Out of Station

We're going up to the hills, from whence cometh the promise of cool air and rain.

I wrote several posts about the area where I'm going last year (actually they're all part of one big file, the archives for May 2004):

Ooty I
Ooty II
Ooty III
Ooty IV

Here's a picture Ramesh took, of a skyline in Munnar -- but it's very characteristic of the Nilgiris in general, with their soft, rounded hills, topped with feathery trees:


It's been 104F in the shade for the last several days, and now is the time chosen by the Corporation (the city government) to dig up our road for, I think, laying fibre optic cables. I pity the diggers - it's all done by hand, and the men wear almost nothing, and wrap cloth around their heads in makeshift turbans, to shield them from the sun.

As is usual when they dig up the road, they broke our sewage pipe. I called the Sewage Board, and they came and patched it with some cement and said, If you give us money we'll replace the broken pipe, otherwise you'll have trouble when our patching wears off.

Then the telephone repairman came to the door and said, Because of the digging your telephone line has been cut. I said, No it hasn't, I was just using it. He said, Just try and see. And of course, the lines were all dead. He went away and then came back in one minute and said, I've repaired the lines. And of course, they were all working. So he said, Give me money for the emergency repair. (All these people are government employees and earn salaries, in case it is not evident.) I gave him Rs. 20 - couldn't help it. So he said, Five of us worked on the line. So I gave him another Rs. 30. What to do?

Because it's so hot, everyone who can is using their air conditioners, so we're having power failures. And just as I was writing that, the power went off. Luckily we have the generator, but I have to run back and forth to the kitchen to turn it on and off, and pull the heavy changeover switch. (That's whining, actually -- we're very fortunate to have it.)

Whenever I take off my watch I find that the leather strap has left a stain on my wrist, because of the sweat.

I think I was going to say something more positive than this, but I've forgotten. It's too hot to think.


He's a very worldweary creature, isn't he? Endangered and resigned to it. Gazing out from the back of a water lorry.

Waiting for the Monsoon

The moonsoon arrived late in Kerala, began to spread out over the Subcontinent, and then stalled. Sweltering Chennai waits stoically for the break in temperature it will bring. This picture is of Calcutta (only Calcutta / Kolkata policement wear white uniforms and white helmets) - from yesterday's The Hindu. It was so evocative to me of the way people in a monsoon-dependent country feel, when the rains come.

the first major downpour of the monsoon season
in Kolkata
- PTI photo

Beautiful Stuff

The art of Gail Rieke.
"Gail Rieke orchestrates some of the most sensitive collage works being done today. Their uniqueness has to do with the exquisite internal harmonies she discovers among these natural and man-made materials, and the way she balances the very specific nature of each piece with its potential for poetic meaning..." William Peterson, editor of Artspace Magazine

I especially love the travel journals, beginning with a suitcase wall, and proceeding to Seekers of Rust: travel journal in wicker suitcase, Southern Rural Japan, 2003.

I love things that are hidden away, that you have to unwrap - like glimpses of inner courtyards through doors just barely ajar. Like this work.

Tomato Rice

Some Parsi friends came home for dinner last night, bearing a big pot of tomato rice. I love this dish - with some yoghurt on the side it can be a meal in itself. In this case we also had baingain bharta (eggplant); corn with potatoes, seasoned with sambar masala; kachumbar (chopped tomatoes/ onions/ chillies) and apalam (fried dal wafers). And because it's still mango season, we finished with aam ras (mango puree seasoned with ginger powder). {sigh of happy exhaustion} … and here's the recipe, as written down by my friend:
Tomato Rice

