Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My nephew's birthday invite

It was once of those weekdays, when you're glad to be home from work, settled in your lazyboy and looking forward to some serious channel surfing on the idiot box. Suddenly, my cell phone starts screaming as if someone was strangling the SIM out of it! I don't understand how, despite all the research going on in phones, that noone can come up with a decent ring tone. Even worse, when I call my brother in India, I have to put up with the "enrenrum punnagai! mudivilla punnagai!" (translation - "always smiling! endless smiling!") song from the Tamil movie 'Alai Payuthae' while I wait for him to pick up his cell phone. Apparently, they call this the 'ring back' tone, something that is slowly, and unfortunately, being introduced in the US now.

So returning to my cell phone ring, I pick it up and, its my cousin sister Sugan from California. She says she needs to send an e-vite out for her (4 year old) son Shreyas' birthday party the following week and needs some funny write up on the invite. While I was wondering why she thought I would be capable of doing this, she went on "I know you are silly most of the time and funny once in a while. Make this one of those rare occasions. And consider this an emergency. I want to see something solid by tomorrow!". Since she didn't give me much of a choice, I mumbled something weakly, intended to mean "I'll try my best, but my creative juices cannot flow when you demand", and kept down the phone.

So I sat down with my laptop and started off on the project. At first, I thought it would just be easy to google the term "birthday invite" and "funny" and it will come up with a gazillion entries form which I'll take my pick. My cousin wouldn't know or care, I'll earn her eternal gratitude (which, I can tell you from personal experience, does not last long) and go back to my lazy evening. But somehow, I couldn't find anything on google or the millions of e-Card sites it took me to. So I finally gave up and decided to come up with something myself in the form of a short poem (you know, the kind that rhymes!). After a while, I realized that the prospect of a simple invite gave me a writer's block, and I started appreciating the Blakes and Tennysons of the world. Eventually, I got this not-so-bright idea of maybe making it sound like a cute rap (no 'crap' puns please!) from Shreyas himself. Since I could not possiby embarrass myself more than I already have, I'm reproducing the end product here:

yo.. yo... check it out y'all...

4 years ago, to the day...
a dude landed, by the bay...
he was from a planet far far away...

no kryptonite... no wings...
just a regular habit of breaking things...

That's me alright...
Shreyas is my name...
Ultra-cool is my game...

i'm throwing a b'day party for love and peace...
at the nearby Chuck.E Cheese...

am really excited about this...
don't even think 'bout giving it a miss...

be there with your mommies ...
you'll get some goodies...

we'll party with pizza and games...
bada bing! bada boom! RSVP your names...

The Notorious Shreyas
(a budding West Coast rapper!!!)

I was not proud of myself, but this was the best I could do, given my lack of talent with poetry, or words in general. Somehow, this seemed to please my cousin and she put this on her e-vite. She did receive some comments from her guests about "that silly poem" and "written by a grown up? really?" and "retarded". I'm hoping I didn't scar Shreyas for life.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Exploring Jazz and Blues in Chicago - Underground Wonderbar

Since I call my blog 'Chennai to Chicago', I really should be writing a little bit about both these cities that are close to my heart. So I decided to do something about it. The result is what you see here - my first clumsy attempt to describe my favorite places around Chicago. I will start with a small introduction to the Jazz and blues scene in the city.

Anyone with even an iota of interest in the American music scene will know that Chicago is probably home to the best Jazz and Blues talent after New Orleans. A trip to Chicago will not be complete without a visit to one of the numerous Jazz/Blues bars that dot the downtown landscape. There are so many to choose from that its easy to get confused. Some of them are called 'touristy' because they are big and boorish and seem to cater a lot more to visitors from outside. The locals seem to prefer the ones that are smaller and have a more intimate and cosy atmosphere, showcasing local talent. Most serious music listeners also have their favorite singers and bands and follow them around on the circuit.

Now, I will be the first one to admit that i'm an absolute music ignoramus. I have long ago resigned to the fact that there's not an ounce of music talent in my blood. But there's something about this Jazz and Blues that seems to hold my attention. I usually do not know the musician, have no idea about the song and very frequently even cannot pinpoint the genre. But I don't think all that is important to get the essense of the music, and to enjoy it as it is supposed to be - with a few friends and a few drinks. So once in a while, I get this Jazz/Blues itch and pay a customary visit to the city.

