Sunday, May 31, 2009


It's exciting to be in a new city. To see twin lines of orange lights stretching ahead of you. To zip by glossy buildings that seem to have been transplanted from another world. To know that these very roads and corners, now so new and strange, will become dreary and familiar to you in a little while. It's exciting to know that there's a whole new culture waiting to be explored.

It rained just before I landed. At the innumerable traffic lights, the wet road reflects the red brake lights of the cars ahead. Half an hour into the journey from the airport to the city, I see a signboard saying, "Bangalore City - 9 KMs". I have to hand it to the foresight of whoever put the airport exactly where it should be forty years from now.

Unfortunately, the airport is just a sign of things to come. My aunt lives in the north of the city, in a place even Bangaloreans don't seem to have heard of. Travelling from here to anywhere else is torture. "Oh, that place?" the driver says of the hotel the alumni meet was held last night. "It's close by, just ten kilometers away." And it takes us forty minutes to get there. People at the party speak casually of travelling an hour or an hour and a half to work daily. I think nostalgically of Delhi, with its wide roads and flyovers, where you could literally zip from one place to the other - well, as long as they were the right places.

I keep getting taken aback by how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B in this city. Surely, Bangalore is deliberately trying to defeat its hapless commuters? It's an endless maze of one-ways and narrow roads and pretty police stations. Yes, that's one thing I have to give Bangalore - it has the prettiest police stations I've ever seen.

People seem to be trying to solve the problem, though. Radio stations and billboards urge people to try car-pooling. A bunch of flyovers seem to be under construction. A Metro is on the way, apparently. I don't know if all these ideas and things will materialize while I'm here, but I'm definitely going to live as close to my office as I possibly can. Ah well, at least my office offers transport.
• • •

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trivandrum Rising

The setting is a serene lagoon, on the far shore of which is a coconut grove. Line upon line of coconut trees rising up as far as the eye can see. A flashy new car draws up on this side of the lagoon. A couple gets out of it, the wife very heavily pregnant. "Why have you brought me here?" she asks the husband in confusion. "Because," the husband replies. "Because... I saw your drawings." The wife gasps in wonder and joy, and the beautiful coconut grove, green and innocent and defenceless, suddenly disappears into thin air. A block of tall buildings replaces it. The ad ends with the name of a popular builder, and a line about making your dreams come true.

I was sitting in the theater watching this, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Were they actually suggesting that it was alright to cut down those beautiful trees and build an apartment block instead? Did they actually expect that anybody would buy a flat there when they were told so explicitly that hundreds of trees would be cut down to build it? What sort of people could think of profiting from such a gross violation of nature?

But this ad is merely a sign of how Trivandrum is changing. The sleepy town that I knew seven years ago is slowly waking up. Stately old mansions all over the city are disappearing one by one. New buildings, multi-storeyed white monstrosities with room for several dozen families, are springing up in their place, changing the skyline of the city for ever. The city is expanding, and these builders are merely catering to the increasing demand for space and comfort.

I have no right to complain, of course. The apartment that my parents are renting is in one such building in the center of the city. My grandmother tells me that this land used to belong to an old Nair family. When the family elder passed away, his three daughters divided the land amongst themselves. The main plot was sold to a builder. The beautiful old house was razed to the ground, and this apartment was built.

It has its own underground car parking. There is a security guard night and day. He questions anybody who wants to enter, and will only let them in once it is confirmed that they are expected. Residents have to carry their own  electronic cards in order to enter the building. This is a place for the affluent, and they need their privacy and security. Who would have ever thought that such a system could exist in Kerala? But standing on the roof of the building, I can see at least three such buildings within a radius of a kilometer, sticking their white bodies out of the greenery.

And more are being built. I visit a grand-aunt who lives nearby. Her house is part of a posh colony in Trivandrum. She has lived there for three or four decades at least. The land is right in the center of the city, and commands lakhs per cent. She must be a crorepati merely on account of owning a house in that area.

However, she has her own troubles. A builder has bought three plots of land behind her house, and is planning to erect an apartment block there. She says, "You know, this house has always been so nice to live in. It has always had excellent sunlight and wind throughout the day. Why, I never even switch on the fan most days! And I've never faced any water shortage - never! But once this building comes up, all those days are over."

I go up on the roof, and I can see what she's talking about. The land slopes down on this side of the house. A wide stretch of trees lies ahead of me; I can see their heads nodding in the wind. Since the other houses are on a lower level, ample sunlight and wind come in from this direction.

