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Showing posts from September, 2006

Ready, Steady, Charity - 19

Mumbaigirl's words - Burp, goddess, disposable

Neha's take

Appa, she asks, Why did she
write about the God of Small
Things? His paternal self, rising
like a burp through his belly
fills the air with food and
tradition. Sour and somewhat

Does she mean small things
like snails, or like little baby

Because, chinna kutti, he
says, some small things are for
keeps, the others disposable. The
Goddess, I think, takes care
of the latter.

Like your shaving blade? Yes, he
nods. Like that only.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 18

Chinna Ammani's words - Osama, Kandivali, Navarathri Golu

Annon's take

It was difficult picking up vigrahams for Navarathri Golu, everyone had the same Gods, and Vedavalli wanted something different. She had gone around the shops, but she was a face freak, and she didn't find anything different and never found any vigrahams with kalai.

The nose was chaptai, or the eyes were skewed, or the ears fell off. Finally, near charkop market in Kandivali, she suddenly found someone with a whole bunch of Pandava and Kaurava dolls that were beautiful. Why not have a Mahabharata theme? She was very excited. The old lady selling them was offering them cheap as well, maybe she didn't want to carry everything all the way back home.

So, she got the lot and began arranging them. It was reasonably clear who was who, Duhshasana even had a Sari trailing behind him, and finally she came to a bearded figure she didn't know?

Who has a beard? Yudhishtra, Sahadeva? I already have them, they …

Ready, Steady, Charity - 17

Siva's words - Innocent (as in smoothie), ceiling, googly

Ammani's take

You cannot make up such stories. This happened for real. At a party a while ago, my friend Jem was trying to explain to his friend Francois what a googly is. It's the opposite of a leg break, said Jem to his uncomprehending listener, it spins from offside to leg. Francois, the cricket novice, failed to grasp any of it and ended up sighing a lot, shrugging his shoulders and rolling his eyes towards the ceiling.

A googly, persisted Jem, can also be achieved by bowling the ball as a conventional leg break, but spinning the ball further with the fingers just before it is released. And to illustrate his point, Jem grabbed a bottle of Innocent smoothie which had been left on the table and spun it around deftly. The slippery bottle escaped Jem's grasp and landed smack on someone's face. The poor girl had to be rushed to the hospital where she had to endure five stitches on her forehead. We still tease Je…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 16

Niren's words - Triceratops, velvet, tabla

Neha's take

The Master comes everyday from 11 AM to 1 PM. Two hours of the day when she learns music, reluctantly. She didn’t need any intellectual pursuits she told Venkat. But, Hindustani allowed for a certain languid mood that found resonance. After witnessing his fifteen minute teen taal orgy with the tabla, she wondered if she could begin to like this after all.

Maybe if she got pregnant, Venkat would let her stop the bloody music lessons. In the middle of the alaap, she finds herself sinking in the unmistakable velvet wetness of her period. Her eyes fill with water. Master looks at her - tabla, eyes and gesture posed in gentle question mark. She shakes her head side to side. Whispers, “Triceratops. Eyedrops for those who remember too much.”.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 15

Anon's words - schadenfreude, pontificate and synesthesia

Shoefiend's take

Schadenfreude, Pontificate and Synesthesia were best friends. They were born within hours of eachother. Their parents played bridge together ever Friday night. They had crawled together, walked together and even looked at their first Playword together (The centerfold that month had been a rather well endowed B) In short, they were inseparable. On their 13th birthday they met as was custom after breakfast and exchanged gifts. That year Pontificate decided his gift was to talk at length about what their purpose in life was. Synesthesia gave his two friends harmless looking white powder so they could experience words and number in all their coloured glory. It made Pontificate pass out. Schadenfreude couldn't help but gloat.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 14

WitchyAngel's words - Manolos, asparagus, halwa

Shoefiend's take

Her 8th birthday had been marked with a visit to the temple, her mother's carrot halwa and a strand of kanakambaram. Two decades later she found herself being ushered by an imperious maitre d' to their table. She reveled in the sidelong glances of jealousy and desire. The deceptively simple cut of her dress. The discrete solitaires. The dazzling beaded clutch. But she knew it was the shoes that lifted her to another level altogether.

