Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When I hit the road- Trichur

It so happened that quite a few of my relatives, to whom I hadn't spoken for months, suddenly wanted to see me, a final glance before I shipped off to college 708kms away. Generally reluctant to tear myself off from the computer and the television, I put off the visit for quite some time until the final weekend of my long holidays. Forced by circumstances beyond my control, a three day itinerary was planned and I set off.

First stop: Trichur. This place is also known as Thrissur. This city hosts the well-known coaching centre run by a certain Mr. P.C Thomas which used to be all the rage among those engineering and medicine aspirants and still is somewhat of a rage. Competitiors have cut into their business, but the going is still good. It is in this abode of learning (also referred to as 'prison house') that my dear sister pursues her ambition to be a doctor or paramedic or just anybody in a white coat and stethescope hanging from the neck.

Trichur is a delightful place. It is a small city, may be only slightly smaller than Trivandrum. But its charm lies in the fact that it is infinitely more friendly and welcoming than many other places I have been to in Kerala. Their delightful accents, lavish smiles and grins and a generally happy outlook on life make interacting with the very few people I interact with, a pleasure. One yardstick I have to judge a city is how the auto drivers behave. Auto drivers in Trichur are a more chatty lot than those in Trivandrum and Cochin and effuse a warmth and glow that is hard to find elsewhere. Their chatter is not intrusive and neither is it cocky garbage. They somehow engage their travellers in friendly small talk which, like the Thai Airways, is smooth as silk. If someone told me Dale Carnegie had conducted an extensive lecture tour in Trichur ages ago, I would not be surprised. Most importantly, when the meter shows Rs.18 at the end of a journey, the Trichur auto driver charges you exactly Rs.18, unlike the Trivandrum driver who charges you Rs.25, the Cochin driver who charges you Rs.27 and very much unlike the Chennai driver who may not have a running meter but charges you Rs.70 anyway.

Trichur leaves you in no doubt as to which state you are in at the moment (of India that is. Not solid, liquid etc.)- a few red flags on various posts interrupted by tricolours sans the ashoka chakra, prominently placed and extremely busy Beverages Corporation stores and an unfinished flyover. A six month old retard of a kid could tell you that you are in Kerala (soon to be, Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid, Keralam). The former and the latter sights especially show how the city has managed to progress into the future (or at least the present) while ensuring that its past is safe and intact.

Interestingly, Trichur has many good shops, well lit and swanky, that provide some great shopping experiences. They are convenient, well-stocked and generally caters to all sections of the society.

Now to the most important point. Chicks. Next time you are left with just your bottom fifty paise, I advice you to invest that in a wager with some goof convincing the goof to bet against the hotness quotient of the female population of the city. If you would take my word on anything, take it on this. They are smokin'.

There ended my trip to Trichur. In hindsight, especially in the light emanated by some hot stuff in the city, it was a great trip.

There is more to my trip, but I must be off now. Or hell reigns.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Response

A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday, I chanced upon a column in a Malayalam daily, titled 'Avoid being a Fool'(translated). Thought prvoking, eh? Eye ball grabbing, no doubt. My thought was thus prvoked and my eye balls grabbed and dragged to the paper and soon I found myself nestled in a sofa, paper in hand. The column called 'Today's Food for Thought' (translated) is written by some guy with the initials T.J.J, whom I later found to be Fr. Dr. T.J Joshua. Then, right on the next day, I happened to lay my eyes on an article by some doctor dude called Iain Smith who, in some online mag called 'Health News', said that an alcoholic nature killed and stifled many of our creative geniuses.

To the uninitiated, a brief description of the former. The article is a staunch denouncement of social drinking, or any type of drinking for that matter, and it urges its readers, the youth in particular, to follow the straight and narrow path of teetotalitarianism.

It is now a commonly known fact that alcohol in dilute aqueous solution, when taken in to the human body, acts a depressant rather than a stimulant. The intelligent layman, when faced with some important work, seldom reverts to the bottle. S/he resorts to it after the business is done, when s/he can rest and afford some leisure. S/he indulges in it to realease in his taut nerves and let off some of the steam in the spleen.

If time is the great healer, then alcohol is most certainly the great simplifier. It reduces and simplifies emotions. It raises the threshold of sensitivity and phases out the the partucluarly unpleasent ones. It puts a brake upon all those qualities which enable us to rise and shine before our fellow men- combativeness, diligence, ambitiona and the like. Rather, it brings out the qualities that make us loved among other homo sapien sapiens- amiablitily, humour, sympathy and the ilk.

