Monday, November 29, 2004

Sex, truths and no videotape

In my profession, we come across a motley group of people - almost everyday. We get used to the variety, in a way, I guess to the endless stream of people: doctors, nurses, councillors, politicians, sweepers, teachers, public relations guys, movie stars, government officials. So much so we nearly become immune to the variety that spices up our lives.
But last Saturday, I met a clutch of commercial sex workers, madams of brothels and pimps, as part of a story on trafficking in the country. Never mind that. You can read my story when it appears in the paper, if you are interested.
There was this 'master' broker kind of person, you know, like the mother of all brokers (!). Let's say he was called M. I had met him earlier and he was thrilled to see me: "Vaanga madam. Nalla irukeengala" (Welcome, how are you?)
M, at one point of time, reigned emperor of all brokers in the South. Or so I was told. Now he is a pale shadow of his earlier self, has lost much hair, a few teeth and his spirit. He does a little work still, procuring nubile girls for the big guys in the city. " Ana, munna mathiri illai," (But nothing like before ) he said with a half sigh, a half grin.
So, we got talking. I asked about the "rates" for the women in the profession. For the uninitiated, there are rates, depending on the age, colour, height, weight and relative virginity of the woman. And M, without batting an eyelid said to me, "Madam, ungala mathiri nalla iruntha, nalla paisa!" (for someone like you, a good rate)
For a moment, just one, I was shocked, I squirmed. We are not used to being described like this, are we? And then, I smiled wryly, as I realised that for M, it was the best way of describing his clients. After that single moment, though, I was quite amused! After all, these things don't happen to all women! :)
Much later, I met B. A madam, once gorgeous, now just gone to seed. She cannot sell her body anymore, so she tries to sell other women's bodies. She also tries to do a little social service, perhaps in repentance, also perhaps it brings her a little money. I have met her earlier too, but it was the first time I had put foot in her hovel, six feet high, with a narrow, rough cement staircase (with a few missing steps) leading to it.
B, for some strange reason, was happy to see me too. And was thrilled when I mistook the young woman, in a photograph frame standing on an old Dyanora B/W TV, for her daughter. "Ennakku oru paiyyan than. Ithu naan than," she said coyly (I have only one son, that's me). She invited other "madams" to her 10 by 8 room, so they could all speak to me.
And when it seemed like I was done, wanted to go, she pushed a tattered copy of a once glossy magazine into my hands. "Oru chinna donation. Action Aid -ukku paisa kodutha, avanga HIV pasangalukku help pannuvanga," she said in her Tamil-with-a-strong-Telugu accent. She wanted me to make a contribution towards Action Aid, so that the organisation could take care of children living with HIV.
Sitting in that shack, a fan rattling over my head, a black and white movie playing in mute, on the only furniture in the room (a cramped bed) beside an aluminium pan placed below a hole in the tin roof to collect rain water, some chord stirred in me then.
Like my Diwali epiphany, this too was illuminating. Perhaps the message was the same: being linked with humanity. My hair stood on end and my hand shook as I took from her the tear-off fly leaf for the donation, feeling so completely touched, wholly humbled.


Friday, November 26, 2004

Warmth in the backwaters...

It has been so difficult to articulate Kerala, ever since I've got back. I don't think it's a case of writer's blog (!) since I've been able to post stuff. And like I said, it is not often that I'm stuck for words.
Then, why can I not write about Kerala? Because I'd be tempted to use the mono-adjective AWESOME right through. Because there are, unlike what Wittgenstein believed, things that you can experience, but not really explain. Because I'm stuffed with all the gorgeous food that we got those six days. Because I've just lost it?
But what I can say, or rather, I MUST say is that I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of Malayala Manorama- the largest circulating daily in Kerala. It was a conference organised by the Commonwealth Press Union and Malayala Manorama jointly. Of course, mercifully, MM hijacked the whole thing. :) Thank God (after all, he is in his own country) for that!
Because for an empire (those in Kerala would know that), the MM family is rather modest, quite unlike emperors and empresses! They say you cannot choose your family, but MM adopted 21 of us journalists from all over the country and Sri Lanka for six days and made us a part of that warm close knit unit they are. Be it the food, or the ferry (that deserves another post!), those guys did it with panache. And never, not for a moment, did anyone get the feeling that they were imposing on what could arguably be one of the biggest industrial houses in the country. Even our excesses were not counted.
So, this post, in effect is a tribute to a family's hospitality, warmth and friendship. Hard to find people like that, these days...


