Thursday, December 28, 2006


While I am breaking my head here figuring out packing, random administrivia and apartment viewings, Bill seems to have gone and spent one idlyllic weekend in the Shire. What do I do with this guy?

Friday, December 22, 2006


Went crazy buying books as I discovered that I can ship them all to London. In an attempt to educate Bill, picked up Khasakinte Ithihasam in English. Spent sometime revisiting Khasak and thus figured that there's enough to do in Khasak for a weekend, so here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Its still movie time...

Last post on the film festival. Promise.

Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows): Probably the most satisfying noir feature that I have seen in a long, long time. And this was apparently Malle's first movie made when he was twenty four! A self-assured ex-military man, Julien Tavernier kills his boss as he(Tavernier) happens to be having an affair with the boss's wife. He nearly leaves the scene of the crime but comes back in to pick up something, and gets stuck in the elevator. The rest you will have to go watch the movie. Top three reasons why you should see, no, own this movie (Bill, darling, have you gotten me anything for Christams yet?):
3) Henri Decaë's cinematography (there is a classic close-up shot of Moreau lit only by the lights of Champs-Elysees which is simply oustanding. Btw, I have always maintained that Paris should be shot only in black and white but more about that some other time)
2) The beautiful, beautiful Jeanne Moreau and
1) Miles Davis (So I am illiterate but I did not know that Miles was going to be around when I went in to watch the movie. And when the trumpet sounded during the opening scene, it felt like my first ever bit of warm brownie with vanilla icecream. Ok ok, so the word I was looking for there is orgasmic)

Bergman's Fanny and Alexander: No, I will leave this one alone. Will just say that it was amazing to see this finally on the big screen.

Rituparno Ghosh's Dosar: Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn't half as bad as I thought it was going to be. Nicely shot, Konkana was good, the movie itself was good here and there, but think Ghosh tries a little too hard to mimic well, you-know-who when he should be quite okay just by sticking to what he does best. Oh well, Bill's mom is happy now that dutiful daughter-in-law has watched one Bong movie at the fest. Btw, expected to see the entire Bong population of Kerala at the movie hall but was pleasantly surprised.

Now, for some disconnected schtuff about the film festival:

- Yeah yeah, I saw some "celebrities" too. Adoor Gopalakrishnan I met! And Revathy sat next to me using Fanny and Alexander. She, you know, actually seemed to like it!

- So I haven't been to international film festivals in India but from what I have seen in Chicago, NYC et al, it seemed to me as if the audience who turn up at these things almost invariably belong to certain demographics and I have no reason to believe that it would not be the case here in India. Like for example, there's apparently some sort of we-also-have-one film festival in Chennai happening right now and I can see film students, industry people, retired Hindu readers, and you know people like that. Here in Kerala though, whats surprising is not that the movie halls get filled 45 minutes before the show, its that the audience include people from all walks of life. The army officer's wife who came down from Ooty just for the week. The kid who lives two blocks down who thinks Nykvist = God. The uncle from State Bank who's a great fan of Rocha. Two maamis from the Agraharam who are hooked on to Iranian movies. The comrades from the party zonal office who seemed to know everything there's to know about movies from Latin America. Etc. Only in Kerala. Only at home. So shoot me.

- People are very very good about cell phones. They bring them in but you never have more than one going off inside the theater during a screening. Because everyone turns around and shouts at the unfortunate guy while setting their own phones to vibrate. Did I tell you I love home?

- Never underestimate the Don. Never. If you happen to go into the movie hall a little late and are unable to find a place, you will always find one of the Don's comrades who will find a seat for you. And it does not matter if there's a bandh - the comrades will get you home.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More movie minutes

Spent one super religious weekend with BM and Shilpi visiting a few thousand year old temples. Showed face to both Siva and Vishnu as well a couple of Nandis with a lot of attitude and dropped in on the 60 ft Bahubali on the way so that when the time comes, recos will come from everywhere. Got back late on Monday and missed a few good movies; so went overboard and watched four movies in the last 36 hours. All four halls were packed, with the balcony seats filled a good 45 minutes before the show.

First, Francisco Vargas's The Violin . Probably the only movie that I will get to see in the competition section. Shot entirely in black and white, The Violin opens with an unconnected but horrific scene of torture and rape, and then abruplty switches to the timeless story of three generations of Hidalgos as they are driven out of their land by seemingly ruthless soldiers. The elderly violinist Don Plutarco plays his fiddle with a string tied to the stump that was once his hand while his son Genaro plays the guitar and his grandson Lucio collects money from the crowd. In the village, Plutarco grows corn while Genaro is a guerilla who is transporting weapons to fight their oppressors. Before the weapons can reach the guerillas, the village is attacked and people driven out. Genaro's attempts to get the weapons out proves unsuccessful but it seems for a while that Plutarco can get past the roadblocks - with his violin he not only gets back to the village but also to the Commander who cannot seem to get enough of Plutarco's music. But the end when it comes is inevitable and the music has to stop. Nothing really changes but if there's any hope for change, surely it lies in the redeeming power of music and art.

From Mexico to the West Bank, the story of oppression and futile retaliation continues. In the Oscar winning Paradise Now, two auto mechanics in Nablus, Said and Khaled are chosen to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and they go through the preparations like getting military haircuts so as to look like the settlers, and reading out final statements that are videotaped. The movie is a fast-paced suspense thriller that keeps you glued to the screen chewing your fingernails trying to figure out the ending (someone in the audience was nearly strangled when his cell phone went off in a pivotal moment) and at the same time, it potrays suicide bombers as misguided young men with aspirations and doubts like the rest of us. Quite an achievement.

Retro: Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien. A discomfiting coming of age story set in wartime France, Lacombe, Lucien is the story of 18-year old, hospital-cleaner Lucien who when turned down by the Resistance joins the Gestapo as a collaborator. The Gestapo works Lucien giving him small responsibilities making him feel wanted and appreciated. Seduced by power and authority, naive Lucien terrorizes his people and answers only to his German masters. Only after he falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a Jewish tailor does he begin to get second thoughts but by then he realises that its too late. Lucien is both victim and perpetuator and at the end, as the Jewish tailor puts it "we somehow cannot bring ourselves to despise him" regardless of his actions. Some very impressive direction and dialogues, this movie is truly one of Malle's best. Apparently, this movie created a huge controversy when it was released for showing a collaborator as the main character and after watching the movie, one can easily see why.

Homage: Andrei Tarkovsky's Offret (Sacrifice). (Homage for Sven Nykvist who passed away this year). Seriously, I mean, you want me to talk about Offret? Sorry, not happening. I love so many things the movie stands for and there's so many layers about the movie that I probably do not understand, but the problem is that at the end, this movie is a little too Christian for me. Too much of faith. That said, Offret must be seen. For a number of reasons but most of all for Nykvist, for the cinematography. The man is just plain incomparable. Period.

Movies for the next 24 hours:
Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows - Pretty sure might have to give this a miss thanks to a bandh but we will see. Some idiot's scheduled Fanny and Alexander and Volver at the same time, so its going to be the former. Promised the 13,000 nephews and nieces that I will take them to Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra which I am looking forward to but then I can't make it back in time for Dosar, so will have to make a choice there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Goat and other stories

The choices were between Omkara, a French comedy called La Chèvre, and a couple of Louis Malle films. The decision wasn't very difficult, I mean, you know of a better way to spend a lazy Friday afternoon than to stare at Gerard Depardieu on the big screen for a full 90 minutes? Really? So anyway, after the usual fight with the auto guy, landed up at theater a full 10 minutes early. You know, just in case. Shouldn't have bothered, there were about 40 people inside and most of them looked like students. Two women including me. I went outside and checked with guy at the exit. La Chèvre? Sure? Alright. Gerard Depardieu and there are two women in the movie hall! These Mallus are crazy, I say.

The movie itself was exactly what I needed - light, absurd, laugh-out-loud every other minute, and Depardieu in almost every frame. A young, unlucky Frenchwoman disappears in Mexico and her rich father employs an private eye Campana (Depardieu) to find her. When the attempt proves unsuccessful, the father, acting on the advice of his company's psychartist recruits a timid accountant, the accident-prone Perrin (a very excellent Pierre Richard) to help Campana. The idea is that only someone as unlucky as Perrin will be able to find the kidnapped Marie as "he will slip on the same banana peels as she does". The movie then is about the escapades of the very straight, logical, macho Mr Campana and the super clumsy, moronic, unlucky Mr Perrin as they retrace the vanished girl's steps. A series of unfortunate but comic accidents ensue, most of them predictable but nevertheless extremely funny. Funny because both Depardieu and Richard are exact opposites and there's no sign of the excited French steretype anywhere - nothing ever shakes them. Couldn't help thinking that if Hollywood were to do this, they would probably have gone the other extreme and made this another of those unwatchable, loud and boisterous monstrosities that they churn out at regular intervals.

