The Guardian has a piece on the Basant (spring) festival in Lahore.
Hindi TV ad: An unattractive young man is trying to talk to a pretty young woman. She turns away from him, but he persists. As she tries to brush him off, her hands brush her face and she realises with dismay that her skin is sticky. Voiceover:
Which is more sticky, that joker or your fairness cream? ... Use [the product]. No more stickiness, just whiteness!

'Joker' and 'fairness cream' are in English. Joker has been an insult for decades - I don't know how many. The Hindi word used for stickiness is chipchip. I like it - one of those Hindi doubled words, and it's fun to say.

There are so many fairness creams. Two main ones in the ads are both in pink tubes like toothpaste tubes. Apparently they are so much alike in results that the only way to differentiate between them is to claim that one makes you feel sticky.


I've been lazy about making bread in recent years - maybe I got over being homesick for American food. But for the last two months I have been making it regularly, because I volunteered to keep our visiting friends supplied with fresh bread. They motivated me further by bringing me two tins of SAF yeast, which is much superior to Indian yeast, after a brief side-trip to Muscat. (And a bag of cheese, too - heaven! - brie, and camembert, and chevre, and boursin, none of which is available here.) The weather is still not too hot, so I didn't sweat into the dough as I kneaded and shaped it, and heated the small electric oven.

Then, last week, a friend showed up, completely unexpectedly, to give me her only-slightly-used bread machine. It's Swiss - Koenig. The manual is in French, German and Italian. I worked out how to use it, and made a respectable loaf of oatmeal bread. While it was rising I opened the lid of the smooth, white, enigmatic machine, and was surprised at how ... alive ... the dough looked. It sprawled langourously, extending a few tentacles here and there, warm and moist. When I looked again later it had moved, like those stop-action photographs of people sleeping, always in a slightly different position. It was exciting.

On the second day I tried some white bread, but halfway through the cycle the electricity went off. This doesn't happen every day, but it happens. When the power came back, about ten minutes later, I went to look at the machine and saw only blinking zeroes in the timer window. So I took out the dough, put it in a pan, let it rise and baked it in the oven. Which was okay, but what if the power goes off after it starts baking?

The machine will mix pasta dough for me, and can be set for mixing, kneading and rising only, without baking. And I suppose an element of risk is part of life. So I'm off to try loaf number three: cornmeal bread. (A few years ago I had to buy dried corn kernels and send them to the mill to make cornmeal. I did the same for whole-wheat flour and chickpea flour. And millet and other grains, which Gujaratis use to make roti in cool weather. Now even cornmeal is often available ready-ground, probably because there are more Punjabis here than before - cornmeal roti being a Punjabi favourite.)

Let's see if the Electricity Gods will smile on me today. I'm feeling daring.


I thought I would show some small brass objects that I have - and, yes, more of my fabulous drawings! Friends are visiting from England. John told me about an objet which a friend had been using as an ashtray, the exact duplicate of which turned up in 'the Olympia catalogue.' I don't know what the Olympia catalogue is (I googled it - it apparently refers to an antiques fair in London), but it described this objet as a 'lustration vessel.' I said, "I have something that sounds like what you just described." (I don't use it as an ashtray! It's so clearly connected to religious practise.) So I showed it to him, and he said that it was, indeed, just like the Olympia piece:

You can see that it's connected with Shiva, because it has small Shiva-lingas on the rim, alternating with Nandi the bull, Shiva's vehicle and his greatest devotee. It's dark brownish-red, and very heavy. There are two small raised figures of gods on one side (I didn't draw that side): one is Ganesh, I think, so the other one might be Shiva's other son, Karthikeya. There's some incised writing around the outside, in a Tamil script that I can't read - it looks different from the modern script, but it may just be that it was difficult to incise.

This is a rice-measure, which I'm using to hold pens and scissors and a stapler and a glue stick on my desk. It also has some Tamil incised into the side, but in this case it must be the initials of the first owner: Sa Nam. I like the South Indian traditional kitchen implements very much, because of their clean simplicity. This one is decorated with a lizard, whose body is in relief - the legs are roughly incised. The lizard is interesting because it looks so fishlike -- as though some enterprising species of fish had grown legs and come inside, to scuttle around our houses.

This is a small urli, a cooking vessel that comes in many sizes. This one is quite small, about the diameter of a saucer. It holds the spare keys.

And here's a paandaan -- a compartmented container for betel leaves and condiments. This one is smaller than usual -- its footprint is about the size of my hand. It currently holds paper clips and pins.

