My travel diary
Monday, August 01, 2005
Saturday, 30th July, 9:30 pm
It had to happen sometime and it happened last night. There's only so much a human being can take don't you think - So, I resolutely said a vehement No to CNN. No more CNN. CNN shall be CN No more (You are supposed to read it as SeeN No more!). Anyway that leaves me with an option of seeing all these talk shows in german where people laugh for apparently no reason. I tried synching my laugh with them kind of predicting when it is going to occur. But after sometime, it's not funny any more.

So, I switch to Plan B. Watching hollywood movies in German. Now I have to tell you that my parents have always felt that I am good at mind reading. I really didn't believe in it till yesterday. But I realized I could really read the minds of the actors when they are on screen and could understand the plot. Sometimes, I realized they are really dumb and are not thinking ANYTHING when they are doing the scene. In such cases, I resorted to lip reading which is the level 2 (I am waiting for a dumb Angelina Jolie movie now!) and there are times, when I just mute the TV and watch the act :) The bottom line is I realized you understand a hollywood movie anyway!

The ads in between tell me they screen friends every dienstag. So first I have to find out what dienstag is and secondly, make it on time to my apartment. Friends is easy because I remember almost all the lines. So, I would actually be watching the show, doing the talking AND the laughing! Isn't that exciting. And if you were there with me then, it will be treat for your eyes AND your ears!!

I know - My second book (the first one being Culinary algorithms for better performance) will be 101 stupid ways of whiling away time in No man's land!

Sunday, July 31, 2005
Saturday, 30th July, 9:00 pm
I come back home completely tired but quite content and happy. I don't feel like cooking and so I decide to prepare some maggi (do you see that? I don't want to cook and so I cook maggi. Not I want to eat and so I cook maggi :) Growth I tell you!) and go for a walk later in the night.

Maggi is quite an interesting dish to cook - Actually, it's a lot like sex. You can eitherbe done with it in two minutes. Or if you are in the right mood, you can indulge in some foreplay (cut onions, chillies (and anything else you might find)), add more spice (like ginger, garlic paste) and make it more interesting than the bland original. Look at me talking :) I should write a book - I will call it Culinary algorithms for better performance or something like that - on whose cover I will be dressed in an apron and will be holding a frying pan. I am sure I will be a rage! After sometime, madisar mami-s in the neighbourhood will come home in the pretext of asking for a cup of sugar, to get some cooking tips from me and I will while away time by gossiping about daily soaps with them.

Oh my God! I should stop cooking.

Saturday, 30th July, 6:00 pm
When one walks through the Marketplatz next to Haupstrausse, crosses one of the oldest bridges over river Neckar (whose entrance is adorned with a lot of work. History has it that this was considered as an alternate entrance to the city), there is a narrow lane on the opposite side of the road that can be easily missed. At the end of that short lane begins the Schladenweg - It's a long, winding, uphill passageway - that is not too easy if you are averse to physical exertion, but is quite enjoyable. Parts of the passageway are dark, completely shut from the sun, while other parts have trees right on top which often drop fruits onto the passage way, fruits which in due course of time decay or are trampled beforehand intoxicating the air around with a strong and yet pleasant odour. At every turn, there's a way out of the tunnel into a small circular portico with a park bench right in the middle, that gives you a spectacular view of the famous heidelberg castle. The walk finally leads you to one of the most famous walks in heidelberg - The philosophenWeg (translated as the Philosopher's walk).

I went there last weekend, loved it so much that I went back again this weekend. The ideal place to start the walk will be on the other end (close to Bismarckplatz) because the way uphill is a trifle easier and once you reach the top, you are greeted by the well maintained philosopher's garden, an amazing place to sit with a book for hours, and enjoy the view of the whole city of heidelberg from there. Once you cross the garden, you find the walk fork into the upper philosophen weg and the lower one. It's when you take the lower one that you find the mouth of Schladenweg. The Upper one, Parmanu told me, was more interesting since it takes you right through the woods.

No book covers the question why this walk is called so - one obvious reason must be so many philosophers and poets have walked this way in the past, loved it so much and conceived thoughts and works of art at some point that I was walking past. There are inscriptions of poems, points named after philosophers all through the journey. But this isn't enough isn't it - an idle mind concocts much deeper analogies and hence these - The walk doesn't lead anywhere. You are not taking this walk to go from point A to B but because the walk in itself is the experience. At any point in time you can choose to turn around and walk back and the experience is still complete. Similarly, there is no one prescribed route - the upper and the lower philosophenwegs are complete on their own. Even as you take the upper philosophenweg, you see so many detours, forks where you make a choice and go along - there's no right or a wrong choice. All this is so much like the pursuit of truth (I will not insult your intellect by explaining them again). And the walk in itself is not sensational - there are no breathtaking views, no waterfalls, no steep slopes. You don't have to strain yourself to carefully watch every inch lest you should miss a rare breed of bird or an orchid flower. There's a sameness that is not boring, but is in a way wonderfully soothing, lets you lose your guard and leaves you undisturbed with your thoughts.

It was during this journey that I met Maria, a portugese philosophy student and an excellent conversationalist. Will write about her sometime soon.

