Thursday, May 31, 2007

Men's Enterprises Inc.

The chauvinistic men look down upon the chatty women deep in conversation. Many jokes have piled up one top of the other belittling this ‘women enterprise’ as if for men such trivial activities are demeaning and of course gross! Yet, wherever I go at least among the Malayalis the men talk as much if not more than their female counterparts, including myself; and louder too. The topics they indulge in – as bad if not worse than the women. If you consider one unit of air going out in speech per syllable, at least a million units of air are expelled from a male’s mouth a day! That itself is enough to trigger a global warming!

Some love to talk loudly, or may be softly or in some other unique way exclusive to them. I listen sometime to conversation among men gab, gab, gab on and on. Sometimes they are so monotonous that it serves as a lullaby and I have caught myself nodding off to sleep. Some argue among themselves and it sounds so much like a fight. I have been whispered to convey juicy gossipy. I have witnessed some interesting manoeuvres in oral intercourse. Some like to keep reading loudly the news paper and also join in a talk with others at the same time. Some talk animatedly shaking their heads, nodding their heads to emphasise the matter, while others fling their hands all over and knock down things perching precariously on shelves, corner stands and other places or laughing and talking simultaneously making it difficult to understand, especially, a joke. The words get stretched, get cut into several bits or are not heard in the vehement expulsion of air, which is so much part of laughing. It is so exasperating that I sometimes tell them to do one at a time; either laugh or talk. Some, while talking, bring out spray of spittle along with words giving a shower bath to the unfortunate communicator. For those inebriated souls words get stuck all over their mouth. The repetition of the idea being communicated is common among such cases. Some of them talk the same idea in several languages. The garrulousness of men is evident in places where they flock like the buses, bus stops, restaurants and so on and so forth. Some like to beat on the thigh of the listener while they talk, which I find terribly annoying. Some try to reach the opposite sex by talking unusually loudly to the unsuspecting crony. After having delivered the message they look in the direction of the intended person, all the while the person talked to remaining a foolish gizmo. Some, even when they abuse, like to give a sheepish grin so that the onlooker doesn’t get a clue as to what is being exchanged. Some like to explain a joke, some want a joke explained. Just Imagine!

It takes all sorts to make the men’s world which is sometimes so hollow. Have you landed yourself in a party of teachers or engineers? If you are not in either of the profession, you will surely be excluded from the talk. Also, the so called intellectuals can hardly talk anything outside their world and utter anything other than the jargon of their profession. If at all they attempt, they either ‘ump’ and pause before saying a full sentence. Interesting conversationalist are the ones I mentioned about in this update. I will talk about the other type in my next update.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

FAMILY REUNION

I was recently at the ancestral home for the puja, which is an annual affair without a break continuing for the past fifty odd years. Although it was started for pleasing the deities, in the contemporary time of insular fragmented family units, it also serves as the platform for social interaction.

So, the relatives gather for the event with enthusiasm and expectations. For several of us it is the time to indulge in nostalgia of our school days, youth and the good and the bad times unique to us. A kaleidoscope of events and a cascade of characters twinkle and disappear in our memories. For some it means sharing gross gossip, exchange juicy information of the black sheep among the family and have tempestuous orgy of criticizing everyone and everything.

The over-sensitive teens suddenly plucked away from their high-tech gadgets and skyscrapers and catapulted into the quiet rural setting would sit alone weary of the elders and scoffing at their village-bum cousins. They in their lack of sophistication would be curious yet keep away from fear of rejection. They would perhaps whisper among themselves or ogle at the city bred who would mightily ignore the transgressors or condescend to give mono-syllable-d replies to their chirpy queries. Some others would go seeking adventure in the verdant landscape only to get bitten by the itchy plants, mosquitoes, hovering wasps or irked honey bees. They would come with rashes or swellings all over and their mothers would cluck and fuss like big fat hens over their well cared children having to face such a dreadful misfortune. For some the stay would offer a love affair to remember, for several it would be just a waste of time.

The kids were the ones that really enjoyed in open minded merriment running around happily, making new friends and playing meaningless games. They would splash in the tank or slurp the hot stew of tapioca or just yell and make the grown up upset. Some would go into the kitchen to explore the unchartered territories much the consternation of the fussy maids and bewildered aunts.

Of course, the shriveled up senior members would sit and pray looking forlornly at nothing with uncomprehending eyes. They would smile toothless or too toothy and grip your hand in their gnarled ones and look at you intently with their cataract glistened eyes and ask you embarrassing questions, like “Do you remember me?” or remarks, like “My, my, look how this girl has grown into such a pretty thing” . How should you know all this? You may not have met her until then in your life. But you just show a happy face not to offend the nice old lady, even though the corners of you mouth must be twitching and aching from too much of continuous smiling.

