Thursday, January 30, 2014


(I keep mentioning the beauty of words on this blog- and I usually mean individual words, not grammatically correct or complete sentences- but somehow I never explained what I meant by that. So wanted to show what I mean with a small experiment- a slightly unusual but not particularly new form of poetry!)

Eyes closed. Turbulent music. Your face.
Evening walk. Slow drizzle. That unsaid word.
Driving to work. Cacophonous roads. Brushing accidentally against your skin.
Smell of sea. Cold wet feet in the sand. Husky voice.

You engrossed. Focused eyes. Breathtaking.
Innocently joking. Playful twinkle. Inflamed.
You lifting. That single muscle flexing. Weak.
Fleeting sideways look. A half-smile. Surrender.

First ray of sun. Your success. The intoxicated revelry.
Rushing to celebrate. Her. Losing myself in the shadows.
Wilted flower on the footpath. Your loss. The ruthless silence.
Reaching to comfort you. Holding back. Guilt.

Gray skies. My dreams. Minutes. Days. Years.
Consumed. Love. Addicted. You. Eternity.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The man of many words

When I started out this blog, I wanted it not to be personal at all. I meant to write more about "ideas" than "emotions"; thoughts more than feelings. Of course, as time went by, a few personal posts crept in surreptitiously, but that was more inadvertent than intentional. Today, however, I want to make an exception and write about someone who had an almost life-changing influence on me. I want to make the exception for 3 reasons- first, like Wynand says "All love is making exception." and I loved this person too much. But more importantly, I might argue he is one of the biggest reasons this blog exists. In fact, he is the single most important reason I write (and read as much as I do).
Knowing him to be the simple man that he was, for some time I wondered if it would be appropriate to write about him (initially it sounded a little exhibitionist to me). But I decided to go ahead and make the exception because I always remember him as a wizard with words, as the man who introduced me to the magic of language, and it seems fitting that I use words as a tribute to him now.

The person I refer to here is my thaatha (grandfather, in Tamil, and I speak of my maternal grandfather here.) He passed away yesterday at the age of 96 (in 3 months he would have been 97).
He was a writer and an editor, who participated in India's struggle for independence, and in general a great person who, I like to believe, lived a full life. I do not want to go into the details of his achievements, partly because this article gives a good summary, but more because I feel they do not convey the real "him". (As I mentioned to some of my friends, reading that article only made me feel the way Harry Potter felt at Dumbledore's funeral. I hear the great phrases people use to describe him, but I can only remember the simple jokes he cracked even when he was terribly sick and bedridden. And like Harry does, every time I look at a book or correct a typo, I will remember him.)
Arguably, the real "anyone" is a notion each of us has based on "our" interactions with the person,  and is ironically subjective! So, let me rephrase and say I just want to write about what "I" knew of him, with no concern of whether it is indeed the truest report of reality, whatever that might mean.

My first few memories of life definitely include my thaatha picking out books for me to read. Starting with cartoon books for children and then the Oz series (he owned the entire collection), to O.Henry and "The twenty seventh wife" (a book about the origins of Mormonism and the last one he gave me)- half the books I ever read were recommended by him. Saying he was a voracious reader is like saying Stephen Hawking is a Physics PhD! He continued to ask me about what I was reading every single time I met him (except the last, when he was very sick and unable to talk much), and if it was something he hadn't read yet- a very rare occurrence- he would ask me what it was about and how good it was. His thirst for knowledge and books, even at the age of 95, leaves me mind-blown.

I remember his meticulousness and sense of organization- from the way he would cover books and write "From R.A.P. thaatha to Suchithra" on them before gifting them, to the way he kept his table in complete order even in his 90's- something I clearly did not inherit! I also remember his perfectionism taking a different form- that of the perennial editor- even when he was sick, he would correct typos on the books he was reading. He had also been the first person to criticize my writing- teaching me how a few words could express the same thing as many, but much better. Not just concise, but precise. His choice of words would be exactly that- something that I find awe-inspiring given that he never went to college and was the epitome of the self-made man!
And when a four line poem I sent to a children's magazine got published, the smile on his face spoke pages about the joy he felt- not just concise, but precise. In fact, every time I showed him something I wrote that got published somewhere, however small, he would highlight it and bookmark it- making the little girl feel like the best writer in the world.

If others had not told me about his work, I would probably have thought of him as "a simple Bharathiar researcher" tap-tapping away at his typewriter (which I was completely fascinated by!). I can only guess he took pride in his work, because I have never seen him exhibit anything but the utmost humility. In one of his last interviews to a Tamil magazine (a year ago), when asked if he thought his work had received the recognition it deserved, he just said "We did not work for recognition then. The work I did was its own reward and what I did was nothing in the face of the sacrifices so many great men before us have made". While it might sound cliched to someone who did not know him, to me it only reiterates the self-effacing modesty that glowed in him. I know it was genuine, because amidst all that he told me when I was a kid, he never spoke of himself unless specifically asked. Once, during a time in high school when I was reading a lot of Advaita, I saw him reading something on Vishishtadvaita and asked him what he thought about that branch of philosophy. With his usual unassuming manner, he just said "These are works of geniuses and what I know is so little I cannot dare to comment on it yet!" (Though many of the Advaita texts are very abstruse, he actually had extensive knowledge in that area- just that he would always be extremely humble about it!)

