Thanks to the Helper Monkeys at WordPress :)

So wordpress summarizes the performance of each blog at the end of the year… this is how ashishandradhika.com did this year !

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 98 posts. There were 11 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 358kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was September 16th with 115 views. The most popular post that day was A few dusty books…. (a story).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, samvedg.blogspot.com, orkut.co.in, orkut.com, and myprivategarden-sapling.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for ashishandradhika, sussegad, candle, ashishradhika.com, and diwali candle.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

A few dusty books…. (a story) September 2010
41 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

2

A job more important….. (a rather short story) September 2010
22 comments and 3 Likes on WordPress.com

3

An ode to my cubicle… March 2010
15 comments

4

About Us ! February 2008
5 comments

5

Imagine… June 2010
12 comments

A Sunflower in a Coriander patch…( A story)

I found my way to the verandah and sat on the footsteps leading into the house. The sun was bright and sunny, the warmth of the sunshine embraced me as I emerged from the shady interiors of our house. Three bedrooms, one kitchen, one hall and a verandah…all wrapped together by a piece of land we called our garden … vegetables planted in the back and flowers grown out front.

Sometimes, Sunflower seedlings would sprout amongst the coriander sprigs at the back…

“They are shy” Amma used to say,” They do not like to be seen by everyone but only the family, if you take good care of them, water them everyday, they will flower soon”

And believing her I would take special care to water the shy ones, the ones who were resplendent in private, whose beauty was known to only those who were allowed to walk over all the way to the back of the house…who managed to get past the hall filled with heavy wooden furniture, the living quarters strewn with rumpled bed sheets and text books covered with brown paper and a kitchen fragrant with spices of a meal in the offing…

A sunflower in a coriander patch… how incongruous, how endearing…

“Can you come back to Kanpur tomorrow? Beta, mummy is not well. Beta, just come”, said my father before breaking down over the phone…
I had to call my uncle to get the sordid details… an internal infection, a high fever, a sudden failure of the body organs, and suddenly, my home seemed so far away from Mumbai….

A frantic search for available flights and a flurry of calls later, I found myself aboard a 3.5 hour long flight back to Kanpur…

How many times have you said goodbye to your mother?

Each day, each morning, she would drop whatever she was doing to see me to the door as I left for school. I waved back too… am sure I did. Or did I? A thousand inconsequential farewells…

And then there was the day I left for my engineering college… my parents dropped me at the college and helped me complete the mountains of paperwork colleges in India demand before you are given a room in a hostel and a roll number for the next 4 years. I was scared as my parents waited for the cab to take them back to the railway station. She turned and gave me a big hug and held me till I squirmed with embarrassment. Her face covered in tears she went away, waving from the window…

I missed my family terribly for the first few months at college, writing long winding letters and making anxious call home each weekend… I cannot really pin-point when was it that I moved on from being home sick to falling in love with my college life.

“Can’t you get a job in Delhi, its closer to Kanpur? Why Mumbai?” She had asked, just once. I was too filled with pride at my newly acquired job to notice the hint of sadness in her question. I packed away my stuff making sure that I carried some of my favorite books along. She helped me clear up my book cases, absent mindedly flipping the pages of some books that she had bought with me together over the years.

They waved as I entered the airport… standing next to our old family car… and I waved goodbye never to look back.

The flight was now circling over Kanpur… I could see the blue crescent of the Yamuna river as it sliced the city into two…

“This is where I come from” I thought to myself, “And this is where they remained”

The cab ride to the hospital was a blur… The entrance to her private room was crowded with friends and family…

“Your father is inside, they just brought her from the ICU” Someone said between hugs and greetings and somber smiles…

I found him sitting by his side. My burly father seemed even larger sitting by her tiny frame. She seemed asleep, and he was talking to her, in a voice so filled with love that I nearly cried. He turned towards me and looked at me with eyes rimmed with tears. My own eyes stung as I bent down to touch his feet, and in a voice not completely my own I said

“Don’t worry Papa, everything will be fine”

We sat by her side through the night… the medical equipment blinked and beeped and her breath rattled in her chest as it strained its way through her tired body. The needles and tubes running in her body, her matted hair against the pillow, and eyes slightly clenched as she slept. In the morning, after a spell of disturbed breathing, she passed away.

The next few days were a blur of ceremonies and rituals… all I remember are snatches of conversations, grieving faces, all of us pouring a blend of ingredients into a holy fire. Amongst all of this, I found myself tearing up each time I saw her picture laden with garlands.

That picture, is now hanging in the hall. Next to the oil painting she painted years ago… facing the window. “This is a good location for hanging my paintings” She used to say, “The sun light makes everything in the picture glow”

I lit up a cigarette and breathed in the smoke, and smiled wryly as I remembered how much she hated my smoking. Well, some things are hard to let go of I guess. I walked all the way round to the back of the house… our vegetable garden needed to be weeded. I could almost see her bent over the rows of plants, using tools improvised with kitchen utensils to hoe the soil, uproot the weeds and trim the dry branches…making space for the fruits to grow… making sure that the fallen leaves, did not hold back the young saplings.

