An Arid March

March 5 and 6 2011 had to be the driest days I’ve experienced since I started living in Bangalore. I am not sure what March 7 will bring because, well, as of writing, it hasn’t begun. No doubt it will be drier still.

The Hindu insisted that on March 6, humidity was 75%. And it predicts that March 7 will be one percent drier - 74%.


I check the forecasts again, obsessively for the following days - RH hovers around 75%. It can’t possibly be. My feet are grey after just an hour outside. Within the house they seem to flake away.

The apartment floor is tracked with dust from outside blown in by a scraping wind and the skin off my feet.


A cousin (named after Winnie Mandela) once talked about how she’d like to be a meteorologist. The only job, she said, that you could suck at and fail, and still keep.

The Indian Meteorological Department is a popular joke in the family: Monsoon to start next week? Well stick your recently sucked finger in the air, check which way the wind is blowing and you’re sure to guess it more correctly than them. What little one, tomorrow?

And the next day the monsoons will start.

Light haze in the sky, the newspaper reports with impressive satellite pictures will proclaim.

It will be the clearest blue top that you’ve seen in your life.

Brighter than summers in Muscat and Kerala, once again the devil wind blowing and the skin off your nose peeling.


Days like these are not made more endurable when you start watching programs on African elephants and they wallow in red sand, turning their grey skins a dusty orange. They wander off looking refreshed and you ponder the possibility of taking a roll in the dust when you’re out next in the mid-morning dry heat.

You don’t lie down and do it, you slyly remove a slipper and experiment with an elephant-inspired soil foot bath. Your skin is drier and now you’re tracking dust, sloughed off foot skin and dignity on the apartment floor.


The scalp comes off, in your hair brush.

The hair follows and you have visions of bald patches and weeping mothers.
Water just makes your hands drier.

You put on the TV and there’s Soha Ali Khan’s friend insisting in an ad that Soha looks “radiating”.

There are too many functionally illiterate morons in the country, mostly middle class, and they all work in the media.


A bottle of green olives are finished in a week. The last quarter in just an evening.

That night, you’re drier inside than out.




I spent most of today travelling around an area of Bangalore that I rarely visit. I went through the Bangalore University campus, had a view of the gorgeous National Law School library and went up-down hills that were studded with multi-storey residences looking over their shoulders at other multi-storey residences or the iron skeleton structures of residences yet to solidify, gain form and block their neighbour’s views.

This city is expanding and burgeoning, a nebula of germs popping up below the magnifying gaze of some star up in the sky.

And the land and trees and wind it is eating up is heartbreaking.

The two-wheelers that crowd the narrow lanes and wider roads threaten, however, to break your hips, toes and limbs.

I can’t see it changing much for the better. It will worsen and degrade. This is the irreversible reaction that Mr. Varghese talked about in the stand alone Chemistry class in eighth standard. This is the road there was no going back on. Churn through the hours and miles and go forward.



Strawberry Fields (Well, not quite)

I had been staring (and frankly, lusting) after some really good strawberry preserves for quite a while now. But most of them available in the shops were too expensive - the one made “locally”, the High Range Strawberry Preserves from Munnar, had shot up in price from Rs. 90 last year to a whopping Rs. 135 this year. So those didn’t fit in the budget and then there were the Nilgiris’ own brand which were Rs. 90 for such a small jar that it didn’t make any economic sense.

So instead, I decided to buy half a kilo of strawberries for Rs. 100 and set about making my own preserves. I could decide what was to go in it and how much sugar and given that I’d be eating them almost the minute they’d been made, the flavour, I thought, would be unimaginably intense. I rooted around the interwebs for a recipe and found the perfect one here. Plus, I watched Trish Deseine make Apricot and Vanilla Jam on Trish’s French Country Kitchen and get tips on sterilising jars and the wrinkle test for judging the preserves’ doneness.

I got out all the heavy saucepans, boiled the jars, boiled the fruit and sugar and lemon juice, and after almost an hour, everything was ready and waiting to go into the bottles. I’d taken my oven back home, and didn’t trust the microwave to dry the jars, so used a high powered hair dryer instead. It seems to have all worked out so far - though I doubt the preserves are going to last long enough for me to judge whether I did a good job of sterilising the jars.

Plus, it seems to have turned out infinitely more economical - I got two full jars out of that Rs. 100 box of berries. With the costs of sugar added plus fuel etc, it still works out more economical than the shop bought or imported preserves. Plus, no added colour or chemicals have been imbibed into my system. A good job all around I should say. And just look at that colour - makes it all worth it:


Movie Review - Ore Kadal

Ore Kadal (The Sea Within) - 2007

Language: Malayalam

Directed by Shyamaprasad

A loud denial rings through in the middle of Ore Kadal, Shyamaprasad’s third Malayalam feature film. A young, guilt-ridden housewife, Deepthi (Meera Jasmine), slams the door in the face of the man with whom she’d had an adulterous liaison. Even as the unhappy, dishevelled man shuffles off into a long, dim corridor, Deepthi has second thoughts and leaves her flat to stand at the stairwell of her shabby apartment building. The man is out of sight and she looks around for him desperately, her face signalling conflicting emotions: unbearable remorse and irrepressible desire. She looks up, down and all around to see where he’s gone. In the grey corridors and drab space, it is easy to see why that dissolute man has fallen for this woman, an incandescent child of the hills who seems to light up the urban milieu into which she has been thrust by marriage.

