Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our national pasttime

Officially, it might be said that cricket-watching is our national past time. But I think that our true national past-time is people watching.

Of course, everyone does people watching. Being curious is simply human nature. However, desis take people watching to the level of an art. Where people from other nations* may look embarrassed and turn away if caught in the act by the object of their watching, a true desi would hardly acknowledge that s/he has been spotted. Instead, s/he would watch with greater confidence now that there is no need for even the token pretence that they are not watching the object.

Which is how, many a time I have caught starers in the act of watching, turned away and turned back after some time only to realize that I was *still* being watched by the same starer. It is as though once you are in public, you become a part of the landscape and hence can be gawked at.

This could also be the reason that whenever it looks like more than one person is watching something, those persons are immediately joined by more people. No one wants to miss out on any fun. Often times, it turns out that an entire crowd of people are watching *nothing* (I am desi too, so, if circumstances permit, I will go and check out what's happening too - that's how I know) but why miss out in case it is some thing genuinely interesting?

Once we were driving around Ooty with some other relatives. A non-designated tourist spot, consisting of rows of pretty trees, looked interesting. So, we made a turn into the mud pathway leading to that mini-forest. Our relatives' jeep followed us. We had hardly gotten off our Jeeps when we realized that about six other random vehicles had followed us into the mini-forest. Evidently, the people in those vehicles thought that if this spot was of interest to *two* vehicles, there must be something to it and had decided to check it out for themselves!

Recently, I had a surreal conversation with my mom. We both were enjoying a cup of tea at my parents' place. We were sitting in a room which opened out into a balcony which faced a tree. Mom remarked on how much the tree had grown since the time they had moved in.

She added, "The other day, the lady from the flat across the street said that she was feeling kind of bad that she could no longer look into our house. The tree has become too tall and shields our house from her eyes."

My jaw dropped. I looked at mom and gaped, "Really? So not only was she she spying on us, but she also admitted it to you without any embarrassment?"

Mom shrugged and said, "Yes. Apparently she used to watch us all from her flat. In fact, I think she must have been happy when I invited her over for last year's Golu so that she could finally place the rest of the rooms in the house as well instead of having to imagine where we go when we move from this room!" Both of us burst out laughing. To think that her flat was a little too far away from ours to even give a proper view. True blue desi that neighbor lady was!

I love watching other folks at the airport, train-station and bus-station. I notice what they are doing and what they are wearing. And these places usually provide such a high turnover of people that there is never a shortage of entertainment. However, I have never done it blatantly (unless of course, I am wearing sun-glasses and cannot be spotted :-P) - I probably couldn't stand the attention that being caught in the act would bestow! And I also draw the line at deliberately looking into other people's homes - that just seems a tad indecent to me.

But yeah, I love people watching too.

* I do know that people from other countries (Asian, mostly) do unabashed people watching too. Maybe it has something to do with a country's culture.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Ponniyin Selvan

As I had said in the post, my interest to read the Ponniyin Selvan series was kindled after my trip to Swamimalai which included visiting the great Chola temples, Gangai Konda Cholapuram and Darasuram. I had said then that I will try to read the series in Tamil. Well, if my wishes were horses, the galloping sounds they would have made would have caused world-wide noise pollution. Given that, my wish largely remained a wish (my abominable Tamil reading skills ensured that)  and I eventually wound up reading the entire series in English.

The verdict? Definitely worth reading. There are five volumes with the fifth part being split into two books. The story is fact woven with fiction. All the principal characters are real flesh and blood people who lived in the 9th century AD. If you are familiar with the towns and cities in the Kumbakonam-Thanjavur region, you will surely get goosebumps when you read some of the place-names in the book - those towns have been in existence for more than a thousand years now!

The series has several passages which describe the beauty of the Chola country. You can see the lush green fields, the beautiful river Cauvery and its tributaries, the abundant stone mandapams and grand Siva temples with ardent devotees come to life before your eyes. Those were the places where I sorely missed reading the  book in Tamil. The passages have been translated decently enough in English but quite understandably, they lack the beauty that Tamil would have given them.

The story by itself is quite gripping. Book five especially has a significant event happening in almost every chapter. It was when reading part 5 that I was pretty much deaf to the world and could be spotted carrying my book everywhere. I can imagine how readers would have waited with bated breath for every edition of Kalki magazine back in the 1950s when the story was first published in it as a series! No wonder the circulation of the magazine shot up then.

My favorite character in the entire series is the boat-girl Poonguzhali. What a fiesty and spirited character! She manages to outshine even the "heroes" when featured along side them. What a woman!

Now I have re-embarked on my "read Ponniyin Selvan in Tamil" project. I really think reading the series in Tamil would be totally worth it. Let's see how that plan goes!