The neighbours would stop by and look myopically to find the reason for the sudden hustle and bustle. They would search for familiar faces among so many buxom ladies, filled out men and well nourished children. If they find they would hesitantly march in and loiter around awkwardly until some member recognized and came to their rescue. Pleasantries would be exchanged along with some currencies. The group would depart after politely taking leave soon to be replaced by another and then another.

Day would grow old, haggard and die.

This puja I missed my Dad. He was a superb singer. At dusk, he would sing hymns and bhajans glorifying little Krishna or destroyer Shiva. Kids would sing out loudly in chorus and the whole atmosphere would be so harmonious that all will feel uplifted. I could picture him sitting crossed legged with his back erect and singing in ecstasy with his eyes looking up smiling at the pictures of gods and goddesses while relatives of all ages would crowd around admiring his vocal expertise and getting submerged in devotion. His deep voice would reverberate and echo down the alleys spreading warmth and peace.

Instead this year was pathetic. My uncle and his crony got boozed and he was itchy for a fight when he got sloshed. We knew his trick. He would just open a topic and encourage you to talk. Then he would pick an argument. Soon the situation would be irrevocable and irretrievable. He would quash his victim by calling them ‘stupid’ ‘idiot’ and other adjectives even more unpleasant. He would make his adversary squirm and cry. At last, he could trap my unsuspecting cousin to open her mouth. The friendly discussion of politics soon escalated into a full fledged fight. We tried to intervene and deter it. But the pair had by then started calling each other names. To cut the morbid story short, by the time everyone came to his sense terrible damage had been caused.

The next day early my cousin left in a huff with her family. My uncle got up with a nasty hangover but no frayed nerves. He was clueless why Raji and her fine husband had left so early. We never told him. Let bygones be bygones.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Where are you?

Where are you? O please tell me
I’m all alone a timid child of forty.
You’re a part that I took would be there
I can’t go on, my legs falter, I’m unaware.

How high up are you in your heavenly flight?
I sit up wondering many a sleepless night.
I dream of you hovering up in the sky
All in benign grace, blessing us by.

I heard you talk to me, “O, don’t worry son,”
I’ve heard your warm chuckle soothing and fun.
I wish you would chide me into fair action
I really oughtn’t sulk around moping in the sun.

Alas, the big armchair sits ‘ere empty and bare
It’ll rock no more in abandoned care!
I picture you rocking in your abode
Telling gleeful tales to the young from your horde!

In walk my pretty daughter in the pretty park.
She asks dismay in eyes, “Where’s Grandpa?”
What do I tell her? I silently ask,
Life will teach; perhaps not her Pa!

Monday, May 7, 2007

BRINJAL STORY

My dad used to be a wonderful story teller among many other things. He used to enthrall the children around him with his animated sessions in which the demons and gods from the Indian epics would come alive. Even the adults used to be drawn into the hypnotic performance. The more he said the more the kids adored him.
One day the brinjal fry made for the lunch was unanimously rejected by us kids, which made my mom mad. No amount of tempting, cajoling, bribing and chiding would make us eat the stuff. If the leader rejected all the desciples would not dare eat it! Finally mom came to her wits end and turned to dad.
Then he embarked on a story which went like this:
There was once a Brahmin who abondoned his righteous deity and resorted to baser life. His only qualification was his culinary expertise, which made him sufficiently rich to indulge in nefarious activities. As his life span came to an end, Yama, the snatcher of life called him to announce about his impending departure to the netherworld. The Brahmin nonchalantly, but politely suggested the Lord of Death should accept his hospitality and should have the brinjal fry that he had just made. It was hot and tasty, so it was such a shame to abondon it to rot! Yama who was hungry, readily agreed to have it and soon forgot all about his mission. Irked by the undue delay, Brahman came to the Brahmin's house to enquire. Yama, knowing this, was flustered. The vile Brahmin assured him he could park himself in one of the rooms and to keep him company, a plate of the succulent brinjal would be served. The lord of Creation soon landed and pompously asked the whereabouts of Yama who was supposed to have bound his soul and left. Again the Brahmin used the same ploy to trap the unsuspecting Brahma and he too was rushed in in a hurry when the angry Shiva descended. Shiva too was ensnared the very same way. Finally it was the turn of Lord Vishnu, who presently came to ask the Brahmin to pack up and get ready to leave. The cunning cook tried to fool the Supreme God, but He knew better. The brahmin having come to realise the futility of trying to con the Lord, agreed to go to hell but wanted a question answered. The Culinery expert informed the irritated God, that according scholars it was not possible for an individual to land in hell if he saw the Holy Trinty. Vishnu agreed with him. Soon a smile lit up on the God's countenance. He knew the sinner had had him! He couldn't but admire the presense of mind of the noxious individual and allowed him to go to heaven, and the sheepish looking Brahma, Shiva and Yama went away fancying how brinjal could be made this tastey!
At the end, all of us ate the brinjal fry that mom had made without any further fuss and realised it was tasty indeed.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