But peering over the railing, I realize that that is going to change soon. Construction work is going on in the plot bordering the house. The foundation of a building is being built, and workers are swarming over the site like so many ants. I imagine it rising up storey upon storey, a malevolent monster of concrete and glass, blocking out the sunlight and the wind, dwarfing the little houses around it. Families will come and live in it, and they'll suck up the water in the area, leaving nothing for anybody else. More trees will be cut down, because they'll need space to park their shiny cars.

My heart yearns for the traditional houses. The whitewashed ones with clay tiles covered with moss, and wooden windows lined with bars. An overgrown parambu with coconut trees and banana plants. Jackfruit trees with fat jackfruits hugging the trunk like so many little round babies. Mango trees for the kids to climb, with a swing tied to the fattest branch during Onam. A nalukettu, into which rain thunders with impotent force. Maybe a temple nearby, with a green mossy pond.

I suppose I'm being a traditionalist. Such houses belong to an era long-gone. Change is inevitable, after all. Sleepy little villages have to become busy little towns. Busy little towns have to become polluted big cities. But I'm afraid. I'm afraid that my Trivandrum, the beautiful green Trivandrum of my childhood, is about to lose its lushness, its very personality. I'm afraid that it's going to become just another city.
• • •

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Great Mallu Wedding

It seems to be wedding season everywhere. On Facebook, there are endless wedding albums being uploaded. In my GMail inbox, there are at least half a dozen wedding invites from batchmates and seniors. At least four people I know got married last week. So I decided that, even though I wouldn't be able to attend any of these weddings, I would not get left behind. And since I couldn't find anybody to marry me at such short notice, I had to be content with just attending a relative's wedding.

Now, I haven't had a particularly close relationship with weddings in my life. The last one I attended was six years ago - my class teacher's. It was my first Punju wedding, and I was completely scandalized by the fact that they actually served alcohol! I was also surprised that the guests were off having fun dancing and gossiping, while the poor bride sat obediently and listened to the pundit muttering the 'last rites'.

So for various reasons, the one I attended last week was my first Malayali wedding in over seven years. I dug up an old silk salwar-kameez (last worn at the teacher's wedding!) and tried to pretend that I was an old hand at such things. Unfortunately, the wedding proved to me how much of a fraud mallu I am, so I'll describe it from a complete outsider's point of view.

The first discovery of the day was that dressing up for weddings takes much longer than normal dressing up. So, post the usual late-ness related bickerings ("Hurry up! You're  making us late!" "Why did you hog the mirror for so long?" etc), we reached the hall just in time for the ceremony. Amma and I hurried into seats somewhere in the middle, while Achan hung back to talk to the relatives standing around outside. The hall was restless with the sound of voices, above which flowed the rather nasal wedding music. I looked around, and saw that the back of the hall was filled with men, while women occupied the seats in front. Wow - gender division even when a man and a woman were about to be united in holy matrimony!

Soon, the groom, clad in the traditional outfit of white shirt and mundu, climbed on the raised stage with his father. He greeted the audience with folded palms and did a couple of rounds of the pandal. He prayed to the Gods, represented by a tall lamp standing on the pandal, and sat down. Considering that it was the day of his wedding and that he was never going to enjoy the fruits of singledom ever again, he seemed remarkably jovial, talking and laughing with his family and friends. A buzzing crowd of videographers recorded his every move, with assistants shining bright golden light whenever required.

This was when I noticed that something was wrong. "Amme!" I hissed to my  mother. "He's not facing the audience!"

"I know," she whispered back. "Must be some design flaw. The bride and groom are supposed to face East - I guess the builders forgot that when they put the audience on this side."

After a while, the bride came onto the stage, her father leading her by the hand. She was wearing a red sari and about a hundred kilos of gold. Bangles to her elbow and necklaces to her waist, a belt of gold around her hips and more around her wrist. It seemed to me that she could barely move; her father had to drag her around the stage. First, she had to take the blessings of every family elder on the stage. Then she had to do a couple of rounds of the pandal. Finally, somehow, she landed up beside the groom.

And now the real wedding began. The music rose to a cresendo as the groom put the gold taali around the bride's neck. They exchanged flower garlands, even as I suppressed an insane urge to clap loudly. Then she stood up so that he could give her the kalyanapudava - the sari that the groom's family gives the bride at the wedding. And that was that - I do love how short the great mallu wedding is!

