Wednesday 26 May 2010

Sheepish, in awe and the after effects

Have you read a poet's works as a student and then taught the same poet's works to your students AND then met him?

Well, I have done all the three and believe me, it's one memorable experience.

The first time I heard that there was going to be an exchange program to Northern Ireland, the only name that appeared in my mind was SEAMUS HEANEY. Do you know him? Have you read his works?

Today I met him at a book launch. Another being took control of me. That being was awed, acted foolish and felt almost in a dream-like state. The reason: SEAMUS HEANEY.

I have never seen myself go ga-ga like this. Being quite pragmatic and acknowledging any form of celebrity worshipping as nonsense, I could not fathom my behaviour.

I took a photograph with him, got his autograph and came home drunk with the joy of having seen him. Then a million arrows of pragmatism confronted me. I was lost. I was reciting his poems to him. He smiled. I could not answer coherently to his questions. Lost. Standing next to a Nobel Prize winner does not happen everyday.

Sheepish and joyous.

Saturday 22 May 2010

offering something that I enjoyed and still enjoy

This is a speech written by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago Tribune as a column in 1987. But this was definitely made popular by Baz Luhrmann who made it into a song titled Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen in 1998. I loved and enjoyed this and everytime I go back to it, I come back with something. Hope you like the lyrics as well. 
Dedicated to all the lovely readers who stop to meander in the Meanderings.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

Wear Sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience
I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh nevermind,
you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself
and recall in a way you can’t grasp now, how much possibility lay before you
and how fabulous you really looked,
you are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts,
don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind,
the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults,
if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life,
the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22
what they wanted to do with their lives,
some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t,
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40,
Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary
What ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can, don’t be afraid of it,
or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
Brother and sister together we'll make it through
Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there
I know you've been hurtin, but I've been waitin' to be there for you
And I'll be there just helping you out whenever I can
Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings, they are the best link to your past
and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get,
the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard,
Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander,
you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young
prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund,
Maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia,
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off,
painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen
Brother and sister together we'll make it through
Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there
I know you've been hurtin, but I've been waitin' to be there for you
And I'll be there just helping you out whenever I can
Everybody's free oh yeah
Everybody's free oh yeah

Thursday 20 May 2010

How many years does it take . . .

Grappling with home and identity spurs off many questions and curiosities. Like the other day, someone told me that he was English but was in the process of becoming Indian. Well, I had my doubts as always. If one stays for about twenty years in a particular place, does one become of that place? Do you get what I mean. Now if I tell this to one of my Indian friends that X says that he is Indian, he will be flabbergasted. He has all reasons to be.

How can this percentage of nationality be calculated? Does the passport determine that? If one possesses an Irish passport, does one become Irish? At the risk of sounding parochial let me ask: What happens to your 'original' home and nationality?

Can an American 'claim' to be native-American if one fine day he decides to live in an native-American community and settle down there. One American did that. Michael Dorris, American scholar and writer. I came across his writing while reading up on home and it's issues. He settled in a native-American place and even adopted three native-American children. In the end he committed suicide. You can google his name and read up on him.

Why does the human strive to call him (her)self something (s)he is not. Why an attachment to look for an identity that contradicts one's personality. If the whole world can be considered as your home, then where does your roots lie? Roots are essential without which trees fall apart.

Finally, how much of a particular place makes you of that place. I can live my whole life in Isreal and yet be Indian or I could adapt myself being Indian. But calling myself Isreali when I introduce myself is weird.

I understand the politics of place-affiliation and migration but still . . . Does it matter?

Nothing really matters in a globalised world, after all.

Sunday 16 May 2010

That smell . . .

Today when we visited the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, there was a section where smells from days of yore were kept in a box for us to sniff. For me it was something incredible. I had never seen something like that before. This prompted a discussion with my friends. The topic: The power of smell.

My friend expressed how viewing a film in a theatre has involvement of all the senses except the smell. Well, it is true that smell is something which is not quite prominent while discussing the senses. For me it's one of the most sensuous and delicate.

Smell is related to memory and nostalgia. Many a times, a whiff of a once familiar smell sends me off to a past when I experienced that particular smell. The smell of earth during/after rains always makes me feel a sense of longing. Sometimes it's only longing and it is not connected with any person or object. The smell of new books while flipping the pages for the first time is heavenly. I am a staunch smell-person, by Jove!

I often wonder about the loss of this sense. I can't even imagine. I remember seeing a documentary in BBC years ago about a man who had lost his sense of smell. He was telling the audience of how his memory was totally gone. He was lamenting about not being able to smell his morning coffee, freshly baked bread and the perfume on his wife. That struck a chord within me. What would I do without smell.

Amorous conversation is incomplete without the line: I love the smell of you (skin, hair, breath, clothes). I can go on and on about the smell of a beloved. It's magic.

Cooking, cleaning, bathing, walking, etc -- all these activities have some sense of smell associated with them.

Long ago, I saw a 2006 released French film Perfume: The story of a Murderer. It was an evocative one where the protagonist has a strong olfactory sense. He kills many women in the process of extracting their smell. I think it's a lovely film whose protagonist is not Jean-Baptiste Grenouille but the olfactory sense!!

I wish you could smell the ambience of my room while reading this post but then . . .

Photo courtesy: Internet

Thursday 13 May 2010

Let's do the Laundry!!!

