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This is yet another true travel story although I suspect the tale might have grown a bit with the telling.

Every year, several thousand Indian boys (and girls too, but they are irrelevant to this particular tale) reach a certain milestone, a milestone that they have been planning for practically all their lives. It is an important pre-condition that precedes the creation of a profile on Bharat Matrimony and the likes. It is the H1B visa, that augmenter of dowries, the harbinger of Dollar-store gifts and the single biggest violator of check-in baggage allowances.

Sankaranarayanan (name changed) was one such gentleman. He grew up in Chennai, studied in a private engineering college and therefore, apart from being fluent in spoken Java and C++, believed that the female of our species was a native of a far flung galaxy. He was also someone who wore his religion on his sleeve, or as it was in his particular case, his forehead to be precise. It was his policy that the rest of the human population must not, under any circumstances, see his forehead au naturel. It was therefore covered in sacred ash from temple to temple every day.

So armed with an H1B visa, Mr Sankaranarayanan packs his 23 kg x 2 VIP skybags that could, if stretched a bit, accommodate a small sized calf, with all manner of things that are of crucial import to a day in the ‘Murican life.

Suitcase 1 accommodates

  • a bar of Sandalwood,
  • a 12 pack Mysore Sandal soap,
  • 2 packets of Ambica appalam,
  • 2 bottles of Grand Sweets Puliyodarai mix,
  • 20 pairs of the finest men’s lingerie from Hari Agency, Luz Corner
  • and an entire set of Brilliant Tutorial’s CAT preparation material.

The contents of suitcase 2 will remain untold for the moment.

Aboard the flight (his very first in his life), he conducts an impromptu english lesson in the precise meaning of the word “Vegetarian meal” to ensure that the Lufthansa flight attendant does not bring him a “Hindu meal” (which is essentially no beef, but is typically Chicken) or fish, which in many cultures is considered not to be “meat” and finally arrives at the John F Kennedy airport in Queens, NY.

For those unfamiliar with JFK, it is what results when one takes every Kafkaesque government bureaucracy and every school bully in the world, mixes them in a salad bowl and applies the sort of physics that converts matter into Black holes. It is rumoured that in some evangelical sects of Christianity, a visit through this airport is considered to be fit punishment for commandment violations.

After explaining to an immigration officer sipping on a 256 Oz bucket of aerated sugary beverage that he is fluent in Java and C++ and is qualified enough to steal American tech jobs, our man finally picks up his baggage and reaches the customs checkpoint. Normally, these officers apply sound statistical big data analytics techniques to randomly pick a small percentage of outgoing passengers for a baggage check. In short, it’s called the “Pick the brown guy with 2 large suitcases potentially full of Grand Sweets pickles” strategy.

“Excuse me sir, could you step aside and take your bags to that station please.”

“OMG, they are going to ask me why I am carrying CAT prep material and also having an H1B visa”, he feared

But it turned out the customs officers were not particularly interested in his long term MBA ambitions. They were, however, interested in the contents of suitcase 2 (whose contents we left untold a while back for plot suspense reasons)

Recall his daily habit of smearing ash on his forehead?

Now daily full surface area coverage of forehead requires a fair amount of ash and the logistics experts among you might have figured out that the sacred ash supply chain doesn’t work very well between the Old world and the New World. One can’t just walk into the Shaivite Goods aisle at Walmart and pickup Sacred Ash gels, sprays, deo rubs and face masks et al. It has to be purchased in the assorted Mada streets of Mylapore and transported in clear violation of baggage allowance rules. Now, factor in a 6 ft 4 boy from Mandaveli with a forehead that could host its own major tennis tournament, we essentially have 12 250g packets of sacred ash in suitcase 2.

Now, picture in your mind what 12 packets of greyish white powder in clear transparent packaging looks like, especially to an American customs officer standing over a suitcase belonging to a tall brown guy with a strange english accent.

