Ceramic Bus From Ammallidoddi

Most of the time I am a proud and possessive Bangalorean, but sometimes I wished I had a “native village”  to “hail from” like most of my best friends , where they were taken by their parents, and the father officiated at the annual temple festival, and the villagers treated them like royalty, and  everyone was invited to the feast. It must have been like the boar-eating banquet that always marks the end of an Asterix-Obelix adventure, Cacophonix included.

My best friend, Ani hails from Ammallidoddi. As you head Mysore-wards, you need to take a left somewhere in the vicinity of Channapatna, , and follow the signposts to reach it.  The same road  leads to  Kabbalamma  temple, the holy place for those who have bought  a new set of wheels, especially newly minted autorickshaws that have made this devi  a cult on the mean streets of  Bangalore.

She is nothing to do with the Kabbalah cult that has ardent followers in celebrities like Madonna, Britney Spears, Jeff Goldblum, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Ritchie, David and Victoria Beckham, and Elizabeth Taylor. Kabbalamma has an awesome mystic mesmerism of her own, as  I discovered when  Ani and I went , driven by Basha ,  to bribe her, that she may forever protect Ani’s brand new Santro from accidents and ward off   the evil eye of  ill-intentioned people.

Now, Ani’s  sense of direction is legendary  for being non-existent, and she clearly doesn’t come GPS-embedded. Basha who once nursed a grand delusion that a great career as a genius car mechanic awaited him in the near future,  has stopped using his GPS ever since I bragged about my own keen sense of direction-  I may not know the right way, but I am always the first to discover that we are lost, and also find ways to un-lose us.

Ani-mated conversation between best friends in the rear led to everyone not paying attention to the scenery ambling past ( the road was bad, and we couldn’t whizz) and so it took us a while to realise that  while we went to Kabbalamma’s via the Kanakapura Road, and  the return journey took us in a different direction.

When I suddenly spotted the signpost which  said Ammallidoddi  we  realised we were going where we have not gone before. Dear old Ani, for whom this wasn’t the first visit to Kabbalamma, is blessedly never disoriented,  thanks to the non-existent sense of direction, was however, puzzled, flummoxed, befuddled . Flashbacks from Ammalli had never impinged on her trips to Kabbalamma before this. Was Kabbalamma trying to convey something here?

We decided to press on, and followed in the wake of the dust raised by a bus that was tilting dangerously to the left ,  resembling  a giant  centipede with some broken limbs   thanks to the dozens of arms and legs swinging out form the windows and the doors.  The centipede, though agonised by multiple fractures on multiple limbs, obviously had been here, done this, ad nauseum- it was just doing its day job.

I quickly deduced that we were going to emerge on Mysore Road.  Basha  grinned triumphantly as if he had engineered this course correction single-handedly, while Ani still bemused, began babbling about the familiar landmarks that  suddenly began to blast in (or is it out?) from the past.

Ammalli has become my vicarious  native village,  I  know enough about its denizens to pass off as a genuine Ammallian. I  feel an inexplicable ownership towards one  particular denizen, whom I have never seen.

Iskanta is part of the Ammallidoddi  fable that we constructed around a single episode which  defines Ani’s tenuous bond with her native village. On one of the family’s mandatory visits to Ammalli,  Iskanta,  emboldened by the fact that he was safe  inside his  home, put his pugnacious nose to the tiny window, and shouted rather rudely as Ani and her sister Mangala walked past.

It was unadulterated country-bumpkin-takes-revenge-on city-slicker- cousins.  And it was priceless.”Anita…. Pinita………..poo!! (the last was said in Kannada, and I’d rather not soil this blog with earthy outpourings, and as long as the meaning is conveyed………..)  assaulted their ears like the sharp, defiant  report of an autorickshaw backfiring without any provocation at all.

Ani and Sis were livid. With little to do until it was time to go home, the sisters spent the next three hours working out  a plan for an   apt comeback.. On their way back , they were pleased to see their unsuspecting prey  sitting on the jagli of his house, but  he scurried back inside on sighting them. His truculent  face reappeared at the window, and obviously having expended all his creativity three hours ago,  merely repeated the same battle cry.

As the two girls came abreast of the window, they chorused: Iskanta kantad meley …………!!! (Translated– something-something……… on Iskanta’s  neck)  and marched on, and soon were in splits, laughing till tears rolled down their eyes, stopping only when Father roundly scolded them.

We have replayed this one scores of times, and   “sitting on Iskanta’s neck”  has  long been a part of the Best Friends’ Lexicon.  Iskanta no longer lives in Ammalli, and not even Ani’s cousin Raja knows  what became of him. So, one lazy langorous afternoon, we created a fable around the further adventures of Iskanta.

Since we associate him  with  the Ceramic Bus (thanks Antony Bourdain)  we have  given Iskanta  an outstanding career in the manufacture of custom-made designer ceramic buses.

Oh! and he now calls himself Iskant Amali, and probably has a show of his own on Travel & Living. If  Iskant Amali turns up on Facebook, I deny everything, on account of any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely  coincidental and unintentional.

Also I am keeping my fingers crossed, and since I am not in the country anymore, I urge Ani to talk Basha into making another trip to Kabbalamma, and enlist her help in warding off  the evil eye that Iskant Amali could cast this way.

On the  other hand,  he may not turn up at all- who wants respond when the  REAL author of Anita……..Pinita…… is asked to stand up?

Kabbalamma’s restraining orders on Iskanta will keep, for now.



That’s:  I Watched My Name Is Khan In America.

Only it didn’t feel like I W MNIK I A.

Because things happened just the way they do back home.

The theatre was NOISY.  There were people speaking  Telugu, Hindi, Tamil,  may be Oriya.  Didn’t hear any Malayalam, or Kannada. The lobby was milling with people waiting to barge into the movie hall the moment it opened. We (P and I) waited until it wouldn’t look like we were part of the stampede, and for our  trouble, earned a couple of frowns from a lady in front of us, who thought her family and friends had brought up the rear, only to find us.

Inside, was India.  A few American-Americans stuck out like sore thumbs. Had no idea A-As swoon over SRK the way some of us go for Clooney or Brad Pitt!  Rows and rows of empty seats- a couple of them sporting a coat flung carelessly by its owner.Trying to settle into a nice-looking seat, all we heard was, “Excuse me those seats are taken.” The ENTIRE  row?” And the one in front as well, the solitary lady waiting for her gang to arrive, informed us crushingly.

We managed to settle down in the last row, against the wall, taking the last two  available seats.

There were a couple of seat guardians who were taking their job very seriously. The rules were being read. The kids had to occupy the last seats on either side, and NOT ALLOW other people. People who came together sat together. That is the code of the movie-goers.

Besides, as the lady said to no one in particular, “everyone is reserving seats for their near and dear ones, why pick on me?”  She also seemed a good hand at multi-tasking. Managing her brood, protecting the menfolk’s places, and keeping up a steady flow of gossip with the other lady, who didn’t seem to want any responsibility. And ordering young Durga to  redirect anyone who bounded towards the empty seats in their midst.

In the row in front of us, the arrangement was – a lady, two seats sharing a coat, a lady in a coat, two seats, followed by another lady. The lady in the middle seemed to be in charge. She spoke to her companions in what I suspect is Oriya,  and occasionally slipped into “American”  courtesy Rosetta Stone, and even threw in the English as she is spoke back home in India.

Every one grumbled, found other seats, and watched this sideshow while waiting for the movie to begin. Everyone who was not interested was now privy to the details of how the row (of seats) had been reserved and protected.  Those who knew Telugu could also have learnt the details of how the family of Durga , two rows away, had spent the day, and who ate what, and , how each of them had made it to the movie.

A conspiratorial silence fell when a lady marched up, a cop trailing behind her. She annnounced “reserving seats is not allowed”, and demanded to know if these two noisy rows had been “reserved”. This was stoutly denied by the Rosetta Stone lady, who casually picked up  her coat and bag from the seats next to her, and the other, argumentative one, who was very keen that her entire brood should sit in the same row, and was ordering the husband around to achieve this end.

The lady and the cop left. The coat and bag went right back on the seats, and the muted sounds of argument, seat reservation, keeping poachers off, started all over again. Everyone was an accomplice in this conspiracy of reservation. Those who found other seats, didn’t bother, and those who came in, and stumbled on it, quickly learned to not bother.

We wondered, “who could have complained? Could it have been the American Americans, who, not being Indians, are ignorant of appropriate behaviour when you bump into a bovine  jaywalker/ squatter-  which is to negotiate a quick u-turn and nudge your friend away , saying, “COW IS THERE, COME PA!”

Reservation (of seats in movie halls, buses, and trains and any other place where seats can be reserved  ) is a fundamental right of Indians every where. Handkerchieves are all the time flung into bus windows to reserve seats, and one  messes with a handkerchief waiting decorously to be reclaimed by its owner at his own peril.

And then the Indian Standard Time thin happened.  The theatre staff came in and announced the movie was going to be delayed by 5 minutes, and we would have to be patient. It wa actually 15 minutes, and the the folks for whom the seats had been reserved arrived at last, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. No one notice the movie hadn’t started yet.

Meanwhile,  the Rosetta Stone group let us know in  its newly acquired southern twang that two of the ladies had left their cellphones at home, and one of them had just got a good deal on a used (?) car for his dad. they were also going to have popcorn and “waaaaaader” to  wash it down.

That is why I didn’t feel  I W MNIK  I A at all.

At least, no cellphone beeped during the movie, no one textmessaged, or regaled the audience with family fables as Rizvan Khan winged his way to America to tell the President ” MNIK, and I M NAT” and educated us on Asperger’s Syndrome.


(That’s : The End)

Snowmageddon! Now

Since October 2 , 2009,  I have done many things for the first time. I used my passport for the purpose it is actually meant to be used.  I left India, and my home in Bangalore, and came to the US of A to join the husband.  As autumn gave way to winter  in the following weeks,  I clapped eyes on snow , for the first time in my life, one cold Saturday morning in December.

Would’ve missed it altogether if P hadn’t cut in on my call to the S-I-L ,  N who lives in the coolest part of Mumbai- the IIT Campus, with the Big Brother One and the little niece H.  N never stops talking, on the  phone especially if its your call, but more alarmingly,  is an incurable shutterbug of whom one can only ask, “What makes her CLICK?” .  She has been known to sneak  into the room, waddling like a duck-billed platypus,  trying to take a shot of you and the niece having a bedtime giggle, all because she doesn’t want to lose the “spontaneity of the moment”.

So when it came to the question of cutting the call and taking pictures of MY VIRGIN (IA) Snow which would be emailed and shared with her forthwith, she hung up. Forthwith. Another first for me, wielding the camera – ever since I’ve declared myself non-photogenic, I’ve longed for cameras became extinct. In my photogenic days, I had no camera, and it took a really long time before you got your copy. and by then you had degenerated further, and the picture was a RELIC and proof of your faded good looks, to be cherished as a bookmark in the ” reading now” book because you don’t want it to become dog-eared. Book and bookmark then get consigned to the upper shelves where it remains until little H grows up and is introduced to the pleasures of reading, and stumbles on the RELIC.

This is how things start small and SNOWBALL into a controversy.

Back to the snow.

The bright autumn colors that had welcomed me to America, the pond outside our living room window where the ducks (Plain ducks, no d-b platypus)  waded about and sometimes disappeared ( flyin’ South for the winner?) had long since turned grey and  everything  had begun to look desolate. P had said it hadn’t  snowed much these past few years, and there may not be much to write home about this year , either.

I got a lot of pictures, and even managed a video film of 6 min of the snow , which  flickr-ed  to the family with undue haste, and which was watched by said family even before I could call and tell them to watch it all , on mute, because the camera  made such a din. When snow falls, it REALLY is Silent I quickly learnt, though the camera, obviously didn’t care.

There was another snow at Christmas, and New Year’s. But no one took the hint. Until last week, in FEBRUARY! There were snow-storm warnings,and, when P went out to stock up on the milk, water and groceries, he found everybody in Herndon  had the same idea.  It started snowing, silently, as usual, that Friday night, and it snowed all Saturday. We watched the pond turn icy, and the last of the 50-odd ducks leave reluctantly, in groups of  four or six or ten, like troops returning home from Iraq, and the cars in the parking lot turn into snowy shells of their steel and glass selves. Trees began to look like Swarovski crystal creations.We could no longer discern the pond , as the last duck took a few slippery steps and flew away.

Over the weekend we were snug in our warm apartment, reading, net-ting and watching TV, and chatting online (not to each other,, though  the idea does have possibilities) but to friends who hadn’t yet disappeared into la-la land back in B’lore)

By Monday, we’d had 32 inches of snow. No one wanted to even think of going out. I hated winter, at least the American one, and wanted nothing more to do with snow. The drone of planes taking off and landing at Dulles Airport , which is out backyard, was missing, for a change, but it wasn’t easy any longer to pretend there was no snow. The silence was deafening.

When another blizzard hit Tuesday, Obama , a year older as President, and wiser about snow, called it Snowmageddon.

Last year, snow in DC and how its denizens dealt with it had amused  President Obama. and his daughters. His daughters’ snow day Wednesday, which meant they stayed home as it was too snowy to go to school for most of their mates,  made him “want to see a little bit of flinty Chicago toughness. The girls’ school was canceled . Because of what? Some ice?  he’d  told reporters.

This year,  it took 32 inches of snow, and his having to work through teleconferencing and phone and e-mail and notes sent by his staff for a couple of days, although he did make it to a Democratic National Committee meeting to give them a pep talk on healthcare for him to call it Snowmageddon.

The Winter Olympics have started in Vancouver. Ahead of it, people were worried there was not enough snow to go round!

Snowmageddon, also  SnOMG!  Snowpocalypse and SnObama to some,  is  a lesson. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

I am happy.

I got my first snow.

Now there is one more thing I have to do for the first time. I have to learn to drive. P suspects I’m avoiding it. He’s right.

PS:- I hope the PS I live with doesn’t read this one.