That morning, as she lay in bed she had quivered in anticipation as he handed her the box. The wrapping paper was torn apart fiendishly until she reached the simple white box and the two words printed on the lid. She had almost passed out with excitement when she'd touched the black Manolos. She now had everything.

Her cream of asparagus soup arrived. As she sat staring at the bowl of steaming mush she couldn't help but wish for some halwa.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 13

Apu's words - Graffiti, blimp, seersucker

Annon's take

Kalyanasundaram sastrigal set off on his moped, wearing his seersucker angavastram. Business was not good. There were a few families that still liked him, but they were calling only for dharbai, amavasai, replacement poonals. He was lucky to get 3-4 divasams a month.

Yaga Narasimha Sastrigal and his disciples had taken over the market. He was scornful when YN Sastrigal´s ads appeared in block multi-colored Graffiti. He said this was no better than seeing prostitutes phone numbers in telephone booths. Then the advertisements happened on large balloons. Old ladies in Triplicane squinted up at the sky and began calling the number on the balloon. Now, YN had taken to going around Madras in a blimp, administering quick divasams. He was even conducting mass yagnopaveethams from the blimp as it circulated around Marina beach.

Ammani cried today morning when she went to pick up fresh koththamalli. YN Sastrigal had dropped his ads …

Ready, Steady, Charity - 12

Swami's words - Ghatotkacha, Rumsfeld and Banian

Neha's take

He didn’t miss her all the time. He had no time for such languid emotions. But in the morning while in the shower, he suddenly realized that her black bra was no longer hanging where it usually would, dripping water on the tiles. Slipping into his banian, he quickly says a prayer. This Gatotkacha of emotions, sleeping otherwise, woken only by sudden visions of her in this familiar house. He calls softly to the dog, “Abishtu”. Abishtu flops his ear open. “Do you miss Akila?”.

The softness of a banian is more valuable than the newness of it. It grows soft as it ages, much like Grandmother’s cheeks. A small hole underarm is held like a close secret. Akila, he thought, how much I love you. He walks into the living room. He looks at Raghavan deftly scooping out idlis while nodding towards the newspaper, “Rumseld and Michael Jackson wedding pictures. All over the papers. They both look so good in Pink.” Akila, you hate pink. …

Ready, Steady, Charity - 11

Swami's three words - Bashi-bazouk, curd rice, Kremlin

Annon's take

For a long time, it never struck me as strange that all the General Secretaries of USSR landed up at our house.

Brezhnev used to land up every now and then. Kanjoos. Bought us sputnik magazines we got for free at Popular Book depot. He loved the vadais patti made. Once in a while patti would scream. Bashi-Bazouk! Naivedhyam kooda pannale, inda Brezhnev vadayellam thinnuttu poyittan!

I was upset that they were made to sit at the Vishnu elai in all our functions. I never understood why I couldn't sit there. Appa and Amma were afraid of them. Patti didn't care. She would hand Andropov a bucket and say, Poi Thulasikku Thanni Oothhu, and Andropov would dutifully do it and come back.

Khruschev was a bit in love with Patti. Suddenly we found that Thatha, who died long ago, who had never done anything as Health inspector but run behind cholera patients with a large needle, had been awarded the order of Lenin. Since…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 10

Prabhu's words - Ferrari, Vijayakanth, Salma Hayek

Neha's take

It was back to college. His month long feast of good food and afternoon sleep was over. He would sprawl over the dull coloured sofa and watch television. Hot bajjis making their way onto his plate while he would watch F1 re-runs, rooting for Ferrari. During particularly boring laps, he would follow his mother into the kitchen and she would indulgingly ask him for the umpteenth time, "What is this? Why do you want to see madmen race in those little cars?". He would grin and ask for more bajjis. Such pleasant tiffin routines. His father would grab the remote control and insist on watching some Vijayakanth movie. His mother would want to watch the serials on Sun TV. They would have these well-oiled dialogues ridiculing each other's tastes. His eyes fill with tears. Maybe he should have studied harder and gotten into the college near home.

