Khwabon ke parinde...

Ude... my last flight was, well, who knows when... the flight of a weightless feather.. one without much load, without any muddle in the mind, without any purpose.. one that brings with it a certain feeling of unknowing and yet one of clarity as blue as sky devoid of cumulus, of purity white as swan... true, it has been quite long a time that my memory cells decided not to retain the impressions, and understandably so.. but am I flying again today?

Roshini mili... the brightness of the Cambridge sun brings with it a certain kind of lazy freshness that is tough to evade. As I walk past the emerald meadows, the breeze from the lake that wafts across my face, the only uncovered part of me, appears to steal away all stiffness in me, bringing about an elation that is reminiscent of the Pehla Nasha Aamir. A new place sometimes feels like a refreshing dip into a chill pond that opens up a totally new vista… and when you add to it, the warm companionship of your life partner that too in all its exclusivity, feels magical.. bas ek tum ho, bas ek main hoon…

Lagta hai ab hain jaage hum… to the music of my chirpy companions as I tread the path to the citi bus stand for my commute back home. I get glimpses of memory, years back, where the mind always found a balance - un-inundated, never unnerved. Yes, there were long phases of agony, of loss, but there was a certain peace I found in my silence, a calm in my pain. Where has that gone? Maybe, everyone undergoes this phase. Maybe the boulder of responsibility, that I once thought could never bother me, burdened me a little too hard, that I almost forgot the pleasantness of uncomplicated living.. maybe I was in a slumber that lasted too long.. maybe… have I woken up now?

Kya pata jayenge kahan… so true that life’s safar opens unending surprises every time you think the setup around you is nothing but mundane humdrum. Seeing the university crowd’s unending weekend fun well into the Cambridge night makes me yearn for a “give-me-another-such-stint" time machine. Witnessing from my balcony, the river Cam in all its orange splendour saying goodbye to the day, is quite an instant refreshment.
I can't but fall short of adjectives to describe the pleasure I derive from my evening stroll when I pause now and then, just to simply marvel at the “environment friendly” holi that the bright red bug celebrates by smearing yellow pollen all over her body, so as to welcome the arrival of spring. I have not a clue which colour the chameleon of life will assume next. Tomorrow is again going to be different. A different day, a different season.

Ab jeena humne seekha hai… not sure if I’ve even come a few light years closer to being in the state of “just” living. Maybe this blog is an orgasm of my newfound Cambridge lust, maybe it is just a flash that will fade back to the constricted “Venkyness” that I am so used to for the past few years… or maybe, I hope, this feeling is just going to continue.. long after Alyssa and Mohit’s vocals fade out of my ear drums.

Jo bhi ho so ho!


let the Hangover stay..

(This post is for all of you who repeatedly wished that I break my one and a half years of silence and start scribbling again :) )

Every now and then, the searing heat waves scraped through below my Rayban lenses, reminding me constantly of the fact that I no longer belonged to Seattle. As the RX-135 made its ascent on Gemini flyover, I was pushing myself hard to accept the fact that the once magnificent Chennai skyline, dominated by huge vinyl hoardings, is no longer a reality. Just 2 years back, I was flashing my cousin’s canon S2 at every hoarding (from the pillion seat of this same bike), marveling at the cityscape, even as he was accelerating his beauty through this very flyover. I still remember The Hindu headline “Hoardings disappear, Chennai reappears” - what still evades my cranium is the pathetically absurd justification given that those hoardings were a distraction to the city motorists.. the craziest move a government can do to mutilate a multi million industry!

Things have changed quite a lot within a span of 2 years. While I was able to quickly adjust myself to a nomenclature change from UTI Bank to Axis Bank (or Hutch to Vodafone, for that matter), the half dead NRI (Not quite Ready for India yet) within me, still finds it hard to accept the fact that the exponential increase in Carbon Mono Oxide levels, thanks to the density of motorcycles in the city, is something one has to live with, without choice. Nevertheless, something that still hasn’t changed is the youth’s unquenchable thirst for hanging out at Spencer Plaza, the u-find-everything-here shopping mall. I mean… everything ;) Our hungry gang was all the more ready to pamper itself with arguably the best food Chennai can provide as we entered the Saravana Bhavan serving hall. I have to confess that this is one thing I missed so much these 2 years, even despite the fact that Seattle did have a lot of options for Indian cuisine per se. So much so that during my Uncle Sam tenure, we hunted for every HSB in the US (we even took a Canadian visa exclusively to eat at the Vancouver HSB :) ). The food at the Spencer HSB was exquisite – ghee paper roast, onion rava dosa, 14 idlis, poori masala, basundi ,rasmalai, rava kesari and filter coffee… and what more can you ask when there is banters going all around, each trying to pull each other’s leg at the slightest possible opportunity. It was a royal fight between laughter and platter, only to concede victory, hands down, to our fulfilled stomachs!

