She has a lifestyle disorder

An animation of 40K paintings children made about global warming #koat16

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Today, the sun is not yet overhead but she’s already fed up. Fed up of not doing. Fed up of the news in the media. Fed up of the grains she eats. Fed up of the thick smog behind her eyes. Tomorrow is a new day, if she gets through today. It could be that rare burst of volcanic activity–cleaning, eating, planning. Or just the usual; another day of procrastination.

When she thinks of freedom she thinks of white doves flying off from the confines of a hanging metal cage against a black background leaving the tricolour in its wake–yes, like all the independence day imagery out there. Along with her drawing sheets, she has also traced that image onto her brain. However, she didn’t realise then that white doves are not alone in their freedom. There are other birds in the sky. A whole lot of them. True that white doves fly in pure, white, sweeping flocks with no room for discolouration. But there are also birds that don’t fly in flocks. And birds that don’t fly at all. You have to be a white dove to fly with the white doves. Not a parrot. Not an eagle. Not a sparrow. And definitely not a fowl.

She was a fowl. A scraggly one with indiscriminately multi-coloured feathers and no distinguishable feature. She found her own dreams of flying laughable. She lived on a farm, roosting in the bushes behind the tree, capable only of flying onto the fence and perching there undecided. Should she go off into the big bad world not knowing where her next meal will come from? Or should she remain cooing in the calm of her familiar routine?

When had they taught everyone else to deal with the world? She felt like she was looking in on a world with rules that didn’t make any sense. She felt excluded and alien. Logic was a squiggly worm just beyond her reach. How do these other fowls know what to do? How do they go about they mundane business as if it were the most exciting undertaking? Why should she follow rules that didn’t apply to males? Why should she pay taxes for trees to be cut and lakes to foam? Why should she bring eggs into such a world? There were no answers. And the questions were reducing her visibility.

She lives in hope that one fine morning, the smog behind her eyes will lift and she will fly up, up and away to perch on a weightless cloud of clarity. This hope sends her to bed at night but also wakes her up every morning to be just another fowl. On some days, the same hope makes her kick indecision off the fence and make a flight of faith. But on other days hope tells her that the trick is in setting yourself up for success. Hope also says that success is in knowing when to let go. Right under the nose all these suggestions, indecision was slowly eating her up inside, giving her deadly ulcers, a lifestyle disorder.

Like this post? Check out the previous one from the She Series here.

She Cleanses

Summer is mint-lime-cooler time! #happyweekend #summerdrinks #summeriscoming

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She was a hoarder. A hoarder of feelings. Every emotion she felt joined a pile in her heart.

When the heart pile grew too heavy making her heart sink, she compressed them and sent them away to be composted into memories in the minute wrinkles and folds of her brain. She would call on them later with smells, food and music.

She imagined her brain to be an endless landfill capable of infinite tricks. The ultimate resting place where all emotion–vile, virtuous and vain–rolled over each other in deep, companionable sleep. But there are days when these alleyways get clogged by the truckloads of feelings waiting to be dumped. Thankfully, her feelings like her sleep, smell like bedsheets. The fragrance is officially called Linen and Sky.

When the sinews of her brain city get backed up with compressed feeling cubes that smell like designer perfection, some cubes were bound to fall out of the trucks and litter the streets. The delectably fragrant spillage always hypnotised her brain into a dark, brooding mood. And its on days like these that the trucks were rerouted to purgatory to be put away till they could be properly put away.

Down there in the fat cells of her midlands, nothing much happens. Ever. It’s a lot of abandoned cubes sticking out like cacti in the desert sands of time. This purgatory is their hell for now. Behind the backs of calorie-counting cow-worshippers, the hinterland grows lawless and distends accommodating more degenerates. In time, this protruding landmass begins to wobble dangerously.

