Nov 18, 2010

Of Home Visits, Closet Outings, Bigoted Priests and other random stuff

And, almost 10 days after returning from a very nice, very fulfilling (stomach-wise) home visit, I decide to pen it down... extremely long, mostly random, definitely boring, largely personal, but then, the whole purpose of this blog is to look back at all this 5 years down the line and chuckle at how silly I was...


This was a trip filled with nostalgia... the first wave of nostalgia hit as soon as I landed and saw a cut-out of Kalaignar, Varuga Varuga nu varaverthufying me to the land of the Ulaga Tamizh Manadu! The second wave of nostalgia hit when I got into the bus to Bhavani, and listened to random songs like "Sendhura poovae..." and "Devadhai pol oru penn ingu vandhadhu thambi, unnai nambi." And 33 bucks and 100 km later, I was home!


Within half an hour of reaching home, my brother had downloaded all the games that I had taken from here on a pen-drive (for the record, NFS, Cricket 2007, and most important, MK4!!!) and we settled down to a good old Mortal Kombat session. And I won! Haven't lost my touch! Btw, we have a computer at home now. With internet connection. Progress. Prosperity. Or as my mom puts it after watching our MK4 sessions, paithiyakarathanam!


I spend a weekend attending a friend's wedding. Third wave of nostalgia. Meeting school friends after almost a decade. Memories of sitting in the same bench together for 12 years come rushing back. Sigh, why did I not keep in touch? The old bugbear, laziness. Must make amends.


The first round of 'meeting relatives' begins. And the usual question tumbles out: "When are you getting married?" The funny thing is, they are convinced that I actually want to get married, but I am too shy to tell my parents and hence, they tell my mom "Avan apadi thaan aparam aparam nu solluvan. Nee paaka thodangu." More than anything, they are worried I'll find a girl from 'some other caste'. I wish. 12 years in Bombay, and I have come up with zilch. Or actually, three whiny V-day poems. Sometimes, I think my relatives think too much of my capabilities while the gals in Bombay unfortunately don't. They really need to switch their opinions on the subject of SRK's general attractiveness, if you ask me.


The whole week at home is spent in a simple routine: Wake up, have breakfast, read the Hindu, try to solve the crossword, give up, read books, pull Mom's leg, bear with her pulling mine with the dreaded "marriage" question, lunch, siesta, read some more, MK4 session with bro, eat dinner, sleep. Aah, if there is Paradise on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!


Actually, have to elaborate a bit on the "pull Mom's leg". I finally came 'out of the closet'. No, not that I am gay. That might still have been accepted probably. But I am something worse. A non-believer. Blasphemy!
To her credit, she did accept it with more calm than I gave her credit for. But I can see it makes her queasy. I told her I take the occasional drink and she was ok. I told her I dig the occasional chick (the feathered variety on the plate, not the tight jeans and high heels ones), and she was ok. But this religion thing makes her fret. I ask: "Payyan kuduchu kuttichevuru aanalum paravallai, aana pora pokula govinda govinda sollite ponum nu oru aasaiya?"
She smiles. And says "One day, you will believe." One day...


She also tells me that the kovil gurukal told her that it is written in my jadagam that I'll be this kudarkam pesum kundamandi. I am more concerned as to why the gurukal has been looking at my jadagam. And get into one more discussion of if and when I get married, I will not allow horoscopes to be looked at. I will be starry-eyed, but only about the girl. Not about whether her fifth house has Guru or Shukran. Or whatever they see in that!


And after 5 days of such kundamandi talks, Diwali arrives. And I happily gorge on the sweets, the omapodi, the muthusari, and as a reward for all this er... divine food, I submit to visit the temple. The temple is actually a nice one, being on the banks of Cauvery. Plus, it has this legend, which is nice to read about till you actually come to the end of it (not in the online version, but it is inscribed in the temple). Which is that, after a British Collector is saved by the Goddess, he wanted to thank Her, but the wise men decided that he is an "alien" after all, and can't be allowed inside the temple. So, they make three holes in the wall from which he can have darshan, and the holes are still there. The temple priest proudly points it out. I am disgusted. Your God(dess) didn't discriminate when she went to save the guy, but you act holier-than-thou by not allowing him inside, and now, you are proud of that legend? Sigh!