Of course, we couldn't see any of this. First of all, the pandal was sideways. Secondly, the view was blocked by the bevy of videographers. Apparently, these days you can't really see any wedding. You can just sit blindly in the audience while the bride and groom tie the knot under the lights of the camera.

Suddenly, I heard a tremendous roar from the back of the hall. I looked back, afraid that the ceiling of the hall was caving in. Indeed, I saw that all the men who had been seated at the back were now fleeing. But when I looked up, the ceiling seemed perfectly fine. Confused, I looked at the stage again. But no, the wedding wasn't over yet; the groom and the bride were performing some complicated maneuver around the pandal. So where were these people fleeing?

I craned my neck, and saw that an untidy queue had formed outside a smaller hall to the side of the building. Of course - the lunch! The main event of the day, even though it was barely eleven. They were running to eat at the first sitting without even waiting for the wedding to get over. Nice! Though the women seemed to be better behaved; only a few were leaving.

Next, it was time for me to meet all my long-forgotten relatives. They were all agog to see the girl they had last laid eyes on some ten-twelve years ago. "Ayyo, ente moley! You've become so short and thin!" seemed to be the universal cry. Eh, I wondered. How fat had I been as a child, if they were saying I was thin now? And how dare they call me short! I was a healthy five-five and a half, thank you very much! Anyway, all these women seemed to be at least one foot shorter than me, so I decided not to accept their opinions. It was probably the angle they were looking from.

After a while, their focus shifted from me to the bride and how much gold she had been wearing. So I quietly escaped in search of my father. I found him having a heated discussion about the recent elections with my grandfather and granduncle, both of whom had been grassroot soldiers of the Red Party in their days. "It serves them right," my grandfather was saying. "They needed it. The core believers, they've been turned away by the party. And without them, the party is nothing." To have a loyal worker like my grandfather say that - that shows you how low the party has fallen.

After a while, it was our turn to have lunch. I went in with some trepidation. I'd had a healthy breakfast in the morning, and it was barely eleven now. So the thought of eating so much food almost turned my stomach. But the sight of the green banana leaf, with the multi-coloured accompaniments already laid out, enervated me. A sadya is a sadya, no matter how full you are.

The rice came, thumbapoo choru, as the poetically inclined put it. First round was parippu - that's dal for all you Hindi-speakers. Second round was sambar; it arrived even before I'd finished the first round. And I'd barely finished that when the payasams came.  As far as I'm concerned, payasams are the best part of a sadya. Adapradhaman, paalpayasam, and some sort of sharkara-and-dal combination. There were two more after these, but I had to feebly wave the man away.

And so ended my first mallu wedding in seven years. Probably my last proper mallu wedding too, come to think of it. I've heard that the high society weddings in Kerala have become 'modern' - the groom wears a sherwani and the bride wears a lehenga. And the women wear shiny saris with thousands of gold sequins on them, instead of proper Kancheepuram silk saris. Other people ape the West. We are different - we ape the North.


And may I also use this opportunity to humbly congratulate Shr1k 'n' Sumana, XL seniors who got married last week. These two  make me jealous, but also give me hope. :)
• • •

Monday, May 25, 2009

Belhaven - I

"This is insane!" Rohan said suddenly, "I won't do this!"

The three of us turned around from inspecting the ladder and looked at him without speaking. Somehow, it didn't surprise any of us that he was the first to back out. He had been iffy about the plan from the beginning.

"I can't believe you guys are actually thinking of doing this!" he said. "No matter what we think of her, this is trespassing! We can't break into somebody else's house!"

"But think of what she did to Viju." That was the tiny voice of Kanishk. Small and slender, he was the pacifying force in our group.

Neither Shiju nor I would have bothered to reason with short porky Rohan with his glasses and his perpetual sweatiness. After all, his family had moved into the colony just last month. Our mothers had forced us into including him in our group.

"She didn't do anything to Viju. He had a bike accident, that's all," Rohan replied.
"Which she caused! I'm telling you! I spoke to Viju!" Shiju burst out. "She ran after him with a stick when he stole mangoes from her mango tree. She was really angry! She said she would teach him a lesson."
"Shiju, I'm very sorry about what happened to your brother, but there's a limit. We can't break into her house and snoop around just because you guys think she's a witch!"
"She is a witch! And we'll find the proof tonight. If you're scared, you can stay at home!" I said.
"It's not that I'm scared..." Rohan's voice trailed off. "Anyway, my grandparents are here, so I can't come."
"Fine. Sit at home on your granny's lap," I said, turning back to the ladder. "You're missing out on the biggest adventure ever!"