Each time the belly wobbles, some renegades jump the fence and go hitchhiking across the expanse of her body. It’s not like anyone is watching them. Sometimes in the steep mountains of her arms or thighs, the plateaus of her lower back or along the shore of her ankles, they pitch tent. Wherever they stop and linger, they cause trouble.
Be that as it may, she occasionally comes alive in the torrential rigorousness that rains in sheet after cleansing sheet of wellness from god knows where. Without warning, she begins to wake up early, prioritising exercise and eating healthy. She’s excited about cleanliness, order, art, books, pickling and even talking.
There is a upturn in the air, much like a beach on a bright, summer day in an otherwise cold country. A flurry of activity clears up the brain, reduces the wobbly bulge, balms the aches and calms the mind. When the rain ends, as it must, the cleanse is complete and she is ready for the next onslaught to begin.

Zayne Spends Sunday With The Sun

Hanging with friends in Geoje #koat16

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The sun was shining on his face. Zayne crinkled his eyes shut and wondered what the sun was doing in his room!

“Wait a minute. What’s the sun doing in my room?!” shouted Zayne sitting up in bed!

Yes, it was true. This Sunday morning the Sun had risen in Zayne’s bedroom. Now, too excited to sleep, he jumped out of bed shouting ––Look at that!

The Sun himself was just getting warmed up for the day and his soft rays had filled the room. Zayne’s face glowed slightly in its warmth. He had even forgotten his dreams.

“Be right back, Sun”, hollered Zayne as he rushed to the toilet to brush his teeth. Brush…brush…ooooh, aaaah, eeeeh…brush…brush!

By the time he was done, the Sun had slid up the window and was shining brighter. Zayne smiled up at the Sun and his clean teeth sparkled bright! Sparkle, sparkle, shine, shine.

Zayne looked around his room. “If my teeth are shining bright why isn’t my bed, my table, my toys and my books shining,” he thought as he drank his glass of milk. Glug, glug, glug, glug and…done!

Ah, because it’s not clean! Right away, he made his bed, arranged his table, lined up his toys and dusted his books. Whoosh, squeak, dust, clean.

Sun, who was watching Zayne clean, threw down his rays on the room. And magic! Zayne’s bed, his table, his toys and his books shone and sparkled, just like his teeth. Twinkle, twinkle.

Spotlight #koat16

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“Good work son,” said the Sun! “A job well done!”

“I know how to make my arms and legs shine too,” shouted Zayne as he headed to the bathroom for a shower. Shower…bubble…bubble…shower!

When he got back from his bath, the Sun was bouncing off the white walls of his room ready to make him shine. And shine he did! Bright and Brilliant!

Quickly, Zayne ate his breakfast and settled down for a day in the Sun!

He laid down the rails and the train chugged along happily over the grass green rug. Chug, chug, chug, chug!

By now the Sun was warming his skin with its mid-morning glow.

He played till he grew sleepy. Carefree, he slept with the Sun watching over him. As he slept, he dreamt of colourful rainbows made of marshmallows! Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red.

On waking, he found two birds on his bedstead and a rabbit under the table. “Isn’t that amazing? Will you come and play with me, birdies?” asked Zayne.

The birds chirped in reply and one of them landed on his shoulder. The other sat on the rug among his toys. He shared his lunch with them and they flew around him as he ate all the greens on his plate. Chomp, chomp, yum, yum!

It was now time for Zayne’s nap. He reached out under the table and petted the shy rabbit. “Don’t be shy little rabbit, I’ll be friends with you”, said Zayne! He took the rabbit over to his bed and lay down with it for a nap.

He woke up ready to go out and play. He said to the Sun—”Hey Sun, thanks for coming to my room today. I am going out to play with my friends now, would you like to come with me?”

“Yes of course, I love watching kids like you play”, said the sun and took Zayne’s arm to go outside.

Zayne played all evening as the Sun continued his journey down the sky. When it was time for the sun to go home, Zayne shouted, “Bye Sun! See you tomorrow!

And the sun shouted right back, “Bye son! See you tomorrow!

Zayne came home, took a bath and ate a hearty dinner, all the while thinking of his new friend, the Sun. Before he went to bed that night, he looked up at the sky to see the beautiful night sky lit up with the moon and the stars.

And when he fell asleep, he dreamt of all the fun he would have with the Sun tomorrow!

