Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brand Britain

The British, well, the British government has gone bonkers. Apparently, they are trying to figure out the essence of Britain. A defining motto for Britain that somehow exemplifies British values. Yes, I know. How more un-British can you get? I mean, after telling the world for about 300 years that they play in a league of their own, now they are trying to play catch-up with the French and the Americans. Really.

So anyway, a few of my favorite readers' suggestions from the Times of London motto contest:

4. Once Mighty Empire, Slightly Used
3. No Motto Please, We are British
2. Yanks who missed the boat
1. Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco

I like this short motto idea alright but do think that since this is Britain we are talking about, mottos have to be longer than six words. (Six words is for the Americans. Uh, maybe not. Three works.) After all, this is Sir Humphrey land. I would prefer something like:

All services on the Empire line are currently suspended due to critical staff shortage and an earlier emergency due to a person under the train. We apologize for the inconvenience and request passengers to make use of alternative routes while we rectify the fault with a little help from our Polish friends.

The good news is thanks to the British Civil Service, none of these mottos will ever get past Whitehall. I can so see Sir Humphrey type character telling Mr. Brown:

Well, it's clear that the committee has agreed that your new policy is a really excellent plan but in view of some of the doubts being expressed, may I propose that I recall that after careful consideration, the considered view of the committee was that while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice, that, in principle, it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, and the principle of the principle arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval, in principle.

Please feel free to add your mottos in the comments section.

Bill's contribution: The sun never rises on the British Empire. If it does, you are hallucinating. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I love Bill (sometimes) (Part 2)

"So where are we going?"


"Yeah, you are planning trips for the year na?"

"I am planning for myself. If you want to come, you plan"

"Its not like everyone who comes with you plan trips. I am sure BM is invited to a couple of trips. She isn't planning anything"

"Yes, but she is paying for her trip. Who is paying for yours?"

"Oh. Like that"

"Yes, like that only"

Bill goes back to staring at ceiling. Then he fires up Shonku and starts typing furiously.

"I didn't realise you had work this weekend"

"Well, its not work"



"What are you upto?"

"I said wait na"

A few minutes later.

"Check mail"

"Hmm..what is this now? Clues?"

"Can I come too?"

"This is how you pay for the trips?"

"Well, who else will do this for you if I am not around? You will take me, no?"

"Yes, my resident crossword puzzle generator, I most certainly will. Just as long as it is all cryptic!"

Of places (you have taken me to!)

5 Cousin and company make us sick!
9 Acid beginning disturbingly trouble the Oracle
10 When staying together laser discs are a big no-no? That's backwards!
11 A battle of Tamil flowers makes for after-wedding calm
13 Boiling chicken bones in this is a home for dynamite!
15 A lot of french tea is really nice to boat on
17 From North to South, we take an inverse to go hiking
18 Stamp the beginning of crepes!
19 Artificial intelligence emerges after view of whales
20 Explosive? Yes captain, that's the city by the sea.

1 No professionals in proven frozen water need look for a merchant
2 Drinking beer disturbs an etch of cumin
3 Fragrance misses a lot of ruins
4 The Two Towers was fashionable in the past
6 You stain the good home of spiritual friends!
7 That is a lot of laundry for a visit of a few hours!
8 Saintly mother of president has lots of wine and tapenade
12 Railroads in a forest are a good market
14 A pound of rein creates history for the century
16 A Tom Cruise movie is too hot for a french friend

PS: No kitchen appliances were harmed in the production of this post.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Planning weekend

Ireland, well, to express solidarity; Hungary and Czech and Slovak lands because they have been deprioritised for far too long; and Central Asia because someone's got to take up where the Prof left off in Kashgar, go west into prime Great Game territory and write another 136 posts about it, and since no one was willing to do it, I figured I'd volunteer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pongal time

Bill boy celebrates Pongal with Don and Amma and sends me pictures. I spent the day in cold rainy Horsham working so that he could fly halfway across the world to celebrate Pongal with my parents.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lets talk. Not.


"Ma, its me"

"Hello, why didn't you call yesterday? I left a message"

"I know. I was busy at work last week and by the time I got back, it was too late for you. Anyway, what's happening?"

"Here, Bill is here. Talk to him"

"Amma, no, no, wait"


"I can talk to Bill later. I did not call you to speak to Bill"

"But Bill said you hadn't spoken to him in over a week"

"He did, did he?"

"Here, speak to him"

"No ma. I will speak to him later. Give me news. All Pongal prep over?"

"Are you both fighting?"


"Are you and Bill having a fight?"

"No, why would you think that?"

"Because you refuse to talk to him. What else could it be?"

"Amma, I am not refusing to talk to him. I am saying that I will talk to him after I talk to you"

"But you have not talked to him whole of last week!"

