Monday, 10 August 2009

Fifty. And Counting.

Mambakkam is a sleepy hamlet two hundred kilometers south of Chennai, smack in the heart of what was once the Pallava Empire. The five-hundred strong settlement is an Indian village straight out of a Bharatiraja movie- the idyllic picture complete with a large pond adorned with lilies of an enchanting shade of cream. Our own bungalow was a pleasant yellow- the only concrete structure in the vicinity apart from the Pillayar Kovil to be allowed the luxury of paint. The house was in a mesmerizing state of ruin, perennially sporting a captivating fragrance that was a fusion of agarbattis, moss and cow-dung.

My favourite part of the house was an unusually long verandah, no wider than a couple of metres. The walls on both sides were lined by portraits and photo-frames from over the ages haphazardly nailed on the bluish-white walls- a picture of Grandma’s wedding ceremony and another of her father's graduation stood cheek by jowl. There was a haunting feeling, a sense of defying death, perhaps, about those fifty-odd black-and-white images that never quite left me.

I have always found photography fascinating. It is strange how it only takes a piece of paper and some fancy equipment to freeze a moment in time, sealed from the drills of age and death that we mortals are put through. Summer after summer, I'd catch Granny spending hours looking up, misty-eyed, at the frames and smiling at the unseeing eyes; taking her own sweet jaunts down memory lane. Occasionally, I'd even spot a tear or two. Having seventy years of your life stare down at you from a wall can be a daunting experience, I suppose.

True to its coastal location, the rains haunt Mambakkam with a numbing regularity. Yet, strangely enough, the village is caught unawares every single time, welcoming each spurt as if it were the first. Nothing could have prepared the hamlet for the cyclone that struck it late last year, though. I always thought the telephone poles the Government installed all over the village in the late 90's were an anachronism- the only eyesores in an otherwise perfectly medieval setting. The poles did little to improve their standing in my eyes when one of them was uprooted by the cyclone and landed right in the middle of my ancestral home, taking with it the verandah and the images and stories it withheld.

Much to my own disbelief, it has been fifty posts since I first decided to encroach on a few megabytes of webspace (two posts were subsequently deleted, if you're wondering why the numbers on the right don't add up). As clich├ęd as it might sound, the last forty-nine posts have all, to varying degrees, been steps on that long journey to self-discovery. I have often been asked why I wrote- not always out of exasperation, I must add. A few even ventured explanations of their own; the Bulk's 'Glory-Blogger' theory undoubtedly the most popular of the lot. I, for one, believe the asnwer lay somewhere in that verandah. I have always felt an inexplicable sense of warmth while wallowing in nostalgia- that huge void inside slips into oblivion, for a few wonderful moments. I think my posts have all, in one way or another, been patchy attempts to recreate my beloved verandah. Some day, I will look back at all this. And smile.

Monday, 3 August 2009


I have always found the gulf between theory and practice quite annoying. On paper, I could write ballads on the backhand- from Steffi Graf’s one-handed sliced backhand to Safin’s perfectly controlled two-hander. Yet, when I stood holding a racquet for the very first time on R-Land’s concrete courts, I skied twelve consecutive balls over the 20-foot high fence and onto the adjacent football ground. In another sport, my strokes would have been lauded by all and dubbed homeruns, sixers and whatnot. Tennis, sadly, has never been the most logical of games.

Over the years, many a wide-eyed kid has called me his role model and thanked me no end for inspiring him to achieve whatever little he managed to achieve in his miserable life. Without a hint of sarcasm, mind you. The mantle of the role model fell on my shoulders again that forgettable Friday evening. A small crowd had gathered around to watch the barrage of projectiles that I was sending over the hedge with unerring accuracy. ‘Look! That guy is in 4th year and he’s still worse than us,’ I heard one of the kids whisper, clutching his racquet with a newfound vigour. I had half a mind to give the bloke a sermon on geriatric wisdom and how tennis wasn’t one of the many fields it encompassed. I decided against it though, lest the R-word be brought up all over again.

You know you are older than you'd like to be when your playlist has more songs of John Denver than Nirvana. I turned twenty one a fortnight ago. It feels like seventy one, to quote the words Darth Canine used on his twenty-first. It is a strange thing to say, but for the first time in life, I feel terribly old. It isn't the mature, coming-of-age old. It's more a nostalgic, 'those were the days' brand of old. More's the pity.

As I languidly empty the contents of my sixth cup of coffee in as many hours, the matkas in the neighbouring canopy are busy planning their campaigns for the impending elections. The PM household is going about doing their thing. A long-haired fresher is humming Linkin Park’s latest, twirling his fingers into a range of convoluted positions while he did so. A couple is recreating a scene straight out of a chicklit novel- giggles exchanged, hands entwined, sweet nothings whispered- the whole nine yards.

Ever the silent spectator, I watch the motley crowd go about their business, constantly reminded of that timeless dialogue from Lethal Weapon- ‘I’m too old for this stuff.’