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Homing pigeon

I had no clue I was this parochial.
However much those Malayalam squiggles resemble the Tamil script, they aren't the original.
And when the train draws past Pallakkad into Tamil Nadu, the squiggles become the clear 'Libhi' that we use to write Tamil. Then, uncontrollably, my spirits lift and do a little jig, right along the curves of the letters of my dear mother tongue!
It's about feeling at home, I guess. And there is nothing like it, eh?

Psst: Echhooosseee me.About the pics of Kerala, give me a couple of days to sort things out!


Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Well, I'm back! And I must admit, I had a ball in Kerala...
That also meant little or no sleep in kerala and definitely on the train,
where the rest of the junta in my second A/C compartment were
snoring away like different variations of midnight raaga. It has happened to me
before. Once, travelling from Southern Tamil Nadu, I had a similar
no-shut-eye experience. The next morning, one of my train mates asked me, with
great courtesy, "So, did you have a sound sleep?" grinning benignly all the while.
Bleary-eyed, I could harly conceal my irritation, "I had sound alright, but no sleep."
You should have seen his face! :)


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I'm off!

I'll be off, I'll be off... to one of my favourite places in the world -Kerala. On work, yes, but not ALL work. Beginning tomorrow evening and for five days, I'll have nothing to do with Chennai! Back on the 24th, hopefully with my 128 mb chip full of grand pics of God's Own Country...
Tra la la la la...


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

One more journo blogs...

Folks, one more journalist enters blogdom, after closely scrutising all our blogs over several weeks now! :) Check out Frooty's (chellama koopidara peyar) a.k.a keerthivasan's blog

May the Force be with this new member as well!


Small truth...

Someone sent me a card today that said,
Life is like mail. Sometimes you just don't get it!
How true.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Modern Myths

Maybe I will get third time lucky...
I have been trying to put this post up all day... and its just jinxed.

When I read stories on malnourishment I believe they are set somewhere in India or maybe sub-Saharan Africa. I assume it. That is my conditioning.

So I assumed that when The Guardian story carried the head line "Two million Malnourished", that they were talking about Indians or Africans. However, the story was about starving millions in the United Kingdom.
Later in the day, The Guardian changed the headline to "two million malnourished in UK". Obviously other people were making the same assumption as me!

And here I was, thinking it was ours to starve and die!!! Just goes to show: The proof of the pudding is in the eating... er.. not eating! :)

Btw, if any of you would like to check out the seamy underbelly (sorry, couldn't resist) of the developped world, click here ...


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Getting it right!

There was nothing to write about today, until this.

I finally have cracked it. I figured how to use the dictionary option in SMS! :)

Admittedly with some help from my younger cousin Prianka, who seems to take to these things like a fish to water. However, I've discovered that it really works and it is helpful!

However, I'm going to keep the dictionary turned off sometimes... Cos' it will take away from the pleasure of using SMS-ese.

For, sometimes I like to say "Hi, hru" instead of "hi, how are you!"


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Happy Diwali!

Can it be anything else?

I mean, it is most appropriate to be saying Happy Diwali, isn't it?

It also puts me in mind of something that happened to me several years ago. The years when I was working my way up, slogging impossibly long hours and loving every second of it. I was riding my bike home one late night, Diwali eve, dog-tired, depressed and disenchanted with what I then believed was "crass commercialisation" of Diwali- the smoke, pollution, noise, crowded Nallis, Kumarans and the festival sponsored one-ways in T.Nagar.

If any one had come my way then, I'd have spontaneously combusted like a 1000-wala. I'm seldom so irritated, but this time, I was sore as hell. At nothing. At everything.

I sighed and sniffed and growled and accelerated on a dark and lonely road, cursing. And then it happened. I don't know why I suddenly looked up. But I did. And there it was - one of those awesome fancy crackers that light up the sky in shimmering sparkles. Remember, the sky was all dark. And there was this one lonely cracker, bursting out in such a regal spectacle in that dark corner I happened to look at.

One large, muted explosion. And then, little shivering stars pouring out symmetrically from that nucleus. Maybe like the creation of the universe, the part when all the stars were born.

In that moment, I suddenly felt connected. With every one, with every force on the planet, with humanity. My moment of epiphany was spiritual. Wholesome.

I'm afraid the last sounds like I was eating cereal. :)

It was quite a heady, spiritual experience and I'm not sure if I've communicated what I wished to. Or that it can ever be done. But it taught me that festivals are for connecting with humanity, for feeling like one with people, even those you've never known in your life!

Happy Diwali, folks! May we all connect with the Force!


Monday, November 08, 2004

En-titled ?