The temple visit has 2-3 more incidents. First, I bump into this really caste-obsessed priest who, admittedly in good fun and because he knows my parents well enough to joke with them, playfully tells them "Why don't you shift to the agraharam? Why do you want to stay in the midst of all the shudras?" I don't know if my shock showed on my face, but he did lay off that topic soon enough.

Only to get on my case. "Eppo Kalyanam?". I smile. I have learnt that while some of them are really matchmakers, most of them ask it as a matter of polite courtesy. And that smiling and saying "All in good time, by God's grace" usually shuts them up. I don't mind calling upon God to get out of such squirmy situations.

And then, we meet another gurukal. Who asks me my 'nakshatram'. Which, like Karna in the Mahabharata facing Arjuna, I forget at the nick of time. Damn. (But, you should note that I do remember my mythology). A brief lecture on how one should remember one's birth-star. So, before this gets any more embarrassing for me, and more for my mom since she is known around the temple as a very devout lady, I quietly slip away and sit on the steps leading to the river. And admire her in full flow. If there is anything remotely divine about that place, it is the majestic flow of the river. But that is just me.


And then we go to Bangalore (ok, Bengaluru) to meet cousins. Awesome time. Made even more awesome since this time it was my sister, poor lady that she is, that was facing the 'Eppo Kalyanam?' heat.
And like the usual sadist that I am, I joined in. Took an issue of SruthiVani, which is this really Mallu mag which happens to have half the pages dedicated to matrimonials, to shortlist eligible mapillais for her. Probably only of Tambrahms or something. Which reminds me, if you are a single, Tambrahm guy, between 28-30 years of age and living in and around Bengaluru, get in touch. Engineers preferred. :)

One look at that SruthiVani thingy and I can definitely say I'm not getting married. Not unless they really invoke the '1000 lies allowed' clause. All the potential brides want tall, handsome grooms. (although I still don't know what's wrong with the short and pudgy ones?). With clean habits (does the fact that I sometimes drink my vodka neat count?). And God-fearing (maybe, just maybe, I can print Dog-fearing, and they'll think it is a printing mistake. While I'd have told the truth. The same way Yudishtira said the truth to Drona about Ashwathama. See, I do remember my mythology! Maybe that'll count for something!).

Need to write a post on why I am extremely uncomfortable with the concept of 'arranged marriage', but then, I have said it before and I'll say it again, it is the socialist solution for guys at the bottom of the desirable pyramid like me, who'd otherwise remain single (happily?) in a ruthless capitalist-style 'date, propose, marry' society...


And that concludes the home visit report. Boring? Don't say you weren't pre-warned!

Nov 15, 2010

A Question of Trust - Part IV

Read Part One, Two and Three here.

Trust is a strange thing - all it takes is a small weed of doubt to be planted in the mind for it to overpower the banyan of trust built over years with tender care. And the capacity of the human mind to seek out information which supports its preconceived hypothesis, and reject anything that does not conform to the conclusion already arrived at, would indeed be amusing, if it were not so predictably tragic...

As he wrote these lines, he reflected on the effect a single line, casually tossed in a conversation, had had on Lakshmi Ammal’s psyche. Mere words, spoken by a person sitting miles away, had caused her to question a committment first sealed by sacred fire and then sanctified by decades of togetherness.

... But the key redeeming feature of the human mind is its capacity to forgive. And willingly, if reluctantly, forget. And thus, a father is able to forgive his daughter after years of ostracizing her. A wife is able to overcome her suspicions, the very ones her mind was convinced about based on what her own eyes and ears had fed her. And a husband is able to forgive his wife for doubting him, able to be empathetic enough to view the situation from her point of view and understand how his sudden affection to a strange girl must have seemed like.

It had all worked out as planned. The old couple’s bond was stronger than ever, having recently survived the agnipariksha, and the father was closer to his daughter than if he would ever have been had he not banished her from his house. Distance does make the heart grow fonder. Yes, everything had worked out as planned. Except...

