Thursday, December 29, 2011

The South Zone Experience

I knew I was committing to something which ran strictly against my beliefs, when I gave a nod to Baby sir. The prospect of spending an entire week with a group of relatively unknowns did not tempt me.  Add to that the disappointment of missing out on arts.
Honestly speaking the journey didn’t start off in the best possible manner either. Was terribly early for the train owing to some mis-communication.  And when I realized I was going to spend the next 24 x 7 with people whom I had seemingly no similarities with, I was completely overwhelmed by an urge to get down at the next railway station and just leave. But I’m glad I didn’t, cause the train ride to Chennai turned out to be very interesting to say the least. Infact it was a teaser to what the south zone would finally do to me – break the conventions. The journey alongside Kerala’s unique ‘Bharatapuzha’ was not spent looking for Pulitzers. Instead we talked loud, shook the entire compartment with our ‘naadan paatu’ and gave the fellow travelers one hell of a time.

We did not really have to reach Satyabama to get the initial impressions. Apparently the only place in the college where a boy and girl can be seen together is the college bus. Just on the emblem outside though. Inside there is a strong iron rod separating the two sections. I wonder if they put curtains in there as well!
Satyabama is a weird college to say the very least. They don’t allow mobile phones, have separate ‘everything’ [ from food courts to hand wash] for boys and girls, sizzling fountains[ quite ironical really, cause they also have bathrooms without water]. Add to that some dumb management, which spells ‘block’ as ‘black’ [ I suppose the blame goes to the pronunciation ], which requires the permission of the HOD to take a printout, and who considers trousers to be ‘against their culture’. Unlike the contemporary engineering colleges which have cameras installed to watch what the students are upto, the folks at Satyabama believes in a more ‘supreme’ power- MGR.  There are portraits of the great actor  everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! Its almost like “ Beware rascala: MGR is watching you.”
The real problem with Satyabama was not their strictness though. Every college has their set of rules. Infact they were willing to do anything under the sun, provided they were allowed to do it in their own way. Where else on Earth would you be provided with a bed and attached bathroom for a fest of this magnitude? What they failed to realize was the whole essence of the fest. These were some of the brightest talents in the country competing.  An assemblage of South India’s best not outcasts.  A platform to meet and share. If only they would’ve realized this and sought advice from anyone who’s been an integral part of these fests. Killed the infinitely many restrictions they had employed. Brought unbiased judges and quizmasters who knew what they were doing!
Conducting classical music inside a hall that’s 16 degrees away from freezing point was not wise.  Hosting the folk/tribal music and the quiz competition simultaneously in venues that shares a wall wasn’t brainstorming either. Too many silly glitches that could’ve been avoided.
But the story of 27th south zone has nothing to do with these insignificant flaws. Or the infinite dogs and buses that haunts the college. It’s a story of love, how strangers became a family.  Of discovery. A tale about team spirit. The joy of winning. And most importantly the spirit of losing. The attitude some of my friends showed when they were clearly hard done by. Priceless lessons for life. You don’t become a genius sitting under an apple tree. The amount of practise everyone puts in is something one should witness first hand. Add to the dedication their passion. Infact my team mate and I would sit there in that corner of block 7, watch the mime practice in complete awe and then feel guilty about not doing anything ourselves.
Another highlight of the whole journey would be that night when our team decided to serve food for the sub-staff in the college. Satyabama is a mini-nazi camp. From drivers to cleaners, there must be more than 1500 under-paid staff inside the college. And to them, being served was an out of the world experience. Many had tears in the eye when we talked to them. Sometimes it’s good to know that, in the big scheme of things, we are all just human beings.
When I broke freethat murky evening at Mcleod Ganj from the rest of the gang, I thought being alone and having the world to yourself was the ultimate experience. Today, I sit in front of my laptop a changed man because now I realize that happiness is only real when shared. Those walks in search of tea and the happiness when one gets a bonus 'vada'. The backstage before the skit. That makeshift procession. Those ‘evaluation’ sessions in the night where the 'seniors' kept reminding us about the 'south zone' spirit. Crawling through Sholinganallur in search of 'Rasamalai' and the reactions after seeing the bill. All rich memories of togetherness.  The week has transformed me.  Moreover  I got to  know that ‘Hubli’ sells incredible shorts, why madras filter coffee is the world’s best,  ‘Kollegala’ dance is groovier than samba and the answer to the autograph book question “ the best moments in your life so far.”
Iconic journey if ever there was one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


To sound poetic when the topic you are writing on in is the ‘ Indian railways’, is tough. Especially when the not-so-fond memories of the last time you had to use the ‘loo’ comes rushing into the mind. Or the distinct nauseating odour of Lord knows what that haunts the entire train. We do have the dirtiest trains in the world. But there is something about these trains, a feeling that lacks a proper adjective, that makes you excited each time you make a journey.  Something very uniquely ‘Indian’.
My earliest memory would be that of the ‘passenger’ (shuttle) train ride with my grandparents to the Thrissur district.  A ride that had more to do with the rail moving ‘backwards’ than us moving front.  And I used to sit in the corner of a seat  or sometimes even in the space between the legs of some kind strangers, imagining a ‘flat world’ and the roaring train coming to end at some mysterious place.

