There's an unbelievable op-ed piece in the NYT today: Pakistan's Collapse Our Problem. It seems to me to be delusional in the extreme. I can't imagine any scenario in which Pakistani authorities, military or civilian, would allow an American force to come in and 'protect' their nuclear facilities, and hold their country together for them. (I especially love the idea that American forces should carry Pakistani nuclear materials to New Mexico, and keep them safe for Pakistan there! Even the authors of the piece concede that it's not likely that Pakistan would agree to this.)

I'm just wondering -- if the New York Times is hosting such a piece, by people from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, does it mean that many others are also thinking along the same lines? What do you think?

p.s.: And don't miss this, also from the NYT: U.S. Hopes to Arm Pakistani Tribes Against Al Qaeda
I just learned from Blogocentricity that Sawariya (a new Hindi movie, which has had poorish reviews) means 'Are you dying?' in colloquial Tamil. ('saavu' = corpse 'death') My first chortle of the morning.

(Oh -- just realised that 'saavu' is the same as Sanskrit 'shava'. Hmm.)


Hindi is riddled with pair-words (there's probably a more technical word for them). I learned a new one last night, because there's an old Hindi move by the same name: qaida-qanoon -- rules and regulations. 'Rules and regulations' being, of course, an English example of the same phenomenon.

Early on, I would always get thrown by this pair: thoda-bahut ('a little-a lot').

Me: Do you know about x?
Hindi speaker: Thoda-bahut.
Me (thinking): Well, which is it, a little, or a lot?

In fact it means, quite a bit ('a lot-a little').

For a while I thought that when you hear a pair-word you should focus on the second word of the pair, as in thoda-bahut. But then you have ajeeb-o-ghareeb ('strange and poor') which translates as simply 'peculiar'. The pair, as far as I know, exists only to make the rhyme.

Another one I've always liked is mota-taaza ('fat-fresh'), which correlates to 'hale and hearty.'

Fat used to equal healthy, because it meant that one had enough to eat. Twenty years ago, if someone said to me, "You're looking healthy," I was pleased, but then I realised that they meant, "You've put on some weight." (And if I had lost weight they would say, "What happened? You've gone down.") That's no longer the case, as western standards have crept in, and gyms and diet clinics have sprung up all around. For the prosperous, yes. The poor are not overweight and under-muscled.

I'm rambling.

My Office

Because I like getting glimpses of other people’s work spaces, I thought I’d show you my office. (I don't know why I call it that -- because it has a desk in it? Is there a better word? 'Study' sounds pretentious, and I do actually do some work here...) It’s only 8’ x 12’, it’s the most crowded room in the house (the rest of the house is NOT full of knick-knacks, in spite of what you see here), but it suits me well. Here goes:

The west wall. The flowers are ginger -- I had brought them in to draw them. They're almost dead, but I like them that way, spotted with black and curling up.

A worktable and shelves on top of two small filing cabinets. Books that I've bound. Art supplies. Stuff.

The north wall -- there are doors to the left and right of this picture. The glass bricks look black, but they're not -- they let in a pleasant diffused light. I tidied up the sketchbooks before taking the photograph :).

Part of the east wall (I'm not showing ANYBODY a built in cabinet to the left of the picture, crammed with files and papers to be filed). My desk, an old one, made of sheesham wood, and a little chest for paper and the printer and scanner, made of what is called 'country wood' -- i.e., too insignificant to be named.

The window, on the south wall, to the right of my desk. It's a grey day - in fact it's raining now. Not an ideal one for taking photographs, so there's flash burn everywhere.

So that's it.


I just love this paragraph, from The Sleep-Industrial Complex, in the NYT magazine:
All good nights of sleep are alike. Each miserable night of sleep is miserable in its own way. You either close your eyes and, many hours later, open them, or you endure an idiosyncratic epic of waiting, trying, failing, irritation, self-sabotage and despair, then stand up at sunrise racked with war stories you don’t have the energy to tell.

Purity Indian Barley

These tins of barley have been mouldering in the back of a cupboard for untold eons -- perhaps my late mother-in-law had intended to prepare barley water -- but Fate Intervened.

