Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Malnad Diary

Brahma Katae a small village in the heart of Malnad, with just about ten houses scattered around a radius of about five kilometers was truly one of the most remote places I had ever set foot on. A small house lay in the lap of dense forest and huge mountains. The house mostly surrounded by coffee plants, areca nut trees, orange trees and paddy fields was going to be my home for the next couple of days. My friend's uncle and aunt welcomed me a stranger, with enough warmth to make me feel at home within a few seconds. There was sincerity in their actions and innocence in their expressions.


I stood in front of the house with folded arms looking at the dark clouds; slight chill in the air had me rubbing my palms for warmth. A monkey screeched, the dog ran out to chase away the monkey, a bird sang at a far away distance, the areca nut tree bent but stood strong to face the wrath of the wind. The weather was magnificent, and rain could only make things better. Uncle came out; he stood there with me for a few minutes looking at the sky. A small prayer he muttered, requesting the rain God to pass away, requesting the Sun God to come out of his hiding. A loud thunder had him running towards his paddy fields cursing the weather, cursing the Gods; things could only get worse for him.


A young girl came out to greet me, looking at her a song from an old Kannada film started to play out loud in my head. I have a habit of adding own words to the original song and humming it with the original tune, and this song had a few added to it. She asked me a couple of questions, I answered them looking at her light black eyes, each time they blinked the song in my head got louder and louder.

"Malanada henna mai-chanda, aa nadae-chanda, aa nudi-chanda, mana sothu na ketae" (Rough translation: O beautiful girl of Malnad, your mesmerizing walk, your talk has stolen my heart and I seem to have walked into a mess having lost my heart to you)


A trek to a near mountain was planned the next day, excited with the idea we took off to scale unseen heights, to witness the beauty of the land, where Mother Nature seemed to have been generous with a wide variety of trees and plants. To be honest, I was excited about the chance to walk beside the Malnad girl, maybe I could talk to her, a few laughs we could share; if lucky get to know her better.

A muddy road with coffee plantations on both sides led us down to a vast area of paddy fields. Across the cut paddy fields sat the mountain 'Kal Gopura'.

Small streams we jumped, soft land of the paddy field we stepped on. The cold dew touched our feet, it brought with it a tickling sense; everything around looked spectacular, there was a smile on my face, I looked down to see my feet and the wet ground. I jumped immediately and kicked my feet in air, made sounds that could scare the monkeys from the forest; two blood sucking leaches were relishing my blood on my feet. Before I could do my dance and shout more, the Malnad girl bent down and gently pulled away the leaches, she looked at me and let out a soft laughter and all I could do was flash a stupid smile. Words failed me, her laughter echoed in my head and the stupid smile was pasted firm on my face.


Uncontrollable panting yet a strong determination to reach the top kept my friend and me going, he led the pack from the front while I hung at the back and between us, was the Malnad girl, her elder sister and our car driver.


There have been only a few moments in my short life where I have enjoyed the company of silence; standing on the top of that mountain was one such moment. Lush green forest stretched across majestic mountains and at the foot of the mountains light green paddy fields ran till the eye could see. The word beautiful fell short to describe Malnad and its people.

My friend walked up to me and asked 'so, whats your scene?'

All I did was sang my song softly.

I heard a soft laughter at the end of the song; I turned around to see nobody standing at the top other than us.

Did she hear it or was it my own head?

Still remains a mystery.

A New Direction

There is a book that I carry with me always, it is 'The Writer's Nightmare' by R.K Narayan, a collection of selected personal essays by the great author. Reading the book, I have often thought; Can I write such essays?
After a long period of thinking, I have come to the conclusion. Only way to find out, is by giving it a try. After weeks of forced break from the internet, I return to give my blog 'Voices in my Head' a new direction; Personal Essays is the future of 'Voices in my Head'.

As the author of this blog, I am excited and looking forward to writing such essays. I hope my fellow blog readers will enjoy them as much as they have enjoyed the short stories.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dream

His two year old son was still asleep on the tattered rug that covered the cold ground. His wife sat beside him as he washed his face near a broken water pipeline. Murgan and his family had got used to living on the pavement. The sun was yet to rise, the road was already bustling with joggers and morning walkers. With swift and a steady pace they moved. They talked, they laughed, as Murgan sat and watched them with silence as his companion.

Murgan got up to leave; he looked at his son still asleep on the pavement; he stood still for a second staring at his son. His son's face reminded him every day of the dream he came to the city a year back with. A dream to provide a better life to his family, a dream to power his son with knowledge, a dream to break away from poverty, a dream to become a taxi driver.

He hands his wife a crumpled five rupee note and few coins, and puts away a dull looking ten rupee note along with some shiny coins in his pocket. They take the place in his pocket beside his prized possession, the driver's license; he got done before leaving his village.

