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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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Men & Cars: The Beemer Safari

Disclaimer: Writing up this blog post was delayed by the fact that Google informed me that BMW enthusiasts frown upon BMW cars being called Beemers. Apparently only BMW bikes can be called that. The cars, I discovered, are called Bimmers (hee hee. Sorry. But doesn’t BIM-mers have a slightly funny sound to it? No? Just me? Right. Moving along then.) Now, being the good little get-the-facts-right journalist that I am, I promptly changed my title to ‘The Bimmer Safari’, but it just didn’t feel right. So I sat and pondered, browsed Google for more gyan and consulted UrbanDictionary for a bit (now you see why I so rarely get any  writing except for the submit-or-else-your-head-will-roll type done) and came to the conclusion that using ‘Bimmer’ here didn’t make sense. No one I know, and certainly none of the people in the little story chronicled below calls it that. They all call it a Beemer (with a nicely satisfying, long eeee sound), just like most other Indians I know. So ‘Beemer safari’ it became again. But to all BMW enthusiasts who read this blog entry (and I’m certain there’ll be legions of you), let it be duly noted that the mis-naming is deliberate and not just a result of general cluelessness (which you’ll probably find plenty of other evidence of below anyway).

It was a beautiful day for a roadtrip. Or even a mini-roadtrip. Oh alright, it was more like just a nice, long drive. Whatever it was, we had the perfect weather for it, cool and windy, with plump white clouds shrouding the Chennai winter sun just enough for it to be pleasant rather than dismal or gloomy.  It was the sort of weather that made you feel like a heroine in a Yash Chopra movie, what with the soft-focus lighting and the gentle wind teasing your hair and making your dupatta stream behind you just so (later there was rain, but not to worry, dear readers, there were no sultry dances in see-through saris. We stayed indoors and ate hot kebabs and drank hot coffee. So much more comfortable, don’t you think?).

The final destination of the trip doesn’t matter for the purposes of this story (if you’re dying of curiosity, I’ll just have to feed you the clichéd ol’ it’s not the destination but the journey that counts blah blah quote). What is of significance is the fact that we — two yuppie couples — found ourselves at the massive Mahindra World City development at Chengalpet in the suburbs of Chennai on this gorgeous morning. And there, in the middle of that quiet 1550 acre property with large corporate and residential buildings laid out across wide-open grassy spaces, the two men in the car had something close to a religious experience.

Now, I’m not generally one for gender stereotyping. God knows I’m not your typical girly-girl (I own precisely four pairs of shoes and hate shopping. Yes, really), and I know enough people of both sexes who defy gender norms not to put much store in it at all. However, even I had to admit that our reactions to what happened next on that particular day were quite ridiculously stereotypical. A crappy TV show like According to Jim couldn’t have done it better.

Girl 1 (Me): [Typically clueless] “Why are we stopping here?”

Girl 2 : [Exaggerated eye roll] “Oh god.”

Guy 1 (the husband, henceforth known as TH) and Guy 2 (the other husband, henceforth known as TOH): [In a state of breathless excitement] “Oh. My. God.”

Me : “What??”

Girl 2: [Sighs] “It’s the BMW office. We’re going to be here a while.”

Me: [Still confused] “But there’s nothing there. No showroom or anything.”

A gasp from the front seat. “It’s only the mothership,” said TH in a pained, trying-to-be-patient voice.

“But…” I started.

And then it happened. TOH, who’d been inching the car forward till its little grey nose was virtually touching the wire-mesh fence surrounding the office (sorry, Mothership) building and its grassy grounds, gasped again. “Look!

“Oh man, a car!”

“A test drive car!”

“They must be doing a test drive!”

“With that car!”

“Oh man!”

I turned to the only other person in the car who had not apparently lost their mind and said, tentatively, “Do you see anything? I don’t see anything. What’re they talking about?”

She sighed again with the been-there done-that air of one who’s been married a lot longer than I, and pointed.  And then I saw. Sort of. In the distance, past the mesh-wire fence, mostly hidden by long, uncut grasses, I got a glimpse of pale-grey metal glinting in the sunlight. I squinted and I could just about make the shape of a car sitting there, apparently sunning itself.

“But it’s not moving,” I said, starting to sound a bit plaintive by now.

“Shhhhh,” TH said, apparently afraid I’d spook the Beemer. “What series is it, can you tell?” (Obviously he’s not talking to me, but I ventured “250?” which earned me a dirty look).

“It doesn’t even have the BMW logo in front,” pointed out Girl 2.

“It doesn’t need to,” said TOH in his pained, trying-to-be-patient voice. “You can tell from the front grill.”

For a few seconds after that, all that could be heard is the odd gusty sigh, as they peered reverently into the distance, not moving or speaking, drinking in the sight of the car sitting still amidst the waving grasses.

“Oh for god’s sake,” snapped Girl 2 suddenly, breaking the silence and making them jump. “It’s like you’re on a bloody Beemer safari.”

The sarcasm, inspired though it was, unfortunately missed its mark completely.

Wide grins spread across the guys’ faces as they turned to each other. “Yeaaaah,” said one. “We’re seeing it in its natural habitat.”

“Yeaaaah,” said the other, grin getting even goofier. “A Beemer in the wild!”

By this point, I was pretty much useless since I was busy fighting off a giggle fit brought on by mental images of the two guys in full safari gear ala Shikari Shambu, training their binoculars intently on the wild Beemer.