Underground Wonderbar. No ladies, I did not misspell it and its not something you will find in the Victoria's Secret catalog. This is probably my most favorite place to hang out when I get the afore mentioned itch. Located in the heart of downtown and surrounded by shops, boutiques and restaurants, this is an unassuming place that happens to be a Chicago landmark for 18 years. As the name suggests, this is located below the ground, is only as big as a 2-bedroom apartment (you'll have to cross the stage to get to the restroom!) but has great acoustics. A friday here typically starts off with some vigorous Electric Violin by Heather Horton that will put you right in the mood. With a striking resemblance to Alanis Morisette combined with a dash of Shania Twain, she's easy on the eye as well. Her performance is followed by the house band 'Lonie Walker and her Big Bad Ass Company'. Lonie Walker, as the smart ones among you might have guessed, is the band lead. More importantly, she's also the founder and owner of the club and apparently a Chicago legend. The band is supposed to play a genre called 'Transcendent blues', God knows what that is. Transcendence, by definition, implies something that transcends genres and cannot be placed in any one category. But you'll enjoy the perfect harmony of Lonie Walker's sultry voice and piano, combined with some great Saxaphone, Guitar and Drums. There's even a mini performance from a 'bone' player you won't see anywhere else. He has different kinds of sticks made of animal bones in both his hands and starts rattling them away creating some kind of jungle music. He will also entertain jokes about being a 'boner' and the various implications of the word.

Had a funny incident here once. A bunch of us were visiting this place one Friday night, and one of them (let's call him Jay) got pretty drunk. For some reason, he started lapsing into hip hop songs (which is as unappropriate in this place, as ordering Steak at Saravana Bhavan!). I wouldn't have bothered if he had stopped at it. He suddenly decided to get up, start singing "Go shorty! its your birthday... we're gonna party like its your b'day..." and started waving his hands and walking towards the stage where Lonie Walker was in the middle of a soulful number. Why he chose this particular song is anybody's guess, considering that none of us were particularly short or had our birthdays in the near past or future. In any case, as I was saying, he walked up to the stage and managed to knock the mike right into Lonie Walker's face, unintentionally ofcourse. Did I mention that she's the club owner and a Chicago legend? My friends and I couldn't believe what happened! I imagined that my stay there was about to be pretty rudely interrupted and that we were all going to be thrown out unceremoniously from the club by some over-harmoned bouncers. Infact, I went so far as to imagine they're gonna put up mugshots of us outside the bar with a 'Shoot at Sight' caption. Well, things did not get as dramatic. A huge bouncer brought Jay back to his perch atop a bar stool, told him "Don't you f#$&in' get out of here!" and went back. We heaved a collective sigh of relief and returned to our drinks and let Lonie Walker get back to her music after her near-death experience.

If you ever visit Chicago, I would highly recommend this place. The music is usually upbeat and energetic, the drinks are reasonably priced and the crowd is upscale and pretty cosmopolitan. As the night wears on and the alcohol seeps in, the cacophony of the different music instruments combined with the almost-mauled Lonie Walker's voice somehow seem to make perfect sense and life slows down to an enjoyable pace.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bus journeys to remember

Every semester in Pilani began with an energy-sapping 36-hour train journey for us from Chennai to Delhi. I would get down at the Delhi train station hungry and thirsty, and wanting nothing more than to curl up in my bed with a cup of hot coffee and a good book. Ofcourse, knowing that the most taxing and nerve-jangling part of the journey is just ahead of you does little to cheer you up. We would grab a bite, take an auto to the Delhi bus stand and hope to find a bus to Loharu (which was a short jeep ride away from Pilani) with enough room to accomodate us and our luggages. We would wait there with bated breaths while the conductor searched inside for a few empty seats. Ofcourse, there would be no space for the luggages, and these would be tossed on the roof of the bus. This was one of the few moments in life I became religious, and would utter a silent prayer hoping this would ensure that my suitcase completed the journey with me.

