Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OOtacumand - Ooty - Udhamangalam: Try not to be a tourist here

I honeymooned in Ooty this June. My wife and I stayed in an old mansion - a colonial bungalow - that had been dexterously partitioned off with creaking wooden boards and turned into a ten-room hotel. From the outside, the bungalow looked really interesting, but inside, the wooden partitions had done enough damage to its spacious display. Around the bungalow bloom beds of strange Nilgiri flowers. A serpentine walk downhill from the bungalow lands you near the ugliest part of the town - the bus stand. A fountain stands adjacent to the porte-cochere. In the cool evenings, you can watch the stars above sitting on the ramparts of the fountain basin. 

Today's Ooty town is ugly. Really, really ugly. From our hotel, you could see the ugliness spreading in all directions, which disappointed me so much that, if not for my wife, I would've left the place the day I landed. 

The food in my bungalow was extremely tasty, though.

The hotel, according to the owner, was actually a British bungalow owned by an elderly British couple. After the independence, they left selling off their property to the present owner's family. The bungalow could as well be used as a cruel metaphor for Ooty itself. Ooty was built by the British as a sleepy Victorian hill station. Post independence, and dare I say, post 1990s with the tourism boom, Ooty turned into a tourist-friendly city. Now, this is I think a good thing to say, Ooty provides everything a tourist needs: scenic Nilgiris, couple of good restaurants, security, efficient (and cheap) public transport and hundreds of hotels and shops. But, Ooty is hardly a proper place for a traveller - someone who loves solitude, enjoys the evening walks (you cannot walk quietly in Ooty - traffic!) and loves to soak in the fresh coolness of Nilgiris. 
The old charm of Ooty as a place for solitude and sublime are but lost in the noisy traffic and disgusting levels of pollution. 

You can visit the Ooty lake. It's generally overcrowded. There's hardly any place to lounge. The lake area has been turned into some kind of an amusement park. I am annoyed. In India, wherever I go there's this mindless disneyfication of "tourist places." You are supposed to walk around and consume. If you don't consume, there's not much of the lake for you.  

You can try the rose garden, the botanical garden (without any labelling, it looks more like a Bollywood set than a botanical garden), check out the museums (which I didn't). Walk down Charring Cross, which I found was a rewarding experience. If you're a tourist, and out to have fun just for fun's sake go to Dodabetta peak. There is nothing breathtaking there. It's a disneyfied peak with hundreds of people jostling to see something beautiful. I don't think any place could be breathtaking in today's age of photography. We are already prepared in our mind for the view. We have seen representations of nature and sublime in photographs and films and other forms of art. Wonder is not an emotional experience anymore. 

Kunoor is another ugliness in full swing. Go there if  you don't seek any experience for your soul. The railway station in Ooty is colonially perfect. The trains remain small where they pack too many passengers. The journey was boring for me. Yes, I could see hundreds of beautiful spots, but, as I claim, we are dulled by representation and lack the feeling that mountains are unique visions. The journey hardly had any effect on me. Perhaps, because the train was nothing better than a crowded minibus in office time Kolkata. It was meant for a joyride for the few, but now it caters to thousands every day.

 If I am seeking a unique romance with the Nilgiris, I am not going to get it in Ooty. But, but, and a big big but. Ooty cannot merely exist for my aesthetic gratification. Ooty thrives on its ugly tourism. The residents earn a lot from Ooty, mostly from the weekend tourists, who hardly care about the place. It generates employment and works as one of the major economic churners in the Nilgiris. 

Despite the ugliness, I enjoyed Ooty as a fascinating human drama. I enjoyed the way the political society is trying to save Ooty from the onslaught of a population of outsiders polluting the place. I sensed the desperation in the poor in Ooty while dealing with the vagaries of the consumerist economy. I realized that the ugliness distributes money among the people, as roads are built through scenic mountains and honking buses colonize roads. 

If you seek my suggestion for Ooty then go to its cemeteries. More on this in my next post. 

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bangalore , new Kolkata?

God help us!

An article " BAngalore is new Kolkata" in today's Times of India exasperated me.  My Bengali pride is hurt and may I say, rightly so. The reporter regrets that Kolkata does not buy enough books any more, rather it is the hip and happening Bangalore that is buying all the books!  Where from does the reporter get his/her data to make such a claim? Well, understandably from booksellers and publishers selling books written in English. 

May I, with due burn in my cheeks, ask this reporter, are you bonkers?
What about the Bengali books, which are sold in numbers exceeding thousands and lakhs in Kolkata (alright I am exaggerating)? Do you have a data for that? Or is it that you think books in English are the queens and all other soldier bees must commit suicide to protect her?

God, please think before you write!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

happy birthday!

i was overwhelmed today!
i am generally an introvert and a rare bird on facebook. but i had to visit my facebook for some reason and suddenly there it was! so many birthday wishes!  i had  no idea that so many people would have an inkling about my birthday. i generally do not reveal my birthday date, neither do i celebrate it properly.
but to my strange fortune i found them wishing me. and now after two months i feel absolutely guilty for not responding to their wishes.
i don't like birthdays. they remind me of too many things, too many mistakes and too many troubles i have faced over the years.
somehow all birthdays are alike.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Two suicides and Heartbreak

Suicide! Those of you who have read today’s newspaper (Deccan Chronicle) would know that a PhD scholar committed suicide in HCU yesterday. He used to live in NRS hostel, the same hostel where I had spent almost a year during 2009 – 2010 session. I heard of the suicide yesterday itself at the HCU English Dept where I was attending a seminar. I felt bad for the young man as I tried imagining his difficult final moments. He had left a suicide note saying he was a heart broken man.The newspaper reports that one day before he committed suicide he changed his facebook status to single. Yesterday morning he died after consuming toxic acid.

Sometime in early December, 2011 my friend Amityedu rang me up in the morning. i was astonished to see his number vibrating that early on my mobile screen. he is if not anything else, never an early bird. he broke the sad news then: "Balaji, you knew him?" (Yes, he used to knock on my door often, a good friend, funny guy), "well I am afraid Rishi, your friend Balaji has committed suicide." I remember to have gone to the verandah of my house (for i was in Kolkata then)  staring at the passers-by for a while. I had no clue how to react to such an end. Almost a month later I met Mir, who told me that he had exactly felt the same way. Well he did not tell me but i guessed from what he said to me that he was equally, confoundedly shocked (Mir is a sensitive man). "Everything seemed to be right in his room. His shirts hanging from the hooks on the wall, his room neat and clean, his laptop in stand by mode. Just the man was no more."

"I did not want to see his body hanging from the ceiling," my friend Binayak told me later. "But still i went and saw him hanging. he had used a nylon string as noose and his body had come close to the ground as the noose had slackened. His body was oscillating sideways in breeze or because of imbalance in weight." 
 Vidyut, who lived opposite to Balaji, changed his room immediately. I met him few days ago. "Thank God you were not there when it happened," he told me. Vidyut does not want to live near that room anymore. 
My friend Sudip came to stay with me for a while when i was in Kolkata. he said Balaji had probably suffered a heartbreak and hence had decided to take his life.
I also noted a marked  sense of amnesia among my friends about Balaji. Most were unwilling to recall him or the incident of his suicide. This happens even in the case of impolite deaths. We cope with unnatural death in a very civil sort of way - by trying to forget it. i think it's a normal coping mechanism. The fire of what happened must burn within.

It's never easy to deal with heartbreaks - not in an advanced stage of loneliness. Several of us individualistic scholars are highly sensitive to feelings, emotions even though we do not show it. Heart break is common for us. I have seen several men (mostly) and women (some) suffering badly from  heart break.  To sympathize with the recent suicides I tried to walk in their shoes and i was reminded of a bad heart brake (intentionally misspelled) towards the end of my HCU days. Now i can laugh at it but at that moment it was difficult. The first thing that strikes you is a sense of emptiness, it's like an algebra solution where the constant X has gone wrong, the person you thought was a constant for you has suddenly disappeared and with that several of your pleasurable day dreams. 
then comes a cynical sense of anger, bitterness towards the opposite sex in general. You feel betrayed, victimized and taken advantage of. Then comes the worst of all - guilt. It consumes you so much that you become completely de-moralised.
I , dare say, have devised a treatment for heartbreaks. And it's a homeopathic one. I think catharsis is the best way. So instead of trying to cheer yourself up during heartbreaks (which is an allopathic treatment), indulge in grief as much as you want. The idea is to mourn your loss properly though proper rituals and these rituals may vary from man to man. We generally tend to follow the ritual of becoming introverted and lonely. We listen to philosophizing Bollywood songs and try to feel good. Instead follow a ritual of good eating. Try playing computer war games or best go to the zoo and stare at the animals. 
I think a good long walk is a good way to release your anguish, preferably if the walk is through a market where you can see several things together. For Hyderabadis the best market is near Charminar. Go there wallow in your emptiness for 24 hours and release your anger on some shopkeeper. I am sure you will feel much better at the end of the day.

As i write this blog two juniors have appeared at my door: Suman and Angan. Telepathically they are looking for H12: Balaji's room. They want to stay there. "Why?" I ask. we thought people were afraid of entering the room after the incident. "It's much better to deal with a ghost than bloody spiders." Spiders -  yes these boys are living in a room outside all hostels and have so far managed to exist in a cramped shelter. But with the rise in temperature spiders have started serenading their abode. They desperately need a room. 
After a while we have come to know that there are several students eyeing that room. I guess that's a healthy sign. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011


it has been a while since i wrote my last blog. these days i am busy, working on my research writing. in fact the last month was bad and harrowing. i was sick for about twenty days at a stretch. the ritual of recovery brought me closer to my friend sudip who nursed me during those bad hours.
the silence of illness also gave me time to think. i mused over psychological display of personality. i thought over my infantilism and prolonged pretension of boyhood.
i come from a middle class joint family which began disintegrating during my teenage years. in my early youth the disintegration was complete and i had to create and recreate several defence mechanisms in order to cope with the experience of disintegration. the near ones started to behave like aliens. i remember to have hidden myself behind a wall listening to my father and uncles quarrelling.
once the disintegration became deep, i realized that i must keep alive the love and care for the persons who have now turned half demons. enter my pose as an infantile, boyish man. this personality helped me believe in the possibility of an eternal childhood - a moment when i would be loved by all in my joint family. i could congeal myself in an everguarded sense of innocence.
over the years this defence mechanism has become so strong that i can be completely at ease in front of the people i dislike and yet put up a smiling caring face. the ego has developed deeper roots. i mean the guilt of duality does not exist anymore.
i guess my early expereince with heartbreak has to do a lot about this evolution of strong defences. i have created intense sense of outward hygiene as a result of this. therefore i have a cleanliness fetish.
the only problem i find now is the problem of speaking aloud my troubles. i can write but cannot speak. the self hides behind mirrors that are exact;y not mirrors but letters of display.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Onam that was!

Yesterday was Onam - a Malayali harvest festival. Onam is a big harvest festival in Kerala. Floral decorations, traditional dresses, and traditional food served with payasam as dessert are common things. It’s basically a vegetarian festival. You are supposed to eat several vegetable curries and fried menus along with rice and sambar. Onam would mean boat races, traditional dances and family gatherings. Onam would mean retelling of the Mahavali myth. But Onam for several diasporic Malayalis mean food, tradtional dress and soppy programmes of dance and music. Like the post Durga puja celebration of Bengalis, I have seen Malayalis celebrating Onam with a variety programme evening that reminds you of middle age pageantry. Everybody has to perform some nonsense in these shows.
King Mahavali. The myth associated with
Onam is related to this King.
But it was Onam yesterday.
In the afternoon my friend Sudip took me to a dingy restaurant at Nampally to have Onam lunch along with two Malayali friends. Well actually there were nine of us from various states of India trying out onam. I did not like the food. I felt it was hideous. 
After the lunch I asked our Malayali friend about the food. He said he liked it because it reminded him of home. Another girl who was with us said it was all nice except that they were not served properly. I realized that they could never be the right judge of onam food. Wearing traditional dresses, remembering family members constantly, physically displaced from Kerala, their judgment of onam food is bound to be nostalgic and in all probability any semblance of onam menu would be nice for them.
At dinner our mess served onam special and it was bad.
Were the onam meals badly prepared? Was it that I lacked the taste to appreciate the food? I guess both. I also heard that what we had in the name of Onam was nothing compared to what Malayalis have back home. i heard that there would be several more curries and vegetable fries. Whatever may it be I am sure most of the vegetables would be prepared in the same vein as those of fried beans and beans with coconut.
Actually, yesterday, I didn’t see the point of celebrating onam.

Harvest days are long gone and personally I am removed from farming so many times that I cannot even count. In Kerala harvesting has taken a new turn. There are very few vegetable farm lands now, most have turned into cash crops and poultry. And yet Onam like all other regional festivals in India is a farmer’s festival. I guess the food served in onam completely lacks meaning for urban Malayalis as well as for me. We celebrate it because it is part of our growing up and nothing else. I cannot appreciate this pre modern food menu of vegetable mishmash because it is completely beyond me. Point is the menu does not answer the question: why am I eating this? The vegetables do not give you any pleasure at all. Neither does the menu challenge your digestive system. I have a thesis for this. When a culture is colonized and recolonized as the Malayalis have been then it is worth holding on to extremely private practices of culture which would not be touched by modernism or colonialism. Onam is that private undercurrent, saved for generations from outside pollutions. So no innovation, no new menu. It is a cultural freeze. It serves the food which has been served in pre modern harvest times. It is without meat, without strong flavor, syrupy and slurpy. I cannot connect to it because it does not question my taste buds like a nice hot kabab or an Aloo Dum.

It also might be that Onam reminds me of the pre modern undercurrent within me. I might hate Onam because it is messy. My experience at the restaurant had been bad because it lacked hygiene. Eating Onam food might be messy in front of several people because you have to literally lick your hands – a connotation which in modern times has become linked to obscenity. Eating Onam, for me, then might be an uncivil behaviour.
Back at the university Anushree, my old friend, was not wearing traditional dresses. She said she did not have anything new to wear. I got it then. Onam if not anything is part of a wide consumer culture that is all around us. A blog post at Kafila told me more. Onam is basically shopping for many Malayalis. We Indians (cheap that we are) have turned every damn festival and every damn religious gathering into a money spinning ritual.  Onam is also about the joint family. It’s the time of the year when you gather around and get close to your family. But with joint families breaking up in Kerala I don’t think Onam holds on to familial relationships beyond your nearest ones: mother, father, sister, brother or if you are married, your wife and children. Otherwise Onam is about friends. In consumerist society often friends are more important than the immediate family. Friends have this weird habit of congratulating you at every step and taking you out on dinner or lunch to celebrate nothing. Together with a friend you can have the freedom to consume anything, anytime anywhere. My junior Upamanyu has made it a habit to tease me at every step with his absurd sense of consumption: “Oh new pen, let’s go and have lunch somewhere!” Oh new bed sheet, let’s go!” His absurdity proves the shallowness of consumer friendship in many ways than one. Onam I believe has become a consumer friendship even though the coating of harvest festival remains.

So that’s how it stands: I may never like Onam food again because it is related to several things I detest and reject. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

back on a plane

nearly two weeks ago i wrote my last blog. i was in Kolkata then trying out fuming coffee at the college street coffeehouse. the next few days after that entry were hectic. i had to run around the city, meet some friends and relations, and work out deals with my business partners. finally the last day dropped on me like a broken egg on sauce pan. my father woke me up early morning and i had to slumber heavily to the airport for my flight back to hyderabad.
the airport looked emptier probably for the less amount of traffic in the monsoon months. the security did not let my father in. they were blocking "outsiders" from entering airport this freedom ( read August) month. i had to rush in, waving an untimely good bye and a shake of hands, father melting away in the haze of the morning.

i remembered the older avatar of Dum Dum airport as i went through a series of security checks.

i was a little child of six or seven when i boarded a plane first. those were really elite days in the airport. no one spoke words more than what were necessary and flying was a luxury you could afford if your father's office paid the air fare. aeroplanes fascinated me then. watching these things flying would fill me with an awesome dread.
In those days the Dum Dum airport was cleaner. people spoke in english, wore suits and costly saris. there was a small canteen where sandwiches cost eighteen rupees. the air hostesses were cool pretty women who gave you heart breaks. and yes it was only indian airlines then. the hostesses i remember would pamper me because i was a  fluffy koala kid.
deep down i have always associated the Dum Dum airport with my forbidden introversion. its cleanliness, its elitism as spaces of high hygiene, superior aesthetics, something that is incompatible with the Kolkata i have grown up with.
but that Dum Dum for better or for worse is no more. Dum Dum is now like any other over crowded unclean shopping malls in the city. only the air condition helps. the wonder is suddenly gone.

i board a kingfisher air craft where over worked air hostesses wear garish make ups. the worst part is their smile. i can't stand the mechanical good byes and "welcome aboard"s. they look like cheer leaders to me. i guess the old classy feeling of flying on plane is gone with the large down cut in the plane fares. However, even though i enjoy the benefits of flying  because of this reduced fare, i still cherish the Indian Airlines classiness.

in Kingfisher flights the air hostesses do not show you the security drill. supermodel Yana Gupta appears on a small screen attached to the seat in front showing you the drill. i switch off the screen. i can't stand heartless show of concern. i remember Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation.The 
fast food industry teaches emotional drills to its employees: you can never be pissed off with your customer, always smile etc. i think the air hostesses in these new airlines are like that, drilled to smile, drilled to hide their inner anger.

i spend the flight sleeping. when i was a kid i would always feel like looking out the window for possible movement. now i generally take the aisle seat just to avoid that inner rush of kiddishness, of peering out and looking for wonder where there isn't any.

given my introversion i long for those quiet "leave me alone" days of flying experience when i would have to read out for my mother the basic instructions on " how to ask for a glass of water on an aeroplane". my mother would later boast how smart i have become.

a smart kid who somehow grew to choose a bad aisle seat to get bumped by air hostesses every time they passed by.