Next was destination Satyam. No weekend is complete without a unique Madras theater experience. And Satyam, for sure, has painted a new shade on Chennai’s 35mm. The vast renovation that this Cineplex has undergone in the recent past clearly pushed me into stupor as I was scrambling to find the motorcycle entrance and then the entrance to the screen itself. The movie – The Hangover – laughter flat out. When the director of a movie of this genre can generate such non-stop laughter from the audience just 10 minutes into the movie, he, in my view, has justified his claim of succeeding in making it. How four friends who land up in Las Vegas for celebrating the bachelor’s party of one of their own, not only to find themselves scratching their heads after a one night amnesia but also to lose their dear buddy, the bridegroom, forms the plot. What ensues is total stomach pounding hilarity as the friends deal blow after blow during the course of discovering all their misdoings the previous night. Taking as familiar a subject of humour as a bachelor’s party and giving it such justifiable treatment is worth applause. And what more, the 1.5 hours took yours faithfully through a 4th trip to the Sin City, this time virtually though, but not with any less fun. The Bellagio fountain, the Pyramid and the Eiffel tower replicas, Caesar’s palace.. man! So familiar I am with that place now that you can literally blindfold me in the middle of the strip and I can guide you into any casino or show you want to go to! However, I would really have loved it had all traces of my Las Vegas trips too been annihilated like how the four friends in The Hangover decide to do in the last scene of the movie. ;)

Outside the movie hall, the film didn’t cease to roll as I got a glimpse of the rapidly changing face of the Chennai elite, frantically trying to infuse cosmopolitan blood into the city’s veins. Gorgeous ladies in designer attire, polished glass and steel structures that only 5* hotels could earlier boast of, a choice of burgers and sandwiches that one would only have seen in Star Movies five years ago.. and to top this all, a digital LCD display (switched off though) above each urinal in the restroom, in front of your eyes as you pee!!! We then landed in Idly – the ‘restaurant with a theme’ in the Cineplex. Presenting yet another elitist ambience, this eat-out prides itself of a unique pub-like setup of a round table with barstools, the only difference being that the preparation in front of your eyes is a steaming idli or a dosa as against a vodka or a tequila. For all those who like to relish their evening in a barstool (sans liquor for a change :P) or for those who always wanted to but never gathered enough courage to venture into Bike and Barrel, this is an ideal hangout.


Hindutva hierarchy all set?

After so much of pull and push, it looks like the BJP has finally got its bearings right. While news channels have started making so much of hue and cry on BJP's 'Jadu Ki Jhappi' (Magic Hug) by including the hero Modi into the parliamentary committee, the party is meticulously rejoicing the plausible fruits of the massive restructuring in the ranks. Blow after blow to congress, it looks like 'Destination Delhi' next for the BJP.

Modi has never ceased to amaze me with his sheer political acumen and his election methodology. He has emerged, in less than 5 years, as one of the strongest and the most influential politicians of independent India. Without any ambivalence in his speech and actions, he campaigns for what his party stands for. The victory in Himachal, in my view, should also be attributed to a great extent to the wave that Modi created during the Gujarat polls. When the post-Atalji BJP was starting to look weak, brand 'Moditva' was the best theory Advani and Co found sensible to cling to. And the manner with which he fought every force that opposed him, from the Congress to the RSS to his own party workers, to clinch victory by wielding the most powerful weapon, his personality, speaks volumes of his steel. He knows how to move his coins well. A great advertiser he is, Narendra Bhai has caught the attention of friends and foes alike with catchy terms like 'Desh Gujarat', 'Chappan Ke Chathi' and some cool cyberspacing with his www.narendramodi.in

The party as a whole seems to enjoy the feel good factor that has engulfed it once again. A fair enough restructuring of both thought and people has started yielding benefits. Advani seems to be a lot more composed and convinced of his projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate. A far more convinced Sangh, a pivot as far as party election work is concerned, has started to bridge the distance with the party once again. The uncontrolled hue and cry that media creates about BJP and Hindutva looks like working in the favour of the so-called saffronising. Look at this Rajdeep 'Jittery' Sardesai video from CNN-IBN:


News channels and vernaculars clamour foul on Hindutva as though that is the only deterrent to the progress of this 'secular' nation. Even as leaders like Modi have made the distinction clear more than once with statements like 'BJP can be defeated, not Hindutva', the opposition parties have, at vital situations, found it easy to sell anti-Hindutva as an election mantra. May not work always.

