Monday, June 6, 2011

A New POpe

I do hate going to the movies. I have said this many times and will say it again.

“I don't like to go to theatres,” every single one of my good friends or family who have tried to trick me into a cinema hall, be it a multiplex or a single-screen survivor, would have gotten this reply on more than one occasion.

While some fail almost always, many have managed to catch hold of my vital organs and pull me into the darkened hall for a “torture session”.


It has never been a torture session. In fact, to be honest, I thoroughly enjoy the movies like any other Gen X, Y, Z… Man which alphabet in the “Gen” sequence do I belong? Confusion all around these days for the generation divide has become very obscure just like the genres of song, dishum-dishum and, of late, trigger-happy Bollywood.

But hey, my dislike for theatres has nothing to do with my “Gen” status.

So why do I hate going to the movies even though I religiously watch flicks on TV till five or six in the morning on most days?

Once or twice I have given my answer to close friends.

“It's because I am afraid of going outside to the bright lights after the surreal experience inside the theatre,” my narration usually begins with like this, classic!

And the line will be usually followed by a loud “WHAT” from the other side.

The single-worded query, with emotions ranging from amusement to anger, had the power of a thousand Gestapo truth serum injections, forcing me to elaborate. And I do too.

“Well, it is because, while I am watching a movie, like many of the guys, I take a trip. I become part of it and I enjoy being in that reel world. I can be happy, I can be sad, I can fight and I can bleed. But what I can't do is, step out of the theatre into the sultry parking lot to take my wheels and drive to office, or home for that matter, for another day or night of reality checks,” my explanation ain’t weird, perfectly sane, I know.

Then I elaborate on the Fear Factor!

“There is this weird thought also. What if the world has changed outside? As in, what if a tidal wave of thoughts had run through the city and left everything in tatters in its wake and only the theatre survived. And when we get out, a light shines from above, saying we are the designated ones and the theatre was a conspiracy - a Noah's Ark. 'Now remake the world and make it a better place, the voice commands’,” I dramatize my fears (NB: I know this bit is a little weird by the way).

But I still continue: “And which such devastation and despair around me, I turn to my friends and can only say, 'God. But, why me? How will I remake Kumarakom Restaurant in such short notice? I wanted to eat beef today’.”

That would be “damn inconvenient right,” is my usual last line after each ‘explain-yourself’ session, as I tried to put my odd frailty in a lighter vein.

And to this explanation, I have gotten wide range of replies, from the cynical to the comical to the philosophical. All of which, I shall keep to myself because today my thoughts are filled with a larger-than-life character.

This big-daddy of a guy was forcing all the beautiful mommies and busy dads to put their personal preferences on hold and beeline outside multiplexes to get a seat inside the 3D world of ‘The Kung Fu Panda-II’ and his sermon of “Inner Peace”.

And so did the reluctant movie-goer in me. I, and my friends, didn't queue up though, instead using the good old internet for our tickets. But enter we did, to his Valley of Peace, and laughed and giggled and even punched the air-conditioned upmarket microbes in the air around us, enjoying the plump martial artist showing the world that Size Does Matter.

Po the Panda is not “hard core” like the fierce Tigress, who I have a feeling will go on a date with him in Part 3 of the Franchise. Po is not acrobatic like the Monkey, nor can he ricochet around villains like the Mantis. The trained Po is flexible but certainly not as much as the Snake. He definitely can't fly like the Crane either. Bears can't fly, can they?

Team Po: Dragon Warrior and his five buddies
But this Mr Po can soar, with teamwork of course: A helping hand here or a push there from his five champion friends.

Po can fly for sure. He, as a wannabe Kung Fu fighter taking on the fierce Tai Lung, glided into our hearts in Kung Fu Panda 1. While this time, he crisscrossed across on an F-16 Jet for he is the “Dragon Warrior” and Dragon Warrior rules, not just the hearts of kids but the lives of their dads and moms too.

For the fat, arm-chair-warrior daddies, Po is a symbol of hope.

“Well if that silly panda can do it. So can I,” this nosy reporter overheard a middle-aged gentleman muttering this under his breath as he tucked in his shirt at the loo during the movie interval. He was checking out his over-sized tummy too and in his moment of inspiration, I think he forgot that he was talking out loud and not to himself. “Inner Peace, Inner Peace,” he muttered as he walked out.

And for the mommies?

Po has an answer for everything. For the mama-types, Po becomes a baby in Kung Fu Panda-II, and I am sure, seeing the orphaned Panda smile, any mother in that dark hall would have wished it was she and not Ping the Goose (Po's restaurant-owner foster dad) who had chanced upon the naughty brat in a box of radish.

Cuteness before Awesomeness: Po as an infant

While the grown up Po would have made at least some of 'em ladies think of extra-marital stuff, yeah, an affair to remember, a one night stand even.

Come on, who can resist the charms of a kung fu master, with a fist hungry for justice and a stomach churning for love, not to mention his appetite for outdoor activities, read: eating. A real man among wannabes; a man capable of beating the feathers out of a bad guy as sinister and imposing as Lord Shen, the white Peacock, to save China and kung fu and then the world before eating his well-earned cup of noodles (I wonder if it's instant noodles), not necessarily in that order of priority.

“Po for Pope, Po for Pope,” I heard this was the slogan in the heart of Catholic Latin America, after a group of nuns from a convent went for a special screening of Kung Fu Panda-II.

Well Po would definitely like to oblige. But does he have the spiritual inclinations to become such a leader, one wonder.

But, of course!

He can drive away the fears of uncertainty that always hang above us: Especially when we think of stepping out during Monsoon without an umbrella. From now on, I will look forward to a walk in the rains performing Taichi with the rain drops, while I utter the mantra for Nirvana – “Inner Peace, Inner Peace,” while wondering whether it is all about wearing the right underwear (Po still wears that dirty shorts by the way).

He, like all Gurus, can also drive away trepidations everyone has about an uncertain future. At least he did for me.

For the first time, I stepped out of a theatre, not fearing the sights and sounds of reality nor the thought of rebuilding this world. I had Po’s magic mantra guiding me – “Inner Peace, Inner Peace.”

My priorities were straightened out too; what a pleasant change, I say.