A man who has knocked back a couple of cocktails is barely capable of launching a missile strike against Pakistan, to formulate the budget of a state, to cut off a leg or to conduct Bach's B minor mass. But S/he is infinitely more capable than a sober person to admire a pretty girl, entertain a dinner party or to hear Bach's B minor mass. The harsh, useful things are done by men who are as sober as so many prisoners in the Tihar Jail, but the lovely and useless things are best left to people with more than a couple of sheets in the wind. Pithencathropus erectus was a teetotaler but you can bet your bottom 50 paise that the angels know what is proper at 5 p.m.

Back to the afore-mentioned article. The reverend seems hell bent on equating celebrations with the state of drunkenness. He quotes a few occassions he was invited to where he witnessed people of coming together in great spirits to enjoy good spirits. At this point, I would like to chastise those dudes and dudettes. Who on earth invites a priest to a booze party?

Not content with sermonizing on the evil nature of the liquid, he goes on to lecture about the increased drinking habits among youthful women, subtly bringing out all the entrenched sexism and conservatism in that old mind. The reverend diverts from his topic of the drunken nature of all into the drinking habits of the fairer sex. He goes on to mock this as 'women proving they can do what men do and better' (translated). Really T.J.J, if you want to lecture on drinking, stick to that. Why bring in such blatant stereotypes.

I suppose all human life is divided between those who order by the crate and those who assume that sherry trifle leads to everlasting bonfire and never the twain shall meet except on the sodden battle fields of 'Health News'. You are on one side Doc and all those creative geniuses and I are on the other. My own conclusion would be drastically different. If Hemingway, Beethoven and Van Gogh had not been constant business for bootleggers, they would not have been half the men they turned out to be. If those great men had stuck to orange juice as instructed by the nearest medics in their localities, Hemingway would have thrown in the towel at 'The Sun Also Rises'. Ludwig would have said "Chopsticks is pretty good. Enough. Genugschein" Van Gogh would have stopped when he sold "The Red Vineyard in Arles". And then , where would we have been?

It is no accident of fate, if you believe in such things, that all such men have laboured under the shadow of the corkscrew. Some, like Keats and Coleridge chose to go for the opiates. How else are these giants to survive against pygmies, make the everyday and mundane tolerable and favourable to those whirring intellects, to tone down the effects of numbing normalcy?

How must Old Vince have felt when he woke up one morning to find that the red enamels had all gone mouldy, the cat had knocked over most of the remaining over the only clean canvas he had and the landlady was shouting in anger about the increase in the price of vermicelli?

What thoughts would have gone through Hemingway's prolific mind when he, full of characters, situations, clever lines and much of the spare, tightly written prose buzzing about in his head, found that stationery store across the street from which he had planned to get fresh paper in the morning was closed because the proprietor had contrated German measles?

Worst of all, people like you, T.J.J and Dr. Smith, were constantly nagging Beethoven to get on with his bloody music, what about a couple of symphonies to follow up the ninth, shouldn't take more than an hour or two, the prime minister's birthday is coming up next week and he has requested a special performance, no fees naturally, and oh, I almost forgot, my wife's sister's son plays the triangle, not professionally though, but we all think he is rather good, so I have arranged a little dinner party next Friday so that you can have an opportunity to listen to him, all about unearthing new talent, haha!

I know from first hand experience that alcohol, in contrast with popular opinion, instills love and consideration in the heart of every human being. When full of the stuff, their hearts overflow with the milk of human kindness and their bowels are full of sympathy and compassion. Not a violent thought or act crosses their minds or bodies. They are all for world piece and nirvana. All this is so obvious that I am amazed that no utopian has ever proposed a world system by which every single person is gently stewed, mildly brewed. In my opinion, humble of course, in such a state a person exhibits all the qualities that make him/her toast of the society.

All the great villanies of history, from the murder of Abel to the Treaty of Versailles to the Babri Masjid have been perpetuated by sober men and chiefly by teetotalers. But all the charming things in the world, from Jeeves to 'With Malice Towards One and All', from the nine Beethovan symphonies to the Martini cocktail have been given to mankind by people who, when the hour came, turned from pipe water to something with colour in it and more in it than mere hydrogen and oxygen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On the Internship

Some of you may have been aware that I did an internship at The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India) in June. Uncharacteristic of me, said some on recieving the news. 'Finally at work, eh?' sneered a few other acquaintances. Anyway, I put my nose to the grindstone for a month and embarked on what some would describe as a roller coaster ride. I would not though. I would describe it as bungee jumping.

