Thursday, December 22, 2005

Who, me?

Real conversation on a busy road, after X has taken the jasmine string off her hair and flung it on the grass verge. X and Y are both waiting for a bus.

Y: Er, why did you fling your flowers on the grass like that?
X: What’s it to you? It’s only flowers.
Y: Yes. But if I know anything, it’s that you would have thrown garbage too, just like you threw the flowers.
X: So? How does it matter?
Y: Doesn’t filth bother you? Especially when you are the one creating it?
X: No.
Here, X spits theatrically. (Y wants to throttle her and do some other things to her, but alas, bound by the rules that will send her to prison if she does those things, refrains. She instead has to turn her attention to the approaching bus, which will make off without her if she doesn’t look sharp and board the thing, along with the 3,123 other prospective passengers.)
India Shining?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Crook's Tour

Anthony Bourdain can be spotted every Tueday from 8.30 to 10pm on the Travel and Living Channel on his two shows, A Cook's Tour and No Reservations.
The reason I've renamed one of the shows is simply because Bourdain is quite the picture of a crook. Most often he has a cigarette hanging from his lips while he roams the world in search of exotic foods and authentic recipes. Altogether, he seems to have fashioned himself as a sort of film-noir, super-urbanized uber-cool-dude (best characterized in his Paris espisode). He actually also comes across as a cynical wise-pants New Yorker, but redeems himself by his rather well-developed ability to laugh at himself.
So last night he was in Iceland. The show had several highlights, like our man being stuck in a blizzard, or his classic statement that should go down as one of the most withering instances of self-assessment ever: "I'm an American TV host, and I'm made of alcohol and cigarette smoke." This revelation came about whilst he was being thrashed at arm-wrestling by some hardy Icelandic types in an Icelandic gym, his reedy frame looking even reedier next to the sheer bulk and mass of his hosts. All in good humor, though.
Then he goes to an Icelandic party where he puts the following into his mouth: chunks of shark meat that have been allowed to rot underground for six months after having been marinated in lye. Then he says," the Worst Meal Ever." This from the man who will eat anything.The ookier, the better: sheep heads on a plate make him go mmmmm. So I can imagine what that shark tasted like.
What makes him watchable is this quintessential adventurer quality, his passion for food and of course, that New York cynicism.
Tony, if you're reading this, you agree, right? Now let's talk about that presenter position you have open for your new show...
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White Oleander

Just finished reading "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch. This book boasts some fabulous opening lines, and the writing just drew me in like magic. It's a story narrated by a young girl over a six-year period in her life, the crucial years between twelve and eighteen, which she spends in a series of foster homes. The story is woven around the relationship between Astrid and her mother Ingrid, a gifted but temperamental poet who is sent to prison.
While the writing is luminous and dreamy, what seems to be lacking is stronger characterization. What does Astrid feel toward the other kids in the foster homes? When does her relationship with her mother take on new hues? Astrid's life is almost reduced to a series of episodes in foster homes, each more heartbreaking than the last. Still, the book doesn't come off as depressing, but you end up not fully knowing any character.
Ingrid, though, is hauntingly etched. From her stauesque Nordic looks to her acid-dipped tongue, her natural inclination towards beauty and intellect, she remains just beyond the realm of your comprehension, but that is the way of this character. After all, you would remember someone who says things like, "love- that semantic rat's nest."
The book has some truly great lines. "...her aquamarine eyes pale behind her tanned face, like a crime in a lit room behind curtains." "I have been cut free, I move among centuries."
Sometimes, with writing like this, the story itself becomes less important than the way it is told, the words. "White Oleander" is a book I'm glad to own- there are many sections you can go back to and read over again.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Blank Current

Random hoots from here and there:
Listening to a risque number on the radio, the lyrics of which go "don't be shy girl, shake your body like a belly dancer..." Within a heartbeat of the song stopping, a Sanskrit shloka, "Vakratunda Mahakaya..."

Seen in the office cafetaria, an ice cream menu. One of the flavors: "Blank Current."

In the show Scrubs, one of the characters, Dr. Dorian, being referred to by the senior physician as "Bambi". Cracks me up every time.

On the way to work, a sign above a small open-air garage: "Puncher and Wheel Duruwing." The puncher part, I get. But what on earth is Duruwing?

Sign above a bakery: "Fresh Bread." Immediately below: "Gold-Plating services available." This is a sure sign of Malyalee ownership. Bread and gold are equally revered; hence this sign for gold-plating on the bay-kyeree.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mrs. Trunchbull and the Puppy

Once there was a little puppy who was born on the side of a road. He had a brother and a sister also, but somehow, he was the only one who got picked up by a person who happened to see them, lying near their mother.
This person was a woman we shall call Mrs. Trunchbull. She was short and squat, and wore her hair mostly piled up on the top of her head like a beehive. She had a voice that was capable of waking people up from the deepest slumber, even when she was three houses away. When she was in a temper, her voice could wake you up from six houses away, and the beehive looked like a hundred enraged bees were going to fly out of it at any moment.
What defined her most was her angry, bitter heart.
So it was our little pup's misfortune that Mrs. Trunchbull should be the one to adopt him, the term being used loosely. She took him home and immediately put on a red leash that went well with his silky black fur. Then she tied the leash to an iron chain and the pup stayed tied up to the pole in Mrs. Trunchbull's front yard for what seemed like forever.
When it rained, which was often, the puppy would stand up on his hind legs, squeal and beg Mrs. Trunchbull to take him in the house. She never listened. Slowly, he learned to squeal less and less. Then Mrs. Trunchbull had a small, concrete dog-house built for him which was the doggy equivalent of a prison. Into this the puppy was shoved, or chained to a post just outside it.
Neighbors passing by could see him sitting outside his wretched little cement dog-house in his characteristic paw-crossed-over-paw pose. His pretty, floppy ears moved every time he turned to look at them, because even for a puppy, he was extra frisky and joyful.
He was being well-fed and he was physically healthy. Sometimes Mrs. Trunchbull and her husband, the Broomstick (that's what he looked like) even played with him.
But should the neighbors have arranged for him to be taken away regardless? Mrs. Trunchbull was the kind of woman who would smash your windows, beat you up if she saw you walking down the street alone, or introduce a poisonous snake into your yard. No exaggerations. What should the neighbors do?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Zero Worries

A leading national daily has hit upon this idea of adding these chirpy, supposedly uplifting one-liners atop its masthead each morning. Sample one: "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Immediately follow the headlines of the day: "BANGALORE MUMABI-ED." "Swamped Weekend, Hundreds Marooned." See how that perky exhortation atop the masthead is so appropriate?
On other days, "Zero Worries and Responsibilities" they chirrup. Eh? Exactly what readership are we talking about here? I hate to be the party-pooper, but what is a line like that doing on top of your masthead?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Pertinent Question

Seen: A giant hoarding for Levi's Jeans, asking: U in the Loop?
Nothing extraordinary about this, except that this here hoarding is situated inside a cemetery. The bony models with their red-looped jeans hover above neat rows of headstones and crosses, hugely visible from a long distance. Judging from the state of their physiques, they have been starved for some time and are perhaps marking time towards the day when they will be under the headstones.
Assuming that the most immediate audience to this marketing strategy was capable of responding, what do you think they would say?
"No, my friend. I am not in the Loop. Do you want to know why I am not in the Loop? Because I'm DEAD!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Calling for Opinions Other than my Own

Two issues that we might discuss and exchange views on, as usual, of no particular importance. But then, when have I ever leaned towards discussing important issues?
"Bombay Rockers" have recently had a lot of success on the Indian pop music scene with their very popular 'Rock the Party' number. I have heard a song by AB Quintanilla and the Cumbia Kings by the name of 'Fuego' which sounds amazingly similar. Is this just a coincidence? Does anyone else out there listen to obscure Latino music and know this song? If so, please enlighten me. Maybe I am falsely accusing the worthy Bombay Rockers of something they didn't do. I also seem to have heard a song very similar to Raghav's 'Angel Eyes' though can't recall by whom.
Salaam Namaste has one of the ickiest endings seen in Hindi films in a while, this despite Shah Rukh's execrable dying scene in Kal Ho Na Ho. I mean, what were they thinking, subjecting us to an ending like that? The rest of the film certainly doesn't prepare you for it. Another downer is Zinta's character, Ambar, being referred to as "Amby." For some reason, this just sounds unbearably cutesy and juvenile.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hell's Bells!

