Marriage, arranged – the motive

Recently, At a friend’s wedding I found myself saddled with old pals ( all male ) all of whom were surprisingly still single. That kept me wondering : were they still waiting for that perfect partner, or had they many options all of which they wanted to keep open – without committing to one ( “commitmentOphobia” ?)

It seemed that in this group I was the veteran in this particular department , married for 8 years albeit in the old-fashioned arranged fashion which most of these friends considered an absolute farce .

I used to think in similar terms too, once upon a time.That was till I got weary of all of my “prospective” partners repeating the same thing (“I thought we were just friends “) . Not for want of a more innovative reason to thwart advances, but I earnestly I believed in the illusion that I was really good at making friends with women.

In time I realized that my hatred was misdirected at the female gender, when it should have really been targeted at Charles Darwin. After all it was his (highly proven) theory that postulated that any individual (human or otherwise) would never look towards a potential partner in a non-conformist – it flew in the face of the safety-in-numbers theory. So that was the critical factor – being a non-conformist.

Big deal ? YES.

I considered my options – maybe I could change myself to become more presentable and more social – it was just a matter of signing up for some courses and throwing some money – that easy to woo a woman, but the resultant I won’t be me. Wearing a lifelong mask sounded terrifying at best – maybe the mask grows on me so much so that I don’t recognize myself any more – depersonalization ? – yes it has happened with people.

Or like numerous others I could put up a small act as the ultimate Prince Charming during the innumerable dates interspersed over weeks or months. After all it would be just for a few hours at a time – not too difficult for an amateur actor , presenting only favorable traits & and force-congenial-izing tastes. But again that could hardly lead to a sustainable relationship – the bluff would be called once cohabitation started. For the likes of us not desiring a sustainable relationship anyways it maybe fine but not for the fastidious me.

Besides vowing to lead a single life ( which felt unbearably lonely ) or celibate life ( which amounts to self-cruelty or self-injury) I had no other options but to consider arranged marriage.

And I did.

On the plus side this meant (within certain limits) I could remain as uncouth, unshaven , un-deoderated and most importantly as non-conformist as possible, I could cling to my home-brewed ( and rather queer) beliefs ( religious, political , philosophical ) as tightly as possible. Getting accepted was not necessary now.

I still WOULD NOT recommend arranged marriage ; the “love” variant, done properly, where the feelings from the heart are substantiated by those in the brain is always the more natural approach while being more adventurous as well. Love marriages also are more helpful in transcending the artificial barriers that we have erected ( religion, region , race , caste) – the products of such marriages are less likely to be bigoted.

But if you’re a non-conformist like me, and unless you find a partner who is also non-conformist in exactly the same way, arranged marriage is still an option on the table.

Original Love, Retroverted

Of late, I seem to be warming up to an old flame – mathematics. In a moment borne of an impulse to do something new, I’d blurted out to a friend, albeit wistfully that perhaps I should have studied pure mathematics – mathematics devoid of any applications to the “real” world – somehow I felt the detached nature of obscure theorems (punctuated by queer Greek alphabets) wildly alluring. A week or so later when I’d all but forgotten about that impulse (that’s the sad way most of them succumb – death by laziness) – my friend pointed me to YouTube videos about maths lectures. Now, I had to resuscitate, and fast.
And today a week later – I’m decided to take up the “Theory of numbers” (yes that is a whole discipline) as a pure hobby; I Googled for and today made a pilgrimage to the Tata Book House to get hold of the book that looked most useful to me to start up. Even if I’m able to UNDERSTAND the unsolved Riemann’s hypothesis, I’d deem this endeavour as worthwhile.
It’s an exciting feeling, like being drawn back to a school-time crush after entering mid-age. Maths classes always used to be fun – perhaps it was because the young Kashmiri woman who taught us Maths in high school – she was the first rational person I ever knew. She made no bones of discussing the pros and cons of natural vs C-section delivery in front of a class of 12 year olds – and that too in a maths class – so undogmatic – so unpedantic. So much so that I came to love the subject, since, it started looking like it was never forced on us (so unlike most other subjects). And numbers, seem to look so full of such vibrant persona – and distinctive too – approaching infinity.
After Std X, the interest ebbed a little – an old-school dogmatist had returned to reign – and whatever life was left was sucked always by the humbug called “competitive” exams after XII. Enter “engineering” years and maths was denigrated to its (maybe) more pragmatic but immensely uninteresting cousin with an “applied” tag prefixed to differentiate it from the original.
Today, 14 years after I lost contact with pure mathematics I realise what I’ve missed in the mad race of building a “career”. I donot want to do a formal research as for once I’m not eligible and now its not practical either (with all of my financial liabilities) and anyway I want to do my own things at my own pace without being rushed – without having to worry about completing credits – presenting papers – incentives – recommendations from professors – the dirty politics of claiming credit for something found.
I write about it lest I forget.If I fail to proceed from cipher (as is most probable) this blog will serve as the requiem.

