Chennai Rains

Rains, rains that did not go away…

Chennai Rains

I see heat and dust all day; you’ll get no sympathy from me over the cool monsoon rains. ;p”
At least now you make sure you all store the water so you don’t moan about water next summer.

They didn’t get it. Why would they, when the Instagram filter on my photos made even the harshest rains look like something out of a Mani Ratnam movie? They didn’t even get to hear of it till it was well and truly upon us, as the so-called national media was too busy trying to twist one man’s words into TRP ratings one minute  and milking a murder for what its worth the next, to give even a passing thought to what was happening in Chennai?

The rains started in earnest in the beginning of November. Just our usual monsoon, we thought. It quickly became apparent it was anything but usual. November became the wettest on record.
Day after day, the rains pounded the city. Schools, colleges and other institutions were shut down as the water took over our lives. It became risky to just drive out on the streets as the sub par materials our roads were constructed with washed away in the first deluge, leaving gaping holes behind in which the rainwater collected, making it impossible for the traveller to gauge the depth of the water.

And still, the rains continued.

Schools remained closed and on those days the sun came out and the kids stayed home, we grumbled at it all.

The stories started coming out. The posh constructions laid out in the middle of flood plains, with homes now resembling the marshlands they obliterated; the water that made the cars float away and had to be pushed home, bobbing like boats. The reptiles that swept into homes along with the water, scaring everyone silly. The college students had to be rescued from their hostels in fishing boats. Old people, young children, all those in-between that had to be rescued from their inundated homes.

And then dawned December 1.

The mother of all deluges

Pralayam!” gasped the old-timers, referring to the deluge that made Noah start knocking out an Ark. Well, pretty soon, when the rivers overflowed, we sure needed boats! As precious water dashed in and washed away with hopes and homes, it felt at times that the end was surely near.

Photo courtesy: Vineeth Vijayaraghavan

Photo courtesy: Vineeth Vijayaraghavan

“This is how the Kali yug ends, in water!”, intoned the neighborhood aunty not-so-helpfully.

The city, still reeling after a month of rains, hit panic mode. Potable water became a prized commodity as power was cut as a safety measure, after a couple on a bike lost their lives after being electrocuted on the street. Stores started sporting empty shelves as people bought food and candles in bulk. It was like The Hunger Games, Live Version, and the shops The Cornucopia, as the scared locals made a beeline to their nearest stores and emptied it of its wares, trying to stock up on as many things as possible. The big name stores jacked up the prices of the essential commodities, making hay even when the sun didn’t shine. (Spencer’s Daily sold 500 gms of urad dal for Rs 130, while Pazhamudir Nilayam sold half litre of Arokya milk for Rs 40, instead of the usual Rs 24!)

The lucky citizens of the city that were spared the worst swung into action to help the unfortunate. While the rest of the country debated about the intolerance and sensational murders, Chennai dug deep to take care of its own. Once again, local surfing school owners waded into  deep waters to rescue the stranded; kind-hearted people cooked food in their kitchens, packed them and took them to the pavement dwellers in their neighborhood. Mats, blankets, basic essentials were collected and distributed. Samaritans threw open their homes for those that got chased out of their own homes once the waters rolled in, taking in those in need, regardless of colour or religion, man or animal.

Photographer unknown. One of those viral images from FB

Photographer unknown. One of those viral images from FB

During all this, did the rains stop? Did it, heck! More rains, more water released from the reservoirs, more misery.

Of course, it wasn’t all sweetness and light. Money, as always reared made for an uneasy companion.  Charlatans, out to make a quick buck, took advantage of the desperate and charged a king’s ransom to get families out of their inundated homes. Those desperate to get out of the city had to pay the equivalent of the cost of a round-the-world plane ticket to get to a distance of 400 kms.

Five days after the worst storm hit the state, life is slowly limping back to a new normal in Chennai. Power and connectivity are slowly being restored to different parts of the city. Relief and aid work, powered predominantly by the regular folk of the city and beyond, is going on at full tilt. Many ATMs are still closed or dispensing limited cash, while the TASMAC liquor shops are all open and running to full capacity. Local restaurants and marriage halls have thrown open their kitchens, cooking up food in massive quantities for all those in need. In the midst of all the tales of politicians of all hues trying to hinder the common man’s efforts, the work is continuing at the ground level.

Today, the hardest hit areas of the city resemble the  set of Godzilla after the climax was shot. There are people sitting around their ruined belongings, shell shocked, unaware as to how they are to pick up their tattered lives and move on. Even as the fights break out over the distribution of food and water, the deeper question of what happens when the Samaritans go back to their homes remains.