A friend wanted to bring a so-called legal expert to meet us. She thought that he might be useful to us in some way -- he knew the courts inside and out. What she actually brought was an ancient, scrawny man in white veshti, white haired and with white stubble, who appeared unable to understand anything. Ramesh said to him politely, "Our friend tells me that you are a wizard of the law." He thought Ramesh said 'lizard' - Lizard of the Law. Yes.

At the Mechanic's Yard

We had the car washed and went out; then discovered that the horn wasn't working. You can't drive without a horn here - not when bicycles dart out at you from side roads, and motorcycles and autorickshaws veer toward you just as you are passing them, by what a friend calls capillary action. So we stopped at our mechanic's yard. We had never been there before, because he comes home to pick up the car and take it for servicing or repair.

Ramesh has known this man since he was a boy, working under his father. Now he's tall and handsome, like a film star. He has also become very fancy lately, with stylish clothes and two cell phones, one for incoming calls and one for outgoing. So we expected great things - or at least something - but the place was a kind of rusted-hulk museum. There was a small open space and a ring of stalls, each containing a car that would clearly never be driven again. One pile of rust might have been a Model T Ford - a crank projected from the grille.

While Ramesh was getting the horn fixed - it turned out that part of it had filled with water when the car was being washed - I took a couple of pictures. The brightest colour in the yard was the oil drum:

Here's a corner that I liked because of the muted colours and textures. The door on the left leads to a squat toilet. That's not our car!

Going to School

The Young World (for children) section of today's The Hindu has an article about a very attractive-looking book, Going to School in India. It caught my eye because the illustrations were so colourful: photographs, collages, and children's drawings.

(from the article:) The book... acknowledges the fact that children in little known parts of India brave a lot to be in school; the fact they walk several kilometres in fair and foul weather, pedal bicycles on mud tracks or ride a horse or mule buggy. They go on a hand rickshaw, a tractor, a camel cart. They walk along mountain paths, cross swirling rivers on a dangling rope bridge, bicycle for an hour across dry, shadeless land, glide in a boat, to reach classrooms. Many have no books or shoes. And these classrooms can be anywhere — and anything. It could be a mountain field, a desert tent or a lamp-lit temple. It could be a moving bus...

According to the article, "when you buy this book... the royalties will help create a giant, travelling puppet show for a district in Bihar where children don't go to school."

There's a good-looking website too: Going to School in India. The website provides this link for purchasing the book.

Several Things

Yesterday I drove past Domino’s Pizza and saw a banner hung right in front of it that read, ‘Parampara (‘tradition’) Austerity Centre’. What a juxtaposition!

Time to mention two more signs that I like: Rigid Hospital, in Anna Nagar. Doesn’t it sound as though it will provide you with rigor mortis? Or the kind of prosthetic implant that I will now get as a Google referral?

And of course, there’s the unbeatable, inimitable Hotel Runs (hotel in this case meaning ‘restaurant’) in Adyar.

some Google referrals:
upper lip, besan – I actually know what this means, or I think I do: – when Raj Kapoor (old-time Hindi film actor / director) first met Nargis (old-time beautiful Hindi film star), he knocked on her door and she answered. She had been in the kitchen making some fried snack, and she had a smudge of besan-based (chickpea flour) dough on her face. Much later, when Raj Kapoor made the film Bobby, he used a scene in which the hero, played by his son Rishi Kapoor, meets (the heroine) Bobby: she opens the door, wiping her upper lip with a besan-smeared hand.

(update: Jivha says, "Actually I don't think you're right about the upper lip, besan explanation, I think besan is actually smeared onto the upper lip as a 'poor person's bleach' to make the upper-lip hair blend in with the colour of the skin.")

how to filter shrikhand -- Tie yoghurt in a piece of loose-weave cloth and hang it up over the kitchen sink (catch the liquid in a pan and use it for making bread or chappati). When it’s thick, mix it with sugar to taste and rub it through a strainer. Add a little cardamom. Optional: add a couple of grains of saffron dissolved in a small amount of milk. It’s a delicious Gujarati dessert, which can be very sweet or tangy, it’s up to you. It’s good for using up yoghurt that has become sour.

slap hindi tv actress -- sigh, the usual stuff. Violence and sex. This blog doesn’t contain much of either, but they still manage to find me.

up churidar shots -- because of the usual stuff I wondered, How can you look up a churidar? It’s tight. It’s called churidar, ‘having bracelets,’ because it gathers at the ankles in many folds, (somewhat) like wearing bangles around your ankles. Then I realised that ‘up’ probably means ‘Uttar Pradesh,’ where churidar-kameez is a more common dress than it is here. Oh.