As soon as I stepped out of the hall, I told my friends: “My stomach is hungry for justice. Let us all get some inner peace at the Chinese joint across the road and let's do it Po style -- Noodles and the whole assortments.

Hungry Young Man: Po is not shy to answer his real calling

That's what Po can do, he can make us look forward to the finer things in life rather than worry about buying a packet of popcorn for the ritualistic but far-from-elegant jaw exercise every one of us do these days at the movies.

None of my friends bought popcorn or Pepsi or anything during the show. Our tongues were rather occupied -- wagging, drooling, whistling and howling at the “Awesomeness” on screen and nothing else mattered.

My brothers and sisters, Po for Pope indeed!

Rising above it all: Po and the art of "inner peace"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Martial Law at Office!

My quest continues... not just for that magic word which would do justice to music, but also to find the path that would let me fully comprehend the gift my dad had given
me a long, long time back...

Orgasmic!... Inebriated!... Drunk!... On a high!... %*&%*$*&^(^*... (*%$$%^^*&^&....!

I was searching for the right word, a politically correct word rather, to replace “intoxicated” in the phrase “intoxicated by music”. The question was posed by a dear one. According to her, the word intoxicated was negative, while music is all about positives. “You can't talk about it as though it's cheap liquor,” she said.

“Yeah right,” I nodded, quickly opening another tab in my browser to click on - where I generally find answers to all the problems posed by work and life these days.

Damn! No help there.

“The synonyms will all sound negative to her,” I muttered under my breath, “she being staunchly against alcohol.”

“But doesn't alcohol cleanse wounds,” I had attempted the old reasoning on her once, the one which all “spirited” ones try. To which she didn't reply, but her silence gave me the answer.

She wasn't that silent in her non-acceptance of “Orgasmic” though, but she agreed that it comes close. “But it is still not the word I want.” Man, she is stubborn!

The English-language journalist in me had his back to the wall with this one. I told her I will search for it when I get time to think.

“Right now I am watching that big-man Chris Gayle dismantle Mumbai Indians bowlers in the Indian Premier League (IPL) ‘semi-final’, the result and report of the cricket match I've got to edit and package and put it on paper for tomorrow's edition baby,” I said.

Now here is Gayle, the larger than life Jamaican, who, if it was the renaissance and exploration era, would have been a buccaneer for sure. Johnny Depp, listen up, why isn't Gayle a character in your Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise? Big loss Maan!

Instead, the West Indies destroyer is wreaking havoc for another Franchise here in India - at the IPL, playing for the ‘King of Booze Times’ (oops ‘King of Good Times’) Vijay Mallya's Royal Challengers Bangalore team.

Mallya, arguably the one and only Billionaire Playboy in the Indian Parliament (assuming the rest of them are just billionaires who don't play), believes and practices the “Law of Conservation of Matter”.

For the benefit of the uninitiated to the ways of science I shall give you the definition here, hope I am right. The Law states that: “Matter can never be destroyed. It can only be transformed to other forms.”

Just replace “Matter” with “Money” in Mallya's case and you will unlock the secrets to his billions, stashed in beer barrels.

Here's someone who's made big bucks through “cheap liquor”.

And he is using the money to fly, to drive F1 cars, to sail, to party, not to mention the expensive players he has roped in to play for his team, providing, again, cheap thrills for the average Indian through the IPL. The people in turn will revel in their team's victory or drown in its defeat, finding solace and cheers in - no prizes for the guess - CHEAP booze, what else.

(But please note that with ‘CHEAP booze’ I mean the quality of the spirits and not the price tag.)

Mallya gets his money back, no matter what, states his law of conservation of money.

Meanwhile, Gayle delivered for Royal Challengers as they made it to their first final in the four-year history of the IPL, while my office boy delivered the cup of coffee I ordered to keep my senses awake, a long night I was expecting.

But I ended up staying at office longer than I imagined...

Nay, it was not work. The relative boredom of composing and sending pages, with a creative garnish of a headline here and there, went smoothly enough.

But my plans to hit the road all changed the moment we all decided to plan a movie.

“Kung Fu Panda,” the decision was unanimous.

And as we were checking our options for a weekday show, someone decided we needed music to spice up the guy-talks. I and my neighbour in office, James Hardy, have a decent collection of music with Hardy's stash being much more decent than mine. My folders do have its obscenities, the rather revealing videos I try to justify saying “the music is just awesome, listen to that” guys.

They all listened and then my phone rang. I didn't pick up. Why?

I was busy swaying to my new ringtone -- the theme music from the big daddy of all Kung Fu movies made in Hollywood -- Enter the Dragon.

Inspiring, this soundtrack used to be, still is by the way. It is genetic I guess.

My dad, who is one of the most senior Karate masters in Kerala, began his journey in martial arts way back in 1977 after watching this Bruce Lee flick. His life entered a new phase with that movie and this theme would have played its part too, I am sure.

In the tinsel world, this multi-star Warner Bros production changed the perception Hollywood had towards martial-arts movies forever and paved the way for oriental stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li to become world icons. Bruce Lee became the saint, a martyr in a way, which every institution needs - be it political, religious, or the arts.

Jeet Kune Do emblem

The Saint Lee had his set of disciples too, who followed his religion in martial arts - one which erased all the boundaries between styles and forms. His ‘Jeet Kune Do’, which means ‘the way of the intercepting fists’, was a style which was, according to Bruce Lee, “the best of all the arts brought under one form, a fighting style without any style”: A hybrid of Kung Fu, Karate, Judo and Jujitsu, wrestling, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and even western boxing among others.

Bruce Lee did have his critics and purists - masters and exponents from various arts - regularly challenged him to prove his claims about Jeet Kune Do. It is said that Bruce obliged them all and proved his point too. Naturally he would have done it with ease.

When death caught him unawares in 1973, at the young age of 33, he was in his prime, his prowess and physical sharpness clearly evident on screen in his Magnum Opus, Enter the Dragon, the final stroke of a genius.

The Kung Fu part of Jeet Kune Do had its firm base in the ‘Foshan Wing Chun’ style, the first form Bruce Lee learnt under the legendary Hong Kong master Yip (Ip) Man. A close combat style, whose famed hand movements were used extensively by Bruce Lee for his movie fight sequences.

