Eulogy for a friend

Rest in peace, Prasad

Rest in peace, Prasad

Goodbye, Prasad.

I am glad I got to speak to you one last time before your time ran out.  It must have been providence then that prompted me to look you up on Facebook, when an email I wrote you bounced back undelivered.

It was on your birthday this year. As was the trend, we always wrote each other just that day of the year. A quick note to check if we were still in the same town, doing the same thing that we were a year back when we had connected on our birthdays.  Some ritual that. Do I regret not writing to you more often? No. It is not like we were old chums.

What were we then? Acquaintances, contacts, a connection, birthday buddies maybe?  It is funny how my mind reels back to a time, many years ago when we first came to meet. I was in Mumbai and in my first job as a head hunter. You, Prasad, were a job seeker with a resume in our databank, an active job seeker at that. You were unhappy in your assignment or maybe you were between jobs.  You came to my work place to meet with me before I set you up for an interview. We had talked briefly before that a couple of times, enough for me to know that you may be the man that the company was looking for. Yet, as was required, I wanted to meet with you to ascertain if my judgment of you was right.

You didn’t come across as someone who was aggressive and pushy. You always spoke softly with a familiarity that was endearing. You were the same age as me. That and the fact that you were a south Indian in Mumbai is all that it took for us to bond.  Although you didn’t make the cut at that interview, you took that in your stride.  I asked you if the HR manager looked as good as he sounded on the phone and without missing a beat, you asked me if I know of tall, dark, handsome men. Just when I began to widen my eyes in awe, you said,” He was all of that but tall and handsome”. I laugh out loud even today when I think of that follow up conversation.

Your  easy sense of humor, your laid back ‘ I-am-not-in-a-hurry- to- be- in- my- next- job’ attitude helped me line up a few more interviews that suited your profile and we stayed in touch between 1998 and year 2000. I recall speaking to you about many more job profiles. You didn’t want to jump from the frying pan to the fire, so we waited for the perfect job description.  Meanwhile, you found an interesting assignment with a tele shopping network on your own.  We stayed in touch because I told you that it pays to have a head hunter for a friend.

I relocated from Mumbai to another city a few years after that and we kept in touch on email. I cannot trace all the emails from those years, though I eagerly looked for them in my now unused hotmail account. I had switched to Gmail by then and had sent you an invite to start an account. It was year 2008, by then you had started a business on your own and seemed busy. Your once-a- year email always arrived on my birthday.

Three years later, you asked to connect on Linked In.  You wrote me saying you had forgotten my daughter’s name and blamed it on old age!  You also said something poignant in one of your updates then. You said and I quote “ .. still not done with my struggles yet”. I felt a pang of guilt wash over me. I had moved on to other things and other people and had never once wondered if you were okay and happy.  We promised to connect on Facebook that year but never really found each other there. Years went by.

It wasn’t until May this year I thought of you again. I sent you a birthday wish and the mail bounced back. I finally found you on Facebook. It had been fifteen years since I saw you. You had changed so much. You know of the tall, dark and handsome men we used to talk about? You looked like one of them.

My happiness of finding you again was short lived.  I learnt of your cancer and your Bone Marrow Transplant through the Angels for Prasad community.  When I messaged you on Facebook chat on that day, you replied almost immediately. The same old cheerful Mr. Nice Guy. You shrugged off my questions about your health and asked about me instead.

I am glad I called and spoke with you, Prasad. It may not have meant much to you, but to me, it made a world of difference. I wanted you to know that even though I hadn’t really been in touch, I have always been your well wisher. You told me that life had been good, that you did well in the insurance business; you travelled the world and even came to Singapore.  Maybe if we had stayed in touch, we could have met at Singapore?  Even though that thought saddened me, I was super happy that your career did take off.  Until your cancer was detected, you were a successful and happy man, you said.

Prasad, despite the best intentions of the world around you, you lost your fight to cancer. I wish you had lived longer. I wish I had been able to make that short trip to Mumbai to see you once more.

When I turn older in two weeks, guess whose wish I will miss this year?

Until we meet again…

Divine voices from my past

Those days we had cassettes and not playlists on iPods. Heck, there were no compact discs either. Yet, I listened to a lot more music then,  than I do today.

There was Suneeta Rao with her Pari hoon main and Ab ke baras, Alisha Chinai with Made in India  and Adnan Sami with his Lift karadey . And then there was Colonial Cousins and all of their tracks! I was listening to other artists too but these four were probably the most played artists in our faithful Sony double deck player.  I am talking about the mid 90’s.  It probably was around the same time I was transitioning from Western pop to Indian music.  I was not yet listening to classical music then but had become more tolerant to my amma’s choice of hard core classical Indian music.