One short, bitter rant: Women who Come to Work with Bells on their Anklets. As far as I can see, you are neither a house nor a cow. Expanding further on this line of reasoning, you are not a church, a fire engine or Santa's sleigh. Then why, pray tell, do you need bells? Or, to put it more eloquently, what's up with those friggin' bells???

We are not allowing all this!

Read a news snippet about an Israeli couple who were jailed somewhere in Rajasthan for kissing in public. Apparently, the two were being married according to Hindu rites and indulged in some canoodling whilst the ceremony was on.

Now, their actions might have been inappropriate. But was arresting them really necessary? What bothers me is how pro-active Indians can be if we really want to be. Bad roads, garbage, spitting, men molesting women (quaintly referred to as “eve teasing”), corruption and lies are all fine. But let someone hurt our “religious sentiments” and we start breathing fire and brimstone.

Eh? As far as my knowledge goes, ancient India was a very advanced culture with major accomplishments in every field from architecture to astronomy. I do not think that in those times, our ancestors went about spitting on the streets, grabbing random women, letting filth accumulate in public places and such like. Then what happened? When did we slide down from that to this? Does it not hurt our “Indian values and culture” when we indulge in all of this? Apparently not. But let the lips of a pair of foreign tourists meet, and then watch out!

Whoever said, “India is not a developing country. India is an advanced country in an advanced state of decay” got it dead right. OK, so maybe we’re not in a state of decay but can we please stop being so ridiculous?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Looking for more like these

Boron: A boring moron (coined byDad)
Bossified: having a boss who’s too rigid
Collitis: A rash of new colleagues, all irritating
Irritaping: being recorded on one of those handycams. Even when you don’t want to be.
Latext: Text messages sent way too late in the night (More common than you think)
Painist: So fond of talking about their own physical pain
Perfunctionist: A pretend perfectionist

Monday, September 12, 2005

Exact change

Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change.
~(Seen somewhere on the World Wide Web.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Mother

What can you say about mothers? All I know is that mine is exceptional, so I can talk about her.

I guess I would love to write her a sort of thank-you note that tries to encompass all that she is and what we feel for her. Yes, I know, I have more hope of achieving a treatise on sub-atomic particles than writing something that would really cover all that Mom is.

Still, since she is an angel in human form, I shall try.

Thank you for making four different types of eggs each morning for breakfast. For introducing us to the tooth fairy; for making the best mayonnaise on earth and letting us lick the spoons every time you made it.

For being the sounding board for all our ideas, however outrageous. For giving the words “Stop It” an air of insurmountable authority. For trying to get away by cooking khichdi every time Dad was away, and then sheepishly surrendering to our warnings against cooking khichdi.

Thank you for being so beautiful that when told that we can never be a patch on you, ever, all we can do is beam. For thinking that “damn” is a horrible curse word and instilling in us a horror of swearing. For having the softest hands in the world and for smacking us that one time with the net side of a badminton racket so it wouldn’t hurt.

Happy birthday, Mom!
(This sappy outpouring is a tribute to my mother’s gentleness. I usually express my affection by clamoring to sit on her lap, dishing out violent bear hugs, and/or biting her.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I hope...

Crawling through traffic in an auto, and it’s rush hour. But when is it not? The lane is narrow and the traffic is compounded by several cows chomping on discarded vegetable leaves on the side. My auto driver, in a spirit of fun, has decided to play his music. The design of these wondrous vehicles ensures that the passenger’s ear is so close to the speaker that I’m sure it violates all rules of ergonomics, or whatever science rules the placement of speakers in Bangalore autos.
We crawl as far as a few feet, then stop again. We are near a church with closed doors that bears a sign promising Mass the next morning. There is a huge, overflowing, concrete garbage repository right next to the church and then a small stand behind which is a bright-eyed teenage girl selling jasmines.
The flowers are arranged in neat, creamy heaps and smell like heaven in such a stark contrast to the garbage and chaos around her that it strikes me immediately. She seems completely oblivious to it all, and is an image of freshness and purity to match her flowers. She has chosen a string of purple blossoms in her hair to go with the color of her dress, maybe in an exchange with a fellow flower-seller.
She spots me admiring her and the jasmines and gives me an easy, glowing smile. Her eyes are luminous and lined with kajal, and crinkle when she smiles. “Take madam” she trills, picking up a small bunch of the jasmines. I unzip my purse to dig out some change and ask her how much. She shrugs and shakes her head to indicate no charge.
“No, no!” I insist. “No, no!” she insists back. She’s already trying to reach across and give me the flowers as I feel my auto starting to inch forward. I root around in my purse to find something to exchange the flowers with. Lip balm, old ticket stubs, keys, and a pen crop up obligingly. I scrabble some more and come up with a pack of peppermint gum.
I toss it to her. Meanwhile, she has missed giving me the flowers owing to the motion of my auto. She catches the gum and smiles at me, then shrugs. We wave at each other.
My auto driver, is meanwhile, yelling at someone on the road after having nearly run them over. He then spits churlishly. I sigh; not everyone is naturally gifted with grace, like my jasmine girl. I hope she still smiles at passersby when she gets to be the auto driver’s age, and never catches the spitting habit.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Bart and others...

A good name for him would be Bart. For whom, you ask? This big, shaggy, sweet-faced dog that we pass everyday on our way to work. Bart, after the celebrity grizzly bear who appeared in many movies and commercials and whose favorite thing was to take rides, standing up, in the back of a pick up truck. My Bart lies in the sun with his head between his paws, conversing intelligently with his fellows, or, on one occasion, licking his chops after a refreshing cup of tea. (It’s true, I tell you.)
Anyhow, in light of the fondness I’ve developed for him over the past few weeks, maybe one day I should just grab him and haul him into the car, then proceed to spend the day doing whatever he would like to do. (This would be quite a feat, considering he looks about as heavy as I am. However, I have been known to be quite grabby. Just ask my roommate about the Case of the Green Earrings.)
Many are the dogs to whom I have thus lost my heart. My neighbor in Florida had this enchanting Husky named Dermott, who had one brown eye and one blue. Then there was the seeing-eye Golden Retriever called Presley. When I was growing up our neighbors had a whole bunch of dogs: a pair of Dalmatians called Honey and Harley, a Great Dane, Henry, and a Doberman named Pogo. The first three were angels in canine form; Pogo was contrary and obstinate. We can’t recall the number of times we heard his master trying to get him to do this or that. “Sit, Pogo, SIT” would echo hollowly and ceaselessly from across the wall, while Pogo carried on doing exactly as he pleased.
Kaiser was the name of a Doberman of another friend. Kaiser had lost his heart to a girl Doberman (Doberwoman???) named Cindy and would take off racing around the room if you so much as said the name of his beloved. Once he jumped off the third floor chasing a dog, who, alas, turned out not to be Cindy, after all. Kaiser, being Kaiser, had landed on sand and wasn’t hurt in the least. I’ll never forget the sight of his master, in black and white striped pajamas, kitchen-cloth over shoulder (he’d been cooking up a hearty meal of rajma-chawal) chasing after Kaiser down the street.
The first dog I can recall our family having was called, sadly for him, Doggy. After Doggy met an untimely end, we didn’t have another pet for a long time. Presumably, having three strong-willed kids was about all my folks were ready to deal with. Then came pretty little Howdy, who ran away from her canine care center when we went out of town, and was never heard from again.
Uh, this could go on for a while. Suffice it to say that I am waiting to see Bart again on Monday morning.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A long day

Anyone in their right minds would agree that traffic in Bangalore is horrendous. You have to possess nerves of steel, an iron will, and the patience of an angel. On occasion you have to be telepathic, telekinetic, and a contortionist.
Many times, the traffic policeman is the one I feel for. Imagine making your living in physical surroundings like that. Just this morning I saw a cop who was at a very, very busy intersection at rush hour. He waved our section of traffic to come to a stop. An auto (aargh) ignored him and carried on regardless. The cop couldn’t do anything. He attempted to stop this breaker of rules, but failed. Then he just went back to his other traffic.
I noticed that his shoes were scuffed, unbalanced. Now maybe he was, personally, just a sloppy man. But maybe not. Maybe they simply aren’t well stocked with supplies at any given time. Don’t we hear how the police force in this country is short changed when it comes to working hours and conditions, benefits and supplies?
Theories of economics may be used to explain, in light of these shortages, the propensity of our cops for corruption. For brutality, slacking off and discourteousness. But what about those cops who do really put in an honest day’s work? Is the much-accursed police force not surviving because of them?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hands in the rain

