Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life Today, Just Mobile

Life today. Just mobile. Even if you are in bed, you are mobile. Your thoughts and ideas dart and so do your fingers. In this day and age, the one thing that translates all this energy into action is the mobile. Life is on your fingertips, allowing you to share your brain and heart through this small and wonderful piece of technological art. It not only allows you to talk, but you can share your life through photographs, through words and song, making cameras, laptops and radios available in one device with which you can move. Tata’s new phone, the One Touch Net Phone offers all this and more to savvy mobile people of today…like me. And services like Yahoo are free. And call rates come to you timed per second, not per minute. Could anyone ask for more?
Yes, of course.  Smart matters, but good looks count.
The phone looks beautiful with its colours of purple and silver, and purple and black. It attracts attention. Then, it is simple and familiar to use, the QWERTY keys ensure that, the one touch ensures that too.
So it is smart, good looking and comfortable. What else? I love to click photos on the go, you say. I am passionate about instant photography, street photography, candid camera, you say.
With this phone and its 2 MP camera, it is easy to click photos - and share it instantly with Bluetooth.
Okay, more and more. Dive in WAP means that you can let your eyes swim while you access everything with a single soft touch. No complicated keys or buttons to remember and press. It has customized keys for several things. Yahoo and rejoice all you want. This is the one touch wonder with all of Yahoo available: mail, surf and sail through conversations. And Yahoo M&M (mail and messenger) comes free!
Sounds good. Expensive in toto?
It’s a TATA product. Less than six grand. With all these features, it’s like a gift.
Wow. I can save my poems on it too?
Of course, that’s understood.
 Today’s world includes constant change, innovation, connectivity, mobility. Instant access and sharing is the order of the day. No time to lose and everything to gain from each second. I need to do so much more, connect with friends who matter, embrace life on the move, listen to music on FM, sport a trendy looking phone as I walk and talk and smile. I make every second count in this age of information, communication and connectivity. I use my mobile for photos, emails, music, and oh yes, for talking!
Seems like the Smart (and Lovely) phone, the Tata DOCOMO One Touch Net Phone has all this and more. Life is wonderful and gets better all the time if you are mobile with the right mobile.
I am sure to share my life and give it more meaning with a mobile like the Tata DOCOMO One Touch Net Phone. And do more, be more with Tata DOCOMO.
Here is where you can check it out. Go check here:

Radio Parul: By The Water Cooler Contest

Radio Parul: By The Water Cooler Contest

By The Water Cooler

I have entered the premises of my new office and sat on my desk. I am feeling a bit out of place, everything is spanking new and unfamiliar. I look across and hope someone walks through the glass door so that I can connect in person. My nervousness stems from re-entering the work force after a gap of many years. We shall not count the decades, since they age me unnecessarily.
I look across to the other side. Through the glass paneled doors I see a pair of feet under a desk and for a moment mistake them to be a reflection of mine. I am used to offices of the olden days, where office doors were made of teak, or polished to look like miserable copies of teak. And tables were of solid wood, not glass and steel contraptions. In other words, in those days, my feet would not have shown on the other side of the table, let alone be reflected on the other side. In these days of transparency, however, everything has to show as much as it can, to ensure that there is nothing hidden.
I move my feet back to tuck them in a bit more so that they are not so visible, but the reflected ones don’t move. I look at those feet. They are brown skinned, the nails buffed and polished to a high gloss in bright red and encased in high heeled black . How the hell did I think they were mine, I only wear very pale pink polish. The only thing in common is the brown skin and the colour of the heels. I cringe a bit and withdraw my feet a bit more. The ones on the other side do a little tap dance.
I open the glass door of my office and step out to explore or find someone. Before I go across to the other side of the passage which houses the general office staff, where the feet which did not belong to me belonged, I glance at the passage.
Standing there, rather nonchalantly, as though he owns the place, is a young man in beige pants, pink button down shirt and tan shoes. My tone is clipped. “Could you get the air-conditioning started in my office?” I point towards the door I have emerged from.
Before he can answer, a plump girl made plumper by her pregnancy and her round face made rounder by the halo of squiggly hair around it rushes out of the office door, the one on the other side, in her white heels (I noticed all this) and almost careens into him. As she steadies herself,  mumbling, ‘Sorry, Rahul..”, I repeat my question, this time addressing it to her. She says, “Yes, of course, I’ll check,’’ and runs back into the office.
The girl rushes out again, this time ensuring that she does not bump into Rahul, and looks at me, “It’s being attended to, sorry, Ma’am , we thought you were coming in tomorrow. Sir will be meeting you in five minutes. I have to rush, please excuse…” I barely nod before she rushes out with Rahul behind her, a bit crushed now, mumbling, “ Ma’am,” but also pushing his thick hair off his forehead in a gesture of defiance.
I hear the hum of the air-conditioner start behind me, open the glass door and walk in. I plonk myself on my chair unceremoniously and try not to look at the feet on the opposite side.
This is going to be very distracting to me. I will have to do something about this. Change the orientation a bit.
Meanwhile, ‘Sir’ arrives to find that he is looking at my back.
“Honey,” he says, “why are you doing this? This is no way to receive anyone.”
On hearing his voice, I swivel around. ‘Dear husbandji,” I say, “I refuse to look through the door at other people’s feet. I’d rather look at the blank wall. Please take a seat.”
He has to walk around to the other side to sit opposite me. He faces the glass door.
“What’s the problem?” he says.
“My office needs real brick and mortar walls, and I need a teak door.”
“Honey, you are joking.”
“No I am not, I refuse to look at feet. “
“Don’t let your gaze wander. Concentrate on your work. That’s the idea.”
So he did know what I was talking about.
“This is bad design,” I said.
“Glass takes less space and is more elegant.”
“Sorry, my table will stay facing this way then.  It is as per Feng Shui.”
I can be obstinate.
The next day, my office was moved to an old part of the building, where the walls were of brick, the doors of wood. It was air-conditioned and sound proof. When I looked up from my table, I saw a teak paneled door with a brass knob. It creaked a bit, but at least I did not have to look at feet or wonder whom they belonged to. I was happy in my little cubicle, comfortable in office spaces as I knew them to be. Thick, solid and dependable. If these attributes were there, transparency and ‘see-thru-isms’ could take a hike.
My husband knows how to keep me happy. Even in his office, I am the boss.

This post is a shot at something.
Parul Sharma’s latest book ‘By The Water Cooler’ is going to be launched soon, and she is running a mouth watering contest (okay, we will limit this water bit). This post is shooting for the contest. You can do it too.Read the details here, just follow the link to the orange ice candy...

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Encounters of a Soft Kind continue...


Another day of interaction and I was now quite comfortable in the space created through our interactions on the previous days.

This time we concentrated on techniques like POV. I gave example of a story and using it , indicated what POV was and how shifting POV should be avoided.

We also talked of different genres, there are so many of them, and then each genre has its subgenres as well. I just like to stick to the principal genres , and let the subgenres take care of themselves. For example, speculative fiction has so many subgenres, and when one writes, one will know whether the story is horror, fantasy or hard sci-fi and that should be enough. Otherwise, sections like gothic-horror, steampunk, and so on and so forth can blow your mind. It is something like medical specialization. There are bifurcations and bifurcations, so it is better to stick to some basic railroad tracks.

We discussed what   ‘foreshadowing’  means, and how Chekov had stated that if you mention a gun on the wall in your story then the gun has to become a part of your story later on, otherwise it is a useless inclusion. 

How ‘flashback ‘works  as a technique was also discussed, and most of them understood what flashback was, since movies use a lot of this.

We then focused on our written stories.

 This was a reading out and critiquing of the stories with Gangadhar as the main character, or Ganju i.e. the man in the yellow pants. This was the character we had developed in the earlier class and had had a lot of fun in doing so. Someone had also sketched him out, and had done a good job of it.

The class was interested in reading out their stories more than doing exercises and felt it was helping them in figuring out how things work. 

The stories were different and the language and approach was different, some very good and some okay, but the main thing was that each one had attempted to write a story. 

I distributed the feedback forms and the response was excellent. All of them came up to me and thanked me and said they hoped I was holding more classes. 

