Monday, October 16, 2006

Tree house chronicles

It’s a matter of perspective: the forest floor looks quite different when viewed from 90 feet up by flashlight. Hanging off a rickety wooden balcony in our tree-house in a forest in rural Kerala, my two companions and I had just had the experience of having our generator not start up, and were now surrounded by the deep blackness of the forest night with two little lanterns hung nearby.
We hoped for fireflies, but didn’t see any. But the view the next morning made up for it- a swirl of purplish mist which would part to reveal a mountainside of tea gardens bathed in early morning sun. A ride down the hand-operated, open elevator later, we would descend to the ground by the side of a brook. We spent many hours on the rocks in this brook, navigating the small rapids and the slippery, moss-covered rocks or dipping our feet in the gin-clear water like contented children on summer vacation.
We ate our meals on an open verandah on the banks of the brook, watching the sun come out and then hide again every five minutes. The food was warm and fresh, simply served on banana leaves and tasting heavenly. Sometimes, the rain would send fine sprays of mist into our table. Then the sun would come back and dry us off.
Driving back to the city, we stopped at a roadside stall selling such delights as fresh forest honey, handmade vetiver soap and little vials of pure eucalyptus and rose oil. Later, we stopped at the roadside again to drink tender coconut water, compelled by the gap-toothed grin of our gawky adolescent vendor. Masses of pink and orange wildflowers bloomed everywhere. Watermelon fields tended by girls in bright clothes shone in the tender golden sunshine.
It made me think of something said by a wise old owl I once knew: Sometimes, we don’t know the beauty of our own land.


Commenting on his utter unsuitability to the corporate world, he remarked: “Because ‘slide deck’ makes me want to skitter down a boat-deck on my butt.”

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Idle surfing of television channels sometimes yields some gems that you may have missed, had you been out on the weekend and actually doing something fun, or meaningful, or whatever. Anyway, so the gem I came upon was this show about food, and not just food: the topic of discussion was bread.
An Irani Bakery in Bombay ’s Flora Fountain was the venue. The owner, a man who could only be described as the ideal baker, was explaining the intricacies of his special breads. He expounded knowledgably on the subject, throwing in an endearing smile every few sentences. He explained the logic behind the twist in his khari biscuits- something to do with preserving the biscuit in its entirety even after you dip it in chai. If it’s an ordinary straight khari, it crumbles and what are you left with? Nothing.
Then came the signature ‘brun pao.’ This specialty is known for its crisp, brown top that comes after several hours of a unique baking technique. The baker endearingly referred to it as ‘crispy’, making you want to rush to Bombay and beat down the doors of his bakery.
Asked about whole wheat bread, he let out a sigh. Tolerantly, he conceded that some people place an emphasis on health and insist upon brown bread rather than the traditional white.
At the end of his talk, you became wonderfully convinced that there is no trouble in the world that cannot be eased by hot, well-buttered, fresh pao and a cup of steaming chai.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The value of endorsement

It is a fine testament to the charm of John Abraham and the bikes he endorses. One evening, whilst the parents and I were watching TV in a pleasant torpor, he appeared on the screen. His teeth gleamed and his hair shone. He earnestly said nice things about his bike, and then he was gone.
It was one of those very rare occasions when the Mater had the TV remote in her hands. She now pronounced, with touching conviction and in her musical Malayalam, “If this boy asks me, I will certainly sit on the bike and go for a ride.”
Now this statement, to be recognized for its true significance, must be considered in light of the fact that the last time my mother sat on the back of a two-wheeled vehicle, Nehru and Gandhi were still alive.
However, the father took a dim view of this girlish confession. “Ptchhgh” he went from behind the newspaper. (If the remote is not within his control, he watches TV from behind a newspaper.) Also in chaste Malayalam, he gruffed, “Fat chance! That boy giving you a lift.”
Regardless of this unkind lack of faith, I still think Abraham and his bike bosses should sit up and take notice. He is certainly an effective ambassador- there can be no better endorsement than the above noted discussion.

Beach Zen

I often crave pitifully for another beach vacation, then make do by recalling the memorable ones I've had so far. This may be being fuelled by living far, far away from anything by way of a beach, unless you count the inaccessible shores of Ulsoor Lake. Anyway, there was this one family vacation when I was eleven, to a tiny beach town in Orissa.
We stayed at a delightful inn called the Mermaid Motel, run by a lively middle-aged lady and her teenage son. This son had a shaggy, round-eyed dog he’d named Jonga. The son and Jonga would fool around on the beach together for the most part of their waking hours, and for achieving this Zen-like state of contentment and the ideal life, I held both in rather high esteem. It was only later that I realized that at least part of their beach-time was owing to the presence of my striking 16-year old sister in her cherry-red bathing suit. Oh well.
We woke up and indulged in the luxury of walking straight to the beach while the parents labored over tea and Marie biscuits. We had amazing meals of rice and dal and fresh fish. We made friends with the weather-beaten fishermen with lilting accents and radiant smiles, who would keep watch on us while we swam. We accepted presents of shells and other priceless sea-treasures from the teenaged hotelier and his friendly dog.
It was a vacation to remember. A few months later, we read in the newspapers about a storm that had struck coastal Orissa. Immediate thoughts were of the Mermaid Motel and its delightful owners, and the unforgettable fisher-folk who’d held my hand when the waves got too strong. We could only hope that they’d come out of the storm and preserved that idyll. Maybe I should go there on my next vacation and see for myself, after all these years.