And oh, in case you were wondering, the story is that I discovered that there's some sort of a film festival happening in the neighborhood starting today, and in the interests of giving the couch some well-earned rest, managed to get myself a pass. Looks like my pass can be used at all the state film federation type theaters such as Kalabhavan, Kairali, Tagore, Gorky Bhavan (well, what did you expect?) and of course at the Nishagandhi open air auditorium. My weekend will have to be spent in Karnataka as tickets and stuff have been booked but the plan is to spend the rest of next week running from one theater to another. Auto drivers beware! For Monday, I am trying to decide between Forever Flows (Bangladesh), Sawdust and Tinsel (yes, there's a Sven Nykvist homage happening, so there will be a couple more of these), Four Women Barefoot (Argentina), and Goodbye Children (France).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Anniversary "gift"

Home. 5.30 PM. On the couch as usual. Don comes in.

Me: You are early today.

Don: Yeah, your mom asked me to come early. Why aren't you ready yet?

Me: We are going somewhere?

Don: Your mom said we are. Go get ready now.

Me: But where are we going?

Don: I don't know ma. Ask amma.

Me: Some temple kya?

Don: No, No. That your mom has given up on, I think. Though you know this is a temple of sorts. Atleast in this state.

Me: I should have known. Amma!

Amma: Enna? Go get ready now.

Me: To go where?

Amma: Appa didn't tell you?

Me: Why would he? It wasn't his idea.

Amma: What wasn't his idea? He was only saying that we will get something for the anniversary.

Me: Yeah, he did. So he went to market and got me neymeen in the morning na?

Amma: No, no, we want to get you something that will remind us of the day.

Me: Well then, come, lets take a picture.

Amma: No ma. We have to get you something.

Me: Ok, lets get a book or better still, you give me the money.

Amma: Why? So that you can spend it all on some junket?

Me: Its better than spending it in gold that is going to be locked up for ever.

Amma: Who said anything about gold?

Me: My mom's seeing sense. Yipee! We are going out to dinner then? Excellent!

Amma: We are indeed going out to dinner. But we will take a short detour.

Me: But you said no gold!

Amma: There's ruby, there's sapphire and there's always diamonds.

Me: Yikes! I am not going anywhere.

Amma: Come na kaanama. Who knows where you are going to be next year? This year you are here and we will get you something.

Me: Oh so its my fault for being here. Ok, I will book my ticket and go away tomorrow. Then you can go to jewelry store and buy all the jewelry you want.

Amma: Muruga, why should be my daughter behave like this? What paapam have I done?

Don: You expect Karthikeyan to come down from up above now and work with you both on a compromise? I feel sorry for him. But then again, I have done this for more than 25 years, let him take over now.

Amma: Its all a joke for you! Both of you do what you want. No one cares about me in this household.

In an attempt to control the damage of our local Brahmaputra flood, I decide to go along and soon Don, Amma and I are at big, evil jewelry store. The masterplan is to spend a lot of time looking at different things until the store is about to close and then finally decide that I don't like anything that much. The plan seems to be working and an hour later three thin gold chains, one diamond pendant, one gold necklace (antique style) are all set aside so that we can decide on one later, and we are looking at some long, blue and gold necklaces. Rrnng.

Me: Hello?

Kid: Hey, happy anniversary and whatever.

Me: Ok, ok. When did you come back from London?

Kid: Yesterday evening.

Me: So you liked the place?

Amma is looking at some jade and gold necklace and whispering to Don.

Kid: Oh yes. It was awesome. Spent a lot of time walking. Got caught by cops for randomly walking around late at night.

Me: Hmm..So when are you moving to London? And you know, paying our rent?

Kid: What?! We will see about that.

Amma is holding the blue and gold necklace and talking to friendly salesperson now. Don looks a little dazed.

Me: Hey, hang on. Amma, you want me to try that kya?

Amma: No no. You talk. Take your time.

Me: Ok. So hey, I was saying that you should move and pay our rent as your brother doesn't make any money

Kid: Well, you married him. Your problem.

Me: True enough. So what else did you do there?

Kid: So I caught a play at the West End. Pretty impressive. Globe season was over. So couldn't do that.

By now, all possible buys are in one place and Amma is fingering each of them and talking diligently to salesperson.

Me: Oh thats sad. So you tried all different cuisines?

Kid: Yeah man, ate everything possible I guess. Sushi and Moroccan and Lebanese and Ethiopian and hajjar Thai and Vietnamese.

Me: Good good.

Kid: Liked all other places but Canary Wharf is awesome man. Out of the world stuff.

Me: But as your brother will say, it has no soul!

Kid: He says that? Guess that's typical.

Me: Yeah

Jewelry and salesperson have disappeared. Amma and Don have settled down on a couch and are having coffee. Don looks a little sick. He is staring at me.

Me: Appa, you alright?

Amma: Yeah, he is fine. The coffee doesn't go with him. He is a tea drinker na?

Me: Ok. So what were we saying?

Kid: Hey, I went to Cambridge too.

Me: Why?

Kid: To meet some school friend of mine.

Me: Was it nice and stuff?

Kid: Yeah but my friend said that this place dada's supposed to go to na, she said its like 40 minutes on bike from the station! Does he know about this?

Me: Better don't tell him. This friend of yours, is she like you or what?

Kid: What do you mean?

Me: Like you know does she sleep till 2 in the afternoon every day?

Kid: What? Why?

Salesperson is coming back. Looks jubilant.

Me: Well, most people say its like a 17 minute bike trip from the station. If she's like you though, she will probably fall asleep on the way and take 40 minutes!

Kid: Yeah yeah.

Salesperson hands something to mom which suspiciously looks like a bill. Oh my God!

Me: Hey hey I gotta go now. I will talk to you later ok?

Kid: Ok.

Me: Whats going on here? Whats that?

Amma: Nothing ma. So we decided to get the diamond pendant, and the blue and gold necklace. Did you want something else also?

Me: What?

Amma: You liked them na?

Me: Well, No.

Amma: Here we go again!

Me: You said Yes to this?

Don: Whatever you want ma.

Me: I want nothing ok?

Amma: Don't be stupid. He has the bill made out now.

Me: Excuse me? You call than an excuse? Hello? Whats wrong with you?

Amma: The question is whats wrong with you!

So it went on. Don finally brokered the deal and we didn't buy the diamond pendant. But now, I have become the "proud" owner of a blue and gold necklace that I will probably wear twice in my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Scenes from a Marriage: The Paper Edition

Me: Hello?

Bill: Hey. You are going to throw me in the Thames, I hear.

Me: Yeah.

Bill: How scary. The crocodiles there are all waiting for me I am sure.

Me: Its not funny.

Bill: No, you really are going to throw me into the river. Of course.

Me: No, no we cannot live in London.

Bill: Why?

Me: Because we cannot afford it.

Bill: Nonsense. Last time I checked London was full of colleges. Imperial, Kings, hajjar. Lots of students live there.

Me: But you are not a student. Neither am I.

Bill: Wait, my advisor told you I am graduating? When exactly did this happen?

Me: No, I mean you won't be a student when you live in London.

Bill: I will be a post-doc. Its close.

Me: Regardless, the point is I am not a student and I do not intend to live like one.

Bill: Then don't.

Me: Then you have to take up a real job. We cannot afford it.

Bill: Well, What you are really saying is that you cannot afford the lifestyle you want. And so I have to take up some vague Canary Wharf job because then you can live in Mayfair.

Me: No, if I was by myself then I will be alright. I just need a studio and stuff. You are the problem.

Bill: I see. Then lets do this. You live in your studio in London. I will live in a student apartment in Cambrige. I will come over during the weekend or something. It will be like Chicago and Pitt.

Me: Great! Why didn't I think of that before?

Bill: See that's what you need me for.

Me: Yeah right. You idiot, listen. Why the hell do we need to spend money on two apartments an hour away from each other? And one of them inside the city of London? London isn't exactly Manhattan, Kansas you know.

Bill: Hmm... But then we can live somewhere in between na. The rents won't be so high also.

Me: Like where? Now you want to live in some UK version of Schaumburg, IL?

Bill: No, No Oh God No.

Me: So what I am saying is...

Bill: Yes, I know what to do! We live in Cambridge! Problem solved.

Me: And I with my 14-hour job take the 3 hour commute everyday while you bloody postdoc sit and stare at ceiling? Somehow, I knew this is where you were headed.

Bill: Well, its not my fault that you are some vague sales consultant.

Me: You want me to give up my job now?

Bill: Don't be stupid. Ofcourse not. After all, they are picking up the tab for our relocation, right?

Me: Among other things, yes.

Bill: All I was saying was that once we move and settle down, I am sure you can take up some better paying job near Cambridge, the place is full of tech startups.

Me: And what exactly would I do in a tech startup?

Bill: Good question. And what exactly do you think I will do in the financial district?

Me: I don't know. But they are ready to hire you right?

Bill: They will hire any one. They look randomly for people.

Me: Besides the point.

Bill: Anyway, these i-bankers aren't exactly the most interesting of people.

Me: So you will become all uninteresting if you hang out with them?

Bill: Well, it isn't a great work atmosphere. And maybe I will also become like them only.

Me: Nonsense. I know lots of intereting i-bankers.

Bill: Name one.

Me: Well...

Bill: See what I mean.

Me: Yeah, you wait till I tell Banker this.

Bill: Banker is the exception and he will probably tell you that himself.

Me: Hmm...So you work just for a couple of years and then move back to academia. Works na?

