Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bagamandala Diary

Bagamandala a small village in the far end of Coorg was where I was born and spent a significant amount of my childhood. Like an island surrounded by water on all sides, Bagamandala is a small cluster of houses surrounded by thick forest and tall mountains on all it's sides; often covered with thick mist Bagamandala looks like a large white dot on a dark green paper.
With sparkling waters of river Kaveri, paddy fields now cut down to brown and rich green vegetation spread generously all over the village, Bagamandala is a delight to the eye.

A bunch of shops, a few hotels, a coffee curing works and an old temple form the centre of the village. Facing them all stands my grandfather's house.

Solar Eclipse

I entered the verandah to be greeted with mantras coming from the pooja room. My grandfather's strong voice and the familiar shlokas told me 'I was home'.
A warm smile on my grandmother's face, loud cheer from my little cousins and a proud pat on the back from my uncle all welcomed me in unison.

The breakfast was a quick affair with the solar eclipse starting at 11:00 we had to finish eating before 9:00.
I walked out to the verandah after filling in on grand mom's upma to my hearts fill. I stood in the verandah looking at the accolades my grandfather had received over several years placed proudly on the crumbling verandha wall. The latest a recognition and an award from Kannada Sahitya Parishat caught my eye, grandfather joined me with the morning newspapers, Deccan Herald, Praja Vani (Kannada news daily), and Shakthi (Local news daily).
'So you have gone back to Deccan Herald or Drunken Herald like you used to call it' I asked with a chuckle
'He has improved a lot over the past year' he handed me the paper
'I changed backed to The Hindu from Times' I added as I took the paper from his hand.
Grand dad is a big fan of The Hindu but the sad part is the local news agency has no tie up with the paper hence he is struck with Deccan Herald the only newspaper that is available in the village. He takes reading newspapers very seriously, spends almost two hours a day reading the newspapers.
A phone from an old friend of my grandfather interrupted our talk and I walked out to the back yard to see my cousins climbing the mango tree and grand mom urging them not to; I went straight to my room and fell asleep on the inviting warm bed.

I was rudely awakened by my cousins shouting
'Come anna (elder brother) see the solar eclipse, come quickly'
I ran out shouting 'Idiots don't look at the sun its dangerous' but was surprised to see my cousins and grand mom looking into a wide vessel filled with dirty looking water.
'What is this?' I asked still a little surprised
'Its cow dung mixed with water. You can see the image of the sun in this water very clearly, this is how people looked at solar eclipse before the safety glasses and telescope' grand mom replied with a proud smile
'Seriously you can see the eclipse' I peeped into the vessel to witness quite a spectacular sight. The radiant sun hiding behind a dark black circle and different shades of yellow circling the dark spot.
'Don't look up' grand dad came running out warning us all
'We won't' we shouted back and stood there silent spellbound by the beautiful sight.

Nishani

A trek to Nishani mountain one of the tallest in Coorg was planned by Ashoka mava (Uncle), the challenge was to sneak out without getting caught by my cousins; the eight kilometers trek was not something five year olds could handle.
A short drive to Venu anna's (Uncle's best friend) home was the first task of the day. Venu anna who runs a home stay often takes his foreign guests on trek to Nishani.

With a heavy bag which my uncle transferred onto my shoulders smoothly calling me 'young blood', we were off to conquer Nishani.
Steep muddy and rocky pathways were our first obstacle, with our speeds reaching new lows with each step I knew the road ahead was no rosy path I had imagined it to be.
A kilometre walk and the muddy pathway gave way to light green grass lands; two feet tall grass covered the whole area. With no exact pathway ahead and thick forests on both sides of the grassland, fear took birth deep down in my stomach.
Elephant droppings and a rare tiger paw mark just made things worse. I stayed right behind the pack and let Venu anna lead us forward.

We stopped mid way to rest and I stood looking at the tall mountains that stood majestic with different shades of green running all over them. Far away a road running around a mountain and a moving white speck on it, may be a bus, villages and houses away from sight, the strong silence broken by a small bird chirping and leaves rustling. Standing there a wonderful feeling of peace and serenity hugged me tight.
'You see that mountain tip there, behind that tall mountain' Vennu anna interrupted
'That one far away' I pointed at the tip
'Yes, that is Nishani' he spoke to my shock
We had not even come half the distance I was already panting, my legs were shouting out with pain and my shoulders had given up all hope.

