An interesting interview with Danny Boyle, about filming Slumdog Millionaire in Mumbai. I particularly identified with this paragraph:
AVC: Were there places it was difficult to get permission to film?

DB: There's lots of things that can be solved with cash. [Snickers.] And there's occasional things that can't be solved with cash, which become a bureaucratic nightmare for some reason, and there's no distinction between the two. There's no way of reading a situation and saying, "Yes, that'll be a bureaucratic nightmare, but that one we'll be able to buy off." It just depends on the day, apparently. The most extraordinary thing, you'd be given permission for, and then the weirdest, simplest things, you just wouldn't be able to obtain permissions. And it would go on and on and on forever and ever, and there was no way to know. You have to kind of approach it with an open, quite optimistic mind, no matter what's thrown at you, because it will only ever result in damaging the film if you let any kind of despondency get to you. You have to remain optimistic, and that's clearly how people live their lives there. Against all the odds, they retain kind of a spirit which allows them to get through against insufferable odds...

Wit and Humour

Wondering what to post, I fell back on the amazing Wit and Humour in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council 1921-1971, Volume I.

It is best to let such books fall open at random, so I did -- and found this:
Humorous Definition of 'Tiller of the Soil'

On the 24th of September 1956, during the Debate in the Council on the Madras Cultivating Tenants Protection (Amendment) Bill, 1956, a humorous situation erupted when the Minister (The Hon. Thiru M. A. Manickavelu) tried to give a "layman's definition" as he himself put it, to the term 'tiller of the soil' by saying: "As I understand, a tiller of the soil is a person who, with a very scanty dress -- he has no coat, no turban and no umbrella in hand -- takes a plough and ploughs the land. There is sweat on his brow."

The following exchanges then took place:

"Sri A. M. Allapichai: Is it a crime to wear coat?

The Hon. Sri M. A. Manickavelu: No, not at all, even a long coat can be worn (referring to the Member's long coat). (Laughter) So, the tiller of the soil is the opposite of one who wears a coat and turban holding a walking stick or umbrella in hand and goes round his field, comes back home, takes coffee and chews pansupari.

Dr. V. K. John: Is he too old or too young?

Sri. A. M. Allapichai: Suppose he applied his mind? Application of mind also is physical labour.

The Hon. Sri M. A. Manickavelu: Yes, Sir. He must very much apply his mind because if he wants to take away the weeds, he should not pull out the crops in the process. Mind also plays its part."
An excellent blog about modern South Asian art: Masala Chai

Power Holiday

In India, power failure is called load shedding. At the moment, we're having 1 1/2 hours of it every day; the Chennai suburbs three hours a day; the rest of the state five hours a day, for an indefinite period.

Today I saw in the paper a new (to me) word for it: 'power holiday.'

The government's explanation is interesting. According to The Hindu:
The revised system of intensive load shedding... has been designed to ensure that there are no unscheduled disruptions in power supply.
i.e., we're having scheduled outtages (I think this word is also local?) so that we don't have unscheduled outtages. Further,
... the main cause for the frequent interruptions in the supply is the under-frequency relay factor...inadequate capacity addition... poor rainfall ... substantial reduction in the State’s share of power from Central Generating Stations that are hit by the shortage of lignite and uranium... [and] ... sudden loss of wind energy...

Opposition leader, Jayalalitha's response to this was succinct: she was quoted as saying that the reasons cited by the government for power shortage are "strange and ridiculous."

Vogue India's latest

Boy, this is disgusting, from the New York Times: Vogue’s Fashion Photos Spark Debate in India

That bib is likely priced at about two months' wages for this lady. This looks like cruelty to me -- let them eat cake.

Old Tamil Movies

I had written a post, long back, about my first Tamil move: Pennin Perumai. There's a fun article in the Hindu, by Vijaysree Venkatraman, about revisiting the old black and white Tamil films from that era: What Old Movies Do.

I see that I should think of those old 'socials' with more respect. I still think Sivaji is a lot cuter than Gemini, though.

