a place called home

I step out onto the clean and neat pavement, lined with pink blazing stars, a row of purple jacarandas and the smell of newly trimmed, symmetric green grass. A woman wearing a lulu lemon tee and black tracks is walking a chihuahua, chattering incessantly in a high pitched voice on her iPhone. The dog appears tired, after having finished his ablutions for the day, wants to retire and dream in dogworld. A bare chested man jogs along attempting to lose 200 excessive calories from the Shock Top Belgian he guzzled at the soccer match earlier today. An old Russian couple walk silently next to each other, she lost in her stolichnaya dolls and pirozhkis, and he taking in the surroundings like a sniff of vintage Kauffman. Long years of marriage puts these pauses and breaks, the kind where you are together and alone simultaneously. In the distance sat a homeless man, with his pieces of belongings, a tiny suitcase, a cardboard box, a pair of sneakers, a blanket. He hums Lennon, "All you need is love.." and eats a Ben and Jerry's ice cream. The Mexican who works at the restaurant next door, jumps off line 316 and runs to work while putting on his blazer. An ambulance whizzes by, followed by a cop car. An accident, maybe a head on collision, maybe just a dent. My phone rings, "Amma..".


I walk out onto the uneven kaccha road leading to Sitaphal Mandi. The road is brown, bumpy, crooked, and narrow. Some cows graze on along the side, they are troubled by crows and flies. A pack of dogs bask in the glorious June sun, while two other dogs are momentarily locked in a fight which soon becomes amorous. A huge line of two wheelers hurtle along the bumpy road. Couple of women dressed in cotton saris sit selling vegetables, the greeny, bittery kind with names sounding like Marvel characters. Women and children walk by, trying to get their kids to schoolrooms before the gong sounds. Babies cry, the heat is too much to bear. Men prance about wearing lungis, tucked up showing their (not so) bare legs. They stand gazing, taking in the surroundings very differently from the Russian man, sipping on a hot cup of Irani tea. Construction workers pile reddish-brown bricks plastered with grey cement. The cow dung fills the air with a manure like smell. The cackle from the women selling sabji intermingle with the sound of onions being fried in the Chinese fast food shop, the wafting smell of garlic spiraling into the vermillion sky. At the nearby station platform, there is a board, "Sabari Express is delayed by 5 hours..."


I step out into lush greenness, the foliage thick enough to cover an elephant. The rain has just drenched the brown earth of its sorrows. The smell of mud fills the ether. A praying mantis sits quietly meditating on a jasmine bush. The mosquitoes are composing their own fugues and canons. The blue gossamer winged butterflies fluttering their wings circle the mauve lilies in the pond, sure to cause another Katrina or a Sandy in some other part of the world. The Maami next door is reciting her prayers for the morning, while the Maama performs the rituals in the pooja room. The smell of sandalwood wafts through as the incense sticks continue burning. Ripe, yellow mangoes have fallen on the ground and a squirrel scampers to get a bite. A man hurries along to catch the bus to go pay the electricity bill before his life goes unto darkness. A thin boy heads to the local temple to ask for forgiveness and pray for plentiful. Someone is making a mug of strong filter coffee. At the corner stand people drinking lime soda, talking about elections, weather, and football. The different umbrellas passing by forms a rainbow in itself, some use Poppy, some Johns, and others plain, black ones. The sky is dark grey, overcast and rumbling. It will pour a lifetime's worth by the time the Sabari Express pulls into platform no: 1.

Kerala's Portuguese heritage

The World Cup fever is on and everyone is tuned into Brazil for the latest updates on the football matches. I am no fan of football. Yet, I grew up in a sports loving family. My father is an ardent sports freak, having played a couple of sports himself, he instilled in me a love for all kinds of sports pretty early in my life. Out of those that stayed include basketball, cricket, and tennis. Football didn't. This, however, didn't stop me from watching the football matches with him, it was a father-daughter bonding time for us. I grew up watching all the World Cup matches together and even today we call and discuss about the current World Cup matches, almost on a daily basis.

