Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Touch and go - Clinton

AH! Finally.
You have a fair idea what this is going to be about. And it's only right that I write about meeting with former US President Bill Clinton on May 27, 2005. And a warning: I'm afraid it's going to get peurile in parts, especially where I talk about how he shook my hand. But then, I get ahead of my story!

* * *

Being in the UN convoy had definite advantages. For one, none of the rules applying to the rest of the media and junta in general, applied to us. Two, it would get us access where none of the 300 odd mediapersons gathered there could not go. That, I guess, was the biggest advantage.
Which is why I woke up at 4 a.m. something I almost never do.

Briefed, de-briefed, hungry, sweated and deodorised, we waited for the big man to come, happy about the special access we were granted, yet a trifle upset that so many media people were waiting outside in the sun, hoping to do their jobs. But in the line of duty, we cannot help all that we would like to.

We were told to choose between four spots, say A, B,C and D. A bunch of journalists would stand at each spot and sorry, you cannot move between spots. We're not used to have restrictions placed on our movement, we journalists, but that situation was a no-do. Clearly, it follow or fall out. Plus the UN guys seemed to think the 15 of us were some kind of a syndicate - that we would share information among ourselves. HA! HA!

I settled for Point D where I found myself with one other journalist, from the London Times. Both of us wondered whey no one else had chosen this spot. It was like a dead end behind us and rows of temporary shelters stood at our left. Clinton was going inside these huts.

When the man did come, quarter an hour behind schedule, orange t-shirt and Khakis, he was so tired. Yeah, he's been through a by-pass and has been asked to loose weight, but we were surpised to see him so haggard, so worn, so tired. But like Catherine, the London Times reporter said, "He IS old, you know." I very reluctantly accept the fact.

But it did not make any difference if he was old or young, or tired or nervous when he turned the corner towards Point D. Catherine and me wave to him, like very spontaneously. And we expect him to walk straight into the shelters. Meanwhile, my camera, decides to give up on me at the crucial moment. * She won't work* I was saying, quite loudly, "I don't believe this," shaking my head at the camera, when I saw Bill Clinton's orange shirt at my nose.

Well, it was nearly there. And hey, presto, he puts his hand out to shake mine. I'm cool as a cucumber, I put my hand out and say, "Hey, hi! How do You do?" In some corner of my mind I can see District Collector J.Radhakrishnan tell the big man, "This is Ramya Kannan." But I'm just keyed into his drawl "How do you do?"

I surely must stop here, not because I must leave now, but heard of stopping for effect? Only two closing points though: I did ask a question later at the press conference, that he answered at length and gave me sufficient material for a small story. Two: All those who saw my story and left a word, thank you so much! What would I do without all of you.



Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hello, Mr. Clinton!

I'm hoping to be able to say that sometime tomorrow.
Early tomorrow morning I'm taking a bus, along with some UN staff, to drive down to Nagapattinam, to cover former US President Bill Clinton's visit to the tsunami-hit town for The Hindu.
I'll be back late Saturday and hopefully have a tale to tell!

I know it's part of the job, but what the hell!
Yaaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeeaaaay !!!
Just in case you haven't figured out how excited I am! :)

* * *

I've booked my Honda Activa, finally. However, since I will settle for nothing but BLACK, I have to wait until June 7. I don't have an option, but I'm hoping the wait turns out to be worth its delay.

* * *

I don't really have to do this, but I kind of like the number three. :)


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My Star Wars

If you have come here for a review, dissapear.
There have been too many reviews, all saying different things, most saying almost the same things. But I must write, so I think I will write about watching the last Star Wars movie on its day of release because that is inevitable, but I will write more about how, rather late in my life, I grew to be a Star Wars fan and how rabid I have since become.

* * *

Artoo. Yeah, it was with R2D2 that my voyage began. Truthfully though, I'd heard about Star Wars and the phenomenon it had become, earlier, but I really couldnt care, until this. Until Artoo. It was as late as 1996. A professor, who had a reputation of performing blood baths over copies that journalism students wrote, had some influence over me, nevertheless. And his email id was artoo. His passwords were all artoo (No, he didn't tell us. :)).

And so I asked him, in my ignorance, if Artoo was what they called him at home. "Oh, no, no, no," he said with his characteristic laugh, his breath reeking of Charminar cigarettes. " Haven't you heard of artoodeetoo?" "No," I said, "Tell me."

Then he sat me down and told me all about Star Wars - and its creator, George Lucas. About the Galaxy and the Senate, droids and clones, C-3PO, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. He also told me, with a sparkle in his eyes, about the sand people, Master Yoda and the light sabres. There were no prequels then. He gave me a reading list and said "Go read." Then he shook my hand and said, "May the Force be with you."

At the end of the two hours we spent discussing this in his cabin on the first floor, I had grown immune to cigarette smoke and I had found myself a new obsession.