Saturday, 30th July, 3:00 pm
Watching a movie in Europe is like a joint-family movie watching experience in India. There are only ten rows, seventy seats (they even ask you which row want - show ten fingers out of which you can pick one - as if it's going to make a difference). And finally when the movie starts, you realize there are only thirteen people in the hall. So, you don't have people whistling and hooting when the heroine (the lovely lovely reese witherspoon) comes on screen (the kids of these days I tell you!). Watching a movie becomes an intimate personal experience.

Not that "Importance of being earnest" needed such an ambience. I loved the play and I am a great fan of Oscar wilde (one of the wittiest, funniest writers ever!). So, Watching a movie based on the play in english (I can't stand to watch a movie based on wilde's play in german!) with a cast as accomplished as Colin Firth, Reese witherspoon (and the other lady who was the queen in Shakespeare in love) was quite a treat. The movie is an ideal saturday movie. It is lazy, doesn't keep you hooked to the seat, is often funny and is sometimes outrightly stupid. You slip in and out of the movie, laugh for the right jokes and stare at the cinema's halls rest of the time :)

While watching the movie, I remembered that I had learnt the word perambulator for the first time while reading this play (It was part of our curriculum. I remember finding it utterly boring then!) - a very trivial detail but with it comes a truckload of memories of the school, the teacher and a very faint memory of having enacted the play in the classroom (was I jack worthing? I know two guys who can clarify that for me :)

Saturday, 30th July, 2:15 pm
I am here to see a movie. The movie starts at three but the cinema hall is closed. I ask the Sprakken-english-lady who's selling T-shirts next door whether the show is scheduled today and when the hall will open. Yes. The hall opens at three. And I am hungry.

Now, it is my humble opinion that in terms of culinary preferences, Indian tourists are of two kinds - the traditionalist and the neutralist. The traditionalist looks for the first indian restaurant as soon as he reaches a town (in heidelberg, it's in the end of the first right after the debitel show room) and devours only indian food even when he's in Timbukthu. On the other hand, the neutralist is the universal american dude traveler. He always has his pizza huts (haupstrasse), McDonalds (HaupBahnhoff), starbucks coffee shops where he settles with his mates and has aalo potato french fries. There are very few who would go to a place and try the local dishes (mostly due to vegetarian scares. but even otherwise too!).

So, in an effort to be more Ze-Zerman, I got into the first restaurant I could find. That turned out to be an Irish pub, where I had a chocolate croissant, capuccino and some swiss chocolates (Now, don't ask me how having a french breakfast, italian drink and swiss confectionary in an Irish outlet makes me more german. that's the way it works! I even gave my order in english!). I knew it wouldn't fill me completely - but I hate to conform to sterotypes you know.

Saturday, 30th July, 2:00 pm
Haupstrasse I think means main street. Haupstrasse is to germany, what M G road is to india. Every city has a haupstrasse. Even walldorf, the sleepy little town that I sleep in everyday, has a Haupstrasse. Heidelberg's Haupstrasse is a human sink - from all over the neighbourhood people take buses, trams and bikes and land here - it's like human waves from every direction rush and fizzle out in the shores of this street. You see chinese tourists with their micro mini digital cameras, Americans and their university sweatshirts, loud italian families, weekend shoppers, kids, youngsters and bored software engineers who have nothing better to do.

The streets got something for everybody. It's got buildings that are four centuries old. It's seen student protests, revolutions, housed poets, writers (mark twain among others), has theater halls, clock towers, godowns and universities. It's also got Irish pubs, coffee pubs, starbucks outlets, pizza huts, Espirit show rooms, book shops, bars, 1 euro shops, authentic pizzerias, movie halls (that show english movies too!) - you name it and you have it! If you walk far enough on the road, you will see the market area and an empty square that on summer evenings house a lot of visitors and a lot more beer. Beyond that that is a hill and a greenery that I haven't plodded yet.

And every once in a while, there're narrow lanes on the sides that lead you out to a corner pub that's housed students for no one knows how long, beyond the pubs is the river neckar and then the hills - but these spots are curiously deserted when compared to the tables outside the pubs and coffee houses.

Standing in a corner and watching people on this road is itself an experience. The women especially - No, I am not talking on behalf of my alternate brain between my legs. Men are monotonous - we have to admit. Though the meterosexual man with his manicured toe nails and dyed plaited hair is making serious progress, we are still a long way back. Women are treat to watch - they are a wonderful splash of colors, of style and costume. Every woman - be it a sixty year old lady tightly-bunned hair, a backpacking teenager, a fourteen year old, a pregnant woman or a mother of two - has a distinctive style and grace when she moves, a rehearsed nonchalance even when she throws her head to the side and gives you a coy smile. Every move has been tried and tested and is implemented perfectly. Watching them is like watching a professional actor, who is aware of a thousand eyes watching but can display an ease and a poise.

That's one good thing about europe - you have the time and lifestyle to stand and stare (without the jostling human crowd and the soot that settles under your eyes if you stay long enough in the roads of bangalore).

Saturday, 30th July, 1:40 pm
I am sitting in a tram on my way to Bismarck platz in Heidelberg. Right before me is a beautiful girl wearing a skirt small enough to redefine the size standards of micros. Next to her is her hulk hogan boy friend, who rubs her bottom all through the journey, and slaps it every 31st second. I am wondering how she feels about it. I am imagining having a girl friend and she slapping my bottom like this in public transport. I don't think I like it. No. I am positively sure I don't like it.