This city seems to fill up like a teacup when it rains. The water is certainly tea-colored in most places; slow moving and black in others. The cars inch along like it was a form of torture. It’s easy to feel a bit defeated after a long day of trying to earn a living, to be wading through this way, being held hostage in rain that looks poetic only as long as it doesn’t fall from the sky.
So there I was, another grumpy adult in the back of another car, one in a thousand grumpy adults desperately holding on to fraying tempers, listening to the radio, maybe entertaining themselves with their cell phones.
Another car pulled up along side. In the back seat, two children. A boy, about six, and a girl, about four. He has a broken front tooth, and she has a dimple on each cheek. I wonder how much the tooth fairy paid him for that tooth? How much would any of us pay to get dimples like this little girl?
They smile at me through the window, in unison, like it was the most natural thing to do. I roll down my window and smile back. This makes them flash more smiles across the channel of swirling rain between our two cars, like twin beacons from a lighthouse. These dimples and that gap tooth are enough to illuminate anywhere.
I reach my hand out to them and they instantly reach back; their hands are incredibly soft, as only a child’s hands can be. The little girl then blows me a kiss and the boy just kisses the air in front of him. They look at each other and smile some more; they seem pleased.
Then their car pulled away. I sat back on my seat. I’m sure my smile was no match for those overflowing ones of innocence and joy that they’d just bestowed on me.
But it was a smile, nevertheless.

Weirdisms

Weird things that have been said to me, over the years. This is sort of like a random recollection of some gems. There have been others, trust me. But, wishing to maintain a level of credibilty in the blogging world and among those precious few who actually read my stuff, I shall desist. Note that the Other Party is not one person, but an assortment.

The Other Party:"You remind me of Melvin from "As Good as it Gets."
Me: EH?
TOP: You never let anyone into your world.

Me: What's my best physical asset?
TOP: Your brain.

TOP: I feel like I'm dealing with a two year-old!
Me: Five! You said five year-old before!

TOP: You're never fully here.
Me:
(Stoic silence. How do I prove I'm fully here? Whatever that means?)

TOP: Did you ever have a twin?
Me: Eh?
TOP: I think I would have liked her better.
Me: Oh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fake Rock God and good Engrish

For those of you who, like yours truly, listen ceaselessly to Yahoo! Music, (no, the headphones aren't surgically attached, thanks) perhaps you can help me out with this: the new Vonage commercial. The voice over, a British bloke, says something that sounds like this: "This is a totally fake rock God Aiden slump, and I'm here to save you a wad of cabbage with Vonage, the broadband phone company. "
Then he helpfully spells out the name: V-o-n-a-g-e.
Eh? What about the rest of it? Forgive my density
Check out http://www.engrish.com/ for some huge laughs. One I found particularly amusing was the packaging on beer flavored chocolates (a charming concept in itself, and another fine example of the Japanese flair for innvoation, much like this post is an example of my fondness for the inane)..."the delicate scent of beer will charm you.."Also, 'Engrish of the day' for today, Aug 10th. Hilarious, excuse me, hirarious!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Reasons to live...

One more in this series, a sharp contrast to the usual "rantings." This list is much shorter than that one. Don't hold it against me, please. I was never Miss Sunshine. :-)
  • Liqueur-filled chocolates
  • Listening to Sarah McLachlan, especially on a cloudy day
  • Legionnaire Beau Peep
  • E-mail from a long-lost friend

Monday, August 08, 2005

Home

There has to be a word for that feeling you get when you are living in a foreign country and you feel disconnected from everything. Loneliness is a part of it, homesickness too. But to attempt to define it in these terms would mean restricting it, somehow, and not getting to the heart of the matter.
This feeling is known well to many Indians in the US of A, in particular. It manifests itself in many, many ways. The craving for Indian food strikes, but the only recourse is to go to a restaurant where the price, of course, is listed in dollars. Indian movies? Well, either rent one or if you’re living in a hi-density Indian area like New Jersey, you could catch it at the multiplex, whereupon you can then boast that you saw Yuva on the same day it released in India! The list can go on.
But this is only a superficial discussion of the matter. It is a lot more than just the food or movies you are used to. It is a sense of place, a sense of being rooted, I guess. There are no memories associated, for instance, with New York when the average Indian software professional moves there. What there is, is a realization that you are two days away from the place you call home.
Ultimately, it comes down to the question: Where is home? After even a couple of years of rootless living, of living out of suitcases, of cheap pizza meals, too many flights, too few meaningful conversations and too many loads of laundry, it does strike you somewhere in your brain as you swipe your credit card at yet another retail outlet: where is home?
Unfortunately, for some of us, the answer to that question is still in the process of being reached. For others, it is quite all right to call your new place (with the mortgage and the swanky SUV out front) home. For others, it’s a little more complex than that. For some of us, even if we make enough money, even if we are inducted into the hallowed zone of US citizenship, the answer still lingers somewhere just beyond our reach.
This is particularly true of those that come to the US not solely to stack up the dollars, but also because they are curious about living in a foreign country, seeing the world, traveling and experiencing the different things that wonderful country has to offer (however absurd this may be to the more ‘practical’ of our Indian friends in the USA). As you sign the lease on your new apartment with the wonderful view, you wonder: is this really what I wanted? Where am I?
I would say, let’s look at the flip side. Because, if you don’t belong anywhere, then maybe the answer is that you belong everywhere.

Dedicated to a friend of mine, somewhere in the US. You know who you are…

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Still ranting...

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
~Douglas Adams
I can't help seeing the sort of mad, but incisive clarity of this quote. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Adams. So what should I rant about today, hmm?
a. Ever wonder what the male equivalent of a 'tomboy' is? By extension, it's quite all right and indeed, quite desirable for a girl to go around proclaiming she's a tomboy (a term I always loathed.) The way it works is, women are somehow "better" if they are good at supposedly "male" skills; could be anything from climbing trees to knowing volumes about spark plugs.
Eh?
b. The 2-page spreads selling fairness creams. The product promises to whiten and brighten your skin, thus presumably making you more beautiful. In one campaign, the model is an internationally renowned star: her picture in the spread has been worked on to such an extent that even the piercings in her ears are obliterated. What's up with that? In spite of the wondrous fairness cream which will bleach her into perfection, she still needs the airbrushing?I mean, come on. Besides, realistically speaking, just how much air-brushing can we ordinary mortals squeeze into our daily lives, assuming we even use your blessed brightening cream?
Fairness creams are pathetic, especially so when they're sold by 'women's magazines' who devote pages to breathlessly advising you on 'self-esteem' and 'inner beauty.'
c. Your single status if you're young and in India. Your parents are directly or indirectly blamed for not 'finding' you anyone to marry. And people actually pray for your singlehood to change into marital er..bliss. Thanks, y'all, but it's not a disease! Besides, don't I just love the way people describe marriage as COMPROMISE (their emphasis). Gee, that sounds like so much fun! I just can't wait to start COMPROMISING!
d. The thing that mystifies me: At a few places in Bangalore I've seen these little structures with the helpful legend "Cobbler Kiosk" painted on them. Er, but where are the cobblers? I've yet to see a single one sitting dutifully in his designated kiosk. Reminds me of that fairy tale where the elves helped out an old shoemaker couple, but the elves only came out at night, so no one actually saw them. Maybe our desi cobblers are in the same mold.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Mumbai perspective

So after a week's break at home, it's back to work, and rain is the main theme these days. Now rain is something that is best enjoyed at leisure. However,between Monday and Friday since leisure is about as common as a three-rupee note , suffice it to say that you will probably not enjoy it at all unless it's the weekend.
This is especially so since Bangalore is surprising ill-equipped to deal with anything in the nature of rain other than a delicate, wispy shower that falls gently enough not to damage our fragile roads. But what about Mumbai? Pictures of miserable people wading through streets turned into rivers, people missing work because the trains aren't running...this is regular fare every monsoon.
It also reminds me of a story a friend told me about visiting Mumbai last monsoon. He and a friend went to a bar to get a drink on a night when it was pouring heavily even by Mumbai standards. Almost everything was flooded. They waded through knee-deep water to get there. Inside the bar, the water was ankle deep, but the place was crowded. The rain didn't let up, but neither did the crowd.
Pretty soon, they saw ashtrays and stuff floating along in the small flood inside the bar. But people folded their pants up to their knees and carried on enjoying their drinks and conversations like it was the perfectly normal thing to do. Waiters negotiated expertly amidst the rip-tides and currents around the tables, and a jolly good time was had by all.
Well, that's Mumbai. And that's about as corny and as perfect a metaphor for life as I can come up with at the moment. This story does help me keep it in perspective, and I hope it continues to do so when the really heavy rains start, as I have been told they will soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The third view

