Last night we saw a Hungarian movie, Lovefilm (1970), by Istvan Szabo, who also made the terrific Meeting Venus. The main character of Lovefilm, Jancsi's, memories are mixed with the present -- sometimes there are extended scenes from his past, sometimes brief images. Some of the images are irrelevant to the story, just as memories can be random. But it's edited together so smoothly that the viewer is never confused about what's going on.

There's a beautiful scene where the main characters make love: the audio is of their love-making, but the visual is a scene of them as children, riding down a snowy hill on a sled together. The sounds and the visual are put together so well that at first you think it is the sledders who are sighing and laughing. It's a long, long slide down the hill, with the camera on their laughing faces, and it comes very slowly to a stop at the bottom.

There's a scene where Jancsi is sitting on the beach in France. He opens his eyes: the sea, and his lover, Kata, whom he is visiting. Closes his eyes: the grey buildings of J--- Street, in Budapest. There's a voice-over (which of course I read in English sub-titles), in which he says, approximately:
When I open my eyes now I see the sea, and Kata. I close my eyes, and I see J--- Street. In a few days, when I open my eyes I will see J--- Street, and when I close my eyes I will see the sea. That is what the sea and J--- Street have in common: they are both in my mind...

A Small Excitement

Ramesh and I were sitting outside in the evening, when Bahadur came to turn on the verandah lights. He said, 'There's a snake on the stones there, a small snake.' Ramesh said, 'If it's small, then grab it.' Bahadur prudently decided to call Chinnaraj instead. Soon Bahadur returned, moving briskly in his awkward way, head down. Chinnaraj followed, carrying two large sticks, while Mary stood at a safe distance to watch the excitement. Chinnaraj looked where Bahadur pointed, and stirred the grass with one of the sticks. Then he reached down and picked up a stainless steel s-hook, left behind by some workmen. He handed it to me, smirking, while Ramesh and I tried to suppress our laughter. Mary giggled out loud as Chinnaraj strode away with his two sticks. Finally even Bahadur emitted a choked chuckle, and continued on his rounds.

Ammu Opticals

Ammu Opticals, Kutcheri Road, Chennai

Two Things

From today's Google referrals:
i want to such web sites how gave me love's information in urdu language

From Metafilter: view photo galleries from PBase by country. This is the link for photos of India. There's a nice gallery of saris, which seems to have been taken here in South India.

Sanskrit Poetry and The End of the World

Two poems from Sanskrit Poetry From Vidyakara's Treasury, translated by Daniel H. H. Ingalls:
The body is but the product of semen and of blood,
which then becomes a meal for death, a dwelling place for suffering,
a tavern for disease. A man may know all this
and yet, perforce, from lack of judgment,
drowning in the sea of ignorance,
he yearns for love, for sons, for women and for land.

. . .

These rogues, the senses, seeking to please themselves,
cozen a man with hope of pleasure
to enjoy their objects of delight.
In the end, when they have gained their purpose,
they lose all interest and leave their man
in the power of fate with one more bill to pay.

My sister sent me this URL. It's very funny (takes a while to load, though): The End of the World.

Id Mubarak

The Moon of Id; half-tone print, c. 1950

From Popular Indian Art: Raja Ravi Varma and the Printed Gods of India, Oxford University Press

A Visit to an Astrologer

From my journal -- a visit to an astrologer in Calcutta:

On the way back from Dakshineshwar D said, "My astrologer lives near here. It's just five minutes away. We'll go and visit him." I said, "Will he tell me good things?" He answered, "He's a very old man, and very good, and he only says good things."

It was getting dark as he turned into a crowded area of small cement houses, with winding lanes barely wide enough for the car to pass. It was a neighbourhood for people who owned motorcycles. He parked in a cul-de-sac beside a two-story house, one room wide and perhaps two or three rooms deep. We got out of the car and D called inside, and we entered.