 

They Fought For Her

She opened her book and held up her pen. Everyone around her was very proud of her. The table and chair, held hands. Clearly, holding up the writer and her book were crucial to her success. The bottle of water on the table smiled in clear blue. Without me, she wouldn’t be. The half cup of black coffee was furious. You may be a requirement but I am her drink of choice. Two books that were lazing on the table laughed in unison. Together we take her into worlds none of you could ever see. The notebook she wrote in cleared its throat. She shares all her thoughts with me, I am her ultimate confidante. Not without me, the pen butted in. I am the one who turns her thoughts into words for you to store. The multi-coloured pots on the widow sill congratulated the plants that grew in them. We are nature, together our 14 leaves provide the greenery that inspires her. Even the fan in the room gloated over its air circulation skills that kept her at ease.

Oblivious to the commotion in her room, she sat staring. Her gaze drifted focusing on nothing. Her thoughts were far away from here. They were nowhere. She was thinking of two people who did not exist. She wanted them to have a fight. What would they say? To know that she had to know what kind of people they were. Were they passive aggressive, hiding behind sarcasm and striking with sharp words that hurt? Were they short-tempered screamers who enjoyed a shouting match? Were they silent bearers of insults, avoiding a showdown at all costs? She didn’t know. And she couldn’t force it out of herself. Because it didn’t exist. It had to come to her. And for that she had to think of the kind of holidays they took, their most painful experience, their friends in college, their temperament at work. She imagined this to be the feeling of bearing a child to term. An impatience tempered with humility at the beautiful wonders your body was capable of. Building an entire human from scratch.

She forgot to blink. She forgot her hot drink. The generous fan and the dutiful table and chair were summarily dismissed. The books on the table slipped away too. Though brightly coloured, the plants faded from memory.

Many goas at the municipal market #goaweekend #wallart #life

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Now she was in a beautiful, old city, walking beside them, egging them on to fight. And there, in the middle of a crowded foreign bazaar of curios they blossomed into the most colourful of abuses. Once they began, they could not be stopped. They didn’t care where they were. They just accused, cursed, ranted and raved. They fought for her. And all she had to do was to jot it down.

She Floated With Fear

I don't get most art. #thereisaidit #koat16

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All it took was a knock. It was as if the door was waiting for that knock. Anyone who knocked at that exact moment would have been let in. Waltzing in, grand and majestic, was the oppressing feeling of fear. The air in the room grew dense as if sinking to its feet, incapacitated. The carefully cultivated silence wilted in a corner under the dry heat of the ringing in her ear.

She was at the desk, seated on the chair, reading. The chair was the only friend the desk had made. They were very unlike each other but they were inseparable. As they sat with their legs intertwining, basking in the warm smile of the table lamp, they knew that their friendship was central to her reading habit. She always read here, leaning back on the chair, her legs tucked away under the table, careful not to leave footmarks on the white walls beyond.

As fear walked in, she stood up to face it, as if expecting it. But, as if in a spell, her head bowed involuntarily, her courage slipping out through her ears. She felt the heaviness in the air stretch her lips into a frown, force tears out of her eyes and sobs through her lips. It felt like she along with fear were being sealed and dropped into the vast, endless ocean. She was not wet but she could sense the water right outside her window. It was dancing coyly around her window, making friends with her walls. Greenish blue water, light and dense at the same time, rippling all the way to the horizon.

She loved the water, she always had. She was a water baby. But this was different. It had taken her a decade to build this room for herself to sit in. She had saved up money, learned about construction and built it brick by brick. But floating in water, this room was not a buoy, it was her prison. She had no money. She worried about how she would buy things. What would she wear? How would she feed her unborn children? What would she read? Yes, she had built the room with the idea that she would sit in here and read to her heart’s content. Even though she’d never had money, having ground beneath her feet had kept fear at bay.

If she got out of this room now, which direction would she swim in and for how long? And what would happen when she tired?

Gliding down the gurgling spiral of fear, outdoing herself, she had forgotten one tiny detail. The luxury this predicament afforded her. She could reread all her books. She could spend time with fear, get to know it better, appreciate its magnetism. She could watch the ocean all day from her window. Amid the chaos of spiralling, she had not stopped to consider the absurdity of her doubts. Why would she have to feed her unborn children?

