Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A step towards a better me...

I don't usually make New Year Resolutions. For one, I believe that if I indeed have resolved that I have to do something, I should start immediately and not wait until the new year. Secondly, usually my New Year Resolutions don't even last through January.

But now it has so happened that I have a new resolution - and since it is almost New Year, I have decided to call it my New Year Resolution. One that I am going to make sure doesn't fizzle out.

I have decided to be more systematic, organized and disciplined.

No, please, I am not that hopelessly untidy or disorganized. But there is a lot of scope for improvement. The problem is that I have never felt the need to be that organized, until now.

And to think the people around me are so magnificently orderly. My grandmother. Her Godrej steel almirah. It is such a pleasure to behold it. Her silk sarees neatly folded and placed in hangers - all of them folded to the same dimensions, no protruding ends anywhere. Her cotton sarees folded crisply, placed one above the other, in perfect towers. No Leaning Towers of Pisa here. Her almirah is a study in perfection. She even adds to the effect by placing a bit of sandalwood shaving, or some other sweet-smelling thing in the corners, and when you open the almirah, you get a whiff of the fragrance – such a treat to the senses. Ok, my almirah need not be that faultless. But at least I could have inherited a fraction of that attention to detail? At least as much as to prevent clothes from falling out when the almirah is opened?

Then my mother. She keeps her home and her kitchen spotlessly clean. The furniture is perfectly placed, pots and plants and flowers and curios positioned in strategic places, the bed beautifully made, the cupboards neat and clean, everything in their proper places. When she cooks, there is no trace of it even when she is in the midst of the cooking. She is that meticulous. As for me, you can see vegetable peels and flour everywhere, until I finish and clean up.

My father. Every document, every passbook, cheque book, every bill in place. In neatly arranged folders, in well-maintained and dated files and books. And it is not that he spends unnecessary hours on it. It is just that he is prompt, and precise. If you ask him for a certain something, he will get it for you in a minute. As for me, the less said the better. Check out this conversation, you will get an idea.

Me(calling him up): Papa, is my IOB chequebook with you?
Papa: Let me check. (Half a minute later), No, it must be with you.
Me: Ok, I will check. (There is no question whatsoever of wondering if my father might be wrong, and maybe he has misplaced it).
(After two hours).
Papa: Did you find it?
Me: No I don't think I have it.
Papa: Check again.
(Two days later)
Papa: Did you find it?
Me: No, I looked everywhere, its not there.
Papa: Check again.
(A week later).
Me: Err... ummm... Papa, I found it.
Papa: Where was it?
Me: With my medical bills.

I haven't inherited these qualities from anybody. I could have got at least a bit of it. But no. I have to rely entirely on my own interest and effort to be as systematic as these people mentioned above.

Or I could have picked it up from association. My mom-in-law runs a well-oiled home. All things in their right places all the time, everything done just so. S is also very organized. He knows where his things are, and he keeps records, and maintains files for documents. He is tidy, and dislikes clutter. He thinks he has room for improvement, and while that might be true, it is also true that compared to me, he is a whole world apart. He is distressed by how unorganized I am. He has been trying to bring some improvement in me ever since we got married - but how can he, alone, succeed in such a short time, where my parents, combined, could not for a quarter of a century?

So, I conclude, it has to come from me. From within me. Not for the first time have I realized the need to be organized. But I have comprehended the fact that it has now turned into a necessity.

So, by putting this on my blog, where the whole world (and more importantly, my parents and S) can read it, I am throwing my hat across the fence, so to say. And so, I enter the new year with hope.

A very happy, healthy and peaceful new year to all of you!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

May The Force not be with you.

I am afflicted with a disease. Or should I call it a bane, an inconvenience? Nothing wrong with my health, thanks for the concern - but there is Something out there that conspires to keep me either too jobless or too busy, with never a balance.

I am not talking about my job. I never talk about it on my blog, not if I can help it. I am referring to my social life. Let me explain.

There are periods in my life when absolutely nothing happens. I go on with my usual activities, my weekends are as usual, and everything is just normal, just short of being boring. Then all of a sudden, on one particular weekend, people decide to have get-togethers and celebrations and parties, and everybody invites me to their event. And that leaves me juggling lunches and brunches and teas and dinners and apologizing to some of them and attending the others, and running around the city and making a mess of the whole thing. Now, why couldn't these people have spread out their events so that they could cover my non-eventful weekends, so that I could attend all the events in peace?

But no. It is almost as if some Unseen Force urges everybody I know to make sure that they arrange events such that Shruthi is caught in a dilemma.

Now, when two events clash, I have 4 options.
1) Attend event A.
2) Attend event B.
3) Attend both events one after another.
4) Attend neither event.

Options 1 and 2 are the most difficult, when it comes to decision-making. All other things being convenient, there are two aspects which aid (or hinder) the decision-making process when it comes to attending an event - Interest and Obligation. Now if an event is both interesting and obligatory for me to attend, there isn't anything much to decide. Just a carefully crafted apology to the other party will do the trick. But the difficulty arises when one is interesting and the other is obligatory. I usually weigh the pros and cons of each and end up going to the - obligatory one. Just once, I went with my heart and went to the interesting event and chucked the obligatory one. I regretted my decision immediately. I found that the interesting event wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be, and I was under a much greater obligation to attend the other event, than I thought I was. If both events are both Interesting and Obligatory, then Importance is the deciding factor. And I won't go into what I do if both are equally important. This could go on and on.

Option 3 is not too difficult if both events are taking place close to each other - I can pop in at both places for a while and get away with it. But if the events are at different corners of the city, I consider my sanity more important, Bangalore traffic being what it is. So this option is out.

Option 4 is silly - but I admit I have taken refuge in it more than once - if not anything else, it gave me a respite from putting my sparse brains to too much work.

Even an event that I arrange is not spared by this Supernatural Force. I happen to call a friend and suggest that we meet up as we haven't done so for a long time, and she agrees and everything is set for Friday at 7 PM. Then on Thursday, you can be sure that another friend will call me and say that she is leaving the city on Saturday and won't be back for two years, and the only time she has is Friday night and can I please meet her then. It pains me to cancel the first date, but it is pretty obvious which one is the more pressing engagement!

My personal plans are also routinely spoiled by this Unknown Agent. For example, when I get over my laziness and schedule a long-overdue visit to the beauty parlour, I can almost look at my phone and predict that someone will call me and say that s/he is in the vicinity and is dropping by to see me, if I am free. It is not like I am going to the doctor or anything - the beauty parlour can wait. So I agree, and convince myself that it is okay to look like Mowgli for one more week.

And reasons. I am a very bad liar, people say, so when I have to tell somebody that I cannot make it to their do, I usually tell the truth - that my presence is required elsewhere. And how do I do it without hurting them? I don't know. I sometimes even add, "Why couldn't you have arranged it last week when I was rotting at home with boredom and yawning till the edges of my mouth needed stitches?"

Oh please please don't stop calling me or inviting me or visiting me, assuming that you are putting me under unnecessary duress. I love meeting you and talking to you and spending time with you. Only please make sure that you are not influenced by The Force when you schedule your events!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It's all in the name.

It seems to be the season for weddings - and as usual, discussions drifted towards how the marriages happened, and as usual, it took me back to my childhood to that very eventful life of the township I grew up in.

When we were kids, we knew about two kinds of marriages. "Arranged" marriages and "Ooooh" marriages. "Ooooh" meant "Love". Because, back then, "Love" was a taboo word. None of us children even spoke that word out. If anyone did, it was met by a series of "Oooooh"s. I still can't get over the fact that we were such little prudes just a couple of decades ago... and the children of today are familiar with such words, that if I have to use them in my blog, I will have to take the help of special characters.

Anyway, we kids were fascinated with the concept of "Ooooh" marriages, and somehow, peer pressure had convinced us that it was a "Cheee" thing. My mother once scolded my friends and me for such utter silliness, so we stopped saying "Ooooh" for "Love" - when my mom was around.

Well, so, when somebody pointed out that so-and-so had gone through an "Ooooh" marriage, we would look up at the offender with a look that was a mixture of fascination and contempt. This phase lasted just a couple of years, thankfully.

But what were these marriages, anyway? The definition was simple. Arranged marriage was when the parents and relatives scoured the land for a suitable "match" and compared horoscopes and "fixed" the wedding, and the couple dutifully got married.[In later years, the couple had an increasing veto power over thier parents' choice]. Love marriage was when the couple met, liked each other, decided to get married and then told their parents.

But soon I discovered that sub-categories had come up when I was not looking. Like once, when I told Y that X's was a "Love" marriage, and she now lives with her parents-in-law. X looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head.
She said, "How is that possible? It must have been an Arranged marriage."
"Oh no it wasn't. They met at their workplace".
"Then it must be a Love+Arranged marriage".
"And what is that?"
"When the couple falls in love, decide to marry, and tell their parents, and the parents accept and get them married."
"Oh really, and then what happened to the simple Love marriage?"
"That is when a couple fall in love, but the parents are against it, so they get married without the parents' wishes, and it usually involves a break with one or both the set of parents."
"And what if one set of parents is fine with the marriage, and the other set isn't? What is that called?"
"That is still a Love+Arranged marriage, but some explanation has to follow".

Then I met a friend who had got engaged a while ago. I asked him how his fiancee was doing, and he gushed and blushed.
"You know, mine has turned out to be a love marriage".
I was horrified. I had visions of his poor fiancee crying her eyes out when this guy was running off with his "love".
"And how's that?" I asked.
"You know my fiancee, don't you? Our marriage was decided by our elders, but after our engagement, we met very often, and guess what, we have fallen in love! It has turned out to be an Arranged+Love marriage!"
"Hurrah for you! But just out of curiosity, what do you call a marriage which is Arranged, but the couple fall in love after the wedding?"
His face made it clear that he wanted no difficult questions to come in the way of his celebration, so I quickly moved away.

Then there is this other kind of marriage, where a friend of mine and her colleague decided that they enjoyed each other's company, and that since they belonged to the same community, and they had no other love interests, why not raise the issue of a wedding with the elders? So they got their horoscopes matched, and they, well, matched, and they were married. So, I asked no one in particular, what is this marriage called? Technically, it was arranged not by the parents, and technically it wasn't a love marriage. Also, what would have happened if their horoscopes hadn't matched? I received no answer.

Ok here is one more kind for of marriage for you to think about. I know a girl who worked in the city. Her parents, looking out for a "match" for her, asked her to meet a certain someone in the same city, and let them know whether she liked him. But within a couple of days, her parents got some information about the guy's family, which convinced them that it wouldn't be a suitable alliance, so they quickly called her to tell her not to bother about meeting that guy. But this girl had already met him, and hit it off beautifully with him, and she stood her ground that if she would marry, she would marry only him. After a long and painful struggle, she had her way and they got married. So what is this called? "Started-out-arranged-turned-into-love-marriage"?

Other sub-categories are welcome - that is what the comments section is for. This could be a good PhD topic in Sociology, you know....

Update: Viky seems to have already conducted research on this topic, and has left a comment with very detailed classification - you just have to take a look at this!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Open to the elements!

One of my favourite subjects when I studied Energy Engineering, was Energy Efficient Buildings. These are just buildings that are built in such a way that artificial energy requirements are minimised. This is done by designing the house such that it makes optimum use of naturally available light and air, and you need not rely on artificial lighting and cooling. The materials that you use to build the house also matters.

Actually, our ancestors knew perfectly well how to build energy efficient homes. If you walk in from the hot sweltering sun into an old house with a courtyard, your face is greeted with a cool breeze, and your feet tread upon a deliciously cool floor. Where does this coolness come in on this hot day? Just a little planning and design.

And now we have lost it. For as usual, we are aping the west. The sleek glass buildings that we see so much, that look so posh and sophisticated and appealing are perfectly suited to the western climate. The glass windows are excellent absorbers of heat, and the building is automatically heated, thus reducing their heating requirements in winter. But in a tropical climate like ours, it only serves to heat up the interiors further, which we then try to counter by pumping in precious energy to power the air conditioners. So, due to glass windows, now the air conditioners have to do the work of reducing temp from 35 deg to 24 deg, rather than 28 to 24 deg (In summer, in Bangalore). And when there are power cuts, the problem could have been solved by simply opening the windows - but ah no, the windows here cannot be opened. So you have a backup of diesel generators which results in more energy wastage.

Building such energy guzzling buildings in a place like India is almost as silly as building an igloo in a desert.

If you want an example of an Energy Efficient Building, visit the office of The Energy Research Institute in Bangalore, very near Airport Road in Domlur. They have constructed the building in such a way that artificial lighting is not necessary at all. As far as I could make out, there was no air conditioning either, and no fans. Yet, there was a lot of air movement, and a cool, pleasant atmosphere. One more specialty of this place is that this building stands next to an open drain, the smell from which hits you when you go past it. But inside the building, there is no hint of a stink. You can get an idea about how it was accomplished, here.

And building such buildings is not expensive either. You just need an architect and an engineer who know the basics. But renovation or modification of an existing building to become energy efficient can be expensive.

Even our department in our college was built with these principles. The college is situated in an extremely hot place. Even then, we did not need to switch on fans even if the temperatures outside were 30-35 deg. Only when it went to 40 deg, did we switch on the fans. As for lights, even on the cloudiest day, we haven't switched on the lights in our classrooms. In fact, I wouldn't even have known where the light switches were, had we not had special classes in the evening by a visiting professor!

To give you a slight idea of the type of construction and materials used -
1) The South and West facing walls, which experience maximum solar radiation, had no classrooms or windows, but were covered with granite, which doesn't absorb heat, instead creates a cooling effect
2) The building had a courtyard, with classrooms all around... and a courtyard is perhaps the best design to create cool breezes.
3) The walls had insulating materials between bricks, which again minimized heat absorption.
4) The floor of the terrace, again, was specially constructed such that heat is not absorbed.

There is a lot of information available on the internet too, if you are interested to look. But when reading up on principles, you should remember that the principles change with the place and latitude. What might be a perfectly good design in Australia, will be totally useless in India because the angle of the solar radiation is totally different in the two hemispheres. Similarly, even a building in Bangalore (moderate climate) will be different from one in, say, New Delhi (extreme climatic conditions). Our department building was designed for a very hot climate, so it concentrated on minimising heat absorption.

Design of a building is one step - the next step involves using energy efficient light fixtures, etc. The third step involves incorporating solar water heating, and solar photovoltaics for taking care of a part of the energy requirements of the building - all these make up an energy efficient building.

And the best part of such a building is that it is a pleasure to be in it - it creates the effect of lots of space - it looks beautiful. In fact, schools should be specially designed with these principles in mind - a lot of light and air is conducive to learning.

So, if you are going to build a house, do give this a thought, will you? :)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A reco.

I will be back with some posts, but I couldn't resist telling you about this very funny blogger - Raj of Plus Ultra. I have been reading his blog for over a year and he has only been getting better.

It is not that there are no other blogs on my blogroll that are worth mentioning. But the fact is that I feel that considering how good Raj of Plus Ultra is, he is not read by a proportionate number of readers. And when I see some other moderately funny bloggers praised to the skies, I keep saying in my mind, "But you haven't read Plus Ultra!" So I decided to bring the voice out of my head onto my blog -- this is my tiny attempt at publicity for him. And no, he is not giving me any commission for this. Just a fan's attempt to thank someone who always makes her smile!

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Succumbing to the insistence of my dear well-wishers and pushers, I sent along a little something to Deccan Herald, and it has been published in today's edition (Nov 25th, 2006), in their "Right in the Middle" section.

They haven't edited anything except for the very last line, which they have modified to mean the exact opposite of what I wrote originally!

You can read it online here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Akashvani Sangeet Sammelan - Broadcast Schedule

The Akashvani Sangeet Sammelan is an annual festival of music, conducted by All India Radio. Every year, since 1954, it has been broadcasting concerts of known and upcoming artistes as part of this festival.

This is something I look forward to each year, a veritable feast for the soul. Every night for about a month in December, I go to sleep with the strains of beautiful music in my ears - and what could be more relaxing?

This year, the broadcast starts on December 2nd, 2006.

Everytime I get comfortable in the feeling that the whole world is getting net-savvy, there comes a rude realization that it is not yet so. An example in the present context is that I couldn't find the Broadcast Schedule of the Sangeet Sammelan anywhere on the net.

I finally found a handbook of AIR, which gives the entire schedule, and as my own little contribution to the music lovers of India, I have typed out the entire schedule, along with the dates, time, and categories.

Do tune in, and hope you enjoy it!


2/12/2006Saturday9.30-11 pmVeena SahasrabuddheVocalH
4/12/2006Monday10-11 pmJayanthi KumareshVeenaK
5/12/2006Tuesday10-11 pmBarun Kumar PalGuitarH
6/12/2006Wednes- day10-11 pmMadhav Gudi VocalH
7/12/2006Thursday10-11 pmTrichur V. RamachandranVocalK
8/12/2006Friday10-11 pmArvind ParikhSitarH
9/12/2006Saturday9.30-10.30 pmAfroz BanoLight Classical VocalH
9/12/2006Saturday10.30-11 pmNissar Hussain KhanTablaH
10/12/2006Sunday10-11 amH.C.VermaVocalH
10/12/2006Sunday11-12 noonNityanand HaldipurFluteH
10/12/2006Sunday9 30 –11 pmKunnakkudi R.VaidyanathanViolinK
11/12/2006Monday10-11 pmVijaya JadhavVocalH
12/12/2006Tuesday10-11 pmRajendra PrasannaFluteH
13/12/2006Wednes- day10-11 pmVishakha HariVocalK
14/12/2006Thursday10-11 pmAlka Deo MarulkarVocalH
15/12/2006Friday10-11 pmAmarnath MishraSitarH
16/12/2006Saturday9 30 – 11 pmN.RamaniFluteK
17/12/2006Sunday9 30 –11 pmUstad Mazhar Ali and Javaad Ali KhanVocal DuetH
18/12/2006Monday10-11 pmNiladri KumarSitarH
19/12/2006Tuesday10-11 pmCheppad A.E Vamanan NamboodiriVocalK
20/12/2006Wednes- day10-11 pmShanti SharmaVocalH
21/12/2006Thursday10-11 pmBasant KabraSarodH
22/12/2006Friday10-11 pmChittoor G.VenkateshanFluteK
23/12/2006Saturday9 30-11 pmAbhayNarayan MallickDhrupad- DhamarH
24/12/2006Sunday10-11 amBharat Bhushan GoswamiSarangiH
24/12/2006Sunday11-12 noonBaldevraj VermaVocalH
24/12/2006Sunday9 30-11 pmN.RavikiranChitraveenaK
25/12/2006Monday10-11 pmMambalam SistersVocalK
26/12/2006Tuesday10-11 pmDinkar PanshikarVocalH
27/12/2006Wednes- day10-11 pmPraveen ShevlikarViolinH
28/12/2006Thursday10-11 pmKalyani LakshminarayanaVeenaK
29/12/2006Friday10-11 pmNisha ParasnisVocalH
30/12/2006Saturday9 30-11 pmBuddhadeb DasguptaSarodH
1/1/2007Monday10-11 pmDesur D.S.D.SelvarathinamNagaswaram K
2/1/2007Tuesday10-11 pmShubhra GuhaVocalH
3/1/2007Wednes- day10-11 pmBahauddin DagarRudraveenaH
4/1/2007Thursday10-11 pmT.V. ShankaranarayanaVocalK
5/1/2007Friday10-11 pmVishwanathVocalH
6/1/2007Saturday9 30 – 10 30 pmSamaresh ChoudhuryVocalH
6/1/2007Saturday10 30-11 pmRadheshyam SharmaPakhawajH
7/1/2007Sunday 9 30-11 pmBombay sistersVocalK
8/1/2007Monday10-11 pmSandipan SamajpatiVocalH
9/1/2007Tuesday10-11 pmSaumitra LahiriSitarH
10/1/2007Wednes- day10-11 pmM. ChandrashekharanViolinK

[Source: All India Radio Booklet (typed out with some corrections).]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

It's a long way to Tipperary......

TP Kailasam is one of Karnataka's better-known humorists. Though he passed away about sixty years ago, he is remembered quite often even now in many contexts. A host of delightful stories, anecdotes and witticisms are attributed to him.

He was a very interesting person. He reportedly could blow smoke rings and spell out his name with them. How cool is that! (I mean, not his smoking, you know what I mean!) He was a master punster, and often refered to himself as "Typical Ass".

Most anecdotes are best told and understood in Kannada, but here is one interesting story. Once, while Gandhiji was staying for a while at Nandi Hills, there was a concert by the great violinist T.Chowdaiah. Gandhiji, enjoying the magnificent music, turned to Kailasam, who sat next to him, and asked, "Who is this great man?" Immediately, Kailasam replied, "Oh, Bapuji, you are a great non-violinist, but this Chowdaiah is a pakka violinist!" He was rewarded with a wide toothless grin.

On another occasion, somebody asked Kailasam, "You say that Sir M.Vishweshwaraiah is blessed with sixth sense, does that mean that nobody else has sixth sense?" Kailasam replied, "Oh sure, you do have it too, but in your case it is called non-sense."

Anyway, this space will not suffice if I begin to relate his anecdotes, so let's leave it at that.

Recently, I had been to a wedding reception, where there was a live Sugama Sangeeta (Kannada Light Music) concert. I did not recognize the male singer, but the female singer was the gorgeous M.D.Pallavi (I know her better as Vidya of Mayamriga fame).

[Sidenote: In Mayamriga (A popular Kannada soap directed by TN Seetharam, that was aired a few years ago), Pallavi played the role of Vidya, a singer, who walked with a limp. During this concert at the wedding, at one point, Pallavi changed her sitting position, and as she did so, she gave a slight grimace and rubbed her foot. The first thought that popped into my head was, "Oh, her bad leg must be giving her trouble... ". Even as I started thinking this, I realized what I was doing... "Oh man", I thought, "That was just in the serial.......... Pallavi's leg, in reality, is just fine..." If I, who hardly watched a dozen episodes of Mayamriga, could get so attuned to her reel personality, then what about those people who watch soaps with total dedication? Reminded me of this post of mine. End of sidenote.]

So, during the concert, the male singer sang the song "Namma Tipparhalli Balu Doora". I remembered it as a song I had loved as a child, but had long forgotten it. I was thrilled to listen to it after all these years. I vaguely remembered that it was composed by TP Kailasam. This, and another song, "Kolikeranga", had been two of my favourites.

"Kolikeranga" is a spoof of the English poem "Constantinople". The story goes that when Kailasam was studying in London, an English friend of his sang "Constantinople", and claimed that this kind of a song cannot be composed in any other language. And Kailasam, as a challenge, composed "Kolikeranga" right on the spot.

I googled and found that even "Namma Tipparhalli Balu Doora" is a spoof of an English marching song, "It's a long way to Tipperary".

You can listen to both these songs, sung by C.Ashwath, a well-known singer in Kannada, here.

Both these songs have the first few lines of the English original, and then the Kannada version, as a continuation. Do listen to them. The English original "It's a long way to Tipperary", is such a beautiful, evocative song... full of old-world charm. I just fell in love with it.

And if you are a Kannadiga, do concentrate on the lyrics of the Kannada versions - they are hilarious. And if you don't catch the lyrics, you can find them here. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

And here's to more such accidental discoveries!

Monday, November 13, 2006

James and James

So India is planning a Manned Spaceflight program. Coincidentally, this news came at just the time I was finishing a magnificent book, "Space", by James Michener, in which he writes about America's space mission. The key word in the plans about India's space mission is, to do it "ahead of China". And the keyword in America's space program was to put a man on the moon "ahead of Russia", who had already sent a man to space. Interesting!

I have gushed about James Michener earlier in these pages. But that will not stop me from gushing again.

Michener's books are unique. He chooses a subject, does extensive research on it, and then writes a story about it. The result? You get all the information about that subject, in the form of a gripping story.

All books I had read so far involved countries. For example, in Hawaii, Michener traces the history of Hawaii right from its formation, to the first dwellers, through the centuries to the present. His facts are correct, historical details are factual. But he makes a story out of it. Instead of telling you, "Hawaii's first inhabitants were people of blah-blah origin", he brings to life a family, with its own joys and sorrows, and makes that family migrate to Hawaii. He writes about the family, its experience and travails, and then moves a century forward and writes about the grandson of the family he had talked about previously. He traces the developments of the habits and culture of Hawaii through these jumps in time. Sometimes, in the regular dealings of these people, he pops in a real historical character, like a scientist, or a national leader, and gives him a role too in the story. So it hits you from time to time, that what you are reading might be a fictitious story, but somewhere, such a thing must surely have happened to somebody.

So ultimately what you are reading is a engrossing story about one or two families. But what you are absorbing is the entire history and culture of Hawaii. I mean, could it get better?

Another mind-blowing book is The Source, which creates the same magic with the land of Israel. Hawaii and Source are my favourites, but the others are no less magnificent. Covenant(About S.Africa), Poland, etc. There are a lot more short stories which I haven't read yet, and some books like Caravans(about Afghanistan) and Sayonara(about Japan), which are short novels that just give you a story, but Michener doesn't miss sprinkling it with large doses of culture and history.

Space is the first "non-country-centric" kind of book I read - it traces the beginnings of interest in Space missions, starting from the Second World War. It tells you everything that you need to know about what goes into a Space Mission, by means of stories of half a dozen exceptional men. Wow, what a book!

You come out of reading any book of his, with a sense of fulfilment.

The other James couldn't be more different. James Herriot. The much-loved author who wrote about his hysterically funny experiences as a countryside veterinarian.

The first book of his that I read was his first book, If Only They Could Talk, and he had me hooked right from page one. This book is about the first year of his veterinary practice, and he starts the book with how he has been called in the middle of the night to attend to a cow which has been in labour for a long time, but hasn't delivered the calf yet. So, says Herriott, he was knee-deep in cow muck, in the dirty shed in the middle of the cold night, with his entire arm inside the cow, trying to feel the calf, and then he thinks of the picture in his course books, which dealt with calving, and wonders at how different the picture was. He says, in his own words -

"The didn't say anything about this in the (course) book, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back.

My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless parturition overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling.

Ah, such joy!

The feeling you get after reading James Herriot is one of "Nirmal Anand" (Pure Joy) (Now which movie is this phrase from?)

While Michener needs to be read with concentration, and can get heavy at times (Pleasantly heavy - never a dull moment), Herriot gives you hours of laughter. Herriott's books are probably the only ones that have made me put the book down and clutch my stomach and laugh. And while I would recommend Michener only to the "Vidya Arthis" (those who seek knowledge), I would recommend Herriot to everybody looking for some hours of pleasant reading - yes, even you, who says "Ohhhh I can't read even one page of a novel". Because it is light, it is fun, and you require no effort at all. And it is always lovely to read an affectionate account of those loveable creatures that we call animals.

So, whenever anybody asks me who my fave novelist is, it is quite simple for me to answer. "James, and James"!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It runs in the family.

Flashback: 1981. My parents lived in Germany for about a year. Vegetarianism was a rarity there back then, and the Germans found it difficult to understand why we do not eat meat. They probably could not understand the concept of vegetarianism as a custom.

Some of them even seemed to think that we were vegetarians just because we did not know how to cook meat. As a result, when my parents received dinner invitations from German friends, they had a lot of explaining to do before they accepted the invitation. Then the poor hosts were usually clueless about what to serve my parents - they usually played it safe by serving them half a dozen varieties of cakes and pastries - and sometimes, my parents saw themselves staring at just a pile of boiled rice, or a plate of mashed, salted potatoes.

Anyway, at one such dinner, along with the cakes, the hosts brought out a bowl of off-white chips, and excitedly offered it to my

Amma: What is it?
Hostess: Just eat it and see, I will tell you what it is later!
Amma and Papa pop the chips into their mouths.
Amma: *gags as a disgusting taste fills her mouth.*
Papa: *Hmmm.... something's fishy*
Both of them swallow with great difficulty, and follow it with glasses of water.
Hostess: So, how did you like it?
Amma: *Putting Indian sensibilities aside*: I didn't like it.
Hostess: *crestfallen* Ohhhhh.
Amma: What is it?
Hostess: Pig skin chips.
Amma: *Oh yuck!*
Papa: *Hmmm.... I knew something was fishy.... errr.. porky...*

Back to the present: 2006. My sister P, after having completed two months in the US as a student, living on just cereals and cheesecake, starts hankering after spicy food. Penniless, and unable to afford eating at Indian restaurants unless somebody treats her, and too busy to cook for herself, she sets out with her flatmate A to Walmart to find something spicy to eat.

Rejecting the regular salted Lays and Pringles, P and A come across a packet of chips with "Hot and spicy" printed on it. They immediately buy a packet and run back home. They make nice hot cups of tea, and sit down comfortably. They open the packs. Smiling and eager, they put a couple of chips in their mouths. It is certainly hot and spicy, and tastes not-too-bad. But some inexplicable instinct makes both P and A stop eating and look at each other. They pick up the packet and read everything written on it. Underneath the tempting words "Hot and Spicy", written in small print, is "Pork skin chips".

Like I said, it runs in the family.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eight things you didn't know about me!

Bellur tagged me a while ago, to write 8 things about myself. 8 what things - he did not say, so that makes it very difficult!

So I decided to write 8 things about myself which you might not have already known by reading this blog - and which won't reveal too much about me either ;)

So here goes!

1) I was born in Mysore.

2) I have lived most of my life in Bangalore, except for three 1.5 year stints in other places.

3) I have travelled quite a bit around India - I have visited nearly 17 to 18 states, some of them multiple times. But I still feel that I haven't seen anything yet.

4) I have a post-grad degree in Energy Engineering. I have gone up tall structures on ladders, with a yellow helmet on my head, and writing pads and measuring instruments in my hands, to take measurements from huge hot industrial boilers to calculate their efficiency. I have withstood burning heat and gusty winds, to test theories on solar photovoltaic systems and wind pumps.

5) But my job now consists of commuting hours through polluted roads to sit at a desk and code.

6) I have learnt Hindustani classical vocal music for nearly 9 years, and Carnatic classical off and on from my mom who is a singer.

7) The game I love playing most of all is Table Tennis.

8) I probably hold a record for having burst the minimum number of Deepavali crackers in my life (ratio of the total number of crackers burst to the number of years lived).

And on that note - have a safe and happy Deepavali!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Goodbye, Desipundit, and Thank You.

When I discovered the blogosphere more than a year back, I groped around in the dark for quite a while. I could just find very mediocre blogs - ones with lines like "Im goin out wid my frenz 2de 4 kofi". It was frustrating, to say the least. Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled upon Desipundit, and it was like Alladin's treasure trove. I was introduced to a host of interesting blogs - and after that, there was no stopping me. Endless topics, endless discussions - it was a whole new world out there! I became a serious blog-hopper, and very soon, started my own blog.

It was thanks to Desipundit, too, that I got my initial readers. They were kind enough to link to a number of my posts regularly - and readership grew - pretty soon, I had my own blogger community, and I was, and am revelling in it.

Now, I hear that Desipundit is shutting down. Its a pity, really. Desipundit did excellent work with regular filter-blogging. I did wonder frequently how the contributors had that much time and enthusiasm to sustain it, but I was glad they did. Their shutting down is quite a disappointment. I wish they would reconsider - maybe think of handing it over to someone else, or letting the people who can continue, do so. But I understand that they have their reasons, and I guess we should respect that.

Actually, right now, the shutting down of DP might not affect me much, because lately, I find myself relying less and less on it, because
a) I have a very long list of blogs on my feedreader, which I read regularly, and that takes up a lot of my blogging time. So discovering new blogs is not a priority.
b) I am fortunate to already have a dedicated set of very smart, intelligent and informed readers - and what else does a blogger need for inspiration?
But the fact remains that both a and b is largely due to Desipundit - and for that, I am very grateful to them. Special thanks to Neha, Patrix and Ash. I wish Desipundit continues - in some form or the other - because it was a great concept - it will leave quite a void in the blogosphere.

Update: So they are not closing down after all! :)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - Impressions.

Some time back, Bombay Addict announced a Bad English Competition. I dropped off an inspired entry, and discovered a little later that he had adjudged mine as one of the three best entries. He was also very generous with the prizes - he mailed me a Crossword voucher worth Rs.500. So I hopped over to Crossword and got myself a copy of Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram.

And I read it.

When I read an interesting book, I hate to get halfway through the book. I love the feeling that there is a lot more to read, as yet. The same thing happened to me with this book initially. But around mid-point (the book is nearly 1000 pages long), I suddenly wanted the book to get over. I couldn't take it anymore. All I could think was - if I cannot bear to read this, how could this man have actually experienced all this?

For it is supposedly a true story. I say "supposedly" because I cannot imagine how one person could have done so many things. It seems almost fantastic, and I am inclined to think that half of it is fiction. That might seem unkind to the writer, but remember, this is just my impression.

Just think. Here is a guy, an armed robber and a heroin addict, who is serving a prison sentence in Australia. He escapes from the prison across the front wall in broad daylight, comes to India with a false passport, and lands at Bombay. He falls headlong in love with the city, and makes it his home. He lives in a slum, establishes a free health clinic with his limited knowledge, and joins the Bombay underworld. He also lands in an Indian jail, and experiences a few gruesome months there. He also goes back to heroin for a while, and then gets out of it again. Then he also does a bit part in Bollywood, and even goes to Afghanistan to fight a potentially deadly war with the MUjahideen, starving himself and getting badly frostbitten in the process. In the midst of all this, he manages to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and make scores of friends and enemies along the way.

What is perhaps, most apparent, is his love for India and Indians. It is fascinating to see the Indian character through the eyes of an unbiased foreigner. What he basically believes is that India is a land of love. As one of his friends in the story puts it, "Love might not have been discovered here, but it was certainly perfected in India........ A billion people living in such close proximity - if it had been any other people - French, Spanish, German, Americans - they would all have killed each other by now. It is love that keeps India this way" (or something to that effect). Thought-provoking bits about the country that we all know so well - makes this novel that much more interesting.

The book has been written very well. Parts of it is almost poetry, which should have been incongruous with the gory descriptions which surround it, but which, strangely, are not. With dollops of philosophy(some of it a little too profound for my taste) and insights into life, and long ramblings about love, this book has it all. What I appreciated the most about his writing is the way he describes his feelings - you can almost feel what he is feeling.

And to think that he had to write this huge bulky story thrice - because prison officials trashed his first two drafts! I don't think I would write this blog post again if I lost it! ;)

So - if you think you can take it, do read this novel. I don't ever skip pages in novels, and the last time I remember doing that is when I read the unabridged version of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations as a young kid. But I did it in this novel. Skipped some pages because it was too stark for me to take. Also, it would do you good to select a time when you are not too depressed or lachrymose!