This has been a very fulfilling experience for me. I too look forward to more workshops.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Encounters of the Soft Kind

CW 3.

It was a cool and rainy day and I was wearing, once again, a crisp cotton sari hoping it would not wilt in the damp weather. It would have wilted in the hot weather, so I consoled myself. Either ways wilt, what? Did not take along my umbrella so kind of prayed that the weather clear, which it did soon enough.

We first had a discussion on a story written by Satyajit Ray, titled, “The Promise” , which was brought to the class by one of the participants as a story he liked. It was supposed to be a practical story writing class and I made them do more in-depth exercises than before, using background, dialogue and imagery. 

It was amazing the kind of stories people developed. There was an image of a young man with a young boy on his shoulders with a background of a boat on a river. The two people became many characters: friends, father and son, brother and younger brother… in one story, the boy asks the young man to come to his school as his father at the parent teacher meeting because he is ashamed of his own father, for his real father is not young and good looking and tall but is short and fat and he wants to show off the young man as his handsome father. Another story was of how a young boy wants to be explained why his sister is all dressed up and sitting next to a man on the boat and holding his hand. Another story is where the boy does not want to be lifted on the shoulders because he feels he will burden his crippled father and is surprised when his father manages to lift him up.  Another wrote that the young boy was not happy for he was being separated from his real sister in an orphan home, so he could not accept a new sister in a new home with a new father, so even if his name was Joy, he could not live up to that name.  Fantastic, on- the -spot tales.

It was a learning process for me too as to which parts of an image people notice and pay attention to and put focus on. In another image, someone talks of the dog, another of the single sprouting plant, another of wet walls, another of the lone bicycle rider…

Also, a story line with the second character and conflict development was constructed to be developed further in the next class.  On the whole it was a very satisfying session. Some of them wanted to purchase autographed copies of my book of poems, a request which I gladly complied with. There were also requests for my book of fiction, alas, that is something I still have to put together and then get published. But the impetus is there.

No wilting here, the class blossomed in front of my eyes. 


Saturday, July 31, 2010

No Letting Go of the Past

There are some topics that may be debatable, some issues that may be open to discussion. But something like ‘Do all relationships come with a past or the past, well, that’s a given in any language. Soch lo. Soch lo? Nothing to think about here. It is like saying, does breath come with life, soch lo.

If you have a life, then you have a past, and if you have a past, it will come into the relationship. Each individual in that relationship will bring his or her baggage. The past may have been great, rocking, bitter, sweet, gooey, gritty, serious, ridiculous, yucky, mucky, sucky, kinky whatever! Too many ‘ky’ words there, but they hold the key to what happens in the present relationship. 

So this girl, Namita,  may tell off her present heart-throb, “You know, Rahul never behaved like this. He never forgot like you do, Sunil. He always bought flowers for me on my birthday.” Rahul of course is her ex, whom she broke up with, a thing of the past, should have been shattered and shuttered out of her life, but she won’t forget that easy. And she won’t let poor present day hero, no longer the hero, our dear Sunil boy, forget him too. If Sunil’s beaky nose has suddenly reddened to the nth degree, it is because Namita is making him burn.

You may say, this happens in urban metros. What about the innocents of the village? Young Amar of Bilaspur gaon may have left his love for his chammakh-chhalo Sarika at the behest of his powerful grandfather who gets him married off to the moneylender’s daughter, Rupaiya. If he sits and howls at the moon every night even as Rupaiya cooks bajrey ki roti for him and ladles it with the butter of her love for him, it is because of his past. He cannot let go of Sarika that easy.

Mr. and Mrs. Godbole look like any other couple, quiet acceptance a regular feature on both their faces. Mr. Godbole will never reveal to his wife why he does not allow her to bring jasmine flowers into the house or wear them in her hair. But when she sees him turn his face away with sadness every time he passes a jasmine flower-seller, she can guess. Mrs. Godbole will never tell him of how she had wild sex with the neighbourhood boy for one year before he went away. She will not let Mr. Godbole know that she married him on the rebound. But her abandonment in bed will surprise and delight him. And also raise some questions in his mind which he will quell. He will wonder at how this placid woman hides a tigress under it all. And Mrs. Godbole will think of her wild young nights and feel alive only in bed.

Individuals are a sum total of their life experiences, and this becomes all the more evident in intimate relationships. The past is a part of the person and cannot be shed like a snake sheds his skin. We are humans, not snakes. We bear the marks of previous experiences, proudly or with sorrow, but the marks are there. And they affect our present relationships. Just like whatever relationship we are experiencing now, will cast its shadow on any other we may have in the future. Even if we remain in the current relationship, its own past will be present, journeying with us as we move forward with each other.

Read the annals of history and read the stories written over time. Hear the poetry sung by the balladeers and the modern heart-bleeders.  If we pay attention to the tales of loving and living, we will know that from the moment we begin to breathe, from that moment, our past becomes a part of our present. All relationships have the past featuring as a background actor.

Shochein kya ab, yaaron? Janntey hain hum.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Soft Encounter: Creativity writing workshop


The weather was very hot, it seems all weekends this month are hotter than the rest of the days of the week. I was less apprehensive this time, yet wanted the workshop to go well.

There were two more students today, so I have a class of 17, one a young girl who is an Economics student  at Stephen’s and another is a cardiologist who may be in his forties.  Today, the CD did not work and I was thankful that I had taken my pen drive as a back- up. Always have a back-up. The air conditioning went for a while and the generator came on. The fan above me rotated at a very high speed and that was the only speed at which the fan worked. We could not communicate over the din. I gave up and made them do a writing exercise while we waited for the mains to return.

The retired gentleman was more interactive today and also got up to change the fan regulator cover from one point to the other in the hope that the fan speed could be regulated, he had seen the electrician do that in one of the other lectures.  This did not help. We had to wait for the mains to return and give us back the silent airconditioning . However, I was very happy to see him interacting and contributing and he looked more relaxed and happy.

The process was again pretty smooth. Among the things which came up was whether we had a Pegasus in Indian mythology and one girl said that there was a flying horse that emerged from the ‘samudra manthan’  (sea- churning) that had occurred between the gods and the demons, and she would find out if it had had wings.

One of the participants mentioned how he wrote while a boring lecture was going on as part of his work schedule and managed to make one of the ladies present into one of the characters of his story. We had been talking about how to take out time for writing.

Another young girl talked of how she liked a story because it outlined race and gender differences in a particular country as being different from that in another, and we discussed this. There was also a story we did on how a gentleman lies to a very young girl and we discussed whether the girl was too mature for her age, whether it was okay for the man to put in reference to the chaos theory in the middle of a very personal incident, whether the story worked on the whole or not. We also worked on ‘impermanence’ and how it may be brought into a story.

What I noticed that there was a preponderance of yellow t -shirts and one of the girls wore yellow capris , another carried a yellow flask and someone else had a yellow file. The general colour in prominence was yellow which someone said was a symbol of energy. It was very much present in the room. We had fun, and one character of our emerging story, brought forward to participate from our earlier imaginings, was a gentleman who wore yellow pants! As usual the lecture overshot the scheduled time but no one was cribbing.

The older gentleman came up to me at the end and told me that he had enjoyed the class. Another young girl wanted to get a list of the books which I had given to the organizer for photocopying and she made my day by saying she loved the class and I had such a ‘vibrant’ personality.

I carry that compliment with me for it is very uplifting for my spirits. It energizes me. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SOFT ENCOUNTERS: Writing Workshop


The first day is full of excitement and apprehension. It is a hot day but I wear a new cotton sari, a beautiful purple print with a thin gold border, the kind I love to wear, crisp and fresh and cracking to go. Like me, not purple, no gold border, but crisp and cracking to go.

 I look out of the car window and I find an advertisement that says , “Blunt and Sharp” and I think yes, that is how writings have to be, blunt and sharp. And then I think of these words that are ‘janus words’, words with multiple meanings and contrary meanings. Obviously my mind is on overdrive, getting geared up for what is coming.

