Friday, February 29, 2008

Puli Tales - Mudumalai

SB, in the interests of buying moi more time to laze around and do nothing - here, go check this out. Fëanor writes about his Mudumalai trip from 15 years ago. So what if I don't post Day 1 and 2? I inspire others to post. I am so good, aren't I?

And while you are anyway there, might as well check out other posts. Majorly eclectic collection that one can spend hours on.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Puli Tales - Day 0

Work has been crazy and had to work on certain other commitments; major comedy happening in family into which I am getting pulled into for no reason but now that family's treating me like an adult, I am taking full advantage of it. Add this to usual laziness and no blog happening for a while now. But now SB is shouting at gently chided me and apparently I have to put up something this weekend. I figured I would give you all details of Bill's violin classes but BM's promised to do illustrations so they shall follow at some later date. For now, here are tiger stories from the Blue Mountains.

"No madam. We are not allowing trekking in the area now. You cannot go"

"But I spoke to someone on the phone who said there are dates for treks"

"Hmm..he has gone out to lunch. Why don't you come after two hours? You can also go the DFO office and ask there. You will need permission from them"

"No madam, not this one. This is the North division office. Mukurthi Peak falls under North but the entrance to the forest is under South control. You go check there"

"Have you checked with the Ranger first? Why don't you go check with him?"

"Yes, but you go ask the conservation society first. Then we will see"

It took us a couple of hours to get to the one person who could tell us what needed to be done. Mr. R at Wildlife Conservation at Ooty. This Wildlife Conservation org was a NGO inside the Forest Offices but nothing to do with them.

"I am glad you want to go up to Mukurthi. It is very beautiful and you are guaranteed to see wildlife. But I am afraid there are no dates this week. You have to stay in the fishing hut at night before starting the climb and the hut is booked out"

"Can't we stay somewhere else?"

"No, it is the only accommodation inside the Park. James is the caretaker there"

"What about outside the park?"

"The last bus stop is Porthimund. There is a tea stall there but nothing else. From there, you need to walk about 7 km to get to the hut. So no, you cannot stay outside and still make the climb"

"Can't we start from Ooty in the morning?"

"No. If its just young men, I can see it working. From the hut, they can get up to the Peak in just over 3 hours. Another 2 hours to get down and they can make it back. For you people, it would take 5 hours to go up"

This didn't go down well with our motley group. Moi, young and fearless Cousin Kali, Conqueror of Kili and dear friend Stu, and the Don (who just turned sixty and decided that the occasion needed some sort of a pligrimage and so here he was with us).

Stu: "But Sir, maybe its okay if we don't go all the way up. We can go as much as we can and if it gets late, we will head back"

Don, Kali and I all turned to look at her. This was the first time she had said a whole sentence in Tam. Not that she can't speak the language - she is very much a native speaker. But none of us had the heart to tell her that while in most places (and especialy in places outside the State), her Madras accented Iyengar Tam would open more than a few doors, this didn't look like this was one of them. Here, one might be better off with heartland Tam, Kongu Tam to be accurate but none of us could speak that. My idea of Kongu Tam was adding the respectful "enge" to every word which works quite well outside the Coimbatore-Erode belt but not within its borders.

"Hm...that is not a bad idea. I can give you a note for James and he will let you rest in the hut on your way. But you need to get permission from the DFO to enter the Park"

As expected, the DFO was out to lunch. We figured we might as well get something to eat but it looked we would be here for another few hours. Halfway through lunch, Don's phone rings.

Cousin Kali: "Mama, don't answer"

Me: "Yeah, Amma said not to answer. If you answer your phone while you are outside the state, you are going to get screwed"

Don being Don answers anyway.

"Who is this? Yes, Oh, Mr R!"

He hangs up after a couple of minutes.

"If I had listened to you both and not answered you wouldn't have been able to go on the trek"

"You mean we can go now?"

"Yeah. Some last minute cancellation. We can stay with James in the hut and go in the morning"

Stu: "Great. But uncle, how did Mr R have your number?"

"I gave him my card. I chatted with for a few minutes after you left to see the DFO remember?"

"Okay appa. Truth now. How much did you pay him?"

