Thursday, June 23, 2011








After the third failed attempt at getting Archana to say her name right, I gave up. I smiled at the imp and turned to continue feeding Sonali. Just as I was putting the spoon to Sonali’s mouth, I felt a tug at my sleeve. It was the imp. “Ar-cha-na,” she said as she turned and ran.

It was impossible not to like Archana. Her button-like eyes, her curls, her cute little smile – it usually is love at first sight. I still remember the day I met her for the first time. It was my first day as a volunteer. Now, the ward I worked in had two sections. The one I volunteered at had severely handicapped children while the other had mildly handicapped. So on my first day, I spent the earlier half of the morning cleaning and feeding the kids in my section. At 10, we had a tea break. I was just opening the cupboard to take my backpack out when I felt someone tugging at my kurta. I turned, and there was this lovely little girl with big button-like eyes and lovely Goldilocks-like curls. And like I said, it was love at first sight. Turns out, Archana had wet herself and wanted me to change her clothes.

Soon, we forged a bond. Ok, who am I kidding. We didn’t forge much of a bond. Every other day, she would run into me, or I would run to her, and we would play with each other for a little while. But Archana was the easily distracted kinds so within seven minutes, something or someone else would have caught her fancy and she would be gone.

And one day, she was gone. The sister told us that they had put her in the toddlers section. This section was in another building – for children without or with very few handicaps. Archana had slightly deformed hands and feet. And the sisters thought she would become better if she was in the company of healthy kids.

Now, I volunteered in the toddlers section as well. So when in the afternoon I was changing into my apron to enter my section, I was feverishly hoping for two things – that Archana be in my section, and that she recognize me. I walked into the section and hesitantly looked inside. Wonder of wonders, there was the button-eyed, curly-haired imp. Only she was not smiling. “Archanaaa…” I shouted. She looked up. And smiled. A sweet simple smile that made me not just happy, but proud. Proud that I had been recognized.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

All in a day's work

Airline refill ink. Dirty pink CD cover. 500ml Slice bottle with Bourbon free. Off-white handkerchief with blue border and dirt stains. Bouquet of dead flowers. Buddha painting. Fluroscent green bandana. Nine rolls of white chart paper. M-seal. Purple cotton candy. Comic Sans. Red thread. Tinkerbell. Johnny Depp. Sexy stubble. Red and black spectacles frame. Dull gray mobile cover.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A deep breath

She was drinking a glass of water when he walked past. She knew his routine by now. He would go up to his terminal, blow kisses to the Monroe poster behind his monitor, turn on his system and head to the water cooler. She blushed at the prospect of a possible interaction. Hurriedly finishing her glass of water, she dialed Customer Care on her mobile phone and acted like she were on an important call. He came, filled a plastic cup with a mix of cold and hot water and drank from it. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and wondered what perfume he was wearing. And he, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and cursed himself for forgetting to wear perfume.

Animal Farm

Not so long ago, on a hot summer afternoon, we embarked on a journey. It was a journey like never before. A journey into the hinterland of Tamil Nadu. A journey into a land where bulls were not beasts but reincarnations of Bheema, a land where pigeons were not messengers of love but veteran racers, a land where roosters didn’t just announce the dawn of a new day and rams didn’t just produce three bags of wool. It was a strange and wondrous land. It was a land worth falling in love with.

So there we were, my guide and I, riding through Theni’s backyard on a black motorbike, making scheduled halts to talk to the sportsmen and unscheduled halts to prevent dehydration.

First stop: Pannaipuram. Home of the well-known Illayaraja and the little-known Rekla racers. While we admit that we love the music of the former, we were more interested in the tales the latter had to tell. Pannai Kumar, the local DMK District Youth Secretary took charge and held an impromptu workshop on the dynamics of the Rekla race. On the face of it, a Rekla race looks chaotic – the bulls, the men on the carts, all rushing madly to the finish. But when Kumar told us about the hours of sweat and blood that goes into the process, we were truly bowled over.

At Markainkottai, Sellapandi told us how he feeds his rooster badam and boiled eggs to make it stronger. Vellaivi, his current favourite rooster was duly displayed. All of a sudden, the big fat rooster (weighing a good three kilos) was thrust into our hand. While we buckled under the weight and the fear of holding a fighting rooster, we must admit that it was an adrenaline high.

We then set off in search of the Jallikattu bulls. Unfortunately they had gone grazing. So Ranjith of Kottur showed us some photographs instead, and even the yellow-green t-shirt that the bull chasers must wear. We looked at the fierce bulls in the photographs, thanked our lucky stars that they were not around, and got going.

On the last leg of our whirlwind tour, we met MS Mariappan of Upvaapatti. A walking Wikipedia, Mariappan seemed to know something about everything. The weight of a Rekla cart, the politicization of Jallikattu, the unique characteristics of Kombai dogs, the exercise regime of a racing pigeon, and the diet of a fighting ram – he knew it all.

After a long and fruitful conversation, we left Upvaapatti and headed to the bus stop at Periyakulam. On the rickety bus ride back home, I looked out of the window at the full moon and imagined those animals, each looking up to the same moon from their sheds. Would they too be wondering what tomorrow held for them?

Road trip

You know you are driving in Tamil Nadu when you see a signboard that says “Toll Booth” in Tamil, Hindi and English and you notice that the Hindi bit is neatly blackened out. Ah well! Nice start to a road trip, I say sarcastically. And immediately I am accused of not being a true Tamizhan by my fellow passengers. Thankfully, it was all just friendly banter.

And that was how the trip began. It was a typical ecoLogin trip – until the last moment I didn’t know the destination. Nor did I know when we would be starting off. So I had my bags packed and ready, just in case. And like I had anticipated, the call came at the eleventh hour asking me to get going. So at an ungodly hour in the morning, we set off for Kolli Hills and Salem. Below is a list of random musings from the trip:

Chandru, our CFO, is a deeply devout man. It was quite apparent from the fact that we stopped at more than one temple to break coconuts for the Gods. And it worked; our trip was largely accident-free and incident-full.

Though I am from Kerala, I realized over this trip that I prefer Tamil Nadu’s landscape. It is so much more varied. There are so many more hues of greens, blues and browns.

Hairpin bends and I don’t get along well. I am always chanting the Hanuman Chalisa on any trip to the hills. The 70 hairpin bends at Kolli Hills, however, were more exhilarating than scary.

Eating fresh pineapples on the hill-top is definitely one thing I wanted to do before I died. I just crossed that off my list. J

Dancing in the rain at a farm is another one on my “Things to do before you die” list. I crossed it off after my rain dance during a storm at a farm in Tiruchengode.

Ditto for cooking up for a big bunch. I hate cooking, but strangely, loved every moment of the cooking I did with Balaji’s mother at Tiruchengode. I made chapattis for the entire team. And they came out in pretty good shape.

Team meetings at twelve in the night. Nothing new. Except that instead of a boardroom, we were sitting on the floor of well-wisher and activist Piyush’s house in Salem

Riding on the back of Piyush’s jeep was definitely THE highlight of the trip. We stood on the back and waved at the villagers, saluting at little children along the way. Full on Rang De Basanti feelings,

A walk in the stream, buttermilk and green mangoes can be a heady combination. Especially after a short trek on a sweaty April morning.
Kambu koozhu (Jawar porridge) is an acquired taste. And I am yet to acquire it.

Team meetings at two in the afternoon are even more usual. Except this time, it was in the middle of a forest, with a stream flowing by. The temptation to jump into the stream was hard to resist.

So yeah, now I know better – always expect the unexpected on an ecoLogin trip.