A writer’s journey…

The last four weeks have been intense for more reasons than one. So much has changed. Practically overnight, I found myself without an anchor. I flailed around for support where none was forthcoming. But I guess what doesn’t kill you indeed does make you stronger. And it did. I did not rise from my ashes like a phoenix. I struggled. I cried. I’ve needed long conversations, medication, therapy and more to get me back on track. But I survived. I guess my success rate for survival is 100%. And so far so good. But the past month has also been one of introspection. Of what I want and what I don’t. It’s made me think back to the years and months during which I never wrote.

As I mentioned to my therapist a few months ago, it wasn’t a slow, gradual death. It was as if someone had reached over and turned off a tap. And then I died. With every unspoken word, I died a little bit on the inside. And then one day, my soul seemed to have left my body. I still existed. I lived my everyday life. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Dishes. Movies and friends. Everything but what I really wanted to do. Everything but writing.

The block lasted three years. And then the words came back. They came for a reason best left unexplained. But come back, they did. I may not write as much now, but I know it not for lack of words. I know now that I can say what I want without fearing consequences. I have finally learnt to shed the baggage that came along with marriage and relationships. I have finally learnt that who you are on the inside never really changes. And I am ready. I am ready now to stand my ground and declare to the world that this is who I am. I am still anonymous to most people, but I am no longer averse to meeting people who know my name and also my twitter handle. I no longer want to hide behind the veil. Because I have no reason to.

So here I am, wanting to start a new chapter of my life, leaving behind all of the insecurities and worries that have characterised my life for almost 7 years. May the next decade be fulfilling and happy, not just for me as a writer, but also for me as a person.

On the Vanthiyathevan trail – II

Day 2 was far more interesting than we expected it to be. The beautiful Vadavaaru accompanied us much farther than we thought it would. The first stop on Day 2 was the Thillai Nataraja Temple.

Day 2 – Stop 1 – Thillai Nataraja-Sivakama Sundari Temple – Chidambaram

Not that this temple requires much introduction. Purported to be over 1000 years old, this temple was added on over the centuries, with practically every major dynasty contributing its bit to the construction and architectural style. The grandeur of the temple is awe-inspiring, making you want to spend the entire day inside. Although not exactly a part of the Ponniyin Selval trail, this temple is a must-visit, especially since our journey on Vanthiyathevan’s footsteps actually begins only after this.

Day 2 – Stop 2 – Veeranarayana Perumal-Maragathavalli Temple, Kattumannarkoil

This temple dates back to the time before Sundara Chola. Built by Prince Rajaditya just after the construction of the lake, the temple is quaint and quiet, just how temples should be. It is a simple structure, with an even simpler Sannidhi. The Veeranarayana Perumal though, stands at a massive six feet, a sight to behold.

Day 2 – Stop 3 – Amrithaghateshwara-Vidyujothi Nayaki Temple, Melakadambur

When we first thought of the Kadambur palace, we knew there was a temple in the vicinity. However, initial Google searches only showed us a Kadambur somewhere neat Kumbakonam. While we initially put it on our route map, we quickly realised that there had to be another Kadambur somewhere near the Veeranam lake, for our hero reaches the Kadambur palace almost immediately after his meeting Azhwarkadiyan Nambi at the Veeranarayana Perumal temple at Kattumannarkoil. So, we delved a little deeper and came up with this temple. Situated just off the road in the tiny village of Melakadambur not far from Kattumannarkoil. This Shiva temple’s door was partially closed when we got there, making us wonder if there was anyone around. To our relief, we found a priest who was more than happy to see visitors in the place.

This temple is shaped in the form of a chariot and is clearly a predecessor of the 12th Century Darasuram temple that we visited later in the day. Our guess is that this temple was also built around the 10th Century, towards the end of Sundara Chola’s reign.

Day 2 – Stop 4 – Brihadeeshwara-Brihannayaki Temple, Gangaikoda Cholapuram

The journey from Melakadambur to Gangaikonda Cholapuram was the most beautiful I’ve done in recent years. The road runs right next to the Vadavaaru, that meanders through fields, sometimes widening, sometimes narrowing, teasing it by coming closer and then abruptly moving away, only to come back in some time. The almost 15-km stretch is breathtaking, with vast, green paddy fields and little rivulets dotting the landscape. When we got to the highway, we almost regretting having to leave the Vadavaaru behind.