Bill: No, that is not how academia works. I do not know of anyone who got back to research on theory of programming languages after 2 years at an investment bank.

Me: But that doesn't mean..

Bill: that I cannot do it? You serious about this?

Me: Of course.

Bill: Okay, I will do it.

Me: What?

Bill: I said I will do it for a couple of years.

Me: Wait, what are you saying?

Bill: You can't hear me now? I said I will take up some job with one of the banks for a few years. We can live lavishly in London and do hajjar travel.

Me: Are you alright?

Bill: Yes. Just seeing sense finally.

Me: But what about Cambridge?

Bill: I will tell them that I can't make it there. If I feel like it, I will call them in a couple of years. Maybe. He He.

Me: What about your academic career?

Bill: What academic career? I haven't started one yet.

Me: But your visa is all done.

Bill: That's all logistics. Can be worked out.

Me: But you aren't suited for anything other than academia.

Bill: Says who? New avatar will happen. You wait and see.

Me: No, no, certain people are meant to do only certain things. You are meant to teach and do research and stare at ceiling.

Bill: Really?

Me: Yeah

Bill: You are sure about this?

Me: Yes I am.

Bill: Then you won't crib anymore and tell people about your useless, lowly paid postoc spouse?

Me: I will. Because its true.

Bill: Of course. You married me so that you can get sympathy vote from everyone about how useless your spouse is.

Me: That and to get my mom to stop crying.

Bill: Speaking of all that, do you know....

Me: Please, thats all amma's talking about nowadays. Its about how last year this time, we did this and that and how it is so sad you aren't around now. I want to run away only.

Bill: Yeah, my mom called me too. Apparently I have to get you something.

Me: I won't say No to gifts. Just make sure it doesn't arrive today.

Bill: Of course. Fuck. Its been a year.

Me: I know. Fuck.


PS: Yeah, new series. Don't worry, thirty years later I will do Saraband too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hussein, like the dictator

Barack Hussein Obama. Who would have thought that the next election is going to be about middle names? Not that I particularly care, but if I am going to root for anyone, might as well pick the charismatic Junior Senator from Illinois over the Senatress from New York.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lessons learnt this week

1.)When you see £1,100 next to a S Kensington studio, please to multiply by 4.3 before jumping up and down with joy.

2.)A postdoc spouse who commutes to Cambridge is a liability as the money he makes is not enough to cover his transportation cost.

3.)Try conning said spouse to take up a Canary Wharf/City job failing which throw him into the Thames.

4.)If you cannot get rid of him, take the following test. Are you A) Royalty B) Diplomat C) I-banker or D) None of the above? If you answered D, you shouldn't really attempt to live in London.

5.)Gall stones do not need to be removed. Next time someone tells you that you have gall stones in your gall bladder, do NOT cancel air tcikets to Vietnam and hotel reservations at Siem Reap.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Everyone's moving to Wall St

Or so the Times says. Here. Not that this is anything new, but please to note what the women are doing. Or not doing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Visiting home

No, not this time. This time, I am on more than just a visit. And there's no other place that I can call home. Not for another month atleast. Anyway, wrote this last January and looks like I forgot to post it then. So here, notes from my last trip to Kerala:

“When did they build this road? I have never seen such a wide highway in this city before.”

“A couple of years ago. It’s a bypass road – they are still building some parts of it”

“So this goes straight to Kovalam?”

“Yes, no need to cut through the city. Airport to Kovalam in 20 minutes flat”

“That makes sense. There were so many tourists in the flight. I didn’t realize so many of them come here.”

“They do alright. Isn’t this God’s own tropical paradise?”

“That it most definitely is”, I agree with my father. Look out of the window and it is all postcard country – coconut groves, lush-green fields, tiled-roof houses. The rains of the day before conferred on them a particular shade of green, a green that reminds me of monsoon rain and school re-openings, of St. George umbrellas and Maveli stores, of new books and old friends. Billboards on the highway promise world-class guest rooms, rustic houseboats, quiet beaches, glorious sunsets and ayurvedic treatments guaranteed to give you your life back. Other than the billboard ads and the sleek road we were on, nothing seemed to have changed in God’s own country. People reading newspapers by the tea shops in the intersections; the fishmonger with her basket full of fresh fish on her head; kids in that familiar cream and blue pinafore returning from school; a girl arguing with an auto rickshaw driver – it is almost as if I’d never left home.

Soon we take an exit from the highway and turn into one of the side roads which seemed to have become narrower in the two years I was out of the country. It reminded me of the time I was in college and we had our school reunion. We all went back to school and in an obviously nostalgic mood, some of us visited the class rooms we grew up in. It took me more than a couple of minutes to realize that the desks I used to sit in had not become smaller; I had grown bigger. I get the same feeling now looking at the narrow roads and the small houses that we pass by – I didn’t remember them being so narrow or so small.

We pass by the Killipalam Girls High School and turn into the very familiar Killipalam road. The narrow, barely two-lane National Highway has four lanes with a divider separating traffic! What used to be a traffic nightmare is now quite peaceful. I remember Bini, the girl who used to live by the Killi Bridge – she lived in one of the small one-room houses by the river. Her cousin used to work as a maid in our house. I didn’t befriend her for the longest time though we met every day – I would be walking to the school bus stop while she would be walking to her school. We would look up and give each other a half smile and continue walking on opposite sides on the road. Until one day when we discovered that a group of boys from the nearby school have taken to sitting on a wall by the roadside. From that day on, we both walked on the same side of the street and became fast friends. I lost touch with her once I left for college and haven’t thought of her in a long while. Now, seeing this wide road which has been built over what used to be her house I can’t help thinking about her. I want to ask my mother about Bini but I am afraid of the answer. Maybe she is a maid at someone’s place and maybe she has nowhere to live as they have demolished her house.

“Bini is doing very well. She went to college and she’s now working as a music teacher at a school. She just had her second baby. She will come to the wedding.”

Mothers do know everything.


The wedding is over. Most of the guests have left. We have a couple of days to ourselves before the groom leaves for Bombay. He has never been to Kerala before, so I am determined to show him whatever I can. I drag him through the bustling Chalai market on our way to the Padmanabhaswamy temple. We visit the Ravi Varma gallery and the museum. We walk along the wide Kowdiar streets to Vellayambalam junction. We spend the evening at Shangumughan beach. I cannot stop talking. My city, my home, my past life has to be shown and explained; the groom and my home should be made to understand and like each other – all within a day.

Another day remains. A friend suggests the island of Poovar. We decide it’s a good idea as the groom’s never seen backwaters. The driver drops us off at the boat jetty. We take the boat to the island. Houseboats on backwaters, people on vanchis, and that shade of green everywhere. We sign in at the guest house. The place is filled with foreign tourists and honeymooning couples, all of whom seem very content to rest by the poolside. We, in our weary pretend backpackers mode, are very much out of place. We spend hours exploring the woods surrounding the guest house; it is beautiful. We walk down to the boat house and get a ride to the beach. We wait for the sunset; the boatman waits for us. Kids play with balloons a little further away. I fiddle with my camera to see if I could get anything of the sunset. Two of the kids run towards us; they stop a little further away. They talk to each other in Malayalam. They apparently are trying to guess which part of the country we are from. It sounds more like they are reciting state names one after the other. They soon run out of states. I start talking to them in Malayalam, they are elated and start chattering away to glory. A little later, we leave the beach for the island. The boatman gets to talking to us on the way back. He tells us about the different kinds of people who visit the island and he says that he can never understand how anyone could spend their time by the pool when there’s so much around. We tell him that we don’t understand it either.


We are back on the highway. We are running a little late for my flight. I fly to Bombay and a week later I will be back in Chicago. The thought of freezing temperatures and biting wind chill makes me shudder. But I also feel a strange longing to be back home in the comfort of my tiny apartment. For a long time, I thought that home is a very possessive idea; it requires one to be faithful. But what do you do when you have multiple homes and do not want to choose one over the other?

We drive by a stretch that is under construction. Construction workers are paving the road. By the side of the highway, I see makeshift huts with asbestos roofs. In front of them, kids in rags are playing hide and seek. I am a little surprised. A woman rushes to her crying baby lying by the side of the road. She takes the baby in her arms and starts feeding it. This is not a familiar sight, not here. I turn to my father.

“What’s happening here? Do these workers live in these huts?”

“Yes. They are not from here.”

“Where are they from then?”

“I talked to some of them one day. Most of them are from Orissa. The private contractors got them here for the road work so that they don’t have to pay them the minimum wage.”


“Remember, this is Kerala. If you hire someone here to do this job, you cannot get away without paying them the minimum wage.”

“And no one’s told these people they ought to get paid more?”

“They are not unionized; they have to make a living.”

“Do you think that woman there is making a living?”

My father laughed.

“Remember when we moved to our house fifteen years ago? We couldn’t unload any of our furniture by ourselves. Those union people came and made a big fuss about how they would unload the furniture and we would have to pay them hundreds of rupees?”

“Yes, I remember. You called it highway robbery.”

“Yes, I did. It still happens and I still call it highway robbery. But I have come to realize that there are varying degrees of theft. Some I can live with, some I am not so sure.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That night we moved, neither you nor the porters’ daughters starved. You got your dosais and they got their kappa. Can’t say the same for that baby we just passed by.”