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The ocean is a living being that breathes in waves. Eventually, it always heads to a land to entertain the beach bums. And if she were in fact to be consumed by the ocean, wouldn’t that be the end of fear as well?

She opened her eyes and sniffled, recalling all the shed tears and straightening out her mouth. She offered fear some tea and leaned back in her chair to reread her favourite book.

She Laughed Like A Child

She's hopeful #koat16

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She laughed like a child, without inhibition. Her open-mouthed laugh baring teeth and the pink palor of her tongue was endearing. And in that moment, everyone watching her turned believers. They believed that the joy in her laughter was permanent. They believed that life was joyous moments strung together. They believed that sadness was an impossible myth. Everyone who saw her laugh was sure that they were in the exact place they were meant to be. They did not question. They did not complain. They let the pleasant feeling of being sprinkled with stardust wash over them. They surrendered to the transient feeling of contentment.

I found it strange that no one, ever, not even once, had stopped to think what it was like to watch her cry. Well, when I saw her laugh, that was my first thought.

Will remember that #koat16

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She had been like this forever, laughing only in public and crying only in private. But no one had noticed. When the first sob left her lips, she had tried to ignore it. Accounted for it, first under periods, then under stress and finally under L for loser. When the sobs grew louder, loud enough to echo, she trained herself to purse her lips and swallow the sobs. Swallowing a sob is not for amateurs. It made her sad, mad and then more so. And she ended up crying some more. But when all the sobs were eaten and the tears wouldn’t stop, she decided to experiment on how to make things better. Soon, she noticed that decadent food made her cry less. She cooked all the world’s finest food in her kitchen and ate it too. While she ate, she felt great. Her cheeks stayed dry as long as they were full. She felt as if a hole inside her was getting filled. But eat as she may, that hole never filled all the way to the top. Sometimes, she would have to stop eating from not being able to breathe. Another trick to dry her tears was to watch TV. Television sent her flying into an imaginary land where she was forbidden from crying. A world where everyone wore wonderful clothes and no one was ever unhappy.

No one ever saw her cry. She cried alone in her room, standing expressionless in front of her mirror, eating her dinner or cleaning her bathroom. She cried quietly, the only outward indication being the overflow down her cheeks. It was a steady flow of clear liquid, compromising the downward turn of her mouth, falling down the top of her dress, outlining the heave of her breasts and puddling at her feet. When they had puddled a while, they flowed outward, along the natural slope of the room, across her floor and out the door. Though they hesitated momentarily on the stairs, wondering what it would be like for tears to be seen flowing down the street, they cascaded down the stairs, one step at a time like sobs that now did not exist.

No one noticed the tears flowing down the street being joined by other streams of tears. There were many tears like hers but they all sat crying locked up in their own rooms.

Can you imagine a world where all these tears would get together and skip rope? Skip rope till they grew out of breath and all they could keep track of was the rhythm of their skip. When the tears mixed with the nascent sweat on their indoor skins, their heart would beat all over their being. Tears and laughter would step aside for perseverance to pass through every inch of the body, aware only of the muscles shaking off its lethargy. In that moment, everyone watching them would cease to exist and the only truth would be the resilience of their bodies.

The Misogyny Of Your Smartphone

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I am not someone who talks to my smartphone. Wait, I do talk to my smartphone like how I talk to my pressure cooker and sometimes to my books and plants. Analogously. So let me rephrase that. I don’t talk to the virtual assistant on my smartphone. So it had never occurred to me that your smartphone too could be prejudiced against women because arguably it’s more likely to be created by a man.

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Imagine a day when you are shopping online and your virtual assistant says, that dress is totally asking for it!

OR When you mark a parlour appointment in your calendar and it says, please revise this appointment, who will make dinner for your family?

OR When you are chatting with your girl friend and it says, that girl needs to have a baby!

Well, I don’t need another voice in my head and I hope that day never comes.