Anyway, why do I care. She doesn't seem to mind it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005
Sunday, 17th July, 2005 10:50 pm
Sitting in an airport lounge waiting with passengers about to take a flight to the US is like a pressure cooker situation. The list of passengers in this flight is usually demographically well represented. You have old uncles and aunties ("my daughter has just given birth to a new child. Very sweet you know - she speaks in english in her second month"), toddlers (who can't stop wailing), and their recently americanized mothers - all of these people jam packed in a small room which doesn't provide any means of recreation or distraction. If you are not a book person, sooner or later you have to strike up a conversation with someone and as it happens, I am always beside some such person (And I love it!).
This time, it happened sooner than usual - even before I checked in my luggage. An old aunty caught up with me because she needed some help with her luggage. We soon got talking till during the immigration check (where they retained me for further questioning for about 15 minutes). Once I was "released", she inspected me with furtive glances for sometime and when she was convinced that I was not a terrorist or an anti-social element, she joined me in the adjacent seat.
What started after that was a riot - she was an amazing conversationalist. We talked (rather she talked and I listened) for three whole hours and not for a moment was I bored. The lady had problems with her spinal cord - So I helped her with her luggage, wheel chair and got her some stuff to eat. Everytime I do that, she will give me one of those soap opera looks and say, "you are just like Srini - my son Srini". (In order to convince her that I don't suffer from short term memory and don't need reminding everytime, I auto completed her every "srini" with "your son srini" from then on). Well she had enough time for her two generations long family story - but there are some killer "gotcha-s" that she had in her conversation that I HAVE TO reproduce. All of these are translated verbatim and my expression after each of these lines can be verbally best expressed as }$£%£~#';:@. Here goes
A (for aunty): Are you an iyer or an iyengar?
Me: No aunty. I am a malayali.
A: Oh. palaghat brahmin. ok.
(I agreed coz I was scared she would throw me out of the airport if she knew I was not a brahmin)
A: You are exactly like my son.
Me: Thank you.
A: Just that he's a little more older, not so thin and is good looking.
A: Who do you work for?
Me: SAP.
A: They were doing badly a couple of years before. how are they doing now?
Me: (Surprised) better. much better.
A: I know about all these software companies. I read all the business magazines. They are into database operating system right?
Me: (avoiding confrontation) yes and some more also.
A: Is it good operating system?
A: Do you have a lot of friends?
Me: Not many aunty. know quite some people but not many friends.
(just then ~Y sends me a happy journey message)
A: What, you tell me you have no friends and people keep sending you messages. Why are you lying?
A: Have you thought of marriage already?
Me: Too soon aunty. Probably about 28-29.
A: So you have already started thinking.
Me: Not me. My dad ...
A: Don't get married before 30. My son is 29 and he's not yet married.
Me: ok.
A: I live in HAL second stage. is it a good area? (this is after "my son works in DSP. Is it a good field?". "You are also in lufthansa. is it a good flight?" ... germany ... bangalore airport ... )
Me: I don't know. I am quite new to bangalore.
A: No friends there, nothing?
Me: No.
A: Where do you live?
Me: Close to kempfort in airport road.
A: Oh, that's a very bad area. Two software engineers got killed only last week. are you careful when you are walking in the roads? don't roam around in the night too much.
and lots more that I don't remember now.
But my favorite one was this -
"You know, when my son was in texas, I used to sit at home at read all those magazines on all those circuits. When my son came home with some problem, I used to solve it for him. Even my daughter is american first class. You know where all this comes from (shows herself) - Genes!" and winks.
Genes indeed.

Saturday, February 12, 2005
Kerala Chroonicles comes to an end here!

We finally boarded the Alapuzha express from Thrissur at around 6:30 in the evening and
landed in Arakonam in the wee hours of the morning. It's been quite an eventful trip in a
lot of ways.

I realize I have written enough now :) Till the next time I travel - my travel diary shall go to sleep! Adios!

Tuesday, 8th February - 02:00 pm
One of the unlikliest thing to happen in this world is my brother agreeing to go to a relative's place. The two choices he gave himself are sleeping in guruvayur and meeting us in Thrissur directly at the station OR he and I going for a movie while our parents do the jive with the relatives. Adding fuel to fire, the person we were supposed to meet told us that he might not be present and will do his best to be there. My brother inteprets it as, "I won't be there. But I can't say no directly. Take the cue and don't come to my place". Dad disagreed and we land in the house of our relative.
Here's where fun starts - an elderly lady welcomes us in and my dad as usual is his witty, funny self talking to her and enquiring about the family and all that. The old lady recognizes me and tells my mom that she's seen me in Bangalore - My mom cames and asks me how the old lady is related. Now, I am surprised because the info usually flows the other way round. I, personally, have no idea too. We wait for our dad coz he seems very pally pally with her. When we ask him, he gives us his typical mischievous smile and tells us he has no idea either. Now, it's odd to settle yourself in the house and then ask the only lady inside who she is. After sometime, a guy enters and is surprised to see us there. Now, I have to add that I have seen the relative ~R in Q is before and I know this guy is not his son. We do some small talk and I ask him where he's staying. He looks at me quizzically and says this is his house, wondering whether I am nuts sitting in his own house and asking him where he lives. My dad gives me a nasty smirk, assumes this guy should be the ~R's son and asks him whether his dad is in the site (~R is a building contractor and my dad was sure of this info because he knows it first hand). The guy non-chalantly replies with a touch of suspicion, "No, he's in dubai". Stumped - "Joint family probably. ~R's family and ~R's brother's family", I whisper under my breath. My dad then asks him when ~R will come home. Our guy adds, "Once a month probably. Not very often these days". You should have seen my brother's face - "We are in the wrong house. He's never going to be here and our train is 6 hours later!". If looks could kill :) We then realized that the lady didn't know we were going to be there. So, she was furiously cooking for extra 4. She wouldn't let us go and she found the suggestion quite offensive. So, we had to stay and my mom rolled her sleeves and went to help her out with that while the guy (who was 21) fidgeted with the paper for sometime and left, leaving me (grinning!), my dad (trying to look at anything else but my bro) and my bro (fuming, threatening my dad my running his fingers across his neck as if slitting it). We planned so many things for this day - trip to Munnar, movie, lush dinner - finally spending it in a house where we were not expected, uninvited on some ad hoc lunch (which were delicious nonetheless)
PS: If you are wondering, my bro made my dad pay till the last penny by pulling his leg for the next two days!

