Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More NPR moments

Radio Expeditions is in Kawakarpo.

From Salzburg, celebrating Mozart's 250th.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Where is my Frances?

Poem of the day: Confessions to be Traced on a Birthday Cake by Ogden Nash.

Lots of people are richer than me,
Yet pay a slenderer tax;
Their annual levy seems to wane
While their income seems to wax.
Lots of people have stocks and bonds
To further their romances;
I’ve cashed my ultimate Savings Stamp —
But nobody else has Frances.

Lots of people are stronger than me,
With greater athletic menaces;
They poise like gods on diving boards
And win their golfs and tennises.
Lots of people have lots more grace
And cut fine figures at dances,
While I was born with galoshes on —
But nobody else has Frances.

Lots of people are wiser than me,
And carry within their cranium
The implications of Stein and Joyce
And the properties of uranium.
They know the mileage to every star
In the heaven’s vast expanses;
I’m inclined to believe that the world is flat —
But nobody else has Frances.

Speaking of wisdom and wealth and grace —
As recently I have dared to —
There are lots of people compared to whom
I’d rather not be compared to.
There are people I ought to wish I was;
But under the circumstances,
I prefer to continue my life as me —
For nobody else has Frances.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Links to a talk...

that I would have loved to attend. We can all fight for 'freedom' and 'choice', but does it really matter to someone who's starving?

The usual suspects turned up at Xavier's recently for a talk by P. Sainath Anand has a post here and Vikram here. Anand also has a lot of informative links on his post. Well worth your time, I would say.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Buried in hyperreality

"This is the reason for this journey into hyperreality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred, the art museum is contaminated by the freak show, and falsehood is enjoyed in a situation of "fullness", of horror vacui".

How can one not bloody love this guy? Years ago, I read this essay by the abbey at Melk [I mean, if you are at Melk, you have to read Eco right? And no, I did not have The Name of the Rose with me then. It wasn't planned alright? I just sort of lost my way and found myself at Melk. Okay okay, here's the truth - my fractured femur which was supposed to have healed by then didn't hold up and I had to take the boat into Melk and wait around while my "friends" biked around the Austrian countryside. BM, are you happy now?] and dismissed Eco as your quintessential, snooty, elitist European intellectual with a disdain for all things American. Rereading it now, after spending quite a few years in the land of the Free, I kick myself for not seeing what's so obvious. Eco might be the the quintessential snooty, European intellectual but how could one ever dismiss him?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Audio poetry

Da Black Mamba has an idea*. When pō'ĭ-trē becomes poetry's iTunes, remember you heard it here first. Shares, you ask? What are you waiting for? Start recording poetry.

*Snakes do come up with the best ideas. Didn't you read Chinese astrology?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Live from Chongqing

For you NPR fans out there, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal is in China this whole week. I listened to today's edition and it is pretty cool. Do tune in.

Pongal on my mind

All my teachers know the day before that I would be sick the following day. Appa used to call it the first floating holiday of the year. I rush home from school to find Amma drawing mavu kolams all over the front yard. I am given the task of filling them with color podis but I keep running inside the house under some pretext or other. I drag one of the tall chairs from the dining room into the kitchen right next to the shelf which has fresh jaggery and grated coconut. I have a mouthful and run back to help Amma. She looks at my face and smiles and says nothing.

Once Appa gets home, I con him to take me along to the bazaar. We set out on his Bajaj scooter to buy sugarcanes and turmeric. When we get close to the market, we see sugarcanes everywhere - every pedestrain has a couple of them; I see them in handcarts, on roofracks of cars, on scooters and bicycles - it's as if people are buying only sugarcanes.

"Appa", I shout. "Are these sugarcanes safe?"

"What do you mean? Don't you like them?"

"I do. But don't they have snakes?"

"What? Who's been telling you about snakes on sugarcanes."

"R, that kid I met in the village last vacation, he told me. He said they when they harvest sugarcanes, atleast a couple of people die every year because of snakebites. Snakes like sugarcanes."

"No, he's making up stuff. And anyway, no one's harvesting canes here. These are all cut sugarcanes."

"What if the snake's coiled around a sugarcane and no one saw it?"

"Nonsense. There is no snake coiled around any sugarcane here. Come, I will show you."

He parks the scooter and takes me to the nearest handcart. He tells the vendor in Tamil that I am looking for snakes and they both start laughing. The vendor asks me to look for snakes in his cart. I do not find any and I am happy now and start looking at other things. People are buying turmeric, and drumsticks and jaggery and plantain and rice. Everyone seems to be talking animatedly in Tamil. The only other time I have seen the market this crowded is during Onam. We manage to buy turmeric and sugarcanes and get home. I try to con Amma to let me eat some sugarcane but she doesn't oblige. Instead, I am fed dinner and told to go to sleep as I have to wake up early the next day. Cousins will start arriving by 8 and I, apparently, have to get ready before that.

