Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our very own Grand Prix !

     Aah,it’s crazy how numbers just add up when I decide to blog! Today being the 8th day, it did not come as a surprise to me that I had to work in office till 8 PM :-( What I dread about working till 8 is that I will have to board the 8 PM bus ! Nothing peculiar about our bus…What’s very peculiar is the driver who brings us home in the 8 PM bus…Oh boy! Let me begin his introduction with the fact that he is a big time fan of Rajanikanth (Which rascal is not a fan of Rajni, tell me?) , owns a mobile loaded with all of his songs and keeps playing ‘Kilimanjaro, Yaro,Yaro’ in a loop !  What’s even more endearing ( or is it endangering) is that our driver hums along and goes “Aha Aha” when the chorus of the song begins , making it sound like a horny grunt :-p  
     For the uninitiated, here’s a link to the video of the song! Hit here.
   Now considering my high tolerance limits for eccentricities, all this is "jujubi" ! :-p What is NOT jujubi though, is the driving skills of our dearest driver! He must have been a royal war charioteer is his previous birth. He is a Michael Schumacher’s elder brother in this life. He is the Father of Rash Indian Driving. He does not hit the speed breakers, he flies over them. Our mini-bus roars like a Ferrari in his hands. It’s no use sitting at the window seat when he is driving because you will not be treated to any enchanting visions of Bangalore’s nightlife. What you will see instead is a blurred boundary of objects that whizz past your window.       Now, had this guy been on the Buddh International Circuit, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately for us, we have to traverse the pot-hole infested roads of Bangalore to reach home from work. One hour in the 8 PM bus is equivalent to 2 hours at the gym. All parts of your body will vibrate in rhythm with the frequency of the potholes. The number of vibrations per second is directly proportional to the depth of the pothole which we land into. But the beauty of the whole thing is that before our poor brains can receive the signals for sensing a vibration in the body, our driver would have taken us out of one pothole and into the next. So to make a short story shorter, the whole 1 hour in the bus is like an intense session of Power Yoga, Pilates and Baba Ramdev Twistology put together!
     If our guy were to drive any faster, I have no doubt that our kidneys would detach themselves from the insides and launch into our mouths! :-p If you do not hold on to the seat handle, chances are, you will be given a free swimming lesson too…Just that you would be swimming on the waterless, hard floor of our mini-bus :-| Now, if you make the mistake of leaving the windows open, you will run a risk of having your eyeballs uprooted from your eyes, your hairline will recede into your collar and your teeth will be plastered into your throat. Such is the intensity of the wind that blows through the window when he zips past on the flyover ! I once had my glasses flung across the seat and onto the floor. Today, while I was sitting in the bus, I saw a lady settling down into the opposite seat, with a book in her hands, all set to READ :P Yeah rightttt! Sure, why not ! Once we had hit the main road,she realized she was in a freaking time machine, not a bus :-p And then she tried to fall asleep. Only to be rudely reminded of the fact that before she could catch two winks, her head would get legs of its own and go bang itself hard against the seat rod…Oh, I know EXACTLY where it hurts ! It’s all déjà vu for me :-D
      When I look at people like our driver and myself, I feel sad for Mother India. Such a waste of precious talent. Our man should have been a Formula One racer. And me ?  Oh, I should have been the Prime Minister of India,don’t you think ? :-D I would have upgraded all the Bangalore Roads to six lane expressways and converted the whole of India into one big Formula One circuit. Sadly for us, are our politicians are into this only For-Moolah :-| Anyway, moving on, if you missed being a part of the F1 tamaasha at Noida, let me know. I will reserve a seat for you in our 8 PM bus  :P For free….You know why ? YOU will pay me once you have enjoyed the ride….It’s THAT good ;)
Let me go rest my rattled body now. Good night ! :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