Kanishk, Shiju and I dragged the ladder out of the shed and towards the eastern wall of the compound. Rohan stuck around for a while watching us. But when he realized that none of us would speak to him or even look at him, he went back home.

"Good riddance," I said, the moment he had left. "Imagine having to haul his fat bum up the wall." Shiju snorted. Kanishk didn't say a word.

Both of them were to spend the night at my house, since mine was the only one that bordered the witch's. So they left to pack and get ready for the stay-over. We decided that we would meet at six.


It was around six-fifteen when the doorbell rang. I was in the living room, on my PS3. Mum had already opened the door before I could reach it.
"Hello, Kanishk bete!" Mum said, opening the door. "My, somebody's looking dashing in a black t-shirt!"
"Mum!" I said. Why do mothers have to be so embarassing?
"Come on," I said to Kanishk, and took him upstairs to my room. He was carrying a small knapsack.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. "I was halfway here before I realized that I'd forgotten my flashlight."
"Good thinking with the black t-shirt too," I said. "But I wonder where Shiju is."

We deposited the knapsack in my room and came back downstairs. Mum was on the phone. "Bopu, it's for you," she said. As I took the receiver, I glared at her for using my nickname in front of my friends. I could hear Kanishk's smothered snicker behind me.

"Surya, it's me," Shiju's gloomy voice said. "I can't come."
"What! Why?"
"Mum's saying that with Viju in hospital and everything, I should stay at home."
"But we asked her days ago!"
"I know. But she says she's changed her mind."
"Oh no!" I said, looking at Kanishk. What would we do now?

(to be continued)
• • •

The Red Flag

He sat on the long verandah in his ancient grandfather chair. The chair's arms were scabbed with age and heavy use. Its seat and back were made of cane, carefully plaited years ago by some poor artisan. The threads were sticking out here and there. They needed replacing, but who could find skilled people these days? Those arts were dead and gone. Chairs were made of plastic these days. They lasted longer, he had heard. But nothing could be as comfortable as these old cane chairs.

He opened the morning paper and scanned the headlines. But even Desabhimani wasn't good these days - no news, just the latest doings of some party group or the other. Though he would never subscribe to those capitalist newspapers. And even if he wanted to, how could he look the news agent in the face and ask him for any other newspaper! Not that he, a young boy with barely any hair on his upper lip, would know anything. Even his parents would have been toddlers in the heydays of Communism in Kerala, when he, Cheparambil Balakrishnan, had raised the red flag in this village and led a grand procession against the landowners! Ah, the glory of those days!

Ever since Sathyabhama had died, a girl had been coming in every day to do the housework. His sons had engaged her, perhaps to assuage their guilt about living far away in the city and leaving their father to rot in this old house. They had asked him to come and live with them, of course. But he had said no. He would live out his days in this village, where he was known. Even now, when he went to collect his monthly pension, wearing his starched white shirt and his pale cream Karalkada mundu and carrying his black umbrella, the villagers always greeted him with respect. He was given preference at the lines at the pension office, too.

Of course, a lot of things had changed. The party candidate no longer came to seek his support and blessings before elections. But that was to be expected. After all, what use was the support of a lonely old man who spent his days dreaming of the glory of his youth? These days, it was all about which group you were part of and how much power and money you had.

He remembered the days when he would leave Sathyabhama in the house alone and go to the city to attend party meetings and demonstrations. God alone knew how they had survived those times! But all of them, the party workers, knew that what they were doing mattered. That they were part of a movement which would bring power to the masses, so that they could rise up against those who had tormented and oppressed them for centuries!

But those days were over now. All that was left was the scrabble for power. Nothing to work for, nothing to believe in. Nothing to experience but the twilight of decline, nothing to wait for but the certainty of death.
• • •

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rainy Morning

It's one of those wet rainy mornings in Trivandrum. Where you wake up knowing that it has rained all night. All of nature is wet and subdued, there's barely any wind. The only sound is the drip-drip of water from the leaves. The very sky is colourless and dim.

The rain started at around three in the morning. I woke up suddenly at a quarter to, and discovered that the fan had died on me. So I opened the windows to let the breeze in. Lightning flashed sporadically, though without any thunderclaps or rain. I lay on my bed under the motionless fan and stared out at the lightning. Hypnotized by the flashes, I soon fell asleep. The rain must have started soon after.

