Thursday, September 11, 2014

On Contests

Hello! Just wanted to let you guys know that I'm currently participating in a contest for...Greeting Card Designs. I'm no artist, but I do like to think of myself as a professional doodler of sorts, and over the years I have been drawing many random things, but the last year or so especially, I've been shifting my focus on animals. When I saw this contest pop up, I knew I had to participate - not to win ofcourse, that would be too awesome to actually happen.

ANYWAY, so I came up with a set of 3 cards to fit the contest brief of "modern and quirky" - I'm putting the link below, and if you like them, and I really hope you do, do vote for them by using the "like" and/or "tweet" button on the same page. You can see them here: http://ohhdeer.com/competition/occasionally-fun/view-artist/8456/Lavanya


Thanks very much everyone!

POSTSCRIPT:

You know, at first when I started typing this post I thought it was all smarmy and not nice to like ask for votes in a blog that I haven't really been updating but then I saw the number of posts this year and good god have I been regular or what - ok so maybe not 2008 regular but I'm still writing! Did you guys know that it's been like what, 9 years since I even started blogging? My first blog was The Evil Autorickshaw which I started in 2005 when I was about 16 years old. I then deleted it because I'm generally an idiot like that, and started this blog in 2007. It's 2014 now, and it boggles the mind to think that I've actually grown up with this space - Board exams, my spectacularly embarrassing teens, internships, my spectacularly embarrassing adult years,failing and passing CA exams, becoming an actual Chartered Accountant, MARRIAGE, wow! It's been a good run, and if you're reading my blog, or used to read my blog, if you like my blog, or if you used to like my blog but now think it's crappy and disgusting wtf how did it even last this long - it doesn't matter - you were part of my growing up years, and if I'm here, I owe you a part of the credit so let's just go out now and get some doughnuts to celebrate.






Friday, September 5, 2014

Those Two Marks

Much hullabaloo was raised yesterday on the many methods of gentle persuasion that schools are employing to ensure that their students are watching the Prime Minister's Teacher's Day address that will be aired on DD today from 3 pm to 4.45 pm. Here is one example:

The more you read it, the funnier it gets. Photo Credit @masalabai


This is where this post stops being about our Prime Minister and his speech.

I studied in PSBB, where we took our "annual day" very seriously. We were so serious about it, that we didn't even call it "Annual Day" like the other schools did. It was the school Anniversary. The Anniversary, like most weddings these days, was essentially the same programme that was performed over a span of three days at one of the biggest auditoriums in the city. Day 1 was for students, Day 2, parents of Nungambakkam and T.Nagar branch, and Day 3, parents of KK Nagar branch. Each year, the programme would have a different theme based on which the teachers had to conceptualize dance/music/theatre performances.

The anniversary usually began on a Wednesday, and after the three days of performing, the weekend was off for the participants to recuperate and begin school refreshed. This was something I got to know only after I saw my sister participate - she has participated in the programme every year she was in school, apart from giving the School Pupil Leader address during her last year. I was a non participant all my years in school - I quite enjoyed being one too - my holiday began two weeks before the anniversary - amidst the wonderful chaos that would ensue in the auditorium with multiple practice sessions and cross-batch bonhomie, I would get about 7 free periods during the day to catch up on sleep that I didn't need. I did do a voice recording for a Tamil play as Avvaiyaar in Standard XII because the girl who was supposed to do the part got a sore throat, but I've never been on stage because I couldn't dance, I couldn't sing, and while I could emote, I "wasn't stage friendly", which was basically polite for "we can't have hippo sized students on stage".

ANYWAY, once the programme was all done and we got back to routine and extra classes to make up for those we missed, there would be an Anniversary Quiz. The quiz, based on the theme and the performances in the anniversary, would be for twenty marks, which would later be shrunk to two, and added to the marks that you'd already scored in your Half Yearly exams. Most of the questions were from the synopsis of the programme that was attached with the invitation, and the questions that weren't from the synopsis were always vague and open to interpretation, like, "What are the benefits of honesty?"

Everyone cared about the Anniversary Quiz, whether they were hoping to turn their 38 into 40 ("The Anniversary Miracle") or their 98 into 100 ("The Anniversary Centum"). I was a recipient myself of The Anniversary Miracle when I got 38 in Economics (40 was pass) in Std XII and it was this completely, completely, pointless quiz with academic consequences that prevented the school from calling my parents up.