WHAT'S IN A NAME

In my Dad's days, names of people used to be typical. Kalyani, Karthyayini, Ammukkutty, Parukkutty and so on would be usual among girls/women. The male names would sound more masculine: Karunakaran, Krishnan, Radhakrishnan, Balakrishnan, Ravindran and so on. People never used to givre so much relevance to the variety, but insisted on grandpa's or illustrious uncle's name for males; so would the females inherit their grandma's or aunt's name. These names used to be functional and meaningful, yet not very individualistic. Naturally, if you call out for a Radha especially in a crowded occasion like a marriage, several Radhas would answer the call, in this particular case, even males ( Radhakrishnan's short form is 'Radha').

Names among citizens of other nationalities are also interesting. Some are very short like those of the Chinese, while Srilankans have very long names , so do the Telugus. Those of the Russians would end in -ov while those of the Americans are Hammer, Butcher, Strangler etc. The Potuguese fancy D'Costa, D'Souza, Da Cunha and so on, while their neighbours prefer names such as Dias, dicruz and so on. Some of the African names rhyme with their countries - Mugabbe of Zimbabawe! The popular joke in a Readers Digest issue on Chinese names was: when a child was to be named they would drop the cutlery and the sound made would be the name assumed, like Ting, Sung etc. Yet, on the occasion of a prize distribution ceremony, an ethnocentric American once asked me: "How do you pronounce these tongue twister names right?" I wanted to say the secret is to clean the toungue well every morning, but I didn't!

In my youth, the trend among Hindus was to name single-syllabled names. Binesh, Jinesh, Rinesh, Hinesh etc. would be rhyming quartuplet's name, while Remya, Soumya, Namya, Chamya would naturally be their female counterparts. So many such names sprung up as a result of this fashion. Even the typical Christian names started taking Hindu surnames such as: Rajan Daniel, Sunil Varghese, Ramesh Cherian and many more. Pals used to call weach other by abbreviated names - Praks for Prakash, Rems for Remya, Rams for Rema, goi for Govindan Nair and so on. This went to to such an extent that, dad would be call Ach and mom would be addressed Amms. My sister was once embarressed to be addressed 'Anus' that too in a letter!!

I read in one of the news features, that the female names among females made them disinterested in science and math. So, they argue that, Sally would not be interested in math, while Alex (female) would be.

I do have a rather long name. To help out Arabs and European associates having to exert themselves to speak my name, I once told some Arab friends my name was Menon. On another occasion, when I sort of bumped into one of those innovative guys, he called me Mr. Lemon. He must have understood he was mistaken from my facial expression, because he readily corrected " Mr. Melon" smiling smugly! I would rather have been addressed Lemon I thought, at least it was a great actor's name! On another occasion having given my card to a Philipino, he called on at the office and demanded the secretary to summon Mr. Mirinda. The bemused but humorous secretary blurted out that there was no Mr. Mirinda nor a Mr. Pepsi there!

My daughter has a typical female name - Remya, which she chose to change to Ramya. Don't ask me why. Now the trend is to choose ones own name, I think!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Another Miracle!

Recently my neice was struck with a bout of Amoebiasis, which affected her liver and nearly stole her life, but by God's grace she recovered rapidly. At that time of frayed tempers and constant prayers, a lady came in distress asking for some sandal paste which she had exhausted. When science fails, people often turn to devine blessing in desperation. In such an emergency the lady who came to my mother-in-law was also hoping for her husband's recovery from a hopeless condition. My mother-in-law, who is known for her generosity, gave away what was left of the sandal paste with kind words of encouragement. Only then did she realise her folly. She in her exessive urge of kinddness had given away the Prasaad, which was in short supply. It would take more than a day's of travel and consierable irritation for all concerned to get the devine sandal paste, but it had to be done. Turning to her alarmed daughter-in-law she confided in her the blunder she had made. She opened the bottle in which she had stored the paste. The daughter-in-law looked in. "What are you talking Amma?" she asked. "Look inside, the sandal paste is very much there!" My mother-in-law was stunned; the paste had indeed returned. In a shaking voice she whispered, "Bhagavaanay!" Tears were rolling down her cheaks. Her son marching in couldn't comprehend the reason for her tears. He rushed to his daughter thinking the unthinkable. He was both relieved and overjoyed to note that his daughter had open her eyes at last! She had been in a coma for a week almost!!!
Even today the sandal paste stays in the Puja room as a testimony for the devine grace. "When she talks of it my mother-in-law has four tougues," says her daughter-in-law. My neice has now fully recovered and runs around cheerfully.