Friday, December 23, 2005

Yule-tide Greetings

When I was about 7 years old, my cousins and I discovered the art of card-making. Instant thrill! We could finally wish everyone we knew (about 3 people) with a personalised card, hand-made to their specifications. A hand-made card said, in the nicest possible way, “I'm thinking of you”. It also said that we had too much time on our hands and not enough entertainment... We didn’t discriminate: everyone got their own card. Mostly the kind of card that’s sure to give you a paper cut - badly cut, created by folding a sheet of chart paper and running a knife down the creases. Crooked cards, that stood only with support from other cards, and that never, in all the years we persevered, fit any envelope.

Diwali inspired flames, leaping from red and gold diyas on muddy brown earthen plates. Not-quite-believable sparklers and tubris (anars) spat sparks all over the white paper, and chorkis spun across the landscape, narrowly avoiding upsetting the diyas and causing carnage. Lacking the capability for accurate representation, we decided to settle for flamboyance: our flames made up in colour - red, orange, yellow, blue, green - what they lacked in credibility.

There were no cards for Pujo (we knew better than that, and scornfully corrected non-Bengali classmates who had the gall to wish us “Happy Pujo”). Pujo was new clothes and “thakur dekha” - going from pandal to pandal to see the different protimas and murthis (earthen images of the goddess Durga, her 4 offspring, her vahan and the asur she’d killed. The asur always looked defiant, even with his chest cut open and spurting blood. Durga herself always looked serene and peaceful, and it always impressed me that after having battled for so long, she didn’t look scarred and bloody, that her expression never reflected the wrath of god. But that was as far as my spiritual wondering went. Pujo was less about religion and more about that particular colour of light, when the sunlight turned to sunshine; about riding endlessly on Ferris wheels in fairs after a cursory pronam to the protima occupying the same park. (Many years later, it would be about wandering around the city all night, eating indiscriminately from food-stalls, commenting on the resemblance of the asurs to the demons of the day - at various points, the asurs in Calcutta pandals looked like Saddam Hussain, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, etc.)

But the approach of December was when the home-made paper card industry really boomed. All month, we’d be busy drawing crooked, cactus-like holly leaves and berries, none of which we’d ever actually seen. Attempts to draw Yule-logs blazing merrily in fireplaces were beyond our artistic abilities and died a natural death. But on occasion, and only for very special people, we would persevere with an almost completely inaccurate “Christmas tree”. This always took weeks and many drafts to create, dusted with what we fondly imagined looked like lightly fallen snow (but what, in fact, looked like some strange and virulent form of white fungus that was slowly engulfing large sections of the branches) and decorated with enough round, shiny ornaments hanging from the branches to make the tree collapse. (It never occurred to us that a tree was unlikely to be covered with snow and ornaments at the same time.) The piles of wrapped presents under the tree was where we really went to town – hideous wrapping paper and red ribbons emerged from our hours of effort, making us almost salivate with vicarious glee. “The kids” - younger siblings - got cards with torturously mis-shapen Santas creeping through the snow, reeling under the weight of huge sacks bigger than themselves. Occasionally, Santa would be sitting in a mysterious vehicle that looked like a chair with runners, but turned out, after much examination and huge leaps of imagination, to be a sled. A magical, self-propelled sled (in the manner of the Knight Rider), because reindeer, too, were beyond our ken (Irish for "can do").

I can’t remember the last time I even sent someone a card… or made one for them, though, in my mind, it still ranks up there (with the making of mixed tapes) as a way of showing abiding affection. It’s been a while since I’ve sat on sheets of chart-paper strewn around the floor, surrounded by scissors and crayons and rulers. And I suddenly wondered if I could still, at a pinch, draw a semi-believable Christmas tree and gifts. So here you go – this one’s for you. Merry Christmas. :)

By the way, the strange thing behind one of the presents is a puppy – something I asked "Santa" for every single Christmas, until “he” finally caved in under the unrelenting pressure of my “I have been a good girl this year” letters, stopped worrying about pee on the carpet and fur everywhere, and got me one.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


a. If affection is to be judged by the volume of email one gets from someone, then the only people who truly love me are someone-Volkswagen, something-or-other-Honda, la-la-la-Toyota and whoop-de-do-Kia.

b. It is strangely liberating to watch a movie on one's own at a theatre. No worrying about your sweaty palms or someone else's. No interruption from someone leaning over and asking you to explain something. No distraction in the form of frissons of pleasure from your knee touching someone else's. Nada. Just you and the big screen. Everyone else fades into oblivion and you sink into the movie.

c. Of course, when it comes time to get pop-corn or a drink, it's more fun when someone else is there.

d. Even when it's not snowing, it can be @#)!%$* cold outside.

e. Speaking of which, feeling cold is partly psycho-somatic. 15 degrees F doesn't sound too bad, until you do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and realise it means MINUS 8 degrees C. That's when you really begin to freeze.

f. Nothing tastes better on these freezing nights than green chillies, added by the pound to everything you cook. Of course, the chillies rather drown out the taste of other masala you put in, but that's sort of the point.

g. There are few things as wonderful as hearing friends' voices from across the oceans, even when you can also hear the sounds of their morning ablutions over the sounds of your laughter. Happy birthday, T. :)

h. It is possible to get really tired of listening to "jingle bell rock". Really, really tired. Claw-out-the-damn-radio-and-throw-it-out-of-the-window tired, because every%!_)*! channel is playing it.

i. Procrastination is bliss.

j. Russell Peters rocks.