I treaded carefully amongst the rows of plants, trying not to get too much mud on my leather loafers… and then I saw it, nestled amongst the sprigs of coriander, a tiny sunflower seedling.

“What is that?”, I turned to find my six year old nephew standing beside me…

I pointed a finger and said, “That’s a sunflower plant”

“But it does not have any flowers !”

“It will flower if you water them”, I smiled as I stubbed my cigarette..

“Trust me….they always flower. ”

A job more important….. (a rather short story)

“Do you know what I did for a living?”

Papa asked in his somewhat annoyingly pompous way, his eyebrows arched as he peered at me over the rim of his glasses.

“Of course I do Dad ! I mean, what do you mean whether I know what you did for a living”

“No really, do you really know what I did for a living?”

“Oh come on Dad what do you mean?” I snapped..

It had been one of those beastly Mondays at work… the early morning conference call turned out to be useless since most of the key people invited decided not to join in. The mid-day review meeting was a disaster with each of the project parameters being in the red, and the end of the day was capped with an excruciatingly drawn out 2 hour long commute to cover a distance less than 15 kms.

And on top of that, she has not been taking my calls since our argument on Sunday night. I mean I know I was the one who missed out on our date, but what do you do when your boss tells you to deliver something like, Now? But yeah, she does not want to understand. She is hurt, she says, and well, I am not going to call again.

Women…

So I come back to my apartment and joined my father for a drink… hoping for a much needed respite from my day. And he asks me with a drink in hand, if I knew what he did for a living !

“Sheesh Dad, you were a banker. That’s what you did for a living. Everyone and their uncle knows that !”

“Right. So I am sure you remember the award for best employee I was given in 1977 when I was posted at the Jaisalmer branch?” Asked my father, in the still slightly patronizing way I so detested…

“Dad, I was not even born then, how could I remember that?”

“Fair enough… then what about the time when I was so stressed out at work that I was working late nights for a promotion that did not work out so well… this would have been at Aurangabad… you would have been 16 then”

“You seemed to work late nights pretty much all the time Papa, Mama used to make us go to bed even before you returned home on most days”

“Aaah, right. You were asleep most of the times when I came back from work.”

“Do you remember Mr Kapoor, my colleague?”

“Kapoor Uncle? Sure, he worked with you at the Mumbai office”

“You remember how he kept me in the dark about the training at New York and booked a spot for himself?”

“How would I know what happened at your office Dad? In any case these things happened more than a decade ago!”

“And yet you say; that you know what I did for a living”

I remained quiet… not really sure what my father was driving at.

“Am sure you did not know who were the guys I competed with, compared myself with. Or whether I was a good employee, or a bad one at that. Or whether my appraisals were glowing testimonials to my efficiency or the complete opposite of that!”

I shook my head and shrugged…

“When a son does not bother what his father really did at work, do you think anyone else really gives a damn? I see you come home each night consumed by something or the other that happened at work. You compare and contrast and think of nothing else but how dissatisfied you are with your job.”

“I am selling my spirit for money you say !” Exclaimed my father raising his glass.

“Ten years down the line no one will care what you accomplished on the job today… not even you. Do you even remember what your great grandfather did for a living? He was a very successful lawyer just so you know. Do you think that mattered to you ? Ever ?”

“We spend our whole lives building careers that no one really cares for except us. And then we convince ourselves that we do it for others? That our success makes us better for our family, for our kids… Really?”

“I may have been a banker or a politician, but at the end of it you would still not have cared… and we would still be drinking together at the end of a long tiring day”

“Had you been a politician, we would have definitely been drinking better stuff than this rum Dad”

My father smiled as he got up…

“Think about it…Do you need a refill?”

“Sure” I said as I scrambled to get up from the bean bag , “I just need to call someone before that.”

“Work?” He asked me, with that famous arching of the eyebrows again.

“No” I smiled as I dialled her number, “Something more important that”

A few dusty books…. (a story)

HIM

He stopped the car… “ I need to take a break, my back is sore”

“Shall I drive?” She asked…

He shook his head and got out of the car. He stood there looking at the vast expanse of the dusty Sahayadris. The hills seemed barren, devoid of life, vestiges of vegetation burnt by an unforgiving summer sun.

“This place could do with some rain”, he thought, “Something to cool things down a little. Heck, we all could do with something to cool things down a bit”

He got back into the car and revved the ignition as he stared straight down the road. Dive Agar was still a good 2 hours drive away.

He still could not believe that he had agreed to this trip.

It was insane. She had been unusually silent for the last few days. She did not say much anymore anyways. They were both well into their thirties and the marriage had lasted a decade… A house and two kids, great careers… they were living the Indian middle class dream….

Not that the dreams amounted to much these days…

Three days ago she came to him as he watched TV after dinner and said, “ I want to go to Dive Agar this weekend. With you. Just you. We can leave the kids with my parents. If you are ok, I will check at the Prasad Homestay if they have any rooms available.”

“Dive Agar? Prasad Homestay? Are you crazy?” he retorted ,“That place probably closed down years ago. And do you really want to go there? Let’s go to Goa instead, if I am going to drive for half the day I would rather have a beer at the end of it !”

