Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A Letter to my Ammoomma..


I have grown up hearing liberal amounts of commentry on how I resemble you of younger days. I would often stare with wonder at the black and white picture frame that adorns the top row of the photo wall at Harichandanam to draw a connection. The picture is of a young and fiery woman in her graduate gown who is refusing to let out the smile that is revolting to splurge out of her lips. The picture is of you.

I have always known that I have a great lineage to boast about, that I do not have an ordinary woman for a grand mother. When my friends told stories of weak grandparents who could barely walk, I had a power woman at home who would write pages and pages of content without a coffee break. The long list of your degrees that would put any modern academician to shame, the sheer number of countries you have visited as a scholar, the confidence with which you spoke English long after you crossed seventy - everything about you has been special.

On the other hand, you did those wonderful things that made me feel that I have a normal, doting grandmother. You told and retold the story of Cinderella every night yielding to my boring demand for the same story before I went to sleep. You made yummy Unniyappams so that I came home to a tasty treat after a tiring day at school. You inculcated love for plants in me and answered innumerable doubts of mine whether a particular plant can be grown with a thai or kambu. You also drew a lot of record pictures for me because you were good at drawing. When I come to think of it, what was it that you werent' good at? Cooking, painting, writing, teaching, loving, communicating - you were good at everything!

The other day, I received a book that Amma sent through a friend of mine. It is a biography of Mannathu Padmanabhan, your grandfather and the founder of Nair Service Society. The book is written by you.

The first time I held it in my hand, it was not the gleaming portrait of Vallyappooppan on the cover page that I saw. The effort you have been relentlessly putting into it for years, despite failing health - that's what I saw. I glanced through the pages, read some lines here and there, and I got a sense of the focus you might have had throughout the period that you wrote it without using anything but pen and paper. No computer or any other form of technology whatsoever to help.

I do not know if I would be ever able to tell you what I feel about you; especially after seeing the book that has been your dream for a long time, which now is a reality. You are such a perfect living example of how to make every dream possible. Achan wrote to me about your achievement and mentioned that you have defeated the concept of Alzheimer's Disease by completing such a monumental work at the age of 84. All I would like to tell you is that I am charmed. I can feel the depth and volume of the power I am inheriting through you. I am just so proud.

As I retrospect, I am reminded of the struggles you have gone through to get where you are - your childlike complaints about dear ones (never about me though, right?), the easiness with which you cry, the constant insecurity of being alone. I know that even in the pinnacle of achievements, you weren't completely happy for reasons known to you and me. But then, what is life without some rough patches? God does not give everything to everyone; but please know that you are a truly blessed soul.

I am at a stage of life where making the right moves is very important. I have to take decisions almost everyday which will affect the way my life will mould itself tomorrow. I want you to know that, at this point, my single most inspiration and motivation is you.

More than everything, I want you to know that I love you. I may not talk to you that often or see you that often. But I do not struggle any more to see the connection between you and me. I close my eyes and look within, and I see only you.

Congratulations on making yet another dream come true. Congratulations on being who you are.



Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Joys of eBay Shopping!

I do not remember when I discovered the khazana of possibilities - eBay.

A couple of years ago, when my daily bread from Google depended on how many ads I reviewed a day, the word eBay had a different connotation. Easy-to-review ads which boost productivity, performance review, salary proposition. etc. as much as wolves in jackal skin because they have hidden errors that do not catch the eye.

From that time, I always looked at it as a 'US thing.' The generalisation that we Indians prefer to do shopping physically and that online shopping is for lazy people in the West added to the complication of credit/debit card fraud - eBay was never a part of my thought process.

And then one day, I saw an advertisement of eBay.in - eBay with an Indian twist. Being the dream come true innovator I am (take a bow, Mr. Everett Rogers, you were absolutely right with your classification), I tried it out. A quick registration is all what I did in my first visit.

As if they read my middle class mind, eBay soon started sending me emails with luring offers. Yes, their strategy has worked and I have started online shopping!

A month back, I got this email alert of a Bajaj DVD Player with USB coming at a discounted price of Rs. 1700. There was another offer running simultaneously where eBay was giving away free gifts for all purchases above Rs. 1000. Bling bling went the red alarms and I remembered my friend who had mentioned dreaming a DVD player, but had a tight budget. A quick check with the friend and thirty minutes later, I had paid for it through PaisaPay! My friend got a DVD player within the budget and and it brought along the joy of a free 2Gb pen drive..

