Parsley and Thyme

The lost world of typewriters

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In today’s world of malls and online shopping portals, Mr Gopalakrishna is of a rapidly vanishing breed. The owner of Standard Typewriters, one of the few surviving typewriter servicing centers in Bangalore, Mr Gopalakrishna insists that we ‘sit down’ for a chat during each of the visits we make to get our antique Olympia S9 De Luxe typewriter serviced. We have had to drive at the speed of a bullock cart trying to locate this blink-and-miss typewriter service shop located in an old building on the highly congested Hanumanthanagar Main Road.

Mr Gopalakrishna tells us he started repairing typewriters since he was in the 10th standard, during the period when they were in great demand and notes how his profession is now dying. There is no sadness in either of these statements, however – only a matter-of-fact-ness.

Koothkolli saar,” he interjects frequently pointing to the once-white plastic chairs lined up facing him. The chairs resemble oases in this small space filled floor-to-roof with typewriters and their spare parts. Of the three chairs placed in front of him, one seems permanently occupied by a silent (albeit smiling) old man of about sixty, probably the same age as Mr Gopalakrishna himself. I notice that our wisecracks have no effect on him and he is not tempted once to offer his opinion on anything, but just stares alternately at Mr Gopalakrishna and the floor the whole time. He even jumps from the middle chair to the extreme one in response to Mr Gopalakrishna’s first “koothkolli saar”, perhaps to create for us (husband and wife) the comfort of sitting next to each other.

We refuse, conditioned by quick deals and big billion days.

“See those at the top? Ella great condition.” Mr Gopalakrishna says and we look up at the Godrej Primas stacked within their cases on the attic.

“They look really old!” I reply and regret it.

“No no, anyone will buy them. Excellent machines madam avu,” he replies and I detect a tinge of rebuttal.

I want to clarify that I meant to throw a compliment but I don’t realizing that antiquity is exciting only for those with enough disposable income.

Kannada typewriters, Hindi typewriters, typewriters stripped down to their skeletons in various stages of repair, stacks of old round boxes with spare parts all seem to jostle for space and attention as Mr Gopalakrishna puts us at ease promising to bring our Olympia to ‘perfect condition’.

I leave our Westside shopping bag outside on the second (and final) visit.

Mr Gopalakrishna feeds a fresh A4 sheet into the platen and asks us to test the refurbished Olympia. Clackety Clack. Clackety Clack. I type in a few letters, he asks “Typing kalthilva?

Again I resist the immediate answer that pops up in my mind “Does anybody?” and instead reply “No, computer typing gotthu.” Memories of summer vacation typing classes that I disdainfully avoided throughout my childhood waft in the air around us like burnt smells from a neglected kitchen.

In the hour that follows, we indicate being happy with his work and the rarity of finding anyone with a passion such as his. Parallely, we also wonder how to close the deal without being brusque and offending him. But Mr Gopalakrishna is in no hurry. He speaks without a break and of everything except his fees. That he services all possible brands — Remingtons, Underwoods, Brothers, name it. That silk ribbons are better than cotton ribbons. That he is not in it for the money, but only to use his time well. That without his asking a customer once paid him an extra fifty rupees for the spools as he felt he had underpaid him at the original fifty rupees. That if we used a brush and a few drops of kerosene, we could avoid servicing for a long time (I giggle if he should be revealing that fact at all, he ignores me and continues with more anecdotes).

Finally, having refused his “koothkolli saar” offer several times, the husband asks for the price of his service.

“I told you over the phone no saar. Eight hundred rupees,” he says hesitantly. He is openly elated that we make no effort to bargain, and provides us with a ‘gift’ (a wooden cleaning brush) and a few more tips on how to avoid repeated servicing.

As we wait on the street below to get back home, I look up at this first floor shop which seems frozen in time. His silent friend has come out to the balcony for a smoke. I feel triumphant that I may catch his direct gaze finally, but he cleverly averts his eyes in the last available second, cutting us off from his world as if we never existed.

Mr. Gopalakrishna, proprietor of Standard Typewriters

Written by Kanchana

October 20, 2015 at 7:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

I think wherefrom I am

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It all begins with practicality, necessity even.

Mom I want a Barbie doll, the little one pleads as we linger at the toys section of the two-storeyed bookstore. A long-time hater of all things Barbie, I react almost instantly.

No, you can’t have a Barbie!

Why mom? He persists.

Taking a moment to assess his ability to comprehend point-blank logic, I decide to give him the quickest answer. One that I desperately hope will nip the whys I see sprouting all around this stubborn four-year old gene of mine.

You are a boy, that’s why!