We reach the airport. My flight is on time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bio Brandy

Got back from another of my Tamland trips and one long travelogue coming up sometime. But first, does anyone know anything about this bio brandy con? 100% "natural" organic brandy. Apparently, for the first time in the entire world. Saw huge billboards all over Karaikal (the uninteresting part of Pondicherry) advertising Bio Brandy. Funky billboard too but camera ran out of battery. No, didn't have the time to try any but super curious as to what this thing is.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

48 hours

Elsewhere, itineraries are happening. Because there's nothing like travel. And travel planning. If you don't know what to do with your weekend, perhaps this might help. And if you have some interesting itineraries, send them over.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Eye care through videoconferencing...

Or some shameless PR for a friend.

In a spare, one-room eye clinic in the rural South Indian village of Bodinayakannur, a 64-year-diabetes patient named V. Ramaswamy, and a medical technician sit facing a computer monitor. On the screen is a live video of an ophthalmologist at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Theni, nine miles away. Speaking into a microphone, the technician describes the patient’s condition to the remote physician, then hands the man the microphone. “For the last week, my eyes have been red and itching,” the patient, Ramaswamy tells the physician in Tamil, the local language. “There has been swelling and watering.” The physician prescribes five days of eye drops, explaining that Ramaswamy has an infection, and asks him to come to the hospital for a follow-up exam.

Later Ramaswamy, who had heard from a friend in town that he could go to a local eye clinic for a teleconference with a hospital doctor, said he might not have sought prompt treatment if he’d had to find a way to the hospital nine miles away. “They said I could talk straight to a doctor through the TV,” he says. “If I had to go to Theni, I would have put it off or maybe not gone at all. Because the clinic was here, I came right away.”

Plan is to have 50 of these remote eye clinics running soon serving some 2.5 million people across rural Tamland.

Enablers: Aravind, and Intel Research at UC Berkeley.

Aravind developed the concept of rural vision centers—primary eye clinics in rural areas, where patients can be remotely diagnosed by doctors via high-speed wireless videoconferencing; get prescription glasses, eye drops and blood tests; be referred to an Aravind hospital if surgery is needed; and receive post-operative care.


To connect the vision centers to Aravind hospitals, Intel and UC Berkeley researchers designed a point-to-point long-distance wireless infrastructure that combines a variation on IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) technology with off-the-shelf videoconferencing software and tools that hospitals can use to maintain the network.

Read the full thing here and here.

PS: Yeah, yeah, I did my part to save the world. I translated some of the patient interviews!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lunar Lunacy

Life's been a little busy lately and been ignoring blog. Just back from a whirlwind trip to Madurai and another Kovai-Madurai-Pudukkottai-home trip happening next week. When I am not traveling, its visitor time here at home in Kerala. Though must say that its mostly inertia that's been keeping me away from blog. That and the fact that there's enough entertainment in moi's life without resorting to blogging. But Bill, over at the other side of the world is having a bit of trouble with his advisor experiencing separation pains weeks before he's scheduled to defend and he claims he sorely needs more entertainment that Cecilia can provide and so he's decided to blog! Well, no, he is too lazy to actually log into Blogger and start a new blog and all that but he's been sending me stuff that I am supposed to put up here on this blog. So without further ado, here's Bill's Lunar Lunacy. Before you go on, a word of caution - I have not seen so many bad moon puns in one place, so please proceed at your own risk!

Veena: Hey, you know A?

Bill: Yeah, the one who got married last month?

Veena: Yeah, did you know her husband gets her one-month anniversary gifts?

Bill: Good for her. I think it's technically called a honeymoon month.

Veena: I don't remember getting a honeymoon gift. Technically or otherwise.

Bill: You now want an anniversary gift? You mean you are past denial phase now and are admitting that we indeed got married?

Veena: No, no, that would so bad. Ofcourse we aren't married.

Bill: Thank God! For a second there I thought we would have to get divorced now that you think we are married.

Veena: Yeah but wait.

Bill: What now?

Veena: So okay, no anniversary gifts. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't get gifts.

Bill: Maybe. But I am a poor grad student, not an earning member of society. I think that lets me out.

Veena: Yeah, yeah. You have enough money to go gallivanting around the world, just not any to spend on me.

Bill: Oh oh, that sure is subtle. What gift do you want now?

Veena: Well, I am known to have the subtlety of an elephant. Now you go get me something that is out of this world.

Poor me! So here is where I start thinking, hey, what kind of gift is out of this world? Bear in mind it has to be affordable on a student stipend. Maybe one of the minor planets, eh? I certainly can't afford Saturn, or any of the rings either. Not Pluto, so downmarket now, isn't it? Wait, what did the poet say?

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"

If you are not worried about going down the beaten track, the moon is always considered oh-so-romantic. No less an authority than Shahrukh Khan has promised "Chaand taare, tod laoon..." But then, that was reel life. For those of us who cannot strum the guitar strings, but do have to pay extra state tax on luxury items, it is not that easy to go get the moon. I mean, think about it. Where would you go to get the moon? Certainly not a big store, that so kills the romance. Everyday Low Prices, 50% off the second one, with a mail-in rebate? I don't think so. What you want is one of those small shops in a corner, specializing in planetary deliveries since the time of Galileo. For the bleeding heart liberal types, only certified natural would do, of course. One of a kind, packaged individually in pristine deep space, untouched by cosmic radiation. We use only the finest comet gas! Guaranteed fair trade. No moonshine was consumed in the production of this moon.

Say for a moment that it is do-able. I can afford it. What next? Setting and packaging. There are rocks that can be polished and put into the perfect setting. But the one we want has to be set just right, in a precise Keplerian setting. It has to be in tune with the Pythagorean harmony of the stars, right? And then the delivery options. Delivery next day before sunrise might be overdoing things. On the other hand, you cannot make her wait for a blue moon either. Airmail is out of the question, though space mail might cut it. Maybe someone with a fleet of Apollos could undertake the job? Fedex?

Paying insurance will be another headache. Not exactly replaceable. Sure, Jupiter has a lot of moons, but is not known to give them up easily. There are strong risks of being damaged by meteorites, not to mention astronauts putting up flags and playing golf. And of course, if you are shipping it internationally, customs is going to be a huge problem. What are you going to declare on the form? One moon. Not explosive, or volcanic, or anything like that. Not a biohazard, though it may be made of green cheese. If it turns out to contain green moon bugs, please don't send Homeland Security after me. I don't want to be exiled to some camp in what the popular press calls the lunar landscape.

So you can see that this is a whole host of trouble. But that is how it is when the world is not enough. Getting that gift can leave you shaken, and stirred. All things considered, its not exactly a small step for a man. Regardless of what these moonwalkers say. So no, all these unworldly ideas are not for poor grad students like me. No sir, we deal only with real practical things. What are these ideas you talk about? Logic. Math. Programming. Proving theorems. How about sending this beautiful proof that I have here over by Fedex? Will she consider it out of the world? Yes, it is a possibility. Oh hang on, the proof needs to go here in this paper. Due in two days time! Away, sleep! Disappear like a pale moonbeam!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Links for the day

AO Scott on Babel:

In the end “Babel,” like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck, an incomplete monument to its own limitless ambition. But it is there, on the landscape, a startling and imposing reality. It’s a folly, and also, perversely, a wonder.

Now, to wait for the pirates!

Pamuk on 30 years of writing:

For what is a novel but a story that fills its sails with these winds, that answers and builds upon inspirations that blow in from unknown quarters and seizes upon all the daydreams we've invented for our diversion, bringing them together into a meaningful whole? Above all, a novel is a basket that carries inside it a dreamworld we wish to keep forever alive, and forever ready. Novels are held together by the little pieces of daydreams that help us, from the moment we enter them, forget the tedious world we long to escape. The more we write, the richer these dreams become; and the more we write, that second world inside the basket becomes broader, more detailed, more complete. We come to know this world through writing, and the better we know it, the easier it is to carry it around in our heads. If I am in the middle of a novel and writing well, I can enter easily into its dreams.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Ofcourse I am happy about Pamuk but I am ecstatic about Yunus and Grameen. I cannot think of a more deserving person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, needless to say Bill is adding one more to the Bangla count.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pujo tales

Day 0

Diligently listened to program for next four days and nodded head like dutiful daughter-in-law. All events were scheduled with military precision. Looked over shoulder and yes, the program was written down in triplicate. Only thing I was required to do on Day 0 was to get to Pujo pandal across the street sometime in the evening and show face. The Kid was also supposed to show face but he's managed to get himself excused. Big, evil companies can be good once in a while, I guess.

Recognized only Durga and Ganesh. Checked who the others were and why they were there. The two women on either side of Durga sort of looked like Saraswathi and Lakshmi but you know, where I come from, a veena looks like a veena and a lotus looks like well, a lotus. Also couldn't figure why these two women would be there in the pandal anyway. What have they got to do with Durga ma? They are her daughters? Oh, I see. And who the hell is this other guy on the right? I can venture a wild guess but my beloved Chola land will disown me completely. Siva Siva! This is how they caricature the most adored of all Tamil Gods - is this really you Muruga? Vetri Vel, Veera Vel, where is your Vel kandha? Karthikeya, Senthilnatha, Mayilvahana what have they done to you? Will you ever forgive these sinners?

