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 fa├žade. 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.
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