Monday, November 29, 2010


“Beep beep!” It was her reply.

“Come on, hurry up. It’s already late!” Mom was on the point of losing her cool. He was sending SMSes.

“These roads are pretty bad, aren’t they?” Dad was complaining on the way, as he struggled to drive. He was sending SMSes.

“Welcome! Welcome!” His prospective father-in-law was overjoyed. He was still sending SMSes.

She came, everyone was in smiles.

“Let them talk for some time,” said her uncle.

They left the couple alone.

They stared at each other. There was nothing left to talk.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Goodbye, our Superman!

The rituals were over this morning. With this ends a story of a self-made man. My uncle. Our Superman!

Right from my childhood, I’ve been hearing tales of his heroism — climbing the super-tall coconut palms during childhood; riding his bicycle with six more persons on it as a teenager; fighting with our grandpa and leaving the house to live on his own; writing and topping exams as child’s play; single-handedly rescuing the local cricket club in Gujarat from a shameful defeat... the list goes on!

He was never the Santa-Claus uncle who showered gifts and sweets whenever he visited us. He was the one to be admired, from a safe distance! After all, he was the one who tamed the wild Bombay Poocha (cat) and tied it up in the corner room, which we called Poocha muri! (The Bombay Poocha story was made up by our granny, to keep me away from my injured mother, who was being nursed in that room. And Bombay Poocha became another tale in the legacy of Mr CS Bhamakrishnan, our Mani Vallyachan).

A rebel by birth, he was second son, as well as the biggest nemesis, of our extra-strict, hyper-tempered, disciplinarian grandpa. He was beaten up countless times. Finally, Vallyachan broke the chain, ran away, went as far as Bombay and then to Gujarat, and built a life of his own, on his own.

He lead a free, but disciplined, lifestyle. As always, he stood bluntly adamant on his stances. Elders sure envied his freedom. Once, after a heated debate with his wife, a younger uncle said, looking and our Vallyachan sleeping peacefully, “Look at this man. Anything bothering him? Nah!”

“You are basically wrong,” once his brother-in-law told him. “Even my father used to say that,” Vallyachan retorted calmly.

He played the status of a rocking bachelor to the hilt. By the gallons he used to drink, he could be classified as the biggest alcoholic of the family. But, in all these years, we have never seen him lose his temper or cool under the influence of liquor. Another feat, possible only by our Superman.

His cousin made him say his life story in one of those ‘spirited’ evenings. As a parting question, she asked: “Mani Anna, do you regret anything when you look back?”
“Never!” came the answer.

I visited his lair last for his retirement party. He had completed a meritorious service spanning close to three decades without joining any employee union. Nobody could pursue him to do so.

I was planning to visit him this April. There were many questions to be asked, may thing to be told. And I woke up last Wednesday, hearing the worst, the unbelievable.

My mind was already troubled, but became numb once I reached Kollam. They brought him home in a coffin. I thought I would stay strong, but broke down as we held him — my arms supported his frozen head.

An atheist to the core, he neither believed nor attended in any of the rituals. We cremated him with complete rituals. But we spared him from one thing — the sandalwood paste on his forehead. It was the mark of a Malayalee Hindu, which he scoffed all his life.

Back in Bangalore, troubled by his memories and the realities here, I was restless. I typed out a mail to him, listing the many things I thought about him, asking all the questions unasked, telling all the things unsaid...

Goodbye, our Superman!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. For me, a necessity lead to a discovery. The discovery was that the old radio was still working, but the need was far more than just entertainment.

Chicken pox had put me under a 21-day quarantine. The first day seemed all right — I was at my home, my condition was OK. By evening, the viruses started showing their might. I was feeling the itch and the temperature, ending up with a sleepless night. The next day was the worst.

All alone in my room, I was desperate to speak to somebody, to see TV, to hear songs. The horrendous onset and irritating advance of the disease, and the discomfort of boils on my face and torso had left me desperately wishing for sleep and relief.

Call from friends were my only solace, but solitary confinement made hours in between extra long. It touched the nadir on the second evening. In a fit of rage and desperation, I dragged my ailing physique up the table and started searching the storage cabinets. There I made a prized discovery — an old radio! A boon in the shape of a red Panasonic two-in-one!

