Traffic

This morning the doorbell rang, and Lakshmi answered it. She went outside and talked to someone, then called me. I came to the steps, and saw a young man with a shawl draped over his left arm, which had been amputated above the elbow. A sign-in sheet was tucked under this arm, and he held a sheaf of traffic tickets in his hand. On top of the stack was one for me, from a few days earlier, for a "signal violation." It was all computerised and impressive; but I still don't know what I am supposed to have done. However, I prepared to sign the sheet, assuming that I would have to go to a police station and pay the fine.

The man asked, "Are you a VIP?" I hedged. "Why?" "Are you on the VIP list?" I decided to tell the truth. "No." "If you are on the VIP list, you can refuse the ticket." "It's all right, I'll just go to the police station and pay the fine." "You will have to go to Egmore Court, and there may be risk for you. [the word 'risk' was in English.] Are you sure you're not a VIP?" "Okay, I am a VIP." He gave me a big smile and exchanged satisfied nods with Lakshmi. I saw that I was a fool who needed a lot of help. (Maybe I am a VIP!) In the space where I had been about to sign my name he wrote, "VIP". He asked me, "Which country?" I said, "America." He said, "That means US... what? USA?" I said yes and thanked him, and he moved away.

I felt relieved, but a little queasy, too. What was my violation? What if they check the VIP list and find that I'm not on it? What next?

Later, I went out on a number of errands. At one place I returned to my parked car and found a big dent in the front door, with a neat circle in the middle - apparently someone's motorcycle had fallen over against the car, and left the impression of one handle-bar. Now I'll have to send it to the mechanic for tinkering. (That's what it's called - I like that word a lot.)

So the roads were not my friend today.

Rooftop, reading from left to right

Rooftop, reading from left to right: a flat roof with a cot -- four wooden legs, an open frame netted with rope, passing light through to netted shadow. On the low wall at the roof’s edge, a white cloth shaped like a man who must be alive – because, why would you stow a corpse there? Corrugated iron slopes beyond and just below. He looks wrapped and ready to roll down the iron slide.

Here’s the metaphor: precariousness of life, easy ride into oblivion.

But he’s not really going to fall, is he? He might nap there every day. The empty cot is the thing. In the baked city, can’t you move even that far from the edge?


photograph by Ramesh Gandhi



Dhobi (washerman), by Ramesh Gandhi

In the Morning

Every morning I come downstairs, put clothes in the washing machine, and open the back door for Mary (Lakshmi comes a little later). I putter around for awhile and then go into my little office and switch on the computer. Then Mary comes, carrying a small tray on which are a cup of luscious south Indian coffee and the daily kanakku / hysaab, the accounting of her previous day's expenditure:


In this case, the items listed are kolamavu (the rice flour used to make kolam designs in front of the gate and the door); potatoes; onions; tomatoes; "en selavu", "my expenditure" -- the vegetables Mary and Lakshmi purchase for the meal they cook for themselves at mid-day; cabbage. I run down the list with her, and then dole out some amount for the day -- usually it's not enough, once in awhile I get some change back and feel moderately triumphant.

That is the first work of the day.

Heaven's Choicest Blessings

Yesterday I was rummaging through a cupboard, and came across some books which had belonged to a relative of Ramesh's. (Somehow, these things never get thrown away.) I found an engagement calendar from 1968.



In the beginning of the book were several pages of useful information: Conversion from gross to 100s (Hundreds). Conversion Table: Chhataks to grams; Maunds to Kilograms; Seers to Kilograms. Income Tax Payable on Total Income (Wholly earned). If you earned Rs. 5000 in 1968, your tax liability was Rs. 11.

Then and now, you could save money on telegrams by choosing a set phrase: Number 14, for example: Congratulations. Your correspondent may reply with Number 22: Many thanks for your kind message of greetings.