Have you heard of the frequency illusion or Baader Meinhof Syndrome? It’s when a concept you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere. And like a true student of psychology I think I have that affliction. Since writing my last blogpost on being a woman (though not something I just found out), I’ve read Susan Fowler’s account of misogyny at Uber and now this.

Leah Fessler studies the responses of virtual assistants Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Home to sexual harassment by their users. Some response is positive, some coy and some don’t understand. But they rarely say Stop harassing me!

The writer looks into what makes these bots the way they are. And the study shows the “acceptable standards” of what constitutes sexual violence against women and how technology is perpetuating our deep-seated sexism. There is an opportunity here for technology to save the day. And I sure hope they take it.

Tech companies could help uproot, rather than reinforce, sexist tropes around women’s subservience and indifference to sexual harassment. Imagine if in response to “Suck my dick” or “You’re a slut,” Siri said “Your sexual harassment is unacceptable and I won’t tolerate it. Here’s a link that will help you learn appropriate sexual communication techniques.” What if instead of “I don’t think I can help you with that” as a response to “Can I fuck you?” Cortana said “Absolutely not, and your language sounds like sexual harassment. Here’s a link that will explain how to respectfully ask for consent.”

Read the full article on Quartz:

We tested bots like Siri and Alexa to see who would stand up to sexual harassment

Live And Let Live

When the news of the actress being kidnapped in Kerala first came out, the reactions from the older men in my immediate family was as expected.

One said, it must be staged. They (including the actress) must all be in on it.
The other said, why did she have to travel that late at night, all by herself? What was this “work” that could not wait till tomorrow?
Yet another said, this actress, she is known to be “that type”, no?

On Sunday, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) held an event in solidarity with the assaulted actress. At this event, Mammootty administered the oath to protect our womenfolk and make Kerala safe for women. In his 1995 movie The King, the same Mammootty as Joseph Alex IAS famously delivered the ‘sense, sensibility, sensitivity’ dialogue. The same dialogue that ends with him pulling close his subordinate by her raised hand (Vani Vishwanath‘s character) and saying, I know how to make sure you never raise your hand at another man, but after all you happen to be just a woman. On most days, I would sweep the irony of this under the rug. But not today. In his speech he said, masculinity is not in making a woman surrender, a man’s job is to protect a woman. I would like to say to the world at large, I don’t need your protection. What I need from you is to respect me enough to let me be.

What if it had been me? Would my family have reacted the same way? Maybe not within my earshot. Beyond it they would have said, I told you so. They would blame my mother for how I was brought up. Because clearly they weren’t a part of that. They would have blamed the principal of my school for she showed us how to be independent. They would blame the hip, city college I attended though it was regressive enough to put Victorian morality to shame. They would blame everything. The books I read. The company I keep. The man I married.

Once when I refused to be dropped off to some place and wanted to drive myself there, I was told there is no need to be such a feminist. Every time I leave home to catch the train back to Bangalore I routinely get asked if I have forgotten my dupatta. And every time, I pretend not to have heard to avoid a scene as I leave. When extended family wants me to have a baby, it’s always a boy first and then a girl. I am also the one who needs to have a child “to be tamed”.

I stopped taking buses in Kerala when bus travel became nerve-wracking with abuse. When people breathed down their fake outward morality on me, I stopped interacting with them. When they began polluting the air I breathe with their obsession for perverse sexual violence and their abuse of little girls in icecream parlours and otherwise, I made myself a home far away in the trees. A place where I could think for myself. A place where I could filter the information I receive. In Malayalam we call it kannadachu iruttakkuka, meaning to close your eyes to make it dark. Recently I read something about sociological works arguing that women’s migration from Kerala is not only a strategy to escape patriarchy but to come back with a better means to fight it. From my safe space here I write, mostly to assert my sanity than to change the world.

Rainbow #atdrove15

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In 2015, T & I drove across India over 40 days. We took turns driving, though T drove more because he loves driving. To me, driving is just a chore, something I know to do like cooking dinner. I chose the most exciting terrain to drive like Zoji-La pass in Leh where it was snowing, the expanse of the Agra-Delhi expressway, the Nilgai-studded highway to Kutch and the beautiful Bombay-Pune highway.

