Angkor wat

Angkor wat

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Felix felicis :)

Felix felicis or 'liquid luck' is a potion that brings luck, and for the non Harry Potter people, it makes its appearance in the sixth book and gives the drinker a nice heady feeling with success in everything for some time period. It sounded a highly desirable potion (takes six months to brew) to me,it just made even stronger the case to not be born a muggle..But then I though about it, we don't do that badly in the non magic world either :)Here are my inevitable comfort and peace and happiness givers,and not all that hard to get, either! how different are yours?

1)Having a good hearty laugh about something ridiculously trivial

2)Meeting old friends

3) Dark chocolate. preferably hot! and particularly in sauce form with vanilla icecream and a brownie, or even just the smell will do (I can get high on cocoa)

4) Good food in general..particularly if associated with cauliflower, bhindi or cheese, and garnished with good company :)also good books in general

5) Good food with a good solid mystery or a good 'food book' in hand! Some books just go well with food, some, like Japanese thrillers, totally dont. Dont know why, probably just the styles..clinically precise and logical books are bad with food i ve figured, the best are slow paced or humorous (wodehouse, roald dahl and gerald durrell are all fantastic food books! )or should periodically talk a lot about the enid blytons. It has to add to your enjoyment of cauliflower and tomatoes if you re reading about 'freshly picked tomatoes glistening with dew' :)

6) Looking at masses of Flowers- particularly tiger lilies, zerberas and the little purple ones..

7) Sleeping insanely late on saturday nights and getting up insanely late to the smell of chai on sunday morning..also an unexpected afternoon nap when reely reely exhausted but virtuous :) (like if you ve wrapped up some work or feel satisfied with something)..i ve read that people feel cheered up waking up with the sun..would be nice, say twice a year :))

8)A good movie in a relaxed with company, but could be fine alone too, depends on the movie also :) (I wouldnt dare watch something like 'the ring' by myself)

9) Shopping for books and clothes :) books anytime, rest has to be after some months of respite, then works like a charm. it also helps if you re looking for something for someone else and find the perfect thing

10) Hearing or telling stories..this should have come higher up

11) Watching rain..nothing like a thorough downpour to wash out all low feeling :)

12) Clinching an argument with that ace that nobody had thought of :) this is a total cheap thrill but rare enough to be looked fwd to!! :)

13) Playing with children young enough to be fond of things like hide and seek and ignorant of dvds and facebook..that is if they still exist :)

14) Unwrapping a gift

15) getting a compliment. actually getting a compliment secondhand. that way you get the pleasure minus the embarrassment :)

16) Listening to the kind of music that always gives me goosebumps or tears or a high, depending which.. in general for upliftment i d pick mozart, kishori amonkar, paluskar's bhajans, some by the beatles,violin by M.S. Gopalakrishnan and flute by N. Ramani.but definitely also the sound of rain, chimes and laughter :)

must be plenty more, but these atleast should give felix a run for his money!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The tale of the ricksy auto

'Give me a Bangalorean and I ll give you someone frustrated with autorickshaws' ,Archimedes could have, but didn't, say. Which of course, is only because he was never caught in the rain haggling for 10 rupees 'over the meter' with an auto driver who wasn't 'going in his direction'.

Autorickshaw drivers are said to be ruder in Chennai, ignorant of the meter in Delhi, and almost non existent in Mumbai. But I defy any other city to produce the range of entertainment and eccentricity that Bangalore does. Bangalore, like the rest of 'old Mysore state' infact, long had a reputation for being easygoing. Shops opened late, siestas were common until recently, and all in all you didn't find the average Bangalorean volunteering for any strenuous activity, much preferring a dignified afternoon alu bonda with steaming coffee, watching the world go by from the window. Having grown up in faster paced times, I hadn't really observed this dying out tendency, until I became a frequent auto commuter.

I wanted to go to Residency road, and naively got into the first empty rickshaw saying where I wanted to go (something I wouldnt dream of doing now!). The driver looked highly disinterested and said he had to go home for dinner. I was taken aback, dinner at 6. 30?? Yes, he said firmly, his wife would be waiting. So i had to get down, unsure whether to laugh or protest. In the next half hour, I started to get exasperated as more and more excuses turned up. One,businesslike- 'Twenty rupees extra'. 'Why?' i demanded, outraged. 'Isnt there a meter'?? 'Meter doesnt work','then extra over what'?? 'I know how much it is, you give twenty extra'.

Another, languidly- 'My house is in Indranagar. If you want I can drop you there'. By now i was beginning to feel i was asking for a favour and maybe i should just go to Indranagar..By the time I got one I could have paid twenty rupees extra from sheer gratitude! These are routine, though.

There was one very nice man who was deeply concerned as to why I was keeping a handkerchief on my nose. 'Allergy'? he asked. I nodded, surprised. 'This allergy will eat your life, you have to do yoga', he announced. and then, confidentially, 'once i was also like you. everytime i sneezed my mother would ask 'who will marry this boy'?' then i started yoga, got married at 40, and one day also don't miss now'. I was v impressed, not having met a health conscious auto driver before. 'Dont eat fried food'!he added, glaring. I promised I wouldn't, trying not to think of the happalas I d just devoured, and the rest of the journey was friendly.

The overriding characteristic (other than inducing frustration!) of course is curiosity. This is an old Bangalore tendency that still prevails. Some years ago I was collecting samples of cowdung from the road to look for certain kinds of E. coli bacteria for my work. Having put them in sterile containers, much to the amusement of onlookers ,I nearly bumped into an autodriver who was leaning over so much that in two seconds he d have landed in the dung himself. 'College'? he asked with full confidence. I said no, I had to go to Tata Institute. 'Come, come', he was extra welcoming, an otherwise extinct trait among autodrivers..'What are you doing with this'? I explained as best as I could that I was looking for small germs, the best I could do in Kannada. He looked superior 'Oh, micro organisms?' I didn't know where to look, but hastily agreed. For the rest of the journey I was quizzed on why I was using them, what PCR was, and what I worked on. We finally parted on the best of terms and with much respect on my side.

