I landed on the wrong planet

The bell chimed as he walked in for the second time. "Hey! It's been a while," said the man at the bar. "I need a drink," said he as he shook his head, trying to dispel the uncomfortable truth repeatedly spanking him sensuously. And that is how we find our hero, sipping something muddy on another planet.

Location: Yaadhum Oore. Yaavarum Kelir

I am a bad imitation of don Quixote.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to make rasam

Today, I am going to teach you how to make rasam.

The first step in making rasam is to make sure that it is a Tuesday afternoon. A Tuesday afternoon is known to induce immeasurable empathy with the universe and an inexplicable sense of guilt – both of which are assuaged by the precisely made rasam. So, on a Tuesday afternoon, in a dark kitchen where the dust motes shimmer like memories, with that framed Tanjore painting of Kamakshi to the side looking like a well-fed judge on Masterchef, we begin.

I could ask you to take a lead-lined vessel, or I could ask you to take an iluppuchatti. That is the difference between making rasam and making rasam on a Tuesday afternoon. The difference between lukewarm and vedhu vedhu. Boil water in the iluppuchatti. As soon as the first hopeful bubbles begin to emerge, turn off the heat and drop a lump of tamarind inside.

Now, the tamarind lump must essentially look like a sage. The seed must be within. The whiskers must be long. Drop the tamarind and walk away from the pot without looking back.

Cut a tomato into nine pieces. For the next ten minutes, you should contemplate on the larger historical perspective of our decision to use a tomato with the tamarind soaked water. It is not simply a perspective on colonialism and the death of indigenous arts. It is rather, a perspective on vegetable warfare. The tomato and the tamarind have always been arch enemies – like liberals and free thinkers. The tamarind considers itself a grass-root artist, a Fabindia wearing flautist who performs under a Banyan tree to an audience of Fabindia wearers. The tomato is the pulpier artist, the guy who got famous on Youtube, won a reality show and is now the most searched word. The rasam puritans out there would tell me that it is illogical to use two sour sources, pardon my syllables. But the clash is essential to the dynamic nature of the rasam. However, with powerful performers like this, you need a strong stage.

Once the tamarind has soaked in the water, remove it for it was a meaningless illusion to begin with anyway. Now, boil the water, add the nine tomato pieces and listen as the jugalbandhi unfolds. Before it gets to the competitive phase, however, you must add a spoon and a half of paatti’s rasappodi (Grandmother’s Rasam Powder). It is there in that rolled up Quaker Oats cover, with that melting rubber band wound tightly around. Hold the rolled up cover in both hands, bring it close to your nose and, before a sneeze can completely form, unwind the rubber band in one smooth motion. If this is done right, you should see a tiny puff of burnt sienna escape from the mouth of the cover like dust from Alibaba’s cave. Once the rasappodi is added, our grand performers will quiet down a bit. This is the time for the salt. Contrary to popular opinion, salt does not serve any ritualistic purpose and is purely for taste. When the rasam comes to a boil, set it down but do not turn off the stove. It is imperative that the next step be performed over the same fire.

Take a smaller vessel and let drip seven drops of ghee. Ghee – the nectar of the gods, the wine of the divine bovine! Let the ghee ascend to the heavens to announce the intention of the cook! Let the ghee carry the message of rasam to the four winds! So be it. So be it.

Sputter mustard seeds in the ghee. Incidentally, ‘sputter’ is perhaps the best coined word in the English language, so you must listen to the phonetic expression of the same as the mustard seeds sputter. But don’t listen for too long, for it is a mesmeric sound that will draw you in if you are not careful. Add a pinch of hing and quickly pour this consecrated concoction into the rasam.

Pluck three twigs of coriander with the index finger and thumb after professing several apologies to the plant. Garnish the rasam with coriander. After ten minutes, take a ladle and swirl the rasam three times in the apradhakshanam direction before serving.

Serves 1 for there is no other.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


You don’t do it because it’s free or cheap. It’s not because it grows on trees or that it lines your sidewalk. You don’t go there because it’s just down the road. You don’t chase it because it’s the in-thing; not because it’s pop-culture and hip.

