Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xerox

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

Finding a subject to post under X was always going to be a challenge. But I have a very short true story that I experienced a couple of years ago. The brand managers at Xerox are going to be very happy with this story.

I had to take photocopies of my mark sheets for some reason or the other. I was wandering around a side-street in Koramangala, looking in vain for a photocopy shop.

I saw an elderly security guard outside an office building, and asked him if there was a photocopy shop nearby.

"Photocopy?" he looked at me with great contempt. "Xerox-aa?" 

I don't know enough Kannada to render his next few words in the language he said them in, but the gist of it was that I should not be snobbish enough to call a Xerox a photocopy. If I wanted a Xerox, he said, I should ask for a Xerox.

He ended by gesturing down the road to indicate that the photocopy shop was further on. 

I walked on, bemused.
• • •

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Wayanad

Are you sick of my Wayanad travelogues yet? This is my fourth post this month that features Wayanad - all written for the A to Z Challenge of course. (Here are the others - the trip to Calicut and Wayanad, the Edakkal Caves, the trek up Chembra Peak)

But I can't help it. I've visited the district twice in the last one month, after a gap of at least four years. (Here's a post on Thirunelly Temple from the 2009 visit.) The trip last weekend was at least my fourth visit to the district. 

Before my recent visits, I used to think that Wayanad was over-hyped - that it had become so famous only because it's so close to Bangalore. It's a quick nature-filled weekend getaway for the pollution-weary residents of Bangalore.

Maybe it's because I've now become one of those weary Bangalore citizens that Wayanad seems so much more appealing now. I've become a confirmed Wayanad fan. The greenery, the variety of places to see, the now-familiar towns and villages.

Strangely enough, the trip last weekend was the first time I was travelling from Bangalore to Wayanad by car. There were four of us, and we had hired a taxi for the weekend. We had been told that the road through Bandipur National Park is closed from 6 PM to 6 AM. And there was no way we could leave Bangalore on Friday afternoon. So we left early on Saturday morning - around three. 

The drive through the empty Bangalore roads was surreal - I've never seen Bangalore so empty. We were out of the city in no time. While we were on Mysore Road, I was thinking of how choked and dusty and LOUD the road is during the day, and thanking our own planning skills. 

The towns went by quickly. I mostly slept till Mysore, but kept waking up in between and heard the names of the towns we were passing through. Channapatna - famous for its colourful toys; Mandya - famous for its sugarcane; Srirangapatna - famous for its Tipu Sultan. 

After Mysore, I changed to the front seat, since I had had the most sleep out of the three in the back seat. It was around six, and dawn was just breaking. The crickets were creating a huge racket amongst the trees on either side. Beyond the trees, the fields stretched out to infinity. 

We got slightly lost around Nanjangud. The driver decided to take a left for some reason, whereas he should have just stayed on the straight road. But we somehow found our way back to the main road. The detour wasn't entirely a bad thing, because we passed a beautiful temple on the way. But I started using the Google Maps app on my phone because of this incident - which would prove disastrous later on in the journey.

On and on we went, passing quickly through barely-there towns and villages, till we reached Gundlupet. I must say, the roads were superb. They're not as good as Tamil Nadu highways, which are wide and multi-laned and have good signals, but they were miles ahead (no pun intended) of the roads you generally find in Kerala. It also helped, I suppose, that they were empty.

We took a right at Gundlupet to enter the road leading to Bandipur. Though we were now passing through forest, the trees were dry and scraggy, because we were on the rain-shadow region of the Western Ghats. It was difficult to believe that the lush greenery of Wayanad would start just a few dozen kilometers ahead, once we'd crossed the hills.

The trip through Bandipur was strange, at least for me. Just a couple of days before, we had seen a pic on Facebook of a car smashed out of existence in Bandipur by a lone elephant. One person had been killed. We kept looking around for signs of rampaging elephants. Nikhil scared us by telling us that elephants could run at sixty kilometers per hour. 

But we crossed safely, and cheered when we saw the "Welcome to Kerala" sign at the border. More forest lay ahead, but it somehow felt safer. 

