Friday, November 21, 2008

cat and mouse

the grand old man and his grand nephews continue to play the cat and mouse game.

Like a bolt from blue, the old man wrote a cover story in his party organ today lamenting the betrayal of two little boys who used to walk with him holding his hand from the time he was chief minister for the first time.

his grouse is that the brothers continue to tarnish the image of his party. the latest episodes being the near total recast of the campus violence near the gate of the grand old government law college in the high court premises and the targetting of none other than the dalit minister who has come as a replacement of the younger brother and escaping unscathed in a supposedly huge telecom scam with navika going back to what she was doing late last century, pulling out documents from DoT.

As usual, the old man had written the piece the morning before and stayed at the daily's office till noon proof reading the copy. No one is sure why he chose to write the piece titled: `kodiya vethanai - kumurum nenjam' roughly translated by our political correspondent as `cruel agony - anguished heart'. Elaborating how the Maran's cheated by sharing only 100 crore from sun's shares, the old man gave a clean chit to his elder son in the attack on the office of a daily owned by the brothers in temple town killing three and signed off uncharacteristically by releasing pictures of broken walls, windows and dirty toilet left behind by the brothers when the left the party headquarters to move into a new office for the number one television channel of tamils for the first time since its launch decades ago.

It was an incomplete article and everyone expected the old man to follow it up with a second part. Meanwhile, the elder brother, the media baron who shies away from media, issued a statement through his younger one, pleading innocence, accusing a few in the DMK camp, read azhagiri and arcot veerasamy, of pushing him to write such malicious article tarnishing the maran pride.

As the blabber-mouthed younger maran told a motely gang of media, the statement was self-explanatory. It told the old man that it was him who asked them to buy the daily, whose survey that threw marans out of the first family, as the party needed a mouth-piece. Stating that he was willing to sustain crores as loss, the elder brother reminded that the daily, however, will never be a mouth-piece to be a profitable venture in future. The shrewd man he is, kala has not said anything about the origins of sun satellite channel, the bete-noire of the tamils. Sometime back, when someone asked the elder brother if his channel was floated from the funds of the party, he jumped to his feet and before the reporter could come back to his office, he had called up the paper's chairman. The story was killed and the bureau-chief pulled up for his mis-chief!

The statement shows that the brothers are yet at work in fueling fire within the first family. According to it, the survey to the political heir of the old man was published thinking that he will be happy as his smiling son got the lion's share of votes (followed by others - read as the younger brother).

When the government bus was burnt in the temple town, a phone call from chennai, perhaps the duke of darkness, told the agitators to attack the daily office if the daily had carried the survey and not target government property. The elder brother also states that if the old man had wanted the cabinet post in the centre, the younger would have resigned from office immediately, thus indirectly bringing in the sister into the picture as well. It shows that the brothers are at it again, and unrelenting. The media savvy younger one was not interested in answering questions.

``do you want a controversy?'' he said when asked what next before disappearing through the front door of his white-washed house by the riverside in the poshest locality in the city.

Guess, what the old man is doing. he will be scratching his fertile brain to write a fitting reply sooner or later. while the party is intact, the image of the first family has taken a severe beating in the feud that involves the nephews.

think of what is in store when the silent war waged by the old man's sons spills out into the open. there could be lawlessness and violence within the party. as my ex-boss said this is a party with an inner democracy.

Till the sons fight, the old man and his nephews can continue playing cat and mouse as both still think, even if it is slightly, that they need each other. Of course, you can't expect politics and business to have mutual respect. Both play the game, dirty.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


another unpublished one... for the fear of arrests...


``It is for you to tell me.''

Thus he replied thus to a question about how he viewed the functioning of the 14th Assembly in an interview marking his 50 years as legislator. Taking this as a cue, Team TOI, a year later, takes the courage to tell the people that the present Assembly has a long way go to fulfill its duties and responsibilities to the people through meaningful dialogue.

Definitely, the Government has been highly democratic as time and again the Opposition gets more time to talk on issues than the ruling party but the dialogue, meaningful and purposeful, has been highly lacking in the proceedings. The members take time to thank their leaders, reel out a set of demands for the people of their constituencies and mostly finish it in style by taking on the opposite side. Suggestions are hard to come by.

Somewhere, the need to resolve issues on urban and rural infrastructure, demand for housing in cities, lack of minimum support price for the farmers, rain water harvesting and a great irrigation network, failure to improve the quality of higher education, social equity and cultural revival, and many more critical issues, go amiss. It is true that the populist, welfare government is doing its bit in everything but collectively we are falling short.

Here are the characters that add colour to the house.

Philosopher King

Fifty years and still young, at heart and at the assembly. After keeping away from the assembly for five years during the previous rule, Karunanidhi, reclining in the comfort of his seat, enjoys the proceedings with pride and joy. Like a judicious king, he intervenes only when necessary and at other times keeps to himself, especially when there is a discussion on the Tigers. Likes to retreat into the confines of the Spring Hall (Vasantha Mandapam) to rest, do a bit of personal work. Of course, he will be listening the house all the time and sends notes now and then clarifiying and keeping the facts correct. A veteran in the house, the chief minister probably is the only legislator to have known and read from Plato's Philosopher Kings to Karl Marx's dialectical materialism. We presume, he also has read Jeremy Bentham. For, his government strives to bring ``the greatest happiness to the greatest number''.