If you thought public buses in India were dirty and in bad shape, you ain't seen nothin' yet! The buses plying along the rural parts of North India were works of art. The outside and most of the inside will be covered with red stains from all the paan spits, the seats were so tightly packed you would have to be lesser than five feet tall or thereabouts to ensure continuous blood circulation thoughout the journey, and then there were the co-passengers! These were mostly farmers and local villagers from Rajasthan. To say that they could use a good bath or three would be an understatement. Apart from the smell, you would have to put up with the beedi smoke that they would keep puffing on your face. The miserable pace of the bus and the prospects of a 5-hour journey packed inside this mass of humanity without an inch to move is enough to make anyone claustrophobic and suffer a nervous breakdown. But we were veterans after the first few trips, and found new and innovative ways of keeping ourselves occupied through the journey.

Every bus ride was a thrill, since you didn't know if you were going to get off alive. Once, about 25% of the floor of the bus was open and we could literally see the underside. The fumes were sucked in though the hole and we were covered with soot by the time we were ready to get off. Quite often, you'll encounter a villager with a load of firewood and a couple of goats get on the bus. I've always wondered if the conductor issues tickets for the goats as well, and what the SPCA would have to say about the miserable traveling conditions that these creatures had to put up with. The music would be classic Rajasthani stuff with lots of wind instruments that should be avoided, and voices similar to those of Ila Arun or Usha Uthup with a sore throat. Suffice it to say, any attempts at a siesta was bound to meet a futile and rather jarring end. And when the bus really got crowded, you will have to pretend not to notice when someone leans on you or, as it has happened to me, sits on your shoulder with their rear ends too close to your face for comfort.

I remember one such journey where a few of us decided to get adventurous and got down at Jhunjunu (yes, that's a real town! I can give you more such funny names if you want...) and decided to treat ourselves to a ride on a mini-van for the rest of the journey. We found one, got in and promptly went to sleep. After what seemed like eternity, I woke up and realized that it was way past midnight, the van was not moving and, more significantly, the driver and other passengers (except us BITSians) were gone. I got off to find a gang of local men (including the driver and his sidekick) in their huge turbans squatting around a fire, smoking beedis. Even more surprising was that one of my friends was doing the exact same thing and bargaining with them in Hindi. Turns out they did not find enough passengers to make their trip (and the associated gas expense) worthwhile, so they just decided to stop. This bit of logic was very difficult for me to comprehend, used I was to buses taking me all the way to my stop even if I were the only passenger on board. So I squatted down, borrowed a beedi and joined the haggling party. Another friend woke up after a while, lost his cool when he realized that he was stranded in the middle of nowhere and all his Hindi-speaking friends were gone, was even more shaken when he saw the bunch of locals around the fire and blurted out "Mera admi kahan hai?". That was probably one of the funniest things I've ever heard in my life. Should have added that to my Hindi bloopers post!

Well, a long story short, we always managed to reach our destination. There are a lot of things that I remember and recall with fondness about my days in BITS. The Delhi to Pilani bus journeys always seem to figure somewhere in the top ten. I cannot explain why that is. Was it the beautiful scenery along the way, with miles of golden corn fields and neatly plowed land? Was it because nothing brought us closer to rural India and its inhabitants than those 5 hours? Or was it the excitement (?!) of starting another semester and getting screwed all over again at our good old BITS? It could be all of those and a million other reasons. Years later, whenever I'm on a flight that runs into rough weather and passengers around me scream and throw a fit, I'm usually sitting there calmly reading a book. After those thrill-a-minute bus rides, nothing can come close to rattling me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sathanur Days - Part 2 : Kittu mama and the broken chair

For an introduction to this series, please start here

The nearest neighbors to my grand father's house was the "
Kolathaankarai" home (kulam + aam + karai = house on the lake shore. Ofcourse, it was just a small dried up pond, which was used occasionally, when it did have some H2O, by villagers to bathe buffaloes or wash their clothes). The house was inhabited by only 2 people - kittu mama and his brother Raman mama. Both of them were sworn bachelors. It was never clear to me what they did for a living, but Kittu mama, apparently, had visited 'the States' quite a few times. So once you get him started on the topic, you might as well pull up the cot and go to sleep. He didn't really care if anyone listened, as long as there was another human being in the same room. He was also one of the stingiest people I had ever met. This, I could not understand. How could a bachelor, without any family or worries in the world, not live it up? I could never forgive him for making me walk back to my grand father's place on those hot, sultry afternoons to fetch him his OC newspaper (titbit: O.C. is an acronym for "on company" which refers to freeloading on your company's resources thanks to loops and holes in the administration), and then come back once more to collect it. Sometimes when my grandfather was not quite done with the main paper, I had to ferry the supplements to keep Kittu mama happy.