That mother looks to me as if she's just about to give her child a good shaking.


I haven't posted this before - I thought it might be too sugary. Nonetheless...

Orange berries, bittersweet
on a leaf plate, with white pebble cakes.
She pours carefully
from an invisible pot, raises her invisible cup,
fingers crooked delicately, sips,
puts a berry to her lips, smiling a party smile,
saying num num num, whistles
on a blade of grass for music.
Some more tea? Isn't it delicious?

Her father's shaving. He makes a foamy beard,
draws the razor in a lawnmower swath
to smooth skin.
"Shave me too, please!"
He removes the razor's two-sided blade,
squirts her face with shaving cream,
shows her her beard in the mirror.
She stands very still
while he shaves off the foam.
She wants to have a moustache
when she grows up.

Jump, jump, two at a time.
The lower flight stairs are even-numbered.
The second flight, you skip a step,
then jump, jump, jump again.
The second flight has walls to close you in,
it's always dim. Run!
Reach the top before the tv warms up,
or else.

In Mommy's book of paintings
a naked lady is tied to a tree,
and a knight in armour rides up to save her.
She picks up Gwendolyn, the biggest doll,
takes off her clothes and props her against a chair leg.
She knows it's nasty, but she doesn't know why.

A secret clubhouse in the attic cubbyhole,
with a toy piano, and lots of things.
Two children sit, murmuring stories.
The door shuts and click, it's locked.
They shout and shout, and start to cry,
knowing they'll die before anyone finds them.
Then Mommy opens the door
and admits them into light.


Twitter's charms have not been evident to me -- but today I read in Via Negativa '"I’m taking advantage of Twitter’s strict, 140-character limit, challenging myself once a day to answer the question, “What can I see or hear from my front porch while I drink my morning coffee?”' -- Morning Porch

That sounded interesting, then, on going there I found another twitterer whose writing I admire, sbpoet. There must be more.

So I went and got an account: nancygandhi (I could have done better than that?). I'm not sure about it: I mean, I'm treating this blog shabbily enough; will I be able to stick with regular 140 character utterances? I'll see. Maybe I can get rid of some of those unfinished poem-fragments I have lying around, at least.

New Year

The day after Divali is Gujarati (and some other people's -- but not Tamils') New Years Day, according to the Vikram calendar.

The weather is as good as it ever gets here: the temperature in the low 80s, with a steady breeze because it's the monsoon season. Our raggedy garden is looking its best. If you direct your eyes only at certain angles, it's still possible to ignore the new buildings coming up all around us, and to forget the nightly rumble and crash of trucks carrying supplies to, and dirt away from, the construction sites.


Yesterday was the south Indian festival of Deepavali; today is the north Indian festival of Divali -- but it's all one: lights, fireworks, giving boxes of sweets and nuts, wearing new clothes, visits with friends and family. We don't really celebrate any festival, but we still wrap up a few boxes of nuts (called 'dry fruit' here) and other nice things to give; and receive a few boxes of sweets and other nice things. I lit one big candle, instead of setting out hundreds of tiny oil lamps.

The fireworks yesterday were properly deafening (though some dastardly person began at 5:45 in the morning, for which I curse him as noisily as possible). I expect they will be deafening again tonight. You can buy firecracker chains of 10,000 crackers -- you unroll them down the length of the street, and they seem to go on exploding forever. I have been told that chains of 100,000 crackers are available too, but fortunately we've missed out on them so far. Big bangs and flowers of light rise above the popping crackers.

I just ate TWO sweets (Mysore paak, a weakness of mine), and am feeling slightly sugar-sick, with an aftertaste of roasted gram flour and ghee.

So, Happy Deepavali / Divali! On to the next station in the festival season, which will only end with Pongal in mid-January.


I sent this poem out -- I had written it some years back, and forgotten about it until recently -- and got it back with a constructive note, saying that the ending was too familiar. I agree, actually -- I have this tendency to romanticize, and it was easy, I guess ....

