Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ay, there's the rab!

In which I react to Rab ne bana di jodi. So SPOILER ALERT.


When I was a child, I was given a book called Thumbelina. The story of a thumb-sized girl and her adventures. There is a mole in the story: big, fat, ugly. Also rich and wanting to marry her. Hemmed in, Thumbelina is forced to contemplate marriage with him, till she escapes and meets a prince whom she falls in love with.

I hated the mole. Not for being ugly or rich or cruel, but for wanting to marry a girl against her will, in spite of her will. Inarticulately, even as a child, I was disgusted with such coercion that is not quite rape but something a little more insidious, equally vile.

Shahrukh Khan’s character Surinder in Rab ne bana di jodi is that mole. A small ‘ordinary’ man, a mofussil babu, oiled, slicked-back hair, ghonchu clothes and a very unbecoming moustache. He marries pretty, vivacious ‘Taaniji’ in emergency circumstances – she must, as her fiancé and father have died in quick succession; he wants to.

Taani tries rather gallantly to come to terms with her new circumstances. Her new husband is nice – leaves her alone for the most part and demands very little from her. He then senses she needs a little more excitement and deceives her by playing another man, ‘Raj’ – a younger, more vibrant man, more audacious, more fashionable, more expressive, more acceptable. But even as he plays this other role, he runs into a contradiction within himself. He wants her to love Surinder not Raj. Mind, he will do nothing to win her love – not throw in sparkling conversation, not dress less dowdily, not be more loving; he will merely sit mutely, chewing his food across the table from her every night, loving her in a smug, self-righteous way, willing her to choose him.

She does eventually – for a reason more stupid and facile than many that Bollywood routinely uses to advance its plots. She does because she wants to see ‘rab’ in someone, sends up a prayer and opens her eyes to see her husband walking towards her in out-of-focus, slow-motion. And presumably because heroines in Bollywood movies do not normally leave husbands who don’t attract them for men that do. Or perhaps because all a woman ever wants (as Taani says, speaking for all of us) is a man to love her ‘beintehaa’. By this illumination, what I am to do with my ever-growing scroll of ‘What-I-Want-In-A-Man,’ I don’t know. Or maybe, just maybe, because Aditya Chopra thought he had a title he liked and thought up a silly story to fit it.

The most perturbing aspect came with the end credits. A series of snapshots of the couple’s honeymoon in Japan – Taaniji (she is still Taaniji) is with Surinder, and there is no sign of Raj. She is smiling hugely, affectionate, clinging to her bashful, mustachioed and badly-dressed husband, and, Suri’s voiceover hints coyly, there is sex involved. In short, she is broken in.

I find myself puzzled at Aditya Chopra. Why de-sex, so de-glamourise your hero? To what end? Why hold the mundane over the exciting? Why root for blah? Was this or was this not the man who tortured Esha Deol and Aishwarya Rai into skeletal forms, so they could enhance movies from his stable? Why speak then for the sort of middle class Indian man who won’t step up to his wife, but expects her to step down to him?

To add insult to injury, Chopra makes a bad masala movie. The songs are horribly treated, all the basics of ‘build-up’ lie by the side, there is no chemistry, no attempt at chemistry. Very weak and so annoying.

Monday, December 01, 2008


More on Pushkar...


Pushkar came with a lot of hype. The biggest camel fair in the world, untold lakhs of visitors, the colour, the dust, the melee... I was not going to the mela, which took place 5-13 November, but my visit would overlap the last day and some of the excitement rubbed off.

On the road, even several kilometres short of my destination, the fair made itself felt. Long trains of camels blocked traffic, bought for no doubt handsome sums of money and being led to their new homes. As we neared the town, the madness started to show. Buses, jeeps and cars roared by us, raising dust and chock-a-block with people—turbaned men sat on the roofs, adventurous lads perilously hanging on to a foothold, and only slightly more safely seated, women wearing colourful saris, ghoonghats and huge smiles, clearly having the time of their lives. Road after road into the town was shut, or converted temporarily into oneways. As we stopped to seek new directions, now that the old ones had fallen through, we were yelled at by policemen: “Chalo, chalte raho! Hamari vyavastha kharaab hoti hai.

Hungry, tired, grumpy and rather grimy, we reached the resort eventually. It took a vigorous wash, lunch and a cup of tea to brace us for another dive into the crowd. But we were on foot now and, as we walked to the centre, very much mainstreamed. Some parties were leaving—bearing bags of many shapes and sizes, invariably chomping on a last-minute purchase of ganna. I also found very quickly what the single most-bought item of the fair must have been: a handmade garden rake with long handle and smooth stylishly curved bamboo fingers. I also discovered what the colour of the season was for turbans—a nice striking fluorescent green.

The mela grounds were now slightly depleted, for the camel trading is most frenetic during the first three days. But dromedaries still stood tethered, as well as horses. Campfires had kettles on and men sat in the huddles so evocative of Rajasthan. A camel is judged on many parameters, I discovered. The eyes must be large, but the face small. Big teeth but small face. Long, thick neck, short tail. Small genitals. One at this fair would’ve cost on average Rs 18,000-20,000. The quality camels of Jaisalmer cost up to Rs 60,000.

Hawkers, food, milling crowds—it was a first-rate mela. But distressing too, because police loudspeakers were incessant in their announcements of missing children. One in particular came across over and over, the policeman sounding increasingly harried—an unclaimed child of three or four who’d been in the makeshift chowk for over five hours, crying, his heart fit to break.

The real action, however, was at the lake this day. The Karthik Poornima is when the moon turns into amrit and descends into the lake. In the best tradition, a dip washes your sins away. About two lakh people were there, we were told later.

The next day, the people had magically disappeared. Hung-over, bleary-eyed and anti-climaxed, Pushkar was left to clean up after the party.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ajmer and Pushkar

Within the space of a month, I have succeeded with two much desired pilgrimages—the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin and Ajmer Shareef. I feel lucky and it feels very significant to me. How, I don't know. Just significant.