Bruce Lee in the legendary climax of Enter the Dragon where he takes on the villain Yan in his mirror chamber

But the “Dragon's” fight moves were not the object of attention in office this day. It was the music from his most famous movie, present in which are the immortal scenes that made him a legend, including the fight with the villian ‘Yan the Iron Fist’ in his mirrored lair.

My unusually loud ringtone attracted ears from a usually silent corner of the office too - the international-cum-nation desk. I could see Mr Kumaraguru's (Guru Sir) eyes sparkle as he listened and smiled to the beats of the theme which was composed by the renowned Argentine director Lalo Schifrin.

Guru came up to me, telling me it was “super” and asked me to play the ringtone one more time. I decided to play the full version from my hard-disk.

Guru was happy and was at his smiling best as he appreciated my jukebox act with his usual nod which I always felt had the grace and ‘discipline of motion’ of an officer from the armed forces.

Guru Sir is around 5-ft 8-inches tall or there about, lean and dresses in semi-formals generally. He carries himself around office conveying a deep and discreet disposition seen in men we term these days as “old fashioned”. And I attributed his sudden attachment to a 70’s martial arts movie theme to him being from the retro generation.

How wrong I was.

Guru went back to his seat to complete the night’s job while Hardy, I and designer Kannan went about jobless - listening to songs and bitching about bosses.

It was way past midnight, and around 1.30 or so in the morning, when we decided to head for our summer-heated beds at home.

“Let me take a smoke first, come out we will talk at the stairs,” Kannan's last wish. I said “yeah.”

We were standing at the stairs when Guru Sir came out, smiling again. He was going home.

Our talk went back to Enter the Dragon. Apparently, Guru is a big fan of Bruce Lee and we were sharing our passion with words while Kannan was adding his inputs to the fact agreed by many - Bruce being the best of the lot.

And after a rush of excited words which lasted about 15 minutes, Guru took a few steps down the stairs to go home to his wife and kids when he suddenly heard me mentioning about dad and Karate. He looked up again, and I knew he had decided to keep his family on hold for a little while more.

Apparently, he was a martial artist too and trained with his cousins under a friend who was a third Dan black belt in the Shito-Ryu school of Karate.

During my fighting days, I had come across a few Shito-Ryu fighters and the give-and-take encounters still make me smile and crave for more. But not now and certainly not with Guru, I was damn sure.

I mentioned about my dad (Xavier Master or Sensei Xavier to many) and about our style of Shorin-Ryu while Guru confessed that he never really trained the art. And from his words I realised he was right and the talk was not an attempt at humility which Karate students, except me of course, develop down the years.

“I didn't train the katas or the art. My friend used to train me and my cousins in sparring. It was fun. And mornings we used to do fitness exercises. It was tough, especially the frog jumps up the stadium stairs and all. And then we used to go to college where I used to sleep the whole time dead tired. And in the evenings I would get beaten up by my friend when we train free sparring. But it was fun,” Guru Sir opened up his memoirs in his slightly accented good English.

Again the talk went back to Bruce Lee. “Obviously this man was a big fan,” I told myself looking at Guru.

This time he demonstrated the speed of Lee’s 'back-fist' (Uraken in Japanese - an attack with the back of one’s fist), the technique which Lee uses to begin the systematic dismantling of O'Hara (Robert Wall - a Karate and kickboxing champ) in Enter the Dragon.

Bruce Lee takes on O'Hara (kick boxing and karate champ Robert Wall) in Enter the Dragon

My dad was also very fond of the 'back-fist'. In fact my dad and I also at times, have employed it to score quick points off an attacking opponent who forgot to keep his guard up above his shoulders.

“Only fools rush in,” was my dad’s quick advice each time I got hit by his ‘back fist’ every time I rushed in blindly. It’s obvious my dad was an Elvis fan too, or else why would he use the line from one of The King’s famous songs all the time.

Guru Sir would have continued talking and I and Kannan would have chipped in our bit too. But then, he is a family man now, not the teenager who never used to mind getting kicked around by a black-belt. “We had so much fun then,” he smiled again before saying “Goodnight”.

Something else amazes me though. Guru, like all the rest of us guys in office, takes a whole lot of stinky stuff from the big ones on the floor. But unlike me, who is known for occasional emotional trips, Guru handles it very calmly. I haven't seen him lose his cool even once.

Now, we both have trained in Karate at one point and this Japanese art is supposed to reign in our tempers. I had trained the art as a whole, the full aspects of it including the art of fighting, while Guru Sir had trained just for sparring. But it seems, he had acquired the Zen of Karate much more than I did.

Maybe my sense of Karate was diluted a little bit by my days as a fighter, where aggression and loads of it, helped me win bouts. The dilution was further heightened by the occasional creative indulgences, or rather excesses, in the last couple of years.

And the final straw would have been the lack of training. My dad used to say, “Karate training is like tempering Iron for a Katana (Japanese sword). The sword-smith has to bend and beat the metal. Then heat it, bend it, beat again and again, a million times probably, till it is the finished product. And then the warrior or the Samurai has to prime the sword again, with sweat. Just like that, a Karateka should train and heat himself day in day bout till his reflexes and techniques and mind becomes as sharp as a sword, sparkling and deadly.”

My dad also had a simple view on arguably the most decisive edge in a fight -- speed.

“A person can only see and block an attack which is as fast as his own punch or kick,” my dad used to say in between counts while making me train the reverse punch, which according to him was like a powerful shot from a sniper rifle.

“Bang, and it would be over,” he explained. “Emphasis should be on the power, speed and of course accuracy,” the Shorin-Ryu way.

PM Xavier, my dad, executes a side kick during a demonstration at his Dojo in Fort Kochi in the early 1980's

The truth behind my Sensei's above mentioned insight into the art of fighting I realised the hard way during a tournament, when, in the semi-finals, I was knocked down by a punch which I didn't see coming.

It was that fast. I got up though and managed to bleed and huff my way around him to win the bout on a split decision, even though my dad was unhappy with the way I went defensive after ensuring a single point lead.