I was so excited that I didn’t wait even to dust the unused equipment. Iplugged it, switched it on, and there it beeped — All India Radio a.k.a. Aakashavaani!

All the effort and the excitement had left me exhausted. I set the tun-ing right and went to sleep. Next morning, at 5.50, my cellphone woke me up. I switched on the radio, and heard ‘Vande mataram’ and ‘subhashitam’ from the Thiruvananthapuram AIR station — for the first time in a decade.

Nothing had changed. The signature tune, the background scores for the programmes, even Baldevanand Sagar who read the Sanskrit news! I can say for sure the most common Sanskrit sentences in Kerala are “Samprati vaartaaha shruyantam. Pravaachakaha Baladeva-nanda Sagaraha.” (You are listening to the news. Read by Baldeva-nand Sagar)

Long back, our days started listening to that. Grandma was very par-ticular about that, and she regularly woke me up to switch on the radio for her. Doordarshan was hardly a competition for AIR, but cable television was. TV channels were evolving by the day, but AIR never bothered to change.

Thank God it didn’t, for I wasn’t just hearing the radio. Familiar tunes, familiar voices, even songs! I was reliving those moments, of home food, before we were spoiled by the fast food served in satellite dishes.

Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's over, isn't it?

Finally, the verdict is out. The fine print is yet to be out, and it will take some time for the radicals to interpret. But, the embers won’t be burning, at least till then.

I was in my first standard when the incident happened. Three images — some people over the mosque, Lal Krishna Advani, and ruffians with saffron headbands — are still vivid in my mind. The mosque picture was on the paper on December 7, 1991. The rest was in the India Today issue that came next week.

I always craved for a holiday, but I somehow sensed that the strike on December 7 — anyway a Saturday — was not for good. Back in school on Monday, my classmates were animatedly talking about the incidents, giving out their own versions, with no much idea of the actual event. I asked my class teacher and mentor why they did so, and she replied: “People are out of their mind.”

There were riots, and bomb blasts followed. Talks among elders back home, and their reactions on the event and the incidents that followed, galvanised the fact in my mind that radicals are to be kept away from your company, and radical thoughts away from your mind. I still stick to it.

Years went by, and December 6 went past without any trouble. But the skies were turning dark lately. A compartment was burnt, then Mahatma Gandhi’s land burned. But I considered myself lucky, being I Kerala, the heartland of the Leftist-secularist thoughts. I got a rude awakening recently.

A professor’s hand was hacked for using the name Mohammed. The skies have indeed turned dark. Radicals are everywhere.

History proves that their thirst for evil is never quenched. The verdict turns to be an interim relief. At least until the radicals come up with another reason for bloodshed.

Hey Ram...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Onam, me, and certain thoughts

It was 1.45 am when Aral took me to the bus stand. The next bus to Chennai was at 2, which didn’t turn up. The next bus was at 4.30 am. A two-and-a-half-hour wait at the deserted bus stand, with biting cold and mosquitoes testing my fever-hit physique. I can endure things worse than this, but can’t afford the prospects of staying back in Bangalore during Onam

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. I longed for Onam like never before after I started living on my own. Lonely life in Chennai had made me terribly homesick, and I looked forward for the day. To make it appear nearer, a dear friend advised me to count just Sundays! There was another reason also — it had been a year since grandma died, and I had to be there to do the rituals. I couldn’t sleep in the train. Then I heard the sweetest voice I heard that year — that of a railway announcer: “Palakkad Junction welcomes you.” I rolled on, to sleep with a smile…

Four Ms and an O — Mammootty, Mohanlal, Mundu, Moustache and Onam — define a Malayalee, say my colleagues. For a person like me who has spent his first 22 years of his life in Malluland, Onam comes integrated within. It was a part of my life, always.

As a child, anticipation for the festivities would begin in August. Independence Day was a precursor. Then, like the big hurdle before the finishing point, would come the first quarter series of examinations — what we would call Onam exams.