Mothers and bangles

Watching the news these days is fraught with unintentional entertainment. About a week ago, there was a fracas in Parliament owing to one esteemed member verbally abusing another esteemed member by saying something derogatory about the second member’s mother. It escalated into microphone throwing, shoving, and more yelling. Some parliamentarians were even carried off on strechers, no doubt with bloody noses having received a well-thrown microphone or two.
The inimitable Laloo, when asked to throw light on the goings-on, pronounced somberly, “We are not here to listen to abuses of our Mothers. We are also not here to wear bangles on our hands and sit.” (My translation of his chaste Hindi. By the mothers-and-bangles comment, he inadvertently highlighted the curious dichotomy in the way women are linguistically represented in Hindi, but that’s another matter.)
As a colleague of mine, discussing the matter at some length the morning following the fisticuffs, said exasperatedly, “Waste fellows!
And that’s about as succinct as it can it get.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That weekend

St. Joe’s Peninsula on Florida’s Emerald Coast has a beautiful park with miles of sugar white sand dunes, blue-green water and a campsite a few minutes’ walk from the beach. It was here that a group of campers descended one evening in late August. They set up the tents, and then, still sweating from the exertion of unfurling the precisely symmetrical tents and banging the pegs into the earth, started the campfire. They grilled mounds of expertly marinated chicken, drank Pepsi frosty from the icebox, and played cards.
After eating all the food and drinking all the drink, they decided that a walk to the beach would be nice. They did so, flopping on the silver sand and talking in the purple darkness. They went for a walk through the trail in the forest, spotted two pairs of glassy eyes in the distance and became convinced that they were to meet their deaths at the claws of these fearsome wildcats. Alas, the creatures turned out to be deer.
Then someone suggested a drive. So a drive it was, the sounds of the sea always just outside. Two hours later, they stopped at a gas station and stood around in the neon lighting, drinking bad coffee. An hour or two of sleep in the honestly assembled tents, and then the sun rose: a glorious pink and blue and gold. A couple of them walked on the long boardwalk near the white dunes and flew kites as the sun came up, taking pictures that would unfortunately be lost once they started getting passed around from party to party.
About a year later, a larger group made the same trip. Alas, it was cut shorter than originally planned, by a considerable margin. Why?
“There were too many mosquitoes. And many other kinds of bugs.”
Evidently, the Camping Gods do not always smile.

Comfort food

Traveling on a train recently, I had the marvelous experience of refusing the food offered to passengers. When the attendant came around asking if I wanted a “vaj” or a “non-vaj” meal, I shook my head and said, “Thanks, I have my own food.”
There is something to be said about your mother packing her special fried chicken into neat little silver foil packages, divided into lunch and dinner, with all the accoutrements.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Are you there, God?

So there seem to be miracles happening all over the country. First we had sea-water turning sweet. Now we have idols drinking milk again.
People rushed to drink the miracle-water as quickly as they could; they stood in it and scooped up great handfuls of it. Sweet or salt, that water did not look particularly clean to me and it probably wasn’t. The few visuals I did see on TV proved that there was plenty of filth in the surrounding areas. But faith will make you walk into murky water, stand in it, and drink it, I suppose.
And about our idols drinking milk- how does this start? Some devout sort in a temple starts spooning milk into the mouth of a deity, and then whoops in delight when the deity obligingly sips his offering? It seems to me that there are better and more deserving recipients of all this nutrition than idols made of clay and stone. Such as the millions of street children in this country. Meanwhile, idols all over are being ‘fed’ with spoons, while the majority of the milk offered drips to the floor. Also, is there a preference? Does full-fat milk work better than double-toned?
Maybe it is just the jaded side of me, but I cannot help wondering as to why the Almighty would choose to signal anything to us humans by turning a small patch of sea-water mildly less salty. Or by suddenly slurping milk out of spoons. And that too, selectively- a few people testified grumpily on national TV that the Gods had refused their offering.
Or maybe the real issue is that miracles just seem more attractive to us in these troubled times. We’re all so battered and have nowhere to go, emotionally. What better way, then, to grab on to an unusual occurrence and label it a miracle? Maybe it really gives us hope and sustenance. And maybe that is the real miracle.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pink and Blue

Watching a re-run of a re-run of Friends the other night, I was struck by what is a recurring theme in this show. Rachel and Ross are taking their baby Emma to Rachel’s workplace (Ralph Lauren) and they’ve put a pink bow on her head for the occasion. Ross makes a remark about Emma being so cute that she would make a bigger hit than peasant blouses and A-line skirts.
Rachel, Monica and Chandler turn to him with a look that says, “What is wrong with you? Why are you even aware of such a thing as an A-line skirt?” Ross then sheepishly asks if he can have a blue bow on his head.
Maybe I was just in a bad mood that evening. But it set me thinking. So if a man talks even slightly knowledgably about a topic like women’s clothes, he is, somehow, less of a man? On the other hand, if he slips up and says he doesn’t care two hoots about such topics, he automatically becomes an insensitive ape who knows nothing about women and their needs.
It seems to be quite a situation for a fellow to be in. This show is full of such little references- although I’m sure it is prevalent elsewhere too. Besides, once you are on the Seinfeld side of the fence, there is very little about Friends that appeals to you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Little Barflies

When my sisters and I were little, our Dad used to play billiards at our club after we finished our evening swim. This club is on top of a hill, and the road leading up to it is shaped like a spiral staircase. By the time Dad’s car rounded the last turn, we could smell the swimming pool and before he even came to a halt, we would be running out of the car.
Now this billiards table was located in one of those darkened, stately rooms that old clubs are famous for. The gentlemen were mostly smoking, so the room was suffused with curling smoke; together with the dim lighting and the murmuring conversations, this was altogether the most interesting section of the entire club. What made it even more so was that children were not allowed in here.
One evening, while we hung around outside by one of the big windows, Dad spotted us. And miracle of miracles, we were actually asked to come in. Not only this, we were escorted in like actual grown up ladies and ushered in with the utmost respect. There was one very elderly gentleman in particular, who would bow down low and kiss our hands and address me as “young lady” and “Ma’m” even when I was five years old.
Well! This was the high point of our un-cool little lives thus far. What’s more, we even got to sit on the bar-stools, albeit for a precious few seconds. To this day, I prefer sitting on bar-stools rather than the regular seating at a restaurant.


What’s with telemarketers these days? If you’re going to make unsolicited calls to someone, at least make sure you sit yourself in a place that doesn’t, to your harassed callee, sound like a fish-market. But, no. The last dozen calls I’ve gotten, the marketing executive seems to be sitting in the midst of a rather lively auction at a fish market. This morning, I had the following conversation:
Am I speaking to Ms. Devika Menon? I am from Some Bank, Chennai.
Yes, you are.
Am I speaking to Ms. Devika Menon?
Yes, you are. What’s this about?
Hjds hfusuifw relationship jkdsl fn uis?
What’s that?
I said, could you repeat that?
(Deep breath) I can’t hear you.

Another time, this woman calls me and says, “I’m calling from ABC. You have a mobile phone connection with XYZ, right?”
“Yes,” I answer politely.
“Why can’t you change to ABC?”
And that’s your spiel? I am sorry, I really am. But I cannot condone this sort of lack of charm. If I am to be harassed every day of my life because you want to sell me another miserable phone connection, please, oh please, at least try to keep a check on how annoying you let yourself get.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Standing Ovation

Barbaro, the star race horse who was the darling of the tracks and has won millions of dollars’ worth of prizes, was recently injured in a race. He broke his leg in several places and had to undergo major surgery. He is now in a long, painful recovery.
Such is his stature that he’s been constantly receiving gifts like baskets of carrots and other horsy treats. It was heartbreaking to see pictures of this beautiful horse with his leg in splints, horrendously injured and in obvious pain. However, he is receiving the best of care and is expected to recover even though his racing career is over.
Although when you think about it, it’s not ‘his’ career at all, is it. The story of this horse made me think of racing in a rather sad way. These animals have, obviously, no choice.
I remember watching a show in Disney World where the performers were the two star orcas, Amu and Shamu. The end of the performance was to be an act where the two of them would create such waves with a thwack of their tails that twelve rows of spectators would be soaked in the cold water from their tank. Well, that day Amu didn’t want to do this trick. Even though she was slightly smaller than the 12,000 lb. Shamu, she called the shots. She blocked his way and prevented poor Shamu from performing, even though he was clearly OK with it.
The trainers cajoled them. They even, I suspect, begged. Amu wouldn’t budge. Finally, the trainers told us apologetically that that was that. There wouldn’t be any splashing and we would all just have to go home bone-dry.
Maybe all performing animals are just kind to us by going along with our ridiculous demands of them. I wonder what will happen the day this stops and they start really asserting themselves.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Lose Weight: Please Don't Ask me How

Here is a sampling of wit and effective advertising I have seen over the past few weeks.
“Lose Weight.
Ask for Free Sample.”
~Eh? And how would we be doing this? By the gram? And, more importantly, what if I’m interested in paid samples?

“Wear Helmet. Or Hell Will be Met.”
So all helmet-wearers are going to heaven, then. Quite an effective segregation of human-kind, I thought. Less work at the Pearly Gates.