He walks towards his work place with the same pace as the people around him. The driving school, where he cleans the cars; the taxi stand where he washes the vehicles, were all waiting for him.


Mathre makes a final inspection of the car to make sure it is ready for the first student of the day. Mathre calls out Murgan to clean the front window once more. Murgan goes to work without a protest. Mathre is a "very good man" Murgan often tells his wife. Mathre a driving instructor at the school, frequently takes Murgan out on drives and teaches him to drive the car around the city.

"Don't tell anyone, about our drives" Mathre cautions Murgan every time.

The fear of getting fired from his job, if the authorities found out, haunts him but never stops him from teaching Murgan to drive.


"I spoke to another taxi owner. He is not coming down from five thousand" Mathre speaks looking at Murgan


"Sir, I have only two thousand eight hundred. I don't know what I will do for the rest of the money. You are my only hope sir, try and get it down sir"


"Some owners are demanding a deposit of eight and ten thousand too. I have told you before, I will try my level best to reduce it, and rest is up to Him"


"Him, no sir, it is up to Her, Lakshmi Devi, when will she look at us?" Murgan replies with a smile.


"I think there is one fellow who can help you. I not very sure, I will not make any promises to you, I will talk to him next week, let’s see"



"Sir, ready to go?" Payal asked with a smile.

She was Mathre's first student of the day. She had walked the couple hundred meters from her swanky apartment to the driving school. She looked at Murgan and gave a short smile; he washed her dad's car along with her neighbor’s cars in the apartment.

"Yes madam, please come the car is ready" Mathre called out Payal.

She climbed into the driver's seat, and started the engine, which let out a loud noise scaring away the dogs sleeping near the car. She slowly drove out the car onto the road; there was a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes. She had woken up, bright and eager early in the morning for the past ten days, to fulfill her dream to learn driving, her dream to drive a car to college. Her dad had sent a signal by sending her to driving class she thought.

But he kept saying "Next year", like he had for the past couple of years.



The low hum of the ceiling fan coupled with the sounds of T.V filled up the living room. Uday sat on the floor playing with his badly damaged toy car. He made different types of sounds from his mouth, but immediately stopped when his mother gave me a warning glance. There was a knock on the door and he ran to find his father, Mathre, at the door. He jumped on him shouting

"Papa is back, papa is home"

Exhaustion filled Mathre called out for glass water. His wife had already run into the kitchen to get him one.

"Papa, remote control car" Uday pestered him

"Papa, please red color remote control car, Suraj and Ram have the same one, Papa please" he continued

"Next month" Mathre said keeping down the empty glass

"You have been saying this for the last six months" Uday softly banged his fist on his father's thigh

"How many times should I tell you not to disturb me when I am watching the news. Radha can't you take care of him" he shouted at his wife and Uday


Uday ran into the bedroom with tears in his eyes. The news channel was not tuned to, his mother serial was still playing out loud. He knew if he had stayed in the room it would just anger his dad more.


Uday bent down and reached under the shaking wooden cot. He hid the empty box of the remote control car, the box his friend had lent him for a week. A shiny red car adored the front of the box. He wiped his tears and then wiped the box with his shirt. His friend had let him drive the car once, a small round around two papaya trees. With big bright eyes and a huge smile on his face, he had run back home to tell his dad about the car and a request to buy him one.

Six months had passed, the request had now turned into a dream; a dream to own a shiny red car.

"Next month my dad will buy me the car" he kept telling his friends, he kept telling himself.



A shiny red car came to a screeching halt in front of the driving school, and out walked Payal with a box of sweets. The smile had not faded one bit from the moment her dad had gifted her keys to her new car. A sense of disbelief still surrounded her, her mobile kept buzzing; "Congratulations" kept popping on the screen, bringing more energy to the all ready bright smile.

"Sir. Sweets my new car" she extended the box of sweets to Mathre

"Oh, thanks madam and Congratulations. Remember to drive slow the first thousand kilometers, the engine has to get settled"

"Yes sir, I will keep that in my mind. You are leaving very early today?"

"Yes, it’s my son's birthday today. So I was thinking of taking him to the beach" he smiled

"I came here to thank you for your help and patience in teaching me to drive, and I think I have a small gift for your son" she walked to the back seat of her car

"No please, I have done my job. The sweets are enough"

"It’s for your son sir, you have to accept it" she forced the plastic cover into his hand

Inside the cover was a box with the words "Remote Control" on it. He smiled at her and thanked her, he thought he should say 'No' to the gift and return it back, but deep down in his heart he harbored a dream of giving his son that box one day.

They spoke for few more minutes about the car, he clutched onto the cover tighter and tighter with each passing minute. She was about to leave when she said

"I couldn't find Murgan today morning. Can you please tell him to clean my car along with dad's car from tomorrow."

"I don't think he can do that"

"Why?"


