Sunday, December 28, 2008

The orange curtains

I feel as though I have reached a crossroads. Maybe being away for an unexpected length of time has something to do with it. And the year ending always brings with it a certain amount of introspection.
I look at the way the sunlight slants across the orange curtains and outside, on the palm trees. I long to be inspired.
2008 has been full of extreme highs and extreme lows. I'm grateful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out and about a couple of days ago I came upon a lovely surprise- the trumpet trees are in blossom!
There are great bunches of lovely purplish-pink flowers on many streets. It's amazing how they lift the mundane roads into something pretty- you can almost forgive the arrogant scooterists honking at you as they drive on the sidewalks. They look a bit like cherry blossoms when they are not fully in bloom, but once they do bloom fully they have quite a personality of their own. I hope they last until the jacarandas come around again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just desert

The Hairy Bikers' Cookbook is a bit of an acquired taste, I find. I'm not sure I've acquired it yet. The other day I saw them cavorting in the vast Namib desert, casually putting meat through a grinder and informing us that it was zebra- pronounced to make the 'e' sound like the one in 'let'- and making a 'zebra burger.'

Anyway, the point is, I was entranced by the scenes of the desert. Vast, open dunes for as far as the eye could see, the color a strange other-worldly mixture of gold, brick-red and pink. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word. The one time I came close to the desert in recent memory was in Nevada, and that was full of scrubby little trees- very unsatisfying. I long for acres of just sand, right until the horizon.

I wonder what this means. Along with a new fascination for the color yellow, a longing for the vast open spaces. Hmmm.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Overall, my opinion is that this is an average movie. Perhaps the first thing that bothered me about it is that Priyanka Chopra simply did not strike me as very suitable to play a ramp model, I don't know exactly why. Maybe it's her 'face-cut', as they say. And as the movie progressed, I found it increasingly difficult to be okay with the constant close-ups of her bee-stung lips being flung at me.
So that apart, it's a simple enough story. Priyanka plays Meghna from Chandigarh who comes to Mumbai against Daddy's wishes to make it big in the modelling world. As she puts it, she wants to be a 'supermodel', a label that I've always found vaguely asinine. Anyway, she does make it big. She lands a contract as the face of a major fashion brand. The owner of this brand, played by Arbaaz Khan (looking vaguely like Roger Federer) kindly gifts her a sea-view apartment and they promptly make the place their love-nest. Soon, things begin to go wrong, as they must. Meghna is apprehended for drunk driving, has an abortion, tries drugs and sleeps around, loses her main contract, loses her mind, and then makes a comeback.
There are several gay men thrown in. The most convincing one, Rohit- although he was quite sweet, I didn't understand his relationship to Meghna. Then there is Kitu Gidwani and one Mugdha someone who are quite good in supporting roles. But as usual, it was Kangana Ranaut that sort of stood out. Her performance was better than the main heroine's, if I may say so. Except for her iffy diction- especially when she shouts "You bastard!" at least 8 times in the film- she does a good job.
So, as I said, it's an average film. But after so much face time with Priyanka Chopra, this is one more good reason I will not have the stomach for Dostana.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Why can't I still be photogenic? And, apparently, I was sweet-smelling. Gah! However, this picture of my youth is the only one of its kind in existence, hence a rare and precious gem. Clearly, having had two other bonny babies before the stork dropped me off had robbed the parents of all desire to preserve my every move in black and white glory. Like I said, gah! Thankfully I didn't have a twin.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Sigh. I have been trying to wade through the Fountainhead, a task that has been getting progressively more difficult. In its dense and cheerless pages, I begin to wander quickly. The two main characters, that carrot-top Roark and the glassy Dominique, strike me as mirthless gits who rather deserve each other. Still, I must continue on. I find that it helps put me to sleep- and as insomnia has started visiting me again, this is a good thing.
Then I've started on Paul Theroux's Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. This guy is the ultimate curmedgeon- I've only read the first chapter and already there have been such gems as 'the tedium of listening to the delusions of the young..." Wow! I want to be like you, Theroux, when I grow up. (I'm already well on the way, though.)
But when all else fails, it's Wodehouse to the rescue yet again. Nothing can beat the exploits of Gussie Fink-Nottle dressing as Mephistopheles for a fancy dress ball, losing his way to the party, and ending up getting arrested.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Little Shop of Wonders

The little stores in our neighborhood have always been treasure-troves of wonders and goodies, as I've always known. Today we re-discovered a forgotten gem. The Aishwarya Shopping Point. Oh, what a cave of marvels! I spent considerable minutes staring ecstatically at the rows and rows of goods that I could never find at those big 'super' markets, which I shall have the grace to leave unnamed. Finally, having decided upon a bag of almonds and a variety of Kashmiri daalmoth I'd never seen before, I became aware of some sidelong glances from the shopkeeper. His look seemed to say- "Is she allright? Will it be terribly rude to ask her if she's mentally deficient? Why does she have such a dewy look on her mug? Has she never seen different varieties of prawn pickle or indigenous yet exotic-sounding breakfast foods? Ah, but let it go. Apparently, my store of humble goods is bringing her much joy and fulfilment!"
Then there is the Fancy Store. I went in there to get a packet of bindis. Immediately, I was assaulted by the glitter and seduction of a thousand products jammed into that 2ftX4ft store. I asked the shop guy, the customary North Indian youth, if there were any 'simple' bindis, and then remembered just one other thing I needed. I should have known when he asked, a bit more proddingly than is usual, "aur kuch?" Right- the grand bill total of my two purchases came to EIGHT rupees. Quite a Fancy Store, this- where the Prices are the Only Thing that is NOT Fancy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ding dong, the rain is gone

After being nearly drowned, twice, in the deluge of last week, the sunshine and blue skies have come as a life-saver. My father and I both suffer from severe crankiness if the sun doesn't shine at least 4 days out of 7. One can well imagine my ghastly state of mind, seeing that Bangalore has been grimly Scotland-like in its demeanor for the past so many weeks. Thank God we don't have bagpipes- frightening, that.
The rain does have its little entertainments, though. Stuck in a teeny corner video rental store, I could see an electric pole just outside slowly smoking, sending up ominous little curls every few minutes. To divert myself from thoughts of impending death by electrocution, I focussed on people. One girl walked by in bare feet, splishing merrily in the flowing rapids on the sidewalk. On the opposite street, a man on a scooter delivered one of those steel thermoses full of hot tea to a bunch of guys stuck in a shop. Then a bevy of college-age girls trooped past, soaked and chattering. The tea-drinking boys suddenly fell a little silent as they watched this onslaught of drenched females float past- the laws of nature, plainly evident. I also half-expected one of the girls to start flinging her dupatta about, wriggle and sing- and the Director would then shout, "nahi, nahi, aur thoda jhatka do!"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The price wars

There she sits on the side of the road. Her cart is full of the best bananas I've seen in Bangalore, so what can I do but stop, right? So I do. The first time I bought some, she priced them at 20 Rs for five.

The next day, it was 10 Rs for five. Ok, I thought, maybe yesterday she just made a mistake. She is rather old and she dozes most of the day, so ok. Then, the other day, she grinned at me with her paan-reddened teeth and informed me that the bananas were 10 Rs for three. Eh? I said. Three for ten rupees, she said firmly. I didn't want her to suddenly come out of her stupor and start beating me with bunches of perfectly good bananas, so I bought them.