Wandered over to food court and hogged fish chops and cutlets. Bery Bong food, I was told. Of course. Chops and cutlets are so Bong just like bread and butter. Walked over to cultural stage - an audio play was in session. Least understood but most enjoyed of the day's events. Picked up words here and there (like I actually figured that the play was centred around hilsa) and had good fun trying to figure out the rest. Day done.

Day 1

Day 7 of the Pujo. Required to show face both morning and evening. Which wasn't so much of a problem except that moi's supposed to wear sari in the morning. Now, I don't have anything against saris, I tell Mrs. S, in fact I like them quite a lot and think they are nice and airy. I am also not one of those people who think that invisible Dushashans walk around pulling my sari from every direction; instead I am super comfortable wearing one and would love to wear one today. But Mrs. S, there is one minor issue though, you see, moi never learnt how to wear one. Amma dear at home and A~ dear in college have kept myself from learning all these years. So you see I really cannot wear sari for this event. Salwar kurta will do, right? No, really? You? No, no you can't help me wear one. Yes, I know you have been wearing them for more than 30 years but you have no experience in helping other people wear na? Comes from having two sons. Maybe if you had a daughter but what use in talking of such things now? Boys don't like to wear sari no, that is true. You dressed up the Kid in a sari when he was a real kid? How about Bill? Do you have pictures? Do you have a scanner? No, no never mind about that. I have this nice salwar kurta which I am sure will do fine. You want to try to help me anyway? Really? Especially since I am very comfortable in one? You sure you have the time? Okay then.

Thus turned up in sari at pandal. Mrs. S kindly told me to come late so that I didn't need to stay long. Very thoughtful of her. Didn't have to introduce evil daughter-in-law to everyone you see. Worked for me too. Turned up right before the puja ended, smiled at a few faces, hogged food and headed back. Evening, the Kid put in appearance and was promptly told to take care of me and take me around the pandal. I was all happy as the Kid, unlike Bill, doesn't believe in image building. He wouldn't stay there more than 10 minutes. So I just had to tag along and I would be back home in 15. But we finally ended up staying for a good hour or so. There was a Calcutta folk band singing Bong folk songs which were quite entertaining. Reminded me of long forgotten Tamil folk songs my Dad used to sing long ago. Again, it would have been nice if I could understand what they were singing but as some people keep telling us, it is a lot of fun listening to a song sung in a foreign language where you can recognize some words and would have to guess the rest.

Day 2 - Ashtami

Same schedule as Day 1. This is turning out to be a little too much. The evenings are good but I need to get out of the morning Puja nonsense. But Ashtami is supposed to be the Day. Can't wiggle out of this one. Mrs & Mr S leave in the morning for the puja. I am told to wake up Kid and get there by lunchtime. I go back to my reading. Hours go by. Finish Cuckold. 11 AM. Talk to Bill. Take a bath. 12 Noon. Do some work. 1 PM. Decide to leave for Puja lunch. Hang on, aren't I forgetting something? Oh yes, the Kid. Insomniac early riser that I am, I am sure the Kid has fallen sick. Or worse, maybe he died in his sleep. No, he seems to be sleeping peacefully. He is definitely breathing, he is just sick then. I try to wake him up and ask him if he is alright. Its just 1 PM for God's sake, can't a Kid get a good night's sleep anymore?

Its 3 by the time we get to the pandal. We gobble up leftovers. The Kid gets shouted at. We all get back home. We will all rest now, I am told. What? In five minutes, the entire family goes back to sleep again. Amma, I told you, this family is strange. Do you know they sleep for 4 hours in the afternoon after waking up so late? How dare you get me married off to such a family? What are we to do now? Calm down? What do you mean calm down? No, they will not hear me. They are all asleep I am telling you. Yes, yesterday also they slept so much but I just thought they were tired or something. Who knows how much Bill sleeps? Its not like I live with him. I used to live in Chicago remember and he in Pittburgh remember? Of course, I will find out soon. And you will see why this marriage was doomed from day one.

Day 3 - Navami

Program was to go visit other pujo pandals across Bombay. But that was in the evening, first we had to go for morning Puja again. Enough is enough, I am not doing this anymore, I decided. So conned the Kid to take me book shopping though not like he needed any conning for that. He tells parents and gets shouted at but soon we are on our way. Took the train down and the Kid didn't stop talking about Bombay. We got to the New and Secondhand bookshop and spent an hour there. The Kid picked up an illustrated edition of Through the Looking Glass and I immediately started telling him about Jabberwock, Falstaff and Ludwig. He looked at me like I was mad. I shut up. We had lunch at the Kid's favorite Parsi joint and went to Strand only to discover that they were closed. How dare they close the store on Sundays? No choice now but to go to that lifestyle store on Peddar Road. Spent the next couple of hours there but most of the time we were in the Children's section. Bought the entire St Clare's and the Naughtiest Girl series among other things and headed home. At home, we had a minor issue getting in the door when the books we were carrying were sighted. We were told that because of space constraints, either the books get in or we get in but not both. I had to promise to take all the books with me when I leave next week which of course I had no issues with. The Kid sulked the entire evening.

Evening, it was pandal hopping time. Quite ostentatious. Here are some pictures:

Day 4 - Yeah, its over!

Apparently, Durga is to be sent off with all kids to husband's place now that her vacation is over. All married women apparently have to go do Puja, feed her, put sindhoor on her and send her off from the pandal. Men have to take her to the sea and get rid of her there. These Bongs are really funny. Didn't have to do much except show up for lunch, so it wasn't too bad. The Kid got into a nice, little argument with parents about why he wouldn't go send her off which somehow went on to how he has no Bong identity or respect for Indian culture - a very entertaining "discussion" for a peaceful onlooker such as moi.

Meanwhile, my mother's laughing her head off. She cannot believe that daughter is visiting more Puja pandals in a week than she has visited in the last 25 years. Such, I must say, is life.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pujo time

Landed in Bombay yesterevening. En route to Bill's place:

Mr. S: See, this is the pandal, this is all decorated so nicely.

Me: Yes, it is.

Mr. S: From tomorrow, the kitchen is open only for breakfast.

Me: What kitchen?

Mr. S: Our kitchen. Aunty will make only breakfast.

Me: Oh, thats alright. I know how to cook. (Bill @#$%^&!, just you wait...)

Mr. S: No, no, not that. We will go have food with everyone at the Pujo place.

Me: Oh, I see.

Mr. S: There will be all kind of stalls where we can go get food.

Me: That's nice.

Mr. S: We will also have cultural function every evening.

Me: Nice. What sort of cultural functions?

Mr. S: Tomorrow, there will be Bengali folk songs. Singers are coming all the way from Kolkata.

Me: Oh

Mr. S: And the day after, there's a play by an upcoming troupe from Kolkata.

Me: Hmm..

Mr. S: Don't worry, we will get the Kid(aka the bro-in-law) to translate for you.

Me: Okay (Like the Kid knows any real Bong...)

After a few minutes.

Me: What's this pandal? This looks nice.

Mr. S: Oh no, this is all local. Gujarati festival. They also have Navratri na?

Me: Yes yes.

Mr. S: Anyway, all they have is song and dance. Quite loud too.

Me: I see.

Mr. S: No cultural functions. Just some filmi people they will call and dance.

Me: Of course.

Mr. S: We will also go visit different Pujos across the city

Me: There are different Pujas?

Mr. S: Of course, every locality has their own. In Powai, this time we are having a model of the Dakshineshwar temple.

Me: How cool! (Isn't that an overkill?)

Mr. S: Artisans from Bengal have been working on it for the past few months.

Me: Nice (Of course it takes months, they work only every third day since they have to be on strike the other days)

Mr. S: As you will see, its not really religious. Thats just an excuse. Its mostly a social gathering with a lot of cultural events.

Me: Nice. (Good try)

Mr. S: We are really looking forward to having you here. You will see first hand our Bengali culture.

Me: I am looking forward to it too.

So there. Next few days in Bombay taking the Bong association of Greater Bombay by storm. Moi. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Onions and garlic in a city that never sleeps

At the risk of being assassinated by one of my New Yorker / Mumbaikar friends, let me say that no, I am not talking of either of those two wonderful cities here. Long before I was introduced to Bombay or New York, I was introduced to Madurai. That's why whenever someone starts talking about how her beloved city never ever sleeps, I always tell her if thats the standard by which you judge a city, Madurai should be right up there at the top. Every year, after school closed down for summer holidays, we would get on a Thiruvalluvar bus from Trivandrum bus stand sometime in the evening, and I would get woken up at Madurai's Periyar bus station at somewhere around 2 in the morning. There were no convenient trains to Chola land then, and the car didn't arrive for another half decade or so, and so rickety Thiruvalluvar bus it was. Stepping out of the bus and into Pandya soil, the first thing that hits one is the stench. And then, the madding crowd. Everyone who's been to God's own country and its neighbors know that every kilometre from the border, it gets progressively less greener and much less cleaner. By the time we are actually like some 300 km off, I start cribbing about all things Tam. Just look at this place, no wonder Kannagi burnt this down, I would say. That was a different Madurai; that city went under the sea, Appa would immediately correct me. Amma usually grits her teeth and asks us to hurry as we aren't done with our journey yet. We have to go across to the town bus stand to catch a town bus to yet another bus stand from where we have to catch a bus that would take us into Chola land.