The ultimate though, was being told off by one, when a friend and I got in a Brigade road, in a rather extra cheerful mode immediately after the toughest exam we had. We were laughing about something and it stretched on a bit, to be interrupted by the driver- 'your parents send you to good colleges and you come here to get drunk and take drugs'? he thundered. We were stunned. For some reason it didn't strike either of us to deny it, infact he was so sure i almost felt it must be true. We got a withering look and much mutterings of 'wasting money' and 'modern girls' and went all the way in the kind of pindrop silence teachers ask for in vain.

But of course, the largest population by far lounges at street corners and refuses to come anywhere. If anyone can explain the mystery of how they earn a living please tell me. I m convinced they all have alternative sources of income, or just black money from some source, and they have to pretend to work! Thank God there are still the odd entertaining and genuinely nice people, otherwise the burden of 'twenty extra' and 'khaali barbeku' would be just too much to bear!!

I liked the one I met last week. Leaving a friend at the gate, I said something to her ending with 'We ll take a rick'. 'Mount Carmel college maydam'? asked the lounging one. 'Yes' we chorused automatically, without stopping to think why he should want to know. Having (miraculously) agreed to kindly drop us where we were headed, my friend asked what he d meant by the college.' Usually no, people say auto', he announced. 'Only like Carmel college saying rick'. And only someone also belonging to a local girl's college of apparently 'fashionable' (read 'notorious') reputation can understand what that smirk did to us..Of course the fact that he no doubt had it dead right made it worse :)

Ricks or autos, I m willing to pledge undying gratitude to a being who agrees to come by the meter, and anywhere you humbly choose to go, however against his critical taste. I know its a laughable wish. Sigh.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The science of writing

'Writing is an art' said someone airily, and bought fame easy. Now if they d said 'Science writing is an art' I'm sure a larger (and haggard and glassy eyed) audience would have agreed wholeheartedly. After all, nobody HAS to write (certainly not in these days of outsourcing)..well except people who earn a living by it, like writers and journalists.And they like it anyway. For the rest, the literature haters can and do gleefully throw away textbooks the moment that exam is over, having anyway spent 10 years passing chits in the language classes and wondering moodily if the neighbour has solved more CET question papers in his tuitions.

Scientists on the other hand, attempt to work with some exercise of creativity, but HAVE to sell it by writing! Take some other creative pursuit, say painting. Imagine da Vinci being asked to submit a 10 page description of the Mona Lisa, before it could be publicly displayed!(Please give a short abstract and we feel the smile is too enigmatic, change it).

By common consensus or because knowledge is free and eagerly gobbled, publishing in peer reviewed journals is not just the accepted way of publicizing your scientific work today, its pretty much the only way. While Leeuwenhoek (the 'discoverer' of microbes ),got away with his rough notes of 'little animalcules' and made it big, the average scientist today attempting something similar would be laughed straight out of a job. Unfortunately, there is no apparent correlation between good scientists and good writers. While in many professions this may not matter much, in a setup where communication is critical to progress, it creates quite a problem. People do point out that science has the advantage that even in the most hideously constructed papers, the 'results' section can be decoded from the graphs and tables, and so, that the knowledge is not really lost. True, but every such writer must be earning enough curse points from PhD students looking for a 'can prepare in two hours' paper to land up in Slytherin without a password.

Personally, I was taught this in the best possible way by receiving a rude shock soon after entering research. Like many others, I came in bursting with ideas of varying impracticality. Also like others, I soon learnt that its nicer to hold on to enthusiasm than to results, partly because there isnt much of the second. Alright, I told myself. I may not be able to persuade the enzyme to 'adjust madi' with different grades of water, but what I can do is write a dazzling report. And I spent nights composing it too, and was quite proud of the final product. So that it came as a double shock to have it turned down with a thud and with the stern admonition that it showed a lack of seriousness, and to 'spend some time' on it. It took me some time after this to realise that science writing is very different from regular creative writing. In some ways its even opposite. Fewer adjectives, shorter prose, nobody cares for beautiful sentence constructions,nobody cares about your hypotheses unless backed up by some clear data, and most of all, the results have to be to the point and worded so that they convey the message and dont assume too much. In short, quite a task. It may come naturally to some people (lucky things), but it took me quite some time to get halfway decent.

It was the Royal Society which first systematized the collection, discussion and publishing of all scientific data. Apparently Robert Hooke, as its President, was asked to demonstrate 'one new law' every month or so!! Even for a genius, and even if 'law' is read as some new phenomenon, it seems quite a call. I looked for a picture of his before remembering that Isaac Newton had ordered every known portrait of his destroyed, in a vindictive burst.

If eccentricity is a necessity to be described as 'creative' science seems to be right at the top.Though I do feel it must have been more exciting to be doing science in the days when it was a more leisurely pursuit, and there was less of the 'publish or perish' spirit clouding true innovation, there's no doubt having access to all work in your area is a huge gift, too! I suppose nothing will convince the scientific community that not starting a paper with 'The transesterification of 2',3 hydroxy- something' or 'Dopamine induced aggregation of gangliar neurons..' may encourage not only the public, but also fellow scientists, to actually read the papers even when in a different field. I cant do better than to quote a master scientist cum science writer, Francis Crick, 'There is no form of prose more difficult to understand and more tedious to read than the average scientific paper'.

Somebody suggested that with the advent of the sms era, science writing (like other writing) will only get worse. Well, I hope not. But even if it does, the plus is that it would have to get shorter (dis nzym dsnt wk). And even if it does, there's always the library and the internet to read masterpieces of prose like The Microbe Hunters (which I just re-read and would strongly recommend to everyone!).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two cultures

The Background

Years ago, C.P.Snow delivered a lecture (later a book) called 'The Two Cultures'. He was speaking of the Sciences and the Humanities, and how separate academic members of these two units are, or insist on being. It struck me that in a social context too, there are two contexts one can speak of, the orthodox or traditional and the modern or liberal. As long as they lead their separate lives, of course, there is no clash or need for compromise, they re happy to live in mutual lack of comprehension and maybe even mistrust. After all, like with the scientist versus history professor, they occupy different niches. Happily, the modern world with its similar education for all and travel made easy and whatnot has led to a good deal of mingling, and so here is an attempt at a story using two different social cultures :)

The Story

Abhay leaned over the edge and then slowly rocked back to see the reflection shimmer in and out. The Ganga was at its best in the evening, and the winter solstice sunset among the best. You could wish for anything on that one day (the longest night and shortest day)and all the saints who d ever done penance on these banks would conspire to make it come true. Or so he was told. Right then, however, he was just soaking in the unusual peace on its banks afforded by the big puja being on the other side. The boat-cum-ship was tethered, and its railings were an ideal place to look at the water from. Basking in the twilight, a rare feeling of complete peace enveloped him and he shut his eyes.