There is a new book out by the name of “Beyond Darwin and Creationism”. The author, Peter Hertli, is a Ph.D in experimental psychology, a member of MENSA and has been studying evolution and creationism for years now. He looks at both sides of this very volatile debate from a dispassionate, third view (if there is such a thing) and puts forwards his own debunking of both theories and offers his ideas on quantum mechanics and parallel universes. He debunks both Creationism and Darwin for their reliance on miracles and violation of natural laws.
Are we to assume then, that miracles were always miracles, and natural laws existed as they do now, since the beginning of the universe and time?
This sounds fascinating. I’ve been interested in this debate though I haven’t read that much about it. One thing I do remember reading a long time ago was about a trial in rural Tennessee, where one of the attorneys was the famous Clarence Darrow. This particular trial came to be known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”
Anyone who reads the Peter Hertli book, comments welcome.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Of cheeky computers and...

Two things that amuse me. When I show up for work, go to my desk and switch on my computer, the screen is upside down. Upside down! No kidding! Is this is a metaphor for my life? It happened two days in a row, adding further credence to my belief that I must maintain at least 10 yards' distance from anything technological. Seriously. (Babies cry and computers cease to function when I get near them). My office machine was promptly set right, though, and thus robbed of its individuality, poor creature.
The other thing: If you type into Google the phrase "miserable failure" or even just plain, simple "failure", guess what is the first thing to show up? I reserve my comments. Is this the future, where even the Internet becomes intelligent like those robots with IQ? Oh well, like I said, No Comment.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The saddest lines

This is a translation of an excerpt from a Pablo Neruda poem, composed into a song by Sixpence None the Richer. Neruda's words are haunting, even in translation, and I think the band did justice to the poem, too. Neruda may well be the only reason to learn Spanish in earnest...

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her
And the verse falls to the soul
like dew to the pasture
Tonight I can write the saddest lines,
The saddest lines about her.

Lewis and Clark...sort of

Did I ever tell you about my epic journey across the seas? The “epic” part, though, was completely unintentional, which somehow makes it more fascinating. So here goes. It started on New Year’s Eve, 2001. I was scheduled to leave at 1AM on a flight to Paris en route to Atlanta. After a harrowing drive in thickening fog and weaving amidst Delhi’s aggressive drivers (New Year’s Eve, so many of them were intoxicated and aggressive), goodbyes were said and after a delay due to there being a malfunction in the aircraft toilets (too much information there), I boarded at about 3AM.
Now, all of us passengers were already pretty fed up with the wait. So I, like almost everyone else, fell asleep after fidgeting around and listening to the announcements that we would be taking off soon. Meanwhile, the fog thickened. When I opened my eyes after a fitful sleep, my co-passenger was exclaiming about how smooth he thought our landing was; here we were, in another continent, and we hadn’t felt a thing!
It was then that I, playing the bad guy, pointed to the building outside our window that had a sign in crisp Devanagri script: “Indira Gandhi International Airport.” Yep, we were on firm ground, it was January 1st, but our posteriors were still very much in the Motherland. Our French pilot was meanwhile, apologizing, but to me he sounded suspiciously amused. Then again, maybe it was just the accent.
So we were hauled off to a hotel; my long-suffering father dutifully put in another appearance for a second round of goodbyes, and that night I boarded the flight again. This time we made it to Paris, where we were told we were being rerouted to New York, since Atlanta was snowed in. After a while, they told us that since New York was now snowed in, they didn’t know where to reroute us. Thereafter, each passenger was individually informed as to which destination in the US they would be flown to. Mine was Miami.
So, OK. Miami it was. They changed my boarding gate at the last minute, as a result of which I nearly boarded a flight to Copacabana, Brazil, but that seemed minor by now. Upon landing in Miami, I waited at the luggage carousel with the patience of an angel, only to discover that my luggage, alas, had failed to make it across the Atlantic and was still somewhere in the innards of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. I began to feel the first stirrings of hysteria in some corner of my brain. But I made it to the customs clearance, where I found I had no idea what date to put down on my form and was helped out by a sympathetic official.
My final destination, Tallahassee, was a two-hour flight away, but at this point it may as well have been on Pluto. After getting through immigration, etc., where a grumpy official determined that I was not a suspicious alien and could be allowed inside his great country, I was told that I had missed the last flight out to Tallahassee.
This was where the afore mentioned hysteria nearly kicked in full-blown. I nearly, very nearly, sat down on the floor and/or rolled around, foaming at the mouth and screeching unintelligibly. But the official at the counter was evidently used to dealing with this sort of situation and didn’t call for back up. Instead, acting swiftly, he gave me a voucher for a hotel stay, directed me to a bus, and wished me well. The next morning, at 6AM, I boarded that blessed flight to Tallahassee.
When my foot finally touched the ground at Tallahassee, I was tempted to kneel and kiss the tarmac, like I had seen the Pope do on television. I wisely desisted, however; I counted it as a personal victory that I had made it, against such terrible odds. The icing on the cake was actually being sure of what day and date it was, and the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to get on a plane again for a long, long time.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Magic with black and white


One of the most amazing illustrations I saw in a long time.. . from the comic strip 9 Chickweed Lane. Hope I'm not breaching copyright here...eep.
Created by Brooke McEldowney.

Beginnings or endings


Washington, D.C., December 2003: I sat on the bench outside CVS pharmacy on L Street today for the longest time. It is New Year’s Eve and I’m alone in this crisp, deceptive sunshine. My woolen hat has started to hurt a bit, but at least my ears are covered.I am just looking at people walking by. Most of them look at me rather indulgently, I wonder why. They’re all professionals, obviously. Everyone seems sophisticated and a bit hard. I can imagine them driving to the Park and Ride stations, parking their cars, getting on the Metro and passing the long ride just standing there, looking hard. Maybe they are different in the summer, but at this point I don’t trust that D.C. actually has a summer.
The sky was like lead yesterday. It looked like it was full of stones and there was a wind that hurt my ears. I am so grateful for the sunlight today though I know it will fade soon. I can see the Washingtonian Café from where I sit, and Mr. Chen is taking in some deliveries. The Café is like a refuge for me, even though Mr. Chen rarely smiles. I told him several days ago that his café is my favorite in this city; that did make him smile. I had a tuna-melt sandwich and a lime Snapple there yesterday. Today I will walk over there and get a hazelnut latte as usual.
It’s getting colder as the afternoon pales. The sunlight has started to become watery. Not a good sign. The Metro is going to be bursting with people getting away from their offices to go start their New Year Eve celebrations. I only need to ride until Courthouse station, one stop away, and I will be at a friend’s place where I’ve been invited.
They are aware of my current waif-status and always give me hot food and tea. It makes me want to cry sometimes when I think of the dinner table in my own home, my mother’s laughter and my Dad’s voice. I am so grateful to these kind friends of mine. They have promised to make me drink vodka tonight.
May be the new year will be better. It’s been a rough ride. Washington has been like a crucible in its own way. Tonight. I will drink vodka with my Lithuanian friends and clink my glass…when they say Happy New Year…we will all mean it.
Someone once said that if you look back on a year in your life and it doesn’t make you laugh or cry, consider it a year wasted. I’ll look back on this time and I wonder if I will laugh or cry.
Something I wrote at a time in my life which was strange: was wondering about beginnings and endings, and about people who come into your life and see you through; how what you go through changes you…that sort of thing.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Voices

After perusing this piece just after writing it, the author has realized that it is quite unapologetically meandering and a tad pointless. Still, on certain cloudy days and after consumption of several cappuccinos, such rambling threads of thought take shape, and then sit down stoutly in the form of blog entries. There it is. Forewarned?