"Amma, don't repeat things. I know. I will speak to him"

"Yes, you speak to him now. This fighting is not good"



"What's up?"

"I don't know. Apparently we are having a fight or something"

"Your parents are strange"

"Like yours are any less strange"

"True enough. So I just got here and I get fed like hajjar things. Fish and stuff. And banana tree ka stem. How come you never told me about banana stem?"

"What about banana stem?"

"Well, how come you never make it? I never knew this thing tastes so good. You should make it for me"

"I see"

"What do you see?"

"This vacation is India. Looks like you are getting used to people cooking and feeding you"

"Yeah you know how it is. But I wasn't asking you to make food all the time. I know what that means for me. I am just asking you to make banana stem"

"Ok, here's the deal. Say that in Tam and I will make it"

"Say what?"

"Banana stem. Vazhaithandu"

"Yeah, like I can say that. Lets be realistic alright? Anyway, what's up with work?"

"Little crazy. This Gorforsaken Horsham place is too much man. Bloody National Rail is always late so I have decided to stay there couple of days a week until the project is over"

"I see"


"Some of us have been doing longer commutes for just over a year now. We don't get to stay there a couple of nights a week"

"If you have the budget to stay there for a couple of nights and pay your share of the London rent, no one is stopping you"

"Of course"

"Yep. Anyway, what plans now that you are there?"

"Apparently we are doing whirlwind trip to Cholaland. Starting tonight. Paatti wants to see me and stuff"

"Yeah. She didn't want to see me"

"Guess that's because she can actually understand what you are saying"

"Guess so. Anyway, where are parents? Want to talk to them"

"They have run away. I think they are upstairs or something. I think they think they are giving us privacy or something"

"What nonsense? That doesn't sound like my parents. And its not like we have anything to talk about"

"Exactly. Even if we did, I am coming there next week and we have to be together forever or something. Why do we have to talk to each other now?"

"Try explaining that to them"

"I know. My parents aren't exactly better. Last two days in Cal, they were like how come she hasn't called?"

"What did you tell them?"

"That you have this secret lover for when I am not around and so you are busy"

"Nice. What does this guy do?"

"We didn't quite get there. They told me to shut up"

"You should try the same with my parents next time they ask you why we aren't talking"

"Sounds like an idea"

"Yeah, Don will immediately send minions to London to skewer this guy"

"No man. Knowing him, he will skewer me and start wedding planning all over again. Any excuse to have another party"

"Guess so. Anyway, gotta go. I will call on Don's cell later to talk to them. You pretend to sleep or something so that they don't ask you to speak to me"


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Campaign comedy

Times reports on the momentum in New Hampshire:

“If I’ve got the American people behind me, I fear no man,” Senator
Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois told hundreds of supporters at a morning rally.

Does anyone else have this vision of Hillary Clinton dismounting from Windfola, taking off her helmet, letting her hair down, and in her best Shieldmaiden of Rohan imitation going:

"But no living man am I! You look upon a woman!"

(Yeah okay, for you illiterate Peter Jackson fans, that is "I am no man!")

? No? Really? Must be just me then.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Very Long Engagement - Part 2

The night before Christmas, all the kutti pisasus made a huge deal of sleeping downstairs. Usually they take over one of the upstairs ka bedrooms (A/C being the magic word) but not that night. Then for a couple of hours they locked themselves up in the formal dining room, and at the stroke of midnight created such a big ruckus that the whole neighborhood woke up. Also polished off all the cakes that were baked, so me being this nice person had to promise to bake more cakes first thing in the morning. The next morning, the sky gave up trying to con me that this is really London, and the clouds cleared. The sun after (well, if you discount the three weeks in Chicago and one in Morocco) nearly eight months. Yes! I went downstairs and promptly tripped over a couple of the pisasus still sleeping in the living room. Also, looked like more people had landed in the morning. Just the people I needed actually. Don's nephew (A) and Amma's neice (B) had run away from college for the occasion. The right people to discuss terms and conditions of the marriage. I filled them in and they agreed to do the needful.

Don went missing for a while in the morning and some interesting rumors were flying around but turned out to be all wrong. Poor Don had just shut himself up in one of the Sangam rooms and was trying to write poetry for some upcoming kavi thing. Amma chilled the entire day. This is why she likes having people around - they take care of all housework and she gets to chill and do nothing. The one time she tried walking out in the sun, I was sure to tell her that no, the bride should not be seen out like that. She should make sure that she wears enough jewelry and one proper pattu sari. Needless to say, she wasn't amused.

By mid afternoon, all junta turned up. A couple of hours before the event, things started heating up.

A: Hey B, we haven't really discussed the terms of the wedding

B: What are you talking about? The engagement is in less than 2 hours

A: So? I have always been available.

B: Ok ok, what are you expectations?

The Brigand (A's dad, Don's kid brother) jumps in.