The man, a prominent economist and expert on the Indian lower middle class, Dr. Nathan (Mammootty), is given over to womanising and alcohol, rejecting relationships and preferring sex over love. Deepthi, a guileless and intellectually immature woman who is married to a sanguine slacker, Jayaprakash (Narain) with whom she has a young son, infiltrates Nathan’s frozen emotional landscape with the stealth of a wild animal. The initial exchanges between Nathan and Deepthi are material. He offers her and her sick child a lift to the hospital and then lends her money for household expenses - a request instigated by her unemployed, slacker husband. The tempo of this relationship changes when Deepthi visits Nathan to ask his help in finding Jayaprakash a job. Nathan has just learned of the death of a beloved aunt and his vulnerable, drunken flirtation with Deepthi ignites into a full blown affair.

Deepthi is hardly Madame Bovary, the bored wife of a provincial doctor looking for stimulation through a series of affairs. Rather, in a city with grey, colourless lives and where she can’t communicate with any other adult except her frequently absent husband, she’s forced to look for companionship with a man whom she initially admires much like a groupie (she lovingly wipes a dusty photo of Nathan and the Prime Minister with the edge of her sari pallu). When Nathan gets Jayaprakash a job, she tries to thank him but finds him dismissive and unapproachable. Prone to mental self-flagellation, she is troubled to think that there has been an exchange of favours in the affair. She falls pregnant with Nathan’s child and unable to own up to her oblivious husband, has a mental breakdown once she’s given birth to a baby girl. With an irony that’s apparent but thankfully not heavily underlined by the director, Deepthi and Jayaprakash are assisted in getting psychiatric help by Nathan.

Nathan, shaken by the events he’s set in motion, drowns his sorrow in whisky and confesses all to his best friend, Bela (a splendid Ramya Krishnan). Bela is the strongest character in the film and the most compelling. She’s a survivor of incestuous abuse and poverty and now a successful restauranteur. She acts as Nathan’s mirror, the one who shows him the flaws in his soul that he can’t quite ignore.

Deepthi returns from the psychiatric institute to a new house and tries hard to find some semblance of normalcy in her life. But she can’t quite escape the cycle of hopelessness and desperation that plague her family and others like them. Nathan’s seduction and exploitation of Deepthi while using her and her husband as a case study is one of the director’s subtle jabs at the hypocrisy of self absorbed intellectuals in their ivory towers. This cycle of exploitation and dependance is repeated when Deepthi has to face the attention of new neighbours - an unemployed lout and his pregnant wife. Much as Deepthi had once leant on the kindness of a stranger, these neighbours pressure her to lend money and food.

Shyamaprasad adapted the film from Sunil Gangopadhya’s novel Hirak Deepthi and the story’s literary roots show through. Unlike most Indian films, a lot is left unsaid and there’s no happy resolution for the emotional and metaphysical crises that erupt. What is essentially a story about the battle between the hidebound moral codes of the Indian middle class and the desires of the flesh is bolstered by Shyamaprasad’s clear vision that unfortunately lets him down in the final act. The last shot loses its poignancy thanks to the melodramatic, clunky dialogue that immediately precedes it. The scenes where both Deepthi and Nathan achieve some kind of grace after all the mental anguish they have been through loses its potency. One of the highlights of the film and which explains its title, is Mammooty’s recitation of a poem exploring the idea of the self as a sea and others as the shore, to be touched and embraced. Ousepachan’s haunting musical compositions (for which he won the National award) also subtly threads this idea through the film.

Ore Kadal is a brave film but it is far from a masterpiece. The quality of the film is affected by some bad editing and loss of continuity between scenes, at times in the same scene itself. There are frequent fades to black and while this may work at certain points in the plot, the repeated use of the technique palls.

Meera Jasmine, who shone in T.V. Chandran’s Padam Onnu: Oru Vilaapam, gives one of the best performances of her career. And in Mammooty she finds the perfect foil - the veteran actor has that rare ability of making stillness an essential, intuitive part of his performance. Both the leads are given ample support by Narain whose character grows visibly from the cadging, irresponsible husband to a truly caring human being. A man, who for all his bluster and put-downs of Nathan and others, attains a nobility that his wife and her lover struggle to achieve.

If there is to be a retrospective of Shyamaprasad’s work in the future, Ore Kadal should be screened in a double bill with Agnisakshi, his 1998 National award winning film. Ore Kadal expands on the themes of Agnisakshi: morality, spirituality and the immediate, corporeal present of most lives in a country that is constantly in flux. Both the films take a brave look at the gulf that lies between the Indian man and woman, and put into words and images that those unable to self reflect would comfortably ignore. And in their ignorance, they’d be losing the one quality that made them human: empathy.