Next morning, I get woken up early and asked to get ready. New pattu pavadai is waiting, so there's no need for any conning. I get ready and come downstairs; Amma's getting the Pongal paanais ready. I help arrange them on the kolams. One for Venn Pongal, one for Paruppu Pongal, one for Sarkarai Pongal. People start arriving soon after. They all bring more paanais, so by now, all the kolams in the yard have paanais on them. Amma and all athais start the fire and put rice and milk and jaggery into the paanais. All the kids watch eagerly for the Pongal to flow out - we start shouting Pongalo Pongal anyways. Once the Pongal actually flows out, we are allowed to have breakfast - idlis and sambar and chutney and vadai and kesari and pongal. Needless to say, the sugarcane fest is just beginning.

Appa gets all the kids together and starts telling us about Pongal in the village - of incense and the smell of fresh-cut paddy, of sugarcanes and jaggery and palms, of Boghi and Pongal and the manji verattu during Mattu Pongal where my grandpa's bull never gets caught. We all listen with rapt attention and ask him to take us there to see all this. We are told we will be taken there some year if we all learn a kural. This is where I get to show off - I have been taught a kural a week, so I know more kurals than all my cousins, so I recite one kural after another. This is also where I get beaten up by the cousins for attempting to show off. Soon we are left to our own devices and we start hogging more sugarcane.

It would be fun, I think, to be back home now. I should have gotten a couple more weeks off. Maybe gotten the boy to experience some of it. Maybe take him to the Tam sangham Pongal vizha in the evening; he would have fun. Or maybe we could have actually gone to the village and seen the real thing. Oh, how I miss home. So I start calling people back home. Junta is all happy I called. All my nephews and nieces say Hi. But no, they don't have any sugarcane stories to tell me, no Pongalo Pongal, no manji verattu either. Instead this is what I hear:

"Athai..how are you? No, I want to be home playing games on my computer and they got me here. Can you believe it?"

"Sugarcane? Yuck. Already I am the fattest girl in my class. You are mad kya?"

"Akka, yeah, I am fine. And listen, I will mail you later. I gotta go now. Sun TV is interviewing my favorite actress."

"Pongal? Yeah, they are showing all the paanais on TV. We ordered some from this really cool restaurant. Its awesome."

"Kolams? The last time I did that was for some school competition. You are so archaic! You actually think people draw kolams nowadays."

And so on.

With every call, I am feeling better. Here, in this alien land, I can easily live in my suspended world of kolams and paanais in our front yard uninterrupted by 24-hour TV programming. I don't have to think of reality. Memories are enough. The last call is to my parents.

"Hello, Appa."

"Finally. I was wondering when you were going to call."

"I thought I would call everyone and then call you."

"Okay, okay. First you tell me the new kural you learnt today."

And the eyes start blurring.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mirror mirror on the wall....

Who is the geekiest of them all?

BM calls yesternight to have a chat.

BM: So how's married life treating you?

Me: Nothing's changed.

BM: People are asking me whats news from the married woman. What am I supposed to say?

Me: I don't know. That I am 3 months pregnant?

BM: Oh shut up. You must be doing something different, something interesting.

Me: Nothing different. I am doing a lot of interesting stuff though. But that I always did na.

BM: Okay dudette, its high time we had a chat about the stuff you do or rather, the stuff you put up on blog.

Me: What?

BM: Remember this. I said nothing when you were killing hamsters for a living and working on Matrix-type Excel workbooks.

Me: I did NOT kill hamsters for a living. I was forecasting sales for a life-saving drug.

BM: Same thing. Isn't the drug made from hamsters? Anyways, thats besides the point.

Me: So what is the point?

BM: And remember this too. I kept quiet throughout your Tolkien phase.

Me: My what phase?

BM: Tolkien phase. Maybe you forgot the time in college when you used to talk to everyone in the language that Tolkien invented. Some of us still remember.

Me: Okay, whatever.

BM: But atleast you didn't write in that language and put it on your blog.

Me: So what did I do now?

BM: Indian Railways. You did a post on Indian Railways!

Me: So?

BM: Don't you get it? There are only two kinds of people who write about Indian Railways!

Me: Please do enlighten me on these two types of people.

BM: Type A - the retired government servant who sits in the verandah of his house doing Hindu crosswords and keeps writing letters to the Editor. If he had a blog, he would write about Indian Railways.

Me: Thats not bad actually. I could sit in the verandah and solve Hindu crosswords for the rest of my life. It sounds pretty cool dudette.

BM: But you, my dear, are not a retired government servant. So that leaves Type B.

Me: Which is?

BM: Do I have to say it? The only other people I know who read Indian Railways timetables are my Dad and Bill.

Me: So?

BM: Don't you see? My Dad and Bill!

Me: What about them?

BM: They are both certified Geeks. That's what's common. You know what people call them? Geek Gods!

Me: Mmm. Now if only Bill was a Greek God, I would be happier. But then, only Linus has the distinction of being both a Geek God and a Greek God.

BM: See, see, you come up with absolutely useless trivia. Who cares if there's a Greek God called Linus?

Me: Dudette, what's your point?

BM: Here, let me spell it out. You are a G-E-E-K. End of story.

Me: Balderdash. Scores of people write about Indian Railways. Thay are not geeks.

BM: Oh yeah? Show me one.

Me: There's this Ludwig guy for one.