Last month when I heard that the Colonial Cousins were performing at the Kala Utsavam here in Singapore, I did not have to think twice if I wanted to go.  How many rainy afternoons in Mumbai  have I listened to Hariharan and Leslie sing Indian rain. Those were probably the earliest days that I was making the bhakthi connection to music.  I will not be exaggerating if I tell you that I began to appreciate Carnatic music with Krishna Nee baeganey baaro and Sa ni dha pa from their first album. Of course the likes of OS Arun, Bombay Jayashree and Aruna Sairam have made sure that I stay inspired.

So there we were, at the first level of the magnificent Esplanade concert hall with brilliant acoustics. The hall wasn’t packed to full capacity. Most of the audience seemed to be in their mid or late forties, a group I could easily identify with. The stage was not jazzed up like it was for the Adnan Sami concert that I had an opportunity to go to last year- no psychedelic lights  but a constant blue hue to match the mood of the evening.

The Colonial Cousins, on the dot of the appointed hour just walked to the stage from the wings in their kurta-pajamas and regular sandals. They sang memorable tracks from their earlier albums and a few from the new album that they launched this year ( Colonial Cousins once more). No one from the audience was restless with song requests. We waited for them to decide what they wanted to sing and immersed ourselves in the magical evening.

From what I observed, I decided that I like Leslie Lewis a tad more than I like Hariharan ( and I love his voice!). Leslie was bashful, gentlemanly and seemed to wield a great sense of humour that flashed like a sword in the dark. Hariharan was exuberant and extroverted.  Leslie let Hariharan be center of attention ( obviously he had an edge over Leslie with his voice skills) but Leslie’s guitar skills were nothing short of amazing.  There were some non Colonial Cousins requests for Hariharan and he politely hummed some of his other tracks that have made him popular. All the while, Leslie had this charming, indulgent smile and “yeah- bro- show -them –what- you- got” attitude.

Here is a track I managed to record entirely from the evening. Don’t you just love these guys!

 

Four short of a century – A tribute to my grandpa

My 96 year old maternal grandfather passed away this weekend.  He had a fall last week and was advised surgery. He survived the surgery and was strong enough to get upset with his sons about not being around him when he was recovering. The fact that he was in the ICU, was of no significance to him. My grand dad was the last surviving sibling of a family of five. He was the oldest and lived the longest.  One of his younger sisters passed away a week before his time came.

I was fortunate to have met him a few months back when I went for my annual visit home. I always made it a point to see him on the same day I arrived or within the next couple of days. Even If I could not, I would fudge the details of my arrival to make it look like I had arrived only then. Somehow it felt to me that he minded a bit if I told him that I had arrived earlier but had made time to come over to say hello only then.

As always, I spent some time with him, repeating details of my life that he was already aware of. He has been hard of hearing from the time I remember interacting with him. In my mind’s eye, I see him quickly pacing into his room, after acknowledging my arrival with a surprised toothless smile and a ‘wait ’ hand  sign, while he fixed his hearing aid and adjusted the volume on the little box that he later slid into his pocket. He would beckon to a chair next to him and then we would start the conversation.

He did not expect anything from me. Lately I had been carrying only bananas for him since that was the only fruit he enjoyed. He was keen to spend time with me, asking me mundane details of my life. He was genuinely interested in what I did, how I traveled, who cooked for me, where I stayed, how my in laws were.

It was typical of him to repeatedly ask the same questions that he had asked you in your last visit. Things don’t change that quickly in everyone’s lives to make mundane details sound interesting. But if you knew him well, you’d patiently wait for him to complete his list of questions.

So where do you live now? Singapore. Singapore! It is so far away! How did you come?  Flight. Airplane! Who came with you?  I came on my own. By yourself?! Not bad!

How is your child? (He could never recall her name). How old is she now? What grade? Wow!

How are your inlaws? How is your brother in law and his family? His kids? They must all be grown up now. Do they still live in Jayanagar?

How is your mom? Is she going back to Singapore with you? How long will she stay? 4 months! That is a long time!

Another thing he possessed about is for me to eat a meal before I left; if I couldn’t stay on for a meal on that day, then I had to promise coming back for a meal on another day. Invariably, I would eat every time I visited him. If I had to step out to meet someone else in the neighborhood, he would panic about where I was off to. Even after verbal assurances , he would wonder if I was going away without telling him. I would leave my hand bag behind and that assured him I was coming back.