Rice - 1 cup
Tomatoes, skinned & finely chopped - 1/2 to 3/4 kg
Onions, chopped - 4 large
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp.
Ginger-garlic, finely chopped - 1 tsp. each
Chillie powder - 1/2 tsp.
cumin seeds - 1 tsp.
turmeric powder - 1 tsp.
Green chillies, chopped fine - 2 to 3
Cloves - 4
Cardamom - 4
Cinnamon - 3 sticks
Sugar - 2 to 3 tsp
Salt to taste
Bay leaf - 2 to 3
Curry leaves - one small sprig
Coriander leaves, chopped - 1/2 cup
Mint leaves, chopped - 1/2 cup
coriander-cumin powder - 1 tsp.
Oil for frying

In a thick pan heat the oil, add mustard and cumin seeds, fry till they pop. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, chopped onions, ginger & garlic, and fry till light golden brown. Add curry leaves and green chilies. Fry for a minute or two. Add tomatoes, coriander and mint, chillie powder, haldi, sugar, coriander-cumin powder, bay leaf and salt. When all is mixed well, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook till almost dry.

Boil the rice till fluffy, drain. Add the tomato mixture a little at a time till all is absorbed in the rice. Line an ovenproof dish with butter or ghee, add rice. Let the tomato rice stand for 2 to 3 hours, reheat before eating.


There is a real estate boom going on in Chennai. People dream of selling their houses for large amounts to IT companies. And builders are buying land to make more and more expensive apartments for the enjoyers of the new wealth. Brokers have started turning up at our door, and last week a well-known builder offered us a large sum for our house. Or rather, for the land, so that he could tear the house down and put an apartment block in its place. Each apartment would cost Rs. 80 lakhs-1 crore (8-10 million); a sum which is not unusual for Mumbai, but quite a lot for Chennai.

We were tempted, mainly because the house is too big for the two of us. It's something of a white elephant: unusual and with its own beauty, but hard to maintain. We began talking about where we might like to relocate -- within Chennai? to Bangalore? Ooty? Even abroad?

But neither of us really wants to go through with it. Last night I had a dream:
A film star from the seventies - a one-film wonder named Kumar Gaurav - was exerting great pressure on me to marry him. (I think he was actually a character named Arman from a current TV serial, but in the dream it was a young KG, looking sad.) I got swept up in the potential excitement of it, and agreed, and KG put a diamond ring on my finger, and went away. Another film star, Suneil Shetty, rode by on a motorcycle and I showed him the ring. He waved and called out, "You did a good thing!" But I felt that the whole thing was a disaster - the diamond was small and not all that sparkly, and KG was already married and had a family, and maybe wasn't a good person, and now I couldn't even remember his name!!

I don't think we're going to sell our house.

part of our atrium, from upstairs - the pond is empty because we are still fighting the Invasion of the Snails

Meanwhile, the crows in the garden are having their own real estate boom: flying back and forth with twigs in their beaks, constructing awkward-looking but strong penthouses. Most of them seem to be directly above the badminton court, which is continually being covered with stray bits of construction material, along with their occupants' droppings. They, at least, have no doubt at all about what they are doing.


My poetry friend Helena Nelson has started a new venture to publish poetry chapbooks; and a magazine, Sphinx: A Magazine for Poetry People. The website is www.happenstancepress.com. I rushed over there as soon as I heard, and bought Helena's chapbook, Unsuitable Poems, and also subscribed to the first two issues of Sphinx. Support clever, talented and hardworking poets! Go there and do the same!

Here's one of my favourite poems from Unsuitable Poems, reprinted by permission from the author:

Poetry Virgin

The Onboard Customer Service Team
welcomes you to this poem.
There is a pause provided at the end of most lines
and at the end of every stanza.
We apologise for the absence of rhymes.

A quiet stanza is situated near the rear of the poem
for readers who do not like howling.
Passengers should familiarise themselves
with the safety exits
and the lay-out of the poem.

Due to problems with signalling devices
the message of the poem has been somewhat delayed.
We apologise for the delay
but recommend the scenic views from stanza four
and the excellent wordplay in the buffet.

