Nasty Hindi Poem

I got my second google referral, 'nasty Hindi poem.' I don't know any nasty Hindi poems, but I do know a couple of comic ones:

Dil diya tha nazaraana samajhkar...
Kha gayi ullu ki pati, khaana samajhkar

Mai~ ne tujhse pyaar kiya, abla samajhkar
tere baap ne mujhe maar diya, tabla samajhkar

and finally
Nadi ka kinara tha
Reshmi zulfo~ ka sahaara tha
Jab paas aya
Sardar nahaa raha tha

These were taught to me by an inebriated Brigadier, and are too silly to translate.

The Barber Shop

At the intersection between R. K. Mutt Road and Greenways Road is a barber shop, barely large enough for two chairs. There’s a narrow counter and a mirror and, above the mirror, some pictures of gods. In the heat of afternoon the barber pulls down his rolling shutter and goes elsewhere, and you can’t tell that the shop is there at all. In the evening you are waiting at the intersection for the light to change. You see the barber sitting in one of the chairs, reading a newspaper. Or perhaps there is a customer, a driver from the nearby auto-rickshaw stand. He sits down and asks for a shave. The barber drapes him in a cloth, and takes out his round brush and cup of shaving soap. He starts to work up a foam while the customer inspects himself in the mirror. The half-open saloon-style doors are wood-framed panes of blue glass. The horizontal white tube-light between the mirror and the gods shines through the glass, which casts a mysterious blue glow on everything within its small reach. The signal changes and you’re gone.
The World As A Blog (via Eclogues)
What? Real time & updating display of weblog postings, around the world
How? + geocoding + RSS

It's a map of the world, with markers for weblogs, as they're updated. Click on the markers and see the RSS feeds.

* * *

And what a beautiful site (via Giornale Nuovo) -- click on the volumes in a bookshelf, and see illustrated pages from old books -- botanical illustrations, zoology, anatomy...

The Broker

The broker was a smiling Marwari, with caramel-coloured skin, brown hair. When Ramesh talked to him he kept up an echoing chorus of encouragement and assent.

R: I told him not to buy that land...
B: Not to buy - that's right.

R: because the documents were false.
B: False - correct, they're false.

R: So he said, now it's done, what shall I do?
B: Hunh, hunh, that's right.

R: I told him, you should meet with the villagers...
B: The villagers, accha, accha, theek hai.

R: because they were against those people.
B: That's right, that's right.

R: They can help you to drive them out.
B: Drive them out, that's correct.

I was hypnotised by the rhythm of his politeness.

A Birthday Cake for Hanuman

India Today magazine has given its Golden Pumpkin award to fundamentalist Hindu politician Uma Bharati, who allegedly offered a birthday cake containing eggs to the god Hanuman on his birthday (April 16):

It started off as a cakewalk for saffron sanyasin Uma Bharati but her current campaign in Madhya Pradesh has cooked up a storm with allegations that she participated in an offering of a cake to Lord Hanuman in the Jam Sanwli temple in Bhopal on Hanuman Jayanti. Though she later claimed it was actually kalakand (milk cake) and, therefore, had no egg content, the fact that a sanyasin was making an offering of that nature was enough to take the cake and, in the bargain, invite the CBI to launch an investigation into the controversial affair.

Whatever it was, she did light candles on the disputed offering. Bhopal Mayor Vibha Patel alleged that the cake was made with eggs and, therefore, a religious affront. Bharati retorted with, "It was perfectly vegetarian and who are you to question me?" In jumped Chief Minister Digvijay Singh with the information that God had punished Bharati for offering an egg cake-apparently he believes that her public meetings since then have failed. Bharati then wrote to Digvijay demanding a CBI inquiry. While she bids to become the first Hanuman disciple to offer kalakand topped with candles, Digvijay plays Socrates, reading divine punishments. The electorate, meanwhile, is more worried about its daily bread, but the leaders, in true revolutionary style, are giving them cake.

The World's Transportation Commission

From the Library of Congress’ Today in History, I found an exhibit of photographs from the World’s Transportation Commission, 1894-1896, taken by American photographer William Henry Jackson.
In addition to railroads, elephants, camels, horses, sleds and sleighs, sedan chairs, rickshaws, and other types of transportation, Jackson photographed city views, street and harbor scenes, landscapes, local inhabitants, and Commission members as they travelled through North Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania.
Nine of the photographs are of Madras, as Chennai was called at that time. Here is a view of Madras Railway Station:

Today the river is filthy, and its banks covered with slums, right down to the water’s edge. The station is still one of Chennai’s attractive buildings. And the scene around it is full of vitality, as thousands pass through it every day, eat, sleep, wait, rush from platform to platform...