I came back from doing some errands, and Mary came out to meet me in case there were any groceries to be carried inside. I saw that she was wearing a lime on her finger – she had cut a small hole in it, and fitted it over her fingertip like a cap. Or like a pale greenish-yellow clown’s nose. I asked why, and she said the finger was infected, and lime was supposed to pull out the infection. (Later, she said that the lime hurt much worse than the infection, so she took it off. Then she asked Ramesh for some medicine, and she’s much better now.)

(update: Raj says: "Mary's infection on her finger is popularly called "Nahga Suthi" which translates to "Nail Hammer"! ....the tip of the finger swells like a hammer head...... And popular treatment is fitting it with a lime cap.")

(another update): Ramnath sez: "I didnt know the Suthi in 'Naga Suthi' meant hammer. I thought Suthi meant 'around'. And since the swelling comes around nail, I thought it was called so... This joke came in Anadha Vikatan long back: A customer asks the waiter, Why is the hole in the Vada (a snack fried in oil) so big. The waiter replies, the cook has 'naga suthi'."


I was trying to recite the last part of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach to someone at a dinner part, and stumbling over it:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
It's one of my favourites, and you would think that I could get it right by now. Not that I try to recite it that often. Then I remembered Anthony Hecht's parody, The Dover Bitch. I looked it up as soon as I got home:
So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc." ...
Go and read it, if you don't know it. Read them both together. It's wonderful stuff.

Gundu Goondu Goli

The front page of today's paper has a photograph of the aftermath of the train explosion in Iran, showing a number of bodies strewn over bare ground. Lakshmi asked me what it was about. She said something I didn't understand, but used the word gundu. I eventually understood that she wanted to know if the picture was of the aftermath of a battle - by gundu, she meant 'bullet.' This gundu is really some word! I first learned it when someone told me that she had become gundu - i.e., overweight. Then I discovered that a kind of double jasmine flower is called gundu malli - hence, I suppose, 'round jasmine.' (I have yet to look it up in the dictionary, which shows how un-scholarly I am.) And now it's a bullet as well! I'm very impressed.

And as I wrote this I remembered that in Hindi, a medicinal pill and a bullet are both goli, 'round' - so maybe gundu isn't so special...

I had thought that a bird's nest was also a gundu, but I just checked with my informant, i.e., Lakshmi, and learned that that is goondu -- long 'u'. A recurring problem of mine, confusing short and long vowels...

After I asked her, Lakshmi got interested in this question. She came back after ten minutes to tell me that a bird-cage is also goondu, which makes sense. And the huts in the slums, which are small and made, in many cases, out of woven palm-leaf mats, are also, colloquially, called goondu. Which also makes sense - perhaps in both meanings, of nest and cage.

Translations of My Postcards

the peacock means order
the fighting kangaroos mean madness
the oasis means I have struck water

positioning of the stamp - the despot's head
horizontal, or 'mounted policemen',
mean political danger

the false date means I
am not where I should be

when I speak of the weather
I mean business

a blank postcard says
I am in the wilderness

by Michael Ondaatje, from The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems.
Central clock tower gets its old face back (The New Indian Express)
CHENNAI: The tallest clock in the city has got back its old face. As part of its renovation package, Southern Railway has restored the original front dial of the 125-year-old clock atop the tower in Chennai Central railway station....

The heritage clocks, made by Gillet & Bland Steam Clock Factory Manufacturers, have 20-inch long hour hands and 41-inch-long minute hands, both of which are made out of copper plates and powder-coated. The numerals measure 12 inches each in height.

The clock runs by a system of three balancing counter weights: one for running of the clock, the second for hourly strikes and the third for striking every 15 minutes. While the first counter weight weighs 300 lbs, the other two weigh 600 lbs each. The oscillations of the pendulum are maintained by the force of these weights. The clock is manually wound twice a week.

See also No Stopping This Clock (The Hindu), from which this picture was taken.
Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie writes in the Guardian about her recent visit to India (Bombay and Chennai): Stranger in a familiar land
While the governments of Pakistan and India are struggling to resolve their differences, the people of the two countries have more in common than they might imagine...

How We Work Out

The pneumatic gent in this picture is wearing the head of Vinod Khanna, a Hindi film star whose heyday was the 1970's. (I don't think Vinod Khanna's body ever really looked like this.) I wondered why a Tamil gym would use the face of a Hindi star; then I realised that at the time this gym was probably opened, the Tamil stars were far from muscular -- most were actually pudgy. Things are different today, but still, the Southern film industry has more tolerance than the Northern one for a range of body types and faces.

