Friday, November 21, 2008

I am not Aishwarya Rai.

Inspiration : Madhura's blog
The statement is "All girls like being looked at", and Madhura has given a really humble and honest account of her take on it. I went to primary school with her and I must say that I always thought it would have been so much better if I had Madhura's gooseberry-green eyes. :)

I spent all my childhood on stage. So even before I realized that I would be "looked at" at a later stage, people were looking at me! I absolutely enjoyed being looked at as a kid. I still remember the butterflies that I got in my stomach. Even when I was (over) fed to keep me happy before I went on stage to dance, I felt a vacuum in my belly before I stepped on. The jingle of ghungroos,the rustle of silk, the smell of about two dozen garlands of jasmine in my (fake) hair and the pleasant itching from the bangles and necklaces..all of it made me exceedingly happy. When on stage, all by myself, I knew that everyone below was looking at me, judging me, evaluating me. Amongst them were my parents too, proud and happy!
However, it was not always pleasant. Once I remember coming down with acute conjunctivitis and I had a performance lined up for my dance teacher's concert. I was in no mood to do it because my eyelids stuck to each other even when I blinked! My mom however made me get out of bed and live up to my promise. I had never hated wearing kolh so much before as I did that day! I still remember standing in the wing wearing glasses and mopping my eyes with cotton to avoid ruining my make-up! I think I was just ten years old then.

As I grew up, I turned exceedingly ugly and I actually do remember missing those lights and that attention when I stopped dancing. In the meantime, however I was "looked at" in speech and poetry festivals when I represented my school. I must say that attention was completely devoid of vanity. :)
I used to be this roly-poly, chubby teenager reciting R.L Stevenson or Keats on stage. I was into high-school theatre but I was never "looked at" by the members of the opposite sex with any significant curiosity! During those days, even though I did not particularly enjoy being looked at, I had to go through the horror. :D

Then there was a series of "take control of your life" weight loss programs. Running, skipping, swimming and Yoga coupled with "No carbs at night" and a fatless life. I must confess however, that it did not have any effect on the way people looked at me until the time I stopped caring about it. :D
Then it started again. Now in a different sense. And I must confess in all my honesty that when people look at you when you are just walking down a stupid street (without knowing that you can dance,talk and make them laugh) it does feel good!
I remember being extremely thrilled once when a coffee shop owner gave me a five minute lecture on why he found my eyes pretty. Even though it was instantly eclipsed by comments like,"He is just selling his coffee".

But then there are ways in which people look at you too!
Some of them might as well have 1-10 flash cards to hold up when you pass by!
Some of them look straight into your eyes and burst into an honest uninhibited smile.
Some have this expression that says,"There is something about this girl but I don't know what it is. She is not pretty for sure." :)
Some of them are just waiting for you to look back at them so that they can throw a really overwhelming compliment at you.
Some just look at you, fail you and move on to the next!
The look that I enjoy the most is when sometimes I show up in the lab in my hippie clothes on a weekend and someone sees me. It is like looking at retro Coca-Cola bottle when you are used to having it in a can!
The look that I have been the most patient with is when you are with your "breathtakingly beautiful" girl friend and they give you a sympathy look!

Over the years I have developed a theory to explain why "Most hot chics end up having really lame conversations". We had a discussion on this with my friends in Australia.
Hot chics usually realize that they are hot as soon as they turn 14. So they become extremely complacent (sometimes even annoyed) with the attention. Hence the other means of getting attention like
"being a nice person"
"having a sense of humor"
"being intelligent"
"understanding others"
are not utilized by them.
And being naturally attractive makes them neglect the "work-out" arena as well as the "health food" department.
So being really hot at a very young age is not necessarily a good thing. :D
I might sound a bit superficial but I think a lot of activities that we end up doing are motivated by an urge to be noticed.
I am just as grateful for the "ugly teenager" phase as I am for the earlier and later phases of my life. It has given me an opportunity to improve and also an ability to make peace with the fact that I am not Aishwarya Rai. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Journey of a Book :)

I was inspired to write this because of something I read on Vishnupriya's blog. I am not doing much these days (that must be obvious from the frequency of my blogs), so I spend time blog-browsing. Jumping from one blog-roll to another. :)
Well, this post reminds me of the journey of my favorite book. I refrain from writing about my personal life in my blog but I guess I am in a time and place in my life where I could, at least once afford that luxury!

"To Kill a Mocking Bird" is by far one of my most favorite books. I read it first when I was seventeen and I vividly remember sitting in the balcony of my third floor apartment in Pune, overlooking a really boring street below, reading that book. It was a gift from someone. It came all the way from Lausanne, Switzerland. Actually, now that I think of it, it came from from a credit card payment made in Switzerland. :) So let us say that it actually came from America. It was the first time ever in my life that I started getting gifts because I was "charming". :) I guess that was also one of the reasons why I liked that book so much.
I became the official spokes model for that book since that time. I gave it out as gifts to all my friends and the friendship that really made me read that book came to an end almost right after I read it! I even found myself getting angry at that book, but I couldn't. I read it about three times before I finally put it into the cupboard that showed off my reading!