Summer Afternoon

Flies land and take off from my knee,
run aground and sweating
in a bright gul mohur’s shade.

It’s too hot to swat them, too hot
to think Tamil, talk vegetables with the cook,
understand the maid’s tale
of disaster on the roof. Our mouths
open and shut. Decisions must be made.
I’m dull as the red-jowled chameleon
doing pushups on a branch.

The gardener’s broom swishes
underneath a neighbour’s singing lesson:
A quavered line repeated
in a fainter, younger voice.
Each phrase ends on a higher note
like the slowly seeping day,
just one step, or maybe two, away
from resolution.

Another Ambassador

photo by German photographer Katrin Simon, who recently held an exhibition in Mumbai. (from The Hindu)


photo by Ramesh Gandhi

When I was small, I would ask my mother to sing me the Chiquita Banana song. It’s still a great work of art, in my opinion. It was written to tell people how to store bananas, when they were still exotic in America. Here’s the Chiquita Banana page.

After I posted this, I remembered a song we used to sing at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. Does the song still exist? Does the school still exist?:

I'm Chiquita Banana and I'm here to say
If you want to get rid of your teacher today
Just throw a banana peel down on the floor
And watch your teacher slide out of the door

And here’s a joke, from Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s Yemen:

Once there was a blind girl. She was twenty-five years old and longing for a husband; but whenever she brought the subject up with her father he would say, "My daughter, you are blind. No one wants you. But don't worry -- you'll find a husband in Paradise." Well, one day she was up on the roof hanging out the washing when she tripped and fell, down and down, six storeys. By chance she fell into a lorry carrying bananas and was knocked unconscious. The lorry drove on. Ten minutes later she came to. Ah, she thought, I am dead. Then, as she felt the bananas, she remembered what her father had told her and gave a little shriek: "Slowly, slowly, men of Paradise! Please, take your turn!"
(Yemen, and especially Mackintosh-Smith’s more recent Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, are beautifully written and sensitive accounts of travel in the Arab world.)

The Power of Temple Images

According to an article in today’s The Hindu, the power -- or perhaps charisma is a better word? -- of temple idols is enhanced by the care their priests and devotees take of them.

Years ago I studied dance in Chennai. One year my teacher, Sitaravamma, offered a green silk sari to Tripurasundari, the goddess of Marundeeswarar Temple in the suburb of Thiruvanmiyur. She was excited about seeing the goddess wearing her gift. She told me that the images in the temple always have power, but on festival days their power increases because of all the people who come to worship. I took this as her personal belief, but the article seems to support it.

For devotees who throng the temples to be in communion with God, the idols enshrined therein are not only alive but are even ready to listen to their pleas. These worthy images have gained the power as they have been made strictly according to scriptural specifications and have started "breathing" after due consecration following elaborate rites. In their presence, some saints have gone into such a height of ecstasy, they had declared that they would not be so moved even if they were taken to God's abode. Certain extraordinary factors make the idols in some places look more dazzling.

Firstly the priests, who are privileged to conduct the rites daily, should have done so with deep interest, commitment and reverence. Secondly, the festivals listed, according to tradition, should have been conducted with all grandeur. The third refers to the nature of jewels and flowers and the dress used to adorn the deities. The next is about the offerings (Prasadams) made on various occasions, as per the customs and the methods of distributing them (to the needy). Then the hymns and "mantras" should have been clearly spelt out. Above all the temple precincts should have been kept clean and properly maintained. For collecting funds from the public towards renovation or putting up fresh constructions, care should be taken for accurate accounting, avoiding expenses on "extraneous considerations" and giving no room for misappropriation... more

The Man in Striped Pyjamas

We had to be up early, so we decided to have breakfast at Woodlands. The sidewalk along the Marina was full of purposeful people taking their morning constitutionals. We arrived at 6:30 and entered the empty restaurant. I asked if it were open. The bearer, wearing a tan shirt and matching cap, smiled and said with enthusiasm, "Yes, open." I asked, "What do you have?" He said, "Coffee tea." I said, "Idli sambar? Wadai?" "No, idli in fifteen minutes. Now only coffee." So I drank good coffee and we kicked our heels, not for fifteen minutes, but until 7:00. We felt disgruntled because the bearer had misled us, but he smiled each time he passed, and finally brought idli for Ramesh and pongal for me. As we ate I began to feel better.

