Category: this & that


How Rajagopalan Turned Handsome

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At the annual award night of SPEED AUTOMOBILES, a prestigious commercial vehicles dealer company, Most of the awards had been presented to the winning employees and it was finally the turn for the most coveted and sought after award – The Platinum Award.

Gripped to their seats sat top ranked managers and directors with voices in their heads screaming, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” While Mrs. Jyotheendran had already booked a taxi to Guruvayoor temple and promised Lord Krishna that she would roll her husband around the main shrine at least three rounds if he bags the award, Mrs. Balachandran with inadequate confidence in her husband’s talents had offered to light 11 gheelamps at Sri Azhamala Devi temple if Mrs. Antony gets doomed against her wish of taking the platinum award home. Approximately 20 inches tall and 10 inches wide, that piece of fake platinum placed on a tall round table on the dais occupied by high official business magnates, trembled in the motley vibes of the crowd in front of it.

“And the Platinum Award of the year goes to….”

The hollow cheeked Managing director in crisp white Safari suit, with his bald head brilliantly covered under the long patch of hair from the left side of his head, across to the right, unintentionally giving it a black-and-white striped appearance between hair and scalp, paused stereotypically to arouse curiosity– innocently unaware of the inner fury he was creating in the crowd.  

“to…..?  Any guesses?”

The M.D asked the unsettled crowd.

The nominees chanted their own names a hundred times as their wives confirmed it in their hearts a thousand times.

“to…..?”

Pause again.

“to…..Mr. Rajagopalan!!!”

Employees at SPEED had not seen Rajagopalan after he had resigned a year back following the death of his 14 year old son and joined a much more prestigious company to a higher position. And at SPEED, weirdly, the tradition was to announce the annual awards of the current year, at the end of the following year.

The internal chaos of the auditorium came to a standstill as Rajagopalan walked into the auditorium through the arch-shaped entrance, in style. A complete gentleman in his early 40s, wearing a glazing, elegant navy suit that aptly featured the manliness of his tight abs and toned muscles, neatly trimmed silver hair on the periphery of his baldness, and a disarming smile that instantly made Mrs. Jyotheendran  forget about her offering at the Guruvayoor temple. A line of pot-bellied colleagues jaw-droppingly watched Rajagopalan as he walked past them to the dais.

Jaw-droppingly, because the last time they saw Rajagopalan he was as pot-bellied and ugly as they were now; least conscious of his sagging cheeks that extended to his loose double chin in a way that hid his neck, excessive perspiration and unkempt nails.  Rajagopalan had changed. And the difference was like that between day and night.

Bright confetti cannon fired across the stage as the vice president of the company handed over the award to Raj. Wide applause panned from left to right enriching the auditorium with a positive vibe which that piece of fake platinum, now in Raj’s hands, seemed to enjoy. As Raj walked down the dais, his colleagues observed the ladies with wide smiles congratulating him from either side. Among them stood a pretty lady in plain bottle green crape saree that perfectly complemented the golden floral-print blouse she wore. Raj exchanged a smile with her as his colleagues recalled how he used to stand among them, breathlessly tucking in his heavy pot-belly as attractive women walked by.  

The idea of peace seemed like sailing away from Raj’s male colleagues as they now, inevitably, wanted to know how. When aerobics, gymnastics and VLCC failed to help people attain that ideal body shape, Raj’s gradual yet fast weight loss attracted all of his colleagues’ attention.

Raj stood in the center; people enclosing him like a ring and raising that curious three letter word- HOW?  The effortless smile with which he had been avoiding this question seemed not to work anymore. “Just like that”, raj excused and added, “Naturally”

“Selfish Bull Shit!” One of the colleagues whispered silently, making sure Raj heard it.

Raj had never understood why most women hesitated to reveal their age. According to him, with age came wisdom, and with wisdom came a condition called Love- a condition where one transcends beyond the self  and sees a sublime visual from the top, like that seen from an airplane, where man appears as tiny and busy as ants, keyed like a toy in the direction he has been inwardly motivated to go.