The place is easy to find since I had asked for directions. I sign in the guest book at the gate and look around me. The place is beautiful, with trees and gravel and it is open and inviting. It is a sprawling complex. I am greeted by the organizer of the workshop and I feel instantly at home.
I walk with him a little distance to the classroom in one corner of the complex, after passing well laid out lawns and trees that shade the hot sunlight. The classroom is air-conditioned, which is a blessing. My CD works in their in house computer and that’s good too, first time technology goof ups may sometimes happen.

 15 eager faces turn to me. They are aged from 16 to 60, some are students, some housewives, some professionals, a couple of them retired. The binding interest is the need to be creative and to express that creativity through words.

 This first class is a workshop on Creativity. We talk of unblocking, stepping out of comfort zones, and I tell them why I believe that writers stand at a threshold, looking in and looking out, tapping inner resources and outer interactions for their writings. Both are essential, a writer is not a hermit, though he may choose to be one as he sits to write. We talked of how important it is to dream but also have the discipline to realize the dreams.

The responses to some of the images and exercises I worked with were phenomenal in their variety and the imagination was easily exercised during the presentation. The three hours with a ten minute break went quickly by, in fact we did continue a half hour beyond the allotted time till one of the girls had to leave to be with her eighteen month old daughter.

I am on a complete high, the high that comes from work well done and the connectivity made and sustained. I am now excited and confident about the next class. The students are responsive and engaged.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tough encounter: Unexpected Deaths

Some things happen and there is no explanation at all.

Our dog, Leo, a Golden Retriever, had come to us in 2004 as a small ball of white fluff. I was resentful of his coming because I was dealing with my daughter’s 12th standard blues. If you do not know of such blues, be a parent and find out. He just seemed like an unwanted and uncalled for responsibility. Not long before I fell in love with him.

Love conquers all, and a dog’s love, well, he was beautiful, soulful, licky-waggy, the works. And jumpy and fun. He was the one who greeted you and was all over you, totally expressive about how much he missed you while you went shopping or dining or movie-ing or travelling without him. He moved up and down the room around you at the time for his walk, came and thumped his tail and wanted ‘out’ with you. When you sobbed in a quiet corner, he put his head in your lap and shed his doggy tears with you, licked your face and said he was yours forever and that should matter.

But he did not remain forever. In our hearts yes, but physically he left us on the 18th of June this year. Such an unexpected death, he had not been eating too well, and the vet, whom we had full faith in, gave some antibiotics, saying it may be stomach infection. We thought it was the heat, he was being fussy, gave him more frequent baths etc. My daughter arrived from Mumbai and noticed his darker stools and urine. She read up on it and told the vet to check for liver problem. Turned out he had jaundice. By now Leo had begun vomiting everyday, whatever he ate. The vet gave him antibiotics and put him on a drip. It was too late, Leo was not taking in anything but these injections. This was just for two days before Leo, our sweet lovable and trusting six year old doggy, left us. He had begun to vomit blood. My daughter and husband sat up the two nights with him, massaging him to sleep. But on the 17th night, my daughter, unable to sleep, and she was there with us in the bedroom for Leo slept in our room, woke both of us and pointed out his heavy breathing. We called the vet and tried to follow his late minute instructions but it was too late. He died of internal haemorrhage caused by the liver failure.
He was loving and full of energy. He was big, blond, beautiful. He was regal and sphinx like. He had the eyes of an Egyptian dancer, kohl rimmed. He was gentle and soft and all the kids of the colony loved him, he was one dog they were not scared of.

Leo, we love you. We miss your running circles around us and your gentle licks of love. May you rest in peace.

Lesson: For all of us with loved ones, please keep a watch on anything that is abnormal, not eating well is one of the first signs of sickness.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Different Kind of Encounter-Of Life and a Death

‘What is truer than the truth? The story.’ ~Old Jewish saying.

