Sunday, June 29, 2008

And thus my vacation comes to an end :-). I leave for Noida tomorrow to join work. I’m a little excited , a little anxious and a little sad…

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Part 3 (Please scroll down for the earlier parts)

Winter came early to Ghaziabad that year. From strolling around in shorts and cut off vests and sweating into the bed at night there had been an imperceptible shift to full sleeved shirts and light sweaters. Blankets began to be pulled out from the cupboard. The roaring coolers without which the summer days and nights in the hostel had been impossible went into early retirement. The hardier of the students still persisted with the ceiling fan but in most rooms it remained switched off at night. The change in weather also resulted in a general improvement in appearance. The summer months had been cause for endless perspiration and no matter how many times one showered, it was impossible not to appear sticky. Every individual walked within his own half meter radius of icky discomfort and he cringed if anyone crossed the barrier. There was no back slapping among friends and even the most lovesick of couples preferred to talk to each other instead of indulging in acts of affection. There was certain restlessness in the air. Patience was short and tempers flared frequently.

When winter came however the perspiration (and as a consequence the tension) dried up. The air became clean and crisp. The students looked smart in their sweaters and everyone appeared fresh and cheerful. The couples suddenly couldn’t get enough of each other. Even the campus was very pretty in the early months of the cold.

The cold wasn’t the only thing that was new to IMT. Mango had given birth to five pups and they joyfully greeted the world with little yips and wagging tails. Perpetually ravenous, they worried their mother incessantly for milk and affection. With their tiny tails oscillating wildly like pendulums gone haywire, they suckled on her teats like there was no tomorrow. As they toppled each other in a desperate attempt to reach the best teat, they were a treat to watch. Relaxing quietly on her side as she fed them, Mango was the very picture of a serene, content mother.

She was of course a very lucky dog. A student of the executive batch had fallen head over heels in love with the pups. Fearing harm to them, he had allowed her to take up residence in his room. He spread sacking material on the floor for the family to lie down on. Thrice a day, he made trips to the canteen and returned with eggs, milk and bread for her to wolf down. For a stray dog, she led a life of luxury. The room though became a mess. It stank to the high heavens but that did not deter him from providing for her. It was an act of selfless love.

When the administrative staff began to make complaining noises he shouted them down and made it clear that if they tried anything the consequences would be unpleasant. But he was a worried man. The executive course ran only for a year and his time was almost up. He was certain the pups would be thrown out after he left and he had done his best to find homes for them. He managed to find a home for one of the pups but the other four sadly were not that lucky. What was he to do?

The first time I visited the room, I was both touched by the sight of the pups and taken aback by the havoc they had created. The tables had been dragged to the side to make room for a sea of sacking material. From the middle of this sea, rose two beds – tiny human settlements completely at the mercy of their canine overlords. While the exec guy looked perfectly at home, his roomie looked like he didn’t know what hit him. Overnight he had gone from being part owner of the room to a poorly treated guest. Books worth four semesters lay scattered on his bed. Any other location would have invited the curiosity of the four legged fiends. It was impossible not to feel sorry for him. The pups shuffled around, sniffing everything in their path, determined to explore every corner of the room. Every now and then one of them would dart for the door, eager to see what lay outside these four walls. Immediately the exec student would curse and scoop the pup up before he disappeared into the big bad world yonder.

The pups captivated me completely. I couldn’t bear the thought of them being thrown out when they were so small and entirely incapable of looking after themselves. The nasty dogs outside the campus would finish them off in minutes. I brought Mathew, Deepa and Aritri over to look at the pups and think of a solution. As expected they fell for the pups too. I wasn’t alone in my fears anymore.

So we decided to bring them over to our hostel. I-lobby was the only coed hostel in IMT. Coed in the sense that the ground floor and first floor were occupied by the boys while the second and third floors were occupied by the girls. As we all stayed in the same hostel, it would be easier to look after them. We reasoned that if we kept the pups a little longer, they would grow big enough to fend for themselves. It also gave us more time to find homes for them.

It was a decision that would complicate our lives terribly in the weeks to come.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I have about 7 days to go before I join work and I must say I’m glad this vacation is coming to an end. Three and a half months is just a little too long to have to oneself.