The relief of the exams getting over makes the 10-day Onam holiday sweeter. Each Onam left me with a bounty of bittersweet memories — dressing up to play the leopard and the hunter; toy guns with rolls of fire rounds we call ‘pottaz’; a set of imported sketch pens; an envelope full of stamps; my childhood sweetheart; lonely nights at my grandma’s place; her death; my first homecoming after I moved out… And there was grandpa ready to put the mandatory swing on the big mango tree.

He left us last December. As per matriarchal tradition, my family should abstain from festivities for a year. I still don’t know what got into my head — maybe the growing up part had robbed the fervor for the festivity — but I decided that I won’t go home this time.

Life has taken us, the ‘kids’ of the family, to various places. We were too busy to bother about pleasures of the yore.

It didn’t take long to realise that I was wrong. I was turning restless. Then, my aunt called — an invitation to spend the eve of Onam at her place, in Vellore, six hours away from Bangalore. She was in no position to take a leave for Onam on Monday. My cousin in Chennai too was coming down. So I took the early-morning trip, braving the fever and the cold.

We had a good Onam feast. Onam songs playing from the computer and the special programmes in Malayalam channels did provide an ambience. Then, a call came from Malluland.

“We’re off to the temple. It’s only the two of us here,” said my cousin sister.

I should have been there, but here I am, miles away from what Onam means to me — my village, my home, my dear and near. I painfully realise that I am still a nostalgic, emotional fool. I still crave for my Onam.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Commonwealth or Conman's wealth?

What would you do when your interests are at stake? You will desperately appeal to all those involved, so that you don’t lose anything. The picture is such an appeal, written by some crafty public relations executive and signed by Subrata Roy of the Sahara group, set to come out in papers of tomorrow, August 7.

“All our countrymen are feeling, talking, reacting so negatively to-wards the forthcoming Commonwealth Games at such time when they should be participating in, contributing to and celebrating it as the Grand Festival of India.”

I think either Mr Subrata Roy hasn’t properly read the draft, or he is out of his mind. Loot in the name of sports has been going on for quite some time; and we have superstars like IPL’s Modi; but this is something different.

Those involved in the commonwealth games were looting our money, which includes the four-digit tax I paid last week. India, half of whose population is struggling to meet even their daily ends, spending astronomical sums on such events is itself a crime — yes, I stick to the word. And it’s official that the government has diverted funds meant for the development of the backward classes towards this sham game.

“I am asking in all humility and cordiality whether for the wrongs of maybe a hundred people should the hopes & aspirations of 1.2 billion people be crushed,” goes the advertisement. Whose aspirations? Of the soldier in Siachen, who is fighting the biting cold and death in chilling terrain? Of the farmer in Kerala, who is crying over his flooded lands because our government had no funds to build stormwater canals? Or of the urban youth, who are hooked to their cellphones and gadgets, blissfully unaware of what is happening in the rest of the country?

The advertisement agrees that the media is doing its job, but goes on to say that the “media has already overdone it, causing a very big damage and maligning the image of the country”. My foot! When somebody starts looting your home when there is a function going on, what would you do Mr Subrata Roy? Stop the burglar or enjoy the function? Don’t you feel ashamed to put the blame on the media while the fact is that the ‘babu’s behind the scam are the ones who were “maligning the image of the country”?

We all know that public memory is short. And it is really sorry to see our nation’s image getting a dent, but I sincerely believe that this is the perfect time to bring up the issue. You strike the iron when it is hot. Once the games are over, media will stray to other hot topics, and this too will be sidelined — like Satyam’s Raju displaced by Lalit Modi; and Modi himself by Kalmadi.

As for the proper conduct of the event, those who are really interested in the development of sports and games will relentlessly work towards it, and they will have the support of the citizens. But sponsors are there not for the victory of sports, but for their share in the accounts and newspapers.

“The immediate need is to create an exceedingly positive environment for the present organizers,” goes on the release. I am sorry to say, but my biased mind understood it as “shut up and let the games continue, so that organisers like us can get what we want”. Let the loot go on!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fight or flight

Here is a story about a complex situation of feeling desperation, pain and anxiety together. Ever been in such a scene? My friend did. Yesterday, mid-air!