I remember such mornings from back when I was in school in Trivandrum. The way to school would be peppered with puddles full of muddy water. The poorer kids would come to school wearing bathroom chappals so that their shiny school shoes would not get ruined. If it was a Monday, even the rich kids would wear black shoes - though Mondays meant white canvas shoes. And the back of the class would be crowded with black umbrellas set out to dry.

The morning assembly would be held inside the classroom or on the verandahs rather than in the open quandrangle. And only the people in the front bench would sing. All of us taller people at the back would just move our lips studiously, heads bent, eyes closed and palms together. The braver ones would even whisper and giggle together.

Of course, the joy of classroom assemblies would die down as the morning wore towards the PT class in the afternoon. If the rain continued non-stop, there would be deep sorrow and anger amongst us, especially the boys. But if it thinned to a drizzle, the entire class would form a line - tidier than usual, to show how good we were - and go to the PT room. Mr. Vincent would come out and look at us. We would form puppy dog expressions and say, "Sir, please sir, please sir!" And he would judge how heavy the rain was and whether it was likely to get any stronger.

If he let us go to the ground, then - ah, no other such joy in the world! The basketball court would be wet with puddles, but the weather would be just right for playing. Splash, splash, the ball would go, but who cared?
• • •

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bhoomi Malayalam

T. V. Chandran's latest movie Bhoomi Malayalam is a mixture of stories, told from the viewpoints of seven women. The stories span sixty years of Kerala history, and show the difficulties that women undergo because of society and its restrictions. The seven women are from all strata of society: the sportswoman who has to shelve her dreams because of marriage; the factory worker whose brother gets killed in a political clash; the Muslim journalist whose husband doesn't like her profession; the girl whose brother gets stoned to death by the police; the housewife whose husband's first love is Communism; the rich kid whose mind is turned by books; the poor woman who is raped and killed by a rich landlord. The threads of their stories are woven together in this movie.

An excellent concept, yes. Probably a sign of hope in these times when the standards of the Malayalam film industry are said to be dipping. However, having watched the movie, I have to admit that the idea has not been translated to the screen particularly well.

The first problem with the movie is terrible acting. Except for a couple of the actors (I liked the woman who plays the Muslim journalist) most them over-act and ham and generally make the viewer wince. Nedumudi Venu and Indrans, accomplished actors both of them, were on screen for about two minutes each. Secondly, while the women are all linked to each other somehow or the other, the Director decided that he needed another, more obvious link. So he put each of the women in a red stone quarry and made them scream their hearts out, poor things. The pure contrivedness of the gimmick reminded me of a street play I did when I was fifteen. Thirdly, there isn't enough meat to any of the stories. I guess it's tough to give any characterization given that there are seven stories and only ninety minutes, but who asked him to bring in seven stories anyway?

The stories I liked were the sportswoman's and the journalist's - perhaps because of the relatively better acting. I also liked the story set in 1948. Suresh Gopi plays a man who comes to Kannur ostensibly to teach at the local primary school. In reality, he is a 'Commoonist' who has come to give red ideas to the farmers. He soon marries a local woman, and starts leading processions against the local landlord. The story is about the sacrifices that brave and idealistic people made back then in order to bring about social change. Somehow, the story struck a cord within me - perhaps because of the obvious comparison with the sad state of Communism in Kerala today.

I hope that good concepts like these come up more often. And that they are better implemented from now on. Considering the amount of talent we have, it's a shame that the Malayalam film industry has not made its mark anywhere outside.
• • •

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Firefox Add-Ons

I thought I would write a post on the dozen or so Firefox add-ons I use. I have absolutely no claims to being a techie of course, but most people in my circle don't seem to know the amazing things that can be done with Firefox add-ons. Whenever I think of some idea that would make any website more convenient to use, I immediately go to Tools > Add-ons in my browser and search for it. Purely because I'm sure that, if I've thought of it, then somebody more technically able than me would have definitely done so before me and, more importantly, created an add-on!