But the G2 hadn’t given up. “It’s all dented and stuff. It’s not even new,” said that lone she-ranger of sanity, persevering, trying something, anything that’d get the show back on the road . “Can’t we go now?”

“Oh man. It’s like… like a tiger wounded in battle,” said Shikari Shambu 1, eyes shining. “Yeaaaah, that only makes it even better,” said Shikari Shambu 2.

“Oh, I give up,” huffed G2.

We finally got on with the trip,  but only having promised our intrepid explorers of the wild that they could stop by again on the way back. And then we drove on for… well, about 200 metres. Because we simply had to stop at the the pastry shop G2 and I spotted down the road, its sinful confections beckoning seductively  (we may or may not have turned to each other and squealed “Cake!” as we passed it).

Sitting at the shop and having a moment with my rich chocolate truffle cake (with a blueberry muffin packed to go), I realised something. It was a bit of a Eureka moment, so bear with me with I lay it out to you. You see, what had happened was that the guys had just indulged an urban, automobile version of The Hunt (I suppose the ancient equivalent would have been cavemen scoping out the biggest, furriest woolly mammoth around — they were never actually gonna kill the thing and bring it home for supper now, were they?), and we were just indulging in the modern woman’s version of ‘gathering’ (is it any surprise the two of us were the ones that noticed the cake shop? I mean, if we’d lived a couple of thousand years ago, we’d have found all the berry-bearing bushes like that). All four of us were, I realised, just following our anthropological imperatives, giving into to hunter-gatherer urges programmed into our genes by our cave-dwellin’ ancestors thousands of years ago (yes, that’s right — my genes make me go in search of cake). This wasn’t stereotypical behaviour. This was science, see?

No?

Oh well.  That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Here’s to plenty more hunting and gathering, I say!

Note: A big thank you to Preeti Seshadri (Girl 2) for the awesome ‘Beemer Safari’ idea and to both her and Anant Sood (TOH) for a wonderful day out 🙂

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Highway to Heaven: The Gang of Biker Vadhyars

It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Chennai and we’re in our car, making our way back home after lunch through the sparse traffic. I’m twiddling with the radio dial, he’s making desultory conversation, and both of us are already halfway into our Sunday afternoon nap mode when we suddenly hear a throaty vroom vroom from somewhere behind us. Not good. It’s a sound familiar to any Chennai-ite and usually signals the arrival of one of those greasy-haired, too-tight-jeans-wearing bikers who gets his kicks by flouting road rules to such an extent that auto drivers seem positively staid by comparison. And if there’s one, there’ll be more; they invariably travel in packs.

“Uh-oh,” I begin, “it’s one of those crazy biker gan–”

Before the words have left my mouth, he’s streaked past us in a blur, a flash of pristine white. It takes my somnolent brain a minute to process that there’s something rather different about this biker. It isn’t his attitude; no, he’s loudly signalling his fellow bikers across the three lanes, zipping in and out between vehicles, and being quite as obnoxious as the worst of them. But this one’s hair is pulled back in a tightly-coiled kudmi, not a tendril out of place (I spend a moment admiring the sheer staying power of that knot). And no jeans, tight or otherwise or t-shirt with lewd slogan in sight. No, this guy flies by with his panchakacham flapping briskly in the wind, his poonal streaming devil-may-care somewhere past his left ear and his angavastram bellowing behind him like some sort of weird Tam-Bram version of Batman’s cape.

“Do you see what I see?” I ask the husband falteringly.

Before he can answer, the scene takes on an even more surreal feel. Vadhyar Biker No. 1 has now been joined by two others in equally complete priestly garb (though their kudmi-tying skills aren’t quite on par — definitely some frizz happening with one) and they all three zoom into our field of vision, gesturing, hooting, and generally behaving as if Lalitha Sahasranamam is the last thing on their minds . Dear God, I think. It’s a whole gang of them.

“If you mean the Hell’s Angels of Mylapore, then yes,” he says, sounding as shaken as I feel.

By this point, the Gang of Biker Vadhyars, led by he of the perfect kudmi, have congregated at one point for a U-turn, and when we last see them, are high-fiving each other and laughing fit to fall off their bikes. No religious ceremony will never be the same to me again, I think dazedly, as we continue our journey in stunned silence. The next time I see three vadhyars sitting together at some solemn occasion like a shraddham, I’m not going to be able to get the image of them doing wheelies out of my head. 

Okay, so our society is changing fast. In the US, I once saw a vadhyar arrive at my aunt’s house in jeans and a t-shirt, change into veshti etc. to conduct the poojai in her fireplace and then zoom off again in his Toyota Camry. We got to change with the times, I get it. Take the vadhyar at my friend’s recent engagement, who stayed plugged in to his MP3 player (ear phones dangling stylishly off one ear) the whole time. That I can understand — he’s only human, he needs to listen to music during work, yada yada. We all do it.

But this? Even typing ‘Hell’s Angels’ in the same sentence as ‘vadhyar’ feels faintly blasphemous. And yet, those three were the veritable embodiment of biker ‘tude.  Then a small voice in my head says, why not? Just because a guy’s day job involves piety and prayer doesn’t mean he can’t be a bad-ass biker by night (or in this case, by afternoon). We all need a way to unwind. Yoga or meditation seem a little more apt, perhaps, but hey, who am I to judge? Maybe guys with a direct line to God are the only ones who should to be zipping around at those speeds on our roads anyway.

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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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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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