Here is the List of Set Phrases for Greetings Telegrams (1968):
1. Heartiest Diwali Greetings.
2. Id Mubarik.
3. Heartiest Bijoya Greetings. (i.e., Vijayadasami -- the book was printed in Calcutta)
4. A happy New Year to you.
5. Many happy returns of the day.
6. Best congratulations on new arrival.
7. Congratulations on the distinction conferred on you.
8. best wishes for a long and happy married life.
9. A merry Christmas to you.
10. Hearty congratulation on your success in the Examination.
11. Best wishes for a safe and pleasant journey.
12. Hearty congratulations on success in Election.
13. Many thanks for your good wishes which I/We reciprocate most heartily.
14. Congratulations.
15. Loving Greetings.
16. May Heaven's coicest blessings be showered on the young couple.
17. Wish you both a happy and prosperous wedded life.
18. Kind remembrances and all good wishes for the independance Day.
19. Sincere Greetings for the Republic Day. Long Live the Republic.
20. Heartiest Holi greetings.
21. Wishing the function every success.
22. Many thanks for your kind message of greetings.
23. Best wishes for your success in the examination.
24. Best wishes for your success in the election.

(Did people really send each other telegrams on Republic Day? And look at the sycophancy of sending telegrams to politicians both before and after the election! That practise, or the equivalent, is certainly still going on today.)

A Joke

TC (Ticket Collector) to Sadhu : Baba, where are you going?
Sadhu: To the place where Ram was born.
TC: Show me your ticket.
Sadhu: I don't have one.
TC: Then come with me.
Sadhu: Where?
TC: To the place where Krishna was born.

(Krishna was born in jail, where his parents had been thrown by an evil demon.)

An Altered Book

I've been playing with something I'd never heard of until a few weeks ago: altered books. I love books more than most things, so there is a kind of sublimated eroticism to holding them and superimposing myself on them.

Here are the first pages I've produced. I had bought a book on Indian mythology from a remainder table some years back -- and then realised that it deserved to be there. It was disappointing, and I knew I'd never read it. So I planned to alter it using the theme of gods -- the religious ones, and also the secular 'gods' of India: film stars and cricket players. (My scanner is broken, or I'd have shown here a picture from the front page of today's New Indian Express: a puja being done to ensure an Indian victory in today's cricket match with Pakistan in Lahore.) I haven't gotten very far, and it's beginner's work -- but there it is.
Thanks to Anita Bora I've discovered another outsider, this one in the fascinating city of Calcutta (or Kolkata, as it is called now): Daniel Brett, the Sahib of Behala.

The Great Arc

Wondering what to write about, I stood in front of my India bookshelf, closed my eyes, and chose a book. It was John Keay's excellent The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named. I opened it at random, and here's what I read. [The surveying team is moving north across India, and has reached Fatehpur Sikri and Agra. It is 1833]:
To the flat and domeless rooftop of [Akbar's] mausoleum Everest now ordered one of his signal teams preparatory to reconnecting the dead city of Fatehpur Sikri with its dead emperor at Agra. The tomb had been damaged by British military operations in 1803 and was presumably reckoned less sacrosanct than that of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jehan, whose Taj Mahal in the heart of Agra was also well within Everest's range of vision. As with other notable landmarks, the position of the Taj was duly observed and for the first time precisely recorded. But tempting though it may have been, Everest refrained from scaling its great white dome. Mercifully, that moist 'tear on the face of eternity', as Rabindranath Tagore would call it, never suffered the indignity of being dabbed at by a Survey flag.

On Akbar's tomb the task of raising and roping the twenty-two-foot flagstaff fell to the much-maligned Captain Alexander Boileau. Boileau had been making the most of his stay in Agra. The city's Executive Engineer happened to be his brother, so there had been no problem about obtaining authority to remove a pillar from one of the tomb's crowning cupolas when it interfered with his sight-line. Between such acts of casual vandalism, he had also taken the opportunity to propose to Charlotte, the sister of his brother's wife. When Everest moved on, the pair would hastily marry before Boileau himself was shunted north up the Arc.

... the use of flares, rather than terracotta lamps was ... now standard... the flares - like large fireworks except that each was sealed into a sheep's bladder - could be made up locally. The recipe involved 739 parts ('sulphur 136 parts; nitre 544; arsenic 32; indigo 20'; etc., etc.), and was not suscetible to improvisation. Any adulteration and the flare would not light, any variation and it might explode; ... Finally, each flare should weigh three pounds, so that '160 will be the load for a camel'.