"If you ever plan to move back to this country, you have to learn to read people better than that. Do you think anyone in those offices wanted money? All the government people just wanted you to run from post to post for a while. As for Mr R, didn't you listen to him? He took voluntary retirement to take up this wildlife NGO job! All he needs is for people to tell him that they are genuinely interested in wildlife and his work"

"Whatever. Lets go and get this thing sorted out before someone gets there first"

"We will. But are you sure you all want to go?"

"Appa, what do you mean?"

"How come none of you told me about tigers? Mr R said that last week there were some attacks"

"Yeah, but that's for people who don't go with guide and who makes noises and stuff. We will have James with us"

"Will this guide have guns?"

"No...I mean yes, yes, of couse they will. Don't wory"

We got back to the forest offices. Mr R told us what we needed to do to get permission.

1. Mr R will write letter saying that acco is available in the fishing hut
2. Take letter to DFO office and write a request for permission, and the DFO will grant permission to enter the Mukurthi forest
3. Come back to Mr R and show him the permission letter. Now he will write a letter to the Ranger. He will also give us a note for James, the caretaker who will cook for us if we take provisions with us
4. Take new letter and the DFO letter to Forest Ranger who will give permission to climb Mukurthi Peak now that he (Ranger) knows that you have permission to enter the forest and to stay at the hut
5. Armed with three letters and note for James one is all ready to go to Mukurthi National Park

Me: "I don't get it. Why three letters? And why not at one place? Why can't they bloody streamline this?"

Stu: "Because you are thinking like a process consultant. Stop that and also stop this NRI act. Think like a government bureaucrat. Now tell me why three letters"

To be fair, everything went fine from then on. It took time because people were typing up and signing things and talking to you at the same time but no major hurdles. It even seemed as if everyone in the forest offices were conspiring to make sure we get to Mukurthi. They all kept calling Don's phone throughout the evening to make sure we have all the permissions. And everyone told us that James would take good care of us. Cousin Kali was convinced that James is the ghost of Mukurthi who would take us up to the Peak and then disappear and that the tigers would turn up and eat us all up. For some reason, she thought this was actually very cool.

If I die, atleast I would have seen a tiger in close-up. And I am not dying for nothing. The poor thing would get food

Kids of nowadays! What can I say?

By the time we got to this Youth Hostel place we were staying, it was quite late. The place was bad, as in really bad. But the people were nice, and they said that they are moving to a new building soon. We also signed on a new guide to take with us - all Don's doing really as he was convinced that if we had one more guide with us, then the tigers would not attack us. Turned out to be a real blessing (highly recommend this chap if anyone's going up Nilgiris) as there was no way we would have found our way without him. Babu, our new guide told us that we could do way more than Mukurthi in a day. We could also do Pandiyar Hills and come back to Ooty through a different route. He had this 22 km trek for Day 2 all planned out and we all promptly agreed.

That night, Stu, Kali and I dreamt of James, our caretaker ghost. Don dreamt of tigers.

(To be continued)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Nothing romantic or comic about it

So moi's been overdosing on Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn for three straight weekends now. And just surfaced after watching Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday back-to-back to find AO Scott reading my mind over at the Times.

Our parents and grandparents had Rock Hudson and Doris Day — such delicious subtext! such amazing office furniture! — or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Or Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Or even, in “That Touch of Mink,” Cary Grant and Doris Day. But you get the point. We have Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.

So true. So sad!

And yet, while the romantic comedy has almost always trafficked in happy endings, that happiness is rarely accompanied by a sense of risk or exhilaration. When you think of, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn — or even Doris Day and Rock Hudson — you recall the emotional combat of two strong-willed, independent individuals ending in mutual conquest. Love, in those old pictures, was a dangerous and noble sport that required skill and cunning as well as commitment. It required movie stars whose physical appeal was matched by verbal dexterity and a vital sense of idiosyncrasy. They were not real of course: Who ever met anyone like C. K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Lord, the central pair in “The Philadelphia Story?” They were better.

And it's not just the romantic comedies. This seems to be the fate of all comedies, romantic or not. I mean, whoever makes anything like Arsenic and Old Lace nowadays? As Scott says, Coarseness at the expense of subtelty and wit, and mistaking grossness for honesty. That's all it is now.