As we get out of the bus stand, the crowd gets interesting. This is not the transit crowd anymore, these are the people of Madurai. And they are everywhere. All stores are open, and people are actually shopping. Yeah, At 2 AM. Restaurants are open too. There are also special night restaurants like Ariya Bhavan by Night which are filled with people. This is all surprising to little me because back in the city I call home, you cannot like buy a beedi past 8 PM. This is astounding, I tell Appa. Yes, it is and its not just this area, the entire city is alive as you will see. Huge chanthais on either side of the road where the vegetable vendors are doing brisk business. And the stench I was complaining about all this while is as good as gone. Because the aroma of fresh Malligaipoo completely overpowers anything that gets in the way. Jasmine here, there, everywhere, and unlike the ones we get in Kerala and may I also add Madras, these actually smell like jasmine. Not to mention the way they tie these flowers together. They tie them so close together that not even air can get in between them. On top of that, these flower sellers are the nicest people in the world, yes, they even bargain ever so nicely. [I know you Madras junta will have all raised eyebrows, but keep in mind its not just the flower sellers. Flower sellers only reflect the mood of the city they live in. Example: go check out Kovai!] My mother could never resist buying jasmine whenever she is in this town and its easy to see why. Hell, even I can't resist it and so I end up buying a small strand and carry it around like some treasure for the next day or so.

In later years, I have spent a fair amount of time exploring this city and must say that after Coimbatore, this would be my next favorite city in Tamland. Because it is filled with simple people who work hard, and it has no airs like Coimbatore, and its not a Maami-dom like Madras is. It has culture and a hell lot of character and it makes no apologies for what it is - a center where the people from the dry plains around it can come in and make a living. Anyway, so I was there the last couple of days and it wasn't very different from before. Didn't see too many skyscraper cutouts; maybe they got sick of them now. But the rest of the city remains the same. The super enthu driver anna [You know you are really, really old when the driver anna is a kid some 5 years younger than you] was so insistent that I need to see the city though I told him that I have done all the touristy stuff that he drove me around all four entrances of the Meenakshi temple and bid me to pray at each of them. He then gave me a driving tour of the city at night and before he dropped me off the train station, he brought me a strand of jasmine that I could take home to Amma dear. Needless to say, scored brownie points with Amma this morning who thinks that daughter's become all responsible now.

What onions, what garlic?, you ask? Oh well, read this delighful little book called No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natarajan while I was on the trip and thought I would talk about it on this post, but this is way too long already. So all onions and garlic coming to a blog near you hopefully sometime soon.

Monday, September 18, 2006


You know you live in the oldest house in the neighbourhood when an evening's rain is all it takes to lock you in.

Once upon a time, ours was the only house, the last on the line, and on the other three sides was wide, open land. Leave the doors open and we would get the bestest breeze in all of Malluland and so we called the house Thendral. The Killi River used to overflow during the monsoon, and I would watch from my high tower as the water slowly crept down from the embankment and filled up the space in front. The breeze is gone now, and the land too and the road in front is much higher than it used to be. I remember people used to make fun of how high the house was set from the road, wonder what they will all say now!

Btw, I am off to the Temple City and roundabouts for a couple of days and won't have access to the online world. Haven't been to Madurai in a while and so looking forward to all the jasmine. Before I go though, here's something to read - Falstaff's review of Carry Me Down. Yeah, this one made the shortlist, so go read and bet!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

36 hours: Chicago

The Times tells you how to spend your 36 hours in Chicago.

Some changes I would make:


1. 4 PM. After Millenium and Grant Parks, forget the mini golf. It sucks anyway. Instead, cross Lake Shore Drive and spend a good hour by the lake. On beautiful summer days, perhaps you can make friends with the sailboat owners in the harbor and con them to take you out on the boat.

2. 7 PM. Oprah? Nonsense. Instead, walk over to the Gene Siskel Film center and see what foreign/indie movies they are screening that evening. If you are lucky, you may get a seat. Oh, and haven't been to the Saltaus myself but heard its good, so try that.

3. Billiards, cognac? In Chicago? No way. Head to Buddy Guy's, or up North to B.L.U.E.S or Kingston Mines or something. You dare to come to Chicago and not go to a Blues bar?


4. 10 AM. In agreement. Orange rocks. But here's a tip - they have a branch in South Loop. The one is Lakeview is crazy crowded and people have waited for around 90 minutes to get a table.

5. Noon. NO. You absolutely have to go a little north to the Art Institute. The Museum of Contemporary Art is not worth a trip if all you have is 36 hours.

6. 5 PM. Ya ya, recommend the river cruise. A quick crash course on Chicago architecture.

7. and 8. Love Andersonville and Lincoln Square, so go for it. If you want to substitute one, choose Ukrainian Village.


9. 9 AM. Hmm..haven't spent much time in Pilsen, so instead spend time in my neighborhood - Lincoln Park. Have yummy crepes at the North African influenced Crepe and Coffee Palace, and head to the park/lake. On a day like today when the humudity is unbearable and the monsoon is behaving like an extremely spoilt child, what I wouldn't give to spend an afternoon by that lake!

10. Agreeance. Just one addition. Buy some books, and then go see the Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House right across from the Business school building of the U of Chicago. This is a must see especially if you haven't see any other Wrights. For the architecturally inclined, I would actually suggest a long long drive acorss a couple of states to Pennsylvania to see Wright's Fallingwater, but hey, that's another post.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A scandal in Karamana

There was a time I was sad that I wasn't part of any scandal; after a marathon gossip session with BM or MR or one of that crowd, it would suddenly strike me that we talked about everyone else but moi! Marriage did that to me, I used to think, no one wants to talk about me anymore, overnight I have become uninteresting and not worth those precious night time minutes. Not anymore. All's well again. I am glad to inform you all that I am back in the limelight in this part of the world. Why, you want to know? Well, because I am home.

No one seems to understand what I am doing at home for months together. When I tell people that I am just here whiling away time, no one believes me. So then I resort to the gospel truth - Bill kicked me out demanding dowry, and I am here to collect some dowry money. I also put one Tirupati style hundial right here in the middle of the living room so that everyone can contribute to my dowry. But the people here don't seem to be satisfied with that explanation either. Rumors are flying all over, and so I figured might as well put down the top 3 rumors here so that all of you are also enlightened.

Rumor #1: Baby killer!

Aunty 1: Did you hear? Veena is here!
Aunty 2: Yeah, I heard too. Did you go see her?
Aunty 1: Yes, she is fine. Wonder what she's doing here though!
Aunty 2: She says something about spending time with parents. But c'mon, do we look like we were born yesterday?
Aunty 1: I know, do you think something is wrong?
Aunty 2: Well, I heard something about a trip to the gynecologist.
Aunty 1: Really? But that's good news!
Aunty 2: No, no. You know her well. Do you think she will have a baby?
Aunty 1: Ayyo! But what about Mrs. M? She would surely not allow it. Poor thing will be heartbroken.
Aunty 2: Yes, but when did she ever listen to her mother?
Aunty 1: True enough. I don't really believe this. How can she do this?
Aunty 2: Some people! Shiva Shiva!

Rumor #2: Baby generator!

Uncle 1: Did you go meet Veena?
Aunty 1: Yes, today. Do you know why she is here?
Uncle 1: Not really. Why, whats wrong?
Aunty 1: She's been to some gynec and stuff. You know that kind.
Uncle 1: Nonsense. You have got it all wrong.
Aunty 1: How do you know?
Uncle 1: Because the gynec she went to is apparently some fertility expert.
Aunty 1: But Mrs. G told me...
Uncle 1: Mrs. G doesn't know anything. I have this on good authority.
Aunty 1: Poor girl! I knew she would never do anything like that. She loves her parents after all!
Uncle 1: Of course.

Must say here that I was sort of the originator of this particular rumor. Uncle 3, who is Uncle 1's buddy asked me innocently "vishesham undo?" (Mallus, Tams too for that matter never ask you whether you are having a baby. Instead they ask you if there's any "special news". This happens right after the day you are married and continues until you have atleast three children.) and I patiently explained to him how I cannot have a baby at all, and I have seen around 7 fertility specialists all over the world. When he looked at me very unbelievingly, I promptly pulled out from my wallet the business card of a fertility expert in B'lore. (Well, if you have to know, this is the groom's eldest cousin I had become fast friends with during the wedding comedy in Bangalore) Now no one asks me "vishesham undo?" anymore.

Rumor #3: Evil, jobless girl!

