... then my clothes. 

That is how it happened. 

Banyan Tree Kurtas were born out of the blue, without any business model. I got a fresh batch of kurtas stitched and painted them. They were loved/admired/borrowed/taken/and soon out of stock before I could sit down and comprehend a plan to scale it up. 

eda and eddie pups_oil & coffee_b'lu

Thank you Rajivji of Domain-b for gifting me two of your pet Lahsa Apso’s when I left Mumbai. I named them Eda and Eddie. Eddie passed away in the February of 2015. She was 10. 

home far away
poster/invite to my first art solo in 2005

First impression of Dubai was made by its impressive skyline... soon after this became a regular sight from my work desk
A friend volunteered to initiate online marketing for the kurtas and thus was launched in 2003. Social media was not so viral nor its business platforms so developed. And I did only what I could when I was bored of boredom. Did not think or handle the designer kurtas project as a business. But I enjoyed painting and embroidering. Being a news producer for the most popular channel in the nation was not a cake walk... that I could prep up my models for a cat walk. My model was my room mate Anahita Alfred - very pretty and equally patient. She gifted me a thimble looking at the needle bruises on my finger. She was happy to motivate me between preparing her papers to travel to the silicon valley.

I denied clients who came back for copies of the same because it would then not be unique in the sense I wished. Few friends nudged that I must meet market demands just like any start up would. But bending backwards was something I could do only for yoga sake!

This is not what I wanted. What did I want really? I was searching every where. Lost focus on kurta business. [It was never a business just a creative outlet... I think.]

Meanwhile, I left Star News (after 2+ years) without making a noise. I was their youngest producer. I did not even fill the forms to claim my provident fund (PF)... because I resigned over an email while I was travelling. The pine trees of Jammu whispered the soon-to-come winter chills as I travelled down to Delhi, the only place I truly belonged in spirit.


I reconnected with WFS (features agency) and got some assignments. I found time to paint more and travel without the pressure of getting back on a certain date to work. My PF came months later allowing me to travel a bit more.

I had found home… rather surprised to know that 'this' was it. 

Travelling opens eyes like no other exposure. It forces you out of the comfort zones and thus help find home no matter where you are. And I found true love too. It was experienced while holding a palette knife fully loaded with a knob of fresh and shiny oil paint… ready to be slapped and stretched on canvas. I did not know if I was limited to just my body or to my canvas... I felt a bluvian overflow of emotions and calmness at the same time. Time stood still. It was empowering.

I had not visited folks back home for almost two years now and was busy doing nothing in particular according to them. Art is a burden to everyone who doesn't live in an artist's shoes. So that was understandable.

Finally that had to happen - I started craving for a slice of 'family'. I was hit by nostalgia like never before. I suddenly missed my late grandfather and re-imagined the crisis that dated few years back when he left us all of a sudden. I was finding reasons to go back home. I knew they missed me and wanted to see me even though they did not interrupt my choices since I stepped into adulthood and independence. 

Home is where your heart is 

I thought of travelling home and came back to my flat in Mumbai to pack some clothes to leave. That is when I saw an offer letter from a news website. I carried a nagging nostalgia into's office in CBD Belapur. But chucked going home for a bit longer and joined the new place as one of their consulting feature writer-editors. My job here was to produce business features. I got my first regular column. In Freepress Journal I was reporting human stories in changed business environments. I could file stories from wherever I wished to. Domain-b was a happy place for most writers. But I was kind of lost. The job, despite the freedom and my own voice, couldn't hold my interest.

Domain-b's owner and editor Anjali Mathur was an evolved soul [don't we always know who is and isn't?]. With her I could converse about life. Here I could wear my favourite blue bandana to work too. I introduced a daily column - Bulls and Bears – a daily stock commentary. [Thank you Rex Mathew for doing a good job on that and for having stayed on as the columnist with domain-b long after I left the team.] 

With Domain-b's flexible work arrangement I participated in art shows all over Mumbai and Goa. I realised that I evoked more responses as an artist than a journalist. This was also the time I learnt that majority of Indian contemporary artists did not really paint for themselves. A lot of them could not comprehend their lines and would weave up a story out of helplessness. Those were not impressive! I did not support commissioned public art which was almost always a flimsy political propaganda. It was only recently that I could trace an answer to this by learning art history and stories dating centuries back in Italy to the Medicis. I wished artists could be stronger in India. I always thought it was a better place for art just like spirituality.