I have to write this.
It was triggered off by the news of the death of the 15 year old niece of my Bengali cook, Jharna, who comes every morning to make lunch for my family and departs. A few days ago, she told me that her 15 years old niece died suddenly. Naturally, I needed to know how.
These are the sordid details. The girl was the fifth of six sisters. Four before her were married, out of which, one had died in childbirth at the age of thirteen. Yes, thirteen. One of them is beaten every day. The family knows it but can/will do nothing. One of them is ‘alright’, so I was told. The fourth one, they don’t know about because she is not living anywhere close by and they get no news of her. Perhaps no news is good news in this case. So this niece was the fifth. What follows is the story of her death, in short.
She, let us call her Sonali, was married six months ago to a forty year old alcoholic rickshaw puller. When asked, I am told that they did not ‘know’ that he was alcoholic. The girl was fifteen, but considered quite grown up by their village standards (they live in Delhi but village rules apply here ), and needed to be married off. The man was forty, very eligible by village standards?
Two months after her marriage, she swallows acid. She says it was by mistake, in the hospital when she is questioned. She can talk, but cannot take in food. She cannot swallow her spit. She goes back to her parents place, and she is fed through a pipe. The doctors say that after four months, they will operate again. She survives in this way and is with her parents.
After four months, they take her to the hospital. The doctors say they cannot operate. She has become like a dry stick, no blood in her body. This is what my maid, Jharna, Sonali’s aunt, tells me, when I asked her why the doctors did not operate. She says that perhaps they realized that it would not help. The girl and parents return home.
A few days after this, the girl slips in the bath and dies. That is the story of Sonali. And of her sisters.
And of women in our world.
One of them is still in line, waiting for marriage or a scaffold around the neck?
I learn later from Jharna that she herself was married at the age of 12. Died almost at childbirth at the age of 13! She is perhaps 24 now. She is married to a sickly fellow who cannot work and is double her age. Looking at her and the way she goes about her work, you would not know it. She survived. Shall we say she is lucky because her husband is not an alcoholic and does not beat her, though he earns nothing and is sick most of the time? She has not left him, like a man would have done a woman in the same condition…
I have been intensely disturbed by this. I know, we read about these things, but I have been affected by this particular happening.
And on that very day, I read a response to someone‘s blog of a 16 year old Bihari girl who used to run when her forty year old or so husband approached her. Why? Because he would ask her to become a ‘murga’ (chicken) for his pleasure or for her punishment, one does not know. Becoming a ‘murga’ is an uncomfortable and demeaning position in which one crouches, puts one’s hands under from behind the legs and brings them out forward to hold the ears.
Correspondence with that writer revealed that she knew that the man had a wife and two daughters of the same age who had left him and gone away. This 16 year old girl was his second ‘wife’. Another true story.
It made my stomach churn.
I watched Isabelle Allende speak on creativity and writing and she, being a feminist, also spoke of the rape of young women in Africa. So whether I liked it or not, once again I was, during this period of agitation, made aware of the condition of women, nay, girl children, in another part of the world.
I am trying to learn how to write plays properly. Towards that end, I read ‘Kanyaadaan’ yesterday (Vijay Tendulkar’s famous play), and there again, the girl, Jyoti’s, life is put on stake, as an ‘experiment’ by her socialist father who is very proud of her to have married a dalit, a proof of his having brought her up with the right values of not differentiating between castes, and when that experiment fails, it costs him his beliefs and his daughter her existence(almost). She sorrows at having been blinded by her father’s values about finding the ‘goodness’ in man/men and bringing it forth. She said the beastliness was a part of man and he would never leave it. These were among other issues that Tendulkar brings out in this seminal work, and I speak of this particular one because I read it yesterday and it seems to be just another thorn that is scratching my skin, making me bleed.
I had a discussion with a friend and he said that men are closer to nature and beastliness and education helps in making them less so. I do not agree. I think education has nothing to do with this. It is only the person’s willingness to respect another human being. And this respect seems to be lacking in men, even the ‘educated’ ones. So are we to admit that given a free reign, men will loot, plunder, violate and abuse? And that they do it more often than not, that there is only a very fine line that keeps them in check.
And young girls will be the ones who will suffer in some way or the other at the hand of the beast. We may say, what about the mother here? The mother is just another such victim, surviving and trying to keep her home together, perhaps her being there prevents her husband from raping his own children?
Yes, those stories are also there.
The cynics will shake their heads and say, so what’s new? What’s new is that despite our so called progress, these are the times we live in. What’s new is that we need to awaken the world to this with voices that do not merely want to get the eyeballs for their media channel. What’s new is that we need not be so blasé about it. What’s new is that everyday we have to fight such injustice. One way to do it is to speak out if you are hurting. I am hurting right now.

This is in memory of that unknown Sonali. May her young soul rest in peace.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Ambassador Mercedes in Pondicherry

I am at Pondicherry at a Writing Residency as the Lavanya Sankaran fellow for 2009-10. So proud and happy to be here the way I am. I have the proverbial room with a view. Beautiful, calm, serene, woody and squirrelly. I can spend time with myself and my writing.

But I also get restless with this at times. I want to recharge my batteries, go out and see something new, read: visit a place. And so many places abound around here, it becomes tough to pick. I tell my friend, I plan to go to Kumbhakonnam (a number of Chola temples there) for the day. It is Sunday, a good day to be out. This friend is a well known Tamil writer who knows his part of the land well, and he gives me sound advice. He sips his morning coffee as he sits on the black polished granite ledge of the central courtyard of the premises at AdiShakti (the building is on the lines of the Nalukettu design of old architecture in Kerala, but this is Tamilnadu ).

He says, “Kumbhakonam is too much to do in a day, go to Sidambaram (he has a soft accent and means Chidambaram) instead , there is a big Shiva temple there, the Tellai Natraja.“

“Yes,” I say, very excited now, "that’s where I will go.” So I pick up my mobile and call for my pumpkin carriage, Cinderella is ready for her outing.

By 10 am I leave with taxi driver of Ambassador car, with a Mercedes sign up front, for Chidambaram. I sit in the front, but the seat is tough and a bit uncomfortable and the day is hot. We cross Pondicherry (going past Thathachevadi village) and then go right past a river which has an island in the centre and boats to row to it which is a part of the Pondicherry area. We are going on to the Cuddalore district of Tamilnadu (10.45 am). We are on national highway 45A.

The driver stops for 5 minutes at a repair shop to get his car horn checked. His horn is very irritating, it speaks in short sharp blasts which sound horrible to the ear. After the repair, it still works the same way. “Toot-toot, toot-toot” no break there, nor any music in the rendering. But the Ambassador is cheaper than the Indicas and the driver knows a smattering of English and he is a good man. I had paid him two 500/- rupee notes on an evening outing before (fumbling in the gathering dusk in my purse)and he returned them so I could pay him the two 100/- rupee notes due instead. So I kind of liked him for that.

After a while I hear him say something to me. It sounds like “Dee sell”. Dee sell? I have a problem understanding what he is trying to say till he stops at a petrol pump. Then I figure it out, he wants to buy Diesel.

Since I am in a new place and curious, I ask general questions, like how far to Chidambram etc. Chidambaram is 90 kms, and it would take us about two and half hours to get there.

I get then, an education. Never let it be said that education belongs to classrooms.

Tamilnadu has 24 districts. One of them is Cuddalore. Kanchipuram is another. Adi Shakti, where I was staying, is in Kanchipuram. Chidambaram,where we were going, is in Cuddalore. Cuddalore district has six villages, of which Chidambram is one village-town. Each such district has an IAS officer and an IPS officer. All this information comes my way courtesy the taxi driver, Mr. Selvan.

I ask about a statue I see on the way. That’s MGR, he says, now dead. He also informs me that now it is the ‘rule’ of Karunanidhi of DMK in Tamilnadu. AnnaDMK chief was MGR. Jayalalitha is also of AnnaDMK. She is no longer ruling. I am introduced to the basic politics of the place.

We cross a river at Cuddalore by a bridge, and then we see a road leading to the right to Kumbhakonam (Cuddalore to Kumbhakonam one way is 120 kms). We get onto the East Coast Road now and a good breeze blows, cooling after the hot sun. We are now 26 kms into Cuddalore and there are rice fields everywhere. “After Cuddalore town we will pass Bhavnagiri and reach Chidambaram,” he says. At 11.45 we are at Bhavnagiri which is 10 kms from Chidambaram.