Tomorrow at 9 a.m (PST), Germany is playing against Portugal and I couldn't help but ponder about Kerala's (my home state in India) long and old connection with Portugal. During the mid 14th century, the Southern part of India was conducive to trade as the coastal towns had ports which were accessible to European missionaries and explorers. Records date back to BCE, and recently a lot of interest has been revived in establishing and unearthing the heritage of the Muziris, the ancient port where the mariners anchored. Even though the exact location of this port is still unknown, it is suspected to be around 30 miles away from Kochi, my home town. Muziris is the anglicized version of the Tamil Muciri. This port became known as Muciripattanam, an idyllic town on India's South-West coast. Large scale excavations under the auspices of the Kerala government have taken place in and around Kochi from 1980. Many treasures were found and the search still continues today with many NGOs and archaeological institutions participating in the Muziris revival project.

India was one of the crown jewels in the European age of discovery which began in the 15th century. South India boasted of its aromatic and rich spices. Kerala cultivated large quantities of black pepper, popularly called 'Tellicherry black' for its bold and pungent aroma and it had established itself as a pioneer trade center since 3000 BCE. The first powerful and prolific empire around the 15th century was the Portuguese empire, also the longest ruling European empire (till it handed back sovereignty to East Timor in 2002). Being a coastal country, Portuguese sailors set sail to discover the spice route that the Arabs were talking about. In May 1498, Vasco da Gama set foot at Kappad beach, Calicut in Kerala. The animosity between the then ruler of Calicut, the Zamorins or Samoothiris and the ruler of Cochin, King Unni Goda Varma Tirumulpadu resulted in the first European settlement in Cochin. Although the Portuguese era in Kerala lasted hardly a 100 years before they were ousted by Kunjali Marakker followed by the Dutch invasion, the Portuguese left a lasting impression on the native tongue, Malayalam.

Malayalam, a Dravidian language, is said to have developed from the Proto-Tamil lineage of the Proto-Dravidian family. Early writings date to 13th century. All languages undergo diachronic changes and Malayalam was no exception. Around the 14th-15th century, heavy borrowings from Sanskrit and Pali resulted in a form of the language called Manipravaalam. This hybrid language was still in an infancy stage when it encountered Portuguese through the first explorers who came to Kerala. Portuguese was a lingua-franca used in the trading community, often talked about as the base language of pidgins and creoles (basic and reduced forms of languages used between communities for communication purposes). During the age of discovery, a linguistic process called relexification resulted in a rampant increase of Portuguese words in pidgins and creoles found across the globe. Malayalam or Manipravaalam also borrowed heavily from Portuguese.

It is suspected nearly 150 words were loaned from Portuguese into Malayalam. The long list of words can be found here on Wikipedia. One of the linguistic changes that happened was the shift from /r/ --> /l/, preceding a nasal sound such as /m/. This can be seen in the word for cupboard, armoire --> alamara. Almost all voicing contrast was lost, i.e. if the Portuguese words has a /b/, /d/, or /g/ sound, this was most likely to be substituted with /p/, /t/, /k/ in Malayalam native phonology, as seen in the words for a type of fish, crowbar, vicar etc. Interesting loans include the words for cemetery, satan, and foreman. The Portuguese words are cemitério, satan, and mesthre. These words are borrowed without much linguistic change, only a few modifications are made to the pronunciation. Thus, in Malayalam, it becomes semithery, saataan, and mesthiri, hardly any phonetic changes, only the pronunciation has been adapted to the native phonology.

The borrowings from Portuguese include common household items such as table, cupboard, towel, hat. Food items which were introduced by the discoverers were borrowed into the language, such as pineapple, tea, cashew, funnel, guava, and onion, wine and vinegar. Many if not almost all of these terms are commonplace in any dialect of Malayalam today. Even though some of the words may have been replaced by a more common Proto-Dravidian term, for example, 'adukala' for kitchen, these Portuguese borrowings survive in the older generations who use them interchangeably.

So, back to the World Cup again. In the US, the matches don't stream for free. You either need a cable subscription which allows you to stream ESPN, or you can stream the matches online from a Spanish TV channel with Spanish commentary. I don't have cable and my only resort is to brush up my rusty and forgotten Spanish and reconstruct some of these Portuguese remnants in Malayalam back to Spanish, which turns out to be a lot of fun.