Needless to say, Boileau's flares performed dismally. They deluged his men with lava and spluttered sparks to useless effect. A month later the wretched Boileau was reported absent without leave... Boileau was discharged.
From Pakistan's The Friday Times (free reg'n required):
The poison in the books we teach

Bringing the madrasa into the mainstream would in some measure mean bringing the regular curriculum into the seminary. Is this curriculum any different from the twisted view of life taught to the boys who are then fed into jihad? There is some research that says that jihad in Pakistan was numerically fed from the mainstream educational institutions far more than from the seminaries...



Google referrals:
open cloth body opticals

"rolling shutter" mosquitoes (what can it mean? is it a colloquialism translated into English?)

nice pictures of indian girls with pottu (pottu is the dot on the forehead)

where to buy fishing nets in Chennai (I'm curious about this one -- who but a fisherman would want this information? the nets are pastel plastic, I wouldn't think they'd be useful in interior decoration. Do fishermen use Google?)

how to make paper gandhi caps (I'd like to know how to do this too.)

Akuri

Last week I was looking for a recipe for Akuri (Parsi scrambled eggs) which a Parsi friend had written out for me years ago. I couldn't find it anywhere. Then a few days ago, I was idly surfing, and there was my recipe! I had posted it to a foodie email list, dropped out of it and forgotten. How wondrous is the Internet!

Anyway, here it is - my favourite Parsi dish. It's very easy, you can make the vegetable component and freeze it. You can even freeze it in ice cube trays, and thaw out enough to stir into your eggs:

Akuri



6 eggs
Salt to taste
1/4 cup milk
1/2 inch fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
4 medium onions, chopped
2 tblsp ghee (or butter)
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
4 green chillies
1 bunch (small) coriander, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric

Break the eggs in a bowl, add salt and milk, mix lightly. Grind garlic and ginger together in a paste. In a frying pan, fry onions in ghee until golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste, fry for a couple of minutes, add tomatoes, cumin seeds, chillies, coriander, turmeric. Cook for about five minutes, until all ingredients are well mixed. Remove from fire and allow to cool. Add the egg mixture, stir over medium heat until akuri resembles scrambled eggs.

A Temple to the Lord of Death

I was searching for pictures and information about Yama, the Hindu god of death, and came upon an article from The Hindu by Gowri Ramnarayan. It describes a visit to a temple of Yama (they are rare) near Coimbatore: Quiet Haunt of the Fearsome Lord.

An excerpt:
Feel a shiver down the spine as you gaze at the deity? The fearsome figure - astride a buffalo with menacing horns - is Lord Yamadharma, the ultimate arbiter of your life here and hereafter. Facing the south, in one hand he holds the ankus to guide his black mount; the other grips the whip with which he draws you at the destined moment to the other world. His silver plated eyes have an implacable gleam.

Beside him stands his eternal attendant Chitragupta, with the palm leaf and quill in his left and right hands. He records all human actions, and recites his findings on the day of reckoning. Yama delivers the verdict of reward or punishment.

The God has strong likes and dislikes. He will not tolerate black thread or cloth. Coconuts must be offered whole, and no jasmine is allowed in worship. His colourful garland twines oleander, tuberose and basil.

The circle is sacred to him as we see in the architecture (outer wall, dome, inner dais). He accepts tulabharam (generally banana or jaggery) and the special 101 padayal (offering) of ashball, raw rice, panakam and buttermilk...

It's very interesting to me, these specifics of the god's likes and dislikes: generally one breaks a coconut before offering it, for example. Every temple distinguishes itself from every other by some quirk like this. The article goes on to say that you must never clasp your hands behind your back in Yama's presence!

Yama is a Vedic god, one of the most ancient; he has become otiose. He has been described as the first man, the first to die and find the way to the otherworld. After he died, his sister Yami's grief was so intense that the new universe was disturbed. In the endless day of the beginning the gods created night, so that days could pass, and time and sleep would help Yami to forget. A boon for which we can be grateful.

Ganga

A poem by Nissim Ezekiel:

Ganga

We pride ourselves
on generosity

to servants. The woman
who washes up, suspected

of prostitution,
is not dismissed.

She always gets
a cup of tea

preserved for her
from the previous evening,

and a chapati, stale
but in good condition.

Once a year, an old
sari, and a blouse

for which we could
easily exchange a plate

or a cup and saucer.
Besides, she borrows

small coins for paan
or a sweet for her child.

She brings a smell with her
and leaves it behind her,

but we are used to it.
These people never learn.