I have no regrets about the way I spent my time. I traveled all over the country, played tennis, spent time with family and friends, read dozens of books and wrote quite a bit. I’ve done a fair bit of introspecting too.

It’s taken the better part of three months to figure out how to proceed with my book and now I can say I have a rough idea of how I should go about it.

That said and done, I need to do something to feel useful again. I’m tired of living in my head, of idly surfing the internet, of relentless orkutting, of checking my mail every hour, of spending too much time on Gtalk just waiting for someone to talk to, of reading every single blog on the planet and just feeling lonely all day. I even went to a movie all by myself once. It was not a thrilling experience.

I can now sympathize with retired pensioners and desperate housewives. It does not matter how smart or sensible you are. Sit at home all day and pretty soon you are going to go soft in the head.

Here’s to a new life :-). Cheers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Part 2 (Please scroll down for Part 1)

If there were still any doubts about Mango’s sex, she put them to rest soon enough. Within a few weeks of setting foot on campus, she went into heat thereby drawing the unwarranted affection of every male dog within a radius of a kilometer. Nobody knows how they managed to enter the college grounds. Overnight IMT went from a relatively peaceful academic setting to a frenzied battlefield as the dogs fought bitterly among themselves for the right to fatherhood. Mango had absolutely no idea why she was the object of so much attention. No matter where she went, a dozen males would trot eagerly behind her, hoping for a whiff of her exotic bottom. Their attention made her uncomfortable and she was prone to snapping at them if they got too close. With her lips drawn back and fangs bared as she snarled, she was a terrifying sight. It did nothing to diminish her suitor’s enthusiasm though. They went berserk with joy if she lunged at them. Evading her snapping teeth in the last second they would determinedly try and squeeze in a fleeting sniff of her behind before leaping to safety. I would watch from a distance and thank the Gods that human mating rituals were not so complicated.

It appeared for a while that Mango would summarily reject all her suitors and opt for a more saintly approach to life. I predicted a life of quiet reflection as she nosed around in the dustbin. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within a few days she was knocked up.


The library was probably amongst my favorite spots in IMT. Towards the last few months I felt a pang of regret when I gazed upon the rows and rows of shelves, filled with books on finance, economics, operations and marketing. So much I could have read, so much I could have learned. Yet I spent most of my time merely enjoying the air conditioning.

The design of the library was in many ways self defeating. The wall facing the playground was almost entirely made up of large glass windows, offering the student a dreamy view of the football field, the cricket pitch, the volleyball court and at a distance the mess and the hostels. To the right was the tree lined cobbled path that led to the amphitheater. If one were to squint through the trees he could catch a glimpse of the tennis court – a very pretty sight especially under the floodlights late in the evening. It was rather difficult to sit in the library and not let your mind wander – given the number of distractions the field had to offer.

On that particular day I was in the library sitting with my study group, trying my darndest to wrap my mind around a particularly thorny case study on consumer behavior when Shublina began to titter.

“Look! Look!” she exclaimed, urging Akash, Arkava and me to look out of the window.

I gazed at the field. A football match was in progress. I had never played football in IMT but I admired the enthusiasm with which my friends competed. Each of them had a point to prove on the field and would run around hollering for the ball and yelling instructions, often having fierce confrontations with each other. I could never fathom why they took it all so seriously but put it down to one of those things I would probably never understand.

I noticed with a start that Mathew was wearing my shorts – a pair that had disappeared from my cupboard under mysterious circumstances but that wasn’t what caught Shublina’s attention. She nudged me sharply in the ribs and pointed to the middle of the field. It was one of the bizarre sights I had ever seen.

The match was being played with its usual intensity with the ball zig zagging across the field. Two opponents had collided and were screaming bloody murder. The keeper of one side was crouching in anticipation as the ball got closer. Mathew to my disgust had dirtied my shorts. For some reason though, the players were avoiding the center of the field, preferring to skirt around it as they kicked the ball. I squinted at the center and realized why: Mango and a random dog were engaged in a mutual exchange of affection. They were making love.

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of a pervert watches dogs in the act and then writes about it?

