English Vinglish

There are thoughts. Then languages we wrap them with to express. And finally, the gift of communication at the end of this transaction.

When man roamed around in his primal opulence, not being able to acknowledge an emergency between his legs differently from an erection the world around was connected through gestures and sounds; serving as ersatz language. With time as the bug of sophistication bit him, a bunch of leaves and animal fur dichotomised his state of physicality into nude and clad . He realised that pebbles rubbed brought fire, like men rubbed wrongly  brought friction. Around the same time, he learnt to deconstruct syllables out of his gibberish with the chisel of language.

With time, clothes and languages transcended from the realm of necessity to identity. Man started being earmarked into tribes by the clothes he wore and language he spoke. Pieces of land were demarcated into countries and continents on the same basis. For relation and trade to happen between the populace of these land strips, the language barrier had to be overcome, thus conjuring the practice of learning languages, foreign. With trade came the concept of evaluation. So tribes that dealt in resources, the demand for which exceeded its supply started calling shots. And such tribes were arranged in the order of desperation for their flagship produce. Top among them proclaimed super powers, wielding undisputed influence across frontiers. The language of these tribes became the language of the world, awaiting to liaise with them. Thus began the era of linguistic discrimination and divide.

So, having this in mind, yes, English is the omnipotent language of the world given the kind of behemoth America has grown into. And India’s ties with the language is a little personal- dates a few centuries back, from when it continues to cut across as an aural wound from its colonial rule, that facilitates the unity in the diversity to exist in this nation of hundred languages and thousand cultures. Ours is a paradoxical case study of an old wound holding the entire body together. So with respect to us, English ain’t just the primary language of a nation we need around seventy units of our currency to purchase, but it’s reverence goes beyond strategic and fiscal reasons. To a time where it was in another form; subservience, to the call of our erstwhile colonial masters.You’ll still see Indians looking up to someone who speaks good English. This is their alter ego from the colonial time prostrating before a manifestation of the Raaj. Same reason you’ll see an american couple in the table next getting special treatment for the same food ordered, in a five star hotel.

Not just the language, we’ve always aped the West with uncontested obedience, be it fashion, films or technology with absolute indifference to our indigenous ways. Take for instance movies, most of our filmmakers and aficionados alike, would talk wide-eyed about Hollywood technicians like devotees about the past times of god. You’ll rarely hear them quote movies or talk about works of “regional” film makers. But you can’t blame them in a way, for what makes cinema from one region accessible to another here are the English subtitles, ironically. They’ll feel happy while receiving a National award and proud about being nominated as a foreign film in the Oscars.

All this ranting is to take nothing away from this exquisite language, which I take to be my first love. We are gregarious, most of us and keep doing things to keep cobwebs from forming. English is one such relevance keeping endeavour. The bark of the dog with the most bones up his backyard, in this dog-eat-dog ecosystem.  While its awareness has come to be a prerequisite, to be prolific in it is a matter of choice which is no skill or display of intelligence, but a linguistic ability. Probably like the dwindling relevance of high denomination notes with demonetisation, it might one day get dethroned from its numero uno perch, when it takes around seventy dollars to purchase a rupee. Maybe. May be not. Until such time remember Geoffrey Boycott‘s atrocious pronunciation of Vengirappu Venkata Sai Laxman, each time someone condescends when you utter an English name wrong.


Preserving Thatha

I will sow. Then you will enjoy the fruits. And then your children. Then theirs. But the seed, I sowed.
-Thevar Magan

All families have this person, whose glory they prostrate before, eyes welled up. Family elders pass on anecdotes that made this man, someone worth remembering during dinner times, decades later.- These retellings are as much to them as it to us – a measure towards preserving a recall value for posterity in our thoughts and memories, à la image of Gandhi in currency notes. This morning we were talking about one such person, we’ve never let go under the debris of time- my maternal great grand dad. A really great grand dad he was, if I’m allowed some average quality word play.

So what is about him that we spoke, actually spoke again, to get overwhelmed? Nothing new. Pretty much the same stuff we covered the last time and the several times before, probably with the sequence changed. It started with how he played a hand, actually a big one, in us getting our first home.It was early in the nineties, dad had pulled every string that he could and stretched every bit of will power he could possibly, to build our first home. Yet we fell a little short on the final settlement to the builder. This Shylock mould of builder would see one bleed, but not part with his property till the last penny of settlement.
Like now even back then, a man’s words weren’t construed to be money or money’s equivalent. And like in most times, most friends and family had quit his side even before luck could, when they were needed the most. It was at this point that Thatha intervened, when earth below feet our feet was shrinking. Thatha as he was referred to fondly by kith and kin was an elegant elder, clad in spot free white drapes. A clean faced crossover between Bhishma and Gandolf- like most great men -he too was a man of few words and often than not was the calm in the storm to his close ones. We didn’t know at that point that life to us for the next few years or so would become –Cometh the hour, Cometh the Thatha.


