December 16, 2009

Weighed down

Whenever I think I might have just lost a little weight between a heavily buttered-breakfast and the evening samosa, I only have to go back to one of the sari blouses that fit me well as late as January this year (and continue to do so, intermittently). Now don't say I am anorexic or bulimic; one of my teachers spoke about them extensively while teaching a course on dance. One winter night in Delhi, I slept inadequately clothed with the balcony door open, dreamt that I was bulimic and woke up with a raging fever.
Anyway, I came back to Bombay knowing that the many mirrors on walls and cupboards would not be very flattering. As expected, they did not take too kindly to all the chocolate chip biscuits one had unthinkingly downed - it is high time I admit to myself - typing is NOT a calorie-burning activity. Thinking of it, the process of studying would be so much more motivated, if, the more you studied, the more you burned calories.
Since I returned, I exercise for an hour every day. What confounds me though, is how I seem to be one of the bulkiest people in the park! Ah, I should have paid attention when a sales assistant at a denim shop in Lokhandwala patted my bum with a mixture of derision and pity - Bahut bada hain, plus size main dekh lo. I was 16. So there are these tiny people of all genders and sexes who fit into the fancy layers that were invented for tiny people, huffing and puffing away, giving great business to the enterprising man who sells soup out of the back of his van right outside the park.
We've fostered such a culture of comparision - right from the man who looks at me out of the corner of his eye to see whether my push-ups are as good as his to the I-am-Bollywood-meets-Adidas-meets-shampoo ad model who throws disdainful looks at anything fatter than a lamppost.
PS: I still cannot do proper push-ups.


Why do I suffer from severe cases of writer's block everytime I try to write something that resembles a love letter?

October 21, 2009

Nuggets. Bombay.

I took a local train after really long. I stared at feet and shoes. There were feet looped uncomfortably through numerous brown tentacles. There were feet that had resigned themselves to their shoes. There were feet waiting to spring out of shoes. Toes curled in, feet chafed by their black straps.
I was also trying to reflect on boredom and happiness. I wanted to tap my co-passengers on their shoulders and ask them if they ever got bored, taking the same train to work every day, their lunch in their Hello Kitty bag. Someone was discussing a special occasion and a piece of jewellery. Someone was using the train to catch up on sleep.
Calven Klain
Stopped at a roadside stall selling underwear. Found one that said Calven Klain all over the waistband. Seller insisted it was worth the high price because of the brand. I pointed out that they'd spelt it wrongly. In all seriousness, all Klein aspersions abandoned, he promised to have a word with the suppliers about the spelling. Honest piracy. Market economy.

October 05, 2009


It's raining again.

That makes Delhi a little more interesting than it was.

And there's dance. So much of it I don't know where to go!

June 30, 2009


Kathakali on a coconut tree...

I don't see the snow. Or reindeer.

Che wearing pink flowers...

Janardhana Swamy temple tank

June 26, 2009


Dear Sri uncle,

In my heart, I always knew you would go away like this. Without preamble.

It was just your style. I sensed it when you refused to wait for a not-so-punctual brother-in-law, when you sent me my first red roses on my 20th birthday. You e-mail footer says, “We are here for a short while, so let’s keep smiling.” Were you smiling when it happened? I cried when I first heard, but now the tears don’t come. You were there when I cried about mean people and hostile places. After all that, I feel strange crying for you.

What drew me to you was your readiness to handle my teenage intensity. You never told me I was being immature and whimsical. Instead, you nurtured those fantasies. You always wanted to know why I danced. I constantly refused to tell you and it’s probably the only secret I still keep. Not that you didn’t know – you could see it all laid out, but I wanted to be able to put it into words someday. Because, if someone were to understand, it would be you.

You never finished your reincarnation theory. You’re not one to leave incomplete stories and broken trails. I’m sure you’ve completed it all, maybe in your head; but, somewhere, somewhere, you’ve put the finishing touches to it and are waiting to break it to me with a knowing twinkle in your eyes and an impish smile on your face.

I once tried to send you a tin of rasagullas from KC Das in Bangalore. The courier service refused point blank.