The sights around were a visual delight, we walked through tall grass, cut through strong wines and climbed slippery rocks. Half way through and we came across a make-shift shelter built by Venu anna, the small shelter was a cabin like structure built with wooden poles, dried leaves and hay. It also housed a bench built with thin branches tied together and four strong branches as it's legs.
'Afternoon lunch' my stomach grumbled. Out from the bag on my shoulder came a packet of Maggie a small vessel and a bottle of water. A stove was built by Venu anna with rocks placed on top of each other. I was instructed to find some dry wood for fire and I quickly walked to the nearest tree which had a few branches lying near its roots.
Maggie had never tasted better and tea was just water with a flavour but we relished it like never before.

With strong determination to climb to the top first and an immense ego to not let myself down in the eyes of Venu anna and Ashoka mama I walked with swift pace stopping only to take pictures and then moving to take my place ahead of the pack. Venu anna confirming elephants and other wild animals come out in the open only after sun down killed my fear and boasted my spirit and confidence.
An hour later and I led the pack and put a small distance difference between me and the two. Venu anna and Ashok mama stopping to light up their bedi and pipe also helped me take a bigger lead.

Our last stop and I could see the peak clearly it lay only a few more minutes away and I was anxious to stand on top of the impressive peak. I ran towards the peak leaving behind the two.
I stepped onto the peak and ran around shouting with joy. A sense of achievement and a flavour of victory danced with me.
It took me a couple of minutes to catch my breath. I was joined by my uncle and Venu anna at the top. My uncle pulled out his pipe while Venu anna lit another bedi. We sat on the edge of the mountain looking down at the thick forests, the mountain peaks, small dots that the villages had taken shape.
A strong cold wind roared on the top of the peak, Ashok mava let out a cloud of smoke and said
'May be if we are really quite, we can mostly hear the Gods talk'

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I am someone who is against adding pictures to an essay or short story but if anyone is interested in viewing the pictures from the trek then please click on the below link, it will take you to my facebook album.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mahalaksmi Canteen

A standard routine they say is good to have and mine starts off with an early morning jog.
Sun yet to wake up from his deep slumber; a canopy of darkness still engulfed the road; a bus here and an auto there, footpath filled with brisk morning walkers trying to burn away extra calories and the worry that came free with the calories.

A couple of kilometres jog and I reach my destination 'Mahalaksmi Canteen'.
Sitting quietly on a bustling busy main road, Mahalaksmi Canteen is home to some of the best masala dosas and idly vadas in Bangalore. As I walk in panting and sweating the owner Shiva anna (elder brother) sits pretty in the cash counter waiting with a smile, I stand leaning against the counter looking at the clean kitchen getting ready for another busy day.
'Two minutes Tejas, they are getting the chatni ready'
'No its okay uncle, i'll wait' I reply and walk towards a table.

The wooden chairs with granite slab tables and the sweet aroma of coffee lingering in the air, have all stood the test of time. I look at the watch and then at the entrance
'Sridhar Bhat, will be here anytime' I tell myself.
Sridhar Bhat a middle aged Kannada author, well a budding author spends his day working at the printing press next door, his early mornings and late evenings are mostly spent in the canteen sipping coffee and trying to write his book. Getting rejected by most of the publishing house has not dampened his spirits, he still dreams of becoming a successful author some day. Shiva anna and I believe strongly that someday his book will see the light of the day.

'Gunda, one coffee' Sridhar walks in, he takes a seat in front of me and pushes a couple of sheets towards me.
'My latest short story' he smiles.
I start reading it out loud enough to be heard by Shiva anna at the cash counter. I finish both the sheets and look up to face an eager expression on Sridhar's face
'Its good, I actually like this the most'
'Super Sridhar' Shiva anna shouts from the counter
'Three more stories and I will have enough for the book' Sridhar smiles

We get up to see if our coffee is ready, Sridhar walks towards Shiva anna to explain he is still yet to get his salary and will pay the money he owes in a few days time. Shiva anna and I both know the money will never come, being an unsuccessful writer and working at a printing press doesn't pay much to lead even a decent life.