In Ramapuram, where Pon Vidyasharam sits proudly on the erstwhile site of a lake, the water has taken over all the residences. This story is repeated all over the city and beyond, with different names for the area and the building / institution.  All those under-the-table dealings to built on lakes and marshlands, with nary a thought towards pesky things like planning permission, geographical layout and water table, have all come home to roost. And how!

What caused this level of destruction? What would be the final cost of this uncontrolled greed? As always, it may well be the poorest that end up paying it. Will there be any lessons learnt from this?

Run, Lavanya, run!

image

I suck at running.
Really. In the memorable words of Jennings, I run rather like a lobster in plastic boots. Which was why I never
ran. Why try something I so patently suck at, right?
As this included all things sporty, I became the poster child for the unfit and was quite happy (well, ish) resembling one of those Barbapapas.
Till Oct 2013, when I signed up for a BootCamp. And over the course of two years realised that, if I put my mind to it, I too can do physically taxing, sporty stuff. Amazeballs!
This obviously brought forth the question – so, what else can I do? Can I, maybe, run?
And so, for the past month, I have been shuffling forth slowly around the neighbouring streets, to see if I could gradually run for longer and longer intervals.
I still run like a lobster in elastic boots. But hey, am running, baby! Watch out, Usain Bolt!

In defence of words

word-jumble

“Lukg fr a unicrn”

“R u ol sure dis is hlthy?”

“sari drapping cls dis wk on fri?”

I could come up with more examples but I am feeling depressed already so I will stop right here. What do people have against vowels? Complete words? Sentences? Sentence structures? Heck, against making sense?!

Day after day, I come across atrocious fragments like this on various social media posts and it sets my teeth on edge. I am no grammar Nazi but writing a complete word isn’t a tall order, surely? The brick-like Nokias weren’t really ideal for typing reams of text but today’s smartphones come with some nifty software built into them. Autocorrect and spell check can be found in the most basic of smartphones.

So why not use them?

As an experiment, I tried to mistype certain words on my smartphone and the thing corrected every “dis” and “dere” to the correct spellings before I had moved to the next one. I had to actively suppress the autocorrect every time to stop it from changing the spellings. So how do these folks manage typing dis, er, this way, repeatedly?

Can we blame the proliferation of schools and colleges, without a body like the UK’s Ofsted to run checks and ensure quality and standards, on such poor writing skills? Or is it just sheer laziness on the part of the writers (if I may loosely call them that?!)?

Social media has made it possible for people to run home businesses, spread the word and run up sales with great ease. If only it made it impossible for them to submit word and sentence fragments too. Maybe a small electric shock every time they typed ‘dey’ for “they” or ate the vowels? Or how about disconnecting altogether from the Internet for 30 minutes for every misspelled word?

Now that would be fantastic! word-jumble

Where Safety Trumps Having Fun

A Kiddie Train

A video clip, a rather ghastly and sickening one, is currently doing the rounds. Every WhatsApp group I belong to has one person sending the  clip, along with an accompanying message appealing to parents of young children to be hyper-vigilant in shopping malls.

The distressing video, shot candid-camera style, shows an adult male aggressively subduing a boy, who looks to be around 5 – 7 years of age, and kissing him forcibly. You can see and hear the boy punching and kicking the man but to no avail. The clip, lasting for less than 2 minutes, is not for the faint of heart. Parent or no, it is not possible for a sane adult human to look at the video and not feel helpless. And angry.

The text accompanying the video explains that this was shot in a Shopping Mall in an unnamed Indian city. The child was presumably sent off on one of those mini-rides promoted by the mall and the staff running it are alleged to grab the kiddies once they are out of sight and misbehave with the children. The message stressed the fact that the child being assaulted is MALE!!! I fail to understand what that has got to do with the sickening event that followed. (This is a good time to direct you towards the excellent blog post written by one of the bloggers I admire and she drives home the point that our boys need protecting too.)

Shopping malls, along the lines of those seen in the West, have been cropping up in every city, big and small, in our country and each one is vying with the next to stand out from the rest by giving extra attractions. Kiddie play areas, toy train rides, activities and other child-centred programmes are just some of the ideas put into action with the mamas and papas in mind, so they can spend money freely, without worrying about irate kids getting underfoot.

Whilst the prospect of a couple of hours of stress-free shopping may well sound like bliss, we need to be super picky about who we are leaving our child with. Unlike foreign countries, we do not have stringent employment records and checks, pedophile registers and other security measures put into place so that we may run a check on who the person looking after your precious child is. In such a scenario, the onus is on us, as parents, to ensure that our children are not put into danger, due to us trusting someone blithely.