Panditji sat on a mat on the floor, with one knee up and one knee down. He was a skinny old man in a dirty, torn white undershirt and a torn white dhoti. On his right arm just above the elbow he wore several cords, and one chain of metal links, with charms attached to them. He wore rings with coloured stones on both hands. Several black cords hung around his neck, holding charms which were hidden beneath his undershirt. He wore thick black-framed glasses. He had big eyes in a thin face. His greying hair, through which his scalp showed, was combed straight back, and fell in thin strands halfway down his back. He sat with his head down, and occasionally glanced up from under bushy grey eyebrows.

We sat on mats. He sat beside a bed raised on bricks, under which were piles of papers, books, magazines. Next to him on the floor were steel glasses and dishes, all covered, with some drying slices of cucumber on one of the lids. Behind him were two steel cupboards set up on bricks. Under them were a number of small square paper candy boxes. I looked up from where I sat and saw the main electric switch, connecting the house to the outside lines. It was covered with cobwebs, and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. The room was lit by one neon tube light. A dirty ceiling fan was switched off. Behind me was a glass-fronted cupboard full of bulging plastic bags.

Next to the front door two glass-fronted cabinets were lit from within by electric lights. They were packed with gods. In the centre of the larger cabinet was black Kali, with her characteristic lolling tongue made of gold, and wearing gold earrings and necklace. The other gods were dusty with what looked like incense ash or vibhuti powder. In front of each god was a miniature steel plate and a tumbler the size of a large thimble. Each plate contained a fresh marigold, each tumbler was filled with water.

Coloured lithographs of deities filled every bit of available wall space. One was a calendar picture showing the head of Ramakrishna Paramahansa surrounded by a ring of Kali faces, beautiful dark blue women, smiling alluringly at him from different angles - but all with the long red tongue hanging down.

D sat beside Panditji and began talking in Bengali, explaining who we were and asking questions. Panditji pulled a book from the pile under the bed, opened it, touched a line with his finger and spoke briefly. As the darkness outside became complete, the room filled with hungry mosquitoes. We tried to wave them off, but Panditji ignored them.

It was a slow process. D asked something, Panditji gave a brief answer, there was a pause, then another question. Ramesh interjected something, at which Panditji laughed, like a cough. He asked D if I had any questions. I asked, "What sort of thing should I ask? What kind of questions do you ask?" D said, "It should be something specific." I said, "I don't know. Will I ever publish a book? How is Ramesh's health? How is my health? Are those the right kind of questions?" D said, "You can ask him directly, he knows all languages." Panditji said, in English, addressing me for the first time, "Do you want to say anything more?" I laughed, acknowledging my surprise, and he said, "Write this down." I pulled out my notebook, and he began to predict. "By September present position increase time." D translated this to mean that everything was good, and would improve after September. Ramesh's "time is running good time." He began in English, but what he had already said had pretty much exhausted him, so after awhile he switched back to Bengali and D translated for him. As D had said, he had only good things to say.

D told him a number of things about us, and advised him on his answers, which advice he took. Panditji looked at Ramesh's palm. D said, "See that cross there? Look, Venus is very strong." Panditji peered near-sightedly at Ramesh's hand and said, "Yes, it is very strong." D asked which of us would live longer, myself or Ramesh, but Panditji was discreet, and refused to answer. D said, "Will she live longer?" and he gave his coughing laugh. "Will he live longer?" A slight shake of the head, and a laugh. It was as though D were showing off the abilities of a favourite child. When I ran out Panditji said, "Any more question, Motherji?"

He pulled out one of the paper boxes, and offered us each a sweet. We declined, but D said, "I'll take it as prasad", food blessed by God, and pinched off just a bit and ate it.

Good old man, you are dead now.
May Kali, whose avid mouth
hungers for the flesh of evil-doers
be your protection.
The latest Bharatiya Blog Mela -- selected posts by Indian bloggers.
From The Hindu: The Peepul's Vinayagar: a peepul tree with root growth believed to depict the god Ganesh.


I was leafing through a cookbook at a Parsi friend's house here in Chennai, about ten years ago. It was The American Heritage Cookbook, of all things. (I looked for it at, but it seems to be out of print.) In the Drinks section I found an interesting-looking recipe for Lime-Rum Shrub, which was popular in eighteenth-century America. I made it, and found that it was really delicious - light and cool, and not very alcoholic. I've offered it a lot at parties, and someone would always ask me for the recipe.