She looked at him, her eyes on the verge of tears, “Please….. lets go.”

He began to say something, but stopped short as he saw the look of longing on her face…

He knew that look… and thought he knew why it had to be Dive Agar…

“Ok, if that’s what you want.” He shrugged as he went back to watching the news.

They had left Bombay early in the morning and headed to Dive Agar. A sleepy coastal town in the Konkan, 6 hours away by road. A silent journey except for the incessant music on the radio…

“How did we come to this?” She thought to herself.

HER

She remembered her wedding, in all of its excruciating detail. Her trousseau, all red and gold and silks… the lavish wedding feasts, his crinkly silk kurta and the moment her hands were placed into his, covered with betel leaves and showered with grains of rice.

She hardly knew him then… even though they had been brought up in pretty much the same neighborhood all their lives. Their fathers had been friends, and decided that marrying off their offspring was the logical thing to do.

They did get a chance to meet before the wedding was finalized. He had arrived at her home with a troop of relatives, who had then left the two of them alone in a room to talk.

She smiled at the memory. The two had sat in silence for ages, before he asked her, “So what else are you interested in?”

“Nothing much” , she had replied, “ What about you?”

“I like reading, and I like writing too, but I have a bad handwriting”

They had both laughed. More with relief at having something to laugh about rather than anything else…

Her father had seemed immensely satisfied when his family called up in the evening to confirm the match. Her mother congratulated her, beaming with pride at the fate that awaited her daughter.

She had gone back to her room trying to understand what she had committed herself to. A fifteen minute chat with a stranger had lead to a commitment for life. Her mother usually spent more time browsing through saris before deciding not to buy any.

Was marriage so easy, so inconsequential, so trivial?

HIM

My father had decided even before we went to her place that the two of us were going to be married. And as usual, my father got what he wanted. I had just started working at Bombay then, my training with the bank had been over but a month ago. The days would rush by filling up inane forms and tallying up numbers, the evenings would leave me wandering alone on the streets of Bombay.. wondering what happened to my dreams of becoming a writer, publishing books and articles and chain-smoking my way through the day. Now my life seemed submerged in processing loan applications and in a two hour commute on the Bombay suburban train…

At least I still had the fucking cigarettes…

And then, my father decided that my mother needed a daughter-in-law. I tried to reason, but my father went into one of his interminable silences… till the time I agreed to get married. And before I knew it, I was set to be married to a girl from my town, a girl I barely knew.

I hated it all. The ostentatious wedding, the unnecessary relatives, the relay race of photographs at the wedding reception. After a whirlwind of a week, I found myself headed to Prasad Lodge at Dive Agar dreading the thought of spending 10 days with a person I barely knew.

HER

It had been a long dusty journey to Dive Agar. His father had loaned us his green Ambassador for the journey. He drove so well. I kept sneaking peeks at him sitting next to him. It took us four hours before the Prasad Lodge came into site. It was a single floored wooden structure. Green coconut palms and betel nut trees huddled around the house in an intimate embrace whispering secrets to the gentle breeze. The wind carried a promise of rains and the evening was punctuated by the low roar of the waves on the nearby seashore.

Prasad Anna, the proprietor showed us to our room. A large airy room with a teak wood bed and a sprawling desk facing a window. The window opened into the orchard outside.

“There is not much to do at Dive Agar”, said Prasad Anna, clearly amused that someone should have chosen to spend their honey moon at his lodge.
“The beach is beautiful but it gets too warm to stay out in the day”, ..”You can go to the Ganesha Temple, but how many times will you go there? Unless you are religious like my neighbor who goes there twice a day I don’t know why !”
“You must tell me in case you are not planning to eat here, otherwise the food will go waste… and be careful in the evening, there may be snakes in the orchard. They don’t come inside usually, but you never know.”

“And yes, If you really don’t find anything to do, take the keys of the library from the chaukidar. He has them. Just be careful with the books please…”

I started to unpack our luggage while he lay back on the bed exhausted. Before I knew it, he was fast asleep.
It was barely lunch time, and I could see the play of lights among the leaves from the window. The orchard looked cool and inviting. I stepped out for a look.

It was so quiet. The birds seemed to be subdued by the afternoon heat and warbled quietly in the shade. The sound of a slumbering sea was ever present.
The grass was cool under my bare feet, a warm fragrance of ripe jackfruit wafted in the air. She walked all around the old building… examining the low verandah that surrounded it. She sat on the steps to the verandah and savored her first true moments alone since the madness of the wedding carried her away.

“Am I selfish to cherish my time alone when I have been married to him for barely a week?” “Or perhaps, getting married had been the easy way out. Everyone is happy about the match. Who knows, we will figure out a way to be happy too”

I walked over to the small door where a wooden plaque stated ‘Library’ rather grandly. The door was open and I stepped inside.

The room was strewn with books. Some on the ground, some on the wooden ledge running along the wall, a few on the chairs and then some piled on to the shelves. The corners of the library were fighting a losing battle with cobwebs and a patina of dust overlay everything. In the center of the room, Prasad Anna sat engrossed in a book, immersed in a languid pool of yellow light underneath a green lamp shade hanging from the ceiling.