The reason I took the trouble to write all this down, is not because I wanted to write a lofty sounding post about how sometimes you need to know more than just the subject (such as the benefits of honesty) to get through school, or because I have problems with anything that the Government is trying to do (if you do want to read my opinions on the Government read my columns where I write under the pen name "Siddharth Varadarajan"), but because, for the first time, it feels like my school has prepared me for the future.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Red Eye

Two days ago, I took the last flight out of Ahmedabad back home. It's scheduled to depart at around nine in the evening, reach Chennai half hour before midnight, and is sometimes delayed but always rickety. Taking the last flight is never the most convenient thing to do, but I am the kind of weirdo homebody who has this permanent urge to get back, even if bone tired, to my room and my bed with too many pillows (mine).

This time on the flight, there was a group of particularly loud men sitting in the two rows in front of me. Gathering from the snippets of their conversation that I (and every other passenger) was forced to hear, it seemed like for a majority of the group, it was their first flight and naturally, they were all visibly excited. The excitement though, after some time, got out a little out of hand - in the midst of the hooting and laughter, they stood up and started posing for pictures during the security brief, making comments about "including the background".

While I am not one to be bothered by loudness or hooting or any behaviour that is not visibly offensive/involves physical contact, this was the first time that I'd seen picture taking that involved including the background and I got uncomfortable since I was, along with a few other women, part of the background. Thankfully, the steward noticed what was going on and came swiftly to handle the situation. She made the man take his phone out, enter his security code, said a lot of things in shuddh hindi about flight policy, and deleted the pictures off his phone. My discomfort soon became aggravation as I noticed that these men had the widest grin on their faces while they were being chided, and that when she left, they broke into laughter again, like it was all a big joke.

I felt terrible for the flight attendant, and what she had to go through, but she looked unfazed - she proceeded to busy herself about things, ever the picture of calm and even came back to ask them, with a warm smile, if they were interested in purchasing a sandwich or maybe juice, as if these engaging in these skirmishes was routine, as if they already knew something like this was going to happen when they set out to work this morning, as if an incident like this had already happened during the course of the day and it was now getting boring to deal with guys like this, as if it was part of their job.

I don't think I'd ever been happier, or more grateful to be an accountant.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thoughts on a Saturday

A few weeks ago, I attended a dinner party organized by a group of my father's friends. It was standard as far as dinner parties went - nobody could completely recognize everybody, the kids were bored out of their minds and everybody laughed uproariously at jokes that weren't at all funny.

While all of this was happening, one of the guests came up to me, and asked me what I was doing at work. When I did tell him what I was doing he smiled sympathetically and told me, very gently, that it wasn't good for anything, and that I should be considering alternatives if I wanted to make money, and if I really wanted to succeed. Look at me, he said, and went on to list all his dazzling achievements which he dazzlingly achieved during his dazzling days in the practice and even after he left practice, before he asked me if I had an exit plan in mind, and whether it was as dazzling as his own.

I started to make a bad joke about raising cows only to get cut off with a serious response about the potential of organic farming, and how his own organic farm (that will do dazzlingly in the future, I'm sure) is shaping up instead. Thankfully, my exit plan appeared a few minutes later in the form of his kid who wanted ice-cream and I slipped out of sight to another corner in the room with the hope that I wouldn't have to see him again.

I get really unnerved when people who are senior to me discuss their career accomplishments with me, and more so when it is accompanied by advice (which is usually unsolicited). I think it probably is because of the fact that my personal definition of what constitutes an achievement has always been very fuzzy. I don't know if that is because of the way I was brought up. My parents were never the 'punishing' type - failures, and awful marks would be met with disappointed faces and the statement - "It's your future. We can only do so much.". Good performances, and academic success was met with happiness, but they were never really surprised or even labelled such performances as "achievements", or whatever it is that gives you the ego that comes along with having accomplished something.

My sister and I have never let good performances really get into our heads, but I remember the time when I'd just passed CA - I was extraordinarily smug and possessed the arrogance of someone who had touched the moon by building a ladder made entirely of toothpicks. My mother went on to prick my ego balloon by telling me that passing CA was the least I could've done, given my background - My father is a Chartered Accountant, and even if that wasn't a factor, I attended the best classes one could attend/money could buy, had access to every book I'd ever need and the best environment required to study - The only odds I had to overcome were my own tendencies to sleep on my textbooks and not pay attention to my teachers and the fact that I failed despite everything that was provided to me was more of an achievement than my passing. You milked a cow and got milk, my mother had told me. Tell me about the day you milked a cow and got orange juice, and I'll let you have an ego then.

Today, I'm still looking to really achieve, do things in ways that only I could've done, but it seems stupid to say oh, I want to achieve without even knowing what I want to achieve. I know quite a few people who seem to have it figured out, who seem to know exactly where they will be, ten, fifteen years from now. I don't. What I do know, though, is that I don't want to be in my forties giving unsolicited advice to young people about how they should be living their lives.