Coming back to the builder anecdote, as soon as Thatha came to know about our situation, he descended with help wrapped in a thin piece of cloth that looked like two lakhs rupees. And this was not even the best part. He gave the money to dad and chose to wait in his car for him to get the key to the house. He wanted this to be dad’s victory alone. His very own moment under the sun. Among people who bickered for and stole credit from others, here was a man who chose to be in the backdrop as a quiet fulcrum to a young man’s dream. I could’ve been born a few years earlier. Big deal I would be a few years older now. But I would’ve been able to appreciate this wonderful predecessor of mine beyond his physical features. Remember him beyond his wrinkled kind face. I would’ve probably known the importance of the brief tenures on his weary lap. I was like a toddler, who made paper boats out of a stack of currency notes.

In dad, he saw his younger self- the same fire in the belly, the altruistic persona,arrow like ambition and a strong will. And thanks to dad, he found himself in doppelganger territory, that he was hoping to be with his own sons. In him, dad saw a dad he never had. A father like figure, a surgeon to expose a wound before. A mentor to confide in, whose concern went beyond free advices.

Thatha‘s was a fine administrative mind as well. There are truckloads of folklore in this genre like the one Amma brought up later, about how his logistical reshuffle added a few decades and life to my grandpa, who was pretty much a vegetable for medical experiments till then. Or the one where he chipped in to help dad move into his first office space.
Coming to think of it, he’s been there in every significant first step we had taken, as an invisible walker to hold on to. No wonder his funeral was such an animated day. As someone in his third grade, it just meant a day off from school. Like a blissful fool, I was taking stock of people who looked funny when they broke down.  I saw this graceful giant rested peacefully on the floor of his abode, as hundreds of people stood there in morbid disbelief. Here was an octogenarian who had lead a glorious life and died a peaceful death. But to most men like us, that day marked life ahead without a guardian angel looking out. Looking back now, we see impressions of a pair of feet in the sands of time, that had  diligently walked along with us till we made shore.

As the quote in the beginning, Thatha was the one to sow. We continue to be the fruit bearers.True story. Then, what about some good stuff we continue to do, to make lives around us a little sunnier? Probably his anecdotes were the seeds that were sown in us. Maybe these were the fruits we bore on his behalf to the world, his legacy. After all, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right?





Thatha– Tamil word for grandfather

On virtues like virginity

There are certain things that continue to perplex me- meat eating pet animal lovers, coexistence of religious donations in nation with rampant poverty and the sanctity of virginity. Especially the female virginity. For brevity sake, I’m gonna call it V. We Indian are the forefathers of the concept of foreplay-to-foreplay in movies. Though Hollywood has been filming nudity and intercourse with minimal fuss for decades, it barely has explored the sensuality of the female anatomy like our filmmakers have, with moral daggers hanging above their heads. Case in point, the countless dance numbers involving our actresses dressed in miserly two pieces, gyrating to lyrics that would put seasoned perverts to shame. Just look up “navel” on Youtube to come to terms with the extent of our hoi polloi’s carnal fascination. Our films depicting relationships will go up the entire nine yards-stalking, lengthy phone conversations, dancing, songs, almost-there-kisses in painful detail, to only leave the ‘thing’ to the audience’s imagination at the threshold of the ninth yard. The distance between the eight yard and ninth yard constitutes the average Indian’s erogenous zone; the inch beyond the ninth , his orgasm. So in a nation like ours that nurtures the male promiscuity through popular culture, it’s bewildering as to why V features, still in the moral code of women more than men, obviously in an unspoken capacity like most assumptions about one’s character in this part of the world.

I have a friend, who is about to get engaged. The other day we were talking about the awkward spot she found herself in, between her soon to be in-laws and parents after she unassumingly let out about being in a relationship a year before. What about this filled the hall with taciturn after that, we pondered together? Maybe, the thought of her flirting with another guy before their son. Barely, they were liberal enough to ‘let’ such interactions, their son went to a coed, after all.  Then could it be the thought of her straddling coffee-shops and malls with this guy. Could be, but still didn’t add up to the pale white, their faces turned into. Is it probably the thought of exchanges between them, a little beyond words and glances that stupefied the room. Most likely yes, since the other alternative to such collective response was that she didn’t have legs when they looked down, which likely wasn’t the case. So why this friction to a woman’s past, all the more with our great grandparents and grandparents being born into set ups with sibling count exceeding a test team. My great grand mom for instance, died in her sixteenth trip to the maternity ward. What my friend spoke next, caught me unaware. She told me about how despite being in a few physical relationships, she’s never done ‘it’. God, the same ninth yard syndrome, she had walked the entire distance to only stop at the door to save sacrilege. She was saving ‘it’ for after marriage, she naively went on. She was one of the most liberal souls in my life, at times a little more Bohemian than me, but here she was bending subconsciously at the feet of conservatism. This was the place from which she was surreptitiously seeking approval to her past life.

