Thursday, November 06, 2008

Interview with Ravi Kuchimanchi of Aid

I recently met with Ravi Kuchimanchi, founder of AID to interview him for KBCS - One World Report. Please find the audio clip below. I know it ends rather abruptly and the audio on my side is pretty distorted. Too bad, I was not involved in the editing...I've been tied up with some health related issues. Nonetheless, the story was broadcast today and you can listen to it here - you have to read the lead first though :-)


Interview with Ravi Kuchimanchi founder of the Association for India's Development (AID)
Ravi Kuchimanchi is the founder of the Association for India's Development, or AID. AID was created to remind overseas Indian communities of the plight the less fortunate and underprivileged face back in their home country and to inspire them to get involved. According to their website, they aim to promote development that is sustainable, equitable and just. AID was founded in 1991 while Kuchimanchi was working on his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Maryland . One World Report’s Arpana Sanjay recently caught up with Kuchimanchi. He was in Seattle to help volunteers at AID’s year-old local chapter raise funds for the upcoming holiday season. Arpana began by asking Kuchimanchi to explain the mission of his group, AID.
Interviewer: Arpana Sanjay
KBCS - OWR Archives

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dried Tears

the grief in my heart
had bubbled forth.
an unstoppable swell
had broken loose
you had caught
the warm wetness
in your palm and
wiped away fears
and the world began
to melt and fade

For each tear that
fell from my eyes
there was another
that fell from your heart
but now my eyes
are all dried up
for each word that falls
from your careless lips
I lose a tear from my heart
which feels like solid rock

time changes everything
everyone changes with time
tears are like dishwater
impure, soiled, like waste
like your broken promises
like my unborn children
all meaningless memories
old passions and desires
that wont let me live
that wont let me die

Aug 2005....a long time back!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I listened to a lot of music as a kid. Probably more than any other kid I knew and a wider variety than most adults as well. I’d look forward to having the house to myself and would be super happy if my parents had to go somewhere without me. With Mom out of the door, there was no limit to how loud the music could get. And we had no neighbors for at least a quarter of a mile. Heaven!! Dancing to the loud music on my terrace when it was raining, the music so loud that nothing could get thru’ no door bells and no phone rings…and getting into trouble with my parents over how ‘careless’ I was! On Dad’s old LP player and tape deck I’d listen to Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival of India (I’ve been looking for a CD), Tchaikovsky…trying to dance like a swan in Swan Lake…imagining myself to be Odette. Reading my dad’s handwritten liner notes in red ink on old yellowing pieces of paper – romantic notions running in my head along with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty…the OST for the Love Story would have me singing the theme song along, it was practice since we’d learnt that song at school. And then there was the Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Clapton, Chapman, even Clayderman….Lalgudi Jayaraman, Ananda Shankar, Chris Isaak, The Beegees, Nirvana, Denver & Smokie, Vivaldi, Lionel Richie, The Who, Chitti Babu, Pink Floyd, MC Hammer, Whitney Houston…on and on and on.

When the bigger louder speakers were off limits, I used a tape recorder in my room…it had a dial that could alter the tempo of the track and I used it for my dance practices. At nights, I’d plug in my headphones and listen till late at night…sometimes dancing in the dark. I was in love…with my music and my world and….you get the drift!

In Mysore I had no source. I went around scrounging in the few music stores looking for something and then spending all my pocket money on tapes. There was this chap called Ravi who had a library and he’d generously make mix tapes for me. Eventually I left sleep Mysore…and in college I discovered ghazals and hindi movie music, techno, the Gypsy Kings, electronica…stuff that kids were listening to in cities much bigger than sleepy Mysore. I started making my own mix tapes….

It was music that connected my now husband and me for the first time…the OST for Top Gun.

And then it just stopped….the music, the dance, everything. The long years in between were so bare…I did not know what happened anymore in the world of music. And now it seems silly that I did not turn to the one thing that always gave me comfort and focus.

But all’s well that ends well. I have found my bliss again. The past 4, 5 years have been so wonderful….because I found my music again. And the past 2 years have been simply awesome…coz now I can share my music with anyone who cares for it!! Who’d have thunk I’d be on radio….certainly not me!!
This is my idea of heaven on earth!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Diwali Memories

By now the firecrackers would have started going off. Irritatingly invasive at 5.00 in the morning, but irresistible at 6.00. Still in pajamas, snacking on chakli, with many summons to go have my head oiled, please bathe, please…pretty please…wear your new reshme langa, eat breakfast and leave the fruit alone, behave yourself…..sigh. I now think I could have put up with any amount of torture for a chance at the loudest, most obnoxious firecrackers.