Unfortunately, we got lost on our way to the homestay we had booked. The homestay owner had sent us the route details by SMS. If we had stuck to that route, we would have reached just fine. But my Google Maps told me different, and we used my route. The thing is, Google Maps tells you the shortest route - it doesn't consider the state of the roads. And the roads in Wayanad are pretty terrible once you're off the main highways. So we ended up spending at least half an hour more on the road than we should have, and reached the homestay only by 10:30 in the morning.

On this trip, we visited Banasura Sagar Dam, Pookot Lake, Lakkidi Point and Chembra Peak. I will hopefully summon up enough energy to write about these soon. But only once the A to Z Challenge is over!
• • •

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for The Visit: A Short Story

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

This short story was again written for a competition. The challenge was to pick five words from a list of ten, and write a story around them in 250 words. The story didn't make the cut, but I still like it. When there's a tiny word limit, it necessarily makes the story under-stated.


I glance at my watch. He’s been in there for half an hour. We’re going to be cutting it close at the dentist’s.

There - a flash of blue at the entrance.

He opens the door and climbs in, holding his knapsack awkwardly. I strap on his seat-belt - not that there’s much point, he’s much too small. But the child-seat is at the back, and he’s outgrown it anyway.

I signal and ease out onto the road. He’s generally moody after these visits, so it’s best to to talk. Besides, what would I say to him?

I glance over at him. He’s sitting with his head bowed, a single tear on his cheek.

I suddenly notice a flash of pink inside his bag.

“You didn’t leave the flowers?” I ask, surprised.
“She said give them to Daddy, it’s his birthday on Saturday.”

Crap - I’d almost forgotten.

“You know he doesn’t like roses, sweetheart.”
“She said that’s because they remind him of her. She said to say they’re from her, so he won’t say anything.”


“She said only Daddy should bring me here, not you.”
“I know, Rubbub. It’s just that Daddy was busy today.”
“She said don’t call me Rubbub. That’s her name for me.”

I sigh. We go through this every year, on the day she died. Now he’s going to begin every sentence with “She said...”. And he’s going to call me Sara.

But he’ll be fine. In a few days.
• • •

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Up Above the World

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

My new office is on the thirteenth floor of one of the tallest buildings in central Bangalore. I only discovered yesterday that it WAS the thirteenth floor, because the builders seem to have bowed to Western superstition and named it one storey higher. (I remembered Stephen King's 1408 when I saw the lift buttons. PLEASE read that story if you haven't already.)

Thirteenth floor or not, the office is brilliant because of the view. It's only when you climb up that high that you realize that Bangalore isn't that tall a city after all. There are so few skyscrapers, and the few tall structures are all apartment buildings rather than office blocks. 

Our building is right next to some Army land, which means that we get to look down upon a scenery of green trees, empty roads and brown playgrounds - very un-Bangalore-like. I sometimes stand at the windows in the afternoons and look down upon the toy vehicles moving slowly along the roads, and the Lilleputian kids playing cricket in the playgrounds. Half a dozen eagles are always visible in the sky  - majestic creatures gliding on the wind. 

My colleagues tell me that Nandi Hills is visible on clear days. Which seems a bit of a stretch to me, to be honest. But I haven't been able to test this claim yet, because there hasn't been a clear day since I joined. 

Gray skies have greeted me pretty much every day, and there was even a mild thunder storm a couple of days ago - we had samosas to celebrate the awesome weather. The clouds started piling up in the early afternoon, and the sky went black. Sporadic lightning soon started. The wind whoom-ed so loudly I initially thought some machine had malfunctioned somewhere. Somebody opened the window, and a warm breeze blew in, carrying a few rain drops and that wonderful smell of rain.

I've tried to figure out the names of the few tall buildings I can see from the window. But the distances are very deceptive up above. I got a big shock when I realized one day that the nearby buildings I could see from the lift lobby were the ones on MG Road. MG Road seems so far away when you're at ground level, because of the signals and the traffic. But up above, it almost seems like I could hop there from the roof.