A few years later, I got the opportunity to introduce another friend to it and it travelled all the way to Germany, I guess. I had a few good coffees after it came back to India but I just kept having coffees without getting the book back! :)
Then it was time for my friend to pack up and go away and in the last minute frenzy, my book was overlooked. Once again I turned into a grumpy old woman and just before I left for Australia my best friend got me a copy of the same book just to cheer me up! :)

I forgot all about it when I arrived here and dutifully immersed myself in a lot of article-reading. Then on my 25th birthday, I got a package that came all the way from America (again!) that contained a birthday card and my lost book! I think that kind of completed a full circle for the poor book which is I think almost ten years old now!
It sits on the shelf on my desk. Not as shiny as it looked before, but definitely full of character!
I think my copy of "To Kill a Mocking Bird" has been to more places than I have been to! I wonder what it would say if it could talk.
It would probably say in its old and shaky voice, "Sometimes, excuses make better reasons! I am one of them. "

I was very possessive about my books when I was in India. So much so that I even had fights with my dad over them but these days, I would be glad to give out all my books (except my Calvin and Hobbes) to whoever wants to read them. I think my copy of Mocking Bird taught me to be generous. :) Because there is a greater joy in meeting again after even the tiniest hope of meeting is lost. There is a bigger happiness in getting a fat fed-ex package from the other side of the world for something as stupid as a borrowed book. :)
It silently reinforces many beliefs that age and immaturity keep us away from!

Cheers to my book and for all the circumstances that made me write this post!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Kolhapuri Marathi

I am a week away from going to India for a holiday. :)

This is somehow making me more and more nostalgic.

I have always been really proud of the city that I was born in - Kolhapur. Every city has a personality. Like how Paris always reminds you of fashion and perfumes, Switzerland reminds you of chocolates,knifes and Roger Federer (how is he doing these days?) and Brisbane is for the Gabba and beeah (beer). In India too every city comes with her own aura.

Pune , the city that I grew up in is where everyone talks like a book. Even when they want to insult each other, Punekars tend to use "Kalidas" and "Shakespeare" from their arsenal of knowledge. Shopkeepers close their shops from 1pm-4pm in the afternoon (to enjoy an afternoon nap) and if you want to make "shrikhanda" when you expect people for a dinner on a weekday you have to schedule the "chakka" purchase taking Chitale Bandhu's convenience into account!
Everyone including the fruit seller in Phule Mandai to the ticket seller at the railway station think they are somebody really important and special, which would also explain my behavior at times. :)

However my birth city is a complete contrast to Pune and sometimes I am really glad that I got the opportunity to go away from Pune and look at it from a Kolhapuri's perspective. If you talk like a book in Kolhapur, they interrupt you (usually with swear words that would lose their charm if I use their English equivalents) and tell you that you are not normal. While talking like a book is not normal in Kolhapur, adding about 50 grams of red-hot chilly to 200 g of chicken curry is completely normal. However not being able to eat that (and breaking into cold sweat when attempting to do it) is completely abnormal. The assal Kolhapuri equivalents of all the internationally accepted swear words are thrown in into any conversation. Even when it is the galli-gossip going on between two women. So while a Puneri might turn into a red tomato with such bad language, it is extremely essential in the Kolhapuri conversations. During one of his most composed and contemplative moods, people would hear my grandfather reciting the Bhagwad Geeta. However, in moments of extreme anger or extreme pride he would join his fellow Kolhapuris in dispensing the usual bad language.

The most endearing aspect about Kolhapur is her laid-back attitude. Kolhapur is not Mumbai. Everyone has time for you. When I go and stay with my grandfather in his house in Kolhapur I just have to stand in the balcony to get dinner invites. While I am enjoying an easy cup of tea with ajoba, almost every person passing on the road below stops and talks to me for a few minutes and ends the conversation with a dinner invite. :)

Needless to say that it takes a lot of courage to accept a Kolhapuri's invitation, for most of the times the food is too hot to handle.
Some of my favorite places in Kolhapur are the Khasbag misal, the bhel-carts in Rajarampuri, a crazy little restaurant called "Vahini" somewhere in the city, the Mahalaxmi temple and everything around it and Rankala!!
I came across this video which best describes the spunk, innocence and happiness that this city radiates. :)

Just 7 more days to go! Yey!