You do it in hidden caves where bats feel their way. You did it in subterranean chambers where dragons slumber and laze. You do it in the dead of the night. You do it after lunch on Tuesday.
It’s illegal. It’s prohibited. It’s frowned upon. The government doesn’t like it. Your mom doesn’t like it. You could lose your job and wander naked in the forest alone; you could grow a beard and piss self-important people off.

Legalise it, you shout. Legalise it? Do you want it for 30 bucks at Big Bazaar? Do you want the astral plane shipped to you from Alaska? Legalise it so that you can call customer care at two in the night and complain about the lack of clarity?

If it’s for sale, it ain’t it.

If it’s over-the-counter, it ain’t it.
If it’s on discount, it ain’t it.
If it’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, it ain’t it.
If it’s fraught with significance, it ain’t it.
If you get it, it ain’t it.

It’s the naughty breeze that rides up a widow's skirt during her husband's funeral. It’s the strange shape of the big turd you just extruded. It’s the smiley face that eases the sarcasm in the text you just received on your phone. It’s a painting of white diagonal lines aesthetically slicing across a white canvas.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Martian Interlude

Burn slow, baby. Burn slow.

Rainforests, Pine forests, multiplexes and cigarettes. School buses, French kisses, video tapes and apocalypse. Fire in the mountain, run, run, run! Pyre at the count of ten, run, run, run! Run through the dirty lane, run through the street. Run through the plastic shop selling plastic beet.

Come through my open door.

Come through the fire.

Swim through the dirty soul.

Swim into desire.

Foggy breath and sweaty lips. Burning bush and seething crown. Why do we touch, why do we kiss? Is it the fire or is it the smoke?

Oil fields and broken beads – empty teats and parched feet. Jarring beats and famous cheats. Oh, how they burn! How they bleat!

They bleat and moan, pitiful and low.

But you burn slow, baby. Burn slow.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Suicide Letter

A suicide note is an unfair way of having the last word in the argument. But it is the unimaginative that would leave the party without a punch-line. To have the screen drop without an encore seems like a betrayal of the entire act. So, forgive me for dragging the epilogue. If you are reading this, I am obviously dead. Thus, you must also know how I did it.

The most effective way to commit suicide, it seems, is to use a .38 caliber revolver and shoot the back of the head – somewhere just behind the ear. The brain bits would be all over the place, the head slumped sideways – perfectly positioned to land a slot on the prime time news channel. Utterly painless and utterly déclassé. Not my style.

I would have loved to jump off a cliff – very much like The Fool in the Tarot deck. The symbolism would have been complete – not to mention the joy of succumbing to the ultimate temptation of the precipice. But poison seemed the most aesthetically pleasing, spiritually satisfying option. I now belong to that elite company that has sipped the Shiva Merlot – I now rub shoulders with Socrates. The intentional symbolism here too was satisfying. The act of drinking to see new visions is an old, archaic practice. The ancient king Raghu drank the divine cow’s milk to see the way to the heavens. The True Guru gave Kabir bhang to open up the existential bubble.

To say that no one is responsible for my death would be to deny the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. It would have been a shame had I lived without making anyone responsible for my actions. It would have been a deliberate attempt at understating the influence of some exceptional men and women in my life. But in these paranoid times, even a dead man has to censor his words to please the frightened masses. So, let me forgo literary embellishments for political correctness. No one is responsible for my death.

The frugal setting in which my body must have been found might have given you the idea that poverty was the reason for my death. But I had never considered money to be the yardstick of the quality of life. Nor was the reason something as shockingly refreshing as a failed love affair. I believe such cases are a rarity these days. No excruciatingly painful diseases either. In fact, I could dance around here all day like Rumpelstiltskin, and you would never guess.

I did it because I wanted to be the only person to have used Rumpelstiltskin’s name in his suicide letter.

With much love,
Formerly Anonymous

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You may say I'm a Dreamer

“Many, many happy returns of the day!”


As far as dreams go, this one was certainly lame. There was no surrealism in the events that unfolded after the pronouncement of that statement. ‘Unfolded’ seems to imply an unfurling in the past, when it actually happened outside time. And space. Our consciousness is no more limited by the now than it is limited by the skull. Thought does not happen in the corrugated alien surface of the brain. Awareness is not an electric spark that arches from the medulla oblongata. Reality is the self. The universe is an idea – and not a well thought out one at that.