All in all, an engrossing read. Thank you, Bombay Addict! :)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I sharpened a pencil.

I started sketching again, true to the promise I had made to myself a few days back. It feels good - the feel of the rough drawing paper, the scratchety-scratch of the pencils on the paper, and the resulting picture - not a work of art, but good enough.

Apart from the many pleasant hours spent in rediscovering this hobby, sketching brought me another unexpected bonus.

One of my pencils needed sharpening, and so I took out my brand new sharpener, and set about sharpening the pencil. A few turns, and the sight of the pencil shavings and lead powder on the sharpener - it was enough to transport me straight back in time to my school days.

I was again a little girl, dressed in the school uniform - a brown pinafore, that unique brown which has no name, and the light brown checked shirt. Black shoes and white socks. Two little hairclips trying unsuccessfully to hold back my thick unruly hair. Sharpening my pencil urgently before the teacher came in, as I had forgotten to sharpen them the previous night. Quickly dumping the pencil shavings in a corner of the drawer, for disposal after class. The drawer, underneath the brown desk - the drawer where I kept my pencilbox.

Pencilboxes. The red Hello Kitty pencilbox which my father had brought from one of his official tours abroad. A prized possession. Then later, a green Mickey Mouse pencil box, which a much admired teacher had presented to a select few of us, for doing well in class. Before that, the magnetic pencilbox - the magnet of which I ruined by dropping the box too many times.

I remembered my bench-mate. Glancing surreptitiously to see if her pencils were sharper than mine. If her book was neater than mine. Drawing a line on the bench to mark boundaries to separate out places, when I was made to sit next to a particularly disliked person.

I remembered my bag, a green, roomy one with pouches where I kept little treasures - a perfumed eraser which couldn't be used because it left black marks on the paper, a little paper with a drawing, a dry leaf - and then the main space in the bag - where the books were neatly arranged, in height order, or in the order of the classes of the day, depending on what order was in vogue in class that week.

I even remembered my lunch bag. An orange bag with a steel triple-decker tiffin box. One box containing chapatis, another containing a delicious kind of curry (each day a different one - my mom is a wizard at that), and the third box containing curds spiced with salt and jeera powder, or chopped bananas in milk and sugar. A prized Milton water bottle that I had won in a Milton "suggest a name" contest. A napkin neatly folded and placed at one side.

I remembered the lunch breaks, where only my best friends got to taste the scrumptious Shruthi's-mother's-curry-of-the-day. Eating up lunch and running out to play for a while before the bell rang. Popping in quickly into my sister's classroom to act the big sister and see if my little sister P was being good and was eating her food, and was not distributing it among everybody, as she so frequently seemed to do.

I remembered my teachers, my classmates, the classes, the notebooks, the text books, the maps on the walls of the classroom, the posters we had made displayed prominently on the boards, the list of homework in our homework diary.

I remembered all this - and much more. Just because I sharpened a pencil.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

From bright to boring.

Back in college, when we first had to use scientific calculators, most of my classmates bought the standard "prescribed model". Since I already had a scientific calculator at home, I did not buy a new one, though mine was a slightly different model. My friends' calculators had the Power On/Off button in the top right hand corner, and mine had the Power On button in the middle row, towards the right.

As it happens so many times, someone always needed a calculator urgently for some reason, and when their own was not within their reach, they would grab the nearest calculator lying around. Whenever anybody took mine, they would not find the Power On button. They would nearly panic and say, "Hey, your calcy doesn't have an On button! Where is it? Where is it?" All this, in spite of the fact that the Power ON button was the sole bright Red button among arrays and arrays of dull grey buttons, with "On" written prominently on it. Not one of them found it by themselves, because they were looking at the Top right hand corner.

Once, I had left this calculator lying somewhere at home. My cousin, barely 10 months old, crawled up to it, sat down, took it in his hands, drew out a small fat finger and pressed the On button, driving me into fits of delighted laughter. The next time anybody asked me where the Power On button was, all I would say was, "If my 10 month old cousin could find it at one go, so can you".

My uncle told me of an incident, where he took his one year old son to an art exhibition. My uncle paused before a painting of "modern art", and all that he could see was a hotchpotch of colours. As he was about to move on, his son suddenly shrugged his shoulders a couple of times, making the gesture he usually made when he wanted to denote a horse. My uncle, looked around, surprised, wondering where his son had spotted a horse, and then, with the image of the horse in mind, he looked at the very same painting he had been looking at all that while. He was startled. He could clearly discern a horse (misshapen, perhaps, but still, clearly a horse) amid that "mess of colours".

Learning: Kids are cleverer than us. (??) well, not exactly. Perhaps it is just that they have more open minds. Their brains are not conditioned. They still have the ability to see what is not always visible. Or they can see the obvious, while we miss it, because we don't expect to see it there.

Question: When, why, and how do we lose this ability that we had as children, and why do we grow up to be the boring one-dimensional people that we are now? I am sure there are many ways that we can again develop that kind of thinking and outlook. But, is there any way we can prevent our children from losing this natural gift?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Watching Cricket - What is it all about, really?

Somebody asked me what I have against cricket.

Actually I don't have anything against the game. It is just another sport, with its own set of (strange) rules. In fact, I really like playing cricket. I think its good fun, as long as I am not fielding. And especially if it is played with a piece of cardboard as the bat, and a crumpled-up newspaper as the ball.

I am digressing. What I want to say is that there is just one thing that I don't like about cricket, and that is, that it goes on for too long. Far too long. Ok, even that is fine. If the players really want to stay out all day and sweat under the sun, it is their choice. I can even understand spectators in the stadium watching the match with interest. It can be good fun, like I found out first hand. But what irks me is that millions of people sit around and actually spend(I dare not say "waste") hours and hours watching these endless matches on television.

In case you haven't noticed, the actual action in the entire match happens for probably just ten percent of the entire duration of the match.

How, you ask. Consider this.

A bowler measures his paces, does the run up, and bowls. The batsman hits the ball, the fielders scurry around, and the batsman takes a couple of runs. If you measure the time this entire bit of action takes, you will see that it measures up to just around 8-10 seconds. Most balls take even lesser time, but I will be generous, and take the average as 10 seconds.

A one-dayer has 50 overs, that is 300 balls are bowled.

Total time taken to bowl all the balls = 300 X 10 = 3000 seconds = 50 minutes.

Ok, let me consider other miscellaneous things, and conclude that the total time taken is 1 hour.

So the actual action in an 8-10 hour match happens for just 1 hour. Fancy that!

The rest of the time is spent in looking around, licking the ball, rubbing the ball against their clothes in unmentionable places, tapping the bat on the pitch, adjusting the helmet, adjusting the pad, doing half sit-ups, making gestures with arms, wiping sweat, and what have you.

And the entire nation sits glued to the television, watching men perform these ordinary actions for 9 hours, just for that 1 hour of actual action. And they spend at least half of those 9 hours again, watching the re-telecast.

And this is just the one-dayer. What about a test match? For five days, the nation thinks of nothing else. And at the end of it, many times, you don't even have a result to show for it.

There are very few cricket matches which I think are really exciting. In most of the matches, you get to know midway, which team is going to win. After that it is just a matter of waiting. And what a long wait! What pleasure do you get, really, in spending so much time watching a match, the conclusion of which is a foregone one?

And also, how many hours are wasted each year watching old matches between random countries, the results of which are already known!

It makes me restless. It makes me cringe. I dare not even start to think of what all these people might have been doing if they hadn't been watching this match. So many productive hours wasted! So many opportunities missed! So many beautiful moments overlooked!

I know I am in the minority, so I know I should be ready for a sound thrashing from all of you. But seriously, watching cricket makes no sense to me. What is it all about, really?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The naming ceremony.

This is for all the Anonymouses (Or is it Anonymice? Or Anonymi? Err..let's just make it Anons, shall we?) out there.

I am probably very lucky that I don't have many Anon trolls on my blog.(Touchwood) Most of you Anons contribute to the discussion in the comments section with very thoughtful comments. When you disagree, you do so without being rude, and I really appreciate that. So, when your contributions are all positive, why do you prefer to remain anonymous? I can understand if you are being abusive - you wouldn't want anybody to know who the bad-mouthing loser is. But in this case, why the anonymity?

Ok, I understand, you might have your own reasons for not letting me know who you are. I can think of a few -

1) You do not want anybody to catch you reading my blog. (Infradig, you know!)

2) You might be known to me, and you might not want me to associate you with the comments. Maybe you feel our offline relationship will be affected by your comments.

3) The thought that I am left guessing about your identity might give you kicks.

4) I can't think of anything else.

But I want to know who you are. I want to know who I am talking to. Or rather, I want to know which Anon I am talking to.