I for an Eye

One of my favourite pass-times of all time is to Google for long-lost acquaintances from my school, college or from previous companies I’ve worked in. I usually search for blokes I would have thought years ago, to turn out to be extreme cases.Of course, only the extreme cases on the “good” side  yield any search results, because the others (by definition) might be at large, disguised  or incarcerated – and either way unsearchable by Google in the their original identity.

One day I found X, an unusually bright computer engg student one year senior to me at college. He is now the founder and CEO of a networking start-up the Silicon vale. And unlike most others start-ups by Indian-Americans, there are no more desis in his crack team.
I remember him most for punching (albeit inadvertently) my eye-ball with a rubber ball while X played bat-n-ball (a poorer cousin of the national obsession called cricket) with a friend in the filthy corridor of our college hostel. Needless to say, I was not playing and was just walking to the toilet blearied by laziness and boredom (typical of my college years), when, in an epiphanic moment I turned back and the locus of my eyes intersected with the trajectory of the oncoming projectile.
Head On.
( A highly improbable event, I thought, and one that could be used to frame a really challenging physics numerical). My eye (left or right I forget) swelled up to a multiple of its original size and X (and his pal) rushed me to the nearest cure-all “clinic” they could possibly find. In my sane state I’d have never visited such a sordid quackery, but ofcourse I was a patient now and so, not in charge. The quack-in-charge glowed a bright torch into my lenses perhaps to check the consistency of my cornea and exclaimed (to my inflictor’s relief) that there was no bleeding. A ointment was pleasantly prescribed, to be applied for some days.
X returned back to his word-crunching preparation for his GRE exam (scheduled for the next morn) – his bat-n-ball break had gotten an unsavoury extension. The next day while he came to check on my eye-pop (which was slowly but steadily receding, though definitely – or so thought I – not due to the quack’s goo), I got the news that his GRE was over and that he’d scored 2390 out of 2400.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A fellowship from IIT, an MS and PhD from a popular American university and then starting up an enterprise…
I sometimes feel if I should send him a mail (and after a brief, unmistakable self-identification using the above anecdote) tell him that its pay-back time and that I need his reco on my resume. I too have worked for networking co.s, perhaps that could come in handy. (Though in all honesty I know next to nothing about networking – no not even the social kind)