But the interesting thing for me is that the final word of the poem: green, was pretty much just a word when I wrote it. And now it is staggering under the burden of so many meanings, implications, hopes, fears.... I see language changing all the time, but I don't often pay much attention to it.

I might try to look at this again sometime, but meanwhile, here it is:

Brown as late Autumn,
jointed with leaf-fragments,
your face a horned mask,
you pretend to be old wood.

Did a male mount you?
Did you graze on his head
as he impregnated you with twigs?

You will give birth
to copper stickpins.

When your life dries up
and you sink into earth

you will bring forth green.

Hold On

The Sunday Washington Post reviewed Shashi Tharoor's new book, The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India, the Emerging 21st-Century Power.

It's a very positive review, but suggests that
The reader would do well to start at the end, which is where the extremely funny introductory "A to Z of Being Indian" has inexplicably been placed, then dip through the beguiling biographies in Part Three, before going on to the reflective cultural essays in Parts Two and Four, and ending up with the political and economic material in Parts One and Five. Anyone familiar with the house numbering system in Delhi will find this system not only logical but apt.

I was reading this review to R, and when I reached the end, we both burst out laughing:
... it is a chaotic, joyous, occasionally exhausting and often uplifting collage. As such, it could hardly be a more fitting reflection of its subject. If Tharoor's India really is the future, the rest of us had better hold on tight.

Martial Law

I usually go to The Daily Times, a liberal Pakistani newspaper, when I want to know more about what's going on there. Today there's an analysis by editor Najam Sethi which should interest people who are interested in the region.

(I'm giving the link but also copying the text - in case the site comes down; private TV channels were blocked yesterday, and curbs have been placed on news media -- here's the list of resrictions):
News analysis: Where do we go from here?

By Najam Sethi

Several points are interesting and significant about last night’s political rupture.

1: We have a state of martial law, whatever the government may say and however long it may last. The Proclamation of Emergency (PE) and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) have been signed by the “Chief of Army Staff”, General Pervez Musharraf, and not by “President” Musharraf or Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. In fact, a PCO is an extra constitutional deviation and only an army chief can order it.

2: The constitution has accordingly been “held in abeyance”. But significantly, the PCO says that the country will continue to be governed, “as nearly as possible” by the constitution. But where there is any other departure from the constitution apart from what is contained in the PCO and the PE from now onwards, it will be at the behest of the “President” and not the COAS. In other words, General Musharraf’s presidency has been confirmed and upheld by the PCO.

3: The PCO prohibits the courts from holding or issuing any decree against the President, the Prime Minister or anyone exercising powers under their authority. Specifically, the President shall now require a fresh oath under the PCO by those judges who wish to be included in the Federal Shariat Court, High Courts and Supreme Court. In this context, four Supreme Court judges have already taken oath under the PCO from President Musharraf and a new chief justice of Pakistan has been nominated, ie, Justice Hameed Dogar. In other words, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is now to be referred to as a former chief justice of Pakistan. He will be in the company of at least seven other fellow judges who have revolted against the PCO. We should now expect a host of other judges from the four High Courts and possibly Federal Shariat Court to be excluded from the new oath taking ceremonies. If this manoeuvre is accomplished by General Musharraf relatively quickly and the high courts are sufficiently revamped, then we shall have a pro-executive judiciary soon.

4: All ordinances promulgated by the president prior to this PCO remain valid. In other words, the National Reconciliation Ordinance is alive and kicking. Benazir Bhutto will be pleased.

5: The PE lists several reasons for its necessity. The prime reason is the state of deteriorating law and order and the vanishing writ of the state owing to acts of terrorism. But the judiciary has been held to be a major culprit in log-jamming the executive and undermining the war against extremism. Indeed, out of 11 effective clauses in the PE, eight refer to the negative role played by the judges and the judiciary in undermining the war against terrorism, the executive functioning of government and the economy. As such, the Supreme Court under Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is held critically responsible for harming the national interest and exacerbating the crisis of the state and deadlock of the political system.

