Category Archives: Series

To all the Divya Ks out there – Part IV

As you can tell from the title of this post, I’ve written on this subject — i.e. the infuriating commonness of my name — several times. In fact, it was one of the first subjects I wrote about on this blog, given my glee over grabbing the domain name divyakumar.com out of the clutches of the many other Divya Kumars out there.

It’s been a while now since I wrote about it last, but nothing’s changed in the interim. I still regularly get emails meant for all those other Divya Ks. One of the most annoying instances was when I received a flood of resumes from a bunch of desperate job seekers. Obviously one of the Divya Ks was recruiting freshers and, as always, there had been an email address mix up. Or had there? In this instance, I began to suspect that she’d given the wrong address on purpose to the least promising/most aggravating candidates. Because, from what I could tell, none of these kids could spell or construct a grammatical sentence. And at least a couple had some form of severe short term memory loss, since they just kept sending me their CVs again and again in spite of my repeatedly telling them they’d got the address wrong…

It’s amazing what insights I’ve gotten into the lives of all these Divyas over the years, though. Bank and credit card statements (so much for secure online banking right, Divya Kapoor?), flight booking details, phone bills (that Divya Khanna sure has been talking up a storm)… these, of course, I’ve written about before. What’s new is the peeks I’ve been getting into their online shopping habits recently. With the internet shopping boom that’s happening in India, I now regularly receive emails from various online stores about all these goodies they’ll be shipping to ‘me’ soon — saris, electronics, books, you name it. It’s kinda fun… for a little while, I live vicariously through the Divya Ks out there, getting that virtual retail therapy rush without actually burning a hole in the credit card (though I can’t say I like Divya K. Sharma’s taste in clothes much. Not all that glitters needs to be on your sari, m’dear).

But recently, I got some emails that were less fun. Actually, with each one that arrived, I started getting increasingly jittery. You see, for the first time, I was feeling the pain of a fellow Divya K parent. Her child, it appears, studies at this institution that emails parents their child’s grades at the end of the term. Clearly, parents’ email ids is not the only thing that this school was screwing up on, because, let me tell you, the report cards weren’t pretty. Subject after subject was marked ‘FAIL’ in bold red. By the time the third email arrived, with the child’s language scores, I was a nervous wreck, and found myself desperately hoping it wasn’t another big, fat F. Thankfully, the child had – just barely – passed English and Hindi, so I could breathe again.

As I get older, I’m getting more philosophical about this whole having a common-as-heck name thing. After all, it gives me a glimpse into these women’s lives, and I realise we share a whole lot more than our names. We share the stresses of parenthood, we share the joys of shopping and troubles on the job too. So, to all the Divya Ks out there… I salute you. We’ll make through. And to the Divya K whose son is flunking so dreadfully… hang in there. And maybe look for another school?

***

This was written for the “Power of names” weekly writing challenge over on Daily Post.

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To all the Divya K(umar)s out there (Part III): The Downfall

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. It was, as I said on my Facebook wall — rather theatrically, I admit, but dammit, I’m allowed! — only a matter of time. Yes, gentle readers of my blog, the sheer infuriating common-ness of my name has finally collided with my career. No, it isn’t another reporter at the MetroPlus or the Hindu writing with the same byline — that would be bad enough. No, there’s now a young lady who’s joined NDTV-Hindu, the new Chennai TV channel (a joint venture between the Hindu and NDTV), and her name is — naturally — Divya Kumar. Why is this such a big deal, you might be asking yourself. There are many people out there with the same name, working in the same field. What’s all the drama about?

Well, it’s like this. See, this young lady (a perfectly nice and harmless person, I’m sure) does interviews with Chennai-based artistes on this channel. With musicians, etc. The sort of thing I might do myself. In fact, given the nature of the relationship between our paper and the channel, I’ve actually done an interview on NDTV Hindu once myself. A lot of my stories are featured as part of the MetroPlus Show that plays on Saturdays. So you couldn’t really blame anyone who doesn’t know what I look like and has only ever seen my byline for MISTAKING HER FOR ME.

After years and years of the nuisance of getting the wrong emails, those meant for all those thousands of other Divya Kumars or Divya Ks — their bank statements, avowals of love from their significant others, etc. — I will now have people putting the wrong face to my name. And the wrong voice. And the wrong body… you get the drift. I feel like I’m in some bizarre remake of The Body Snatchers.