“You should have given it back and finished him off, that would have been the victory. You won't get a chance again,” he said. But then he also knew that the other fighter’s speed was too much for me and I had to be foxy for a win. But being a fighter to the core and not a businessman, my dad's heart was never happy with my win that day.

It took three days for the taste of blood in my mouth to subside. My dad waited too and the fourth morning, he took me to the backyard after warm-up. On the coconut tree trunk was tied a piece of sponge, barely thick to protect my knuckles, ensuring my fists will take 80 percent or so of the brunt from my punches.

By the way he was taking it easy on me. I have heard the grand-ma of my neighbour saying that my dad used to train on the same tree-trunk and he used to have just a few sheets of newspaper for cushion. I asked him about it.

“There used to be blood marks on the trunk,” he said before asking me to bend my knees to start my training. My dad was not keen on wasting time on chit-chat and believed in maintaining intensity even if one is just training for five minutes.

For the next month or so I used to spend my mornings punching at the tree trunk standing in Shiko-Dachi (deep stance with knees bent low) while my primary fighting focus – wrestling – was relegated to just evening mat sessions with the college wrestling team. My punches became crisper and faster and that's what my dad wanted.

Man, that’s history! Snap out of it, will ya?

“Ok, ok, chill, I am back,” I answered, trying to satisfy my inner voice, which is as cranky as me these days -- rational when I don’t need it to be and totally wacky when I want it to be level-headed.

Anyway, right now the “voice” pulled me back to the present day newsroom where I don’t need a crisp punch but a bridle for my temper and Guru seems to be having no problems at all with aggression.

His secret was maybe something else than the Zen of Karate altogether. Something I also have realised but failed to accept and act accordingly. It is true that the “significant ones” in office are so, so insignificant and minuscule in the bigger scheme of things collectively called life. In other words, they are not worth your anger.

Ah, anger management and its mysterious ways – wish I knew them!

My dad believed Karate helps one channelize that negative energy.

“But how,” I kept on questioning as I cycled back home after my martial arts episode with Guru. The query was playing inside my mind repeatedly like a stuck record in a gramophone.


Stuck record player! Probably that is the answer; probably it is music, the music of Karate - the resonance from the muscles performing a well-choreographed dance to the tunes coming from the trained mind. That is the music of Karate and it is intoxicating and it also calms one down.

There you go again: Back to the old question of replacing intoxicants while explaining music.

But while performing a Karate kata or training in its various forms, one does get into a trance, a war dance of sorts. All who have practiced the art will agree. And the music which induces the trance is indeed intoxicating.

Oh yeah! Maybe the word my friend is searching for is “trance”.

“That should explain it right?” I rang her up to ask her.

“No, it doesn't,” came the sharp reply, faster than any punch I have faced. How to train for this dad? Women!

My quest continues for the time being though. Maybe I should start practicing Karate. Its music might enlighten me to the word and many things more.

Or maybe, my friend George Poikayil, the wise one, who secretly reads my blog without acknowledging it, would pass a wise-guy comment as expected.

I can see it coming: “You don't know the word. What kind of an editor are you? Can't blame you though, sports journalist right, it's expected. The word is *******. Now thank me OK,” George, the business journalist will say, laughing his guts out.

I don't mind George. I don't mind at all.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trained Observer

I wonder whether my maid uses a Blackberry!

Well almost everyone uses one these days. The other day I was texting diligently on my 'stone-age' mobile when the driver of my office cab took out his Android or I thought it was an Android. I can’t even identify one and probably I will end up branding all touch-screen mobiles as Android and all QWERTY mobiles as Blackberry.

"Man, I am outdated," I told myself that day.

Back to my maid.

“Will she be having a BB?” I wonder whether I am missing out on her services just because I am not connected with her on the famed BB network. Maybe I am.

My maid has been missing from action for a few days now. Since I couldn’t conjure up enough Tamil, in the last one year, to make her understand that I needed her mobile number just in case some information has to be passed, I have no means to contact her. And to make matters worse, she is not in my Facebook list either and the biggest sin is I don't have her BB pin.

“Enough of waiting, it is time for action.” after all, I am used to cleaning my clothes and premises right from my camping days and college till the time I started earning enough to afford a maid.

So the last two days, I have gone back to the things I used to do while living in a dingy room in Triplicane during my early days as a journalist in Chennai. And washing clothes was one of my daily ruts as I didn't want soiled linen to pile up and create a problem for me during my one and only weekly off.

But there was a mini pile for me to handle this time around as I was just back from my Coimbatore trip. I divided the soiled clothes into two, taking the easy-to-wash ones on the first day, keeping my fingers crossed that next day the maid will appear out of the blue to wash the hard ones - my jeans and cargoes.

But she didn't come today either.

So I reluctantly soaked the clothes and during the one-hour Tamil Nadu Electricity Board load-shedding (power cut) at 1 noon, I found myself free from my internet obligations (read: Twitter, Facebook, blog, downloads and G-talk) and started working on my jeans followed by the cargoes I wore travelling in the train.

“Why you little insignificant spec,” I cursed at the small stain on the khaki cloth that was making me sweat. I brushed and brushed wondering what’s wrong. I washed off the froth from the detergent to have a closer look. A brownish mark was smirking back at me. Am sure if the stain had fingers he would have pointed the middle finger at me too.

“I wonder how it came there.” A stain is making me talk to myself, scary, I thought as I went back in time, two days to be exact, to the day the brown little thing made my pants his home.

It was in the train, on my way back from Coimbatore. I had taken the morning Chennai Express from the “Cotton City”; which meant that the eight-hour journey would take me through the sun scorched heart of Tamil Nadu to my destination. I had planned to reserve a seat in the air-conditioned chair car but missed out on the Indian Railways Tatkal window two days before my journey. Instead I got a second class window seat.

As I boarded the train, I was bracing myself for the worst of South Indian summer. But I was also happy that I would at least see life, because that is what is missing in the AC compartment – the usual assembly place for all the selfish and rude people in this world, the professionals and rich wives and daughters, sons too, so that I don't sound sexist.
Coimbatore Junction Railway station
I may have to endure the heat at the second class chair-car, but I will also feel the warmth from the folks around, my fellow travel mates, I was sure, at least that was my experience on my travels across the country during my student days.