The thing is the dogs didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about the spectacle they were making. “Oh don’t mind us” Mango seemed to be saying. “We’re just having a bit of fun on our own. Perfectly normal for us dogs to get carried away in the heat of the moment no matter where we are you know… Carry on playing, we don’t mind.”

What disturbed me however was not the horrifying spectacle of the dogs going at it in full steam. What disturbed me was how those guys could still play a game around it! I mean, there are limits to how seriously one can take a match!

I tried averting my eyes. We tried reading the case study and made notes from time to time. But we couldn’t help it. Every now and then one of us would take a peek and see if it was still going on…and it went on for a while. It was so unreal.

Those were the days when I wasn’t well acquainted with Mango. She was a friendly if somewhat timid dog. New to the campus she would wag her tail but backpedal if we got too close. I would throw her bread scraps every once in a while but for most part we moved in different circles.

With the puppies on their way now all that was about to change. Little did I know then that my life in IMT would never be the same again…

Friday, June 13, 2008

(Note: During the last 6 months that I spent in college, I had a stray dog that comfortably shared my room with me. She was so much a part of my life that all my memories of IMT have bits of fur sticking to them. Considering that I am rather fond of her, I thought it would be inappropriate to write about her in one go. The blog entry would never end and could possibly bore the reader to tears. For a change I have decided to write in installments. This way I can hopefully do justice to the details while managing to keep the entries relatively short. Feedback is welcome.)

Part 1

The dog walked into my life on two legs.

While the other canines I knew were content to run around on all fours, this particular one didn’t seem to rate the four legged experience too highly. Instead she would rear up and place her paws on my chest. Wagging her tail furiously, she would look deep into me eyes she and pant encouragingly. I would pant back and for a few moments we would gaze at each other in pure adoration. After which she would drop back onto all fours and sniff my behind with great interest. It was this part that made me uncomfortable.

But then, she wasn’t the first dog to grace the campus. For several years IMT had been home to a particularly gregarious mutt named Jango. Jango was a short stocky dog of unremarkable appearance. With a scuffed, dirty brown coat he wasn’t the prettiest specimen around but what made him stand out was his exuberance and goodwill. He was everybody’s good friend. Turning up at all our outdoor parties, he would enthusiastically leap about barking his head off as we danced to the music. For every birthday celebration, a small piece of cake was reserved for Jango because no party was complete without him. It didn’t matter which part of the campus we were cutting the cake in. He just instinctively knew when and where to turn up.

Jango spent the chilly winters in the corridors of any of the hostels and was given a blanket too. If someone was inebriated and feeling rather mellow, Jango would slink into his room and clamber onto his bed, spending the night quietly by his side until he was ejected from the room in the morning with a furious yell. He was so popular that he even had his own Orkut profile. Energetic, lovable and slightly off his head, we gleefully accepted that that he was a part of that bizarre puzzle that was IMT. During the ragging sessions, it was essential that you introduced yourself to the dog and addressed him as sir. No one knew how long he’d been at IMT. Our seniors had called him sir and so had their seniors. It was a bit of a tradition, carefully passed on from generation to generation. Like the Phantom, he was the ghost who barked.

Most of all, we needed Jango’s presence to confirm that college life was wild and free – that our lives here were crazy and not bound by rules on how to behave. We all wanted memorable tales to share with our friends outside IMT about how weird things were here. Jango was one such memorable tale. Accepting him seemed to be in the spirit of IMT.

Jango remained a part of our lives in the first year of college until he bit someone. It was completely unintentional. This particular individual had just come out of the mess holding a sandwich when Jango spotted him. Or rather he spotted the sandwich. Jango was used to being fed tit bits and when he wasn’t offered any, he leapt up to help himself. He got the sandwich but his teeth ended up grazing the students hand in the process. The student complained to the authorities and the next day Jango was caught and taken to the pound. He would groove to the music no more.

Not many people knew the Jango was missing because within days a new dog of similar appearance was seen sniffing around. I knew it wasn’t Jango though because this dog had a nice shiny coat. It was a lot younger too. More importantly it was female. Most of them though couldn’t tell the difference and insisted on calling her Jango. When I pointed out the rather glaring difference she was promptly christened Mango.