We were entering Kargil and daylight was fast depleting. T was driving. From Pathankot, three of our friends had joined us for the trip up to Ladakh. So, in the car we were four women and one man. When we came up to one of the army barricades where we had to prove our identity and the identity of the vehicle we were driving, I, along with my cousin, stepped out. We headed to a tent by the side of the road where a couple of men stood huddled around two officials, all peering at a ledger. The army official, on seeing us, called us out of turn. Madam, are these your vehicles’ documents? Yes. Is there a man with you? Huh? He needs to come to complete this formality. We tried resisting. You mean, you want the man in the car to come and show you the same documents that I am showing you right now because he is a man? Yes madam, we don’t take documents from women especially if there is a man travelling with them. But I also drive this car. That doesn’t matter Madam. This is for your own safety.

End of story. We had reached a no-go situation. My cousin who is Hindi-speaking and more outspoken than me, went at them for while. We were both fuming but there was nothing more we could do if we wanted to enter that army-protected area. We gave in. Well, this is not an inspirational story. As I write this the frustration from that day returns with alarming force. On most days I like my situation in life where I choose how I want to live my life. And then there are days like these.

Everything good that you learn should start from families and in schools. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, teachers and students should know how to live their own life the way they want without dictating how another person should live theirs. Maybe that’s what we need to teach our kids. Respect. For self and others.

I Am A Mountain Person Because I Love A Good Challenge

My attempt not to turn "black"! Worked for exactly 2.5 minutes! #slat

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I have never been excited by the ocean. It could be because it’s always been in my backyard. I could go whenever I wanted though I have few memories from my childhood of being at the beach. There is also the Indian mentality of not getting into the water. Until I visited Unawatuna beach in the south of Sri Lanka and swam in the ocean, going to the beach was always an unnecessarily hot and boring activity. In my family, you went to the beach to “feel the wind”. “Kaatu kollan” best is apparently Kozhikode beach.

I’ve never actively thought about it till now, but I might be a mountain person. Mountains are a challenge. A challenge that me with my abused lungs, asthma and bodyweight find super hard to master. Two years ago a couple of us drove to Yelagiri over the weekend; a tiny hill station 160 kms south east of Bangalore. There we trekked up stone steps for maybe 30 minutes and I was done. Panting and out of breath, my lungs were breathing fire. It felt like someone was pushing down a massive weight on my shoulders. Of course I made excuses for taking breaks including the juvenile one that I was waiting for the other friend who had trouble climbing. We still laugh about that. An hour or so into it, when it grew dark and started raining hard, I was the happiest to return. That must have been a max of 800-1000 metres.

Coconut tree in the sky!

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Walking and swimming aren’t challenging activities to me. I enjoy both and can do them endlessly. Once, in Gokarna, we walked some 17 kms along the beach in a day. We got up early, walked out of our stay and just kept walking. When the sun beat down on us too hard, we got into the water to cool down. When we got hungry, we stopped by one of the many shacks by the beach and had our fill. When there was an opportunity to people gaze, we plonked on the sand and did just that. We beach-hopped from Gokarna to Kudle to Om. We could have kept going if the day was longer.

Though I don’t like to leave the house on a regular day, I would like to believe that I am an outdoorsy person. I love being in nature, sweating it out and being under the cool shade of giant trees among the chatter of birds. It is precisely this romanticism got me hiking in South Korea. And of course Crossfit, the fitness regime that changed my outlook to life. In our 20 days in South Korea, we completed four treks. And I was blown away that I was physically able to do it. And for that I have Crossfit to thank. It’s the trainers there who taught me to push myself. Not to give up when breath becomes laboured. That the human body can take a lot more exertion than we are used to on a regular day. Crossfit taught me that when you think the climb is going to kill you, it’s just your brain messing with you. Keep on going on.

Bukhansan: It’s a fortress on a mountain that serves as the border of Seoul and it’s still heavily guarded. The path is clearly laid out with steps here but you are not allowed to take pictures towards the city. This day hike is best for people who enjoy surveillance.