She was on her flight to Delhi, when a co-passenger war transforming from indecent to bully to groper to sociopath. It started slowly as encroaching her seating space. Then gradually he made the two seats next to her as his personal reclining space. Then his hands began to have certain ‘innocuous’ movements.

Panicked, she stood up and asked the not-so-gentle man to behave properly. He did not. She pushed the ‘panic button’ and air-hostesses came running. Seeing their short skirts, our bully turned even aggressive. He started manhandling them; even tore the shirt of one; and turned to my hapless friend.

His arms were at her throat, when — here enter the villains of the story — she begged for help to a duo sitting in front of her. One was as old as her father and the other of her elder brother’s age. She pleaded in Malayalam, English and Hindi, but the too-gentle men did not move a finger.

Then my friend decided to take the matter in her own hands — literally. With all the power she had, she punched the sociopath on his face. That was more than enough to push him out of the way. She moved out of the place, and demanded to see the captain of the flight. Then she saw another girl, sobbing.

The girl was apparently our bully’s first victim. She silently suffered. Then the groper confidently turned to my friend, but she was definitely not willing to be a prey.

The entire cabin crew came there and warned the guy that they have the power to take the flight back and dump him at the boarding point. They asked the passengers if they have any objection. Only two passengers had problem — you guessed it right — the oldie-youth duo!

She moved to the executive class, but the bully followed her there too. Then the cabin crew intervened, dragged him back and made sure that he will not create any more trouble.

The flight landed safely, but my friend was far from safe. Our bully had turned vindictive now, and started following her. She hid in a cloth store. By that time, the flight operator had him booked.

Now please check these characters.

1. My friend: She valued her esteem and modesty, and decided to speak and act for her. A lesson for all females and a threat for all the unmentionables in the garb of males. I feel proud to be her friend.

2. The sociopath: Hidden among most men, the sex-starved bullies come out when a woman is conveniently close. The ones in costly attire start with lecherous talk, the crude ones believe in action. Products of improper guidance, deserve asylums.

3. The sobbing girl: Specimen of the silently-suffering femininity. Such behaviour often provides the undesirable confidence to the sex-starved bullies to continue their filthy ways.

4. The oldie-laddie duo: They qualify to be the real villains of the story. The greatest deterrent for any bully from misbehaving is the chance of good thrashing from real men. It’s bad enough that these two didn’t care to help a helpless girl, but they were also against diverting the flight to the starting point. They were not only cowardly, but selfish also. A shame for the clan of true men.

Now that you have read the post, please take the pain of typing down your observation on the aforementioned four characters. Now, for all those male chauvinists who would instantly conclude the woman in the picture ‘would have wore provocative clothes’, my friend was in a full-sleeve kurta, pyjama and had a shawl. Now don’t ask her to be tucked up from tip to toe, please.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Akshaya Tritiya, Ads and the stupid YOU

Finally, the season for the biggest farce of the year is here — Akshaya Tritiya. Grab hold of at least 10 persons who turned immensely wealthy because of the so-called lucky occasion, and I bet all 10 would be gold traders. They became rich because they did not buy gold, but they sold it. That is the power of advertisement.

Nobody knew the ‘auspicious’ occasion before 2000. Some wise guy dug up a hidden link of good luck, linked it with gold, and presto! All jewellers were lapping up the bogus. Their greatest weapon — advertisement.

"The process starts with the manufacturer or his agent coming to me with their product for a catchy advertisement. I then look at the product, assess the stupidity of the viewer on a mental scale, and create an ad with a measure more," said Joy (name changed), owner of a major advertising firm. "I make the ads, so know I should keep away from the products that I don’t need."

Going by the ethics, media should refuse to take ads that mislead the public. The saddest point is that it will not happen. Newspapers and channels survive on advertisement money, and they will neglect anything to retain it.

As an intern in a Bangalore newspaper in April 2005, I had filed a report based on a personal survey on Akshaya Tritiya, busting its tall claims of super-luck. The bureau chief of the newspaper took the copy, and it vanished into thin air. "Sorry son, but the editor did not clear it," was the explanation I got from him. The reason was apparent — it was the ad season.