I turn to face the hot coffee waiting for me in a steel tumbler. Ask any South Indian and he will tell you 'Coffee runs in our blood'. Having the perfect coffee is a dream many strive to achieve. A brand of coffee powder used for years and no other will do, filtered first to get a dark decoction (brewed coffee) with the right amount of milk and sugar, finally poured into a steel tumbler to get a good looking froth and relished at least six times a day. Any mention of 'black coffee' is frowned upon in most houses.
Sridhar still looks to be chatting with Shiva anna, I pick up my glass and walk back to the table to relish my morning coffee.

I look at my watch 6:45, instantly turn to the entrance hoping she will come by today.
Tablet Thima with his bulging belly touching the table is busy sorting out his tablets, I haven't really had any conversations with him but took the liberty of christening him the nick name 'Tablet Thima'; four tablets of different colours washed down with water and he is ready to have his idly and coffee.

'Tejas dosa ready' Shiva anna calls out

My mother often comments 'All your jogging efforts are lost when you bite into that oily masala dosa'
I quietly reply 'The only reason I jog is so that I can have the dosa peacefully'
I tear into the oily masala dosa with my eyes still fixed to the entrance. I drop down to have a look at the chatni and she enters the canteen.
Wearing a red salwar with her dhupata falling gently over her delicate shoulders, a pink glow on her cheeks and a ever so beautiful smile anchored by deep dimples on her face, she walks past me to the counter.
She visits the canteen a few times in a week to get a parcel of idly vada. Each time she walks past me I try to talk to her but stand silent mesmerised by her smile.

I quietly put away the bowl of chatni to Tablet Thima's table and walk towards the counter to get another bowl of chatni. Every time I walk towards the counter I tell myself
'Just say hi, just hi, nothing more nothing less. Just hi'.
Words get struck in my throat and my efforts to flash a 'super cool guy' smile results in a combination of stupid smile, grin and uncontrollable blushes. I look away from her and say
'Gunda one chatni'
'Already finished your chatni' Gunda laughs and I try to tell him off with a stern look but my blushes stay strong.
She smilies almost every time Gunda laughs and I ask myself 'Is she smiling at me, does she know of my desperate crush on her?'

I come back to the table and let out a sigh 'If only I had the guts to talk to her.' Pretty much everyone in the canteen knows of my crush, Shiva anna is grinning at the cash counter, Gunda is laughing, Tablet Thima looks up to see my plight while Sridhar stands there sympathising with me.

She picks up her parcel and walks past me.
But today she suddenly stopped a few feet away, walked back to my table and smiled
'Hi, I am Shilpa.'
I stammered, stood up immediately, tried to manage a word that sounded like 'Hi', I extended my arm to shake her extended arm but suddenly noticed it was covered with oil. I quickly pulled back my right and shook her hand with my left only to realise I had chatni all over my left which I had now passed onto her soft warm palm.

She took a step forward and wiped the chatni onto to my shirt with a soft laugh and sat down in the chair across the table.
'Gunda one coffee' I shouted out
'Come and take it' he shouted back
Shiva anna immediately gestured Gunda to delivery the coffee to the table. She smiled and looked to have stolen a few of my blushes onto to her cheeks
'The dosa looks yummy'
'It sure is, have a bite please' I pushed the plate towards her

Gunda's laugh was silenced, Shiva anna's grin looked to have widened and Sridhar was all smiles.
Tablet Thima suddenly moved towards our table and asked with couple of giggles
'Want a bowl of chatni, there is one extra on my table.'

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Story of a Life - (Blog-a-ton 6)

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 6; 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.



As I sit and think about my life, I can't stop ask myself
'What went wrong?'
A race you are taking part in not a run in the park, my mom kept reminding me. I kept telling her
'I am not part of any race' and chose to walk but little did I know, unwillingly and unknowingly I was part of the race. The people I had started out with were far ahead out of sight. I look around the rocks at the bottom I sit on, there seems to nobody around. A sense of loneliness engulfs me.

I can still hear mom downstairs on phone with another psychiatrist, the last two had the same thing to say
"Study harder, put in more effort"
All I told them both was
"How much harder?"