I was one of the younger kids among nearly 50 plus cousins in my grandfather’s old house. Young, but certainly the boldest. The older cousins who knew what the latest firecrackers in the market were and the price tag they came at always pushed me forward to go ask my grandfather for Pataki-money. After refusing a sufficient number of times, I would relent and then go up to him. Ajja would be sitting on his ancient chair in his office, just off of the large verandah with the red and green floor, reading the newspaper. And I’d demand money. He’d say, “What? More money? To blow up in smoke? I just gave some to your XYZ brother last evening.” Of course, I’d stand my ground and of course I walked away with more than anyone ever could. One time he gave me 800 rupees…this was way back in 1987, when 800 rupees was a LOT of money for a bunch of kids. I now think Ajja thought I was special. I was the only one that refused to be afraid of him, and the only one who fooled around with him.

But my favorite part of Diwali was not the firecrackers, nor the food, nor the snacks and definitely not the endless poojas. It was when the old wrinkled Ayyannar (a priest) came by. The oldest daughters in law of the household would spread out a thick black woolen blanket on the floor of the verandah. The blanket was supposedly ancient, meant to represent the migration of my ancestors from the area near Badami in Karnataka further South. They were fleeing persecution by the invading Bahamani Kingdom that occupied the entire area. The migration supposedly brought a change in trade and the people started rearing livestock instead of farming and trading. This made since they were constantly moving. Hence the Kuruba or shepherding community. Going back to the blanket on the floor of the verandah, ancient heirlooms would then be placed carefully on the blanket. Very old silver, gold, brass, copper jewellery, utensils, implements, weapons…all kinds of interesting things that probably belong in a museum, would be placed. And the most precious of all – a hand made leather bound book. The Ayyannar’s main job was to ensure that records were updated. He’d open the family book, then his own book and make identical entries of all the births and deaths in the family and extended family in both the books. The family book, along with the heirlooms and blanket would go back into a large red and green vault which could only be accessed by Ajja.

Then one year we decided to go be with my Mother’s family. Diwali is not really celebrated in conservative Christian families in South India. My aunt would receive gifts of firecrackers at work which would be saved till Christmas. And when the whole city enjoyed a day off of Christmas day, the Christian families would come out with guns blazing and take revenge on the Diwali noise makers. No amount of pleading would get us firecrackers for Diwali!! And so Diwali was simply no fun with my other family!

Then there was that one Diwali that we spent in Mysore on the roof top of some friends, a bonfire, plenty of beer that I pour charmingly for guests, but could not drink because I was only 13 or 14. I got distracted by the bhoo-chakra and I forgot I had a lit pencil in my hand. I burnt my fingers for the first time that night.

I can never forget the first Diwali I spent alone in Chennai. I would ride through the neighborhoods at night just to see the oil lamps. I still feel tight in my chest when I think of that time. The loneliness the fireworks created in me was dispelled only by shutting it out with Chris Isaak on my walkman.

I remember that first Diwali I spent in Bangalore, watching my neighbor from my balcony as he lit fireworks. He eventually ran up my stairs and dragged me down and I gave in to the addictive smell of gunpowder and lit up a rocket after years. And then a few years later, this same neighbor and I were celebrating Diwali again. Only this time, we went to Hosur where we bought a big sack full of firecrackers. I made a fresh rangoli every night at our door and decorated it with oil lamps. I made all kinds of snacks and sweets. Our friends were our family at that time and most of them were away celebrating with their families in different towns. But they cut short their vacation to be with us…and we lit most of those fireworks a day after Diwali.

It’s impossible to recreate the innocence or joy of the days gone by. As I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown more aware that things are never going to be the same. Traditions are diluted to a mere formality. It’s now left to me to carry the memories and carry on my own brand of traditions. I am all grown up I guess…but I still miss the fireworks!

Diwali 2008
6.00 am

Jars of Memories

Your smile warmed
the cold forgotten attic
where, sealed within an old
nameless earthen jar
I slept, with
untainted dreams and
innocent affections

At your touch the old pot
crumbled, I came alive
spilling soft kisses
rare and precious
fragments of passion
transposed into images
of euphoric bliss

I reached out to you
but you were gone
without a trace, gone
but in your place
there stood a mirror
on which was scribbled
this unfinished poem

January 2006

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I remember

I remember
the first time
you held me
with eyes
brown, deep

I remember
that first time
you held me
the fragrance of
love that bloomed
at your throat

After all this time
I still remember
the first time
you loved me
the first time
you killed me

Oct 2007
I let everything sit around for about a year....what can I say! :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thank God for Bumps and Bolts