People that know me are not surprised that I keep writing about dreams. For reasons that are perceived by various individuals simultaneously as laziness, cowardice, deviant behavior, complacency, introspection and imagination, my love for these visions of alternate realities are known to many, if not understood.


The fogginess of a dream is purely retrospective. Furthermore, though it is often diagnosed as a cataract in the mind’s eye brought on due to the supposed linearity of time, the haze is purely the result of ignorance and a refusal to be awed.


My birthday party is held in an all-girls’ school. I am slightly irked by my assumption that I would automatically enjoy revelry in the presence of pheromones flowing like tiny rivulets down a mountain hirsute with sage and oak. It is the cafeteria, and the other tables are occupied completely by teasing teams of teens tickled by the thought of testosterone. None of them look at our table, preferring to ignore the rather raucous party thrown to celebrate my birthday – which it isn’t.


Sitting right across me is you, happy and mischievous. You love such parties – not because you enjoy being part of such social extravaganza, but rather due to your propensity to come up with fabulous one-liners and sharp retorts. It is only the unimaginative that would leave the party without a punch-line, you think.


Two others are here too – but what good is it in trying to paint their faces for you? They could be anybody. They could be my brothers, or my sisters. They could be elves or Martians. Their heads could be oblong or ovoid. They are fillers – twenty-second commercials. They provide the comic relief in a humorous play. They shout and cackle like the heroine’s friends in a Hindi movie. They are here for the cake and the ambience.


Breezing through the throng of a million more girls entering the cafeteria is your friend. I do not know him. He is my mentor. He holds a tray full of what ought to be tequila shots. Up close, the tray is empty. And I am drunk.


“What whiskey was it?” asks my mentor.


I struggle to remember. “The name had something to do with a shore. Ivory Coast, Green label?"


You let out a snort. Incidentally, snorting is rather difficult to do. You can easily swallow your spittle and choke on it. And snorting is very unbecoming too. It sounds like an immoral guffaw.


Mulberry Coast! How can you forget?” You are scandalized and amused that my knowledge of elite whisky is still not as incomplete as yours. The girls are laughing – like thousands of metal dishes eloping. Like millions of angry fiddles bitching about cats.


“And now,” says the unfamiliar mentor with a flourish. There ought to be a cape and a handlebar moustache jostling with that flourish. “And now, for your gift!”


A man seated amidst the gaggle of girls undergoes spontaneous combustion. If I can save the man, the girls would shower me with French kisses. I approach the burning man and he stares me down.


“Pitiful,” murmur the three or four comic goons at our table. The mentor shakes his cape mournfully and departs. When one is mournful, one doesn’t just leave. One departs.


Standing to my right is a dog. I pet him.


“Really?” he asks before bounding away.



Friday, January 23, 2009

The woodpecker's dream

Inspired by the Ramayana

Stars peek in through the gaps in the living canopy overhead like curious neighbours at a poolside party.

The fire dances like a harlem queen, shamelessly.

The shaman dances on, his loincloth swaying like a fabric phallus in the presence of exquisite lingerie.

He holds a sceptre. An alabaster rod with an intricate carving of a serpent slithering through time.

The fur that he wears is singed here and there - evidences of earlier dances in front of more primeval fires.

He is ready to tell the story. Only it is not a story. It is the sound of the earth. The sound of plants crying. The sweet wailing of the jungle fowl. The cacaphony of the treepies. The wild party of the owls. He talks like the falling waters. He whispers like snakes mating.

"Winter is when woodpeckers dream. In the forests of antiquity, the woodpeckers peck away at the minds of sages. The wind tiptoes through the oaks. The gigantic pines are silent sentinels seemingly standing over an organic crypt. A city beyond human comprehension stretches and sleeps peacefully in the afternoon sunlight. It is yesterday."

A faint smell weaves its way through the layers of magic electrifying the air. The smell of burning sage.

The smell of dead angels.

A hollow pecking sound repeats from the nether regions of the dark forest. A woodpecker having a nightmare, perhaps?

"She strolls in, from everywhere. She weaves a dress from the soft grass that grows in the higher meadows. She dips a finger in the cold rushing waters and adorns her nose with a dazzling ring. She coaxes a sleeping plant to give birth to lillies in the winter. And then she sings."