Tuesday, 8th February - 11:00 am
I think temples are pretty much like stocks - once they become famous and people start flooding in, they become overvalued and the return on investment usually dips. At least personally, I go to the temple for some piece of mind and for sufficient time to stand there in front of god and clear my thoughts (standing before him is like being in the confession box where I neither try to convince myself or think of anything conceited). But in temples like tirupathi and Guruvayur, you first have to make sure you are on your feet and not on somebody else's thanks to all the crowd. And just when you get to glimpse the lord, they push you away. Of course, Guruvayur is miles ahead of many other temples I have been to. They go a long way to make sure the temple is clean (they once emptied the whole temple because a toddled wet his snuggies!). Money doesn't really speak too loudly in there - everyone's got one queue. They are quite strict about the dress code - guys cant cover their chest, have to wear dhotis and even the women should be dressed traditionally. Don't know if all this really matters - but does help in everyone taking the temple's rules quite seriously.
My parents simple revere the place. They make a trip here every two years at least and for them to be here on their silver jubilee was definitely much more lucrative than the house boat in munnar that I had suggested. After the visit, My bro and I pulled their legs asking mom to show us the heavenly sight of she falling in my father's feet and getting his blessings. Knowing our dad, I know he would faint if anyone did something like that. He's just not that kind of a guy - who can have a sacrosanct expression and bless someone five wives and sixteen children. My mom, knowing this too well, agreed to it immediately. End of the day it didn't happen, but my pathivratha-mom did get five points for agreeing to it from our side :)

Friday, February 11, 2005
Tuesday, 8th February - 01:00 am
I should be sleeping - I don't remember the last time I slept for more than 3 hours. But my mind just refuses to stop. I am either blogging inside my head or as it's been happening for quite a few months now, chasing vague illusions of images from the past, of a truth that once was. I know I should stop. Just stop and let go, and go to sleep. Just when I am trying that age old technique of counting numbers (if you try that and didn't find quite useful, try saying it really slowly. Or better still imagine being written on a black board) that my alarm rang. Mom wanted all of us to go for the 1:30 darshan, then the 4 o clock darshan. But the way my dad and bro smiled before they went to sleep, I should have known. Even my mom seems to be in deep sleep. I didn't have the heart to wake them up - suddenly, my brother's heavy arm fell on me and there was a rumble asking me to switch off my mobile (You should either see my bro, or imagine a 83 kg heavy, hairy giant sleeping next to you to know how I exactly felt!). Today's special - this day 25 years ago, my parents got married and it's amazing that they managed to stick and pull the family wagon together for 25 years. given how tired they were, I couldn't imagine waking them up.
So, I go stand next to their bed, do a twinkle-twinkle little star dance step (where you basically go left-right-left above your waist) and silently wish them 25 more years together. Crazy moments when you know no one's watching! I am glad my parents don't read my blog and hence save me a K-serial moment!!

Monday, 7th February - 09:00 pm
We are at the hotel lobby - I am talking to the guy at the reception, asking him for rates of the room and all that. My father's seated with the luggage with closed eyes. I inspect the room, pay him the advance and ask everybody to keep their luggage inside. My dad doesn't ask a question. We go to a restaurant and everybody tells me what they want to eat. I pay the bill and we walk back to the room. I am wondering when this happened. There must have been a time when dad asked me to take it up, sometime when dad smiled at me trying to take up the reins or when others felt the change. I don't remember when all this happened. It just seems to be the natural thing right now. It surely feels strange, nice - and a bit scary.