(update: Sennoma informs me that the body under Vinod Khanna's face actually belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and I didn't think it looked human!)

Just around the corner from this old-fashioned gym is one of the new variety:

Quite a few glitzy new gyms have sprung up lately, geared for the young and prosperous.

I like to imagine the men of Anand Gym (I'm sure there are no women there), lifting heavy barbells or swinging Indian clubs in a hot room, striving earnestly for that puffed-up look, oblivious to the siren-call of air-conditioning, and exercise machines, and aerobics, and juice bars. Though they probably can't afford any of that.

Adyar Day

February 17 is observed as Adyar Day by the Theosophical Society, whose world headquarters are here in Chennai (in the suburb of Adyar, in fact, though why they named the day after the suburb I don't know). According to a (non-scholarly, i.e. subject to error; i.e., I'm too lazy to do any research on the subject right now) diary entry I made when I was studying dance here, Adyar Day
commemorates a day when Colonel Olcott [one of the founders of the Society, along with Madame Blavatsky] was dying, and was trying to choose a successor to head the Society. Several rishis [immortal sages] materialized in the room, were seen by others as well, and told Col. Olcott to nominate Annie Besant.

 Col. Olcott

It is also Bishop Leadbeater's birthday. Once, when Leadbeater was sitting near Mme. Blavatsky, a letter from rishis in the Himalayas suddenly materialised. The letter said that he should go to India to work with the Theosophical Society. He did go, and was granted jnana-drsti -- second sight. He could magnetise jewels to make rakshas [raksha = protection; so, jewels which protect their wearers], and could see nature spirits building the leaves of the trees.
Bishop Leadbeater

Read The Early History of the Theosophical Society, from which I have taken these pictures.

From My Commonplace Book

After leaving Chengtu I frequently put up in temples, which were much cleaner than the inns. If the priest made unpleasant noises with drums, bells, etc., he was always willing to put off his service when he saw that it disturbed me.

-- F. M. Bailey, ?Mission to Tashkent

I've always loved travel books. And now I'm reading a blog which, though completely without the superior attitude shown above, is equally full of daring exploits: If you haven't discovered it, you should. Its author (pf) has been roaming around Central Asia, and has just reached Istanbul. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Kamila Shamsie and Reetika Vazirani

There's an interview with Kamila Shamsie in today's Hindu. She's the Pakistani author of the excellent novel, Kartography. And she's here in Chennai (or was when the interview took place) as a writer-in-residence at Stella Maris College.

This is one more of those happy signs of better relations between India and Pakistan.

The Washington Post has an article remembering the Indian-American poet Reetika Vazirani. (via Kitabkhana)

(update: George points out that the author of the Vazirani article held an online follow-up discussion.)

Valentine's Day

I've decided draw something every day. My work is awkward, but I feel pleased with it nonetheless. So I drew the dishes after tea was over:

The spots on the plate are meant to be toast crumbs; Ramesh drew the motif on the cream pitcher, because he said it looked too blank without it. I wanted to add the edge of the table and a bit of the Persian carpet beyond, but I know my limitations.

Hijras Again

The National Geographic channel had a program on hijras - the Subcontinent's transvestite-eunuchs. The group the program focussed on lived in Bombay, but were originally from Tamil Nadu. They were shown going from shop to shop, demanding money from the shopkeepers. Each time they entered a shop, they would clap their hands: clap-clap, pause. Clap-clap, pause. One of the hijras said, "No one had to teach me to clap this way, I was born knowing this."

Afterwards I said to Ramesh, "She sounded as though there were something very difficult or special about the way she clapped." He said that even when he was a child in Calcutta, that way of clapping was associated with hijras. If one boy wanted to taunt another, all he had to do was clap-clap, pause, and the message was clear: "You are nothing but a hijra." Or if two boys got into a fight, one might clap, meaning, "Don't think you can fight me, you're just a hijra."

The program also had a segment about the hijras' annual festival, at a small village in the South, where thousands of hijras come from all over the country. The figure of a god is created, and the hijras marry him. Then he is killed, and the hijras become widows. You see them crying, and breaking their bangles as widows do. The commentator said that this ceremony symbolised the condition of hijras today. Once they were feared, and it was believed that they had the power to bless or curse. Now they have lost their traditional place in society, and are despised, not much more than beggars.
A beautiful poem at Savoradin: Valentine's Day Green Poet's Lament

Uses For Wood

Ba, burning: wood was scarce,
so we bought a few logs for the top of the pyre.
The rest was cow dung mixed with straw.
We held the torch together, like cutting
a wedding cake. The scent rose up,
of burning wood, dung, ghee;
and after awhile, the smell of meat.

