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.