She bent down and picked up a book lying next to the doorstep… “Pride and Prejudice”… its cover torn and dusty, the pages falling apart.

“Jane Austen”, Prasad Anna exclaimed as if the two words were answer enough for any questions she might have asked. “ I have all her books, I am just not sure where they are”.

“Are all these books yours?” She asked, somehow a treasure trove of English classic literature seemed incongruous inside a rural Konkan cottage.

“Yes, they are mine.” Said Prasad Anna as he walked over to take the book from her and opened a page and read aloud…

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”

“Funny, Jane Austen might just have been talking to me…” she thought. “ Anna, can I ask you something?”

“Sure”

“Do you mind if I clean up your library a bit? This is such a wonderful collection and it will be a shame if I don’t help you sort them”

Prasad Anna seemed a bit taken aback, and then gradually looked around and said… “Well this place can do with a bit of cleaning up I think… strange, now that you say it, I should have kept it cleaner myself. I really am getting old ! “

“Wait, I will get the brooms” he said as he scampered away.

For the next 2 hours she swept and cleaned the small room. Gathered the books in piles and placed them in the center of the room. She made a list of supplies… brown paper, glue, labels, needles and twine and sent Prasad Anna to the small market to fetch them before the shops closed at sundown.

HIM

He woke up to the sounds of flocks of birds returning to their nests…hundreds of them, chirping noisily as they raced each other back.

“Well all of us have a noisy commute”

She was not in the room. He thought he should go looking for her, but hesitated. “What will we talk about even if I do find her? Accha hai.. at least I have some time to myself finally”

He walked across the orchard to the main house… it was a structure made of brick and wood.

“Not a bad place to retire at… away from the teeming masses of Bombay, just like Prasad Anna”. He knew Prasad Anna had sold off a family business in Bombay before settling down here.
“No family, no liabilities… some people have it all figured out!”

He walked purposefully to the library he knew so well. Having spent hours there during his earlier visits.

The door was ajar and the room inside was dimly lit.

She sat hunched over a book, her legs drawn up on the chair. Wisps of her hair set ablaze by the overhead lamp, a eye brows knit together in utter concentration… she barely noticed as he walked up to her and peered over her shoulder to see what she was reading…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“You are reading Pride and Prejudice !” He exclaimed, surprised to find her reading Jane Austen.

“Yes” She said, delighted that he could recognize her favorite book.

“Elizabeth is perhaps my favorite literary character… don’t you think that strong women are so much more interesting to read about? I mean look at Lady Macbeth” He asked

“Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it..” She said with a with a wicked smile.

Prasad Anna walked back to the cottage with bags in hand. He stopped short at the library listening to sounds of laughter and animated conversation.

He smiled to himself, his eyes gazing at a distant memory as he turned back and returned to his room.

THEM

They spent hours together over the next 10 days, browsing through the books. Selecting favorite passages to read aloud, cataloguing the books, lining the shelves with paper. They glued back the torn pages, covered and labeled them. He crafted the labels while she wrote the titles in a cursive hand…
Book by dusty book, the library came together again. The books were arranged simply and neatly, the floors clean, the walls white-washed and the room lit up with new bulbs.

Finally they stood back, and admired their first endeavor together.

On the 11th day, as they were ready to make the long journey back to Bombay, Prasad Anna gave them a bundle of books.
“Your wedding gift… sometimes , the real gifts take a bit of waiting for.

HIM

“Damn these roads !” He exclaimed as he clutched the steering. “Well we are almost there”

The gates came into view rather abruptly as they rounded a bend in the road.

“It still looks just the same!”

The new caretaker came to greet them as he parked his car. Prasad Anna had passed away 3 years ago and his caretaker now had the run of the place.

Their bags were taken to their rooms. And he went to take a shower.

She was gone when he returned to the room. And he had a feeling that he knew where she was.

He found her sitting in the library, her hands in her laps, her eyes glistening with tears. The library was in disrepair, termites covered many books, cobwebs darkened the corners and the glass windows were so covered with soot that they barely let in any light.

Ignored, uncared for, unloved, the library was dying… much like their own marriage.

The books were the same, a bit tattered maybe but they can always be fixed… the room was dirty, but that could always be cleaned up, and then there were the two of us. Could we somehow ‘fix’ us also? Burnish our memories so that they shone again with memories of happier times ? Wash away the tiredness and frustrations of bringing up a brood of kids, managing a career and preserving your own sense of self? Or maybe, just paste a new label on a shining cover and turn the page to embark on a fresh adventure together.

He looked at her again. She was staring straight at him, the tears in her eyes made him wonder how they had fettered it all away. The money was important, so was taking care of family.. the business trips that kept him away for months.. they were important too.

Or were they?

