Tuesday, November 14, 2006


All our trips to Kerala invariably end up in temple-hopping. This time, there was an addition on the list – Guruvayoor. Guruvayoor has been taken up as a special case since we were not allowed inside the temple because women in anything other than saree or skirt cannot enter the temple – the temple management’s contribution to women’s well-being. Oh of course, they are not so bad after all, they have one mind-boggling option. If you are wearing anything other than the above mentioned clothing, like for example say, salwar-kameez, but still want to enter the temple, you can strip off the salwar, yes, inside the premises(!), or even roll it up, pick up a dirty yellow 1 metre fabric for hire, wrap it around you and be instantly permitted inside! Bhakti and decency revolves around the 1 metre long dirty cloth? I was in salwar-kameez last time and was obviously denied permission to enter as such, but the option of the hiring the yellow cloth was open. I refused. I don’t care whether I enter the temple or not, but there’s no way I will disgrace myself wearing some really dirty cloth.

But this time my parents were absolutely sure they will have none of last time’s tamasha and made me shop for skirts which I can wear on this trip. Needless to say, this time, I found myself waiting in the long queue to reach the sannidhi. I have a couple of useless hours on hand so I decide to do what the rest of the crowd is doing best – “Watch The Neighbours”. I do a little extra and study the architecture. It is definitely impressive and definitely beyond my knowledge. I watch kids playing, I watch people buying prasadam, I watch women in something that looks like the-in-thing-at-the-moment – kameez and lengthy petticoats (excuse me, but I thought petticoats were reserved for the saree and was more an undergarment than anything else). So petticoats are acceptable, so are dirty yellow pieces of cloth, not salwar-kameez. Very impressive. Wow!

I let my eyes wander again. Architecture. Pillars. Kodimaram. Kids. Women in petticoats. Stone finished floor. More pillars. And what’s this? The fully exposed thighs of a male member of the Devaswom Committee, chatting away with two others of his clan! Guruvayoorappa! What is this guy doing lifting up his mundu to unmentionable heights in front of such a huge gathering of people, including women? He chats on, looking happy at his achievement. The women look away.

Ente Guruvayoorappa, nee ithonnum kaanunnillae?

Do male Devaswom members have exclusive rights to indecent display of skin inside the temple? I wasn’t aware of this new law. I prepare to get out of the queue in which I have been standing for over 2 hours now. I definitely want to have a word with this man. I turn around to look into the eyes of the man standing behind me. What is that in his eyes? Fear? Shame? Disgust? Disappointment? Just then, my sister who has been standing beside me all this while decides to faint. I half-walk and half-drag her through the throng of people to some fresh air and by the time she is in a better shape to get back to the queue, our Mr. Display and Co. have disappeared.

The queue moves forward. Someone is chanting. Someone else gets emotionally charged on seeing the Lord’s idol and starts crying.

What in the name of God are we all preaching and practising, I wonder. I walk on.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Kerala never fails to remind its visitors of what makes it different. I was there a couple of weeks ago and here’s my list. Feel free to add yours.
  1. We cross into Kerala border by train and a message arrives on my mobile. It reads, “Explore Kerala – God?s own country with IDEA”. God?s. Duh!
  2. The people haven’t changed at all in all these years. Any new face is looked upon as though he/she is from outer space.
  3. They still introduce you as their niece / cousin from ‘MADRAS’ as though Madras is 1600 light years away from Kerala.
  4. Jeans is taboo, so is coming home after 6 pm.
  5. They glare if your hair is short, not dripping of oil or in a colour other than black. I have received enough tips on how to turn my hair black, I can even write a best-seller on the topic.
  6. They behave as though sunlight has never penetrated the countryside in the past couple of decades.
  7. Girls don’t walk with their heads held high. That’s a man-thing.
  8. ‘Nighty’ has taken over as the state costume. It may be accessorised with a towel for the ‘in’ look. Soon you may find Malayalee women recommending that the nighty be given the status of national costume.
  9. Nighty is an excellent work-wear, home-wear, night-wear, daytime-wear, temple-wear, take-kid-to-school-bus wear, pack off-husband-to-office wear, anywhere.
  10. The lungi shall be in fluorescent pink, green or orange. And it shall be tied-untied-retied about 50 times a day.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I, Ms. Rajani Nair

Sex change, I assume, must be a very expensive affair. I’m not interested in finding out how much it should cost for the simple reason that, I don’t think I will ever need it. I’m delighted to be born a woman and even more delighted to be living as one.

So what is the big deal?

The big deal is that almost everyone who calls up for the first time asks for a Mr. Rajani Nair. I have been living with this title of Mister, for God knows how many years! My bank thought I was male (in spite of writing FEMALE in big bold letters in the Gender column of the application form), so does Indian Railway. The Credit Card Sales Executives think I HAVE to be mister, or may be even Mr. Rajan ‘Saar’, the ‘i’ was a spelling mistake, you see!

So yesterday, I told the lady who wanted to sell Mr. Rajani Nair a ‘lifetime free credit card’ that she “just missed him. He died only 20 minutes ago. Would she like to leave a message I might pass on to him if I felt like?” I’m sure the poor woman was so confused and scandalised, but managed to say that she was sorry about the death and even muttered a ‘thank you’ before ending the call.

