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Posted in Creative writing

A house of one’s own

There will be paintings on the wall, filled with my palms and fingers in all colours bright and dark. There will be photographs of appa with his perfect nose and teeth grin, amma’s tight lipped smile because she does not like it when her teeth show. Ajji will stand along with them, looking at the camera like it was unacceptable that it pulled her away while she was preparing the best poha in the world. There will be friends in the photographs, because they chose to be more than their fundamental annoying selves. The number of pictures will grow as times pass but the wall will stay purple. Faded purple like someone thought the night sky would look better with a shade of white all over it. It will be filled with dream catchers because my dreams bring in their own set of luggage and start spinning cobwebs with them.

There will be mosquito nets around the beds, white ones with barely enough holes for air to pass through. I would sit inside and imagine all the stories amma told about her grandpa. He was an architect who designed a school in Mysore. He also wore a black muffler with invisible stripes on it when he was 88. He would drape it around amma when she was cold. The light bulb rays would struggle to lighten up the sentences on my books and I would walk out to the balcony and read under the purple sky and the white moon.

There will be two chairs and lots of blankets made from bits of old, red and white t-shirts. The kitchen, the living room and its tiles would tell me stories of how they were unfortunate than most other tiles to have ended up here. The house will come alive as I walk out into the streets and carry a piece of it with me. A piece of home wherever I go.

The street lights will be musky silk saree yellow. I will walk on the streets towards and away from my house. I will walk with a house in my sleeves and old jeans. With a home. A home of my own.

Posted in City speaks, Went, saw, wrote

Book launch “Wall”owing in chaos

The microphone at Bookworm, Church street, produced half the sound it was supposed to produce (yet again) at the launch of The Wall by Sowmya Aji that happened on a Saturday afternoon.

The previous confusion became more apparent as the author, Ms. Aji, ran back and forth along the podium as she made sure the event was not as bumpy as it was showing itself to be. Three cameras stared on and Ramya, politician and actor, arrived at the event almost on time and kick-started it by reading out a few paragraphs from the book.

As soon as the talking stopped and the organisers decided what to do next that would not be chaotic, there was a constant voice coming from the speakers around, reading out verses that nobody could understand as they had not read the book. Everyone was looking around, wondering where the voices were coming from. The chaos on the stage, however did not stop.

Chiranjiv Singh,a retired civil officer and an “earth sciences not literature” expert as he calls himself, performed an analysis which seemed more like a critical review of the book. The book was a page turner, but as far as magic realism is concerned, it has magic and no realism, was his opinion on the book.

The audience were puzzled as to how this could be an analysis of the book. Instead of stopping there, he also added that the he would not have read the book if Ms. Aji had not made him do so. He looked like he wanted to say some more but Ms. Aji took the pause and thanked him for his valuable input which was basically him “throwing shade”, as one of the members in the audience pointed out.

Then enters Prakash Rai. He gives the usual reason of being “caught up” and the book is launched after it has been “analysed”

After a few words from the panellists, people shuffled out and a conversation began between Amandeep Sandhu and Malavika Avinash, a BJP spokesperson. “The book wrote itself”, was one of the many sentences in the discussion that made people look at each other with wide eyes. They were probably thinking how easy it would be if all their books wrote themselves.

As if that was not enough, Ms Avinash started talking about the different rasas of Bharatanatyam and connected that to the reception of the book; Ms Aji replied with an even more vague answer. The event ended with an “I think we should end it?” from the author.

The kids’ bored faces were tinted with a shade of happiness as everyone started to walk out of the room, confused still, some bewildered, most bored.

As soon as we thought that this was over, the director of Tipu Sultan Ke Khwaab takes the stage and asks people to come to his play. Book launches have changed indeed.

Posted in City speaks, Creative writing

Chai? Kaapi?

You make good tea, amma said. But tea somehow managed to smell like a stale delight to me. The water and Brooke Bond tea leaves boil. I take the steaming tea in a tea cup and give it to her. She takes a large sip with a slurp and steps into euphoria land. I turn back and move out of the aroma field of the tea.
Coffee has been my go to beverage. Filter kaapi to be honest. But ironically, I make terrible coffee. I had added five spoons of sugar in a completely diluted coffee, if that can be called coffee, and I spit it all out as soon as I put it to my lips. Ajji takes care of my coffee needs. I think I will not get married and stay with my ajji and amma and drink tasty kaapi for the rest of my life.
So when I had a cup of tea as there was no coffee and I wanted to know what all this fuss about chai sutta that my classmate, M had, I discovered it was not so bad. A sip of hot choi travelled along my nerves with angel wings and swished and un-knotted my muscles. And so started my journey into choi land.
A friend of mine tells me that he prefers choi to kaapi. My hand went to my face upon hearing this. He was one of “those”. Stale choi aroma liking people. He laughs at this and tells me his favourite was the Sulaimani chai that they make in the tiny tea shops. The name itself sounded royal and being someone who fancied herself in a heavy gown, waltzing around the ballroom or having a poise without the slightest bit of awkwardness, just like a princess, I decided to give it a try.
So that’s how I found Johnson Market. The best part of the place is the non-car parking lane. All you can find there is moving humans, two wheelers parked in a civil manner opposite to the food lane, cigarette smoke and a lot of chai and food.
B and I went up to the owner of Makkah café. I look around for two seconds and blurt out an order for two Sulaimani chais. The man tells his employee to bring us our order and sits back with the same straight, serious face. The chai arrives and I forget everything around me because the aroma of the chai hit the feeling part rather than the smelling. It feels like yele bisilu, the winter sun rays hitting the body part not wrapped in woollen garments and warming them. It did its job of swooshing and un-knotting muscles like the other tea, but this stops to tell you what it would do and then does it. Everything around me started forming again and I become a part of the silently noisy Johnson market once again.