He whispers “I need some backup here” into his shirt microphone and picks out one of the packets and looks at Sankaranarayanan in the eye and asks him “Sir, what is this?”

At that moment, our man had two choices. He could have calmly smiled and told the officer that it was just plain ash that he used to smear his forehead for religious reasons and that many Hindus from his part of the world did that daily. Or he could have panicked and volunteered more information than was necessary.

He did the latter.

“It is spiritual powder, holy powder. It is for God and it gives good clarity and good thoughts.”

The officer – “You bet”

The sarcasm was lost on our man, and he added more information with nary a thought for one Mr Ernesto Miranda.

“It is basically sacred ash from cow dung, it is collected and dried and then burnt”

The officer’s expression suggested that it was the first time a drug bust resulted in detailed chemical explanations of the manufacturing process within the first few minutes.

“Ahan”, he nodded.

By that time, the officers mates had arrived on the scene with an assortment of Labrador retrievers, each of which were asked to sniff for known drugs and not surprisingly, they expressed no interest in Lord Shiva’s holy powder.

But this was ‘Murica so things had to be done through proper procedure.

“Sir, we are going to have to take your suitcase and get it tested in a lab before we let you go and that is going to take at least 12 hours so please follow me”

So our man was taken to a holding cell that contained, among others, Guatemalan refugees, lapsed Uzbek warlords and political asylum seekers from East Timor.

He spent the night in that cell singing in his head, dolorous laments to his favourite deity, Lord Shiva.

ps: He was released the next day morning but the sacred ash packets were confiscated on account of their “Dairy origin”.


60 responses to “Shivarathri”

  1. Asif (@asiasif) Avatar

    Glad to have u back…Write some more pls!!

    1. MoDoJ Avatar

      As a secular American citizen of the world, non-religious, though with a huge interest in all religion, I really enjoy your blog. I’m glad I found it, and look forward to more!

  2. ramaaramesh Avatar

    Hahaha this is brilliant!!!

  3. Krith Avatar

    Wohmygawd! Hahahahahaha!

  4. P James Magic Show Avatar

    P James Magic Show 9841072571

    1. Harish Avatar

      Also Dont forget Mondal Clinic.. plastered on every junction box in the city

      1. Ramachandran Kalyanasundaram Avatar

        to recover from the P.James effect

    2. Ramachandran Kalyanasundaram Avatar

      Ram’s Ultra magic display 007007007

  5. maami Avatar

    Shiva! Shiva!

  6. Kenshin The Battōsai Avatar
    Kenshin The Battōsai

    Nine one! 🙂

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  7. ipsita Avatar

    Very nice yaar! Write some more pls.. 🙂

  8. Guruprasad Avatar

    lol! this has to be one of the hilarious blogs I have read in recent times.. Good one.

  9. Priya Nagarajan Subramanyan Avatar

    ha ha – too good – made my day:)

  10. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
    Venkatarengan Rajaram

    You are no less senseless, ignorant / arrogant than those @ the immigration desk. Ridiculing other’s beliefs & wounding sentiments continue to be your selling point. This by no means is humour. Pray to Shiva for better wisdom.

    1. krishashok Avatar

      Heh what I described is an unfortunate situation arising from cultural differences and I don’t quite see what is offensive towards people who are religious. Describing them humorously does not insult them ( at least the real life chap being portrayed here has absolutely no problems) so Id suggest you chillmax with a hot cup of filter coffee before prejudging people 🙂

      1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
        Venkatarengan Rajaram

        Dear Krishashok , Humour drawn through ridicule & insult is can never be humour. My having filter coffee can never be your cup of tea.
        Let us all learn to respect & not ridicule.

        1. Harish Avatar

          Cry me a river

  11. bala rao Avatar
    bala rao

    Super anna.. Nice comeback!!