He pick up a book off the floor and dusted it with his handkerchief. He held out the book to her and smiled, “Come on now, we have a job to do…”

Imagine…

Those who know me know that I have a serious weakness for Broadway shows… musicals to be more specific. Today I saw a show called ‘Memphis’, and no I will not mention the incredible energy of the performers, or the pretty African American ladies with voices as powerful as express trains… those are things that you in a way expect in a Broadway show. What moves me is the ability of a society to look back at a difficult past and put it to music. The subtext of racialism in the USA comes out beautifully in ‘Memphis’. And it also left me admiring, a country willing to accept differences…again. Here is something I felt like writing after the show… perhaps a blog post I want to write in the year 2050 !

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Hey kiddo, come sit with me a while. And let your old grandfather talk to you a bit. Listen while you can, I wont be here for long!

Do you know, that there was a time when India almost broke up into pieces? I know its hard to imagine, but do you know that just 40 years ago, Indians still used language as a barrier to move across states, not like today, when knowing languages other than English and your regional language is considered not only cool but the only way to be.

No, I do not know the regional languages of all the states I have lived in… not something I am proud of.

I still remember, there were talks of using the army against insurgency within the country. Don’t shake your heads, the glittering memorials to development you see along the eastern coast of India came at a very high price. Its easy for you to forget how much our country has had to change to be what it is now. We were still a country with poor on the streets and problems in the hinterland. Yes, there was hope that things will change… but you know what? There were places where even hope was in a very short supply.
They even tried to turn the wheel backwards and do a caste based census 50 years after independence.

Caste? Well its kind of difficult for me to explain it to you… but lets put it this way. Caste was the elephant in the room of our times… no one talked about it, but practiced it in private. It was ingrained in our children as they grew up to understand what caste meant, and how in a way it made them different and in some cases superior from others.

Yeah I know… it was a bad idea, but it took us so long to realize something then that even a kid like you can recognize as being extremely stupid today ! There is much to learn from history…. Even an imperfect past makes a great bad example.

Yes you are right, your grandmother is from a different caste. Yeah it was a big deal for some people. Thankfully your grand mother is stronger than she appears to be, there is some strength behind that pretty face, trust me on that one. Was she pretty then? What do you mean? She is still the prettiest girl I know!

I find it extremely comforting to see an India where marrying a person from a different community is seen not as a social catastrophe but a cultural opportunity. Do you know people used to be killed sometimes because they got married to some one who worshipped a different God? No India was never a part of Africa… really. Yes, we had a middle class then too, and people had just started creating high end industries in our cities. But yeah, we still killed people for offences such as falling in love, being from a different state, or religion, or well, just being different.

No, no one from my family, or your grandmother’s threatened to kill us for marrying each other.
At least none did so publicly.

Do you remember getting a ticket for littering the road yesterday? You complained for the entire day after that. Well, you know all those year ago you could throw crap wherever you wanted and no body would give a damn. How cool is that?

But thankfully, we did give a damn when we realized that as a country we were on fast track to disaster. When our new found industrial pride took a ding when all the car manufactures started shifting base to cheaper and more peaceful joint Korea. Or when the engines of our IT industry sounded hollow when business started moving to the eastern bloc countries. Yes, the same countries that are now the ones you want to go vacation in this summer.

Imagine, just 40 years after being in a bloody world war, those countries had managed to share the same currency across Europe. While we were still trying to decide whether a train derailment is a state or federal subject.

So how did it change? I don’t know…

I find myself wondering how the hell did we get where we are now… perhaps it was the fact that economic prosperity lead to better education… the kind where people actually learnt something rather than collecting degrees. Or perhaps, with a controlled population, we finally struck a balance between what we had and what we wanted. Or just maybe, we matured and realized how we had been screwing away our freedom.
But yes, you are lucky. You have the luxury of pointing out the mistakes of my generation. Oh yeah, we did make a lot of them I and I make no bones about it. But then, isn’t each great nation built on the mistakes of its founders? We were no different. We took our time to find our way, but goddamn it, we eventually did a fine job of it.

So the next time you shake your head at some of the darkest episodes of Indian history, thank your stars that we managed to pull through. Smile at the way the Maharashtrian Vada Pav is now sold on Delhi streets… or the tandoori grills of northern India that are now big in Kerala. And can you imagine, the beautiful noodle bowls of the north east that you eat for lunch every day? No one knew about them in the 2010 !

And that is why I wanted to tell you all this… the more we understand differences, the more complete we become ourselves…

Yes my child, you grandfather has come a long way. From being born in a socialist country struggling with its own interpretations of freedom to being in one where you can be whatever you want and are capable of being…

It was a bumpy ride at times…. but trust me kid, this old man would not have had it any other way…

Ramblings at 2 AM…

I have never been known to write poetry with any semblance of elegance… please be kind 🙂
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I waited with bated breath, for the moment to pass me by
Untouched and unnoticed… tip toeing… on the sly
Smiling knowingly, I wave in its wake
Who needs secrets anyways…

A life left behind, and a life yet to live
Of what I received and what I have to give
Balancing one while the other walks away
Who needs equations anyway…

Pointless journeys and meaningful rests
Constant scurrying from east to west
Missing the monsoons on a sunny day
Who needs day dreams anyway …

A girl I love, and a love fulfilled
Smiles and laughter, and tear drops spilt
Tart and sweet, a marriage is made
Who needs to be alone anyway …

The one about a hotel and unlikely friendships…

I have been known to write some rather self indulgent posts out here.. about me and the honorable myself. And however hard it may be for me to admit it, some of the finest moments of my life have been ones that would have remained forever incomplete had it not been for the kindness and generosity of the people I have known. Let me tell you a story, a real one at that. It’s a story about a van filled with people from Vietnam, India and the USA. No, I am not about to narrate a thoroughly racist joke… promise.

