Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Debajo de mi lengua"*

*a note on the title

Eight months - it'd been over eight months since my last post. I certainly wasn't lacking possible blog material, between the feisty monkeys of Kathmandu, the chilling drizzle of Bremen, the antics of my too-cute nephew, and the tourist-infested DC metro leading up to the presidential inauguration.... So why the long silence? Or should the question be why interrupt that silence now? ...or should I not bother questioning either? Huh.

The fact that there was a vague response to yesterday's post got me thinking (both in terms of a few comments kindly tossed my way and in terms the unavoidable viewer count). More to the point, Blogger's informing me of which posts had been viewed is what further got me thinking. For instance, somewhere in the world yesterday, someone stumbled on to this little blast from the past, and this one too. How'd they end up there? I'll add regarding that first one, by the bye, that I am by now a frequent user of my very own yoga mat, though I still don't partake in the non-judging of muscle kinks at the end of the session. Odd.

But I digress. Eight months is a fair bit of time. It's been far longer since I last wrote, read, or thought about those aforementioned posts, which made re-reading them now an interesting little exercise in recall and self-analysis. Heh... Thus my pausing to ask myself what happened - kya hua? Anything? Maybe it isn't entirely coincidental that that last July post sounds so much like a potential goodbye. Or again, should the question rather be why now, aside from the inspirational "shizzy" remark of the great and powerful Oz mentioned yesterday?

So many questions, always so many questions. The minute these ones came to mind, though, as I sat cross-legged with my right hand well-curried in the midst of breakfast chai and roti, my thoughts immediately went from blogging to people. Is there some breaking point in our conversations? Can or should it happen, or be allowed to happen, that at some point there's just too much to say? We fall silent, with little idea of where to go from here. Be it a new acquaintance, an old and dear one, a conflicted one... the deafening silence of it all. It can be enough to make you laugh or cry, want to hit someone or hug them all at the same time, search your brain for what to say or run off and maintain the silence as it is; it's easier that way. ...Isn't it?

Don't get me wrong, I love silence. If there's an empty roof or balcony nearby and I go missing, it's likely because I've gone off to occupy it. A cockroach pulled me out of my reverie on the hostel rooftop earlier this week, but I press on! Still, these questions are there, even in that deafening silence. But for now... for now, it's nice to see you again.

*"Debajo de mi lengua," or, directly translated, "under my tongue," is a favorite of mine by Julieta Venegas. Debajo de mi lengua se escondan las palabras... se esconderan mis miedos... etc. Here's a rough translation of the lyrics for ya.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arey, yaar - main India mein hoon

Under the rattling fan, my mattress snuggly covering the remaining floor space of the hostel room, one bleary eye peaked down at my frantically blinking phone. It was 4am in Bangalore, and I was awake enough to be pulled in by the unusual number of alerts then calling my attention. Over half a dozen emails at this time of day - something must've happened. Sure enough, Latin America is now short one notorious Venezuelan.

The NYT "breaking news" update awaiting me was enough to have me popping up in bed, freakishly alert while the other girls snoozed around me. Must see the news! Must tweet! Forgetting the fact that it was then going on a rather muggy 5am, I switched into twitter mode and was quickly engaged in a brief back-and-forth to the East Coast (damn time zones). The resulting 140-character-or-under updates led me here, thanks to the concluding comment of one ever-eloquent and inspiring fellow: "You best be blogging that shizzy!" I promised I would, so long as he kept the word "shizzy" somewhere in his repertoire.

It's been a while, my dear blogosphere you. Now don't feel jilted, I've tossed around the idea of a new post now and again, even drafted a few, but the Cancerian in me ran from sharing mode before the mouse could reach "Post." That, and there's my on-going conflict with writing: the necessary belief that what I have to say is somehow worth your taking the time to read it. Serendipitous, maybe, but my last post seemed a suiting final word anyway.

But then, writing is a never-ending process - a bit masochistic, that whole business. In any case. July to now has carried me through the end of my time in India, brief visits to Nepal, Germany, and DC, wandering and working in DC, and, most recently, back to India. So now that we're all caught up... let the games begin.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"anywhere i go you go..." -e.e. cummings

Somehow it’s always in the wee hours that my mind starts really going. While I sit snacking on cold spaghetti and watching “Who’s the Boss” in the living room, friends snore comfortably in the two adjoining rooms of this newly-acquired Chennai flat. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently filtered through all of my contacts, having discovered a shocking mass of them when I switched to a new phone a few days ago. Maybe it’s the too-cute 35 second clip my sister-in-law just posted of my baby niece, far away back home, rolling over with her mother’s encouragement in the background. …It’s the little things. But then, when it comes to people, it often is.

I haven’t been around all that long; last week marked the successful completion of a brief 22 years. In that time – the past few especially – what strikes me most are the people. That ever-growing list of contacts that has collected itself on my shiny new phone.