I didn’t like the new name too much. It didn’t seem right to name a dog after a tropical fruit. For a while I toyed with the idea of calling her Silk Smitha - after a sex siren of the 80’s whose movies were cause for restless nights in front of the TV for the youth of South India…but gave it up. After all, it was rather inappropriate. I was also disturbed to find that the real Silk Smitha had committed suicide due to depression. It would be very wrong to name a dog after her...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I've always had reservations about keeping a hit counter on my blog. After all, it can be quite depressing to login and see that not many people are visiting. However after four and a half years of putting it off, I have decided to bite the bullet. Thus you can see a new hit counter on the right.

I also decided to see from which parts of the world my blog gets its traffic from. I picked up this cool widget from Revs blog.

Hmm...I'll give it a weeks trial. If I'm not getting many hits I'll probably take it off :P

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I had never consciously planned on getting here. I was never supposed to turn twenty five. What had happened? How did I stop being twenty four?

I think twenty five is the age that you realize that you have begun your inevitable march towards adulthood. Prior to that every birthday is just what it’s supposed to be: a birthday – a cause for celebration and dinner with friends. Nothing more. You don’t stop to think about how you’re doing in life. You’re just happy to be where you are. Also at the back of your mind you’re confident that while everyone else is destined to a normal, uneventful life yours will somehow be very different. You aren’t sure exactly how but you know it will be faster, more exciting and certainly more glamorous.

The twenty fifth birthday though comes with an important realization: You’re just like everyone else. You aren’t very unique, you aren’t very special. You’re leading the same life everyone else is and pretty soon you are going to turn into your parents. You’re going to get married, settle down, have children and worry about their board exams. Then you take a look at you’re grandmother and grandfather and realize with horror that one day you too will be arthritic, have bad digestion and suffer from poor bladder control. Until that point of time you assumed that your grandparents were born as grandparents. You never realized that sixty years ago they looked just like you.

You also start worrying about getting your act together. Its time to stop fooling around and start behaving like a sensible adult. The problem though is that you suck at being a sensible adult. You aren’t very high on confidence and you’re pretty sure that you’re making an ass of yourself all the time. Why aren’t you smarter, more self assured and clear about where you’re heading?

I made two attempts at penning down my thoughts on my birthday. The first was just random collection of everything I’d done on the tenth of June. Half an hour later I deleted it. I had written it in a state of mild hysteria, overcome by an obsessive need to sound cheerful, casual and witty. It hardly reflected how I truly felt about being where I am now.

Sometime later I found an article on the “Quarter life crisis – the unique challenges of life in your twenties” and pasted it on my blog. Then I deleted that too. I could identify with what was written but it wasn’t my voice, it wasn’t MY story. (Sorry your comment was deleted in the process Srishti)

Sigh.My sister gotten herself married a month after she turned twenty five. How could she? How could she?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Surprisingly, I felt completely at home in Mumbai. Considering I hadn’t visited the city in over a decade and had only vague memories of the same, weirdly enough it all felt reassuringly familiar when I got off the plane. I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Mumbai is a restless city. It crackles with an infectious energy. I found it extremely uplifting just to walk the streets and watch people hurry about their business. The incessant rain didn’t depress me one bit, it only added to the atmosphere. It’s the only city where I have felt both completely at peace and quietly excited at the same time.

It was an extremely satisfying two days in the city. I stayed with Gaurav and Deepak in Mulund, watched Sarkar Raj with them and then met up with Shublina, Ali, Akash and Aritri at Shublina’s house in Thane the next day. My friends from IMT now don new faces. They are no longer mildly eccentric students but working professionals, doing their bit for the Indian GDP. They are consultants, business development managers and area sales managers, working tirelessly for their organizations. They worry about the rent, the price of petrol and professional advancement. I felt slightly in awe of them. With almost a month to go before I joined work I felt like I was still sucking my thumb in an incubator, shielded from the worries of the real world.

The hours flew by. We laughed, shared jokes and relived our memories of IMT. The rains did nothing to diminish the warmth of the gathering. Sitting later in a cake shop and frantically picking at each others cake and ice cream concoctions we were once again IMT’ians living in a make believe world of work and worry. At the back of our minds we were confident that this messy work business would end soon and that we’d all be back in IMT in a couple of months.

