When the last time you celebrated Navratri at home was as a 17-year-old fretting about endless DAV exams and pathetic scores and friends visiting you for birthday, you can be forgiven for forgetting much. Like that you’re not supposed to touch the dolls on the kolu display, that you simply cannot keep leftover sundal in the fridge to eat the next day, and that dolls that you played with as a child haven’t been passed on over to another child but safeguarded by mother for display year after year.

Celebrating Navratri and kolu at home after nine years also shows you how much you haven’t grown as your parents wish you have. You simply can’t draw a rice kolam to save your life, you don’t know how to quickly grate coconut in time for the neivedhiyam, and you still don’t get which direction to give guests vermillion, leave alone understanding why it’s done.

Needless to say, Navratri 2012 has been a re-revelation for yours truly. I suddenly realise that dolls that were ‘recently’ purchased are actually over ten years old. I get to know with sadness that the old Dashavataram set broke, so it’s been replaced with a stone-carved version I had bought at a school trip to Mahabalipuram in class twelve. My two-year-old choppu saaman set (yes, bought two years ago at Vijaya Stores because I wanted it) sits together with the Barbie kitchen set bought in 1995 after a tantrum in Bombay. Wine glasses and toasters share space comfortably with a wooden kudam and a wooden chakki, while my nephew’s battery-operated Ben10 fan cools the chettiyar and topless chettichi (apparently 30 years ago in Calicut, this seemed appropriate – I’ve always maintained Kerala is cool, man). A series of new dolls, representing gods and goddesses I have long forgotten or never knew, adorn the shelves, as my mother takes a deep breath and tries to educate me (and tests me too – we visit a temple and she asks me to identify what the goddess has been decorated as for the day: green face, parrot in hand – Meenakshi! I say with joy, much to her relief). There are battles fought as parents try to come to terms with what my marital home might demand me to know (demand?  they must be nuts to expect anything!), and my desire to appease poor and tired mother, and chipping in with everything ranging from plucking vetthalai from the creeper, sitting next to her and trying to decode and recite the Soundaryalahiri, to obliging with her some of her favourite Carnatic songs.

It’s quiet old Coimbatore, so Navratri isn’t quite the same as in Chennai. With no relatives, visits are restricted to the few neighbours who’ve been here for so long that they can step in and immediately tell which dolls are new this year (no kidding!) As I politely decline to sing in every house with a kolu, I take in the sights and sounds in the display. I’ve only seen two, but one of those gave mom and me plenty of reason to chuckle in amusement. This one had the Dashavataram in any random order, and the lady had decided to throw in any doll she could find in the house that wasn’t broken – or wait, there were a few broken ones too – so much so that we found one decapitated doll with an elephant’s head stuck to his broken neck. Breaking into fits of giggles, I pointed this to my mother silently, but she thought it was some Gajamukha-contraption. I turned out to be right, though – this unfortunate person on display was earlier Parashurama. But the Dashavataram has ten dolls, I told the lady – there are two Krishnas, she said. It was difficult to not cross the amount of good-natured laughing allowed at such occasions.

Otherwise, it’s been three evenings of yummy sundal, sweets, new clothes and special treatment. Add to this the delightful five-year-old nephew who was the only one to notice that the Krishna standing amid the Gopikas has the end of his flute on his cheek, and not his lips. And throw in spells of laughter with the older sister. All of this is, of course, in addition to the delightful rasam Amma makes, the few minutes of sitting on her lap as she calls me chubby (I’m not!), dozing off with the unda mayakkam that accompanies a lunch that doesn’t involve paneer or a tomato-onion-based subzi, dad excitedly discussing his Economist subscription, my career prospects and the Mani Ratnam article on The Hindu – being home has its perks. 

P.S.: Yours truly also turned 26 at the beginning of the month. The number is increasing so quickly I don't even want to get excited about posting about it on the blog! 

And before you know it, so much has happened.

The rains are long gone, and the sun is shining so brightly that you beam in happiness when sunlight filters through your mesh windows into the room and casts its yellow glow on the wall.

The days are hot, humid and you constantly wipe your face as you try to recollect how the sun crept back into your life.

There are mosquitoes swarming the place, reminding you of last year’s Bombay winter that was mosquito-ridden and unexpectedly chilly – for in the last seven years, winter had just meant slightly less intolerable heat.

And then there are surprises. That tell you are special, that will change the way you look at some people, some places, some times of the day. That will leave you sighing in happiness, that will make you wish that unsettling, depressing feeling at the pit of your stomach can get drowned out in the shower. That will leave you a little surer of the future, and at the same time, a little more apprehensive. That will tell you things about yourself that you didn’t know.