Monday, November 03, 2008

From Kolhapur to Brisbane

I don't know about everybody else, but the memory of my existence starts from a very specific day in my life. I remember my life in discrete memory packets (such a geek!) from the time when I was two. It starts with a hot and humid May afternoon in Kolhapur. My granny was reading out stories from the Arabian Nights to me and I heard my cousin climb up the wooden steps. I think it was a Saturday and she finished school early. I was too young to go to school so every now and then, I used to be dispatched to Kolhapur to spend time with my grandparents. When I heard her foot-steps I was overjoyed (as a real playmate was better than imagining a dog with eyes the size of saucers) and I rushed out into the living room. What I saw is a permanent memory in the folds of my brain. My cousin was hopping up barefoot on the wooden steps because apparently she had removed her shoes on the street and accidentally stepped in dog-poo. 
When my aunt saw this, she rewarded her with a whack on the head and took her straight to the tap in the garden! 
Due to her soggy mood that continued in the later parts of the day, I had to get back to Arabian Nights. 
All my memories are associated with the stories that were read to me or the books that I read during those times of my life. Even the apparently idle and boring phases of my life have their share of books. :)

I started off with Arabian Nights and Aesop's Fables, which my grandmother used to read out to me at various times in a day. I thank her for her patience and willingness to open up my imagination and I thank the God of  Technology who was dormant in the 80s. This stopped the invasion of television in my life when it was least desired. I started reading pretty soon and graduated on to the usual fairy tales that all girls read. 
The later parts of my childhood are associated with the Adventures of Dennis, which has been one of my most favorite books. The copy that I had was a translation from Russian into Marathi and I think it was funnier than the English version. 
During this time ajji (my grandmom) continued her impalpable reading and introduced me to some of the finest work in Marathi literature. 
On hot summer evenings, we used to sit on the balcony of  the pretty house in Kolhapur and read plays. Sometimes ajji used to pick a character and my cousin and I used to pick our own. We would pass the book around and try and enact the play as if it were real! I read Sharda (G.B.Deval) and Ekach Pyala (R.G.Gadkari) during the summer holidays when I was around ten. With every summer break that came after that my taste in literature got one step further. Ajji slowly introduced me to Marathi poetry, which inspired me to write some of my own. She is a big fan of  Bha.Ra.Tambe and Suresh Bhat. 
During my early teenage years, our evening balcony sessions were full of poetry. One for each occasion! Needless to say that Marathi poetry and Marathi Natyasangeet go hand in hand. You have to learn to appreciate both in order to be a theatre-going-snob in Pune. My ajji is very creative and in order to make it all interesting for me she also included Acharya Atre's Zenduchi Phule in the poetry section. So every time she read out a sad and serious poem, she used to top it with the parody version that Acharya Atre came up with! That phase was indeed a lot of fun. 
My ajji was however "not-so-impressed" with Pu.La Deshpande. So my admiration for him grew only during the school sessions when I was in Pune with my other bibliophilic friends. I ventured into reading English literature only when I was about thirteen years old. Those were the "rebel" days of my life when I refused to go to Kolhapur and preferred to stay in Pune during my summer holidays to be with my friends. I guess that is just as much rebellion a middle-class Maharashtrian can get away with anyway!
 Although like all average school girls, I had my share of Nancy Drew from the school-library, I started reading seriously only when I turned into a teenager. Suddenly my life was filled with W.Somerset Maughm, Agatha Cristie, P.G.Wodehouse and a little bit of Wordsworth. However, I never really gave up on my pursuit of Marathi literature. As I found myself turning into a young woman, I was exceedingly fascinated by Marathi poets. Na.Dho.Mahanor and Kavi Grace were amongst them. My parents realized my inclination towards poetry and gave me an open road to chase whatever I wanted to. The fact that I was fascinated by abstract Grace or rustic love-poems by Mahanor when I was just fifteen never bothered my parents. I did feel a bit out of place because of my tastes in entertainment and I am pretty sure some of my school-friends thought I was a bit weird during those days. I turned into a loner for a while and this is when I read and loved all the poetry that I have ever read. Poetry has always connected me to people and I tend to get fascinated by people with a way with poetry. It doesn't matter if they make it or just say it!
During my days as a student of Chemical Engineering, my reading took a back-seat and it was seasoned only with the Harry Potter series (I have read and followed all the books and I avoid watching the movies because I have my own versions of Harry,Ron and Hermione in my head).As I eased into engineering however I began reading again and that phase was marked with a lot of Alpha to Omega series by Osho. This was something I picked up from my grandfather who did not play a major role in my childhood reading. He is a follower of philosophical writing and has read various versions of the ancient Indian scriptures, especially the upanishads. I also discovered Richard Bach during these years and read a couple of books by him which have made me think differently. Most of the Bhagwad Geeta I know is through the long (digressing) discourses from my grandfather in the wee hours of the morning. He loves getting up at 4 AM and if you wake up around that time he makes sure that you are turned into a disciple. Although I dozed off in between his metaphors (and ajji's heart filled with pity) I am really glad I was introduced to it by someone like him.
These days reading is not as regular as it used to be because of long patches of research reading. However these days I am reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is an analysis of human thinking!
I think that you are what you are because of the people you grow up around. I was fortunate enough to have enough romanticism, philosophy and science around me. It has helped me see everything there is and also choose what I like. My reading buddies (ajji,aai,baba,Neha and Ameya) have helped me develop my own personal culture. When you are away from home, your personal culture is one of the most important means of survival and progress!
I am grateful for this journey!