Yet, a higher age is often looked upon as a disgrace and women escape trickily when questioned about their age while men mostly lie. At this juncture, Raj chose to escape. Honesty, didn’t for a split second, seem like the best policy. Because he knew it would expose some grey shades in him; Grey only for the refined and polished class of people but beautiful to the noble savage.

Raj’s departure after the award night hadn’t released his colleagues from their curiosity about his strange weight loss. They discussed it at breakfast, lunch and supper; at home and office.

“Remember how Raj behaved when his son’s dead body was brought home that night?”

“He didn’t move an inch from that couch, but his wife was unconscious in the other room”

“Didn’t he cry?” enquired Seema.

“No! Not a single drop!

“There should be an extra compartment in men’s brains” Seema imagined, “-one where they could suppress those emotions which normally make one cry. How else could they hold within such intensity? But it’s not an inborn compartment, because children, whether boy or girl, cry. This compartment, in boys, forms at some curse-worthy point”

“That’s because boys were given superman toys when girls were given pretty Barbies” Alex reasoned.

“No, there has to be something more to it. Why don’t they cry as often as women do? Isn’t crying a kind of rejuvenation? A kind of Catharsis? They should at least cry in the bathroom once in a while, I feel”

“Well, that needs a deeper thought”

“But how did Rajagopalan turn handsome” Satheesh questioned, breaking the conversation, but bringing in a focus now.

“We should first talk to Mrs. Rajagopalan, the one who lives with him”

Soon they planned to hit up Mrs. Rajagopalan.

Five inches and nine feet tall, with flabs, which she never wanted to hide, stretching the cloth around her waist like tires, straight long hair and a face that glowed without the help of facials. Her feet were clean without pedicure, and palms soft without manicure. Tears streamed down Mrs. Rajagopalan’s cheeks, wetting her high-necked Maroon cotton Kurti all the way till her bosom, as her son’s dead body was laid before her.

“I think he’s alive. Please check properly, please”

She requested to the men around her.

“No, Jayalakshmi”, broke down the ladies around, “He’s gone.”

‘The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow’- this quotation laminated largely and hung in his room had let Gokul bear his otherwise unbearable knee ache. And one day, out of losing control over the trust in the quote, when Gokul complained about his aching knee, Mr. and Mrs. Rajagopalan had attributed it to their son’s excessive football craving. From then on, Gokul, the ambitious footballer regained his faith in the quote and never complained about the excruciating pain, hoping that it would turn into strength some day.

But unavoidably, one fine day they diagnosed cancerous cells in Gokul’s knees. It had spread to other parts of his body, uncontrollably. Gokul deteriorated as quickly as a flower wilted. There suddenly was no tomorrow for him to feel the strength he had saved up as pain. But despite his poor health, Gokul made it a point to tear apart the lamination from the wall, into scraps.

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,

I’m begging of you please don’t…..”

-Dolly Parton’s famous music track  played on the loudspeaker as they dialed Mrs. Rajagopalan.

Mrs. Rajagopalan was a woman who often tried to understand the statement ‘a woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets’, but failed every time.  She believed she could proudly narrate all her life incidents to anyone, for they were all morally correct. And her smiles were never voluntary. She smiled only at those who truly made her smile. During mosquito bites, when Raj concentrated like a tiger concentrated before preying, bringing his hands painstakingly closer to the insect, little by little, and stopped for a second, holding his breath, before slamming it into flat debris, Jayalakshmi only fanned her hands against it or fluttered a little, for the same effect of getting rid of the mosquito.

At the risk of sounding shallow, Raj’s colleagues, after some initial chit-chat, asked her how her husband had turned handsome.

Abruptly, without much thought, Mrs.Rajagopalan replied.

“An increased release of Oxytocin has resulted in a higher level of Dopamine in his brain. It acts as a neurotransmitter in his brain now”

“I don’t think she has pulled through Gokul’s death yet” Satheesh mouthed silently as Mrs. Rajagopalan continued.