An obsession that was fueled by a friend who now has a Ph.D., who was, to say the least, rabid. Lucas was God to him and his circle of geeks. And while we waited for our food at Pecos, he'd tell us all about the inter-galactic wars, the power of the Jedi,the Dark Forces, the Force: How they should all be worshipped. Young and impressionable then, I'd swallow all this eagerly, and satiated, I'd push my plate of uneaten vegetable steak towards him. For him, eating was never a problem.

I read like crazy and later, surfed like one possessed. The more I read, the more I needed my dose of Inter-galactic fix. I subsribed to a Star Wars fan group; hunted for VCDs to watch alone on my desk-top; spent the better part of a Rs.10,000 cash award on Star Wars books and watched all the prequels. Like the Matrix, which was to dominate the rest of my movie-watching adult life, in my early twenties, I could quote out of Star Wars, with my eyes shut! My favourite was the metallic-distorted voice of Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker, "I am your father."

* * *

On Friday night, when I watched Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, it was like coming full circle. As if a voyage, begun nine years ago, had ended. It seemed that all these years I had waited to see how Anakin Skywalker would shift horses midstream, how a Jedi would become Darth Vader. So much so, the movie left me a trifle disappointed. The scene where Anakin makes the decision to throw his lot with Darth Sidious, Lord of the Siths, was tame - like his reasons were unconvincing. Perhaps it is me, I had too many expectations, perhaps it was Hayden Christiansen.

The visuals are impressive as the sfx, light sabre wars outstanding, R2D2 entertaining (in the beginning), Padme gorgeous. BUT, at the end of my metaphoric voyage of the galaxy, it is like my vessel has crashlanded. I've come home, but with disappointment.
The hardcore Star Wars fan that I am, I tried not to let that thing worry me. After all, it is STAR WARS and I was literally watching a first-day-first-show! Besides, the Force is always with us, though Anakin Skywalker no longer is.

* * *

Prof. Artoo is no more now. But I can still dedicate this post to him - the man who brought the Force into my life.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Metraaas, Nalla Metraaas!

Awesome city, folks! Any city that can come up with the phrase, "Cycle gap-la auto otaranga," must ROCK! Naturally enough, it deserves my deepest appreciation and most sincere admiration.
For those uninitiated, this phrase in our local slang a.k.a. Madras Bashai, contains the stupendous philosophy of 'opportunism'. In its crudest form. Of course to understand it, you have to understand the modus operandi and psyche of that unique species: Chennai's autodrivers.
Their ability to navigate at speeds faster than light on utterly congested roads and take you to your destination nearly unscathed, is legend in these parts. By the way, I'm not including hyper tension, or racing pulse rate or high blood pressure, not even the dislocation of most ball and socket joints.
Part of their skill, as the translation of our key phrase indicates, is their ability to enter and zip through space ideally sufficient only for a cycle.
Why am I writing about it now? Because, I have not only had the opportunity to ponder about opportunism of individuals recently, but also the occasion to travel in an auto that did just that. In that divine language, "Cycle gap-la autokarar poondhutaru ba."
It was about 11 p.m. and I was taking an auto home. On Mount Road, close to the Spencer's Signal, there are barriers placed in the middle of the road to slow down speeding vehicles at night. Following the irrefutable logic that there can be no barriers for a Chennai autorickshaw, my vehicle swerved to the right to overtake a bus, edging into the nanospace that existed between the bus and the wrought iron barrier.
Even my obvious Chennai nativity and upbringing could not prevent my heart from stopping for about ten seconds during that harrowing near-miss.
Notably, my autorickshaw driver was completely unperturbed, zen-like eyelids unblinking, he continued to drive recklessly until he got me home, with minimal damage.
Now, THAT that takes a hell lot of guts for a normal human being. But of course, auto drivers don't fall under that category. At least in Namma Metraaas, they do not.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Elegies written in a cyber churchyard

I'm feeling funereal today. So maybe I should write an elegy. Better still, I'll write two elegies...

* * *

Five years is a long while to spend with someone. In this case, literally ON someone. In sunlight and halogen-bright; rain and shine; at 20 and at 55; on road and on no-roads. Like a young buffalo, black, strong yet sleek, washed, polished, shining and agile - dependable. And in the later years, like an old buffalo, sometimes undependable, sluggish, mule-ish,with a tendency to stop when and where she wants to, chewing the cud in the middle of the road. Nothing that a solid kick could not remedy, though. Most times.
After all, you come to love the rebellion, the spirit grows on you.
Until it is time to sell her. For 10 grand. She has served me well through five years, and served me best on the dying breath. It is appropriate I write an elegy for my Scooty. Go well, then, buddy. Go well with your new rider. I hope he/she treats you well.