6: The 2007 PCO does not dissolve the assemblies or the provincial and federal governments. Nor does the PE announce any extension of the term of parliament by up to a year as is possible under a state of emergency. This means that General Musharraf intends to allow these parliaments and governments to finish their terms on November 16 (National Assembly) and November 24 (provincial assemblies), followed by general elections within a stipulated time frame.

7: We should expect the lawyers, civil society groups and most, but not all, the opposition parties to launch a spirited protest on the streets and boycott the courts. But with the electronic media blinded, and the administrations freed from the oversight of the courts, the police and paramilitary forces will be used to arrest opponents and crush the protest movement. Two factors will play a critical role in what happens next: one, the extent to which the lawyers can continue their protest and if necessary sacrifice some dead bodies for their cause; two, the role played by the People’s Party of Ms Bhutto and the JUI of Maulana Fazalur Rehman. We should also expect a surge in terrorist activities and bomb blasts by Taliban and Al Qaeda elements to take advantage of the situation.

8. Ms Bhutto has returned to the country in the midst of the crisis. The government will expect her not to destabilise its modus operandi in exchange for a power sharing deal. In all probability, she will oppose the PCO and PE. Supporting it would incur the wrath of Pakistanis who generally don’t like what General Musharraf has done. But she may lend only token PPP support to the protest movement. Much the same may be said of Maulana Fazal’s JUI. Instead she will demand that the road be cleared for free and fair general elections so that the people may give their verdict on all parties.

9. Writ petitions will fly against the PCO. The new SC will agree to hear them. But no judgment will be forthcoming until such time the elections have been held and a new parliament is in place to indemnify the PCO and confirm President Musharraf as the legitimate president of Pakistan. In other words, the unconstitutionality of this act will probably be pronounced by the new SC after it has got retrospective validity from a new parliament some months hence. The question of whether General Musharraf will remain army chief for another five years or take off his uniform then will have to be settled by the new parliament in 2008 as happened in 2003.

10. The US, EU and the international community will condemn the PCO and demand a restoration of full fledged democracy via free and fair general elections. General Musharraf should not have any problems complying with their demand in due course.

To Be or Not

One of the blogs that I started my blogging life with, Giornale Nuovo, has ended after a wonderful five-year run (though the archives are still up). The shock that one gets when something familiar disappears has made me wonder about this blog. I have not been paying it attention, it is overgrown with weeds. And yet, once in awhile, I still see something and think, I must post this.

While I decide, here are a couple of things that I've read / seen / heard recently:

This, from Randall Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution, in which every sentence is so clever that you just have to shake your head in amazement:

Gertrude thought children and dogs overrated, and used to say that you loved them so much only when you didn't love people as much as you should. As much as you should had a haunting overtone of as much as I do - an overtone, alas! too high for human ears. But bats heard it and knew, alone among living beings, that Gertrude loved.

And a very different sentence, from the beginning of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, by Jason Goodwin. I just read a review of a mystery novel he has written, set in the Ottoman Empire, with a eunuch detective, and it sent me back to this earlier work:

Between age-old fortresses with wells and marketes, domes and minarets, and lemon groves where learned men rehearse theological points worn smooth like pebbles in the handling, the turkmen come riding upon embroidered saddles, with stirrups like metal galoshes.

And a link to amazing paintings, by Gerard Charruau. These cityscapes, which must be very large, because they appear to be painted on sheets of paper glued to canvas, remind me of the crowded scenes in Mughal miniatures.

I imagined a painting of Chennai -- though it has such a low skyline in most places, that if you look at it from a rooftop, many of the buildings are obscured by trees. And the buildings are mostly not pretty... I think a montage of the good ones, placed together...

And finally, a link to a YouTube video from a singing contest which is similar to American Idol. The song, Tujhse Naraaz, from the film Masoom, is in Hindi, but it need not matter, I think. It's very touching (Rough partial translation: "I'm not angry with you, life, I'm surprised / disturbed. Your innocent questions unsettle me. I never thought that in order to live I would have to manage pain; that if one smiles one has to pay a price for it...") -- it makes me cry. The singer is Amanat Ali, a contestant from Pakistan. You have to overlook the horrible costumes and gaudy sets.

I guess I've answered the title question, for the moment at least.