90 Seconds

       When the cab stopped at my gate this morning, I was all sulky. The thought of having to spend a beautiful Saturday at work did not appeal to me at all. As I got in, I rolled down the window and settled in my seat, determined to make the most of the morning drizzle! My mind immediately drifted off to think about how cozy and nice it would be to snuggle up under my giant comforter at home, with the windows open! Huh, that did not help my mood at ALL L it was just so unfair that I should be out and about on a weekend morning!
      We reached the main road. At 8 in the morning on a drizzly Saturday, the roads were a little less busy than on the normal days. The signal turned red ….my cab driver stopped and immediately got on his phone to let the transport guy at office know that we were on our way. A traffic policeman in his raincoat was muttering something under his breath. A transvestite, dressed in all her glory, complete in a red sari and chocolate brown lipstick, was moving from vehicle to vehicle, clapping her hands and demanding alms. A little street kid, lurking on the footpath, caught my attention. She was standing there, holding a loop, something that looked like a hoola-hoop. The minute all the vehicles had stopped at the signal, she put her loop on the pavement and moved a few feet away. She then did a somersault and landed INTO the loop on the ground. Within the next half minute or so, she twisted and turned her young body in a million ways, contorting herself into numerous shapes WITHIN the loop! It was still drizzling outside. But she went about her business, trying her best to entertain people stuck at the signal. And then she looked at the timer of the traffic signal. She still had another minute. Immediately, she ran from one vehicle to the other, collecting the coins that people gave her.

       The transvestite had completed her round by then and waited on the pavement watching the child collect her alms. My driver was getting impatient. The traffic policeman could not hold his mutter down anymore. He started raining curses on a biker who was trying to jump the signal. Within the next few seconds, all eyes were on the timer.
     The driver, wishing it would tick faster.
    The transvestite, wishing the vehicles would start moving slowly, so that she could collect her due from a newer batch of vehicles.
    The street child, wishing the signal would stay red a little longer so that she could collect coins from all the vehicles stuck at the signal.
    The traffic policeman, keeping a keen eye on the timer to ensure he gets his hand signals out at the right time.
    And I, indifferent to the changing colors of the traffic signal, completely lost in the beauty of this morning, watching the driver, the policeman, the transvestite and the child judging their next move based upon the changing traffic lights.
   The signal finally turned green, the drizzle was now increasing in intensity…the rain drops were getting bigger….the driver started the cab, the policeman blew his whistle and waved his hand, the transvestite was already walking towards the other side of the road…the side where the lights had now turned red. The little girl was holding on to her loop and running towards the red light lane, grinning as the rain drops lashed against her almost bare back.
    As my cab moved forward, I turned to my left to catch a last glimpse of the characters of my 90 seconds movie.
  The transvestite was  clapping her hands again. The child was getting ready to do a cart wheel. The policeman was screaming at yet another wayward driver……And my driver was turning the radio on…
It was no longer drizzling. It was raining. The policeman ran into his traffic island shelter, the transvestite put her sari over her head. The child….the child continued to twist herself into the metal loop. In the pouring rain…Grinning from ear to ear…While the rain lashed against her bare back.....
   My mind drifted off again to think about my warm bed and my cozy comforter….And I felt blessed! Working on a Saturday did not seem so bad at all…The 90 seconds movie had done it's job....I said a silent prayer and thanked Him for having given me a life that did not depend on the changing lights of a traffic signal….
Its strange where life’s lessons come from….

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is the world a stage, is our life a play ?

          I find it very difficult to accept or even assume that our lives are already charted out and pre-defined by a bigger force and that we are but actors on a stage, playing our roles and waiting for our exit some day. That kind of resignation takes away the very beauty of life...The thrill, the suspense, the wait, the hope and the dreams. If everything is already designed, defined and laid out in black and white, what are we expected to do? Where do we put to use, the spirit of being alive and human? We are capable of emotions, capable of thinking, judging, taking decisions and facing consequences. Wouldn’t the theory of pre-designed life kill the very purpose of our living?
          I believe that life is a series of decisions. At any point in time, we are offered choices. Each choice will have its own set of consequences.  We choose, we face the consequence. Along the way, we may stumble, make bad decisions, and make a few choices that may seem absolutely illogical and foolish in retrospection. However, at the end of it all, we know that what we are today is not a matter of just chance or luck, but the outcome of conscious decisions taken along the way.
          We spend sleepless nights, fervently praying and wishing for miracles, we seek answers and ask questions and have never-ending conversations with the higher power we believe in…..When things go our way, we celebrate. When things go out of hand, we sulk. We wonder what went wrong. We wonder if all the dreams and prayers were just a distraction meant to prepare us for what has already been planned.
            What we do not realize though, is the fact that, through each of these situations, the happy ones and the sad ones, without our conscious knowledge, we are growing in strength. Strength of character, of intelligence and fortitude. Preparing ourselves better by learning life’s ways of teaching lessons. Learning to take things in stride, learning to look for a silver lining and learning to stay positive through the toughest of times.
           We can choose to live out our time, smiling through the happiness, learning through the troubles and hoping through the uncertainties OR we can spend our time worrying if our happiness will end, if our troubles will increase and our uncertainties will continue to exist.The choice is again ours ! The beauty of it though, lies in the fact that though the choices are endless, the time is not! :)
           The way I see it, life is too good to be true. Too spontaneous to be pre-planned. Too alluring to be resigned to fate. . And too short to be wasted away in ignorance. Life is a realization. And the higher power we believe in? It’s like a lighthouse. Meant to guide us and help us choose the way. But the ultimate choice? Well, it is STILL ours :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Pup