“Oxytocin changes the brain signals that are related to social recognition via facial expression- due to activity in the Amygdala- a part of the brain that plays a role in processing emotional stimuli”

“Okay ma’am, you take care” said Alex, and hung up gesturing “poor lady”

Inside the long conference room, sales managers dispersed as Rajagopalan reclined after winding up the meeting.  After making sure that everyone had left, he quickly checked his reflection on the mobile screen and perfected his well maintained circle beard which covered his chin and continued into a moustache that wrapped around the lips. He believed it gave him an edge of virility which the previous stubble failed to give.

He put back the mobile phone on the table as he saw, through those white translucent voile curtains, Soniya walking towards his room. Sweaty palms, shaky knees, flushed cheeks and tongue-tied, Raj was in this same state when he first saw her-  year back.

After Gokul’s death when food turned Jayalakshmi’s worst delight, it had become Rajagopalan’s only source of solace, an obsession, an excessive indulgence that helped him stuff down his feelings.

When a tiny bowl of curd rice easily mileaged Jayalakshmi for a day, Rajagopalan rummaged through shelves, drawers, and tins and raided the refrigerator for more food, although he wasn’t hungry. He had just dined heavily at his wife’s maternal home- four Parathas with Malabari chicken curry after a strange starter- an elaborate South Indian meal. It wasn’t hunger that he wanted to suppress; but a longing, an unending crave. He compulsively gulped a tin of condensed milk in one stretch, and binged on a family-sized bag of spiced tapioca chips just to balance out the surplus sweetness of the former. Then he lolled in the dark, in complete lethargy, regretful and self-loathing. Because of the huge difference in the way they grieved, Rajagopalan swelled as Jayalakshmi shrunk. And the space between them, held together earlier by Gokul, widened day by day creating an air of unfamiliarity.

Moving to the new office, Rajagopalan had stockpiled caramel popcorn and spiced puffed rice in his desk, to eat secretly when gluttonously full after regular meals. It was as he bent down to open the confectionary tins that a pair of feet appeared in front of him; neatly pedicured, evenly toned and graciously slipped into a V-strapped rose gold footwear. With puffed rice stuffed in his mouth, the pot-belly laboriously sucked in and conscious of appearing composed, Rajagopalan ascended, to face Soniya- the lady in Royal blue cotton Saree assigned to join as his assistant at work. Like the usual moments of instantaneous romantic identification between two individuals, the time-space spectrum of the moment when their gazes locked, did seem to slow-down and gloss, paranormally. The bold headings of moral science chapters sealed in their heads by school teachers slowly faded in the new found fuel of life.

He put back the mobile phone on the table as he saw, through those white translucent voile curtains, Soniya walking towards his room. With sweaty palms, shaky knees, flushed cheeks and tongue-tied  Rajagopalan lifted a textile bag from the floor and presented it to Soniya.

“Plain bottle green crape Saree and a golden floral-print blouse. Just as you wanted it”

“The Platinum Award is yours I’m sure” Rajagopalan smiled as Soniya assured.

Rajagopalan’s colleagues sat in the office hoping to discover something from what his wife had told them. ‘Oxytocin and Dopamine’, Satheesh googles as others gape into the computer monitor. And the result page that appears is titled ‘How your brain functions when you’re in love’. They patiently read the page which starts – ‘Oxytocin is a love hormone that fuels romance….’

After reading the article, all they wanted to do was call up Mrs. Rajagopalan. But she didn’t pick up and hence the caller tone played Dolly Parton’s track fully this time.

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

Please don’t take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare

With flaming locks of auburn hair

With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green

Your smile is like a breath of spring

Your voice is soft like summer rain

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene.

He talks about you in his sleep

There’s nothing I can do to keep

From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

And I can easily understand

How you could easily take my man

But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene.

You could have your choice of men

But I could never love again

He’s the only one for me, Jolene.