Both were good experiences, somewhat more cultural than spiritual, but good.


I was hampered in Pushkar/Ajmer by my companions. It was work, they were professional travel escorts and they couldn't help it. My weakness, I think. When I'm with people, any single other human being, no matter what their capacity—driver, guide or escort... I tune in, or try to be in a place where mutual access of thought is possible. I cannot cut them off, cut myself off from them, ruthlessly staying in my own mental space, pursuing my own train of thought. Their fault also. They were unprofessional, opinionated, pushy... and ordinary.


At the dargah, however, it was far too important for me, the haazri, and I did retreat into myself. Qawwalis were sung in one corner, another troupe sang in worship in another part. People milled around, moving into the shrine, sitting about gossiping. Around the musicians, people sat, listened, left some small notes and, when they felt like it, went away. Living music. The qawwali as it is at its core.

My guide annoyed me considerably here. 'Are they singing well?' he asked me. 'Sur mein to ga rahen hai,' I said. After all, I wasn't about to compare these singing parties to the King and his set. 'Actually,' he went on, leaning conspiratorially, 'these people are nothing more than beggars.'


It is curious though that such a holy place should be subject to such frenetic money-grabbing. 'Khwaja ki amanat Khwaja ko de do'... says one man inside the shrine imperiously, repeatedly. ख्वाजा की अमानत है क्या? सभी कुछ!

I learnt a new word— 'lapka', a tout. Lapkaism is rampant in Ajmer and Pushkar, apparently. Cars with foreigners particularly are chased on bikes, pressured to go this hotel, or that guide. I heard tell of one woman, an NRI, who came to Pushkar recently. The pujari whose hands she fell into assured her her problems were because her father's soul was tormented. One thing led to another and before she knew it she had performed a series of rituals that set her back by Rs 25,000.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Under siege

Some of you know this already. When I have something on my mind, it tends to show. I am beset by mice in the office. Small ones, I admit; cute even, if viewed in a dispassionate, distant way but they're destroying my peace. I daren't slip into deep concentration, because the minute I do, one will shoot out from under my chair, or come right up to me, unseen. At other times, I jump at all moving things—it's wearing.

They scurry around at will. I daren't leave off footwear and sit with my feet up because the once I did that, one came round on top of the desk, compromising my escape plan severely.
For some reason, wearing socks helps ease my jumpiness. They weren't around for two days before this and I relaxed, assuming my complaints to the office manager had worked, that they must've de-rodented the place. Not so. No fewer than three sightings yesterday.

But I'm getting better. Loud throat-hurting shrieks have simmered down to strangled gasps and loud expletives. Soon I shall be swinging them about by the tail.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What is the up

Sheetal's laptop is in danger of 'imminent failure'.
Sheetal is terrified.
Sheetal has researched: it is not a crank alarm.
Sheetal needs to back up a) hard drive, b) personal files.
Sheetal needs a lot of DVDs.
Sheetal then must put machine through a repair process, which might work or not.
Sheetal has no peace till she does this.
Sheetal did not need this.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dhoni again

Peter Roebuck appraises the next leader of Indian cricket.

Roebuck says Dhoni is not a philosopher. But I think he is. His commitment and his detachment are so exquisitely balanced, he might have been Partha once, listening intently to a sermon from his charioteer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

High Pass

The Switzerland story....


Monday mornings in Romanshorn are an enviable affair. Families saunter by dressed in their most relaxed, huge dogs caper about, earnestly whistled back by their owners, cyclists whiz past extracting the last drop of enjoyment from the sun that glitters over Lake Constance. Fathers and sons sail out into the blue Bodensee, ladies take in protracted three-hour lunches or sit on benches by the lake, feeding waterfowl. What the almost 10,000 residents of this lovely lakeside town do for a living, I don’t know, but that’s what I’d like to be doing.

On this morning at least, I was able to walk along the pretty, flowered paths trimming the lake to the sound of impossibly clear waters sloshing the banks, gazing out at Germany. With over 300 boats of various sizes moored at the pier, Romanshorn harbour is a busy place—to the eye, it is a picture frame cluttered with masts. Small birds fluttered in the bushes and I spied a blackbird, which delighted me, because I’d never seen one before. Further on, rising out of the grassy lawns to one side was the Catholic Church of Romanshorn. Once an outpost of the abbey at St Gallen, this is a dignified building that carries its wealth well. I came to a bench in an alcove, set scenically under a drooping willow. There was a book in my bag and no question about what would happen next. I settled down to read, occasionally looking up at the fluttering sails in the distance before me, sometimes locking admonitory eyes with a duck that snorted too loudly. It was a truly pleasant time.

Later that day, the compulsion for more structured activity took us to the Locorama, a little museum for locomotives. Set in an abandoned yard near the railway station, this houses several interesting engines and carriages from various periods. Some of these still work and are occasionally put to use in the cause of tourism. The museum presaged the motif for the visit to Switzerland—trains, for our primary purpose in Switzerland was to experience the magnificent Bernina Express. The Albula-Bernina line that it runs on has recently been deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the event was celebrated in a manner quite typically Swiss—they promptly invited 130 journalists from all over the world to come and have a dekko.

For now though, we were in the region of Thurgau, on the northeastern edge of Switzerland. It is separated from Germany and Austria by the enormous Lake Constance and a little to the northwest, by the Rhine. I longed for a cruise down the fringe of the lake and the next day, I got it. Eight shiny flyer-bikes awaited our group. Flyer bikes are like normal bikes, except you cheat a little. A small battery assists your pedalling efforts—you get to choose between three levels of additional power—and this adds considerable relief to uphill stretches and, I must say, much joy to the entire experience. Thurgau is proud of its agricultural produce and we saw why. Apple orchards flanked the trail, the boughs bent with luscious burden, the ground red with fallen apples. Considerate biker trails have been laid along the lake and we cruised along, with the Bodensee playing hide and seek to our right, affording some spectacular views. Lunch was at a farmhouse in Altnau: farm-fresh food, salads with an assortment of dressings, bread, large jugs of apple juice and some great coffee. Our path took us to the town of Kreuzlingen, some 15km away. We gave up the bikes reluctantly but a museum of a historical sort awaited us in Mannenbach-Salenstein.