We left in the pouring rain; I was already late for my flight back to Bangalore. We scrambled onto the wrong train and went back to Thane instead of heading towards the airport. We caught the right train after that, grinning in spite of the crushing crowd. As one of them remarked wryly “I don’t know if it’s my sweat that’s running down my face or someone else’s.”

I was sorry to leave Mumbai. I have no idea when I’ll see the guys who made my world in IMT again. There’s an emptiness in my life without them. I’d give anything to go back to college and relive my two years as an MBA.

Its twenty one days to employment.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The little priest was not so little anymore. In fact he more or less towered over me. From a height of 6”2, he sternly regarded me for a few moments before briefly nodding his head. My presence had been acknowledged. I smiled weakly in return.

My first encounter with the little priest was about four years ago when I had to perform monthly rituals in the memory of my father. His father, the priest who usually helped me perform these rituals was of a soft spoken man who patiently guided me through the intricacies of the puja. He also didn’t mind the fact that my Sanskrit pronunciation was awful. The mantras which had to be chanted were complete tongue twisters that varied in pitch, speed, duration and to the untrained ear were total gibberish. He would utter a complicated shloka or mantra and then ask me to repeat after him. I would listen in quiet desperation and try in vain to form the words in my head. In response to his gentle prodding, I would hem and haw, stutter, pause and finally give him a mangled version of the original. He would then give me a kindly smile and move onto the next mantra. It was enough for him that my intentions were pure, what I uttered was not of much consequence.

One morning however called to and regretfully announced that he was busy elsewhere but that I was not to worry, his son was on his way.

“He is well versed in all our rituals; from birth to marriage to death” he assured me “I have trained him well so you have nothing to worry about.”

But I wasn’t worried. Over the course of a few months I had developed a dislike for these rituals. It was no fun to sit shirtless in front of a fire with the smoke stinging my eyes and the sweat running down my back as I muttered words I didn’t understand. Skeptical of the value of mechanically repeating mantras and tossing rice and ghee into the fire, I found the whole exercise a waste of time and money. My father was in my thoughts all the time; I didn’t need a ritual to affirm my respect for him. It didn’t matter who the priest was, I would be still be repeating the same mind numbing activities.

Thus when the bell rang, I went to the door without much enthusiasm. I had already resigned myself to another hour long session of playing parrot. Wearing an expression of indifference I opened the door and came face to face for the first time with the little priest. My eyes widened in surprise.

When the priest had said that he would be sending his son, I had automatically assumed that the son would be a replica of his father: soft looking, bearded, pigtailed, with a tummy around which smaller planets orbited. The priest’s tummy was a separate entity altogether. It ballooned out from under his chest, stretching taut over a vast curvature, struggling valiantly against gravity before resigning itself to fate with a sigh and curving gently into his waist. It always arrived before the priest, wobbling, jiggling and trembling with each step, parting the crowds like Moses parting the sea. I hadn’t however bargained for a stick thin twelve year old bespectacled kid who barely came up to my shoulder.

The little priest however seemed oblivious to my incredulous look. He stepped in with an air of confidence and bade my mother to bring the necessary items. My mother hurried into the kitchen immediately.

As we waited for my mother I studied him intently. His manner was nothing like a normal twelve year olds. He carried himself with immense dignity and had an enlightened air about him. What possessed this boy to conduct rituals and recite slokas instead of doing the things that normal twelve year olds do? Why did I feel hopelessly immature in front of him? He caught be staring at him.With an expression of grave intensity he returned my gaze without the slightest trepidation. I lowered my eyes immediately.

When all the items had been brought, we sat down on the floor and I waited for him to begin reciting. Instead he looked at me expectantly

“Come on, you can start now.”


“Don’t you know what you have to say?”


“How many times have you done this before?”


“Six! And you still don’t know how to begin??”


With a condescending expression he began to recite and I hesitantly repeated after him. I was squirming inside. It is one thing to be chided by someone elder to me and quite another to be accused of ignorance by someone half my age, especially on matters of faith and spirituality. Unlike his father, the little priest was not very forgiving about my poor pronunciation. Each time my tongue tied itself in knots; he would stop and glower at me. As we progressed through the ritual I became more and more conscious of myself, stuttering and stumbling over the simplest of mantras. I hated every moment of it.