The only problem with add-ons is that they add to Firefox's memory usage. And since my laptop isn't the best-performing laptop in the world, I've had to restrict myself to the few that I absolutely can't do without. So here they are, in no particular order.
  • Scribefire: Scribefire is where I'm currently typing this blog post. It's a little button at the bottom of my browser that, when clicked, opens up a window from which I can directly post to my blog. So no more do I have to sign into Blogger to post. It offers every feature that the Blogger 'Create Post' page does - in fact, possibly more. I can do pretty much any sort of text formatting; I can embed YouTube videos directly or add images from Flickr. It even has a live preview function, which is pretty neat. And the best part is that, after posting, I can just open Scribefire and edit the entry directly if I need to, without having to go to another page. This add-on has been a favourite of mine for a very long time. The only hassle is that I can't find the spellcheck.
  • Personas for Firefox: Not particulary functional, but I like it. I used to download themes for my Firefox routinely. Except that I would get tired of them pretty fast and then I would have to browse themes all over again to find something nice. But now I can scroll through dozens of skins for Firefox in a matter of seconds. Awesome!
  • Kwiclick: A recent find. I click the button on my browser and a window pops up that lets me search several sites at once. No more of having to open several different tabs to search Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc. My favourite function is that I can open a YouTube video and pin it to a corner of the browser while I go through my other tabs. My only crib is that it doesn't offer Google Images or IMDb search. Also, it doesn't seem to recognize operators like 'define:' that make Google easier to use. However, since the developer is available on twitter and is very open to suggestions, I guess future versions will be better.
  • Google Notebook Extension: Pretty staightforward. Opens a mini Google Notebook at the bottom of the browser, where you can add anything interesting that you come across on your daily browsing.
  • GMail Manager:I'm sure most of you have multiple GMail accounts. I have four. Two for blogging purposes and two for real-world purposes. And it's always a pain to have to sign out of one account and go to another just to check for new mail that might not even be there. So what I use is GMail Manager. It lets me check multiple accounts from the bottom of my browser.
  • TwitterBar: A pretty common add-on, I believe. It lets me post to Twitter from my Firefox address bar. I'm not into Twitter enough to use TweetDeck or Twhirl or any other desktop application. So this works fine for me. If a tweet strikes me while I'm surfing, I just type it out into the Firefox address bar and post!
  • Better GMail 2: A compilation of a lot of useful Greasemonkey scripts. It shows any attachments by type, and unread counts in the Favicon. There's also a filter assistant, Folders4GMail, etc. Only for people REALLY addicted to GMail.
  • Download Statusbar: Pretty basic. Downloads show on a bar at the bottom of your browser rather than in annoying pop-up windows.
  • Greasemonkey: Ah, Greasemonkey! What would I do without it? It lets me play around with websites. I can add things and remove things - well, as long as people have written scripts for them, since I definitely can't! I use only three Greasemonkey scripts, and all three are amazing!
  1. Facebook Purity: The reason I installed Greasemonkey in the first place. You know how the Facebook Homepage currently has all the annoying quizzes that your idiotic friends ever took? Well, you can remove all of them by just installing this script! Brilliant, eh? Well, unless you're one of those people who take great pleasure in clicking 'Hide' for each of these things, like Naween!
  2. Integrated GMail: I've blogged about this awesome script before. It integrates Google Reader, Calendar and Notebook into your GMail page. You can minimize and maximize these as you wish. Very useful for those who are addicted to these!
  3. Troy's Twitter Script: For people who use Twitter from Firefox. It adds several functions to your Twitter page - an RT button, automatic URL expansion, autopagination (pulling in the next page when you reach the bottom of the current one), shrinking of URLs in your tweets. My favourite function is that it shows tweets as conversations. You can see what people are replying to when they tweet something, which enables easy people stalking. :D Also, images and videos get automatically embedded if the tweet contains any such links.
There are also a couple of briliant add-ons that I had to uninstall for various reasons.
  • StumbleUpon: No need to elaborate on this one. Takes you to random websites depending on your interests.
  • CoolIris: I started using this add-on back when it was called PicLens. The very first time I used it, I was completely blown away by the 3D display. Try it - you will be, too. Back then, I was using it to browse images, mostly - on Google, Facebook, etc. Then it became CoolIris and added a lot of functions like video search and what not. I uninstalled it soon after that because my Firefox kept getting stuck and I blamed this addon, for no reason in particular.  I'd recommend that you try it at least once - just for the awesome display.
So tada! There you go. An Absolute Amateur's Favourite Firefox Functionalities. (Ha! Double alliteration! I like!) Currently, these add-ons are the only things stopping me from switching to Chrome. So I hope I've managed to inspire the non-techies who read this blog into trying add-ons. And the techies, please let me know of any nice ones that you use.
• • •

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Afternoon

I'm lying on my bed, half-leaning against a pillow. A book lies by my side, face down, flaps open like a wounded bird. The fan zooms round and round in the air above me. I'm staring out of the window through the parted curtains.