Conscience Keeper

As floor leader and as the finance minister of the welfare state, the oldest member of the house sits dignity personified. More than the rules of the house, he knows the conventions like the back of his hand. Both he follows and expects, with eagerness, other members to adhere to the customs of the house. Another veteran, the man fondly called professor by his partymen is humble enough to admit in the house that he was only an assistant professor. Only under extreme provocation will he utter a word wrong, that too, in his, characteristic, measured voice.

School Teacher

From Day One, the Honourable Speaker has been a bundle of surprise. In fact, not many thought that this no-nonsense lawyer from down south will occupy the Chair and conduct the proceedings of the prestigious assembly. True to the democratic spirit of the house, the Speaker has been tolerant to a great extent. At times, he finds it difficult to handle the Opposition and orders the security to evict them en masse.
Again, true to the expectations, the Chosen One has carried on like a strict school teacher. At times adamant but largely good-hearted.

Word Juggler

The house has very few wordsmiths. One is the deputy speaker. In the absence of the Chair, this friendly and jovial personality takes over the house and conducts the proceedings in a lighter vein encouraging everyone to speak up. He knows his language as well as the rules of the house. The members also get a minute or more to reel out their demands with this affable man acting as Speaker. May be, sometime in future he will sit in the Chair full-time.

One day Wonder

She visits the house for one day a year. She steals the show. All said and done, the Opposition leader is the most articulate and powerful speaker in the house full of orators. On that particular day, the Opposition MLAs, usually a riotous lot, go deaf and dumb. In a clear, ringing voice, she puts forth her arguments for an hour (credit should go to the ruling party for allowing her to speak herself out). She could do a great public service if she comes to the house regularly, participates in the proceedings, and lends her valuable constructive criticism. Forget it. She has this habit of leaving the house as soon as she finishes her speech.

The Yes Man and No Man.

Both can be brilliant but have been on the sidelines in their respective parties for long. Alliance whip is a voracious reader. With a good understanding in many subjects, Alphonse's pointed speeches, punctuated with arguments and reasonable evidence, in the house have delighted the ruling combine, specially the chief minister and at the same time the ire of the Opposition. More than the Ministers, the Opposition has repeatedly revealed that Congress whip should not talk on certain issues knowing that it could be under fire.

The Opposition whip, on the other hand, can be very adamant to prove a point or keep the assembly records straight when it comes to critical issues concerning the image of the party. One can find an unrelenting him, egging on deputy opposition leader, to stand up and raise the issue till the Speaker settles it amicably and favourably. If not, expect him to lead the party on one of those frequent walk-outs.

Back Benchers

The House has its set of back-benchers and the wannabe ministers from the Opposition. They do follow the rules and regulations of the house but could not be contained in peace for long periods. Now and then, one of them will air a comic comment around pretending that the house did not notice. Knowing well their tantrums, the Speaker, magnanimously, keeps it going. There are times when these former ministers would continue to speak, at times, even without the mike to prove a point or two. Invariably, the comments will have to be expunged and the commentators pardoned.

Sleeper Class

It may sound harsh to call the second row of the treasury bench as II-nd Class Sleeper. Like in any train journey, the travellers of this class mostly talk to themselves and are happy travelling together and being part of a delightful journey. Only when there is an enquiry, they give a reply. Gold Southking is enterprising. The Beauty Doll can ridicule the Opposition. The Shoulder Man can be pricky and the Wrestler, funny. Others are by and large silent companions.


He is the minister with the power. Apart from holding the power portfolio, Brave God, the party strongman, keeps the alliance in good spirit and answers to most questions in the absence of the Chief Minister in the House. He sounds soft but is very firm. Patiently, he would listen to the arguments and charges of the Opposition but makes sure that his is the last word. By his polite talk, he, sort of, convinced the house that there was no big power failure last winter despite the truth being that the State, barring Chennai, sweated it out during an unprecedented power-cut.


He is not just the rising sun but also the smiling son. He sits there with a rare calm not in the tradition of his party. In the House, he speaks less. Basically, he is a listener. It is this trait that makes him superior to most and that allows him to stay calm under pressure (that is verbal attack from the Opposition). With a smile, he would take it. Meanwhile, the secretaries would be hurrying through piles of paper, calling up districts and in general running around to get the details so that the minister could give the reply the same day itself. Always, he gives his reply in the same session. Mostly fitting.


Son's trusted lieutenant, the Higher Education Minister is the firebrand of the ruling party. In the previous Assembly, only he had the guts to take on chief minister Jayayalalithaa. He was often evicted for his plain speaking then. In power now, this daring (former) teacher literally spews fire on the Opposition and can't take anything beyond the tolerable limits. In fact, he has a special liking for the former education minister and has subdued him into silence in the last year or so.