Posted in Uncategorized

V V puram gee hogee illa!

There was no chicken. None at all. It hit me at the end of the V V Puram food street that there was absolutely no non veg street food there. I could hear my friend laughing, saying that all that’s tasty about vegetarian food was paneer. I let it ring in my head and entered food-street.

I went to the cashier guy of V B Bakery and asked him to give me something khaara khaara. He shouted to one of the employees, “Madam ge yeradu (two) congress buns”. The buns arrived on flimsy grey papers. Cut into four parts, it had congress kadlekai (peanut) in the middle of it, so that as soon as you took a bite from it, you could hear the spicy peanuts crunching in your mouth along with the soft bun. The rum ball there tasted all chocolate and the rum in the dish, without adding to the main taste of the dish, waved hello, made its presence felt and went away. Make sure you take the bill at the counter 2 before paying to the congress bun guy. Not knowing who to pay is something to look out for.

Also, don’t pay before your food is handed out to you (at some places). This is because a guy at a chaat centre frowned at me for paying for the boti masala before he prepared it. “Patience, ma”, he said as he made centrifugal projections of the puri masala in the vessel.

The first potato twister stall you’ll see will always be crowded. While giving your slip to the twister making guy near the stall, make sure your stretched arms are not above the burning coal ember pit next to the stall. The peri-peri salt with the cheese squeezed on top of it will crunch and melt in your mouth at the same time.

Chetty’s Corner boasted of having the best of the best things it served. It seemed like an apt time to try a pizza at a perfectly non pizza place. The pineapple chilly pizza was the dish mom bragged about making exactly same and better at home while eating outside and actually went home and made it. It tasted the same too.

The place opposite to V B bakery had a huge bondli full of ambodes. They are the usual funeral food. Every year, having eaten stale ambodes at different first blood relation’s funeral, this seemed like a unicorn. The masala inside the ambodes play hopscotch on your tongue, revealing a taste with every chew. The woman at the counter adds a smile to your order.

“Mom makes this a lot”, I added, as I took a bite of the hot holige which was at the end of food-street. U, D and B stared at me, with a why don’t you bring it to us then look in their eyes.

“Baby, this is food-street. You come here and eat and eat and eat”, said a mom to her one year old, who looked disinterested. Maybe in a few years, she might hop-eat like us and get tired because eating food is such a tasking yet satisfying thing to do in thindi beedi.

Posted in Creative writing, Stories

21 years of sounds (part 1)

Even though amma and appa have been together for 21 years now, their sounds have still not mixed into one harmonious equal sound. They have maintained their own distinct sounds. But when they walk together? There’s not much sound from either of them then. Just a swoosh swoosh here and there.

Appa makes loud sounds when he walks. Even when he was young, he was considered the dodd huduga of the house. As a little boy, everyone in the joint family knew Sripada came by hearing the sound of clanking empty vessels as he shouted – chai kaapi, chai kaapi, just like on the trains. He makes it a point to make his presence felt wherever he goes. Appa’s gait or feet don’t make these sounds. His feet are the most silent parts of his body. As soon as he returns home from work, amma and ajji start flustering to do last minute cleaning of the living room. The kerchiefs get folded and kept on the wooden chair, magazines are kept in order, amma rushes into the kitchen to start cooking (and continues to promise herself that she won’t take another unnecessary nap). They know it upsets him and even though he would not complain or say a single word to them for that, they want him to be happy after he comes home tired from work. Amma’s nightie makes train chugging sounds as she sashays through the hall. She orders my lazy bum to get off the couch and begs me to let go of my phone for at least hatth nimisha until appa’s tummy is khush.

The car enters into the porch with a low throaty grumble. Over the years of changed (and exchanged) cars, I’ve learnt to recognize which car grumble in the layout belonged to appa. Unlike his car, appa bangs on the door and adds a “Baaglu tegire” (open the door) in a loud and annoyed voice. After he enters, he slams the door of his room. Then with a towel around his waist, he rushes to the bathroom and slams that door too. Then the commode door slams into place as well. Amma and I have debated on buying four new doors for the house every one year or so. Dhadaaar, comes the sound.