If you are hankering for some shopping therapy, leave them at home with trusted caregivers. Else, swap playdates and look after your friends’ children so that they will return the favour to you next week. You might think your children will love playing in the swanky play area in the mall, with its imported accessories. They might be having a much better time, in familiar surroundings, playing with their own ratty toys.

After all, kids hate malls anyway. Just head to one and follow the deep-throated wails bouncing off the walls from the play zone and you’d know I am not kidding!

Blog Tour: Author Kiran Manral and her novel, All Aboard!

Kiran Manral is one of the most prolific Indian bloggers you will ever see. She runs many blogs and will diligently update each of them like clockwork. It is this dedication to her craft and her work ethic that first attracted me to her body of work. She became a published author when she turned 40 and has just kept going. She’s now on the road – virtual one, I mean – with her third book, All Aboard!, and here’s the author, Lady K herself, talking about her favourite creations. 

Kiran Manral's third book, All Aboard

Kiran Manral’s third book, All Aboard

In every book I write, the focus is definitely on the protagonist and her story. There’s Kay Mehra of The Reluctant Detective and her mad search for some purpose to her life. There’s Rayna De of Once Upon A Crush, terrified she’s going to miss the bus both professionally and personally and end up a complete failure in life. And now, in this, my latest book All Aboard, there’s Rhea Khanna who is trying to heal a broken heart.

But apart from the protagonist, there is always, always a character who is perhaps dearer to me than the protagonist is, and who is a story by herself, with a story which is perhaps more of a fist shake at the universe than the protagonist. In The Reluctant Detective it was Runa, the detective with the khukri in her backpack and her earth shaking bike. In Once Upon A Crush, it was Pixie, trying half heartedly to get away from an arranged marriage, knowing in her heart of hearts that she would cave in, go back and settle down as her parents decreed. In All Aboard, it is Rina Maasi, a feisty character in her own right.

Rina Maasi is a retired boarding school headmistress, deciding to live up the remainder of her years post retirement doing all that she wanted to do, including travel the world. She’s had an unconventional life, in fact, she’s a story that needs writing. She divorces the man her parents chose for her, with no reason offered other than a cryptic statement that he bored her. She moves out of the parental home, gets a job as a teacher in a boarding school and lavishes all her attention on her nieces and nephews. She’s fun, a little loud, a little eccentric and she’s the kind of aunt everyone has one of in their families or the aunt everyone should definitely have in their families.

As for Rina Maasi’s role in the book, well you would just have to read it to find out.

About the author:

Kiran Manral is the author of The Reluctant Detective (2012) which could more accurately be called mom-lit and Once Upon A Crush (2014) which is pure chick lit. Her third book, All Aboard, a romance set on a Mediterranean cruise, will be released in August by Penguin Random House. She has two more books due for release in 2015, albeit in different genres.

She is on the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival, an advisor on the Board at Literature Studio, Delhi, an Author Mentor at sheroes.in and a columnist at iDiva.com. She was awarded the Women Achievers award by Young Environmentalists Group in 2013.

She currently blogs at www.kiranmanral.wordpress.com and is on twitter @kiranmanral.

Here’s a bit about the book:

When Rhea Khanna is dumped just days before her wedding, by her boyfriend of four years, the only thing she wants to do is to get out of the city to clear her head.  The opportunity presents itself immediately when her aunt, a retired school headmistress, invites her to accompany her on a Mediterranean cruise.
As Rhea struggles to cope with her grief of being dumped at the altar, she finds herself getting attracted to the seemingly unavailable Kamal Shahani—the infuriatingly attractive ex-student of her aunt and a hot shot entrepreneur.  To add to the confusion, Sonia, Kamal’s very attractive ex-girlfriend boards the ship in a bid to win him back.

The Pre-order links for the book here:

Amazon India

Flipkart India

Amazon.com

A to Z Challenge: N is for….

N is for…

No. Nyet. Nada. Nahin.

When our children are babies, NO is the word we use the most around them. (Don’t touch it! No that is sharp! No do not go there!) So much so that they start saying ‘no’ for every thing we ask them and in many cases, it becomes their first proper word. Then we scramble and bite down that automatic ‘No’, substitute some milder word and hope for the best.

As they grow older, though, we try to teach them the need to assert themselves and not fall prey to peer pressure.

Today, my daughter told me that she didn’t like doing cartwheels or anything that involved being in an upside-down position as it made her feel funny. She told this hesitantly and sensing a story, I asked her what was the matter.

Apparently, a bunch of her friends (they are all six!) were doing cartwheels and told her to try it herself. She wasn’t keen but they kept urging her, saying “she’d like it once she gave it a try” and “she should try it at least once”. But she told me that she didn’t want to so she kept saying no. She wanted to know if she was correct or if she should have tried once.