I think it was yesterday that I approached her wondering what the price would be- like a little stock exchange of its own, I could lose my life savings if I don't play wisely. Twenty rupees for four, she said. Er, I said. They were ten rupees for three yesterday, I said. No, she said, those teeth flashing. Twenty for four. So I sighed and paid up.

Then when I got home, I saw she'd given me six. Twenty for six, then. I can hardly wait to buy from her tomorrow. Each time I eat a banana now, I marvel at the complex economics behind that humble fruit- what tangled matrices must she weave, to come up with the perfect price for me each day? I am no longer blase about banana buying. But, excuse me while I go look up prices online for the banana shares today, so the banana mafia doesn't hoodwink me again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cosmic Balance is maintained

Watching an interview clip of Daniel Craig today, I was struck by a fact: he has now won inclusion into the List. This List is a beautiful thing, and allow me to show you how. Here, you will find the usual suspects- Denzel Washington, Dylan McDermott, Matthew McConnaughey. The new entrants- Imran Khan (the young one, not the old), John Abraham. And the surprise entries- such as this Daniel Craig.
The List is an ever-changing thing, with one rule: there must be no more than five names. So the big question is, whom to knock off, to make way for the Craig?
In view of the asinine gay-ridiculing act that I'm sure will befoul all our lives once Dostana releases, I regret to announce that it must be John Abraham.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The X-Files- I Want to Believe

There you are, Mulder and Scully! I was a somewhat addict of these two when they were on TV, and spent a goodly amount of time listening to Mulder mumble and Scully put up with him and then go along with his theories and his sunflower-seed munching.
So it was with a joyful heart that I went to see the movie. And this is where the joy ended. Oh, Mulder! Oh Scully! Why did you let us down so? I suppose I should have known when Mulder appeared with a scraggly beard going almost all the way up to his eyes. He did shave it off, so I held on with bitter hope until the movie hall guys decided it was time for an interval. Post interval, I just slumped.
Er, the thing is this- the plot was horribly disappointing. Organ transplants? Seriously? That's what it's about. OK, OK so the organ in question is the head. But still. And the location. Dear God, a small town in Western Virginia where it snows ceaselessly and it's always dark? No, no, no.
Anyhoo. I was pleasantly surprised to see Amanda Peet playing a FBI toughie and then her colleague, a delightful man with a juicy frown on his face the entire time. However, poor Peet meets a grisly death. And there are more grisly things involving dogs, medical procedures, and severed organs.
I don't need to say anything more about the plot. Mulder and Scully have apparently gotten together in the last movie, which I missed, so they are now together. Hmph. I feel cheated. In fact, this movie was positively sheesh-inducing. Witness the scene where Scully comes upon a drugged patient who is about to have her head chopped off. Scully says, "I've got work to do here." Sheeeeeeeeeeeeesh. That's what I mean.
Really, Mulder and Scully. I wanted to believe! I STILL want to believe! So if this means I will have to sit through another one of your movies, so help me, I will!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spell and be cheated

Dear Radio Indigo,

This letter is to remind you of a certain conversation we had two weeks ago. You ran a contest one afternoon, a spelling contest, and if we got all three of the spellings right, you promised us three CDs as a prize.

So, ok, I'm unemployed and all, and I can kick ass at spelling, so I called in. And lo, I was the first contestant. Needless to say, I got all three spellings right. Melody asked me to spell things like Chromium, Tungsten and Palladium. For frig's sake!

Anyhow, all went well. Two people even listened in to my stab at fame. And then what happened? Nothing.

So let me get this straight. When you said I won three CDs, you didn't really mean I won three CDs. Because, if I had really won three CDs, I would have those three CDs in my possession, if one were to progress logically. Seeing that this is not the case and I, in fact, do not possess three new free CDs, here is the next logical conclusion: You lied!

Now please explain to me how I can explain to my American husband that Radio Indigo really just slipped up and didn't gyp poor unemployed people who dialed in to their thrillingly inane spelling contest. Tell me how I can assure him that this, in fact, is not the Indian Way. Tell me how I can convince him that this is not , just another case of chronic I don't give a frig what I promised, you mangy git! that plagues so many, many, many professionals in this city, from cable operators to bank officials.

Or maybe I really am the mangy git who didn't get that I was supposed to go stampeding to your office in search of my promised CDs. If that were the case, even then I would have expected some communcation from you. Alas, there has been none. (But then I also didn't put two and two together when you didn't tell me which CDs I had purportedly won, you crafty cretins! )

Now maybe I should call in to your next contest, win it, and then shout out the equivalent of the middle finger salute on your frigging live show.

Still listening, so watch it!


Saturday, October 18, 2008

The more

"No change!"
This pithy exchange, cheery though it may seem, can get to be a bit much, day after day. Where, I ask, is the small change in this country? Is the government, heedless in its recognition of the power of five and ten rupee notes, off not paying attention? Or is there a huge change cartel out there operating unbeknownst to us citizenry, hoarding the precious stuff like drugs and gold?
Auto guys are, of course, notorious for their ferocious espousal of the No Change philosophy. A clever trick to gyp the poor-sod passenger into parting with more fare it may be, but sometimes it seems they simply say No Change from force of habit. I, having a trick or three up my sleeves, have now taken to stuffing those tricky little pockets on the tops of my jeans with all manner of change. No change? No way. I am well equipped and will give you change until you beg for mercy.
About the only place I can head to with certainty when a crisis of small notes occurs, is one particular neighborhood supermarket. The place is miraculous. They may not have everything by way of supermarket essentials, but squeak to them about change and they will serenely hand you the blessed change. Or, hand them a 1000 and they will, batting nary an eyelid, simply count out the the remaining, fork it over, and go on with life.
There is another side to this whole saga. The passing off of bashed notes- that is to say, unusable notes. Poor J, being not of Indian descent, regularly gets it in the neck with this one. Cleverly folded and re-folded bum notes are palmed off in his unsuspecting paws. He now has a bitter little collection of these tattered keepsakes.
He has also now grown weary of the change-no change conversation. It closely resembles his exchanges with the fellow at the corner veggie stall near his former house. "Parsley?" J would hopefully ask.
"No Parsley!" the fellow would answer. They kept this up for a year, each relentless in his hope and stone-faced refusal, respectively. It was all the fellow's fault- he started out by stocking parsley, then it all vanished. Just like all the change.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do not adjust your monitors

Idle tv-surfing gem: the promo of a new film titled-- wait for it--- Karzzzz. It stars Himesh Reshammiya. Instead of covering half his face with a baseball cap, he now uses his own hair for the same purpose. So the gem I witnessed was him singing a song titled--wait for it-- Tandoori Nights.
This is true. And, his heroine is the indefatigable Urmila Matondkar. Squirming under infra-red lights in a disco and pouting heroically to Tandoori Nights, she and the shiny-haired Himesh provided me much mirth; and more importantly, reassurance that our film-stars do after all have a sense of humor and are so willing to make fun of themselves.

Then a cruel blow struck. A few days later I saw Himesh talking about this very song in a serious interview and describing the creative process behind ta-tana-nana-tan-doori-nights, tan-doori this means it was not a joke.


Saturday, October 11, 2008


A couple of news items that stuck in my mind from the last couple of weeks. The picture of a German man who had a rare arm-reattachment surgery, on both arms. The man's smile was a radiant beacon of joy. What an amazing achievement! To reattach a person's two arms with such skill that he gets his life back! My admiration of surgeons continues.