Monday, 7th February - 06:00 pm
I am sitting in a bus to Guruvayur in the last seat. I am keeping count of the number of times I jumped so high that I actually touched the roof of the bus. 3 so far. My brother and my parents are busy doing a post mortem of the marriage that just got over. And there's a bearded guy who's giving me a silly smile once in a while when we lock eyes. I have a feeling he's drunk (it's something about those smiles!), I get a little more close to him. He is - the very end of my nostrills affirm. After sometime, as it's eventually supposed to happen, we start talking. As with drunk guys most often, he talks and I listen. He tells me about his life's journey from kerala, to madras, to bangalore, to muscat to kerala again. He seemed quite in control of himself. He was not slurring or falling on me and was blaming his colleagues for making him drink in broad daylight. We talk of bangalore and he tells me his sister and stay in bangalore - so far so good. He doesn't remember where they stay, what they do but does remember that the guy was in the UK for sometime. Doesn't matter, does it. He then takes his mobile, shows me his brother's number and asks me to hold the phone. It was at that moment I got into a moral crisis - what was I supposed to do with the number. I couldn't possibly find where he's in bangalore using it (he would slap me if I explained him that!), I couldn't possibly take it down, call his BIL and tell him that I met his relative who didn't remember his name. He probably wanted me to look at his number and see if I know it and hence know the guy. Sounds far fetched to me - I looked at him, smiled and gave him the phone back. But he for some reason, insisted on me seeing the number. You must have seen my expression - I peered into it from left, then right, said it aloud and made a vague guess like "Hutch,eh!" and then told him, "I am sorry. But I don't have my mobile with me right now" (I don't know how he was going to relate this piece of info). He then said, "Oh!" and took the phone back. My brother couldn't stop laughing at me trying to figure out whatever just happened.

Monday, 7th February - 02:00 pm
But what was interesting about the "Advantages of drinking" course (see blog below) was, when he talked of parents then and now, my uncle brought about an interesting perspective. The advent of technologies have made our parents really paranoid. Initially, if a kid A is late, his parents can't do much about it - they can't call him on his mobile, the guy himself can't reach them on their landline (they were good old days of no phone!), the horror stories of what happens to kids worldwide was not fed to them by TV, they were less scared, less equipped and hence less paranoid. Of course, it has its own disadvantages but life then sounds much similar - reminds me of something that Chaith once sent me in INSEAD. Quote-Unquote.

Looking back, it's hard to believe we have lived as long as we have ... As children, we would ride in cars with no seatbelts or air bags. When we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot about our brakes. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us. No mobile phones. Unthinkable. We got cut and broke bones, and there were no lawsuits. They were accidents. No one was to blame, but us. Remember accidents? We had fights and got black and blue and learned to get over it. We ate cupcakes, bread and butter and drank fizzy drinks, but we were never overweight ... we were always outside playing. Not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment ... some people weren't as smart as others so they failed an exam. Horrors. The idea of parents bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! We did not have PlayStations, video games, cable, DVD's, mobile phones, PC's, internet chatrooms ... we had friends. We went outside and found them. We rode bikes and knocked on the door, or just walked in and talked to them. Imagine such a thing. Without asking a parent! Out there in the cold, cruel world! Without a guardian. How did we survive?

Monday, 7th February - 02:00 pm

The marriage is over and my bro and I decided to catch some sleep in the lodge. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. My uncle (father's bro) and another family friend (who my father loves to call my future father-in-law. Seems, one day he called up home to 'book' me for his daughter. My father explained to him that he'll publish it in the papers when we are open for applications!) were giving us company and talking some family gossip. My uncle was trying his best to get my FFIL (future father-in-law) for joining him that night for a couple of drinks. Firstly, my FFIL is scared of his wife a LOT, and hence he's scared of my dad coz my dad knows his wife really well and my dad likes to think that he wants to leave a positive impression with me coz I am going to be his son in law. So, my FFIL takes up a new lovely strategy to tell me it's ok that he drinks

After sometime, my brother just manages to stifle his laughter and I think I have had enough So, I tell him how my friends in BITS sometimes take a peg or two before going for a test and how I am totally ok with it. He seemed visibly relieved but added that I shouldn't talk about it to my dad :)

Monday, 7th February - 10:00 am
I hate going for marriages - I can really count the number of marriages that I have attended in my life. And I have this uncanny knack of doing or seeing something else when the actual holy thread tying ceremony is happening. This time I made sure I notice every little detail that is happening (probably because, everyone out there is freaking me out saying I am the most eligible bachelor in the queue (and is blind to any bachelor aged more than 27)). Anyways, to my shock and surprise - there are indeed lot of customs I don't know about. Everytime they do something, I ask my dad why they do it and whether they do it everytime. After sometime he was on the verge of losing his patience because - everytime his answer would be, "I don't know why. But yes, everytime". But really - feeding the bride and groom some milk through a cup, the guy giving the girl something before marriage and lots of things like this. I have NEVER seen it happen before. Thankfully, it all gets over in like 2 hours. that's it - a marriage starts and ends in 2 hours. After seeing a telugu wedding, a tamil wedding and having heard about a north-indian wedding, this is a boon!
PS: It's amusing to see the number of people, the lights and the glitz surrounding the groom when he enters the hall. I was telling my friend that this is the first time any man would get so much attention. "And the last time too ...", added a balding, tired and visibly married man ruefully.