The Ticklers

The trio, Uncle, Big God and Butter Wealth, have been there for quite sometime as the second line leadership of the ruling party and second time ministers now. Even if they are not the best orators in the Dravidian sense, the trio often help the house slide into a lighter vein while answering queries of the members individually. Whenever any one of them stand up to give a fitting reply, expect a round of laughter going around.

Me, Mr Perfect

The Food Minister, who has had a meteoric rise in the ruling party, likes the members to believe that his ministry is run perfect. Only there are not many believers as each member has a first hand experience of the functioning of the ration shops and the open secret that is rice smuggling. Neverthless, he never gives up and comes up with proof, often statistics, as soon as possible to counter charges.

Picture Perfect

The Left is largely left alone to speak on issues concerning labour, patta for the poor, manual scavenging, in essence social issues. On any day, expect the CPM leader to talk on Tirupur's plight and the CPI leader on delta farmers. The Left has a one point agenda. Let us be pro-poor to make sure they are not left out of the development process in the liberalised economy. That sentence probably sums it up.

True Followers

With the legislative party leader CM's erstwhile Krishna unable to attend most of the sessions due to his health condition, the MDMK camp works rather silently. Often invoking the name of DMK founder Anna and his ideals, the MDMK MLAs stick to issue based support for policies. But whenever the AIADMK stage a walk-out, the MDMK, its only ally in the house also walks out for some reason or other. Strange.


``Speaker Sir.'' No one else in the Assembly takes to his feet and calls the Speaker more than this Congress MLA. Anything related to power sharing, government action (rather inaction) on LTTE, Hogenakkal water scheme, taking a dig at the previous government, more privileges for the members and many more. He is there. On his feet. To speak on any subject.

The Planter

The Hillside MLA may not like him to be called a planter. For, he is against the planters. This dark and dimunitive man has been raising the issue of wages for lakhs of plantation workers paid lower than those working few miles across the border in Kerala. Often, he brings the tea packets to substantiate his speeches and at times brings the labourers as well to the chamber of the Law Minister. Till now, his demands have not been met. But he always takes delight and pride in another achievement of his. Giving the most number of questions in every session. No one has beat him on that score till now.

the list can grow….

Thursday, October 02, 2008

wild, wild west.

On the second day of the world wildlife week, I thought of writing a series of stories on wildlife renting the forests of the state. Some of them are incredible, some imaginary. Well-told wild stories could delight children. This first one is a favourite of my daughters…

The Black Panther.

This is an interesting story of a forest watcher’s encounter with a black panther in the wild, wild west. In the Tamil country, west is the western ghats, one of world’s biodiversity hotspots, is truly an abode of wildlife.

Top Slip is a tourist hotpsot in Anaimalai, literally meaning Elephant Hills, in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary. It was from here, the British used to roll down teaks that would drift in the rivers and carried to Cochin to be exported to England.

Apart from the elephants, tiger, leopards, and Nilgiri tahr, the state animal, Anaimalai is home to a host of tribes. Anyone visiting the isolated village of malai malasars will think they are in the Dark Continent for these tribals share the facial symmetry of the First Ones.

Of the tribes, Irulas are the most common and mainstreamed. Natarajan is a favourite for wildlife enthusiasts. He is a born birder. When he was a young child, he used to stand below the sky-reaching trees staring at sounds of birds. The tribe thought that he has lost his mind. In fact, he had, in a sense and in essence, lost his body and soul to the wild.

It was up to the greatest birder of the sub-continent, Salim Ali, to discover the birder in the tribal. When Ali visited the sanctuary, he sought the company of someone who knew the habitat well. Natarajan was the chosen one as he knew the season and places where most of the 250 species of birds nested, including the hornbills, the pride of the sanctuary. Ali presented him a binocular. His prized possession till date.

Nataraj went on to be the field guide to nine research scholars tracing the life of reptiles, amphibians, birds, fishes, elephants and big cats. Whenever we were there, he was our guide too. To have him as a guide, there is only one requirement. One should walk non-stop for miles and hours.

One night, when we decided to climb the karian shola, filled with fear, he shared the story of his encounter with black panther and how his elder son saved his life. It was his school going son, Murugan, named after the Hill God, and perhaps the only native of Tamils from the pantheon of gods of the country. In the nearby hill, the child god stood in penance with only his underwear on. He could be one of those primitive tribal shepherd boy performing heroics to save his smallish community and venerated later by saints and poets.

Murugan climbed down the hill in a clattering bus to study in high school at the foothills and took the same bus back home early in the evenings. As he has seen most animals in pictures in the museum nearby his thatched house, Murugan was surprised to see a big black cat wriggling into the bushes at the first bend up hill. He told his father that he had seen a really big, black cat in the dry, thorny bushes.

Overcome by curiosity, Natarajan told his wildlife warden that he is going to keep a watch on the big cat and sought permission from his job as a watcher for few days. From the next day, Natarajan started spending his evenings near the first bend waiting for the big, black cat. On weekends, his elder son will also wait with him till darkness set in. For twenty two days, they had no luck. Only herds of elephants crossed the stretch on a few days. In the second week, a leopard was spotted. In the third week, they saw a tiger and a group of lion tailed macaque. But they had seen them all before. Finally, the father decided to call it quits but the son persisted and persuaded his father to stay put till the fourth weekend.