And that, I suppose, is as good a start as any.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Problems of Plenty

It feels like I've been having too many hobbies of late - I should probably blame Pinterest with its very many shiny photos that have successfully fooled me into thinking that I have it in myself to be a great baker/gardener/morning person/diet and fitness expert/healthy eater/writer/circus clown. While I am enjoying doing all the new things that I'm doing, I've been finding it very hard to focus on a hobby. I learn something, I get down to doing it a couple of times, and then I jump on to the next. Occasionally I phase between hobbies, but I just get so bored so quickly.

The area where boredom strikes me the most (apart from work), is in my exercise routine. This year, I completed a grand 10 months out of my annual gym membership, which is something of a personal best for me. The last few years I've been working out, I enroll for a monthly membership first, see if I like the place and my routine, decide that I like the place and the routine, pay annual membership, go for around 3 months before I decide that it's dull and then repeat the process the next year. In between memberships, I signed up for a Yoga class and loved it (although I only attended like a week of the month that I paid for...minor detail), and as fate would have it, they closed that branch of their studio that year and I went back to donating to the gyms of the city.

This year I took on a whole 10 months of whining and panting on the treadmill (and assorted torture devices) before I gave up again. For the first couple of weeks after quitting, I decided that I didn't need the gym at all, and tried doing iPhone app based workouts for a bit, only to realize that I just didn't have the willpower to do anything other than nap on the exercise mat. After that, my fitness routine got restricted to bookmarking pilates videos on youtube.

Two days ago though, I surprised myself by signing up for a very early Zumba class. You see, despite my mastery over the complex dance routine that is The Penguin (walk walk flap, walk walk flap walk flap walk flap walk walk....way tougher than it reads, let me tell you), I'd always had inhibitions where dance workouts were concerned. I don't know if it was because of my personal nightmares of all the waddling I did in the Bharatanatyam classes I took as a kid, or the effect of watching Punnagai Mannan one too many times.

Anyway, I'm now two Zumba classes old and I'm happy to report that I'm quite enjoying it. I'm looking forward to the classes, they are fun, my instructor is a lovely person, and the way that it's going, I think I can see myself being regular, having fun with exercise, and not getting bored. And because I'm having fun with exercise, I can even see myself getting an annual membership. And because I am having fun AND getting an annual membership, I most definitely see myself quitting after 3 months.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts on Kochadaiyaan

1. When I was in VIII standard, which feels like yesterday but is actually a little more than a decade ago, the only options for entertainment on television were Cartoon Network and Splash Channel. While I can recall the shows on Cartoon Network (which could be because I still watch it occasionally), I cannot recall any of the shows on Splash, other than two of their home productions, The Pandavas and Sinbad. Both Pandavas and Sinbad were 3D cartoons, which were novel at that time, yes, but also terrible. The movements were jerky, almost epileptic, and the emotions on their faces were binary - they either looked like  needed to take a dump but couldn't find a toilet or they looked stoned. This, though, was in 2003. Animation was still new to "Our Industry" (Somewhat related factoid - Finding Nemo released in 2003). When I complained about the sub-par animation of Kochadaiyaan on Twitter, I received a couple of replies to the tune of "Tamil Cinema-kku idhu nannave irundhudhu". Why do we say that? It is not like the creators didn't have a budget (it was close to Endhiran's I think). It is not like the creators have never been exposed to quality animation. Why is it that they can take advantage of the fact that it is Tamil Cinema? And why do we let them? Why can't Tamil Cinema, and more importantly, Tamil audience, have "Hollywood Quality" movies?


2. I'm going to rant about the animation again - The rendering is so focused on Rajnikanth that it seemed to ignore the other characters completely - Deepika Padukone looked less like Deepika and more like Gareth Bale, and her choreography seemed like it was borrowed from The Sims.

3. The story, and screenwriting though, are very good. It's gripping, it's interesting, the dialogue is snappy. The reincarnation of actor Nagesh was slighta too much for me, but it worked in it's own way I suppose. 

4. That you had to have a Rajnikanth - 3 just to help the audience come to the conclusion that Rajnikanth-2 had avenged Rajnikanth -1, I just couldn't able to. 


5. What really bums me out is that, if only this film had been taken realistically, with a good visual effects team, that would've been something new, something bold and a step like none other. Surya's landmark flop, 7 Am Arivu is probably best proof of this - everyone loved the first fifteen minutes and wanted to leave the theatre for what followed. Historical fantasy/mythology (whether or not it involved any relatives of NT Rama Rao) has had a history of doing well in the past, is always going to sell, and to think of Thalaivar in a Game of Thrones style film - goosebumps. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Humans of Chennai

My in-laws' driver, a DMK Party worker, took today off to be at the party headquarters. "If there is a victory," he said, "there'll be a big feast".