Now those of you who’ve read my earlier pieces on the subject know the commonness of my name has long been a sore spot for me. So naturally I ranted and raved to my family and friends (the poor sods) when I first came across this young lady’s interview. But I told myself to put it in perspective. Be rational, I said. It’s not such a big deal. I was finally reaching the point when I could giggle about it (and I only flinched slightly when a colleague pointed out that it could be worse — the Divya Kumar on TV could have been a guy). Then it happened. I got an email from a well-intentioned professional contact saying she’d seen ‘my interview’ with a prominent music personality on the channel and liked it. And all that was left to say was –aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgggghhh!

Because it finally hit me. I knew why this was happening. And it was all the worse because I’d brought it upon myself. It was all that gloating I did after I created this blog earlier this year. I thought I’d won, you see, because I got the domain name, divyakumar.com, snatched from the grasp of all those other Divya Kumars, and suddenly all those searches for the wrong ‘Divya Kumars’ and “Divya Ks’ were landing up on my blog! I thought I’d thumbed my nose at the universe when finally, after years of hanging around at the bottom of the search results list on my name (yes, yes, it’s pathetic, but you do it too) I was suddenly on the first page with my blog. I believe my precise words were ‘Bwahahaha’.

Well, Universe, you win. You get the last laugh. I eat humble pie. Now, just below my blog’s link at the top of the search results for “Divya Kumar” on Google, we have the link to the TV channel’s interview. And that ain’t my face you see. So yes, I give up. I realise now that I can’t fight it. I will always be one of many. But at least my blog still comes first on the results page. I am resigned. To all the Divya Kumars out there — learn from my mistakes. From now on, we follow the path of Zen.

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Kadais (Part II): Thalapakattu Biriyani and Men’s Beauty Parlours

See, I’d planned to do a second piece on theyil kadais in the city (a sorta sequel to this one) but then I came across some irresistible signboards on a couple of other kadais meanwhile, and the series took a bit of a detour. Here goes 🙂

‘Executive Package’. Written in neat white font on a dark blue signboard put up high on a drab, office-type building in Adyar (I don’t what it is about Adyar and awesome signage… first the iconic ‘Hotel Runs’, apparently now an unofficial tourist destination, the safari kadai and now this), the sign reeks of officialdom. Taking in the name and the style of presentation, one immediately assumes, naturally, that this is a corporate courier company of some sort. Like, you know, ‘we deliver your top secretest documents anywhere anytime’ and all that. But one would be dead wrong. Because right below, in the same super serious and businesslike font, are the words ‘Exclusive Men’s Beauty Parlour’.

The ingenuity is remarkable. Think about it. This humble sign is attempting to do the impossible — appeal to both your average stick-in-the-mud executive and your with-it metrosexual at the same time. The businesslike title and signage should reassure the middle-aged executive who wouldn’t, for instance, be caught dead going into one of those super stylish, house-music-pumping, unisex salons frequented by ‘The Youth’ (with the images of scarily hip-looking men and women with spiky purple hair out front). At the same time, the discrete ‘Men’s Beauty Parlour’ at the bottom should effectively draw in the blossoming middle-class metrosexual who believes unabashedly in the notion of male beauty and therefore in visiting its Mecca, the male beauty parlour, facials, foot scrubs and all.

This is a place, one feels, where sufficiently serious-minded young men in neat tailored trousers and full-sleeved white shirts (with starched collars, of course) will give you fabulous manicures with business-like efficiency, where a tea boy will serve you hot tea/kaapi with Marie biscuits as you wait and you have plenty of peons to sweep up or wash your hair rapidly before styling. It’s truly a breakthrough in marketing the concept of the ‘male beauty parlour’ to the fuddy-duddy crowd.

Ingenious kadai no. 2 is a biriyani place I passed by on ECR the other day. At first glance, its sign looked much the same as that of any other Thalapakattu Biriyani joint in the city, except that it seemed a little more crowded (hardly enough space for the customary headgear (thalapakattu) drawing). That’s when I realised this is a two-for-one sign, with the bottom half — in bold orange– proclaiming proudly that this is also ‘Gayathri Travels’.

Of course, I immediately began to imagine a neatly dressed travel agent in glasses sitting behind a computer, politely making bookings for a three-day package to Singapore (“There is one beginning on June 16… shall I pencil you in? I can get you an excellent deal”), flanked on either side by huge, steaming biryani pots being stirred by big, sweaty men in lungis and baniyans (handle bar mustaches are optional). This is one travel agent’s office where delays are no issue; you can just shovel in freshly made biriyani as you wait.

This delicious picture was mildly ruined by my husband informing me that this isn’t that sort of travels place, but merely a sort of glorified bus depot with benefits. As in, you can purchase tickets for various tour bus companies here, and their buses stop here, so you can hop on. Apparently, it’s pretty common too.