        At the Shirdi Sai Baba temple today, some people were handing out photos of Shirdi Baba with some of his wise sayings printed alongside a picture of his statue. When I got back home, I sat on the couch with the prasadam and picked up a photo and started reading aloud the quote that was printed on it. Here it goes

“ Be compassionate towards others and never turn away anyone from your door, be it human or animal. Love your fellow man for it will teach you kindness and caring”.

       The minute I read this quote, the first thing that crossed my mind was the pup. I must tell you his story. This happened just few months back.
       One stormy night ( I am NOT making this up, it was indeed a stormy night :)), we stepped out after dinner to lock our front gate. Cuddled on a foot rug in the corner of our compound was a little pup. He had rolled himself into a ball to protect himself from the cold. My mother pulled out a gunny bag that was lying around and put it on the ground so that the pup could use it if he wanted to and we left in the safety of our covered compound.
       We found him there the next morning too. He was up and about, moving around the place and we noticed that he had a limp. He was an extremely shy pup and as soon as he saw us step out of the house, he slithered under the gate and ran out, limping.
       When I got back from work in the evening, I again found him resting on the foot rug and the moment he caught sight of me,he ran out again. This happened for two days or so. By then, the pup seemed to have understood he was in safe hands. He would see him walking into our compound,resting and wagging his tail when he saw us. We have no pets at home, but a little pup taking refuge in our compound did not bother us.
        Until we noticed his eating habits that is !! :)
        From day one, my mother would keep aside some food for the dog and leave it on a granite slab for him to eat. But for some strange reason, the dog was a very poor eater. He would take a bite or two and then leave it at that. At first, we thought he would slowly get used to eating normal home food. But he did not. He would starve for days at end and he could see that he was losing weight.
        One day we caught him digging through a dustbin at the corner of our street and eating unmentionable items from it ! He seemed to have acquired a taste for all the weird things in the dustbin….Crazy pup! That same night, he did not let any of us sleep. He was continuously barking away, howling and scratching on the metal surface of the gate. We even woke up at 2 in the night to check if he was doing ok. He looked all fine and would wag his tail when we saw him, but would get back to making noise within the next half hour.
He teamed up with the street dog community on our road and starting creating a ruckus every night. He would promptly pee on the foot rug, bite all our shoes, drag our bike’s leather mat to the floor, leave behind the food that we left out for him and make a mess of our compound and everything in our compound started smelling like the street pup :)
        We did not let this bother us. My mother would clean the mess and we would speak to the little guy whenever we saw him and would ask him to be a good boy , eat something and behave well. But he seemed to be in no mood to listen to us. One night, he stuck his head into the metal railings of our gate and had almost killed himself. My sister freed him up in time. He continued to eat the filth from the dustbin at the street’s end and refused to accept any food that we offered him.
Since he was feeding himself on scraps, my earlier worry of him starving to death, began to fade. However, it constantly became obvious that he would kill himself by getting stuck in the railings of our gate. We cannot afford to leave the gate open for security reasons. Hence, we had to take a tough decision of trying to block his entry through the gap in our gate.
       Since it was practically impossible to keep a watch on him throughout the day, we put up a wooden plank alongside the length of the gate to ensure that he does not try the stunt of squeezing in through the tiny gaps in the gate thereby strangling himself.
      He did try to knock off the plank with his head a few times, but he then seemed to have got the message. Next day, we saw him taking refuge in a cozy corner of a vacant site beside our home. We placed his gunny bag there. Over the next week, we left some food just outside his new home, but he still refused to eat. We finally gave up.
         He was around for a total of three weeks or so, starting from the first day we spotted him. His limp was gone within the first week. Over the next two weeks, he made a lot of new friends on the street and soon after he disappeared. We never caught sight of him again. I have a hunch that he must have moved to a new neighborhood in our area :)
         Reading the quote about not turning away any animal from your door, I could not help but think of the circumstances under which we had to turn this guy away.  Considering the fact that our lifestyles do not have enough space or time to accommodate a pet and the fact that the dog was all set to kill himself, we had no other choice....If only he could EAT!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Blogless Slumber ends !