"He is now a taxi driver, madam"


Friday, December 4, 2009

All in a Day's Work

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 5; the fifth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

One week old in the office and I still had no idea, what the word 'work' exactly meant. Five full days had passed by sitting in front of the computer and staring at the screen. The only time I touched the mouse was when I changed the wallpaper. Calvin n Hobbs, Garfield, Football stars and Cricketing Gods had all graced my screen in the span of five days.

I attended team meetings everyday, people around me spoke of issues, schedules and strategies, but I had all my focus on Sohini. She was the most beautiful in the office, her smile, her dimples and her sparkling black eyes, they all demanded an attention of their own. The lunch hour spent with her, and it was the only thing that made me come back to office.

All team meetings took place in the conference room, with the AC switched on to full blast always, I called it the 'cold room'. One hour in the room and one can experience the Arctic region sitting in the heart of Bangalore.

I zipped up my jacket and walked into the conference room for the third meeting of the day. Entering the room I realized I should have brought with me a bottle of brandy and a muffler to survive the two hour meeting. My neighbours in office Nanditha and Kavitha sat together in the room. Kavitha's three year old kid choosing to eat his one dinner with his grand mom instead of her, still looked like a hot topic of discussion in the room. They didn't discuss much in the room, they saved the best and the rest for lunch. Lunch was their chance to exchange their household issues and then have some sympathy showered at them from the rest.

Somnath, our system admin was busy hooking up the projector. Somnath joins Rohit and me for smoke after lunch often. He is twenty four but speaks like a fifty year old most times. He never gives up on an opportunity to make a fool of himself. Rohit and I had burst into laughter, when he pulled out a condom from his purse and announced

“I am always ready and I like to play safe”

He had a line with which all his stories started with, and over the past week I had learnt that all the stories that start with “Pata hai Tuje” were a creation of his imagination which he tried to pass off as real life experience. We never called his bluff on his face, the stories were definite fakes but they were quite entertaining at the same time. Be it him stealing mangoes from his neighbour’s compound when he was seven and then jumping over a ten feet tall wall, or ending up kissing a girl on a full moon night when he was just ten. They all made us smile. He was nice guy, who just craved for attention from people around him. He pretty much had an ordinary life and a very ordinary childhood, but deep in his head he lived an extraordinary life filed with adventure, twists, beautiful girls, and people looking up to him as a hero.

The first half hour of the meeting was spent with everyone agreeing the project was behind schedule. The second half was spent discussing, why was the project behind schedule. The next forty odd minutes were spent explaining the repercussions of the behind schedule project. The last fifteen minutes was spent planning the next meeting, to come with strategies to put the project back on schedule.

It was lunch already, I had earned my salary by just nodding my head. The salary felt more like an award for surviving the meeting and the cold room.

Sohini and me walked up a couple of floors to reach the cafeteria. I wanted to take the lift, but she felt the stairs were healthy. Rohit skipped lunch to get a 'I am sorry card' to his angry girl friend. At times like these, Hallmark say sorry better than us.

We entered the cafeteria and all the guys in the cafeteria had their eyes fixed on Sohini. She stood ahead of me in the lunch queue, we didn’t speak much. She was concentrating on the dishes that were laid out on the table.

We sat at the table, opposite to each other. I was surprised to see her plate with only little food scattered around.

“Why you look surprised?” she caught me staring at her plate

“Surprised, me?”

“I am on diet, and zip your mouth. I don’t want to hear any comments.”

“I was not going to make one” I replied immediately. Girls just jump to all kinds of conclusions. Passing a nasty comment had not occurred to me at all, but now that she mentioned, it was all I could think off. It was a test in self control to stop myself from uttering out all the stupid comments that came flooding in my head. Times like this, makes me feel my brain is my only enemy.

I looked down at my plate trying to figure out the different vegetables used in the sabzi. As we ate our chapathi made out of rubber, I spoke to change the mood

“I think heroines are better at handling all the fan attention and the crazy fans.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, even when she was not a heroine she would have got stared at by men all the time, and have crazy guys running around her.”

She laughed out loud, and spoke

“You know what. You are actually very sweet. So you thought of it, when all the guys around were staring at me.”

“Kind of, but no, even in college everyone stared at Isha and I used to think about it.”

“Isha is your girlfriend?” she asked tearing out her chapatti like a tiger tearing out a piece meat.

“No. She is a friend. She is actually my friend’s girl friend.”

“So you never stared at Isha?”

I smiled, bent my head down to pick up a piece of pickle and replied

“Not much”

“You stare at me?” she asked with her eyes fixed on me

I smiled. I couldn’t look directly into her eyes. I turned away and replied

“Not much”

She broke into a light laughter and punched my arm softly and said

“Ass”


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Waiting with a father

The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation is the life line of Bangalore city. We don't have local trains nor do we have metros yet. The B.M.T.C has served the people for a long time and has taken the burden of the city's ever growing population on its shoulders.
They offer a variety of services from the clean expensive AC buses (Volvo) to the cheap crowed smelly buses. Of which the black board bus, which is a branch of the crowded smelly bus are the ones I have chosen to travel in. The other branches are the Red board and the Pushpak.