Eloquently powerful media persons like Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose have to realise the fact that the recent BJP victories are more than personality driven wins unlike the NTR-MGR cult and has to, a good extent, be attributed to the fine tuning of ideologies and hierarchy that the BJP is currently undergoing.

My pick from Modi quotes today:

"Kya hum Italy ke beti se Hindutva seekhenge?"

("Should we learn Hindutva from the daughter of Italy?")


through the frosted glass...

The drizzles relentlessly conglomerated with its target, even as I coiled into my comforter (what an apt name that!!), making sure that not a wee bit of my sleepiness is stolen away. It would easily have been 2 degree Celsius or less outside, and with the heater in our hall dumping me, the laws of thermal conductivity worked just a little slow before the heat from my body equalised with the sofa and comforter. Here, it never pours down; neither does it cease to sprinkle – a typical Renton morning. My frame of view resembled a ruled sheet of paper with the silhouettes of the white window blinds lining in front of the frosted glass window. The tiny islands of condensed water droplets on glass, to me, symbolises the pristine purity of this element, the nectar of existence. In this part of the world, the sun, I sometimes wonder, starts its travel only after weather.com confirms that it is going to be a ‘Sunny’ day!!

I have, for some time now, started liking this kind of weather, where there is very little room for outdoor venturing, leave alone adventuring. It makes you confined within the plasters of your room giving you an “opportunity” to retrospect and ponder over the multitudinous aspects of life and the world – “opportunity”, I stated, because we’ve started moving far too away far too fast from the simplistic living and thinking that this race of ours started out with, many thousand years ago.

The bits were streaming fast into the USB port of my Dell as iTunes kept playing that retro parade from my iPod. This is THE setting, if you are one that relishes doing nothing but gaze at the rain with some Kishore in the background and a steaming coffee mug… or a beer mug, rather?? Beauty, after all, lies in the eyes of the be‘er’ holder, isn’t it?

Each of us is like the Musafir ‘Jumping Jack’ Jeetendra, the traveller, drawn by a horse-drawn cart that is life as we stumble across people, places, cultures, experiences and revelations. My journey has been no different. The current phase, as a ‘Rentonvasi’, I was wondering, has brought in an amazingly different shade to my whole existence… Kishore Da aptly sings…

din ne haath thaam kar idhar bithaaliya
raat ne ishaare se udhar bulaaliya

(Musafir Hoon Yaaron – Parichay)

So true… Amazing feel good song. I hummed with the singer as to concur with these lines mujhe chalte jaana hai… bas chalte jaana…

A remarkable aspect of winter rain in regions like Washington, I noticed, is the thin demarcation between liquid and crystal. Even as I was gazing at the discrete drops in the numerous threads of drizzles, my eyes were tricked with the smooth yet rapid transformation of rain to ice. Differentiate between water and ice is not so easy, more so when it is drizzling, and happens even before you realise it – a transformation similar to the one that man experiences when he loses his heart long before he realises it… completely unknowingly...

mujhe tum se mohabbat ho gayi hai
mujhe palkon ki chaav mein rehne do

(Ehsaan Tera Hoga Mujh Par – Junglee)

If you are sitting in the portico with your girl in such a setting, Hindi cinema provides you with so many beautiful songs that can qualify to be heard in the background… keep the volume so low that the song is just heard…

nayi adaa se sataayegi.. tabhi tho chanchal hain tere naina…

(Tere Mere Milan – Abhimaan)

Words that perfectly orchestrated the pleasant effect – an ideal romantic setting for the morning…

Relive the first experience of walking with your loved one with these words…

jahaan pehli baar mile the hum
jis jagah se sangh chale the hum

(Jab Deep Jale Aana - Chitchor)

Every time I listen to the silky waves of Yesudas, I’m blown to smithereens. Awesome!

If you are the ‘bit more energetic and enthusiatic’ type, Rafi pitches in.

har subah kiran ki laale, hain rang tere gaalon ka
har shaam ki chaadar daale, saaya hai tere baalon ka

(Yeh Chand Sa Rohan – Kashmir Ki Kali)

Such a vividly descriptive song wonderfully orchestrated by O.P.Nayyar, this is an all-time favourite. Whenever my dad hums this tune I could always see his youth brimming out as though to pay tribute to his 20s.