The other source of my gripe was the way we kept losing our tennis balls in their house. Sometimes in the afternoons, a few of us got together for a game of cricket right outside our home, and kittu mama's house was exactly where long off should be. So any ambitious straight loft would land right through his open courtyard, which also had an open well unfortunately. By the time we got there, the ball would disappear, and he would just tell us that the ball landed right inside the well and there was no way of getting it out. But I had a sneaking feeling that kittu mama was hiding our tennis balls just to discourage us from playing outside his home. This was a feeling shared by my cousins as well.

So as a means of getting back at kittu mama, we planned a practical joke. Every afternoon, kittu mama had a habit of taking a siesta on his 'easy' chair, which was nothing but a sheet of canvas held in place on a bamboo frame by a small stick that went through a loop. Remove this stick, and the whole thing would fall apart. We decided, in our infinite wisdom, that we would do this to the old man, watch him fall down in his sleep and disappear from the scene. The eldest of the cousins, 'periya' Karthik (since I was 'kutti' Karthik) was the chief planner/implementor with the rest of us giving him moral support and ready to abandon him at the nearest hint of trouble. One afternoon, we carried out our plan and hid behind the sacks of rice and bullock carts parked right outside the home, and waited with bated breath for the fun to begin. Unfortunately, kittu mama seemed to be in no mood for a siesta that day, and appeared more energetic than usual. After a few hours, we got bored of the waiting game and decided to get back to our normal lives.

It so happened that we forgot to put back the stick in its place. Apparently, kittu mama did eventually have a pretty bad fall the next day. 'periya' Karthik was pulled up by kittu mama after a frenetic chase and given a sound thrashing. My grand father was not pleased, even though he could not hide the hint of a smile on his face. After all, he was free to read his newspaper end to end without fear of losing it in the middle of the day. For the next few days, we all avoided kittu mama's home, just in case Karthik had squealed on the rest of us. Eventually, things got back to normalcy and we started visiting kittu mama. But legend has it that kittu mama never gets back on his 'easy' chair without making sure the stick is in its place.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Metrosexual? Give us a break!

I might be wrong, but the last few years I've been hearing this damned word 'metrosexual' over and over again in many situations. This is what wikipedia has to say about this. Not very helpful, is it? It wouldn't be so bad if the term also did not have connotations to 'swinging both ways' or people who are confused about their sexual orientation. Problem is the term has become broader and more general to the point where it seems to include every male who lives in big cities, who is presentable if not well-dressed most of the time and who cannot handle a power drill if his life depended on it. So now you want us all to be country bumpkins answering to the male stereotype of the gruff, stubbled, well-built guy, who's never been to a museum and treats women like dirt? Yes, you heard me right! I said 'us'. And ofcourse it includes me.I have no pretenses of being Brad Pitt or that I will ever be hit on by gay men. But I do like to dress well, and yes I have more then 4 pairs of shoes. That alone would qualify me as a metrosexual in a place like Chicago. Add to that my absolute ignorance about any kind of tools (leave alone power drills) or fixing things around the house, and you have a regular 'swinger'.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my heater (the kind that heats the home, not the water) was having problems. So I banged on it a couple of times and it started working. Everytime it stopped, I would do this and the heater would start working again. So I came to the conclusion that the heater door is loose and that's why it kept shutting off automatically (yes, I read the FAQs/instructions). Ofcourse, I would never think about fixing the heater door myself. It finally died on me inspite of a series of Bruce Lee style flying kicks and Rajni Kanth style dance moves on it. A bruised leg and a knocked up finger later I decided to call in the modern day magicians who call themselves 'technicians'. I told the guy confidently that the door was the problem but I could use a general tune-up as well (I mean for the heater... Give me a break here!). He opened up the heater door, ran a few tests and told me that the gas detector was gone and so it kept shutting off. I was flabbergasted and told him about my innovative ways of banging on it to get it started. He calmly showed me that the switch that would detect a loose door was located on the bottom panel, while I had been involved in a WWF with the top panel. It had only been a coincidence all along. A few hundred bucks (US, not Indian!) later, I'm ensconsed in the optimal 72F range.