There they sat, on a stone by the side of the narrow, bartered, winding hilly road, leisurely without any expectation, breathing in the winter wind, when lightning struck on the western sky. And then walked the big, black cat, actually a black panther, lazily from under the silk tree, and, on to the bumpy-grumpy road.

The rattling last bus had climbed uphill half-an-hour ago and the forest was still. The father-son duo could neither believe their luck nor their eyes. They were the first ones to spot a black panther in the history of the sanctuary. The black panther watched both sides of the road, like a school boy trying to cross the road on an evening, and started stretching himself. He looked sleepy but sober and unsuspecting of the human presence.

Before lying himself down on the middle of the tarred road, the panther growled briefly. Watching the black panthers growling could chill ones blood. It can be one of those most frightening sights in the wild. On that tranquil day, the panther’s growling came as a pleasant surprise. It then yawned for what seemed to be an eternity and the big, black cat started sleeping peacefully as the setting sky drizzled down golden drops. With the wild within, the father and son wanted to have a closer look at the rare visitor.

The father and son split up. The father moved up by the side of the road crossing the panther and came back on to the road. The son was on this side of the road. Talking in wild language, both took the sleeping position like the panther on the middle of the road and slowly rolled towards the panther from either side.

``When we were ten feet close on each side, the black panther, smelling different, jumped up from sleep. We were terrified. I asked my son not to move and be still. The panther was not looking at him. I lay there before its eyes in my watcher’s khaki uniform. The big cat slowly stepped towards me growling. My heart stopped for a moment. Holding my breath, I lay there in prayer. When the panther came close to me and started sniffing around my body, my son jumped to his toes and started shouting,’’ a terrified-looking Natarajan told us.

Murugan shouted aloud: ``De, karum chiruthai. Nee enna periya evana? Un vala pidichu thooki adichuruven (hey, black panther. I will take you by your tail and throw you away).’’

``Caught unawares by a strange sound from the other side, the black panther looked confused. Now, I jumped up and shouted: `De puli, enna dhairiyam irundha en kittaye vaal attuve (hey panther, how dare you wag your tail to me). With commanding sounds from both sides, the black panther, sensing danger, vanished into the bushes under the tree in a jiffy.’’
Natarajan and his son walked back to the seven kilometre up the hill singing and dancing in unbridled joy. They had not only seen the big, black cat, but have even terrified it no ends.

Postscript: Try telling this story to your sons and daughters by you playing the role of black panther and them as the father-son duo, you sure will have a great time, especially when the black panther sniffs, they hold the breath, and when it runs for cover into the dark, they can’t stop giggling for a long time and everytime. By the way, when you take them on a trip to Top Slip, do show them the bushes near the silk tree at the first bend and the brilliant white eyes of the big-black cat watching them over. They will be delighted.

Monday, September 22, 2008

flowing silver, sea of sponge

For months, I have been thinking of this particular post. Four of us escaped from the newsroom to landmark. Amitav's reading session of his latest poppy. I have heard of him but never read him. The other three have enjoyed his prose thoroughly. I was promised a book to read by two.

We found him at the doorway. Dressed in white kurta, he stood there slantingly talking. His spongy, silvery hair stood out. I have never seen anything more spongy or silvery.

The man was as soft as the sponge with hair steely as silver. He read passages from his new book and took questions from a sea of admirers. The last time, I heard about him was at the time of launch of Hungry Tide. It was sunderbans that attracted me to read the reviews, mostly favourable. I did not get a chance to read the book. On hearing him read, it was evident that this man was reading from the forgotten, rather unknown, pages of the subcontinental history. Here is one writer working to enlighten the socio-cultural history the historians have not focussed on. Of course, his is a work of fiction. The canvas being history. Like him, I was more interested in knowing the history of those brave men and women who sailed as far as the west indies than the works of naipaul.

His reading was not impressive. It was a session to make people meet him. His readings will not sell even a single book. His writings will. In several thousands. I learnt it after reading the glass palace. It was one of those books which you finish without bothering to do anything else. I took three days to finish the book. From the time, Rajkumar said the British are bombing to toothless octagenarians' naked-hugging at the end of it all, it was time worth well spent.

Irawady river, Mandalay palace, the fort, beach and cemetry of Ratnagiri, the floating Rangoon, Morningside jungles, Calcutta culture, the chilling war, the flight of refugees, the siege, all written evocatively and the unsaid anninhilation of an egalitarian culture by crooked colonialism. The characters too remain deep inside. The King's distant eyes, the uncompromising Queen, the making of a feminist from a collector's wife, a little girl's thirst for the supreme state, a producer husband and a loving wife, all chronicled through the life of a poor boy rising to be a prince.

It was after a long time a book rekindled my passion for filming. The last time was while reading the city of joy. The story is tailor made. Only, one has to visualise. The creeking teashop on a treetop, a young boy presenting a jewellery to a bright eyed girl, the king with a binocular on top of a crumbling fort, the coach rider with his pregnant princess, two young men recruiting in andhra for work in burma, the capsized boat and the death of collector, a young liberal woman sailing in the pacific, the wooded house at morningside estate, the first photograph of a naked lover, the first officers in the army, a young producer hugging a wannabe actor in a cal studio, the bombings, the killings, the cruel images of the war, the interluding delight in wine and woman, the trampling of elephants, the mother sinking into the river, the fight for faith, the photograhper and his wife within walls, that peaceful face from being the prison gates, the train to ratnagiri, not to forget the naked-hugging and kissing of two old people, who hated each other for six decades, at the end.

