Friday, June 29, 2007

That funny little thing called Love...

I've been thinking... and no, that was not meant to be a joke. I admit my cognitive faculties have wasted away over the last couple of months that I've been at home, but these faculties have dimmed only in the context of financial calculations, economics, operations management and all the other stuff I've spent the last two years studying. In matters of human interest and general ruminations on emotion, worldly ties and life, the brain remains as active as ever.

Hence, this post. What's caused me to think rather more deeply than usual about love is, firstly, this post by Nirmal and, secondly, the astonishingly large number of marriages and/or alliances being formed in my immediate social circle. A very large number of my friends are engaged or are going to be engaged. A number of weddings of dear ones have taken place since April, and a very close friend's marriage is up next in a couple of weeks. In the last three days, three of my cousins have taken a decision on who to marry and when. The maamis seem to be in cracking form.

What makes two people decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together? In this context, I'm not going to consider arranged marriages. The criteria for the decision in these cases is usually based on
- Caste
- Social status
- The education and employment status of the two
- The looks
- A few brief, hurried meetings between the two

At least, this is what my impression is from what I've seen of friends' and family weddings. The families decide the acceptability and appropriateness of the union, and if the horoscopes align and the brief discussion between the potential couple doesn't throw up any nasty surprises, compatibility is assumed. Love, as a concept, is never a consideration. It will come, it will grow, it will happen with time, is the sage prediction. And yeah, that's how it usually happens.

But what about the good old, somewhat filmy, boy-meets-girl (or the equally acceptable girl-meets-boy; no one better accuse me of gender bias!), fall-in-love, get-married story? I find this to be the predominant form of marriage among those that have occurred over the past few months. IIMA seems to be a great place to find your soulmate; several batches would testify to that. These couples found what they believed was love, an emotion that gave them the security and faith in their togetherness, and that helped them take that big decision to spend the rest of their lives together.

What is love? I don't know. Each person probably has his own definition. I could count the number of people I can say I love on the fingers of one hand. Even if that hand were to be missing a finger or two.

Love is, to me, something almost unattainably elusive. It is, at its base, rather simple but finding it (or, perhaps, allowing it to find you?) is what is complex. Love is, to me, not a trivial emotion, not something to be bandied about freely. It is a rare emotion, straddling the stratospheric heights of our strongest feelings, our most personal emotions, in touch with our wants, our needs, our inadequacies and insecurities, our self-image, our very humanism. Love has the power to change us, to make us feel whole again. I think Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets captures the essence beautifully when he proclaims his love with the line "You make me want to be a better man." A pithy statement, phenomenally expressive. Yes, love can have that kind of effect. Yet, at the same time, it can crush us, making us emotional wrecks, mere shells of our former selves. At times, the sheer force of love and how it affects us makes the emotion almost insupportable, making us wonder why we loved at all if it was going to cause so much pain.

George Eliot said, "What greater thing is there for two human souls that to feel that they are joined... to strengthen each other... to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories." I could never hope to be as eloquent, but I understand and agree with the sentiment of those words. There is a certain selflessness and surrender involved in love. And not in the silly, mushy and idiotically sappy way portrayed in most movies and books. These love stories are travesties. I find them portraying a parody of love, some infantile romanticized version of love. Love is not necessarily about roses and kisses and promises and saying 'I Love You'. Love, if recognized and appreciated by both parties, doesn't needs words or objects. These are mere symbols, a means of relatively explicit expression which should not in any way be taken as a substitute for the emotion itself. Nevertheless, these symbols must be used sincerely and carefully. 'I Love You' is probably the phrase that must be used with more caution that any other (with the possible exception of 'Kick me in the groin'), since for a person who is sincere it carries an immense weight of emotion and expectation. These are not words I would use lightly, and not words I would want anyone to use lightly in my context. I have seen friends hopping from one girl/boyfriend to another like insatiable butterflies, all the while claiming that they were in love during the relationship but not afterwards. It sickens me, it pains me. In our quest to find a kindred soul, be it due to loneliness or simply social/peer pressure, we tend to assume attraction, lust, perhaps even a mere flirtation might be love. That isn't being in love. That is being in love with the idea of love.