I had to have this talk with you

My happiness depends on you

And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

Please don’t take him even though you can…

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Cleopatra my Love

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Oh Cleopatra!
The woman of infinite variety
Your fickle emotions,
subtle gestures, boundless charm
and volatile feelings
that make up your variety,
-I’d dealt only in books.
And wondered
Man-o-man!
Am i capable of this variety?
A complete human avatar, i believe you are
in all its blacks and whites and grays.

Cleopatra, my love,
Motley Fabric suits you best
For in it your variety’s well expressed.
Motley fabric;  classy but!
-not the mediocre,  strictly.
Strictly, ’cause you’re majestic, originally.
And majestic calls for elegance.

Variety is your beauty,  Cleopatra
Your physicality though grand,
is not as beautiful as your variety.
Surprised like a child
wonder struck i stand
each time you show me your variety.

Variety is not just your beauty, Cleopatra
It’s more importantly your strength
To keep moving
from blues to rainbows
and for the beauty beyond
– glossing up the matte reality.
And the sudden bliss it discovers
Could be as beautiful as
Koi no yokan.
And if this bliss ends abruptly,
you can always turn to your beauty,
which is
your variety.

-Sruthi Sikhamani

The Hateful Mirage

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Dazed has been the view,

Impaired, the vision,

-or rather, made impaired,

-through these polarized sunglasses,

made polarized for some

ulterior motive.

Polarized, not constantly.

Polarized, but frequently.

Stepping in innocent,

Deceitful, the illusion has been.

wavering between

the real and unreal.

Uh! The real, is there at all?

Or is it the low vision?

Pleasantries after Pleasantries,

Jaw-drop smiles,

Shady concerns and

Full-blown,but genuine hatred-

-All part of the daze.

It is boredom.

Severe boredom

Leading to a thought of escape

A victorious escape

From the illusory shit.

Only hatred is the emotion

For the one responsible

For creating this mega shit.

Mega- at least for the one’s here,  it is.

Though a spec-like shit

It may be from the aerial.

A whole bunch of nonsensical figures

With hands and legs

And a dirty mind

-As companions here it is.

– In the name of

Faux love.

Drained of heart-to-hearts

The heart is about to explode

Weight intolerant hereafter

Looking forward to the

Grand escape

Imagining new worlds

Bored with the

Furthest reaches of this one.

~ Sruthi Sikhamani

To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps.

A JUMP OFF THE CLIFF

IMG_0885 It was that thoughtful moment that triggered a quest for adventure in me, the moment I scrolled down the article ‘10 things to do instead of getting married in your 20s’. To ‘Take a solo trip’ was inevitably the number one in the list and now I know why. It was a call to take risks and make memories. After all, memories are all that are left for us to cherish in life. I thought about it for a while and decided to plan something crazy with my elder sister Sangeetha and her longtime friend Sameera. Why not turn the solo trip into a wild ladies-only tour, I pondered. It was absolutely worth a try. The three of us sat down together and jotted down all the possible places worthy of exploration. Considering our deep dedication to work, a short five day tour was what we aimed. The soothing pictures of the snow-capped Indian Himalayas enthralled each of us equally. Soon we learned that the Indian Himalayan Region is a range that spanned ten states of India namely, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura as well as the hill regions of the two states- Assam and West Bengal. Without much contemplation we could easily choose J & K as our destination.

We had toured a lot before, but what made this one special was that there was no one to plan for us— neither parents nor a guide (all thanks to our idea of not hinging on to a tour package where everything is pre-planned). We did everything to make it a complete adventure. Sameera handled accommodation while we browsed through must-visit spots. We found time in between hectic work to plan the tour. Suddenly, one day the unfortunate news of the J&K floods emerged as a deterrent with the power to cease all our dreams. As an immediate effect our parents turned skeptical overnight about our trip. J&K quickly vanished from our minds because we respected our families and terrorizing them was not our intention. But hope is always believed to be a good thing and we hung to it with full determination and continued browsing for places.