To try understanding this paradox, let’s go back in time to an age where men were neanderthals torn between increasing evolutionary insights and declining primal pangs. They had learnt to attend to hunger, passion and shelter diligently. Languages were spawned, body fur had vanished to make way for clothes as intelligence took over instinct, emotion took over expression.Man prostrated before every facet of nature that brought life to him- trees, rivers, animals, birds and women. Nature was mother to him, women that expanded his tribe; mother goddesses. It must have been a largely matriarchal set up. He humbly bent before nature and nature benevolently put a hand on his head, not knowing a day would come were the places would reverse.

Be wary of a worshipper, even more about his worship.With time he’ll draw a jurisdiction around you with his ideology, to protect you from your freedom.

As his life moved from the forests to the cities during the Neolithic era with nature turning collateral, he began to feel bigger than it. From this new found vantage he felt the need to protect his erstwhile protectors-nature & goddesses, the nucleus to his belief system from a life gone by. Things that held emotional value, turned into religious sentiments.As the vision was lost, with faiths turning blind. But nevertheless they were revered, but regulated to same extent.

With time matriarchal system caved into patriarchy. With it came chauvinism and double standards like ticks. The man could have as many wives. Each one had to be chaste.Male promiscuity was seen as virility. Women promiscuity; well spawned a new profession, prostitution. Women were plundered along with the wealth of a lost kingdom and taken in as war slaves.With time they were dichotomised  into wives and whores. Femininity became the virtue to yardstick a woman, with motherhood hyped to be her nirvana. Her ambition had to revolve around her man and the progeny he gave. If she dared to think beyond or much worse differently, she would be tamed as a shrew. Her gift of life creation was starting to be used as a noose to strangle her, by the very man she created. Her womb turned a holy grail. Her puberty was celebrated like a festival of harvest to notify eligible suitors to give her away in marriage; proudly with the designation of a ‘virgin’. She was a liability that had to be sold for a dowry to the highest bidder. Her life was to revolve around him and was to end along with him, sometimes forcefully like in the case of sati. Attempts at consummation outside this draconian system was frowned upon as being extramarital, premarital and illicit.Hundreds of years, colonization, few many reformers and contraceptive devices later, she is treated with dignity and respect that extends beyond her ability to give birth. Yet the patriarchal mind set continues to exist strongly in the heartlands of the country that continue to function with a value system from a bygone era. In the cities though it exists in its more palatable subversion of traditions and culture.

It’s about high time we started accepting an individual’s sexual curiosity, within or outside the precincts of a socially accepted institution. It needn’t be about making love or having a child, all it needs is an itch in a couple, heterogeneous or not. It needn’t be subjected to baptism by fire, morally.It can be an expression of desire, attraction, admiration, commodity, transaction or just a lonely night well spent. A woman should be embraced with her share of fantasies and promiscuity, just as her male counterpart would be as a player. Motherhood is her choice, lets not paste a hallow around her head. If she wants a relation that lasts till her orgasm ends, let’s not name call. She needn’t be a goddess. Nor does her sexuality need cordoning as a forbidden fruit. We need to respect her above the belt, just the way we would like ourselves to be.

Reliving Varanam Ayiram- the daddy classic from a decade before

Over the years this movie has been a fodder for a lot of parody among my circle, that turns to sarcasm every time there’s a lull. We’ve made “daddy-daddy” jokes through our parlance, ridiculed the simplistic solutions that the movie offers to the myriad existential crises faced by it’s protagonist. Like how he turns to a body with under five percent fat to overcome the loss of a beloved or how all he needed was just a ticket to America to bring his “soulmate”(Mind you, this woman’s only been in his life for a little longer than a pimple.) into scheme of things. We’ve laughed at how life in a GVM regulated environment could be contained within a crew-cut,linen shirts,tanglish spouting upper middle class, women with an eye for chiffon sarees, who just wouldn’t lip-sync fully to a song lyrics, unrealistically real situations and solicitous voice overs to name a few. It is from this place that I began watching Varanam Ayiram a few days back. I had an hour to kill and wasn’t in a mood for my other alternative, a Woody Allen movie. Basically I was looking to for something light, unintentionally funny. What better place to milk some jokes than my favourite cow.