In the night, appa does security checks. Security in the sense, let’s see if my daughter is with her mobile again. If I’m talking to a friend late in the night, I switch the fan off in my room. At the appointed hour, appa wakes up, turns around in his bed, then sits on the bed for a few seconds and starts his silent walk to the bacchalu mane. Since his room is exactly opposite to my room, he enters my room, makes sure that I’m sleeping and then goes to pee. The creaks of the bed forewarn me and I put my phone away and fake sleep. Summers are terrible for two reasons – one, you can’t take off more layers if you feel hot; two, appa’s night walks mean no fan for quite some time.

*

Posted in City speaks

Of cleansed sins and hale kannada

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Prof Vishwanatha purifying our sinful souls

It was more of an eyebrow-raise moment than surprise when the much famous (and dreaded) halagannada (old Kannada) text was translated into English; that text which went straight into the Bermuda triangle corner of a first language Kannada student’s mind in high school.

Prof Vanamala Vishwanatha translated Kannada poet, Raghavanka’s Harishchandra Kavyam, a 13th century Kannada classic, into English. This work, The Life of Harishchandra, took around three years to be translated, one particular stanza took up almost six months.

The audience sat in anticipation at Rangashankara to know what it took to translate a text so old, keeping in mind the modern readers at that. Arundhati, in a red and green sari with bunch of keys tied to the end of her seragu, gave a brief introduction about the discussion.

Then, Dr Deepa, editor of the Arts and culture supplement of The Hindu and Prof Vishwanatha’s student, talked about her experiences with her, who was also her PhD guide and Prof Rajendra Chenni, HOD of the English department, University of Shimoga.

“I’ve believed that we are always translated”, said Prof Chenni. After Prof Vishwanatha recited the first verses in the gamaka style, Prof Chenni talked about the poet Raghavanka, who started writing after the Vachanakara movement. He was the first person to dig out the Harishchandra story which was still in its seed form and was circulated as lore among the general public. Instead of writing about Gods, he wrote about a mortal, Harishchandra, who is well aware of his weakness and who is not able to get over his guilt.

The text is full of proverbs. Proverbs are very local and difficult to make sense, even in modern Kannada, let alone modern English, she said. “One method I used was to keep it as literal as possible, without using the equivalent English proverb”, she explained with an example from the book, where the flowers in the forest were described, by using reiteration of chants to show its beauty.

Prof Chenni also said that in Kannada literature, even while taking sources from all over India, the Kannada writer tried to infuse a Kannada-ness into it. In this case, Raghavanka giving the feel that the story was happening in Hampi, Karnataka, though it was based in Ayodhya. Prof Vishwanatha said that Raghavanka was a scholar who read Sanskrit works as well as a local man, thus the Kannada tradition was also there.

Prof Vishwanatha read out a few more verses from the book which shows the genius of Raghavanka in making the language of the poetry dramatic, also showing his parsimony in using words, which as she observes, gets doubled in English.

There were certain places where the translator had to make a decision whether to skip parts that might be considered casteist and gender insensitive. If some feminist translation theorists argued that translators should change the text, she said she would not do so because the text belonged to a certain time in history. “I felt that I had no business to tamper with the text”, she said.

After this, Shashi Deshpande responded to this text, where she kept saying ‘lawyer’ instead of ‘liar’. “I don’t know why this is happening, I myself was a lawyer once”, she said amidst amused sighs. This was followed by a Q & A session after which some readers got their copies signed.

Prof Chenni read out the last few verses of the book, which said that whoever listens to this story of Harishchandra will be cleansed of all their sins, concluding that their sins would be washed off today even if they do not read the whole poem. Thus, he said, we could go back and confidently commit new sins, which brought out an encouraging ripple of laughter from the audience.

Posted in Poems

Tired

I do not know
which unseen part of my body
decides to ache
when the large beast hand
in my dreams
pulls away the glowing orb
of light and joy
from my being

when two mirrors
form a labyrinth
into the black hole
of memories

Tired; being tired
of something
you don’t know of
creates your sleepless nights

Posted in Poems

Lights

I’ll string my room
with fairy lights
of all the colours
only my irises can see

I’ll fill this broken walnut shell
with everything pretty
and glue it back

I’ll plant it in my soil
and wait for the end
of endless winters,
for the spring;
I’m empty no more

Posted in Poems

Parts and places

Leave parts of you
in rusty park benches
in the dandelions
amidst the concrete sidewalk

Leave parts of you
in houses
you no longer visit
in homes
you no longer leave

Leave parts of you
in those eyes that shine
without any luminous source
in those lips that say your name
while tingles span through
every nerve
in those hands, that don’t hold
that hold, held, still hold

Leave parts of you
and move,
become,
everything.