A life too short

The whiff of life has turned putrid today, the scent of wilted,wasted youth. J, my mother’s youngest brother died today , suddenly, unexpectedly, at 44 years of age. Drank off to his end.
A bright lad, he’d shown promise – a head for science and art both – a contrast against a background of school drop-out brothers . The brightly red coloured pin-hole camera he’d made and sent me (my first precious parcel, packed in straw) once contributed to my my interest in science.
He taught me cycling , chess and “smart” stuff like sleight of hand tricks.
But by then his zenith had been over, peer pressure egged him into the murky realm of college politics in Kerala. A lost election led to a lost year – and a lost education – he too dropped out of (pre-univ) college – a lost cause (I’d discovered IIT-JEE forms unfilled, amongst his old books).
Pragmatism led him to take up a clerical post in the para-military in the rough North-East. And life seemed settled for a while. Diligence paid off in promotions. Back in Kerala, he dated a rather attractive young woman and fell hopelessly in love.
Life seemed perfect when they married. And then they had a daughter.
Differences of some nature crept up and threatened to derail the marriage. My uncle found solace in the bottle.
The bottle grew into a monster and he was discharged of his job, and returned to Kerala.
With some savings and by renting out auto-rickshaws he made a house.
The liquid monster grew stronger and the wife gave up, fled with the kids (a girl and a boy now). That was the final nail …
The house was sold and fed back to the liquid monster, as was all the rest of the savings and stuff in the house. What was left was fed to the lawyer to the contest the divorce notice and to “on-the-house” drinking companions.
In and out of a host of rehab centres in the past five years, life seemed better (even if just so) when the last rehab ashram decided to give him a job after his de-addiction. But he again gave in to the monster before he could take it up.
Now living in the ancestral home, drinking endlessly (and sometimes on empty stomach) with his elder brother for solace (who too had had decided to substitute the bottle for his wife who too had deserted).
Everyone thought that he would drink his way into poverty and then get back to senses.
But before that could happen, today, abruptly, the body gave up. Deserted.
A life cut too short.
And I could never thank him for the things he taught me.
And I could never even try to help him with his problems.

New Bharath Hamam

There is a scraggy hand-painted sign on the Outer Ring Road, through which I commute daily now, which proclaims “New Bharath Hamam” (lit. Bath-house of the New India or new Bath-house of India).
I was not absolutely sure about the business transacted in this hovel sitting on the edge of a card-board and metal scrap-yard. The name of the place and the fact that only sari or maxi clad creatures dwelt there made the seediness of the place apparent. The presence of trucks in front of the house added to its self-incrimination.
Yet it didn’t seem to fit in as I had thought bath-houses to be a Western or Turkish phenomenon, we Indians use dance (Kothas), rather than baths as the facade for practising the world’s oldest profession.
Then I saw a show on Nat Geo, called the “Ladyboys of India” which followed the lives of a handful of transgenders living in Mumbai and Bangalore. One of the them seemed to be surprisingly proficient in English and had lived as a male through schooling and college, but had taken the flight after “his” marriage had been arranged. (For lack of a proper pronoun let me address them in third person as “hse”) .
Hse told us that every one of them adopted by the Community (an association of Ammas with a tight hierarchy) had to work in a bath-house for a fixed number of months/years before being castrated and Bobbitised – which was the Initiation ceremony into the fraternity of Hijras. The Hamam was an euphemism for a brothel usually attached to truck-stops and also provided with a name-sake bathroom.
Even after the Initiation (which is usually conducted by a pseudo-doc under extremely unhygenic conditons and causes life-long infections and revisits to doctors) – these people are not free to choose their vocation. One enterprising fellow in Mumbai left the tradition of begging and prostitution and enrolled hserself as a loan recovery agent with one agency and was quite successful.

But hse was ostracised from the community for the this. Apologies to hser reporting Amma didn’t help. Isolated by the only people in the society who would accept hser, hse joined back into the fold.
One group of three individuals (showcased in the documentary) lived a happy life in Bangalore – or so it seemed. They lived disguised as women in a rented house, shared amongst themselves in a middle-class locality. They moved around on scooters wearing burqas at night to solicit customers on the streets of Bangalore. Most customers too thought of them as women.
After work they had parties in the house. And music. And they went shopping.
And they never missed their annual pilgrimage to Koovagam (in TN, which is their mecca) where after enacting wedding and widowing with the Lord, they settle down for the highly-anticipated beauty-pageant.
Given the limitations, they’ve been trying to enjoy life as much as possible. Most are disowned by their parents, can never marry (though one of them seems to have a steady boyfriend) and can’t do any work other than to beg and/or retail sexual services. They try hard to forget these limitations …
This show changed my perspective from one of abhorrence to one of empathy. I still can’t forget the day, when my arrival at a restaurant for lunch coincided with the extortion rounds of these blokes. I was groped by one of them ( I felt for the first time  what most Indian WOMEN, esp in Delhi and Kerala must be feeling daily) – when I was paying the bill after having lunch. So embarrassed was I that I went back to my table without collecting the change.
I still avoid them as much at traffic signals and while traveling on train – their trademark claps put me on high alert and  I vanish into the nearby toilet till they’re gone.
I still pass through New Bharath Hamam everyday to work and see them doing immense amounts of laundry.
Cleaning the filth of the society …. while living on its fringes. Disowned.