Nainital- the city of Lakes arrested our attention abruptly. No sooner had we confirmed Nainital than our whatsapp group titled ‘We Three’ (earlier ‘Mission Kashmir’) flooded with images and adventures of the place. Unlike earlier, we didn’t have much time to plan things other than our flight timings to and fro. We planned to set off to Cochin from Calicut at 4 P.M. on the 16th of September by Sameera’s car, stay over there that night and depart to Delhi on 17th morning from Nedumbassery International Airport. We had absolutely no idea what after that.  Our parents believed we were on a tour package which is believed to be the safest way to tour. White lies are not a bad idea completely. We didn’t want our adventure to be like the one at the Disney land with seat belts— 100% risk free.

“This is the final boarding call for passengers Sameera, Sangeetha and Sruthi booked on Flight 386 to Delhi. Please proceed to Gate 8 immediately”. With half-eaten sandwiches we gaped at each other in utter alarm for a moment at the airport food zone. “The final checks are being completed and the captain will order for the door of the aircraft to close in approximately five minutes time. I repeat. This is the final call for Sameera, Sruthi and Sangeetha. Thank you”. At once the crowd around us recognized the three girls— that was the style in which we stormed to the gates. We flew very soon.

The Delhi Metros

We had the fortune to travel by the Delhi metros quite a number of times during the course of our journey, sometimes with an entire compartment for ourselves and some other times with no room to breathe. It was our choice to push ourselves a little further beyond our comfort zones. People in the metros were one-of-a-kind, especially women. A man staring at women was ordinary, but a woman staring at men and other women, at least for us, was extra-ordinary. We got used to those killing stares quickly and started staring back even more quickly. Our observation is as follows: There are two kinds of women in Delhi. One, who looks too much into the mirror and the other who has hardly seen a mirror. We heartily placed ourselves in between the two extremes where we comfortably rejoiced. Though we were far away from our homeland, the pride of being a Malayali was close to our hearts, Thanks to the metros for reminding us of our roots.

Nainital

Nainital is Uttarakhand’s Waynad— an exquisite hill station in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalyas, privileged with as many as 60 lakes. Setting out early, we made the first day at Nainital as eventful as possible, covering the ropeway, botanical garden, waterfalls, lake-view from mountain peaks and the most enchanting Himalayan Darshan. Though the Himalayan view spread a smile on our faces, deep-seated in our souls was an unfulfilled dream to explore the Himalayas— to touch it. However, we returned happily hoping that we will make it to the Himalayas some day. The second half of the day treated us with the view of four magnificent lakes— Nainital, Bhimtal (a small island surrounded by crystal blue water), Sattal (group of seven lakes nested together) and Naikuchiatal (nine-cornered lake). Kayaking at the Naikuchiatal, opposite the setting sun was a rejuvenating experience. While Bhimtal heightened our senses with its tranquility, Nainital amused us with its natural architecture that resembled an eye (Naina, hence the name), literally putting us in a trance. While going to bed under thick blankets, our vision of the next day’s program in Nainital was as misty as the atmosphere there.

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Nainital

Nainital- view from the ropeway

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A team

The Magical Bhimtal

The Magical Bhimtal

3 Ducks!

3 Ducks it seems!

Trekking— we finalized in the morning. A lot of male/female voices discouraged our decision to climb the China peak which is more than 12 kms to and fro. But we managed to stay deaf and dumb to the opinions and headed for what was later going to be the most priceless hours of our lives. It was one hell of an experience. Initially, men with horses flanked our paths hoping that we would hitch a ride. The disappointment on their faces as we passed them haughtily thrilled us furthermore, enhancing the gusto.

There was not a single soul in the dense forest other than the three of us. And that part made it more adventurous. We strode along the ebbs and flows of the wild, paused to grab snacks from the rucksack, awed at the intermittent panoramic view of the Himalayas and posed for a couple of self-timer clicks which would later help us explain to others how beautiful our journey was.