To know how silly advertisements can be, just check any of the ‘male deodorant’ ads. Sadly, most of the men fall for the impossible claim of attracting all women with just a whiff of some chemicals. Yes, there were some painful realisations, LIKE THIS. Even though this is a genuine case of tricking the consumers, the press or the channels will not report this, for they will lose the crumbs fed by the multinational company in the form of ads.

Think. Did that fairness cream make you fair enough? Was that gold pendant lucky enough? Did the fruit drink energise you enough? Did you finally get to see the Bollywood beauty/hunk? NO. But you still buy those products. Advertisements are powerful enough to fool you because you allow them to do so.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kerala Cafe's home!

Finally, I got the Kerala Cafe DVD yesterday. Every week during my elongated stay back home, I never missed a chance to peek into the local video store. Fresh titles, mostly 6-7-month-old films, were al-ready having their video releases, not Kerala Cafe.

I was hooked by the movie the day I saw that. Malayalam movies are usually late releases in Bangalore. So the first feed on any film would be the online reviews and my movie-buff journalist friend back in Pathanamthitta. All were going gung-ho over the movie. We finally saw it in a multiplex, a month after its release back home.

I wished my non-Malayalee friends could enjoy it, and badly wanted the DVD to have good subtitles. I messaged Shankar Ramakrishnan, one of the 10 directors in the project, enquiring about the subtitles. He said the festival version of the movie was subtitled and asked if it’s good. I hadn’t seen it, but I assured him I would at the very first chance.

A month passed, I was in Kerala. My cousins and relatives who missed the film were keenly awaiting the video release. My regular visits to the video stores didn’t yield any result. After 50 days, I came back to Bangalore, into the routine of bylines and deadlines. Before starting the shift that Saturday, I took a walk to a video store in Brigade Road. I was just browsing through the Malayalam titles as always, and there it was: both in DVD and VCD!

Back home by 1am, I hit the buttons of our DVD player. Sleep could wait. Sadly, the subtitles inserted by the DVD-makers were a bit disappointing. Maybe because of the beautiful impression cast by the movie on me, but I seriously think even I would have done a better job.

However, even the average subtitles couldn’t let me stop enjoying the movie. A good work. I love it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fifty days of solitude

I was packing my stuff yesterday, when Sandip called. After a 50-day forced vacation, I was going back to my three-year-old routine. “Hmm, so your 50 days of solitude is over, eh,” he asked. “Aliya,” I said. “You just gave me the perfect headline for a long-pending desire to write something on my stay.”

Except for my cousin’s marriage and the associated short trips, everything was pretty much the same: liquid diet, TV and visitors. And the toughest part was the third. When they come to see me, my mother promptly inform them that I am not in a position to either speak properly or eat any solid food. Even then, they wouldn’t avoid the mandatory question, “How did this happen?” Everybody wants to know from my mouth, which I couldn’t open at all. I would try to mutter something, accompanied by my gestures, and they would promptly reply in sign language to keep quiet! Funny, they ask me to speak, and when I start, they gesture to stop instead of saying!

Brushing my teeth was another problem. I could manage to clean the outer portion of my teeth. For the inside, I had to use a mouthwash that tasted horrible. Food, strictly liquid, was once in two hours: mostly milk, juice or rice porridge.

Speaking problem had limited my movements outside home. After four long weeks, my parents allowed me two days out. It was my cousin's marriage. There also, I had to go frequently to get my cup of juice. Of course, all my relatives there came and asked about my condition. My parents and the doctor wanted me to be quiet, but I ended up describing my fall to every other person. The worst part was when they finished the feast and asked me "Did you have lunch?" and the quick "Oh, sorry!"

Meanwhile, I also managed to find a few hours to brush up my driving skills. Yes, it was tough convincing my parents, especially my father, who wouldn’t give even his bicycle to me. They were also worried over the deaths and mishaps that continued to occur in our social circle. After a few days, came the Utsavam.

For the past seven years, my Utsavam started with a slow walk with my ailing grandfather to the temple ground, where he would happily see all the festivities. I would escort him back home and roam around till midnight, till ‘Aaraattu’. This time, I did not feel like even stepping out of my house. I lay lazily that evening, flipping the channels. By nine, I had a change of mind. I loaded my camera and went out. I could not miss the ‘Aaraattu’. But my closed mouth kept away the most important part of the festival from me: sugarcane!