The images are countless and the canvas breathtaking. Well, will me ever get to make a film?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Saving a crow, Raising the bar

This happened a month before the much awaited launch of Times of India in Chennai.


Timeless In Times.

It has been a week since we walked into Times House on Chamiers Road with the mandate to bring out a liberal paper, a great paper, an editorially flawless paper. One that would be both loved and respected, by the culturally conscious citizens of Chennai.
Late one afternoon, Sooraj D. Singh walked into the office looking for Priya M Menon, the person who cares for the voiceless, who has received awards for saving scores of soulful animals.
When he told her there was a crow was dangling from a kite string on a tree outside, she refused to take him seriously. "Come on stop bothering me, I have work to do," said Priya. "I tell you, it's hanging from a tall tree," he insisted. Then she realised that Sooraj was, for once, not telling tall tales. She went out to have a look and to her horror, she saw a crow hanging from a kite string from a coconut tree beside Times House.
It was close to five in the evening. Over the next hour, she was seen striding round the office, making calls, trying to find help. Some of us went out to look at the poor creature, some of us were too insensitive to even listen to her.
"One of its wings is caught in the string. It is a pathetic sight. I don't know how long the poor crow's been dangling there. It has to be rescued,'' she kept repeating.
Finally she tracked down Daniel -- the man who gave up eating chicken after becoming an animal rescuer -- of the Blue Cross. Priya waited nervously for the rescue team to arrive but it was past five and her son would have come home from school. She had to go. She went. With her heart dangling with the crow.
When it was getting pitch dark, a four men from Blue Cross arrived at our second floor office and asked for a torch. By this time, most of us, the insensitive, were leaving office, only to feel bad at home for not caring for the crow. As we trooped in the next morning, we all wanted to know what had happened to the poor crow.
Daniel tells us: "I was asked to come to Times House and oversee the rescue operations. I had three more persons to assist me. The crow was hanging from a very tall coconut tree. One of them tried climbing the tree but gave up as it was slippery from last night's rain.
He says the owners of the house allowed them to set up a makeshift tower on the terrace. "We used a big iron pole to untangle the crow from the kite string. The pole was heavy and two had to balance it. There was a chance that the rescuers could also fall from the terrace.
"Finally, we tied a stick to the pole and managed to rescue the bird. The crow fell to the ground. It looked dead but was barely alive. The doctors at the Blue Cross attended to it all morning." Daniel ends with, "I am sure, the crow would have died if we had not rescued it that night."
That crow's heart must still be beating. Our hearts too.
We care. Love.

PS: I thought this was page one anchor for launch!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Now and then, the soul of your story goes missing when it appears in the paper.

When the Indian Institute of Technology - Madras, IIT-M, celebrated golden jubilee in the cool comfort of the students activity centre, only a few realised that the doors have been closed, forever, to a few swifts that had made the centre its home.

In fact, a professor in charge of the nature club in the campus wrote that change in architecture of the centre could endanger the swifts, an uncommon bird, in the guindy national park. Swifts do not nest everywhere and look for places like chimneys. The student centre in the IIT-M suited them perfectly and appealed the administrators not to interfere with the architecture of the building.

When I called up her for a feedback, she said: ``For the golden jubilee celebrations, they have air conditioned the students centre. I think, the swifts have lost their home''.

Needless to say, the story of technocrats shutting the door of the swifts went untold. Till now. A few days later, a deer drowned itself into death in an open tank. Technologists sure need to think hard about clearing the forests for construction. They should go vertical or underground :)

its all happening.

It has been a while writing real stuff, the heart's feelings and desires. Journalism can be pretty difficult a profession as many of us are discovering. Demanding and painful. The three months, however, have been eventful.
First: After years, my friends think me working. Page ones! Second: Sri Lanka discovered Mendis, not Duleep's son. Third: Federer loses wimbledon, Nadal is No 1. Fourth: An Indian wins an Olympic gold. Fifth: Bolt from the blue. It is time the 9.6 sec barrier fell. Sixth : Phelps wins eight gold medals.
I sure want to write about everything but its past.

Things not happening: My wife still has no mobile. Asthmatic children. Congested traffic. My mom's mutterings. Stalin's dream. My laziness. Litter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

kuchu turns 1

For those few kindred souls who prayed for a faceless little boy born last summer in chennai, here he is. kuchu turned 1 few days back.
As you read this, he is spending his summer holidays in the cool climes at his father's home in kodaikanal. His mom is still anxious as to how he will adjust to the chillness of the hill station. This is the first time, he is travelled up the hills. All these days were spent at the windy town that happens to be the constituency of one of the corrupt lady of our times.
Of course, kutchu knows the grand-old hero, now dead, who stands as a statue right in front of his home. His grandpa, the quintessential doctor, has been his teacher as mom and dad are busy treating hundreds of patients at the government hospitals in the hinterland. Achu, who goes to school in the district headquarters, is a strong man now.
Leaving the big city, kuchu has had his difficulties, specially in eating, but has slowly swallowed it. If you ever visit him, you can see him speed up and down the long, narrow dark corridor a hundred times a day in his car (see the pic). Simply unstoppable.
kuchu's aunt delivered a baby girl just before he cut his first cake.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

passion vs programming

Of late, the transsexuals have to, often, straddle between passion and perfection.