The guy I replaced in the team has asked me to make sure that I look up from my screen and take in the view every once in a while. In my case, self-confessed tree-lover and rain-lover that I am, I'm having to make myself NOT look at the view all the time. I just hope that I don't get used to the view over time, so that its beauty fails to move me.
• • •

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Trekking: Up Chembra Peak

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

The first I saw of Chembra Peak was a dot on a map of Wayanad during our Calicut-Wayanad trip last month. We didn't have time that weekend to attempt a climb, but I knew we would be back soon enough. So when Anu excitedly included a trek up Chembra Peak in the itinerary of our Wayanad trip last weekend, I was very happy.

The best time to visit Chembra, we were told, was early morning. Get there around seven, and be done with the climb in three-four hours. The top half of the peak was shut for the summer, unfortunately - the authorities feared forest fires because of the heat. We could trek up half way, till the famously heart-shaped Love Lake, and then climb back down. 

The route to Chembra is off NH 212, a little after Kalpetta when you're travelling from the north. It was nine by the time we reached Chembra - we had left our homestay late, and had decided to have breakfast before climbing.  

The tickets have to be bought at a place lower down the slopes. The entry fee is Rs 500 for groups of up to ten. The treks are organized by the Vana Samrakshana Samiti, which seems to be a collaborative effort between the locals and the Forest Department. They provide a guide for each group. 

The road, which is reasonably good till the ticketing point, becomes pretty bad later on. We were told that the local Panchayat plans to fix it with this year's budget amount. Because of the condition of the road, it takes about twenty minutes to get from the ticketing point to the parking lot. From there on, we had to proceed on foot. 

The walk was beautiful from the first. Tea estates in general are quite pretty, of course. The road we were on was cut into the side of the hill. The tea plants ascended up the hill above us, and stood in rows below us. Other hills were visible in the distance. Some parts of the estate are as much as three centuries old - created by the first Britishers to come up here. They used to ascend the peak on their horses by an easier trail, and hunt animals on the slopes. 

After about a kilometer of easy walking, we arrived at the place where the climbing actually starts. They've built a sort of viewing point here. But we didn't ascend, as we were eager to start climbing.

The trek was very steep and tiring in the beginning, even though we were under the shade of some trees. Or perhaps it was that the guide over-estimated us and set an ambitious pace. Thankfully, he realized pretty quickly that we were desk-bound usually-inactive people, and slowed down considerably. He advised us to go slow and not tire ourselves out too much.

After some time, the trees thinned down, and the grasses began. Now we were climbing up in the hot sunshine, and we understood why we had been advised to start the climb early. But it wasn't too tiring, because there was a cool wind blowing. We ensured that we took plenty of breaks to drink water and enjoy the view. 

Step by step, the valley of Wayanad opened out below us. The guide pointed out Kalpetta, Vythiri, and all the other towns we had passed through. Dark green hills surrounded the valley on all sides. We seemed to be above cloud level, or maybe it was the mist that was covering some parts of the valley slopes here and there. Little black birds flew up and down the slopes around us, and we envied them their wings.

To reach Love Lake, we had to climb up one hill, pass through a flat valley, and then climb up some more. I was enjoying myself by this time, despite the warmth. It's so much more fun to be climbing up rather than down. Finding the right stone to put your foot on, feeling your own breath resounding in your ears, becoming aware of your body stretching itself - just feeling so very alive and so very young! I wanted to tell Quindon Tarver that he was wrong when he wrote the below lines. There are at least a few times when you do realize how young you are and how amazingly healthy your body is. (Touch wood!)

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth

Oh, never mind
You will never understand the power and the beauty of your youth
Until they've faded
But trust me, in twenty years
You will look back at photos of yourself
And recall in a way you can't grasp now
How much possibility lay before you
And how fabulous you really looked

Love Lake turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. If it were up to me, I would rename it Love Pond, because that was about how big it was. Possibly, the lake had shrunk because of the summer heat. 

It was pretty dirty and muddy too. The guide told us that the lake used to have a rock floor, and that the water used to be crystal clear and drinkable. But now the rock floor is covered under a foot of mud, because of erosion from the upper slopes. And it's become dirty because every tourist who climbs up insists on washing his/her feet and face in the water. (If you're planning a visit, PLEASE don't touch the water!)