The Napoleon Museum, dedicated to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s last monarch and its first titular President, is housed in the mansion he grew up in, where he lived with his mother Hortense, while exiled from France. The house is a slice of lovingly preserved history. Almost obsessively preserved too, because the authorities are so afraid the parquet floor might be scratched, they give visitors gigantic fluff footwear to go over their shoes. The result of course is a houseful of people shuffling about like penguins. It is interesting for all that—this was Hortense’s home away from home and it reflects her attempts to duplicate the life she left behind: striped tent décor, exquisite if small bedrooms, a library where she had all the books relined to her taste, the dining chambers, where breakfast began activity at noon and supper ended the day at midnight.

The day was young when we finished with the museum and the temptation to take the ferry was irresistible. So with no real destination or purpose, we wound down the Rhine and hopped off at Stein am Rhine. Since this little village falls on the German side of the river, we quite thought we were on German soil—illegally of course, which was a thrill. Sighting of Swiss flags and the ubiquitous souvenir cow in the shops put paid to that: we were in Switzerland.

From Thurgau, we sped southeast to the alpine valley region of Engadin. The river Inn flows through the valley and Engadin is Romansch for the ‘Garden of Inn’. We descended on Scuol, a town famous for its mineral waters and its Roman-Irish spa, which is fed by hot springs of the region. This was a luxurious place, with a variety of massages, baths and treatments culminating in a quiet room with huge glass windows, looking out on to the mountains. The famous waters, of which there are four kinds, are vile but claim all sorts of cures. With grimaces all around, we downed the glasses, only to be warned later that the waters gave some people the runs. Far more enjoyable was a tour of the village, a typical Engadin settlement. With cold winters, the houses here have small windows but what charming ones! The walls are typically thick and windows dip into the wall and are adorned with profusions of flowers and decorations.

Architecture here is famous for its use of Sgraffito, a technique where a thin layer of plaster is scratched to produce ornate designs. The mineral water pumps occupy a place of honour in the village centre with the houses all around. It was such a point with the early settlers to be within sight of the water that even houses at awkward angles managed to build in at least one aperture from where they could gaze on the spout.

The next two days were a blur of trains, good food and wine. Two journeys stand out—sample trips on the Glacier and Bernina expresses. The first in its drawn-out avatar is a seven-and-a-half-hour journey between St Moritz and Zermatt, with views of the Graubünden and Valais regions. The second takes you over the 2,253m-high Bernina Pass and the line—the one Swiss Tourism was celebrating—is clearly an engineering marvel even to the technically uninformed: tunnels hewn into rock, switch-back tunnels, tall viaducts; what’s more, the train attains its height without using the rack-and-pinion mechanism.

We stayed in St Moritz, glitziest of glitzy European resorts. At one time, this winter resort played host to kings and Hollywood queens, while its ski runs and bobsleighs attracted every foolhardy winter-sportsman in the Western world. Even if it isn’t the dernier cri, St Moritz is still swanky and still coveted by the rich and famous—our own Lakshmi Mittal owns a home there. For fashionistas, the main street in St Mortiz is one treat after another. Gucci, Pucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and more stand in line, luring in the susceptible. We blinked at the bright lights and shopped here for our obligatory chocolate, sampling goodies at local chocolatiers, Hauser’s.

There was yet another museum for us to see, this time one devoted to art. Italian painter Giovanni Segantini loved and painted the Alps with rare devotion and invested them with haunting religious symbolism. His works are displayed at the Segantini Museum, and there was much to stand and stare at, particularly his Ave Maria at the Crossing—a small boat bearing a young family and sheep has suddenly come to rest in the middle of a crossing; the heads of all bent in reverence to the Ave Maria ringing (presumably) from the church in the distance.

St Moritz gave way to Lucerne, which formed the base for our visit to Mt Titlis. So hugely popular is this spot with Indian tourists, there is an Indian hotel there as well as a restaurant. Indeed, I encountered several groups— some raucous young MBAs and some older couples, who nodded pleasantly before ascertaining my city of origin.

As for Lucerne, I loved it on sight. The city stands on the river Reuss, banked on both sides as water gushes by. There are two old wooden bridges here that are worthy of interest—the Chapel Bridge that twists to arrive at the old Chapel, and the Mill Bridge—both reeking of history. The 14th-century Chapel Bridge has had an eventful existence even till as recently as 1993 when parts of it burned, much to Lucerne’s anguish. It is now restored, of course, and scarlet flowers adorn it all through, making no distinction between old and new. In Lucerne, it all blends.

As we walked with Doris Fuchs, our guide, we encountered a wedding party—several horse-drawn carriages with smiling people in top hats and flouncy gowns, on their way to church. We stood aside to watch them go, as did other pedestrians, and were showered with sweets. Traditionally, it is children who are greeted like this, but it didn’t seem to matter—five minutes after the cavalcade had passed, every sweet had been pocketed and nary a child in sight.

We toured the breathtaking and opulent Jesuit church by the river, and walked on cobbled streets taking in the old and the new. Dinner by the river caught me in a mellow mood—the pasta was herbed, the chocolate dessert delicately sweetened, lights wavered in the water, swans swam up to us, and across the bank, through a light drizzle, the cityscape of Lucerne... It deepened somehow, the sense of Europe.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Burdens of Dhoni

Imagine, you're coming from a long practice session. You have your pads on, two bats in one hand, and your keeping gloves in the other. Then a child stops you for an autograph and you have to put everything down. And if you don't, the kid will think he's such an arrogant man...
MS Dhoni, in an interview to Outlook, Oct 27 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yaad ke benishan jazeeron se

Australopithecus tags me, so we regress…

My oldest memory
Riding on Moti’s back, Moti being the neighbour’s enormous dog. Also eating Moti’s lunch, out of his bowl. Yechch!!! Mother says I was about two-and-a-half. Life before that is a blank. What’s the use, I ask you.