From Nissim Ezekiel: Collected Poems, 1952-1988

Ishq Vishk and Winter Light

Warning: disjointed rambling ahead!

On Saturday we watched part of Ishq Vishk (a rhyming phrase - Love-Vove, which is used dismissively in this case: as in, What is all this nonsense-fonsense). It's a very young movie, where all that matters is having fun and falling in love. It was fun, and highly coloured, the main actors were pretty, the music lively.


But it was too sugary for our taste, so we switched to a DVD of Bergman's Winter Light. It was like being plunged into very cold water - from lush tropics to black-and-white bleakness.

Ramesh says that you can't watch an Indian movie for five minutes without hearing the word 'marriage,' and you can't watch an American movie for five minutes before someone pulls out a gun. And of course, you can't watch a Bergman movie for five minutes without running into a struggle with God. Here, a pastor is going through a spiritual crisis, agonising over God's silence.



It appeared that I was supposed to empathise with the pastor (Gunnar Bjornstrand); but he was cold and self-absorbed. And so cruel to the woman who loves him (Ingrid Thulin). What is it with these grovelling women and contemptuous men? Hemingway heroines are slavishly adoring. Raj Kapoor films were like that too - he was short, but his heroines always had to look up to him; preferably from the floor. Yesterday we saw Five Easy Pieces, where Jack Nicholson is absolutely rotten to Karen Black (as if it were Nicholson's fault, not the director's. I watch so many movies, and the characters are all roaming around in my head, talking to each other and behaving as if they were independent. And all out of chronological order.).

Max von Sydow's tormented fisherman, who fears that China will drop the bomb because it has nothing to lose, looked real to me. His elongated features glowing - Bjornstrom and von Sydow, a barred window behind them, winter light pouring in... (All this had one unintended effect on me: because it's hot here, I looked hungrily at snow on the ground, and the icy wind blowing.) The pastor has no comfort to offer, the fisherman shoots himself. The pastor visits the fisherman's wife and tells her that her husband is dead; he has no comfort to offer. He seems more concerned with his health - he has a cold - than with any human being but himself.

Winter Light led me to think of a very different film, the delightful (and light in another sense) Italian for Beginners, a Dogme film, in which a benign young pastor (just like you and me, except that he owns a Maserati) comes to a Danish town to replace the old pastor, who could have stepped out of Winter Light - he has lost his faith (and his wife, like the pastor in WL) and rants, "God is an abstraction!" The parishoners want to be told that God is love, so they stay away from the church. The nice young pastor does tell them that, so they all come back. (And find love, as well.) It's all very low-key and charming, except for the old pastor, who seems to have wandered in from another age. From the Age of Bergman.

At least none of these people / characters is certain about anything. They're imperfect and some of them are repellent, and they struggle. What a relief, after the artificiality of Love in most Indian films -- ishq vishk indeed!

Newspaper Stuff

In Pakistan's Friday Times (free registration required): Writer William Dalrymple has an article, Stone temple pirates: He may be a great writer of fiction, but Sir Vidia’s views of Indian history are dangerous and wrong

The Hindu has a travel article about Mahablipuram: ON THE ROAD: `I show you Mahabalipuram' (including tour-guide -- a character who will ring a bell with anyone who's hired one in India)

Also from The Hindu: Splashes of colour
THE exasperated salesman in a cloth shop ruefully eyed the mess and beseeched the customer, "Madam, will you please tell me the exact shade of black you need for your blouse piece? I have shown you dozens of shades in black, but nothing in the shop seems to please you."

"Don't blame me for that," shot back the woman. "I want a particular shade of black, I mean the aanai (elephant) colour black and you don't seem to have that". With that she walked out of the shop and the relieved salesman muttered to himself, "Thank God, she did not bring an elephant to show me the shade she wanted."

Yaaaaaaay!

From the Guardian: India and Pakistan pass test: Peace breaks out between nuclear neighbours after record-breaking cricket match

Karachi encounter: India defeat Pak by 5 runs


My god, what a thrilling match! Why does it always have to come down to the last over, though? It's very hard on my heart.

Another Rat Story

After I wrote that my maid had come to work with a rat-bite on her finger, my sister-in-law sent me this:
Reading the rat story, I remembered something about my childhood. This happened in Dholka, a very small village in Gujarat.