We waited nearby,
passing the time with tears
and gossip. Friends walked up to her
to see how things were going: "It won't take long,
nothing left but the torso."

I breathed her ashes, carried her in my lungs --
closer than in life --
exhaled her back into her house.
I stood by the window, drinking cool water. Outside

crows dropped twigs, clumsy with sticks too long for them.
They flew to high branches in stages, zig-zagging
from one platform to the next, making the untidy heaps
that protect their eggs from the strongest wind.

(This is one of a series of poems I wrote after my mother-in-law died. I'd posted one here earlier: Journeying)

Water Again

I'd meant to post this last week -- it's from the Indian Express of February 6. Every year during the Thaipoosam Festival at the Kapaleeswarar Temple here in Chennai, a special float is built, and an image of Shiva boats around the temple tank (artificial pond). This year, for the first time ever, the tank was dry, and there was other water available to fill the tank temporarily (which was occasionally done in the past). So a pavilion for the god was built on the dry tank bed. A temple official said, "We do not want to take the idol into the dried up tank. But, we are doing so in the hope that this act would help bring rains."

You can see the big rectangular tank, with a small permanent 'island' in the centre, and the temple tower rising in the background:

The grounded Thiruvizha float at the Kapaleeswarar Temple tank
- Express photo

And the summer hasn't even really started yet.

Several Things

This article from the Guardian was mind-boggling:
The bill for nuptials of tycoon's sons: a cool £50m

... In one of India's poorest states, Uttar Pradesh, a six-day celebration estimated to cost more than £50m, started this week for the nuptials of two sons of one of India's wealthiest men....

The 11,000 guests of the Indian businessman Subrata Roy, founder of the airline-to-banking conglomerate Sahara, include the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, the cream of Bollywood and a few fellow billionaires.

Such is the guest list that Bollywood has postponed filming until the stars, such as Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, return from the wedding....

To ferry guests, Mr Roy chartered 27 of his company jets whose seats were strewn with orchids and carnations. In-flight entertainment consisted of games where the prizes were bundles of gold coins...

The garish festivities are set in one of the world's most penurious places. About 8% of the world's poor, some 60m people, live in Uttar Pradesh. Its health and literacy levels rank with the most poverty-stricken African countries....(more)

Mysterium is more than usually beautiful lately. One recent terrific link is to Shadi Ghadirian, an Iranian photographer.

A post, with pictures, about painted autorickshaws in Bangalore at Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid. I love this kind of thing.

Mahabalipuram Again

We went to Mahabalipuram on Monday, and came back on Tuesday. Here's the view from our balcony -- the Shore Temple is in the upper right hand corner:

I took a walk on the beach and found a strange sea-creature: it looked something like one of those woven plastic scrubbers for washing dishes -- roundish and flattened -- but hard, and with very sharp, short spikes all over it. At one end of this hard shell were two eye-holes, and behind that two more holes, for gills, or perhaps for fins to propel it? It had a short, rounded beak like a bird. Instantly anthropomorphising even this strange object, I decided that the beak was smiling, and imagined the small creature flying merrily under the sea.

However, it was now very dead, and stinking. I was afraid to touch it at first, thinking that its spikes might be poisonous. But they weren't, and I eventually picked up a piece of twine from the beach detritus, and tied it up and carried it back. Now it is lying sealed in a plastic bag in case Ramesh decides to photograph it. (I tried to, but my camera is too basic to have a close-up lens.)

One of the friends we had come with told me that just before sunrise she had found a high-heeled shoe encrusted with shells. That sounded glamorous -- Dadaist, or surrealist, or one of those things. Good thing I didn't see it, since I could imagine it so beautifully.

I went hunting for my sea-creature, and I think that it might have been a Cyclichthys orbicularis (Birdbeak burrfish). Here is a great close-up of what its face might have looked like, and here's a full-length photo. I still haven't been able to classify the high-heeled shoe.


I got an amusing Google referral: "Birbal" Akbar employee website

Birbal was one of the Nine Jewels of Emperor Akbar's court -- one of nine masters in their various fields whom he kept near him (another was the musician Tansen, whom I posted about earlier). The thought of Birbal as Akbar's employee made me laugh. The searcher must have been looking for stories about Birbal and the emperor -- they are many, and humorous, so perhaps it was appropriate for me to laugh. Anyway, here is a sampler of some Birbal stories. Try them!