I am sure the technology employed at eBay sensed a potential ransacker sitting in Hyderabad and browsing their stuff. The very next week, I got another email saying flat Rs. 250 off on any item. Five minutes later, eyelashes fluttering, I was innocently ordering a 2GB pen drive for Rs. 120. My sense of logic must have been really kaput considering I had gotten hold of this less than two months ago. But then, you can't carry such a darling gizmo anywhere and everywhere, right? For example, using it to carry a silly file that needs to be printed out would be a criminal offence. So that's the logic - my hard disk is for my movies, music and moments only.

Today, it happened again. Another email with the same offer of flat Rs. 250 off. My grey cells went into a revolution and finally I figured it. Books! Mad browsing for an hour followed by one purchase - The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for Rs. 15.

All the uninitiated - I would like to enlighten you about the way these offers work. They send you a promo code in an email and you have to paste it in the final step of payment. After The Alchemist, I zeroed in on another one called My Friend Sancho by blogstar Amit Varma and frantically went on to pay just Rs. 5 for it - but alas! The code was already used - for Paulo Coelho, of course.

Disappointed, I tried creating another id to see if that will work. It did not. In utter dismay, I realized that it is a unique code and works only for one user, for one transaction.

No, I did not give up. I added all my potential buys to my shopping cart. You know what I am doing right now? Keeping an eye on my inbox - to see when the next Rs. 250 promo comes, so that I can buy books for multiples of five rupees.

Credit card fraud - what is that? :P

Friday, 10 July 2009

A Facebook Message and the Memories it brought..

A message that came to me on Facebook this morning made me look behind - the paths of life that I crossed and reached where I am right now. That message was from Santoshettan, more familiar to Malayalis as Santosh Palee or Palee.

An eighteen year old with bright dreams of being in the limelight - that was me in a nutshell in 2003. It was also the time when Palee was reigning many a Malayali heart including mine with a program called Kairali On Demand. One of the many things I did to realize my dream was writing long letters to him with program ideas in the hope that he would just pick me to anchor them!

One day, that much awaited call came as well - to give a screen test. For me, hearing his voice across the line was an achievement in itself. He was an icon of sorts who encapsulated the ultimate media dream for me - someone who had to come on screen from behind by sheer coincidence and stayed on gloriously. The screen test was truly just a bonus.

I cannot imagine the nervousness I experienced that day. Probably, something I have never ever felt before or after, in my life - in that measure. I vividly remember his lady love being in the studio for the shoot of a program called Weekender. Of course, I did not know at that point that there was a love story going on. ;)

The screen test was totally uneventful. I was asked to perform an introduction for the program Mail A Scene. The otherwise ultra talkative, oversmart me just shrinked into a coy little thing with a puppy face in the great producer's presence. Needless to say, my performance was nowhere close to what I could have done and I don't even think he gave it a thought whether to take me aboard or not.

I thought, there goes my future in my dream channel into the dustbin with a silly piece of script I made.

I moved on, appeared for a screen test at Indiavision and did much much better this time. May be, because I cared much less if I would get through or not. And of course, Santoshettan was not there to distract!

I made it and I faced the camera for the first time for a programme there. Destiny had other plans though. Eleven months down the lane, I sensed another opportunity at Kairali with another producer. I wrote to him about my experience at Indiavision and I was on!

It indeed was a dream come true. Kairali had the most creative graphics team of all Malayalam channels at that point and my imagination knew no bounds about the riot of colours I would have for accompaniment on screen. Yet, somewhere inside, the sense of loss lingered that I did not become an anchor for a Palee programme.

Kairali became home to me soon. I bumped into him very frequently in the studio, yet continued to be star struck each time it happened. My producer was a good friend of Palee, so there was no dearth of insider news about Palee's life - professional and personal. In that way, I was in a much better place than most of his fans, even though I did not realize the anchor dream.

Life goes on. So did mine. I relocated to Hyderabad, much away from my media dreams, doing totally different things. Malayalam Television soon became a thing of past to me, something that I do not have access to even when I go back home, thanks to Kunjunni's addiction to Pogo.

But then, there is Facebook and orkut. Many lost media connections got revived especially on FB. Among them are Santoshettan of course and also Aroonz (Arun P G), a great graphics artist who did some of the most fantastic backdrops for me at Kairali. He is ready with his first movie work - Puthiya Mukham. Wish you the best, buddy!