       I had almost planned a grand re-entry to blogging with a kickass,witty opening statement to let the world know that ‘The Crowded Head’ is going to be REALLY crowded again ! But then, if you know me, you will know that anything I plan goes out the window very promptly :P Hence, sans all the dramatic excuses and profuse apologies for not sticking around on my blog more often, I choose to just let you guys know that I am BACK !Up and awake from the blogless slumber !

       It’s 11:56 PM and  I had tucked myself into bed almost an hour back. But more often than not, it takes me about an hour to put my “head” to sleep before “I” drift away into the land of yawns and good sleep! If the fact that I named my blog after my head isnt clue enough, let me just tell you, that my head is quite phenomenal. For many reasons…Being house to my glorious brain is one of them. If you do not know me well enough, I must use this opportunity to remind you of the fact that I am the same person who thinks her hands are two different people and has conversations with them :P So no prizes for guessing that my head shares the prized distinction of being a person too ! If you are the kind of sorted-out person that meditates, thinks about the ‘bigger picture’, believes in “energies and vibrations” and other mentally delicious stuff, please run away NOW ! I am totally incapable of any of this and get through each day talking to my “head”…Did you just say ‘psycho’?  I agree !

       I was having a tough time this morning, with my head trying to think of a million different things at once, making it highly impossible to enjoy the cup of coffee that I was sipping ! So frustrated was I , with the one million threads running parallely in my head, that I looked up at my head and said “ What do I DO WITH YOU?!” ….Aloud….In a room full of people…who thankfully, were busy watching something REALLY interesting on TV ( Thank goodness!)  THAT WAS IT ! I HAD to get some of these wise thoughts out on the internet and ensure that I am not the lone recepient of the crappy ideas that my head throws up :D

      So yeah, I was in bed almost an hour back trying to switch my head off and was reminded of my other head…’The Crowded Head’...Well-meaning friends have been reminding me of it’s existence with empty emails with just a subject line that says “ Why isnt the head crowded anymore?”  These emails did serve their purpose and atleast once a day I logged in to check what’s happening on my blog. I noticed from the tracker that people who googled for Arvind Swamy and Monsoons and life ended up on my blog. (Wow, I feel sorry for the folks who googled ‘life’ and ended up on my blog :D…How disappointing that must have been ! ) A stray comment here and there kept my blog breathing. And now I have reached  a point where I terribly miss writing here ! Come on, that’s like my lifeline, my road to sanity and my outlet for emotions ( insert bollywood-style expressions here).  It only makes sense that I continue to write and give Google a better chance to share my wisdom with the world :D

  And so ladies and gentlemen, thanks to a nagging head who will just not go to sleep, I am up awake at this hour of the night, promising to come back to write on my blog everyday for the next one month! I need to put such stringent measures on myself….kyonki….kyonki….kyonki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi !! Arrghh, why THAT now ?! Kyonki, I perform better under pressure ( Damn, I am giving away secrets here !)… So with that self-imposed disciplinary action against myself, I must tell you that you will be treated to tiny doses of non-sense every single day for the next ONE month….Stick with me..This works like a vaccine you know..at the end of this, you will be “immune” to non-sense. I promise ! :P

Here’s to uncrowding my actual head ! Here’s to crowding the Crowded Head ! Amen ! :D

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unaccustomed Earth - My Review

"That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet."  - From ‘The Namesake’ 