I'll be frank, I don't know where this post is going, or where it was meant to go. I just had a lot of these thoughts jostling for space in my small, over-emotional, slightly romantic brain... and needed to get them out. Lots of thoughts and memories... People I knew who I thought were perfect for each other, but whose relationship crumbled. Friends whose dreams of love followed by Happily Ever After were brutally crushed due to parental insistence on orthodoxy. Laziness and vodka fuelled discussions on life and love... rushing through the 'Eww girls are icky' stage of early schooling to the wonderfully exploratory (emotionally/physically) stage of adolescence to the mature and relatively level headed and balanced emotions of manhood...

Will I end up spending my life with a person I truly love? Probably not. In fact, I don't expect I will. Perhaps most of you reading this will not. But will I experience love? I live in hope. There will come a day when it will crush me, I am sure. And that day, I will rue the moment I allowed myself to love. But, as the popular verse goes, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Raindrops keep falling on my head...

... because I don't wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella. Much against my parents' wishes, I might add. I guess they have a point - I could catch a cold and, possibly, die. Not the best thing to happen two weeks before one is shifting to a new city and a new job. But I think it's simply criminal to go out into such awesomely beautifully wonderfully lovely weather - a light breeze, light rainfall that occasionally fizzles into a gentle drizzle before perking up and upgrading to light rainfall again - buried in protective clothing and sequestered from the weather. (Aside: That was one hell of a long sentence. 46 words!)

So I stepped out into the soft afternoon rain, walking along the city roads as I took in the sheer beauty of the weather. The tall roadside trees wept in delight at the rains, shedding theirs tears on my hair as I ambled by. Little drops splattered on my skin and rolled off, leaving a trail of gooseflesh. The tantalising smell of fresh wet earth filled the air. Nearby, a little bird trilled in the sheer ecstasy of the moment, and a watery rainbow shone across the sky. Perfect.

There are those who choose this season to make a splash. Quite literally. Yes, I'm talking of those who drive heavy vehicles - trucks, buses and the like. It becomes a competition among them to see who can splash more pedestrians. If they see a puddle with pedestrians beside it, they charge at it like an aroused bull at a cow in heat, or a RSS worker at a nude painting of a Hindu goddess. "Ha, so the 47G rascal splashed seven people, did he?" thinks the driver on route 10A, and vrooms in and out of the widest puddle he can find, drenching nine people. "Take that, nameless faceless long-suffering pedestrians! Guahahaha..." As a result of the sporting instincts of these drivers, I was drenched down my entire right side within 15 minutes of stepping on the road. Outraged at the unfairness and inequity of the situation, I crossed to the other side of the road so as to give the left half of my body a chance at being drenched.

The Chennai Corporation, of course, had its own unique way of contributing to the ambience of the monsoon. Open potholes, filled with water and spewing mud, played 'Guess How Deep I Am!' - a popular game in this season - with motorists. Open-air sewers (one of which is, I believe, officially a river!) overflowed their banks, spreading bacterial cheer and sending an ungodly stink rising free through the air. The occasional electric pole or tree crashed to the ground, inducing pedestrians to practice impromptu high jumps as they went about their business. And, as usual, blocked or non-existant storm drains made paying for a swimming pool membership redundant.

However distressing the infrastructure might be, however, the true character of a city in the rains is represented by its people. Motorists, leaning forward to peer through the windshield wipers, drove with their windows open and their ACs off for the first time in months. Street urchins, some more naked than others, screamed in joy and jumped in and out of the puddles. Professionals in formal clothes held their pant legs up gingerly as they tiptoed along, the water invariably sloshing into their shoes. Riders on two wheelers drove at full speed, experiencing the brilliant feeling of rain on their faces (helmet law be damned!) A lone athlete rowed manfully along the Adyar river. Couples, both young and old, came out under shared umbrellas to savour the most romantic weather imaginable. Some were probably aroused to greater passions - I saw a girl on the pillion of a bike nibbling her partner's ear. Schoolchildren, their bags on their heads, sloshed along happily. A roadside tea vendor grinned in sheer pleasure as he made roaring business. A group of nuns sang as they walked down the street hand-in-hand. Policemen garbed in impressively large head-to-toe mackintoshes and galoshes and floppy oilskin hats stood at their posts smiling at the passing populace. And I watched the city go by, and soaked it all in.

As Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has a habit of saying, FANTASTIC.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back from a break!

"Hey, let's go to Wayanad!"
"Sure, why-a-not?"

That was a sad attempt at a sadder joke. Now that that's been got out of the way, I'll get down to the post itself.

A few of my friends - Archana, Murali and Sharmila(Mul), to be precise - and I decided recently that we decided a break. Murali had been slogging away at work and clearly needed a few days off. Archana was enjoying her last few days of rest before leaving for IIM Calcutta, and felt she owed herself a treat. Mul had just graduated and richly deserved to enjoy her very short holiday before joining work. And I was, quite simply, bored. A week long bout of discussion and argument later, we decided on Goa Kanyakumari Andaman RoadTrip Wayanad.

For the uninformed, Wayand is a district in the North East of God's Own Country. No, not my room; I mean Kerala. (Connoisseurs of my blog, if any, would remember my having cracked this sad joke earlier.) It boasts beautiful forests and tea estates, multiple water bodies and a several days of stress-free relaxation. (More useful info available on Wiki and the official website.) So that's where we headed for three whole days - Wayanad.

As we drove into Kerala from Karnataka on NH212, the landscape changed from ho-hum plains/towns to stunning greenery with only a few smatterings of civilization along the way. It felt good to be far away from the heat and grime of Chennai, with the cool mountain breeze welcoming me as I hung out of the car window, not unlike a dog. Those who know me well would insist the similarities don't end there, but let's not discuss that now.

We checked into a very nice hotel in Kalpetta, the capital of the district. It wasn't exactly a budget hotel but hey, we wanted to pamper ourselves a bit. So we went the whole hog and booked a duplex for ourselves - two rooms and a living room, to allow us our madness and celebration of life in complete privacy from the rest of the patrons.

We hit all the recommended tourist spots... Pookote Lake, phenomenally beautiful as the mists descended over it in the early morning (pic below). A major tea plantation, which afforded plenty of scope for photography. The breathtaking walk - and I mean this literally, we just about managed to huff and puff our way through it - to the Soochipara falls. Also on our must-view hitlist were a couple of dams (truth be told, they were rather boring) and the best viewing points.

The four of us also took a leisurely drive through Muthanga wildlife sanctuary, and got a glimpse of several deer, wild boars, exotic birds, two herds of elephants (the baby elephants are sooo cute!) and even a tiger! Another interesting place was the Kuruva Dweep (Kuruva Island), a protected ecosystem on the Kabini River. We went on a two hour trek through the evergreen forest, much of it to the accompaniment of eerie noises and twittering birds, not to mention the steady yet upliftingly light rainfall.

Some distance from Kalpetta, we came across the curiously named tourist hotspot, the Chain Tree. It is, quite literally, a tree with a chain on it. The tale behind this is quite interesting... As the legend goes, a prominent British Engineer was building roads through the mountainous terrain of Wayanad, and decided to hire a local lad for help. An young Adivasi man named Karinthandan volunteered, and was instrumental in guiding the engineer through the region. His mission accomplished, the engineer brutally killed the guide so he could take full credit for the work done. Karinthandan's soul, it is said, lived on the tree where he was killed and subsequently haunted travellers for years. A local priest controlled the troublesome spirit by chaining it to the tree... hence the Chain Tree. Quite a good yarn.

A special mention must be made of the Edakkal caves, which feature petroglyphs several thousands of years old. It was awesome, mind-bogglingly brilliant. The experience was rendered all the richer because we hiked up a painfully steep slope to get to the caves, and then battled the pouring rain and slippery mud, clinging onto rocks and rickety ladders for dear life as we pulled our way to the caves. Sweet triumph, sweet victory. And it was a special feeling, all of us wet from the rain and the sweat, gathered together under a overhanging rock, drinking in the sweet smell of wet mud in the tropical monsoon rain. The leaves glistening, the flowers blooming bright, laughing an enjoying the moment with my friends, and the promise of a hot chai to follow. Beautiful.

At night, we relaxed to a hot meal and card games, the Simpsons and the news, swapping stories and memories of our school days. We also treated our feet to a hot water massage and cleansing session, which gave me almost orgasmic pleasure, as the picture clearly shows.