10 years ago
In Chennai. I was getting used to a new job, in a new city. Plus ça change…

My first thought this morning
Shit, I need to write the Switzerland piece!

If you built a time capsule today, what would it contain?
A laptop (of course), some token amounts of RDX, a bottle of packaged drinking water, Tiger DNA, a photograph of the Taj Mahal (just in case, paapam, they don’t have it), a DVD of a Bollywood potboiler (which one, though? Sholay, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? Drona?)… many more things.

When I don’t have discipline with an ordinary weekend bag, you think I’d have it when it comes to packing a time capsule? This is going to be my favourite past time for the next week, putting together this trunk.

This year
Has been good to me.

14 years from now
I will be… shudder… 14 years older. It doesn’t bear thinking about, so I shan’t. No idea what I’ll be doing.

I tag
Ze Gaga
The Kid
The Kiddo

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Neevena nanu talachinadi?

If you met Sheetal this morning you’d see the broadest grin that ever split a face. [Digression: this slipping into the third person is of course the fault of Facebook’s status messages – I always thought people who spoke like that were a little weird but the way I’m taking to it is alarming]. Coming back to the broad smile, it’s because I’ve been doing a bit of web-cam chatting with my family. Internet connectivity at my place has been established, and I’m old enough to marvel at the internet still. Really, it is the best thing since sliced bread, no, since the wheel.

When we were children, gathering at the neighbours' to watch the telecast of the Telugu classic Maya Bazaar on DD, what wonder, what delight there was when Sasirekha (Savitri) opens the magical mirror box to see her lover Abhimanyu (ANR) in it. A magical song follows, and some gentle dalliance. It is all explained now – it was a laptop, of course.

It’s been near three months since I left home and my mother has been saying that she can’t immediately bring my face to mind. It took a little setting up: internet at my end, some software installation at the other, but it was done finally. Shweta looks the same, mum looks gaunter than I like and my father, I’m happy to report, is as sprightly as ever. His excitement at this new activity took the form of breaking into jig behind Shweta, playing peek-a-boo behind her head. And they wonder why we never grow up.


Since I stir nostalgia, I must slake it:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kabhi neem neem

Few things anger me so consistently as the stupid, unfeeling chopping of a tree. Came home last night to find a street light throwing rather more light on the walls than it was accustomed to do. It was late, the last day of production—it was only a hazy bewilderment. This morning, with something akin to horror, I found the tree had disappeared. Morons, who know nothing of what a tree can mean, have shorn it—humiliating the young neem, stripping it of dignity and robbing it of several years’ work.

It might be the handiwork of corporation walas who like their electricity wires to survive unhindered, but they seldom clean out a tree like this. I suspect the fell hand of my landlords, who are painting the house and may well have thought they’d like everyone to admire the new coat without the interference of greenery.

I have been telling myself to get a grip, to stop bewailing spilt milk but it’s all I can do not to storm off and speak to them in very cold accents.

Monday, September 15, 2008

High Hopes

The Stok Kangri story...


On my first day in Leh, I fancied I detected a strain of worry in Pankaj Lagwal, our guide for the trip. Taxed with it, he smiled but admitted it: “I’ve been here for two weeks now, and look at the mountain constantly. Only on two days have I been able to see the peak.” We raced up to the terrace of the hotel Kang-Lha-Chen, and brought out the binoculars. As he’d said, the peak yonder was veiled, shrouded in cloud and rain. We could see why he was worried—what was a pretty sight here was probably a fairly vicious storm up there. Stok Kangri was having a right royal snit.

I and five others were in Leh to make an attempt to summit Stok Kangri, the trip organised by adventure operators Aquaterra. The highest of the Stok range, the mountain is an imposing six-thousander; what makes it even more special is that it is a non-technical climb—accessible even to fit trekkers without mountaineering skills. The word on Stok Kangri has gone around. Come August and climbers from all over the world descend on Ladakh, making their way to the mountain in what is part pilgrimage, part ego-trip.

On day two, we were still being acclimatised and the itinerary included Khardung La and a leisurely tour of a couple of Leh’s fine monasteries. The long mountain road back was a thin dark imprint in a land of white dust. We looked, as we tended to do, at our particular pile. There was a shout—we pulled up and brought out the big lens. The weather on Stok Kangri was clearing, and only a few wisps of dark cloud still clung to the peak. For the first time since we arrived we could see it fully—the object of our current desire. It is a beautiful mountain.

The next day, from admiring the scenery we went into it. Our group of six: Aman Nugyal, Amit Sharma, Takako ‘Coco’ Inamori, Aaron Wolff, Rajesh Huddar and I. Assisting Pankaj with guide-work were Chain Singh and local boy, Rigzin Tamchos. The route took us past Spituk and over the mighty Indus; the bridge so heavily adorned with prayer flags I was only able to see the river through the chinks. Then from a point in Zingchen, we started to walk, making our way through rain to stop at Rumbak (3,870m). This was the first time I was trekking at elevations so high. The two days spent getting used to the thin air helped but not enough. The trek was arduous enough but the challenges piled up with the weather. Ladakh’s summer, July to September, is known for its congenial temperatures—climate change, however, knocks all assumptions out of reckoning. Like it did in 2006, it has been raining incessantly here: the streams are swelling, and we were obliged to trek and camp in the rain—never one of my favourite things to do.

I puzzled the first couple of days at my fatigue—not all your reading of how altitude affects the human body prepares you for the fact of it. Terrain I thought I should be traversing with reasonable ease became formidable; my feet seemed dipped in treacle, my breath dragged in far less than I needed. It was lowering.

