Friday, September 25, 2015

On Hold

I have an ancient Nokia. The kind that people take one look at and struggle to maintain a polite facial expression. But I can sense they're rolling their eyes on some level. The thing is- I refuse to update my phone because I dislike talking on it. I stare at it when it rings, wondering who could be so foolish.

It has a lot to do with not being a people person. There have been instances when I haven't answered the doorbell. I'd creep up to the door but stop a few feet away. Maneuvering myself onto the sofa, I'd balance precariously on its edge, bending over to look through the peep-hole, all so that the mystery person outside wouldn't see my shadow beneath the door. They don't go away if they see it. Take it from me. They keep ringing and ringing. Then you have to open the door and pretend you were sleeping or taking a bath. Eesh.

Comparatively, the phone is way better. It does not put my limbs at risk. But that's where the advantage ends. You see, each person has their own phone personality, which, like real personalities, either gels with your own or abrades it.

Some people are comfy with long stretches of silence. Others have panic attacks if you're both silent for 2 seconds. They either start blabbering (What did you eat for lunch?) or find something urgent has come up that they have to get to. Some people don't really want you to talk at all. Just listen. If you're lucky, you'll get in the initial syllable of every word before being steam-rolled. At first, you naively gather your own opinions on each topic as it whooshes by, but then it becomes too much to remember, so you drop it all.

There are times when this leads to an ego war. It's subtle, usually. It happens when a perfectly nice person is pushed beyond their limits. So when you interrupt the other person after 20 continuous sentences with one of your own and they still don't stop- and you've just had it and you keep going on too. Essentially, you're both talking at the same time. Even as it happens, you stubbornly continue, thinking the other person will have to stop, until, finally, you both do. Then you have to back-track and catch up.

I especially dislike the end of the call. All conversations lead naturally to an ending that both participants can sense. It's when you paste on a smile and start dragging words: "Aaaaall riiiight then" or "Sooooooo, whaaaaaaat else?" Within seconds, y'all are done. But rarely do people let it happen so naturally. There's the awkward 'hang'er, who suddenly decides he's had enough and says, "Ok then, bye" and hangs up, leaving your brain mid-thought. Even worse are those who have a whole litany for that end of the call moment. "Ok, see you, take care, have a nice day, good evening, ta ta, bye-bye." You can't get a word in edge-wise. If you try responding to all of those platitudes, they'll hang-up when you're halfway through. Then there's the 'bye-haters'. They'll say 'ok' and that's it. You'll be clutching the phone, and after a second's hesitation say 'hello?' only to hear the line beep out its death song. With people like that, I'm always afraid to say 'ok' in the middle of the conversation, even to agree with them. I go 'mmm-hmm'.

Picking up a call, surviving it and its subsequent end- the process is just the tip of the iceberg for me. Sometimes, the content adds insult to injury. The ones that really baffle me are those who account for every second when they relate an event. Every damn second. You know when you tune out and start dreaming, saying uh-huh every few seconds? You laugh when they laugh. You curse when they curse.... One good thing about phone calls? You get to hang up. Ok.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Keeping Count...

The Kolli hill range is a beautiful place this time of the year.  As the car wound its way up 70 sharp hair pin bends, I smiled at my mother in appreciation. Great idea, mom! I knew I had been maneuvered into a temple trip where my parents would, once again, stand in front of an idol and lament my single status, but when the weather is this good and the greenery this rich, some things are bearable. Or was it?

When my mom broke no less then 9 coconuts and arranged the 18 half shells on a banana leaf, she avoided eye contact. When she asked me to pour ghee in to the shells and dip wicks in each one, my hand trembled a bit. I guessed what was coming. So, the idea is that all 18 wicks should be lit and burn strong for the ritual to progress to phase 2.

Sitting on the ground in the open courtyard of a temple, with nice strong gusts of wind blowing in every direction and trying to keep 18 wicks lit - this is the definition of torture. At first, people looked my way when I started going ow, ow, ow as each matchstick burned its way to my fingers yet the wicks remained stubbornly unlit. Then a kind soul took pity on me and lent me a spare candle. That worked, even though each burning wick had a life span of about 2 seconds. Mind benumbed, I kept going around and around until finally, for one brief moment all 18 miraculously remained lit. "Prostrate yourself in front of it", people screamed. No problem! I would have done it anyway, in sheer gratitude.

The whole number thing in Hindu religion is a quite amusing. Almost always, odd numbers rule while even numbers are shunted aside in disdain. "Go around the idol 1,3 or 9 times!", "Light up 3,5 or 7 incense sticks!"... It's kinda interesting and led me to think about my own age. 33. A nice multiple of 11. Didn't we all just love the 11 times table in primary school? Hands down, one of the easiest ones. It's also an odd number. So that, with those 9 coconuts and all the odd things, um, odd number things I've been made to do, I figure the heavens are ready to open up and simply shower me with all sorts of goodies. I've been rubbing my hands in glee and looking up in anticipation, but maybe some counting instrument up there is broken. Or as a street-wise Tamilian would say, it's 'repaired'.

That's another amusing thing. Usually, when a foreign language bleeds into the local one, the uneducated section of the population assimilates it easily just by picking it up contextually. Mistakes are rare and always get corrected in time. But even now, when something is broken, many Tamil people say, "Repair aaidichu" when they want to say something is broken. Somehow, somewhere, someone picked up this exact opposite meaning of the word and it spread, without being corrected. The history of language, the etymology of words- it's so very fascinating. For example, take the word 'eavesdrop'- technically, it's a location. It's where the water would drip onto the ground from the eaves of a roof. Perhaps someone stood there and listened in at a nearby window once? Who was it who first made the connection and how did it spread?

Within a span of a few hundred years, there are countless words that have remained the same, yet their meanings have morphed so much that a person from a distant past and one now could have a conversation with words they both know, yet still barely understand each other. It's staggering to think about what a tiny point in time we're occupying, with vast seas of change stretching out on either side. Does all this contemplation make me a wiser person? I don't know. But according to mom, those coconuts will take care of everything. How odd.