It seemed to me that I had seen the word 'shrub' in books about British India. Before and during the American Revolution, a number of people were posted in America as well as India -- General Cornwallis, for example. I guessed that 'shrub' might have been derived from the Arabic 'sharaab,' or liquor. Today I got around to checking Hobson-Jobson, which confirmed it: Shraub. And the related Sherbet.

Another site I turned up today was a History of Alcohol in America entry on Punch, which astonished me with this:
Another universal and potent colonial drink was punch. It came to the English colonies in America from the English colonies in India... The word is from the Hindustani panch, five, referring to the five ingredients then used in the drink, namely: tea, arrack, sugar, lemons, water....(more)
This site mentions Shrub as being a punch -- though mine should be called Char, because it has only four ingredients.

Hobson-Jobson also has a long entry for Punch. (I suddenly wondered if 'to punch,' as in 'to hit,' might also be derived from paanch -- since a fist has five fingers -- but my dictionary thinks not.)

So, anyway, here's the recipe. It makes a bottle or two. It's really good, and you can keep it at room temperature in a tropical country for more than six months. It improves with age, but you can drink it immediately too, and imagine yourself at a quadrille in colonial America; or in a stifling ballroom in Calcutta, full of feverish gaiety, while punkahs languidly stir the air. For authenticity, of course, you would have to drink it at room temperature -- India began importing shiploads of ice from America only in the nineteenth century -- but it's best chilled:

Lime-Rum Shrub

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
4 cups dark rum
1 cup lime juice

Heat sugar and water together until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature. Strain all ingredients into a bottle. Keep for a week before drinking. (update: Serving size: a whiskey glass, or a punch cup.
Trains of Thought - the experience of travelling in Indian trains.

More Mahabalipuram

There are a lot of pictures of Mahabalipuram's temples and sculptures on the Net, and mine don't add anything, but here are a couple anyway. Most of the ruins are not built but carved out of the huge rocks in the area.

One of the charms of the sculptures is the animals, which look very natural -- like this lovely monkey family:

and this elephant, with baby elephants underneath, from the large rock-carving which is now called Arjuna's Penance :

Here's a vertical slice of the same carving -- you can see the elephant on the right:

This carving includes gods, such as the serpent deities in the natural vertical cleft which is said to represent the Ganges River; humans; and animals -- all the beings of the universe.

These sculptors had a sense of humour: you can see the meditating man in the upper left, echoed by a meditating cat, with mouse worshippers, beneath the elephant's tusks. (There's a close-up of the cat here.)

It's a large sculpture, and includes more animals, such as a graceful deer; and more gods, and more humans. It's stunning to look at.

One of the haunting things about this place is that it was never finished -- you see so many rocks where preliminary chisel marks were made, and where somebody put his chisel down one day and never came back.

Thirty-Two Short Films

I was going to write and show more about the wonders of Mahabalipuram, but instead I've been watching Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould. It's almost miraculous to be able to see such a film in Chennai. I do pranam to the Cinema Paradiso DVD library.

This movie reminded me somehow of John Cage's books Silence and A Year From Monday, which are also put together in separate segments. Cage would be a good subject for this kind of film -- he had so many connections with dance and art as well as music, and he was such a good storyteller. And apparently a good friend as well.

And it's actually raining, and the sky is a lovely soft grey, which is another almost-miracle. Pretty good for one afternoon.

My Vacation

(I'm going to post some more pictures later.)

I walked into Mahabalipuram through the tiny tourist area, up to the temple gate.

Many shops, restaurants, lodges, but few tourists. All peaceful and quiet, no vehicles on the lanes except for an occasional bicycle. The shops have granite carvings, and many things from elsewhere - mirror-work patchwork from Rajasthan. Clothing - cotton kurtas and drawstring pants, which only the foreigners will buy.

(We are always called 'foreigners' in English. Or, in local languages, 'white people.' There aren't many brown-skinned foreigners - I don't know how they're accounted for.) Foreigners in couples, always thin, tanned, with long hair, men and women. People who were called 'hippies' for years after they stopped calling themselves that. (The prosperous tourists come in busloads, stay overnight at a hotel just out of town, are taken around the monuments in an hour or two, and go away again.)