Aunty 3: No, no that's not it at all. I know why she is here.
Aunty 1: Why?
Aunty 3: She fought with her husband!
Aunty 1: But he seems so nice.
Aunty 3: He is nice. Who said he fought with her? This girl, you know how she is. She is so adamant. She would have gone and fought with him needlessly. Poor guy, what is he expected to do? He is a guy, after all. Will have some ego na? He couldn't take it anymore.
Aunty 1: Hmm..I can believe that. But why is she here? She has a job right?
Aunty 3: She had a job.
Aunty 1: But she was saying something about London....
Aunty 3: Nonsense. Apparently she created so much drama at work that they had no choice but to send her away.
Aunty 1: Oh God!
Aunty 3: Do you really think anyone will just come and sit at home while they could be earning dollars?
Aunty 1: That is also there. I never thought about it that way. But she seems to be on her computer all the time! Atleast when I was there.
Aunty 3: Of course. She is trying desperately to find a job. But you know how it is. Now that she's fought with her husband and spoilt her reputation, who will give her a job?
Aunty 1: True true. Poor Mrs. M!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Billetta Rani Vilikkunnu

Disclaimer: Non-Mallu readers please excusez moi as a good part of this post will only make sense to the Mallu speaking world though I am going to try to explain stuff here and there. I wrote this down orginally as an email to Anoop with almost all of the conversation in Mallu[1], but then Bill wanted to understand what was going on and I had to translate anyway, so figured might as well spread the joy to the entire world.

Title: The title of this post literally translates to "Billetta, Rani calling you". A rip off from a superhit Mallu movie from the 80s with Mohanlal in the lead role - "Mukkunetta Sumithra Vilikkunnu".

Billettan = Bill + Chettan. Chettan is a sort of endearment in Mallu which is appended to a brother's, cousin's, boyfriend's or a husband's name, literally means brother. If you would like to know how exactly one is supposed to figure out whether the person being addressed is a random guy on the street, brother or husband, please to check with Anoop. Depending on the tone, pitch and other such characteristics of the addressor, apparently you can figure out the exact relationship between the two people - Anoop has a journal paper on this topic that will be published soon.

Introducing Rani: The quitessential Mallu fishmonger, Rani is everywhere, and she knows everything about everyone. She goes to the kadavu before the sun rises, loads up her basket with the freshest catch of the day, and walks a good 7 km to my neighbourhood to sell the fish. I can't remember a time when Rani wasn't around, I can't remember a day at home when I hadn't heard Rani shout 'Chechi, Meen venno?' (Sister, do you want fish?) Rani quotes some exorbitant prices but everyone loves her as she will come down to a fair price finally, and she always has the freshest fish. My knowledge of the fish world I owe it to Rani who over the years taught me to identify the different kinds of fish, their ages, and how to find out whether it is a fresh catch or not. Fish and Rani are so intricately tied together in my mind that every time I walk over to the fresh fish counter at Whole Foods, its Rani I am reminded of and its Rani I miss.

Incidentally, Rani is also the name of an actress who happens to be number 3 on Bill's list of hot women[2]

Scene: 8 AM. Don's getting ready to leave for work, glaces at newspaper. Jobless me hovering around doing nothing. Rani is talking to Amma.

Rani: The para is 80 rupees. It is real fresh.

Amma: 80 rupees. Everywhere in the city they have one price, Rani has another. Rani special - triple the real price.

Rani: Chechi, Jesus promise, I got this para for 70 rupees. Why would I lie to you chechi? (Sees me walking up to her) Idhu arra? (Who is this?) When did the Americakkari come?

Me: A couple of days ago

Rani: Your mother did not tell me at all. Chechi, how dare you not tell me? No wonder you have been buying so much fish over the last couple of days

Me: Yeah, what do you have today?

Rani: Para and Konji. Your mother thinks I am cheating her.

Amma: Whatever! I will pay 50 rupees for this para. Here, cut it for me.

Rani: No way chechi. Now that mol is here, you have to pay even more. Mol special - 100 rupees

Amma: Yes, now you will quote prices in dollars only.

Rani: (to me) Chettan vanno? (Did Chettan come?)

(Take a moment to realise who she is talking about)

Me: No, just me.

Rani: Why just you?

Me: Why, I can't come by myself?

Rani: Of course you can. These men need to be kept in their places once in a while.

Me: Indeed.

Rani: But your Chettan is so sweet. He was here no for the wedding? I saw him then.

Me: Huh

Rani: Amma told me he likes fish. You should bring him no, then we can feed him fish.

Me: Yes

Rani: I will show him that Rani has the best fish in the world. Way better than all the river fish he is used to.

Me: Of course

Rani: You ask him to come okay?

Me: Okay Rani

Rani: Why aren't you wearing anything on your neck?

No answer

Rani: You don't wear anything, you know what people here will say? I remember your wedding - even my daughter will wear more jewelry than that!

Moi: With the prices you quote, that isn't surprising Rani

Rani: Now you also shout at me. For years and years, I bring fish just for you, and look at you complaining. Sar!

Don: Yes Rani

Rani: Sar, Onam is on Tuesday

Don: I know

Rani: Haven't received anything yet

Don: You ask your chechi. Why are you asking me?

Rani: Chechi will give. But still, its Onam Sar. You also have to give something.

Don: I am the poor man in the family. You ask your Americakkari.

Rani: Of course Sar. I have been telling her to take me to America and she isn't listening. I can't deal with all the bargaining here. People have no respect.

Don: So you are going to America now?

Rani: Mol is not taking me, so I am going to ask Chettan when he comes here. I will feed him the best fish in the world, and he will take me to America. There I will be treated with more respect.

Amma: I am sure you will be. Here's your money, if you will still accept rupees that is!

[1] As part of our email series on Mallu dialogues so as to ensure that both of us do not forget the language of our childhood. Years of Malluland schooling and more years of watching Mohanlal movies made sure that we speak better Mallu than the Mallus (especially the ones from Greater Malluland of the Gelf) but over the past few years we have been discovering that we cannot speak a sentence in Mallu anymore without using any English or Tamil words. Losing a language, I have been brought up to believe, is akin to losing oneself and this email series is an attempt to make sure that we don't lose ourselves.

[2] Based on a conversation that Bill and BM had one day long years ago when BM asked Bill for his list of hot women. (Yeah, BM is that way sometimes, no one knows why.) Bill complied, and BM diligently took notes, and as she got down to number fourteen she started to notice a disturbing pattern - she had yet to write down a non-Bong name. There were some women who were 50% Bong but that pretty much seemed to be the cut off.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

No Thiruvasagam at Thiruchitrambalam

I don't usually associate myself with the language movement partly because I don't relate to the extreme views they seem to espouse, and partly because these campaigns are pretty much taken over by political parties and so you want to have nothing to do with them, but here's a recent controversy at the Chidambaram Natrajar that caught my attention. (Thanks to Sun TV which between my mom's favorite tearkjerkers reported this story yesternight. Committed to helping the Don cut the jackfruit that fell off the tree yesterday, I had no choice but to watch TV)

The story is that this old Saivite dude wants to recite Thevaram and Thiruvasagam at Thiruchitrambalam(which is located right in front of the sanctom sanctorum) inside the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple, but he isn't allowed to do so by the Podhu Dikshithars who run the temple. Reasons, you ask? Two, actually.

1) Only the Podhu Dikshithars are entitled to sing the glory of the Lord from the Thiruchitrambalam. Others are of course welcome to stay a little away from the Lord and recite whatever they want.

2) Only Sanskrit hymns are allowed. Thevaram and Thiruvasagam unfortunately are in Tamil. So sorry, Natrajar understands Tamil only when its spoken from a distance.

Yeah yeah, all this in the land of the Dravidian movement alright :)

So anyway, what does old Saivite Mr. Arumugha Samy do? Demands police protection so that he can go sing his thevarams. Not so fast, the Podhu Dikshithars move court and get an injunction. Soon after, the Municipal Court Judge rules that no, Mr Samy cannot sing his hymns inside the Thiruchitrambalam. Why, you ask again? Two reasons again.

1) It will affect the sanctity of the place and
2) It will disturb law and order and result in a loss to the Dikshitars.

Before you ask, yes, this is the Court. The Hon'ble Judge made the ruling citing these reasons.

One Book to rule them all...

[Yeah okay, this is late but it ain't my fault, they decided the book after I left the city.]

The City of Chicago announces the newest selection for the One Book, One Chicago program - Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer winning Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri now will be spoken in the same breath as Harper Lee, Jane Austen and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. For the uninitiated, this One Book, One Chicago thing is sort of a big deal in the city - every bookstore, every coffee shop, and every library will display the book prominently during the next six months; there will be readings and discussions all over the city. Can't do any harm to the movie that's slated to come out soon, I guess.

PS: Bill is jumping up and down with joy, all Bongness oozing out. But he wants me to make it clear to you all that like every self-respecting Bong, he likes only two of the nine stories in the book. And no, he doesn't think Lahiri should be writing novels.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Late Links

After all that pain abt being home for Onam, spent the last couple of days across the Ghats in Kuttralam. Don and I got lost in the forest trying to find more watefalls and Mummy dear had to come rescue us. Also, after witnessing my super cool driving up and down the Ghats, Don's promised me the keys to his car. Trip accout coming up soon. If you insist, you can go read about my last year's Peru trip here.

While I have been away, more Booker reviews have come in:

Prufrock Two reviews The Night Watch here.

Falstaff's review of Theft: A Love Story here.

Falstaff's review of The Secret River here.

PS: The man's sort of promised that he ain't going to read prose for sometime, so you still have a chance if you want to be the first to finish all the books on the longlist.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Athapoo time

Don and wife took me to a Boys' Home yesterevening for the Home's Onam celebrations. Don's buddy is a patron of the Home, and we were all treated to an excellent Onasadya. Here are some pictures from the Athapoo competition:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Home Alone

Back home in God's own land after a busy three days in Bangalore. B'lore has become almost unrecognizable to say the least.

Highlights of visit include:

1.Dutifully turned up a couple of days early for friend's wedding but strategically complained of jetlag and didn't lift a finger. On wedding day, acted as if one was doing all the work and managed to get hazaar accolades from everyone except ofcourse the bride. The wedding consisted of an Arya Samaj ceremony in the morning, a church wedding in the afternoon and a reception at night. All went off peacefully.

2. Met the kind Professor at the Institute and bored him to death. Conned kinder Doctor (aka the kind Professor's wife) to feed me dinner. Delicious dosais with podi :)

3. Promptly got lost atleast once each day and complained to everyone about how buildings and landmarks seemed to have changed places since the last time I was here. No one was amused.

Finally managed to get on a flight home. All grand ideas of making an entrance and surprising the Don (aka the Father) didn't really work. Don was all happy to see daughter until he realised that jobless daughter was going to stick around for a few months. Don and wife informed daughter that they have a life which cannot be altered to suit daughter's schedule. Like today, poor daughter is home all alone while Don and wife have gone to attend the fourth wedding of the day. It is Aavani alright.

Booker Reviews

As expected, Falstaff's reviewing the Booker books like nobody's business. Review of Black Swan Green here and review of Mother's Milk here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

So it goes...

Keys pulled out of the keyring and neatly arranged inside the top, right cabinet in the kitchen, a cursory look around to see that nothing remains, no trace of the person who lived here the past few years. It rained as I stepped out of the building and into the cab, premature showers proclaiming end of summer. No time to walk by that lake. Past the tree lined streets of Lincoln Park northwest onto I-90. Everytime I pass this way, I peer into my rearview mirror to look at the glorious skyline but I did not turn to look at it yesterday. O'Hare loomed ahead, a little omnious. Twenty five boxes in a friend's basement from where the movers will pick them up and ship them to England; my India suitcases in the cab with me. Did I just leave home or is it home I am flying to? Why does home have to be such a possessive idea?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

2006 Booker Mela

Its that time of the year again, and Falstaff ain't letting me get away without a Mela, so here we go:

The Booker long list is out. Though its not a star studded cast as it was last year, it has some interesting entries. So all of you get ready to read and review 19 books in 60 days. Lets see how much of it we can get through. Rules like last year - pick a book or two and let me know that you will be reviewing them, and when you are done send me a link to the review.

Here's the complete longlist:

Carey, Peter Theft: A Love Story - Prufrock Two
Desai, Kiran The Inheritance of Loss - Falstaff's review, 30in2005
Edric, Robert Gathering the Water
Gordimer, Nadine Get a Life - Falstaff's review, Nithya
Grenville, Kate The Secret River
Hyland, M.J. Carry Me Down - Dips
Jacobson, Howard Kalooki Nights
Lasdun, James Seven Lies - Falstaff's review
Lawson, Mary The Other Side of the Bridge
McGregor, Jon So Many Ways to Begin
Matar, Hisham In the Country of Men
Messud, Claire The Emperor’s Children - Black Mamba
Mitchell, David Black Swan Green - Small Talk's review, Falstaff's review, Veena
Murr, Naeem The Perfect Man
O’Hagan, Andrew Be Near Me
Robertson, James The Testament of Gideon Mack
St Aubyn, Edward Mother’s Milk - Falstaff's review
Unsworth, Barry The Ruby in her Navel
Waters, Sarah The Night Watch - Falstaff's review, Prufrock Two, Anoop

Last year's Mela here.

PS: Falsie, you don't need to pick any - that's only for people who have a life. I will put you down for all of them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Leaving America

I stepped out of the flight yesternight feeling happy. I would never have to do this ORD – LAX leg again, this is my last trip. I skipped along the jet way, and my sandal strap promptly snapped. Of course it stands to reason that this had to happen on the week when instead of carrying two shoes and sneakers, all I had was the pair I had on. And so, a few minutes later, instead of whizzing through the car rental place, I stopped by the counter. I asked the lady directions to the nearest shoe store. Like every Ethiopian I meet, she mistook me for Liya Kebede and we had a long discussion about Ethiopian food in LA before I got my shoe store directions. Stepping out, I felt a little sad; in my two years of frequent travel to this place, I have gone into the counter and met these people maybe thrice.

I was reminded of last Thursday, when I started to pack up six years of my life in neatly arranged boxes of three different sizes. Nostalgia was definitely in the air and it slowed me down considerably. But interestingly enough, this time I wasn’t thinking of this country's amazing buildings and the wide open spaces that I would leave behind in another week. A long forgotten picture of the Yosemite half dome fell out of an envelope. The magnificence of the half dome, the Ansel Adams gallery, the tiring treks, and the log cabin at the village where we stayed all come into focus, but there was something else. A memory clip that eclipsed all the others. It is of my friend, the photographer who decided to entertain us that night four years ago, and climbed into a wooden box under the bunk bed in our cabin to perform what he termed a Houdini act. He would be here tomorrow, I thought, all the way from Austin, to load up boxes and drive the truck.

Austin is Anoop, SLR in tow, a Mohanlal style muffler around his neck patiently waiting for me below the escalators at Bergstorm International airport. San Francisco is Shilpi and BM at the BART station, and as I get into BM’s black bug, the aroma of chicken biriyani that they just picked up from a friend’s takeout joint. Alaska is the innkeeper who spent a good couple of hours teaching me how to carve wood, and make headboards. Boston is J, with his plays and insects, watering plants and visiting cemeteries. New York is Stu with her men and her ideas, getting younger with every passing year, and now, there’s MR too, in her trendy UWS studio, all sensible and driven and trying her best to make me feel not so married. Key West is the homeless man outside Hemingway’s home, in Fahrenheit 451 style, memorizing every Hemingway he could get his hands on. Sacramento is TS, always the perfectionist and Raleigh is CJ, always the believer. San Diego is the stowaway from across the border who taught me how to make a mean mojito. Pittsburgh is J smoking pot inside her beat-up convertible, and of course Bill who every time I turn up in his apartment unannounced has what I call “What the hell is this woman doing here?” look on his young, innocent face. And it is these people that I will miss most (okay, okay, not Bill) when I leave the country for good next week. It is, after all, the people stupid.

On Sunday last, after we were done with moving, we took another of those architecture river cruises. A ninety minute lowdown on all the interesting buildings of the windy city. Right after a quick tour of the Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park. An architecture day alright but as we stepped out of the boat onto Michigan Avenue that evening, my mind wasn’t on Jahn or Weiss, Graham or Khan, not even Wright. Instead, it was on the people I actually knew.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The End of an Affair

I remember the exact moment that I realized that I was hopelessly in love with you. Two and a half years ago, in front of the Rookery at LaSalle and Adams. I had known you on and off for years, and the last year we were quite intimate. But it wasn’t until that very ordinary moment on a dreary winter afternoon, when I was about to cross the street and all I could see was you all around me, you and nothing else, that I finally seemed to have gathered the courage to acknowledge it. I still remember the exhilaration I felt then, that top of the world feeling, and I wanted to climb on top of that uber touristy tower, a building I usually try to disassociate myself from, and proclaim my love. So banal, I hear you say, no different from a lovesick, chick-flick watching yuppie about town. No, let me assure you, this was different. Not because I wasn’t a lovesick yuppie about town how much ever I would like to deny that, and certainly not because I spent the next three hours reading Sandburg borrowed from the nearest Borders, but because for the first time in my love life, in the same exact moment I realized that I was in love, I also felt utterly hopeless. You see, darling, I had always known that we didn’t stand a chance. We might have been meant for each other, but we weren’t meant to last.

I know what you are thinking. But no, just because this separation was expected does not mean that I am happy to let you go. This was always the moment that I would have to face somewhere in the near future, but remember that the near future didn’t arrive at my door for nearly three years. Three lovely years that we spent exploring each other. I remember the long walks in the park, stopping to watch the men play chess by the lake, the trips to Ravinia in late spring, sailing in the summer, running through the rain-drenched streets in fall, and the Art Institute in winter. We had our share of fights and I remember how much I used to sulk – when the wind didn’t spare me in January, every time I had to clear the ice, and that fateful day when I thought the car was stolen and walked around in sweltering temperatures searching and it was all your fault. I remember introducing you to my friends, singing your praises, and later feeling insanely jealous because they were getting to know you better.

I have spent countless number of days with you talking about how I would leave you one day as my restless heart would never be happy being in one place, but why then darling can I not bring myself to ticket an itinerary that I have blocked for the past three days? Why then have I been inventing one excuse after another for why I need to stay here with you? I know it won’t be long though. I will soon run out of excuses and get around to ticketing. And soon after that, I will be gone. No, not forever, never forever. We will meet again, I am sure, we will have our stolen weekends here and there; we will discover each other all over again, and this time with the pleasure of knowing that this affair is illicit and would last only for the weekend. Infidelity and betrayal for sure, but I wouldn’t be able to help myself. And I hope neither would you.