And that’s how my September ends. 
It's the stupidest and most random title I have ever given to a post (it's worse than 'Random Ramblings-x' or 'What to name it') but the mind is simply panicking at the inactivity that the blog has seen in the last three months, so yes, whoever is reading this, just deal with it.

What can I say about the last three months? Life's gone through a whirlwind of change, mostly good, but bringing along with it confusion that I'm sure is turning my hair grey. Over the summer, Chennai happened, with yours truly gallivanting through the roads of her favourite city, on cars, buses, bikes and autos. By the beach, eating manga, candy floss, shooting balloons (would you believe it if I said I'd never done it before?) and chasing waves. Singapore happened, with the morning I landed nearly reducing me to tears with the overwhelming feeling of having never left. Of packed days of breakfast at one place, lunch at another, tea elsewhere, dinner somewhere. Cambodia happened, with beautiful temples, heart-wrenching displays of human cruelty, cheap food and lots of coconut water. Coimbatore happened, with lots of cooking and long chats with mom and dad. Dissertation happened, and I was witness to a myriad of mind-boggling views fellow humans hold about womanhood, independence and Indian 'culture'. Meeting old people happened, new, important friends were made. What else could one ask for in a two-month vacation?

Fast forward to the two months I've spent in Mumbai. Back in a hostel after four years, which, I must confess, I enjoy thoroughly (mostly because my hostel is kinda spanking new and has an awesome view and kick-ass breeze). I enjoy it thoroughly despite having to brush sometimes with scalding water in the sink (because of ingenious plumbing), deal with taps running dry a precious 20 minutes before class, sharing one common mirror with 11 girls in a wing, fairly unreliable internet, the neighbour girl who sings all the time, and being shocked that there is a maid who actually comes in to clean the room everyday, and the roommate who, despite this, sweeps and mops the room everyday. I enjoy it, probably because I know this is most likely the last time in my life I'll get to live in a hostel - yes, I might still rent an apartment for myself, but I'm pretty sure that never again in my life can I pay a fixed (down-to-earth cheap) rent for six months in a row and not pay electricity or water bills. It's blissful freedom, it's like my last shot at an innocent, fairly worry-free life. There's so much camaraderie in the wing with people I don't even know. There's so much fun in having people drop in and chat for a few minutes. Or in running one floor up and pestering your friends to give you food, and then ending up spending a whole hour there yapping and laughing or discussing crucial issues of feminism, jackasses on campus to be dealt with and soul-searching-important-to-life decisions. Or lounging about on the sofa on the corridor as long phone conversations go on, walking and feeling the breeze blow the rain on to you, or flipping through the day's papers absentmindedly while on the phone.

It is such a fun time to live through. Despite the many questions of so many types suffocating my thoughts.

More than anything, I'm happy the blog has been revived ;) 

There is something downright magical about listening to Rahman in the red-and-white headphones. Increase volume, close eyes, be transported. Listen to the at-least-five levels of music that is making life surreal. Kannil, kannil, kannil inba kanneerae!

I love my dissertation. It rocks. If over the next few months, due to the sheer volume of work I have to do for it, I begin to crib, do me a favour and point me to this post.

I managed to cook Rasam all by myself today. Choosing the amount of salt, rasam powder, everything. I don’t know how it’ll taste, but I think it looks promising.

There is a weird story stuck in my head, and I don’t know how to get it out in time, before it stops being weird. Why can’t there be a machine that can just transcribe what runs in my head?

The weather here is simply beautiful. A warm, cosy sun. A chill in the air even at 8am. Perfect for hour-long walks, with Amma pointing out children’s parks she used to take me to, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants we ate at.

Chennai is less than a week away. That means my Chennai people, beach, candyfloss, maangai, unbearable heat, Subbaiya bajji, Broken Bridge, Kapali kovil, Pondy Bazaar.

Singapore is three weeks away. That means my Singapore people, my Singapore places, my NTU and my awesome Asian food. And so is Cambodia, a nice swimming pool, centuries-old beauty, happy pizza and Pub Street.  

For the last eight years, there has been one extremely amusing part to every trip back home. Tamil soaps. Old ones from before I left for Singapore or wherever, new ones that had been picked up in between. Ridiculous plots, absolutely unbelievable characters. Women whose sole aim was to ruin another family, with revenge strategies bordering on insanity. Men or women crooning like life was ending in the guise of background music. Grandfather watching these soaps as if his life depended on it.