In two seconds, a muffled 'damn!' rang out. Abhay turned around, peevish at this intrusion. Had to be one of the eternal tourists impossible to avoid in Varanasi.

A girl stood up and dusted herself. 'Sorry' she said in a low voice, 'Go on staring, I just dropped my earring'.

Ok, not a western tourist, but might as well be from her appearance,thought Abhay, a tad jaundiced still from the breaking of his moment. The jeans and kurti clad girl certainly didnt look a localite, though she could easily be at the BHU. And what a weird way to talk to a stranger! 'go on staring'? well he wasnt going to be put down by a big city type either.

'I was just looking at the was very peaceful' he added pointedly. 'theres nobody else here' he added. why else would she be on a boat in the near-dark? in any case Abhay had rather fixed views about the 'fashionable type' of girl and thought of 'them' as permanently between boyfriends and so likely to be in shady places for one reason only.

'I wasnt looking for anyone' said the girl, 'I came to look at the sunset too'.

'oh' said Abhay, taken aback. Then, realising it would be rude to turn away, 'Did you find the earring'?

'Yes thanks' smiled the girl. 'I'm Naina, by the way. I ve been here a week and am leaving tomorrow, and its the first day this place has been so peaceful so I wandered in'.

Abhay explained about the puja and introduced himself.

'Yes I heard', said the girl. 'Does everyone participate'?

That was what Abhay put down mentally as a 'typical foreigner question'. 'No, its conducted by the main temple priests', he said..'but of course anyone can watch, if thats what you mean'.

The girl nodded, and was silent for a bit. 'Its a beautiful river isnt it'? she asked after a while. 'I couldnt bear to look in the light, but now I can see how it must have been'.

Abhay agreed, thawing a bit. 'It is very dirty of course' he admitted, something he wouldnt normally have said to an out of sympathy outsider. 'but it has a feel and should see it further down'

'Do you live here?' asked Naina.

'Yes', said Abhay, and suspecting a touch of big cityness, said 'Its very nice, a lot nicer in many ways than Delhi, where I study'

Naina sensed the defensiveness and said quickly that she was sure it must be.

Lulled, Abhay added in a burst of confidentiality, 'I dont usually tell people that it is dirty, I love this place'

Naina was surprised. 'Do you have to tell? Its quite, well, obvious!'

'Yes', said Abhay, 'but it usually sounds very superior and I'm forced to contradict it and I dont like lying'!

'oh like Yudhishthira or someone' said Naina lightly, smiling.

Abhay frowned.


'I dont think its amusing to speak like that of gods ..'

'Yudhishthira isnt a god!'

..'Gods and holy texts and people in didnt let me finish'.

Naina was up in arms now. 'oh really? well,
a) The Mahabharatha isnt a holy text..not counting Krishna, and he was openly manipulative and proud of it,
and b)I bet I know more characters out of the Mahabharatha than you do!'

This last was childish, she knew, but she was mad enough not to care. and upset. If every innocent statement was going to be objected to, how on earth was one to talk?! and much he knew about giving living people respect at this rate, let alone mythological ones.

It was advantage Abhay clearly though, and he smiled. 'Thats not the point. You may well know more names, its nothing to do with how you feel about it'.

Naina was calmer now. 'I find it one of the most fascinating texts ever written', she said. 'Its deep, beautiful and probably of far more practical value through all the cause and effect relationships it shows up, than many a management text..I have the deepest respect for all the people who must ve helped add to it, but if you re asking me to view either that or anything else as unquestionable or the absolute truth and not to be criticized, then that doesnt make sense to me. It seems like stifling all inquisitiveness and even for that matter creativity. Do you tell children to not ask questions??' she was getting worked up again.

Abhay reflected a bit..'Maybe i over reacted. i agree, nobody should be barred from asking questions, its just that random flippancy annoys me'

'Random flippancy can be both amusing and intelligent' said Naina a tad defiantly. ' and cruel, ok true..'

'why cruel'? asked Abhay, curious at this change of heart

'Well..its cruel to destroy belief isnt it? and i guess the deeper the belief the more cruel the forced awakening'

'Exactly'! Abhay was triumphant

'Yes, but i wasn't talking to an ardent Yudhishthira believer' said Naina smiling. 'atleast not that i knew of. and its very constraining to not be able to make the parallels you want..we learn from comparisons dont you think? after all somewhere someone before you must have had similar experiences..most often' .

Abhay nodded.'So long as you dont bother others'

'Yes but how far do you think that out?? People are bothered by the most trivial things! Ultimately you have to be able to call your soul your own and be guided by what you think is right!' Naina was passionate about it.

'Sounds like Voltaire' said Abhay

'Oh you like his things'? Naina was clearly surprised. Equally clearly she'd substituted 'like' for something else, likely 'know', last minute.

'We are taught English even here' said Abhay drily. 'And I study literature'

'I m sorry' smiled Naina penitently, then frankly, 'It didnt seem like someone so protective of holiness would mix with Voltaire, if you know what I mean'.

'You ve led a protected life' announced Abhay who knew just what she meant but wasnt going to admit it..and being more comfortable now, was able to say 'with a lot of comfort and convenience and probably not enough hardship'

Naina reflected..'Comfort and convenience definitely..but i'd think that applies to anyone of us well off in this country today..why, what have you suffered?' her lopsided grin popped out.

'Nothing major..' he admitted, and was forced to smile.

'Can you cook?' asked Naina abruptly

'Huh?..umm..not you'? It was clear the idea seemed laughable to him.

'Of course. I m just back from cooking for myself for two years'.

'Were you abroad'?? Abhay was beginning to wonder whether to attribute his companion's general behaviour to 'foreign influence'. It would be a happy solution, he was beginning to quite like her otherwise. Nothing like the West to be cast in the villain's role.

'I was in Dehradun for two years, i just got my masters in history..of course we had a mess.But you know how you yearn for different food..'she added confidentially

'Oh' said Abhay, who would have eaten puris and alu ki subzi without comment thrice a day.He was slightly abashed though.Clearly the generalization was at fault, she could do some things. Fair minded by nature, he was about to make up by asking what she could cook, when she got in first.

'Whats your favourite dish'?

Abhay, not having spent thousands of words already in talking of it to various people, had to pause for thought.'Probably dum aloo'

'With makki ki roti or alu paratha'?

This needed further thought. 'Makki ki roti' he said finally.

'Good' declared Naina, apparently satisfied.'alu paratha with alu would have been too obvious'.

Abhay was about to challenge this by saying there was nothing wrong with being obvious when it struck him that courtesy demanded the return question. And one never knew with girls, she probably wanted that discussed in the first place.

'Whats yours?'

'Between bhindi bhaji and fish curry'. The slight distaste emanating from Abhay was obvious. 'You must be very vegetarian' added Naina instantly.

'Yes', said Abhay, and forestalling the next remark, 'and i dont think i m missing anything'

Naina was surprised, 'I dont think so either!' and added, 'You know you should be a little less suspicious. i dont know who has, but everyone doesn't want to jump down your throat. Food is probably the last thing I 'd argue about..' here Abhay had his doubts, he d already argued more than he had in the last six months in one hour flat.

'one man's food another's poison i wouldnt dream of eating cabbage. its the one vegetable i cant stand' she announced.

'Atleast cabbages dont bleed' said Abhay caustically.

Naina looked repulsed. 'Thats gross! Nobody eats bleeding things, please!!'

'Are you under the impression that you eat meat without shedding blood? all you mean is you dont want to see it but you want the advantage of the end product' said Abhay dismissively.

'Now you re being nasty' said Naina clearly bothered by the declaration.

Abhay knew it but was too firm on his stand to be kinder.

There was a pause. 'Would you rather let tigers starve than let deer be killed'?

'No' agreed Abhay, 'but I dont think tigers have an option do they? And humans arent part of the natural balance'.

That was something Naina could jump on. 'They are', she said triumphantly..'but I know what you mean, its true we handle animals horribly..i guess when human rights are decided by money, you cant expect Animals to get a look in..'

Abhay said nothing.

'You know, in labs', continued Naina, 'even for experimental animals that are routinely 'sacrificed' to make antibodies for you and me ultimately, they have very strict handling protocols. You have to break the animal's neck cleanly in one stroke. Any playing around or longer times for it and you ll be in deep trouble..the point is that nobody has the right to inflict suffering'

'Well atleast thats good' said Abhay, in truce.

There was a pause.

'Would you know if there are any not too expensive Benarasi saree shops near here'? asked Naina, changing the topic. 'I want to get one for my mother'.

Abhay looked doubtful. 'I dont think cheap and Benarasi silk go together' he said.' The small lanes are your best bet, they have looms at home, so its genuine also'

Naina nodded.

'If you walk right down and turn left there is a big place you can get clothes from', he was being helpful

'Like what'?

'Oh, scarves and things like that', said Abhay vaguely.'Its next to a ladies cycle showroom'

'Oh can you rent?' this seemd an unexpected plus

'You can' said Abhay pointedly.

'You mean you havent tried?' cried Naina. These little lanes look lovely for cycing.

'Like I said, they only have girls cycles' repeated Abhay.

They stared at each other from a much farther distance. 'Are you telling me, that you haven't tried cycling here simply because you find it below your dignity to use a girls cycle' demanded Naina.

'Not below my dignity' protested Abhay. 'but yes, I wouldnt want to'.

Naina didnt know what to say. 'My brother uses mine all the time' she said finally.

'Thats different' said Abhay

'Ok, upto you of course' said Naina finally, searching for a non violent remark.' You know, you re nice, but you re very self..contained' she continued..'or maybe you just dont talk enough to girls'

Abhay didnt think so, but he kept peace with a 'maybe'.

'It sounds like you make your own rules and they cant be moved around'.

Abhay was stung at this..'Not at all, I m willing to be convinced otherwise'

'Yes, but only where it doesnt matter much anyway' said Naina with some penetration.

'Thats true for everyone' said Abhay

'Anyway i ve learnt quite a few things' she smiled. Then, clearing her throat, 'I think I should be leaving, its quite dark'. 'Nice meeting you' she added formally. It sounded forced to both of them and both laughed, spontaneously, breaking the strain.

Abhay looked around,'Who are you going with'?

Naina was surprised. 'I'm walking back, its hardly a couple of kilometres! Why, are there too many dogs?'

Abhay was speechless at this obviously innocent remark. Nobody, he was about to say, who has stayed in this city a week, could ask that question. In the first place, women didnt wander alone. And they most certainly weren't dressed in jeans. Not to mention that a sort of inbreeding had rendered this area particularly cut off from progress elsewhere. While this had its pluses, it certainly limited its view of the average confident city working woman.

'Not dogs, its not safe' he said.

'Why'? asked Naina, curious in turn. 'Oh you mean there are weird people'?

'Yes', said Abhay happy to put it that way. 'They dont expect nice people to be around alone at this time..'

'You mean nice girls' said Naina shrewdly, and then caught sight of a set of people on the bank and waved.

'Well thats ok, i ve found people'

'Do you have an email address'? asked Abhay. It turned out both did.

Ten minutes later, Abhay was still leaning on the rails. He had the curious breathless sensation of having lived at a hectic pace. Not an unpleasant sensation, though his preferred pace of life was rather calmer. He wondered if they d meet again.

Naina was rather quieter than usual on the walk back. She d had a very pleasant time and was wondering the same thing.

The moon had come up bright enough to light the road till its curving end. The boat with Abhay on it made a nice silhouette. Naina couldn't hide a self smile, thinking this was the time for the background music to begin. They walked on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

GenZ to GenA

'Its a wrap' said Shalini, twisting the cloth expertly in the light.

'How is it different from a stole'?? I asked a tad sulkily, having already been informed condescendingly by the shop girl that I didnt know what I was buying.

'A stole is..its hard to explain, its just different from a wrap..slimmer'.

'You dont know either'! I was triumphant.

'Of course I do..these are wraps and these two are stoles', she pointed.
As this was exactly what the shopgirl had said I had to admit there was something to this wrap instinct.

'Anyway, I like the colour and I'm buying it' I said with finality.

'Yes its neat' agreed the expert.

I bought it,but with a vague feeling of injustice at heart. I could call it whatever I liked couldn't I?? I was determined to regain my self respect. As i walked homewards later, I thought I'd drop by at a neighbour's house and meet my 10 year old friend and her sister. She loved red, to the point that nobody with half an eye could miss her a kilometre off. I pressed the bell in special code short and two was opened carefully. 'Wow didi you got a red wrap'!! I was stunned. 'Its a stole!' I muttered, but my spirit was broken by now. The wrap cum stole was being examined with much care. Thinking I might atleast show off there, I asked where Swati, the three year old, was. 'Oh she s talking on skype' said the girl carelessly, still caught up with the red whatever. Once recovered, I had better sense than to ask if she was typing words or talking..besides I was scared the answer would give me an inferiority complex for life..

I walked toward home idly looking at the stalls. 'GenX says we love scubadiving' screamed a headline at the magazine stall. How many people go scubadiving?? Or maybe they did..I had a sudden vision of hundreds of people all scubadiving in waterproof wraps while skype-chatting.I wondered about the choice of alphabet, GenX and GenY..I could only hope they'd rush by the GenZ and get back to GenA super quick so I could start feeling superior, for a change ('oh, you dont know how a cassette player works? let ME teach you..)

I was home by now and still wearing the red thing. My visiting granduncle looked up, 'Arre nice dupatta, where you got?' I beamed. 'Its not a dupatta', I explained kindly, 'Its a wrap'.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

staying 'connected'!

'whr r u' beeped on my lab neighbour Smita's screen. She stopped mid conversation, expertly typed out 'hvng cfee bk in 5' and continued talking smoothly, as if there was no interruption. Nor did her friend find it strange, she d have done the same, infact had, three times already in 10 minutes. Its so much a byproduct of our fast paced mobile-internet age that nobody finds it strange that you keep track of people minute to minute, irrespective of whether you re arranging a meeting or no (most of the time no, its 'timepass' :). But does this mean that we have closer, more genuine friendships and relationships than before? I doubt it.

I remember hearing of a distant aunt who was known for her great calm and general imperturbableness(to coin a word:). She stayed with her husband, and after he died, by herself, in a huge house. Both sons were away working in different cities. Her brother was a family friend independently, but lived in Delhi. Once my grandmother asked her when he d be visiting Bangalore. The aunt tilted her head and thought calmly..'I havent seen him the last two years, so this year he should be coming..' Such was life!! The way you guessed when you might see your near and dear ones was by judging how long they d not come!of course, this was said with no complaint or unrest, it was a simple statement of fact. I had asked naively if they d fought with each other. This provoked much hilarity. Apparently both were of such equable temperament that if anything people around would tear their hair out, a fight between them would have needed something ultra special..maybe hiding the chutney-pudi the brother was addicted to would do it..Besides which, i thought to myself, you cant fight if you meet once in three years..

But I thought there was something both old worldly and charming in this attitude, and something worth sharing. And after all not to say they weren't attached or was just out of the question to travel that far routinely, and no news was considered good news! Quite a refreshing change from the sort of pace at which we operate today..

I tried imagining myself reporting an experiment- 'Sir it hasn't worked for one year, so it should by next April..'. Must try sometime..preferably with visa in hand :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


'Aarti'? 'Yaa..' came the answer, to the accompaniment of the squeak of the door shutting. A curly haired girl in her early twenties bounced into the room, with a strong air of suppressed excitement about her.Her mother looked up smiling-
'How was it?'

'Fab! it felt like we were back in college rightaway..anyway like Suma was saying the word 'reunion' somehow suggests we passed out in ancient times instead of two years ago, so this was more of a get together really. just that..'

'ok, first get some cardamom tea, i ve warmed it, its in the kitchen'

'How 'd you know i was coming like now?' asked Aarti astonished

'You mean coming now, what is 'like now'?!' said her mother sternly, possibly for the hundredth time..'I heard your laugh at the gate..who was it, by the way?'

'Oh, that!! Pasha!' said Aarti, smiling again in memory and completely ignoring the first part of her mother's sentence. 'Guess what Ma, he s getting married'!! Aarti was grinning ear to ear.

'What??' said her mother, taking off her reading glasses. Astonishment gave way to a smile of pure pleasure.'well well!..very nice, poor man he's had enough troubles..who is she?' Pasha's troubles were no secret. He'd battled a drunken older brother at home and much financial trouble, finally landing a job as a driver in a taxi company. For many years before that he d been garden-help and odd job man in various houses including theirs, instantly endearing himself by his resolutely cheerful personality and willingness to do almost any work. Also carrying an unquenched desire to be 'educated', Aarti's mother had taught him in the evenings for a while, and he was one of the few people she'd trust to pick up Aarti from her new job at night now.

'I don't know..someone who works at that Z brand place in this mall..he actually wanted me to go today for the Id dinner at his place but i told him i m meeting Deeps, she wants me to help her pick a mehndi dress..but'..continuing enthusiastically, 'he was so funny, I asked him why he s suddenly getting married, and you know what he said?! 'just like that'! as if anyone gets married just like that!!'

Her mother smiled..'Whats the girl's name?'

'I dont know' said Aarti,idly munching on a good day biscuit from the dabba, 'I'll ask tomorrow..of course he looked v happy, but i m sure he just wants someone to cook and dress up! you know how he keeps saying he s tired of cooking and nobody notices his ties!' It was certainly true that Pasha had a penchant for rather lurid ties, which was probably why people thought it more tactful not to comment on them.

'Aarti', said her mother in an unusually grave voice, causing Aarti to look around in surprise. 'Sit down for a moment..' Her mother folded her hands in what Aarti was fond of calling her 'lecturer pose'. 'Do you know, when I adopted you, one of the few people who wholeheartedly supported the idea was Pasha? And he must barely have been 18 at the time..Amma, as you know, was v supportive, but practically nobody else was. I cant tell you how grateful I was to Pasha for confidently telling me that yes of course it was stupid to marry for the heck of it and if i wanted you, I should just adopt and be happy my way, rather than suffer in conventionality..what i m trying to say is, he s probably the last person you should accuse of getting a wife because he wants a cook!'. Her voice was unusually stern.

Aarti was abashed but couldn't turn round that easily..'Obviously Ma, I like Pasha too you know that! Just that his answer was so funny! And its Pasha'! She couldn't help another smile, albeit affectionate, as if the fact of his being Pasha was sufficient to make the idea of his marrying funny.

'Just because some people can't clothe their feelings in flowery language doesn't make their emotions any less, Aarti..try remember that' said her mother.'Its important to distinguish between sophistication of speech and manner and sophistication of thought and feeling. In my mind, Pasha is more refined than several literary people I know. He has just as much right to be in love as your Shahrukh khan does on screen anyway, and he seems to exercise the right rather less often too..' she added caustically. Mums hated her favourite movie star, Aarti knew. She felt that was an unfair dig. All the more because the main point was beginning to make her uncomfortable..had she laughed on Pasha's face..? Worse, he was so tolerant it was impossible to tell if he minded!

'Umm..mayyybe' said Aarti.

Her mother had been a mother long enough to know when to stop. 'Ok go wash up, what s that awful stain on your sleeve? Panipuri again?'

'No, pickle' said Aarti..'But Ma..'


'You think he ll feel better if I go to the dinner today'?

'Oh I don't think he d be feeling bad at all, he still thinks of you as a baby' smiled her mother

'Ok I'll go' said Aarti, instantly relieved of a growing sense of guilt. Her personality demanded immediate action, and tended anyway to vacillate between extremes of happiness and misery. 'And I 'll use the paycheck and get her something on the way'!

'What paycheck?' asked her mother

'Ooh! Didnt i tell you ?? They gave me an advance on my first salary today! I meant to surprise you', she was beaming.

'Wonderful'! said her mother, bestowing quite a queensize hug on her 6 inches taller daughter.

'Ya so now I ll get Pasha's fiance something. or maybe for the house..'

'Thats nice, but theres no need to spend it all, you can get yourself something for memory' said her mother, knowing Aarti was likely to spend it all and add more in an orgy of making amends. 'And take a jacket'!

But Aarti was already out of the house.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Pink Panther

Mira was bored. The train journey had been fun, with the discovery of an equally energetic seven year old in the next compartment. Together they had got up an impressive level of noise, drawing exasperated looks from even the mildest adults around. The ten hour free for all rampage had ended with prim goodbyes executed under motherly pressure, the formality instantly transforming them from gleeful conspirators to shy strangers again..Then there had been the long taxi drive from the railway station. That had been fun, too. She was allowed to sit up front on her fathers lap and gaze out, leading to the declaration that Bombay had many more lights than Bangalore at night.Though on that she had to unwillingly agree with amma, who pointed out that she was never up at this time when home to make the comparison.

They were in Bombay for a relative's wedding. The exact nature of the relation was hard to describe in one word. 'A complicated cousin' is what Mira had heard her mother say to a guest once, and had casually repeated it in her best adult voice, drawing much laughter and fawning. Half a day was spent in exuberant marching up and down the stairs declaring 'Namrata is my complicated cousin' in the loudest voice she could muster, but now the charm had worn off. Besides nobody was paying attention to her, at best vaguely patting her when they brushed past her in their scurryings.Once she d wandered into Namrata's room, definitely the most crowded, and someone had dragged her in asking which colour nail polish she'd like. Nail polish!! Her! Her outrage had been mistaken for shyness leading to many 'so cute's', until a violent wriggle had thankfully set her free. Mira no longer wanted to be a boy, as she had desperately wanted to a year ago, but nail polish was still too blatantly feminine to be acceptable.

Forced on by boredom to more wanderings around the house, Mira'd seen a room that seemed to be always locked. Well nourished on a diet of enid blytons, her first and excited thought had been that that must be the secret treasure room. Before her imagination could be more fired, however, someone had unlocked it in broad daylight, exposing a dusty room with piled vessels, books, a large limp stuffed pink panther and a walking stick. A pink panther!! For Mira, it was enchantment at first sight. She hadnt even known they made pink panther dolls !! If you could call something her own size a doll, that is. She looked at it with more respect, albeit from a wary distance. A slight movement displaced something in the cluttered room, causing the pink panther's hand to fall on her own, almost like a salute. And Mira's whole self was transformed into a desperate desire to own the pink panther. Years of life minus the pink panther stretched achingly before her, and she refused to admit the thought. Poor thing, he looked more of a grey panther right now, with all the dust settled on him. She put him back gently and tiptoed out of the room to look for Authority. Namrata's mother seemed a good option. She found her just putting the phone down. 'Auntywho'sispinkpanther'? came out in one eager breath. 'Go Play with someone else ma..' murmured aunty vaguely, patting her and walking away. Frustrated, Mira looked around. Nobody looked like they would care about poor pink panther, she doubted anyone d even notice if he disappeared. Heart beating fast, she walked right back to the room, picked him up and marched out. 'hey'! came a voice, 'Where did you find that doll'?. It was Namrata. 'Put it back, its my old toy..You can play with it in that room if you like'. Mira was suddenly transformed from a daring kidnapper to a 7 year old facing adult unreasonableness. She hugged the pink panther tighter as her eyes clouded over. 'Can I keep him in my room for 2 days? till the wedding'?
Namrata's attention was already distracted toward a beeping phone. With a hurried 'Ok be careful' she'd disappeared down the stairs. And Mira had walked on jubilantly, the tears having magically vanished, and started the marathon task of restoring pink panther to his earlier glory with a cloth and some ribbons..three days later Namrata's mother had let her take away the pink panther. 'Namrata was v attached to it as a child, its been gathering dust for years now,take it, no need to tell her' she'd said, smiling conspiratorially. Knowing her cousin's rather abrupt mood changes, Mira had kept him carefully away from her eyes until the wedding. Which wasnt hard anyway, considering pink panther was clearly not on her priority list right then.

Amazingly, pink panther had been well cared for not just for a few years but for all of twenty years after his usurpment. There was something about having a large soft benign panther in the room..he d been friend,confidante, pillow and punching bag all in one. Mira ruffled his tuft of dark brown hair affectionately, remembering the overwhelming pleasure of wanting something desperately and then, fairytale like, getting it.'Mira'!! came a voice from outside. Mira woke from her reverie and jumped up. An elaborately dressed girl stood at the door.'Hi heroine, are you trying to be fashionably late at your own wedding'?? asked the dolled up figure. 'You look like the bride yourself' said Mira admiringly, reaching for a plate in one hand and pink panther in the other. Before the other girl could voice her horror, 'Hold him' said Mira, 'I want him at the ceremony. And if anyone objects, tell them he's my goodluck charm'. The vision recovered her voice 'You're mad!!'..then relenting..'ok, i'll put him in the front row where you can see'..'but if Sheelu aunty asks..'..the voices faded away. Pink panther sat philosophically, smothered by Estee Lauder wafting towards him from one side and a chunky necklace poking him from the other. He seemed at peace with the world..

Monday, July 19, 2010

Close encounter of the bangalore kind :)

Not being a frequent bus traveller, I had forgotten that there are still seats reserved for women. The elderly gentleman who got up to offer the seat was easily twice my age and more. Touched, I declined with much embarrassment. He beamed at me and gave me the Bangalore bus stop sweet smile. The ‘Lets exchange our deepest and most secret family details’ look. Not that old Bangalore had any conception of secret. None of these modern notions of privacy and reserve. The average bus stop companion would, at his height, tell you everything about himself including the house mortgage, his brother in law’s financial shenanigans and son’s trouble with maths, and be hurt and insulted if you didn’t trade in equally intimate sounding stories from your side. I was just thinking with a slight twinge of regret for lost colour that people don’t do that anymore, when the elderly gentleman coughed.

EG: You are working or studying?

Me: Studying..(expectant look)..doing a PhD in Molecular Biology..(I had learnt to tag on the ‘molecular’ after a couple of chidings from my mother-‘Why cant you say it when thats what you re doing? Always inhibited!’ and in response to my protest that there was no need to sound unnecessarily fancy, ‘Thats what I mean’! ).

EG (beaming): Verry good! How many years course it is?

Me: Its meant to be 5, but varies..because its hard to define how much is enough, and depends on your professor also

EG (sympathetic and surprised): From 5 years you are doing high energy work??

Me (lost): No, I don’t do any high energy work. And its not been 5 yet..but Why..?

EG: Thats the fashion no? Like that I read in newspaper!

Me: umm..not in biology i think..

EG (not paying attention): you are a nice girl, you listen me, how much they pay you??

Me (getting more and more lost): What?

EG (dismissively): Anyway wont be much. All the money in this city goes to these software engineers (our bus stopped in some eternal small jam) see! This also is because of them only! I have told my son, you study and gain knowledge, no working in a software company!

Me (impressed): thats nice, I m sure not too many people take that attitude!

EG (confidentially): Thats why I am asking you, Saturday Sunday 11 to 1! Or 4 to 6 is also ok. We re not rich people, but we want our son to do a phd. His grandfathers dream..he again beamed, possibly from memory.

Me: Thats very nice, but what do you want me to do??

EG (a little exasperated at my denseness): Come and take physics tutions! You are nice girl and You are doctor of physics no?? My son is very bad at physics (shook his head) much we are telling him study properly, always playing cricket, football, like this only!

Me (enlightened) : Oh! No I m very sorry but I m studying Biology like I said.. (and maybe the poor boy should be allowed to play)

EG (pushing aside an irrelevant detail): So what , PhD means you re becoming doctor of physics finally no??

Me ( now figuring the new full form of PhD): Ah. Unfortunately no, thats Doctor of philosophy! But i m sure your son will be fine sir, let him enjoy his school days (who knows, might help the poor guy!)..

And i added a v kannada line ‘aamele idde ide’ loosely meaning later anyway he has to face things. The line registered atleast. He sighed.
Then, cheering up, ‘So you study philosophy’??
That was around when my stop came, so I couldn’t figure out who needed philosophy tuitions  but it was a nice touch of old Bangalore after quite a while!:))

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Janaki miss- a tribute

'Janaki miss' as we called her, taught Carnatic vocal music in her tiny house at the end of an even tinier gully. Some of the richer students frequently drove right up to the house with a flourish, only to realise that there was a price to pay, it was practically impossible to reverse. Most of us walked up, and we could hear the strains of a very loud and lusty sa re ga ma from the very junior batches floating down two roads atleast. Janaki miss was a very warm and fiery person, when you first joined you'd be minorly bullied, but with time all of us settled into various levels of comfort with her. I was particularly fond of her, and she of me, so that we often spent the post class times with her talking about various people none of whom i knew, but would nod vigorously if asked 'and then this happened with- you know so and so?' with a glare. This, knowing that a no would lead to an impossibly complicated explanation of who is connected how to who and i'd get even more mixed up! Bangalore is still provincial in many ways, and within the same areas it is routine for older people to assume that everyone knows everyone else, meaning their family scandals and peculiarities inclusive :)

It was an uphill task for a single woman in the sixties with a clear talent in music to realise that she had to earn her living by it, assuming she wanted to live. Though to me it seemed unforgivable for any family to put a daughter or sister in that position, she was very matter of fact about it after all these years. Music was her passion, and perhaps to overcome the loneliness her days were crowded from 7 am to 7 pm with classes, and many of her students would also bring in supplies, stay to chat and of course, update her on the latest neighbourhood gossip :) She had strong and clear opinions on things- the etv newsreader was good, the dd one hopeless (never trust a man who smiles so much), the temple in front of the gully was good, the new student was good but her parents interfered too much, whereas the older lady who'd just joined would never get a grasp on swaras but was very keen nonetheless. but then what can you expect from a shetty? they just had too much money, so their parents make them feel they can buy everything. This blatant generalisation no doubt born of her generation was completely in contrast to her attitude in taking students though. anyone interested was welcome, she had no dresscode, jeans, salwar kameez, skitrs, upto you. all she wanted was a genuine interest and some progress to show for it. The mad hour to hour scheduling of course meant a compromise on time per head and therefore on quality, but people were welcome to come by later if free and just hang around and learn things. She certainly had a sense of humour, and some funny incident would get her smiling ear to ear and cutting the vegetables with that much more gusto, while they were serenaded by mohana or kalyani! an off tune even in a crowd would be instantly caught by her sharp ears and lead to much knife waving causing those nearest to back off nervously..