As a somewhat avid music listener, I’ve often wondered why I don’t write music reviews. Maybe because I inherently admire all people who can create music, never mind if the end product receives no critical acclaim or is even frankly bad. Especially admired are those who write and sing their own material. Like cartoonists, these individuals, to my mind, are among those who are at the pinnacle of creativity.
Hence I desist from actually proffering my worthy opinions on their music. I just listen to it instead. But I do often think about how songs and music influence us and our moods and memories. The sound of a voice can very often remind you of a person or time in your life, with all the attached pleasant or unpleasant memories, can it not?
Sometimes I undertake a rather interesting exercise of trying to describe a voice as though it were actually a tangible thing. For instance, Norah Jones’ voice would be like blue smoke curling up in a dim, warm café on a moonlit night. Sade’s voice reminds me of soft, glistening pearls and deep oceans. If mermaids could sing, they’d probably sound like Sade.
Barry White- tobacco and rich, burnished wood. Leigh Nash (she sings for a marvelous band called Sixpence None the Richer) like a clear, feathery moonbeam…I could go and on, I suppose. May be this is why I like the blurb you find on perfume merchandise…they make it sound like the fragrance is actually something tangible, or representative of a mood or personality. Associations between two apparently unconnected things fascinate me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More rantings

See, I told you I can’t help it if there are just so many things to rant about! So where should I start? Oh, I know. People who test out different ring tones on their cell phones, in public places. Already being in the minority that takes a dim view of cell phones (though I may be forced to sell out and buy one of the damned things soon, eep), I humbly submit that such people should be rapped soundly on the knuckles.
When asked how many siblings I have, I answer that I am the youngest of three sisters. This, I reckon, should be quite sufficient and comprehensive to clearly answer the question. But for some, this simply won’t do. They will ask, “No brothers?” Uh, yeah, I forgot, I DO have a brother, thanks for reminding me! Oh wait, and yes, I also happened to forget my twin brothers who live in Liberia and visit once a year. I suppose I should also tell you about the younger brother who is our official family secret, but what the hell, you deserve to know!
When it’s time to get off a bus or plane, even if you’re way in the back, your co-passengers will stand up, bag in hand, and wait for the people in front to start getting off. Depending on your mode of transport and sundry other circumstances, this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 or 25. But, the standers will remain standing stoutly, and look at you pityingly if you should choose to keep your posterior in your seat and not twist your neck and back standing in the aisle or between seats.
And finally, The Thing that Mystifies me: There is this temple en route to work, which has the customary 3-D figures of gods and goddesses carved into the gateways and pillars. This particular temple has a pair of the most voluptuous, curvy goddesses I ever saw, larger than life and carved with loving detail. They are clad in what is, apparently, appropriate Goddess-wear. But I can assure you, if any mere mortal woman were to attempt anything close to that outfit, well…Moral of the story: Skimpy (and I mean skimpy) attire is perfectly acceptable as long as it is seen on the voluptuous (and I mean voluptuous) bodies of goddesses. However, if you are a real woman, you are fair game to be pawed and ogled at, regardless of attire. Nice!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Random recollection

A couple of weeks ago my roommate and I drove to Mysore, a three hour trip; the drive is pleasant barring the snarling macho truck drivers who will not tolerate a woman driving. Oh well. Anyway, en route, we stopped at a little rustic place that is famed for its snacks. The eating area adjoined the large, high-ceilinged kitchen with smoke-blackened walls and bitter, woody odors that reminded me of my grand-uncle's lakeside estate in Kerala. The staff was traditionally attired and served you with that characteristic briskness that is to be found in all small eating establishments in this country.
They either slap down menus or rattle them off in a single breath. The staff here chose the former mode of operation and as soon as you told them what you wanted, hared off without so much as an acknowledgement. So it happened that I was presented with a plate of idlis that delighted me because they were served not in the regular style but rolled up in a leaf; very Japanese in design and execution, and exceptionally tasty. This is how it’s served in rural parts. So in the midst of all this rustic splendor, sitting in the pleasant, red-walled eating area and looking out at the lush gardens, we hear the strains of some music playing. At the first chord, I thought I was imagining things when it sounded like Creed. But really, that’s what it was: Creed, in the middle of rural Karnataka! I can bet you anything this would gratify Scott Stapp more than anything. Creed! I ask you, is this not a strange and wonderful example of that thing they call globalization? (A term I never liked but this time I sort of did). This was right up there with my father actually appreciating my playing Pearl Jam. The strangest things do happen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Connections

The other day I saw a travel show on television where the presenter was touring an orphanage for baby elephants, based outside of Nairobi in Kenya. As the presenter stood near a little elephant, she took its trunk and started to breathe down it. Apparently, this is sort of like letting the elephant get to know you. Soon enough, the baby started butting the girl with his head. This fascinating ritual really made me wonder again about the mystical connections that we as humans have with other animals.
Those of us who have pets, be it dogs or snakes, are more aware of this. We had a dog at home who was with us for eight years. Last year I returned home after a two year stint abroad, and one of the great joys of coming home was, of course, the welcome that I was anticipating from our resident canine. But there was a strange, vague foreboding in me all through the lonely flight from JKF airport in New York to my little hometown airport. Something made me not ask my parents how my beloved pet was doing, and I talked about everything else.
When we got home, I walked to the porch like I had done a thousand times before, but this time minus the huge, bounding, jumping, noisy welcome that was the norm every single time. Rambo (my father's idea to name our doggy that) was lying on the porch with his head down. As he saw me approaching, his tail thumped a few times and he looked at me in a sort of searching way, but did nothing else.
Then my parents told me that he had been sick for a while, but would get better soon. Well, for me things changed right then. He worsened steadily over the next day, and made one painful trip inside the house to sit near me. The next time he walked over the porch to his favorite spot, he didn't find the energy to get back up again. In the evening I sat with him. I tried to give him water and food, which he sniffed at or sipped sparsely.
Later in the evening, I had the sick realization that my beloved friend was never going to walk again. Only his eyes moved. We all spent a terrible night checking on him and not sleeping. At 5 am, I ran out to look at him and he was still there, but just breathing. His eyes never left mine for a moment; I will never forget the intensity of that gaze on me, as long as I live. I have never seen anything like it, before or since.
That day I went out again and again to hold him. Around 3 in the afternoon, I went to him again. He looked into my eyes with a sort of peace and sadness and his old familiar playfullness all rolled into one unforgettable gaze, and as I sat there cradling him, he died.
My parents and most other people said that he had been holding on, waiting to see me one last time before he went. Somehow, that thought was eerily comforting but deadly painful. This is what I mean by connections.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Blame it on NY

Did you hear about the 17-ton Popsicle that melted and flooded parts of New York City? It’s true. Drink manufacturers Snapple wanted to do something special to promote a new line of their frozen goodies. So what happened? They brought the pre-fabricated work of art to NYC from Edison, NJ. They started to position it, with the help of a construction crane. And then the thing just started melting really fast. Tellingly, it was the first day of summer.
So imagine the streets of NY flooding with sticky, slippery, strawberry-kiwi flavored pop. Firefighters came to the rescue; a few bicyclists slid to the ground after trying to wade through the melted pink mess.
Somehow, though, it seems appropriate that this should have happened in New York. The place has just the kind of crazy vibe to it that would encourage this sort of incident. Blame it on New York! But this is quite a goofy and funny story that did lighten me up in the morning.:-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

They make life seem so much better...

Finally I discuss a topic very close to my heart: comics. Over the years, have developed a strong fondness for certain cartoons, so much so that they seem like old friends now. Unlike characters in a book or movie that are stuck in the same story for all of time, the daily or weekly-updated format of cartoon strips makes the characters more alive. These are a few of my most-loved ones.
Peanuts: Who doesn’t know about that “round-headed kid”, his beagle Snoopy and their bunch of slightly dysfunctional but eerily normal friends? Who doesn’t identify with their startlingly insightful adult-speak relevant to every situation in life? It speaks to the sheer genius of Mr. Charles Schulz that even years after his death and decades after the birth of Peanuts, these characters are still fresh, timeless and appealing.
B.C.: If living in prehistoric times was indeed such a hoot, I want a time machine, NOW! There is a certain nonchalant, cool idiocy in these strips that just kills me every time. Sample the “definitions” inscribed on a stone that feature periodically, for deep and meaningful answers to any and all questions about the deeper facets of life. Yeah, right!