And God forbid if I told him that I would be away for 15 minutes and I got delayed. He’d be at the gate watching the road till he spotted me.  You said you were going for 15 and you stayed away for so long! I was worried because the traffic is bad and I don’t trust any of these vehicles. When I left, he gave me a lot of instructions to drive safe and to call as soon as I reached home. And then he would sit right next to the phone until it rang and I spoke to my aunt to let him know I had reached.

As was customary, I always sought his blessings when I left his house. As soon as I readied myself to take his blessings with a namaskaram at his feet, he would stop me, quickly go into the puja, bring the turmeric smeared rice (akshathai)  in his hand to bless me with it and then would give me the go ahead.

Lately I had begun to give him a parting hug. I could wrap my one arm around him easily and I was careful not to crush his frail frame. He would feel very uncomfortable and protect himself by raising his arms to his chest. He liked shaking hands as a better parting wish. He shook hands with everyone. With me, with my husband, daughter. He’d be very English about it. A smart firm handshake accompanied by eye contact and a genuine smile that reached his eyes.

He walked with me till the gate, kept advising me to be safe and waved to me till I turned the corner of the street he lived in. As always I told him to take care and that I would see him when I came back next time.

I will miss him the next time at Mavalli. Rest in peace, thatha.

R Shamanna 1917-2013

R Shamanna 1917-2013
Leaves behind 6 children, 10 grand kids and 9 great grand kids

Kanu pongal and crows

Come January and there is a slew of festivals that a tambrahm celebrates. One of them is the four day long harvest festival, Pongal. Any tambrahm worth her salt,expects to participate in the day four festivities- Kanu pongal- for the sentiments and significance of the day. I can vouch for all the women of this community that it is her favorite part of the four day Pongal festivities.

We get to feed the crows in return for the bounteous living of our loved ones!

The most wanted on Kanu pongal day!

When I was a little girl, we followed the rituals of Kanu pongal with a neighborhood of people from the same community. The event was celebrated at dawn, before bath time- another reason why I liked the festival. We took bowls of left over rice, coloured yellow with turmeric and red with kumkum, supposedly to attract the crows, neatly laid them out on almost dry turmeric leaves that were bought on day one of the festivities. Small balls of red alternating with white idli pieces and yellow balls of rice, continuously chanting a rhyme that conveyed the significance of the festival.

Kanu pudi vechchen, kakapudi vechchen

Pukk-aam pongi vaazha

Pirandha-aam therundhu vaazha

Uda pirandhaan, usandhu vaazha!

Roughly translated it means – I feed the crows with the hope that my in laws live in bounteous abundance, my parents live in liberal generosity and my brothers live successfully! Excellent sentiments, wouldn’t you agree? To make sure the crows knew that the food had been left for them, the older women would caw like the crows to announce that food had been laid out. As a little girl, I would join the fun and keep cawing till I spotted the first crow. After that, I would keep running back to the terrace to check if the food had disappeared and update the status of the scene to my mom.

It was a common joke among women those days that the crows seemed to hide and become scarce on the fourth day of Pongal knowing that they are the most wanted for that day. Where as one would see flocks of them on other days, they would be significantly scarce on Kanu pongal mornings!

Eventually I grew up ( don’t we all do) and even though my in laws celebrated it differently ( for starters, I had to have a bath before laying out the crow feed!), I still loved every bit of the festival. I felt it was was the least I could do for my brother, given the fact that we pray for our siblings success in life.

Circa 2010. I relocated to Singapore and I looked forward to celebrating  Kanu pongal away from home. On the day of the festival, with the same anticipation of feeding the crows, my mother in law and I completed the rituals and placed the food on the window sill of our condo since we knew that the neighbors would object to it being left in an open area like the terrace. A few hours later, I peeked to check how much of the food had disappeared and to my dismay, it stayed the way that we had laid it out. At the end of the day, I reluctantly removed the food on display and discarded it convinced that the crows wouldn’t show up anymore. My mother in law, being the thoughtful woman that she was, assured me that it was the sentiment that mattered and not the fact that the crows ate the food that will result in the abundance, generosity or success. Satisfied with that reasoning, I wound up for the day.

My story doesn’t end here. I found out why there were no crows to feed in Singapore, as recently as last week.

Will tell you my story…stay tuned for my next blog post!

Music, his refuge

guitarHe is 70. Too old to be driving door to door for music lessons, if you ask me. At 70, if I am still around, I would be busy doing things that please me. Maybe he was doing just that too. For someone who has taught music all his life, what else could be more exciting but that?

He loves to talk. It is a different story that I found it difficult to follow what he said in the beginning. His English is highly accented, despite the fact that he worked in England for twenty years. That would have changed the way he spoke the language, wouldn’t you think? Hard to imagine how differently he spoke before his 20 year stint.