Let me leave you with a story, one which involves the etymology of 'cashew'. If you go back and look over the table of Portuguese loans, you will see that 'cashew' was borrowed from the Portuguese word 'caju' (which remained as Kaju in Hindi) and became kasuvandi in Malayalam. Breaking down this word, we get kasu + andi = cashew + seed 'cashew nut'. However, there is a more interesting story behind the origin of the word. The popular story goes that these nuts, introduced by the Portuguese to the native lands, were sold on the beaches of Kerala, 8 pieces for 1 anna. The word for currency in Malayalam is kaashu. So now, imagine this Mallu boy sitting on Kappad beach with a hatful of cashewnuts and going 'kaashin ettu, kaashin ettu, kaashin ettu'. What does that sound like to you if you say it out loud? Bingo, 'cashewnut'.

Well, the Malayali will never know the true origin of the word, but we have a lot to thank our Portuguese capitans for, especially cashewnut and tobacco. These 2 industries bring crores of revenue to the state today. Quilon in South Kerala is now heralded as the cashew city and well, I needn't mention where the tobacco ends up. This old video from 1952 is self illustrative.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YquV57qIqD0&w=420&h=315]

And yes, the author admits cigarette smoking is injurious to health. ting ting ti ding.

Oh, but I forgot to mention Kerala's German connection. The grandfather of Hermann Hesse, (psst Siddhartha, if you haven't read this book, go read) Dr. Hermann Gundert was one of the pioneers of Malayalam linguistics. He compiled dictionaries, wrote books on Kerala's history and as part of his missionary work, translated the Bible into Malayalam. Definitely not as colossal a contribution as the Portuguese, but the linguist in me is very happy with the German.

May the best team win tomorrow!

Ruminations on the road

road stretched far and wideacross the open spaces connecting different cultures like a bridge, dusty and tarred like the cover of a book unused taking people on journeys to unknown destinations. approach nearer, horizon moves further on an endless stream as the human mind with the occasional bumps, downs and heights.

life thrived on both the sides unconcerned about this path of gravel and sand highway maybe, much rather way to heaven or hell. men went on their trivial existence women regarded as the lamp of the house, patronized birth, marriage, and death. an urchin hurried home, on a cycle eager to reach before the outpourings of mother earth from up above. lovers on a bike couldn’t make it stranded, they were left to drench away all the lies and guilt that comes free with the package of love.

rain has stopped awhile the atmosphere is now calm, serene, quiet. sky looks like a palette of colours spread unevenly with an added tinge of mystery. clouds brim with the reactions of the creator to the doings of mankind yet afraid to pour its heart out like the fear of a child in confiding a secret, to a friend who might turn a traitor.

‘tis a sight wonderful, not to the five senses but to others unexplained, the pristine beauty of nature unraveled to the human eye in all its glorious nakedness volumes of paddy fields flanked by mountains, the color of sapphire, palm fronds with limbs raised upwards in a prayer begging for just what’s necessary, nothing more, flocks of crane in deep conversation with bulls, human figures with spine bent, scattered to remove the worthy from the many.

nature is pregnant with meanings it is not clear as the pure oyster in the seashell but beautifully cloaked like an invisible stranger who reveals identity only when needed. it even gives meaning to the absurdities of life, the masks people wear, their hollow empty hearts and terminal voids in their lives.

cars overtake cars in a mad race, speed thrills but kills. slacken speed to crawl like an earthworm to gaze upon beauteous forms erected on the ground beneath our feet. precious time is not to be wasted on mechanical life ‘tis a vicious circle, routine, habit, addiction leading man to a life fruitfully wasted. breathe, feel life at its best the intoxicating smell of mud, after the first shower of rain the wafts of beauty laughing loudly. listen for the ditties played by rivulets and bamboo trees, amorous chirpings of birds gliding in the sweet scented air. behold colours of emotion not found in any painting or colour box, the true essence of living expressed in its heights. surroundings echo the cries of freedom, spread out wings and fly high, low through the balloon clouds maybe even to the doors of heaven. abandon yourself at will, redeem thy sins get purified by a dip in the Ganges. world suddenly will seem magical, fresh, new reborn again quirking with innocence, love, hope.

millions arrive at destinations everyday crossing horizons across the road. not real destinations as they seem but masqueraded beauties fooling even the sagacious human brain, that believes what it sees and sees what it believes.

roads are for journeys, not for destinations. but destiny may take pity on you and provide you a glimpse of such a journey which elevates you to destinations otherwise unattainable.

56 hours in SoCal

So my husband unexpectedly got a holiday from his workaholic boss for a long weekend and since this was the first holiday he is getting in 1.5 years, we decided to make full use of it by making a quick weekend getaway away from Los Angeles. As we only had limited time and did not want to spend most of it on the road, we decided to head to Santa Barbara and the quaint Danish town of Solvang.