Shishu Samsaar - 45 stories
India Parenting - 14 stories
Sample stories - 4 stories
Humor@glamsham - 2 stories
Dimdima - 1 story

A Dinner Conversation

It was one of those peculiar conversations at dinner. I can't sort it out precisely, but these were some of the components:

A newspaper article, last year, about an elderly couple in Calcutta. They were in good health and had enough money, but they knew that these things could change, and they believed that they could not live without each other. So they jumped into the Hooghly River. The wife couldn't swim, and drowned almost immediately; the husband somehow stayed alive, managing to swim across that wide river, full of treacherous currents. And was arrested for complicity in his wife's death. Their children marvelled: they were a very devoted couple, but why would they take such a step when they were still healthy and comfortable?

A story by Somerset Maugham, in which a man decides to live it up in Capri until his money runs out, and then kill himself. It does, but he can't. He ends up living in his former house-keeper's pigsty.

A quotation, without attribution, from my commonplace book: ".. a report in which the London police point out that, though people with material troubles seem to sink like stones in the Thames, the fingers of suicidal lovers are invariably lacerated from trying to cling to the pilings of the bridges."

"L'Inconnue de la Seine": At the turn of the previous century, people in England and France kept her death-mask in their parlors - a beautiful young woman who was fished out of the Seine. Because nothing was known about her, she was assumed, like Ophelia, to have drowned herself for love.

In I. Allan Sealy's Everest Hotel a character dies. A death-mask is made out of wax. The burning wax revives him, and the mask cracks in two. He hangs it on the wall, as a trophy of what he calls The Coming Forth by Night.

I read Everest Hotel while we were staying at the Taj Bengal Hotel in Calcutta. For the first time in my life, I decided to have a facial. The woman who administered it spread a thick layer of something on my face which heated up and began to set, like plaster. I couldn't breathe, and had to cough, and the thing split. I thought, 'What kind of synchronicity is this? The Coming Forth Like an Idiot.'

And so on.

In the morning I searched for L'Inconnue de la Seine, and found her death-mask:

Most of what was written about her was in French and German, which I can't read; but there was a strange piece here (part of a strange larger site). According to it she did not remain inconnue; and she was not a suicide, but a murder victim. But we can believe whatever we want, can't we?
I was looking for a picture of The Far Pavilions, and stumbled on this extremely weird page -- apparently for people who make covers for romance novels?

Reconciling Poser With Vue Backgrounds Through Postwork in Your Paint Program
(Or How to Make it Look "Real")

M. M. Kaye

I thought I would write something about M. M. Kaye, who just died at the age of 95. (Obituaries from The Washington Post and The New York Times.) I loved The Far Pavilions, even though I knew it was mostly rubbish -- exotic romance, and never mind about accuracy. Still, I could hardly put it down, from the first page to the last. I tried some of her other books, but they just weren't the same.

The move was awful -- Amy Irving with racoon eyes. Ugh! About as bad as Alec Guinness as Prof. Godbole in Passage to India.

But then I found that Kitab-khana had already done it better, by quoting from Allan Sealy's novel Trotter-Nama,
How the Raj is done:
I wish to shew how the Raj is done. This is the play of children, good adept, rest easy. You must have the following ingredients. (It matters little if one or another be wanting, nor is the order of essence. Introduce them as you please, and as often.) Let the pot boil of its own. An elephant, a polo club, a snake, a length of rope, a rajah or a pearl of price... (more)

Kaki's Kachori

When I started this blog, it was my plan to write regularly about food. I haven't really done it, so today I want to present the delicious dish we had for tea a couple of days ago. Ramesh's Kaki (father's brother's wife) came to visit several years ago, and taught me this family recipe. It's a class of food Gujaratis call farsaan -- a savoury snack which can be eaten alone, but is usually included as part of a meal. The traditional Gujarati meal includes dal, several vegetables, pickles and/or chutnies, rice, roti, a sweet dish and a farsaan, all served together on a big round plate called a taali.

This dish requires a little planning, but it doesn't really take a long time to prepare, and it's so good:

Alu-Mattar Kachori (Potato and Pea Patties)

1. Make a paste of green chillies and fresh ginger in about 4 to 1 proportion; add a little lemon juice and salt to preserve it. (This paste is used in many Gujarati dishes. It can keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. I sometimes freeze it in ice-cube trays.)

2. Take 2 cups of raw peas, grind in a food processor into coarse bits - about three pulses. Add salt, and a pinch of baking soda to preserve the green colour. Fry the peas in oil on medium heat, stirring, until slightly soft. Allow to cool. Chop about 1 cup of green coriander (cilantro). Add to the peas. Add 1/3 cup grated fresh coconut. Add the ginger-chillie paste, lemon juice and salt to taste.