     Truer words haven’t been spoken! And with that line, she had me! Jhumpa Lahiri belongs to that rare breed of Indian origin writers who did not vanish away as one-book wonders. Nor is she the kind who can churn out a book every year. But each of her books, irrespective of the time interval that passes between two consecutive ones, make for very good reads! Especially for someone like me, who steers clear of any book that wins an award( I did not enjoy reading many of the award winning books), Jhumpa Lahiri has the rare distinction of being an award winning writer who has managed to keep me hooked on to her books. This post is dedicated to her in general and her book ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ in particular :)
       Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of 8 brilliant short stories. If the length of my blog posts is anything to go by, I am sure some of you would know by now that I am not a big fan of keeping it short ;) The more the words, the better! So, that kind of explains my aversion for short stories. I like lengthy, thick novels that run into hundreds of pages. With short stories, everything ends sooner than I like and the characters generally lack the depth of description and somehow at the end of it, even when a short story is good, I am left asking for more! So when I picked up ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ in 2008, I was skeptical. Back then, I had just completed reading ‘The Namesake’ and had loved it! So I started reading ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ without any high expectation! One short story into the book and I knew I had been wrong. Wrong in not expecting something spectacularly brilliant out of a Jhumpa Lahiri book! Because that is what she does...Her writing is silent, poignant and intense. When it’s her, you don’t just read, you FEEL. And that is exactly what happened in each of the 8 short stories. I felt an instant connection with the characters, as far removed from my life as they were, thanks to Jhumpa’s unfailing knack of inducing the reader’s love and empathy for each of her disparate characters.

The title of the book was inspired by one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s quote, which appears on the front page.
"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.  My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth." 

       Hawthorne opines that human nature will flourish when transplanted in foreign,unaccustomed land. In that context, the title of the book could not have been better chosen as all the eight stories, as expected, are about the lives of immigrant Indian parents and their subsequent generations in America, the land of opportunities. The theme of Indian immigrants is repetitive in all of Jhumpa’s works and comes out very strongly in ‘The Namesake’. One would wonder possibly how different could the stories be, if they all circled around one single theme? Jhumpa artistically builds her stories around this common theme, making them look very similar and surprisingly different, all at the same time! Contrary to Hawthorne’s opinion of lives flourishing on foreign land, Jhumpa’s stories bring to fore the struggle of the Bengali immigrant parents and their children as they struggle to build their lives on a foreign land, subtly hinting that lives may not always flourish!

Lahiri is richly gifted when it comes to examining the extremely beautiful bonds that exist in a family. Husband and wife, sister and brother, father and daughter, son and mother, she displays extreme maturity and sensitivity as she dwells on how each role is exquisite and unique in it’s own way! She then moves on to explore bigger bonds, this time, between cultures.  Globalization has made this world a small village. But the implications are many. The turmoil and confusion that one experiences growing up in a society that has a confused concoction of multiple cultures and what such clashing ideologies can do to individuals has been brilliantly portrayed.
      Unaccustomed Earth runs slow, drilling into the depths of human nature, culture and society. Jhumpa’s style of writing moves you as you read along, and compels you to pause and think, instead of just reading. And if a book can get you to think, it is worth every penny you paid for it.
With eight different stories, you would be bound to think that one story could be better than the other. But in this book, there is no way you could rank one above the other. Each story stands out in its own way, creating a world of its own, in spite of the recurring theme.
In the interest of the people who are yet to read this book, I will not dwell into the details of the stories or their characters. That is for you to read and find out :) Just know that this book worth buying and reading! :) It will not take you long to finish reading it, in spite of the stories being longer than usual. Though the reading will not take much of your time, the thinking will! At many points through the book, I paused to think about something that struck  me and when I got back to reading, I would find that Jhumpa had written down my EXACT thoughts in the next few lines...It was like reading my own mind a second time :) No bigger joy than reading the work of a writer you can connect to! I have read the entire book twice in the past two years…I rarely ever read a book twice ;) So that’s saying a lot about ‘Unaccustomed Earth’!
        When I wrote a review of the book Shantaram on my blog few months back ( Click here to read it), I intended to get at least two readers to buy the original book... That goal was fulfilled with four people mailing back to let me know they bought their own books :) Thank you! Following the trend, I request you to buy or borrow the original ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ from a book stall/library instead of downloading/buying a pirated copy :) And once you are done reading it, do let me know what you think! :)

          Ok, here are some lines from the book, just enough to get you started ;) Happy reading!

"He owned an expensive camera that required thought before you pressed the shutter, and I quickly became his favorite subject, round-faced, missing teeth, my thick bangs in need of a trim. They are still the pictures of myself I like best, for they convey that confidence of youth I no longer possess, especially in front of a camera." 

"And wasn't it terrible, how much he looked forward to those moments, so much so that sometimes even a ride by himself on the subway was the best part of the day? Wasn't it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one's life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person...that solitude was what one relished the most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?" 
"She supposed that all those years of loving a person who was dishonest had taught her a few things." 

"He did not want to be part of another family,part of the mess,the feuds,the demands,the energy of it."

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