If the first foray was gruelling, the second day was tougher still. We headed to Moun Karmo (4,250m) via a cruelly-placed pass called Stok La (4,890m). Footsteps became small and great effort seemed to be needed to make even minuscule advances. Once over the hump though, we skied down mud paths, and made quick work of the descent. When we finally tramped into camp, I sat down to watch lammergeirs in the cliffs surrounding us.

So far, we had been circling Stok Kangri like wary boxers. It was time to make a move. Day Three saw us make a bold stroke—we moved to Stok Kangri Base Camp (4,975m). This, I must say, is something like an international camping festival. A widish meadow with a stream running by, it is a necessary pit stop for trekkers on their way up and those on their way down. A shack here provides the essentials—instant noodles, energy bars, chocolate, beer and rum. Tents of every hue are pegged here, and the scene has campers walking about, kitchen fires going with wholesome aromas, and mules and horses tethered here and there, nibbling at grass and at each other. I fell asleep to the hum of voices and the jangle of mule-bells.

We were now to see the whites of the eyes of our target. Advanced Base Camp (5,315m). A flattering name, for all it is really is a pile of rocks, with barely enough room for four tents. Our cook Ravinder conjured up some divine khichdi and soup, and we all huddled into the kitchen tent to tuck in. The air was nippy—Stok Kangri (6,153m) was sending out tendrils of biting cold to run their fingers down our spines.

Our bid for the summit started, as these often do, in the middle of the night. The plan was to climb up to a ridge on the mountain and then crawl along the ridge to the summit. The weather seemed fine and would hold out, God willing. Layers of clothing were donned, miner headlamps were fastened, a preparatory cup of tea was imbibed with biscuits. We set off over rocks at first and then over the glacier, stamping to keep the ice off our shoes, digging in the pick axes as we scrambled for purchase. We began to climb now in earnest. A trail of sorts there was, but difficult to pick out in the dark. All I was sure of was the direction: up. In the distance behind and before me, I saw headlamps bobbing in the dark—about 20 trekkers were trying to summit that day.

A few hours into the foray and it started to get light over the east. The sun crept up from behind snow-rimmed peaks, lighting them an eerie and utterly gorgeous orangey-yellow. I was tiring. Some of the others in my group had long gone ahead. Nausea rose up my chest and I was beginning to get light-headed. Rigzin was with me, holding my hand to prevent me falling, sometimes dragging me, sometimes urging me on. Stopping, gasping, grunting, moving...Some time after daylight, I staggered onto the ridge and flung myself down.

I was wondering if I should climb on. My tired mind came up with reasons for ‘not’. The summit, if made, should be reached, I told myself, only by the supremely fit. I saw no glory in struggling on for the next two or three hours, in such a state as I was in, dragged across by a guide. On the other hand, now that I had made the ridge, I should wait for 10 or perhaps 20 minutes. A renewal of energy would put a different spin on things. This would not be the first time I had been intimidated by challenges that I had eventually tackled.

It was not to be, though. Coco, who had reached about 100m from the summit, had collapsed. She had to be given oxygen, brought down quickly. While those close to the peak would go on, it would be difficult for the expedition to guide me to the summit as well. Fate had taken a hand and made up my mind for me. So I looked around the magnificent Karakorams, took a few pictures and descended, not sure what I had accomplished here.

Ladakh and Stok Kangri beckon climbers like a flame. Over the six days we walked, we must’ve encountered at least 200 trekkers, a large majority of whom were foreigners, some from the US, but mostly from Europe. On the way to Moun Karmo, through the high pass of Stok La, there was a veritable traffic jam and my head hurt from nodding at passing trekkers, porters and pack-mules. Juley, we all went, bonhomous in a fellowship of trekkers, Juley!

Why do people climb mountains? The question has been asked and the retort is ‘because they’re there’. Which puts you in your place nicely. There is nothing to do but to digest that response and ask again. Why climb mountains? Why brave unforgiving sunlight, blistering whippy winds and harsh elements? Why have your face go ruddy, your lips blackened and cracked? Why sleep on slopey, slidey rough ground with pebbles pressing up under your Karrimat? What’s so special about having your body so fatigued it can’t eat? What’s the deal with swaying drunkenly with lack of oxygen as you climb into thinner and thinner air? Why is that spot of land—the highest spindly point of this pile of rocks, snow and rubble—worth so much trouble?

I ask these questions as if the answers follow, but honestly I don’t have them. Nearly everyone agrees though, that mountain-climbing is an internal business. The mountain is inside you, and the obstacles. Whether you summit or not, there are lessons for everyone—character faults loom before you in all ugliness, personality-driven walls come up slap in your way. Your belief matters. What effort you consider significant matters. How kamikaze you’re prepared to be in your attainment of a goal matters.

And so it was that three of six touched down on the peak of Stok Kangri and three of us didn’t. Shall I go back to try another time? I don’t think so. I’m not convinced that placing my foot at any cost over just that precise patch of mountain says anything about anything. I shall probably keep trekking though. Keep that fitness handy, so if an achievement like this comes offered on a platter again, I’ll take it as if it was meant.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ladakh pictures

Back from Ladakh. Tired, tired, tired. I went to climb a mountain, climbed most of it but not all of it and came back exhausted. I've written a story on it - will put that up when I'm able, but in the meantime, here are some pictures.

Stok Kangri, the lovely one

View from plane

View from tent

Thiksey monastery, which amused me because all the offerings are in recycled plastic - flowers in an old Bournvita bottle, oil for the lamps in a coke 2-litre...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

जब कभी भी सुनोगे गीत मेरे...

It’s the death anniversary of Mohd Rafi and Jhankaar on World Space is having a Rafi special. Predominantly 70s though, all the Rishi Kapoor numbers, which are fun enough but not, for me, the real Rafi. Give me the 60s any day.