I, humbly and politely, offered my services to The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India) upon which they sent me a few forms to fill. In that I filled in a lot of garbage, directed them to this blog and informed them of the general trend of ideas in my head. All these should have qualified as reasons not to grant me an opportunity and so I was pleasantly surprised when they said "Welcome, Basil James" as if they were goddamn Gmail. I think the promptness with which I dispatched a DD for a grand as they had instructed may have tipped the balance in my favour.

Soon they sent me a brochure which proclaimed in red "Thou shall not plagiarise" and went on to say that I would be damned and consigned to the deepest and darkest hell with immortal worms and burning fires if I dared to so much as lift a single comma from anywhere. They then proceeded to tell me that I was now a member of a huge international family (six nations to be exact) and was welcomed to feel at home. Demonstrating to me that they do have lawyers at the office of The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India), I was informed sternly and strictly that I was, under no condition,to shirk my duty or walk out on them.

"Clause 6. Some clause that".

"May I read Clause 6?".

"No, don't read Clause 6. It is much better that you do not. You wouldn't sleep nights. You can take it from me that they are some penalties. Haha!".

"Oh. Would I be taken for a ride?".

The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India) smiled quietly but deeply.

With that the welcoming and ingratiating cermony came to an end and we moved on to the brass tacks. They sent me a list of topics, twelve to be exact, on which they wanted articles from me in June. They gave me the freedom to choose topics randomly from the list and so I decided to go with topics 1, 2 and 3 for the first week.

First up was an ad review, my first assignment for the self proclaimed 'Voice of the Youth of India'. I had no problems in becoming a note or two in that booming voice and I followed up with an article about football in my home state of Kerala. It irked me somewhat that the Ed was determined to change the titles I gave my articles, but I could always give and take a bit.

Two weeks of frentic writing ensued on a number of topics. The thing had transformed itself, almost overnight, into a job rather than some useful and interesting mechanism I had found to pass time. It seemed there was some international conspiracy to throw a spanner in to my works as the World Cup came along in the middle of June. It meant that evenings were completely booked, leaving only sleepy mornings for me to fill the web page of The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India). The silver lining in that very dark cloud was that I forced myself to write an article about the Cup in deep sleep. The article was somewhat crappy. It was at this juncture that I realised the Ed would publish most of anything I wrote, regardless of its quality. Not exactly an encouraging thought for me. If I had been running The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India), I would have been extremely reluctant to publish that article. Some underworld don mistaking me for a long forgotten son, I imagine.

Meanwhile, the outside world moved on in its usual fashion and found an inopportune time to butt into me.The tide of events swept me away from my laptop for two whole days, leaving me with close to five hours to write a book review. I was reading Prem Panicker's Bhimsen at that time and with ample help from Binny's blog, I wrote a review. Decent, I thought, if you overlook the reliance on Binny part. I had entered a phase where I rated my article according to my own intellect rather than whether anyone deigned to publish it.

A movie review came next. I dished out the needful without making much ado. Almost all of the few drops of goodwill inside me instilled by the internship had now evaporated under the burning sun of frustration and twenty three bumbling Enlishmen in South Africa. I did not have much cause to be disgruntled and I fancy I wasn't, but I certainly wasn't gruntled. The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India) was not turning out into an establishment I particularly like anymore. Like Gordon Brown, I felt under-valued.

Then came a period in which I kept writting articles on the topics the Ed wanted, but none of them saw the light of the day in the normal time it would take to publish an article. I took out Quality through the back door and shot it in the face. Finally, an article about Maoists got published, breaking a hiatus of almost a week. Quality, once again, made sure people remembered it through its absence. The Ed badly needs to take a course on how to keep its interns, who churn out THREE articles a week, happy.

My next assignment was to write about a disease that affected the youth. I had a gigantic urge to write about Internshipitis, but found out that it did not even have a wiki page, thus rendering the initiative impossible. Another crappy article in the form of an article about about dementia praecox resulted.

I got more pissed at the Ed's habit of changing the titles I gave my articles and substituting them with inane ones. It happened in the case of the Maoist article and then more blatantly in my article on the prospects a chef in the modern world has. I gave it the title 'Whats cookin'?'. The Ed changed it to 'How to become a Chef'.

Things went up hill from there. Although, at that point, I was feeling things could go only up hill from there. An article about an imaginary cat, one about the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill splashing my name across the roster.

Fortunes changed, as they always do. Two decent pieces about the Greek Debt Crisis and Stem Cell research rejuvenated my spirit and Basil was smiling again.