The Brihadeeshwara temple rises out of the emptiness, welcoming you with its majestic presence. Grand, yet feminine, this temple is a smaller replica of the Thanjavur temple. Built by Rajendra Chola in the 11th Century, this temple aspires to be everything Thanjavur is, but with a feminine grace. There isn’t much left to be said about the temple because several annals have been written about it, including Rajendra’s famous letter to his father from the banks of the Ganga, “I want a Thanjavur.” What we found particularly interesting was that excavations have revealed an underground passage from the temple, probably leading up to the ancient palace, whose remains we still see 2 kilometres away.

Day 2 – Stop 5 – Rajendra’s Palace – Maligaimedu

Maligaimedu is exactly two kilometres from the temple. A protected ASI monument, we still see remains of the foundations of one part of what was supposed to have been the palace of Rajendra Chola. There isn’t much to see there, since most artefacts have been shifted to the museum near the temple. We still felt like taking a look and went there. We didn’t regret it, for what can be better than seeing an excavated site?

Day 2- Stop 6 – Airavateshwara-Periya Nayaki Temple, Darasuram

Built in the 12th Century, this temple represents what we can consider the pinnacle of Chola architecture. In the form of a chariot, the temple boasts of several intricate sculptures, and also a musical staircase that’s not protected by a metal cage to prevent damage by people dancing on it. If only we were more conscious about preserving our priceless heritage!

The day ended with us crashing out at Kumbakonam out of sheer exhaustion at having visited so many places on a single day. The next day would be even more interesting, taking us on what I can only describe as a wild goose chase of temples of which we only had a cursory idea.

On the Vanthiyathevan trail – I

There are vacations. And there are vacations. The first kind are those you plan, you book yourself into a nice resort or hotel, you take a train or a flight and you go. The destination is clear. And so is the plan. And then there are other vacations. You have no idea where you want to go. You’re not sure of what you’ll find where you go. You’re not even sure whether you’ll find anything at all when you get there. And these vacations are the most memorable ones you’ll ever take.

I first read Ponniyin Selvan when I was 17. Caught in the limbo between school and college, barely able to read more than two sentences in Tamil, I picked up the book, encouraged by my grandmother first and my father later. Forty-six pages into the book, I was hooked. Never have I been so enamoured by a novel that I have read it time and again, four times at last count and the fifth in progress. After my third reading in five years I decided I wanted to go to all those places mentioned in the book. Irrespective of its historical accuracy, and inspite of myself, I fell in love. In love with Chola history. In love with the brave Vanthiyathevan and the handsome Arulmozhi. Has I been born during those times, I would probably have wanted to marry one of these men.

This love affair with the Cholas continues. Almost two decades have gone past and I’m still enamoured by the men who built such pieces of art as the Thanjavur temple. This dream of visiting the places on the Vanthiyathevan tail is not a new one, nor is it a solitary one. It is a decade-old dream, shared with Sriram. A dream that we’ve spent a decade discussing and refining. A dream that we’ve spent years trying to make a reality. Somewhere in-between, life happened and the dream didn’t quite materialise. Until this year. When we heard of the Kollidam being full and flowing into the sea after many years, we arrived at an unspoken agreement that we would do it this year. Come what may.

We would have wanted to start our trip on the iconic Adi Thirunaal festival, just like the novel does. But bad planning at our end meant that we could leave only a week later. Not that it mattered. The journey was beautiful nonetheless. We set off from Chennai one bright Friday morning. Our timing was good because the sun was merciful almost through our six-day trip, never getting too hot to handle. After breakfast in Pondicherry, we headed out to Cuddalore, the first of our six-day, multi-city road trip. The Vanthiyathevan trail would have to wait until the next day, when we were done with the minor detour that we were planning to take in Cuddalore.

Day 1 – Stop 1 – Thirupathiripuliyur, Padaleeswara-Periya Nayaki temple

Almost inside Cuddalore town, the Padaleeswara temple at Thirupathiripuliyur dates back to the medieval Cholas (Parantaka I) or even earlier to the later Pallavas. There wasn’t much we could photograph inside the temple because it is maintained and run by the HR&CE and photography banned in most places within the precincts of the temple. We went here because it was on the way and it made sense to visit the temple given its antiquity and importance.