Back home his mother weeps and sobs. Unconsolable. She has her son…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 9

Apu's three words - Graffiti, blimp, seersucker

Shoefiend's take

It was almost funny, his dying like that. A mid-air collision between a blimp in the shape of a Weenie Weiner and his hot air balloon. The tabloids had had a field day; 'Actor killed by giant Weiner'. 'Mid-air cock up' and the like had dominated the headlines until they discovered a sixty year old Oscar winner in bed with an underage rent boy. And just like that, he had been forgotten. She missed him. For all his philandering and drinking he'd been a good husband by the industry standards. He'd given her a 20 room mansion in Bel Air, furs and a private jet. But most of all he'd given her his name. A name that got her a table at Maison, store credit at Bergdorf's and free drinks at Chi. She was nothing now. Nobody. They'd said they were full up at the Whiltshire Spa the other day. Full up! They'd cancelled that Welsh girl once to put her in. And now they were full up.

She stepp…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 8

Chandru's words - Knit, x-rays, Brylcreem

Ammani's take

Last Thursday, Ambujam mami was told by her doctor that she needed an x-ray. You see, recently she had been knitting a lot and had developed a common ailment called knitters' wrist (similar to the tennis elbow). Now, Ambujam mami had a fear of x-rays and secretly believed that photographs reduced longevity. And for years had guarded herself against the devilish influence of the flash bulb. But this morning, there was no escaping the electromagnetic radiation. She removed the three gold bangles from her right hand and lay her bare wrist against the cool metal plate.

The radiographer did his best to allay her fears. This is not a photograph, he told the eighty year old, X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 10 -10 meter. So well educated, thought Ambujam mami, he must be the same age as my Ambi, but what a difference! With his hair parted and combed in place, the young man reminded mami …

Ready, Steady, Charity - 7

S's words - Maida, Surya, bucket

Shoefiend's take

The overturned bucket was pushed up as close to the wall as possible. She stood on it, picking up and shaking each identical dabba that sat in a row like shiny, stainless steel sentinels until she found what she was looking for.

Squatting down on the living room floor she measured out three cups of maida. The news competed with her mother-in-law’s gaseous emissions and her own day’s headlines for attention. She sprinkled salt over the flour. Twenty men dead from drinking illicit country liquor. She slowly added water and began kneading. Her daughter had failed in maths again. Centre refuses to interfere in State’s water shortage. Her kneading fell in to beat with the news readers staccato delivery. Her mother-in-law wanted to know what Deepavali bakshanam they were making. Teachers go on strike in Machilipattinam. A month in advance. Her hands were pummelling the dough now. Her husband had said they couldn’t afford a new colour te…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 6

Dinesh Kalyanasundaram's words - Telepathic, Grand slam, New york nagaram

Neha's take

Dear Selvi,

Apparently you've had the baby. It's hard to tell if it's a boy or girl sitting in this city, halfway across the world. I may be a genius but telepathic I am not. Have you named the child yet? I suppose my suggestion of naming a child after my parents may not sit well with you. My mother thinks that the birth of this child is akin to a Grand Slam victory. That for a year or so, we'll bask in the glory of a chlid and fall in love again. She thinks you will come back to this city with her and the baby in tow, so she can look at her daughter-in-law struggle with a tiny creature wearing an arana kayaru. She refuses to come without you. A grandchild is the only way to transform New York City to New York Nagaram.

Can't we just pretend you love me?