Scrawled on a mobile food stall: “Rant: Rs. 12.”
I wonder how this works. You hire the stall for a day and rant ceaselessly, all for a princely sum of twelve rupees? I don’t think this will make a profit in the long run. Demand will far exceed supply in this city. Reality intervened in the form of a friend who pointed out that it was merely the word ‘rent.’

One ‘Gent Saloon’ offers a “Veg Cut.”
I have spent many sleepless nights over this one. I stand defeated.

And the following gems are examples of the value of spacing, or an inadvertent omission or two.
Slow Work in Progress.”
Considering this sign was in front of a road work operation, Very True Indeed.

At a hip café, inscribed in chalk: “Try our Hot Intern”
I did a double take and must confess, took this one at face value, marveling at the sort of marketing strategy you need to come up with in order to stay ahead of the pack these days. Alas, closer inspection revealed the truth: “Try our Hot International Coffees.” I still prefer to think the erasure was intentional.

On a side note, I’ve seen a few signboards and shop names with the lettering rather meticulously blacked out. Then someone told me that it is because they haven’t the words on there in Kannada. For some reason I always picture a band of trolls carrying pots of black paint going around in search of offending signboards, then blacking them out, their tongues sticking out in concentration.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Heat and Dust

Grousing about the ‘city’ has become somewhat of a favorite pastime of late. Bangalore has become a whipping boy of sorts, on many occasions. I feel a little shame faced right now though.Let me elaborate.
It is quite simply because of the kind of weather we have started having recently. I only need to speak to my folks in Maharashtra who are roasting in 40C heat, while I sleep without a fan and go around in a light jacket even at noon. My Dad grumpily informs me of the temperature and humidity levels in their neck of the woods every time I speak to him and I feel a slight twinge at having maligned Bangalore thus in the past.
Peace. All is well with the world. Bangalore is not really the hell on earth I may have made it out to be thus far.
*hangs head.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Simple Life

I just love it when things are so quiet that when I put my spoon down on my plate, it seems like a crash. At least, this is how it has become after a year of living in a maddening city which has more traffic and noise than should be legal. Also, not having had a vacation for many, many, many moons might have something to with it.
Anyhow, so it happened that I could get away from it all over the weekend. I can imagine few things better than just sitting on a chair in a glass balcony, looking out at coffee plantations and watching the clouds shift shape over the mountains, with nothing on my mind except what awaits me for lunch. Or not wearing a watch and the cell phone with its mouth shut.
The rain is coming in a baby-fine spray, driven almost horizontally by the wind. Later in the evening, we sit around the table drinking home brewed banana wine and eating fresh fish. The morning is misty and fresh; taking a walk around the plantation reveals delights like quaint staircases and miniature lily ponds, fruits that I don’t know the names of, and a far off church in the mist revealed only by a simple cross.
Our hosts are simple folks. Besides coffee, they also grow vanilla and arum lilies. They brew wine and spend evenings on the swing listening to the radio in the porch. They know the birds that visit each morning. When we left, they gave us warm hugs and a bag of fragrant cardamom.
I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Then and Now

When we were kids, condensed milk came in small round tins built like little tanks. We would open them with the can opener that Dad had fixed on to the wall and carefully peel back the last bit of the lid so it didn’t cut our fingers. Then we would deliver the opened can to Mom in the kitchen where she would turn out something incredible with it. We would hang around her, mewing like hungry alley cats scenting fish, until she turned over the empty can to us. Then we would very carefully scrape, spoon, lick and wipe clean every little scrap of the condensed milk that was to be had.
Now it also comes in these squeeze tube thingies, which unfortunately have none of the drama and appeal of the little circular war tanks. Neither do I care about licking off the last of it because I no longer live near Mom.

Friday, May 26, 2006

More Coffee, Madam?

There is something to be said for starting your day with a good breakfast.
Especially when it consists of things like peach tarts, fresh orange juice,
perfect scrambled eggs and, not to forget, the perfect cup of coffee.

There is just something about fresh brewed coffee in a white cup that gets
me every time- that rich brown color and the aroma that wakes me up in the best possible way.An example of perfect composition and texture. Then the cream, swirled in a sinuous curve, to complete the picture. Now for those who have witnessed me early morning, i.e., pre-coffee, this is definitely a good thing. The world is a dangerous enough place as it is, in my opinion, without letting me run around loose before the right amounts of coffee have been ingested.

So that first cup is definitely a thing of joy, yes. After the first few
sips, the world seems a more hospitable place. The fangs retract and the
brain clears, somewhat. The birds even start twittering, ceasing their
previous shrieking. If there is sunlight, it starts looking golden instead
of like an interrogation lamp.
And so I admire the power this piece of white china with its contents has on me. I sit back in the chair and look benevolently around. Now all I need is that second cup and things will be even better…

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Sadly, this I can identify with.

Taken from Beau Peep's Web site.

Enjoying your fizzy drink?