  12. Murugesan Avatar

    Sivane Potri..US policeku nee thaan po nalla budhiya kodukanum 😀

  13. Vasantha Avatar

    Ashok this is your teacher from MIS Delhi.Enjoyed your write up!(Vasantha bala …Viveks mother hope you remember !Dont remember !Its ok!)

    1. krishashok Avatar

      Of course I remember ma’am 🙂

      1. Vasantha bala Avatar
        Vasantha bala

        Good I am glad!Keep posting!

  14. Durga Prasad Avatar
    Durga Prasad

    ROFL!!!! The guy must really have had a fantastic Shiv Ratri. 🙂

  15. viswajithkn Avatar

    Paavam the poor chap who experienced it…but that apart so true about how we invariably end up getting caught carrying pickles…:P

  16. gobbblefunk Avatar

    Good one! So good to have you blogging again.. Twitter is only the item number of the literary world 🙂

  17. Twilight fairy Avatar

    Hahaha am sure U get to see all kinds during your airport stays which as we know are longer than your city stays 😀

  18. VendingMachine Avatar

    keep blogging btw nice stuff

  19. HK Avatar

    Aww, poor old JFK airport.

  20. CS Avatar

    Hilarious post and the vivid description of ‘murican reaction to an incident like this take the cake,

    BTW romba naala oru doubt – indha P James Magic Show yaaru, isn’t there a way to stop it from popping after each of your post..

    1. krishashok Avatar

      Haha but why would you want to stop the venerable magician from leaving digital versions of his famous graffiti?

  21. Vincy Joseph Avatar
    Vincy Joseph

    as usual humour that makes anyone LOL!!. Krish do post more often. 🙂 🙂

    1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
      Venkatarengan Rajaram

      Yes Krish, Please ‘do post more often’ without hurting anyone.

  22. Sharan Sharma Avatar

    ha ha…looks like i got away then…my ‘2nd suitcase’ (‘madi suitcase’ 🙂 ) had vibhuti, chandanam, darbha, darbhAsana etc….all i got when i opened my suitcase was a “we opened your bag” notice….after which the major mental worry whether i could still use all these items having been touched by non-madi fellas 🙂

    1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
      Venkatarengan Rajaram

      Let better wisdom prevail on you. Do not attempt to draw pleasure by ridiculing someone else’s beliefs / practice.
      Each one has a right to his / her beliefs /practice and come out of the utopia / folly “yours is ever superior to others”.

      1. Satish Avatar

        It is debatable whether this post was intended to ridicule anyone’s beliefs…but I just want to point out that everyone has a right to their beliefs and everyone has a right to ridicule other people’s beliefs. You are free to ridicule anything I might believe in. Cheers 🙂

        1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
          Venkatarengan Rajaram

          Dear Satish, The write up has many lines that are hurting & to say the least wounding . To quoteone : The lines that describe sri Sankaranarayanan’s ( vibuthi clad) forehead,if not a ridicule ,what else is that ? Please read the article with an unbiased mind
          While everyone has a right to their beliefs none can grant the right ridicule anyone . I am not the mean minded one to ridicule others.
          Try to comprehend and know the difference between ridicule & humor

      2. Sharan Sharma Avatar

        Namaskaram Sri Rajaram,
        Apologies if you found my comment offensive.

        First, in my comment i was laughing at *my own* orthodox habits. Not to show off, but i happen to be a 3 times sandhyAvandanam, aupasana etc. kind of a guy (almost became a full-time vAdhyAr!). In fact, the security of my practice gives me the luxury of laughing at myself/my practices.

        Second, *to me* the original post did not seem to harbour any ill-will but just a harmless piece of humour – the dowry bit in the beginning stuck out a bit but i may not be in touch with reality.

        Lastly, here’s my observation: today’s male brAhmana is a first class hypocrite. TrikAla sandhyAvandanam? No. Brahma yajnam? er… Aupasana? What’s that? vedAdhyAyana? ha ha ha. Sanskrit? No time, sir + too tough.
        But be holier-than-thou defenders of the faith? Oh yes! Morally/intellectually/religiously/spiritually hollow folk who only revel in the greatness of their ancestors.(this is a general observation – not talking about you, sir!)