The month of June wore to a close and I was relieved. I fired off my final assignment, a travelogue. I knew it would prove to be tricky, as I had not travelled to any place worth talking about in recent memory. Inspired by Road Trip, I fabricated a road trip to Kanyakumari and it too duly got published.

I was thus left in peace to enjoy the last eleven days of the World Cup. In retrospect, I guess the internship was an useful thing to do. If anything, it forced me to do some research and spend some time on Wikipedia. Some stuff like the article on the Greek debt crsis and the one about stem cell research added to the coffers in the skull. Great lessons in time management were rendered as I alternated between Facebook, Twitter and other entertainment on the internet while trying to churn out articles for The Viewspaper (The Voice of the Youth of India). May that voice blare out loud.

I ultimately got my name splashed around the net, something I hadn't expected to do. Being jobless these holidays, I have had plenty of time to think about what would happen to me if I chose to take M.A English and I figured out that I had better write as much as I can right now and gain some experience and exposure. After all, I definitely don't want to end up teaching 7th standard kids in Loyola.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On LA Fest 2010


1. If you are not from Loyola School, Trivandrum or any part of Trivandrum chances are that this would not make sense to you.

2. This is just a personal opinion.

Every school kid or has-been in Trivandrum knows that LA Fest is the premier inter-school event in the city calender. Even if you are not a Loyolite you would recognise the quality that sets apart LA Fest from the rest. LA Fest had stood the test of time, for 14 years, as it enthralled the up and coming teenage population of the capital city of Kerala. Its success has spawned a number of similar events across the city in various schools. But LA Fest is the big daddy of them all. Ask Federer whether he would rather win the Wimbledon or the Vanautu Open. For an answer in a similar vein you could ask any school in Trivandrum whether they would rather win LA Fest or some hooky assed fest else where.

On July 3rd, the city watched with eyes wide open whether the 15th LA Fest would be a worthy successor to its illustrious predecessors.

LA Fest 2010 was the second LA Fest to be held in the huge indoor stadium of Loyola School. Since last year, the venue had been moved from the inimitable Sutter Hall to this colossus of a venue. Sporting a new onstage event and a couple of events off stage, LA Fest 2010 had an air of something new and fresh around it. An increase in student intake meant that there was a sea of dudes in a rather neat LA Fest t-shirt but it certainly made life difficult for anyone trying to find out who was in chage of what.

To be frank, LA Fest 2010 was not all that great. May be it was due to the lack of quality of the participants, may be it was some pretentious hosting or may be it was some pure bad luck, but the batch of '11 failed to pull of an event that could hold its head high among the other successful ones of the past fourteen years.

LA Fest kicked off, without much dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying, at eight o'clock. For once the opening cermony started off at pretty much the same time it was supposed to. Since I did not watch the events that unfolded in the auditorium until the lunch break, I shall not comment on that.

The lunch break gave way to Encuesta 2010, the quiz event of LA Fest. Being a former host of the LA Fest quiz, I know that the quiz slot is where the audience generally slips in to the afternoon nap or a stroll in the lush campus of Loyola. Contrary to expectations, the quiz got of to a good start and the crowd actually semmed quite enthused by the thrills the show offered. But it all went downhill from there.

The initial hosts let the tempo slide a bit and a few bloopers later the event was back in familiar territory. The first pair of hosts gave way to another as the crowd raised their drowsy heads slightly to take a peek at the new offering.

They were left wishing they had not. The new hosts made just one mistake. They forgot that the performers of LA Fest are the competitors onstage rather than the hosts themselves. Ideally, a host facilitates opportunities for the participants to shine and capture the hearts of the crowd. Somehow, the boys got their priorities mixed up.

I gave Block N Tangles the miss as I had to go out to get something done, but the reviews from the crowd was not that great either. Block N Tangles is often the biggest let down of LA Fest. It is often touted as the most entertaining and intellectually stimulating event of LA Fest but almost every year it comes up short. The participants often fail to rise to the exalted standards that would amaze and thrill the audience and thus there is often too much onus on the hosts to liven up the affair. So, if the hosts are not up to scratch, you have yet another show in tatters.

La Persona, the most awaited event of LA Fest, turned out to be the biggest shock of the week for me. Reason: It turned out to be a damp squib. The hosts came on stage in the garb of the quintessential 'Vijayan' and 'Dasan' of the Mallu movie industry and made a meal of it. They failed to pull off the act succesfully, getting caught between the usual high-brow, sophisticated nature of La Persona and the down to earth, slapstick style of the movie characters. Their attempts to get the best of both worlds was brutally turned on its head by their own ineptitude. Suffice to say they got it all wrong from the start, right from the theme.