Day 1 – Stop 2 – Devanampattinam, St. David Fort

St. David Fort was the centre of British possessions on the Coromandel Coast until the end of Second Carnatic War, when the French destroyed the fort in a bid to seal their victory against the British. This fort is almost on the sea shore and is currently in ruins. There’s not much that remains of the fort today, except a two-storey building that resembles a house more than a fortress. The building was open when we arrived and a bunch of people sitting there invited us to feel free to explore it. One of the guys there lamented that nobody was even visiting the place, leave alone maintain it, except for a few foreigners who seemed to like visiting old, abandoned ruins. A closer observation shows remains of the rampart walls and a tunnel that probably led out into the sea. I wish we had some access to someone who could tell us more about the fort itself and about whether there is any effort being done at conservation at all.

We also planned to visit Porto Novo or Parangipettai where some remains of old Portuguese buildings dating back to the 18th Century are still around. We learnt that these buildings are now government offices and inaccessible to the public. What’s the point in going if you can’t see anything anyway? So, the Porto Novo plan was dropped and we went ahead to Chidambaram that was to be our stopover on Day 1.

We decided to visit the temple only the next morning as Sriram anyway had work in the city then. We were both exhausted and decided to take a quick nap before deciding what to do in the evening. We learnt from the hotel owner that the Veeranam lake was less than ten minutes away.

Day 1 – Stop 3 – Kattumannarkoil, Veeranarayana Eri

Originally known as the Veeranarayana Eri, the name progressively changed to what we know today as the Veeranam lake. This lake supplies fresh water to much of South Chennai via aqueducts that were constructed in the recent past. The lake however, resembles more a natural waterbody than a manmade one. Constructed by the Prince Rajaditya during the reign of Parantaka II, this extends over about 15 square kilometres and supplies water via 74 aqueducts dating back to over 1000 years ago. Each aqueduct is controlled by a shutter mechanism to control the flow of water from the lake. This lake is supplied by the Vadavaaru river, which is a distributary of the Kollidam. The view of the lake brimming over with water was a joy to behold. We could actually hear the sounds of the waves hitting the lake bund, much like the waves on the shores of the Marina.

Day 1 – Stop 4 – Kattumannarkoil, Vadavaaru River

We knew that the Veeranam lake is watered by the Vadavaaru river. We also knew that the Vadavaaru river plays a significant role in the plot of Ponniyin Selvan. So, how could we skip seeing this river? So, we drove about 17 kilometres, past the Kattumannarkoil town to the banks of the Vadavaaru. It was again brimming over. Perhaps this is why we needed to wait so long to realise our dream? To see the rivers full of water?

When we returned to the hotel that evening, little did we know that the Vadavaaru would accompany us much farther than we thought she would. But that’s another story for another day.

Fiction: Becoming whole…

“I want you”, your voice is rough with desire. I look up at you. Your eyes speak a million words. I come closer to you and press my body against yours. I feel your arousal. All I want is to give. To satisfy. To make love to you. It’s been so long. I yearn for the touch. I reach up and touch your forehead. My fingers seek the lines that add character. They caress the cheeks, the lips and the chin. They caress your ear lobes. I stand on my toes and kiss your forehead and then your eyes. My lips and tongue seeks your earlobe. I gently nibble. I hear you draw a sharp breath as you grow harder between my legs. My body grows warmer, as if set on fire by your desire. You let me play. You wait for me to take the initiative, as if testing my resolve that you know I sorely lack.

My lips continue seeking your skin. From your earlobes to your cheeks. Your chin. Your incredibly soft lips. The little dip of your throat just below your Adam’s Apple. I kiss you as if to memorise every inch of your skin. You enjoy every second of my touch, never demanding, never hurrying up. It feels like you’re determined to enjoy tonight to its fullest. I make up my mind. To give you my all. To make love in ways you’ll never forget. I unbutton your shirt, pausing to explore every inch of skin exposed. My tongue seeks to taste every inch of you. My heart wants to give you my all. As I unbuckle your pants, I feel you losing patience. Now I know what it takes to send you over the edge. My mouth and my lips offer the pleasure I know you need. Your hands seek my body, satisfying itself instead with running your fingers through my hair. Minutes later you draw in a sharp breath and stop me. “Please. I want you.” My heart explodes with joy as I give you what you need. As I straddle you, you seek my wetness. You take control as I relinquish mine. I feel you fill me up. I feel you fuse into my soul. I give you my all. I feel your climax build as you stroke me. “I just want to let go” you tell me. I give you my permission and you allow yourself the freedom. That pushes me over the edge as I let go as well. I feel you go over the edge, fulfilling me in a way I’ll never forget. You gather me in your arms and kiss me again. It’s then that I realise it. You complete me. You make me whole.