Ghatotkach, from Maya Bazaar

Update: Vijaysree Venkatraman kindly sent me this YouTube link: Vivaha Bhojanam ("wedding feast"), a song that I love, in which Ghatotkach, the son of one of the Mahabharata heroes, Bhima, and a demoness, eats an entire wedding feast by himself. I have been known to burst out with "Bhojanam Bhojanam, ha ha ha ha ha ha" on occasion, at the prospect of a feast. (This is the Telugu version, so it's vivaha bhojanambu. There's a Hindi version somewhere, as well). Do watch it, I don't think you can help laughing along with it.

Update: And here's the Tamil version: "Kalyana samayal saatham" (same visual, different language)

Inside Outside

Five years ago, our neighbourhood was so quiet that visitors invariably exclaimed that it was hard to believe it was in the heart of the city. The land across the street was a backwater, part of the Adyar River basin, bordered with thorny bushes, and home to mongoose, snakes, and many species of birds. Now it has become a giant construction site. Here is the view from my gate now -- the new studio of Sun TV, on seven acres of land. From the depth of its foundations, I assume that it will rise so high that the blue sky in the photograph will be completely covered. To the right and around the corner, still more huge buildings are rising -- two hotels, apartment buildings, IT parks:

and looking to the left:

Here is what you will see if you stand at the gate looking in (the watchman provided that pink chair for himself. I'm not too fond of it, but it looks endearing, compared to the hulking monsters outside):

It's still peaceful to look at, but the roar of five cement mixers outside and the construction of a huge building, which goes on for 24 hours a day, is impossible to block out.

Mora Saiyan

What a beautiful, simple love song this is -- Mora Saiyan Mo Se Bole Na (My beloved won't speak to me). I heard it somewhere, and tracked down this version, sung by Amanat Ali on the TV singing contest Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. I like it better than the original. The visuals are nothing, but what a beautiful voice he has, and how movingly he sings:


Someone living near us died recently in sad circumstances. As usual, I only found out about it from Mary, who came to me and said, "The watchman wants more light in the back garden. There's one place near the kitchen that's very dark and he's frightened." I pointed out that we have plenty of security lights, whereas our neighbours have none at all.

Then she told me about the ghost. It has not been seen, but it is assumed that there must be one, because the death was unusual. Mary's room is outside, and when she got up in the night she felt afraid. The watchman was afraid because one night he heard a sound in that dark corner, something like "HOO!" In fact, he hadn't come to work for the last two nights. I said that there were no ghosts, and added, unkindly, that if ghosts are afraid of light bulbs, the watchman could just shine his flashlight on the dark corner when he did his rounds. I said that if it did exist, it would surely go away again soon.

A couple of days later, Mary said that some neighbours had done puja to exorcise the ghost from their property. Since we were not so protected, it was more likely than ever to linger with us. Could we also hire a Hindu priest? He would drive the ghost into a gourd, and break it on the road -- as is done with evil spirits on Ayudha Puja. I wasn't sure -- R already grumbles about Ayudha Puja. But when I asked him, he said that he would authorise a certain amount of money to hire a priest, and if that would make everyone feel better, fine.

For a week or so I heard no more about it. One day I asked Mary, "What happened to that priest you wanted?" and she said vaguely, "Oh, it's so far to go, to find one." I thought the ghost scare was over. Then yesterday she told me, "I've found a (Christian) pastor. He will come and say prayers." I asked if that would satisfy the Hindu and Muslim watchmen; she said that it would.

Later: Well, the pastor didn't show. Mary was all a-flutter -- she said he was a thaalaivaar, the leader of so many churches. I guess he was too busy. We had to go out, and when I came back and looked in the kitchen I saw a tray kept ready, with a good china cup and a pot of tea, all untouched.

I feel sorry for her disappointment, but I'm sick of this ghost now. A month has passed since the death, and no one has been harmed, except for a little fever suffered by the brave nightwatchman. Let the spirit rest, I say, and be soothed in the dark corner of our peaceful garden, out behind the kitchen.

Some Faces

Trying to do a better job of drawing faces -- from photographs, in my new gray-white paged sketchbook:

(late) Kishore Kumar, one of the greatest popular singers in Hindi

Dilip Kumar, the ultimate tragic hero in Hindi films when my husband was a boy.

a young girl, drawn from the newspaper

A Maharaja of Patiala, from an old photograph. What a beautiful face -- more beautiful than my drawing. And dripping with jewels. The way one imagines a Maharaja should be.

Lost at Sea

I am honored that the literary/arts blog/ezine Qarrtsiluni has accepted my poem Lost at Sea for its latest issue, Water. There is a recording of me reading it as well.

Qarrtsiluni publishes art, photography, writing, video of very high quality, each issue organised around a general topic. Its founders, and a number of the contributors, are people whose writing online I have been following with great pleasure for years. Take a look.

Demolition Day

Photo by R. Ragu

The Admiralty House, one of Chennai's few remaining fine old buildings, is being demolished. From The Hindu:
CHENNAI: The demolition of the Government House here, the oldest building on the Government Estate, has begun.

On Monday, workers were breaking the roof of the heritage building, commonly known as the Admiralty House, with giant hammers. The demolition will be completed in 40 days, according to an official of the Public Works Department, the custodian of the Estate properties. Some other buildings on the Estate will also be demolished, including the old MLAs’ quarters. The official says that as the buildings are vacated, they will be pulled down. The department hopes to complete the demolition of all the identified buildings by the end of next month.

The exercise is being carried out to facilitate the execution of the Rs. 200-crore Assembly complex project.

The government has selected a German-based architectural firm for the Assembly project. As per the present proposals, there will be two blocks – one housing the Assembly complex and offices of the Chief Minister and Ministers and the other accommodating offices of various government departments. While the first block will have ground and six floors, the second is likely to be a high-rise building, having a maximum of 20 floors. The government is planning to commence the construction of the proposed Assembly complex by September.

Till recently, the Government House building was occupied by the different wings of the Police department such as Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) wing, the Economic Offences wing and Narcotics Intelligence Bureau-CID. The wings have been shifted to different places in the city. In the mid-1990s, the building, as a makeshift arrangement, even served as the headquarters of the Police department when the government undertook renovation of the DGP office building on the Marina, which is yet another heritage landmark. Till Independence, the Government House was the residence of Governors. For sometime, it also functioned as the MLAs’ hostel.

S. Muthiah, historian, wrote about the importance of the heritage monument on several occasions in The Hindu. In his column on October 29 last year, he wrote that after the French left the Fort St. George’s buildings in a shambles, Governor Thomas Saunders of the British East India Company in 1752 rented a house belonging to the wealthy Mrs. Antonia de Madeiros just across the Island from the Fort. On August 28, 1753 the Government of Madras bought the house for 3500 pagodas to serve as the Governor’s garden house. Only in 1947 did the Governor’s residence move to the present location in Guindy – Raj Bhavan.


Goodness gracious, it's my blog's birthday again. The fifth. Happy blogday to me.

And thank you, those who still come around and take a look once in a while.

More Climbing

Jillu Madrasi told me about this YouTube video, about a man who has invented a better way to climb a coconut tree. Wonderfully simple, effective technology:

The Sun

April is National Poetry Month, and every year Knopf sends me a poem a day during April. (Though it's a bit late, they'll send you one too, if you send a blank email to: They'll keep you on the list for next year, too.)

I received the most wonderful poem yesterday, by Dan Chiasson, from his book Natural History:
The Sun

There is one mind in all of us, one soul,
who parches the soil in some nations

but in others hides perpetually behind a veil;
he spills light everywhere, here he spilled

some on my tie, but it dried before dinner ended.
He is in charge of darkness also, also

in charge of crime, in charge of the imagination.
People fucking flick him off and on,

off and on, with their eyelids as they ascertain
with their eyes their love's sincerity.

He makes the stars disappear, but he makes
small stars everywhere, on the hoods of cars,

in the compound eyes of skyscrapers or in the eyes
of sighing lovers bored with one another.

Onto the surface of the world he stamps
all plants and animals. They are not gods

but he made us worshippers of every
bramble toad, black chive, we find.

In Idaho there is a desert cricket that makes
a clocklike tick-tick when he flies, but he

is not a god. The only god is the sun,
our mind—master of all crickets and clocks.


I just finished reading an article in the March 3 New Yorker, “Numbers Guy – Are our Brains Wired for Math,” about the work of Stanislas Dehaene. I was particularly interested in this paragraph:
Today, Arabic numerals are in use pretty much around the world, while the words with which we name numbers naturally differ from language to language. And, as Dehaene and others have noted, these differences are far from trivial. English is cumbersome. There are special words for the numbers from 11 to 19, and for the decades from 20 to 90. This makes counting a challenge for English-speaking children, who are prone to such errors as “twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten, twenty-eleven.” … Chinese, by contrast, is simplicity itself; its number syntax perfectly mirrors the base-ten form of Arabic numberals, with a minimum of terms. Consequently, the average Chinese four-year-old can count up to forty, whereas American children of the same age struggle to get to fifteen….

I have a hard time with Hindi numbers (partly, of course, because I don’t use them often) – anything over 50 is confusing for me. From 10 onward, the numbers are irregular – for example 10+1, which logically would be das-ek or ek-das, you have gyarah, and every decade has its own oddities. 21 is ikis instead of ikbis (ek+bis – 1+20). And what about the 50s? Pachaas, 50, is followed by ikaavan, rather than ikpachaas (1+50), and then baavan (52), and then trepan – not trevan – so even within the decade it’s weird. Sheesh.

Tamil, on the other hand, is very logical. Except for 90 and 900, once you know the system you can count anything. Eleven is 10+1, not a special word like 'eleven.' After 20 (iruvathu, i.e. 2 tens), you have 20+1 , 20+2, etc. Simple. (Aha -- I just noticed that there is some variation between p and v, just as there is in my Hindi example above -- e.g., 20 is iru-vathu, while 30 is mu-p-pathu -- so the Santhi rules for joining letters together are coming into play in both cases.)

Is this understandable? I’m putting it in a cumbersome way. And I'm sure my spelling of the words for Hindi and Tamil numbers is atrocious.

The article made me wonder if Tamil children pick up counting faster than Hindi-speaking children – the system is more logical, so there’s less rote memorization required of small children. At the same time, Tamil is more polysyllabic than Chinese, so Chinese children might have an advantage over Tamil children, but not as much of one as they have over English-speaking children…

What do you say?


I was wondering what to make for lunch today, and I had a sudden craving for one of my father's favorite foods: bread and gravy. He grew up poor, born in West Virginia, and moved around the midwest as a child by his father, looking, apparently not very successfully, for work. My father sometimes described himself as a hillbilly, or 'mountain William,' though he had been away from the hills for many decades by the time I knew him. He loved what now looks like poor people's food: bread and gravy; fried cornmeal mush (perhaps that's polenta to you); scrapple. Stodgy comfort foods, which eke out small amounts of meat.

We generally don't have meat in the house -- our kitchen is no-egg vegetarian -- but I lapse on occasion. I had had a roast chicken delivered a couple of days ago. So I stripped the meat off the bones and boiled up the carcass, made a roux of flour and butter, poured in the hot stock, added salt and pepper, and made a thick gravy. I poured it over the white Wonder-type bread that my staff takes with morning coffee and afternoon tea.

While I cooked I thought about my father, and remembered our family's only trip, when I was quite small, to Fairmont, West Virginia, where he was born. We met his very elderly Aunt Veedie, who invited me to choose one of her crocheted doilies as a gift. I horrified my parents by selecting the only one that was not plain white -- the yarn was heavily splotched with purple and yellow. But Aunt Veedie was pleased, saying that she called it her Aurora Borealis doily.

Two slices of white bread smothered in chicken gravy, and it was so good.

Coconut Stem Cluster

One of the stems cut down by the coconut tree man. Destined to replace this one, which broke away from its sheath.

Coconut Medicine 2

Today the ingredients of the poultice were assembled: turmeric, moth balls, rock salt, Sam's Fortified Neem Powder. The tree man supervised their mixing, put the medicine in a bag which he attached to his holster-basket, and began to climb. First he slung the longer rope -- partly covered with black rubber for extra traction, perhaps an old bicycle inner tube -- around the trunk above his head, tied the ends together to make a ring, and kept a smaller ring of the same material around one ankle. he jumped up onto the trunk, pulling himself up with the large ring, and rested both feet on the smaller one.

In this way -- throwing the larger ring upward and bringing up his feet -- he continued up the trunk like an inchworm. The palms' crowns must be about 30 feet high.

He climbed up to the base of each crown, cut down the lowest ring of leaves with his machete, along with whatever coconuts were ripe, dried-up leaves, and stem clusters from which coconuts had already been harvested. Finally he applied the medicine around the coconut stems and came back down. Each tree took about half an hour, and he charged Rs. 50 -- a little more than a US dollar -- per tree. He also carries away the cut leaves, which are made into rough brooms or coarse woven mats for thatched huts.

What strength he requires, to climb those tall, branchless trees and to do so much tending, without any more support than two rings of rope!


Delhi police 'encounter' specialist shot dead by friend – that’s one of the headlines over a story that will surely turn up soon in one of the gangster movies made by Mahesh Bhatt, Ram Gopal Varma, et al.

The job title ‘encounter specialist’, first of all: an ‘encounter’, in India, is an armed engagement between police/army and criminals/terrorists. In the police context, it has often come to mean a legalized killing of criminals, bypassing the overburdened and inefficient courts. In movies you see a policeman telling a crimnal 'Run!', and then shooting him while he tries to escape. Encounter specialists have been presented as heroes, albeit controversial ones, in the press. There was a 2004 Hindi movie about an encounter specialist called 'Ab Tak Chhappan'-- 'So Far, Fifty-six' (killings). The poster for this movie reads 'Doctors Cure / Engineers Build / I Kill.'

It's clear that this kind of power can clearly lead easily to a sense of being above the law.

photo from

The dead encounter specialist looks a little like a younger Shatrughan Sinha (an actor) to me. The property dealer who killed him called a TV news channel to tell his side of the story. It's all so media-ready. Here's the story, from The Hindustan Times:

Encounter specialist Rajbir Singh outgunned, finally

People who live by the gun, die by the gun. Police officer Rajbir Singh, in fact, died of his own gun, not very far from the site of the first of his 45 encounters that made him such a legend, a controversial one no doubt.

Police said a Gurgaon property dealer, Vijay Bhardwaj, has confessed to killing Rajbir using a gun loaned to him by the officer a few days ago. Rajbir took two shots in the head and died on the spot. Gurgaon Police Commissioner Mohinder Lal said at a news conference on Tuesday that Bhardwaj and his office boy have been arrested. He added Rajbir was killed on Monday evening at Bhardwaj’s office. ...

Bhardwaj owed him Rs 60 lakh for a land deal -- the nature of which has not been specified yet. Rajbir had given him 72 hours to pay, ending Monday evening.

"He had threatened to eliminate me and my family and had given me an ultimatum," Bhardwaj told Hindustan Times, adding, "I was already under heavy debt and was unable to meet the deadline."

The troubled property dealer had even tried to commit suicide. "But my family found the suicide note before I could kill myself." And they prevented him from taking that extreme step.

Rajbir drove to Bhardwaj's office on MG Road in Gurgaon sometime between 7.30 pm and 7.45 pm with his security detail in a Qualis -- the police officer had been given Z category security.

They began talking. Gurgaon police said after some time, Rajbir asked the security people to fetch some snacks from a nearby petrol station. And now the two were by themselves in the office.

Rajbir and Bhardwaj had known each other for 20 years. But that evening, they could have been enemies. The property dealer got up from his seat, went behind Rajbir and opened fire from a .32 revolver. Gurgaon Police Commissioner Lal said, "Rajbir gave this revolver to Bhardwaj for his safety as he was expecting the payment of a huge amount of money -- his money."

The first shot went right through the middle of the head, the second grazed the side and the third completely missed. The first bullet had been sufficient to kill Rajbir.

Mumbai police's encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, who knew Rajbir well, found it hard to believe how an amateur like Bhardwaj could keep a steady hold of the gun.

Bhardwaj also kept a hold on his nerves. He walked out of the office, got into his Hyundai Verna and took off. While driving around he called a friend for the telephone number of a TV news channel. He then called the local police station, asking if his office came under its jurisdiction. Bhardwaj then called the channel and said he wanted to speak to a reporter about the murder of a senior police officer. ...

Coconut Medicine

Our cook, Mary, is the in-charge for our three coconut trees. She tells the gardener when to cut the ripe coconuts down, and monitors their quality. A couple of days ago she told me that the coconuts have become dry -- she brought a pot full of halved fruit, to show me the white flesh.

I suggested that she call the coconut tree man. He had come at about this time in 2006, when the coconuts were falling before ripening, and did the trees a lot of good by climbing up to the crown and applying a poultice made from rock salt, mothballs, sambrani (a kind of incense), turmeric and edible camphor, bound with oil.

The coconut tree man in 2006. He has a heavy black rope slung over his shoulder, and wears a cone-shaped basket for his machete. The gardener is mixing up the poultice.

The prescription for dry coconuts is different. In addition to camphor, turmeric and salt, he wants something called vepampunakku, which he says is available from nurseries. Sadly, the nursery which I used to go to, the enormous and serene Saundarya, has long gone to development, and most nurseries are in the suburbs. (For that matter, the coconut man himself lives in the Srinivasapuram slum, which is about to be emptied and its inhabitants transported to a distant project – what will we do then?)

Mary discovered from him, and told me, that vepampunakku is a paste made from the seeds of the vepam tree, and that we have one in our garden –a smallish slender tree. She said that the fruits are also medicinal, but that the crows eat them all.

If anyone knows more about the vepam tree, or vepampunakku (and where to get it!), I’d be interested to hear about it. update: Now I feel silly: vepam is neem, it turns out. So that's why it's in our garden. Though I don't know why it's so scrawny -- neem is a big, spreading tree. Even its shade is supposed to be healthy. My gardener rode his bicycle to a nursery in Adyar and bought bags of "Sam's Nutri Neem-Plus 100% Pure Neem Powder, Fortified with Turmeric, Castor, Pungam and Illupai." Rs. 25 per kg. I still don't know what pungam and illupai are...

Welcome to Khaufpur

The very clever website of the city of Khaufpur -- a city which does not exist.

Khaufpur is the setting for a novel which was reviewed in the NYT today: Animal's People, by Indra Sinha. The book was a finalist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Khaufpur represents Bhopal, the site of the disastrous 1984 gas leak from the Union Carbide chemical plant (Khauf = fear).

I checked out my horoscope in Khaufpur's Astrology section, maintained by Shri Shri Shadangi Maharaj:
Capricorn: Your sense of humour is needed right now but remember that all things are sent to try us and that the universe is a joke of the Upstairs One so don't life too seriously. Err on the bright side and remember chicken pox only last three weeks.

I was also intrigued by Khaufpur's heritage liqueur, Kesar Kasturi, "a liqueur imbued with saffron and musk". That could inspire some khauf all by itself.

Your Indian Wedding

I was looking for a picture of a bridegroom riding a horse, in the north Indian wedding style (what R calls a horse being ridden by a donkey), when I came across this site in California: Fancy Wheelin'.
We pride ourselves on using "safe" horses that have the correct temperment for a festive Indian Wedding. They are comfortable with the dohls and high energy of a wedding event.

Here's another one, in New Jersey, Pony Share. They offer, among other things: "The ability to match the groom with the right size horse" and "A fleet of modern trucks and trailers, equipped to prevent lateness and break-down as well as a back-up plan."
Our choice of decorations and matching umbrellas is yet another reason why our service is second to none! Ours are not bargain basement "plastic type" or quickly put together "Rag shop pieces"!

Each set of our imported decorations has been carefully handcrafted in Rajistan (sic) with only the finest materials, cloth and dazzling beads. The sets consist of 10-12 pieces!.Not the standard 6 and we will also match a free umbrella to go with your set, just for the asking!

You can also get your mandap (pavilion) made by ... Mandap, in New Jersey.

Or why not just go to India for your Indian wedding? A-Z Tours offers to arrange the whole thing:
We can arrange all of this for your marriage or if you are married and want us to organize this for your Wedding Anniversary as a Mock Wedding we can do this as well for you. Just for your information, we would like to give you an approximate price which will be a minimum of USD 5000 for the arrangements as mentioned below. It can change according to your choice also.
1. Venue for the wedding
2. Horse, camels, elephant
3. Fire works
4. Buffet Dinner
5. Brass Band
6. Mandap [ The place which is used for rituals at Bride’s place ]
7. Pandit [ The Hindu priest for rituals ]

We can arrange this for one couple with 50 invitees, if you want to come alone we will invite guests on your behalf who will be a witness for your marriage as well.

By the way, the reason that I was looking for a picture of a bridegroom on horseback in the first place is that I suddenly envisioned myself painting a long picture of a wedding procession, with the bridegroom, the marriage band tootling off-key but with great spirit, the guests and family members dancing. Not that I'm likely to accomplish it, but I had made some sketches earlier, when a baraat (wedding procession) passed our house -- of the bridegroom, a wedding guest, and musicians from the band:


I saw it on Wide Island, who/which in turn found it on, a blog about Central Asia: a news item in the Paktribune on 19 January, with the headline: 90 militants killed in S Waziristan clashes Big offensive on the cards; warplanes target hideouts. The story is straightforward, but the map of Waziristan which accompanies the article

looks suspiciously like another place altogether.


From an article by Louis Menand, on diaries, in the December New Yorker:
... If it doesn't contain a lot of dross, it's not a diary. It's something else -- a journal, or a writer's notebook, or a blog (blather is not the same as dross).

Sigh. (The sigh is the blather.)

India Shining

All the media everywhere seem to be trumpeting the rise of India. And it is something to experience. The poor seem to be as poor as before -- and prices are rising rapidly -- while the middle class rises, and the wealthy have become more visible than ever before.

The weekly news magazine, India Today, sends out glossy supplements filled with very expensive gewgaws -- e.g., watches costing hundreds of thousands of rupees -- and I wonder how many of its readers can afford them.

Vogue magazine began publishing an Indian edition last fall. I was never a reader -- it looked like something from another world, even when I lived in America. But I bought the December issue, and gawked at it, all the beautiful photographs of beautiful people. (The first three pictures here are from Vogue.)

Last week I fell for an ad for an apartment development in Whitefield, outside of Bangalore, called Windmills of Your Mind. Yes, really. Beautiful duplexes, and Bangalore's cool weather (getting warmer, like everywhere else; but still a big improvement on Chennai). I've been dreaming about it. R says that we could buy such an apartment here in Chennai, and it would be air-conditioned anyway... but I don't think there are such buildings here. Anyway, all this fabulosity doesn't seem conducive to a peaceful mind. How do they bear it, the vast, vast majority who can't even dream of possessing any of it?

To Boredom

A lovely poem by Charles Simic, from the New Yorker:
To Boredom

I'm the child of your rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Over the ceiling
Like a wounded fly.

A day would last forever,
Making pellets of bread,
Waiting for a branch
On a bare tree to move.

The silence would deepen,
The sky would darken,
As Grandmother knitted
With a ball of black yarn.

I know Heaven's like that.
In eternity's classrooms,
The angels sit like bored children
With their heads bowed.
Indians are obsessed with getting into the Guiness Book of World Records. They do the most absurd things to achieve this, and they succed. Last night on TV, a man broke 200 coconuts in two minutes with his elbow. R says the Guinness Book should be renamed the Ganesh Book of World Records.

Three Words

a Hindi/Urdu word for beautiful girl (hasina) rhymes with that for perspiration (pasina). Songwriters never used to take advantage of this -- their lyrics were generally high-flown and romantic -- but now they do. E.g., 'When I saw the beautiful girl I broke into a sweat.'

I love the Urdu word 'chilman' -- it's a pleasure to say it. It is a split bamboo or reed curtain. It has implications of concealing / revealing. It's a poem in a word.

Photograph by Ramesh Gandhi -- one of a series of photographs of chilman / chick blinds, which begins with pristine newness and ends with complete disintegration: here.

Several Things

Saw Rajat Kapoor's film Mixed Doubles on TV last night. I cracked up over this Hinglish line:
Get out ho jao!

I was driving in Adyar today, when I saw a long line of red firecrackers tied together, stretched out in the middle of the opposite lane. They went off like gunfire, and just beyond them was a fish-cart carrying a couple of drummers, with dancing men on the road behind them. Then a larger cart pulled by more men, with a high, ornate cane structure like the head of a bed, and the corpse under masses of flowers, only his face visible. All the men – there were no women – were poor and sinewy, wearing lungis tucked up to their knees. A couple of men brought up the rear, throwing flowers onto the road, so that it was thick with red rose petals. I have seen all this many times, of course, but never with firecrackers.

I heard a beautiful song last night, by Kailash Kher, and I’ve been hunting for it today, without success. It had a recurring line: ‘nikla hun main.’ If anyone who reads this can identify it for me, I’d be grateful. (update: the song is written by Aditya Thakaray, grandson of Bal Thakaray. He has just put out an album of his poems sung by many singers. This song, Ek Khoj, is one of them. 'Ek khoj par nikla hun main, nikla hun main...' )


Things have changed so much in the last ten years that I feel like a Neanderthal sometimes, explaining to wide-eyed young things about import restrictions and Permit Raj (R knows this at first hand, much more than I do, of course), and the politics of scarcity and such. The particular aspect of the past that popped into my head last night, as I waited for sleep, was this:

We have ATMs now – we didn’t when I arrived here – but when I need cash I call the bank and they send someone around with bundles of notes. I specify whether I need 500s, 100s, 50s. They used to provide 20s and 10s, but they don’t anymore. (One rupee notes don’t exist anymore, and fives are scarce – they’ve become coins. My mother-in-law kept a dish of coins to give to beggars outside the temple, and a lot were left after she died, including 1- 2- 5- 10- and 20- paise coins. None of them exist now. I liked the 2 paise coins especially – circles with scalloped edges. The 5 paise coins were square; all made of some dinky metal, very light… Just to get rid of them, I took most of them to a Barista one day and paid for my coffee with them, and everyone gathered round and oohed and aahed until I wondered if I had made a mistake. They gave me a free cup of cappuccino, too.)

Ahem. So when these notes would come, they would be held together on one side by a large, heavy staple, put there by the bank. The first thing you would have to do when you wanted to spend one, was to pry open the two ends of the staple and struggle to disengage the note(s) from the bundle without destroying them. If you looked at the side of an older note you could see a lacework of holes, as the notes repeatedly returned to banks and were sent out again. I developed a technique of prying open the staple with a metal letter opener, grasping two halves of the bundle in two hands and wrenching the whole thing apart, but stopped after the time I destroyed half a bundle of 50 rupee notes. The other way, if the notes were old and thin, and the staple was particularly cruel, was to open the staple but leave it in the bundle, carry the bundle in your purse, and pry the notes away one by one in the shop. And cut your finger on the staple ends in the bargain.

When you hand someone cash, especially if it’s at a small shop or stand, the shopkeeper will inspect the note carefully – if there is a slight tear or disfiguration, you will likely get it back. Though the same person will happily give you change in bills which consist of two halves taped together. Then you argue, and s/he shrugs, or grins sheepishly and takes it back…

Anyway, now the bundles of notes come wrapped neatly in paper, and there are no more staple holes. Things have become so easy now, mes enfants, that I thought I should tell you about the wild old days, when we were young.

(There's a picture of the Indian coins at Joel's Coins - page down to the last image.)


The New York Times has an amusing (true) article about Indian traffic: Indians Hit the Road Amid Elephants

There's an accompanying slideshow. I loved the picture of a taxi's dashboard

because I keep thinking that I'd like to make a series of dashboard pictures -- dashboards with their various gods and adornments. Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, the dashboard can accommodate everyone.

This one is particularly ornate. The metal tissue box is common enough, but I usually see it on the shelf behind the back seat. There appear to be two perfume containers. There's a mala - a kind of Hinu rosary - hanging from the mirror. A tiny human figure? What's that? At its feet are some pictures, lying flat - perhaps of gods. I was told that people keep stuffed animals in their cars so that they will absorb any evil that may come to them -- if there's a collision, the toy animal will be 'injured', not you.

So I'm inspired anew to explore the dashboard world.

Our Neti Pot

The New York Times has an article on what it calls a neti pot - what you use to irrigate your nose. It's certainly not called a neti pot here, but I don't know the word, so... I remembered that there was one among my late mother-in-law's things, and decided that it was time to try it out. I watched a YouTube video on how to do it -- only the person in the video used something called 'neti pot salt', while I used the salt that we have, which is iodised. Will I get cancer?

Anyway, it's done. I didn't like it -- the water ran out of my nose and down the side of my face, and when I bent over afterward and snorted as directed, it came out of my nose and my mouth, and it was pretty much like being in the ocean and getting seawater in your nose. My nose does feel clean and all, though, so maybe I'll try it again sometime.

This is our family neti pot (that's a very small flower):