So many times, I've enlisted the help of Miss W, my close friend, in fixing things aound the house or to re-light water heater pilots. Yes, a girl helps me out with tools and repairs and, what's more, she's better at it. I also happen to like art and poetry, have a good eye for interior decor and color schemes and love Jazz. This would be more than enough to get me branded a metrosexual in modern day America. Its funny that as more and more the society accepts and absorbs gay culture, the stereotype of the straight male has to become straighter and straighter. If the trouble makers would have their way, no one other than John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are macho enough to be straight. Add to that the stir that this movie Brokeback Mountain has caused even among happily married couples, and I realize that I have nowhere to run.

Why should I let these journalists and society columnists (and Maxim and Cosmopolitan!) determine what I should and should not know or do to remain straight? I've decided I'm never going to learn how to fix my car or do a simple oil change. I've decided to buy more jackets and shoes if I feel like it. I'm going to get more abstract paintings for my house. Heck! I would cry in a movie if I feel like it. If all this gets me branded as a metrosexual, then so be it! Ahh... that reminds me. I need to fix that darned fuse box. Does anyone have an online tutorial on that?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Preparing for the GMAT

I'm finally done with my GMAT and just put away all the books, papers, scratch pads, CDs and the assortment of study material that slowly but surely sucked the life out of me over the last couple of months and came perilously close to destroying the last few working grey cells in my brain. And I look around, and guess what, a lot of my friends have just started preparing for the test. There can be no greater joy than sitting there feeling all "I finished my exam and can party anytime!" smug. And ofcourse, dishing out advice is a surefire way to rub these guys the wrong way. So contrary to my NCMF attitude, I am going to share my test prep strategy. If you are desperate enough to read my blog to prepare or get inspired for GMAT, then things cannot get much worse for you anyway!

What's GMAT?
If you're reading this, you obviously know the answer to that. Its a silly aptitude test like any other. Just because you do well than your neighbor does not make you smarter, and vice versa. You do not need a 780 on GMAT. What I normally hear is 700 is a good score as far as MBA schools are concerned. After that, they will start looking at how well-rounded your overall application package is, rather than how much over 700 you managed to get. So don't sweat.

There are tons of material out there, but some will do you more harm than good. I think everything you would need in your test prep is contained in the following list
1. The Official Guide for GMAT Review, The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review and The Official Guide for GMAT Quant Review. These are from the people who actually administer GMAT and are as close to the real questions as you can get.
2. Princeton Review's Cracking the GMAT is a good book to get a general overview of various sections. Practice sections are easy in general, but if you get the CD with the book, it gives you 4 computer-based tests, which although very different from the actual GMAT, is still valuable practice.
3. Kaplan GMAT 2005 is also an excellent book to cover GMAT test basics, and it has some good exercises too. The CD comes with practice sessions and 4 full-fledged tests. These tests are tougher than the actual GMAT, but they are good to develop some mental toughness. Take them more like a challenge to your time management skills.

That's it. That's all the books you need. You can pick up the occasional grammar book or LSAT or Manhattan, but that's completely left to your discretion and is not absolutely necessary by any means.

The tricky part is when to schedule the test and how long do you need to prepare. If you can consistently manage 2 hours a day, then 2 months should be more than enough time to get a 700+ score. Ofcourse, I cannot generalize here, and people have different aptitudes for different things. So work it out for yourself. But one month into your prep, you should probably book your test date, so you cannot back out or procrastinate.