On one side is the raw desire to live a carefree life. On the other, there is this programming by the NGOs wanting to transformthe life of transsexuals. Wednesday's fashion shows at Villupuram, organized on either side ofthe KanyaKulam Road, by the locals and an international agency, were reflective of the two entirely different worlds of the present day*aravanis*.

Ms Koovagam, organized by the local *aravani* welfare group with networks in major cities in the nation and the world, was that of the old world, full of flesh, glitz, high decibel and all chaotic. The who's who of the *aravanis* in the state were there. Along withtheir companions (One of the badmouth was beaten up by the localmedia). And they were all honoured on stage by the organizers. Thedancers were not great but their enthusiasm was infectious. At least,one dancer was asked to the item number again.

The fashion show, as elsewhere, was mostly boring. The cute as well asthe intelligent never reached the final stage much to thedisappointment of the crowd. Ms Koovagam went to Ms Mantra. She hadglamour but importantly she was from the right gang. Governmentofficials being the judges, the third prize went to a transsexual whowas dressed as, of all things in a fashion show, *Bharat Matha*.
``Education is the most important thing,'' said Ms Koovagam beforerushing out of the hall and flew off in a car. Once the hall was empty, the organizers were finding it difficult to get back to normal life. ``We have spent over a lakh of rupee. The government has stoppedfunding. Now, it gives it only one NGO. First, the NGOs have to bethrown out of the lives of transsexuals,'' said Radha, president,Villupuram District Aravanikal Nala Sangam. She has been organizing the fashion show for sometime and now suddenly she has no funds from anywhere.

Bang opposite, the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (of Bill & Melinda GatesFoundation), has a parallel fashion show. A well organized one. Onlythe perfume was too much. There are no gangs but there are teams of*aravanis* (SHG members). The team spirit and bonding is evident. Theyhave dressed up in folk, classical and modern and perform at ease the respective dance forms.

The group monitors, female facilitators, are with the members, givingthem tips. And an Australian team is documenting the event from startto finish. The crowns went not to the glamorous but to the diligentand intelligent. Noori, Chennai's 59-year old veteran, got the secondprize for her service to the community. Malavika, the winner, was all in tears. She never thought she was beautiful and so never thought she will win Ms Koovagam. In both, only one thing was common. The fashion shows were evidently fixed.

The transsexuals, true to their style, straddled both the worlds with ease.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

times launched...

``Hey,'' said Jojo. Almost a shout.
Vikas, with his greenish meditative eyes over the monitor, has just cleared the front page.
Many of us shouted aloud. It was the moment. The magical moment the city has been waiting for years now. Tomorrow, the city will wake up to a new paper. An aggressive, intelligent, proactive paper.
As an afterthought he said: ``Let us hope that the other papers don't come up with something special.'' Like him, the editors of other papers might have gone through sleepless days. It has been a dream come true.
``Ok guys, lets start work on tomorrow's new edition,'' Derek says, with a laugh. Sunil gets a pat from everyone around. ``You owe us a big treat,'' he is told. Everyone is relieved. The past one month has been spent for this moment.
``We will read other papers tomorrow,'' says Priya and Ayyappan. ``I am sure the others will have special stories for tomorrow,'' says Suresh. Hundreds have been working day and night for the past 20-odd days. It will be some of the most memorable days in their career. No one is interested in leaving the office. Everybody wants to stay till morning. May be, we will go to the press to see the first copies despatched while the city is sleeping. We are awake.
The city will have to wake up. Tomorrow will never be the same.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Srirangathu sci-fi mama