The Customer Service Team wishes to assure travellers
that this poem is equipped with the latest enjambement
and is not a sonnet of the Petrarchan variety.
If you have any cause for discomfort,
write, please, to the Poem Mistress at Barking.

the poem is due to arrive at its destination
in approximately one
make sure you take all your belongings with you
and nothing that does not belong to you.
thank you for travelling Poetry Virgin.

Poet's Choice

I really like the Poet's Choice in the Washington Post Book Review every Sunday. The poems are currently being presented by Robert Pinsky; they are always worth reading. I'm going to post last Sunday's article here because I love the poems, and because I don't know how long they are going to stay up:
Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, June 5, 2005

A great parody is a great tribute: To be considered worth imitating and worth laughing at is a compliment. Moreover, to be truly seen and understood is close to the pinnacle for a work of art, and no critical essay can see and understand as deeply as the best parodies.

There's an additional thrill for the reader if the object being parodied has not seemed ridiculous -- until the parody wakens the sleepy perception that, yes, even a charming and indelible work may have its ridiculous aspects. Here is a fine and famous poem by William Carlos Williams (1893-1963):

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Williams's insouciance and offhand apology, his delight in his own capricious taste, and, underlying all of that, a certain male, maybe even professional, assurance -- these qualities do not diminish the poem. Still, it is bracing to notice them here and in Williams's other work. The late Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) leads us, hilariously, to take such notice. Somehow, substituting long lines for short ones, while keeping some of the rhythms, is another satisfying part of the joke:

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams


I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.

I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do and its wooden beams were so inviting.


We laughed at the hollyhocks together

and then sprayed them with lye.

Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.


I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.

The man who asked for it was shabby

and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.


Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.

Forgive me. I was clumsy, and

I wanted you here in the wards, where I am a doctor.

Sunday Morning

I had to drive out to West Mambalam early on Sunday morning.

I passed a long queue of people waiting to get into a temple on Venkatanarayan Road.

I had to go up to Panagal Park and turn left on Usman Road. On a weekday this area is chaotic, crammed: it is a major shopping area for silk saris and gold jewellry, among other things. More to the point for me, it was at one time the only place one could buy ‘exotic’ vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, leeks, parsley, lettuce, mushrooms. All these vegetables are much more widely available now, and the Panagal Park vegetable market has shrunk drastically.

I’ve been as far as Usman Road before, but this time I turned for the first time onto Madley Street, heading to West Mambalam. When I first arrived here there weren’t any decent maps – there was a feeling that maps could be useful to one’s enemies, I think. Now I swear by my Eicher street map. I plot my route carefully, and keep it on the car seat. I like the variety of names – Hindu, Muslim, English -- I assume that Madley Street is named after some former British notable.

As I emerged from the underpass beneath the railroad tracks, the streets became narrow and winding, of variable width; like the village lanes they must have been. I had a hard time finding a place wide enough to park in. I started walking back toward the main road. Inside a tiny front yard, a man with a Muslim’s white cloth cap and a bicycle was holding a pair of scales on which reposed a silver fish, which ended in a neat pink ellipse where its head had been. A man and his wife scrutinised the fish, and another which lay on a cloth on the ground, and discussed them with the fishmonger.

Suddenly a car alarm started yelping. I turned back, and it was my car. A bunch of small children had clustered around it – it was the only one on the street. They were slapping it, delighted with the sound. I turned it off with the remote, but again they began to slap, each slap resulting in a yelp. A man came out of the house in front of which I’d parked – bare chested, with a brahmin’s thread across his chest, and wearing a white veshti. I was apologetic. I said, “If the children hit the car, the alarm will go off.” He shooed them away, and I went on, hoping that they would keep away until I returned.

On the way back I wanted to stop at Mansukh, to buy the Gujarati Sunday morning specialities: jalebi and gatia - which we never eat ordinarily, it's about the last thing I want for breakfast - but I got distracted by the Cine Dancers Association building, and missed the turn.

These were the excitements of Sunday morning.

Fruits of the hot season