2012-12-24 12.48.09

The day dawned bright and sunny. Our destination was 1.45 hours away and we left around 10. The drive was scenic, along the PCH. The ocean glistened under the summer sun, a Pacific Blue. We listened to the Doors and the Beach Boys. It was a beautiful day to spend outside.


Our first pitstop was Sambo’s on the beach (216 W. Cabrillo Blvd Santa Barbara CA 93101) around 12.30 p.m. Located on the beach Sambo’s serves breakfast all day long, making it an ideal place for brunch. My husband and I are vegetarians and this place serves burgers and fries making it an ideal place for us to find something to eat, moreover he loves places overlooking the ocean. We downed the food with their jumbo mimosas which Sambo’s is famous for. Sambo’s is located on the East beach and we walked around a bit before heading to Solvang.

We decided to stay in Solvang away from the crowd and the noise. Also, my husband had been yearning to be out in the nature for a very long time and Meadowlark Inn looked just the right place. It was a couple of miles away from Solvang. After checking in, we decided to head over to Lake Cachuma (California 154 Santa Barbara, CA). Dinner was going to be light since most places are breakfast & brunch kind of places in Solvang. We decided to play it by the ear and explore the Solvang downtown in order to find a decent place to get a bite.


We started the next day early by going to the famous Paula’s Pancakes (1531 Mission Drive Solvang, CA 93463) for breakfast. On weekends, Paula’s is crowded and the wait extends to 45 minutes. On a Friday morning we got lucky and found a place to sit quite easily. Paula’s is known for it’s Danish waffles and pancakes. paulas-pancake

After gorging and walking around a bit so as to avoid feeling bloated, we headed out to the Blackjack Ranch and winery (2205 Alamo Pintado Road Solvang, CA 93463) a winery made famous by Jack and Miles of the 2004 Fox pictures movie ‘Sideways’. The wine tasting room here opens from 11.00-4.30 p.m. We followed this by another round of wine tasting at Beckman Vineyards (2670 Ontiveros Los Olivos, CA 93441).


After the eventful morning at the wineries we set out to Santa Barbara to have a late lunch at Alchemy Arts Café (35 West Haley Street Santa Barbara, CA 93101). The Arts café is part of the Alchemy Arts center and it is known for it’s wholesome and healthy meals. After the late lunch, we decided to have some secluded beach time at the butterfly beach near Montecito at a far corner of East beach.


After the secluded beach time, we decided to try our hand at some Poker at the Chumash casino (3400 East Highway 246 Santa Ynez, CA 93460). Both of us are huge Texas Hold’em fans and we didn’t mind trying our hand at a poker game. It was like finding Vegas in the Santa Ynez valley!


The next day, we set out back to LA. Our first stop was the Nojoqui Falls (3200 south alisal road, Solvang, California). The nature trail leading upto the Falls is beautiful and very green.



On our way back, we did the weekend ritual of stopping by at Dukes, Malibu for brunch before reaching West Hollywood, aka home.


On public transportation

I boarded the bus, not conscious of the milieu inside. I tapped the metro pass and found a place to stand at the far back corner. I tried reading ‘Love and Garbage’; it was too crowded to concentrate. I closed the book, held its soul in my hand for a while and put it back into my bag. Random thoughts flooded in, my concerns about apartment hunting, conferences, cats, money, bills, and home. Then it dawned, everybody around me would be thinking of comparable things. What is the probability that there is at least one other person in the bus who is thinking of the same thing as me right now, wondering what everyone else is thinking about! 

For many people, the fact that I commute in Los Angeles using public transportation is unfathomable. An American colleague of mine who has lived in LA for a good six years asked me quite innocently the other day, "how much are the bus tickets now, $2.50 or $3", without having any clue about it as she has never boarded a bus or a train in LA. Angelenos are very comfortable in their cars, oh, and the number of cars increase by the minute. Households have three to four cars on average (read: a car per head). But really, let's pause for a second and ask ourselves, what is the big humbug about "driving"?

I got a driving license in India when I was 18. I could draw an H without toppling over a single beam, and all this on the first attempt of trying to clear the driving test. I managed to drive in India without ever killing anybody or running over a cow. After having moved to America, 4 years ago, I just haven't felt the need to get a license. Why? Obvious reason, a car is extra expense. Very often you hear people equating car with convenience, not often with expense, right? Let me explain. 