Ready, Steady, Charity - 5

Apu's words - Arboreal, mosquitoes, miracle

Ammani's take

Manas, the mosquito harbours a secret. He is arboreal. That means he lives predominantly in bushes and trees. Now, for you and me who know that a mosquito's natural habitat is humid, wet conditions, this might seem a miracle. But for Manas it was natural to live among greenery. And he was quite happy buzzing there for the first 23 hours of his life till he realised that he was rather alone. So he sought company. Unfortunately, his rare ability meant that none of his species could live up there with him. Which left Manas, unable to breed and pass on his mutant gene. Hours have gone by and Manas, it appears, is doomed to spend his old age alone. In one final stab at the mating game, Manas is going to attend a speed-dating event scheduled for this evening in your living room. Please do not swat him.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 4

Swami's words - Cicisbeo, tourbillon, chateau

Shoefiend's take

As she walked towards the microphone a hushed silence fell over the room. The bald man in the third row stopped shaking his leg; bringing to an end the 'shk shk shk' sound his polyester trousers made as one synthetic leg rubbed against the other. She could see her mother sitting right up front, lips moving as silent prayers invoking His thousand names and meant only for His ears escaped in to the universe. The Chinese (or was he Korean) boy Kim walked past her grinning. Chateau? Please. A five year old could take that. Standards had dropped since last year. Last year. That had been something. Tourbillon. Now there was a word. Her word. The applause had been deafening. The interviews never ending. Champion. C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N. Champion.

She stood at the microphone now. Arms behind her back, tightly clasped, fingers digging in to the skin. Painfully. To remind her what losing would feel like her mother had said. Wh…

Ready, Steady, Charity - 3

Swami's words - Bashi-Bazouk, curd-rice and Kremlin

Neha's take

He read all the time. Even while walking, he splits his vision between minimum safety on the street and on reading. His index finger has become smooth on the edges, like a stone softened by the flow of water. Every word leads to another. He looks at the onion soaked to pink in the vinegar. Gleaming like a dome in the Kremlin. At twenty five, even his hormones had submitted to the negligence. The words become Bashi-Bazouk and tickle his insides when he is asleep. His mother, tears in her eyes and diamonds in nosepin begs him to marry soon. He threatens to go to Istanbul. I will survive on curd-rice he tells her.

Ready, Steady, Charity - 2

Arthi's words - cigarette, baby, Kamalhassan

Neha's take

Being married to a man in the Army wouldn't be easy. This much she knew. But it was in the moment that her son was born that the first vein burst. Smelling of cigarette and red sand, the Brigadier walked in and congratulated the Officer and the Wife. He looked down and said, "What a handsome Baba!". Baba? In Army parlance, Baby had become female and hence, the male offspring was referred to as Baba. Postpartum, the word reminded her of the Rajnikanth in that awful movie. Maybe she should have married Gangadhar. He had preferred Kamal Haasan anyway.

Chandru's take

So, there I was, smoking the last of the day's cigarettes, listening to my whiny radio tear asunder Ilaya Nila. Thoughts fly on tangents, as they are prone to. I wonder what happened to that cousin of mine, whom we called Baby, and his obsession with clean bathroom floors. Which reminds me, I wanted to see Raja Parvai. Where Kamal Hassan is a b…

Ready, Steady, Charity-1

K S Selvakumar's w0rds: Cocker-Spaniel, Ilayaraja, sleep

Neha's take

From the corner of his eye, he spied on the the delicate pinkness of the dog’s tongue, one-tenth of which had slipped out of the jaws in the drowse of afternoon sleep. Postprandial, a life full of the hairiness of a cocker-spaniel named Coovum and the hum of violins. Inertia broken by the absolute need to scratch his back. He wondered then, why Ilayaraja had chosen to name the collection ‘Nothing But Wind’. It sounded curiously close to the phrase his grandmother used after eating a few Ulundu Vadais. As if on cue, Coovum wagged his tail.


Yesterday, as I was walking down a supermarket aisle, looking for a dozenlarge, organic, free-range eggs, I knew that the change was complete.