Crrrr-ack! A big chunk of ice breaks off from my glacier-like resolve to never create stereotypes in his tender brain, and falls into the melted pool of quick-fixes below. The impact of that statement is as evident on me as it is on him. The little one is silenced for now, but my own torture has just begun. The first emotion I feel is guilt for having used such a pathetic short-cut to curtail his demand. But I convince myself – he’s little, he will forget. Besides, however cautious I may be, somebody else will surely introduce him to gender based stereotypes anyway? Momentarily clobbered, my guilt sullenly retreats to a familiar corner and proceeds to sharpen its claws for an opportunity in the future.

And it arrives soon enough. At playtime a few days later, a little girl, my son’s playmate from the neighbourhood, asks for a spanner from his toy tool-set and a question is immediately fired at me.

Mom, I cannot give her the spanner, no?

Why not? I ask.

Girls cannot play with spanners! He giggles and cups his mouth with soft, pint-sized palms.

Now my son has the ability (as I suspect most children do) of delivering knockout punches at the least expected moments. So while I have no clue how the gender associations took off from where I left them at the bookstore earlier that week, I wonder how a careless statement I made – and promptly forgot all about – has become a tool he will use to make sense of the world around him.

The girl looks at me inquiringly. Their play is paused and the silence is almost intimidating. Suddenly, in my head, their make-believe city morphs into a courtroom. My little one, the accused, is smirking at me from within a plastic dock – building blocks in bright yellow, red and green. The timid-looking girl, uncharacteristically so, has become the prosecutor and I, the judge, with a questionable bias toward the accused, hold the crucial verdict on my tongue. Thankfully for her, I am incorruptible.

What nonsense, girls can play with tools too! I declare.

While it seemed a minute ago that the future of their friendship depended on my statement, the children now sport none of my own seriousness once they have heard me. My son gives a momentary acknowledgement with an emphatic ‘no-oo-ooo’ and resumes playing. Perhaps he is confused that I didn’t stand by my statement at the bookstore, I will never know. The girl is silent, almost nonchalant, and for her sake I desperately hope she has taken my word over his.

I am struck by how my son’s personality is quickly being built upon imperceptible layers of influences from the world he interacts with. Looking at this little incident, I wonder how far into our own childhood can some of our likes, dislikes and deep-seated opinions be traced to.

If “personality”, in essence, is nothing more than a bundle of accumulated influences and learned behaviour, imagine the interesting situations that could arise if we were to eliminate the human ability to be influenced, altogether. Imagine a world where your personality would be immune to the thoughts and influences of others and instead be based on your direct experiences alone. Would it result in more open-minded individuals? Or would it lead to chaos?

As a hypothesis, in this case, since my son wouldn’t have built upon the concept of gender-based toys that I unwittingly introduced earlier, he might have shared the toy spanner with his friend. Which is great. But consider the other possibility. Stripped of the ability to “learn” from experiences that are not directly his own, he might not be able recognize the danger from fire, sharp objects etc. when he is warned, as an example. Or he might not consider my screams of disapproval when I catch him bending over the railings of our third floor stairway, for another. Basic safety issues that give me goose flesh every time I think of them.

On a less serious note, take the language learning process in children – when a child goes “A for apple, B for bat” as early as two years, he doesn’t “understand” why he is being made to do it, or that it is a process involved in building vocabulary. A child learns the basics of language simply by an unquestioning faith and an adherence to the learning process. In the same way he absorbs the basic ideas of society – possession (“That’s not yours, ask for permission!”), role-play (father, mother, teacher etc.) and issues relating to space and gender. Imagine a world where, owing to a loss of being able to extend and apply ideas around us into our own lives, critical cognitive abilities such as perception, reasoning and judgement would become so minimal that they might as well vanish.

But this isn’t to say that we do not possess a certain amount – however miniscule – of our own innate reasoning even when we were less than five years of age. Called the ‘formative’ years, many of the influences we were subjected to in our early childhood were weighed, readjusted or rejected based on our own experiences. For instance, how many of us believed as children that a visit to the doctor would turn out to be pleasant? And don’t we remember being repeatedly convinced by our parents that it would? But no one could convince us that visiting a doctor was essential or pleasurable. Cut across to adult life. If you have ever been wheeled into an operation theatre for surgery, you know you have taught yourself to believe that a roomful of masked strangers with sharp objects is your ticket to get healthy and whole again. Does it not seem ridiculous? So what happened to us along the way? And how the hell did those of us who screamed and kicked as children while being carted to a doctor end up meekly submitting and in some cases even taking the role of our own parents in offering false consolation? So it seems that in some situations such as this one, it is easier to influence adults than children.

Then there are those subtle influences that have held on to us like lifetime hypnotic spells. What is your first thought when you see a fox on TV? How does it change if, for example, you see a goat? If you answered cunning and innocent respectively, blame it on the bedtime stories we were exposed to as children. The fox perennially clever, the goat perennially gullible. Encounters between the two always crafted to ensure that the goat ended up nursing a raw deal. And to subtly aid the cementing of such perception within our brains, phrases like ‘sly old fox’, ‘foxy scheme’, ‘poor goat’, ‘stubborn mule’ etc. are abundant in colloquial language.