All right then, it’s time for another rant. This time it is about the current crop of aerated drinks ad films we’re being subjected to on TV. What’s with Pepsi? After getting two starlets to strew rose petals out of a hairdryer and informing us that drinking caffeine-flavored cola was ‘kinky’, we now have them strutting as some variety of TV technicians who only visit the houses of intellectually challenged men.
Then there is another former Miss World stumping for Coke. She deals with guys who whistle at her by blowing into empty Coke bottles, then winking at us and saying “thande ka tadka.” The guys are, we suppose, chastised by this thoroughly appropriate dressing down. To top it all, her voice is dubbed in this idiotic film to sound like she is suffering from acute abdominal pain.
When compared to these doozies, 7-Up seems almost better. Ms. Sherawat, looking inexplicably chunky, asks Fido to grant her a curvier shape. She too, seems to be suffering from abdominal cramps as she accompanies certain words with an uncomfortable spasm of her torso. She then gets turned into a dark green bottle full of fizzy beverage.
I mean, give us a break! Even after thus ranting, I find that there is no sense of relief in my fevered brain. But the next time one of these things comes on air, I hope it will be less irritating, even if only slightly.

rainy day

rainy day--
she chooses the yellow coffee cup
over the mauve

Monday, March 20, 2006


This here piece is what is called an egopost. It contains nothing of any interest to anyone else except myself. Har har. I reached the following astonishing conclusions over the course of a very lovely and chilled weekend.

After sitting through the pointless Cold Mountain and the plodding and acutely irritating Brokeback Mountain, I have resolved never to watch another movie with the word Mountain in its title.
Jacaranda is my current favorite flower. In many places in Bangalore, a jacaranda tree is what redeems this city from its infernal roads.
I want to see what it’s like to spend all my money on things that I want but don’t need, and end up with no money at the end of the month. This should be easy.
Heard the song “What’s love got to do with it” (this one sung by someone called Fat Joe). It brought back memories of Florida like nothing else.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Napping on a busy day

The other day, friend and I were passing the evening by stuffing face at a quick eats place. Friend had decided that it was in the interest of humanity in general to see that my face was stuffed, quickly, as I had just announced that I was very hungry.
Anyway, so there we were, standing beside a row of parked bikes and chewing on some hearty meat rolls. There was one empty space next to me, however, occupied by a sleeping dog who was curled up to look like a furry brown comma.
A man on a bike came up, and nearly parked in this space. Then he saw the dog and backed away, making as little noise as possible.
Friend and I remarked on the niceness of this man. A short while later, another man on a bike. But this time, the dog wasn’t so lucky. This man honked and made sure our sweet, groggy, brown comma of a dog woke up and walked away, tottering off trying to look for another napping place.
I said, “welcome to reality” as the dog departed. Oh well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Er, could you get this picture off my head, please?

So the Bush-man is in India and we are all suitably a-twitter, at least in the media. But aside from the buddy vibe that he and our Mr. Prime Minister seem to have suddenly discovered, the big nu-killer (Bush’s pronunciation, not mine) deal that is supposedly afoot, the impact on geo-politics in the South Asia region, the ramifications of our stance on Iran and future trade with the U.S. that this visit will surely bring about, I have one important point that I am quite concerned about, and it is this.
There are the customary protestors in India who are extremely not happy with Dubya’s visit. Maybe they are just mad that they never had a red-carpet welcome or a Presidential banquet hosted in their honor. Whatever the case may be, they have chosen to show their displeasure by parading a donkey on the street with a picture of George W. plastered on its forehead.
I must strenuously object to this. Aside from the fact that it reflects very badly on our heritage of warm hospitality, I happen to think donkeys don’t deserve this sort of treatment. No, really. I like donkeys and think they are rather cute and severely misunderstood. Moreover, if the donkey had a choice of which human political bigwig’s picture it would like on its forehead, do you think it would have chosen this particular one?
Exactly. So please, let’s just take a step back here and keep donkeys out of the whole equation. I think this is a reasonable request. I hope that the powers that be who decide the poster-on-a-donkey component of any major diplomatic visit will take heed and see that no donkeys are harassed the next time a certain (or uncertain) foreign dignitary decides to visit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eat, drink, and be merry

I used to often wonder, on reading articles about various foods and if they are good for you or bad, what one was actually supposed to do. Should you eat more of that particular food after reading glowing reports on its anti-oxidant properties? Suppose you do. A few months later, you are bound to see another article that informs you that after all, this miracle food is just an ordinary food and that it does no good in particular.
This trend is very prevalent in the U.S.; with the Americans already being a nation obsessed with food, imagine the confusion these articles and news pieces wreck. Last week, there was a report out on low-fat diets and how they may do nothing to reduce the risks of cancer and heart disease. (I love the use of the word “may” in these instances. Nothing is ever for certain in the world of cautionary literature about foods and links to human diseases.)
Finally, one Harriet Brown has seen fit to write, in the New York Times, an article of her own which puts forward this astonishing view: “instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let's resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.” She goes on to quote a study which proves that the body extracts nutrients much more efficiently from foods we enjoy, provided that these foods already have an intrinsic nutritional value.
Eh? You mean we should stop making complex matrices of ideal foods, bad foods, carbohydrates, and ‘good’ cholesterol, and just eat sensibly the foods we actually like?But at least, it may (!) have put to rest the minds of countless Americans who have been chomping through their hateful and, ultimately unsuccessful, diets. And since it is certainly not only in the US where people force-feed themselves items like boiled cauliflower in attempts to lose weight, we should all just use our common sense in this matter and come out happier.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Have you been irritaped?