Marmaduke: This adorable Great Dane is on my list because he is a dog, and by default, is enough reason to be cooed over, in my book. His sheer bigness is what appeals to me. Maybe because I earlier had a dog at home who was pretty darn big, too, and the current resident-canine also definitely fits into that category. Marmaduke perfectly personifies that joyful goofiness that only a dog can have, and is blissfully unaware of his considerable tonnage.
Beau Peep: How do I love Beau? The ways are too many to be described. This intrepid (!) legionnaire in the desert, with his band of outrageous companions, can be counted on to make you hoot every single time. If absolutely pressed to choose a favorite by someone, if they actually pressed a knife against my throat, I might say it’s Egon, the fort chef or Mad Pierre…see, still couldn’t make the choice. Glad to report that I’m on the Beau Peep discussion forum, where one of the creators himself, Mr. Roger Kettle, also writes, and he calls me “Dev.” This is something that makes me feel immensely gratified, much like I’ve been patted on the head had I been a puppy.
Honorable mentions go out to Hagar the Horrible, the Wizard of Id, Calvin and Hobbes, and Beetle Bailey. Some enchanting characters I’ve discovered recently are Frazz, Lola, and Herman. Also, I must mention this slightly obscure comic book detective named Rip Kirby, whose exploits I devoured as a kid. In fact, one of my fond hopes was that medical science would advance so much as to allow me, a skinny, pony-tailed, awestruck 8-year-old, to transform into the uber-cool Mr. Kirby sometime later in life. Alas and alack, this failed to happen and I am still the skinny, awestruck kid minus the ponytails. Anyone know where I can find Rip Kirby comics? (Must admit I haven’t really been looking.)
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Friday, June 17, 2005

Your Ghoul Quotient is...

Try this quiz if you desire to find the answer to that burning question: to which clan of vampires do you belong?

http://quizilla.com/users/Venatius/quizzes/

Just for fun, this is a small excerpt from my results… “Perhaps the most alienated of all the clans, Clan Malkavian's mention makes the blood of most vampires run just a little colder. They can see things few others can, from the physically unseen to the twisted depths of the sub-conscious mind right up to the wrinkles in fate that might be more than just chance. But obscuring, or some might say causing, all of this is the madness that runs in their cold veins, twisting the minds of all the clan's members to frayed wrecks of sanity.”

Ah, now things are just so much clearer! For some faintly disturbing reason, this quiz appealed to me. First, I tried the Dante’s Level of Hell quiz. (Thanks, Rups). It told me I’m going to Level 6, which just happens to be the penultimate level of hell. And now this. Muahahahaaa...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ameri-syncracies

A few endearing, sometimes puzzling, American traits:
They love to eat in big portions, right? Even the water glasses in restaurants could be used as small pails here in India. So what happens when you get on a domestic flight? They serve you these dinky little pouches of this wondrous foodstuff they call pretzels. Aaugh! I had a rather brainy theory that juice manufacturers had a secret contract with pretzel makers. Because the minute you ate a pretzel, you turned maniacally thirsty. Ergo, more and more juice. All this aside, I couldn’t get the teeny size of these snacks.
Another food related one: At a party, (at least at college parties) mostly they just serve potato chips by way of victuals. This, they call “food.” I used to tell my Indian friends that a sure way to tell if you’d been in the US too long was when you started calling potato chips “food.”
And another: on many occasions I noticed folks tucking into a double whopper burger with extra cheese and fries, accompanied by a Diet Coke. :-)
If they pass by you in a grocery store aisle, they will say “Excuse me,” even if there is a full three feet of space between the two of you. It’s all about personal space, dude.
The women obsess about their hair. They curl it, straighten it, color it, streak it, highlight it, lowlight it, crimp it, perm it. Mostly, they just want to be some shade of blonde. There are approximately 1,00,42,783 hair products available on the shelves.

I realize we, as Indians, are certainly capable of providing more than enough material for a list such as this. Among the entries will surely be the Great Indian Head Waggle, our maniacal driving, all those spices we consume, our wondrous accents, etc., etc., etc. I posit that an exchange like this would surely go a long way in promoting international understanding and harmony. Okay, maybe not understanding, exactly. But you get my drift.

The Bookworm Chronicles

Just came across a cool website called http://www.connectviabooks.com/.
It’s based on the idea of connecting with kindred spirits via books, i.e., finding and corresponding with folks who like the same books you do. You can create different booklists, based on different parameters like authors or subject of interest, for instance. So, let’s say your most fervent interest is the life cycles of aphids: you are sure to find other individuals who vibe with you on this. A neat idea, I think.
There is a soon-to-be released book that is generating some buzz in the U.S. It’s called “God Without Religion: Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths” and is written by a gent named Sankara Saranam. The title of the book is fascinating enough, and I would like to get my hands on a copy of it as soon as it comes out. Apparently, while the sales of religion and spirituality-related books are on the rise in America, a growing number of Americans do not consider themselves affiliated with any organized religion. Hmm…
In other bookworm related news, there is a new list out, of books that will never be bestsellers. Huh? Yes, a new term has been proposed for these books: nichebusters. This includes those books that aren’t exactly going to compete with the Harry Potter series in sales volumes, but are nevertheless successful within the narrow, niche audience they have been written for.
The title that tops the list of books least likely to become summer bestsellers? “ Non Equilibrium Systems and Irreversible Processes – Adventures in Applied Topology (Vol. 3)". Ah, I can finally see a future for my now-complete treatise on “The Morphology and Classification of Mutations in the Root Systems of Teak Trees in Central India.” Yay!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Things to do

Even for those of us who are not strangely attached to list making, like this correspondent, there are surely a number of things that one wants to do sometime in life. Kind of like setting a goal, but a lot more fun. If I were to talk about any of the items on my list, I would concentrate first on the travel section. (BTW, I am not quite so organized in real life as the image of an itemized list-making maniac would make it appear. On the one occasion I did make a shopping list, I forgot it at home and consequently, forgot to buy the bell peppers. This incident seemed to make some things crystal clear, and I have since stopped making lists that I actually have to carry.)
This, like all other lists I generate, is in no special order and is a work in progress:
See the Northern Lights
Learn to tango (and speak Spanish) in Buenos Aires
Whale spotting, anywhere
Shop in Morocco’s old markets
Visit all 50 US states
Goa; live on nothing but prawns and beer for a week
Go to Ladakh
See the Taj Mahal again
Visit Havana
Go on a real jungle safari
Visit Zanzibar
And so on and so forth…

Donors are welcome. This writer is currently stony-broke and has no qualms about accepting mysterious, anonymous, and wholly altruistic donations in large amounts. Foreign currencies, no problem. Bank details available upon request.

Sweet Seventy Eight

My grandmother celebrated her 78th birthday last December. There was a smallish group, composed of family and friends, who showed up to be with her for lunch that day. Dressed in a white and pale-blue silk sari, she achieved her usual look of regal-yet-cuddly. There was a cake, lots of goodies and lots of presents.
I call her Ammama; it means “mother's mother” in my mother tongue. I also call her Apple Cheeks from time to time, which suits her just as much as the rotund-sounding Ammama. This name is for obvious reasons: she is the one small, dumpling-like figure in a family of tall, long-limbed types. She has silver-gray hair, wise brown eyes, rosy skin and a pair of small, incredibly cute feet. When she laughs, tears stream down her face and her shoulders shake.
When she would walk beside my grandfather, the contrast was dramatic. He was a good deal taller than she and was always slender, but still, they never looked incongruous. She used to wear a big red bindi as long as they were married. The first time I saw Ammama after he died, it took me a while to figure why she looked different. Then it struck me: the bindi was missing.
She used to be a volleyball player when she was young. In the pictures I’ve seen of her as a young girl, she had a tiny waist, thick long hair and these dark, intensely intelligent eyes. Mom also says that she kept the most perfect house; Mom still remembers the wonderful smells of freshly made desserts each day when they returned from school. Now that I’m the age that I am, it is easier for me to imagine her as she was 65 or so years ago; as a young person, rather than thinking of her as always having been old.
Now she lives by herself in a cheerful, airy apartment in Cochin. She has a purple refrigerator (!) and a host of people who help her out with daily errands and supplies. The oldest of these volunteer-assistants is about 80, and I tell her that he is the most ideal suitor for her; this makes her laugh until she cries. There used to be an assortment of visiting cats too; I’m not sure if they still come around. Actually, they must be. She believes in feeding an animal, be it a cat or a dog, like she feeds her grandchildren: heavily and with large doses of ghee (she calls it “gee” in her accent).
We would all be so much poorer without grandparents, don’t you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Reasons to live