Coming back to our hero, let me share the message he sent that made me take this walk down the memory lane - unabridged!

Two days before me and sree konny wr sitting tgthr for chilling.. ,me confessed to him that I cudnt recognised your talent at that time, or conveniently forgottn to uplift your softskills,due to the lack of a good prgrm which suits to your persona..I mean it..

Today I am really feelin proud bout you.. while walking thru d corridors of memories I can recollect those wonderful letters you wrote to me with poetic touches. "Ardramaanasam"... I used to call u like that... nywayz.. go ahead babes... my heartfelt best wishes to you....

When people say some dreams should reamain unfulfilled so that we feel the need to keep going, I usually disagree. Realising dreams is an extremely important thing for me. I think I just changed my mind. May be, some things should remain unachieved. God can keep watching, and based on your track record, can gift bigger and better blessings. Like the one I got today. :)

PS : Just in case you have not noticed, the name that Santoshettan gave me - I adopted it for life. My Internet persona Ardramaanasam owes someone a lot, you see! :)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Kambakht Yeh Kya Hai!

The joy of watching a movie on its day of release is out of this world (so what if it is not the first show?). I just got lucky last Friday and managed to get the last two tickets for my friend and myself at PVR - for Kambakht Ishq (KI).

Sigh! But I won't indulge in a full and complete movie review for this one - just because it is not worth it. A film becomes 'analyzable' only when it has met some basic requirements like... a storyline?

But I am of the belief that a film is 'watchable' if it has anything at all. A storyline would a good thing to have. But even if that is missing, I am willing to pay Rs. 1oo and watch a movie in the theatre if there are sufficient 'other stuff' in the package. Read on to find out some of that stuff for which you might want to see KI:

  • Guys may want to watch it for Kareena. Her skin show. Her figure. Girls may want to watch it for Kareena too. Her attitude. Her stilettos. Kareena proves that acting is a comfortable forte for her no matter how stupid the script is. Attitude is definitely something that only Bebo can pull off the way she does. Simrata (aka Bebo) of KI underlines this fact.

  • People of my species - who hear about Hollywood movies all the time from everyone around but have not seen too many of them - would want to watch KI for a peekaboo of Brandon Routh, Denise Richards and the big guy - Sylvester Stallone who looks like the old pancake-packed Kamal Hassan from the movie Indian/Hindustani.

  • Each one of you might want to watch it for the exotic locales of Los Angeles. Oh yeah, there was also Italy stuffed in between so that hero and heroine could sing a song. But I like the Italy in Bachnaa Ae Haseeno way better! :D

  • Then..... Yeah! Amrita Arora's skin show/bikini act in a dream sequence. Poor Aftab Shivdasani could only fantacize his wife in bikinis. Boys who want to give Aftab company can go to the theatres and watch Amu sizzle.

  • The drama queen in me liked the scene where Akshay and Sylvester come together on stage for an award ceremony. Akshay gives a very emotional speech about our tradition of touching the feet of parents/elders/Guru during times of achievements. He follows it up with the words "Let me bow down to the Guru of Action, Stallone" and lo! He touched Rambo's feet with total conviction. Many of you may find it too melodramatic, but I felt it was electric! :) Go watch KI just for this scene.

  • Since we just had a dry summer without ample dose of Bollywood, may be, you would want to go for KI just like that and enjoy humour here and there. But surprisingly, those few instances of humour also do not come from Khiladi Kumar.

If you do not believe in movies without a storyline, here is why you should avoid KI:

  • Akshay Kumar claimed that KI is India's answer to Mr & Mrs. Smith. I have not seen this Brangelina flick, but I know Akshay's claim is totally untrue. Apparently, it is most remembered for the chemistry between the lead actors, but there is no such magic in KI - except for a very candid kiss that Kareena uses to zip her man's lips in the climax.

  • Dialogues in a mainstream big budget movie cannot get more boring. And I still cannot recover from the fact that Anvita Dutt Guptan who made me proud as a girl with her work in Dostana and Bachnaa Ae Haseeno penned the same. In these films, her lines were so sexily sleazy, yet classy. In KI, she had to attempt about 10 strokes to make audience laugh once - with an Akshay in hand who usually has comedy even in his movements! I am astonished that she and her co-writers (that includes the director Sabbir Khan) did not realize throughout the making that a battle between the sexes cannot be established through name calling (read dog and bitch).