Pennsylvania, DC, Ghana, Denmark, India, and everywhere in between. The ones I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through thick and thin, and the ones I wish I knew better. The ones I know I’ll see for years to come, and the ones I’ll likely never see again. The ones I haven’t seen or talked to in ages, but could never forget…. They’re all there, floating around back here in the slightly misty chasm that is my head late at night.

Too many words, stories, and memories are floating around back there as well; it’s difficult to get a grip on them all and pull them down to the ground, line them up. They’re simply not meant to be lined. The connections with these people certainly aren’t neatly aligned. We’ve met in the most dull, bizarre, exciting, and awkward of moments. We’ve shared, given, and received words of happiness and pain, times of care and of frustration. Some of those times we’d give anything to relive, and some we might prefer to forget. Each of those people are there, though, and each with a story (several with innumerable stories).

My mind almost reels as it goes through the vast mental rolodex, spending plenty of time on some cards and carefully talking myself into putting aside others. Even those few that are set to the side, though, probably won’t be there for long until my subconscious comes by and picks them up again – my streak of OCD cleaning generally applies to people, too. I’m absolutely terrible at just setting them aside and leaving them there.

In less than a month, it will be time to pack my bags and head out – for now. I don’t make a habit of sticking around one place for terribly long (always recalling a friend’s “vision in passing” comment), but I have a feeling I’ll soon be back to this one. And either way, the people back home, here, and in between seem to follow me from place to place, whether any of us realize it at the time or not… 

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Watching... with millions of questions..."

Funny thing: I've thought about blogging quite a bit lately and actually began a post about a week ago, but then got into conversation about the topic in mind (South and/vs North India/ns, in short) and decided it was far too much to be digested into a blog post at the moment. heh... In any case, hello to all; still alive and well. Most recently, I've kept myself busy driving out to Bangalore for a weekend wedding and later making a day-trip to Mahabalipuram, a little over an hour south of Chennai and home to Pallavan Dynasty temples (roughly 700 BCE) now listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. The town also tends to serve as an escape for those feeling otherwise trapped in Chennai, but for now I focused on the UNESCO side of things.

What finally pushed me into this post, however, is something much simpler and briefer: a Facebook comment (shake your head in disappointment if you will). After seemingly perusing my latest photos from "Mahabs," a friend turned to photos posted a year ago, while I was working in Denmark. He asked where it was and a few basic cultural questions, and I responded. Then he said something which, once I got over the potential creepy sound of it, was rather interesting: "You became [a] very knowledgeable girl. That is good. When I met you first time, you were a little girl, which eyes were watching the surrounding with millions of questions. Now you are not anymore that little girl. Hahaha" ...I met him in the winter of 2009.

Keeping it brief, for the sake of efficiency and in the interest of sleep: I sincerely hope we can all still be described as having eyes that watch our surroundings with millions of questions. ...that, at least, I hope I've maintained, and strive to maintain. Thank goodness there's always more to be seen, and always more to be asked. Otherwise, we might as well be in a Simon and Garfunkel song, eh?

As for things I've had the pleasure of seeing recently, though, the online albums as they currently stand: a few Bangalore photos have been added to the recent Chennai album uploads, and Mahabs called for its own album entirely. Passing an elephant on the road back from Bangalore, however, had to be one of my favorite moments. heh...

Chennai/Bangalore: online album here
Mahabalipuram: and here

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Randomness in Chennai (and a bit of Bangalore)

Admittedly, I'm overdue on posting, I know. Safe to say it's been a bit busy. Currently in between projects at Eureka, I've done some meandering around Chennai, taken a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Bangalore with friends, and a few things in between. Plenty of chai and coffee, dosas and chutneys, mutton (read: goat, in this case) biryani, and some shwarma here and there. Oh, eesh, and at one point, goat brain and sparrow. They truly shouldn't have told me it was goat brain *before* my trying it, though I do think I should get extra points for still trying it. Props on the spicing, but the texture was just... bah. The sparrow was entirely safe and tasty, though I felt about as guilty as I did the first time I tried lamb. 

In any case, the photos. Scenes around Chennai and a late night stop for biryani en route to Bangalore, etc. Ah, and a recent front page of the Chennai edition of The Hindu, attempting one of the things I most hate to see: numbering and ranking intelligence. A topic for another day.

