Friday, April 14, 2017

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jungle Tales

How My Aunt Escaped a Leopard Attack

It looks as though the wild is reclaiming the little hill-station of Coonoor where I spent my indescribably idyllic school-days; a sort of gradual descent into those dark and savage pre-British days before the English partially tamed our country. It seems improbable to those who now live in the great cities of Mumbai and Bangalore and even Cochin and Coimbatore, but once upon a time, the beasts that find a place in the books of Rudyard Kipling and Jim Corbett used to roam the land, monarchs of their own little kingdoms.

My story is set in a day where the only wild animals we've seen are in zoos or national parks, living under the aegis of care-takers and naturalists, and stared at by camera-holding tourists in brightly coloured clothing and sunglasses. It begins with a deluge, and ends with a deliverance, and while the title might not be quite grammatically accurate, you will see the reason for it soon enough.

Owing to recent torrential rains in the Nilgiris, there have been 54 land-slides along the road from Mettupalayam to Ooty. Forty-two people were killed, either by the collapse of their homes, or by drowning in the fierce mountain streams that over-flowed their banks and devoured near-by houses. Villages have been obliterated, literally washed off the face of the slopes. The roads between the hill-station towns are mostly impassable, some cracked clean down the middle, and the government estimates a year of work before repairs can be completed. I say this only to paint a picture of what once was a neat, quaint little English colonial town to all intents and purposes (where a mere 65 years ago, the Club house bore a notice saying "No dogs or Indians allowed.")

So now imagine if you will, four days of darkness, howling wind and an unceasing tempest of rain so heavy that visibility was zero. Many heroic rescues were carried out that we will probably never hear about, by people we've never heard of before - the kind of bravery that is least glorified and most terrifying to saviour and saved alike.
The working class in Coonoor live in small houses high on the mountains, isolated little pockets of humanity amidst rolling tea estates. My aunt Geetha (yes, the one of "House of Four Women" fame) heard from her milkman that most of his village was swept away. On one of the four nights, he was startled out of restless sleep by a cry of "Help!" from a neighboring hut.

Now, to go out in the black dead of night, in a rain strong enough to wash your house away, requires no mean degree of courage. And I don't think I, or anyone I know here would - even could - have done it. But go out the men did, in that downpour and darkness, and saved an old man who had woken up only to find the water level in his crumbling house up to his neck. He and his family were lifted out through the roof - there was no other way - but this is only one incident among many during those dark nights, and there were enough attempts that didn't have endings quite as happy.

The rains stopped eventually as all rains do, even Biblical ones as Noah discovered; and the people had to get up and get out and face devastation. The lucky ones whose houses had not suffered had still been imprisoned inside without light and sleep, or electricity for that matter.

My uncle and aunt belonged to the latter class of people. Geetha mema, who is probably the world's most restless woman - she suffers from insomnia and obsessive house-keeping on good days - was afflicted with a touch more cabin fever than the rest, and therefore resolved to go on a walk that afternoon. Coonoor is a great place for retired people who like going on walks, and my aunt has her own group of old women who took these daily constitutionals.

On that day, she and an elderly aunty (whom everyone calls Ammachi and who is 69 years old), decided to take the road less taken, a beautiful winding path through the estates that they normally tended to avoid because of its profusion of wild bison. These bison were beautiful animals, accustomed to humans because of the estate workers, and hence no real danger, but on occasion, herds of them block the roads and not even a brave man would risk passing through them.

Rumours of leopards and bears abounded, but were largely discounted by stern, practical and firm-minded women like my aunt and her friends. They briskly meandered (an intentional oxymoron; even briskly, at 52 and 69 the best you can hope for is a fast-paced saunter) through that lovely estate, and it must have been truly lovely - you've never really seen natural beauty until you've seen a hill-station after a heavy rain, blushing and glowing like a young bride.
On their way back, aching muscles called for a short stop, and a small stone wall beckoned invitingly. They were resting there, delighting in the warm sunshine after the rain, little thinking that something else was enjoying the sunlight too, when a man driving by on a bike halted and called to them.

Roads, or paths, through an estate are narrow, constructed one below the other and divided by rows of tea bushes. Seated where they were, Ammachi and my aunt were looking down at the man on the road below them.
"Yein inge ukkararingo?!", he called out. (Why are you sitting there?!)
"Mele chiritha irukku!" (There's a panther above you!")

And so saying, he sped off.

Exactly what Geetha mema and Ammachi were feeling at this point, I leave to your imagination. It wasn't due to old age that they got up slowly and with quivering knees, and turned slowly around to look at what was facing them.