Infact her lesons were as much fun for th music as for the various diversions. Often she'd get up mid piece and still singing and giving the beat, walk out of the front door picking up something behind the door. Then suddenly the singing would give way to angry abuse. This was the cue for us older students to grin and look at the new ones, who'd be open mouthed and clueless. Until they, like us, realised that this was directed at her lifelong foe, a huge spotted cow that always diabolically waited till she was well in her stride and then hoping to get away with it, ambled up to chew on the soppu immediately outside her door. a vain hope, of course. The cardinal sin was if we stopped singing. She'd pop her head back in and glare ferociously 'Who asked you to stop'?? and of course everyone nervously started immediately, except not all at the same place..

The students who pleased her best were those who made the effort to ask the right questions and got the thala right. Poor thing, she did suffer from a number of older students (usually fond mothers and aunts) who just could not get the concept of rhythm, and insisted on substituting adithala for rupaka and occasionally something in between completely randomly, all the while cheerfully pausing midpiece, wiping their faces, making coments like 'so hot no?' and enthusiastically proceeding. On such days the tanpura was abandoned, and she'd glumly sit in a corner waiting for them to finish and then switch on etv. I suppose the newsreader read in rhythm, atleast.

She was a huge source of support and love to us all though, certainly to me. the last thing i remember before I had to leave and she fell too sick to teach, was her making me promise i'd 'keep studying well and do something big'. not, she hastened to add, 'just like all these people, making money and having no happiness ' but something out of the ordinary..She remained fiercely independent when a sudden cancer forced her to slow down. She hated not being able to get her own vegetables, but was gradually reconciled to it with a very nice young girl staying with her. Her students were sufficient and sufficiently fond of her to keep visiting, and when we do meet now once in a blue moon, the talk automatically shifts to her and makes us all smile in warm remembrance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

altered dreams..or are they?

Last night I dreamt I was watching a tulsi plant guarded by a slavering wolf, and i had to stay outside the chalk ring to be safe. Though I probably have more whacky dreams than the average person, and can trace this particular mixed up association back to a bad choice of a late night movie and old photo album browsing, :) it did set me thinking. As a 10 year old, I could spend hours playing around the tulsi katte with my 'children' (a battered rabbit, a friendly devil, anoushka and a friendly dragon) and my cousins, and nothing gave me greater joy than to distribute (carefully rationed) cheese spread and sauce and chutney sandwiches to everyone! The memory made me wonder, How many of my childhood ideas of happiness do i still have? How many do I no longer want, or have 'grown out' of? This line of thought led me to an interesting discovery..all the main things that gave me pleasure are fundamentally the same now! :) Maybe children have a clearer view of what makes them happy and less to distract them from it! Or of course maybe its just me :) anyhow whatever the reasons, I thought i'd list some things that always made me happy, and look at how true that is now..

1) The Cauliflower experience! : This aesthetic experience starts with the smell of cauliflower cooking, goes on to looking at the delicious florets as they go chatpat and to the grand finale, the glorious taste, when cooked in haldi and the rest! :) To add that chef's special touch, it had to be accompanied while eating, with either good company or a famous five (nobody beats enid blyton at food descriptions!)...I'd change the enid blyton to an agatha christie now, but the rest is identical :)

2) Looking forward to a return!: Nothing could beat this anticipation, not even the actual coming! It would be usually a parent coming back from somewhere (mostly my father) or cousins visiting from abroad :) Much of it was just their presence, but some part was DEFinitely those dark hocs and the cheeses :)..intact

3) Lazy morning: A late and totallu unguilty sunday get up knowing there was nOTHing one had to do..with hot chai-breakfast and a constant background from my mother (thats not the sugar spoon!..ginger is good for you stop fussing..i dont know how you'll ever run your own house..:)..intact

4) Having a friends day/Meeting interesting people and hearing all about them : Intact and more :)..though this also includes successful avoidance of someone you don't want to meet!

5) Putting up plays :BIg thrill and creative fun :)- not any more :( but watching plays is some substittute

6) To watch a scary serial or hear a scary story at night, then find there's nobody under the bed or bureau PLUS the torch has batteries PLUS I sacrifice dignity to confess and dont sleep alone! :)- not as strong..but still a feel good, the first two definitely!!

7) Sangeetha class- Much more than just a musical experience, and an invariable mood more :(..but more on that independently

8) Long aimless walks and sky gazing- first yes, second, terrace :(

9) My room- an instantly relaxing place! fullof familiar things and posters and colours and books :)- not anymore..the hosetl one is cluttered and anyway spend hardly any time there

These are things I used to do, here is a shorter list of things I wanted to do!

1) have an older sister

2) To write a book that'll smash all records and then retire for life :)

3) To travel and interview people along the way, and of course smoothen their troubles and leave with lots of gratitude graciously accepted :)..particularly in afghanistan

4) Go to Mohenjadaro, be an archaeologist, and crack the Indus script!

5) Explore parts of the amazon, specifically where an anaconda might be..

6) To make a brave sacrifice and help someone I love elope with someone else! I have no clue where this came from,but certainly remember being melancholily thrilled by the idea for years..always gave me a nice glow :))

6) To have a story teller permanently at hand ! :)

there must be more..but these offhand atleast! Some day I hope to realise the less impossible ones..or maybe all even, who knows :)