Sharp at 6.15 am the train chugged out of Coimbatore Junction, sun already shining bright as usual during any warm summer day. I looked around. It seems my section of the compartment, which had nine seats, had a family of eight, but two of their seats were in another compartment.

The family had an infant, infant's mother, grandparents, an older girl, who I figured is the infant's sister, infant's aunt, two elderly couple... All these were speculations as Tamil language and breaking ice to strike a conversation are not my forte. Besides I had more selfish reasons to stay mum.

Bad of me, I know, but I didn't want to relinquish my seat and go to another compartment so that the family can stay together.

"Selfish bastard," I cursed myself, as I saw the grandfather ask another guy to swap seats and shift to the next compartment. The guy, a gentleman, agreed, while I was left wondering as to where I really belong. It seems I have been corrupted by the comforts of life and now I only belong to the cold, heartless AC compartment and not among warmth and love.

Anyway, I had my chance to make amends as the grandfather began tying a knot on the luggage rack right above me to form a makeshift cradle with a cotton sheet so that the infant can travel in comfort. And then he requested me whether I could move to the seat on the other side so that the baby's mother can sit under the cradle.

"Cool," I said, smiling at this second opportunity to be nice. And so my journey gathered speed.

In my new seat I was bang opposite the other old couple I was mentioning. I figured out later, again my observation and not conversation, that they didn't belong to the family. But they could possibly be neighbours because they were sharing breakfast and soft drinks along with the pleasantries that only people who know each other would share.

Breakfast time!

"Idlis and vadas," I told the vendor, while the rest of my neighbours ordered stuff ranging from pongal-vada to dosa to bread omelette.

Clearly the folks around me were not that used to eating from the aluminium boxes in trains. They were talking a helluva lot of time, while I threw my packet out in five minutes flat and drank water to wash the remaining bits of vada down my esophagus.

I badly wanted to catch up on sleep. For a guy who sleeps around 3 in the morning every day and wakes up around 10, enjoying scenery in a train at 7 am could be quite a pain. I tried my best, leaning left and right, but my sleep was interrupted every other minute by a vendor or a shudder from the Iron carriage. I realised I won't be able to sleep. No issues. I can read.

But I can't read also because of a slight technicality. I am not carrying a book. My friend in Coimbatore had suggested I should carry a paperback for the journey. I said "nay, I would rather prefer watching people". Interesting people I may add.

And the interesting character did enter into my domain in an hour or so when the train reached Erode. A girl, probably in her early 20s, entered the train. Time for assessment!

Brown complexioned, petite girl, probably from a middle-class Tamilian family, I was trying a-la Sherlock Holmes. “Elementary my dear Watson, I deduced it from the way she was dressed” - a Conservative churidhar and medium heels. She was also carrying a backpack, suggesting that she could be a college student.

She came and sat across me as I stretched myself out of my half-sleep, ready to give a smile in case she looks up. She was least interested in me and I realised the reason five minutes after the train left Erode.

A guy, again a college-going type, with an enhanced moustache, which looked a little too artificial for his age and maturity, appeared suddenly from another compartment. And what do you know; he just can't stop talking to this dame.

He was leaning over the elderly couple, happily chatting and I became mad. Apparently I was not the only person who was upset with this exercise. The elderly couple were in some discomfort with the romantic rendezvous happening above their heads and so the husband suggested to the lover-boy to move to the side to talk.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw him walk towards the door, opening an avenue for me to make my journey more colourful with the fairer side of things. But the girl got up and went behind "her guy" and again the conversation continued, this time near the compartment door, how Romantic!

Not for long though. The guy left and the girl returned to her seat but it was obvious she was lost in some thought as she was looking out of the window, half smiling, half dreaming. I wonder what. The answer I got soon enough.

The guy came back. This time with another fellow and, after a knowing nod, good old seat swapping happened with the girl walking away with her "boyfriend" to the next compartment. So much for female company!

But I suddenly felt happy for the young lovers. Let them enjoy, it's their world, the train as well was the expanse beyond.

The section next to mine had a bigger family - kids, wives, husband; the whole roll to be exact and like all families in trains, they were loud. Singing and when they were tired of their humming capabilities, they would open one packet of snacks from their seemingly unending bank, a brown shopping bag.

Crunching, munching, they were matching the train's frequency, I felt, as I raced back to the time I took a train ride with my family from Kochi to Kanyakumari during one summer holiday. We also had packed sandwiches and other eatables for our journey and I was just eight years old then. My mom had big trouble making me keep my hands inside the window. I was excited at the vista outside, a novel experience for me, and like any red-blooded kid, I was jumping up and down, "like a terrier", according to my dad. Probably I was wagging my tongue out like one too.

That was then, an eternity or so back. Now I miss my family. Wish they were with me to sing, if not to eat. Wish they were with me...

... I dozed off for a while and when I woke up the train was reaching Katpadi (Vellore) and the family in my section were getting ready to get down. The grandfather looked at me again and spoke to me a second time.

"Thank you," he said. I smiled.

It was around 11 in the morning and the heat was nearing the unbearable bit. I had brought my third bottle of water along with a soft drink and was taking in fluids left and right, just to keep my cool.

Oops! My "what the hell" was greeted by a high-pitched "sorry" by a ten-year-old boy. I couldn't be mad at the kid for falling onto me after the train jerked, can I? So I began wiping the mess. The mango juice I had brought had left its mark though - a stain on my cargoes.

"It would be child's play for my maid," I told myself. Well now I know I was wrong. It was rather, an hour's work for a heavyweight adult.

Back to the last part of my train journey. My fellow travellers had changed by then.

A Muslim gentleman, in all white, was sitting across me, a no-nonsense married lady (prominent red line on forehead, vermilion, telling me so) was sitting on my right and each time I looked at her, I felt that she had anger boiling within her. Maybe she is visiting her husband to blast him for not returning her SMS yesterday or maybe it is a missed grocery list. Women! God knows.

There were a couple of office goers too. From their bags I figured they could be marketing executives. In fact, one of them had a similar bag to which I used to carry during my days as an insurance consultant.

