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.

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