A man wearing striped pyjamas sat down at the next table. He called the bearer, "Excuse me! Excuse me!" When the man came, he said, "Don't you have the newspaper?" He ordered toast, asked for Nescafe, but the bearer said they only had filter coffee. He agreed, saying, "But make it strong, ah?" Then he turned to Ramesh with a smile and said, "We must become strong like America. That is heaven on earth." Ramesh said politely, "Have you stayed there for long?" The man said, "No, I am going next month." Then he asked Ramesh, "Is this lady related to you?" Ramesh said, "Yes, she's my wife." The man turned to me and said, "Oh, namaste." I said, "Namaste." Then he switched from English into Hindi of all things, and asked if I were American, and said that I must take his name and phone number in case I wanted his opinion on politics etc. He said that, like Nostradamus, he could predict the future.

As we left the restaurant the bearer looked at the man in pyjamas and at me and smirked. Reader, I smirked back.
Gosh, I got my first referral from Google yesterday -- it was 'Tamil word for cellphone.' In case that person checks back again, I can say that to the best of my knowledge the Tamil word for cellphone is... cellphone. Since the Tamil alphabet doesn't have an 'f' sound, I suppose it would be transliterated as selpon.


I whipped out my box of Cheeta Fight matches and went to the kitchen to make some Sweet and Spicy Vegetable Pickle from Tarla Dalal’s cookbook, Achaar aur Parathe (Pickles and Flatbreads) – the cookbook is in English:

Sweet and Spicy Vegetable Pickle

Makes 1 ½ cups
Storage: up to one week (refrigerated)

½ cup carrots, diced
½ cup cauliflower, cut into florets
½ cup white radish, diced
2 tablespoons grated raw mango
½ tablespoon roasted fennel seeds, powdered
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ tablespoon coriander powder
¼ teaspoon fenugreek powder
½ teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon jaggery or brown sugar (Dalal calls for 2 Tblsp.)
¼ cup mustard oil
1 tablespoon salt

1. Blanch the carrots, cauliflower and radish in salted water.
2. Drain and place the blanched vegetables on an absorbent cloth and pat them dry.
3. Heat the oil in a pan and add all the ingredients to it, stirring continuously.
4. Cook till the jaggery has dissolved.
5. Cool and serve immediately or store in a sterilised glass jar and refrigerate for up to a week.

Tarla Dalal is the best-selling cookbook writer in India. She has a website which used to be free and now offers limited access and a weekly email with recipes to those who don’t wish to pay. Her books are systematic, and quite helpful for outsiders like me.

photo by Ramesh Gandhi

Almost all Indian matches and fireworks are made in Sivakasi, here in Tamil Nadu.

The Ambassador

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh by Raghubir Singh (1942–1999)
1977, India, Digital photographic print; 79 x 119 cm (31 1/2 x 47 1/4 in.)

Raghubir Singh (1942-99) took as one of his last photographic subjects the Ambassador car. The Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery is holding an exhibition of his Ambassaor photos. They have also been published in a book, The Way Into India.

Auto*Focus, one of Raghubir Singh's last great projects, combines the photographer's passions for color and the Indian landscape with his fascination with the Ambassador car, an icon of modern India. Diplomatic limousine, family car, and taxi, its distinctive silhouette is omnipresent across India. The Sackler's exhibition presents forty-eight photographs that place the car in the landscape or, conversely, frame, reflect, and refract the landscape through the Ambassador's windows and mirrors. The images convey the garish rhythms of the urban street or the harmonious palettes of desert and monsoon landscapes in juxtapositions of the ancient and the contemporary. Throughout the exhibition, the car serves as a metaphor for the photographer traveling through the landscape and as a meditation upon the nature of photographic representation.
CNN’s website includes an article about The Ambassador: India's car of authority and aggression

…. the original design, based on the British-built Morris Oxford of 1948, still stands out…. Apart from the region's taxi fleet, few customers are willing to buy it, a reality that threatens the existence of its makers Hindustan Motors (HM)… Even today HM's main product is still the 1950's vintage Ambassador albeit with a Japanese Isuzu motor, with sales of only 11,000 cars expected in the second half of the year ending March 2002 according to Reuters. Although it has only a few percent of the automobile market this relic from another era is an Indian legacy….
When I first came to Chennai – it was called Madras then – as a student, most cars were Ambassadors. Most cars were black. When I returned years later, there were snazzy-looking Maruti-Suzukis, and you almost never saw a black car. I would drive out in my little Maruti (‘son of the Wind God’) and feel annoyed when I got stuck behind an Ambassador. They hogged the road, you could never see around them. Now that there are more and more foreign cars on the road, and lots of vile SUVs, the Ambassador has become quaint, loveable.