Okay being a child is not so gloriously easy afterall. But what about us adults? Don’t we have to struggle with those million opinions creating little pockets of judgement in vacuum every second? And thanks to social networks, as the ease of accessing them grows, the population of capricious individuals too varies in direct proportion. I have had the displeasure of conversing with many more people now than I did five years ago whose opinions on everything from nuclear power plants to parenting – heck even the bath soap they use – are gleaned off social networking sites swarming with self-anointed subject-does-not-matter experts. So while cow-urine therapy starts off as an undiscovered panacea for all afflictions on a Monday morning, by afternoon same day we have a thousand recommendations (courtesy Facebook, Twitter) from friends and foes advocating its greatness. By the end of the week, a bottle of the same on my mother’s medicine shelf is a possibility not to be discarded thanks to an overzealous internet-addict relative or friend. Excluding me, that is.

So is it fair to use quantifiers such as ‘too much’, ‘too little’ or ‘just right’ when it comes to being influenced by external entities? Is it fair to say, for example, “Oh lady so-and-so absolutely lacks originality, all she says or does is borrowed from her Page3 community” or “I respect Mr.X so much for his independent thinking!”? Then if it is impossible to lead a life without imbibing external influences, the consequent battle against settling into a monochromatic world is one that needs to be fought continually. How? Examine minutely your greatest likes, greatest dislikes, deep fears, idiosyncrasies and you will be surprised to see how many of them were not even ‘yours’ when you first sheltered them. Relinquish a few that threaten to make your view of the world that much myopic and feel the freedom I felt when I added a Barbie doll into my shopping list for that week.

Written by Kanchana

November 26, 2012 at 8:07 am

Protected: A Million Colours

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Written by Kanchana

January 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Fiction

Aham Brahmasmi

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Chetu’s introduction to the metaphysical and the possibility of Self-realization has begun quite early. Or should I say rather early. This weekend, his father came up to me with a twinkle in his eyes after having given the little lad his bath.

Father : You know I have introduced Chetu to the concept of the Self. I have told him that at the core, he is God himself.

Mother : Okayy…

Chetu (shouts in the background) : I am God, I am God.

Cut to playtime. Chetu is messing around with his friend Pranav, a sweet little boy of the same age (almost 5).

Chetu : Pranav, you know you are not a human being.

Pranav : Eh?

Chetu : Yeah you are not a human being, you are God. I am also God.

Pranav : Give me your cycle.

Mother : Mmmfmf…

Written by Kanchana

January 2, 2012 at 9:02 am

Posted in Chikoo, Humor, Metaphysical

The Crow and The Pitcher

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I was 8. The second language at school, Hindi, had begun its journey away from my cerebrum, down towards my Achilles heel. I remember going home after struggling through a particularly stressful Hindi exam with my tormentor – the question paper – safely clipped to the exam pad. I also remember explaining, very nonchalantly, to my mother that I had answered only one question from the entire question paper. And then we parted ways – she to the kitchen, and I to my room. In silence. I may have heard a sigh of relief emanating from the kitchen a little later, but I don’t recall clearly. Even if I did, a little information on my preparations for the said Hindi exam is essential before you can conclude on the (seemingly) high coolness quotient of my mother.

I had spent the greater part of the night before the exam, in stentorian memorization of a single question-and-answer pair which I had carefully dissected from the entire syllabus. The pair was from an Aesop fable called ‘The Crow and The Pitcher’. I found the story inexplicably intriguing, and only one answer from the question-and-answer assignment on this story, worth mastering. The exact reason behind this choice remains a mystery to me to this day. It was probably the negligible level of difficulty involved in learning that one answer by rote, or probably the rhythmic sounds I made as I chanted it over and over again in the wee hours of the night. Reasoning swept aside, I firmly ignored all the other question-and-answer pairs which ominously stared at me from my ‘Class Work’ book and decided to stick to just the one which had caught my fancy. By the next morning, my entire family (of 5) was privy to my focus point for the exam :

Q : Kauva kya chahtha tha ? (What did the crow want ?)

A : Kauva paani peena chahtha tha. (The crow wanted to drink water.)

I left for school that morning, pushed out of the house by unseen pairs of hands, some of which had expectantly left their place on the owners’ ears, and the others which had plastered pillows on their owners’ heads to get them through the night. I was a picture of confidence in the exam hall. Until I was handed the question paper. It was panic time. 6 out of 11, and I thought I could get away with 1? Suddenly, all my physiological functions seemed fully autonomous – I was drenched in sweat, tears, whatnot. Gathering the last bit of strength that I had not imagined to find, I scoured the paper. I found my hero nestled somewhere in the middle of the eleven villains and I nervously serenaded him.