As I was eyeing the lone drop about to fall from the roof, my roomie interrupted “Venky, enna paatu idhu kaalangaarthaala… edhaavadhu kuthu paattu podunga!”. I was in no mood to reply…

kuch to log kahenge.. logon ka kaam hain kehna

(Kuch To Log Kehenge – Amar Prem)

Rain is a great companion when you’ve lost something precious… Even if the drops of tears last only as long as a rainfall, the eternity of love goes on like the unyielding process of evaporation and condensation. Lata’s voice is a perfect tribute to anyone who has lost his loved one.

kabhi mujh ko yaad karke jo bahenge tere aansu
to vahin pe rok lenge unhe aake mere aansu

(Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega - Mera Saya)

Not just that… rain accompanies you even when you are lost. It sometimes happens that the numerous drops of water falling outside could still not quench your thirst…

phir bhi mera mann pyaasa

Life is not so good when you are separated from your love. Rain has the magnificent quality of soothing you with its smooth continuous harmony. Research has indicated that flowing water and falling rain are great healers. Each man who lost in love after 1976 would’ve hummed these lines numerous times…

dard bhara yeh geet kahan se
in hoton pe aaye… duur kahin le jaaye

(Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon – Mehbooba)

Playlist ends!


Payanangal mudivadhundu!

It was very similar to a conveyer belt except that it carried humans. Each stretch ran for few kilometers and these belts placed serially one after the other enabled passengers to reach their gate. I was in awe marvelling at the sheer enormity of the Suwarnabhumi airport. This airport in Bangkok was the first one I saw outside India and the very sight wowed me! I was able to feel the amount of planning that went in to have made this a reality. The airport was, well state of art, if I can state it in banal terms. I had to get to the counter that would give me the boarding pass to enable me complete my travel to Seattle. There were direction boards everywhere and still I felt lost. Maybe the amazement that had gotten into me overwhelmed me I guess. There was one more transit point in Narita, Tokyo and the journey was already taking a toll on me.

I would’ve proclaimed that this was my first experience of cruising amidst clouds had it not been for that Kingfisher experience few months back. I was en route Mumbai when I got the message of my grandmother’s expiry. Vijay Mallya welcomed me into his vehicle for a quick 2.5 hour journey back to Chennai. I have to confess that I would’ve enjoyed every bit of that first time experience had it got into my way during better circumstances. For once I saw the elite face of my country. Business men flaunting their blackberrys and discussing about their trip to Swiss or Rome, executives with expensive laptops pretending as though Microsoft’s next product depends on the way they spend these 2.5 hours, gorgeous air hostesses with expansive makeup (man I’ve seen such girls only in cinemas before!!)… I saw the divide reeling in front of me at that moment of time… between the rich and the poor, business men and the working class… Who said that Indian economy is booming? If a Dalal street surge alone meant economic boom, then India is booming!!

My second flying experience, to be put in simple words, was not as exciting as the first. For one, I was not new to it. Also, the thought of leaving homeland coupled with the very ambience of that Thai Airways flight dampened me a bit. Only moments earlier, I had been given an elaborate send-off what with my entire family and Kartik waiting in the visitors’ area of the Chennai International terminal till the last second they could get a glimpse of me. Appa’s moist eyes still were standing in front of me even as I heard the announcement “Please fasten your seat belts during take off and landing…”

I was given all the warnings that any lacto-vegetarian would’ve received when he travels out of the country. I was slowly starting to understand what those numerous “you’ve to adjust da” meant! The breakfast didn’t present a great sight but I made sure I pushed in a bit into my oesophagus, just for purposes of survival. Tropicana was more similar to one of those cough syrups that amma used to give me but I vowed that I’ll drink this somehow and reach my destination rather that trying solid ‘unconfirmed’ food!

Indian railways has consistently failed to get me into serious sleep all these years. Sleeping deep in journeys, even when I’ve been provided with a nice berth, was not my piece of cake. Thai ensured that I don’t even get such a thought with those closely spaced seats that resembled nothing more than a luxury bus. Also as I already mentioned, the food was not great and neither were the air hostesses ;) Wavering incoherent thoughts befriended me for the next four hours... family, US, security checks, J2EE…

Airbus carried me from Mumbai-Chennai as well as Chennai-Bangkok. It was the first time I boarded a huge flying vehicle made by the world’s largest manufacturer… I work for projects that are being deployed in this guy’s company. (My organization prevents me from disclosing client identities and that is why this small puzzle!!). Destination Narita. I would’ve uttered a thousand thanks for allocating Sathish the very next seat. I was playing with the Toshiba laptop that Infy had given me, trying to detect some wireless network. A voice asked “Infy’aa?”. Sathish is from Infosys deputed for Microsoft, Seattle. “Thank God I have a companion for the rest of the journey – 18 more hours to go!”