I must not be older than 6 or 7. We had a picnic outing from our school. I was wearing which I thought was my best dress. I do not remember much about the day, except that the teacher had given us roasted 'Chana' [chickpeas] for the afternoon snack, which I kept in my dress pocket, we call it Khisu. I came home in the evening and was dead tired. Without dinner or anything I fell quickly asleep.

In the middle of the night I woke up screaming. My mother came running to me, lighted a "fanas" (kerosene lantern because we did not have electricity) to see what had happened. The little finger on my right hand was bleeding like a faucet. My dress on the Khisu side was all chewed up and all the chana were gone. My mom quickly realized that a rat had invaded my dress, ate all the chana and bit me. She bandaged my finger. No other treatment was rendered. Eventually I got back to sleep again.

For several days after that I lamented, my best dress was made unwearable by a rat!

By the way, they say, the rat blows on where he bites to soothe the wound before you realize you are bitten, to make his getaway!
I love the part about the rat blowing on the bite to soothe you -- never knew they were so considerate.

Nataraj

When you lose a servant the word goes out on the servants' grapevine, and people start turning up at the gate. You go through a more or less painful process of mutual selection, which may involve the coming together and separating of several pairings, before you find the person whom you hope will be right for your household.

We hired Nataraj to be our watchman. He was neat and quiet, tall and thin. Mary and Lakshmi told me approvingly that he was a village man, and so would be strong and willing to work. He already had a uniform with a matching beret, because he had worked as a watchman before. We felt good the first evening, seeing him going around the house with a heavy stick, which he tapped on the ground to let burglars know that he was alert. Then in the night, Ramesh found him sleeping deeply on the bench in the gatehouse. He had to shake him awake. We thought, okay, he needs to adjust to the night shift.

The next morning Nataraj asked for an advance on his salary to buy rice, and kerosene for the little stove we provide. I gave it to him. Then he decided that he couldn't cook after all, so he asked that Mary cook for him, taking the cost out of his salary. We refused. That night he was asleep by 2:00 a.m.

The next day he said that he would live away from the house so that he could sleep better during the day: he said that there were too many mosquitoes in our house (though they didn't bother him during duty hours!). He said that he had fallen asleep because he was having 'weakness' (a common explanation for a number of things). He asked for another advance on his salary.

When this sort of thing happens, you know the relationship has soured. Last night, his fourth, he slept again. This morning I paid him off. The grapevine was re-activated. Just now Mary came grinning, to tell me that a man had come to the gate asking about the job. She said he was ninety years old and toothless. I said that if any burglars came they would laugh too hard to be able to steal anything. So we wait.
Coffee House has been posting a lot of good pictures of everyday scenes of Chennai.

And an earlier Coffee House posting which I'd meant to link to and forgot: for all you Sai Baba fans, lots of pictures of Puttaparthi.

Right after Madras was renamed Chennai, Ramesh's sister came to visit from Bombay. She didn't realise that the flight was via Puttaparthi (who would? I don't think anyone but a Sai Baba devotee would go there, would they?). First she got a shock when the announcement came that the flight was going to Chennai. She grabbed the stewardess and said, "Let me off! I wanted to go to Madras!" Then the plane stopped at Puttaparthi, and she wondered where on earth that might be. Finally she arrived, and told me the story in the car as I was driving her home. I was listening to her and laughing. I took the wrong turn at the Nehru statue and headed off toward Kodambakkam or somewhere, got lost and had to ask directions; which confirmed to Ramaben that Madras is an awfully difficult place to get to.
The book-chewing bug
     Thinks people are fools.
How can they not know
     That books are meals?

-- Rabindranath Tagore, from Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems of Rabindranath Tagore

Cricket

The upcoming tour of the Indian cricket team to Pakistan is a national obsession. The Guardian has a good article about why this is more than just a game, and the dangers involved: War minus the shooting - India's first cricket tour of Pakistan in 15 years brings political opportunity and danger in equal measure.

In 1997-98, Pakistan and India played a match here in Chennai. The Pakistani team won, and the Chennai crowd gave them a standing ovation. The Pakistanis took a victory lap around the stadium, and the applause never stopped. I felt so proud of my adopted city -- I don't think such a civilised thing could have happened anywhere else in these two countries.