* * *

Often times you do not know the value of something unless you've lost it. Like this.
I have lost my capacity to put up with the heat.
Frankly, I'm a summer bug, always been one - I love the heat and warmth of the sun. Since I've lived all my life in Chennai, it was some kind of a protection mechanism, I guess: "If you can't beat the heat, love it." Consequently, I was never in danger of having a sunstroke or collapsing in a sunny patch. Especially in the days when I started working, when I used to take the bus and walk wherever I had to go to and boy, was there work to do or what! I cribbed loudly, along with everyone else, but the fact of the matter was that it really bounced off me. No effect, nada, zilch.
Now, I've lost it. That capacity not to be touched by the sun. This is an elegy to that.
Never been so hot and bothered before. Today, I was walking into office and everything was a mirage wave around me, waving past me in blurred shades, but mostly hot and whilte! I did not make that up - my sense of humour is tuned onto a different frequency.
But is it my imagination or are we having one of the hottest summers ever in Chennai's history. Unfortunately, it is my imagination, much as I would like to believe otherwise. The MET department swears with statistics that we've had worse summers before. I'm partial to statistics, but I still don't think so, because I've never been so hot and bothered before. Oops, I've said that before. Forgive me, it is the heat. And I've lost it.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

All that glitters...

Two gilt-gold earrings dangling on two fair ear lobes.
His wholesome, first memory of her. Satchel slung across his back, smoothing oiled hair into place, he had just swung up the footboard steps of the 7-30 a.m. 47A service. Somewhere between that moment and the next time he started breathing, he caught sight of those earrings on those fair lobes, reddening where ear met ring and his breath stopped short in his wind pipe.
Back then, he did not know they were gilt - the earrings. He had thought they were gold. Back then, he had also thought her beautiful - like an angel.
No one else did. And he had mildly wondered why. Until they laughed and with knowing winks told him she was gilt too - like her earrings, like the rest of her jewellery, her made-up face. They said, the truth, like her age, was creaking up between lines of beyond-expiry foundation.

* * *

This is a docked version of my original short story. An experiment to see if brevity would make any difference ... Hmmmmmm.....
Also, i think it's the second time I'm using the title.

* * *
May 12
I've made a small change since i wrote it first. it's o.k. now. Wonder how I could have missed it in the first place. Damn!


Saturday, May 07, 2005

Idiot box consort

An eight-by-ten box with one smart card is my passport to heaven. It will bring me the jungles of Africa, if I like, with elephants walking knee-deep in grass; it will show me New York when I so fancy; take me to violent-though-unbloody boxing rings; all of Vivaldi's seasons; Spain, sombreros, tacos; cocaine; Brazil; Man United...
In just 29 inches. My God of small things... and my archangel consort to the honourable idiot box.

Why should it take so much time, effort and money to let one city be part of the world.

P.S.: Got my set top box today. In CAS-ruled Chennai, we need that to be a part of the whole.

* * *

If you can smell the heat, now, what do you think would be its colour: white, yellow, green or red? For me now, it is the colour of grey, sooty, diesel-smelling exhaust smoke blowing in my face.
On good days, it could also smell like a hot steam iron on a fresh white sheet. On good days, I wouldn't be on Mount Road.

* * *

Blogging's catching up with hacks. FW and Swaha have bloughted (blog + thought?) too. Two people with two different reasons to write: Swaha wants to expand the world to draw you in, inclusively. FW, who bares her heart selectively, creates a uterine cosmos, exclusively.
May the Force be with.. er.. the public and the private!


Thursday, May 05, 2005


Is one at the nadir or zenith of boredom? I mean, technically what phrase would be right?
Whatever it is, I'm there now.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Being Saleha Akhter

Perhaps it was for Saleha Akhter, "lecturer, poet, writer, journalist," that this new post was waiting to be written.
When I met Saleha, a Bangladeshi college teacher and her husband Rafique, last year, I was busy trying to figure out what she was saying. So much so, I missed seeing what a beautiful person she was and that I'd be a part of her life "as long as she lives."
Speaking a mixture of her native Bangla and broken English, she tried to tell me that she was dying of cancer. "Can you help please? Somehow?" She was breaking down constantly, only saying again and again, how ill she was and penniless. Could some one treat her for free?
There were problems with this: The Government sector, where free care is available, might not be interested in treating a Bangaldeshi national and she did not have even a few thousands that a private hospital might expect.
It was hard to crack this one. It did not help that she would call us, three of us: me and my colleagues Saptarshi and Shivakumar: several times a day just to cry. We had sent out feelers to see if someone could help her, but frankly, we were getting tired of this. It was then that Sankara Hospital, (formerly Tamil Nad Hospitals) decided to treat her free of charge.
Saleha went back to Dhaka a better person, physically, than she came away from it. And when Saleha came back to Chennai for a checkup today, she dropped into office to thank the three of us with little "Bangladeshi gifts," warm hugs and handshakes. She is a completely new person no: beautiful, happy, effusive, cocking a snook at canceer, cocking a snook at death.

Maybe stopping at death's door and passing on does that to you. To some people perhaps.
Thank YOU, Saleha.

* * *

Since this is about cocking a snook, I have sold my five-year old Scooty ES for a grand sum of Rs.10,000. To all those who made fun of my good ol' machine, here goes: HAH!