A quick tale 160

Stranger on the road

I spot you at a distance. Some hundred metres or so away. It's hard to miss you in your bright red t-shirt and your bobbing hair that keeps in rhythmn with your jog. I recognise you as a face from the past. But I cannot place you. Perhaps an aunt's neighbour. Or a cousin's classmate. Or did you go to school with me? Were you my driving instructor? I'm still furiously going through my mental snapshots while I notice that you're now 50 metres from me. Your name. Something beginning with an S. Or a K. It definitely has a J in it. Meanwhile, you are steadily narrowing the distance between us. Quick, I need to remember who you are. How should I greet you? A polite smile? Or should I add a 'how are you' and risk further conversation? You're now 10 metres from me. Something-Raj, yes, that's it. Your name is Something-Raj. Nice. You're just a handshake away. Our eyes meet. You quickly avert your gaze. And as you jogged past me, I tho…

A quick tale 159

An e.g. day

It had been at an exceptionally good day thus far. The wife was smiling when he came down in the morning. She even offered to make him coffee. Later, as he drove to work, his car stalled at the traffic lights. And as it stood there, rooted in the middle of busy, morning traffic and as the lights turned from red to green to red again, not one car honked, not one driver snarled at him. And at 11 o'clock, when he usually took a coffee break, a colleague remarked how dapper he was looking that day. And at 5.33, when he tuned into the drive time show on classic fm, the host played his favourite composition by Puccini. This must be a sign, he thought. A day cannot be so right without a reason. So on his way home, he stopped by at the corner store. And bought a lottery ticket for a draw later that evening. He won nothing. Not even close. It had been an exceptionally good day up until then.

A quick tale 158


Two brothers are trying to solve a puzzle. The answer to which is 'flamenco'. But they don't know it yet and they have been staring at the page for a few minutes now. Please God, pleads the younger of the two silently, give me the answer. My brother has everything in life. Heck, he even found a free voucher in the cereal box last week. Me, I never win anything. My relationship is a mess and my career a non-starter. My car brokedown on the way here and I can never find trousers my size. It's all going wrong for me. Just let me solve this puzzle before he does. By now, it has been close to 4 minutes that the brothers have been focussed on the clue with no sign of cracking it. The answer is on page 56, suggests the older brother, should we take a look? If you insist, says the younger brother. Shrugging his shoulder as if he didn't care.

p.s. Inviting readers to write the other side of this story. From the point of view of the older brother. Call it 'Around t…

A quick tale 157

At around the same time as a quick tale 156

I wonder, she thought as she lay on her back, whatever happened to that guy who lived across the street from us. The one I briefly had a crush on before I found him in a pink polyester shirt one morning. And what about that girl, the one who would walk with me to school every morning. Where could she be? And the old headmistress, she thought letting out a sigh, I wonder what became of her. I can still remember her words the day I left school. Would she be disappointed if she saw me today? Or would she be proud? Would she even remember me? Is she still alive? I must search for her on the internet tomorrow, she resolved when she felt him stir beside her. He turned to his side and put his arm across her in a hug. Damn these coffees, she thought, keeping me awake all night. I won't drink a single drop tomorrow, she swore as she closed her eyes and hoped to fall sleep.

A quick tale 156

At around 2, one morning

Someday, he thought, as he lay on his back, all of this will be gone. The relationships so carefully cultivated. The memories collected. The experiences gathered. The children, the birthdays, the betrayals, the mortgages, the holidays, the risks, the triumphs. None of this will be remembered. All his life will be gathered and reduced to one faded photo of him smiling into the distance. Which someone will garland once a year. With this lingering thought, he turned to his side and hugged her. Then closed his eyes and hoped to fall asleep.

A quick tale 155

A reason for saying no

You are pretending that the thought has not entered your head. You keep stirring the sugar in your coffee and ignoring the thought that is gradually hammering its way into the main stream. You focus on what the man in front of you is saying and hope that if you concentrate hard enough the loud noise in your head will somehow disappear. The man in front of you, the one your parents have arranged for you to meet, is talking about tax saving funds. And all the time your mind is thinking ‘this is the man I will be sleeping with’. You look down at your coffee cup for fear that your eyes may give away your thoughts. You notice the curly hair on his knuckles as you lower your eyes. You know in that instant that you cannot marry him. He continues to talk about high-risk equity schemes. Later when your mum asks you why you turned him down, you’ll say ‘we were not compatible’. Surely, hairy knuckles would not be an acceptable reason.