Sathish and I were closer in aspects other than just the spacing between our seats. He had also blocked and released air tickets for nearly a month thanks to the innumerable uncertainties clients throw every now and then. We started striking some lively conversations pretty quickly. I knew that this would be a much better way to fly than staring at boring magazines and ordinary air hostesses! I was walking around so much just to make sure that my spine didn’t get too stiff. This time, there were more options than Tropicana. Some bread, butter, fruit… Occasional naps, intermittent chats, sky gazing and we were in Narita in no time.

I didn’t see as much of the Tokyo airport as I did of Bangkok. The route to our gate was pretty straightforward and so we reached quickly and opened our laptops. In few minutes, I was chatting with my school friend Srikanth through Gmail. Broadband signals wandering all around the airport ensures that passengers could get connected to the internet without wires, free of cost!! I’ve to confess that technology has grown so furiously that information sharing has become simpler than brushing your teeth. A quick mail to my sis and then to my colleagues…Status report – “Hey! Am in Narita!”

The last leg was the longest and that didn’t amuse either of us. We were already starting to get restless. I boarded yet another ordinary United Airlines deck… there was yet another first for me… seeing so many Caucasians in one single place sent a very strange feeling into me. I was finding it odd all of a sudden, with everyone greeting all unknown Homo sapiens around them trying to behave far too courteous. For someone from such a populous country as ours where greeting everyone on a Chennai suburban train would mean nothing but absolute non-sense, the fact that people need to be so polite during a travel evaded my understanding. But still, to keep up with the spirit of being a Roman in Rome, I also started smiling and saying “Hi”, “Sorry”, “Thank you” for anything and everything they did. The breakfast hurled a thunder on my head. “Chicken or mutton Sir?” I felt like asking “Mavale! Enna di nakkal panriyaa??” There I sat motionless, optionless!!! “Tropicana dhaan po!”

10 hours, I can write and give you, is far too much to travel in one leg. Sathish was no longer sitting next to me and I was left without company again. The guy sitting next to me gulped beer after beer, bottle after bottle, as though his only mission in life was to do that. I walked and drank Tropicana until the little wheels under this enormous vehicle opened out to touch earth again!

Flying thousands of feet above land is something that has always fascinated me. I’m sure someone would’ve stopped and stood in the rim of GST road, just like Kartik and I have done so many times, to marvel at the Thai airlines that carried me. The cotton like stacks, the fine layer resembling glass, the sudden enormous ‘white out’ and the innumerable formations that the clouds make high above the reach of humans generated a sense of admiration in me. The enormous engines that propelled the huge flyer, the speed at which the wings slit across air like a razor and the sharp descent in seconds reducing vast expanses of land into google earth images magnetized me into a state of astonishment. All this is certainly not child’s play!

Heroes get what they deserve and I did ;) I was presented with a wonderful welcome at the SeaTec (Seattle-Tacoma) airport. Anand, Lakshmi & Susheel lined up to spread the red carpet… something that not everyone gets on landing into unfamiliar territory. Thanks guys!

The cool Seattle breeze (11 degrees was the temperature), emission free Audis and Chevys, lush green tropical trees, McDonald’s, huge muscular men…. “En payyan Amerikka la irukkaan!”


Bye Prince!

“Did I entertain?” the Prince asked as the crowd roared in the affirmative. The tear waiting in his eyes travelled down my cheeks… quicker than the speed of that spherical piece of leather meeting its fate (read his willow), only to be picked up behind square boundary by a boy belonging to the academy, dreaming to become Lara some years down the lane. The farewell was not as extravagant as his dancing pull nor was it lavish like his picture perfect square cut. The last super 8 match nevertheless was a West Indian loss in more ways than one!

As far as cricket is concerned, I have been, over the years, emotional about two things, Indian cricket and Lara’s cricket. Seldom can I forget those countless nights I spent in front of my TV set, constantly adjusting the volume, making sure that I don’t wake up ‘appa’ but at the same time listen to every little comment that the Blofelds and Benauds give on Lara. The master technician he is, Lara can invite packed crowds in any part of the cricket world, which only sub-continent super heroes like the Tendulkars or the Jayasuriyas can think of. He named his daughter ‘Sydney’ as a tribute to one of his favourite grounds, the SCG than witnessed his first test century. If tributes can be made thus, Lara’s wife would’ve to endure many such pregnancies, for the number of grounds that has been glorified by this great batsman is huge! Agnes is the luckiest in more ways than one. She has witnessed him take shape right from a blank canvas to a painting to the most perfect portrait that is Brian Charles Lara. She was the bow that ensured that the arrow, her brother, hit the bull’s eye every time he took stance. Taking him day in and day out to the academy, sitting in the bench for countless hours of practice and making sure that his focus is not lost… Agnes, the world of cricket bows down!