Caught an advertisement on TV yesterday: a man is playing with a baby, who is chortling in high glee. Suddenly the Dad decides to take a picture of the baby with his mobile phone-camera. Instantly, the kid’s expression changes. He gets this stern look in his eye and, seizing the offending gadget, chucks it on the floor. Father is appropriately sheepish at having been thus chastised by the no-nonsense infant who has been playing so peaceably until now.
The message at the end of this clip? Do not take pictures on your phone without permission.
At last! Someone has thought of spreading this very relevant message. I congratulate Hutch for coming out with this gem. Their ads are all world-class, but this latest series is worthy of praise not only for the excellent execution but the very message itself.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Do I look like a frickin' quail?

Ok, I couldn’t resist this. Did you hear the story about U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shooting his buddy in the face?
So what happened was this. Cheney and buddies take off on a quail-shooting gig. Cheney takes aim. But wait! His buddy somehow gets in the way and Cheney doesn’t see him. Result? The 78 year-old buddy (who was wearing the mandatory bright orange hunter’s vest, by the way) is peppered with birdshot in the face and neck. The medical posse that accompanies the veep and his cronies, as you can imagine, swooped down and took the old gent off to the hospital.
This incident could have happened to anyone who thinks shooting wingless birds is a fun thing to do, I suppose. But since it happened to Mr. Vice President of the You are Either With us or Against us States, it just seems, well, ironic.
Jay Leno tore into Cheney, as was natural. Sample Leno’s gem: “I think Cheney is starting to lose it. After he shot the guy he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wire tapping illegal?”’
As did Dave Letterman, who smirked, “Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It’s Dick Cheney.”
I rest my case. My sympathies, Mr. Cheney. Next time, look out for the old guys wearing the orange vests.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rang de Basanti

Warning: Plot spoilers follow.Saw the much-awaited Rang de Basanti a couple of days back; enjoyed it. The first half is particularly fresh and appealing. The director has to be congratulated for capturing the chemistry among all the lead characters and keeping the pace going with all the tomfoolery that they indulge in.
Sue is a British filmmaker who wants to recreate the events from her grandfather’s diary, which was written while he served in India. She comes to Delhi looking for the perfect actors to play her characters. However, many hilarious and failed attempts later, she turns to our carefree young Delhi University posse to step in. This posse consists of DJ, Sukhi, Aslam, Karan and Sonia. They are later joined by Laxman, a political worker with a fundamentalist Hindu mindset but filled with patriotic fervor and idealism.
Once they start playing the roles of Chandrashekhar Azad and other revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle, the youngsters gradually find that their cynicism and apathy have started to erode. The death of their friend IAF Flt. Lt. Ajay Rathod, Sonia’s fiancé, due to alleged cheap parts used in his MiG as part of a shady defense deal, is the catalyst that turns all their lives upside down.
This is when the movie takes a turn for the serious, with the youths plotting their own drastic way of calling attention to the rot and corruption in current Indian politics by staging a dramatic assassination. Finding that this too, has somehow come to naught in the hypocritical political climate, they then decide to turn themselves over to the law, but not before trying to ensure that their message gets across. This they achieve by taking over the All India Radio station, guns and all, and speaking to the nation, live.
The juxtaposition of the present with the doings of the freedom fighters in Sue's grandfather's diary adds depth and context to the youngsters' motivation, with sepia overtones and powerful recreations of the freedom struggle. The dream sequence with the Defence Minister in place of General Dyer in Jalianwala Bagh, in particular, stands out.
Events follow each other at a breakneck pace, with Sue being left out of it all. Presumably, this is to ensure that she stays out of trouble, etc., but still, wouldn’t the rest of them at least have wanted to let her know what was going on? It is then revealed that Karan, the son of the wheeler-dealer who is partly responsible for the ghotala in the buying of faulty MiG parts, has killed his father, Rajnath Singhania. Eh? I had difficulty digesting this.
And how did the audience know that Singhania was Karan’s father? This was not announced until later by DJ. ?)