Selling was never my forte though and I had given up that job for writing and journalism. And the lack of selling ability still haunts me. I am enduring a bad pay-package from my current employer now just because I couldn't sell myself proper during the interview. Anyway, I will get my due, hopefully sooner than later.

And to stake claim to that better pay-package, I need to prove myself again and again starting from today, when I join office later in the afternoon to officially put an end to my three-day break in Coimbatore.

With this thought I got down at Chennai Central, greeted by the overhead Railways PA system’s squeaks and static, the roar of humanity - some going home, some staying put - while some, like me, walking towards the taxi bay outside, with no time even to look back at the Iron carriage or the vendors and workers inside it who ensured we weren't that tired after the eight-hour journey.

But then, neither looking back nor thanking come natural to us humans. We are a progressive race and like one elderly gent once told me - since we have two forward looking eyes, we will always move forward, no matter what.

And move forward I did, out of the station, to the humid world I call home these days - Chennai.

Chennai Central

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Finally the man gets some peace!

The paparazzi aren't hounding him, or rather his soul. The "writers" of the world, who fill up the sold and unsold edit spaces, have forgotten him. Finally, Michael Jackson rests, without any managers, "friends" or "fiends" around him to remind him of commitments, big shows and record deals; remind him about rehearsals or stage trials and about taking his daily doze of painkillers to go through the ordeal of wearing the mask of the King, the King of Pop.

It's been an year since the death of Jackson. June 25 last year, the world woke up to the shock news of MJ's death under "suspicious circumstances" and the circus began in earnest. With follow- ups after news-breaks about developments in the investigation of his death or murder.

If the circumstances to his death were suspicious, the subsequent investigations were equally shady, with every other Tom, Dick and Harry - and a couple of Jacksons too - coming out with "revelations" almost all of them controversial. All just for their few seconds of fame and pieces of silver!

And with time, as it is the usual custom in modern-day journalism, Jackson slowly made his way to the inside pages and news-briefs till, finally, on his death anniversary, he is not remembered at all, at least not in the broadsheets of Chennai.

"Wait a minute, there was something in the paper you work for. Don't you read your paper boy?" The question was from the big man at office.

Yes editor sir, I saw that. A sentence on top of the world page of the second most-read English paper in this city about how the spiritual guru of MJ reveals to the world that the "Bad" boy used to mimic the high-pitched voice during conversations to give out a feeling that he is still a young boy.

Another publicity seeker, searching a new avenue for making money. But a mimicry artist or a singer, MJ sure had the world dancing to his voice for four decades and counting... But the jug-heads of that section of my paper did well to mention Jackson on his death anniversary, though through a shit of a story. Justice indeed, I would say. You can't expect more from the pseudo music connoisseurs.

"Well you are biased," frowns the editor from the third most circulated paper in the city. "You think journalism begins and ends with your brand, the big shark. We maybe small, we may have bad layouts and ugly fonts, but we carried MJ as lead in our city tabloid, didn't you see?"

Yes sir, I did. I do agree you did better than the rest. But I didn't even bother to read the "takes" of the MJ lovers of the city talking and debating on someone they never ever truly appreciated.

Jackson shouldn't be a debate topic. Jackson was, is and always will be a conversation stopper.

So instead of straining my sleepy eyes on the fine newsprint font, I upgraded the Winamp in my computer this morning to pay tribute to MJ in my own way, the way he would approve, by doing a couple of my trade-mark disco moves! "Beat it, editor sir"!

At least we did something, the editor hits back: "What about the paper you work for, the biggest, they say."

Well let's not take the conversation towards those dick-heads please sir, thank you. But it was so different twelve months back.

There are four English language dailies in this city, including the paper I work for. And all four were in the race an year back bringing out the day-to-day progress of the Jackson saga. Yeah, it was a saga for them, serialized, sensationalized... Till the news value died down or rather was "shoulder-charged" out by the Obamas of the world.

And what about the tributes and the nostalgic pieces and bits by celebrated writers in their columns and blogs? They did their rounds last year and died down: how little they really cared about this man - the greatest musician of the post-gramophone era.

But I am very happy he is forgotten by the sensation-hungry, ad-hungry media. At least he is getting some peace of mind now, a luxury he never had; not even in Neverland. And the people who really loved him, still cherish him; I know I do.

But, what remains of Jackson?

This day I woke up to "...mama always told me, don't go around breaking young girls' hearts..." - Billie Jean, of course.

What remains is his legacy, the man who made MTV groovy, with fans switching on the idiot box to have a glimpse of the moon-walking Jackson in one of his out-of-the-world videos. Yeah, Jackson revolutionised the music industry, which was struggling to catch up with the changing times, brought forth by the satellite dishes and then the Internet.

MTV and the rest of the bunch cashed in.

But, what remains of Jackson?

Why should I waste time on that question when I can hear a glass window break. JAM! He lives on, his music is endearing, and he still calls the shots. Who can't be without loosening those calves, quads and hips when he comes on air.

He lives on and in a new-found peace... Indeed, a welcome twist of circumstances...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

U2 Brutus vs U2 Bono!

I knelt down to get a closer feel of the fresh radiance from the rain-drenched creepers outside my home here in Chennai. It was an attempt to revive my numb senses in the only way I know, through memories.

Rain brings back those images for me, the ones covered in dust deep within the dark cellars of my subconscious. It is the same for everyone, I’m sure. Because rain is special, it is life for all being on this planet!

And the memories!

Be it the first skid fall from you bike as a kid while splashing through the flooded lanes in Kochi or the romantic rendezvous with the special person in your life just outside her college, followed by a walk under her umbrella, craving for each others’ warmth but abstaining from indulging in any form of PDA, respecting the sensibilities of the Malayalam-speaking, love-hating, well-educated average citizens of the biggest metro in my home state - Kerala.

“You too, Leslie”, would have been the snide remark from that elderly gentleman who was staring at us from the opposite side of the road that monsoon day when I held the girl in my life close and walked, getting wet all over.

Hey... Wasn’t that line reserved for Brutus for the most famous betrayal in history. “I don’t deserve that remark, dear sir,” I should have replied, holding my girl even tighter to convey the truth and the bare truth that I would never betray her.