Thoughts…on love, marriage and honour

So many thoughts crowd the mind that I’m having trouble putting them all down. But I guess there must be catharsis at some point through words and this catharsis has taken far too long to come. So here’s a fair warning. This is going to be a random, perhaps incoherent blogpost. First, about marriage. What is it about that institution that makes it so sacred that everyone and their cousin tries to save it, knowing fully well that those who are actually in it don’t want to be in it any more? Is it social sanction? Or is the attitude that so many others are unhappy in marriages but do nothing about getting out and so why should only these two? Why do we as a society so consciously privilege duty and “being right” over being happy? Why, in the eternal struggle between love and duty, does duty almost always win?

And then there is love. What is it about this emotion that’s so elusive that you spend years, perhaps decades looking for it and never find it? And then one day, when you’ve resigned to destiny and settled into the humdrum of domesticity, to the mundaneness of a loveless marriage, to perhaps to the corporate rat race that all of us run, that it hits you. And you are sucked in. Sucked into a whirlpool of emotions that you can’t quite recognise or handle. And then it is a downward spiral. And before you know it you’re in it. In love. With someone. With life. With something you do. Or perhaps with love itself. And you can’t live without it. Suddenly you realise you can’t live with mundaneness any more. Your 9-5 job, your marriage, your everyday life no longer suffices. That you need more. And perhaps need to lose something critical to gain something even more critical.

Finally there’s honour. There’s this question of what people will say. Of family honour. Of personal reputation. One step out of the line and all this comes into play. Who are these four people who are constantly worried about your life, your love and your activities? Honestly, don’t they have their own lives to live? Why do we constantly try to hold ourselves up to impossible standards set by others?

So many questions that my head feels like it will explode from all the pressure. Why can’t we, as a society just leave others alone to live their lives the way they deem fit? Why?

Travelling solo…

I really missed travelling solo. The world seems to have a problem with solo female travellers. Especially Indian tourists travelling with an entourage. Two aunties asked well-meaning questions on why I’m travelling alone in a space of two hours. Not that it’s any of their business but for some reason, people don’t seem to get it. Some of us actually LIKE travelling alone. We like travelling without an agenda or a plan. We like to decide what we want to do on the fly. We really do like it.

This time took the idea of “deciding on the fly” to a whole new level. My travels are usually planned weeks, if not months ahead of time. Every minute detail, from travel to accommodation to forex is meticulously accounted for and executed to ensure minimum glitches. I’ve been almost obsessed with the need to know literally everything before I set foot out of my house. And it’s worked every time. I’ve usually travelled with zero problems or roadblocks. I believed that this was the only way to do it.

This time was slightly different. I didn’t have time to plan. Except that I wanted to arrive in Singapore a day earlier than needed, I wasn’t quite sure of much else. I wanted a vacation. I needed one. And I knew that Bintan was a good bet. But other than that I literally had no clue what I was going to do.

With four days to the travel, I managed a hotel booking. But I still had no clue how I was going to get there or get back. And then, with one day to go, I booked the ferry. If you think the story is over, you’re mistaken. I checked the time taken from Changi airport to the ferry terminal and for some reason, Google Maps told me it was in Malaysia. That’s when the panic set in. But it was too late to do anything about it. I checked again and still no updates. I was sure I’d booked myself into the wrong ferry from the wrong country and there was nothing I could do. And I did the only thing I could at that point. Took a beauty nap.

I woke up to leave for the airport and shelved the reflection around the ferry and the terminal. It was only when I arrived in Singapore that I checked again and to my relief, the terminal was less than fifteen minutes away from the airport. To cut a long story short, I got my ferry. From the right country and the right terminal. And I also managed to book my return to Singapore. But that’s when it hit me. It’s a simple life truth that lack of time to plan taught me.