Then, the embarassing media frenzy over poor old Big B being hospitalized with a stomach ache. Worse, it happened on the poor dear's birthday. Bas, the media literally tripped over themselves to get the best shot of the patient being carted off to the hospital accompanied by his son and daughter in law. I saw the clip of this. My God, it was horrifying. We sure have strange ways of showing our 'love' for these film stars, by suffocating them to such an extent that carrying on their daily lives becomes impossible for them. And come on, Bacchan is now an elderly man. Can't we at least let him go to the hospital in peace?

And the sad case of Sowmya Vishwanathan. A 25-year old TV producer in Delhi who got shot in the head on her way back home. What kind of city is this? Then again, it's not the city that matters. The pictures of the young woman that appeared in the newspaper were strangely haunting. A dazzling smile, full of life. I thought about her for a long time.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I have some news

The unemployed life is quite sweet. Suddenly there are many hours in a day, opening up before me each morning. Pleasures like going to the gym when I am the only person there. Walking on the sidewalks when there is least traffic. Drinking tender coconut on the side of the road listening to the conversations of the employed- their company ID tags (shudder) around their necks, their phones ringing, their watches ticking. Converting alcohol bottles into charming vases and buying orange gerberas to fill them with. Yes, indeedy.

"I'm afraid I have some news for you."
"Yes, doctor?"
"You may never work again."

"You mean, like, I may never go to an office again?"
"It looks like it, I'm afraid."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Mistress of Spices

To begin with, I was a bit skeptical. Two things made it so. First, the very story- a girl who can talk to spices. And second, Aishwarya Rai. So I was quite curious to see what the effect would be, and I was not much surprised.

Rai is the title character, having learned her craft of divining the most suitable spice for a particular person based on her clairvoyance and her communication with the said spices. A kind of 'doctor', if you will. Background? She was kidnapped as a child, and while she was being borne off by her captors on a boat, she escaped and was washed up on a beach where she met an old lady who was known as the First Mother. This old lady (Zohra Sehgal, no less) teaches her and a bunch of other young girls all they need to be Mistresses of Spices. They are then dispatched to all major cities of the world to spread their healing powers and our heroine lands in San Fransisco.

She is named Tilo- after 'til', or sesame. Now all grown up, Tilo runs a store and dispenses kindness and spice mixtures to her mostly American customers. All is going well- Tilo is draped in pale sarees and has a sugar-tipped accent that barely betrays her Indian origins while she goes about bettering many lives. Then, one day, she spots a handsome (and I do mean handsome- it's Dylan Mc Dermott and his damned blue eyes) man outside her store. Uh oh!

But why is this a problem? Because the First Mother had warned her about the three strict rules of her trade- one, never to leave the store; two, to never touch another human's skin, and three, never to use the spices for her own desires. See how this poses a giant hurdle to Tilo getting with dreamy-guy-across the street? Comically, the red chillies in her store try to warn her of impending disaster. Alas, the plot leads the guy, Doug, into falling off from his bike and, bleeding hand and all, he arrives at Tilo's imaginatively-named Spice Bazaar.

This is where the full human-doe effect of Rai comes even more into play. Her pale, wide eyes, dewy lips and coy diction are further enhanced by relentless close-ups. The poor man Doug doesn't stand a chance. He's smitten. And who wouldn't be? Poor Rai, too. She is so ethereally beautiful that any performance she tries to squeeze out fades into the background.

Well then, suffice it to say that these two embark on what has to be among the most tepid love affairs one has seen on screen. Doug shares with her the story of his mother, a sub-plot that comes off as a bit weird. He also breaks it off with his current girlfriend because he's becoming besotted with the translucent, untouchable Tilo. But meanwhile, things start going wrong for Tilo, she stepping dangerously close to breaking the cardinal rules. Her spices start having disastrous effects on her patrons. At the end, she chooses to go back to the spices, abandoning Doug and her own desires. But there's a twist in the tale and all ends well.

Anupam Kher puts in a nice act as a grumpy traditional grandfather. Padma Lakshmi makes one unintentionally hilarious appearance as his granddaughter in an eye-popping pink shirt. The other cast members are ok- there is one sweet taxi-driver who insists on calling Tilo "lady-jaan", a title I've never heard in my life. Is it a Pakistani thing, I wonder. Ayesha Dharker is wasted as his neighbor and eventual fiancee.

Ultimately, the movie is undone by Rai's coyness and the desperate lack of chemistry with her hero. He, on his part, tries manfully to inject some passion into the proceedings. But what could he do? He doesn't even get to kiss her in the one half-hearted love scene. Also, Rai talking breathily with the spices, saying things like "thank you, spices!" is a bit of a mood-kill. The basic premise was an interesting concept, intriguing, even, but just did not translate well into film.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Grey's, once daily

The season 1 cast of Grey's AnatomyImage via Wikipedia
A new addiction has surfaced. It's Grey's Anatomy, M to F 10am. Ah, the pleasures of daytime television! Earlier when this show aired weekly, I didn't really get into it. It seemed more to me like a who's sleeping with whom kind of thing, thinly paraded as a medical drama. On closer inspection now, though, it's more than that, that still being a major component.
I've always been sort of drawn to medical shows. The intricacies and complex workings of large hospitals fascinate me, not to mention an abiding fascination for surgeons themselves. It helps if it's a brain-surgeon. I personal connection with them. Anyhow, Grey's has a brain surgeon in attendance, whom the title character, Meredith Grey, has famously named McDreamy. Now McDreamy is married, not to Grey, but these two are in love. Then there are Meredith's roommates, diffident George and the wholesomely pretty Izzy.
Christina Yang is another intern, who is having an affair with the resident cardiologist- Dr. Burke. Now despite the wavy-haired, green-eyed presence of McDreamy, I find that the real hottie is this Burke. Ha! For once the brain surgeon takes second place. And my joint favorite is the interns' boss- one Dr. Miranda Bailey. She is short, grumpy, taciturn and always has the perfect put-downs for anyone and everyone, any time of the day. I love her!
Now that I've watched long enough to figure out the basics, the addiction grows.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Workless, life-full

Well, so the day is finally here- Monday onwards, I will join the ranks of the gainfully unemployed. By choice, thankfully.

The world seems a big place now, rather than just the lavender-walled shell I have been living in for the past three years. (Yes, the office has lavender walls. )

I take it as a good sign that today is when they decided that toilet paper is now too heavy a cost for the company to bear.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

You, there!

The other day I read an entertaining article about Pakistanis' usages of English that were very similar to our own Indianisms. One peculiarity I've discovered recently here in Bangalore is the practice of addressing a person based on his occupation. So, you have "Auto!" and "Security!" These are, admittedly, better than the idiotic "Bhaiya" I've been guilty of using quite frequently.

What about the vegetable cart guys that come around every morning to sell to the nightie-clad housewives? I wonder if they are addressed as the Kannada word for "vegetables." I don't know if it's that generic or based on the particular veggie they are selling.