All the restaurants advertise fresh seafood: Windward Restaurant, Tom's Chai Temple (a tiny thatched hut), Sea Star Restaurant. Hot pancake breakfast. Live lobsters, tiger prawns.

Aside from some thatched huts with cement sit-outs, and casuarina poles for columns, I saw exactly one traditional house.

All others were concrete boxes. Perhaps this is good, a sign of prosperity - but the boxes were ugly, and looked hot. Men rolled up nylon fishing nets in the narrow lanes. Almost everyone seemed to be a fisherman, and the rest served the tourists.

Several Ayurvedic massage parlours - I hate to think what the quality would be, here! They have sprung up everywhere, spreading outward from Kerala like spores on the wind.

They're charging admission now, to see the Shore Temple. Indians, Rs. 10. Foreigners, Rs. 250! I hadn't brought any money with me, so I turned back through the same streets, then down to the beach and back to our hotel, walking on the sand. Tiny crabs scuttling up and down.

The romantic (i.e., tightly cropped) view of the beach.

What a working fisherman's beach really looks like -
with the two gopuras of the Shore Temple
in the background, to the right of the trees

The rest of the time we did nothing - gorged on pongal and sambar, and more sambar. Hoped for rain.

Hindi movie fight line (from Kaalia):
Hum tumhe fifty-fifty kar denge.

I'll make you fifty-fifty. (i.e., I'll cut you in half.)

Newspaper Stuff

I've been avoiding newspapers for the last week, but last night I sifted through them, and these articles caught my eye:

We had hoped that it would rain while we were gone, but there were only a couple of light showers. As the paper says, Chennai looks to the sky as reservoirs go dry. And here's a picture from The Hindu, November 12 -- it did not appear on its website -- of the water lorries that are filling the streets these days:

Gyan for Dummies: the latest Tamil college slang.

'Allah fish' found: a fish with markings that appear to praise Allah was found in Cuddalore district.

More elephants: Yes! I can never get enough of them. In An Elephant's Journey, the elephant Vellaiyammal sets off from Thanjavur to the month-long health camp:
A dhothi and a rose garland were put around the neck of the elephant, which was tied with a rope to the truck. Wooden poles, padded with clothes were fastened around the elephant to keep it steady, and grass and straw were supplied. Aarthis were performed after the puja in the presence of S. Kosalaraman, the Thanjavur District Collector; S. Ilango, Joint Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department and Bhabaji Rajah Bhonsle, the senior prince and hereditary trustee of the palace Devasthanam. An `ash gourd' was broken and lemons put under the wheels of the truck. The vehicle with the elephant moved out of the temple at 1.30 p.m.

In case you're wondering what an elephant actually does at health camp, here's what you need to know:
the routine would start at 5.45 a.m with the animals' designated spots being cleaned and their legs and tusks getting an oil massage. Then they would be provided with green fodder and given a bath. In the afternoon, they would be examined by a team of doctors....`ragi', `kollu', rice, mineral supplements, salt, turmeric, Ayurvedic ingredients, such as Astachoornam and Chayavanprash, were being included in the diet. Protein supplements were also being provided. The elephants would get a special medical care from veterinarians. They would be given a bath and then brought to the camp at 8 a.m for feeding and thereafter let into the wilderness for grazing. They would return to the camp at at 6 p.m.
Although most of the elephants at the camp are attached to Hindu temples, one of them, Fathima Beevi, is the elephant of a Muslim dargah in Nagore:

Back to water again: from the Guardian: Coke on trial as Indian villagers accuse plant of sucking them dry
The mighty Coca Cola corporation of America has given evidence to a small village council in southern India in an attempt to keep open a huge bottling factory which is threatened with closure following allegations that it is sucking the community dry....

The village claims that Coca Cola's biggest bottling plant in India is draining water from their wells, drying up their ponds and adversely affecting the lives of more than 2,000 families who depend on the underground water for crops...


Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram - Daniell, 1790's

In the late afternoon I walked to the Shore Temple.
Two days after the pleasure-boat capsized
shoes littered the sand
as though the sea said, "I accept this child.
And here is your receipt: one sneaker,
size three, red, dotted
with four-petaled yellow flowers."
A fisherman's wife had lit a fire in a shallow pit to protect it from the breeze. She stuck a couple of burning incense sticks above it, and carried a brass tray down to the water. She threw roses into the waves.

The fishermen along this coast believe that if their wives are faithful and perform the rituals, they will be preserved from harm. If a man is lost in a sudden storm, they blame his wife for not keeping him safe. They do not seem to blame the sea; yet they believe that it can choose to keep men or return them home. They are bound to something so big - what else can they do but try to pacify it?

Sun struck sparks off curving water. Fishermen bundled nets onto lashed grey logs.

I walked up to the temple and turned back. Once again I passed the woman making offerings. She carried her brass tray to the sea again, this time with a few jasmine flowers and a piece of coconut. I saw tiny bare footprints, and looked ahead. A small child and its mother approached a group of adults and children. They sat among catamarans pulled up on the beach, chatting idly and looking out at the ocean.
Sand humped and dimpled,
but smooth where waves wash it,
wearing white ornaments:
fish bones, hollow crabs, half-shells.
At the hotel, the sky was full of dragonflies blown in the intermittent breeze. Flash of white on a mockingbird's wing. Orange-black-white butterflies on a bank of weeds, the kind we used to make into pistols and shoot at each other when we were children. A watchman sauntered past, in khaki and a red beret. The dominant sound was of crows, who had built fat and healthy-looking nests in the casuarinas. The sea was a low lull. Even the white wave crests looked listless in the heat. We lay on blue and white striped loungers, partly covered with a blue and white striped beach towels, near the bright blue pool. The grass was closely clipped, and full of red ants.

I said to the dark clouds, "Open here, don't rain on the sea," because water was all we could think about. But the dark grey clouds kept moving serenely south and east, over the ocean that didn't need them.

The stray dogs were silent, short-haired, white with brown patches, with skinny tails that curled up over their backs. They were timid, polite. When they rolled on their backs, arching, feeling the grass tickle, they looked up with pleading eyes.

A wizened man in white shirt and white tucked-up dhoti, with a dark green headcloth, put thatch on the roof of the beachside pavilion. He added strips of coconut palm fibre in bundles, tying them, beating them with a flat stick.

The woman who swept the grass never changed her face, never looked up.

I took a walk into Mahabalipuram and saw a scurrying black pig; a miniature chicken the size of a game hen; goats sitting like gods on rough granite pedestals; a brown pig with swollen dugs and seven piglets; granite sculptors lining the road with their work: Lakshmis, elephants, Ganeshas, Buddhas; vendors selling sweet coconut water, and the tender coconut flesh afterward. I heard animal noises, chisels tapping at granite, machetes cutting coconuts.

Vegetable vendors lined the streets, their wares in small heaps on spread-out cloth. The people were short, dark, snub-nosed, with blunted features. I could imagine them carving the rock temples. But when I thought of them - of anyone - setting out on the blank sea in tiny boats toward an empty horizon - flat blue nothing - to trade with Indonesia and Burma, I could not think it possible.

In Mahabalipuram
We lie in dappled shade
amidst cawing crows, wave sound,
a sprinkler playing on the short grass.
The others drink beer and talk about evolution.
I'm stupefied in the soft heat.

A parrot perches on the water tap,
bends to coax drops from the steel mouth,
then is gone in a green flash, fleeing
a shadow - a hawk, which sails to the top
of a casuarina tree.

In the evening we sit in cane chairs
on a blue-railed verandah. Soft breeze
from the south, crickets' chirr, chat,
full moon over crinkled water.
To me, it all seems immutable,
the sea, yes, and the restless crows.


Lakshmi just came in to my study, and said that last night she and her three children were watching TV. There was something wrong with the picture, so the younger boy got up and jiggled the wire. He got a shock and fell back, still holding the wire. Landed on the older boy, who also got a shock. They both fell back on Lakshmi. Luckily, her daughter was sitting to one side, on a wooden bench. She got up, grabbed a stick, and knocked the wire away from them. If she hadn't, if she had also been caught in the current, the whole family would have died.