        1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
          Venkatarengan Rajaram

          Dear sri. Sharan Sharma,
          Thank you for your kind response.
          I do agree that the TrikAla sadhyAvandanam brahmins of yester years are a rarity in the present ‘jeans clad’ ‘green back chasing’ days.
          Yet ,painting the forehead with vibuthi is one’s choice like wearing the jeans / spiking one’s head etc.. None can have the right to offend or ridicule either.
          Any society can have hypocrites. But the entire lot is not so Can never be so in any society.

  23. Arun Perumal Avatar
    Arun Perumal

    Though a devout Hindu, I personally feel we should refrain from carrying our religious customs to modern day workplaces. Let’s be secular and uniform there. Certainly the protagonist of this story has to be blamed for his inconvenience. Also I am surprised that such a sacred origin is considered unacceptable at the place you amicably explained -JFK.

  24. Sai Ram Avatar
    Sai Ram

    Hi Krish, throw some light on this apparent paradox: why does the H1B-wielding probably-soon-to-be-green-card-holder hero carry CAT materials to the U S of A?

  25. noncomposmentis Avatar

    When they released him, hope he atleast tried to get his “STUFF” back. lol

  26. Anant Agarwal Avatar

    Hi, hope you’re doing well

    We wanted to check for your interest in an activity we are conducting in your city and we would like to invite you for the same.

    Please share with us your contact details so we can email/call you with the activity plan.

    Thank you 🙂

    Anant Agarwal
    20:20 MSL Delhi

  27. Sreevatsan Avatar


  28. Zamla Avatar

    Fascinating, the esoteric arguments back & forth here…seems like folk are the same all over!

  29. Deepthi Avatar

    Awesome !

  30. Swati Avatar

    LOL…do keep posting!

  31. We know the kumar Avatar

    This is a classic Krish! Bring it on man!

  32. dirtdigger96 Avatar

    Little bit of an anticlimax there.

  33. christybharath Avatar

    Aww this is hilarious! Blog more, why don’t you!

  34. KGB Avatar

    ROFL!Once when my Dad was bringing red chillies(It is called Byadge chillies) from Mysore- the customs lady kept telling him that it is dried fish!My poor dad doesn’t even eat garlic or onion- leave alone fish..He was really annoyed!She finally let him go with the stuff..and then he told me that she would have probably shut her mouth if he had let her taste the “dry fish”!!!

  35. Pie in the Sky Avatar
    Pie in the Sky

    If you ever decide to write a book, I’ll buy it wholesale.

  36. Rajesh Avatar

    I get a sense of deja vu when I read your articles. I am reminded of one of my favourite author (Internet) Ramesh Mahadevan – Ajay Palyanteeswaran fame.
    Your articles are very good and enjoyable.
    Thanks, Ashok!

    1. Venkatarengan Rajaram Avatar
      Venkatarengan Rajaram

      At times hurting / slighting , others under the guise of humor too.

  37. potatopen Avatar

    That was one of the best I’ve ever read! 😀 It was a normal day at work and suddenly my peeps heard some out-of-shruthi laughter on the precipice of hysteria (that’s me, by the way). Please write MORE! 🙂

  38. Tata mommy Avatar
    Tata mommy

    The pump line where he was locked up with Uzbek warlords had me in splits. You are awesome. Keep writing

  39. beingabishtoo Avatar

    HAHAHA! This is hilarious, I just came across your blog after reading coconut chutney and LTP, Everything starting from the Name (_/\_ VeraLevel) to the virundhu-virundhu sirika vekara jokes- super Ji! 😀 best part is : ” A forehead that could host its own major tennis tournament!” :’D – Ungala paathu i was inspired to try my hand at blogging! Dont stop please!

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