Before the end credits, a somber note about the number of MiG pilots killed is flashed across the screen, but I would have appreciated a more in-depth look at these numbers. What are we supposed to infer from a statement saying 206 MiG pilots were killed in crashes in X number of years? How many were killed in wars? What conclusions were drawn after each of these crashes? If you are basing your film on this premise, then at least let the audience know a little more about it.
Still, despite these quibbles, it is certainly a film to watch. A great break from clichéd offerings about dosti and pyaar, or worse, the new genre of risqué (please) comedies.
Aamir Khan, despite his crow’s feet, does a fine job as DJ. The rest of the cast is excellent, with great turns by Waheeda Rehman, Kiron Kher and Om Puri. The toothy Madhavan as Ajay Rathod is appropriately dashing.The other youngsters are all great, and the characters are well-written and appealing. A.R. Rehman also does a wonderful job with the music. Watch Rang de Basanti, it’s a well-made film you will in all likelihood, enjoy.

Monday, February 06, 2006


For those of you out there who are wrinkling their brow and wondering what brought about what looks like a serious case of verbal diarrhoea on this blog, fear not, it's not as bad as it seems. The following are just a few pieces that I've written over a period of time. (One of them is from three years ago).
I only put them up now as it kept giving me an error message about something called the 404 everytime I tried to post. Much gnashing of teeth later, all seems well with this page and hence this rash of postings. Bear with me, won't you.


A few precepts that have held me in good stead and which I intend to continue following, as a matter of principle:

Always make faces at the cc-cameras in ATM’s

Read when you are stuck in traffic. In this city, you will be reading libraries of books within a month

Take pictures of your dog

Research your dream travel destinations on the Internet, however improbable

Help your Dad with the crossword clues, especially with the words you know he will spell wrong

Start a collection, doesn’t matter of what

Make up your own names for the constellations

Have mint with everything!

Whale song

I was sitting in a doctor’s office a couple of Saturdays ago when I saw on TV an incredible sight: a huge, bottlenosed whale had actually strayed into the Thames, and was struggling desperately to stay alive. It was first reported by a man who spotted it and thought he was hallucinating at first. The appearance of the whale in the middle of London really is a mystery; no one could come up with a plausible explanation for this strange occurrence.
It was a sad sight. The huge animal was obviously in completely alien territory and had become injured in the narrow channel of water. Besides, it must have been totally disoriented and desperate to find the rest of its pod. A rescue plan was initiated and the papers reported optimism about the whale being returned to the North Atlantic, from where it had strayed; but it was not to be. The whale died in the middle of the rescue operation, whilst it was being hoisted out of the Thames.
I’ve always been fascinated by whales and felt terrible when I first saw the story on TV. The rest of the lost whale’s pod must have been looking for it; as far as I know, they have fairly intricate social connections. I certainly hope that this is not the beginning of a terrible trend, whereby, due to some yet-unknown selfish action of humans, whales are being forced out of their natural territory, losing their way and straying into the river.

Merlin Hats and Technicolor Sunsets

Sometimes I think that all people in the world can be categorized into two groups in terms of preferences, no matter what the subject. For instance: tea or coffee, cats or dogs, Asterix or Tintin, Windows or Apple, Freecell or Solitaire…so you get the idea.
Still, when it comes to choosing between beach and mountain, I must admit I am a little thrown. A few years ago, living in Florida, the nearest beach was always a drive away, and this might have helped tip the balance in favor of ‘beach’. There was this gorgeous place called St. George’s Island that was a favorite retreat for all of us in college.
It was about two hours away, a scenic drive once you got out of the city. At one point, you could see a bridge, curving over the glittering sunlit ocean; at night, this bridge sparkled and twinkled like the gateway to a magic kingdom. The beach itself was stunning, with firm white sand and gorgeous blue-green water.
So once my roommate and I had two visitors, who had driven down all the way from Boston where they studied. Far from being tired or zombie-like after their marathon cross-country drive, these two were fresh and smiley like the proverbial daisies. In fact, I remember them turning up at our door late at night, each wearing a blue or red velvet Merlin hat decorated with silver stars (they had won these at some local fair en-route to our place) and greeting us thus upon arrival, they made it seem like the most natural social ritual in the world.
To prove the point that they were going about this trip king-size despite having the regulation graduate-student shoestring budget, these two had rented a convertible: a nice-looking golden Chevy Sebring. The roommate and self were grandly shown this magnificent piece of machinery while we threw together a spur of the moment trip to St. George’s.
The drive was fantastic. Then the roommate and I quickly discovered that it’s probably a bad idea to sit in the back in a convertible with the top down, especially when the drivers were as exuberant as these two and kept getting lost. Still, the detours were interesting enough and the beach, when we finally arrived, was right in the middle of a Technicolor sunset.
Our two Boston-weary friends couldn’t get enough of it. We had the wine and fruits we had brought along, and then what do you know? For some reason there was a fireworks display on the beach. Fireworks on the beach at sunset, with wine and fruits! The four of us doubted that life could get any better.
As it turned out, it didn’t. Soon afterwards, the roommate and I moved to Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., respectively. One of the two Merlin-hat wearing, convertible driving mavericks went on to Kentucky (!) and the other, I believe, is still in Boston. But say the words St. George’s Island, and I am sure the grins on all our faces will be exactly the same.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Alias Grace