One part of me wanted her to be more brave and more bold and less shy and retiring, as she is prone to be. But another was happy she stuck to her guns and said NO firmly and walked away, without giving in to peer pressure.

I think learning to say NO is the first lesson every child needs to learn. Turning cartwheels and standing on heads can wait.

A to Z Challenge: M is for….

M is for….

…Music.

Food of the Gods, is it? Yay or nay, but music clearly can move your soul and recharge your spirit. My children are both into music – of different sorts – but I am glad they have the talent to appreciate classical music at this age and hope it will stand them in good stead for years to come.

Last night, especially, was a night made for music. A bunch of friends and I went to listen to my sister-in-law sing. Now, we are all parents with demanding young children and going out on a Wednesday night is not the norm around these parts. But my sister-in-law has an amazing set of pipes and when she announced she had a show on 15th, we said we’ll go and that was that.

ranjushow

What followed was a night of some amazing, foot stomping, body swaying music. I saw so many – young bucks, the It girl-wannabes, the posh and the coiffed, old timers playing air instruments – just giving themselves to the joy of the music.

What can be better than that?

A to Z Challenge: L is for…

L is for….

….learning.

Let me come at it from a different direction.

It is start of the brand new year and we – mum, uncles, aunts, brother, sister-in-law, cousins etc – had all gathered in my grandma’s house. As usual, after a sumptuous meal, talk turned to various things that happened when we were kids. This time, the topic was how no one in my family (out of my mum, dad, me and bro) knows how to ride a cycle – except for the sib. Why? Cos I taught him to ride! Of course, somehow we deviated from the scheduled programme of everyone patting me on my back for this generosity of mine to the cycle my aunt got me, despite my not knowing how to ride one.

I didn’t remember ever owning a cycle so I denied it. Never a slouch when it comes to throwing gauntlets, my brother immediately piped up: “what if I could prove you had it?” The loser had to get the winner 4 scoops of Amadora ice cream.

Of course, I lost the bet.

While I was still shaking my head at the loss, I couldn’t help a genuine question: “why would anyone get me a bike when I couldn’t ride one?”

To which, my gran replied: “So you could learn, of course!”

And my usual refrain of “but no one taught me!” was met with her, “all your friends could ride! Why couldn’t you ask one of them to teach you?”

Ah! If only it were so simple.

How to explain to my gran that learning something new, when you were a teen is not an easy thing. Learning something from your peer, even more so. Accepting that at the ripe old age of 16, you did not know how to ride a cycle, is the absolute worst.

Pride. Always comes before learning.

huh.

A to Z Challenge: K is for…

K is for….

K is for Kool Aid, drinking of.  In other words, supporting causes blindly, without using reason to analyse the rightness of it.

Be it the ways of one religion vs another, sexual orientation, race, language, or anything else – we don’t have to travel far to find something that separates us from our neighbour, after all – we seem to be abandoning reason, in favour of being mindless sheep. The number of times I have heard someone flapping ignorantly: “apparently, the Parsis / Muslims / Hindus / Jews / Christians / are all like that only! They are not interested in getting along with everybody. This is the only way to stop us from becoming railroaded”!

If only being a stupid, narrow-minded lout was a punishable crime! I bet we can solve the population explosion problem very quickly.

I say, let’s ditch the Kool Aid. Too much sugar / processed junk is bad for you anyway. Let us leave the task of being mindless sheep to, well, the sheep. Try to activate the infamous sixth sense and use reason. And logic. Maybe a grey cell or five.

Keeping our wits about us has never been more important.

 

A to Z Challenge? J is for….

J is for….

J is for “joking”. Especially the kind that gets my back up.

Let me elaborate. I normally am quite open to seeing the lighter side of things, always good for a laugh and can take a joke the right way. But sometimes, there are certain kind of people that rub me the wrong way because of their habit of saying “just joking, yaar!” when they have just put my back up in the first place.

You know those times someone says something so annoying / monumentally stupid / preposterous that you cannot keep quiet without blowing the top of your head clean off and for the sake of your health you HAVE to respond?

Usually this comes when you are at the end of your tether purely cos you have been trying your best to remember your manners and mind your tongue but can hold yourself no longer. So, swallowing all the bile, you blurt out, in a rather mild fashion for the state of mind you are in currently.

You make a restrained and nuanced argument, decrying the preposterous statement made by the Joker. That’s when it happens.

“Hey chill, I was just joking, man!”

You cannot be blamed for punching their teeth in, right? Doesn’t it come under self-defence? No? I tell you what it doesn’t come under? Joking! A joke is when you say “a horse walks into a bar and the barkeep goes “why the long face?” Not this!

This is a send-up. An annoyance par excellence. A bug.