He is lonely. Every time I cancelled my class, he would offer to accommodate me on another day of the week. I suspected that he was lonely, that his children were all older, married and having their own families. Maybe his wife was an old grouch and he wanted respite from her.

He is a learner. He asked me if I was computer savvy, if I knew how to use the internet, if I could teach him how to use his new iPad. His son gifted him an iPad 2 from one of his trips from Australia. After class, we sit down with his new iPad for half an hour, opening and closing apps and learning how to use them.

He wants to make new friends. I saw that he had three friends on Facebook from the time he owned the iPad. His son, daughter in law and wife. He showed keen interest on learning how to make new friends on Facebook. I suggested that he connect with friends of his friends first and then build his network. He looked hurt and refused to consider that option. He wanted new friends. Unknown to his family.

On the second session that I spent with him teaching him to use his iPad , he showed me an app he could use to call people for free. To demonstrate how it works, we called his wife. Her number was stored on the app along with that of his son’s. He was taken aback I chose her to call first. He spoke briefly in his native tongue and closed the call. I smiled. I had done a good deed for the day.

On the third session of learning how to use his iPad, he wanted to fill out an online form for a service provider. The text from the service provider said that if he updated his personal information he would stand a chance to win an iPad2. Who was I to ridicule his enthusiasm for a second iPad? I played along. I helped him fill out the form. When we came to the part that asked his marital status he said divorced.

That explained everything.

…. his enthusiasm for new friends on Facebook.

…. why he looked shaken after I connected the call to his wife using the app.

…. why he was lonely

…. why he loved to talk

…. why he drove door to door teaching music at 70.

Nandyavattai nostalgia

I miss dad when I walk my pet in the botanic gardens especially when Maxx stops to sniff the pretty white nandyavattai flowers on the way.

There were two of them. I remember them even as tiny saplings before they grew into tall plants. It was daddy who dutifully watered them every evening. We had a long hose pipe with a rubber nozzle that connected to the water outlet at one end while the other end reached one of the paathis (the mud bridges that was built around the plant to help hold water) that dad had created with the help of a gardener.  Every evening, dad got back from work and ritualistically connected the hose pipe to the water outlet and held the other end in his hand and walked about from one plant to another, watering the plants in our little garden. He specially took pride while watering the two Nandyavattai plants, since he had watched them grow from saplings. After he was done, daddy never let the hose stay in the garden in one of the paathis like I had seen in some gardens. He would dutifully roll it up neatly into a smart circle and put it back into the bathroom where it hung from one of the showers. We have often upset dad by not rolling the hosepipe the way he did after we had watered the plants, in his absence.

 

Nandya

The Nandhiyavattai flowers bloomed in all their glory every day. However, we barely got to see them when we woke up because daddy would have plucked every single one of them for the perumal pujai  (as offering to the God’s). The only time we saw them on the plant was when daddy was travelling or was sick. The neighbours would know just by the mere presence of the flowers on the tree past six in the morning, that daddy was either not in town or unwell. Even when we did finally pick them off the plant to offer it to the God’s we would still not have the patience to pick every single one of them.

I miss you dad. There is some reason or the other in every step I take in life that remind me of you. I hope that there are plenty of nandyavattai plants in full bloom where you are now.

My 2011 Twitter timeline summary

ImageIt is that time of the year again. To scroll back to 12 months of what I tweeted about to make this summary, was effort intensive. I loved it though! So here you go, if you don’t follow me on twitter, here are reasons why you should 🙂

January –  Big salad lunches, big on new artist music, rainy days in Singapore, discovered Aglio olio, King’s speech(movie), Booher’s rules of Grammar(Book), updated iPad iOS, two sad news of death, Nora Ephron (book), Denzel Washington in Unstoppable(movie), Pizza dinners, Manmadan Ambu(movie), glorious weather, Statins for Cholesterol for GSR, new friends on Twitter, Akank’s first composition, Enchanted meadows, high calorie food tech left overs from school, data management with mock share market in Math, iPhone fiasco, IKEA, radio, girlie secrets, hunger banquet at school, Ma’s first time on Twitter, 50th anniversary celebrations at company, The Three waiters from Australia, first time at MBS, 7 minute meetings at school, wines, back to school, spa treatments, resumed yoga, disappointing cancelation of Akon concert, Ma’s new Toshiba laptop, Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas in Once Upon a Time in Mexico(movie).