Anyway, enough. Gotta watch Desk Set before calling it a night.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Two-in-one: Bomb Sangam and Bill Bell

SB, you want a Scenes from a Marriage post? I give you Scenes from two marriages. With all the ingredients you asked for. But there's no way I am searching my archives to do that. Instead, what you get a brand new post. Other than for a certain insignificant detail which you will pick up fairly easily, I swear that this is the truth and nothing but the truth. As it happened this morning in your favorite London flat.

Skype call with Amma. Don in the background somewhere.

"Kannamma, I need some money"

"For what?"

"I am going to be a day trader"


"Yes, I have figured this all out. I need to make some money"

"But you said you needed money"

"Yes, to make some more"


"I know what you are thinking. This man has no money. Even if he does, I don't want it"

"I see"

"Now I know how this works. Mom keeps talking to daughter and swindles her. So this is why you keep calling my daughter all the time"

"Who asked you? Can't you see I am talking to her?"

"I can. That's the whole point. I am trying to learn from you"

"Kannamma, why don't you call on the phone? This man won't let us talk in peace"

"Its alright. He will be quiet. So why do you want to do all this trading?"

"I told you - to make more money"

"But you already do something with some mutual fund or something na?"

"Yes, but that is not enough"

"But amma, what do you know about this trading thing? Like what and when to buy and sell?"

"I definitely know more about it than you or your Dad"

"But that doesn't mean anything"

"Oh nonsense. Its all on TV"

"Wait, on TV they tell people what to buy and sell, and people are making money on this?"

"No no, its more complicated that that. There are some bits on CNBC which I have started listening to which are interesting. And then I talk to T aunty here and S aunty in Madras - they have these sources who gives them good tips. Then I talk to Brigand uncle who does these things regularly before making my final decision. I have already tried this out without any real money. I reckon I can make some decent money on this"

"OMG, this is the Japanese housewife thing all over again"

"What Japanese housewife thing? And you know I detest the word housewife. Your Dad loves the word because he can then be the diagonal opposite. The Sangam husband!"

"Sangam husband? Sangam is the opposite of house now?"

"Yes, it is. As you know, your Dad when he is not at work is at the Sangam. There's always some kaviaragam thing or some drama or some fundraising or some new building or something. Ask him whether he knows anything about this house"

"There she goes again. Don't you get any sleep unless you complain to Veena about me?"

"I asked you to not interrupt us. Can you please leave the room? And besides, how come you are here? Nothing happening in your beloved Sangam today?"

"Oh c'mon. Do I say anything about your temple visits and your trading or whatever it is? Is a man not allowed to pursue his interests in this house?"

"But that's the whole point. He doesn't pursue his interests in this house. He is never here. He doesn't know anything about the house. Or his family. Or rather, he doesn't care!"

"Yes, now I don't care!"

"Of course. Who runs this house? Who has to get plumber, and painter, and garderner and electrician? Who has to run and pay the electricity bill and water bill and wait, your credit card bills? Who manages the finances in this house? Do you even know how much money you have where?"

"No, and I don't particularly care"

"Precisely. My point"

"Just because I don't know how much money is there in some stupid bank account...."

"Doesn't mean that you know nothing about the Sangam finances. That will be in your computer as well as in your head. Down to the last paisa"

"You are talking nonsense now"

"You know why I want to make money? And why I am asking Veena for the initital amount? Because I want to save up enough and hire someone with a bomb who will bomb the Sangam building. I will feel guilty if I can take your money for it"

"You want to bomb what?"

"Your beloved Sangam building! Then at least you won't go there"

"Amma, amma, calm down. If I know anything about your husband, its that the minute you bomb the thing down, he will start planning for a new building. And guess how long that will take? You will never see him in your lifetime again"

"Yeah, that is so like him! Muruga! Why am I so unfortunate?"

"Why ask Murugan? He never asked you to marry me, did he? It was all your choice"

"My choice? Do you remember how many letters you wrote me? I still have a dozen forty page notebooks of letters"

"Amma, amma, that's the whole issue, isn't it? When he wrote that, you thought he was in love with you. The reality is that he was in love with the language. And his own writing"

"Et tu, daughter?"

