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.