He did tell me a lot of other things though- anecdotes, jokes about the US in the 40's, and many lovely stories which he would narrate with so much animation that a kid could not but listen. I wish I had recorded them then- they would make wonderful bedtime tales for generations to come.
These were not just the routine ones from mythology or fairy tale books- there were some peculiar stories which I never heard anywhere else! Then there were the times we saw Snow-white on the "view-master" a kind-of stereoscope from previous decades, and the time he gave me a set of star charts and instruments to identify constellations with (thus sowing seeds for the eternal star-gazer in me!). He also had a bunch of sing-along routines, and little games- things we shall fondly remember him by.

But more than any of this, the connection I felt with him was in letters. Words. Books. It was to some extent an unspoken connection- he would simply talk about how good a book was when he saw me reading it or give me one when I entered his room. It is hard to explain the depth of kinship two people can feel by reading a great piece of literature- but I can tell this bond went beyond blood or genes, forged by the melody of ink and the smell of paper. I shall remember him with every book I pick from a store, with every line of poetry I appreciate, because this was not the bond with a man who gave a fish, but with a man who taught me to fish instead.

In fact, even when I felt the utmost sorrow at his loss, I could hear him say I should learn from this as well- that every event is but an opportunity to learn and inch closer to perfection. And so, even though I am consumed by the love that only a starry-eyed granddaughter can harbor for her dearest grandparent, I bid him a goodbye trying not to regret all that I forgot to ask him, all that I forgot to say, but trying to remember all that I should learn from his life; for he was more than just a grandparent to me- he was one of my first best friends. And ever one of my best teachers.

I will sorely miss you thaatha; and though I have tried my best, I cannot find the words to express completely what I feel right now... So let me just promise you I will try to ensure that the values you lived and taught shall live on...

R.I.P. R.A.P.!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I did not find this interesting till I reached the question this girl asks at the end. It sends chills down your spine.

Remember the good old times when people used to post content on the net without telling you what to think about it? Me neither.
What, why are you still looking at me like I am 80 years old just because I asked that question? I admit I am a little old-fashioned sometimes. Not old really. Ah well, there WAS a part of my life with no internet, but let's pretend I didn't just say that, and move on.

You have seen this on buzzfeed. And cracked. And distractify. And upworthy. And of course, facebook- the mother of all social nonsense. There is usually a video with the link showing a very beautiful woman or an unbelievably scary (heart-wrenching. I said heart-wrenching) photo of someone dying. And the link reads something like this: "Listen till 0:40. I promise you that moment will change your life forever."  
I see it and usually go "Dude. Do you know what I have gone through in my life? Do you even know what life-'changing' means? I don't count Dawkins as life-changing, though in fact reading Dawkins has influenced me a great deal." 

And hearing a kid talk about donations or seeing photos of people who look vaguely similar (not even exactly the same) is life-changing?! (Minor technicality: I actually like that kid, though I disagree with him. What I don't like are the adjectives they use to describe him. Like in the picture above. With 4 consecutive sentences that finish in 'ever'! And I don't even want to start on the "danciest dance breakdown". Dancy is NOT an adjective. And is the last name of a very good looking actor. Seriously, who hires these writers? :-/ )

Or you see a link like this one:.  

As if it was a day-to-day occurrence for a man to hug a wild lion. Wait, did you say wild lion? As opposed to what? Your neighbour's pet lion?
Besides, I was one of those who believed in unicorns along with Agnes. How do YOU know I won't believe what happens next in your "wild" lion video? To tell you the truth, I think people have changed the rules of grammar by now. The "you won't believe what happens next" is an alternative for the period (aka full-stop) in modern day punctuation.
Anyway. You might wonder why this kinda thing even affects me. The internet has so much junk anyway. You see, the problem is that it is not just facebook that is filled with the I-have-a-lame-article/link-but-I-should-make-you-click-on-it-so-let-me-use-hyperbole-to-say-it's-awesome brigade. Every website you visit is filled with an army of lamer-than-Ravi-Shastri adjectives making it very hard to find decent content online.

First of all, I don't like being told what to think of something before being told the thing. What do humans have brains with frontal lobes for- to copy-paste your opinion?

Second is, of course, the army-of-adjectives. An article titled "20 touching dog gifs" tells the reader what to expect. But "40 best dog gifs of all time which will make you cry for your lost childhood?" That's just crap. Did someone say hyperbole? Good you mentioned.
See I don't hate hyperbole. It is not my device of choice, but it's good sometimes. (Like with Ogden Nash. Or Oatmeal. And no, I don't know why both my examples start with an 'O'.) However, when everyone insists on using the superlative form of adjectives for everything, you kinda go like this:

Oh, and before I am done. What's with all these lists? In the last month alone, people shared all the following links on my fb- '19 reasons why long distance relationships are better than you think', 'Why your long distance relationship is totally worth it', 'What a long distance relationship feels like' and '12 steps to surviving one'. For sometime, I thought it is like the long-distance month or something. Or maybe they ran out of topics. And what's worse? All of them from buzzfeed.


A list is a beautiful writing device. Organize your content, list them in points and hit the nail. I used to love lists in articles because it makes the content much easier to remember. But when a list of 40 is made by rephrasing the same sentence 40 times, and then that is copied into 4 different articles- well, it is killing the list. In fact, these days, I simply refuse to read lists.

Pre-deciding the opinion, hyperbole, lists... well, enough ranting for the day. And if you were wondering, The India Hangover -Part 2 is on its way.


What? The question? No, there is no question in the end. That was obviously a hook. You knew it. Of course, I could have been kind and made up a lame question. Or I could have called this article "41 reasons why the internet should stop making lists like this one", and then made 41 points out of 1 or 2 and numbered them from 1 to 41. But you see they are the most inane techniques ever. They are so air-headed you could fill a million Helium balloons with them. Wait, did I mention the hyperbole? The most-overused and worst device EVER?