When I was young, the radio and Hindi film music were obsessions. I’d lock myself in the room, sit in front of the transistor in attitudes of meditation, rocking in appreciation. On Sundays, Radio Ceylon had specials. I remember one hour-long information-packed slot where episode by episode, they went through the body of Hindi film music, year-wise – taking us through the hits, supplying nuggets of trivia. I took notes as if I was going to be examined on the subject. Eventually, the heat of my interest abated and regrettably, the facts have fallen away through the chinks in memory.

One July 31 many years ago, I was looking forward to a day full of Rafi. I had cleared the decks, and there was nothing to keep me from staying unhealthily glued to the radio. Except disaster. I turned the knobs and the transistor went dead. I was near tears; perhaps I did cry. My father took me out to Secunderabad’s Clock Tower area and bought me a new one. Shweta tells me now that she was shocked at such indulgence – my parents were not the sort to give in to every whim. I think now that they were very wise, able to distinguish between unreasonable demands and what was very important to the child.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The rut we're in

Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aashiana dhoondta hai

Two weeks into the new city now. It has been easier and more difficult than I thought. I call home twice a day, which is normal. I miss my mother, but that was expected. I hate being out of 50km radius from her. She complains I hardly speak to her when I’m home, but I simply hate not being able to.

Delhi is fine. I have been moving hither and thither, have seen two movies, gone to several of its beguiling markets, eaten out few times and met some really nice people. I like it. The metro construction renders the roads cramped and everyone leans on their horns, but what the hey.

Finding a house – a good one – seems extraordinarily difficult. Everyone who has house-hunted in Delhi assures me it is a task of gargantuan proportions. There seems to be a pattern. At first, there is an allocated budget and a certain insouciance; you will even imagine fondly that you will spread the word and something appropriate will turn up, thus making it unnecessary to cough up the one month’s rent the broker will demand. Reality check: no one around you has an aunt or friend who magically has a house that needs a good caring tenant. However, there are several property agents. On my second day at it, I opened an Excel sheet with columns for names, numbers, speciality areas and current status.

Then you begin. You are shown the most appalling houses in various stages of disrepair, in several kinds of bad taste. Up staircases so dark you navigate solely by touch and instinct. Down alleys where you hold up your trousers daintily, picking your way through vegetable (and other) waste. Or you find houses of which only one aspect is extremely right. There is both frustration now and hope. You tell yourself: if I could find such a happy location as I found with House A, accompanied by the nice woodwork in House B and the un-hole-like kitchen in House C, we would be set. Easier said, my friends. There seem to several such houses as you rattle through various enclaves, glancing about longingly, but none available to rent for the price you have in mind. So you inch up a little, and then a little, till you are considering some entirely ridiculous sums of money. This is where we are at.

Even then, the house eludes you, I am told, till you are quite on the threshold of despair and about to give up, give in and beg to be let into the Good Samaritans’ Shelter. When you are on your knees, the House will appear. Insha’allah.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Due North

This blog, dear readers, such as it is, will now go out of Delhi. Seeking a change from the sameness, I have sought employment in the capital and have moved here this week.

If you're making noises of disbelief, your reactions will match many I have met. I must, of course, have been responsible for the wide-spread impression that I was a well-rooted Hyderabadi institution, who would grow to a venerable age here, eventually being pointed out to visitors of the city on their first tour of it. Look! Sheetal Vyas, over there, doddering on the sidewalk! We don't know very much about her, but she has been here forever.

Seriously though, it is a wrench. I do do love Hyderabad and leaving is a betrayal. It is really, because my rationale was that it was becoming so unbearable to live in, that I might as well live in another bigger unbearable city as not.

So you find me in Delhi, hefting five bags and looking for a place to stay. So, dear, kind people, if you should hear of a nice two bedroom apartment in South Delhi or even a spacious two room set (as they call them here), please do let me know – my email is on the profile (I think!).

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's every Williams for themselves

It may not be great tennis, but what a story this year's women's final is!

"We have known them as child prodigies, we have known them as youthful champions, we have known them as supreme champions at their absolute peak. And now they are giving us something new: they are giving us longevity. If things go on much longer, people will start to love them. Perhaps we should start," Simon Barnes writes in The Times.
The whole piece is here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Holding out

The cats have laid siege to our house. She had been looking fat for a while but revealed to us her crop of three only a few weeks ago. At first they limited themselves to the shade of one tree, nibbling at each others tails and making heavy weather of climbing small branches, scampering at the least sound.

Now with a few more days of living, and a small gain in weight, they think no end of themselves. They have taken over all our particular nooks, mewl at us as we pass the window and camp at our doorstep. My mother, who is ailurophobic, is virtually under house arrest and needs someone at all times to open the door gingerly, shoo away all felines and stand guard while she finishes whatever small work she needs to execute outdoors.

Mother Cat is a good mother. Attentive and protective but also far too indulgent, for she knows full well her brats are not permitted inside but will she keep them in line? No! instead, they persist in pushing their luck, peeping around doors, waiting for a crack in the defence. Even my dad who is notorious for forgetting to shut doors is assiduous in making sure they are barred. Although I must say his 'shoos' are rather half-hearted and wouldn't flutter a gnat.

Here is one, liking the rise and fall of mother's breath as he snoozes on the wall:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bands of boys

Rock concert last night as part of the Times Festival. Headbanging crowds, sea of cornas and lovely weather. Bands Parikrama and Pentagram, both of whom were very good. I enjoyed Parikrama very much - their violinist was amazingly talented - and I might have enjoyed Pentagram more had Vishal Dadlani not insisted on putting us through our paces with the 'hands in the air, come sing-along, now clap with me' routine.
I've missed everything else - the Balamurli concert, Shiv Kumar Sharma and not going tonight to Manto Ismat Hazir Hain.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I wait

This has been a difficult summer. Some weird going-with-nature ideals hold sway chez Vyases and we make do with fans and vetiver purdahs. So you see, no ACs and no coolers. We simply tough it out.
I felt the heat particularly these months. Miseries of trickling sweat and heated laptops apart, I find I can’t write. Kind people have been waiting for longish whiles for pieces that should’ve landed in their inboxes ages ago.
All my wretchedness seems tied in with the hateful heat that rises off everything. The rains are lashing Kerala and I cannot wait for them to crawl over my city. Soon, soon…

Sunday, May 04, 2008


GUESS what I’ve been doing? Having tea with Aamir Khan!