  • Why Anu Malik/Salim Sulaiman, why? Copy some tunes from Arabia, jazz it up with some Jhankar Beats, add some Desi twist, do whatever - but produce some good music! KI numbers were so.. *yawn* in spite of a beautiful heroine, brawny hero and plush locales.

  • Nothing can substitute the backbone for human beings, right? Just like that, the lack of even a reasonable story does major damage to this movie. I wonder why the producer Sajid Nadiadwala invested so much money in this flick to the details of an eight lakh worth dress for Kareena. A watch left in hero's stomach during an operation by the surgeon heroine and added complication in the form of a love story so that the watch can be taken out. Beat that!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Fighting for a Reason...

I had told you about my middle class mania last week, right? Please do not confuse that with what I am going to tell you. This one is not about money, it is all about my belief. (Thank you Uma, for this cool oneliner.)
Maximum Retail Price. We know that is the expanded form of MRP. We know that is the 'printed price' on most goods, and the price that we should 'go by' especially with regard to FMCGs.

But how many people actually check it on a regular basis? Forget the regularity, even from time to time? I know this depends on a lot of factors. One - the class that you belong to. If you drive around in a Merc, it is less than likely that you will go to a supermarket in person, let alone check prices. I am talking about an average Indian here - the Mango Indian as JK calls himself. Two - if the product in question is new to you or not. It is very likely that the Mango Indian will check what the price is if it is a new product - mostly by asking the shopkeeper 'kya daam hai,' 'ithinethra' etc. but sometimes otherwise too.
I don't own a Merc and I do my shopping myself. I am a Mango Indian who buys new things like Parle Golden Arc Pineapple-stuffed rolls and old, time tested things like Dove soaps. Yet, each time, every single time, I check the MRP religiously.
Take a look at these situations and answer in your mind, okay? Just so that you know where you stand in this test of mine.
  • You are about to board a train for a long distance journey. You go to the nearby stall on your platform. You ask for a bottle of mineral water. Will you ask 'Kitna Hai' and pay what he says or check the MRP and pay the amount?
  • You are returning home after dinner with your friends. The gang feels like having something sweet and cold down the throats. You stop the car at the first visible Kwality Walls/Amul guy on the road. A orders a Cornetto, B orders a Feast and you get a Chocobar. Will you ask 'Total kitna?' or check the MRP and do the math yourself?
  • You are walking towards an office to get something done. You are dead tired and go to a pan shop to get a bottle of juice. Will you ask 'Kitna Hai' or check the MRP printed in feeble black on the glass bottle?

It is very likely that you answered either a Former to all or a Latter to all. If it is the former, have peace. 99% Indians belong to your tribe. If it is the latter, welcome aboard, you are a member of my club!
I have travelled long distances without a bottle of water because the stall owner said he wants fifteen for a Kinley water bottle when I gave him twelve – the printed MRP. I have given my favourite Amul Kulfi away, all upset and angry with the vendor who thought getting more than what’s printed is his birthright. I have rendered a 1.5 hour long Geet Gata Chal show on Rainbow FM exhausted and thirsty – just because the Panwallah outside All India Radio wanted 20 for the Minute Maid Pulpy Orange bottle that actually costs fifteen. All for my belief – that being able to buy things at MRP is my right as a citizen.
One could easily think that I suffered in each of those battles. But I have felt immensely proud of myself each time I stood and fought for my rights. Except for once, never has any vendor obliged and given me the stuff at MRP. But I still feel it is a battle won, because someone is questioning the wrong they are doing.
One could also feel sympathetic towards the vendor and tell me, “What’s wrong with you? Let the poor guy have a rupee extra.” My apologies there. If you need a bigger business margin, go for a business that offers you the same. For God’s sake, selling goods above their MRP is a legal offence. In a wave of sympathy, will you ignore a Panwallah selling micro drug packs and think let the dude make some money?
Until now, I have not been able to get hold of a Consumer Care number where I can report such cases. Soon, I will get that to ensure that the wrong is not just questioned, but overthrown by establishment of justice. Big words for a Kinley bottle at Rs. 12, an Amul Kulfi at Rs. 12, and a Minute Maid for Rs. 15, I know. But then, as I said in the beginning, it is not about the money, it is about my belief.