"If there is a loss?"

"They will need men to go yell in the counting centre to count again"


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Never Can Say Goodbye

I was at the Apex Plaza Landmark last Friday. Not surprisingly, they didn't have the book I wanted. What was surprising, however, was the fact that the staff seemed fully involved in what looked like a major moving operation. Finally, I'd thought to myself. A renovation that was long, long overdue. Unfortunately, the next day, I read in the news that the moving operation was not because of a renovation, but because they were shutting down. The news really killed me, it did. Landmark was my childhood.

I'd always read the occasional book when I was in preschool and such, but my reading habit really began when I was about 8. I had met with an accident that left me bedridden for about a month and a half, and the only way to kill time was was by reading. My mother got me new books every week, and I read, and I read, and read some more. I had never been the sporty kind, and after the accident, I loathed the outdoors and everything connected to it. My friends were my books, and books, in 90's Chennai, were Landmark*. I grew up between those shelves. Every time I returned to the store to get another book by my favourite author at that time, I'd discover a new one, and again. I went to the store every month, without fail, to the point where Amma would whine about how my father would have to work extra hours just to feed my reading habit.

Landmark was more than a store where you went to to buy books. It was a place that you went just to spend time in. Sometimes, you enter the store, take a look at the Best-Sellers shelf, flip a few pages from the books there and put them back because who reads popular stuff anyway, and head to your favourite shelf in the store, the shelf you know so well, occasionally stopping on the way to look at other books that aren't particularly your favourite genre, but they're books, and all books deserve a look, because who knows what you'll discover, maybe it'll even be your new favourite author. Some other times, you go to the store telling yourself that you have come here to buy one particular book and that book only, and you enter, and head straight for that shelf ignoring the other books on the way, pick the book out, feeling victorious and then you pause for a second, look around, see yourself surrounded by books, and you're like, NO I'LL TAKE THEM ALL, but then realize that even if you can afford to buy the store out, it wouldn't be the same to have all of them at home so you decide to just sit in the little chair between the shelves and get lost in the stories that surround you.

The last five years, with the change in ownership, online retailers taking over the scene, and brick-and-mortar bookstores all over the world shutting down, Landmark deteriorated. The books were old, the selections, dull and the place had the air of a graveyard. The penultimate time I went there to pick up a couple of magazines, the girl who did my billing told me I had Rs.250 in my loyalty card and asked if I wanted to use it. I'll use it the next time, I told her.

If only.


* (or Fountainhead in Mylapore but it's a well known fact that Landmark was much better) 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How I Wish You Met Your Mother

The TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother ended last week, and I'll admit that I was in that majority which hated, hated, HATED the season finale. Is this what I spent close to 6 years of my life waiting for?


I started watching HIMYM right after I finished watching reruns of all 10 seasons of Friends from start to end which was sometime around 2007. Looking back, I ought have just watched all ten seasons of Friends again. Let me put down what I hated about the finale. It's full of spoilers, but in my opinion, the entire finale episode was a spoiler.


1. WTF BARNEY AND ROBIN:
Two people, both wary of commitment, but completely in love with each other, getting married and living happily ever after. After watching season after season of Barney and Robin pining for each other, being perfect together and screwing it up and then getting back together again and screwing it up and getting back together in the most perfect way, after watching AN ENTIRE FREAKIN' SEASON dedicated exclusively to their wedding and how their love is true and forever, they're made to divorce in an exceptionally lame way.


2. WTF MOTHERKILLERS
Let's write a show on based around a character. Let's never show that character for 8 years. Let's make the audience crazy by driving the show into becoming a steaming pile of garbage, knowing that they will stick on *just* for that character. Let's introduce her, let's make the viewers fall completely in love with her, while making them think about how perfect she is for the guy who's been narrating the story of how he met her for 8 years, and then, LET'S KILL HER.

Replace Chucky with Carter Bays. 
3. WTF TED'S KIDS
You guys are like the worst kids ever, and should be grounded, and made to listen to the story of how your dad met your mother all over again.

4. WTF MARSHALL AND LILY
Kidding. Those two managed to stay adorable.


Anyway, that ends this rant. There are a lot of other fans who thought that the ending "made sense" and was "realistic" and that irrespective of how the show ended, there would always be criticism. Uh, no. If it had ended the manner it had been building itself up to, there was only one way it could've finished. No twists, no gimmicks, and no blue fucking french horns.