Just yesterday, I was going through my e-mail, looking for photographs I have not seen in a long time. I chanced upon one where you posed for the camera with a fake beard I had painted on using Nishie aunty’s eyeliner. I e-mailed it to you again. Did you see it?

Whenever I came to Cuttack, I never felt I was visiting. I was coming home. If I fell ill, if I was hungry, if I was angry, if I was homesick, I came home. When I had to take a tetanus injection after my bicycle accident, it was Nishie aunty who held me. I never missed my family because I had another one right there. When I moved to Delhi and tried to deal with typhoid, feeling lonely and unloved, for the first time in my life, I truly realised how much those summers I spent in Cuttack meant to me.

People are not replaceable. You leave a void that will never be filled. I sent you wilted flowers, shabby scraps of plastic and colouring books; you took them with joy. Who will respond to my crazy ideas and my deepest fears with equanimity now?

I meant to send you a record of my play. I meant to tell you about all the exciting things I’m going to do this year. About some freakish coincidences that would definitely make you laugh and say you always knew what was going on. I can’t call or e-mail anymore, but I’ll still tell you. And I know you’ll be listening.

Love, Ranjana
June 25, 2009
Trivandrum, Kerala.

June 24, 2009


This place mystifies me more and more everyday! I felt nicer in sleepy little Cuttack, sandwiched between two murky and often smelly rivers. Today, I took an auto rickshaw to Vazhuthacaud, which looks like it is in the centre of Trivandrum; at any rate, it’s not some isolated outpost. At 7.20 pm, the driver asks me for return fare – “I’m only asking for night fare,” he claims. Early to bed and early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise (Psst: I don’t see the early rising happening). But I’m living in God’s Own Country, so god proposes, disposes and imposes.

I attended a rock concert here! I was pleasantly surprised to see the huge turnout. From toddlers in their parents’ laps to octogenarians, there were people across age groups, though, by the time the concert ended, two wizened little women sitting in the first row looked quite mortified. But they were brave enough to stay on – many who turned up expecting an evening of traditional French music with a few jarring beats here and there ran away after the first two songs. As always, the Mallu men were very enterprising when it came to being lecherous. A group of them sat down next to me, and after eyeing me for a while, the boy closest to me leaned over and asked, “Would you like to dance with me?” I ideally wanted to retort, “Do I look like I want to do anything more that pounding your head to paste with a huge mortar and pestle and then feeding it to the crows? By the way, have you seen me kick with my left leg? I’ve injured it now, but if I kick real hard, you could be in Kovalam now. And I’ve been waiting for an excuse to buy a new umbrella, so let’s see if this rust-coated old rod breaks into two or cracks your skull.” (What rambling, what violence!) But the decibel level was so high, my soliloquy would have been wasted on them. So I just looked bored instead.

I also ran into a CPI protest march today. Malayalam may be the language of the masses, but Hindi seems like the language of protest. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I heard right, most of the slogans were in Hindi. And the ubiquitous ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ made its presence felt more than once. It made me feel like I was back in JNU. However, all the posters were in Malayalam, so I still don’t know what they were protesting about.

Chapattis here are made of maida and roasted or made of wheat and fried! I’m not too happy with the MTR Ready-to-Eat vegetables – they are oil slicks and make everything smell like they’ve been produced in the Lohit mess kitchen (but I still go buy them - I can't believe I'm so desperate I've been reduced to salivating about mess food). So I might keep deluding myself and going gaga about all the weight I’ve lost, but for all I know, I’ll come back fatter than I ever was. It takes almost an hour to cook rice on this cavernous gas stove I have. And I’m missing Amanda. Even boiled vegetables are welcome now! In Orissa, she acted as inspiration and I tried to make myself balanced meals (no matter how oily those were). Here, there’s only perspiration, perennially escaping LPG and boxes of burnt matchsticks. And watery rice and tapioca chips.