A bus/train ride in LA costs me $1.50. Unlike India, public transportation here works on a flat rate basis. I can board the bus at the first stop and get off at the last stop, or get off at the very next stop all for the same price. On the contrary, getting a car is expensive, not to mention the hassle of "finding" a decent car. Gas is expensive, and most of all, insurance is expensive. Now that I've harped enough about expenses, let me talk about the pros of public transportation. 

Rewind back to the first paragraph. That was written in a bus two years ago, on the note app that iphone has. Now, can you do imagine doing something like that while driving? Disastrous, right? Public transportation allows you to let your mind wander. As a writer, I like this. I can afford to think up ideas, ruminate on thoughts, meditate. I don't have to worry about the traffic signal, whether someone is going to hit me while I'm trying to make a left turn, or, not look at my phone's note taking app simply because I need to concentrate on the road. 

Public transportation also lets you observe. You meet weird, strange, interesting people on the bus/train. I've had people come up and talk to me. You strike exciting conversations. You talk about culture, about issues, or something as trivial as the weather. It is a shared public space where everybody is equal. There are no watertight distinctions on a bus. You are who you are, and so is everyone else. Imagine, on the contrary, sitting in a car solitary, dreaming that you are the emperor of your own self created universe. Any more ego boost needed, people? There is no time to let your mind aloof (of course unless you are sitting in traffic on the US 101), nobody to observe, no shared experience. Just solitude. 

Today, while taking the bus back from work, I met a disabled guy. He was on crutches and he only had one leg. He was waiting for the bus with me at the bus stop. This above all, public transportation, lets you realize nothing is impossible. It bridges boundaries, connects people from all walks of life. I meet chefs, restaurant workers, servers, plumbers, accountants, professors, doctors, nurses, students, homeless people, all under one roof. We travel together for that brief moment, in complete anonymity, as one whole being. This experience liberates oneself, in a way driving to work in your own car cannot. I love public transportation, not just in LA, in any other foreign country that I travel to. You can feel the soul and pulse of the city in its public transportation, not in its millions of solitary drivers. 

Summer in California

Every summer, I hibernate. It's a ritual I religiously follow, especially after I moved to Los Angeles, a way of putting down the weight of all that goes by in Fall and Spring. Summer offers me two wonderful months of just being with myself. It provides a way to reenergize, restore calmness, and re-find myself. This summer was not much different. I hibernated and ruminated. Mulling over a couple of things while making a meal or two can be exhilaratingly liberating. It's a liberty I don't often find in my otherwise busy PhD routine. During summer, there is no real need to socialize. This frees up my mind to wander sporadically, which is otherwise cluttered with conversations and useless, troublesome worries.

Summer is also the perfect time to enjoy some good Californian and Italian wine. This summer is dedicated to Bella Sera. She is a beauty! The Bella Sera Pinot Grigio floats down your throat with ease. The grapes come from the Veneto region of Northeast Italy. The wine is crisp and refreshing with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe apple and pear. So flavorful and pairs well with pastas, fresh vegetables, and chicken. Moreover, I never thought there was something called budget wine, till I met Bella. It’s definitely the best under $10 wine you can pick!

Traveling is an essential part of summer, especially the Californian summer! This summer I did a road trip with a couple of friends. We decided to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco with pit stops in Solvang, Carmel, and Monterey.

Solvang is a quaint Danish town in Santa Barbara county. The drive to Solvang is beautiful on a perfect summer day. The white cumulous nimbus clouds hang over the brownish green dunes and hills. Cows graze along the fields and the bright sun looks over the horizon shining in all its glory. This is where you want to lose yourself. As a dear friend of mine would say, go lie down on the green fields, read a book, and take a nap under the vastness of the universe. To commune with nature as the Pantheists so delightfully wrote about in their Romantic verses is bliss. In todays busy world not many of us are lucky enough to take time off for such a rediscovery.


After reenergizing ourselves with some pancakes and sleep, we left for the longest leg of our journey- from Solvang to Carmel through San Louis Obispo country and Big Sur. The beauty of the Pacific cannot be described in words. The California 1 a.k.a the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is one of the most scenic routes to travel upon. For countless miles, you drive along the PCH overlooking the majestic Pacific. She lies in all her azure elegance. Yet another way of ruminating and rediscovering myself.