UPDATE:
Apparently the video has been taken off due to copyright violations. The alternate ending goes like this - There's the wedding scene where Ted talks about how much he loves Tracy and how he'll love her forever, and it cuts to the Farhampton station where they have their first conversation, cuts back to Ted saying "And that kids, is how I met your mother" and the credits roll. No plot twists, just a mushy, grin inducing happy ending. Call it cliched, but why is it so wrong to go the predictable route? Not everything has to have a twist, or an explosion or death or divorce.I mean, this was a show some of us took life lessons from! I can't believe the writers thought it would be okay for Ted to be in love/obsessed with Robin THE WHOLE FREAKIN' TIME he was with Tracy and that Tracy herself was just some consolation prize. It's not okay for someone to be romantically obsessed with an another person for years together. If this is how the writers wanted the show to end, I hope it was because they had written a sequel series titled "How I Met My Psychiatrist".


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bhima: The Lone Warrior

Bhima: The Lone Warrior by MT Vasudevan, is the Mahabharata entirely from Bhima's perspective. The popular Mahabharata retellings have always etched a sort of stereotype when it came to the Pandavas. Yudhishtra the Righteous. Bhima the Strong. Arjuna the Archer. Nakula and Sahadeva the...ambiguous. Bhima: The Lone Warrior explores Bhima's feelings and perspectives on the events that unfolded in the Mahabharata.

From the first chapter, when Bhima arrives as a child to Hastinapura, it is made obvious to the reader that the fates have never been kind to the second Pandava brother. Dronacharya ignores his talent in archery, Yudhistra dismisses his counsel, Draupadi manipulates his raw love for her and most painfully, the entire Pandava camp celebrates the death of his beloved warrior son, Ghatotkacha.

It is difficult to talk about the flaws in this book, for it is a translation. MT's famed prose has not been preserved during the process of translation, and as a result, you don't feel strongly for the characters. There is no anger when Dronacharya picks Arjuna to be the most talented among his students, no righteous outrage when Yudhistra blindly refuses to listen to his counsel, no sympathy when Draupadi carelessly drops the precious Saugandhika flowers that Bhima risks his life to obtain, just to fulfill her whims.

One of the few living memories I have of my paternal grandfather, is of sitting on his lap listening to him narrate the story of Gajendra Moksham to me. One day, Gajendra, the wise king of the elephants, came to the lake to bathe, and fell prey to a hungry crocodile who managed to trap Gajendra's foot with his enormous mouth. Gajendra cried for help, but to no avail.
"Help me!" he cried to the fish. "Help me from this giant crocodile!"
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. "Ask the frogs!" they told him, and swam away.
"Help me!" he cried to the frogs. "Help me from this giant crocodile!"
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. "Ask the birds!" they told him, and hopped to safety.
"Help me!" he cried to the birds. "Help me from this giant crocodile!"
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. "Forgive us, Gajendra, but we can't help you." they told him, and flew away.
Gajendra was now alone. The crocodile tightened his grip on his leg by the minute. He began trumpeting loudly.
"Do not waste your energy, foolish elephant" said the crocodile. "No one can save you now. Didn't you see the way those cowards ran away from me?"
Gajendra trumpeted even louder.
"Elephant! I have had enough of your trumpeting. I am going to be your death" said the crocodile, and bit harder into Gajendra.
Stranded, and unable to bear the pain anymore, Gajendra called out to The Lord.
"Narayana!" he cried. "Narayana! Help me! Help from this giant crocodile!"
No sooner had Gajendra spoken the words, the clouds thundered, lightning blazed and the heavens parted, making way for Lord Narayana to come to Gajendra's aid. With a single swipe of his finger, he released the Sudharshana Chakra which killed the giant crocodile, and saved Gajendra.
This Hindu fable is supposed to illustrate Lord Vishnu's loyalty and benevolence towards his devotees, and is narrated to to tell people that the Lord will not let you down if you call upon him. I can never forget this story - not because of the message it carries, but because of the way my grandfather used to narrate it. I cannot narrate it like him. He made me believe in Gajendra's helplessness, Gajendra's pain, and Gajendra's faith. Truth be told, he could've made me believe that the crocodile was a poor, hungry reptile who was deprived by the nasty loud elephant and the masochist god Vishnu if he wanted to.

Today, the more I read, the more I realize that fables and epics are never about the story as much as they are about the story teller. MT Vasudevan's Bhima: The Lone Warrior, has his story, but it does not have him.

Buy it here


Please note: The views expressed in this blog are the author's own. However, she is not responsible for the comments that have been left on the page and the same need not necessarily reflect her viewpoint on the same and are entirely the commenters' own. Ok, now read the rest of the blog already.