"We have no expectations. If you want to do something for the daughter of your house, you are welcome to it. But we have no expectations"

A didn't seem too happy to hear this.

"Appa, which side are you on anyway? There's a reason people don't take you to these bride-seeing things"

"But we have no expectations, right?"

"Appa, you need to shut up. Can't you see important people are in discussions here? This is no place for people like you to talk"

"Ok pa. I won't say anything. Mariyadhai kettudum"

"So B, what were we talking about?"

"I was going to ask you about your expectations but I realise that that's unnecessary"

"Why is that?"

"Because this is not the wedding, just the engagement"


"So as per the custom, we from the bride's side don't do anything for the engagement"


"That is our custom as far as I know. You people have to do things for the bride. From our side, we will be happy if you give our ponnu a full set of diamonds - necklace, earrings and bangles"


"Yes, the bride doesn't like wearing too much gold. She prefers diamonds"

"I see. But this engagement means the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. We need to make sure that you send the bride off with all that she deserves"

"What does she deserve?"

"Hmm. You don't want the daughter of your house traveling in ordinary cars, do you know? But at the same time, the Merc might be a little too much for you. We will be happy with a Hondo Accord"

"In whose name should this be?"

"Bride's of course. This is what you are giving her. Nothing to do with us"

"Yeah right"


"Nothing. And just so that you understand, after the wedding she will be part of your household. There will be no family inheritance coming her way"

Amma couldn't take this betrayal.

"B kannu, you don't have to advertise to everyone that you have already forged my signature on document which says that I want no part of inheritance"

"Athai! How dare you? I asked you before I signed!"

This is the first Don and I hearing these family secrets.

"What is this? Veena, someone's cheating you of your rightful inheritance?"

"I know. I demand to see all land deeds immediately. We need to decide who gets which piece of land"

B: "Akka, sorry but you don't get anything. We don't give property to women"

"Under which law?"

"This is not any law. That's how things are. My dad, your mom's brother gets everything"

"I see. You do realise by this same logic, you don't get anything? Last time I checked, you had a brother"

"Oh shoot. I forgot. Different customs from this generation to reflect current realities. I get half"

"We shall see about that. No one's cheating me of anything. We will see what happens in court!"

A: Excuse me, but I think we are moving away from the point. We need to get these two people engaged off in sometime. We can't do that without finalizing terms. They want diamond necklace, it seems

B: Don't forget earrings and bangles!

A: Here's the deal - we will get them when we see the car parked in front of this house!

B: That's not a big deal...VJ...

A: Wait..and in the bride's name!

B: In that case, we can't promise anything esp when there's a trial period

A: What trial period?

B: From what I understand, this is only an engagement. They have the next three years to see whether this can be converted into a long term relationship or not. If everything works out alright, we will give the car during the wedding

A: Alright then. The diamond will be given during the wedding too.

B: No, you should give something for the engagement. Otherwise the bride will refuse to get engaged.

A: That isn't fair.

B: Who said this is about being fair? Do you want the engagement to happen or not?

A: This is blackmail!

B: Whatever

Don decides that this has gone for far too long. He talks to another of my cousins who is visiting.

"Hey D, looks like this isn't going to work out. Come, lets get engaged to each other"

"Mama, you are nice and all but to tell you the truth, I am angling for your son-in-law. Akka and I have a deal worked out already"

Amma: Ayyo! What are you saying?

Moi: Well, Amma, its not bad or anything. She keeps refering to Bill as "our mapillai". So I told her she can have him and give him back to me if he ever makes money. It is all cool.

Amma: I have had enough. Get me engaged or married or whatever you want. You will all drive me mad otherwise. What all I have to hear!

So there. The start of a long engagement. In three years, will post about the wedding.

PS: I have such a cool family, no?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Very Long Engagement - Part 1

Or Scenes from another marriage

We Tams have some wonderful customs. When a man turns sixty, if his wife is still around, his kids get together and get him married off all over again. (Nowadays it is to the same woman) It is like any other wedding - whole world gets invited, kancheepuram and gold worn in copious quantities, pooja performed, thali is tied at appropriate time, and as in regular weddings, the only redeeming feature is the food[1]. Its not something you want to be a part of especially if you are home for just a week and your family isn't particularly religious. Or so I thought until a few days ago. Now I am a convert. Now I know that this 60th wedding celebration is a wonderful idea. Why, you ask? Because (belatedly but thankfully not too late) I have come to realize that this is payback time!

So I was home peacefully minding my own business (overdosing on amma's food and figuring out whether I should spend the last two days of my vacation in Sri Lanka, Coorg or Nilgiris) when people started barging in with questions.

"Great! Now that you are here, whats the plan?"

"Plan? That's what I am trying to figure out. Two days is too short for SL. Nilgiris might work depending on which trek we decide on"

"Trek? Who is going on a trek?"