But as all things come to an end. It was time.

I was 24. Indian Standard Time to get married. I knew it was inevitable. But not ready!

I contemplated again on visiting folks back home. But it was easier not to decide and go with the flow... and let days... weeks... months pass by.

Detours - Reiki, Yoga, Pottery

It was a rainy day when I saw that poster. Peeping at me from behind a wall of fellow travellers waiting for the local train at Kurla station. 

The poster read - Learn Reiki. Call so-and-so number. Instead of taking the train to follow the links to my column, I called up the number and met Sangeeta, who taught me Reiki. We travelled to learn more to find a cure for her child who had multiple sclerosis. After completing Usui school of reiki's master levels we met a hatha yoga master and during this course I stumbled upon pottery too. 

The warmth of mother earth - the smooth wet clay taking form on the potter's wheel has healing effects. I was now travelling a lot with and without my reiki teacher.

[Thank you Rajivji of Domain-b for gifting me two of your pet Lahsa Apso’s when I left Mumbai. I named them Eda and Eddie. Eddie passed away in the February of 2015. She was 10.].

Way back home

I came to my ancestral home in south Kerala with more canvasses than clothes normally my age-group would have. Along with the luggage I held two newborn wiggly Lhasa Apso puppy dogs tightly in my arms. My grandmother was happy to see me as well as the puppies. 

But she confessed how she is worried for me [the usual grandma bonding time]. In her eyes I was already a bit weird with a bandana and without makeup or jewellery - happy with dogs and 'sooo many paintings!' [as she had exasperated]. My family of Hindus followed Shiva and are of Tamil origin though they live in Kerala. More than grandma her maid seemed concerned as I came with luggage! Maid's worry was what if I may stay for long. She had served the family for 15+ years and now since grandpa was no more, ran the house. But it was not a dramatic housemaid's insecurities that drove me away from my ancestral home in Punalur. 

Going to any place you call home is a terrible mistake especially when you have more energy than what the place can burn. I was bored after just a day of vacationing here. My family is not particularly demanding. They don't curse or swear to run my life as per social dictates. Life is pretty simple and thus unaffected back there... frilled with good food and lot of nap times. It was unimaginable to simply sit pretty at home [and be married off for all you know!]. 

I wish I could rewind and rescript my life. But I regret nothing. I convinced my anxious family of few, that I will come back for more drama. I left for a short-but-near-by-break. 

Kochi days

Indian Express was looking for ‘new blood’ [and I was ready to give it and explore a new city while I did the job]. It must have been the rains, or Fort Kochi's vintage French/Portugese cottages or the beautiful sap green and the rain-drenched prussian blue hues of Gods own country's waterbodies. These colours made me think deeper on being just B'lu [B'lu, the short for my pet name Babloo… now became my official artist name].

I spotted myself first time in a magazine's 'people in news' section in January 2006… soon after my debut solo in Kochi.

Kochi was a good experience except a few local interaction here and there. God's own people can be a curious lot. Thanks to my roots in Kerala and stint in the Gulf, I have come a long way from trying to understand the state's collective head spread all over the globe now. I realised art is a better topic to dig deep into than few people who may want to question your existence.

My solo was called the Tree of Life. My art sold! It was a first. I was the happiest person on earth.

Another first was that I was not taking an interview but giving one. 

Turning B'lu

Thanks to everyone who had the faith in me turning B'lu. Most of them were just strangers who loved my work and helped unconditionally. I was surprised to receive a note from my ex-employer - Star News' then CEO Uday Shankar - who spotted me in the news. The letter stated... 

'pleasantly surprised to know that there was an artist in you that wanted to break free… and now that it has… wish you the very best.'

Some choices you make in life redefines everything you hold on to. Life changed drastically after I traded the serene sap greens and cool prussian blues for the retina burning ochre hues of the bare dessert. It uncovered a new world. 

In the Gulf both personal and professional lives happened in its own specific spaces while being B'lu was not easy. 

The new land that drove everyone indoors because of extreme conditions outdoors... new people who made no eye-contact... new food that was frozen and imported from other continents - a brand new medley of confused/frustrated young and old expats who were unhappy with work laws. This culture hemmed me in for the next few years. But being B'lu... though it was in small print... saved me... for the best. That... the best is yet to come! 

… to be continued

General disclaimer: Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reincarnated is not a coincidence. No animals were injured during the making of this novelog although some monkeys may have their feelings hurt. Sorry.

Here is a recap: