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.