Himalayan Darshan

Himalayan Darshan

As we stood gazing at the scenery across the mountains, a boy passed by, carrying a heavy bicycle on his shoulders. His short footsteps reflected a sense of patience and calmness, unlike ours. After clicking our photographs setting the Himalayas in the background, we hurried uphill hoping to meet the boy. But there was no trace of him anywhere. Considering his sluggish footsteps we expected to see him. On rushing a little more we spotted his bicycle leaned onto a rock. He was also seen nearby. Pankaj introduced himself as working for some tourism organization where trekking was his job. His duty was to hunt for tourist spots and understand their possibilities on a larger scale. We envied him for a moment and then clicked a picture with him. As the four of us began climbing further, he stopped and said he will meet us on the top, and continued walking with us. ‘Senseless guy’, i whispered because we were in the same line, trekking together. But in no time he had reached far ahead of us and we could no more see him. We couldn’t catch his speed. Now we clearly knew who was ‘senseless’. On the way up, we tried to take short cuts by trying to climb steeper slopes. It was too risky that had we lost a step we would have fallen down into the depths of the mountains.

Past an hour when we reached the mountain top, Pankaj was preparing to return. There was a hut by the Nainital forest department at the mountain peak where we sipped a cup of tea, gazing at the vast Himalayan range. After resting for a while, we devoured the paneer paratha we had packed for lunch. The journey down the hill was not as easy as we thought it would be. Descent was as hard (or even harder) than ascent- Again a huge lesson for life, memorized forever in our hearts.

That's Pankaj!

That’s Pankaj!

Our path was dazed by the passing fog. In the course of time, the forest turned mysterious and slightly threatening. We took longer steps to escape the haunting beauty of the woods. At some point in time, we silently hoped to see a thread of light, and of course, another human being, for, there was no one in sight in the darkening forest. We sunk downslope in the terrifying atmosphere,   for more than an hour. Time lapsed. My sister sprinted through the woods on the sight of a local car parked on the road. It symbolized our craving to see people and mingle with our fellow beings. No wonder they say human beings are social beings and we apparently need each other to live with a smile. Our path had entwined with another where we saw children departing home from schools. Love and light! A sense of belonging swept us off our feet. However, we were lost. We sensed that we had walked down an extra 5 kilometers. Since it was not in our imagination to climb those 5 kilometers, we thumbed a ride up the hill. The driver was excessively pleased to ride three gorgeous women for free. We gave him my father’s contact number (instead of mine) on his humble request and waved the harmless gentleman a goodbye.

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IMG_1175 “It is the power of my never ending prayers that saved you from all dangers”- said Amma over the phone. I easily sensed how much money she must have invested in nearby temples for our sake.

Having visited wealthy zoos inside and outside India, Nainital Zoo didn’t hold much of an interest in us. However, we went there considering the strong recommendation by the owner of Ankur Plaza (The very person who de-motivated girls trekking) where we stayed. “We are no more kids!”- We screamed in our heads. After the soul-stirring trekking experience, we looked down at the zoo with a tinge of pride.

Seen in the promenade

Seen on the promenade

After shopping in the streets of Nainital for a while, we glanced at the Nainital lake, ringed by hills, for one last time before our departure. Our tour was almost coming to an end. All that was left now was the journey back to Kerala. But just as most films have a tail-end, our journey too had one— Ms. Uma Garud, evidently over 60 years, with whom we were destined to sleep over that night in Delhi. Old is gold. So is an old soul— perhaps higher than gold. She welcomed us home with a warm heart, told us stories about the Delhi she has now known for years, and above all, streamed our attention to a bunch of resplendent peacock feathers. She picked one from the bunch and asked us to look at the design, harmony, shading, colour-sense and proportion of each streak in the feather and how various streaks joined to form intricate patterns of universal beauty— how one becomes a part of the whole. We had seen a lot of peacock feathers before, but never as closely as Ms. Uma’s. It was magical, stunning. The few hours with her was enough for a life time. We posed for a picture together and said good-bye.

Lovely Uma Devi

Lovely Uma Garud

Nature's intricate creation

Nature’s intricate creation

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The journey back home was a peaceful one. We spoke less. May be the silence suggested introspection. May be we were planning our next journey- A journey which is like jumping off a cliff without a  safety net.

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Just Jump Folks!