Killing warriors is not child’s play. Wasim Akram was fully aware of this fact even when the Prince took stance in one of the league matches in the ’92 WC. This was one of the first matches that I caught a glimpse of this genius. Lara was at his mercurial best, pulling and driving at will. Akram knew that he can’t fell this soldier but can delay the inevitable by injuring him. A Yorker wounded the unquenched lion as it was taken back to its den with 88 runs already added to the team score. Right from his early days, Lara has remained an entertainer, a master craftsman who weaved and created art with √©lan. Such was his hand-eye co-ordination that the elegant high back lift and the huge shuffle across the stumps against the deadliest of fast bowlers didn’t deter his immaculate sense of timing. When Lara wielded his weapon to showcase his flamboyance, the game was beautified. Ever time he too guard, a masterpiece waited to be created… made of sweet cover drives, skilful pulls and lofted sixes… by the magician, out of thin air… When in his elements Lara always played the mental game. The totality of his dominance was such that he most often started manipulating the fielding captain and his thoughts. Adventurism was in his blood and never ever did he restrain himself from innovating and improvising at every chance. The situation would be such that the team would want him to stay, as was the case with every innings he played, when he would gently guide the Fraser bouncer inches above the second slip’s dying fingers or late cut the Murali doosra with such delicacy that the keeper can but wait and watch. Every shot in his mammoth 375 speaks volumes of his brilliance. At one point of time, the English bowlers lost all hopes of stopping him, so much so that they stood in their positions marveling at the exquisiteness of his display and waiting for him to get out by himself. The 153 that took West Indies home against the touring Aussies, according to me, was one of the most defining moments of his illustrious career. His effortless assault against Steve Waugh’s men to take the match single handedly will, for sure, go down as one of the gutsiest displays of batting in the pages of cricketing history.

Neville Cardus would’ve created an epic for this man no doubt. There was music in his batting. He played to the calypso of the Kensington ovals and the Sabina Parks. The sweet sound that emanated when the ball met the piece of wood right in the middle as he danced down the track to humiliate many a great bowler was just any connoisseur’s delight. He was swifter than wind and stronger than rock. Neither can Mcgrath nor Warne, both tormented by this guy more than once, deny the fact that he was one batsman who played spin and swing with equal ease and elegance. That he accumulated the most number of runs in an over, an innings and a career carries ample testimony to his thirst for more. Not many know that Lara scored 42% of the West Indies’ runs in the ’01-’02 SL series!! Admiring Lara has been an almost regular habit for many involved with the game for the past decade and a half. So many rival captains, cricketers past and present, spectators and writers… he inspired awe in many. Gilchrist was one such devotee. I read this interesting snippet from an article. During the series in 2003, Lara was in full bloom in one of the tests. The Australian captain moved the deep mid wicket fielder to add on to the man already guarding point. Gilchrist heard Lara murmer “Mistake!”. The very next thing Gilchrist saw was the ball disappearing over mid wicket for the maximum. Gilly taunted Lara to beat the two point fieldsmen and the very next ball marked the mid point between both the men only to land in the boundary. A repeat show the very next ball too and Gilly decided that it is better to remain silent… He was a helmeted Richards, an armoured Sobers and a padded Bradman all rolled into one. He had not many contemporaries to match… in terms of batsmanship, his spirit for the game, his sheer class and elegance… no one can!

Karan Johar can weave a perfect Indian melodrama with Lara’s life. Both on and off the field, his life was dotted with controversies and glories, failures and comebacks. He was the only witness to the rapid decline of a potent empire from the time when sun set on Richards’ career till date. The lone warrior who openly declared that he was ready to trade all his records for West Indian victories, his love for the Island nation’s cricket was immense and yet he never made a successful captain. His three stints as captain brought out flashes of his tactical brilliance yet he never succeeded in getting beyond board politics to excel in man-management. Great cricketers seldom make great captains because of the fact that they expect the same level of proficiency from each team member. His controversial stand against the board more than once made sure than there were too many breaks in his career. And before a critic could complete an article writing off Brian Charles Lara, he emerged as Brian Blitzkrieg Lara, only to bask again in glory… and more glory.

Trinidad and Tobago is a place that I’d die to visit in my lifetime. Brian Lara Boutique, Brian Lara Street, Brian Lara Bar and now a Brian Lara Stadium… every man here, I heard, knows cricket and Lara even better than his wife’s name. When WI lost that super eight match by a whisker, the camera incidentally focussed on a sobbing woman, with real emotion in her swollen eyes. Her face will stay etched in my mind and eyes just like each of his shots… long after the Prince stops wielding his sword!