June 23, 2009

Some asking and telling

In 2006, when I was in Goa, a small stall refused to sell me chocolate at 8 pm, since it was closing time. The other day, as I was walking back at 8 pm in Trivandrum, I noticed the longest lines were outside the euphemistically named Kerala Beverages Corporation shops. One such two-storeyed shop had lines running down its narrow flight of stairs and spilling over to the roads. These lines make the Big Bazaar billing queues seem inconsequential, for I’m often in line with a single bottle of water behind shoppers who have carts groaning under the weight of merchandise. And they always come in tow with enthusiastic kids who keep throwing extra cake and chips into the cart. That the cunning Big Bazaar works in connivance with these kids is an open secret – that is why they stow piles of junk food by the billing counters – if you’ve resisted the urge inside, throw caution and diets to the wind while waiting in a long line – as if the bulge of your belly compensates for the hole in your pocket.

‘Asking for it’ seems to be the latest feminist catchphrase. I must admit I like it. So these four colleges in Kanpur have banned jeans for girls on campus - jeans and short-sleeved t-shirts apparently mean you were ‘asking for it’. By that yardstick, Malayali men should look away whenever I walk the roads here, because I have often been irked by their extremely glad eye and have taken pains to blend in and look like I was not ‘asking for it’. But that doesn’t work, apparently. Staring is an activity programmed into them when they are in their mothers’ wombs, it seems. Like countless men elsewhere, they’ve been told they have the right to appraise our assets with impunity. And they know we’re supposed to look away or look down in shame. Because we ‘asked for it’. The air is thick with asking and I don’t know who’s going to do the telling. I, for one, am tired of pretending I am a nice Malayali girl out of her thatched tharavad, with freshly washed long hair trailing down her back, a tiny blotch of kungumam brightening her forehead, the dupatta demurely covering all that ‘asks’. So I have gone back to wearing mismatched clothes without a dupatta. Of late, one activity that I derive a lot of sadistic amusement from, is staring back at the gits who try staring at me. Some people suddenly find the road very fascinating; one could bore holes into it with the intensity of it – the municipal corporation will be made redundant then. Some continue staring as if they’ve been frozen into position, but I’m beginning to think that’s less audacity and more because they’re awestruck by a woman who stares back at them and evaluates their pendulous assets.

Dance is now big business. I’ve been watching clips of young Bharatanatyam dancers on the internet. They’re excellent for their age, but I wonder how the ensuing media blitz affects them. At the age of 14 or 15, they have two or three DVDs to their credit. And what really elicits a raised eyebrow is the crass commercialism their teachers market them with. Maybe these sentences sound the way they do because I have no crystallised views on this issue yet. One website that stands out asks the viewer to register on the site in order to stream longer video clips. The registration form asks you what you have done for the dancers – have you showered money on them, organised programmes, registered them at competitions? How much are you willing to spend to watch these videos? More ludicrously, the website has excerpts from DVDs where a space for ads throughout the video appears on one side. To make things clear, it elaborates, “Your ad could be here.” In an age, where even advertisement breaks are over-run by ads bordering other ads, ads in dance videos might only be fair, but I wish the people behind the DVD would find more creative and aesthetic methods of incorporating ads. You have the dancer flanking the ad right now, in this spirit of auctioneering, it makes one wonder – whom did we buy – the dancer or the advertisement?

June 19, 2009

Dharavi and my evening bhelpuri

This evening, I ate bhelpuri out of a can. It came neatly packaged, the chutneys in their plastic puches nestling between the bhel. The puri was a little too delicate, hence powdery. It lacked the crunchiness of the puri one finds in Bombay. Even the bhel felt sanitised, nevertheless, it felt nice to have bhel sitting in a corner of the country where ordering a dosa sometimes becomes a Herculean feat.

Just before that, I spent the afternoon watching a documentary on Dharavi, where tiny workshops manufacture a gamut of products that are sold and consumed globally. It is interesting to note the possibility of some component of my bhel having come from Dharavi. Possibly the plastic. Maybe the preservatives. I'm nowhere near Bombay, but it's presence lingers around my life, in the form of Dharavi. Hmm.

I took a cue from Dharavi and recycled the bhel can. It's now my cutlery holder.

And some more Kathakali

June 18, 2009

Kathakali at Margi, Trivandrum

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Went to a Kathakali performance at Margi yesterday, where the performance was preceded by 90 minutes of music. The jugalbandis between the percussionists got quite racy at times. I like the intimate setting of the Margi theatre. One passes through a rehearsal hall to get there - it is located in the courtyard between the rehearsal hall and the temple. However, I wish they had better seating - the plastic chairs don't go well with the overall ambience. And wooden flooring!

June 17, 2009

From Kerala

I've been trawling Youtube for interesting classical dance clips of late, and occasionally I come across a clip that fills my heart with joy, something that I can watch again and again without getting bored, something that just makes my heart all warm and bleary.

Some pictures I took in East Fort, Trivandrum, near West Street, today.

June 16, 2009

Kerala moments

June 14

The plate brims with a mess of popcorn in various stages of development – there are those that haven’t popped, those that popped with the nurturing touch of oil and those that were burnt to death. Of which, burnt to death and haven’t popped seem like the most popular categories. Maybe it’s just my popcorn history – ideally, one learns from past mistakes, but I haven’t – the last popcorn-making session in an electric rice cooker ended in threatening thuds from the cooker, the lid flying to the other end of the room, leaving oil all over the sheets and my winter clothes. That the cooker didn’t work after that is implied.

Today has been a hugely soporific day – I did not go to a Kutiyattam conference in the morning since my lazy half assumed it would be in Malayalam – I think it was. I wish it would rain more in Trivandrum. The day my train entered Kerala, it rained heavily in spurts. I could have sworn I had never seen greenery so green. Geography lessons were recalled as I saw the rain slithering down the sloped roofs of tiny houses dotting the railway tracks. Someone had remarked about Trivandrum, “It is so sultry, not a leaf moves.” I’m beginning to think that it is true.

Not that there haven’t been any nice weather moments. The other day, I was returning from the market when I got caught in a heavy shower. Initially, I stopped for shelter, but then I decided it’s more fun to get wet. Being a wet woman at 8.30 pm on a street full of mirrors in shiny jewellery shops with people gawking at you and wondering if you are right in the head can be amusing sometimes.

June 15

I never thought I'd be the one making mistakes as far as food was concerned. But I mixed payasam into my rice today, thinking it was rasam, to the amusement of everyone around me, triggering sniggers of 'Malayalam Iliya' or something similar sounding.

June 16

I grew tired of being stared at and mentally undressed by men. And being appraised by women. So, today, I decided to stare back. And now I feel much better about going out on the roads. Men are used to letting their eyes rove wherever the mind pleases. It comes as a shock to them when someone does the same to them. I loved the feeling that coursed through me when the men looked at me, and I looked back at them and let my eyes pointedly go up and down, up and down. Everyone looked away. And did not look me in the eye again. I loved the power I wielded.

May 08, 2009


Delhi doesn't seem to have any music stores. Even if they do, go and try asking for cassettes. They'll look like you came from Mars.

Maybe I'm just in the wrong places at the wrong time. Once, when it was 10 pm, at Haze, I asked the waitress for a coffee. I'll never forget the look she gave me!

February 27, 2009

Attention seeking prats at large - Those who don't fit into pink chaddis

We have been putting up the poem in support of the Pink Chaddi campaign around JNU. What Manjari put up in Tapti was torn down by some paragon of 'Indian culture. We put a giant chaddi with the poem outside SAA. The culprit proudly came up to us and said he did it. A PhD student in the cinema department, he seems to have lived in JNU for a very long time. He is the president of a hostel and boasts about his supreme control over the hostel residents. I get the impression that he is doing this more out of the need for attention than anything else. Well, he's made me angry enough to get it. And now he'll really get it. No one seems to want to listen to him otherwise.

So dear Attention-seeker (AS), as we will call him from now on, found the poster obscene. That scores of others don't think it was obscene is immaterial. In a country where bhakti texts are full of what these bigots can find equally explicit (religion and antiquity are the only shields, besides, they don't have the guts to stand up against biggies. It's only us they'll torment.)...just this morning, an old professor sang an Andal composition to us. Anyway, that's not the issue. That AS has no respect for the views of others is appalling. That he is a downright liar is even more so. He told us he had gone to the student representative of a gender-related organisation on campus, which turned out to be false when we spoke to the student in question.