Sometimes you may not know where to go and how to get there. You may not even know what the hell you’re doing. That’s ok. It’s ok to not control every minute of your life. It’s ok to not know how to control or direct it. It’s perfectly ok to not know what next. You just need to trust that it will be ok in the end. Otherwise it’s not the end. And yes, while you’re at it, travel more. Travel alone. Reconnect with yourself. Especially if you’re a woman. It’s ok to sit down and have a drink in solitude. It’s ok to do NOTHING in solitude. If you don’t enjoy your company, who else will?

Fiction: Choosing you…

It’s been two weeks since we even spoke to each other. I see you waiting for me even before I turn into the road. My heart skips a beat. I can’t wait to be with you and feel your presence. You’re busy talking to someone as I pull up. You glance sideways and raise your hand, gesturing that you’ll be right there in a minute. I wait. You say bye to the person you’re talking to and get into the car.

Where do you want to go? Home, you tell me. Home? I thought we had dinner plans? Yes, but first go home. I’m puzzled at this sudden change of plans, but I don’t ask much. Ten minutes and we’re home. You get out and walk up, as if on a mission. I still don’t get it. I park and go up as well. You’re already inside by the time I get to the door. I shut the door behind me and call out your name. I realise you’re in the bedroom. I dump my bag on the sofa and go inside. You’re waiting. What? I begin to talk. You pull me into your arms and kiss me. The unexpected act makes me stumble over my words. I return your kiss. Your hands seek my hips. I melt. You hold me to the wall and kiss me again. I’m now a puddle of mush. What happened to you? I look up quizzically.

“Nothing. I needed to show you that I love you. With everything I have. And couldn’t wait for later in the evening. Now we can go for dinner!” I laugh out loud at your words. A part of me finds this exceptionally silly. But mostly, I’m overwhelmed. It’s at this moment that I decide that if I could live my life all over again, I’d still choose you over everything else.

Fiction: Pleasant surprises

The morning is insanely busy. Murphy’s law comes true in almost every possible situation. My alarm fails and I oversleep. I wake up at 8.30 to realise the geyser has malfunctioned and I have no hot water. The milk boils over, forcing me to clean the entire gas stove, thereby wasting even more time. By the time I leave home, I’m already exhausted. I’m just getting to the car as I see his incoming message. “Hey. What’s up?”

Running late. Will ping once I reach office, I tell him. I reach office at a very late 10.30 AM. Almost an hour after my usual time. I’m still catching up on emails and pending work when the phone buzzes. It’s an unknown number. “Sir, we are calling from HDFC bank.” First of all, I’m not sir, I tell the poor guy and hang up. Barely tens minutes later, it buzzes again. This time I’m really irritated. I pick it up with the intention of giving the stupid marketing callers a piece of my mind.

“Good morning! How’s office?” His voice startles me, and then jolts me out of my reverie as I ask. What the fuck are you doing calling from an Indian number? “Uhm…let’s see. I’m standing opposite a building that says, Ganesh Apartments. And the building I’m standing in says, some tech park.”

It dawns on me as he’s talking that he’s standing at the entrance of my office. When the hell did you get here, I ask. “Come down first and meet me. Then you can start the interrogation.” I can hardly believe my ears. He’s actually here. And he didn’t even know where exactly my office was. How? How did he find out? My company has three buildings in the city. How did he know which one I work in?

I literally fly down the stairs to meet him. I haven’t seen him in years and I still struggle to believe that he’s actually here. I get to the main lobby and see him in a white shirt, blue jeans and sunglasses, looking good enough to eat. He sees me and breaks into a breathtaking smile. I slow down as I approach him and hold out a hand, unsure of how to greet him. “Oh come on!! Give me a hug now.” I melt into a big bear hug, reveling in the joy of seeing him again.

Of identity, belonging and other things…

The weekend has been relaxing. But it’s also been a time for introspection and reflection. I’ve been meaning to put my thoughts down in words for two days and failed: partially because I haven’t had the time. But mostly because I’ve struggled to articulate these feelings like never before.