The wind is heavy today. It rushes in through the hapless windows, it bangs shut the open doors. It shoves the newspapers to the floor, it plays with clothes and hair. It sings its way through the entire house, its rhythm echoed by the trees outside, and finally exits through the western windows.

My door is bolted, my windows face west. Still, the wind decides to peek into my room. It wakes me from my half-doze, and it beckons me towards the window. I go to it obediently.

Coconut trees waving their tentacles about in an elaborate dance. Roofs of terracotta brown and mouldy green. The acidic white of a tall building far away. Behind these and framing them, a sky of washed-out blue. The whole scene bathed in sunlight so golden that the eyes want to squeeze themselves tight for safety.

Have you ever heard the rushing noise that wind makes in a forest? It's a scary sound. The air riffling through millions of leaves, passing through them like an army of ghosts through a graveyard. One's eyes start up in fear, wondering what unearthly being could make such a noise. And the only sight all around is that of the leaves screaming in the wind, trying to cling on to their branches.

The noise I can hear now is similar. The rushing wind and the screaming leaves and the creaking trees. A metal sheet covering one of the roofs has gotten loose. Every so often, it lifts up and goes crack-crack at the wind, like a timid dog barking in vain at a stranger.

I'm standing in the safety of my house behind a grilled window. Yet, watching this fierce struggle of nature, I have pleasant goosebumps to my arms. It's a life-and-death battle out there.
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Thirunelly Temple

The Thirunelly Bhagavathy's abode is on top of a hill in the middle of a thick jungle. Tall stone steps lead up to the temple. Surrounding it on all sides are high mountains covered in green. The devout have to undertake a pilgrimage deep into the unspoilt jungle and up the hill in order to get a glimpse of the goddess.

Of course, the blue metallic road and the spanking new rest-house right in front of the temple makes everything that much easier. The Bhagavathy has become quite popular, apparently. Tourist buses and shiny white SUVs line the route up the hill. Our driver, having confidently started up the road, is forced to give up half-way because of the traffic jam in the middle of the jungle.

When my parents last came here ten years ago, the road was full of potholes, and the rest-house was some poor architecture student's third-year project. Nor was the goddess so sought after. They parked right in front of the temple - hard to imagine now. Of course, there were very few SUVs in India back then.

The number of visitors might have multiplied in the last decade, but when we climb up the stone steps, we discover that the temple itself is much as it has always been. Facing us is a low white washed building with a moss-covered tiled roof. Inside it resides the Bhagavathy in all her silk-clad splendour. The rolling green slopes of the surrounding mountains draw the eye upwards in awe. The stone floor is cool and comforting underfoot. A new gopuram is under construction, but that is almost the only change.

Apart from the people, of course. Somehow, we have managed to get there early enough to escape the rush hour. When we come out of the inner building, there is a huge queue outside, waiting to go in. Having paid for our archanas and pushpabhishekams and Bhagavathy-alone-knows-what-else, we leave the Bhagavathy to her masses.

My parents now want to visit the Papanasham, where my grandfather bali ceremony was done. The path to it leads off the main temple complex through thick jungle, down another bunch of stone steps. Green trees line the path, and birds call constantly in the gloom of the woods. Unfortunately, the poor traveller, having devoutly left her footwear at the temple entrance, has only rocks to step on most of the time.

And when the Papanasham is reached - oh, what a sight! The once-gushing stream has been reduced to a few pools of dirty water. Groups of recently bereaved people sit amidst the rocks on the stream bed and try to rescue the souls of their beloveds . A Brahmin priest with a big potbelly presides over each group. Depressing. Apparently, the water shortage is only partly because of the summer - people higher up the slopes draw water from the stream for domestic use.

We return along the same metallic road down the hill and towards our guest house. Signboards by the roadside speak of many 'resorts' on either side - for the spoilt city-people to experience the unspoilt jungle, perhaps. All along the way, tall bamboo groves sigh in the wind like lonely giants. I look out at the greenery with unseeing eyes and think about how nice places always get lost to modernity.

Tirunelli Temple, Wayanad, Northern Kerala. About 5 hours from Bangalore.
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