It rained yesterday, and the wiring in their flimsy house must have gotten soaked. Lakshmi turned off the main switch as soon as they got free, and this morning someone will come and try to fix it.

Lakshmi, a widow, is very afraid of dying and leaving her children with no one to take care of them. The oldest one started working last year, but he's just an apprentice welder, so he doesn't make much. The other two are still in school. She rubbed her shoulder, which is still aching from the shock.

I'm writing this from the Treasure House, too much of everything.

I just saw this on Wood s Lot:
Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day.
- Albert Camus
which reminds me of an Urdu couplet -- I don't know who wrote it, I just liked it and jotted it down (I may have made some mistake here -- if you know Urdu, correct me!). The word but, statue, which I translated as 'cruel one,' usually refers to the cruel beloved:
un buto~ ne daale hai vasvase ke dilo~ se khof-e-khuda gaya
voh pade hai roz qayamate~ ke khayal-e-roz-e-jazaa gaya

those cruel ones have cast me into such doubt
that I forgot to fear god
every day is such a day of judgment
that I forgot the final judgment
A note from the quaint India that is disappearing fast: from India Today (registration required)
Poisoned Legacy

It seemed a quintessential, full-colour blast of Timeless India. On Dussehra this year, more than 10,000 snake charmers from across the country gathered at the 700-year-old temple in Charkhi Dadri, Haryana, to attend the annual snake charmers' panchayat (conference). Temple bells chimed as men in flowing kurtas and multicoloured turbans and bejewelled women in vivid pinks and purples paid obeisance to their guru, Baba Gulabgir.

Masked by the festivities, however, are anger, anxiety and fear... Snake charmers have been enduring symbols of India for travellers since the days of Al Beruni, but their art is illegal in this country, according to the Wildlife Act 1972. So their very livelihood and skills-passed down 15 generations over a thousand years-face extinction...

Defiance is writ large. "This is what my forefathers practised and this is what my sons will practise," says Delhi-based Sheeshanath. But the belligerence may be futile. Most of the children seem more comfortable with plastic snakes than real one. A study by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) shows that more than 40 per cent of snake charmers have opted for alternative professions. Others make ends meet by playing their musical instruments at weddings and celebrations. But unemployment is rife among the community.

To lobby for greater concessions from the government, the panchayat took three vows: they will not skin snakes (which they claim is against their code), they will pick snakes only from farms, and they will not trap the endangered python. In return, they seek a guarantee of land and jobs for their children from the government. "The end of snake charming is much more than a loss of tradition," says Thade Shri. "It is a loss of knowledge of the ways of the forests, of medicinal plants and herbs." Indeed, traditionally, the nomadic groups of snake charmers dispensed herbal medicines from village to village...
I was just reading the New York Times review of The Bookseller of Kabul. It was hard for me even to read the review, I don't know if I could get through the book - but it looks as though I ought to. Among other things, the reviewer writes:
With a fine eye for detail, Seierstad shows how Afghan women's powerlessness is enforced in ways large and small. The journalist often wore a burqa in public (even though she detested it) in order to mingle more freely. She points out how, because a burqa offers no peripheral vision, a woman must turn her whole head to see sideways -- "another trick by the burka-inventor: a man must know what his wife is looking at."

I bought a white 'shuttlecock' burqa in Peshawar - for fun, for a costume party, to play Casper the Friendly Ghost. The headpiece was tight on my face. After a few minutes it began to give me a headache. I could hardly see even straight ahead - the netting was against my eyes, so that I couldn't ignore it. Later, when I came to Chennai, I modelled it for Ramesh. He said, "It's frightening me -- please take it off."

The Armenian Church

The Armenian Church is a small, beautiful oasis on Armenian Street in George Town, the most congested part of Chennai. From the street you see steps up, and a wall, and a door. Enter the door and you are in a garden. There is a very attractive bell tower, and the main church off to the side.