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Seoraksan: We stayed in a windmill-themed lodge in Sokcho on the foothills of the Seoraksan mountains. We took the easiest trekking route that took us through two waterfalls before climbing up to a viewpoint. Since Seoraksan is to the north, though it was early October, the leaves were turning and it was beautiful. Trekking is a popular activity in South Korea and you will see many senior citizens, mostly older women (called Ajummas), climbing up nimbly in gaggling groups with packets of orange and Soju. The good thing about crowds in Korea is that they don’t litter.

Those hills are called oreums. They were created when Mt. Halla erupted millions of years ago. #koat16

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Hallasan: Located on Jeju island, Hallasan is a dormant volcano. Access to the upper reaches of this mountain is restricted. There are endless steps built onto the cliffside of this mountain and you just keep on climbing. The winds are strong and the scenery is breath taking. You get to see little hills called oreums, made when the Mt. Hallasan erupted millions of years ago. When the mountain plateaus out before the mid-way shelter, we were told that we were the last ones on the property and we had little time to get back down. The downhill was an eerily silent descent broken only once by a toy-sized cargo train from the shelter that offered us a lift!

View form the top #koat16

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Our best climb in South Korea was in the company of one of my old friends from college, Thressy Maxwell. From Busan, we took a bus to Okpo and onward to Gujora beach in Geoje. Late October being off-season, the streets were silent, most services were shut and the atmosphere was perfect. We bought her favourite fried chicken and climbed up a bamboo forest to reach a sort of a tiny fortress with a view of two beaches. We had lunch there, just the three of us, shared stories and found a different path to walk down. I will always remember that place when I think of Thressy and of Korea.

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Looking forward, 2017 intends to be the year I get fitter than I am right now. And one of the big motivators is a secret desire I’ve been nursing since I read Vasudhendra’s Mohanaswamy. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Thank god I have friends who think it’s a good idea and are ready to indulge me. It’s a tall order even for a fit person because of the high altitude and the low temperatures. Not to mention that I have the lung capacity of a week-old balloon. And Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano that takes a week to climb. And as of today I know nothing more about it.

Let’s just say that’s how challenges are born and accepted. There will always be a way to make it happen. There is a story about Vararuchi in Eithihyamala. He and his wife are on the road (deshadanam). When each of their babies are born he asks if they have a mouth. And he asks his wife to abandon them because the gods who gave the child a mouth will also find a way to fend for them.  Africa trip is not till October. I have over six months to prepare. Though I am not religious, my faith is based entirely on the naive belief that the powers that be will not put me in situations I cannot handle.

Mission Jackfruit aka The Chakka Murder of 2017

Jackfruit tree known as plavu

Jackfruit. Chakka in Malayalam. It’s one of the few things left in this world that can bring a smile to my Grandmum Grumpy Face. Gmum where G stands for grumpy, has had enough of this world as she reminds us multiple times a day. But present her with the prospect of a jackfruit-related activity and she perks up like a politician seeing a TV crew.

It was no wonder then that the talk of this hallowed jackfruit began the minute I got home. Never mind that I had bought an exorbitant air ticket at the airport and waited all day to board this late evening flight. Never mind that I got home well past her bed time. And never mind the minor detail that the occasion for this emergency visit was my father being hospitalised. All she could talk about was the jackfruit.

She talked persuasively about the possibility of me looking into the plucking of the said jackfruit. It’s like the art of persuasion was child’s play to her. I don’t know how she does it. She never once asked if I would do it. But in the end I found myself in the mid-morning sun, staring up at the jackfruit tree, armed with a cane pole.

The night before Mission Jackfruit, she hunted down specific aluminum vessels of varying sizes for the much anticipated jackfruit disembowelment proceedings. Meticulous as she is, she had counted the number of fruits on the tree, called plavu in Malayalam. And there were 48. Guess Douglas Adams got the number wrong after all.