Aamir has been blogging for a while and, I think, finds it an excellent way to interact with his admirers directly without being interpreted by the media or other filters. He is in Hyderabad now, shooting for Ghajini, and asked last week if some of his local readers would like to meet him. Guess who put up her hand? Moi.

He was nice! Affable, articulate, attentive. Asking questions, seeking opinions; telling us his own with startling frankness. There were about 15-18 people in all – a diverse, well-informed, interesting gathering. Conversation flowed, flitting from Indian mythology to the state of our media, lingering on AP politics, staying quite a while on movies.


We met on location for Ghajini and that brought a chance to see Aamir Khan in action. He invited us in to see the filming and sync-sound demanded that we keep quiet as mice. It has been a while since I was on a set, and the small exposure had me yearning… the dust, the heat, the cables underfoot… the ordered mayhem of it all.

It has been years since I was involved with TV and film, and I had, in fact, been itching to see how the years have altered film-making. It was a lesson to see the changes – sync sound, super light-sensitive cameras, the recording process. AR Murugadoss, who directed Ghajini in Tamil, directs this project as well. With him flew out my idea of the director as a loud presence. Diminutive, almost retiring, he sits in front of the monitor, closely watching the frames, darting off now and then to have a quiet confab with his star. The commands for silence, camera and action, in fact, came from a bossy (sounding) assistant.

Do you know, they don’t necessarily say ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ any more? They dropped ‘Lights’ altogether on this occasion, it’s ‘Roll Video’ now, but mercifully, they say ‘Action’ still. They lit the scene entirely with ‘normal’ lights yesterday – wall mounted lights, lamps throwing pools, which apparently were more than adequate for the moody indoor ambience they sought. No sign of the heavy duty arc lights that have for so long been such evocative symbols of cinema.

Also, a great number of young women in the crew! Director’s assistants, sound recording and mysterious other jobs. All of them frightfully efficient.


So much has been said about Aamir Khan’s perfectionism and it is indeed true. His concentration is phenomenal and he sees very clearly what must be achieved, I should think. Once that is clear, he spares no effort in achieving it. If another take and twenty more minutes must be spent in producing a shot a touch more menacing, or attain movement a little more beautiful, it must be done. Not to do that, to settle, is intolerable. It is an admirable work ethic.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From Camelot to Tashan

इस दश्त में एक शहर था, वो क्या हुआ, आवारगी...

Let the record show that the last movie the Vyases watched at Sangeet-as-we-know-it was Tashan.

It could’ve been better, but then I suppose it could’ve been worse. Silly movie. I can see why it angered so many reviewers. But then, there was Akshay Kumar, who manages sparking chemistry with most of his leading ladies and does so here with Kareena Kapoor, quite under the nose of her bulked-up beefy beau. Hee hee. Really, must Kareena Kapoor be so thin? Quite worrisome.

Anyway, so it ends. Sangeet 70 mm has been here for nearly four decades. Only across the street from my school St Ann’s, this was where we were taken to see Gandhi and Born Free. A cinema hall full of school girls in navy blue uniforms, chattering and laughing in excited anticipation. We watched Jungle Book here. There were others: first day shows, pushing through milling crowds, trying to inveigle tickets from the staff, or the tele-booking man; leisurely late night shows with the hall only half-filled, lounging in the best seats.

On May 1, the cinema closes down. The structure will be knocked down to make room for what else but a multiplex. We went a little sentimental, Shweta and I. Made it a point to buy the famous sandwiches one last time, said our goodbyes to the ticket-men, the canteen people and the parking gent. I have the ticket stubs and I think I’ll keep them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A dash of blue

The thrillingest thing!
I had no idea they even KNEW we existed, but evidently they do! Our humble garden, or rather Radha Aunty's excellent shrubbery, which is the same thing, has been flattered, exalted, ennobled by the presence of a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher! Yes, yes, but I have photographic proof.

Clearly digiscoping is not my talent but of the lot I have just two, may be three pictures that are reasonably clear. Yes they do come to gardens but of all the gardens, in all the world...!

This place buzzes with Red-vented Bulbuls, Tailorbirds, sunbirds, White-headed Babblers... but never before have we seen a flycatcher. Perhaps this little patch is gaining a reputation. The word, I fancy, is going around that there are lemon bushes here, and flowers, flies, juicy worms, and the odd predatory cat to add spice. Alas, this is not the first time I have let such hopes soar when vagrants come a'callin'. Why let that stop us be aux anges.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alila seve*

This post is for my mum; on her behalf, almost.
She is deeply upset about this IPL–ICL stand-off and is doing all she can to make the underdog, the Indian Cricket League, a success. She watches every match, convenient or no, so this is my bit to her cause.

BCCI’s bullying tactics of course are abominable. That they feel threatened by a new league is understandable. I do think it is smart of them to move so quickly, to put everything in place rapidly, to create such a buzz around their own league. The IPL has big bucks, big names, official status, glamour, clout – everything that gives them assured success. Which makes it even more surprising that they should stoop to choke their competitors so unfairly, denying them playing grounds, threatening to ban players, forcing young talented players make hard choices: to pick between playing some cricket and making some money while they can, or warming BCCI benches waiting for calls that never come. Why shouldn’t BCCI allow its players to play in other leagues? Why shouldn’t they use these platforms to scope out young players? I don’t see the ban lasting very long, though – there is room, I believe, for both leagues.

Anyway, the ICL season started this week and games begin in Hyderabad this weekend. The schedule is here. Luckily, they’re being aired on Ten Sports as well as Zee Sports and the first few matches have been good fun.