There’s an article by Raghubir Singh, excerpted from his book Tamil Nadu (the state of which Chennai is the capital) here.

The Call of the Koel

The wind perfumes the woods with fragrant powders of pollen shaken loose from the slightly opened flowers of the jasmine creepers; here, the wind, which is like the breath of the god of love advancing… inflames the mind.

Fevers in the ears are caused by the soft-sweet-toned murmurs of the koels playing in the mango shoots which are shaken by honey-drinking-bees greedy for the fragrance of the emerging honey…

(from Gita Govinda, trans. by Lee Siegel)

In Indian poetry, the koel is associated with lovers. But koels’ lives are more practical than romantic: They are related to cuckoos. They don’t raise their own young, but lay their eggs in crows’ nests. Since crows rule in my garden, and chase away the smaller, pretty birds, I like the idea of a bird that can get the better of them. According to an interesting article in yesterday’s Hindu newspaper, the koels’ mating season has started early this year.

One year the gardener brought in a koel chick which had fallen or been pushed out of its foster-nest. We named it Kaalu, and put it in a cage in the kitchen. It was a bundle of fierce hunger, shaped like a round black feathered evening bag, with a hinged mouth and pink silk lining. If you approached it, it would shake its neck frantically, mouth gaping, squawking for food. You’d give it some cooked rice grains and it would try to swallow your finger too.

Author's Bio

During April, which is National Poetry Month, Knopf, the publishers, send out a poem every day by email – you can sign up here. There's not much April left, but they'll keep your email address for next year as well. My favourite poem so far this year is Brooks Haxton’s Author’s Bio:

Author's Bio

Son of a Maori priestess and a Tasmanian pirate,
Brooks Haxton at two was thrown as a human sacrifice
from the gunwale of a careening brig into a typhoon.
Becalmed for forty days, the ship, with all his kin
on board, burst into sudden flame when struck
by an exploding meteorite. The poet, raised
by porpoises and marsupial wolves, grew to serve
as a young man at Gallipoli, where in a detachment
taking ninety-nine percent casualties he discovered the sestina
with its repeated end-words was especially suited
to his small vocabulary. For his Sestinas Under Fire
Haxton was awarded the Prix de Rome, the Croix de Guerre,
and Nobel Prizes in Literature, Physics, Medicine,
and several of the lesser categories. After brief stints
dancing for Diaghilev in Paris and acting under Stanislavski
in Moscow, he was sought out as a blues musician
by Charley Patton. Sick with fame and riches, he chose
anonymity as author of many of the great blues lyrics.
He was last seen over the Yazoo River east of Itta Bena,
borne in a silken hammock aloft by thousands
of ivory-billed woodpeckers. His poems now surface
through the mail with indecipherable postmarks,
in their folds fresh moultings of young ivory bills,
saffron dust, and legs of golden grasshoppers and bees.

Clichés in Hindi Movies

I watched Lal Patthar – an old Hindi movie (1971) starring Raj Kumar and Hema Malini. He’s a Raja, she’s one of the two Ranis, and is out for revenge. They have a scene together in a room with a stuffed tiger in the middle of it. She’s reclining on a sofa to the right, he approaches from the left, the tiger is between them, its mouth open in a snarl. He rests his arm on the tiger’s back and says something nasty to her. She rises and comes toward him, he moves away, she puts her hand on the tiger’s back. Says something even nastier. He comes back and rests his forearm on the tiger, like an armrest. Both of them are touching the tiger. Close-up of the tiger’s snarl….

There is a lot in Hindi film which reminds me of silent films, or village theatre – the director wants to make really really sure that the audience understands what is going on. There are many significant nods, the villains all but twirl their moustaches…

Clichés in Hindi Movies

I hate you!
I love you.
This marriage cannot take place!
When you were born I promised my best friend that you would marry his son when you grew up.
The daughter of a man in my position can never marry a poor boy!
Our family is poor but honest, you can never marry that corrupt rich man’s son!
Our families have been feuding for generations, forget about marrying him!
I’m pregnant.