Stars weep cold mist at the sad song. The trees shiver with goosebumps that startle sleeping thrushes. The cold seeps like dirty water in the lungs. She sings and she weeps, her teardrops making the earth bleed.

"There stands, across the pond, a stately figure. His body glimmers like polished ebony. His chest as broad as the unforgiving desert. His eyes sparkle like the crescent moon. He wears the forest around his waist to cover his eager organ. His countenance speaks of royal birth and a rugged life. He pledges his heart to the daughter of the earth. She returns his gaze, caressing him with her doe-like eyes. Her eye lashes tug at him, and his look threatens to incinerate her."

The sceptre is now an erect penis, thrusting at the fire. The sparks fly at every thrust, like heated spurts of semen.

"This is the woodpecker's dream, of forgotten wisdoms and broken spires. Of untold truths and elusive nymphs. The dream shatters with the hunter's arrow. Clouds weep at the wake."

Monday, October 06, 2008

I had a dream. Or do I have?

I realized that what woke me up was not the alarm but the rather unusual dream involving me and my eighth standard English teacher.

I don't usually dream about my English teacher. In fact, I would much rather fantasize about my History teacher, Ms Amudha. Now, she was a looker. Her intricate explanations of the Battle of Waterloo were often accompanied with bad pronunciation and exquisite swaying of the hips. My years of puberty were spent imagining myself being taught the philosophies of Kajuraho by her in my make-believe nocturnal tuition sessions. Fellow pimple-ridden teenagers of my age at that time would immediately connect this above-mentioned fantasy with a specific website that catered to its clientele by providing erotic literature of the lowest quality.

Sundhari, my English teacher, must have been forty when she had been teaching me. She weighed at least 90 kilos, tied her hair in a bun, would walk around with a wooden ruler to punish wrong-doers ("Show me your knuckles!"), and always held the strong belief that 'asif' was short for 'housewife'. So, now you can understand why I had woken up.

It is said that we have five minutes after waking up to try and remember whatever we can from our dreams before they shatter like dropped china. But, sadly, this dream was like a dropped bread that leaves a gooey butter mark on the floor the stench of which never goes away. I can still remember the dream.

It was a classroom. I cannot imagine meeting her anywhere else. I don't think she existed anywhere else. She was in her usual position - which was behind the desk, standing with her weight resting on her arms which were placed firmly on the table. Maybe it was because of her obscene weight or maybe it was her natural bone structure - but I have always marveled at the outward-bent arms. It usually made a sickening angle with the vertical - like the legs of a cartoon table on which Coyote's head is being smashed repeatedly by a bouncing anvil.

"Your grandfather is dead, Rajagopal."

Now, this was a curious thing to say not merely because it was a rather morbid pronouncement in such a pseudo-comic setting but also because he has been dead for ten years.

"Can I go home, then, ma'am?"

Back in school, I have always addressed all my female teachers as 'miss'. She had always been 'Sundhari Miss' or 'English Miss'. Yes, I know. I am one of those. But, thankfully, my dream-self seemed to have grown up with me.

"Your grandfather is dead, Rajagopal."

Second time around, I was getting rather agitated and pissed off with the fact that the announcement required an exclamation point that she was not yielding. She seemed to say it with the same intensity she reserved for adverbs and conjugate verbs - those being two of the many things she had had no clue about.

"Yes, ma'am. I know. Can I go home now?"

It would have been wonderful had Ms Amudha walked in at that time. But I have never been able to master lucid dreaming. Ms Sundhari just stood there with her back to a funeral pyre and said:

"Your imagination is getting rather macabre, Rajagopal."

I was getting darker and meaner and still no exclamation point. What does it take to shock this woman? Wasn't she affected by my sinister ideas? Does not the fact that her favorite student (Yes. One of those.) is now thinking a lot about mortality and is being paranoid about death shake her very core?

"I am sorry, ma'am. I will try thinking about submarines."

"You may go."

I turned to do so when I felt something hard and grainy on my shoulder. The wooden ruler. With a very audible gulp that came out as a speech bubble, I turned around.

"Your usage of tense is pathetic, Rajagopal! Show me your knuckles!"