I have a grouse with the ticketing, though. In Hyderabad, the Lal Bahadur Stadium is located advantageously enough to tempt many people into wandering in, just to looksee. I would be. But Rs 500 or 200 per head is prohibitive, given there are ten matches scheduled here within the next month. So there is absolutely no way you can make a habit of swinging by on match day and enjoying a thrilling two hours before heading off to dinner. Short-sighted of the organisers – they do want full stadiums, don’t they?

The link to ICL’s website is here.

* Kannada for ‘the squirrel’s contribution’, from the episode in the Ramayana when the squirrel carries pebbles and building material for the bridge to Lanka.

Monday, March 03, 2008

pull? yank?

How come I've never before seen this testimonial to our best-loved traditional sport? Bollywood's choreography standards have fallen, I tell you.
Now just remains for me to see Naseeb with English subtitles, "Catch, catch, catch..." what's angrezi for "jakdo, jakdo, jakdo"?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tag tag

It has tagged us and we are bound to deliver.
As it happens it is not a tag that requires very much original work but instead seeks ze introspection, much surfing of one’s own pages and regurgitation. So it is done and we present results of this exercise.

The Ask
Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

The Answer
There was much to choose from. We are tending to go on at length, so why not give you posts per family member?

Sibling. Here where we talk of what it means to us, and more amusingly, here, discovering what it means sometimes. Another post on our enmeshed lives.
Mother. Stray references only I am finding here, no post, alack. Shocking. How this has happened? Light of my life, is mater.
Father, again, I have spoken of not very much at all. However, there is this, In Which He Is As Provoking As Usual.

I find one post which talks of friends from several circles, and reflects happy times of many kinds and includes coffee.

Now this is really difficult, because there is three years’ worth to choose from. However recently I talked of me, of words representing me, and wondered if in fact they do?
And this something which is not poetry but captures a nihilistic state of mind that occurs quite a bit with me.

Of that, there is nothing here; we have been most discreet. There is an Anand Bakshi song I blogged about though, if you will settle for it.

Something I like
I once wrote a post on religion and politeness that I’d like you to read again.

I hereby tag The Marauder in hopes that it prompts a post on her still-hibernating blog and Mahesh Nilakantan, the Icarus man who hasn’t piled on those frequent flier points of late.

Monday, January 14, 2008


My friend Sudha’s visit to town coincides with the Krishnakriti Art Festival and so this past week has been a whirl of sensory experiences replete with food, drink, music and an extravagant visual feast – all very well in their own place but together manage to leave me sleep-deprived and not a little stunned. All this has also gripped me with a desire to blog about it, so I shall in exhausting detail.

The first of the Kalakriti events was a play based on Mahashweta Devi’s short story Stan Dayini. The play was called Choli ke peeche kya hai and it began by playing the entire song – all six-odd minutes of it – with one actor keeping beat (or rather following it, because his rhythm was a bit off) with cymbals and the rest of the cast all wandering in and out of stage looking meaningful. I muttered to Shweta that they were going to spoil this song for us and that is almost what happened. Pretentious drivel! We saw the play through to the gory end and removed to Kamat next door to calm our nerves, where tasteful coffee and tasteless jokes set us to rights.


I missed the jazz concert the next day but went instead to dinner at Barbeque Nation, and I was completely delighted with it. Kebabs are the speciality here and the fun part is each table at Barbeque Nation comes with a hollow centre which is cleverly designed to hold a brazier. The kebabs are brought and you can cook them as you please, choosing from herbed and flavoured oils, and garlic butter. Rs 400 includes all the grills you can eat as well as a nice buffet. Wasteful you would say, seeing as I am vegetarian, but they had five vegetarian kebabs for us types and I appreciated the thoughtfulness.

Hyderabad cannot pretend to a winter but the chill in the air makes you glad of sitting around warmth and eating hot food. We staggered out and meandered towards Taj Deccan, not because we were hungry, I assure you, but merely to uphold a long-held tradition of midnight tea.


I was determined to go to the Kalakriti event on Thursday. I have a special fondness for folk music and the Manganiyars of Rajasthan I admire very much. Even had they just lined up to sing in a sedate row I would’ve considered it a high treat but this was something special. Called The Manganiyar Seduction, this was music propped by such drama as to be astounding. As we settled in the open-air auditorium at Taramati Baradari, the set drew all eyes. A tall four-tiered affair with 36 cubicles, each box curtained with scarlet cloth, each box lined with golden bulbs.

It began quietly. A small box at the left corner was revealed and highlighted, and a diminutive musician on the sarangi drew his bow across string to set tone and mood. Slowly gathering force, other curtains were parted and voices joined in, as did sarangis, harmoniums, kamanchas, dhols, morchings… it was spectacular. They sang sufiana kalaam drawing from Bulle Shah, wove in and out of other pieces all in one fine, continuous, well-coordinated piece. The lights dipped and grew bright, highlighting now this box, and now that row as artists had their say in the amalgam. How talented these musicians are, how mature and sound their grounding in their art! Is this what Rajasthan is like? Minstrels hidden behind every sand dune? I want.

Taramati Baradari is a goodish distance from where I live but it is a gorgeous place. There was another reason that made going all that way worthwhile – a tea place called Finjaan, where they serve 36 varieties of tea. Very elegant it was and I chose an infusion of rose buds, a delicate tasting drink that made me feel very regal. We had stopped at Finjaan before we went to the concert, and as I listened to the Manganiyars, a faint waft of roses clung to me, as if there was still something more the evening brought out for me.


Yesterday, a reading of poetry by Ranjit Hoskote – he deals image-rich, musing phrases with a light hand. We missed the introduction, alas – mea culpa, I was caught up with work and Shweta, who keeps me waiting nine times out of ten, muttered at me all the way there and back.

Dinner then at Aromas of China – jasmine tea, some fabulous crisped vegetable starters in pepper-garlic sauce, butter noodles, gently flavoured clay pot rice, potatoes and corn in some sweetish sauce and for dessert, date pancakes and mango jelly pudding.

That is all.