All these days, I had a wish to go and see the famous lighthouse in Kollam, but could not. Something or the other used to come up everyday to alter my plan. But I finally managed to go there, on the eve of my departure. A bird’s-eye view of my town, the sea and the new port was simply superb.

My grandfather was my granny’s only company during daytime. Indu would be at the college and my parents would be at their respective workplaces. After his death, I was there, bound to my house due to the injury. Not anymore. I was leaving, after 50 days with her. I was feeling kind of uneasy. Then, Sreeraj came. We had a chat, and he suddenly came up with the idea of a last-minute game of business, the Indian version of Monopoly. We were re-living our school days, and it lifted my mood greatly. I could happily board the bus.

There was still fog when the bus stopped at Madiwala this morning. But Tony warned me that the days are hot, hotter than even the ever-sweating Chennai. Took some time to tidy up my cabin and settle down. Here I am, in my office, still waiting for that proper bite. Back to boring Bangalore days, back to my boring routine. One thing is for sure. Unless there is an emergency, I’ll have to wait much longer for my next trip back home.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A (girl) student's suicide: Live

The news was more than enough to make a dreary evening lively. Channels were hotly telecasting the shocking news that plus-two student Shweta Krishnan has committed suicide, or she was about to...

With a fervour you feel when you get a prize catch, the star newsreader of our times adjusted his spectacles and made his usual high-pitch talk on the matter. "The incident happened just a few minutes ago. Shweta Krishnan, student in a prestigious higher secondary school in the capital city, bunked her classes to go to a movie with two others. In the evening, when she returned to get her books, her class-teacher caught her red-handed and scolded her in a VERY VERY (capital letters to emphasise the tone that he used) harsh manner," he continued with dramatic pauses.

"She was sent to the hostel after that. Now the question is did she commit suicide or not. We are restraining ourselves form giving out the name of this school at First Cross, Ragaramapura, Vishwa Samaj Road, Karol Bagh, Delhi -110005, because we value privacy and uphold journalistic ethics higher than other news channels. Our associate to the deputy assistant chief news editor Charkha Butt is on line with more details and exclusive visuals of... er.. a possible suicide," he continued.

"Charkha.... Charkha, what are the latest updates? Is the student dead? Has she committed suicide?"

"Yes, Aplomb. I'm here, right at the gate of the girl's hostel. They have RESTRICTED (capital letters to emphasise the tone that she used) us from entering the compound. The gate is still closed, but we can see the gathering of girls at the respective balconies of the respective floors. They seem to be waving at me... (chuckles, but changes tone suddenly) but actually they are crying for media help. According to the very few text messages from some of the girls inside who have mobile phones, Shweta had bolted the door of her room. As of now, her death is not confirmed, Aplomb."

"OK Charkha, let's leave the matter of her death for a moment. What was the subject she bunked? Was she scoring low in that subject? Was there a potential harassment from the particular teacher? Which theater did she go to after bunking the class? Which was the film? Who all were there with her?"

"(uff!) Aplomb, four hours is too long for any subject, so I don't think that matter is relevant. As for the theaters, sources are giving different names. Anyway, our cameramen are there in all these theatres to catch girl students in uniform, so that we don't miss any other potential suicides. Most of our sources are sticking to English films."

"(English, eh?) OK Charkha... These two persons who were with Shweta... were they men? Were they seated together? Our viewers are anxious to know more details about it!"

"One was a man and the other was a lady, both clad in jeans and T-shirt... that's what our sources say. They left the from the school in a car. After the school, they went to a restaurant and had food. No more details are available now, Aplomb."

"Thank you, Charkha. Our correspondent Manjith Mental is on the phone. He's inside the hostel now with more details. Let me remind our viewers that we are restraining ourselves form giving out the name of this school at First Cross, Ragaramapura, Vishwa Samaj Road, Karol Bagh, Delhi -110005, because we value privacy and uphold journalistic ethics higher than other news channels. Now, Manjith is with us..."

Screen changes, Shweta beams on the left side, Manjith on the right.