But did Julius Caesar really had enough time to turn and see Brutus’ power-hungry eyes and then raise his hypnotic voice above all the commotion on the Ides of March to express his pain in three simple syllables. “Et tu, Brute,” they say was the great Monarch’s last words before resigning to his fate; though even now history freaks have a field day arguing that the phrase was first used across the channel in England and not in Rome or thereabout.

Whatever it is, since the English happen to be the keepers of history till the Yankee resurgence in the twentieth century, the version best known in the new world is the Latin phrase Et tu, Brute?, which is derived from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic line: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"

Shakespeare in turn was making use of a phrase already in common use in his time: It appears, for instance, in Richard Eedes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus of 1582 and The True Tragedie of Richarde Duke of Yorke of 1595, a source work for Henry VI, Part Three.

Shakespeare's version follows the Roman historian Suetonius, who reported that others have claimed Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σὺ τέκνον;" (transliterated as "Kai su, teknon?": "You too, my child?" in English or "Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi" in Latin). But Suetonius himself claims Caesar said nothing as he died. Plutarch too was sure Caesar was silent and merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators. While some others believe the phrase was meant to be a curse on Brutus which ultimately brought forth the violent death of the statesman.

‘You too’ remained though, even now, and in highly abbreviated forms in modern-day text messages. “U2, u fucking asshole,” says the evolved man through his IPhone 3G, the adjectives taking on more biological implications which one can attribute towards the rather high awareness our generation has towards sciences, especially biology.


“U2, so what is U2 sir?” A friend of mine was asked this question by an eight-year-old kid at an obscure village in Bengal not so long back.

Why would a primary school kid in a laid back Bengal village want to know about Caesar and his supposedly last words – U2? And what prompted him to ask this question to my friend who is hardly Plutarch.

My friend, who was standing next to me during my sense-stimulating exercise mentioned at the start, explained, after snapping my attention from the trip down memory lane to the music at the background. He was playing Bono and the gang you see; wait a minute, The U2! Now I get the connection.

The music he was listening to, apparently took him a few years back to his university days in Kolkata. Music took him for a ride just like I was taken to where I belong by the rain.

“Back those days I had this habit of taking train rides and getting down at a random station and just walk around for a while and get lost. Of course getting lost was literal as I didn’t have a mobile phone then,” my friend said unassumingly.

I wanted to interrupt saying, “dude, these are the same things that the modern day spiritual types do and then glorify it as trips to the depths of nirvana”. Am sure Buddha turns in his grave each time he hears that. But that’s the way the world is now.

My friend continued: “I got down and some station and was walking. I was wearing a red U2 T-shirt and then this kid comes up and asks me ‘what is U2, sir?’ I still remember his face. He must have just started learning the English alphabets or something and he asked me this. And when I listen to U2 these days, the first picture that comes to my mind is the boy’s face.”

But sadly the boy’s question as never answered, my friend’s justification was that “he would never understand”.

How could he be so sure, I felt. It’s the age when we are all so well informed and misinformed too by the G-Thing, Google, I mean. So you can never fathom what people around you know or don’t know.

Anyway, back to the all important question that has come out from all these random memory trips. What is U2?

I, being inclined towards pessimism these days would say that it points only and only to BETRAYAL of the highest order. While my friend here would say, shut the hell up and listen man.

I am listening and he has a point, you see. The guys from Dublin (read: U2, the band) are not betrayers at all. They are very honest in their music.

So is the definition of 'U2' evolving? Are the history books being re-written by a bunch of musicians? I would be very happy if that is the case because, for a pleasant change, history books would not be written by war-thirsty generals and oil-thirsty presidents; but by musicians.

But my friend didn’t help the peace cause one bit by not explaining to the kid, who is the next generation, that U2 is not a word of betrayal, but U2 is music and love and all things that love stands for.

I guess “you too, Brutus” will stay for some more time. So will U2 and their Joshua Tree and history will take its own route.

Aha! It is raining again. Time for another trip, another route!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vain Reaction

It was a few minutes past midnight. The splashing rain drops in front of me got illuminated suddenly by the head-lamp of a car fast approaching from behind. It was probably a metre or so away from my cycle when I cut to the right to negotiate a puddle. But the driver slowed down to give me space; a courtesy you don’t often get from megalomaniacs – the average Chennai driver.

This car had slowed, then it overtook me and the driver looked at me: Can’t blame him for that, can I? I was a sight!

Wearing a three-fourth pants and my rain coat over my t-shirt, I was half drenched, pedalling in the steady cadence I have attained after a year of the ‘cycling to office’ routine.

Besides, seeing someone cycle at midnight in heavy rain is something people are not used to either. So I decided to forgive this driver, who happened to be the big-boss at office, my Resident Editor.

He looked and then zoomed past me, perhaps trying to figure out what I was trying to prove or gain by braving the elements, when I could take the office car and reach home safe and dry.

Same question was asked by a senior colleague of mine. “Are you crazy? The entire city is flooded and you just take your cycle and come to office. What if you fall or something?” he had quipped, in a scolding tone.

I just smiled and blabbered something about the fun of riding in the rain. In the last one year I have answered a lot of questions like these, but more importantly, I could find answers to a lot of questions from within me during my long solitary rides. I dream while I ride you see and only cycling can provide you with that opportunity.

And I have seen my share of adrenalin rushes too – all with my soul-mate here in this city, the lady in red, my cycle.

And the city is fast catching up with the idea of going green and healthy on two wheels, I was told by a friend of mine through her article in the newspaper she works.

She was featuring ‘Chain Reaxion’, the group which organises a 40-km monthly ride to Mahabalipuram, an effort to popularise cycling among the city’s young as well as the old elite. My writer friend went on to add, quoting one of the celebrity members of the group, about the impact cycling is making in their lives and the environment.

Good for them, but I just can’t digest the “good for the environment” bit!

I bet my saddle-hardened rear side that it ain’t making any difference to the toxin-infested Chennai air. Is the city getting green because a bunch of wine-sippers and arm-chair warriors pedal down East Coast Road once in a month? I beg to differ maam!

“Chain Reaxion, a great idea isn’t it,” I was talking to a cycling enthusiast, who was hunched over his expensive imported bike at the cycle shop I frequent. Actually we both were, rather childishly, hunched over our bikes, mine looking all dressed up after a service, while his was getting greased up after a wash.