We walked on a bit further from the lake-pond, and sat down on a bit of grass from where we could see the entire valley again. It was peaceful up there - Chembra Peak was above us on the left, and the valley opened itself out below us on the right. A cool wind dried the sweat off our faces, and no sounds broke the silence except our own voices, the whispering of the grass, and the chirping of birds.

The trek up the top half of Chembra Peak might soon be closed down for good. Apart from the risk of forest fires, there are six species of rare birds up there. Thirdly, the path from Love Lake to the peak is apparently more dangerous than the climb up the lower slopes. The guide told us that a girl had tripped last year and broken her jaw. He had to carry her all the way down the hill for medical aid.

The peak is open for trekking in the monsoons and the winters as well. When I heard that, I couldn't help but imagine how lush the place would look in the rains. I really want to go back during the rains, though I'm told the place will be rife with leeches then.


If you're planning a visit, here are the basics:
  • Water: Carry your own water - at least 1-2 litres per person
  • Food: There is a sort-of restaurant on the road up from the ticket point - an open bamboo building beneath the trees. We had our lunch there, but the food wasn't particularly great.
  • Clothing: Wear comfortable clothes - preferably sweatpants and shoes. 
  • The guide will come from the ticketing area to the parking lot in your car. It's a journey of about twenty minutes through bumpy roads, so you'll need to squeeze together and make room for one more person.
• • •

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Start: A Short Story

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

About a month ago, I participated in this short story competition. Mostly because it was free to enter, but also because I enjoy Dan Purdue's blog and his no-nonsense advice on writing. The theme for the competition was 'Start', and the world limit was 500 words.

Unfortunately, I left it too late to write the story, and didn't have enough time to edit it properly before sending it out. So I wasn't entirely happy with the product. Still, it turns out I made the long-list at least. I do wish I could have executed it slightly better. But maybe I'm not a good enough writer to convert this particular idea into reality. 

Here it is, for what it's worth.


Over the Brink

This room is better than the old one. A large window - barred, of course. Whitewashed walls. And a tree outside, with dark green leaves.


I like the tree. Except for the crows that live on it, at least a dozen of them. They sit on the branches and scream at me all day. They have it in for me, those crows.


I’ve complained to the orderly.

“Just ignore them,” he said, “You’ll get used to them soon.”

I wonder how he would look, hanging from that tree. The crows would pick his eyes out, and then his brains.


Fine, I’m going to ignore you, crows. This is me, ignoring you.

It was the lawyer who suggested it first - the insanity plea. I was fine with acting crazy - anything would’ve been better than that stinking dark jail.


Shut up, crows! Shut up shut up shut up!

I wish there was something to throw at you. There’s barely anything in this room. They’re afraid I’ll do something to myself, you see.


I guess that means I did a good job of pretending, back in the jail. It was difficult, because I couldn’t suddenly go insane in a day - too obvious. So I did it slowly.

I started off by shaking the bars and screaming constantly. Then I started tearing my clothes. I even bit a policeman once. The worst was when I smeared my own shit on myself - even the lawyer was shocked that day.


I enjoyed doing it though. It felt like I was starting a new life - being myself for the first time.


All those years in a suit, oh man. Waking up and getting dressed and going to work, just another sheep among the horde. No wonder I started doing other things for amusement. I bet everyone does it. I bet under all those black coats and blue suits, everybody is halfway to Crazyville.


Why you staring at me, crow? It’s not enough to scream in my ear night and day? Come here, crow. Come here, there’s a good crow. Look, I’ll climb up on the window sill for you. You want to scream at me? I’ll scream right back at you.


You can’t caw louder than me. You want it louder, crow?


God, that feels good. It feels like it used to feel before, in the jail. I used to just scream all day back then.


Look crow, look down there. People down there are looking up at me, looking and pointing. The orderlies are running inside. See crow, that’s the difference between you and me. You’ve been up here cawing at me all day and nobody cared. I do it for five minutes, and people notice.


The orderlies will be here any moment now. But for now, I’m going to scream with you. Look out, crows. I’ve got it in for you! I can scream louder than you!


• • •

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Ouch!

This post should ideally be part of the A to Z Challenge. But considering the fact that I've missed - damn! - five days in a row now, I'm not sure I should bother. 

This is what happens when life turns hectic on you. You make all sorts of plans, and then suddenly you have no time to touch a computer, much less spend enough time to write a single word. And the Blogger app on my phone somehow refuses to work on GPRS. 

Last week (including the weekend) was full of travel, travel, travel. There was a period of forty-eight hours where I spent more time in a moving vehicle (plane, train, car, auto - you name it) than stationary. But I survived.

I arrived back in Bangalore on Tuesday morning, and joined a new job. Yes, THAT happened. Long story.

And we also have a friend of mine staying over for a five-day trip. She is heading back to Chennai on Sunday, but we're planning a brief and hectic trip to Wayanad this weekend before she leaves. 

I think I've said this here before, but 2013 is turning out to be extremely travel-heavy. I've been told that the new job will require me to travel as well. But not for some time, I hope. Because I'm at a point where if I step into a plane/train/bus in the next month, it will be way too soon. 

Yes, that's me, self-proclaimed travel-lover, saying that. 

But back to the A to Z Challenge. The travel plans mean more breaks in the schedule. But I'm hoping some back-posting and scheduling will help me tide over the crisis. :(
• • •

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Nambiar Sir: A Short Story

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

It was mid-morning, and there was a call for Nambiar Sir. There was a parcel for him, could they deliver it now?

"Of course, of course," Nambiar Sir said. "I am available right now."

He laid the phone down.

"Sharade!" he said.

His wife had just put up her feet after the morning chores. She lowered her newspaper and looked up at him.

"There's a parcel, it seems," he said.

She made a non-committal sound, and the newspaper went up again.

Nambiar Sir went and sat on one of the cane chairs in the patio. It was a hot day, yellow with sunshine. No sounds broke the silence, except for leaves singing in the wind. He opened a magazine and pretended to read.

Who could have sent the parcel, he wondered. His friends usually sent letters. Short terse messages, obligation more than a desire to communicate.

The postman came before the courier did. The Nambiars had a letter box, but he wheeled his bicycle up to the patio. Nambiar Sir had taught him in school.

A bill, a newsletter. The postman spent some time talking about how hot it was. He drank a glass of cold orange Rasna in one gulp, waited to see if he would get some more, and left.

Nambiar Sir opened the newsletter with pleasure. It was run by a classmate of his from college. It was famous in the literary circles; many sent in content, hoping to be printed. She printed it whenever she had enough good material. The work was usually good - insightful, well-written, eclectic. Nambiar Sir couldn't think of a better way of spending a hot summer day.

The courier arrived just as he was finishing the editorial. A black scooter with a yellow box at the back; a hassled young man in a black uniform and a yellow cap.

"Ravichandran Nambiar?" he asked.
"Sign here," he said, without waiting for an affirmative.

Nambiar Sir signed, and was handed a small white parcel, crisscrossed with brown tape. The man walked quickly to the scooter, and left without closing the gate.

Nambiar Sir felt the parcel. It seemed to contain something with a hard cover - maybe something electronic? There were several indecipherable symbols on it, random sequences of numbers and letters. It had clearly been sent from abroad. The sender had not written his name on the parcel, but the markings said ‘United Kingdom’.

Mr Nambiar put the parcel on the patio table and went to close the gate. The sun was almost overhead, and his shadow clung close to his heels like a scared puppy. The guava tree near the gate cast a pleasant shade, and he was tempted to stay under it rather than go back to the veranda. He dawdled a bit on the half wall bordering the guava, looking up at the pattern the sunshine made on the leaves.

When he looked back down again, eyes dazzled by the sunlight, Sharada was standing on the veranda, examining the parcel. She had brought him a glass of Rasna, and the thought of it made him go back to the veranda.

“What is this?” she asked.
“How do I know,” he said, suddenly irritated. “You can see I haven’t opened it yet.”
“Well, open it then,” she said. “Let’s see if one of your old revolutionary friends has sent you a bomb from London.”
“Bring me a pair of scissors.”
“But I only have my milk scissors,” she said. “I don’t think they’ll be able to cut through this material.”
“Then bring me the knife, woman!”