Sujatha @ Rangarajan

It happens that I am paying a tribute again. This time to a writer.
Sujatha is a familiar name in the Tamil country. Of course, the girly name has its own phonetic beauty and I always thought that girls withthis particular name were beauties as well. I remember readingsomewhere that it was a girl named Sujatha who first fed the enlightened as he walked through the paddy fields in Gaya afterself-realization under a peepal tree two millennia ago.So, the name is as ancient as the Buddha but the man who popularised it is no more. S Rangarajan has achieved something that no otherwriter has even dreamt of in the language primitive than the Buddha.
In fact, by the time Buddha was born, Tamil text had its own set ofsyntax.Yet for two millennia, it was a language rich with literary, musical, poetic and philosophical notes. It was this writer who popularised science to the masses. He introduced his language-loving countrymenrobots and holograms. Not to forget the haiku.
I was fortunate to be introduced to his writing in my boyhood itselfwhen he was at the peak of his writing career. My *chithappa* was abook seller and my *chithi* would gobble anything and everything in print and had in binding all the serialized novels appearing inpopular weeklies. It was at her home-bound library, I took to books ina big way. After Kalki, it was Sujatha who delighted me with his intelligent and tehno-rich writing. Holding my breath on most occasions, I would flip pages waiting for the young lawyer duo of Ganesh and Vasanth to unsolve one mystery after another.
To say the truth, a studious and legal genius in Ganesh and a flirty and intuitive Vasanth, went on to capture the imagination of a young generation. I'm sure that girls of 70s and 80s were in love with either Ganesh or Vasanth. The good ones with the formers and the liberatred with the later. It is sad that till now no one, including the writer himself, has translated the spirit of his writings in screen, may be with the exception of *Karaiyellam Shenbagappu*. In the small screen,Ganesh and Vasanth have been captured quite a few times but mostlydisappointing and at times disgusting.
Afterwards, whenever and wherever I came across the name Sujatha, I spent time reading with my whole intellect hooked. Otherwise, Sujatha could be difficult to understand, more so for a person with unscientific temper like me. Even now, I remember vividly the serialized novel in which Nila, a young girl as the lead character,with a small dog as advisor, dethroning a dictator in the age ofrobots. Sujatha possessed quite an extra-ordinary imagination and hissuccess lied in translating the technical jargon in simple language.
It was he who introduced archaeology and space science, aesthetics and appreciation, haiku and holography, romance and robots, folksongs, fiction and a whole range of subjects to millions of middle class boysand girls growing up in small towns across the State. Most of them had the habit of abandoning books mid-way as most of the literature wasserious then. Perhaps, Sujatha was the first fiction writer in Tamil to have hooked to the masses. He was the man who opened the windows ofthe small minded showing them new vistas in the realistic frontiers of science and technology, all the time stretching the horizon.
He must have been a man with an in-depth and rare knowledge of theTamil language. He was also the master of modern prose. Combining them eloquently and evocatively, he captured the imagination of hisreaders. His simplified answers to scientific questions for years havebeen the cornerstone of science education in the state. He was awardedby the Centre for such a special contribution.
Soon, I went to college and graduated to RKN, Ayn Rand, Tagore,Dostoevsky, Gibran and Gorky among others and by this time Sujatha had stepped into screenplay devoiding a new generation the pleasure ofreading his fiction. Working with many of the big names and best mindsin the industry, he wrote both the screenplay and dialogue. He couldsense the pulse of modern middle-class families and came up with crisp, chirpy dialogues. It was an extension of his experience withrealistic theatre with lively dialogues. He was one of the rarewriters to establish firmly in celluloid. Director Shankar's *Robo*will be his last contribution to the film world.As an engineer, Rangarajan has had a distinguished career. A formercolleague of him says that he has quite a few inventions andinnovations to his credit. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs), thetouchstone of Indian democracy was developed under his leadership at Bharat Electronics Ltd. Not many know his engineering skills but itwas while working in his office room in Bangalore in the earlyseventies, Rangarajan took to writing in the name of his beloved wife Sujatha. In these thirty years, that name has become his.
In his autobiograhpy of his boyhood, Rangarajan fondly remembers thefirst time his name appeared in print. Playing cricket in the holytown of Sri Rangam where he grew up, he scored a twenty whereas at theother end his friend scored a whirlwind ninety or hundred. Both the names appeared in the ``prestigious paper''. ``I have seen my name(Sujatha) thousands of times, but I will always cherish the first timeit appeared,'' he would recall fifty years later. In the last literarymagazine he edited, Sujatha predicted a golden age for writers inTamil. His friends reveal that he continued to write in the hospitaltill his death.
It is sheer coincidence that the missile man, APJ Abdul Kalam, studiedwith him in college in Tiruchirapalli. After a distinguished service,Kalam, as Peoples' President went on to ignite millions of young mindsto science and technology throughout the nation two decades later.Unfortunately, the two great men were not great friends at college butboth went on to accomplish their mission, of popularising science, with utmost sincerity and devotion, in their respective ways.
Sujatha will be special. For, he will be lying in print, littered orhidden, somewhere in the cupboards and bookshelves of millions ofhomes in Tamil country. Someday, in Space Age, some boy or girl mightpick up the book and begin to read with ease. I am sure, they will straightaway identify with the sci-fi writer from the age of primates.

Friday, January 11, 2008

``its a heaven down there''

tribute to the first man to touch the sky, standing on top of the world, yet dying a modest man

- sir edmund hillary, the man, the mist and icy mountains loved to take care of for over fifty years -

For years, the world thought tensing was the first one to climb the highest peak in this known world. The sherpa, for whom the himalayan peaks were his backyard, showed the way. Till this date, the defining moment in adventure sports is the moment when tensing and hillary conquered the peak for the first time fifty years ago.

The first photograph taken on top of that icy peak showed the short man with a flag. Naturally, people thought that he was the first one to set foot on top of the world. Only years later, hillary, with his modesty, told the climbers that it was actually he who reached there first. ``The last 500 mts was the toughest climb. I decided to take it. Tensing and others followed,'' he recalled.