Test Prep:
1. First, scan through the Princeton Review book to get an idea of the test and what it really 'tests'. Try some of their question bins.
2. Register at and download the 2 free Powerprep tests they offer. Take one of them. These are much easier than the real thing, but would give you a good idea of where you stand. For example, a score of 680-700 should tell you that you can manage 730+ in the real GMAT if you give yourself 2 months. You can take the second test maybe a month later to boost your confidence.
3. Start on the Official Guide (or OG as it is known in GMAT speak!). My strategy was to divide up the questions so I could simulate the actual test everytime. So I would take 15 questions from each verbal section (3 x 15 = 45) and 20 questions from the two Quant sections (2 x 20 = 40) and take them without too many breaks. You could start timing yourself as well.
4. Maintain an excel spreadsheet (or a 4 squire notebook for the technologically challenged) to keep tabs on your performance in each section. I tracked things like my success percentage, average time taken per question etc. and I also noted down the questions I got wrong or had the most difficulty with. Revisiting them later helped me gauge my improvement. The 900 odd questons in the OG main book should take you around 10-12 days at this rate.
5. Now you can move on to the Kaplan book and go through their strategy, tips and practice questions. You can also simultaneously start working on the OG Verbal and Quant supplementary books.
6. You can start taking tests whenever you are comfortable. Apart from the 8 tests in the Princeton and Kaplan CDs, I also bought the 9 real GMAT tests available at They tend to repeat some OG questions, but I found them to be good practice. There are also couple of GMATPrep tests by Pearson VUE you are free to download from These are supposedly the closest approximations of the actual test, so you should keep them for the last week. As you can see, there are around 20 tests already listed here. Going at an inhuman rate of about one test every alternate day, you will need 40 days just to complete these tests. So the earlier you start with them the better.
7. The week before the test, take the 2 GMATPrep tests as mentioned earlier. You will probably end up with a similar score in the actual test unless you screw up real bad.
8. Somewhere along the way, you also need to prepare for the 2 AWA sections. I read some sample essays given in each of the books listed earlier, and started typing away on notepad. It helps to write the essay sections as well for the last 4-5 tests, just to improve your stamina and longevity.

Other Resources:
GMAT Club was an excellent resource I visited once in a while. There are plenty others (like Scoretop). You can try answering the daily list of questions they put up in their discussion forum. I would suggest not overloading yourself with way too much information than you can handle.

Test day:
Show up early and DO NOT forget your passport. Take something to eat/drink. Don't get alarmed if the test seems harder and you feel like you're getting every answer wrong. You're probably doing better than you think. Your strong preparation will pull you through.

Remember, this is not the end of your life. And you can always retake the test if you fall short. Ofcourse, the next time around, do not follow my strategy :) And I have saved the best piece of advice for last - schedule your test on a Friday, so no matter how you do, you can get out and party in the evening!

If you need clarification on any of the above or feel that you could use my help, drop me a line in the comments section.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sathanur Days - Part 1: A walk down memory lane

When I was growing up, only one thing was more certain than the traffic in Kutcheri Road or a stomach upset after those heavenly bajjis at Marina beach - my annual summer vacation trip to a quaint non-descript village called Sathanur, the land of my forefathers. Year after year, I will finish the last of my annual exam and start my packing for the 'big trip'. I will leave the same day my school closed for summer and return only the morning it reopened, for any day lost otherwise would tantamount to missed time in paradise. Yes, for me and my cousins (who were quite a few), Sathanur was the promised land. It was a land of plenty - lots of people, lots of food and lots of fun and games. And more importantly, it was a place where our parents did not have a say in anything we did, because the kingdom was ruled by my grand father, Sambasiva Iyer, with an iron fist and a soft corner reserved only for his grand kids.

Sathanur was located in Tanjore district, strategically (?!) equi-distant from the big towns of Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai (otherwise known as Mayavaram). The only way to get there was by the Sengotta (Red Fort) Passenger. It was a run down metre gauge train blowing soot on all and sundry and covering ground at a mind-boggling 40 kmph or so. The 350 odd km journey took us anywhere between 7- 9 hours depending on how many unscheduled stops we made along the way (People used to pull on chains to stop the train when their towels flew out the window!). But for the sheer anticipation and the rewards it promised at the end of the journey, the Sengotta Passenger could beat the Hogwarts Express hands down. Ofcourse, it would be easier to get onto Platform 9 and a quarter than to predict which platform this train would arrive on, never mind what the announcement in the 3 languages said. Since Sathanur did not have a train station, we had to get down at Narasinganpet and trek the 2 kms to Sathanur. By 7AM, the red seas would part, the train would pull up for a few minutes and we would step on the promised land. My grandfather was always there, with his questions about our school year and updates on the village grapevine and what we could look forward to in the next month and a half. We would pepper him with questions about which relatives are going to be there and when, are the neigbors grandsons coming as well, what's the new cat called, and what are the new arrivals in the cow shed.