After hours of driving, we finally reached Big Sur. The 90 miles of Central California coastline known as Big Sur, midway between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, extending inland to the abruptly rising Santa Lucia Mountains, has inspired writings by Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, photographs by Ansel Adams and music from sources as varied as John Adams and the Beach Boys. The magnificence of this place moves you. We got caught in a traffic jam induced by an accident and therefore had all the time to soak in the true brilliance. When we finally reached Carmel, it was evening.


Carmel is a small beach town in Central California. We hogged on some Mediterranean food and then drove to our destination for the night, Pacific Grove. The next day morning, we got ourselves some bikes and we biked along the PCH- from Pacific Grove to Asilomar state beach. The weather was exquisite. To bike along the water and truly take in the fresh air was truly breathtaking.


The road trip ended with our final leg to San Francisco where the highlight was kite flying! On our way back, all of us though tired felt a sense of rediscovery. To truly feel alive, you need to go out and breathe the air, feel one with nature.


Summer has almost come to an end, but I’m now geared up for the next school season. Fall and Spring will feel much lighter now that the batteries have been recharged. Though of course,  I can’t help wait for the next summer already ;)

The Genuineness of Japan

As I prepare to leave Tsu city, there are a lot of thoughts rumbling in my head. It may be inspired by the rumblings in the over laden sky. I look out at the turbulent sea while waiting for “Phoenix”, the super ferry that will take me to Chubu centrair. I have an hour or so to kill and I wait along with a dozen others who do not comprehend any other language but Japanese. Yet, I feel perfectly at home. Everything about this place reminds me of home, well a cleaner home of course.  I always try to ruminate about my experience in a new country like every seasoned traveller would do in order to make sense of it all but with Japan, I know not where to start.

My first Japan visit was in Spring 2006 and that visit left an everlasting impression in my mind. Japan always beckoned. And today, after my second visit to this country I know why. The people don’t speak English, they don’t give a damn but even though they don’t understand you or speak your language they are extremely genuine. They still want to communicate with you, go out of their way to help you out, be a friend not a foe. During this visit, I visited a small grilled meat bar twice. The owner didn’t speak a word of English but his smile was one of the most genuine ones I have seen in my last two years of sojourn in the Western world. Here, people are happy. Even though they probably work around 60-70 hours a week, in the end they come back home to a family, they come back home to warmth. Nothing has ever stood in between the Japanese spirit and sprite. Not the earthquake, not the tsunami. Life goes on pretty much through all these calamities, a point I had realized early on in my school life when writing an essay on India’s achievements post Independence in tandem with Japan’s achievements after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese are highly resilient with the soul of a phoenix.

Japan has also been particularly appealing to me because of the Haruki Murakami connection. Japanese authors have been a favorite. Murakami, Kashuo Ishiguro, Yukio Mishima have all been bedtime companions during my adolescence. Like Murakami says in Kafka on the shore, “Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.” Maybe my two trips to Japan in the space of six years is no mere coincidence.

Six years have passed since my last visit, not much has changed. The cities, Tokyo and Kyoto have got more populous. The trains still run impeccably on time. People are still genuinely happy. The Buddhist temples still retain an air of mystery shrouded by an aura of the divine. Here, one can find peace, real peace. Amidst the fast, busy, day-to-day existence, there is something stagnant about the Japanese. As if they know how to truly live. Or as Murakami says in 1Q84, “Being alive, if you had to define it, meant emitting a variety of smells”. 


Nihonshu - sacred Sake barrels at 明治神宮 (Meiji Jingu shrine).