There was once a prosperous Armenian community in Chennai, but there are, I think, only two Armenians left now. (There's a larger, but still tiny, community in Calcutta.) Here's an article on Armenians in Chennai, which includes pictures of the church and the bell tower which are actually informative, unlike mine.

Here's a watercolour of Armenians in Chennai, c. 1790, from the British Library.

And an article about the church and its six bells from The Hindu, with a picture of the bell tower.

And here are my pictures:

inside the bell tower

inside the bell tower, looking up

detail of a gravestone

a very common sight in Chennai

Hidden Away

This photograph really stopped me in my tracks. It is beautiful, and yet you know that the story behind it is a terrible one. It's from the latest Asia Edition of Time magazine -- a cover article entitled Hidden Away: Stigmatized, abandoned, often locked up, Asia's mentally ill are left to inhabit a living hell.

Kids at the Edhi facility in Karachi -
some as young as seven years old -
reach out -- photo by John Stanmeyer

It's a big problem. Government institutions are under-funded. The wealthy have access to drugs and psychiatrists, but psychiatrists are few. The tendency is to try to hide mental illness within the family, for fear of being talked about by the society. And for the poor there is nothing.

My Day

In the morning I went out to buy vadai to go with breakfast idlis. In our compound, workers were unloading a bullock cart of sand, shovelling it off the flat cart with their short-handled spades. The bullock was tethered nearby - white, humped, large, quiet. They had to move it aside for the car to get by.

One of the workmen who was re-plastering part of our house left a black handprint on the white wall - the pads of the palm and fingers, tapering to white spaces in between - a skeleton hand. Like Rajasthani women who mark the walls of their huts with hand prints, it said, "A human being was here."

We were talking about how brown the bamboos were most of the year, and how they greened up after a little rain. I said, "Fortunately, most of the plants don't mind our brackish water at all." Ramesh said, "They do mind - what can they do?" and I burst out laughing.

More Elephants

I love elephant stories. The idea of a one-month Ayurvedic health camp for Tamil Nadu elephants seemed a like a nice idea; but it looks as though someone had a brainstorm without completely working out what was involved:

Preparing elephants, a jumbo task

Maduravalli, Koodal Azhagar temple elephant in Madurai,
being trained to climb steps as part of a rehearsal for transportation
to the Mudumalai sanctuary for a health camp. — Photo: S. James

MADURAI NOV.4. With hardly 12 days left for the beginning of a health camp for elephants, personnel of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department and mahouts are yet to make a headway in finding suitable vehicles to ensure their safe transportation to the Mudumalai sanctuary, about 400 km from here...

Of the five elephants, Angayarkanni and Parvathi are under the care of the Meenakshi temple. The other three belong to the Subramanyaswami temple at Tirupparankunram, the Koodal Alagar temple here and the Sundararajaperumal temple at Alagarkovil.

The Government also asked private owners of four elephants in the city to send their pachyderms to the camp. They were also conducting rehearsals, near the integrated bus stand, for the elephants to board and alight from trucks without hitch...

Even as the HR and CE personnel have been consulting experts to finalise vehicles, to be driven by experienced drivers, the mahouts, have started `training' the elephants, leading them along the steps around `prakarams' in some of the temples. The intention is to help the elephants get into the trucks without much difficulty or strain.

The `formal rehearsal' using trucks is slated for tomorrow. Veterinary doctors attending on the elephants have advised temple authorities to take all precautions right from carrying first-aid kits in vehicles. Soft bamboo sticks and sponge lining should be provided so that the elephants will not suffer jolt during the journey along hilly terrain...

The private owners have another predicament: they do not know who will bear the transportation charges, which may run to Rs.16,000 up and down. Some of them are also worried about the timing of the camp. For, during the coming month they will not be able to earn a sizable income sending their animals to shrines which do not have elephants.

Newpaper Stuff

A very interesting article about Tamil film stars' fan clubs. It says that every successful Tamil film star (male star, that is -- female stars' fan clubs are apparently rare) will have approximately 10,000 fan clubs! The article describes some of the things they actually do -- something I've wondered about. The article came about because of a recent incident when a young star, Dhanush, was mobbed and then thrown into the air by adoring fans, who unfortunately failed to catch him, so that he fell and fractured his arm.