Early this morning, he died. with all that modesty at a hospital near his home in new zeland. his countrymen called him their greatest son. Not because of he climbed everest, ten other himalayan peaks, and innumerable others. ``He was the humblest,'' said a lady, on mike in a street corner.

of that glorious moment, he had said: ``We felt quite satisfied. Even surprised.'' In the lesser known kingdom of the sherpas, the small community mourned the loss of their saviour. hillary had built two dozen schools and two hospitals for the community, guiding the world climbers to the upper reaches of the snowy kingdom.

as the world condoles his death, the flags fly at half-mast in antartica, the artic mourns the departure of a dear one deeply, and the snowy peaks of the himalayas keep shedding tears, slowly in silence and the icy winds along the peaks whisper the world the bravery of a man. the deep blue sky, the frozen snow, the peaks in penance all stand still. in salute of a friendship.

those touching the sky in the years to come might walk through two friends, wearing the snow, jumping the peaks effortlessly.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Spanish Conquest.

Tennis can't get any better. On a calm, late winter night, two champions from the Spanish country captured the hearts of thousands of feverish fans in a magnificient display of, possibly, the best tennis ever to be played in the city.
As the Chennai crowd cheered for close to four hours, the game bordering between unbelievable and out of the world, reminded us once again that tennis, at its best, is pure magic.
The stadium was filled with excitement even before the start of the second semi-finals. Everyone was saying that this should have been the final. The stands, for the first time, were full. It stayed the course, cheering all the time.
Moya, the two time champion and the darling of Chennai, had a large contingent of loyal fans shouting Moya, Moya, Moya. The young Nadal, lacking in charisma, had only the support of the tiny-toddlers to begin with.
There must be something orangy about Mallorca. Both the guru and shishya had a tinge of orange in t-shirts, trousers and even the shoes. While Rafa wore a ``sweaty'' bright orange shirt, Moya only had streaks of orangy on a white shirt. The crowd, though, was thoroughly colourful.
All the three sets went to the tie-breaker. In the first set, the players went with the serve. At 4-5, Moya was serving to save the first set. Ahead 30-0, he did somethingthat even Federer fears. Volleying against Nadal. Moya could barely watch the screeching passes on both sides. Break Point.
The champion character he is, Moya volleyed himself to win the game taking it to the the tie-breaker. A few forehand winners down the line gave him the first set. Even the cheer girls were jumping with joy as the crowd hailed its champion.
While the lenses were whirring towards his girlfriend at the stands often, Moya dint even look at her side once in the first set. He did look at her mid-way in the next set, lost concentration and lost his serve. Not many in the crowd knew, he had a delightful kiss with his girl at the players lounge in the afternoon.
Up a break, Nadal was now hitting the ball frighteningly fast. By now, Moya also had a measure of Nadal's game and was dictating terms with his fierce forehand firing on all cylinders. After a couple of delectable drops, Moya broke back with a lob. It was one of several play(s)-of-the-day. What a tie-break! The linesmen had stopped calling and the chair umpire had to cry `fault' a few times. When Nadal argued over a line-call, the crowd, showed its character, by booing for a few seconds. Perhaps, the crowd pumped him up.
Nadal, Mr Never-Say-Die, saved four match points to send the crowd into a frenzy. The last point was unbelievable. Tiring his friend out, Moya dropped a volley down. Sitting with the photographers, I was closest to the ball in the entire crowd. The ball was dipping and was millimetres above the surface, when the feared backhand whipped it to Moya's backhand that found the net. The crowd went mad. In disbelief, Moya could only sport a smile. Two more backhands equalled the scoreline.
Into the third set, the Spanish conquerors were fighting point after point with gladiatorial spirit. It looked like they were playing to find a place in eternity. The photographers were tired and had stopped clicking, waiting for the winning moment. Even the linesmen were aching. Only,
the crowd continued to cheer. To silence the crowd, the chair umpire had to call a hundred-odd times. `Thank you. Players are ready.'
With Moya literally dancing on the court, dictating terms with a flowing forehand, the crowd, for the first time, called `rafa, rafa; rafa, rafa'. They wanted a third set tie-break. By now, the world number two had clearly won over his share of supporters. It was a touch volley that gave Nadal the break as Moya was serving for the match.
Perhaps, the only let off in the game followed as Moya's forehands went long or caught the net in the third set tie-breaker. As always, Chennai stood up and clapped for Moya, as he got the obvious trophy, the very special player of the tournament.
``It was unbelievable,'' the Sapniards said at the post-match press conference. Of the tennis they played. Of Chennai crowd. Without any transport arrangements or public transport, many in the crowd, after giiggling at Nadal's cricketing skills, walked home after midnight.
Is someone thinking of shifting the venue somewhere else. Hey guys, its time to fly down the Fabulous Federer next year. Chennai deserves it. Or to say the truth, tennis deserves this city, a connoisseur of sports. All sports.

Stories From The Soul Town

There lies a magical land. Surrounded by the green ghats to the west, gurgling great rivers on the east, the valley with the very blue sky. A temple town of the tamils. Sitting on the dancing rock on the highland overlooking the valley, the writer procreates the lives of the people of this lesser known south west. Full of strange yet simple souls.