On the lighter side of this weekend, have to say, I found myself pulling up to a huge beach house turned private Tamil club and after-party, complete with DJs, dance floor, fog machine, and private bar. Chennai closes at 11 only for those who don't know where to go next - and my DJ friend knew where to go. I watched in awe and amazement; absolutely blew my mind. It was like a cultural treasure-trove in the midst of an otherwise notoriously conservative society.... Don't worry, Mom, I was too busy gawking at the underworld Tamil party scene to get into any trouble. Don't worry about the non-mehndi-ed hand, either; I just lacked grace one morning getting off the bus. Things happen. :P 


Friday, May 11, 2012

Ladies' Night, x3

As the clerk of the next-door grocery shop commented the other day, many of the girls from the hostel have by now left for summer break, some replaced by largely unknown newcomers and some to return in June or July when classes recommence. In the meantime, we’ll be maintaining a small but solid group of three: Ritika (who dates back to the Holi celebration), my roommate Sumedha, and myself. Alas, we had no choice but to see off the last of the former group, Akhila, as she flew back to Bombay on Monday – but not without a three-day sendoff bash.

In Chennai, “ladies night” is seemingly ubiquitous. Pick a night of the week, and you’ll likely be able to find several bars, clubs, lounges, or restaurants offering free entry and free drinks for women. The free entry, of course, is not out of the norm, as cover fees are (so I hear) pretty much nonexistent for we feminine folk. Next along the line of cover charges are couples, trailed by stags, who often seem to either pay rather exorbitant entrance fees or be denied entirely unless accompanied by a female or, in some cases, a couple. Quite the “clubbing” culture, eh?

Akhila’s sendoff weekend began at the nearby Park hotel, where we’d earlier discovered a worthy sushi platter at 601, the house restaurant whose falafel has since won my lasting appreciation. Across the lobby, we raised our glasses to the start of the weekend in Leather Bar on Friday night. Soon joined by Sumedha, we wandered across the parking lot to Pasha’s to fulfill the girls’ entreaty for dancing before heading back to the hostel. Note: Chennai pretty much closes down by 11pm. Sad but true.

Snacking, sleeping, lunching, chatting, then ultimately to Blend to meet up with other friends on Saturday. Snacking, sleeping, lunching, chatting, and a few whirlwind errands, then it was off to 10 Downing Street for “Bollywood Night” and a midnight birthday dinner/celebration on Sunday. I tell ya, it’s not every day you sit at a table of 8, all donned in bright pink paper Barbie caps (men and women alike, Ritika-ordained), passing around chicken and birthday cake before breaking into a cappella Bollywood songs, rounded off by "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

And really, who doesn’t enjoy ending an evening with a cup of chai, masala khakra, and a bit of roof climbing? We certainly do.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


En route to the Koyembedu bus stand, my cab driver kept his phone on loudspeaker while the woman on the other end gradually went from rapid-fire, trembling Tamil to outright crying, speaking in gasping bursts. The driver sat silently listening, while I sat behind him silently entreating. Say something… say something… say something… say something! Nothing. Phone rings and he refuses the call. And again. And again. Heart aches for them both…
A family of five clambered onto the bus several hours into the journey, filing down the aisle to the back row, where the one empty seat on the bus – beside me – was quickly occupied by the veiled matriarch. Periodically she’d reach down to the youngest, hoist him into her lap, and exchange smiles and pecks on the cheek. During our snack break outside of Bangalore, the oldest daughter shyly worked up the courage to approach me, her mother smiling from behind. Where was I from, where was I going? And if you’re going all the way to Goa, do please eat here, as there will be no dinner stop in Bangalore… 
We called each other back and forth, this friend of a cousin of a friend. Having met with trip fiasco en route, I’d had little choice but to get off the bus in Bangalore shortly after 10pm. The nameless friend coordinated with my auto driver, retrieved me to drive the last leg, and led me right up to the elevator, instructing me to go to the fourth floor, turn left, and knock. There, I was immediately welcomed by more smiling strangers, the aunt and uncle of a friend in Hyderabad. The next morning, as she served me a third(!) dosa, Auntie asked my name. I had already slept there, joined her in the kitchen while she cooked the remaining batter, and brokenly discussed our families. Here they were giving me a place to sleep, welcoming me with smiles and a laden plate, and they didn’t even know my name. I still don’t know their names, beyond Uncle and Auntie. In the afternoon, having assured that I’d booked a ticket back to Chennai, the couple hailed an auto, gave the driver stern and specific instructions, and sent me off with a brick of sweets, a phone number, smiles, and a warm squeeze of the hand…
It’s the human factor. The crying woman, the family, the friend, the couple. Strangers whose very humanness suddenly seem to make everything ok. I’m not about to say “strangers are friends you haven’t met yet,” recalling a past comment on how that can land you in prison or some such thing, but finding the humanity in people, wherever you are – now that’s something, and it’s something you can find anywhere. Or rather, it finds you. No matter what’s happened or happening, no matter what has brought you there or what awaits you, these seemingly small things can bring a smile and a breath of peace. Even if it’s just one moment of reassurance, it’s more than enough to keep you going. To quote Aamir Khan’s “all izz well”: it may not solve the problem, but it gives you the courage to face it. It may only be that moment, but it gives you the strength to keep going and, if you’re listening, inspires you to return the favor sometime, just by holding on to that all-important thread of humanity.