Bahadur

The first of the month was payday. On payday Bahadur, the Nepali watchman, gets drunk. We look the other way when it happens, because his life is not easy, and he's unhappy. Lately, we've been learning that he gets drunk on other days as well. Lakshmi said, "If there's money in his hand, he drinks." Mary had complained that he left the outside bathroom dirty after using it, and that when he was drunk he would pee anywhere in the garden, and that he would walk naked in the night from the gatehouse to the bathroom, so that she was afraid to come out of her room.

So we told him these things, and that he had to keep things clean and behave decently. He took it very badly, and got roaring drunk. We found an empty pint bottle of cheap brandy in his room afterward. I heard him in the night, shouting. I peered out from behind the curtains and saw him capering, waving his arms, gesturing at the neighbour's house. That neighbour has been known to howl at the moon himself on occasion, so I thought they might be shouting at each other. I went out to see, and Bahadur began ranting at me. He would remember himself, and say "Salaam, memsahib," putting his hands to his forehead, and then take off again, speaking his mixture of Hindi and Tamil, grimacing, gesturing at an invisible audience.

I asked Ramesh to come out, because Bahadur was shouting so loudly that I was afraid he'd wake the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, things got even worse. To make a long story short.... the next day we found that he was not contrite; in fact, was hostile. We fired him, after eleven years of putting up with many eccentricities. He said that he wanted to go back to Nepal. We gave him some money. But he didn't really want to go at all. We saw him at the gatehouse, putting things in a bag and taking them out again, still talking to himself; waiting, perhaps, for divine intervention. Finally he shook hands with the servants, prostrated himself at the gate and prayed there. Then he went away.

Sanskrit

Sanskrit Documents - Welcome to the compilation of Sanskrit Documents in Devanagari display and transliteration format. In addition to the Sanskrit texts, you will find here various tools for learning Sanskrit such as the Online Sanskrit Dictionary, Sanskrit Tutorials, Sanskrit Pronunciation guides, and software for learning Sanskrit and producing documents in Devanagari & Roman formats, and much more.

Sanskrit Documents in audio format - a huge collection of links to stotras, bhajans and miscellaneous materials, in MP3 and Real Audio format.

The Way In to Sleep

In the afternoon I lay still and waited for sleep to approach, and it did, softly, but as soon as I recognised it it retreated. It happened several times, and then I had a mental image of myself sitting at a small wooden table placed against the wall in the corner of a room. There was a window nearby, through which came soft, cool light, as though it had just rained and the sky was still full of heavy clouds. The table had been painted many times with white enamel, one coat on top of the previous chipped coat, so that the paint had become three-dimensional. I was looking down at a china bowl of oatmeal, dotted with raisins. I had a strong feeling that I had actually lived in this scene, sat alone in that room, and I thought, this is the way in to sleep - and then the phone rang, and the spell was broken.

At night I tossed and struggled in the hot, sheet-tangled bed. Finally I slept, and dreamed I wrote a poem about trying to sleep. Reaching deep into my body, I pulled out chunks of sleep, jagged, dry, like loofah. I swallowed them again, as medicine. I raged against my body for making me struggle, for denying me sleep, for punishing me with sleep.

Newspaper Stuff

Another interview with Kamila Shamsie, the Pakistani writer who visited Chennai recently.

Outlines of a past: pre-historic rock art in the Nilgiris


An article in today's Hindu about the origin of the word 'Bollywood.'

A very well-written piece, also from the Hindu, by writer C. S. Lakshmi, about household implements and women's lives: The many uses of a ladle.

Travails

I was talking to the gardener, Chinnaraj, yesterday, because rats have suddenly appeared in the garden. Lots of them. I was trying to tell him about how the Irulas, a Tamil tribal group, smoke them out of their holes (and have them for dinner - I saw it on National Geographic); but he couldn't understand my pronunciation of smoke. I tried 'pu-hay', then 'pu-hai', 'pu-gay', 'pu-gai', 'pu-kai', etc etc. How much work for two syllables! I spelled it in my hand in Tamil, but he can't read. I gestured as if smoking a cigarette, showing the smoke twirling up into the air. I asked, "when you light a fire, what rises?" Good thing he never went to school -- he would have been a very poor student. Finally, out of sheer exhaustion, he said, "Oh, 'po-ha'...." And then told me that the holes in the ground which we had taken for burrows were just places where the rats had dug up the grass to get at the roots; that they hid between the stones of the wall, and among clumps of bamboo. Let's see how he is as a naturalist. I want to call Pest Control, but by the time we finish spraying for rats and mosquitoes we'll be poisoned ourselves. I have heard that if you call the Snake Park, they will send some Irulas to round up your rats. That might actually be fun.