"Manjith, what are the updates on her death... er.. attempt to suicide? Manjith? Manjith.... Manjith (you) Mental... Looks liker there is a technical difficulty."

"Keepp.. beep.. bopp..blurrrrrrrrrrrlrl.. Aplomb."

"Manjith.. Manjith, did you manage to get inside the girls hostel?"

"Yes Aplomb, I'm inside. Shweta's room is still closed. Hostel warden and other students are standing outside."

A beaming Shweta and the hind-portion of the girl students in front of the room flashed on the screen alternatively.

"OK Manjith. Who is this warden? How old is she? How does she look like?"

"APLOMB (capital letters to emphasise the tone that he used), she's a lady of close to forty years... Mrs Bakshi... good-looking modern lady. Girls call her aunty."

"Ok, what does aunty say about Shweta's attempt to suicide?

"As of now, I could not talk to her, Aplomb. She's talking over two cellphones at the same time now. Girls are beating at the door of the room shrieking Shweta, Shweta, Shwe.."

"Thank you Manjith. Now tell us whether this girl Shweta had any affair. Now we can safely assume that she went to the movie with a boy, and they were roaming around the city for quite some time before they went to a rest.. er... hotel. Did they take a room in that hotel? How long did they spend there? What was the room number? Which hotel?"

"Aplomb, there is a possibility of an affair, Shweta being a plus-two student. But no details are available right now, I'll get back to you as soon as I get any information."

"Thank you Manjith. We'll take a short break, but don't go away dear viewers. We'll be right back with more details and exclusive visuals of the suicide... issue of seventeen-year-old Shweta, plus-two student in a prestigious higher secondary school in the capital city. Stay tuned."

Three ads: A car screeched in one, Aplomb screeched in the other two.

Ads over. "Welcome back to the details of the most sensational suicide issue of our times, which has the entire country at her toes," Aplomb started in a higher pitch, but halted. Screen was flashing 'TIMELY IMPACT' (capital letters because they actually used that).

"In a fresh development, youth wing of a major opposition party staged a protest march in front of the hostel demanding the resignation of the Union Education Minister, claiming that the education ministry was responsible for the increasing number of suicides of girl students in the country. They, they, they... the reports say the march turned violent. The protesters destroyed the gates of both the school and the hostel, and the youth wing of the ruling party came to counter them. Police did a lathi-charge. Twenty persons, mostly onlookers, are admitted in various hospitals." Aplomb was really charged up.

"Now, in the very first reaction on this issue from the officials, EXCLUSIVE on our channel, the Chief Minister has revealed EXCLUSIVELY on our channel that she will declare a judicial enquiry on the issue. She has exclusively informed us that the Union Education Minister will visit the school and the hostel as part of a preliminary enquiry," Aplomb finished in one breath, proudly. (capital letters to emphasise the tone that he used)

A beaming Shweta and the hind-portion of the girl students in front of the room kept coming on screen every 3-4 minutes.

"Charkha Butt is with us with more details on Shweta's death. Tell us Charkha... Charkha?"

"Yes, Aplomb."

"Charkha, what is happening there? Did seventeen-year-old Shweta, plus-two student in a prestigious higher secondary school in the capital city, finally commit suicide?"

"Aplomb, we still haven't got any conformation of her death. The room is still closed."

"Now, there is absolutely no chance of opening the door if Shweta has actually committed suicide. Ok Charkha. Depending on the situation there, can you elaborate on the possible methods of a suicide? Is there a chance of writing a suicide note?"

"Aplomb, there is no chance of jumping down from the building of the ladies hostel, because Shweta has locked the room from inside. There is no chance for poisoning also, because the move was a result of a sudden impulse caused by the terrible rebuke allegedly made by her teacher..."

A beaming Shweta and the hind-portion of the girl students in front of the room kept coming on screen every 3-4 minutes, now with a blood-stained knife on the background. Music matches that of a horror movie.

"OK Charkha. So, that leaves the possibility of a hanging or, or, or cutting her veins using a blade...."