This winter, I found myself in snow-swept Pennsylvania for 3 weeks for an assignment… and the living arrangements at my hotel included the use of a hotel shuttle for commuting to work. So each day early morning, a bunch of us homeless souls would trudge into the hotel lobby, powered solely by the excellent dark coffee that the hotel liberally plied on us. And there we stood, a rather sullen group. People did not talk much, preoccupied with the day at work that lay ahead, or just grumpy about being out in the cold when they hotel bed had been more than welcoming. So like kids waiting for a school bus by the road side, we waited in the hotel lobby waiting for Lonnie to bring the shuttle around.

Lonnie ! The driver of the shuttle; he instantly became our new best friend. Greeting us with a smile that seemed for a while to warm up the frigid winter cold. The shuttle, well it was a rather huge van. Large , comfortable, nice, warm.. much like Lonnie himself !

The shuttle was our oasis of warmth as we were driven through snow, sleet, rain, black ice or whatever else the Pennsylvania weather had to throw our way… making a stop every so often to drop someone at their destination before moving on to another. I would play loud music in my ear phones to while away the half hour or so that was my commute…. Lost in my own world of familiar notes and melodies…

Come to think of it, hotels like airports, form the backdrops of a million untold stories. People live a part of their lives in impersonal hotel rooms, perhaps come to decisions that alter their professional or personal lives, rejoice and celebrate… and as soon as they move on, every sign of their presence from the very space they occupied is removed diligently.

Empty glasses, crumpled bed sheets and sachets of coffee… cleaned, removed and replaced. The air refreshed and wilting flowers removed from cut glass vases…

Hotels… offer the most personalized service by removing every sign of the personalities of those who spend time in them ! Not that I would have it any differently ! Imagine spending time in a hotel room with the last occupant’s tooth brush still lying by the wash basin !

So there were some lucky people who visited Valley Forge Pennsylvania for a day or two in the middle of winters… some rather unfortunate souls who spent an entire weekend there. And there were those like me who were probably getting drunk somewhere when their quota of luck was being allocated… we stayed for weeks together. Each day I boarded the shuttle with a group of folks from Vietnam… exchanged sympathetic comments with each other and reminisced about our warm countries while Lonnie drove us through the snow. We were noticeably more cheerful and talkative when the shuttle did its rounds in the evenings picking us up once again to take us back to the hotel where food and drinks awaited us.

Tung was the first guy from Vietnam I made friends with. Meeting him made me realize rather guiltily how little I knew about Vietnam. Each evening, once we were back at the hotel, we had our dinner together, full of questions about the countries we were from. How strange it is, Vietnam is so close to India in terms of geography and culture, but I seem to know more about the US and Europe. I wonder why the collective eye of the Indian population seldom turns eastwards… it’s a world lot closer to home and equally fascinating. I spent many a night after having met my new friends from Vietnam reading up about their country… at least the next time I meet a guy from Vietnam I will have more to discuss with him other than music…

Music !

Tung is an accomplished musician. Perhaps the best guitarist I have had the pleasure of having heard in front of me. I wonder what is it with me and friends with guitars…. be it Dwarahat, Hyderabad, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York or now Valley Forge! In each city I have made friends with some one or the other who played the guitar. One day, late at night, Tung arrived at my hotel room with a guitar in hand… I mixed a few drinks and Tung played his music. It was by far one of the most enjoyable evenings in a long long time.

Come to think of it… a guy from India, mixing American Bourbons, for a guy from Vietnam playing an electric guitar manufactured in Japan, singing Simon & Garfunkel songs we had both heard at college !

Sometimes, the world seems so much smaller, and simpler…Thank You for the music Tung.

Our trips in the hotel shuttle were now full of chatter. We told each other of where were from, and what awaited us when we went back. To some it was family, or perhaps a girlfriend and a job or whatever else we had chosen to call home. Lonnie took the role of the grand old man (which he is ) and gently admonished the recklessness of some of us younger ones.

I never had to plug in my ear phones during my commutes again…

Thank you Lonnie, it was good to feel cared for in a foreign land.

And then, we all went back home eventually. I returned to India, and the folks from Vietnam left Valley Forge in the space of the next one month. Will we ever meet again? Who knows… it’s a funny world. We all stay in touch via the internet… and being in IT we will probably end up in the same spot on the globe again sooner or later. And Lonnie? Well he is still at Valley Forge… genially smiling as he usually does, sheparding folks from one place to another, being friendly the way he is…. that is when he is not writing on walls in Facebook !