I have a picture of each commenter of mine. Many of you are excellent commenters. (I am a bad one - the maximum I can do is to say "Great post!" and "Heh heh, that's funny", and the like.). So when you, Anon, comment on two posts, I would like to know that the same person who said this on post A, said this on post B. Please don't ask me why this is important, but it is. More than anything, replying to a comment addressing "Anon at 12 30" is not much fun.

So now, I want to know your name, but you don't want me/others to know who you are. So what is the solution? Here is one -

Give yourself a name. Anything will do. Even something as unimaginative as "XYZ"(As long as nobody else gets the same bright idea). Or "Scooby Doo". Or "Brad Pitt". Or "Laloo Prasad Yadav". Whatever.

There is one commenter, who comments with an assumed name. I know who he is and why he does it - it suits me just fine! One calls himself "Same old Anon" in each comment. That makes it so much more easier! One even calls himself "The Anonymous Coward". But you don't have to be that honest, really!

So...could you please be considerate and name yourselves? And if its not asking for too much, you could even give me a hint, you know... whether you are somebody I know personally....*Crash* *Bang* *Shatter* Ok Ok Ok! Just name yourselves Ok? Just that! Please?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Indian Ultrarunner - Arun Kumar Bharadwaj

Do you know what an UltraMarathon is? I confess that I did not know. Did you know that there is only one Indian Ultrarunner? I did not know.

But now I do. Arun Kumar Bharadwaj is the only known Indian ultrarunner.

But how did I get to know? Arun Kumar Bharadwaj read my post about the Times Bangalore Marathon in Metroblogging Bangalore, followed the link to my blog, and left this comment on this post in which I talked about Sreesanth, Kingfisher, and the TOI.

I will reproduce a part of his comment here:

Dear friends,
I am an ultramarathon runner and can understand it in a better way being in a state of my present situation. I think people writing here would like my little bio data.

It is :

How can we transcend ourselves if we do not challenge Our Capacities?

Name: Arun Kumar Bhardwaj
Email :
Cell Phone : 9213 964 901
Postal Address: Planning Commission, Parliament Street, New Delhi 110001.
DoB: 2 February 1969
Birth Place: Village Baoli, Distt. Baghpat. UP.
Education: B. Com. from Delhi University
Occupation: Govt. Service (Planning Commission, New Delhi) India
Height: 5 feet 8 inch, Weight: 68 kg
Family: Wife :Sangeeta, teacher in Central School. Daughters: Zola & Sofia (DoB 23.9.1998&12.1.2001), Son : Yiannis (12.7.2002).
Years running: On & off for 15 years. Ultras: 6 years

Personal Bests:
1. 180 km in 23.25 hours on 28-29 July 2000 (solo run from Haridwar to Baghpat, UP)
2. 270 km in 33.10 hr on 7-8 November 2001(solo run from Yojana Bhavan, New Delhi to National Ayurved Institute, Jorawar Singh Gate, Jaipur). Indian Record for the distance w.r.t. time taken.
3. 138.172 km in IAU Asia 24 hr Track Championships in Taiwan on 2-3 March 2002.(9th place). First Indian representative in any 24 hr Ultra Marathon.
4. 492 km in Australian 6-Day Race 17-23 Nov. 2002 & broke former Indian national record for 6 days race of 478 km made by Tirtha Kumar Phani in 1987. Thus, became first ever Indian to cross 300 miles in six days race (15th Place).
5. 516 km in Self-Transcendence 6-Days race, New York 27 April -3 May 2003 and became the first Indian to cross 500 km in a 6-Days race (7th Place).
6. 520 km in Copenhagen 6-Days challenge, Denmark 3 – 9 August 2003 (4TH place).
Became first Asian to complete three 6-Days races within one year, and every time with a new national record.
7. Finished IAU 100 Km World Cup 2003, Taiwan 16.11.2003. Became first ever Indian to participate and finish any 100 Km World Cup.
8. 501 km in International Six Days Running Championship, Mexico on 22-28 March 2004 (4th place in age category and 8th Place in general). First Indian representation in any Mexican ultramarathon championship.
10.532.8 km in German International 6-day race, 1-8 August 2004. Placed 15th. New Indian Record.
11. 550 km in 122.45 hr Delhi to Chandigarh and back. Appeared in Limca Book of Record 2005. 12. MIR Marathon, Moscow, finished in 3.56.45 in –4 Deg. Celsius and Rain.
13. 153 km in 24 hr Open Championship of Russia, 7-8 May 2005. Became the only Indian in the history of Russian Ultramarathon.
14. 556.45 km in 20th Australian Six Days Race, 20-26 Nov. 2005. New Indian & South Asian Record. (14th place out of 36 runners from 12 nations, after arriving only 20 hours before the start of the race and ran without any support crew).
15. 521 km Loutraki 7-Days International Race, Greece, 1-8 April 2006 (on a hilly course).

Typical training: It varies but normally 160 - 200 km/week. I sleep 4 hours only i.e. 12 mid night to 4 am and one night sleepless per week.

Injury history: None relating to running. Have undergone four major surgeries of Parotid Tumor between 14 and 17 years of age. I was very weak from my childhood, from the age of 6 to 19 yrs, I was a victim of malaria every year in rainy season. My body weight was only 26 kg when I was 14 years of age and 35 kg at 17 yrs. I, always, was the weakest boy of the class in my school time.

Favourite ultra foods: Totally vegetarian & teetotaler. Honey, fruit juice, banana and sugar cane.

Things I like most about ultra: Traveling, getting to make new friends. It gives opportunity to explore the unknown inner world and give spiritual ecstasy. I like my tears most during my ultras, I love them.

Things I hate most about ultras: Leaving my family waiting for me.

What got me started doing ultras: To produce myself as an example before my daughter that Everything is Possible for a willing heart..

Why I do ultras: I enjoy pushing myself to my limits. I am the only ultramarathon runner in India, a country of more than 1 billion people and that’s why I am facing very difficulty in continuing it. But I know that in future my story will become a great source of inspiration for coming generations and I would be satisfied by that reward. Also, the pure spirit I found in Ultra Marathoners is matchless, celestial and I want to be a part of them. When you run beyond the imagination, it gives a special sense of exceeding.

Ultra goals: 276+ in 24 hours. 400+ in 48 hours. 1000+ in 6 days. I aspire to finish and win every race of SCMT (upto 3100 miler). I also wish to run all state capitals of Indian states from New Delhi with a minimum recorded time.

Favourite ultra quotes: “Never Give Up”.
“If you have indomitable will-power then Impossibility-gate is not an obstruction.”
“When you believe then you can do it. Do you believe?”
I’ll want to quit, I’ll want to die. Let me die, don’t let me quit.”

Just look at those achievements! This man is an inspiration. He is an Indian. And sigh! We need an Australian to champion his cause. Thank you, Phil Essam!

If you want to contact him, here are his details again:
Name: Arun Kumar Bhardwaj
Email :
Cell Phone : 9213 964 901
Postal Address: Planning Commission, Parliament Street, New Delhi 110001.

All the best, Arun!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chivalry and Courtesy

I was talking to somebody who said that he feels women are too easily impressed by chivalry. After screaming herself hoarse about the equality of men and women (he said), the same woman swoons over a chivalrous man. He accused women of double standards.

A bit of thinking led me to the conclusion, that yes, we do like chivalry. In fact, everybody does. But not in the sense of men holding doors open and offering their chairs to women. Everybody appreciates courtesy, good manners, and concern towards fellow human beings, regardless of the sex of the courteous person, or of the person at whom the concern is targeted.

Maybe I can explain better with examples.

Situation: A group of us are passing through a self-closing door.
I don't expect - Anybody to hold the door open for me.
I expect - The person who has already passed through, to pause and hold the door for that one second longer to prevent it from swinging back, so that it does not bang into my face, and I can pass through it elegantly and safely, and in turn, hold the door for that one second longer to facilitate the person behind me to pass through unhurt.

Situation: I enter a conference room for a meeting, and see that there is one chair short.
I don't expect: Anybody to get up and go out of the room, and get me a chair.
I expect: That when I go out and get a chair for myself, and am struggling to get the bulky swivel chair into the room through the self-closing door, my colleagues should not stare at me blankly, chewing their pen caps, but get up and hold the door open so that I can get my chair inside.

Situation: Getting on to the bus.
I don't expect: Anybody to stand aside and allow me to climb into the bus first.
I expect: That s/he should not shove me aside to get into the bus first.

Situation: Waiting (like at the doctor’s), where there are a number of chairs, all occupied.
I don't expect: Anybody to get up and offer their chair to me.
I expect: Somebody to get up and offer their chair to the pregnant lady/the lady carrying a baby/old people/the person with a crepe bandage around his ankle.

Actually these are very small things. It is common sense, and basic courtesy, which should be followed by everybody without a second thought. But an unbelievably small number actually practices it.

So naturally, when someone, be it male or female, displays such little gestures of thoughtfulness, it is very natural to be drawn to him/her. And the insensitive ones, who don't understand what is happening, accuse women of falling for chivalry. All I can say is, wake up, and smell the coffee.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The Kingfisher flight is at 6 am. The passenger reaches check-in counter at 5:46 am. Authorities refuse to let him on the plane. The passenger throws a tantrum. The authorities do not budge. So the passenger goes to the media with this story, and TOI publishes the story - Sreesanth had a "harrowing" experience at Bangalore airport.

1) A passenger is a passenger is a passenger. Just because he is a cricketer, he cannot board a 6 00 am flight at 5 59 am. The Kingfisher authorities were right in refusing him entry.

2) Sreesanth has said something to the effect that it was a special day for him (Onam) and his entire family was waiting for him, and the flight authorities were not at all cooperative, and he reached 4 hours late. If the event was that important for him, couldn't he have woken up an hour earlier?

A budding cricketer, and already he thinks he is God.

No wonder. Cricket (don't get me started on this game), given undue importance, and the players placed on pedestals by adoring fans.

And the media makes it all worse. Hockey player Sandeep Singh was shot 'accidentally'. There was just one column about that in the newspaper. Sreesanth missed a plane to attend a personal event, due to his own stupidity. Two columns, along with a photo dedicated to him.

You wouldn't normally hear a hardcore optimist like me making statements like this, but I see no hope for our people.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Meal on a Banana Leaf

..Or as we call it in Kannada, BaaLe Ele OoTa, has to be one of the best things in life. Any celebration in South India is incomplete without a sumptuous lunch served on a Banana Leaf. In fact, I admit shamelessly that there are a number of functions to which I go more for the lunch than for the event itself.

The importance of the food in such events, especially weddings, cannot be understated. Food is what the guest supposedly remembers even after he has forgotten the name of the bride and the groom, and how he is acquainted with them.

In fact, the caterer for my wedding had been decided three years before the groom was. Well, what I mean is that my mom and I had been to a friend's wedding, and the food was so wonderful, that my mom took the caterer's card, and when it was time for my wedding, it was this one that we contacted. And the food was fantastic!

A wedding feast is an event in itself. You are usually hungry and tired after talking to so many relatives/friends, whom you get to meet only at weddings. After all the smiling and talking, all you want to do is eat. So when you hear that lunch is ready, you run to the dining hall (unless you are unlucky enough to be closely associated with the couple getting married, in which case you get to eat only in the third pankti(batch) or so).

You sit at the table (it was cross-legged, on the floor, in the days when people were in good shape), in front of a fresh green banana leaf. You sprinkle some water on the leaf and clean it with your hands. Then you watch the food being served - in the preset order, in the preset positions on the leaf.

You wait desperately for the rice and ghee to be served, because only then are you supposed to start eating. Once it is served, you look around you to ensure that the older generation has started eating, and then you delve into the food.

You start off with the Payasa (Kheer), and then licking your lips, you eat the Thovve(simple, thick dal), which tastes fantastic despite how simple it is. Probably just your brain getting the pleasant signal that food is on its way. By that time, they arrive with the huLi (thick sambar with loads of vegetables), and you gobble it up in no time. Before the next item arrives, you have time to eat the mixed rice (Puliyogare, Bhaath or Chitranna), and sample the two different kinds of Kosambari(Mixed, garnished salad). You even taste the Gojju (A thick spicy preparation with a tamarind and jaggery base), and the Mosaru Bajji(Raita).

Just as you stretch out your hand towards the different kinds of Palya (Gravyless, vegetable curries), they arrive with more rice. Close on the heels of the rice comes the Saaru (A kind of Rasam), and you eat it with relish, mixing the Palya, and the HappaLa(Papad) with it.

Once you have savoured that, you sit back and crane your neck to see what the Bhakshya (sweet/s) is. Hurried exclamations to the person sitting next to you, expressing joy(usually) or disgust(extremely rarely) at the choice of sweets. Then you polish off the sweets with relish, and even as you eat them, along comes some kind of a fried savoury, like a Pakoda/Bonda, and you lose no time in eating that too.

In the middle of all this, some of the items make an appearance once again, and you have the choice to eat your favourite stuff all over again, if your stomach permits. Finally the Rice comes along again, followed by curds, which you mix and eat with salt and a little of the pickle.

Then you get up and wash your hands and leave the dining hall. A packet with a coconut and betel leaves is thrust into your hands. You look around for the nearest scapegoat on whom you can dump the coconut, and then do likewise.

Then you go back to the main wedding hall, where you can easily distinguish the guests who haven't eaten yet from those who have. The latter have this smug, satisfied look on their faces. And of course, a coconut in their hands.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The tortoise

In our final year of college, three friends and I, enthused by the lovely Tanishq ads in the papers, decided to visit a Tanishq showroom and do some window-shopping. Shopping with money was out of the question at that stage of our poor lives, so window-shopping it was. One friend was slightly reluctant to go in and just look at everything and come out, so to make her feel comfortable, we concocted a story of our "colleague" getting married, and we going to buy a diamond pendant for her.

The story worked well, and varieties of pendants were being shown to us, while all we wanted to do was gawk at the gold and diamond necklaces, which were on display in the next room. We painfully enacted our drama, and then pretended we did not like any of them, and then casually set out to look at the other bigger stuff. I walked up to the diamond necklaces and spotted a particularly pretty one.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I pointed at the necklace, and asked the salesgirl casually, and with as much confidence as possible, "How much does that cost?"
The salesgirl looked at me quizzically. "Which one?" she asked.
"That one, third from left, with the number 5-8-0-0-0-0 written underneath it".
She smiled sweetly "That's the price ma'am".
My jaw hit the floor. I saw the salesgirl smiling at me ever so politely, but I saw the glint of amusement in her eyes. And then I wished I were a tortoise....

It was the annual day at school. I saw our Kannada teacher, dragging along a little girl. I went up to her with a couple of my classmates, vowing to spread a little of the butter.
"Oh... howww sweeeet", I gushed. She smiled nice and wide.
"Grand-daughter, ma'am?"
The smile froze. "No, daughter", she said.
The night suddenly became cold. I quickly recovered.
"Ohhhh!" I was suddenly all bubbly and effervescent. "Such a sweeet child! She looks jussssst like you!" And I took the little girl by the hand and played with her for ten minutes, and then delivered her back to her mom, smiling brightly. Yet, she looked daggers at me, and then I wished I were a tortoise.....

My classmate C once challenged me to jump down a flight of stairs. It was lunchtime. I stood on the top step, and eyed the landing. C was standing on the landing, watching me. I could hear steps behind me, and I spread out my hands, motioning for whoever was behind me, to stand still and wait until I jumped. I concentrated on the landing, and then took one look at C before I jumped. She was gesturing to me desperately, but it did not really register. I was already in the air. I landed safely on the landing (see, that's why its called a landing), and looked triumphantly at C, whose eyes were averted.

Suspicious, I looked behind me immediately, and there coming down the steps, with a smile in the corner of his lips, was our Sanskrit teacher, infamous for his quick temper. "Practicing for the Olympics?" he muttered, while he walked past. There was laughter all around and then I wished I were a tortoise.....

..So that I could just withdraw into my shell and pretend I were a rock.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Goodbye and thanks for all the bliss.

In a span of a few days - two giants have passed on. One made glorious music, and the other made fantastic movies.

When I heard about Ustad Bismillah Khan's death, I found a tear in my eye. Music does that to you. It touches your inner being, and naturally the musician who gave you that music becomes close to your heart. He stops being a photo on your CD, and becomes "Bismillah". You know - the old man next door. He was a loveable, toothless old man with the toothy grin (Figure that out!), who fondly lifted a Shehnai in his frail-looking hands, put it to his lips, and proceeded to create magic. With that image in mind, at his death, I found that I was feeling very sad. It was naturally made even worse by the plaintive notes of his Shehnai in the background when they were talking about him on television.

Though I cannot recall a particular Raag or piece of his which is my favourite, I can simply say that I loved his music. Sometimes melancholy, sometimes lively - it was always beautiful. Whether you were listening closely or absent-mindedly, it was anyway pleasing. And to think he said something like "Music is an ocean - I have just touched the surface". Humility, wit, and above all - his utter disregard for religion - it is people like him who have the ability to bring people of all religions together!

As for the fabulous Hrishikesh Mukherjee - if I make a top twenty favourite Hindi movie list, I am sure that 6-7 in that list will be his movies. That easily makes him my favourite film-maker. Even though the director is not really visible when you watch a movie, Hrishikesh Mukherjee was the kind whose touch you could feel in his the movies. You could watch a movie and say - that seems like a Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie - and you will be right.