3. Take about seven medium potatoes, boil and mash. Soak three slices of bread in water, squeeze, add to the potatoes. Add salt, ginger-chillie paste, lemon juice to taste.

4. To prepare: In the cupped palm of your hand, make a hollowed cup about the size of half a lemon with the potato mixture. Into the hollow put a fingertip of cooking oil. Then add some of the pea mixture. Bring potato up to close the cup. You will have a sphere about the size of a small lemon. Roll the ball in a little cornflour. Fry in deep fat. (We have modified this recipe: we flatten the ball into a patty, then fry it in shallow oil, to brown it lightly on both sides.)

NOTE: Kaki says to use potatoes with eyes, because they are firmer. If you have any leftover filling, you can use it to stuff parathas.

Another Language Story

I told a little language-learning story yesterday. Here's another one, that didn't happen to me directly. In the Urdu alphabet, the short vowels are not written. So, if you read chaat you will see an 'a'; but the letters 'cht' could be pronounced chat, chit or chut. Chat means 'roof,' but chut is a part of the female body. Once a friend of mine who was an Urdu teacher told me that in the school where he taught foreigners, one of the early reading tests always included the sentence, "When it is hot, I sleep on the roof." Invariably, some poor sucker would read, "When it is hot, I sleep on the (female body part)," and all the teachers would snicker like little boys. I guess it shows that embarrassment is an excellent way to imprint something in one's memory.

Tiffin in Madurai

This is my contribution to the Ecotone group blogging topic, Food and Place. (It's a great topic -- why not go there and add a contribution of your own?)

I was in college. I had come to Madurai, in the heart of Tamil Nadu, during a summer vacation. I was studying Tamil privately for two months. I didn’t have much money, so I stayed in a very cheap hotel near the Meenakshi temple, called Alankar Lodge. You could open your door and shout down the hall for one of the thambis (‘little brothers’) – small boys whom the hotel employed - and they would run out to the street and bring back coffee or Fanta or biscuits for you. Several other American students were also staying there, along with Indian travellers.

Everything that I saw or tasted or heard or smelled was absolutely new to me. I was excited, frightened, enchanted. Some days I couldn’t eat at all, I was so full of all these feelings. But I did discover a little hole-in-the-wall nearby. A blackboard was propped outside the door, with the day’s offerings chalked in Tamil. Just inside the door a man stood behind a small counter with a compartmented cash box, which he would padlock at the end of the day. There were a few dinky tables. There was a door leading to a tiny kitchen, from which emerged conversation and clattering. The walls were grimy with smoke; or perhaps it was just grime. A man with a big belly, wearing a dhoti tucked up to knee level, would saunter around to ask what you wanted. In a very short time he would bang down a metal plate with your food on it; and afterwards, a smaller plate with a paper chit, with the amount due written by hand.

At that time, my favourite food was upma, probably because I wasn't yet able to eat spicy food. It is a bland concoction, like cream of wheat with some onions and green chillies added. I would order upma and coffee, served very sweet, milky and strong, in a little steel tumbler which was set in a smaller steel cup. The coffee was made frothy by pouring it from one container to another, with as much air in between as possible. I liked to eat my upma with butter melting into it. The butter arrived in a dollop on a square of banana leaf. It was white butter, un-dyed, unsalted, and usually slightly rancid. It had to be ordered separately.

So I came to this place for the first time, after reading on the chalkboard outside that upma was being served. I sat down, and the man with the big belly came over to me, and I summoned up my Tamil and said, “Please give me upma with vennir” -- upma with butter. That man looked at me expressionlessly, and then said, “Vennai butter, vennir hot water.” My face turned much redder than it does these days, and I said, “Yes, please give me butter.” He went off to tell the story in the kitchen, and I ate my buttered upma and drank my coffee.

It was delicious upma, and one of the best language lessons I ever had. I’ll never forget the difference between vennir and vennai, or his deadpan expression and croaking voice; and I smile whenever I look at upma.

Ramesh Gandhi

I've been working on a website for my husband: Ramesh Gandhi. I had made him a weblog earlier, thinking that if I began putting some of his work on it, he would take interest and begin updating it. But it didn't happen, so we decided that a more formal website would be the best thing.

The website has colour photographs, black and white photographs, poems and prose. (And, of course, about.)

I haven't finished it, but yesterday I added a series of colour photographs that I love, of the bamboo chik blinds that used to hang on our verandah. The series begins with the perfect, pristine form

and ends with complete disintegration.

Do take a look.