Thennangur diary

My feet didn’t suffer much this time, thanks to the newly laid road… the rugged stretch on which I had walked 7 months back, I realised, had depicted almost an entirely different Thennangur villagescape. That was my first visit to this pretty hamlet. But then, the pathway that I treaded was not the only difference between my two visits. There was more… this time there was no Srikanth, no Lakshmi, no Vishalam mami, no Seetha Kalyanam… My memories rewound as I ambled towards my destination.

Earlier, the 2 hour ride along the Chennai – Uthiramerur - Vandavasi highway didn’t offer anything exciting, more so with the chill gusts forcing me to shut down the window for most part of the journey, leaving me with my ipod and a small nap. The last half an hour of the journey, though was interesting, with me making acquaintances with my fellow traveller, a Vandavasi villager. A farmer by profession, he was returning from Madras after having visited his sons, both of whom have been lured by the city and its luxury, thereby leaving their father as the last man in their lineage to spill sweat drops on farmlands. I requested him to alert me when my stop comes. He undertook this job with much dedication, so much so that he started giving me so many details on things like the total time it will take to reach the place, what I should do when I get down, how famous the temple is and why I should’ve come there 2 days back when some festival was underway and lots of other information. He in fact repeated these things so many times thereby confirming my doubts on his impressions about ‘dumb city dwellers’ who can’t help themselves much in these places without assistance. Having spent my entire 25 years in the hustle and bustle of city life where the same situation would have generated not even 10% of this man’s response, I found his behaviour rather amusing and interesting at the same time.

Travelling alone, with due respect to the diverse experiences of group travelling, has its own bunch of advantages. For one, the pleasure of one being entirely with oneself gives that sense of freedom to experiment things. One will have loads of time to explore and spoil oneself that extra bit. And there I stood, all alone, on the pathway, Sodaasakshari Amman Koil to my left, Pandurangan koil to my right and GA trust to my back. GA trust, founded by Swami Haridoss Giri and now run by Guruji Namaji, I learnt has been, to a great extent, instrumental in preserving the temples of this village. It was around 9:00 in the morning and the tourist crowd had not started flowing yet. I had always enjoyed the experience of calm empty temples than crowded festive ones. The lord here is decorated distinctly everyday, ranging from the Dwaraka Krishna make-up to the Tirupathi Venkatachalapathy make-up, symbolising the confluence of the diverse worship cultures in this holy land. During my last trip and also this time, I was treated with the ‘Lord Venky’ adornment. I quickly recognised the paatti clad in sungudi, running her finger tip over the Sanskrit verses in that bulky book, Bhagavatham I guess. She was the one who was regulating the flow and discipline of devotees even during my last visit. “Baniyan’aa avuthuttu pongo.. sonna kaadhula vizhaadha?” – she remarked, briefly pausing her recital. I was curious to talk to her and know more about her association with Thennangur, but was afraid to, lest she refuse to acknowledge me. After the bunch of devotees who had returned fresh from Sabarimala vacated the Sanctum, I entered, carefully making sure I remove my Kurta and baniyan and put it into my bag else the paatti wouldn’t spare me.
The Lord, as usual, was at His exquisite best. The embellishment, replicating Tirupathi to the hilt, amazed me. I’ve to accede to the fact that He is one god who has received the best Alangarams ever, be it the Tirupathi Moolavar or the Brahmotsavam Urchavar or this Thennangur hero – He is posh! Goddess Padmavathy, with silver embellishments shining all over Her, accompanied Him in all splendour. Lakshmi’s friend and well-wisher (J), the Gurukkal, was there but it was his new assistant who performed the archanai and aarthi this time.

‘Iyer theru’, as the locals call it, the lane adjacent to the temple, houses the Meenakshi Sundareswarar koil. This, unlike many other Sivan temples in Tamil Nadu, was not abject and totally neglected but still the attention that Pandurangan received was, I felt, a lot more than what Mr.Sundareswarar got. The desertion was evident in the lone pair of slippers outside the temple walls, even as I added on to the count by leaving mine and entered in. The silence was inviting and the Lord majestic. A quick ‘pradarshanam’ and aarthi and I left the Sivan koil only to meet Mr.Perumal just outside the temple. Perumal, a maistry residing in the same lane, seeing my digicam, requested for a snap, though his friend was not interested. “How will you get the snap? It’ll be with him only. So what is the use.”, he queried. They posed and I adjusted the frame.. click… I promised to deliver the hard copy on my next visit. His friend smiled.