Who says hotels are only home of the transient… memories of the friends I made at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania will probably last me a lifetime…

Coffee at Mani’s Cafe

So here I was in Sri Rangam, which is a busy little temple town in the district of Tiruchirapally in Tamil Nadu, and that also, happens to be my hometown. I had come to visit my grand parents & my mom who was camping there and guess what- it was turning into an impromptu mini reunion! Suddenly there were aunts & uncles & cousins and it felt like the good old times when we would gather during summer holidays or during someone’s wedding…lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food & lots of fun…so well, one of the days my dad has a brilliant idea- that we all go out to have breakfast. We all set out, at 7:45AM, an unearthly hour in Pune, but there, we were already late. If you have been to Sri Rangam, you would know we have narrow streets lined with little shops & pavements brimming over with hawkers & the roads a mumble jumble of people hurrying towards the temple and bicycles tinkling away & cycle rickshaws & the odd honking autorickshaw, all bustling & bursting in & around the huge temple complex of Lord Ranganatha. If you were lucky, you could meet the temple elephant ambling away slowly, probably taking a walk? I remember I used to be thrilled when I caught sight of him…Now on one such street, just beyond the Raja Gopuram, was Mani’s café, a little place which you would have totally missed had you not known it was there…

Have you ever been to Tamil Nadu? Well the men usually wear a lungi or a veshti ( essentially a dhoti) which is worn folded by half so that its sort of like an above-the-knee wrap around – which I think is quite the appropriate garment for the sticky heat of that state. The veshti is always white, worn usually with a crisp white shirt.We south Indians revere all things fair & white.Well one such veshti clad man waved us into an interior chamber at Mani’s (probably the owner, I don’t know) and we somehow managed to save ourselves from the waiters rushing hither & thither juggling their plates of masala dosai & jugs of sambar, & plonked ourselves at two tables…with benches instead of chairs.. One of the men came forward immediately ( he had a folded crisp white towel that hung on one side of his shoulder – which gave one the feeling of military like efficiency & also that here was a man of importance.) He reeled off the menu with a casual confidence that comes of repeating it for probably the fiftieth time that morning – “inniki enna kidaikkum?” “idli-vada-idiappam-dosai-puri masala-pongal” (yes, my mouth was secretly watering) We all gave our own orders , and before we knew it, our leafy plates were laid out before us. Food here was served the traditional tamil way, that is on plantain leaves – trust me, it’s a lot of fun, if you know how to ( my brother still doesn’t) And just think about it- it’s a brilliant cost & time saving mechanism – since it does away with crockery completely & therefore someone to wash them, besides being supremely eco friendly- nature’s very own disposable plates! One of my cousins, who like myself, is a pretext for a tamilian, whispered urgently into my ear “they don’t have plates here! ” & I had the smug satisfaction of telling her this is how it is…
Our orders came in one by one..I had asked for a masala dosai. I was just about to bite into it when one of the Sambar juggling waiters came & poured a torrent of sambar right on top of my dosa! Before I could protest at this, in comes another guy to pour chutney right on top of the sambar- so now I had this soggy dosa-sambar-chutney mix topped with my irritation – apparently they didn’t believe in bowls in this place. But still, soggy or not, my dosai was beckoning to me & soon I was tucking into it with gusto, as were all the others. Between seconds & extra helpings we soon finished & the famous filter coffee was ordered. Coffee is the staple beverage in South India & if you were a non coffee drinker, like me, well, you could get looks ranging from astonishment to bewilderment to the kind of look one gives to a neighbour whose girl has run away to marry, O Lord, a North Indian 🙂 –- pity? Yes that’s what it is, I think…Anyway, the coffee is had in a davara-tumbler – davara being a cylindrical katori with a flat rim, and a tumbler being , of course a tumbler. The steaming hot coffee is then poured back & forth from davara to tumbler till the time it cools down a bit & the coffee becomes light & frothy, & sipped slowly while chanting our thanks to the gods for this manna from heaven. Now Mani’s Café had an innovation to add to this- they gave us black coffee in the tumbler, which was tilted upside down in the davara, while the davara itself had the milk separately in it!! Probably to give us a feeling of having made good with our colonial upbringing…

Soon, this too was over & we were ready to go. Or rather, they were ready to let us go – it was a busy place, & not really one where you could dawdle over your cup of coffee with a book… we decided to move. Breakfast was over, & chatting & laughing & squinting in the sun, we left for home.

Its amazing how you never really see things when they are all around you. Actually you never see things until they are not there for you to see…and then they are suddenly so clear. Srirangam & Tamilian traditions were all somewhat of a drag for me till the time I married a North Indian (yes, I was the one, though I didn’t run away 🙂 ) I somehow see both with new eyes today, in fact , I feel I am really only seeing them, now. Its only when you go away, that you have perspective. And only then you realize what it is you had up close. I remember wondering briefly about having an identity crisis marrying a Lucknowite, but surprise, surprise, I think am more Tamilian now than I ever was before….Yes, I might still look uncomfortable with flowers in my short hair, and I might still prefer chai over filter coffee, But I most definitely believe that chilled curd rice with pickled raw mango is the best thing in the world……hmmmm…