No, I was not named after the actor Mr. Rajinikant (I was born to very Mal parents who had no idea who Mr. Rajinikant was till my Dad landed a job in Chennai). I’m Rajani because I was born in the night - my maternal uncle’s ingenious suggestion. Sadly he is no more. I wanted to thank him for his splendid suggestion because I just realised how much I LOVE my name. Even I couldn’t have found a better name for myself. Of course, there are other meanings to my name which I found out a couple of years ago: Rajani, it seems, is a river in the epic, Mahabharatha, and Rajani is also another name for Goddess Durga. Now, that’s something!

Male me? Ha.


There she is! Jet black, a little plump (must be the daily dosage of fish and meat) and very fast for her size. And just furry cute. This is the third day I am coming across this cute little thing. She is waiting to cross the road as usual. My destination is past her current territory. I walk on, making sure that our eyes don’t meet. My goal in this entire 2 minute activity is to study the action-reaction factor.

I watch her take two cautious steps forward. A guy cycles past lazily. There she goes, back to square one. She watches as a group of men approach. There are three of them. Have they seen her yet? Nah! One of them has just seen her. He touches his friend’s arm, points in her direction, alarmed. They slow down, almost to a halt.

The men are dressed formally as though they are on their way to an interview. The tell-tale resume folder, borrowed tie, polished shoes, combed hair… are all in full attendance. And of course, the jargon speak. “You know Murugappa’s annual turn over is………” GK time, I suppose.
Now that all of them have seen her, the drama unfolds. There is an unmistakable fear in their eyes, and, confusion. Should they speed up, or stand still or turn or run? I have been witness to many similar scenes before. I have seen different people from different sections of the society in varying age groups go through this emotional roller-coaster. And, for all my study on this kind of behaviour and situation, I must have gotten my doctorate by now.

They look at each other and hasten their steps, all eyes on her, trying to get past her before she can dash across. It is turning out to be as expected. Now she will make her move. 2 frightened eyes, 2 pointed ears, a furry soft body that has pulled up into a comical porcupine-like look darts across the road, missing the men by a whisker. I am about 2 feet away. Phat! They men have stopped dead in their tracks. They look at each other. A cat, a CAT, has crossed their path. That too, a black one. Now what? Curses follow. The options are very clear – walk a few steps backwards and then carry on as though nothing has happened or better, just take a 3600 turn and proceed. They look up just in time to catch me smiling. I walk past them, looking over my shoulder gives me an even funny view of three grown-up metrosexuals doing a 3600 degree turn in the middle of the road. Superstition, it seems, is not out of fashion. So much for all our education, open-mindedness, polish and urbanised living.

Tell me, why are we so criminal and unjust to a poor cat? If it were a dog that had crossed the road, trust me, no one would have had a problem. If it the damn dog had chased them down the road and then bit them, still no one would think of taking a 3600 turn or go a few steps backwards or chant a mantra. They would just walk over to the nearest clinic for an anti-rabies injection. Come on people, give it a thought. How many such stupidities do we religiously follow day in and day out? How many such assumptions are we living with? How much of our lives are we going to waste on stuff like this?

I have no idea how my superstitious friends’ day was. Mine I must confess, was extraordinarily good.

Getting to the facts, what I have learnt over a period is, if you don’t want to invite the cat to cross your path, ignore it. By looking at it in the eye, you are intimidating it. It is a very timid creature and given your size, it has every reason to feel powerless and scared. And run it will, at the first available opportunity. I have got my lesson, have you?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Barista. 4.34 pm. In front of me sits a cup of Espresso. And beyond that sits Shankar, my friend and business partner, spilling out of his seat. Nothing unusual. That’s him. He is busy on his mobile, typing away furiously. Again, nothing unusual. Except for the two of us, the place is empty. For once, the music has stopped, much to my relief. If you had spent an entire day in a boardroom with five really LOUD fellows, like I have just done, you will understand the value of this moment of silence. Wow.

Enter guy, girl. They look like one of those first-year-in-college types. You know the ones with that foolish “I know I’m happening” look on their face? God save them. Do I care? No. But wait, I’m going to be treated to an amazing performance in social behaviour. She sits down. He waits. She conveys her choice. Ice-cream. Chocolate. No, I didn’t eavesdrop. She is loud enough. He goes, returns like a bartender carrying the order. Smiles. Sits down. So it’s ice-cream for her. And some stupid looking extremely colourful liquid for him. Social smiles on either side. You know that dumb ‘put on’ smile? Yeah, that’s the one.

She suddenly sits upright, her torso twisted in a rather funny way, legs crossed. Now, that’s the social posture. I’m afraid she will develop a sprain in the back by the time they decide to leave. Social smile again. He starts some dumb story. Now you know they have never met before. Social smile develops into social laughter. He is trying his best to impress her. She is doing her bit. By now, the unwritten law of social behaviour is in full effect. Social laughter follows every sentence spoken. This is getting a bit too much. It’s the last sip of my Espresso. I allow myself to drown in its taste. My ear shuts out all noises around. This is heaven. No guy-girl. No social behaviour. Just pure coffee. Shankar is done with his sms now. Looks at me, grins. He too has had his lesson in ‘social behaviour’ today. We wonder why people can’t just be themselves.

We smile. No, not the ‘social smile’. Never learnt it. We pick up our papers and start walking out. What have we learnt today, I wonder.