A couple of pages further on -- in the Metro Plus section of The Hindu -- there are four recipes for vegetarian biryani.
Ecotone's group blogging assignment for November 1 is Coffee Shop as Place. (I thought I'd go down to Rayar's Cafe or some such place, have a cup of filter coffee -- South Indian coffee being the best in the world -- and write about it. But my protagonist is driving her husband's wily uncle to the airport, during which trip I introduce the city and at least one plot development. I can't stop now or he'll miss the plane, and I'll fall behind on my word count.)

It is a free country. Everybody is free to obstruct everything.
(Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, in India Today)

I loved this picture, from an article about neglected monuments in the November 11 issue of India Today (registration required) -- which is why it has a centerfold-line down the middle:

by William Emerson, it is a Grade I building. The Lockwood Kipling-crafted
fountain is now a storehouse, its river goddesses are painted over.

The more I looked at this picture, the more it seemed to say about India: 1. Little respect for history (as distinct from religious and customary beliefs) (though this particular bit of history is admittedly on the kitschy side -- the rest of the monuments in the article are more ancient and more important); 2. no space left empty; 3. order and chaos mixed in a proportion I have yet to figure out; 4. a particular beauty.

The picture caption includes a haunting and rhythmic phrase: '... its river goddesses are painted over.'

Body Shop

I liked these photographs by Ramesh Kalkur from an article in The Hindu (though I don't know whether the graininess is intentional, or is the result of newspaper-quality photo reproduction):

(From the article): RAMESH KALKUR prefers to stand with his back to the world, or so it seems at first glance, when we encounter the images of headless torsos in his recent exhibition "Body Shop", held at the Pundole Art Gallery and Gallery Chemould in Mumbai. The back is the principal subject manifested in the exhibition, which consists of three sections: a sequence of larger-than-life acrylic paintings; a painting installation; and a suite of photographs....

The Gallery Chemould's website quotes Kalkur:
An attempt at this thematic concern and technique was done in 1999 for a group show “Territory” organized by “Visthar” Bangalore. Three works were executed with the idea of treating body as territory and looking at parallel between body and tree in aspects of the grounded ness and belonging to particular social, political and cultural entity. This led to an ambitious project of documenting trees which have been used and treated for various purposes in typical Indian urban setup. Selected slides from documentation were then projected on to my body in order to arrive at final result. Technically it helped me to layer my thoughts around body as subject as well as object. Here body has been treated as site where various social and political issues can manifest itself through images of trees. The choice of rare view was to retain an anonymity of a posed subject and to achieve mannequin like form. This also brings in associations pertaining to the subject of gaze.
I had a dream last night (in Hindi you say 'I saw a dream'):
A dancer entered, hands on hips, walking in the heel-toe style of Bharatanatyam. She came to the center of the stage, saluted the unseen audience with folded hands, and began with gestures to describe a river, flowing from above her right shoulder to below her left hip. She showed the swiftly-flowing current, then the open sky above. She gestured with both hands, smiling, to the sun, and bowed to it.
Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, and my protagonist's husband, who is dead in the first scene, but will appear in flashback, is named Aditya. Aditya is one of the names of the sun, so that seemed rather cool. So I decided to open with the dream, and then move forward - as it is, I was going to open with the alarm going off, and the protagonist opening her eyes and seeing that her husband is dead...

I spent three hours writing in the morning, and produced a little over 2,000 words - right on target. Unfortunately, although I know pretty much where I'm going, I have to think up some additional scenes in the middle, so it may not go as smoothly once I've finished the cremation. And the big cyclone scene at the end will be hard work, but that's many days away. :)

Speaking of 'seeing a dream,' I'm reading the New Yorker's Movie Issue. I saw this quote by film editor Walter Murch in an article by Don DeLillo:
One of the secret engines that allow cinema to work, and have the marvellous power over us that it does, is the fact that for thousands of years we have spent eight hours every night in a 'cinematic' dream-state, and so are familiar with this version of reality.

And by the way, if a Hindu character has to die in your novel, you could do worse than to consult this handy page on Hindu Death Rituals.