We drove from Chennai to Coonoor via GST Road. And back from Coimbatore to Chennai via the Bangalore highway. And I was struck by how wonderfully connected the state is. I’ve been speaking to someone who works in the remotest parts of the country and on topics like education and health. When he speaks of how remote these places are, how it’s difficult to find transport, communication connectivity or even proper roads, I can’t help but wonder how we fare. This drive through the small towns of Tamil Nadu assures me that we’re definitely better off. Almost 100% mobile connectivity, decent (sometimes excellent) roads, roadside eateries, highway rest areas: everything speaks of levels of development that are impressive. Maybe I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure that the state’s human development indicators are among the best in the country. I even recall seeing government schools with boards speaking of technology enabled, smart classrooms in small towns. Overall, I’m quite convinced that TN is a good place to live.

But beyond these obvious and objective reasons to love this place, there’s something far more emotional. A sense of belonging that I don’t feel when I travel in other parts of the country. I’m kannadiga. At least, that’s how I’ve identified myself all these years. Suddenly, over the course of one long weekend, I find myself wondering if I should reconsider this. I speak Kannada. Some broken thanjavur Marathi as well. And Hindi quite well. Plus English and French fluently. But somehow, with Tamil, I feel an emotional connect that I don’t quite feel with any other language. Except English perhaps. I realise now that Kannada is my language of communication. So is Marathi (for purely functional conversations). To a large extent, Hindi is a language I’d rather not speak unless I have to. It’s not a language I’m comfortable with. It doesn’t come naturally. French is the language of business. But Tamil. Tamil is a different quantity. It makes me cry and laugh. It makes me crave and want. It appeals to the deepest emotions in a way only English has so far. And in a far more earthy, close-to-the-heart kind of way.

I realise that deep inside, my personal identity is inextricably intertwined with Tamil. The language, the culture and its people. I now realise that I’m well on my way to identifying myself as a Tamilian, something I’ve never done till date. And this realisation is important for my growth as a person.

After all, questions of identity aren’t so easily resolved, are they?

Fiction: Reunion…

As the plane taxis down the runway, I find myself suddenly nervous. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We have arrived in Pune. The temperature outside is 28 degrees. Please remain seated until the seatbelt sign is turned off. It is now safe to use your mobile phones.”

At these words, I stop paying attention to the announcements and reach into my handbag for my phone. I dial your number and wait for the ring, a strange nervousness once again surfacing in the pit of my stomach. “The number you are calling is either switched off or not reachable.”

My heart skips a beat. Not reachable? Now what? You’re supposed to come and pick me up at the airport. Now what do I do? I call again, only to hear the same message. I’m increasingly agitated and restless. In the meantime, my co-passengers have begun to get off the plane and I realise I’m one of the last few left on the plane. I grab my bag and get off the plane in a hurry. My mind is racing, unable to concentrate on any one thing at a time. Why is the phone switched off? Will you actually come and pick me up? Or have you changed your mind about this at the last minute? I go past the arrival lounge and towards the baggage carousel, absently trying to locate the correct one. After some struggle, I find it. As I wait impatiently for my suitcase, I can’t help becoming restless again. I keep trying to reach your phone and keep getting the same message.

By the time my baggage arrives, I’m convinced you don’t want to see me ever again and that you’re regretting this. I pick up the suitcase and start walking towards the exit. I scan the crowd for your face. I don’t find you. I slow down, deliberately looking at every face in the crowd. You’re still missing. My mind races. I have three days before my return. Where do I stay? What do I do?

As I reach the exit, my steps slow down to a stop. My heart sinks. I’ve been an idiot. How did I even believe you’d want these three days with me? Why did I come all the way? Tears threaten to flow. I blink them back and force myself to think practically. I could walk back to the Taj counter and book myself a room. Or I could…

My thoughts are interrupted as I feel a warm breath in my hair. I turn around and freeze. It’s you. Looking like a dream. Your smile melts my heart. And for some reason, the tears I’ve held back for so long begin to flow.

“Hey! I’m sorry darling. The traffic was terrible and my phone battery died on me. I’d never have been so late otherwise.” You pull me into your arms as if to reassure me that all will be well. I look up at your confused face and manage a thin smile.

You put your fingers under my chin and lift my head to face you. Slowly, you bring your lips to mine and kiss me deeply. And with that, I forget my fears, my nervousness. I forget the restlessness that so consumed me a few minutes ago. I forget everything because I have all I need. You.