PS: Apparently TN is the first state in India which recognizes the Third Sex on its voters’ ID and ration cards. There is a pan-India movement for this – let’s hope it succeeds.

Yours Cynically

Cynicism, especially government-bashing seems to be latest craze in India. A young girl is shot dead near her college in the capital, allegedly by her stalker. A solitary assailant, and nobody in the commuter crowd on the busy foot-over-bridge is able (or willing ?) to block his get-away. The victims’ friends “run away”, nobody is willing to take her to hospital for ten minutes – until one person gets help from a police constable, but by when its too late. Everyone does a vanishing act.
Though the very next day there is no dearth of people for hordes of protest marches and candle-light vigils, by her college students, by other associations, by parents and neighbors all protesting against the govt. and the police for failing to prevent such a tragedy – such opportunists.
Even the most resourceful nation like US can not afford to have a police guard for every female college-student, and more so when the parents don’t even care to inform the police of a person they know for sure, has stalked their daughter.
The truth is no one really cares – everything is a show – the empathy, the sympathy – the candle light vigils. We just want to use every such incident to score brick-bats against the government for its inadequacies and apathy, and in the process showcasing our enhanced (delusional) virtuosity.
Although the govt. IS full of deficiencies – if we really wanted to solve an anomaly ( especially this crime against women anomaly in the capital) we would be more proactive and like to become a part of the solution rather than bickerers.
Even so, without much help from crime-scene witnesses, the police already seem to have identified the murderer and its a matter of time before he’s apprehended. But, if past is any example, this is going to be appended to another long list of “high-profile” cases dragging on in the capital for decades.

Son Rise – Redemption

(This is a sequel to Son Rise – the Chase)