Some films set up in the homage space try to mimic the events. A rare few manage to recreate them. VA belongs to the latter category of films. It’s a movie made with so much love. It can be seen as an ode to a father. As a well intentioned meal to an audience raised on endless masala. And as a love letter to its mildly indulgent auteur.

Take for instance the stray anecdotes that Surya knits together as he reminisces about his late father from the fighter plane carrying him, as the new of his demise starts to sink in. The son’s a little under heaven from where he looks skywards towards heaven, as his mind  begins to interact with his father-Daddy hope you’re okay. You will be I’m sure. I shouldn’t have left you…..

We’re thrown into episodes from his childhood as retold to him by his mother. We get to know about how his father took the reigns from a inebriated lorry driver while they were shifting from Calicut to Chennai. We see how cool a dad he was during his school days, when he preferred him making small talk with girls his age at home than the street end. We get to see his younger self forming an instant yardstick in romance, as he looks starry eyed at his father lovingly caress his mother’s feet. These sequences have a certain handmade-candid quality to them, that we seldom come across in our movies. GVM employs the first person interview technique in these portions to move the narrative . A technique often used by Woody Allen in some of his works including Annie Hall and Husbands & Wives. A character begins to narrate an episode in response to a question, often asked by the protagonist who’s not in the frame. These episodes add up gravitas to his relation with his father, our relation with him. We begin to partake, rather invest in this man’s heartfelt love letter to his father..err ‘daddy’ as he plunges deeper into nostalgia. We get to know why the apple wouldn’t have fallen far from the tree.The narrative segues seamlessly from his childhood to his first love. From here on, what began as an ode to a father turns into a story of self discovery.

GVM writes his women with an inimitable-indelible quality. They’re modern creatures who appreciate chivalry in men, while tossing up the male ego just enough to remain enigmatic. They often have a ear for fine music, eye for detail and a tongue that doles out Tanglish. They’re well rounded autonomous beings with a life of their own before turning the protagonist’s muse. In Megna- his first love-we get one such person. She gets curious at the sight of this smitten man, squirming in the seat opposite her with unbridled excitement. Later she introduce herself to him while recollecting having seen him in an event once. All this while she responds without reacting, to his overtures . This episode culminates in one of the most organic lead ups to a song, as Surya strums his guitar to break into Nenjukul Peidhidum, as the voice over diligently notifies his dad as an afterthought that there, that very moment was born his first composition. With that moment was born another pop culture reference.

The movie moves from this chapter into the abyss of his depression leading in a third act that falls flat on its nose. The first person narrative technique addressing the father which hitherto felt refreshing, starts to peel off as an artifice. From here on the movie tries to punch above its weight, as it gets saddled with plot contrivances that just don’t add up to its slice of life quality. Be it the Makemytrip ad like self discovery sequence in Kashmir or the ensuing kidnap episode involving a mafia made of erstwhile actors and reality show participants, they either end up as prosaic postcards or popcorn purchase diversions, if not as unintentional jokes. Ditto to the montages that paint his stint as a defence personnel and his matrimony, with broad strokes and urgency of a amateur midwife to a sudden labour.All this with incessant chants of “Daddy I made pasta……daddy I decided to have a french beard” inundating the screen with just furniture and utensils on frame.

The movie does hop to its recovery in its last act over a tearful funeral.This portion tunes back into the initial mood of the film, that of bereavement. We empathise with his mom’s loss of words in the moment he tells her that they’re about to take ‘him’ away, as the procession to the crematorium commences. We completely buy into his denial to see a dead man in his father. Moments later, the sight of an empty house leaves us with an aftertaste of having revisited a wonderful every man’s lifetime through the eyes of his son. The movie delicately manages to hit the sweet spot between our adulation for this man and aspiration to be him beyond the screen at some level.

The issue with such personal movies is such they either tend to get over indulgent in an endeavour to recreate exactness or extrapolate drama to play to the gallery. The director baring his heart out should exactly know when to stop. To this discretion,I doff my hat to GVM. A movie that manages this tight rope walk to a large extent without placing its integrity in the altar of acceptance is a feat in itself. All the more given the culture of self-derived monikers and item songs it finds itself in.




GVM-Gautam Vasudev Menon
Tanglish- A cross over between Tamil and English.

Letter to a toddler

Your first words will be welcomed,
Like first streaks of light into a dark tunnel.
And your last words will be remembered,
Like last streaks of light from a dark tunnel.
What you manage to do between these words,
In short will go on to define your lifetime.