So blundering AS has gone, torn down and PHOTOCOPIED our poster. He's trying to be the moral idiot we're trying to protest against. And in his obstinacy we'll achieve what we set out to do - make the poem visible, aurally and visually. But this time, he doesn't know what he's up against. For every one poster he tears down, I'll put up two more. And so will the others who support our gesture. If he wants to spend all his days and nights tearing down posters, so be it. He'll never finish, I know.

February 17, 2009

Chatak Gulabi Chaddi

The poet chooses to remain anonymous...

Naa maarenge naare noore,naa todenge haddi.
Hum toh aap ko nazar karenge chatak gulaabi chaddi.
Culture wale vulture sun le. Kheli bahut kabaddi
pichchwaade mein bhar denge hum chatak gulabi chaddi

Tu piyee to dard ki dawaa, hum piye toh daaru.
Teri gaand pe jhannaa ke ek laath na mai kyun maaru?
Burkhe ghunghat pehnaa kar tune deal kya kar di waddi.
Hum toh tujhko pehnayenge chatak gulabi chaddi.

Devdaas ki paro khet mein gaddaa lekar nikal padi.
Teri akal se zyaadaa toh.woh nangi kaali bhains badi,
Sharam toh kar le, nazar jhuka, chhati se lagaa le thuddi.
Tere badan par khoob sajegi chatak gulabi chaddi

Chatak gulabi chaddi jisme ijjat hai hamari rehti.
Chatak gulabi chaddi jisme teri soch hai behti.
Chatak gulabi chaddi jisme sanskruti hamari soti.
Chatak gulabi chaddi ke jisko samjhe tu bapouti.

Devdaas ki paro khet mein gaddaa lekar nikal padi.
Teri sena muth maare hai,sandaason mein khadi khadi.

Khol jehen ka darwaaja, abey baat samajh of fisaddi.
Teri maa ki. Teri behen ki...chatak gulabi chaddi!!!


We sent a nice pink chaddi.
I can't wait for the sari I'm getting in return. I wanted to specify the colour and style, but I hear its pink. I hope it's at least cotton...some nice pochampalli print. I think Mr. Muthalik has no business telling others what to do. All these self-styled upholders of "Indian culture" piss me off so much. I attended this event the other day, where I heard a wonderful poem called Chatak Gulabi Chaddi, on the campaign. I'm trying hard to procure it. More on it when I find it.
Travel plans are crashing around me. First it was Khajuraho, then Jaipur, then Udaipur. Now, from the look of it, I'll be lucky if I make it to Munirka.
Martin Luther King's son made a much advertised appearance to speak on "A New Non-violent Revolution". The otherwise poverty-stricken JNU administration presented bouquets to all embassy officials, grand ones with all the trappings. BB Bhattacharya smirked like a slug and made superfluous comments on this prestigious university he runs like his jagir. He was quite mismatched. Looked really short, also. King was pretty disappointing, didn't tell me anything that I won 't find on Wikipedia. He couldn't understand any of the questions put to him, and kept asking people to explain them to him. After taking some timepass questions, he disappeared saying he had another engagement. Much touted, fell flat. Dev D was more interesting. Much more interesting. Especially since Devdas ki paro khet me gadda lekar gayi!
Today, I took my first cold water bath. The electricity disappeared. Poof! It was quite eventful. And painful.
24-7 has finally abandoned the washing of spoons. Yesterday, I saw shreds of cabbage lazing on supposedly washed spoons. Meanwhile, I have been drinking too much tea.

February 07, 2009


Wanderlust strikes hard.

We spent 12 hours trying to figure how to make it to Pune, for me, how to go to Bombay from Pune. Anyway, that's not happening now.

Hopefully Khajuraho will, in any case, I'll go there in the next month.

And Bombay!