I hold my pencil and look down at my marks sheet; Pass reads one subject out of the six. I change the 8/100 to 80/100. The marks sheet does look better now.
"was I this bad always?"
The answer is a hopeless yes. I even hold a record for not having passed a single exam in high school; I was pushed to the next year with dad begging and principal sympathising. It was a miracle I passed my board exam.
"If I was so bad, then why did I agree to take up engineering?"
I just didn't know what else to do, everyone was running after engineering I moved where the herd moved. Dad also wanted me to do engineering, he readily agreed to pay the hefty fee.
'Life seems less complicated when you have people to blame your failures on.'

I knew what I was bad at, but just didn't know what I was good at.
"Is that the worst curse" I often ask myself.

There is a small laugh each time I think, a laugh at myself, a laugh at the irony that I always wanted to stand apart from the crowd, wanted to do things bigger and better than all the other jokers out there.
I write with my pencil on the marks sheet
'BIGGER N BETTER'
I smirk "I have stood apart for sure. Nobody has failed engineering as many times as I have."

'I am in love with the subjects, that is the reason I am studying it over and over again' I laugh each time my relatives ask me 'why are you failing?'
I walk away from them with a fake laugh bursting on my face and trying hard to hold back a tear ready to flow from my eye.

Out of irritation I pick up a book and throw at the fan making a squeaking sound.
Even a small flutter of the curtain irritates me now. I clench my fist, grind my teeth and punch the walls, sometimes I shout out to dark empty corners of my room. I avoid mirrors, but each time I look at my image I ask myself
'have I lost my mind, am I still sane?'
Frustration, Irritation and Anger seem to have become my companions over the past couple of years. I now run another race; a race to get away from the trio.

I hear mom requesting dad to keep his voice low. She fears I might kill myself due to depression, but the truth is I don't have the guts to take my life. I have tried I confess, each time I held the blade or was up on the terrace I just couldn't take the final step. I came running back telling myself
"Not bad dude, you even failed at this. Now thats consistency."

"Oh is that what he keeps telling you, let him die. The amount of shame he has put us through, if I were in his place I would have killed myself." dad's voice echos in my room.
I throw away the pencil, tear up the marks sheet and turn to my computer to get away from it all, to travel to a far away world.
A world where the Voices in my Head makes me feel better about myself.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Interview

The word recession had not yet become a household name, but it looked to be heading towards becoming one. Jobs were suddenly drying up; the much hyped campus interview fizzled out without even one company turning up to pick us fine graduates.
I had my school friend Rohit to thank for fixing me up with an Interview in his office.

I looked at the clock 11:20. A man in his late thirties sat at the front desk, doubling as the watchman and the receptionist. He had already stripped check my bag to see if I was carrying any bomb. Disappointed that I was carrying none, he showed me to the waiting area.
'Hey Sid!' came a voice from behind me
I knew it was Rohit. I turned around to see him holding a mug of coffee. I was delighted to see him in jeans and t-shirt, which meant there was no strict dressing rules.
'Where is your HR?' impatient I asked
Before he could answer, a lady in short hair with a odd looking pair of jeans and a bright red t-shirt called out
'Siddharth Bhat'
'Ya here' I said and walked towards her. Rohit walked out with the coffee to blow his lungs up with smoke.

I sat in a room with the AC turned to full blast, with a temperature outside a cool 25 degrees this AC just made me shiver.
'Anitha, the HR Manager' she extended her arm
'Nice to meet you Anitha, Siddharth here' I shook here arm thinking if it was okay to say 'nice to meet you' having just spent a few seconds with her.
'So before we run you through all the tests, I want to have a small chat with you' she said, making it seem like I had walked into a cafe and we were just friends ready to gossip.
'Oh yes, sure. Where do you want me to start?'
'Tell me something about yourself' she asked and sat back
It felt like a counselling session. I searched my brain for words and tried to patch sentences. Started with college and ended saying
'Now that I have finished college I am looking forward to work with a well structured organization' I let the last line hang in the air for a while, hoping it would make an impression.
'Your resume looks good' she pulled herself up
'But I see you have not mentioned excel in your soft skills list. Are you comfortable with excel?'
I had never worked on excel, never thought I would need it.
'Excel will be new to me, but it looks like the other Microsoft applications. So I am sure I can pick it up in a couple of days' I said hoping my amateur excel skills wouldn't cost me the job.
A cold silence engulfed the room, there was no change in expression on her face but she nodded to everything I had to say.