We looked like a couple of kids but grown up kids I would say because, like any adult males homosapiens these days, we had exchanged our visiting cards.

“Chain Reaxion is very good but it is something for beginners. I am glad cycling is catching up in the city and events like these may help popularize it. But I am not sure how many will take up serious cycling after one 40-km ride. Cycling is not a monthly affair pal. I cycle daily and it’s a passion for me, and it keeps me fit without the rut of hitting a gym,” added the senior executive of Royal Enfield Motors, who hits the East Coast Road (ECR) every morning for an hour of pedalling.

“Sadly, my office is far off so I can’t pedal to work,” he added.

Well this guy sure seems genuine; one could fathom the passion in his eyes when he was holding the wheel of his bike, examining the spokes for signs of metal fatigue. Now, here is a guy smitten, just like me, I had told myself then.

Back to Chain Reaxion, the city’s answer to the problem posed by the thousands of smoking guns – the cars and buses and trucks!

The event, which charges 600 bucks per participant, is maybe aimed at promoting cycling but it is hardly hitting the mark when it comes to making the participants give up their motorized modes of daily transport to pedal power.

A classic example is a colleague of mine who had messaged me one Sunday evening last month saying she can’t walk properly because her legs are buckling after 30-odd kilometres of Chain Reaxion.

“My legs are buckling but it was fun cycling down ECR with friends. Only thing is that I had a fall and couldn’t complete it,” madam said before adding: “I shall do it again next time and complete it.”

“Good,” I had said at the same time criticising her for jumping onto a saddle for such a distance without any preparations. Of course her legs were sore for the next couple of days and as far as continuing cycling: Well, she has not gotten on a cycle after that. Maybe she is waiting for the next event.

So much for inspiring people to take up cycling! The organisers here are just promoting the event, the higher ideals probably getting lost in the mad chase for sponsors, publicity and of course the entry fee.

Cycling, for me, has been a liberating experience. It has brought out the kid in me, the kid I identify each time I get involved in a down-the street drag race with school boys.

The kids want to take on “the geared cycle” I’m riding while this grown-up is trying to relive those lost days.

So, will I ever need a bunch of marketing honchos to tell me when and where to pursue my passion or, pedal in this case. No!

Now, what about the environmentalists in Chain Reaxion?

A hundred cyclists embarking on a monthly odyssey which takes them down the ECR is hardly a means to make an impact on the Carbon Signature of the city. If the participants really want to make a difference then they should give up their gas guzzlers and start pedalling, be it going to office or to the movies.

Of course, it will mean no high-heels or tuxedo and probably getting no parking space at the socialite watering holes in the city. It also means walking in sweaty, and at times, with greasy hands to your office cabin. Well, it is a small sacrifice you can make for your Mother Earth, right?

It is funny though that suddenly the city is going ‘ga-ga’ over cycling. The change began a few months back and it coincided with the launch of high-end imported bikes in a city shop. It shows how glitterati obsessed Chennai is.

I remember a salesman telling me which model of bike to buy when I was window-shopping a few months back in one US-import bike showroom in the city.

“Get this one; it was brought by Kamal Hassan and Gowthami last month,” he said. A sales trick but one which will work, especially here.

“My bike cost one lakh you see and I’m riding it because I am so conscious about the environment,” I can imagine a technocrat boasting to his pals.

The same technocrat, who drives the most fuel-inefficient of cars to office six days a week and is obsessed about leaving the AC running while his wheels are parked in the sun so that he needn’t sweat when he gets back in after a ‘power-lunch’.

I see many cyclists on road everyday, riding to work – some doing it because they don’t have a choice while others opting for pedal-power. They could easily take the bus or the train, all efficient means of travel. But they choose to cycle and I would say they are the heroes making the difference to the environment, not the weekend activists.

Now, where do I stand in this dilemma of higher causes?

I cycle because I love the physical exertion, I love the freedom it provides, and above all it gives me an avenue to release the accumulated negative energy due by my sedentary lifestyle and of course the unavoidable career complications in a post-recession world. My contribution to the environment is just a happy by-product.

Damn right I am selfish here. I cycle for myself, for the kicks, not for anything else and I don’t glorify my hobby or passion.

From, out-running angry dogs, to falling head first on a road covered in knee-deep rain water from the city’s share of north eastern monsoon. From, being not allowed entry at the city’s big shopping malls to asked whether my company doesn’t pay me well; this journey-man has seen and felt it all; including saddle sores and achy joints, after that bad skid while racing down St Thomas Mount.

Yesterday, around two in the morning, I got lost inside T Nagar while purposely taking a long detour coming back home from work. Now, getting lost in a city late in the night is no fun, but I don’t mind as long as I have my partner with me, my two wheels.

Kind of make me remember the lines from an old song – ‘Stand by me’ – by Ben E King. I am sure King won’t mind me rewriting his lyrics to suit the situation here.

‘... I won’t flee, I won’t flinch,
and I won’t stop pedalling,
just as long, as you stand,
stand by me... Oh darling, darling,
stand by me, stand by me...’

Friday, October 10, 2008


After almost four months of contemplation, research, plain old search, and a small bout with Malaria, I, on the ninth day of October 2008, brought my first wheels ever.
Now let me get it straight, I have had wheels, my three-wheeler as a kid, my BSA champ, which took me places during the years of uncertainty between being a baby and a teen and of course my BSA mach and Hercules MTB which saw me through my crazy high-school days, before I switched to the less physically demanding motorised version of two-wheelers.
My scooter - LML Vespa, and then my Bullet Machismo. But all of em, brought by my dad's money. That makes this one special. My first wheels. I brought it, big deal right.
Change of plans though...
I didn't buy a Firefox as planned. I went for an LA-Sovereign (Wave) and by God she is sexy. My first trip was memorable too. From Saidapet to my office at Nandanam. A short trip, but I decided to get myself lost in the lanes near Saidapet, simply exploring. Did that for an hour till it was time to get to my office.
Finally I felt freedom for the first time in Chennai. The freedom to move, to explore, to see what this city is all about, a city struggling between different identities, or is it just a myth.
I plan to get lost here.... Let's see what comes out of it...