5 kms from Chidambaram the driver stops. “One minute, one minute,” he says and gets off. He is a master of repetition, helps him make his point, I guess. He checks the tires and gets in again. We carry on after that, and 4 kms from Chidambaram we are at Silvaipuram which has the Kali temple. Here we witness an accident of two vans. A number of people, dressed in red , mainly women, are standing around. The red colour is over powering. They are the Adi Parashakti devotees, travelling in one of the vans. Mr. Selvan, my taxi driver, keeps saying, “accident, accident,” then “over speeding, over-speeding, over-speeding,” as if I had not understood the first time. Maybe he is trying to convince himself that this is an accident caused by over speeding. He himself is a slow and careful driver.

He always talks to me in spurts, there are periods of silence and then he holds forth on something in his broken English. I look at him as he talks to me now, suddenly voluble again. He is slim and tall and dark with regular features. He works in Tindivaanam as some govt officer. He lost his first wife 5 years ago in a bus accident . Maybe that is why he is a careful driver. He is giving me all this information as we drive along. He has a son studying in Trichy. Trichy? Trichy is a town in Tamil Nadu. He has married again and has another child, a 3 year old son.

I ask him if he has any other cars. This particular one is not too comfortable, I think, maybe he can get another one for the drive to the airport at Chennai, when I leave for Delhi in a few weeks time. Or for any other intermittent outings I may undertake.

He says, “I had other cars, but the drivers were not good. They got drunk and had accidents. I got rid of all of them. Now I have only this one car, and I drive it. I have one car, one office, one house and one wife...” I stop my smile from forming. He knows how to count for sure. Something of the nature of the guy comes through, he is polite and cautious and very careful to the point of being nervous. I think this could be because of his loss of his first wife in the accident. He is also deeply religious. His dashboard is overcrowded with photos of gods and goddesses.

He suddenly spots a car ahead in which the driver is talking on the mobile phone. He gets all excited and begins to talk in Tamil to me. He is cursing the driver, I get a sense of that. I look at him, astounded, taken aback at his sudden Tamilian burst. This happens once more at another place, he begins to talk Tamil to me, in his anger, as someone almost bangs into his car. I learn two new Tamil words, “karp” for black and “naayi” for dog. It is with us humans, we fall into our language in times of emotional communication.

The Tellaai Nataraj temple is huge. I did not expect it to be so big. And it reminded me of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, though this is the temple of Shiva and that temple is of Vishnu. It has a water body in the front like that of the Padmanabha . I just make it in time to see the dancing God before the curtains close for puja. They open again after half hour. A woman standing close to me calls him ‘shivan’, which sounds so beautiful to me. They all call ‘shiv’ as ‘shivan’ here, and to me it sounds more close and intimate a term.

There are four huge gateways, a water body in front and some fantastic friezes and statues all along the wall surfaces. There was one with Durga with a yellow golden sari draped on it and her face was very beautiful which caught my absolute attention.

I bought some prasadam, walked out to the small market common outside each temple, spotted a handicrafts store there and bought an elephant and a bull (tribal work in a mix of metals) and a very small dancing Parvati (yes, Parvati) in brass which I just love.

Little raindrops had begun to fall and I made my way to the taxi, pretty happy and satisfied, content in a way. Also I was looking forward to stopping at the small kali temple on the way. As the taxi wound its way back to Adi Shakti, I was happy to have made this unplanned trip to Chidambaram. I promised myself I would see Kumbhakonam too some day. I had a couple of toffees in my purse, and offered the driver, Mr. Selvan one. He took it . I had another of these. We had struck a strange friendship along the way. I looked out of the window and he concentrated on is driving.

He remembered to stop the taxi at the Kali temple. I had requested for this on the way to the Tellaai Nataraj. I was really tired by now, all the walking within the temple and the hot sun had sapped my strength. But seeing the statue of the lady near a tree, surrounded by snake forms, was enough to jolt me into awareness and I felt a surge of woman power. I had a sense of something very primal here. Inside the temple, the pujari had begun the aarti, I could see the dancing flames from outside.

I returned to Adishakti, tired but totally full of the temple, its architecture and space, the thronging devotees, the women in red, kali, dancing parvatis, politics and a countryside of dark colour and blinding sunlight.