The reception when we got home was fit for royalty, and we would catch up with all the old servants and workers on the way to giving our grandmom Bhagirathi a big hug before we were handed down huge mugs of steaming filter kapi (coffee) with lots of fresh milk and sugar and passably little amounts of caffeine. Ofcourse, we couldn't eat or drink anything unless we finished our morning prayer and had a viboothi mark on her foreheads as proof. The kapi was followed by a compulsory reading session monitored by grand dad. He was one of those guys who managed to study all the way to a BA inspite of having to cross 3 rivers everyday to school. As a result, his English was flawless and old British. Since none of his own children managed to acquire his own love for the language and literature in general, he took it upon himself to pass it on to his grandchildren who seemed more receptive. He had a huge library with everything from PG Wodehouse and Jerom K Jerome to the complete works of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. We were free to choose our books, pull up chairs in the sun drenched courtyard and read for half an hour. This done, we were pretty much free to venture out on our adventures interspersed only with food breaks - a big lunch around 11AM, a coffee break at around 3 and dinner around 7.

Within a few days, a bevy of relatives, cousins and friends would all land and the house will be full of noises and laughter and people of all ages. Moms, aunts and grandmoms sitting in groups exchanging stories and making the best food I've ever tasted in my life. Fathers, uncles and grandfathers on breaks from their works making the most it by lazing around all day and once in a while giving in and joining the kids for our carrom board or card games. And kids of all ages running helter skelter all over the house, making a walk from the living room to the kitchen (for an occasional 'murukku') more difficult than crossing Mount road at rush hour without a traffic signal.

Mornings were usually spent in the cowshed building sand castles and gossipping with the cousins and friends. Occasionally, this would be partly replaced by a few games of cricket outside the house. Afternoons were a haze of carrom board, card games and board games. There used to be different groups engaged in different activities in different parts of the house. A closer look would reveal that some of the groups did not contain any family members, or even any familiar faces. That was how village houses were in those day. It was free for anyone to walk in and socialize. As the days went by and we approached peak summer, the dehydration and energy sapping conditions would make a siesta unavoidable - partly to avoid the sun and partly to save our energy for the rest of the day.

Evenings were meant for one thing, and one thing only - cricket. The grove nearby would be converted to a cricket ground for the duration of the summer vacation. By 4PM, a whole gang of cousins, neigbors, fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, local shepherds, cow herds and farmers would all descend there without need for invitations. The air would be thick with talk of new wicket keeper gloves, leg glances and slower balls. Once on the cricket field, we were all equals. My servant's son was free to swear at me without having to fear about his dad losing his job. The cricket was played with the cork ball which is hard as rock and did not have leather on it to soften blows. Gloves were a rarity and pads were non-existent. There was no speed limit and no age limit. Never mind if you were 14 or 40. If you thought you were man enough to face the music, you could step up to the crease. Year after year, I would take one ball flush on my thumb nail, watch blood slowly streak across with a sense of deja vu and be forced to retire hurt. Within a few days, the nail would fall off leaving the flesh exposed, and looking not very pretty, for a few days. Eventually, the nail would grow back, but I did not wait for that before I stepped back into the breach.

Nights were reserved for TV and more carom board and cards on those rare occasions when the electricity board decided to cooperate with us. But frequently, we lost electricity for hours, and sometimes for days, together. All was not lost. My grandmom would prepare food in a huge pot and make us sit around her. There, in the open courtyard, with the moon above us and a warm breeze wafting through, we would each extend our tiny hands where she would place the food with immense dexterity and speed. As we gulped it down ravenously, and competed with other hands for more, we would recount to each other the happenings of the day and our plans for tomorrow. You could reach out and touch the sense of bliss and utter contentment. In that moment, we came as close to heaven as was humanly possible.

For those of you who might have had a chance to read the timeless 'Malgudi Days' by R.K.Narayan, Swami and his friends could not have had half the fun we did. I cannot do justice to all my years in Sathanur with this one blog. A walk down memory lane would take up more time and space. As a dedication to my grandparents, I will make an effort to give words to my nostalgia in this series of blogs. I could never come close to painting the whole picture, but maybe in some small way, I could freeze these memories and recount the stories to my kids and grandkids, who will be unfortunate to have never seen a village in their lives.