So, on 22 Jan 2008, around 4:30 am I found myself at the not-so-deserted Mysore bus-stand. I scouted around for a bus to Calicut, my next port of call, realized that the first bus had already left and the next won’t start soon.
That was why when I discovered a red box of a bus ( Kerala Transport’s “Superfast”) with the board Mysore-Thrissur (it rhymes too), I was overjoyed not just at saving a detour to Calicut but also on starting the day on a good omen (I’m very superstitious) – the day looked promising.
The bus’ crew had just woken up; groggily and through mouths foaming with tooth-paste, they fielded queries in Kannada from prospective passengers – “Gundlupet?” “Bandipur?” “Gudaluru?”, interesting places I’d seen only on Google maps and always wanted to visit, but very incongruous in my current situation.Whatever lack of zeal ( in shouting out destinations maybe) shown by the comrade conductor (in comparison to his Karnataka counterpart) was made for in the timeliness, the bus departed sharp to the minute, and never stopped  except at the designated stops.
By quirk of luck, I had taken the shortest geographical route to Thrissur from Bangalore , one I’d never explored before on account of bad roads; but it seemed with this red box bad roads hardly mattered, so inspite of frequently being tossed into the air (the driver never cared about hitting humps or bumps), I was glad at making good progress.
Except a part of me that wanted a pit stop, one which would contain a pay-phone – I’d woken my phone from coma one last time and memorized my f-i-l’s number fast before the phone passed out again. But that was not to be – at a village tea-stall where we stopped there was nothing but to eat and drink and to smoke.
We passed Gundlupet and breezed in to Bandipur forest – which became Mudumalai forest when we crossed into TN; the narrow winding forest road got progressively snakier, till we were climbing hills – and the forest grew progressively shorter transforming into tea-estates – not very impressive ones like in Darjeeling or Munnar but beautiful all the same – though out of focus for my mind at that time. We picked a group of foreigners in the forest and quite a huge rush of well dressed natives outside Gudalur, office-goers ? Maybe ?
But no pay-phone-stop !!
I got company on my seat; a young office-goer – a Malayalee (Keralite):I asked for his cell-phone – trying to explain that I’d use my SIM – but he smelt a rat and declined flatly.
From Gudalur we descended into Kerala at Vazikadav, and ostensibly to celebrate this home-coming the crew finally decided to take a 15 min b/fast stop at a place with yes…
A pay-phone.
M had been in labour room for most of last night and today morning – where she had tea and glucose; nothing more was known – the doctor had not yet arrived – the baby’s ETA was unknown – it could be hours or days ( there were others lodged in the labour room for days) – while their kins camped outside.
Some news was better than no news – so the kid had not arrived yet – I still had a chance to outrun him/her and fulfill M’s desire to be near at that Moment (atleast as near as possible in India -sadly we are still far from aping the West custom of allowing the would-be father into the labour room).
Over bad breath, I gulped some mango juice, to prevent collapsing with exhaustion – no more than a short nap (in between hitting two road bumps and the resultant tosses from the seat) in more than 24 hours.
To Nilambur, to Malappuram – gentle hills , winding roads and we still moved fast – the “Superfast” red box had proved its name. The Malappuram halt got me impatient -and consequently the conductor, irritated.
Pay Phone – my best pal now told me that baby was still reluctant; and that M had asked for me – through the nurse attendant. I couldn’t make out what to think ; distance was my biggest enemy now and I still had 80 kms or so (which is a good deal by Kerala-roads’ standards).
I wondered if M would hold on till my arrival to fulfill some dumb promise – I wished she wouldn’t- I could not talk to her as quite understandably cell-phones were not allowed inside.
Perinthalmanna, Pattambi without halts; I crossed the Bharathapuza and was into Thrissur distict.
Finally at around 12:30ish (it was more than 2 hrs since I had any news) I was on the outskirts of Thrissur – not that I remembered the precise location of the hospital – when the town started looking familiar I got down and took an autorichshaw – thankfully the hospital was (and is) well known.
Around 1 pm, I finally gate-crashed into the wards and got to where kins of expectant mothers camped for days, in front of the white wall (thoughtfully ?) of the Labour Room with a No Entry board and a window, with an electric bell on the side – the window – was the counter for medicines , food , cloth , glucose and yes newborns.
Everyone was waiting eagerly. I thought I’d made it.But I’d lost the race – my mother embraced me and said that I’d become a father – of a boy.It seemed that M was fine, but not much news was forthcoming.
The window opened and “boy of ‘M'” was finally called out from the counter and a little bundle with tiny quivering hands and closed eyes wrapped in a turkey towel – all except the head  and the hands was passed out – after my and M’s mother (apparently only experienced mothers apart from professionals could handle an infant till 28 days as “neck was not firmed up till then”) cradled the infant; they had to finally handle him over to me – reluctantly , gingerly – with lots of this-ways and that-ways gestures. The chap seem oblivious to all the racket around him – I realized that I’d not washed my hands after the incredible journey and returned the newbie in a few seconds, much to the relief of all the “old moms”.
The baby was returned to bond with the Mother and Milk.

The Moment had arrived.

Yet, another incredible wait started – to see M, the visibly calm nurses had to reply a hundred times that she was under observation and it was the norm. It was not less than 4 hrs later that M was finally wheeled out and in the hospital’s private room – that we were once again united and now with a new kid on the block.
He’d arrived at 11:15 am , a little while after I’d last talked to my f-i-l over phone.And incredibly I was the last person in the extended family and friend circle to get the news.
Thanks to my cell-phone’s persistent coma state.
When I arrived back at work 3 days later,my last day at work had been extended indefinitely subject to meeting deadlines; I slogged all could, over the weekend to finally get relieved by Tue.
So much for humanitarian grounds, huh.