All in all, a VERY welcome break for all of us. Sadly, as we go our different ways in a few weeks from now, we don't know when we'll meet next. When we will once again have a chance to relive the good old days and discuss our futures. When we'll get the time to, quite simply, chill out and bask in the comfortable warmth of each others' friendship and company.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Look Mommy, I'm in the newspaper!

Believe it or not, I actually have appeared in a national newspaper. My photo, to be precise. And no, its not for robbery or eve-teasing or something of the sort as my friends (and, secretly, my parents) would have expected.

Here's the link to an article in yesterday's New Indian Express: Questions and their answers

My quiz team comprising Nandan, Hari and me reached the finals of the QFI Open Quiz 2007. We topped the prelims but got very phenomenally royally completely indescribably screwed in the final. Which is why our team isn't mentioned by name in the article. But, since we were sitting right behind the winning team (QED), I'm guessing the photographer got confused and thought we had won. Ah well, I'm not complaining.

I've got to go wipe the tears of pride from my parents' eyes. Their son may yet, someday, amount to something after all :)

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Bald and the Beautiful - General musings

As I was aimlessly browsing through a number of arbit websites and blogs, I came across a mention of this lady.

Miss Tanzania 2007

She is Miss Tanzania 2007, and was in the top 15 at Miss Universe 2007. And, as you can clearly see, she's bald. It takes one hell of a lot of guts to turn up at Miss Universe with a part of the body that is usually unshaven shaved. It flies in the face of stereotypes about beauty, where the hair is an integral and essential part of any of the I-want-world-peace/ I-love-Mother-Teresa brand of beauty pageants. And Miss Universe is most definitely one such pageant.

I'll readily admit to sharing the stereotype... I consider a woman's hair a very vital part of her overall physical beauty, one that I would never compromise on. There's something phenomenally sensuous about a woman's hair, and the manner in which it can, if treated well, frame the face in such a manner as to make even a relatively plain woman look really special. That said, however, Miss Tanzania sure is stunning.

But this led me to think of another common stereotype, one that definitely holds in India - that of fairness. The market for fairness creams in India is worth Rs 9.5 billion today. [Source] And it's not just the ladies; fairness creams for men have done roaring business over the last couple of years.

The whole fairness cream marketing scenario is painfully self-reinforcing. Indians have always been partial towards lighter skin. A quick perusal of the Matrimonial section in the local newspaper provides ample proof, where boys are uncompromisingly looking for fair girls and girls are advertising themselves as quite clearly fair or, if not exactly fair but unwilling to admit it as such, euphemistically describe themselves to be of wheatish complexion. I've often come across situations when guests at a marriage praise the couple as being lovely or sooo beautiful/handsome to the hosts but then commenting behind their backs "colour poradhu", which loosely translates to "the colour isn't good enough", which is a commentary on the fact that the subject of the discussion isn't fair enough. Heroines in movies are always fair. If they're dark, they're made up to look fair. (The villains are often dark.) Models are uniformly fair or fashionably 'dusky' - dark models just don't appeal to the common eye. The stereotype is thus built, and is ripe for exploitation by the unstoppable juggernaut of commerce. Now, the companies making the cosmetics would claim they aren't seeking to reinforce a stereotype, but merely catering to a very real need perceived in the market for such products. True, very true. In the process, they are further standardizing the stereotype, etching it deeper and more indelibly into public social conscience. Fair vs Dark. White vs Black. Good vs Evil.

I HATE this sort of divide. Being dark is looked on as bad, undesirable. I've actually found a number of my relatively fair, North Indian friends involuntarily going "ugh" when they come across a typical dark South Indian ("How can you think he's cute - he's so dark!") I've actually been told I am pleasantly non-South Indian in my looks, because I'm not as dark
as they expected a typical Madrasi - another term I hate for it's racial stereotypical connotations - to be.

What I hate more - and it took me a while to admit this to myself - is that I have been touched by this stereotype to some extent. At some level, mentally, I have also begun to assign some importance to the fairness of a person in the context of beauty. And I hate that this has happened to me. Life (and the media!) makes hypocrites out of us all.