Yesterday I bumped my head
so hard, I thought it bled
I sat down rubbing a promising bulge
grimacing, griping, cursing
For good reason I thought of you
Striking and as sharp as the blow
If you were here, now, at this instant,
you would have cooed and soothed,
fretting and clucking, your tears
would have drenched my wound
attempting to wash away the pain
while I sniff at the throb, in vain
trying to childishly seem old(er)
you would have tried to comfort
silently, quietly, in your own strong way
and I would have brushed aside
your fingers, your concern, your love
callously, annoyed with myself
ashamed to be hurting
embarrassed to be weak
so self consumed would I be
that I would not have noticed
your eyes smarting
or your lip trembling
your fingers curling
or your head turning
Serves me right that yesterday
when I bumped my head
you were not there
that you might be spared from
my wrath, my shame, my impatience
I wipe away tears of regret
remembering not to be
as I am prone to be when…
someday I bump my head again
and you rush to comfort me
I now understand Ma
My folly, your patience
My ways and your ways
I pray that someday,
they will be the same
your way and mine

28 Sep 2007
Seattle - after an accident at the Ikea

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lost & Found!

I am bursting with excitement!! I just had a long long conversation with my best friend from my PU college days...and its been nearly 12 years since I last spoke with her, saw her or heard anything about her.

My heart is so full!! Its nice to know that you are remembered fondly. That you are not the only one who remembers people or events. And that there is someone who reciprocates with the same love and fondness. Most of my memories of my college are the many different ways I made a fool out of myself...the many places and ways I stood out like a sore thumb...and the many many things I did that were plain stupid, even inapproriate!

We've all grown up now and the childish things of the past dont really matter. I know that. But the embarrassment lingers on. I always thought I was a serious person, but I heard my best friend tell me that I laughed and giggled a lot. I also learnt that I had a huge crush on some guy and that everyone knew about it. Breakthru finally!! This does not embarrass me one bit! Its kinda sweet actually....! :-))

So, when I hear from an old friend and she confirms that I was not such a fool after all and that there were a few bright makes my heart glad. Makes me a little more sure of myself. Like I always say, go back to the people of your childhood and have them remind you of who you were before life had a crack at you. They will remind you of what you lost...and they will help you find it again.

I feel peaceful!

Monday, September 01, 2008

first prize....really?

I just spent a good part of the evening helping a cousin with an essay for her college admissions. Its been such a long time since I wrote an actual essay....Won so many competitions in school...and then one huge competition in college.

There was a disctrict level inter-collegiate festival in Ooty. I took part in the essay writing contest. It had some random political theme and I remember writing furiously and being very tired at the end of the competition. I won the first prize for my essay....I was thrilled at my success. But then, the festival location was far away from my college and hostel. really far. And they made the announcements at the end of the festival, but then they said I must go back 2 weeks later to pick up my certificate and prize. Some of the others who won prizes went by or arranged for their certificates to be picked up. But for some reason, I never went to get them...I cant remember what happened. I do remember thinking that it did not matter. Silly huh!!

And look at me now...truly believing that every small success is worth celebrating.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

random cribs

Are memoirs exaggerated glories of childhood...? Do people truly have such idyllic childhoods as described in some books and movies?

I just finished reading Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees: A memoir of a childhood in India. It was such a wonderful nostalgic read. But nearly everything seemed perfect....I am sure she had problems in her childhood, but the worst thing that Madhur mentions are typical teenage issues and some things that came up during the India-Pak partition. She was certainly privileged. The childhood she decribes is a far cry from what my grandparents had....she is about 5 years younger than my Grandma, so I do have something to compare her experiences with. I must say I felt a little envious when I read about how she had so many cousins from being in a joint family...her little adventures in and around her house....the fact that she had such fabulous heavenly food almost everyday and had a mango orchard in the backyard....definitely sounds like a slice of heaven. Hmmm mangos....I cant even remember how long it has been since I had a ripe, sweet raspuri from my grandfather's orhcards.

I have a hard time relating to such descriptions. I am an only child and I have spent my entire life coping to survive. And when I read about these beautiful childhoods, a part of me gets sad for having missed out on fun that actually is somebody else's experience and another part of me starts wondering if this description is true. The feeling gets even more intense when I watch all these darned desi movies with depictions of ideal families and joy and happiness that flow like the ganga. Those cliched scenes of mothers doting on sons and ramu/dinu/munshi kaka making baby's favorite halwa evoke a sense of loss in me.

And it does not end there. All my friends seem to have a great time with their families. I seem to be the only one who has serious issues with her family. The only one whose family is not always happy happy...taking trips and making halwa and laughing and joking. Its another thing that hubbs and I more than make up for our rather serious families. But still....these movies and books somehow set the expectations for you and they reinforce it movie after movie and book after book. Makes me want to have a large family....maybe I should have 7 or 8 children!!