BM: Yeah? And how exactly do you know he is not a geek?

Me: Maybe I don't. But that's besides the point. All I know is I am not a geek. I don't know anything about gadgets. So there.

BM: There are different kinds of geeks, you know.

Me: Oh yeah? Are you doing a PhD on the types of geeks or what?

BM: No dudette. I just want to help you here. And tell you that even if you like reading railway timetables, it might be better not to put it on your blog.

Me: No one thinks I am geek because of this post okay?

BM: Oh really?

Me: Yeah and I think now I have figured this out. This is not about me, its about you. You are the geek and you are trying to convince yourself that you are not. So you are making me a geek.

BM: What?

Me: Yeah, you are the uncool one. The geeky one. I don't worship the land Linus walks on. Neither do I spend my mornings reading everything on Slashdot.

BM: Yeah right. So you are all this cool, non-geek now.

Me: Ofcourse I am.

And so it went. And what did you think night time minutes were for?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On train names

A week ago, I was in Kurla station seeing off parents. As the Netravati Express slowly made its way out of the station, my eyes blurred and in an attempt to get on with things, I turned towards the boy.

“Can you put Netravati on the map?”

“I think so. Yes.”

“Where does it start?”

“I know the general area. Not sure of origin. It flows into the Arabian Sea though.”

“Oh really? I would never have guessed! I thought it goes East all the way and flows into the Bay of Bengal!”

“Okay okay. I don’t know where in the Ghats it starts. Just that it flows through Mangalore.”

“My Dad would have known the origin. He knows all rivers.”

“Really? Can he plot the course of the Danube?”

“Oh shut up. Let’s go home and find where Netravati originates.”

And thus we learn that the Netravati has its origins at Gangamoola in Chikmangalur district of Karnataka. The water supply for the city of Mangalore is almost entirely from this river. The namesake train which my parents took snakes down the Konkan coast through Ratnagiri and Goa into Mangalore and enters the northernmost part of Kerala at Kasargode. It then traverses down the entire length of God's own Country and drops my parents home at Thiruvananthapuram.

Back in those days when home was called Trivandrum and life was about inventing excuses to go to Ernakulam with friends, there were no cool Janashatbdis or Inter-Cities. Instead, there was the Vanchinad Express which used to be the fastest train on that single-track route. [Vanchinad literally translates to the land in the shape of a boat - it refers to the shape of the princely state of Travancore.] If one had to go from Trivandrum to Madras in those days, there was only one direct train and it had a very bland name. It was called No: 20 Madras Mail and it would come back as No: 19 Trivandrum Mail. Nowadays though, there’s another one – this train that cuts through the Tamil heartland to reach the city where Ananthan rests is called the Ananthapuri Express.

Now, we Tams, despite popular belief, actually come up with some outstanding names. Well, let me qualify that - we come up with some outstanding names when we are NOT naming ourselves, our rivers, our lakes, our temples, our buses and our trains after movie stars, politicians or worse, movie-star turned politicians. Like a month ago, I was traversing a very-flooded Pallava country on my way from Madras Egmore to the place my parents call home on the aptly-named Pallavan Express. You can also travel the same route if you take the Rock Fort(Malai Kottai, a millenium old fort in Trichy) Express. Here's a secret while I am at this - the best food ever served by Indian Railways used to happen on a meter-guage train on this route. Next time you want to go to the temple city by the river which is always dry(unless you are talking well, 2005), take the Vaigai Express from Madras Egmore into Madurai. On the other hand, if you actually want to land up in a place where you can hog some of the freshest vegetables your urban tongue has ever tasted, take either the Lalbagh Express or the Blue Mountain (Nilgiri) Express out of Madras. And no, my dear Telugu brethern, I did not forget the Charminar Express. Just figuring out a place to fit it in.

At the risk of being disowned by my very S. Indian family, I must make a confession here. Despite some very excellent names that grace the trains that travel down South, I happen to have on my favorites list quite a few trains that go to and from a particularly pretentious metropolis in Eastern India. Their pretentiousness in naming trains is really very endearing - who else will come up Aginveena Express, Gitanjali Express, Azad Hind Express, Ganadevta Express, Rupashi Bangla Express, or the Shantiniketan Express?

You have more trains, you say? What about the Deccan Queen, you ask? And how can I not mention my all-time favorite - the Coromandel Express? How about the Hirakud Express? Or the Golden Temple Mail? And I forgot the Ahimsa Express? And countless number of train names which mean so much to us. Names with so much history associated with them. All you need, I tell you, is a towel and a copy of the latest Indian Railways timetable and the whole country is yours!

What's in a name?

What connects the following?

1. Nethravati
2. Azad Hind
3. Gitanjali
4. Jim Corbett Park
5. Navjivan
6. Rock Fort and
7. Sangamitra

Get this and you will know why numbers, more often than not, prove to be insufficient. (Okay you geeks, so shoot me.) And why mugging your Social Sciences textbook is the wrong way to learn about your country.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Dance of the fireflies

I am glad to inform you all that I have got my own budding, young writer-friend. Where's yours?

And yes, I am back. Regular blogging should resume soon.