I'm not going to ask the now infamous question. Some where in the 1600's the Bard asked it and since then, 'what's in a name' has been asked countless times. Apart from giving me an intro para, it's quite irrelevant too. :)

What I am intrigued by is the uniquely Kollywood phenomenon of giving titles (patta-peyar) to its heroes and heroines. Some of them, I have no quarrel with and they are well deserved. For instance, I don't know of any one who is willing to contest "Nadigar Thilagam" for Sivaji, or "Superstar" for Thalaivar Rajinikanth. Even the fact that the latter has consented to his daughter marrying a man, nay, boy who seems just about half a 'balpam' (local chalk), doesn't take away from his Superstar status. O.k. that WAS personal bias!

Or "Kadal Mannan' Gemini - who would grudge him that? In his time and age, he truly was a charmer, I've heard older women say. 'Nagaichuvai Mannan' Nagesh too has an uncontestable title. Why "Aachi" Manorama never got anything grander will remain a mystery; Perhaps she should have been called 'Jil Jil' after that memorable role in Thillana Mohanambal. "Punnagai Arasi" K.R.Vijaya had other substantial assets, but she did have a smile that could have launched a 1000 ships! As for Isai Gnani, if someone else had'nt given Ilayaraja the title, I would have.

Now, I think it is time to move to the more contestable titles that we have endowed our somewhat undeserving heros and heroines. Father-appointed "Little Superstar" tops the list. UGH! "Ultimate Star" Ajit comes a close second. He probably could have been called the "Ultimate Cry Baby" of Tamil cinema. I havent seen a single Ajit movie so far, where he has not attempted to cry. I'm not a Deva fan and apologies to anyone who is, but pray, what is so "thendral"-like about his "thennisai"? Vijay is popular and all that, but to anoint him successor to a thespian and call him "Illaya Thalapathi", one must admit it is overstepping the limits of reason.

But of course, to be a Kollywood fan is to be bereft of reason. To loose wisdom, analytical skills, judgement, reason and preserve only the rhyme. Otherwise, why would any one call Srikanth "Illaya Tamilan"??

Not to offend S, but what the hell does that mean?!

Titular heads
(This list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to contribute what you think is missing...)

Captain 'Puratchi Kalaignan'- Vijayakanth
Kadal Mannan Gemini
Nadigar Thilagam - Sivaji
Superstar Rajnikanth
Little Superstar Chimbu
Nadigavel MRRadha
Natiya Peroli Padmini
Punnagai Arasi -Kr.Vijaya
Supreme Star Sarath
Navarasa Thilagam Muthuraman
Navarasa Nayagan Karthik
Ilaya Thilagam Prabhu
Ilaya thalapathy Vijay
Ilaya Tamizhan Srikanth
Makkal Kalaignar Jaishanker
Nagaichuvai Mannan Nagesh
Aachi Manorama
Mike Mohan
Isai Gnani Ilayaraja
Melisai Mannan M.s.Viswanathan
Isai Puyal A.R.Rahman
Thenisai Thendral Deva
Isai vasantham S.A.Rajkumar
Oliyin Oli Thankar Bachan
Ultimate Star Ajit


Sunday, November 07, 2004

What's the good word

I learnt a new word yesterday. Not through one of those word-a-day daily forwards which you quickly regret signing up for.
This one, I came across, through sheer accident.
I was checking my g-mail a/c, when to clarify an address, I clicked on the *more options* link and then chanced on PHISHING. Of course, after that, one really has to investigate, eh?
Here's what it means, for those who are learning a new word today...

**Phishing is a form of fraud in which a message sender pretends to be a representative of a legitimate organization in an attempt to trick the recipient into divulging important personal information like a password or bank account number. Learn more here . **

P.S. Jeez! I feel like Sabira Merchant inside a Black and White Dyanora tv! :))


Thursday, November 04, 2004


Wonder if you people have seen the new set of Titan hoardings. Yeah, the ones with Aamir Khan-in-TheRising-look - especially the one lounging over the Gemini Flyover.

If you have, I need only say WOW! Aaaa haa mir!

If you haven't, I can only say Look up!

Cannot wait to watch the movie...