A couple of roads above and behind them, on a big jutting boulder, lay a leopard, sunning itself and licking its paws, looking for all the world like a monster cat who'd just caught a sparrow.
From their position, only its head and shoulders were visible, and as they turned, the leopard looked up and right at them, right, in fact, into my aunt's eyes.

I think for a minute the world must have stood quite still, holding its breath. And then slowly, very slowly, still with its eyes on them, the leopard lowered its head and continued licking its paws.

Ammachi and Geetha mema backed away, as quietly as they could, from that terror among the tea bushes, and kept walking until they turned the curve of the road, whither there was a mad silent rush back to my aunt's home, a scant 0.5 kilometres away. Whereupon they collapsed and thought exquisitely prayerful thoughts of gratitude. Also penitent thoughts of how maybe the bears weren't just a rumour either.

I regret to say that this hasn't stopped them from taking their walks, although I doubt they'll make their way through that particular estate again in this life.

Now you realise why the title makes sense - I did say that my aunt escaped a leopard attack - she did, very narrowly, and providentially, escape being attacked by one. And one that wasn't in a zoo. Or even a national park.
Because it isn't every day you can look a leopard in the eye, and walk away with no more injuries than an increased heart-rate and worn out soles.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Good Fight

How do we live? This life that we so often throw away in pale shadows of what-could-have-beens, watching echoes of other people and believing that to be enough...all the while dreaming of more primitive pleasures in the deep midnights of our souls. Perhaps in this day and age, it is unfashionable to not take life for granted.

Life...why should you not grasp it, greedily and with fervour, that magical shining illusive thing? Why should you not experience your every desire, wrest joy from life and claim it as your birthright? Who dares to say no if you would only say yes?

Would that I lived an aeon ago, would that I had the freedom to be truly human - to live and fight and die all in a glorious flaming vitality! To explore the earth as yet young and undiscovered, and set forth in a blaze of adventure...to throw your head back for joy because all the world lies before you - mountains and oceans and sundering seas to be crossed - to hear the clash of steel, and rejoice in the steadiness of your arm - to stand at the helm of a ship and laugh in the face of the storm!

Would that I were a warrior, a woman with a sword in my hand and battle-lust in my eyes! To taste exhilaration in the salt of your own blood, to reach up and clasp the very firmament of the heavens...to be young and, in youth, immortal - to wake on mornings with that joyous, insistent, exultant birdsong and feel as though your heart should burst for sheer Delight...oh, to be alive!
To fight for what you believe in, and win...it is the meaning of life, to live it - to run, to leap, to fly! the blood singing fiercely in your veins and pounding in your ears, glorying in the courage and the power of your bodies...it is the greatest thing in all the world - to be alive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For the love of - !

Love at first sight? Yes, it exists, and you can never tell when it will hit you. Despite what some people, especially those of the masculine persuasion, may think, it is only far too easy to lose your heart. All the usual symptoms - palpitation, faint dizzyness, dryness in mouth and throat, a feverish gleam in the eyes.

And all because you've just seen The Dress. Sure, so maybe you went to buy a woollen scarf for your sick baby niece, or pick up red material for your graduation day blouse. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters, except that vision of perfection which is currently hanging on the mannequin (or rack, or shelf) in front of you.

And then you find yourself sighing over it, coming back to it, time after time, and you can't keep away. Telling yourself that it's an investment, and no, your bank balance won't mind that you've spent your entire budget on something else than for what it was meant.

And well, why not?

Top 5 reasons it's better to fall in love with a dress than with a man:

1. You'll feel beautiful whenever you put it on.
2. You're always right.
3. It's the one guranteed remedy for a fat day, or a bad hair day, or a I'msouglyIcan'tshowmyface day, and you don't have to make excuses to it.
4. You'll feel a distinct and heavy satisfaction knowing that you own it.
5. It won't forget you during cricket season, or football season, or F1 season.

And no matter what the consequences, nothing can dull your elation when you walk out with that dress safely wrapped up in a shopping bag.

Whether it's a frothy concoction of lace and chiffon, or tailored excellence and fine lines - you know you're a princess when you've got it on. The world is yours, people fall at your feet, and really, what isn't worth that feeling? It's like the wise someone said (and I'll bet my fortune that it was a woman) - "Life is short. Buy the shoes." Or The Dress. It's worth it.

A Man's Guide to Floral Tributes

Roses - for the Eternal Romantic, or, the classy chick with a cliched sense of what's acceptable, depending on your point of view. Once you get past red roses, remember that crimson is a better choice.

Gerber Daisies - for the Sweet Young Thing, the pretty girl with the stars in her eyes and innocence in her heart. Alternatively, these would make a lovely 80th birthday boquet for your childless great-aunt Lila.

Carnations - For the Offbeat Boheme, the edgy beauty with the fiery soul. Someone who doesn't give a damn about what flowers mean, because the damned things just look so pretty.

Lillies - for the Temperamental Diva - a profusion of these flaming, exotically beautiful blooms is sure to ease your way to her heart. Take care not to give her funereal white, though, or they might end up gracing your coffin-side, prima donna that she is.

Orchids - for the Woman of your Dreams - delicate and ethereally exquisite, yet evocative of a lush tropical earthiness. It doesn't matter what colour they are, because orchids never go out of style and they're very easy on the eye. Too bad I can't say the same about your wallet.

Tulips - for the Wholesome Beauty, with a hidden quirky side. Nothing will charm her more than these blushing blossoms. Unless of course, she prefers vintage pendants from the 1920's - I told you, she's quirky.

Happy Endings

Picture, if you will, the film's ending, just before the credits start to roll: the stage is set (God forbid another climactic airport scene), the soundtrack segues to a romantic number, and the hero and heroine are united at last, after 90 minutes of separation by various trials, tribulations, psychotic exes and other plot twists.

Why do women love romantic movies? Unlike other eternal questions (Why do we yawn? What happens to the time in between one second and the next? Why do men like to watch other men chasing, hitting or bouncing a ball?), this one has an answer.

The power of a happy ending.

Not that I have anything against a tear-jerker. Some of the most beautiful stories have also been the weepiest. But in the final weighing, it comes down to how much we love a love story. (What I do slightly resent, however, is the use of the ubiquitous term, "Chick Flick". Which is actually quite derogatory, when you think of it (though not as bad as Lad Lit). You've got to admire how, with just two words, they've managed to reduce a source of considerable delight for roughly one third of the world's population, to a tacky joke. Though it appears to be a necessary evil. Does this make such movies fit for only non-intelligent consumption? No. Watch Sabrina. When Harry Met Sally. Love Actually.Does a predilection for such movies mean that we don't enjoy ones which have things blowing up in them? No. I personally enjoy explosions as well as the next man. Or woman.)

But genre-bashing aside, why would anyone in their right minds not want to watch a pretty woman and a seriously cute hero (think Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary) indulge in some L-O-V-E? No reason, that's why.

You want reality? Murder, insanity, rape, abuse, neglect. The deafening grind of a tedious job. Whose turn it is to wake up and change the baby's diapers. You get that everyday, handed to you on a non-biodegradable plate in all its dreary glory.

On the other hand, romantic movies offer - what else? - romance. Eye candy. Nice clothes. Love, above all, a love story.

And like that wasn't enough, every romantic movie has a Kiss.

The pucker-up. The osculation. The heart-clenching, stomach-tightening, how-I-wish-that-girl-was-me kiss. Whether it's in a vineyard in France, in between drowning in the freezing Atlantic or on top of the Empire State building (those scriptwriters do get around, don't they?), even though you know that it's just a pair of actors calculatedly pressing their lips together, even if the rational, cynical part of your self is snickering - in spite of all that negativity, you find yourself wishing.

We know life's not perfect. Reality awaits, with all that that entails. But for a couple of blissful hours, escape. To an admittedly improbable but oh-so-desirable fairytale land where gorgeous men fall in love with imperfect women and bring home flowers.

To my way of thinking, we need that little bit of improbable, that small fantasy. Our lives are all the better for it. Give us our Happily Ever After, even if it lasts only for two hours.

Reality can wait.

-----------

My Top 5 Favourite Romantic Movies

5. Ever After. Roman Holiday
4. Bridget Jones's Diary. You've Got Mail. Breakfast at Tiffany's ...
3. French Kiss???
2. Sabrina .
1.

I give up.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Moustache Tales

We were monarchs on any face
That Nature decided we should grace
Hirsute ode to the manly soul
Of a Malayali Man.

They took pains to see thick we grew
And with coconut oil did they brew
A potion that aided moush motion
As good fertilizer can.

The pride and joy of the male were we
The glorious proof of virility
A very fine pelt to stroke, they felt
The entire length of our span.

The masculine ideal if truth be told
A twirl of a moustachio most bold
The Lalettan signature move, amen!
The mark of a Master Plan.

But now alas! we fear the doom
A break only lately we've dared presume
Despite protests, we're depressed
At hints of an unspoken ban.

Today our ends droop in despair
An unfortunate end to facial hair
The X Generation, globalisation
Needs not a whiskery clan.

Farewell, we cry, and contemplate
The Gillette finish of our fate
Here ends our tale, we will not quail
Meeshas of the Malayali Man!