"Ok enough. People, I need to go. As much as I like to sit here and listen to you both fighting, I need to fight my own battles. Tata. Will call tomorrow"

"Tata kannu. Take care"


"What was all that about?"

"Ah! You are awake"

"Yes, I thought I heard your parents fighting"

"So what's new?"

"How come we never fight?"

"We are just boring"

"Yeah man, true. So what were they fighting about?"

"The usual only. New thing is amma wants to be trader so that she can make money so that she can hire some people to bomb the Tamil Sangam building"

"Hmm. Talk about explosive returns on investment!"

"Explosive indeed. Ah well, I dreamt of Chicago last night. I miss Chicago"

"Wait, where did Chicago come from?"

"The movie yesterday[1]. Such lovely shots. Chicago in summer. Chicago in fall. UChicago. Hyde Park. I want to see Hyde Park"

"It's just a 15 minutes walk actually if you are so particular"

"Very funny"

"Yeah yeah. Just because you saw a movie which has Chicago in summer. They should have shot that entire movie in the winter"

"Didn't matter. I miss the snow too. What's winter without snow?"

"That's why you didn't go to Chicago for your company meeting in Jan"

"That was because of the Horsham project"

"So you say"

"Bill, Bill....oh God, come here, quick"

"What happened?"

"Someone's sneaked a gun into our living room. Some sort of machine gun. Come look"

"Trust the Don's daughter to say that"


"Nothing darling. Most people in this world of ours would identify what you are seeing as a violin case, that's all"

"I know that stupid. But what's a violin doing in my flat?"

"What's an AK 47 doing in your flat?"

"I don't know but isn't it more likely than a violin?"

"Is it?"

"Wait, what's a violon doing in my flat? Did you get it last night?"


"Whose is it?"




"Where did you get a violin from?"

"You remember that musical instrument store off Marylebone Rd?"


"From there. I did some research and figured out the model I want"


"What do you mean why?"

"Well, why did you get a violin?"

"Why would anyone get a violin?"

"I don't know about anyone but I know you and that's why I am asking you. Why did you get a violin?"

"Because I am learning to play it"

"You are?"

"Well, haven't started. I start next weekend"


"Yeah. I have always wanted to play the violin"

"How come I never heard of this before?"

"Perhaps because you haven't known me for my entire life?"

"That's possible, yes. So what happened then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Your story. You always wanted to play the violing..and then?"

"I met this woman on the train who is a violin instructor"


"We got to chat and she told me that she runs classes and I said I will join"

"Where are these classes?"

"At Canary Wharf. She lives there"

"Bill, you are a darling. You found your banker mistress!"

"I am afraid not. This is just a violin instructor"

"I see. So she is teaching you to play the violin in return for Math?"


"Are you teaching her Math?"

"No, why would she want to learn Math?"

"Well, she must be expecting something in return, no?"

"Yes, of course. The way these things work, you usually pay money and they teach you stuff"

"This might come as a surprise to you but actually, I happen to know how these things work"

"Then why are you asking vague questions?"

"Because you don't have money?"

"Oh, that way"

"Yes, that way"

"Its not that much also"


"Well, £25 an hour"

"No darling. That won't sound that much to you. Not when you are not making money"

"You know what? I am sick of this"

"Sick of what?"

"This only. Money all the time. We wonks also have lives you know. Like the movie yesterday. Some of us wear contact lenses, some of us date, some of us play in a rock band and some of us need to learn to play the violin. I can already do the i sonata on the viloin if you want"

"Even I can do the i sonata. I know what's imaginary, thank you"

"Ok ok, you know. The point is I need to do things in life other than Math or Computer Science. Like play the violin. And you need to fund this. See, you can even tell you friends how cool I am"


"Yeah. The point is I am like that geek chap in your Chicago movie yesterday"

"No, you are not"


"Darling, if you looked like Jake Gyllenhaal, we wouldn't be having this discussion right now, would we now?"

PS: SB, in case you were wondering:
Family = Amma and Don,
Friend = Bill,
Love = Chicago,
Me = Me,
Like = Jake Gyllenhaal.


[1] Proof. Warm and fuzzy, a little chick-flicky but the Chicago shots, and the presence of a geeky Jake Gyllenhaal made it all worth the £2 rental.