Speaking of Indian English, poor J has, in light of my constant Ingliss, started saying things like "where it is?" and "what I'll do?" Hmm.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I'm going nowhere and I'm going to take my time

About a year ago, I had a dream in which I was flying over a field of flowers. The flowers were yellow- maybe they were a kind of tulip- and the sky was a vivid, amazing blue. All I remember is floating above the field with that sky behind me- I flew slowly across the entire field in a cool, gentle breeze. It must have been late afternoon, because the sunlight was soft and golden. When I woke up and remembered, I felt the same sense of contentment, serenity, and utter happiness wash over me.
At times the dream comes back when I am awake, especially when I am unhappy. What a beautiful way my brain has chosen to cope.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The plump squirrel

It may just be my imagination, and I hope it is, but many people I know seem to be going through a difficult phase right now. It's either illness or financial burdens, or divorce or professional challenges. Sigh. Maybe it does have something to do with that solar eclipse after all.

After suffering through a nasty bout of illness and hospitalization (many, many needles), I feel compelled to post a juicy poem about happiness. Just to show that I can look on the bright side, dammit!


By James Wright

As the plump squirrel scampers

Across the roof of the corncrib,

The moon suddenly stands up in the darkness,

And I see it is impossible to die.

Each moment of time is a mountain.

An eagle rejoices in the oak trees of heaven,


This is what I wanted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

You call yourselves scientists?

Yesterday when I got home I spent a long time sitting on the sofa and just staring outside the window. Most of the view from the window is palm trees and the tops of rain trees, very pleasant. There is also a great patch of sky that has calmed down the claustrophobia I acquired while living in the shoebox, my former abode.
Now, yesterday evening there was a lightning show. Out of this one piece of steel-gray sky would emerge the most jaw-dropping bolts. The patches of cloud would light up to silver for brief moments, and then go back to that placid gray. And the palm fronds moved in sibiliant waves- it was enchanting.
However, I soon started thinking about lightning and again came to the realization that I know nothing about it. If a kid asked me, "what causes lightning?" I would have to shoo it away and tell it to go play.
Then, this morning, I got a sign that I am in elite company in my ignorance- I read this.
I feel vindicated.

Coconut juice

J and I were very enamored by a hip-hop song we once heard in LA, the chorus of which went something like, "put the lime in the coconut and twist it all up!" Even more of a draw was the artist name- Tyga. It took a few tries before we got the fact that it was actually 'Tiger'.
So we discussed what our rap names would be, if we decided to switch careers and become rap stars. J came up with one pretty quickly- Meaty. Written as Mea-T.
Struck dumb by his brilliance, I remained nameless. Until yesterday. If I were to become a hip-hop star, my name would be Better. Pronounced- Bett-ttah. Ha!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rains
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,and smoke going
upward, always up.

~Joyce Sutphen

Monday, July 07, 2008

The dog is on the table

Aside from my man Nadal's Wimbledon win, yesterday was also significant for another reason. Members of my old gang from college had a reunion, and a reunion on a massive scale. It involved planning and administration that would have done a military general proud; e-mails have been going around since July of last year. The guest list numbered more than a hundred from countries as far flung as Poland and Denmark. The venue- a small town in Brittany, northern France, no doubt will never be the same again. So now that the grand event is over, I look forward to the many pictures that I'm sure are soon going to surface on the Internet when someone Googles 'wild party.'
Too bad I couldn't make it. There was a teeny hitch- I needed to come back to BLR and look for an apartment. AND the little detail of my not having bothered to obtain a French visa. I suppose I should have tried- I could have charmed the French officials by saying "le chien est sur la table."

Friday, July 04, 2008

German Sheep

My Dad informs me that Tango is being formally charged with dereliction of duty. Why? When strangers approach our house, he welcomes them and enthusiastically escorts them to the front door. Far from being the fearsome beast as could be imagined from the rather ugly "Beware of Dog" sign, Tango is quite the charming host.
What to do? But we should have realized this when we saw that his favorite occupation is chasing butterflies all around the garden. Or when we noted his tendency to come and rest his face on people's knees and quietly leave after being petted on the head.
But since he is slavishly devoted to the father, maybe he will see reason if told to be fierce. After all, isn't he supposed to be territorial and fiercely aggressive towards strangers approaching his home?
Or maybe the father in his wisdom will use Tango's preferred Marie biscuits to bribe and train. We shall see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Separated at face

Charlize Theron at the Meteor Ireland Music Aw...Image via Wikipedia
There has to be a term for being told that you resemble a certain famous person. If I were constantly told that I look like, say, Charlize Theron, I would have come up with the term by now.
As it stands, the famous mugs to which mine has been compared elicit in me, mostly, an eye-roll. Some of these are- Asha Parekh, that lead singer from the Pussycat Dolls, Jennifer Lopez, and the latest and most bizarre- Indira Gandhi.
Maybe it's a good time to call that plastic surgeon.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The un-psychic

There was once a test I took somewhere on the Internet that claimed to tell you if your psychic abilities were above average. One of the questions was, "are you drawn to the color violet?"
My answer was an emphatic Yes, most shades of purple being high on my favorites list. However, psychic abilities? Not so much, perhaps.
Oh wait, but I always know when I'm about to sneeze. Does that count?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Terima kasih kerana memilih

It is bizarre- I have this sensation of having been here for days. "Here" being Kuala Lumpur airport. Time has lost its meaning in a strange way. My watch is still on Los Angeles time, so I add three hours to that to get KL time. If I want Bangalore time, I add half hour. Quite a wonderful system- now if only I could still work it when it is time to get on that flight. Simply changing it to show local time would help, of course. But for some reason this annoys me and I will insist on my own little metric until I set foot in Bangalore again.
Speaking of which, I am dying with curiosity to see what our brand-spanking-new airport looks like! I am tempted to unkindly say that after KL, it might be a hard act to follow, but that is just the cranky time traveler talking. So I will just see for myself whether dear old BIAL, which I will fly into near midnight tonight, Friday the 13th no less, will live up to my hopes.
In other news, I now know the Bahasa Malaysia words for "toilet" and "exit." And as this post heading shows, a phrase on the seatbacks, which I have forgotten the meaning of. (Oh, what an awful sentence- up with this sentence I will not put!)
There are many shiny little stores selling Versace and Dior. (Outside one swank store I saw a six-foot tall stunning girl and a mannequin-like guy talking animatedly and swinging luscious leather bags- it turned out they were shooting some sort of commercial. Immediately, a gang of desi boys stopped to gawk.)
I am beginning to feel like that Navorski guy Tom Hanks played in The Terminal. What to do only? Maybe I will walk around and make sure that in the midst of all my time-zone trickery, I have not missed my flight.


Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei- A trio of monks sits waiting for their flight. They are youngish, dressed in heavy brown robes, wooden beads on their wrists, and simple sandals. One of them appears to be meditating. They each carry a small cloth sack with what I presume are most of their belongings. I think of my own heavy bags and wish for such simplicity, such real detachment from posessions that one could carry them all in one cloth sack over a shoulder.
So a few minutes pass, and the boarding announcements begin. The announcer, in his oddly placating tone, cajoles 'first crass passengers to Kuara Rumpur' to proceed to the aircraft.
And the trio of monks gets up and serenely files to the aircraft.

Friday, June 06, 2008

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

This is a magnificent novel by Peter Matthiessen that I have just finished. Set in the jungles of South America, the story is about adversaries- the Protestant missionaries, and the merceneries who have been hired to exterminate the indigenous jungle people.
The novel excels particularly in two aspects- character study, and the intimate details of the vast, lush, mysterious jungle, (so much so that the jungle is a character in itself.) Take Hazel, the wife of the missionary Martin Quarrier. The portrayal of her slow descent into a mental breakdown is nothing short of brilliant. Then the enigmatic and unforgettable half-Cheyenne Indian, Lewis Moon, who embarks on a journey of life and death that is open to interpretation at the end. In fact, each and every character, including the Catholic priest Padre Xantes who pops up irritatingly at the Protestants, will remain etched in a reader's mind for a long, long time.
The descriptions of the jungle and its complex rhythms really have to be read to be believed. In fact, the novel as a whole is a work of such complexity and skill that I was blown away on many levels. Not to mention the mordant humor- without mercy shown to any of the parties- not the missionaries, the merceneries, or the Indians.
The story is dense and many-layered, so reading it requires full and intense concentration. On different levels, it has a different focus- each character's struggle with his or her motivations and desires, the overall subtle symbolism about evangelism/Western influence on ancient peoples, the questions of identity, relationships between men and women, the clash of different church ideologies, and many others.
At times I may have wavered, with the result that I became mildly confused, what with the many tribes of Indians, the names of rivers, and the motivations behind each plot twist. However, that was my fault- I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a challenging and intelligent read.
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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Just Thinking

Got up on a cool morning.
Leaned out a window.No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held
for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

Been on probation most of my life. And
the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments
count for a lot—peace, you know.

Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.

This is what the whole thing is about.

—William Stafford

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Well then!

Usually, the evening cooking is accompanied by music from J's laptop. This music collection is so vast, it would go on for thirteen days if you played it without stopping. Consequently, everything is on there- the majority of which I've never heard.
However, to prove that he has a few tricks up his sleeve, the wily fox, what does he play today?
"Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thee
yeh shaam bhi ajeeb hai..."

I kid you not! And of course, like all good desis, the voice of Kishore immediately transported me back to the motherland and the good times. Even as my deliriously happy fingers type this, I can hear from the kitchen...
"poocho na yaar kya hua..."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


One good way to keep oneself stimulated mentally, I read, is to try as many new things as possible. Say, one new thing every month. So I have been doing a few Sudoku puzzles over the past three or four weeks.
And what can I say, I am stimulated almost to the point of tears every time I attack one of the things. I once attempted one on a plane, with a pen. Needless to say, that did not go well.
J caught on to my new habit and bought me a book with four levels of puzzles, from Easy to Diabolical.
Now, I can do one of the Easy ones without creating great big holes in the paper from too much erasing and re-writing. I may even get through one entire puzzle without vicious doodling on the sides of the page, although the eraser is still my best friend.
J and his Dad just shake their heads- the poor sods still think Sudoku has to do with being good at numbers, and by association, think I'm incredibly brilliant. Of course, I haven't corrected this notion- I just smirk and chirp about how interesting the things are.
More when I get to Diabolical. Until then, there is a lot more stimulation I owe my brain.

Monday, May 26, 2008

the moment

He hands me a bunch of green onions to chop- they yield to the knife with a satisfying crunch. Next, the red onion- deep fuschia crescents spill smoothly from my knife, and then comes fresh basil in sweetly fragrant shreds. Dinah Washington sings on the radio- "you go to my head, you linger like a haunting refrain..."
The salt and pepper grinders stand like little lighthouses over the sea of bubbling onions and garlic in a pan of olive oil. The bowl of lemons on the table gleams quietly.
Outside, the light shifts in pale shafts from lavender pre-dusk to ribbons of soft yellow.
A glass of crisp white wine. The warm soapy water as I rinse the dishes. Layering the pasta, the tomato sauce, the cheese in the lasagna dish.
And again I come to realize the truth of it: nothing happens next. This is it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ask and you shall get...

A painting of a Japanese woman using chopstick...Image via Wikipedia
Chopsticks confound me. It's not that I've never tried to master the art of using them- it's just that I fail.
Not even the famous sneer of the waitress in that Japanese place where I asked for a fork--"forkkk?" has pushed me to the point where I strain mightily and finally learn.
Besides, I always reason that the food would take way too long to finish if I ended up using chopsticks. Uh huh.
Like today- the bowl of cold noodles topped with crunchy greens and spicy pork and wasabi and slivers of silvery cucumber- come on! I was overcome, again.
Yes, I asked for the fork again. And this time the waitress didn't sneer. She smiled and clinked the fork down without so much as an eye-brow raise. And so I shall continue speaking up for my rights even in the face of those two little spindly sticks everyone else knows how to eat with.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

The flower moon

The Algonquian tribe of North America had the practice of giving each full moon of the year its own name, quite a pretty idea. For this month, it's the Flower moon.
However, because of the way it shone last night, full on my face and discouraging sleep, gah, here's my suggestion: Disco Ball moon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

At the outset, let me say that I'm not familiar with director Wes Anderson's work, so my thoughts on this film aren't colored with opinions on his earlier films.
Here, the three brothers Whitman- played by Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, and one Jason Schwartzmann- embark on a train ride through India, as a 'spiritual journey,' a concept I've never fully understood. Also, they are seeking to bond together again as brothers, and then, the oldest one reveals, to search for their mother who didn't turn up for their father's funeral. This train, the Darjeeling Limited, never does get to Darjeeling by the way; it meanders around in Rajasthan for the most part .
So. For no particular reason, the youngest brother goes barefoot. Can you imagine a foreign tourist spending his entire time in India barefoot? Neither can I. For no particular reason, there is copious downing of cough syrup and "Indian muscle relaxants."
Inexplicably, one of them buys a poisonous snake and carries it around in a metal box. (Apparently, those Indian muscle-relaxants really relaxed his brain, daft fellow.)What were they planning to feed the creature? Savory snacks and sweet lime?
And then, the train attendants. The Sikh attendant has an American accent. He is also the resident herpetologist, as shown by his expert capture of the poor serpent when it escapes from its metal prison. The girl attendant, whose accent verges dangerously towards crisp Brit, in one scene carries in a snack tray in a salwar-kameez --minus the salwar.
Notice that so far I haven't mentioned anything more about the story. This is because it all unravels rather quickly after the three boys are thrown off the train. Oh, also, at one point the train is 'lost'- because it took a wrong turn somewhere. This, in a nation that has one of the oldest and most complex railway systems in the world.
It is simply impossible to get past these gratingly irritating inconsistencies. The movie meanders along its unrealistic way, chronicling the never-ending adventures that the dysfunctional bunch have. (Irfan Khan is in there somewhere in a near-wordless cameo as a bereaved father.) In the end, they track down the mother who is a nun in some sort of convent in the 'Himalayan foothills', but the locales still look suspiciously like Rajasthan.
To speak of performances, none stand out. Visually the fim is pleasing. The music is good, some borrowed from Satyajit Ray films. But that is it. I failed to see the humor or the symbolism. (If the act of leaving behind your 11-piece handpainted Vuitton luggage when you are running to catch a train signifies letting go of emotional baggage, then I stand corrected.)
Spiritual journeys taken in India are beyond my understanding. Films telling stories about these journeys, I am henceforth going to avoid.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tailor tales

A conversation about kid's clothes the other day where the topics of style and going out of fashion came up. Where I grew up, I stated, there was really not much of a concept of 'style.' You just wore clothes. My clothes were, for the most part, a long series of lovingly hand-tailored dresses and skirts that may or not have been previously worn by either of the sisters. The skilled hand behind these garments was known simply as Tailor, his greatness having overtaken the need for a mere name. Gaunt, tall, and sad-eyed, he would arrive on his bicycle, armed with his measuring tape, a pencil, and the Pattern Book.
This Pattern Book was a vast repository of designs for the young woman of style, procured somewhere in Tailor's youth, i.e., sometime in the '50s. My sisters and I would pore through, then pick out the ones we wanted. Depending on the mother's approval, we would make Tailor note the chosen ones with his pencil-stub, and a week or two later, the finished garment would arrive, perfect in its detail; hardy enough to withstand rough-housing, delicate enough to attend birthday parties in, each piece of lace and each button hewn into place until the end of time.
Tailor re-appeared in our lives when I was eighteen. At this point, he took on the role of curmudegeonly moral guardian- he tried to make me see reason when I shockingly wanted a short skirt, with a slit at the back. We argued like seasoned attorneys in a tense court of law. Finally, he broke me. He made the skirt short, but instead of the slit, it had a decorous pleat of fabric that would protect my modesty from the evil world.
Over the next few years our struggles continued sporadically. Once he dreamed up a fabulous new design for the sleeves of my kurta. Obtuse and fashion-challenged as I was, I failed to 'see' the splendor of his design. So he grabbed a sheet of newspaper, and a few snips of his heavy old iron scissors later, I had a perfect representation of his grand idea. I sighed and gave in. In the face of such craftsmanship and pitiless determination, one must succumb.
I took inordinate pleasure in his struggles with our little dog. On one occasion, the black-and- white mutt, Howdy, had the measuring tape in her mouth and there ensued an epic tug of war which Howdy eventually won.
Tailor muttered, in his Hyderabadi accent, "nonsense kutta!"
To this day, no member of my family can say the word 'nonsense' without the urge to attach 'kutta' to it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The rare white hedgehog

The love of my life, Dennis. Click and read, I'm generous like that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


There is a brilliant sequence in the movie Ice Age 2 where a flock of vultures bursts into a song titled "Food, Glorious Food!" I now identify keenly with those critters- food has been much of what occupies my brain these days. What brought this on? In all my long life I've never been accused of being much of a foodie. Well, it just goes to show that it's not food, per se- it is familiar food.
And in this land of food and drink, it is a strange situation to be in. I have taken, in wild desperation, to dousing even boiled eggs in hot sauce. Once, at a sandwich place advertising their 'fire-hot' sauce for sandwich toppings, I of course, wanted one such. The server insisted, nay, browbeat us into first tasting the sauce so that we could truly know its fearsome heat. I took a taste on the little plastic spoon and was satisfied. OK, it was hot. The teenaged server's eyes widened in admiration. And J deadpanned, "she has an iron tongue."
Sigh. To all those who say, why can't you just cook Indian food, you twit: I do, not infrequently at that. But what drives me mad is the absence of little joints where you can smell curry leaf and garam masala and tandoor flavors. The food markets where you buy whacking big bunches of fresh, aromatic coriander, and mango pickles. Or the guy on the corner who roasts a bhutta and brushes it with mint chutney and a salted lime wedge with such perfection, it is the high point of your day.
I cannot walk into a Mexican restaurant and ask to have my dosa with extra butter, now can I.
P.S. I have not even mentioned the Indian restaurant that served fish curry topped with - I kid you not - fresh strawberries. Yes. It was a sad day indeed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Now there are four

He goes by every evening, tall, blue-jeans, long ponytail. Behind him, in a neat line, his dogs. None of them are on leashes, and they all hop along in perfect harmony. I've taken to calling him, imaginatively, DogMan.
The smallest one is always the last. He is so small that from our kitchen window he looks more the size of a biggish rodent. There is something the matter with his legs, but nothing's the matter with his energy. He skips and hops in his own fashion, just like the others.
This little procession, as it winds its way along the pavements, by our lawn and under all the flowering trees, is enough to make the neighborhood smile.
But there used to be five.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Watched: Before the Rains

Santosh Sivan, 1930's Kerala, and never having heard of the movie before made me want to watch it.
The film tells the story of one Henry Moores, a British planter ambitiously building a private road in Kerala's tea-country, ably helped by his assistant TK played by Rahul Bose. Then there is Nandita Das as the curiously-named Sajani, the domestic helper. It turns out that Moores' wife and child are away in England and he is carrying on with Sajani, who is also married- only, her husband is a brute of a man who likes her to wash his feet in a basin, beats her regularly and lives just one village away.
Inevitably, Mrs. Moores arrives back with their bland young son Peter. Inevitably, the brutish husband finds out about Sajani's affair. What happens next? Dramatic events, which will be spoilers, so I will refrain from telling all. Suffice it to say that this Moores is a roundly un-likeable character, Sajani is incredibly naive, and that leaves TK. And it is about him that I will now proceed to rant.
WHY oh WHY did they make Rahul Bose speak in Malayalam? I am still reeling from the effects of this catastrophe. So Mr. Sivan is trying to tell us that there was not one Keralite actor of merit that he could have cast as TK, a premise I feel inclined to shoot down, instantly. Fortunately, Nandita Das does not have as much Mal dialog to spout, although her English is strained and strange enough. At one point, she reminisces to TK about their childhood games involving 'the bad Ravana.' It made me almost feel sorry for these two able Bengali/Oriya actors as Malayalees-who-converse-mutually-only-in-English.
Sigh. The entire film's credibility is shot by this cock-eyed casting decision. Especially tragic was the scene where TK has to go through the ancient truth-telling ritual. He looks up imploringly at his father (played impressively by Mal actor Thilakan) and bleats that he is telling the truth. The moment is electric, the atmosphere tense, and the emotion heart-rending. But ALL I wanted to do was screech with frustration at the way R. Bose managed to mangle the language. Then there's a moment where he has to react instinctively to Moores' sudden and dramatic entry into his room. He bursts out, in Malayalam of course, "what happened?" Only, in his other-worldly accent, the word for 'happened' sounds like the word for 'dog' and the effect is so hilarious as to be almost illegal.
All in all, the film is good, if a bit unsatisfying in the exploration of the characters and a few inconsistencies that lead to questions. I was also hoping for more sweepingly beautiful shots of the tea-garden locales and a bit more emphasis on the colors and textures of rural Kerala. It is incumbent upon me to to issue a warning that all Malayalam speakers will cringe at the theater, though.
Some may never even recover.

Friday, May 09, 2008

'Indian films'

At the movies tonight, there was an outsize poster for Tashan- this poster was the biggest in the entire theater. Barely had I taken this in, that I ran smack-dab into a cutout of a pink-haired, pouty Priyanka Chopra with a toy rabbit attached to her head. Apparently, this, together with an expressionless male in a black catsuit by her side, signifies love in the year 2050. How did I know this? The film's title told me so: Love 2050.
Then, as I straightened up and walked on, who should I spot but Mr. Bacchan, in profile with his mouth wide open. He is the star of some film called Bhoothnath. So that made three in-your-face Hindi movie promotions in this small-size theather in suburban California.
I was impressed, I'll admit. Even if, in the billboards outside, the sign for Before the Rains was followed by 'Indian Film.'
The producers of Tashan won't be happy if they knew that, I'm willing to bet.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Maureen McGrath

Last night, fueled by wine and chocolate cheesecake, we started talking with J's dad about old vacations taken in the Caribbean; later he showed me pictures of several trips over the years. The last one was from fifteen years ago. He talked about the sand, the way rain fell on the umbrella, the huge crab they found on their window-sill the morning of the honeymoon.
Then J took out some old slides he'd been meaning to ask about: he wanted his dad to identify people on the slides he didn't know.
There were one or two slides of young, mini-skirted women posing in office-like surroundings. J sniggered and made jokes, these were obviously from the '60s when his Dad was young. So we showed his Dad the slides. First young woman, wearing a black top with sheer sleeves and a gold, really, gold, miniskirt, and black high heels with big buckles. She has straight long hair and nice legs. J's Dad looks blank for a second, then bursts out, "Maureen McGrath!"
J and I feel as if a long-standing mystery of epic proportions has been solved. We go on to other pictures and one by one, identities are revealed; grandparents, cousins, a brother's ex-wife, an Uncle when he was a year old. Many of their stories are over now, but in the photos they are dressed in the fashion of the day, big purses, skinny ties; there is something touching in their youth and the way they smile trustingly into the camera so many years later before our eyes. And then there are a few stragglers who stubbornly remain on the edge of identification and labeling. They will join the ranks of those who exist in every old photo-album- the phantom people. People who were once known, perhaps an afternoon spent with them at a lakeside picnic, or a sly after-dinner cigarette shared.
I have a stronger resolve now than ever to go to my parents' house, attack the storage rooms, and hunt down every old picture I can find.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Idle predictions

Time for an American Idol round-up. After several weeks of dogged watching, the show has already had its usual ousting of my favorite, this year that being Aussie hottie Michael Johns. Unlike last year though, another contender quickly emerged for me: the intriguing David Cook, resident rocker-dude and overall sweet guy who rarely disappoints. His cover version of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean left me reeling, and several other performances have been really stellar.
What to make of this year's Phenomenon, D. Archuleta? As someone I know bitingly remarked, "How old is he, two?" Yes. I confess I am somewhat of an ageist and am reluctant to take seriously someone whose birth certificate says '1990.' Still, one cannot dispute that last night he was very much in form, belting out two pop-chart ready melodies with tons of soul and tween-girl-swoon-inducing earnestness. His voice? To me, it sounds like the child has a permanent cold. But then again, based on last night, he ain't leaving yet.
Poor, poor Jason Castro. Dreadlock-cutie had a horrible night and was roundly upbraided by Cowell, "utterly atrocious" being the exact words. Even permanently-pep-talk-prone Paula brushed him off, albeit using 'amazing' and 'blow me away' somewhere in there. Still, Jason's perma-stoned surfer dude grin and his dreamy blue peepers will get him a lot of votes.
And Miss Mercado? I shall call her Surprising Sy-she has really stepped out into her own of late. Plus, she's managed several fetching outfits and tastefully flashed right amounts of leg, infamously prompting Mad Dog Cowell to call her "sexy." It may be too late for this dark horse, but then she does lack something, not quite sure what it is.
So, the all too obvious prediction: Dreadlock cutie and Surprising Sy cannot both stay next week; ergo, David vs. David in the Finals.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Art and all that

The weekend was spent lolling on the fabulous grounds of the Getty Museum. Yes, this great repository of art was given a tour and then the grand gardens and lawns beckoned...I can only appreciate art for five minutes at a time, anyway. Although, there were some truly great pieces that I immediately wanted the reproductions of so I could hang them on the walls of my imaginary home. With great relish, I bought a small-scale version of a grand Venetian canal scene by one Bolletto. I also coveted a spectacular charcoal sketch by an Italian artist named Tiepolo, but couldn't find it. Oh, well.
Then there was Georges Seurat. His technique of creating pictures out of pencil dots is fascinating, and my painterly sister will soon have in her mailbox a postcard I bought of this very artist's work. But the museum grounds turned out to be the real gem; sweeping views of 10-lane traffic, the hills, the breath-taking flowers and the shady nooks and dells with their artistic waterfalls. I spotted two little Brit kids who were disproportionately delighted upon sighting one such cascade, and started yelling, "wa-tter! wa-tter!" at the tops of their lungs, whereupon their very proper mother scolded gently, "now, no shout-ting!" It was comical.
If I visit the Getty again, I suspect that the pattern will be very much the same. A little bit of art, and a whole lot of lolling.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Frida. Now this here is one movie where the impossibly hot Salma Hayek manages to make you gawk at her purely because of her performance. Not to take away from her other roles, but seriously, she does an amazing job as the strong-willed and controversial Frida Kahlo. Her physical transformation through the movie is spot-on, uni-brow, mustache and all. The movie itself tells the story of her life, simply enough, starting with the schoolgirl Frida and ending with her death.
Salma cries, loves, suffers, dances and lives through the movie in grand abandonment, carrying it solely on her shoulders. Her husband Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina, and the others are able as the supporting cast. Oh, and there is a one-scene appearance by Ashley Judd and Antonio Banderas . Judd gets to do a sort of drunken girl-on-girl tango with Hayek that is a masterful scene; Banderas says his one piece of dialog in his knee-melting accent and is never seen again, more's the pity.
The movie is definitely great. Especially touching were the scenes of Frida's rehabilitation after the major accident she has while still a schoolgirl, leaving her bedridden. And the one in which she discovers her husband's infidelity with her sister. Also captured perfectly are the tumultuous times of the '20s and '30s; my knowledge is hazy at best, of course, but the movie was very well-constructed.
In the end, the film belongs to the leading lady. Salma, you are not only a goddess, you are also an amazing actor!
The Sheltering Sky. Ahem. Now, at the outset, let me say that I had put on my objective viewer's mask, which is to say, I did not expect to understand this movie but was fully prepared to try. And it turned out exactly as I had envisioned.
Let's see about the plot. Husband and wife Kit and Port, played by Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Traveling around in North Africa, trying to salvage their crumbling relationship, accompanied by their rich friend Tunner played by Campbell Scott. To show how crumbled their marriage is, Port spends a night with a bootylicious Arab prostitute in her desert tent in the company of live chickens. Kit spends a night with Tunner after too much champagne. Port suspects, then manages to plan their tour so Tunner isn't with them anymore. Then, Port falls ill. Dies. Kit loses her mind, takes up with a black-clad nomad of some sort and his camel-caravan. Lands up in some strange village, has a roll in the hay with Nomad-Guy, then is rescued by an American Embassy official who has been contacted by Tunner. The End.
Note: The couple's last name is Moresby. So that makes him Port Moresby. I did not get the context of this little joke- the character is connected to the capital city of Papua New Guinea how?
Like I said, Ahem. I truly appreciate the grand cinematography, the luscious desert scenes, the fine performances and the air of sadness- this is a Bertolucci film, after all. I could have done without the needless shots of Winger's butt or Malkovich's what's-it, but that's just me.
This is a pretty film- pretty incomprehensible. I'm one of those philistines who needs an actual plot, or storyline, and a somewhat satisfying ending. So, while I did not hate it, I didn't swoon with ecstasy either.

Friday, April 25, 2008

in January

Only one cell in the frozen hive of night
is lit, or so it seems to us:
this Vietnamese café, with its oily light,
its odors whose colorful shapes are like flowers.
Laughter and talking, the tick of chopsticks.
Beyond the glass, the wintry city
creaks like an ancient wooden bridge.
A great wind rushes under all of us.
The bigger the window, the more it trembles.

~ Ted Kooser

Thursday, April 24, 2008

summer storm-
the yellow crayon
worn down to a stub

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cable car ride

Somewhere on one of San Fransisco's hilly streets, there is a small place that I'll call Sam's.
You climb up a set of narrow wooden stairs, past the two cooks and a flurry of steaming woks. Entering the dining area, you stand in about a foot of space while you wait for a table.
The moment someone finishes eating and squeezes past you, you leap forward and claim one table and two of the wooden, backless stools that go with it. Then she comes around, a small woman in sweatpants and jogging shoes, with a huge tray of steaming food. How did she haul it up those stairs? you wonder. She yells in accented English down to the cooks, the other customers, herself.
A few minutes later, she takes your order. She whips out a writing pad about 4 inches square; as you say what you want, she makes a few slashes in this pad and nods. You realize the slashes are her own form of Chinese letters. She also performs a yanking action on a tiny elevaor chain that sends God-knows-what down to her cooks in a complex system of dining-room-to-kitchen- entropy that we don't understand. The levers and pulleys look like they are the same as when they were built, perhaps in 1925 or so.
Sometimes, other customers get tired of waiting and actually leave. She shrugs, apologetic, yet not. She yells down to the cooks, "They didn't EAT anything!" We other diners look around and snicker self-consciously.
The food arrives, in large white bowls, steaming and filled with bits of spiced pork, vegetables, rich noodles, broth, good stuff. We eat.
After we pay and are on our way downstairs again, we hear her yelling down to the cooks: "Leven niney fi!"
Eleven ninety five. The price of two bowls of salvation on a windy San Fransisco day.
Later, I take my first cable car ride. As the car moves steeply up past the Embarcadero and the wind howls in my ears, I suddenly want her to bring me food again.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I agree

Heard this somewhere today and it's going to stick with me:

Don't wake up at the end of someone else's life.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Somerville, somewhere in Boston

Today I saw an Indian woman behind the counter of our breakfast place. Balbir. She had a thick Punjabi accent and wore a nose ring.
I wanted to hug her.
Balbir, let's go home.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Somewhere around 37,000 feet and jagged, blurry sleep-wakefulness, I realized that we were flying over Montana. The land was vast, barren and snow-covered.
I thought about Bangalore and its chaos. Its rowdy universe, even when viewed from the sky.
Back at my seat, the set of jolly Norwegians I was trapped with was asleep. I can never sleep on a plane. But this time I slept through most of Europe.
London did not thrill me.
I hope L.A. will.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The art of the random

Two notes. One: I am really bored with the sledging episodes between us and the Aussies. I cannot decide which side is worse, and now after the umpteenth 'controversy' accusing Bhajji of making 'monkey-like' gestures, I have lost what little interest this sport had. Now, they are all just a bunch of sweaty boys.
The other note: What happened to Prince Harry? After having ignored him for all of his 23 years because he had red hair and too-big ears, I suddenly find that he has bloomed! So much so that he may even provide serious competition to his brother, the toothsome Will. A tour of duty in brutal Afghanistan did the trick, it appears. Well!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Friendly Street

My street has always had a flourishing dog-life. Leela, squat and black-and-white, sits outside my gate and thumps her tail when she sees me walking down. Fogey has melty brown eyes and doesn't really do anything, hence the name. Then there are the other girls, T-Bone and Chilli, who are occasional visitors. The two of them are actually Leela's sisters, so Leela is also known as Left Eye.
Then there was tiny lop-eared Seesaw, who unfortunately disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. His favorite pastime was playing with a piece of string and sinking his teeth into any available human leg/shoe.
I will miss them all. Sigh. The one thing about packing and leaving for a trip to forrin is that I cannot pack the dogs.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Via Pondicherry

Unexpectedly successful weekend trips have to be among the best things in life, no? One such trip was had last weekend to Pondicherry, er..Puducherry. But let's just stick with the former name. Anyway, this trip happened as a diversion to a rather stressful three days in Chennai.

One noisy, LOUD Tamil-song filled bus trip was all it took to get to Pondy. A smashing colonial-style hotel was the place of stay. The staff here was not only charming, they also spoke perfect French! Friend, who claimed to have had four years of French classes in his youth, found that he could not even summon up enough French to translate Chicken 65 (it ended up as Chicken 69). He also loudly proclaimed that he felt slapped when the front-desk girl chatted in fluent Francaise about postcards with a French tourist.

Anyhow, the streets in the French quarter are home to many very sweet dogs and rows of pastel-colored houses with lush bougainvillea in pink and white. And these streets are very quiet relatively early at night. This did not prevent friend and me from traipsing down them, sometimes ringing doorbells at random after having swigged several healthy shots of rum and coke at the obliging cafe in the hotel.

Pondy was also historic in that it was the site where for the first time in my life I seriously thought there was a ghost in my room. The ghost made strange tapping/hissing sounds and then dripped some water on the floor. In my slightly inebriated state at about 3 am in a fitful sleep, I became convinced that a drowned girl named Jasmine was in my room. Fortunately, Jasmine obligingly turned out to be a faulty AC and then left me alone.

Also, I took some truly award-worthy shots of a man meditating against the backdrop of a Bay of Bengal sunrise. Reproduced here, though, is the work of a slightly less-gifted artist.

In the end, Pondy made even Chennai fun. Strange things do happen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Misses and hits

A few thoughts on Oscar fashion. First, can someone explain why Tilda Swinton appeared in public with one arm ripped off her gown? Did she have a run-in with her cat, who after attacking her sleeve, then proceeded to claw at her hair for good measure? Then there was Best Actress Marion Cotillard, who was swathed in a scaly dress that made me wonder if it smelled like fish too. This dress was, inexplicably, loved by many fashion critics. As for me, all I can say is, slap her, she's French.
Red was quite the hot trend this time: Anne Hathaway chose a rose-encrusted disaster of a gown that had too much fabric in front, Heidi Klum in a hilarious shawl-collared creation and plug-ugly bun on her head, and of course, wearing the dress of the evening, Katherine Heigl. Please, oh please, what possessed this pretty girl to slather on carrot-hued makeup with a heavy-duty trowel? Her dress was va-va-voom and she certainly wore the hell out of it. But one look at her clown-inspired visage and the dress just faded out of one's sight.
However, Hilary Swank in black, Jessica Alba glowing in rich purple, and Cameron Diaz in blush pink redeemed the evening. Diaz was panned for her hairstyle, but come on. The girl is a surfer, let's cut her some slack. And last and best, Javier Bardem in his stylish duds, who tops my newly published list of male hotties. His nose!
That is all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The tragedy of it

My vote for the funniest ad on TV these days: Deepika Padukone plugging some new face soap. She strolls down a ramp, poured into a green dress and looking heavenly. Then she twinkles, "want to know why my skin is so beautiful and youthful?"
The first time I saw this, I was in the middle of banging pots and pans together because the water wouldn't boil fast enough for my two-minute noodles. Spontaneously, I answered, "Because I was born in 1988!"
Then it struck me: the sheer hilarity of it. Twenty-year-olds should not be made to stump for youth-enhancing products. It's cruel.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I saw the first jacaranda of the season today.
I feel privileged.
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