The truth was I hated it because it forced me to face the fact that I knew nothing about the ritual and had never bothered to learn more. When his father was by my side I would start sincerely but my mind would begin to wander in a few minutes. There were even times when I fell silent and let him go on alone. Because his father had never chided me I had never felt inadequate. His son though made up for all the lost opportunity.

The ritual wasn’t the only thing I knew nothing about. I was vastly ignorant of most of what was expected of me as a Brahmin. I hardly wore my thread because it was uncomfortable and itchy, often slipping down my shoulder and pinning my arm to my side, especially when I was wearing formals. I have a morbid fear of dhotis and have never learnt to tie one by myself, always afraid that it would unravel and cascade down, revealing my naked legs and more to the world. I had never learnt my Abhivadai – my lineage which had to be recited to an elder or a priest as I bent down from my waist with my palms behind my ears. Each time I was asked to recite it, I would bend down, place my palms behind my ears and scowl until my grandmother or uncle recited it for me.

I know what you are asking yourself by now. Why doesn’t he just learn it all instead of complaining about it? Is it that hard?

For me it boils down to a question of faith. Try as I might, I have no belief in the rituals I am expected to perform. To wear a thread and sincerely perform every ritual and adhere to every requirement of tradition requires you to switch off your own questioning mind and conform to a preconceived notion of what the path to enlightenment is. I do not like to conform; I am not just a Brahmin, I am an individual, I am me. Why should I conform to someone else’s ideas?

Don’t get me wrong. I do not sneer at those who have faith. In fact I envy them because life is so much simpler for them. To have great belief relieves you of the torture of doubt. I would give anything to believe that the rituals I perform are significant.

I have an interesting relationship with my thread. During the times I do wear it; it gives me a sense of identity and tells me my place in the universe. It also fills me with a sense of history. I am a Vadagalai Iyengar, a ‘Tam Brahm’, a descendant of a priestly class – a bunch of people generally acknowledged to be highly educated, intelligent, cultured and very good at mathematics. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally indulge in intellectual snobbery. The thread is my personal key to the world of Rajagopalan, Balasubramanian, Mythili, maami, aacharam, filter coffee, curd rice, kutcheris, The Hindu, veshti, B.Tech, IIT, USA, MS and PhD. It is rather common for proud parents to talk of their children in the US – referring to Texas and Seattle with a certain nonchalant familiarity, as if they were talking about Mylapore and Ranganathan Street. This is my world. I am proud to be a Tam Brahm.

However it ends there. For all the pride that I derive out of being a Tam Brahm, I don’t for a moment enjoy the rituals. The significance attributed to the thread seems patently ridiculous and the heavy emphasis on the correct protocol is tiresome. Why must I sit for hours in front of a fire with the fan switched off and the smoke stinging my eyes? I do not like my love and respect for my parents to be measured by how well I repeat after the priest. Why am I simply doing what others think is the proper thing to do?

When I met the little priest this time to perform a Sudharshana Homam – a puja to bring good luck and prosperity, he had practically doubled in height. He had a man’s face and physique. His manner had become even graver. He made me feel flippant and immature in comparison. Luckily this puja did not require my verbal participation. All I had to do was sit and listen as six other priests recited with vim and vigor. As they chanted I found myself wondering what it would be like to be a priest. Could I resign myself to a life of smoke and fire and ghee and rice? Could I wear nothing but a dhoti all the time? Could I convince myself that what I uttered indeed had tremendous power? Would I feel more enlightened or would I be just another man going through the motions for a salary?

At the end of the puja the house was filled with smoke. We had lunch in silence, our eyes watering as we sat on the floor and ate off a banana leaf. The little priest had lunch with us and then left. I was glad to see him go.

Later as I went to visit a neighbor she told me that she had kept her doors open so that the smoke from our house could drift in.

“The smoke has great cleansing power you know? It drives away all evil spirits in the house. And the chanting creates a special vibration that is so good for the mind and soul! “ she exclaimed enthusiastically.

I smiled at her, wishing for a moment that I could believe too.