Monday, 7th February - 06:00 am
Dhoti is quite a simple thing to wear - if you manage to know the trick of making it stay in place while walk, jump or run (and you become a pro from an amateur, if you can make it stay without a belt). Having worn it since the age of 12, I am quite confident wearing it these days (even on a winter morning in france! sigh! that was one numbing experience!). The usual thing to do when you wear a dhoti is to fold it and knot it again so that it stops at your knees and makes moving around a lot more easier. Quite a simple task again - But, it was only this time that someone actually told me there are 'cultural' variations in doing this.
Now, it's difficult for you to understand what i am telling you if you haven't done used a dhoti before yourself. So, when you fold and knot your dhoti - you basically will have two ends - one in your left hand and one in your right. People in tamil nadu put their left end over their right end and then knot it, while people in Kerala do it the other way round. So, this time when I was getting ready for the marriage, people saw me dress and lo! old women dropped what was in their hands out of shock, young girls gasped, old men talked of how the new generation is slipping away and the young men came to my rescue - I incidentally tied it the 'tamilian' way and blew the wits out of my staunch malayali relatives.
My uncle finally remarked that I become a true malayali when I know how to tie the dhoti the malayali way. That's it?? Here I am spending time and money, losing sleep trying to be a true malayali. I could've learnt doing this in bangalore and saved all trouble! Why didn't anyone tell me this before!! I REALLY have to go meet my dad RIGHT now.

Sunday, 6th February - 12:00 midnight

I am not sure how long I have been sleeping - can't be more than 15 minutes. I open the door and find my oldest cousin (who should be 30+) standing outside with a glass of alcohol asking me whether I can accomodate his brother, ~A in my room since it's just my bro and I in our room. I am not too clear about what I am saying but before I could say yes or no, ~A hopped into our room. Now, this is not something I talk about often - but my cousin ~A is mentally challenged. He is 28 years old, makes sense when he talks but his mental growth is that of a 7 or 8 year old. He has a compulsive desire to tear his clothes and get into bouts of sulkiness but otherwise, I have found him ok. I don't know if it's because I have grown up or all the ridicule he's been facing since childhood is finally affecting him for worse - but he was close to terrible this time over. He kept saying the same things over and over again and was being totally irresponsible.

Anyways, one among the few good virtues I have is patience. So, I took off his slippers, found him a blanket and asked him to get into the middle of bed so that he wouldn't fall of. Once he got comfortable, he started talking to my brother who was having a terrible bout of headache. My brother screamed at him immediately and asked him to sleep on the floor. I couldn't help much coz, there have been times in the past where I have been specifically asked not to let him lie in the corner of a bed. So, I spread the blanket on the floor, gave him my pillow and let him sleep there. But the problem was he wouldn't - he would try starting off a conversation every fifteen minutes and my brother and I would take turns and ask him to shut up. His voice would fade as if he was scared and after 15 minutes, he would give it a go again. Finally, probably at around 2 either we stopped bothering or he grew tired and slept off. That, unfortunately, was not the end of the story. He woke up again at 4:30 and starting shaking me asking me to wake up. I switched on the light to check the time and it was wayyy to early. He tried for about 20 minutes and again this time, it was my brother who couldn't stand it anymore and snapped at him. ~A then leaves the room, but forgets to close the door and leaves it ajar. I realize it one hour later when the hotel guy serving tea was next to my bed and shocked me out of my wits. Seems, our guy went down to the reception, woke up that guy and ordered tea for all our relatives staying in this lodge. I am not sure whether I felt good about having some company.

I am wondering how it would be to live with someone like this for a whole lifetime. 28 years is a long time. I have always ridiculed people who make fun of him. But I probably never realized what it takes to live with and love someone like this.

Sunday, 6th February - 08:00 pm

My dad tells me that a wise man is someone who could talk both to a 6 year old and a 60 year old. I am not sure about 60 year olds - but I feel really at home with the 6 year olds. Once their travel sickness was over and their daily quota of sleep is done, my nieces and nephews sprang into action. 6 year old Devi, the eldest and stoutest of all, wouldn't stop hitting me and I had to catch her before she runs away. If I do, I win or else ... well, she tries again. Her younger sister who's probably just 3, found it equally amusing but she wasn't too swift and ended up getting caught everytime. She loved the game nevertheless. 8 year old kannan is still shy - he would sit in a corner and smile at me (reminding me so much of how I was when I was young). So, I would sit next to him and talk about silly nothings. But the sweetest of all was Aditya - kannan's brother - who saw me once and told his mom that he likes "this mama (uncle)" a lot. We went around a lot - he introduced me to his dad, mom (who I knew 11 years before he did) and everytime he gets beaten up by the girls, he would sweetly come and tell me, "Rathish mama, that girl is really bad. She keeps hitting me". The best is when Devi tries to hit me, "No strength-alle (isn't it). Look at her sweating by hitting you." and when that didn't dissuade her, he practically stood before me (this 4 year old little thing) and ordered her not to do it any more. Boy, you should see him talk!

Later before we were about to part (after the marriage), he asked his mom to get him close to me, took my palm kissed it and then kissed my cheek and smiled - When does one lose this art of expressing one's love so beautifully and tenderly!! (probably, the first time he gets slapped by a girl who didn't quite understand probably - No! that was not personal experience)

Sunday, 6th February - 06:00 pm
My account is turning out to be a story of the endless cousins I have - but I guess it's understandable given that I am meeting all of them after a long time and boy! has time changed things. ~P is one of the most vivacious girls I have met in my life. She's always full of life, slightly on the louder side but never in one place. She's one year elder to me and I, as all other cousins, am closer to her elder sister than her. I have never talked to her much. I remember going out with her into the forests close to our ancestral house and playing some obscure games when I am really feeling lonely.