‘Kauva paani peena chahtha tha’

The only predictable aspect of the whole episode, of course, was the result of the exam. And for the torture I had inflicted on my khandaan, I spent many years suffering musical renditions of ’Kauva kya chahtha tha?’ in various ragaas. Uggh.

Written by Kanchana

November 15, 2011 at 2:15 am

Living Lives, Seducing Memories

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I have often wondered why certain sensory perceptions from my past have been indelibly (perhaps) inked into this fascinating fertile ground called ‘memory’. And why memories, seemingly involuntarily but ever-accurately, stir-up the exact original feelings that prevailed when the event occurred, irrespective of its time-stamp.

I must explain. Seeing a picture, video or word that says ‘Alps’ or any other remotely connected mountain range brings a deep sense of loneliness in me, even when am I with superlatively interesting company (a.k.a husband). This is where the theory that I put forth in the first paragraph comes into effect. The background behind the making of this particular memory hereby follows.

Jungfraujoch at 11,332ft, the highest point accessible by railway in Europe, is a strip of the Alps mountain range that belongs to Switzerland. On a sincere summer morning, fluid-smooth, pristine white glaciers flow endlessly among the mountains while grand Alpine peaks rise up like freshly sharpened pencils pointing at the blue skies, making the entire surroundings a visual spectacle. I know, I was there. And it was on one such summer morning, almost a decade ago. I rummage through my memory now and recall admiring the vista which seemed to me then, newly exposed as I was to original European art, like one giant Medieval painting. I was on the trip with two colleagues from office, one of whom I barely got along with, and the other, recently married, returned the same feeling with ease as his whole world started and ended at the daintily-colored chubby feet of his lady love. I was single, and the only people who persisted in communicating with me (a.k.a parents) were several thousand miles away. Yes, such sadness can be precipitated in a world that was yet ignorant of mobile telephony.

So while fellow tourists ooh-ed and aah-ed at the ethereal view the summit presented, my eyes kept wandering to a small stone slab embedded within the snow. The slab had the word ‘Delhi’ inscribed on it, along with the distance to Delhi from where we stood on the joch. That there were names and distances to a few other major cities in the world on the same slab, is a point of low significance to this incident and apparently to my memory as well, as the only name I recall from the slab in focus, is ‘Delhi’. My mood ? I was literally on top of the world, but felt utterly lonely.

And interestingly, neither my parents nor anyone I knew at that time, lived in Delhi. Hmmm.

Written by Kanchana

November 3, 2011 at 3:14 am

How to recognize a rock fan

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The past weekend in Bangalore brought out a lot of ants from their holes. Ummm, I here refer to the many “rock” fans heading for the Metallica concert which was, luckily for them or otherwise, not cancelled in Bangalore. The entomological reference, though cliched, has been used because nothing captures more exactly, a picture of these human beings, so scattered in distribution but with such remarkable uniformity of personality, as they stood soaking at different parts of the dampened city, not much unlike an army of ants out to get to a recently-discovered meal.

As the heavy rain threatened to ruthlessly exploit our vulnerable positions within a speeding auto, we devised a little game to keep up our spirits. And we called it how-to-spot-the-next-rock-fan contest. Here is a ready reckoner, because I am not good at anything that goes beyond making lists.

– A rock fan is always male, mostly below 30 years of age. I gather the adherence to gender arises because females do not care to understand all this fuss about head-banging. Of this particular kind.

– A rock fan is as stuck to the look of rebellion on his face, as a Sumo wrestler is to his belt. It is a weapon that works two ways –

1. to intimidate and keep out the “regular” guys

2. to haul and assess their own kind, as the intensity of the rebel look that a rock fan sports on his visage is almost always directly proportional to the faith in the holy metal grail – that highly amplified distortion and exaggerated machismo can restore intelligence in a hopeless world.

– A rock fan never flouts the rule of black. The color of the collar-less t-shirt (nothing else will do) he flaunts on his torso is sacrosanct – it always is black. And certainly, it has to have the name of the band he currently endorses emblazoned unintelligibly across it, the font showing signs of being sucked into a blazing fire.

– A rock fan never smiles. Or he perhaps doesn’t think the regular, dumb world needs that kind of loving.

– When all the above are true, a rock fan rarely walks alone. His brothers-in-arms are always by his side, walking along with such a focused intensity on their faces that would put Donald Trump in a tremble.

The list is far from being complete and I hope to add to it when I have mustered enough courage to actually meet up with one of the species being described. If he agrees first, that is.

Written by Kanchana

November 2, 2011 at 7:48 am

Posted in General Nonsense

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