But I’m struck, once again, by the terrific multi-tasking abilities of our kutti roadside kadais. Hungry travellers hopping off after a tiring ride can tuck into the hot-n-spicy confections and families with a 13-hour ride ahead can pack some up for the road. And of course, the biriyani will keep you going during the inevitable delays…

I mean, does any tour bus stop in London or New York provide you that sort of service? No, you have to trudge to the nearest Starbucks and get fleeced for a cup of coffee and a sandwich.  Just like no Parisian beautician ever thought of ‘Executive Package’ to draw in their shyer male clientèle.

Viva la Chennai, I say!

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To all the Divya Ks out there (Part II)

Those of you who’ve read this earlier entry of mine will know that I’ve had recurrent issues with the number of women (and the occasional man, sigh) with the same name or the same first name-and-initial as I. I get emails from them (when they decide to email themselves deeply private, personal information… without double-checking the email id first). I get email for them, from long-lost friends who’re visiting for just a day and MUST meet them (oops) or from banks that’re convinced I’m Divya Vasudevan K and send me her credit card statement month after month (in HDFC’s defense, they did finally fix it… after my third and most pissy email to them yet). And I’m usually so far down on the Google search results (oh don’t judge me… you all Google your names, you know you do) that I have to enter super specific information and I’m still like five pages down, past results for Bollywood’s sweethearts Divya Kumar Khosla (why couldn’t she just be Divya Khosla? Why?) and Divya Kumar the dancer/actor (nothing personal, I’m sure they’re both lovely people. I’m just a tad bitter), followed by several super-achieving Divya Ks in MIT, Colunbia, et al (it’s really quite impressive how many there are), and then various Divya Ks in IT jobs all over India (how do they tell them apart? Especially in the South, where they all end up being K. Divya? Infosys and TCS alone must have a coupla hundred).

Well (and this is the point of this post… there is one, I swear) it’s all come full circle. And it’s all because of this blog o’ mine :). You see, now, people searching for these other Divya Ks are landing up on my blog. Bwahahahaha. After all these years, having the most common name on earth is paying off. All those times I was the ‘wrong Divya’ and got email meant for someone else and painstakingly wrote back informing them of the error… I’m reaping the rewards, you guys. It’s karma (I’m getting goosebumps). In just the last two weeks alone I’ve had a bunch of cases of searches for “Divya so-and-so MIT” or “Divya Kumar Bollywood” somehow magically leading people to my blog (can you tell I’m slightly addicted to WordPress’ super-fantastic stats and usage info?). AND (this is the big one)… DRUM ROLL… my blog shows up on the first page of Google results for a search on my name!!!! (I think this warrants a rare case of exclamation mark abuse). Go ahead and try it (you know you want to… or not). I’ve quite literally moved up in the virtual world.

So, the moral of the story is… all those of you out there with infuriatingly common names, there is hope. Hang in there. One day, your website too will be rated highly by Google’s PageRank algorithm. And to all the Divya Ks out there… welcome to my blog. (bwahahahaha)

( Note: If there is an unpleasantly gloat-y tone to this entry, please don’t judge the author too harshly. Put it down to years of nominal suffering.)

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Theyil kadais (Part One): Safari suits and such

There’s this little tailor shop in Adyar I pass on my way home from work everyday. It’s very poshly named Executive Men’s Tailor, and the tagline under it reads ‘Specialist in Safari and Suits’.

Now, it’s true that enterprising entrepreneurs in the the city often provide more than one service from little more than a potti kadai. Your neighbourhood Veena Medicals might both sell Cool Drinks from dusty old glass bottles with the requisite brightly coloured straws (you don’t see those venerable bottles as often any more. I miss them. Stupid new-fangled cans and plastic disposables) and be able to procure for you any medication you need, prescriptions be damned (‘I’ll have one packet Gems and one strip of Erithromycin, please’). Even so, a little theyil kadai claiming to be an expert in both organising safaris and stitching suits is something quite out of the ordinary, you’d agree (‘I’ll book you and your family on a Kenyan safari and throw in three lion-watching suits as part of the package’). Impressive.

Of course, it’s a tad more likely that the man is actually claiming to be a specialist in safari suits as well as other, lesser suits. Disappointing, yes, but that got me thinking about that slowly vanishing sartorial staple of the 70s and 80s in India — the safari suit. There was a time when the safari suit was an absolute must-have for the middle-class man of substance — the government official, the businessman, the school principal. Certainly they were a staple of our movie wardrobes. Every man-about-town owned one — I’m certain there’s a yellowing picture of my dad as a dapper 20-something MBA grad wearing one somewhere in the Family Chest of Bad Fashion Decisions (alongside the one of the tiger-print shirts). Every up-and-comer aspired to one.