When the day of the jackfruit killing dawns, the excitement is palpable. Three of us, minions at her bidding, have emboldened her efforts. We are in a trance. Now she is shooting out commands faster than a machine gun. And now we are running around, willing ourselves to run for cover but involuntarily being efficient. We are mavericks prepping ourselves to go out into the big bad backyard and battle the plavu for a chakka.

For breakfast, Gmum goads us to fuel up with extra doshas and tea. When we reach the scene, we inspect the fruit hanging way above the rest, at least 15 feet above ground. And without further adieu, Mission Jackfruit, also known as the Chakka Murder of 2017 is underway. Being the only person under 65 years of age, I am entrusted with making the chakka kiss the floor. I have three supervisors, each one lower in rank than the next, with varied opinions on the best technique to tackle the situation. And I thank God for the extra shot of patience I took this morning.

Gmum cheers me on from the sidelines with an age old saying, Pennu Thuninjal Brahmanum Thadukkilla meaning when a woman decides to take action even Brahma won’t stop her. The minute I hit the chakka, my crew springs into action, like a school of piranhas, taking it apart and cooking it multiple ways, leaving behind delicious end products, all within the hour. This crew would make a stellar car stealing company selling spare parts.

If Gmum were a superhero, her wand would put both Spiderman and Harry Potter to shame. It collects sticky jackfruit latex called chakka mulanju. It’s primarily used for sealing pickled mango jars and she’s had it as long as I can remember. And if you wish to rain down the wrath of the Gmum on yourself, I dare you to touch this wand.

All parts of the chakka other than the core and the pokey rind are edible as Gmum has demonstrated time and again. She used to even salt and dry the covering of the seed (tholi), and the stringy covering of the flesh (chauni) and fry them as chips. Not one to waste anything, she would also use the inner layers of the rind in avial.

  • Chips: As kids we grew up on endless supplies of chakka chips. I still gawk at the price of little packets of these in stores and imagine Gmum suffering a stroke when I tell her its price. Cut off the ends of the fleshy jackfruit segments so that you are left with similar sized pieces. Now make long slices of equal measurement so that they cook evenly. Fry in hot oil and stir till crispy. Then reduce the flame and add salted water. If the flame is high, the oil could overflow and catch fire. Gmum says “kilum kilum” is the sound chips make when they are done. I doubt we will ever get that sound right. And you can buy chakka chips online now.
  • Moloshyam: Cook the fruit in water with salt, turmeric and chilly powder to taste. When they come together, add a spoon of coconut oil and a sprig of curry leaves. Chakka Moloshyam makes it worth the year-long wait for jackfruit season. This tastes even better when eaten with piping-hot kanji. Variations include adding a paste of coconut and cumin and occasionally shallots.
  • Mezhukkupuratti: Another simple recipe is to crush shallots, whole red chillies and curry leaves and saute them with the fruit.
  • Seeds: Chakkakuru added to both moloshyam and mezhukkupuratti make it yummier. But do expect some music from the rear.
  • Chakka Varatti: If you prefer sweeter things, try chakka varatti which is essentially a jackfruit halwa. Made best with sweet ripened chakka, the flesh is cooked and then ground to a paste. Cook this paste with ghee and melted jaggery on a low flame. Starting with this semi liquid, stir till it darkens, leaves the sides of the vessel and easily forms a ball. Making this sweet is also a good upper arm exercise. This preparation can be stored for a while and be used in chakka adda which is a flat steamed/toasted rice dumpling filled with gooey jackfruit goodness.
  • Pappadam: Grind cooked chakka to a paste along with cumin, pepper and salt. Spread in circles on cloth and dry in the sun. These can be stored and fried as required.

This is all in a day’s work for Gmum. She is more than half a century older than me but she still does more work in a day than I do in an entire week including crossfit. When we were both younger, I remember how she used to work like a horse from four in the morning to ten in the night; in the kitchen, around the house and in the backyard. Now that she is unable to work like that anymore, she has taken to employment generation for her minions. We are currently considering nominating her for the post of employment minister for the nation. She would give Make In India a boost that no one saw coming. If that’s not available we could settle for head of Vigilance or CBI, for such is her skill in triangulating information from seasoned evaders. Watch this space for more on these appointments.