February – John Joseph’s  Brain seminar at school, salads for lunch, plenty of walks, library books, Sheena Iyengar,  foot massages, The Adjustment Bureau(movie), Aston Kutcher in No Strings attached(movie), dog license,  spa treatments, 127 hours(movie), listening to new music artists, Grammy awards, Black Swan(movie), music on radio, more salads, more baking, regular at Yoga, Chinese New year, movies at weekends, The Last Air-bender(movie), Seven Pounds(movie), The Social Network(movie), Nicholas Cage in the Season of the Witch(movie).

March –  Met Shoba De, Mukul Deva  and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan  at the author’s meet, Akank and Maxx in the Pet Corner of the dailies, Child worker day at school, beginning of ankle pain, notes on the 3rd string in guitar lessons, tremors in Manila when hubby is visiting, AR Rahman concert- Live!,  Akank at Universal Studios, 30% brighter moon, The Lion King Musical live!, new BFF, bake sale, restarted guitar classes,  salads at lunch, blog updates, dragon boating at Kallang, baking, movies on telly, Sean Penn in I am Sam(movie).

April  –  Maxx’s birthday, Library visits, books, Driving Miss Daisy(movie), Akank’s booster shots, hair care, Justin Bieber- live, Chanting the Daimoku, Rio(movie), last term at school, guitar lessons, Flip camera closure, cheeky tween sayings, new Crocs, resumed Yoga, more Cricket, resolving friendship issues at school, American Idol, Dairy of a Wimpy kid(movie), Ankle pain, baking, WorldCup cricket, holiday at KL.

May –  Visitors from India, new learning’s as mother of a tween, no help period, ankle tendonitis, walk with Maxx, Maxx’s first birthday invite, first day at school for Maxx, Russell Crowe in State of Play(movie),  Reproduction as lesson in science, hot summer days, new tween vocabulary, play dates, 20-20 cricket matches, Akank traveling alone.

June – Nimbuzz, Kung Fu Panda 2(movie), HBO Movies, Dale Carnegie, baking, music, the five minute chocolate cake, Pirates of the Caribbean(movie), first dental visit for Akank,Christchurch earthquake when hubby visits (2nd Earthquake experience for him), Fathers day, end of school year,  Maxx’s hotspots, Flu,  HangOver2(movie).

July – Kuppam, Dad’s anniversary, ZNMD(movie) with friends, climbing Tirumala hills, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Stanley Ka Dubba(movie), DelhiBelly(movie), Vellore, Packing for holiday, Summer vacation, Ma’s birthday,  42nd birthday, ClubMed Bintan.

August– Zoho Anniversary, our wedding anniversary, RunKeeper logs, New President for Singapore, step up speed of internet, blogging, ma’s first facial treatment in 66years, Arun’s birthday, Gokulashtami, Akank’s new MacBook Pro, Akank’s birthday, Big Bang Theory mania, 3rd Twitter birthday, Maxx’s tail accident, Resumed guitar class, Jiya’s mom passes away, brand new school year, Kemin get together- Zookeeper(movie), Boston earthquake when hubby is visiting- his third experience, Neelesh Misra, Mooncakes, resumed workouts, last week of vacation.

September – Photography workshop, Queenbees Wannabees(Book), Workshop on Emotional Freedom Techniques, plumbing woes, Isha Kriya, baking, Maxx’s mouth infection, Gtalk app on iPad, an evening with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev , epic fight on twitter, walks, TEDtalks, Maxx’s eye infection, Payanam(movie), Maxx’s wound dressing trips to vet, NLB’s Drop everything and Read, Niyati anniversary.

October – Diwali, RaOne(movie), ma’s sprained ankle, Shankar Tucker, TEDtalks, Flu, Living in Singapore workshop, learning conversations talk, Navaratri, Adnan Samy, Isha Kriya, FDW woes, Friends with benefits(movie), Steve Jobs, Taylor Mali and spoken word poetry,  volunteering at school library.

November – Christmas décor, Molly Hopkins(book), Jeff Abbot(Book), Elton John, World Orchid Convention, School PTA, Tintin(movie), guitar lessons, StanChart goof up, Thailand floods, baking.

December – Mandarin Oranges, Scrabble, videos on You Tube, Margin Call (movie), Drive (movie), Oats, Cabaret at Orchard Central, Hanuman Jayanti, MI:4 (movie), FDW old and new, Akank’s flu, End of term at school, Jerusalem essay, School choir, inaugural, Walking Maxx, Venus Conspiracy (Book), Singapore rains, Akank’s surgery, iSlash, Linda Kelsey’s The 20 year Itch(Book), Don- 2(movie), school vacations, Sherlock Holmes(movie).