Here is a sample from many such lists compiled periodically in my angst-filled life. Have been doing this for many, many years now. The optimist in me peers out at such times; very, very cautious in case she gets poked in the eye by the hard-head who is moi at most times. Still, she wins out, plenty of times and these lists, albeit short, are the result.
Reasons to live:
Finding out what the word “colitas” means, in Hotel California (do you know? Nyah, nyah, nyah)
Bush jokes
Smell of jasmine (will remind me of my great-grandfather’s house, as long as I live)
Comments on my blog
Pablo Neruda poems
Lavender-scented anything

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ganesha and Genesis

There is an item in the news these days about how a zoo in the US is going to feature a Biblical display. A what, you say? That’s what I said, before I read the front-page article in a leading daily, and all was clear.
The zoo in the fair city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has displayed a statue of our very own Ganesha outside the elephant enclosure, along with a marble globe inscribed with an American Indian saying. One day, a gentleman named Dan Hicks goes to the zoo. Upon seeing this exhibit, his religious sentiments are awakened. He reasons, “Why shouldn’t there be a display featuring something from the Bible? They already have two items from other religions in there.”
So what does the good Mr. Hicks do? He trots over to the zoo officials and tells them his idea. The next thing is, there is an official decision in favor of his proposal. The vote came in as 3-1, after over two hours of “public comment from a standing-room-only crowd.” So now the Tulsa zoo elephant enclosure will have some appropriately edifying display to illustrate Creationism, taken from Genesis.
In a case of classic understatement, Tulsa zoo officials sniffed, “ I’m afraid we are going in the wrong direction,” and the priceless “I do not like the idea of Scripture in the zoo.” What they had originally intended with the Ganesha and Native American exhibit is to show how the elephant is perceived in other cultures. Incidentally, there also happens to be a display of the Republican Party’s elephant symbol.
It seems to me that Ganesha has been getting a bit of attention in the U S of A lately. First, some dingbat came out with the idea of putting pictures of Ganesha on beer bottles (Like, dude, isn’t that so cool?). Now Ganesha will be competing for shelf space with Creationism displays, in the Tulsa zoo. Talk about transcending boundaries.
Maybe he is just having the last laugh here, but I for one do find it a tad absurd as to how the Creationism display will exactly tie in with elephants. And why stop at this particular enclosure? Why not set up an auction to sell space outside all the animal enclosures to display a tableau from your religion? After all, doesn’t it make perfect sense to have religious debate in a zoo?Then it would all be very democratic. Let’s say we have zebras. My religion says optical illusions are cool, so let me put up a display! But wait, my neighbor is really into finding spiritual peace by hanging upside down from trees, so he is going to display outside the chimpanzee section, damn it!
Oh, I don’t know. I really don’t. But does it strike anyone that maybe an alternate route to take would be to remove exhibits that appear to strike a religious chord? To achieve this, they may have to go through each enclosure with a fine-tooth comb, but yours truly thinks that this would be more appropriate than adding displays with more religious overtones.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bush speaks out on Beer Crisis


May 19, Washington, D.C. : President Bush today announced the FBI would be taking “special measures” to deal with the abrupt economic problems caused in Wisconsin due to the disruption in the beer industry. Speaking to the media directly after the swearing in of new Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, Bush announced that the beer investigation would be the first to be handled by Negroponte.
Several leading beer manufacturers fell off the Stock Exchange in Chicago following widespread reports that there were severe shortages of beer in the Madison, Wis., area for the last four weeks. The beer lobby cheered loudly at Bush’s announcement and the address was disrupted for a short period while security scrambled to contain the crowd.
“We understand public concern over the beer shortage,” Negroponte said. “We are proud of Wisconsin’s heritage as the leading hub of beer production and sales in this great country and will do everything to set the imbalance right.”
Unconfirmed reports have surfaced that the disappearing brew may be traced to a worker of foreign origin living in the Waukeesha suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The individual, 26, is currently identified by the FBI only as “T.P.” (his initials). He is said to be a prime suspect and is being held for questioning. Negroponte would not answer queries directed specifically at the identity of the suspect. However, it is known that he was previously a student in Florida where he was on a listing of known beer-offenders in that state for over 8 months.
Several thousand kegs, bottles and cans of beer of various brands were confiscated from the suspect’s home in an FBI swoop Saturday night. The FBI is holding T.P. until further notice and reports are still unconfirmed as to how he will be prosecuted. Likely charges include “reckless endangerment of national economy”, “pilfering alcoholic beverages”, “exceeding the yearly limit for per-capita beer consumption,” “consuming alcohol disproportionate to body weight and mass,” and “excessive public rambling when inebriated.”

Note: The above piece, while stunning in its detail and seeming accuracy, should be taken in the spirit in which it was written. It is not the author's intent to belittle the offices of either Mr. Bush or Mr. Negroponte, both of whom the author is sure are very capable gentlemen.
The author also wishes to apologize to Dr. Lee Metcalfe, Professor of Political Science at Florida State University. Dr. Metcalfe, I am sure this is not what you had in mind when you envisioned your students writing on International Affairs with depth and clarity. But alas, sometimes, this is what happens.

Mr. and Mrs. Slick

Saw the much talked about Mr. and Mrs. Smith last night. The irony of it is, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are supposed to represent the average, slightly bored married couple. Average! Did the casting director not look at these two people?
Ah, but there lies the catch. For, in a crafty plot theme, the two are anything but average. They are a pair of assassins, contract killers (or supari specialists, in Mumbai lingo) who happen to run into each other once upon a time in Colombia. Crackling chemistry ensues; Jolie sizzles in an alcohol-and-rain-drenched bar-side scene, then dances with the dazzled Pitt, and they marry. And thus, they end up being the eponymous couple.
They hide their real professions from each other, of course. Hubby is a “big time building contractor” and wifey runs a temp agency. Scenes of domesticity are thrown in to illustrate the ordinariness of their lives, which is but a façade. The sequence where Mrs. Smith accesses her weapons cache behind the microwave is slickly funny, as is the one where he suspects her of poisoning his food at the dinner table.
The main story begins when their professional lives clash with the personal. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say there is a lot of gunfire. The mandatory car chases and high-tech gizmos abound. The lead pair enjoys themselves to the hilt, each trying to out-cool the other. Jolie has a slight edge throughout, both because of the script and the natural charisma she possesses in heaping quantities.
Ultimately, that is what it comes down to. Gizmos, an enjoyable fight sequence between the husband and wife (an actual, physical fight, not a ho-hum marital disagreement), and lots and lots of personal charisma. These are what hold up the movie, so to speak, supporting the plot. The plot itself is a kind of twist to the usual bored-couple-in-a-dull- marriage theme. What actually livens up their lives provides the twist in this much-awaited tale. The movie is slick, fast paced and action packed; it has heaping loads of eye candy in the form of the drool-worthy lead pair, and occasional flashes of humor. Don’t expect more, and it will be an enjoyable flick.

Booktag

At the insistence of one of my dear friends (he has been prodding me rather endearingly over the past few days and must be commended for his everlasting patience) I am finally doing this. It’s called Booktagging; quite interesting, though I’m not answering in detail here.

Total books I own : Given that my books, along with a few other worldly possessions, are scattered in various parts of the USA…in all, about 60. I think.
Last book I bought : The Catcher in the Rye
Last book I read : The last book I finished reading.. Pigs Have Wings. P.G. Wodehouse, who else? Currently plodding thru LOTR. I know, I know.
Books that mean a lot to me: To Kill a Mockingbird, God of Small Things. Only two that I can think of right now.

I am supposed to booktag five people, i.e. have them do this very same exercise on their blogs. Now the thing of it is, I don’t even know five people who blog. I don’t know if this should be disturbing or it’s just plain lame. Halp! And of course I’m not going to ask complete strangers if I can booktag them. Hmm? Does the Great Booktagging Endeavor of the Modern World end here with me, the miserable cretin who doesn’t know enough people to tag???
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

The gratitude tree

Yesterday I ate lunch at this delightful place that is a short walk from work. The weather was cloudy, almost cool. There was a somnolent mid-afternoon air about the place, which has nice touches like an open air seating area, turquoise blue chairs and those glittering mosaic tiles that give the appearance of reflecting water even when they’re not. Plentiful parking and lots of trees make it the perfect getaway for a midweek afternoon.
They serve this amazing ginger and lemon fizzy drink that reminds me of something we guzzle in large quantities back home. (Where I’m from, it is 45°C on an average summer day.) Anyway, in the middle of eating a nice chicken satay salad, I noticed this plant a few feet away. It had leaves with upturned ends, like miniature green Turkish slippers growing on a tree. It was as though someone had come along and painstakingly curled the leaves, a bit like they curl those ribbons at the florists’ when they make up a bouquet. Each leaf was a study in perfection, a deep, rich green with a soft glossy shine.
The thing was so beautiful that I quite forgot, for a while, that I was in the midst of what was a frankly lousy day. I even smiled at my unfortunate lunch companion. (Yeah, aren’t you glad you’re reading this right now and not sitting across from me at a table?) It made me think about something I had once read about finding at least one thing to be grateful for everyday. I guess you can extend this to finding something that makes you think, makes you smile, or just plain mystifies you. My beautiful Turkish slipper tree did all that. And my day was, all of a sudden, turning out a lot better than it started.