"Me. And the Don. Junta turns sixty and climbs up Kailasam and all na? But what will non-religious people like the Don do to keep fit? So I figured a hike to Mukurthi Peak might be the answer"

"Nonsense. We are talking of the wedding"

"Wedding? I think all the weddings in this family are over and done with. We can't take any more"

"Silly girl. Has anyone told you what all needs to be done when your father turns sixty?"

"No, but I sort of know. We just aren't doing anything of the sort in this family. Btw, does anyone have any idea what should one do when my mother turns sixty?"

"Nothing much"

"Okay. Then I refuse to follow this sexist tradition"

"Don't be silly. Its not like your parents have anyone else to do all this for them. We know you don't have much time so let's not bother with calling everyone. Just gather all the family that's in Kerala together, call a priest, get a thali made and have a wedding. Just invite a few close friends"

"If its a question of getting people together, that's hardly an issue. Since I am around and its X'mas hols, a good part of the family is going to be at home for a couple of days anyway. Come tomorrow, there's going to be atleast twenty five people in the house. And Don's friends turn up for his birthday every year, so no need to invite them. But no one is having a wedding here. That's all"

Enter Amma.

"What wedding? What's going on here?"

"We were just telling your daughter that she should atleast get garlands and a thali for the 60th"

"Garlands? Ayyo. Please don't do drama here. All the kuttis[2] are excited, so I am going to bake a few cakes and we will get him to cut them. That's all its going to be. Nothing else"

Light bulb moment. Evil gleam. This is it.

"Hmm. Now that I think about it, I know what to do. Maama, family will be around. Just double-check with G, T and R uncles and families to make sure they turn up in the evening. I got this all figured out"

Amma turns to me in horror.

"What exactly are you planning to do?"

"You will see. Why don't you and Appa tell me what time you are free tomorrow? We need to go to Bhima (big, evil jewelry store)"

"Bhima? No no, you aren't buying jewelry"

"Let me decide that. You just come"

"I don't want any jewelry. Moreover, you are the one who doesn't believe in thali"

"But you do, and this isn't about me. Besides, who said I am going to buy you a thali? If there's going to be a wedding in this house, rest assured that it will what the Dravidian movement types call a self-respect wedding. No thali, no pooja, no priest will be involved"

"Whatever. I am not going to Bhima tomorrow"

"You will. You owe me. For all the twenty two hundred times I went with you because you wanted me to. You can't say No"

"Ayyo! What am I to do?"

Next day. Don is turning into parking lot of big, evil store.

Don: I like this. For once, you are taking your mother to Bhima and she doesn't want to be here. This is so entertaining!

Amma: You, you are the reason for all this. You are the reason why she turned out like this. Shut up now.

Don: If you say so.

Don parks car while we get out and go inside. I spot Amma's favorite sales person.

Me: We would like to look at diamond rings.

Amma nearly has a heart attack.

Me: No, male. He will be in in a minute.

Amma: Ha ha! And he thinks its for me! Come come, lets select a few styles. Here, we are here. Guess who we are buying ring for? You, its for you! Ha!

Don: Me? Why me?

Amma: Because its your birthday.

Don: Makes sense. I won't say No to gifts.

Amma: Shameless man. Why do you need a ring now?

Don: Because she wants to buy it for me.

Amma: Yeah yeah.

Me: Amma, chill. Once we are done with that, we are going to buy one for you too

Amma: Why me? I don't want anything, I don't want anything. You are just being silly

Me: I am, aren't I? Now you know how it feels.

Amma: So that's what this is about. Okay, you have made your point. We will just buy for your dad now.

Me: No, we won't. We need two rings anyway

Amma: For what?

Me: Well, you are getting engaged to each other

Don: After being married for 33 years?

Me: Yeah. And then there will be trial period that will last three years which is the year Amma turns sixty. If you guys are happy, we will get you married off then

Amma: Mad child! How much nonsense you speak!

Me: I don't care if its nonsense. Its still going to happen. If I were to do this right, I would ask you stay in separate rooms until you get married. But I am not that evil also

Amma: Ayyo! Look at her talk. Aren't you ashamed of her?

Don: Why would I be ashamed of her? If she wants an engagement, let her have one. If you don't want to get engaged, maybe I can con someone else.

Amma: Asai!

(To be continued. "Expectations" and "agreements" between families coming up in Part 2)

[1] Well, okay, the food and perhaps one family photograph. There's one photo that I particularly like. It was taken (a few years before I was born) during my thatha's 60th. It has these benches arranged in steps in front of the ancestral home back in Chola land, and has kadukkan-clad thatha and patti standing in the middle with everyone in the family around them.

[2] Kutti pisasus (kutti = small, pisasu = devil) - moi's nephews and neices