Two hot chicks and four others made up the contestant list and they looked set to set the stage on fire, with some imporessive ramp walking. Alas, it was not to be. Talk about flattering to decieve. I should have known when one guy started off by rendering a speech from Old Bill's Shakespeare. It was insult to injury when he walked away with the title of Mr. La Persona. One hot chick almost undid the visual effect she had on the crowd by rendering Eminem's 'When I am gone'. The performance would have made Eminem commit suicide and then turn in his grave. She won the title.

The contestants where nowhere near the levels set by dudes and dudettes of previous years, as they stumbled and stuttered through the rounds, making the whole thing a drab affair.

Dance O Mania is usually an event which sets the stage on fire and has the crowd on its feet, singing and dancing as one man. Not to be. This was the fourth LA Fest I happened to be at, and never have I seen such an inane display of dance from Trivandrum. It was the age old steps, with little or no verve, no mood to innovate, no dare devilry, just a ritual of going through the motions. It was intensely disappointing that LA Fest ended with such a show that was starkly in contrast with the spirit of LA Fest.

The closing ceremony, supposed to be at 7:30 was pushed forward to 7, which meant that the ceremony was done for the most part sans the chief guest. Nina Prasad, a noted dancer, made her appearence as the chief guest at an opportune moment, just in time to give away the trophies for over all champions.

The night did not end there.

Understandably disappointed at their failure to grab one of the top spots, a school alleged discrepancies in judging and heated arguments ensued. Senior Loyolites had to intervene to atleast partially gruntle a hugely disgruntled lot of students. Not that I blame them. Though it is easy to pass off cliches like 'graceful in defeat' I have amply demonstrated to Trivadnrum that, when faced with failure, my approach to matters is only slightly better than those of Jack the Ripper and Attila the Hun.

On the whole, LA Fest 2010 left me with a bad taste in the mouth. A collection of events of a rather banal nature did not have too many people savouring the delight of LA Fest. The usual rumours of this being the final LA Fest did the rounds, but the current talk seemed to have an added ring of truth to it. May be, fifteen is a good number to end it all. On second thoughts, I hope they don't. May be it is time the school channelled some of that energy and enthusiasm in to rejuvenating the banal arse-wipe called the Loyola Basketball team.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Certain Attitude

When I am in Trivandrum, I often find myself visiting the alma mater, Loyola. A couple of days ago, I made what could be the fifty seventh trip to the old place, this time under the pretext of LA Fest preparations. Accompanied by a dear friend, we decided that it would not hurt to see some of the old folks at the place, the teachers, the 'uncles' and the ilk.

It was during this rendezvous that I came to notice a disconcerting attitude among many of the fauna at Loyola. My friend has what could be described as a rather unruly hairstyle, a dry long black mass of keratin falling over on to the face. In a land where short, cropped and oiled hair is the norm, it stands out like a nun in a brothel. What I found distasteful was the fact that conversation between my friend and the people we met started and ended on that topic alone - the hair.

In the short, almost nineteen years of my life, I have come to accept the fact that my hometown is far more rustic and conservative than I would prefer. Yet, it came as a mild shock to discover that the malaise was deeply entrenched even in Loyola, our second home.

One member of the non-teaching staff was particularly vehement in his criticism, describing something as personal as a person's hairstyle to be against the ethos and culture of the school. He percieved as a major sacrilege, this tendency on the part of a few pass outs to forget the 'values' imbibed in one's hometown. It might be intersting to note that I have heard him speak in a similar vein at other seniors who have dared to change their attributes from the ones generally seen in the city.

Come on! How does something like a hairstyle of a single person affect in anyway the culture of a school. Is Loyola suspect to degradation on account of 'wayward' tastes in style on the part of a pass out? I believe not. And if it is, it is better we dispense with such a fragile culture and bring in a better one.

While one can be persuaded to take into account that the elderly may be slighlty set in their ways, I hold that no one should be dictated on such personal matters. What is the point of shouting slogans like 'unity in diversity' if people cannot tolerate a diverse hairstyle. This attitude is ultimately restrictive and inhibiting.

Loyola was a place where students were given a lot of freedom and encouraged to strike out their own paths. How would you justify the insistence that everybody follow a set path of conservatism even on personal matters such as this?

Fodder for thought.