What will be celebrated as your innocence,
Will go on to become your ignorance.
What was loved as your energy,
Will be met with the crack of a whip called discipline.
Yeah, it is a funny place, this world;
Where every meaning will be in flux.
Sometimes the world would change and you wouldn’t,
And other times you would and the world wouldn’t.
As your reverence changes with relevance,
You’ll begin to learn that change in fact is constant.
And this, you’ll constantly try to come to terms with.
By the time you do; you would either be wise or old.

They will tame your free spirit,
In the name of concern.
They will bend your instincts,
In the altar of acceptance.
They will begin to ration your laughter,
For you to be taken seriously.
Only to nitpick on your lack of humour.
Their chisel wouldn’t let your rough edges be,
For your individuality isn’t the sculpture the herd would fancy.

Learn to see beyond expressions made,
Learn to hear beyond words spoken,
For impressions and intentions are a world apart.
When you fall, they’ll feel bad for you.
When you rise, they’ll feel badder.

They’ll come across as civilised creatures,
Till their primal instinct accosts them,
To contest as rats in a race for survival.

Never prostrate before a blind faith,
As credible as the endorsement seems.
Every time you question a faith,
They’ll call it a blasphemy, but do it.
Question. Question till your intellect nods,
As nothings weighs an ideology better.
And finally, preserve the child in you, my little one;
As hard as nature tries to age him into oblivion.
For only he will bring the difference to life,
Between existence and living.

To her, with love

I’ve heard her speak a million times;
Have I heard her, when she didn’t?

I’ve seen her flawless face a million times;
Have I seen her, with my eyes closed?

I’ve known her for more than a two hundred days;
How many in them did I know her value?

I’ve skipped a heartbeat over her;
Have I realised, she constitutes a piece of the heart itself?

I’ve dreamt of her while asleep;
Have I realised, life with her was the very dream?

I’ve hurt her in the name of honesty many a times;
How often has my honesty been bereft of ego?

I’ve always been forgiven, bigger person she is;
How many times have I overdrawn, in the name of love?

I’ve come away from her in search of my soul;
Have I realised,  she in fact was my soulmate?







Tirupati Musing

There was a personal thing which I was hoping against hope to not happen and vowed a trip to Tirupati in barter for its inoccurrence. Sometimes as rational as we portray ourselves to bd, all it takes is an uncontrollable situation to manifest, to make us seek means to mitigate it from the very space.

As cool as I felt tom-toming about being an atheist and an agnostic for a while after that, I could always sense crops of faith grow on the fields of my indifference. I felt humbled to wake up to the cry of self realisation emerging out of the pretentious molar of false ego. Meanwhile,my wish was granted and it was my turn to keep my end of the deal. So I was on the first bus to Tirupathi, an hour into the news.

I was prostrating to a superstition, finally. Was I?

To some touching the nose tip before switching on the desktop every time, to some adjusting the abdomen guard while the bowler was in his run up and to others a visit to a temple. It probably wasn’t as cool as saying stuff like, “hardwork’s my religion” with a poker face. So what?
Superstition is after all a speck of sentiment that snowballs under the impetus of emotions into existence. It isn’t chivalrous to live in denial of one’s emotional identity; for the heart derives the very fabric of empathy from here to turn this otherwise collage of organs into what is generically called a human.

A few years before I swore to never return to this cash cow of a temple, peeved by the impersonal vice of commercialism inundating its air. This time around the place was as cold as last time with fog & commerce, tonsured adults sweating it up to make a fortnightly bather like me feel secure about hygiene. But this trip wasn’t about ego satiation or ideal massage,this was for a favour bestowed upon in a timely manner-a display of gratitude.

The person didn’t change, so did the centuries old place. But what changed was the perspective. Perspective that has managed to make the holocaust of an entire race humane to some,consumption of fish vegetarian to some and fasting religious to some others.From seeing a stone in a deity , I could see hope & gratitude this time.

In Tirupati, you witness this paradox of free men encaging themselves for hours together with the enthusiasm of a draught struck farmer to the first drop of rain. Call it subservience to the unreasonable ways of  another unquestioned faith, but the meditated air of euphoria in the most challenging of conditions for just a few fleeting seconds before the deity is just contagious.

The almighty is a good place to invest gratitude, provided the faith isn’t gullible to relish indulgence in a way of life, overlooking the very reason that led to it.Every trip embarked with an open mind unearths a hidden facet from within, often than not. This one ended adding sanctity to the prayer on dad’s office wall that goes-

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.