Her face changed, but she went inside without a word. He sighed. He knew his temper was getting worse these days. She was tolerating him for now, but who knew how long it would last. For the umpteenth time in the last one year, he resolved to treat her better.

The problem was that she wanted him to run for the Panchayat elections, now that he was retired. Her logic was that he wouldn’t even have to campaign - practically everyone in the village had either been taught by him, or had children who had been taught by him.

Sharada had come back with the big knife. He took it and carefully slit open one end of the parcel. He peered in, and saw stacked white sheets of paper.

“What is it?” Sharada asked.
“It’s a book!” He said in wonder. Who had sent him a book all the way from England?

He slit the parcel open further, and the book fell into his hand.

It was a beautiful little thing, a hardbound. The front cover was a palette of pinks and oranges and reds and purples, the whole framed in white - as if a sunset had been imposed on a snow field. The golden crown of the publisher’s logo winked at him from the bottom of the spine.

Across the Fiery Fields, embossed letters proclaimed in white. Smaller letters traced out the author’s name below - Tejas Matthew Roy.

“Tejas? Is that...?” Sharada asked.
Nambiar Sir nodded. He suddenly realized that his eyes had filled up. He bent further over the book so that Sharada wouldn’t see.

He was in shock. He watched, aloof, as his left hand lifted itself and opened the front cover of the book. He tilted his face and tried to read the text on the inside cover. But his eyes were full, and he couldn’t read.

His right hand flipped the first couple of pages. Suddenly, it stopped. Five words had arrested it.

For Nambiar Sir and Sharadamma.

Simple words printed in beautiful black italics on thick creamy paper. They seemed to dance before his eyes, helped by his tears.

Sharada gasped the same moment his tear fell on the page, so that he wasn’t sure if she had gasped at the dedication or the fact that he was crying.

He turned the page quickly, hoping she hadn’t seen the tear. The blot was visible on this side of the page, so he quickly flipped to the back cover.

And there he was, in black and white. Slightly long black hair, a messy beard and the same lazy smile as ever. Light fell on the right side of his face, leaving the other side in shadow - it made him look slightly forbidding, despite the smile. Was it the bulky sweater that was making him look chubby?

They stared at the photo in silence for some time.

Finally, Sharada sighed and rose.
“Drink your Rasna - it’s becoming warm.” There was a break in her voice.
“Sharade,” he said.
She didn’t reply, but he knew she was listening.
“Did you ever believe - it? Them? What they said?”
“No. I don’t know. I didn’t know what to believe, or even what I wanted to believe. They were questioning you, your reputation - so I hoped it wasn’t true. But then...” Her voice faltered. “I loved him like a son, so I wanted to believe them. I wanted him to be your son at least, even if not mine.”

Nambiar Sir smiled sadly, gazing out at the yard. “I used to wish that too, often. I wished he had been ours. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t mine, Sharade.”

He looked up at her. She was drying her tears on the edge of her sari.

“But he was!” She suddenly burst out. “He was ours. We almost brought him up, didn’t we? It was our house he used to come to after school, it was my rice and my pulisseri that he used to love. It was here that he learnt to love books. He was ours!”

He smiled at her. “Is it any wonder that people started saying what they did?”
“Well, he needed parents, and we were right next door! His mother certainly had no time for him.”
“And that was another reason for people to talk, wasn’t it? Why come and settle in this village if you worked two hours away?”
“I’m glad she did - otherwise we wouldn’t have had a son for twelve years.”

He looked down at the book.
“Does it have a return address?” she asked.
He checked the parcel - nothing. He flipped through the pages of the book, and a folded piece of paper fell out.

He opened it. It was a note from Tejas, in Malayalam. The letters were awkward, as if not used to being strung together. Sharada leaned over his shoulder, and they read it together.

Nambiar Sir and Sharadamme,

This book happened because of you both, so I thought you should know.

I am returning to India in two months. I will be in Kochi for some time. Amma said I should check with you both before I come and meet you, but I know that’s not necessary. See you soon!


This time, two tear drops fell on the sheet of paper. Nambiar Sir didn’t care. He held Sharada’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Sharada smiled at him through her tears.

“So who gets to read the book first?’ she asked.
• • •