A book that I have just gotten my teeth out of is Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. This is an author that you just can't take lightly, and chances are you will either love her works or hate them. I hated her Bodily Harm, but loved Blind Assasin.
Alias Grace recreates the story of Grace Marks, a house-maid who was accused of murder in the 19th century along with an accomplice. The base story is true though the author has invented details which weren't available to her during research. The intriguing part of the story is the question of Grace's innocence or guilt, and public opinion in her day was very much in favor of the latter.
The book employs Atwood's preferred means of newspaper reports and letters, besides the first person, for narration. This gives a touching personal feel to the story-telling by Grace, and the imagery is, as usual, haunting and very vivid. An interesting approach is the use of dreams to convey hidden meanings and add texture to the already intense and engrossing story.
There is also a fascinating foray into the approach towards psychiatric ailments in those days, Grace being confined to an asylum for some time. The young Dr. Simon Jordan is attempting to analyse her psyche and see if he can draw fresh conclusions about her sanity or lack thereof; much of the book is the story told him by Grace towards this end.
The characters of Mary Whitney, who leaves you wondering even after the story ends, and Rachel Humphreys the landlady touched me in particular, maybe they are such an indictment of the position women found themselves in those days; however, also because that position is not terribly different from today, a good 150 years later.
Margaret Atwood is at her best in this book. Cerebral, but with the intensity and imagination that has to be read to be experienced. The humor is mordant, wherever present. Alias Grace is, overall, a fine snapshot of the 19th century in one way, but also because of the compelling story, an engrossing read even in this day and age.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Just finished reading Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I must admit, I was drawn in first by the title, then by the blurb at the back giving an outline of the book.
The proprietor of the eponymous detective agency is our heroine, Precious Ramotswe. With a name like that, are you surprised she runs the only detective agency in Botswana? Maybe because English fiction set in Africa seems to be rare, I plunged right into this one.
Overall, the book is a series of cases that Precious solves with her combination of intuition, patience and charm. She has an honesty and integrity that comes across clearly, without her ever seeming holier-than-thou or judgmental. The other characters, like her friend Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and her secretary Ms. Makutsi, are also strong presences in the book though they don’t take up much of the plot. (However, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni features strongly in the ending.)
There is a strong thread of nationalism running through the book; in fact it almost seems like a sub-theme. The descriptions of the land and the country are simple and elegant. Also present is a continual reference to the bad behavior of men, in a gentle, reproachful manner; however, at times you can almost predict that there is going to be a comment on the unreliability of men in general. Also, I found the recollections of her father and the stories of mines a tad unnecessary, in that they took away from the pace of the narrative as a whole. But still, you can well imagine our Miss Ramotswe in her house at Zebra Drive, sipping a cup of bush tea and listening to Radio Botswana every morning. It is images like these that stay with you; vignettes of authentic African life, which make the book such an easy, pleasant read. The author’s writing style is lovely, and is so simple as to make anyone think that they could write like this.
Other books in the Miss Ramotswe series are the intriguingly titled “The Kalahari Typing School for Men” and “Morality for Beautiful Girls” among others. I would definitely like to read more of Precious Ramotswe and her tiny white van. A good read if you’re in the mood for something light but satisfying.
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A Good Lenj

So there we were, nine hungry folks in the middle of the working week. What to do? Someone came up with the idea of gorging on a good authentic Mallu meal. After all, what is life without a good lenj? (Lenj is also known as Lunch in some circles.)
Eureka! Plans were made, instanter. Only one member of this posse happened to be not from Mallu-land. But who cared? The place in question that served up the delicacies in question turned out to be located in one of those sub-lanes in a by-lane that would defy my navigational skills on any given day. It was someone’s house that was converted into a “mess” for hungry folks like us.
The aroma hit us as soon as we set foot in the dark and crowded interiors, milling with cooks and eaters. The yummy, almost tangible lure of freshly fried fish and hot sambar drew us in like magic. Seating was to be grabbed whenever sighted, on plastic stools under long formica tables.
The service was quick and a tad impatient, if indulgent. The Malayalam was sing-song and rapid. We had no time to dither as in other eating joints. Here, if you don’t order in time, you’re jolly well going to go back hungry.
But the food! The first mouthful of brown rice and fresh fried aila hot from the pan! (This aila is known in English by the somewhat unexciting moniker of “mackerel,” which somehow makes it seem like the nerd in the class.) I normally eat the usual refined white rice eaten in North India, but here I enjoyed the taste of the brown, fat rice with the husk on. Which just goes to show what nostalgia for Mallu-land will do to you, even if you cannot claim to have ever lived there.
For the fish non-lovers among us (such people do indeed exist), I realize this piece must have left them cold. But for other aila-eaters and naimeen maniacs, yes. Don’t we all know just such a place that serves up just the most heavenly version of fish on earth? Or, actually, whatever your favorite food, sometimes all you need is the right place. To hell with ambience, menu cards, bedside manners for the wait-staff! Just eat and get out, and go back with that slightly silly grin on your face that can come only from a truly satisfying meal.
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