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tinker, tailor, soldier, COP

Yesterday, we saw the police beat up a man on the streets.
Right outside the office, when we had gone down to have a cup of masala chai. Two cops in mufti and one in uniform were beating up a guy who was dressed in rags, obviously mentally ill, holding close to his chest a dirtier jute bag. Incidentally, I had noticed him as we walked down and remember thinking, poor guy, mentally ill and no where to go.
Obviously, the cops thought differently. They grabbed him by his frayed collar, hit him with a lathi, repeatedly, dragged him down - all to make him open his bag.
The guy was in tears, touching and kissing the well-polished boots of that arrogant policeman who held in a vice grip, claiming he was innocent. The cops were in no mood to hear: And finally the bag the man had held close to his chest tumbled open in the melee. A bunch of audio tapes fell out. You should have seen that khaki-clad man's face- disappointment. He probably was hoping he would be able to book the poor bastard 'for suspicious behaviour' (santhega case, for those who know tamil). Realising there was no booty in it for them, the policeman in mufti pushed the man away- abusing him one last time.
All the while, hardly a few inches away, a drunkard was lying stone drunk on the road, completely oblivious to everything that was happening.
You know when I got really angry? When the guy in mufti called out to a peanut vendor to pour out some water so he could wash his hands. Like the guy he had just attacked was 'achuth'.

If i ever had to decide again, I'd rather be tinker, tailor or even soldier, never COP.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Read some one else's blog...

Don't feel like blogging so much today. Backlog of work piling up. Having piles of unfinished work at my table is not my idea of professional fun. However, through a link on Hari's site I came across this piece on 'blog mania' which seems to be largely true, atleast for me!! Seems very interessting. Check it out and leave comments on MY blog! :)


The King (A.R.Rahman) and I

It is too late to be writing about meeting Alla Rakha Rahman. In fact, two and a half years too late. But as I listen to 'Swades' now, the past comes rushing back ...

The first time I met the man, he just sprung up on me. Literally. It was one of those cocktails-dinner press con in London for the music launch of Raj Kumar Santhoshi's Legend of Bhagat Singh. Sometime during the spring of 2002. Thanks to my mate Rithika, who was then happily employed as the London Correspondent of the Asian Age, and who I was shacking with temporarily in London. But, of course, she din't have to ask me twice.

We were waiting hours, was it four, for the men to turn up. Especially A.R.Rahman. The Western media couldn't care less, though. That left just us, a clutch of Indian journalists, mostly women sitting together, getting moderately angry at the delay, but holding on, just in case...

Well, just in case happened. When we least expected it, this very familiar guy walks right upto us and says, "Hey, am I late?" And we are like, "Hey, you are A.R.Rahman!!" That is the dramatic opening. He went on to chat a bit, say hello all around. I think he was excited when I said I was from The Hindu, Chennai - so excited, he even parted with his international mobile number. And we parted with the promise of meeting again, to talk about his Broadway venture - Bombay Dreams.

We did. The next time I saw him, A.R.Rahman walked casually late up the steps of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group office in London, his precious laptop bag hanging from one shoulder and his Nokia 9210i Communicator in one hand. He had taken the tube from Holburn and again said, "Hi, am I late?!" I'm not going to labour on about what we spoke, for this post is not about that. However, if you are interested you can check out the following link.

And then we settled down, in a rather fancy glass-house setting in Weber's office. We joked about 'sparkling' water (soda) and he offered to make a cup of tea for me. We spoke about how relaxed he seemed, his new movies, progress on 'Baba' (at that point of time, he was sending scores from England via the net) and of course, Bombay Dreams. When I was leaving, he wanted to know if I could come for the opening night of Bombay Dreams. You are all assuming I said yes. But I said No. The President of Wolfson College, Cambridge was throwing a party and we were invited. I had accepted and it would be rather offensive not to turn up. These things are just not done in Cambridge. Sigh!

I later on went to see a performance with my Indian friend Swati and Kiwi buddy Tony. All three of us loved it. And later, as we walked to the tube station, we saw this rather oldish English mem with an umbrella in front of us. Suddenly, she broke into an impromptu little jig, singing "Shakala baby..." As we walked past, bemused, she told us, "I just love it!"

Oh, by the way, I even have a production music CD of Bombay Dreams. I'm hoping to become rich and famous with that one day! I'm banking on the fact that Sotheby's will one day want to bring the hammer down on my personal production CD of BD!

After all, I can dream too, can't I? :)


Monday, November 01, 2004


*Haloscan has been installed in this blog*

And I'm completely undone! Cheated, duped, conned - call it what you want.
I signed up with haloscan, fascinated by its assistance for comments. Once you sign up, it removes all your old comments and tells you you can have them back if you pay US $ 12.
Welcome to the online version of mugging!
I'm sorely upset and I'll miss your comments, but I'm not going to pay anyone who holds me to ransom. I have half a mind to go back to the old comment format, except that it wont help at all.
I won't have your comments, but at least I'll think before I leap next!