'We will run you through a couple of tests and if you clear them. The Project head will take the last round of interview with me.
Run a couple of tests, I felt like a lab monkey. My stupid brain started imagining all sorts of scene from me running on a thread mill with tubes inserted to me, to her asking me for my urine sample.
I tried to clear my head as I walked out to another room. This one was smaller with computers lined up to the wall.
She handed me a piece of paper and said there were two questions I was required to answer. She walked out saying I had twenty minutes.
I looked at the sheet
"In not more than 10 sentences write about one of your strength and weakness."
Could the question get any more stupid? What is my strength?
I thought for a minute and moved on to the next question
"Where do you see yourself five years from now?"
'Married with two kids, wife pregnant with the third.' 'And also mostly not in this company'
I sat blank for a couple minutes, lost all hope of scoring the job.
I read the question again, I wanted this job more than anything else. Desperation took over and out came lines I honestly didn't know I had them in my brain.

Anitha came in and gestured 'twenty minutes up'. She moved towards my paper and I begged her for few more minutes. A scene straight from an exam hall; took me a minute to realize I was in an interview and not my semester exam. I dropped my pen and handed her the paper with a stupid smile pasted on my face.
She moved towards a computer with a stern expression on her face. Moving away from the computer, she spoke
'The technical round comprises of two excel tests. Open the file and do as mentioned in the two excel sheets'
I kept silent for a second thinking if I had heard her right. Excel? I just spent five minutes explaining I don't know excel. Confused I spoke
'Excel?'
'Yes. Most of our work around here involves excel.'
'Why the hell are you still going ahead with the interview?' I thought to myself.
'You have a hard twenty minutes' she walked out
I sat there thinking I want to finish this test, just to watch the expression on her face.
I pulled out my cell phone and sent a msg to Rohit asking his help.
"dude use d help option it pretty much has everything" came his reply
There times when I feel like the dumbest guy and this was one such classic example.
With new found confidence I attacked those excel sheets. Ten minutes I was done with it; help clearly the most underrated option in any software, it pretty much had everything.

Anitha tried hard but she couldn't hide the expression of surprise and I tried hard to have a proud smile on my face.
She took me back to the cold room, she called it the conference room. Any client meeting in that room would surly end with the client catching a bad cold. Or maybe the company's strategy was, give us the project or we will drop the temperature further down.
We sat waiting for the "head of projects" or "the projects head", the designation sounded more like one made up for the interview.
'Shama' Anitha introduced her without adding the head of projects title to her name.
'So Siddharth, Rohit was just talking about you now'
'Oh he was' I smiled hoping he had pushed my case.
'Your academics looks great. Any sports you played in college?'
'Yes I did. I played cricket for my college and university. I captained both the teams' I said stressing on the word captain, hoping they would look at it as a leadership skill.
She nodded and moved
'Your tests look good and I see you have completed your excel tests without any prior knowledge of excel'
I smiled, but thought if they were going to accuse me for cheating on the tests. Will they throw me out for using help? Should I tell them I used help?
Before I could speak, Shama continued
"So it is pretty obvious you used the help section.'
I smiled again, thoughts of apologising and leaving the room kept bouncing in my head.
'Which is good. It shows you can take control of a situation with no prior knowledge of it'
I looked up to see, if the Gods were smiling down. I could have never thought of anything on those lines.
I realised I had to talk, all I had done was smile and nod.
'Thank you. I believe kites rise against the wind.' I said, not realising the heights of dumbness I had reached with that line. Shama and Anitha tried hard to control their laughter and I had the stupid smile back on my face.
The rest of the interview was pretty simple. It was all talk about college, my life, my parents, my friends and pretty much anything and everything to do with me. The only things they didn't ask were, what colour underwear I was wearing and what brand of soap I preferred.

I stood outside holding an offer letter. Rohit looked at me and said
'That help line is nothing. You know what I am doing right now?'
'Smoking a cigarette.'
'No. I am de-stressing my brain to come with strategies to encounter a possible problem that is sure to come up in future.'