Getting hold of a monthly pass was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had to get a photo I.D card which almost looks like a pan card, with all my vital details on it.
Kempe Gowda bus stop, the main bus stop of Bangalore city, hosted the head office of B.M.T.C where the photo I.D cards were issued.

I walked up the stairs to the office on the second floor of the B.M.T.C main building. As I entered the office I came across one of the longest queue I had ever seen. It stretched from one end of the room to another diagonally, but it was not a straight line. The queue looked like a snake or the letter 'M'. I stood in the queue cursing my rotten luck and the B.M.T.C authorities. I wished if I could get such passes online, instead of wasting my time in the queue.

The snake queue moved at snail pace. People were visibly bored. Some were busy on their mobiles explaining how long the queue was, some were playing on their mobiles and some tried to read a newspaper.

One old man who looked to be in his early sixties stood in front of me, he had grey hair, his facial skin had developed wrinkles and he stood with his shoulders bent. He was trying to figure out the various options on his, what looked like a new mobile phone. He kept pressing the menu button and then the back button; he clearly had no clue as to how the mobile worked. He gently turned back and gave me a warm smile. I smiled back with the thoughts of helping the old man with his mobile bouncing around in my head. It took me almost ten minutes to decide to plunge into the cause of helping the old man with his mobile.
"Hello, my name is Nikhil. Do you need any help with the mobile?" I asked
"That's very kind of you, young man. I am as confused as a kid in a mathematics class" he replied with a chuckle and handed me over his mobile

I took hold of the mobile and navigated through it with the confidence and speed of a race car driver in a track. I started explaining, how he could send instant messages to anyone in any part of the world, with his mobile. He was visibly surprised by a simple feature of the mobile. He listened to every piece of information I gave with child like innocence and student like concentration, and quickly jotted down the steps to send a sms, in his hand book.
"Are you ready to send a sms" I asked
He nodded his head and replied
"I want to send a sms to my son who is in The States"
He typed out a small message with his shivering hands and pressed the send button with all the might he had.
I smiled and said
"Uncle you don't have to press the button that hard"
With wet eyes and a soft smile he replied
"I was hoping if I pressed hard it would reach him faster"
I just didn't know what to say to that, I quickly managed to change the topic
"Uncle, I like your number it ends with 007, quite fancy"
"Oh, James Bond, never thought about that, it's nice, have you seen Dr No?"
"Dr No, is it a Bond movie?"
"The first Bond movie kid, Sean Connery an excellent actor, wonderful movie, you must watch"
"Oh, I know Sean Connery, he was in 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', he is good, but I think Pierce Brosnan was the best Bond"
He looked at me smiled and said
"How can you call him the best without having seen the best"
I stood silent for a second, and then we both broke into light laugh.

He looked ahead at the people standing in the queue and said
"This queue is surly going to take a hit at my one o'clock lunch"
"Your wife must be waiting for you at home" I added with a smile
"She is waiting up there for me" he pointed at the heavens up above
"Oh, I am so sorry..."
He cut me
"Don't be, she lead a very beautiful life" he smiled
I nodded my head in understanding and smiled back
"The only thing that's waiting for me back home is my T.V" he added with a chuckle

We stood quite in the queue for few more minutes, and then he spoke
"I like to travel in the bus, the variety of people you get to meet and observe are beyond one's imagination."
I nodded, but I had not yet experienced the bus enough to agree or disagree with him.

We were almost near the I.D card booth when he said
"I like emails and now this instant messaging service, some say they are impersonal, but it's nice they reach faster than the letter."
He continued
"Why are you smiling, is it because I am the first old man you have met to have said this. Letters are fine but now we have to change with the changing world."

He reached into his walled and pulled out a worn out piece of paper, and handed it to me. It was an old letter, dated 26 April 1986, exactly two days before I was born. He took the letter from my hand and said
"This is the first letter my son sent from the States, he is now settled there with two kids, they email me, I have never met them, but they have promised to visit next year."
I looked at him, with the fact that this old man has been living in the city alone with his only kid thousands of miles away, just settling in.
He looked down at the letter and said
"The only thing emails don't give is the feel. I can still feel my son's touch in this letter"
Silence took over my words, but luckily for me we had reached the end of the queue. We parted ways with a short good bye, as he moved towards the senior citizen's booth.
The letter still remained in my head.
One small paragraph that I noticed in the letter played continuously in my head.



"My studies are going........................
......................................Appa, I miss you a lot, can't wait to come back home.