A few years ago, when some relatives met at my place in chennai, there were talks doing the rounds that she's getting depressed too often these days, and hence has been shifted from Kannur (my birthplace) to Ernakulam (where I am in right now). Some years later, all seemed ok again and she went back to Kannur. But I was not at all ready for what I saw this time - she was totally aloof and reserved. There will a bunch of people talking, about 15 of us including her mother, brothers and sister. She would be sitting close to us but alone, away from the circle. I tried talking to her twice or thrice but after a couple of minutes, there would be strained silence and my mastery of malayalam didn't help at all!

Mom tells me that she's always quiet outside home and that girls go through such phases. But I know better, I have seen her in umpteen weddings and she's not 13 or 15 for going through introverted phases. She will be getting married in a year. What really freaked me out was her eyes - they were empty. Really empty! as if there was no soul behind those eyes, no emotion, no life. I have never seen eyes like that before and I can tell you - it really freaks me out. When I was about to leave on monday, she had an expression of someone who was about to cry. But I didn't know why coz it's unbelievable that she actually felt bad that i was leaving. She didn't cry - as I disappeared round the corner, I could see her staring from near the gate. The same empty expression.

Sunday, 6th February - 02:00 pm
I am feeling so bored now that I will make my brother sit in front of me, pick his hair one by one and garnish my lunch. And I am sure, he feels the same way too. I am wondering what guys my age do if they come a day before marriage. No one's really helping me find out coz there is NO ONE AROUND who's my age. My bro and I have made 3 trips to the local shop, treated our cousin (more on him later), entertained ourselves with some self-deprecating jokes and now have come up with a brilliant idea of going for a movie. My father however thinks we should talk to my uncle (my father's brother whose daughter is getting married) before doing so. Now, that wouldn't make us look very responsible would it. But what the heck - we found some good company in another cousin of mine (who's called Rathi and who's like my closest relative) and managed to get the show timings from the bride's brother. No luck coz there are no shows that would the suit the free time we have. Suddenly the responsible me feels it will too bad if I go. So, the plan's cancelled. But 7 o clock, I enter the hall again and everyone's asking me (in a very disapproving tone) who the movie was. They actually thought we went and my brother didn't bother to change their mind about it (Quite frankly, there are very few things he bothers about. And what relatives think is right in the rock bottom!). Like so many of those well-minded-respect-the-elders-keep-them-happy decisions, this one's a flop too. Lesson I learnt is to do what I please and learn to convince them later. They have an extremely short life to what they think is right. Screw them all.

Sunday, 6th February - 12:00 noon
I am feeling sleepy now - didn't manage to sleep too well in the train. I have never drunk but I always think what one goes through while inebriated is close to how I feel when I am sleepy. Everything looks bright to me - there's a PC Sreeram type of gloss attached to every object. Suddenly, every noise gets louder than usual. If people dont realize and continue talking, their words start overlapping eachother and I have a feeling that they are slurring. After sometime, it's like a monotone of sounds and I can't distinguish the words. I would still have my eyes open and nod like I understand everything - but not a word! I think a glassy look fills my eyes and I start smiling for no reason coz I like what I am feeling. I wish someone takes a snap of me then coz I really want to know how I look like.

Sunday, 6th February - 11:00 am
My greatest problem is that even if I don't understand what someone's trying to tell me, if I feel I will never get it, I vigorously nod my head as if I have got it (and couple it with verbal confirmations). But I fail to wipe off that confused look on my face and hence either the interested speaker is pissed that I am not paying attention or he relentlessly continues to explain it till he becomes tired of my stupidity. High time people realize that in matters involving spatial skills (locations, routes, distance) or relationships - I am incurably and consistently pathetic.

Sunday, 6th February - 10:00 am
I am in Ernakulam in kerala - my Uncle is staying in one of the suburbs called Palarivattom here. The place is not what you see as God's own country in CNN. It's not all back waters, boats and narrow channels surrounded by women dressed in white and lush coconut trees. But it's still special. A few subtle differences

Sunday, 6th February - 08:50 am

Another incident on the same lines - Usually in the trains are physically handicapped people (severely deformed, lacking a limb most of the time with the point where it has been severed hitting your senses violently) who clean the floor of the train and expect a rupee or two. They aren't persistent usually - they do their job, look around for a moment and keep moving if no one seems forthcoming. The swedish lady next to me gave money to these guys everytime they came. This one time, she ran out of coins and stared the otherside unable to look at the guy. Another gentleman sitting in the bay noticed this, put his hands into his pocket and fished for quite sometime. Finally he took out his kerchief and wiped his face as a matter of fact. He probably didn't intend it as a practical joke - but the handicapped guy was practically following the guy's every moment, his eyes filled with a naked expectation, hoping to get at least a rupee in alms. Nothing. Zilch.

The gentleman didn't realize all of us staring at him and after sometime, the guy left.

Sunday, 6th February - 08:30 am
As usual the street urchins and little beggars swarmed our compartment. And this time realizing there was a foriegn lady amidst us, they really thought they stood a chance. So, this young girl (Who yet again sang Pardesi .. pardesi jaana nahin) and her younger brother stood before her for quite sometime and crooned at the top of their voice. After sometime, they started they started nibbling her arm and started asking for money. She very sweetly gave them an apologetic smile, and told them in hindi "Mere paas, sirf ek sikka hai. Woh muje chahiye. Maaf kijeye" (I am wondering how many times she's been forced to say it that she's memorized it so well). The kids looked at her for sometime, went back and everyone was glad that they understood. After sometime, they came back this time with about 15-20 other little kids. Now, all of them started nibbling her arm. Finally, an exasperated Mr.Verghese who was sitting next to her shooed all of them away.