Energy in transit

Discl: Read 'When life offers you a choice' before reading this. We were approaching dawn in the wee hours before the touchdown into Singapore. As always, I had no luck falling asleep on the four something hour flight. I’m not a huge fan of the window seat and I was assigned one and that too next to a drunk gentleman. I huddled up against the window the whole time, but for this once I was glad I was assigned the window. Outside, the sky was lit up in subtle hues of crimson and gilt. I had been deeply troubled after reading the news centered around Oslo and looking out at this bucolic imagery, my mind eased itself at the creases. I was reminded again of the beauty pervasive in the world at strife. The hues from the solar epicenter vibrated across the horizon. It made me forget Oslo, Hari Kambhoji, the drunken man. There is a perennial energy resonating throughout the ether, we feel her at times, we see her at other times, and we breathe her all the time. And, I happened to see and feel the energy too in the next leg of my journey from Singapore to LA via Tokyo. On this long 17.30 hour flight, it is rare to enjoy a middle seat and when I was assigned one automatically, I went to the Singapore airlines desk to ask for an aisle seat to gladly realize that I was assigned a middle seat in the emergency exit row, apparently one which you have to pay extra for and I got it free of cost! I was seated comfortably in the middle seat next to a 6 4’ tall man with shoulder length hair tied into a simple ponytail. Before long we had started an amicable conversation revolving around ‘Plato and Platypus walked into a bar’, the other book I meant to read on this long transit to LA. He thought I was a philosopher. I clarified my credentials and in turn discovered I was sitting next to a professional surfer, a deep-sea diver and a shamanic healer (talk about seeing energy!). I first became interested in shamanism after high school and had largely read about shamanic practices in Mexico and that was exactly were he was heading to, on a tour of South America for the next 4 months. He was a traveller, both in the physical and spiritual sense of the term. His travels to Mexico, Peru and Ecuador would lead him to Shamanic rituals. We talked about rituals atop Mammoth hill, Viracocha and the Quechuan language. He loved India having widely travelled to the north. The other 6 3’ guy in the aisle seat next to me now got interested in the conversation. He was an undergrad returning from Bangalore after 8 weeks of an intensive MBA program. What a funny revelation we had mid-air! I travel transcontinental to live the so called stereotypical American dream in sunny California and he took refuge in autos, canteen food, and the bustling motley crue in Bangalore’s Electronic city. All our paths were interwoven in the languid surreal space and time, seventeen hours felt like but one moment in the vast infinite sigh of cosmic consciousness.

When life offers you a choice

Awaiting the boarding announcement for MI467 to Singapore, I sat in the almost-empty slowing-getting-crowded gate#3 of the minimalist Nedumbassery International terminal reading ‘South of the border, West of the sun’. The first half of the title alludes to a Nat King Cole song. No surprises here since Murakami owned a jazz bar ‘Peter cat’ between 1974 and 1982 and music has been a common factor across his novels. The second half of the title describes ‘piblokto’ or Artic hysteria. The main protagonist, Hajime, succumbs to this hysteria and I drew parallels. His life remains mundane till the reappearance of his childhood friend, Shimamoto, an only child just like him, and me. I closed my eyes and contemplated and that’s when I heard a strain of Hari Kambhoji waft its way toward me. It completely took away the ground from beneath my feet. I was rendered lifeless. Just when I was getting into LA mode I was sucked back into the cushy comfort of home. ‘Uyire’ was playing in the eerie silence of the terminal at 11 in the night. I remembered a conversation I had with a friend some days before the departure day, my lamentations on Bekal fort, my yearning to go to Kasargode since 1996, all the recent conversations rolled by. I had met my nemesis in ‘Uyire’. The choice was simple, I could chose not to board the plane leaving behind everything I loved by boarding. Like Hajime, my mind turmoiled at the burden of the impending decision. I was deeply disturbed. The hour that passed after listening to ‘Uyire’ and boarding the plane was one of the toughest hours in my life.I am writing this while catsitting for my professor in La Brea. Leo is running about the apartment (another weird Murakami connection)! I traverse from this world to the other, with skype conversations, chats and mails. Sometimes, there are good things in life and other times, there are just hopes of what-could-have-been. Life is eternally filled with choices and you have the choice of rewriting everything that is written.

The drive

The warmth of the air rubbing against their pain-stricken faces did not stop them from speeding down the freeway carefree, like furtive lovers away to a hideout. She looked at him longingly. Age did not show on his face, yet there was something about him so distant as if he had lived 200 years and he continued to tell the tradition. He was a careful driver, forever cautious at the wheel. She could see the strained muscles at the nape of his neck, the tight clench of his fists at the steering wheel. She paused for a moment before she turned to gaze out of the window. There are moments and when they are lost you wait for them to come back much alike waiting for cherry blossoms to bloom. Cranberries played at the backdrop, it was one of the CDs they kept listening to. They hummed along. It would take them another hour to reach their destination. In that one hour they would travel time, travel the boundaries mediated by time and space, go beyond words, traverse finite feelings and myriad beings. There would be moments when he would become her and she would become him and both of them become no more.