She had left him. The moment she came to know that she had been used as an unwitting guinea pig in a tasteless experiment, she had quietly but decisively ended their relationship. She had been shocked to know that it was he who had pulled strings to get her onto the project. It was he who had encouraged her to spew hatred against an old man, one she did not know could be her future father-in-law. She shook with disgust thinking that if she hadn’t called Krishna Iyer a father figure, her boyfriend would have been only too happy to test if she ended up having an affair with his own father. Just to test another of his pet theories that deep love was usually forged out of people finding fault with one another. He was unable to convince her that he trusted her enough to believe that would never happen. She had called him a sick bastard for using his own girlfriend as a ‘subject’ in the social experiment he had conducted on his parents. And Kalpathy Krishnaswamy Shankar Iyer, reflected on the irony of his girlfriend telling him she is leaving him because she’ll never be able to trust him, just as he had successfully concluded what he called the ‘trust experiment’ and proved that a few minor weeds cannot shake the deep rooted tree of trust. He thought he had accounted for all the pawns, but one of the pawns had unexpectedly reached the other end and had become the Queen. 

While one might analyze the fallibility of the human mind to fool itself into seeking out information to confirm its pre-conceived notions, while at the same time wonder at its ability to instantly ignore and forget all evidence which goes contrary to its set belief, these are but minor cognitive errors. One might avoid them if one is aware of their possibility, and the way they distort the mind’s decisions. The larger, and usually unavoidable, error is one where the mind believes itself to be infallible, considers itself unique in the sense that what affects other ‘lesser’ minds would not affect a ‘superior’ one like itself, rejects the very possibility of failure, a situation which some learned people refer to as ‘hubris’.

Because, after all, if you couldn’t trust your own mind, who would you trust?

PS1: And that brings an end to another long, I-wish-I-won't-be-tempted-to-start-another-series, story. 

Ps2: Congrats Sampath, for having correctly guessed the relationship between Shankar and Krishna Iyer, 2 chapters back.

Nov 14, 2010

A Question of Trust - Part III

Read Part One and Two here.

Lakshmi Ammal had laughed off her son's careless remark, saying "I have been with him for 28 years now. If he had to stray, he'd have done so long ago." But the changes she saw in her husband's routine disturbed her. It was as if a clock that had been running reliably for a quarter century suddenly begins to chime at odd hours, and run awry. And if that is the only clock in one's world, how does one reset it to the 'correct time'?

She had ignored the early signs. Like when he had changed his opinion on 'that Bengali lady' to "she's not as bad as I thought". Or when he returned a bit late from office, saying he had gone to drop her off to her place. She had kept her thoughts to herself even when his lunch box came back untouched, while the servant remarked that he had seen his master taking the girl out for lunch to a hotel. 

But the proverbial 'last straw' happenned when Krishna Iyer started jogging in the morning. With Ms. Sengupta. And Lakshmi Ammal had to silently bear the shame of the whispered "Paavum di maami, kalangkarthala inga paal vaanga nikkara. Anga enna da na naai maadiri naaka thonga potundu andha ponnu pinnadi odararu ivaathu mama", when she went to buy the milk at 5 a.m. ("Poor maami, she has to stand in the line for milk early morning. While her husband runs after that girl like a dog with his tongue out").

Lakshmi Ammal was not one for direct confrontation. Her mother had taught her better. She had seen her sister being sent back to her abusive husband, just so that the 'family honour' be preserved. But the message had to be conveyed to her husband, and it was up to her to find the way. And thus Krishna Iyer knew something was just not right the moment he entered his house that evening. The house was dark, and the puja room lamp was unlit. "Ennadi, sami velakku ethalaya?" (Why haven't you lit the puja lamp?"). "Veetula velakku etharthuku thaan neenga puthusa orithi pathundu irukkele, avala vandhu etha sollungo" ("You have been seeing a new girl, ask her to come and light it").

“What nonsense are you talking? Who put such ridiculous ideas into your head?”

“Why? They don’t light lamps in Bengal?”


Had Lakshmi Ammal been aware of a certain incident at Krishna Iyer’s office, the one that triggered the changes in his routine, she’d have regretted voicing such doubts. But her absence at the venue at the said time, plus the fact that she had never questioned her husband ever, exonerated her current behaviour in his eyes. And reinforced a lesson that he had only recently learnt, that open communication is the only weapon to clear barriers in relationships.

(Meta-digression: While this writer hates flashbacks in general, and has no pretensions regarding his ability to narrate a story in multiple timelines, it becomes necessary for us to rewind to the said incident to take this story forward. Back to the story).

It had been another long, acrimonious day at the office, when Ms. Sengupta had presented her interim findings to the client management, and her bosses who had flown in for the same, and had been at the receiving end of what is politely referred to as ‘constructive criticism’ from her boss regarding her ability to ‘deliver on the client’s requirements by proactively working to eliminate any apprehensions that the client’s team might have and to achieve their buy-in for the project’. Krishna Iyer had just smirked silently, knowing fully well that when the next presentation happens at the end of the month, nothing would have been achieved on the ‘eliminate misapprehensions and achieve buy-in’ part, as long as he had something to do with it.

And while he packed up to leave office at 5.30 as usual, he saw the girl sitting with her ‘fancy’ laptop, with a determined look on her face. And when he came back the next day morning, she was still there, only this time, the determined look was replaced by sleepy eyes as her head rested on a stack of files. “You think those files make for a good pillow?”, he commented sarcastically. And then it happenned.

It was as if a dam had broke, as the flood of tears gushed forth. She had yelled at him first, pointing out how she knew he hated her, and that he wanted this project to fail only to humiliate her. Then she had broken down, telling him in between tears, how she felt all alone in this strange city, how she missed her family and her friends, and how she had looked up to him as a father figure, only to be spurned and humiliated time and again. Krishna Iyer had never been comfortable with tears. All his life, he had been content to leave his wife to tend to the kids, busying himself with ‘the Hindu’ whenever the babies cried. He did not hate kids, he just preferred that they neither be heard nor be seen. And now, here was this fully grown girl, sobbing in front of him.

But either some hidden paternal instinct, or the fact that he secretly missed his own daughter so much, caused him to warm up to this alien girl, in spite of her funny smelling food and her short hair. And impulsively he decided to be a father to her, to fulfil a role which he knew he should have performed for his own daughter.

He missed his daughter. All she had asked for, was the permission to marry someone she loved. Her words came back to him, “Appa, I want to marry someone who loves me for the person I am. Not someone who is looking for labels like Hindu-Brahmin, well-schooled, knows cooking, can sing and dance. And I want to marry a person whom I know, for what he is, not a collection of fancy foreign degrees and a six-figure pay packet.” And at that time, he had wondered what a fool of a girl she was, to refuse a religious minded NRI mapillai (groom) with a green card, one who had not picked up any ‘dirty’ habits in spite of living in the States. He had explained to her how he had been happily married for so long in spite of saying ‘yes’ to her mother after one meeting and 2 minutes of conversation, a meeting he remembered more for the tasty bhajji than anything else. The daughter had said something to the tune of how it would take a selfless woman like her mother to put up with someone like him, and she was sure a lesser woman would have walked out on him. And that comment had led to more arguments, a lot of shouting and ended with him banging the door on her face with the words “From this moment on, you are dead to me...”

And now, he repented those words. And while he decided to help out this Bengali girl by accompanying her on her morning jogs to ward off eve-teasers, and take her out on the occasional lunch, over the days he slowly swallowed his pride and decided to re-unite with his daughter too. He knew his wife maintained contact with the daughter while continuing to maintain a veil of secrecy from him, and he decided to surprise her by buying gifts for his daughter and asking her to invite them over.

And he entered his house joyfully, with gifts in his hands, and a happy message for his wife, only to find the house dark and the puja room lamp unlit...

PS1: I know, I know, long time no update. But a home visit for Diwali and coming back to a deal that needed some late night fire-fighting at office are valid excuses in my book.

PS 2: And this story goes on and on, like a mega serial. No excuses for that, except the fact that a more skilled writer, or editor, could have cured that.

PS3: Need to do a home visit post too. Let' see. Need to decide if I should do it in the middle of this story, or bring it up later.