January 22, 2009

I'm going to watch a dance performance at Habitat. Auto situation uncertain. Pray for moi!

January 21, 2009

F-art Collection

JNU has this lovely collection of books which they call the Art Collection. It adorns the racks most of the time since it can't be issued. I find it incredibly stupid. Some books have five or six copies, but no, they won't issue any. I feel like clobbering them on their heads.

And stuff that CAN be issued and is worth reading can never be found. I was looking for a translation of Bhasa's plays, they have three copies, but all three are missing. Even the government run Asiatic Library is more organised despite less security and less technology. Those guys manually log books and here they have all those jazzy barcodes but can't figure when they lose a book within this mammoth library. I've heard PhD students can just take books if they feel like it and lock them into their study cupboards. There is no track of who takes what and for all you know, a doctoral candidate could hoard books like that for years. I think that is incredibly ridiculous - one should have to log a book as soon as it leaves its floor. I ended up taking my anger out on the guy sitting the the issue counter, though, looking back at it, I think I should have slapped the a%$&^&hole who made me look on the fifth floor for an aeon.

The problem with these big institutions is there are so many idiots at every level you don't know whom to shoot your arrows at. I hate it. I really hate it.

January 19, 2009

Sunset seconds

19.10 pm
A new template soon.

19.15 pm
Meanwhile, I'm trying to do somersaults. I have decided it is high time I get these basic things in line...all those fats balls in yoga class would manage halasana and I would draw circles in the air with my toe, only ninety degrees off the floor. I do not trust my balancing abilities, which is why I am unable to turn over...but soon I will. Then I'll progress to cartwheels.

19.20 pm
I've been terribly sleepy all day. However, I cannot hit the bed the moment I get back. I have work to do. Loads of it.

The Lohit dinner is waiting. Dal full of onions. Half-cooked rice. Vegetable (read potato), again full of onions. Too many days I've avoided it. Now it's calling.

Today's Kathgulab was a nice play, though not without weird lines.

19.35 pm
I'm really sleepy now. So sleepy my eyelashes are obstructing my vision.

January 16, 2009

NSD Nightmare

These festival dudes can be really egoistic and inane at times. On Wednesday, I was late for the 9.30 show of a Japanese play at NSD's Abhimanch. That was because the 7.30 play at Kamani had just ended. They stopped me at the entrance, saying I couldn't go in because I was late. Meanwhile, people with tickets kept turning up and were ushered in with the utmost politeness. Only those of us with student passes were punished for our ideas on punctuality. After a while, I really lost it - people from Hyderabad University and other places were standing outside, waiting to be let in. Had I come from Hyderabad to watch a festival where half the plays are way below standard, I would have probably murdered the doormen by now. They kept saying we were late and there was no place inside, so they wouldn't let us in. I kept abusing them below my breath and shooting dirty looks that would make a persistent eve-teaser quail while making audible comments about how they were so low down in the chain that they couldn't give hell to anyone other than us students.

After a while, someone else from NSD emerged from the auditorium and a friend approached him. He was furious...apparently the auditorium was half-empty since a lot of people left after the first ten minutes, and here the stupid door guys weren't letting people in. The doormen still refused to let us in but we just ran in anyway. The play was quite a sham, the only things I liked were the frames with jagged edges where projections were accompanied by the sound of electric switches being turned off and on.

Coming back to core issue, I don't understand why it is human nature to give shit to those lower down in the food chain. And we're not talking about guards, but about NSD officials. Why should you stop anyone from watching plays? The more the better, your play is more popular, has a big audience, why behave in such a juvenile fashion? Is that a form of reverse superiority? Because if it is, then they so totally deserve the inferior treatment meted out to them by most theatre audiences.

January 06, 2009

January comes

In Delhi again. It's coolllllddd! But it feels nice sometimes (when one is not washing clothes). JNU looks great...I cycled to some of the more secluded areas...saw a peacock too. But my butt is now aching thanks to the winter cold butt syndrome and I have to sit very awkwardly in order to cycle.

I'm also very sleepy.

January 03, 2009


Came across this lovely Degas template while looking for a new template...