As I walked further, I passed the hut that made me envious of Thennangur during my last visit. I curiously looked into it to find the old man lying on his cot, as usual. This old man, I noticed during both the days of my first visit, was lying in his cot forever gazing at the sky. He was, according to me, the embodiment of defiance to the very concept of running and catching that I and so many of us are doing – study, work, earn… how much of a difference does all this actually make? Maybe this old man has also done all this but then this picture of he lying in the cot, enjoying the stars and the moon forever, unmindful of the organisms and things around him... this is where everyone ends up doing – nothing. “Radhe Krishna! Where are you from?” - a mami in sungudi broke my philosophical shell.. “Radhe Krishna! Chennai.”, I replied. I learnt that she was based from Mumbai but had come here with her husband to stay for sometime until her son returns from ‘foreign’. She lauded the place, the food and the care Thennangurvaasis show on them. I was impressed.

‘Lakshmi Narayanar koil’ – a memory that will be etched in my mind for a long time… the hall where ‘Santh padaachi Saadhu padaachi..’ (if I remember those words right..) resonated, much to the amazement of the devotees, bestowing Bhagavatharship on Srikanth within minutes... Last time around… Srikanth, Lakshmi and I had joined the ‘Seetha Kalyanam’ festival just then and Srikanth volunteered to sing this song and that moment made us famous all over the village. The two days of Naamasankeerthanam, studded with divine performances, is something for which I’ll thank my good friend forever.

Flashback - the Bhagavathars were singing the 12th Ashtapadi when I left the temple for a brief period, just to stretch myself a bit. I took a stroll and found myself gazing at the enormous expanse of paddy fields in front. The very sight of such vast greenery wow’ed me and I vowed that day to return to this place sometime in the future. This second visit of mine had that hidden agenda as well of fulfilling this very vow and I quickly left for the fields. This time the sight was even more pleasant, thanks to the impending harvesting season. I sighted some toiling farmers in the distance. Most of the paddy was grown and ready for harvest and so were the sugarcanes. I walked into the fields to find two small girls with their cow. Aruna and Pramila are in the 8th and 5th grade respectively and today being a Saturday, they’ve been entrusted with the task of feeding their cow with some high quality farm grass. After chatting with them for a while, I captured them into a jpeg and promised them of a delivery the next time around.

The sun had sunk into the cumulus for quite some time, giving me the prefect setting to find a place in the tranquil fields and recline. The paddy blades hustled every now and then, orchestrating with the vibration of the hovering bee and the song of the distant cuckoo turning the place into a mini music studio. The smell of ploughed land combined with the paddy and cane filled my nostrils. “Oxygen can’t get purer!”, my lungs exclaimed. I plugged in my ipod and pampered myself with a playlist dedicated to the ‘O.S.’es - O.S. Sundar and O.S.Arun. ‘Momujupara’ in Behag, my latest crush, wouldn’t have found a more appropriate ambience to enter my auditory canal. ‘Sumiran Karle…’, ‘Hari Hari…’, ‘Kamala nayana…’, ‘Krishnanaama…’ – Oh Yes! I felt as though I was lost forever!

11:15 AM and I headed towards the Mutt for some annadhaanam. I stumbled across a familiar face and greeted “Radhe Krishna”. It was the mama who takes care of the ‘Veda Paatasaalai’ run by GA Trust. He too faintly remembered my face and when I revealed that I had been there during Seetha Kalyaanam, he asked instantly “Paatellaam paadiniye.. needhaana adhu?”.. “Adhu naan illa maama. En friend Srikanth. He’s now in the US.”, I replied with my head high. After exchanging few words, he enquired “Annadhaana hall enga irukkunu theriyumono? Po po.. seekaram po.. Radhe Krishna.”

A sumptuous annadhaanam forced me back to the fields for some more time pulling me back from my thought of a return journey. This time I ventured further into the fields and found a place in front of high canes that protected my slumber from the sun. 2:30 – I started reading ‘The sages of India’, Swami Vivekananda’s Madras discourse when some farmers passed by discussing about snakes. I asked casually “Inga kooda paambu ellaam irukkuma?” A young girl replied quickly with a smile “Irukkum.. neenga paduthirukkingale.. adhukku pinnaadi kooda irukkum.. odi poidhunga seekramaa..”

The 6-7 hours that I spent at Thennangur increased the already countless unanswered whats, whys and hows in my mind. The experience, nevertheless, was blissful filling my mind with a mix of divinity, delight and nostalgia… a weekend that neither Satyam Cinemas, Marina beach nor Citi Centre can ever think of providing!

(When I wrote my first essay on Thennangur I mentioned in the footer ‘to be contd...’ I somehow was not able to write the concluding part. Pandurangan made me do it this time. Radhe Krishna!)

some captured memories here...