You’re like a son to me. (He is her son, separated at birth)
When I’m with you, I feel as though you were my mother. (see above)
Son, you have an identical twin brother who was separated from you at birth.
Doctor, my brother / beloved / mother will live, won’t s/he?
I’ve done all I can, now you must put your faith in God.
Ma! You can’t leave me here alone!

You dog!
You villain!
Your death is standing behind your shoulder!
I’ll break your body in such small pieces, there won’t be enough for the vultures to eat!
The God of Death won’t even recognise you!
Get the funeral pyre ready now!


This is the calm
before Armageddon

watch out for fissures
in human enterprise
popularly known as civilisation

before the calm is broken
the earth convulses
the mountains crumble
and with us and our oceans
we take everything
to extinction

-- photograph and poem by Ramesh Gandhi

Memories of Rain

The Meteorological Department has announced a 60% chance that the monsoon will fail this year. I remember rain...

Dark clouds with brownish-yellow patches move toward us, frayed like watercolour wash. The wind gusts. A crow tries to fly into it, pumping its wings but stationary. Then stillness, and the sky lightens. I say, ‘It just went on by’ and at that moment a few fat drops splatter, there is a rising sound of water, and rain pours straight down. We move to the verandah, sit for five minutes through heavy rain; then it begins to thin out, the sky to lighten.

After rain mosquitoes begin to dance.

There’s a humid, cool breeze blowing, the sky is still slightly grey. The breeze isn’t helping our badminton game, but the eucalyptus leaves are blowing in an attractive way. It’s quiet – some voices. Once in a while the sound of a car. A dog barks, like turning a crank that needs oiling, a crow answers.


I read this passage from an Iranian weblog (via Cassandra):

There was this celebration thing in North Korea, people gathering and all of a sudden everybody was pointing at the clouds. Yeah, a portrait of their great leader "Kim Il Jing Jung Bil something" could be seen in the clouds.
That really meant something to them. And of course to me.
30 years ago when Khomeini was supposed to come to Iran and take over the regime, people were excited with similar stuff.
It was rumored one night that Khomeini's face could be seen in the moon. Another day, you would find a lock of his beard when you opened your Quran, and so on... (more)

The billowing clouds, the moon, the lock of Khomeini's beard, all joined together to create an image that has stuck in my mind ever since.

We have our own wonders, of course. A couple of years ago there were statues of Lord Krishna which were said to drink milk.

Then there was the new Jain temple here in Chennai, whose walls began to exude nectar.

And one of my favourites, reported in India Today magazine (December 2002): the chappati with Jesus’ face on it:

Jesus and his Bread of Life

…Now, some Catholics in India may journey to Bangalore… for they believe that Christ’s image has miraculously appeared on… a chapati… Sheela Anthony, a devout Catholic, was making chapatis for dinner. One was partially burnt and the browned area bore a likeness to Christ’s face. She took it to the local priest… who declared it a miracle.

The God of Death's Accountant

According to an article in today's issue of The Hindu, the town of Kanchipuram, not far from Chennai, has a shrine for Chitragupta, the younger brother of Yamraj, the God of Death. Chitragupta is "the chief minister and chief accountant of Lord Yama," and this is the only shrine he has. I don't know why -- you would think that this would be a useful entity to have on one's side.

The God of Death Sells Paint

I love this TV ad, and what it implies about how a culture can relate to its gods -- almost intimately, as if they were close relatives:

Yamraj, the God of Death, is a fat, bare-chested man with a big black moustache, riding a black buffalo. He wears a gilded crown and carries a gilded mace. He rides up to a householder , and tells him that it’s time to go. Desperate, the man begs, "I’ve just had my house painted. Please wait, and take me only when the house needs re-painting." Yamraj grants this boon. He sits astride his buffalo in front of the house for years, fuming with impatience. The householder’s son grows up and marries, and comes outside for Yamraj’s blessing and a group photo. Yamraj’s wife screams on the cell-phone: "Are you coming home or not?!" Furious, Yamraj calls out, "Rain!" and it rains, but the paint is not harmed. He calls out, "Heat!" and there is strong sunlight, but the paint is not harmed. The householder’s grandchild comes out to play, calling cheerfully, "Hello, Uncle!" Yamraj in despair asks him, "What paint is this, anyway?" The child says, "Nerolac!" Yamraj shouts, "Nerolac!" and a can of paint falls into his hands. He grimaces horribly at it. Fadeout.

There's a storyboard for this ad here.