Hmmmm. Today we did our laundry and believe me it's a lovely distraction from our work schedules. Not that we have a rigid one but we remain cooped up in our room and 'try' working. The three of us always do our laundry together and it's fun when we collect our clothes and march towards the Laundry Room which is about two minutes walk from our hostel apartment.

Now what's so nice about doing the laundry, you may wonder. Well, for that matter, we have not seen Laundry Rooms in India. We wash our own clothes in our bathroom or the washerman (Dhobi in our language) does it for students in the hostel. Here we see a huge room full of washers and dryers which operate when you put coins into them; They also have instructions for different kinds of clothes. Oh, we have washing-machines in India (now don't think we have not seen them) but our house does not have a washing-machine. We wash our clothes with hands. Now you get the 'big' bathroom connection.

Then the washing goes on for 38 minutes during which we spend time chatting inside a lounge which is adjacent to the Laundry Room. That's not all. We come every fifteen minutes and check how things are going on (little knowing that everything is very efficient!!) and then the dryer.

Wow! I just like the dryer with hot air. We again transfer the clothes. Another 50 minutes and a pound. Chatting. Laughing. Wondering the way everything works. Make comparisons with India. Think what happens if the power goes off. Again wonder whether people in Belfast know how to use their hands! Listen to songs on our mobile. Laze in the lounge. Feel guilty that we waste so much time doing laundry. But nevertheless repeat the same ritual the next week and again complain.

Our clothes are a wee faded due to the heat of the water. But I must say, the dryers are quite nice. Half a day devoted to doing laundry.

Did I mention that we iron our clothes as well in that room. You would have guessed that anyway.

Image courtesy: Internet

Monday 10 May 2010


When meeting many new people and being fed with information, one realises that being redundant in expression is unconscious: A few involuntary standard responses from me:


That's amazing!!!

It's the same in India!!

Really? How interesting.


How lovely!!!





Oh, I don't believe this!


A rich history!

How similar!!




Bored already? I did an analysis of my expressions and arrived at this post. Another experience of a foreigner!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Performing the 'home'

Today while UK is gearing up for it's historic elections and the results becoming quite hard to predict, three students from Chennai in India performed 'home' by cooking food with spices and condiments just the way it was done back home.

We had heard many people referring to the Asian market which was 'somewhere' behind Queen's University but we had never been there. Today after a post-graduate seminar, we decided to go and take a look. Wonder of wonders!!! We found coriander, green-chillies, pickles and an assortment of stuff like it is in India. But the shop was owned by Chinese. We were like excited kids exploring the shelves and exclaiming: 'Hey, look, there is this and there is that!' I even began smelling things and taking in the familiar aromas much to the bemusement of the fellow-shoppers.

Hmmm. We bought to our heart's content and decided the menu: beef fry, sambar, rice, appalam and pickle. Since we were three, we split the dishes amongst us and started the grand performance. We reveled in the parts and played our roles to the T. Adding spices just like it was done at home.

When the smells wafted, we almost cried: 'Doesn't it smell just like home?'

The dinner was lovely. Our performance was complete. We were perfect.

Now we are students again. The performance is over. Home is a memory. When we burped, we thought of our 'performance' but not the home.

What is home then? A performance? Sometimes.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Tuning into the details

Whilst in a new country, it is quite easy to get involved in the big picture often missing out intricasies. Like today I observed that my foot usually has shades of two colours; wherever the footwear covers, it is the original colour whereas the uncovered places of the foot are darkened by the sun. This colouration has disappeared in Belfast. My foot is even coloured and nice to behold.

There are not many crows here whereas in India there is an abundance of noisy crows that make their presence felt. In Belfast when one opens the windows, there are sometimes magpies but most of the times, there are no birds in the vicinity which is rare in India. Gradually I have adjusted to seeing magpies instead of crows.

The sugar in Belfast is not as sweet as that in India. I always get stared at by people as I empty five-to-six sachets of sugar into my tea or coffee. Even that seems inadequate!!! Moreover no one here prefers sugar in their teas and coffees. India also has another synonym here: Sweet!

Quietness is spread like a shroud. The nosiy, vibrant and resplendent view in India is quite strong in comparison to the low profile and calm Belfast.

I have seen that almost everything I see or experience is compared to India. Now it has almost become a habit to compare. I don't know whether this is done by everyone who visits new places.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Deliberations of bathing in a foreign place

Now this has to be my favourite rendition when asked about the experiences in Belfast: Bathing! Funny how insignificant things cause much thoughts and fondness for the bathrooms at home in India. In India bathrooms are given importance in such a way that the space is large, there are taps, buckets and mugs. One not only bathes but also washes and dances in the bathrooms in India.

Alas! nothing of that sort can be done here. There is a wee shower which is the only source of water and so I either turn it on or shut it. I cannot collect some water and keep it so that I can have the pleasure of pouring out water. No buckets!!! No taps!!! I guess everyone here turns on the shower and finish their baths while we in India store the water and slowly take our time. I like showers but not too fond of them as I cannot experience water in it's full force through the shower.

Now the space: the bathrooms here have such small areas for bathing that everytime I turn, I hit myself against the wall. Everytime I want to bend, I am restricted. The soap often falls and it's irritating to bend and pick it up as in the process, I dash against the wall. Hmmmm.

Now another question that is often targeted at me is: Are you home-sick? Well, I am not completely home-sick but in parts such as being Indian bathroom-sick (now this has to be my coinage).

You will know more about my fetish for water and bathing in "Ah! The pleasure of water sliding down the skin."

So far so good!


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