I recently bought two mosquito bats, one for each of us. They're completely unsafe, I'm sure they would be banned in America: they run on batteries, and have fine wires which are electrified when you push a button on the side of the handle. If a mosquito blunders into one, it sizzles and makes a sparkle of flame; if you touch the wires yourself by mistake, you get a shock.

We are entertained by our bats. We sit on the lawn in the evening after badminton, waving them around and uttering cries of vicious delight whenever we make contact. When the mosquitoes swarm it's quite pretty, a tiny fireworks display in the darkness.

Wit and Humour

I was rummaging through my bookshelves yesterday, and discovered that I am the owner of Wit and Humour in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council, 1921-1971: Volume I. I don't remember when I bought it, but I know that I wouldn't have been able to resist such a title. I like that optimistic 'Volume I.' I believe that the current Opposition Leader / former Chief Minister is considered to be quite witty, so there may in fact be many subsequent volumes. (The Legislative Council, which was an upper house, was abolished in ... the nineteen-eighties?, so the state now has a Legislative Assembly.)

I thought I would present a couple of what my father called gems of purest ray serene:

The question of relevancy was raised on 15th March 1922 by the Member of the Governor's Executive Council in charge of Revenue, when a Member (Rao Bahadur K. Gopalakrishnayya) referred to a provision in the Madras Proprietary Estates Village Service Act, 1894, and the Hereditary Village Officers Act, 1895, which enabled the Government to dismiss any village officer for certain reasons mentioned therein. The President then observed--
So far as I am able to gather, the idea is that the Officer to whom good milk is not supplied may use this particular clause against the delinquent Village Officer (Loud laughter). I have nothing to do with the reasonableness of the argument, but I have only to do with its relevancy. I gather from what the hon. Member has said that the District Officers may use this weapon oppressively against village officers who do not make adequate supplies. Is not that the hon. Member's point?"

Rao Bahadur K. Gopalakrishnayya: "Yes Sir, it is exactly so."

Mr. President: "Then I suppose it is relevant." (Laughter).

"Long period of incubation":

(1922) Thiru C. Ramalinga Reddi complained of delay in introduction of the Religious Endowment Bill, promised by the Government more than a year earlier, and said:

"I understand that a Committee has been sitting. In fact, committees are sitting everywhere and on everything, and this particular thing has been under incubation so long that people are beginning to wonder what has happened to the egg. (Laughter)."

"Employer Providing Pre-Natal Confinement":

The expression "employer provides pre-natal confinement" in a clause of a Bill provided the occasion for humour during the discussion on the Madras Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 1958 on 8th March 1958. The grammatical error was fished out in the following discussion:--

"Sri K. Balasubramanya Ayyar: New section 8-A under clause 10 states--"A lump sum of ten rupees shall be paid as medical bonus by the employer to every woman worker, who receives maternity benefit, except in cases where such employer provides pre-natal confinement and post-natal care, free of charge."

I suppose the hon. Member Mr. Krishnaswamy Ayyangar has looked into this clause. (Laughter) It should be "provides for pre-natal confinement."

The Hon. Sri R. Venkataraman: We will call in the assistance of schoolmasters to decide which is the correct expression. (Laughter).

Sri I. Balasubramanya Ayyar: 'Provides pre-natal care' is all right.

Sri T. P. Srinivasavaradan: They say 'provide mid-day meals'.

Sri K. Balasubramanya Ayyar: You can provide mid-day meals, Confinement, you cannot provide. (Laughter) That is the difficulty. (Loud laughter)".


...And the music died
Yesteryear actress Suraiya, who passed away on Saturday, was the reigning queen of Hindi cinema when actors-singers held court.

A contemporary of Noorjehan, the Lahore-born Suraiya was spotted by music composer Naushad. Although she began as a child artiste in Taj Mahal (1941), it was her songs in Sharda (1942) that caught attention. She went on to make her debut as an actor-singer with Hamari Baat (1943)...

At the height of her success, crowds at the premiere of Badi Bahen went berserk, forcing police to lathicharge. The actress reportedly stopped attending premiere shows after the incident. Her fans would also regularly disrupt traffic outside her apartment, Krishna Mahal...

After a series of hits, spanning the 1940 to the early 50s, her career went into a decline. She made a short-lived comeback with Sohrab Modi’s Mirza Ghalib where she played Ghalib’s lover....

Ironically, except for actor Dharmendra, Suraiya’s last rites were not attended by any member of the film fraternity. Family and friends brought her body to the Chandanwadi burial grounds at Marine Lines in Mumbai.

Dev Anand remembers Suraiya