Each vacation, for the few weeks/days spent at home, I’d watch my grandfather watching Tamil soaps with utmost concentration, keenly getting involved in the drama, going to bed depressed because of the hanging ending to that day’s episode, shedding silent tears, body convulsing, at particularly sentimental dialogues.

This time has been no different, but I wonder if the ridiculousness has gone one notch up. Keeping me particularly in splits has been one that shows at 8.30pm everyday, in which a district collector has been reduced to the job of finding an herb in the forest for his mother-in-law, where he is accosted by a beautiful villager. Let me wind back a little to give you the background. The evening I happened to come across this piece of amazing storytelling, on the show was a snake on a rock beside which the collector – dressed, as he is in the jungle, in a vest and an unbuttoned shirt, complete with a hat, sunglasses and a backpack – happened to pass by. A second later, away from the collector’s eyes, the snake turns into a – erm – beautiful damsel dressed in vintage finery. She begins to sing, the brown-eyed snake-woman, asking if he doesn’t remember her, while he is obviously far away and oblivious to the pining of the snake woman as he randomly walks around looking for some magic herb. The song freezes, and we get to know the history – the collector, 500 years back, was a man of valour who had scrounged the forest for an herb that would cure the king – currently his father-in-law – of his blindness.  In exchange for the herb, though, he had to marry the snake king’s daughter. Of course, the man of valour eventually escaped with the herb and married the blind (now cured) king’s daughter (you guessed it right, his wife in the current janma). And I think you’re getting my drift, the snake princess has returned. For the rate at which this story is progressing, it will be another month before we get to know what happens to the snake princess who has been waiting for 500 years, to the collector’s wife, and whether he manages to find the herb for the mother-in-law. But I have time, so I’ll wait. The same story also has other critters such as a goat that eats an exam answer paper and ‘talks’ aloud that it is keeping the paper safe in its stomach, and a parrot that helps a student copy (you know, Munnabhai/Robot style, except this is more grassroots). So there is enough and more to keep the story going before we have to deal with the key conflict between the snake princess and his wife that the dashing collector will eventually face.

Another comes during the day where a man suffers from a disease sure to kill him, one that gives him terrible headaches. But the blasted man is so concerned about keeping his impending death from his blasted family – I don’t know why, but he thinks that his sudden departure is somehow going to help them cope better with his death than knowing that it’s coming. As such, it’s comical to see him running away from his family every two days, as he tries to keep the splitting headaches a secret. So he ends up fainting by the road, curling up in the temple, hands clutching the head in agony, as the temple bells ring loudly and worsen his headache. And the poor wife, advised by the sad mother, with no knowledge of these horrid changes in their son’s life, tries all tactics ranging from enticing him in the bedroom to taking him to the temple. Of course, all along, the music jumps from happy, optimistic jingles to anguished cries of women or men as the headache story comes up again.

There is also the soap that has been showing for the last five years, I think, but in the seven days I’ve spent at home now, I haven’t seen the lead character in the many glimpses I catch as I move from one room to another carrying my laptop during the power cut. There is the other where, typically K Balachander style, there are women speaking different south Indian languages live under one roof and offer wise quips about the political and bureaucratic scenario in the country. Then there is the other where the step-mother gleefully offers another man money after he rapes her step-daughter and leaves her pregnant with a child she can’t abort because it’s too late.

All of them make the feminist in me cringe. All of them start off happy – you should see the teasers they play before a new soap is about to begin – but it’s at the most five days before all you see is tears and all you hear is the wailing man or woman in the name of background music. I wonder who thinks these soaps bring in good money – and well, actually, how they bring in good money. But most of all, I wonder, just how people watch them day in and day out, when each story goes through the same iteration with the elements just placed at different points: if serial A has a sick man now, B has a woman with an unwanted baby and a man who cheated her; in three months, they’ll both exchange their scenarios, while another new set of problems, such as a money scam, a sudden death, or a lover from the past, will eventually crop up. I guess you forget what happens easily, given how many you watch and how often you watch them… Good for these soap directors. Otherwise the proletariat masses would have woken up to the bourgeois bullshit long ago. 

Somebody decided that studying development would involve a lot of economics. And somebody in my university decided that we would do economics a lot (times) lot. And these somebodies are currently ruining my life and sleep.