Usually all in grey (various shades thereof) or in that awful shade of dark brown that was so popular for bell-bottoms, it was the all-body precursor of the cargo shorts (and you kids thought you were the first to come up with the idea that having a gazillion meaningless pockets was somehow cool). It also always had to be worn a couple of sizes too small — if your paunch wasn’t pressing comfortably against the middle button pre-lunch and actively struggling to break free post-lunch, you weren’t wearing it right (in fact, it is said that many a slim and willowy gentleman felt unworthy of the safari suit given his woefully inadequate mid-section. That resulted in the first and only instance in recorded history of the production of faux-paunches by a company in Bombay. They shut down following a lengthy legal battle with Bappi da who claimed the paunches were modeled on his). And finally, the safari suit was meant for longevity — the older and, of course, tighter your safari suit was, the greater its street cred in the halls of the government office you worked in.

Over the years, however, the star of the safari suit has waned. It’s become something of a joke amongst the chic set — it’s uncool, it’s only for the hopelessly fashion-challenged, they cry. But still the safari suit lingers, and not only in photo albums (right beside the bouffants and the long sideburns). In true old-school Indian style (where you never give up on anything, however patently it’s past its sell-by date, e.g. Lata Mangeshkar), a stubborn set of stuck-in-the-70s gentlemen hold on to their safari suits, whipping it out of the mothballs for that fancy family do or that important meeting. And presumably, if and when these valiant suits do give way, the gentlemen drop by to see Executive Men’s Tailor, Specialist in Safari and Suits. Because in other parts of the world, the safari suit may have become an almost-forgotten fad to be fondly remembered and even celebrated; in India, where the past and the present co-exist in (fairly) peaceful togetherness, it lives on proudly, as do the theyil kadais that specialise in them.

(PS: Would love to know the origins of the safari suit — any ideas? Does it have anything whatsoever to do with actual safaris? Did it evolve from the Shikari Shambu suits colonial-types wore while hunting in barbarian lands?)

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To all the Divya Ks out there

Finally making my first post, nearly a year after creating the blog. I’d actually forgotten I’d created it at all and only remembered when wordpress told me my email id had already been used when I tried to register. This either meant that I’d already created a blog on wordpress or that there was some other blogging-inclined Divya K out there with the same email id, which is entirely possible considering the ridiculous frequency with which people mistakenly email me stuff meant for other Divya Ks (oh how many of them there are). HDFC persists in sending me poor Divya Vasudevan K’s bank statements every month, and superciliously informed me that I was imagining things when I tried to tell them about it. I personally make it a point to inform all the Divya Kesavans and Divya Kapoors who email themselves [me] their resumes, air ticket confirmations, office memos, etc. that I’m not them. Always feel very virtuous after I do it too. My little digital act of kindness for the day.

But I digress.

The point is, while it is possible that I’ve actually been somehow sharing my email id with a number of other Divya Ks (timeshare email ids?) because it’s just such a common combination of name and initial that the email provider couldn’t allot it to only one woman (or man, actually, but that’s a rant for another day), it isn’t probable. (I wonder about it on occasion, but since my email inbox has remained fairly unmolested in the four years that I’ve used it, I’ve decided it’s just me being paranoid). So that meant that I had in fact meandered over to wordpress while seized by one of my intermittent ‘I’m-going-to-become-a-blogger!!!’ urges and actually created one. And then *boing* a very, very faint bulbu went off somewhere in my antihistamine-fogged brain (it’s been a bad allergy winter. Any errors on this blog are attributable to Desloratadine until further notice) and I remembered vaguely having created one last March. See, one of my colleagues had very sweetly gifted another colleague a blog (with an apt domain name purchased for a year) for her birthday and that had sparked off one of the intermittent urges, etc.

So. (I’m certain no one is still reading at this point, but I’m going to persevere cos it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to). Here I am, in February of the next year and I’m finally updating. (Please, don’t everybody break into applause at once). This update almost didn’t happen either. I started this morning in a fit of productive cheerfulness (it happens to me rarely, very rarely) and gave it up because I couldn’t think of anything to say. It started feeling like an article I didn’t have a lead sentence for and I gave it up for later. Then I remembered that this is for fun and it’s not in fact an article that needs to live up to any quality standard and all and I just let myself go once I got home at night (I’m sure you’re real glad I did, persevering reader who’s gotten this far.)

Anyhoo. This blog will be updated in future with bits and pieces from articles or additional information on ppl I meet/write about, book/movie recs, random observations about Chennai, etc. in the future. Or not. It depends on whether I actually remember that it exists at all in the future.

ETA: Look ma, no word count limit!! 😀

ETA: Must. stop. obsessively. editing. and. re-editing.

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