P.S.: Anyone know what this tree is called?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Four letter 'words'

One of the most fascinating pursuits we indulge in, I believe, is the analysis of personality. Can anyone really analyze personalities, much less categorize them neatly into different “types?” Well, there is a whole science dedicated to this very pursuit, and even if you don’t agree with it, it is still fascinating because it is about yourself.
There is this one system called Myers Briggs typology. This divides people into 16 types, and yes, all six billion of us on the planet can potentially fit into any one type based on the test. I discovered a book about it about two years ago and instantly pounced on it and devoured it. And I thought I had my type, though not wholly “fitting in”, so to speak, within that “type.”
For some reason I started thinking about it again recently, and made a cross section of friends do the test and find their type. Then it occurred to me that I might try the test again myself. I did, and this time I got a different profile. This one seems closer to my own view of myself, though again I would not say it is a perfect match.
That is the question. Wouldn’t a person’s answers change over time, depending on circumstances and natural maturity? Then what is the true validity of such a test? Oh well. I have never done the paid version of the thing, which is probably why I got disparate results in the first place. That should teach me to grab the freebies.
Here is a sample of what that great purveyor of all and any information, the Internet, had to say about mois: (http://typelogic.com) , by one Ms. Marina Margaret Heiss with Joe Butt.
“They tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, they are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that they really want people to make sense. :-)”
Okay, that last part is eerily true. Or is it just the Forer effect? You know, where a bunch of people reads a generalized description of certain personlity traits, and they all, unbeknownst to each other, end up feeling that it describes them?
If y’all want to find out your type, do the test at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/Jtypes1.asp. Then read up on the four- letter description that the test assigns you. And no, we are not talking profanity here: each profile really IS made of four letters. :-)See how and if you fit in to what the test says. Leave comments, please. Note that this isn't quite the definitive test, you have to take the professionally administered one to get the professional analysis, but this is good for a start.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Madness is Hereditary

In March this year, Mom and Dad celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. To those who say marriage is a great institution, this makes it plain just how long these good folks have been institutionalized. But before you get scandalized at this cavalier joke at my parents’ expense, let me state that it is directly through them that I have inherited this streak of humor.
What I didn’t inherit, in an instance of the cruelty so rampant in nature, is their good looks. My parents are both tall, graceful and relentlessly well turned out. They have oodles of charisma, are frighteningly well informed and can charm the socks off most people they have just met. They never smell bad. They each look about a decade younger than their actual age. Several of my friends, upon seeing their wedding photograph on the dining room mantle and the real-life versions, have turned to me and said, “What happened to you?”
One might get the impression, having perused this list of their charms, that they are those distant, slightly icy variety of parents who leave their kids growing up lonely and bitter about their own self-worth. (I achieved that all on my own, thank you.) Far from it. They are as capable of being warm and fuzzy as the next set of parents. Towards each other, they are mostly just fuzzy. Let me illustrate. The scene at the table is often a variant of the following. Father: Some idiot behind me wouldn’t stop honking today. Mother: Oh no! I forgot to buy cucumbers!
Father: I wanted to get out and hit him. Mother: Hm? No, I thought the vegetable boy was quite sweet, actually.
My sister and I are listening, enraptured. Their conversation continues, in an easy, enviable flow. After several minutes of this, we give in to laughter.
Father: What’s the joke? Mother: What’s the joke?
Ah! Convergence! My sister and I applaud. Now the parents just look confused, interrupted as they are during a meaningful exchange of ideas.
Oh well. I suppose that’s what happens. Eventually, they converge. (Thankfully, they disprove the theory that after a certain number of years, spouses start to resemble each other. Scary thought, that.) As with all parents, they have their quirks: Dad is fond of saying that madness is hereditary, you get it from your kids; and if I so much as boil an egg, Mom will issue an itemized list of instructions.
But at the end of the day, they’re there. We once gave them a wedding anniversary card that likened them to being the only matched pair of socks in the entire load of clothes in the washing machine.
Somehow, that is an appropriate simile.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Fride Chicken and other wisdom

India is a rich source for those individuals looking to bring out a book comprised solely of funny signboards seen all around this great country. People like me, for instance. Okay, okay, so it was my father’s idea. But if your progeny doesn’t have a right to steal your intellectual property, who does? (I have, on various occasions, helped myself to my father’s socks, his cologne, pencils, sweaters, and tequila. Etc.)
Anyway, they are everywhere. The signboards, I mean. You will soon start to appreciate the Indian ingenuity in conveying messages in the Queen’s language with such flair as to transform it altogether.
Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that to always spell a word the same way means that you lack imagination? Apparently we are a nation overflowing with the stuff. How else would you explain “Chines Food”, “Chinees Food,” “Chinnes Food,” and, doing away with the bother and complication, “China Food”? Or, not wanting to go exotic, maybe you would like some simple “Fride Chicken.”
For those who have suffered untold headaches and red eyes whilst driving behind those yellow and black three-wheeled nightmares we fondly call “Autos”, you have no doubt read those signs at the back saying primly, (displaying a fine sense of irony) “Please Do Not Pollut the Air.”
If you have a big house with beautiful pristine walls, of course you don’t want them spoiled. So what do you do? One family hit upon an idea. They scrawled, in red paint, right across the wall, “Do Not Urinate.”
What? Not ever? Not even in my own bathroom???
But even these pale in comparison to one I saw a long time ago on a small shop in Kerala. The black and white painted sign said, simply, “Fresh Chips Real Estate.” Eh? Maybe a missing comma would explain this one? Still, a business which handles such diverse areas as fresh chips and real estate is not to be taken lightly.
And the last, as succinct a piece of advice as “Eat your Vegetables,” I saw this painted on the side of a staircase leading up to a narrow doorway: “Be Careful of Your Head.” Indeed.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Seventeen syllables

Have been fascinated by many things Japanese: the high speed trains, the language, their propensity for eating poisonous fish (think I’m kidding?). I once went to a tea drinking ceremony, which was presided over by a little old lady in a green silk kimono and perfect, toy-like slippers. She used a brush to sort of brew a tea powder in the bottom of a cup, which you accepted with both hands, according to protocol. I took a sip. She asked me what I thought.
My face, in a performance worthy of at least an honorable mention at the Academy Awards, was impassive (pretty sure of this, though don’t have substantive proof). I didn’t say a word. “Ah,” that queenly presence said, in a tone that can only come from someone really old, or Japanese, or both. “You think it is different.”
It actually tasted, to my taste buds, a bit like fish-powder, albeit in a really pretty cup.
Anyhow, to get to the point, it is this: Haiku. Sample the pieces below, by an old master called Basho. (Got these off a website called toyomasu.com. Read a few books of it earlier, though.)

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And another one:
No blossoms and no moon,
and he is drinking sake
all alone!

The great and fascinating thing about these poems is that, in the original Japanese haiku, each contains 17 syllables. Inexplicable, yet lovely. (The English ones don't have to follow this rule, because there are too many differences between the two languages.) Here is my pithy offering, inspired by the spirit of being in a free world and anyone being allowed to make as big a fool of themselves as they wish:

the silence between us
sits; tangible
as a bowl of ripe cherries.

many moons ago

A few scratchings from many, many moons ago:

The paper waits for me to speak my mind
for it can see
I have a pen in hand
it wonders what I have to reveal
and I wonder
what I have to hide…
-----------------------------------------


We sailed down our stream
blissful in a paper boat
then came the ocean
we soon found
salt is not kind to paper boats
meant for blissful streams…
-------------------------------------------------


And in a tragic instance of self assessment:

So many evenings sat she,
In the prime of youth
Writing awful poetry…
Questions of ignorance
Searching for bliss
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