I agree I should have studied these earlier, when they were being taught in class and I either vigorously nodded along – they all seemed to make sense then – or was nodding anyway – off to sleep. I agree that it’s four days before semester exams begin and I have no business talking about life or sleep, but you can read whatever I’ve said even through my college days, and life and sleep do not take a back seat ever in my life.

So right now, I am breaking my head over one blessed, Nobel laureate soul named Solow. Tagging along are his brethren Barro, Martin, etc. Somebody decided that they could randomly start off with an equation g(t) = a + byo. Who said that was ok? What is ‘a’? What is ‘b’?! (They thankfully decided to clarify y is income). As if this wasn’t annoying enough, somebody decided to have fun and replace ‘a’ with alpha and ‘b’ with beta – really, what are you trying to pull here?! I know economics isn’t my strength at all, but I am a fairly logical person, but here all I see is a flagrant flouting of any kind of logic.

The other thing that really annoys me is how they quickly ‘assume’ things to ‘simplify.’ Let’s assume that labour productivity is constant. Let’s assume that all savings are invested. To simplify, let’s just divide both sides of the equation by L. I don’t know how it works in your world, but in mine, these aren’t simplifying things. And if you’re simplifying everything, please could you care to explain how these models can, in any tiny part of the world, help us understand the goings on in the economy or be used to predict the path of development most suited to them? Seriously, if you assume labour productivity is constant or that savings are invested, you’re assuming wrong. Get a reality check!

As I struggle to see how anything that any of these intelligent men said makes sense in the larger picture, the sample question paper from last year tells me to stop bothering and simply learn them by hook or by crook (the ‘crook’ method is what’s working now, with random ways of remembering models slowly beginning to be employed). I shamefacedly lament the lack of opportunity to write anything based on general observation or experience. I can’t help but laugh thinking of the plight of the poor professors who have to assess these (well, my) papers and imagine the looks of incredulity they might give at the absolute rubbish they will encounter. Too bad.

All I know is in just about 11 days, all of this will be over, and there will be a two-month break before the next bout begins. Wish me luck as I brace myself to delve deep once again into the world of misplaced letters, incomprehensible graphs and incongruous oversimplifications. 
... are a raucous affair. I decided to blog about it this morning at 6am, when I woke up to a mixed alarm of howling dogs and mosque azaans. I lay in bed, eyes closed but mind completely awake and taking in the sounds of the weird morning and awakening. It was as if the azaans were echoing off each other - for the number of mosques in my locality, it's no surprise - there was not a second when somebody wasn't singing, and all that varied was how loud the azaan was, depending on how far the mosque was from you. In that darkness, the azaans reminded me of when my friend walked around with her iPhone in the breathtakingly beautiful Blue Mosque of Istanbul while I sat shivering in a corner with my eyes taking in the splendour of the mosque at night.

And as if to wake me out of my reverie, the dogs howled some more; it was bloody awful, eerie and was ringing in my ears. At that moment, despite the fairly animal-friendly self I was (even if I'm tempted to run in the other direction or yell back at a barking dog), I wanted to find a stone to throw in the direction of the dogs and have them scatter away in fright.

And as if this wasn't enough, the doorbell rang and made me jump - my roommates were returning after spending a whole night at the library studying.

What else happens? I shouldn't forget the crows that go berserk at some 3 in the morning, cawing away like the morning wasn't going to break. The security guard blowing on the whistle like crazy, and walking around the apartment, beating his sturdy stick on the ground, as if it would be any deterrent to a sulking thief. I'd listen to the man walk around the apartment, tracking the sound as it faded and came back aloud again. Oh yeah, there's also the random something he burns in a little pan every night - to ward off the mosquitoes, apparently - that will make you choke if you happened to open the main door.

There is another man I should talk about. A complete nut case, loudmouthed and rude old man who cleans our building's staircases once a month or so. He is loony enough to think it is alright to ring the bell multiple times in succession at 6 in the morning and yell at us for buckets of water. I have yelled back at him in my broken Hindi, and roommates of mine who are not easily shaken have given them a piece of their minds too, leaving me shocked (and grinning) at their ferocious displays of anger.

It's only a matter of a few weeks. The apartment will soon be history as we move to campus accommodation. I wonder how mornings will dawn there - I anticipate queues for buckets and brushing teeth, and don't look forward to it, because hostel life in Singapore was a breeze that way. But well, it's all part of the big experience package I signed up for when I decided to move back. And what the heck, doing it for five days is going to get you used to it. Yay to hostel life!

And BY THE WAY - the blog is SEVEN years old! Wow. I feel OLD. The blog is OLD. And there are at least five people reading it, I think, so yay again.