That moment - I felt ashamed. Having been there in europe and known how it is there, I could imagine how irritating they would find the whole experience. I felt like a kid who got a bunch of his stinkingly rich kids into his house. I knew our financial state, I had no problems staying in it, the facilities I had were adequate for me - but when the kids arrive and look around, there's this instantaneous sense of shame that you then cover under a lot of high sounding justifications. But the feeling's there - pricking you.

Sunday, 6th February - 07:15 am
The german guy has a lot of interesting things to say - Seems germans had this contest of what is the best german word. People can send it entries and explain why they think the word they chose should be the best word. The top two winners were

First prize: Habseligkeifen - which from what I understood means, the essential belongings of a person. During world war 1, lots of people in the french border had to take their real essential belongings (their habseligkeifen) and such people were referred to as good men or trustworthy men. So, any man with his Habseligkeifen is someone who could be trusted and who is a good man. I don't know if I have understood him correctly. It's a difficult thing to explain in a language different from your own.

Second prize: Rhabavbermarmelade: This one refers to a fruit (a pink sour fruit that's added in salads he said). It was chosen because the word sounds like a whole song when he says it. Even a non-german is fascinated by it even though it means something quite trivial.

He was also saying how things are so quiet in a german train and how in some trains when the pretzel (a german bread) lady enters the train, they would actually announce it - "The pretzel lady has arrived. Please buy yourself some refreshments". I was wondering how it would be in an indian train - "The chai guy has arrived. Oh, another chai guy has .. now a coffee guy .. a masala vada guy ... the magazines guy ... Now a few eunuchs, forget it! A lot of people have entered the train. Amuse yourselves!"

Saturday, 5th February - 11:00 pm

I did manage to talk to the swedish lady after all - actually, it quite literally fell on my lap. The lady was sleeping in a berth till the TTR came and told her someone else's supposed to occupy the berth. I am assuming this happened because when I woke up she was involved in an animated conversation with the guy in hindi (HINDI!). Anyways, she said something, he understood something else but they finally decided that she will give berth to someone else :) The son of the soil, late 70s superstar, helpful citizen that I am, I enquired what really was the problem and she, well, had lots to say. Our Mr.120 turned out to be ok. He was from germany (he called himself Sebastian and was told me that I was the first guy to say his name correctly. Ess Saa Ppae .. Zee zerman kompany,you zee).

One thread among so many interesting topics we discussed was how traveling to different continents helps you grow as a person and widens your vision. The swedish lady told me how after coming to India, she realized how a house is just a roof on top of your head and doesn't have to be all lavish and costly. She sold off her old huge house and is now in a shop that she and her boy friend have transformed into a duplex. (which is funny (that she learnt this from india) coz we do this because we don't have the money. If we had it, I am sure all of us will end up spending it on an extra brick or an interior staircase)But point taken. I concur (have you seen catch me if you can?)

Saturday, 5th February - 10:30 pm
I realized I am not too keen to talk to anyone (those sour grapes!) and have landed myself on the top berth browsing a terribly boring issue of 'The Week'. Below, a couple of north indian seths (they just look like seths you know - safari suits, huge pot bellies and a genorous doze of paan that occasionally spills onto their pants) are telling the foriegners some survival tips in kerala.

"Eat no fish. This time, you know Tsunami and all. Very dangerous. Also, no water from roadside. Tea is ok and mineral water. but you know, these days all insects and pesticides in mineral water also" (Bravo! Wah mere desh bakht, you just cost india a couple of thousand indian tourist money!)

"They use a lot of coconut oil while they cook indian dishes. Do you like it with coconut oil?" (I am wondering how I would have reacted if someone had told me on my way to france that they serve ostrich meat with blood and whether I like it that way. I am wondering, if I would have smiled and looked into my book, looked like they asked me to calculate 13 into 357 with my fingers or retorted, "how I would know duffer. I have never had anything with blood to say the difference!")

I should probably sleep - I guess I am just jealous that our Ram charan seth had something to talk to her while all I did was to smile like I suffer from constipation.

Saturday, 5th February - 10:00 pm
This is one of the sweetest send offs I have got - though the person in question, ~L, was actually miles away in a house. We kept talking on the phone - right from the moment I landed in the platform, to the point where I actually "was out of reach" (literally!). My relatives were in the same train two compartments away and I had promised to meet them (I know you are not interested in how they are related to me. But still for the sake of the record - they are the brother and sister in law of my grandfather. I should ideally be calling them grandfather and their sons, uncles. But the sons, being 26 and 24, will kill me. So, I made them my cousins and him my uncle. I just loove the english language for this!).

Anyways, there's this firangi lady and another 6-foot 120 kilo guy sitting next to her. I smiled half way at her but whatever was left on my face was wiped clean when I saw the guy. I am a bad conversationalist - I really am. Left to me, I can't start a conversation for nuts. Thank god for all the extroverts!

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