Life moved on. Aristotle's deduction , the concept of ‘relative motion’ et al. were stuffed into our systems.  But train rides only got better. The Thiruvananthapuram journeys  to conquer a certain ‘I.T’ quiz with fellow comrades.  And then a series of college fests and the ‘iconic journey’ .
The key to enjoying  the train ride is to be the silent observer and not the participant. Engage yourself in a conversation and you’ll soon find yourself having to listen to some random person’s take on the nuclear bill or the lunar hoax(this is personal experience talking).  Shy away into a corner, perhaps with a book or an ear phone as a precautionary measure, and watch the world through the five iron grills that usually makes up the ‘window’.
I’ve read poems and stories about trains before. About ‘giant centipedes’ crawling through different terrains. Ripping the forests, bringing light to the long dark tunnels and so on. But that to me is just a part of the story.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A train ride is worth a thousand Pulitzers, if only could frame every second.  The story of that rubber plantation worker tapping the tree who stared at you. The kid missing his milk teeth who waved at you. The station master with his green flag in a remote village. The man whose job is to ensure that ‘those’ long dark tunnels are safe .  The odd man eying the transgender seductively. The hopeful fisherman. Women queuing up to get their buckets filled with water. Storks making life easier for a buffalo. Hundreds singing like possessed beings to the Lord almighty. The ‘ayyappa’ devotee  drying his clothes on the ceiling fan. The gypsy man carrying his wife of his shoulders as they cross the railway line. The people moving in synchronization with the train's sound. The stories are endless..
And the train? It moves on. Leaving all that as just mere memories. At some point its just an inanimate object that symbolizes a human life so beautifully. The dirty, old engine just keeps on running. Never wanting to stop or look back.  What does India strive for ? Communal harmony? What is India? Unity in diversity? And suddenly that image of a train tearing through societies comes into your mind. Muslims or Christians. Biharis or Malayalis.
To call our trains a mere mode of transport would be a serious failure in understanding what it really is. This is life. Brutal, honest and impartial as it can ever be.  And it is also life to many. From people  who survive by selling plastic bottles that travelers throw away to authors who sell their own books. 

“Pazham pori, uzhunnu vada …”. I looked at my hands, smiled to myself and asked for two. EACH.
                                                                          ---- Venad Express. 13/12/11  (signed with an oily hand)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Paranormal Diaries 2

That night I had dreams. Long, dark, disturbing ones....
Natalie Portman was performing a ballet to what sounded like a strange Samba music played on bass guitars. The tempo kept increasing dramatically and the dance became wilder as it tried in vain to convey some message to me. Gradually the song started sounding more like an intense Tango. And then her eyes turned red., a deep red that looked like oxygen starving blood, as she started mimicking the motions of a snake. Fascinatingly she kept her eyes fixed on mine...
I was back home. Something started moving beneath the couch. Rat snakes. But it seemed to be scared of something else. Suddenly there were snakes everywhere. I tried shouting at the mysterious person inside my house to escape but he just stood there. And then a colossal of a snake came out of my bedroom and started chasing me. It was night and nobody seemed to hear my loud cries for help as I ran with the scampering rat snakes. Oddly though, I could see the snake chasing me as I ran. It was as if I was running backwards in full speed.
"Turn your head Nevin..Look where you are running to...Give in. We love you...." , a voice kept repeating, as the snake reached striking distance.
I woke up. The phone was been ringing. It showed 'Revathy calling..'. That was strange. I hadn't talked to her since my 6th grade. What an odd time to call. But it also felt good in a way. I used to be in love with her voice. And right now I could use with someone being sweet to me. What a peculiar dream.
Revathy kept saying something but I couldn't comprehend. She was speaking in English, at a reasonable pace but however I tried, I couldn't make out what she was saying. I kept asking her to repeat but she went on as if she couldn't hear me. Lord what was happening to me? And then the words started becoming clearer.

My hours are slumberless,
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers will
never awaken you
Not where the black coach
of sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought of
ever returning you
Would they be angry
if I thought of joining you....

Revathy! Why on Earth are you singing 'Gloomy Sunday'? , I asked.
Silence. Nobody replied. Revathy? The silence seemed very different. Not the sense of emptiness or calmness. It was as if somebody was playing a recorded tape of 'silence' on the other side of the phone.
And suddenly , a voice broke the harmony.
Nevin, this is Peter Roebuck. The world is coming to an end.