What he said.
The internet is fascinating!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Secret World

Sitting at the office, working on a humongous project, I plug in my ear-phones and slide in a CD I haven't heard for a while. (Secret World Live, in case you were wondering.) It's been a while since I could concentrate on work with music playing in the background - the habit I carelessly took for granted through school and college seems to have rusted out.

Today's an exception though. For some reason, the concentration is unflagging.

Perhaps because some albums, particular pieces of music, bring up sharp, distinct memories, strong enough to assault you. Memories that make you take five minutes off from work to remember and laugh, send a quick email to people associated with the picture in your mind, and then return peacefully to work.

This particular album is one of those... the first time I heard Peter Gabriel was at my friend T's house. T was a year senior to me in college, and given that I attended college once in a blue moon (at my viva, I was asked, "are you sure you belong to this class?" - and I can tell you it was tempting to say, "No, sorry, my mistake," and walk right out of there - which, in light of the carnage that followed, might have been the intelligent thing to do), it was a wonder that we became friends... but we did. Right from my first day at college, when he singled me out from the others being subjected to somwewhat un-inspired ragging, to make me treat him to a coffee and smoke.

T lived reasonably close to college, and on winter afternoons, when the desire for some good music pushed the desire not to attend classes over the tip of the scales, we'd go back to his place to listen to generations of rock, drink hot, sweet tea, sneak smokes on his balcony (conveniently hidden from view by large-leafed trees) and talk about life. (Mostly, since he had an inconveniently good memory, we'd discuss my exploits, which he'd drag up at every opportunity, and I'd rue the day I'd ever told him about... but that's another story.)

T and I haven't met too often since we left college - we've been playing the "gechho dada" game for too long. So, when I was in Bombay, T was in Cal. When T moved to Bombay, I moved to Kozhikode. When I finally moved back to Bombay, T moved back to Cal. And so on.

T's not much of a talker on the phone either, so we haven't spoken much over the years. But each time we've met, after we've shared a drink and a smoke and updated each other on our lives and the new music we've discovered, T's managed to dredge up, from the depths of my chequered past, incidents that even I don't remember, incidents that I've then spent years erasing from my memory.

Until I meet T again, that is. Even when they remember things about you that you'd rather not - or, who knows, perhaps precisely for that reason - thank god for old friends.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

B Flat Minor

You know how it is when you have a particular tune running through your head, over and over in a loop, stuck inside your mind without your even being aware? It plays itself out all day, barely causing a ripple in your consciousness... just a pleasant sense of something different about the day. You go about your work, letting your mind dance to a different tune. You drive home listening to the radio, but as you drive, the tune starts taking over, making itself heard over everything else until, by the time you reach home, you've turned off the radio, and you're humming it. Almost on auto-pilot, still not entirely aware of it.

You walk up the stairs, dump your bags and coat on the floor as you walk in, take a shower, make some hot tea with ginger and look out the window at the first snow of the season. Still humming. Still unaware.

And suddenly, the tune goes into Dolby stereo mode, with full Technicolour effects, and you sit up, half delighted, half nostalgic, and start humming it, na-na-NA-na-na-na, and remembering others that went "with" it.

There are times I've had awful tunes stuck inside my head - like that awful song, "no life without wife" from that awful movie, "Bridge and Prejudice" (yes, yes, I AM prejudiced). But for the last few days, it's been Chopin. Conjuring up a storm inside my head with a Prelude I can no longer identify, though my fingers, through some form of mystical physical memory (perhaps we're all made of memory foam?) remember the ebb and flow of it.

I went through a whole day of routine without noticing its sudden presence. It was only that night, reading in a yellow glow, that it came crashing through the fog and accosted me. Distracted me. Disarmed me. Twisted me around a corner and whirled me into the sounds.

And now, I can't get it out of my head. I've been googling desparately for a couple of days, trying to find some free downloads of Chopin's Preludes and Etudes. No success. Perhaps I should just get a piano and the score and start teaching myself all over again. Meanwhile, the tune goes na-na-NA-na-na-na - if you can identify which Prelude it is, please let me know.

Friday, December 02, 2005

So This is Hell

On a hypothetical Friday evening in the hypothetical month of December, a mythical woman sits at her desk at the office, poring over an 80 page document that she must - MUST - (hypothetically, of course) clean up and send out to her hypothetical client.

On page what-feels-like-three-hundred-and-seventeen-and-a-half (hypothetical documents being allowed to have "half" page numbers - though undoubtedly, imaginary numbers might suit them better), she reads the following:

"Hypothetical-company-name follows the above mentioned methodology in general for all application developments and can be further tailor made to suite the specific client requirement, whatever it is. One of such tailored execution approach is depicted below"

Incorrect. What's below is my hypothetical head after I put it through the shredder.