Street Outside theRaja Gopuram, further in is Mani's Cafe

You can hear the whistle blow a 100 miles…

As the train finally started moving, I could barely contain my excitement. Pressed to the window, watching the people & the hawkers & the waiting room & the Wheelers Stall all pass by with increasing speed, my mind crowds with multiple emotions- excitement, anticipation, & somewhat strangely, a peacefulness.
I love train journeys. I am traveling with my dad to my native town in interior TamilNadu, and apart from the excitement of meeting all my relatives, the most awaited aspect of this vacation was this – the train journey! That I am traveling with my dad, after ages, brings back a flood of nostalgia…and the landscape outside changes to twenty five years of flashes of memories…

Train journeys – how much preparation went into them! Days before we (us kids) would decide what luggage to take & argue with mom about the clothes to carry, the number of books & comics, what games to fit in. Travelling games usually would be Uno, Memory, Ludo etc. There was this phase when all the kids in the neighbourhood, probably the country, went crazy after WWF cards, and Racing cards & what not & my brother was one of them. So these would be carried along too.

Food preparation used to be a huge activity in itself. Now that I have seen more of the world I have realized that every family has its own staple travel food- For example,My husband’s family, who are from UP, used to carry parathas or puris with a dry aloo ki subzi. In fact, we are carrying some of the yummy stuff with us right now. Many of us must have seen Gujaratis or Marwaris travel- boy- I don’t think they have any separate journey food- They somehow manage to carry the very same meals they have at home on travel too, from farsaan to salad to pickle!
For us, Tam Brahms that we were, Idlies & thayir sadham (Curd Rice!) was the most common staple. Mum would prepare idlies by the dozen & would carefully smear each with an oil & gun powder paste, instead of carrying the usual sambar-chutney which would spoil. Sometimes instead of idlies we would have puliyodharai (tamarind rice) or lemon rice. Curd Rice however was omnipresent. It was fragrantly seasoned with coriander & curry leaves, green chillies & ginger for a subtle bite with a sprinkling of mustard seeds & urad dal. If it were summer, we would have freshly cut pieces of raw mango with salt & chilli paste to go with- merely the thought of this combination is making my mouth water! Its true – curd rice & Tam Brahms are inseparable-whatever part of the world they are in or however many cuisines they enjoy! Now apart from the food we carried, there would be a lot of intermittent snacking going on, where every hawker who passed by was stopped, his wares examined, & more often than not, sent on his way lighter.. and what about all the chais & coffees?

“Cha—i—ya, chai-yya…” “Bhaiya- ek chai dena.” As I sip on my third chai of the journey, I can’t help but think how those days have undergone a change.
Those were the days when second class travel was the norm and AC a rare luxury. When train bathrooms didn’t give you nightmares from days before.When train food was fun & hygiene was simply a word in the dictionary. When hawkers added to the excitement instead of being a nuisance. When time was our own and no one was in a hurry….
You know we would usually reach the station about 2 hours earlier, because , well, my father is a cautious man , to say the least. So that would mean a good 2 hour time pass at the station – as a child I guess a railway platform is a fascinating place – there s so much happening! Now, all that I can see is an unbearably dirty station, stinking & smelling of the sweat of all the people jostling each other for space with railway carts, luggage, hawkers, beggars & the odd stray animal. Hair raising to say the least, but then, I am the one who has changed…

I like to simply look out the window… the whizzing varying landscape fascinates me…here field after field of sun flowers.. there you have mangroves for miles.. rice fields pass by now, with a solitary farmer trudging along side his crop…then a beautiful serene vast expanse of water- was that a crane that broke the surface?…then a bridge comes & the steady clatter of the wheels changes to a slower deep baritone & I look in awe at the river flowing beneath, always thinking, what if…? Here comes a city..a line of impatient lorries & cars & scooters straining against the level crossing….the window is actually like a bioscope..
There usually would be a mini World War between my brother & me- who would get the window seat? Usually, I being the elder one, always got to be the larger hearted one & had to give him whatever he wanted. The many sacrifices an elder sibling has to make for the ever-demanding never-satisfied greedy younger ones is not funny  Well anyway we would arrive at some kind of amicable arrangement for the window…I remember this one time when he & I were traveling all by ourselves for the very first time- from Chennai to Hyderabad to meet our cousins. Boy were we excited or what! I remember we kept chatting & giggling non stop throughout the journey….

Its getting dark as I am writing this now. I am snuggled beneath my sheet with my curtains drawn & my little over head light shining a little round spot on this page as I write…I think am sleepy now.

As I switch off the light & lie down, I am happy & peaceful as my eyes are lulled to a close with the soothing rhythmic movement of the train echoing in my sub conscious…

A new beginning…

I have often written here about my struggle with cholesterol and our fascination with running. I have created a new blog that I hope to use to chronicle how I am trying to combine the two. And am also intend to use the new blog as a very public reminder to myself that I need to complete the half marathon at Mumbai in 2011.

Ashishandradhika will continue the way it has always been, a shared space for me and Radhika to write about whatever we feel like, the new blog though, will hopefully be far more focused on topics related to health, nutrition and exercise.

If you feel like taking a look, here is ‘Running to Save My Life’!