Lakshmi showed me her finger. She said, "A rat bit it." And laughed. I was horrified. I said, "How did it happen?" She said that she was sleeping on a mat on the floor of her hut -- as usual -- and the rat crept up and bit her finger. She said, "Look, there's only one tooth-mark," and laughed again.
The Ecotone group blogging topic for March is Ocean and Sea. A beautiful topic, and I haven't written anything about it. If you'd like to contribute, you're welcome -- go there and add a link to your site. And if not, do take a look at what others have to say.

A question for people living in India

As you must know, the Indian government has blocked access to all Yahoo groups since last September. (For peope who do not live in India: apparently a couple of these groups are advocating sedition - or something like that.) There are several extremely innocuous groups' sites that I want to take a look at. I'm sure there must be some hacks for this -- if you know of any, could you let me know?

I've tried Anonymizer and Guardster -- Guardster ditches you when you have to sign in. I've tried the mirror sites in UK and Australia. Now what?

(update: I called my ISP, and they say that they have heard the ban has been lifted, but they are awaiting notification.... which could take a loooong time, judging from how things often are here.)

Blessed

Blessed is the yellow-eyed goat
which put its face against the car window
and stared at me this morning.
It frisked away so delicately -
grace in a dusty street.

Blessed is the red-tailed lizard,
in motion sinuous as flame,
now still as stone in the courtyard sun.

Blessed are the termites,
whose cupboard kingdom
extends through things we've left behind -
snapshots, letters, faded urgencies.
They devour the past.
They crawl toward the future.

Bamboos

The latest India Today has a piece about what are usually called feng shui bamboos.
... Last year, its miniature versions, grown in spirals or layers in pretty, stained glass sinks and pots became bestselling gifts, finding their way out of New Age shops and onto supermarket shelves. Now they are a dime a dozen -- available at malls and departmental grocery shops, with prices ranging from Rs 100 onwards for miniature versions. The small ones are cute but particularly imposing are the tall ones -- architectural in their looks. "This plant represents great prosperity even in the most adverse circumstances and can lend capacity and capability to people facing the stormiest weather in life," says Feng Shui expert Gopal Sharma. ...

Etc. Etc. I bought four tall stems a year ago, and put them in a pottery vase I'd bought for tuberoses. They're over five feet tall now, and still green and growing, in nothing but water.

The other day someone asked me solemnly, "Have you felt any benefit from them?" I have, in fact: the benefit of seeing green leaves indoors.

A few years ago vaastu was all the rage; now feng shui has joined in. Here's an article that purports to explain the difference between vaastu and feng shui. In my limited experience of observing others' experiences, feng shui causes less disruption to people's houses. I am told that you can correct many deficiencies with plants and mirrors, whereas with vaastu you may have to re-build your house. I know one person who raised two sunken rooms, moved the driveway (and hence the garage) from one side of the house to the other, and removed a fountain from the garden (it's a very decorated house). When the time came to vacate the master bedroom in favour of a mezzanine which faced a better direction, the wife put her foot down. Then they called in a feng shui expert, who completed the work without further disruption.

The Joss-sticks at Cadell Road

Near the sea behind Cadell Road
They burn as joss-sticks
The poor men’s bodies
Those dark, thin corpses
All bound with strings of tuberose
And the brilliant marigold.
We saw them bring one, last Sunday
An hour after our
Tea-time, scented up
To smell like a low-paid
Street girl, while some crones followed
Wailing flatly and
Monotonously
As only the poor
And the absolutely
Hopeless know how to wail. When
They fed the body
To the fire, the fire
Leapt high, snarling beast-like. Then
The corpse-bearers threw
The garlands into
The sea. A queue of
Sea-gulls rode the waves.
My husband said, I think I shall
Have a beer, it’s hot,
Very hot today.
And I thought, I must
Drive fast to town and
Lie near my friend for an hour. I
Badly need some rest.

-- Kamala Das
(from Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology)