Sunday, June 26, 2005

Bachpan Ke Woh Din

Since we haven't done a list here in some time, we now bloweth where it listeth. The awards for the Best Books About Childhood And Growing Up1 category will be presented by...well, if you're not going to do it, Ludwig will. "Hey Ludwig, git here boy."

End of weird conversation with oneself. Anyway, the nominees are
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee - Note to self: Have fingernails pulled out in a slow and painful manner for not reading this book earlier. This book is so good, we might as well bung the rest of the list into a nearby large water body. How does a book remind you of your own childhood (especially with a sibling) so vividly, and yet 'carry a message'? How? Howhow?
  • Swami And Friends, R.K.Narayan - We spoke too soon when we said we could throw the list away. This one is at least as good as the Harper Lee book, if not better. Especially if you grew up in a small South Indian town. Stealing out of home on summer afternoons, eating pickles under a tree, vitally important cricket matches, weird maths problems, the works. Unmissable. The TV version was exceptional too.
  • Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain - Is it cheating to include two books under one item in the list? Yes, it is? Feel free to litigate. These two cannot really be separated from each other.
  • Kim, The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling - Cheated again. So there.
  • Peyton Place, Grace Metalious - A bit of an obscure choice, but doesn't it bring out the horrors and joys of growing up in small-town New England in the 50s (or is it the 60s?). One suspects that Stephen King owes this book a big (unacknowledged) debt.
  • My Family And Other Animals, Birds Beasts And Relatives, Gerald Durrell - If you're even remotely interested in nature, Greece, food, or laziness, you should read these books.

We cease and desist now. Nominations from faithful readers are invited. Because yeh public hai, sab jaanti hai.

1. Note that we will not strictly concentrate on childhood. From infant to young teen to young adult. Alles ist grist to die Mill.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Day The World Held Its Breath

Another important military anniversary comes along. 64 years ago this day, Operation Barbarossa was launched. Hitler (there are too many links about this creep), who had a genius for embellishment and overstatement was not exaggerating for once when he said, "The world will hold its breath." At 4:45 a.m., 4 million German and vassal troops launched themselves across the German-Russian border in Poland. They were organized into 3 Army Groups that contained 4 Panzer (armoured) groups under very able commanders. The aim was to dash across the Soviet Union, seize the important cities, and set up a front line separating Europe from Asia, providing lebensraum for the volk.

In the end, the Germans got almost as far as Moscow, laid seige to Leningrad and Stalingrad, but the offensive petered to a halt across a broad front, in the winter of 1941. Traditionally, a delay in starting the offensive, caused by Schicklgruber's insistence that Yugoslavia and Greece be subdued, is suspected to be the main reason why the attempt failed. General Winter set in for the Soviets and they were able to hold the line.

A momentous, momentous day that decided the fates of many, many people across the world, one way or the other.

[2 minutes silence]

Monday, June 20, 2005


Since our faithful audience has been waiting, for over 10 days, with breathless anticipation, for the next Choultry installment; and since one is exhausted from various inter-city travels, and governmental travails, the faithful audience will have to chew on this one for a few days. The present work is, of course, a parody of a slightly better and more famous one. Others have tried similar variations on a theme by C.L.Dodgson. This opus is a slight modification of an hitherto published (online) work about something else, so if you've read it before, you know where.


'Twas onetyone, and the idle crowds
Did blather and babble at;
All worked up and clamouring aloud,
Venting their spleen in every form.

"Beware the Bloggerwock, my friends!
Mind full o' stuff, with time on hand!
Beware these cranky ladies and gents,
And shun those psychos numerous as sand!"

He took his grimy keyboard in lap;
Long time the Ctrl-Alt-Del he sought--
So rested he with his Windows NT,
And sat awhile in thought.

And, as in cyber-thought he sat,
The Muse of Blog, that has no name,
Came screeching to this jobless brat,
And expounded forth as it came!

Clip-clop! Clip-clop! And without a stop,
His fingers o'er the keyboard danced!
He clicked on "Send", and in the end
Stood up and like a madman pranced.

"And hast thou read the Bloggerwock?
Come to my arms, my demented chum!
Oh joyous day! Hip-hip! Hooray!
We have a new member in the asylum!"

'Twas onetyone, and the idle crowds
Did blather and babble at;
All worked up and clamouring aloud,
Venting their spleen in every form.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bhaarat's Varsha

The title of the post is borrowed from a very well written piece by Khushwant Singh, from his book, "India Without Humbug" (which now appears to be out of print). The article revolves around the weather, more specifically the monsoon and its vital role in Indian life. Singh touches upon agriculture, ornithology, poverty alleviation, music, and other ways in which life in India is impacted by this annual whim of the sun and the oceans.

For seven years, one ("perpendicular pronouns Bhaarat chodo", see previous post) looked at the weather at a tactical level. In Amherst and in Boston, this meant paying attention to daily weather reports for about 6 months of the year, and then deciding what to wear, what to do, and where and how to go. Careful attention to details such as predicted daily (non substance induced) highs and lows, wind chill and such. The more prolonged and always-looming-in-the-background wait for the spring thaw, and to some extent even the first snows around Thanksgiving were certainly there, but the waiting didn't seem to matter in a larger sense.

On the other hand, here in the heart of the dustbowl that is the Deccan plateau, the weather has a completely different meaning. Who cares whether the temperature is going to hit 43 degrees centigrade, or 45? Us well heeled types have airconditioning at work, anyway. What really matters, is the rains. When they'll come, whether they'll come, will it rain smaller vertebrata (cats, dogs, ferrets, cows (small)) or are we going to see something quite at the other end of the spectrum (saurians (extinct), cetaceans, Moby Dick)?

Around the middle of May, the real protracted waiting begins. Read Singh's book, he does a really good job of describing the atmosphere. The parched earth, the dusty streets, listless living things, the pathetic whirring of ceiling fans and their futile attempts to stir the soupy air into a breeze of some kind. And the waiting... We scan newspapers in the hope that our untrained eyes will be able to glean something from the satellite images that the much maligned meteorology folk haven't been able to see.

The monsoon, Bhaarat's Varsha is [begin-aside:
  • dark clouds,
  • preliminary dust storms,
  • wet earth, the smell of wet earth rising like steam from an idli,
  • the hawk cuckoo (in Hindi sings pee kahaan ("Where is my Beloved?"), in Marathi sings paos aalaa ("The rains are coming!"), in English, somewhat morbidly, "Brain fever! Brain fever!"), peacocks strut,
  • Raagamala paintings of the rain raagas,
  • sari clad Bollywood starlets prancing in the gardens,
  • a large and interesting selection of creepy crawlies materializes out of thin air, possessed by the most desperate Samwise Gamgeeish desire to give your dinner company, as it wends its way on a perilous journey down your oesophagus,
  • and much much more
end-aside], most importantly, vital to the economy. A good monsoon means hope, optimism, food, in general a fursat ke raat din type of existence. A bad monsoon will mean slight discomfort and marginally increased expenses to the corpulent ones, but disaster in the countryside. With any luck, a bunch of yokels we will never have to deal with directly will end up having to sell/mortgage their land so that they can eat, and will eventually become cheap labour at urban construction sites and the housing and household help market will be sexy next year, so one will recover this year's losses. Ha ha ha.

The point is, this whole monsoon thingy is pretty critical, and not just from the perspective of selling movies. The bigger point is that this year, so far, the monsoon has been a big no-show. This is worrisome. One has one's weather spies scattered across the peninsula and nearby archipelagos. Our correspondent from Kerala reports that the rains there haven't been like in the old days. The embedded reporter from the Nicobar islands says that its raining there, and is bewildered as to what all the griping from the mainland is all about. Here, in the dustbowl, the wait continues. Almost every day, the satellite picture shows serried ranks of white approaching the south-west coast of India, but it isn't raining yet. Are the worthy Meteorlogical Ones using Adobe Photoshop more than helium balloons nowadays? It should've been pouring a week ago.

We squint at the skies, crinkle our brows and sing, "And we wait, and we wait, for you...with or without you...we can't live..."

Friday, June 10, 2005

Pictionary Musings

Always wanted to use 'musings' in the title. All one has to do is become ancient, have bad knees, and be elected Prime Minister, and 1 billion people will lap up this output.

Most paintings leave one cold. Mainly because one has to endure the igloo like conditions that prevail in most museums where the darn things hang. Even otherwise, one finds that one likes (relatively) very few painters and paintings. One's more malicious mates will attribute this to one's colour-blindness, but one scoffs at such suggestions. [Aside: One feels vaguely uncomfortable today about using the perpendicular pronoun, ergo one uses one.]

One finds that the really interesting paintings are by painters about whose life and circumstances one has greater knowledge. Exampli gratia, one reads The Moon And Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (or as the itinerant bard from Andhraa Desamu once put it, Saamarasetti Maaghamu Panditulu) and discovers that this Gauguin bloke was an interesting sort of bird - investment banker turned Tahiitian tourist type. And one blustery day, one stumbles across a painting in the (iglooish) neighbourhood museum, and suddenly the picture begins to appear...well, pretty as a picture.

Similarly, one discovers a crumbling copy of Pierre La Mure's novel, "Moulin Rouge" at home, and discovers that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is more than a longish, unpronounceable, French nome. T-L had a privileged, if sad childhood and youth, and seems to have spent a lot of time hanging out at various cafes and other esatblishments in the Montmartre section of Paris, as Frenchmen with longish, pronounceable names are wont to do. He also seems to have consumed industrial quantities of absinthe, which is some kind of libation which is nowadays commonly used to scrape clean the insides of blast furnaces. His paintings are very Paris-cafe-brothel-brooding-existentialists-smoking-endless-Gauloises-wondering-why-
existence-is-why-can't-we-get some type. Whatever that type is.

Having sampled Gauguin and T-L, the lives and works of Monet and Degas also became interesting. Perhaps reading The Agony And The Ecstasy (or watching it), and watching/reading "Lust For Life" will make one take a more lively interest in Michelangelo and Van Gogh.

TAILPIECE: How important is the name of a painting? Absolutely critical, neh? If the Mona Lisa was called La Gioconda, many millions would think it has something to do with a large South Indian fortress (or beer!). Many other millions would conjecture that Da Vinci had a pleasing encounter with a member of eunectes murinus which inspired him?

Or take the case of Edvard Munch's most famous, and now stolen, The Scream. It has been said by some to "...symbolize modern man taken by an attack of existential angst..." What if Munch had named it, "Thin Dark Wavy Guy (Weird) I Painted When I Was Stoned", or "Aargh! Sartre Owes Me 1,000,000 Francs And Now Says Hell Is Other People". The effect wouldn't be quite as dramatic, neh?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Of Male Bondage...Bonding...Bondage

Two posts in one day. Some kind of record.

Verily, The Poet has said:

On Male Bonding
--July 2003, Amtrak, somewhere between Penn Station and South Station

Behind a successful man, they say
Lurks a woman or three
Au contraire, I beg to differ,
What about his best buddy?

Enkidu was a hairy freak
But without him, no Gilgamesh;
And could Leander ever have beaten Pete,
If he never partnered with Mahesh?

"He doth not bite", they say,
"The canine that loudly barks."
But Friedrich E. did sustain a Dawg,
That did both in the person of Marx.

Adolf H. had Rudolf H.,
As every dictator must his scribe.
Both were ravening psychopaths,
But together they did jive.

"To be, or not to be?",
That is all good and sound.
Ere Laertes reaches for his envenom'd blade,
I would surely have Horatio around.

Heroes Gallic, I descry two,
I speak, of course, of Aster- and Obel-ix.
And that incomparabale duo,
That revealed the secret of the double helix.

Those ineffably elegant prime numbers,
Demurely inscrutable to mortal man...
They may never reveal all their treasures,
For whither art Hardy-Ramanujan?

He might've been a rotten cad,
Was Raskolnikov, steeped in the ways of sin.
I personally think, his only saving grace,
Was his long-suffering chum, Razumihin.

You'll never get fame, if you're called 'Butch',
But we all know one bloke who did.
I really wouldn't have fancied his chances,
If he didn't team up with the Sundance Kid.

Alimentary, my dear large intestine,
If Sherlock had written all those tomes,
He would've just been a terrible egotist;
Without faithful Watson, whither Holmes?

You find them friendly pairs,
In real-life, myth, legend, and drama
Damon and Pythias, Lewis and Clark,
And, may I add, Krishna and Sudama.

But I shed a tear for that worthy pair,
Those icons of friendship, profound
For Veeru who gave his life for Jai.
(Or was it the other way around?)

And Scheherezade saw the approach of the dawn and discreetly fell silent.

Operation Overlord Remembered

On June 6, in 1944, the largest amphibious landing in the history of warfare was succesfully attempted. Codenamed 'Operation Overlord', several British, US and Canadian infantry, armoured and parachute units landed across a broad front (5 beaches) in France. Facing them in the immediate vicinity was the German Seventh Army, a motely crew of infantry and parachute units, and one Panzer division (21st Panzer, reconstituted after the original one surrendered in North Africa).

There are several 'standard' resources for information on the Normandy Landings (including the BBC, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia), so we will focus on some little known trivia.
  • Exhibit A: The Crossword Panic Of 1944 - when a 54 year old teacher who compiled crosswords unwittingly set clues over several weeks, the answers to which were all code names of various things involved in the invasion
  • Exhibit B: The area in the English Channel where the Allied armada would fall into formation, having arrived from various ports in England, was (appropriately enough) named Piccadilly Circus!
That's all. Got to go...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Line Less Travelled

Nothing works wonders for your frame of mind as the sight and sound of a train passing by. From a very yeng yaze, we have been fascinated by trains and locomotives. We never misses a chance to gets on a train, my precious. So 'ere be a list of some of our more memorable train journeys.
  • Visakhapatnam-Trichur: Those good 'ol summer holidays. Mangos, guavas, the posh 'cushion' seats of Coromandel Express (which is so famous, it lends its name to a small Parisian publishing house) until Vijayawada, and the wooden slats of the Jayanthi Janatha after that. The names of Tamil Nadu stations rolling off the tongue (Arakkonam-Katpadi-Jolarpettai-Salem...), and the stations themselves rolling past the windows. The headlong rush into the Palghat Gap, and then God's Own Country. Actually, it is Marx's Own Country, but Marx is God, so that's OK.
  • Visakhapatnam-Araku: On the Kirandul-Kottavalasa line. Wonderful views, tunnels, people from the hills loading produce on the way to the market, clouds, waterfalls. The works.
  • Mettupalayam-Ooty: On the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. One of the last outposts of steam traction in India. Very touristy, but nevertheless thrilling.
  • Kalka-Shimla: Another mountain railway, the northern cousin of the Nilgiri line. No steam on this line (not regularly, anyway), but the climb from the plains to the Himalayas over a long afternoon makes up for that. Again touristy, unforgettable.
Farther afield, we have:
  • Philadelpha-San Francisco: Amtrak. 4 days and 3 nights in a chair car, but what a trip. If it only had been more leisurely...
  • Zurich-Rheinfall-Grenchen-Geneva-Bern-Zurich: Switzerland. Pretty as a postcard, inhumanly punctual and efficient.
  • London-Abergavenny: Welsh excursion, on British Rail. "Watson, my Bradshaw's tells me that if we hurry, we can find seats on the 10:18 from Waterloo" etc.
  • Edinburgh-Fort William: Single malt, bagpipes, and moors outside, beautiful, beautiful country. The occasional antediluvian saurian raises rears out of a passing loch and gives us a gander...
  • Glasgow-London: On the GNER. Passes through the Lake District. Skimbleshanks country?
  • Tokyo-Kamakura-Tokyo: Japan Rail. Our motto: "We give those Swiss a run for their monies". Inhuman efficiency, on the other side of the world.
  • Kyoto-Tokyo: On the unbelievably fast, comfortable, quiet Tokaido Shinkansen
  • Aguas Calientes-Ollyantaytambo: After 4 grimy dirty days on the Inca Trail to Machhu Pichhu, this little train ride in the Andes was blissful. The feet got to rest, the throats and stomachs got to eat, the eyes got to ogle, and so on.

Friday, June 03, 2005

In Which Arundhati Gives It Those Ones

Long before she won the Booker Prize for "The God Of Small Things", Arundhati Roy was a seller of empty beer bottles, a student of architecture, and a dabbler in films. She studied architecture at the Delhi School Of Architecture, dropped out, went to Goa, came back broke, found a job at the National Institute Of Urban Affairs, and was spotted by director Pradip Kishen, who offered her a role in his film "Massey Sahib" in 1986.

In 1988, Roy wrote the screenplay of, and Krishen directed In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones", about life at a not-so-fictitious school of architecture in Delhi. Thanks to a colleague, I managed to lay my slimy paws on a somewhat grainy (camera print?) of this movie. It was shown exactly once on Doordarshan, and the original print seems to have disappeared.

The movie is eminently watchable, even if it isn't a Kurosawa. There isn't much by way of a story, just a fly-on-the-wall look at the life of college students in the last days before graduation. Anyone who went through the hostel experience in India will empathize with the characters. Its worth the time spent, if only to see what Roy was like before her catapult to fame (and now infamy?).

Roy, who was the darling of the middle class ("Oh look, an Indian girl has won the Booker Prize, how nice, we must be a great people!") after winning the prize, has subsequently become the object of much revulsion and hate ("She's an anti-national!"). Several people have accused her of discovering her bleeding heart after discovering stardom. One only has to watch the movie, and listen to the words she (the scriptwriter) puts in her (the Radha character's) mouth, to discover that her political views aren't anything new, she has had them from the beginning, and her winning the prize only resulted in those views getting publicity.

She can't act to save her life, but boy she's cute :)

P.S. King Khan makes a very brief appearance, as a senior student.