And what movies!! Each one of them is a masterpiece. Anuradha, for example, is a favourite of all the elders in my family, and apparently, a certain member of our family was named after the protagonist in the movie. ;) Then Anupama - with Dharmendra looking drop-dead handsome, and Sharmila Tagore exquisite - the music, the settings - the movie.. wow! Anari was one of the first Raj Kapoor movies I watched - and just loved the simplicity and the sweetness of the story. Then there is Guddi - an extremely lovable movie with the young and innocent, starstruck Jaya Bhaduri - a movie that I can watch any number of times.

And then Bawarchi and Chupke Chupke - laugh riots, both of them. Mili and Khubsurat, which I rank a little lower than his other movies, are excellent nonetheless. As for Abhimaan - with the brooding Amitabh Bachchan jealous of his talented wife - a beautifully made movie. And his last one - Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate - I know that not many people liked it - but I wonder why - I thought it was great - with Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla and Amrish Puri at their funniest!

I keep the best for the last - Anand and Golmaal -- one tragic, the other comic - but both of them are right on top of my all-time favourite list, jostling each other for first place. Both of them are priceless, in their own way. No other movie in Bollywood can even come close to these two.

Since I seem to be at a total loss for words, I will just guide you to an excellent write-up on Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies.

These two stalwarts have given us hours of happiness - and though they are gone, their work is still here. What else can I say to them? Just "Thank You".

Friday, August 25, 2006

The human tree.

I was fascinated by fairy tales as a kid and devoured them by the dozens.

But there was one thing I never did understand. Many of these stories had this innocent little kid who is lost in the forest, more often than not, by the evil designs of a wicked stepmother. When the child wanders around the forest, s/he comes across menacing-looking trees which (to the child) seem to have a life of their own, and which wave their arms and make eerie noises, and scare the child stiff. I found it funny that anybody could be scared by a tree. To take things further, the imaginative artists drew dark, frightening trees, which actually had eyes and a nose and a mouth. I scoffed at it all the time - please, there couldn't be trees like those in reality!

Until last month. On a weekend walk in Lalbagh, I came across this tree - and I could have sworn that it has eyes and a nose, and even a mouth with a grimace. If I had been a child and had seen it in twilight, I am sure I would have fled the scene. Mr Andersen, Messrs Grimm, and all you noble fairy tale writers, I apologize for having doubted you. You knew exactly what you were saying!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Thames and Zebras

My sis P and I are, as usual, occupied in pulling our little cousin V's leg. V, who has been in the UK for a year or so now, can now speak in a “prop-ah” British accent when he so chooses. He started off correcting our pronunciation for certain English names, but the last straw was when he told us that Zebra is not "Zee-bra", but "Zeh-bra".

So, like all big sisters do, we engaged ourselves in torturing the little fellow.

P - Akka, do you think there are any Zee-bras near the Thay-ms [1] in London?

V - It is not Thay-ms! It is "Tems"! And I already told you that it is Zeh-bra.

S - I don't really know - maybe there are lots of them in Ree-ding [2] and Nor-witch [3].

V - It is Red-ing! And Nor-ich! I already told you!

P - I am sure there are some in Lie-cester [4]. Or in Burk-shire [5].

V - Stop it! Stop it!! It is Lester!! And Bark-shire!

S - Aww, come on, V! If the British could come over and call Srirangapatnam "Seringapatam", and Chitradurga "Chitldrug", then we most definitely have the right to call Edinburgh "Edin-burg". At least we are true to the spelling.

V - *Claps his hands over his ears* It is Edin-bra!! Amma! Amma! Look at these two girls! They don't know anything!

V's mom - Oh, that's ok, V - they are just teasing you. Naughty, aren't they? We'll teach them a lesson. Let's just chuck them into the Thay-ms.

V - Aaaaargghhhhhh!!!!

And it continues ........

[1] Thames
[2] Reading
[3] Norwich
[4] Leicester
[5] Berkshire

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Papeeha - The first whiff of romance.

I grew up in a township with dozens of other kids - and not one day was dull. But as we turned into teenagers, I saw to my horror that my friends, with whom I had always been on the same wavelength, were turning into movie-buffs. They spoke incessantly about movies and songs and Anil Kapoor's moustache and Madhuri Dixit's smile. I could speak volumes about Mark Twain and the Mahabharatha, but my friends would have nothing to do with a girl who thought that "Chandni ribbons" looked like mosquito nets.

It got worse. Childish giggles turned into dreamy sighs as I saw my once-sane friends walking around looking moonstruck and claiming that romance had entered their lives. A bunch of them claimed that the love in QSQT was the purest of them all, while two others were in love with the love in Maine Pyar Kiya. Some of them swore by Roja. And on top of all that, they asked me, ME, which movie introduced romance to me. I offered a tentative "Errr... The Sound of Music?"... and it sealed my fate further as the girl who doesn't know anything about Bollywood.

I have never been much of a movie-goer, but there were some movies I loved. Some brought laughter, some brought tears, but "Romance"? What was that?

And then, one night, Doordarshan screened Papeeha. And Romance, with a capital R, tiptoed into my life.

Papeeha is a wonderful, little-known, movie, made by that fabulous film-maker Sai Paranjpye. Winnie Paranjpye plays an anthropologist who goes to the forests to study tribals. There she meets the dashing Milind Gunaji, who plays a forest officer. In the course of the movie, they fall in love, and after a brief misunderstanding, they get together again. A simple, sweet, love story.

But the movie totally swept me off my feet. It was a strong, heady feeling, and it made me feel that I was the heroine and it was I who met the hero and fell in love with him. I saw myself in the dainty shoes of the very charming Winnie Paranjpye, she of the sparkling eyes and impish smile. I went with her to the forest, and was overwhelmed by the presence of the brooding, serious and handsome Milind Gunaji. I was a part of their witty conversations, recognized their love before either of them acknowledged it, agonized over their misunderstandings, and exulted at their reunion.

I don't know what did it. It might have been the unlikely location for the story - a forest, a village. It could have been the absence of complications - no villains, no strict parents, no interfering relatives, no slapstick comedy, no atrocious makeup, no grandiose settings. It could have been the stark contrast between the energetic, loveable and sweet heroine and the arrogant, egoistic, carelessly stylish hero. Oh, it could have even been that both the hero and the heroine were not at all glamourous in the conventional sense, and that made them so real, so attractive. It could have even been the fact that both of them had definite, unambiguous occupations. It could have been the underlying theme - of saving the forests, the life of the tribals.

Or more likely, it could even have been the simple fact that I was at a silly, sentimental, vulnerable age. Or it could just be the magic of Sai Paranjpye at work.

But whatever it was, it became one of my favourite movies. And it still is, even after I have watched hundreds of movies ever since. I haven't watched this movie again, nor have I even heard of it being spoken of, and I haven't even met anybody who has watched the movie. [Even now, in the age of Google and internet, I wasn't able to find any info on the movie - except for a few lines on the subject of the movie]. What a gigantic pity.

And oh, when the movie was screened, Milind Gunaji was an unknown actor. I had missed his name in the titles, and agonized over the name of the actor for a very long time. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I saw him in the trailer of Fareb. I lost no time in finding out who he is, and then finally, I put the name on the face.

So at last, I had something to tell my friends. "Papeeha" brought romance into my life, I said. But it didn't really make any difference. Nobody had heard of the movie, and the actors were nobodies. I was still the boring girl, until we all grew up and knew better ;).

Anyway, Papeeha is a beautiful movie! I would love to watch it again [and find out what effect it will have on me now, after more than ten years!]

Monday, August 14, 2006


Anil makes a call to celebrate the anniversaries of two momentous occasions.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. It has passed almost unnoticed. No official functions to mark the occasion. No commemorative postage stamp, no portrait or statue to honour them and remember with gratitude the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of a band of young men committed to the cause of freedom.

Another occasion is close at hand and plans don’t seem to be afoot to celebrate that either. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the First War of Indian Independence. We were taught about it in the terms in which the British colonial historians referred to it – the Sepoy Mutiny. (sipaayi dange in Kannada, the language in which I had my school education). The name itself tried to trivialise the great uprising that resulted from a spontaneous upsurge of nationalist and anti colonial feelings. Since it had its origins in the colonial army, it was easy for them to refer to it as a mutiny, a mere a matter of discipline and quell it.

Wonder why this neglect of these historic occasions and their anniversaries? Is the revolutionary spirit passé? Is the idea of people thinking and who might be inspired by these events and stand up to authority too subversive for the people who hold power and who they hold it for?

He makes a request:

We the people shall celebrate the anniversaries of these momentous events. What the government seems to be ignoring, we shall celebrate in our own way.

Please copy the image above and put it in your own blog, along with this request.

Thank you!

If you also feel as strongly about this, then please spread the word around!

Update: Emma has a very interesting post where she points out that, this year, in fact, is the 200th anniversary of the "real" First War of Independence, otherwise known as the Vellore Mutiny, which happened in 1806. And this hasn't even found a place in our history books (at least not in ours). Do check out the post.
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