"But think of it, Aplomb. If that suicide really happens, won't the class-teacher be blamed? Isn't it time for these disciplinarians to mind their words? Will they realise how much a student is hurt when they abuses them verbally?" Charkha was fuming."Why are these so-called moralists against teenage love..."

"Excuse us Charkha, Manjith is on the phone with exclusive details."

Beaming Shweta and the hind-portion of the girl students. Blood stains thicker, background music louder.

"Tell us, Manjith. Who was Shweta's lover? How many hours did they spend in the hotel room?"

"Aplomb, the Principal of the school is with us..."

"Yes, Manjith. Dear viewers, the Principal of the school is with us, EXCLUSIVELY on this channel (capital letters to emphasise the tone that he used). Tell us Manjith. Is it confirmed that seventeen-year-old Shweta, plus-two student in a prestigious higher secondary school in the capital city, was out with her boyfriend? Dear viewers, our conclusion that the teacher's abuse as resulted in this situation is slowly turning right."

"Aplomb, what the Principal says is..." Line cut.

"Manjith... Manjith Mental...."

"Aplomb." Manjith on the phone, voice noticeably toned down. "The Principal says Shweta's brother and sister were the ones who took her. They had come from Mumbai and had the permission of the principal. They went out for a shopping, movie and had food in a restaurant. The class-teacher had scolded her without knowing all these."

"Thank you Manjith. Charkha is with us with more details from the hostel. Tell us, Charkha. Did seventeen-year-old Shweta, plus-two student in a prestigious higher secondary school in the capital city, commit suicide?"

"Aplomb, Shweta was just taking her bath in the bathroom after latching the door from inside. She has come out now, and she's moving to the dining hall with her roommates."

"Thank you Charkha. Dear viewers, we could not include any other news till now. We'll get back to you with more news in the next bulletin at 10. Stay tuned."

(English adaptation of the short story "Oru Plus-Two Vidyarthiniyude Aatmahatya" by Ashwati Shashikumar, published in Kalakaumudi weekly, dated November 8, 2009. Found the story interesting. Under house-arrest, I had all the time to do the work)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year

Where were you on the last days of 2009? Holidaying? At home? Office? I was experiencing my first stay in a hospital, and my maiden venture to an operation theatre! All because of a simple accident. Bike? Car? Nah, just a bicycle!

As always, I was waiting for February to come. For the past three years, my visits to home was either in a February or a September. But grandpa passed away unexpectedly. After a tiring journey, I was in Kollam on the day before Christmas, to see the frozen remains of the man who took care of my childhood. All the relatives were there, and the bosses were kind enough to grant me leave. I was supposed to be back in Bangalore after six days, but had a fall on the last day of my stay.

Early morning on the sixth day, the date of my return trip, we were heading towards the cremation ground to collect ashes for the post-burial rituals. Hartal had limited our entourage to five two-wheelers, all occupied, which left me with a bicycle. I was speeding, there was a bump on the road, the cycle skidded, I was hurled forward. That split-second wasn't enough for me to bring my arms forward. I landed on my chin.

"Keee..." blew a low whistle inside my ears. I managed to get up, but couldn't hear anything. Somebody came running towards me, caught hold of my shaking physique and made me sit on a concrete slab. By then, it was complete blackout. After a minute, I started hearing voices. Eyesight slowly returned. Maman was there, he gave me some water. My body was still trembling. I could sense something wrong with my lower jaw. The bite was just not right. Relatives took me to the hospital. There, an x-ray report confirmed my fears - a broken lower jaw!

Till then, I was praying that there shouldn't be any fracture. Now, the only thing that I didn't want was a surgery. Thankfully, the doc gave an alternative - metal braces for six weeks. OK, cool, I thought. They'll stick hinges on my teeth, tie it up, and silence! I got a rude awakening that evening, inside the operation theatre. They were going to sew the braces to my gums, and I realised it only after they injected anesthesia on my gums.

By the time they finished the embroidery work with metal wires on my upper gum, the drug's effect on the lower gum ran dry. They poked the needle, I screamed, and they injected the drug again...

After three days in the hospital and loads of injections (as I couldn't eat the pills), I landed back home. The picture is clear now. For the next six weeks, no eating, no speaking. Just drinking and, of course, typing!