The next day Peter Roebuck committed suicide. Revathy called.                                 [ to be contd.... ]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yet Another Mullaperiyar Story

It occurred to me one cold night [ the 'fine morning' part was starting to sound boring ] that having a 'swimming utilities' shop would mean quick money. Tectonic plates were moving in Idukki and there was panic everywhere I looked. People, who in their entire lives hadn't put more than Rs 50/- worth petrol inside their bike's fuel tank were now filling it upto the brim. Suddenly there was money to be spent. I even called up my friend who works in the insurance sector and inquired if it would be possible to rename any of their existing accidental policies as "mullaperiyar policy". Would sell like hot egg bajjis at Payyappilly's that!
And that was it. I had finally devised a plan to piss my friend ('a save Mullaperiyar through FB warrior') off. Surprisingly though, she liked the idea. According to her research, there would be 20 feet of water at Edappally if the unfortunate event happens. And that strangely implied goggles + insurance. Infact she urged me to find out more about it and inform her so that she could pass it on to her fellow FB warriors.
Depressed by the fact that I couldn't antagonize my friend I decided to switch on the TV for entertainment. Fascinatingly after 5 minutes of persistent channel swapping, I found myself comparing the Mullaperiyar saga with the previous cricket world cup. Such was the intensity. Special programs about the 999 pact. Interviews with Sohan Roy who got terribly lucky with the timing of his movie's release. Predictions by scientists and seismologists. And the media coming up with their own conclusions, which at times were completely contradictory to what their expert panel had found.
There is no disagreeing the fact that Mullaperiyar requires serious attention. Millions of lives at stake, both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The dam might not break tomorrow but it will someday. So it is a good thing to milk the sudden outrage and get a dam built, than sit quiet and die someday. As most Keralites know, the Mullaperiyar has a been time bomb for quite a while now. So the protests are more than justified.
What irritates me is the exploitation of the issue by certain organizations and individuals for their own benefits. Not many have been outrageous enough to suggest goggles and insurances but everyone seems keen on making the most out of the 'fear factor' that has completely devoured the people of Kerala. Politicians and media going to intolerable levels is not a new thing. That is how it has been since time immemorial.

Though I never voluntarily joined any Mullaperiyar group, I am a member of atleast 6 different groups in Facebook with the very same objective in mind. Like everybody else in Kerala, I wanted to know more so I decided to stay and for the first time paid attention to every single post  that popped up. Initially it was intriguing. Nobody knew what would happen but everyone realized the need to be insurgent and loud. Then it became a necessity. Everyone you cared about were in it. So you had to be in too. And then it became spam. Not because I suddenly started believing in Jayalalithaa's obtuse attitude or Idukki dam's new found strength. When I look inside these 'groups' what I see is 'chaos'. I've read at least 3 completely different versions of 'what to do' when the dam breaks. Seen immensely disturbing photos and videos of submerged  buildings and people dying in the Tsunami attack morphed into its 'Kerala' equivalent by talented artists. I understand their sentiments. Nobody wants another catastrophe. But December 26, 2004 is a scar we are still fighting hard to remove. Please don't alter these pictures or UNICEF's poster against water pollution, put your name or your facebook page's link on it and post in the Mullaperiyar forum. Its distressing and unfair. This act of  exploiting the public sentiment is unethical, outrageous and at times disgusting.

To idolize Bono is not a wrong thing. Most singers do at some point or the other. But the totally unrelated ' Oru Meeshakaryam' by one of Kochi's most promising band is yet another classic example of people trying to make the most out of the situation. Initially they brought out the song as a protest against the poor quality of Kerala roads. It didn't really click. So they are back again with the same old song. I suppose Elton John pulled it off with Monroe and Lady Diana. No reason they can't.

And then colleges and their 'eco' clubs come up with painting competitions. I do understand the apprehension and I appreciate the fact that  people are doing something about it. But why put the name of the college in it?  Stop making the most out of the issue for heaven sake!
If at all the dam breaks Tamil Nadu is going to suffer as well. Today we are playing the game precisely the way they want us to. In the rush, we would sign a dumb treaty for the next 400 years and then what? What if Kerala becomes dry next year and suddenly there is a need for the Mullaperiayar water?
I usually like to leave the readers confused but at the moment even I am confused. And the same goes for the entire Kerala. Nobody is sure. Nobody knows. At this point of time, its important that we forget our differences, preferences and stick together under one name- Kerala. What we require is ONE loud voice. Not umpteen small ones funded by corporates and organizations. And there are things we students can do that does not require spamming. Why not start a database and collect the name and addresses of the all the families volunteering to lend their multi-storied homes. Why not think of new ways to communicate like the Ham radio?  But then I seriously hope none of this is required.

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