Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Link Love

There are a million bloggers out there. A few of them are very good, and accordingly, enjoy a large readership. But for every well-known blogger out there, there is an equally good blogger, who for some reason or the other enjoys very little readership.

To set this right, a meme is going around, which asks you to link to those bloggers who you think deserve more readership. I picked it up from Bombay Addict's blog (he has also traced the journey of the meme) - and here I go -

Anitha at Thoughtraker - She does have a dedicated fan following - but I think she deserves much more readership - she writes beautifully.
Usha at Ageless Bonding - Thought-provoking posts about life and people. I never go away from her blog without having gained something.
Raj at Plus Ultra - One of the funniest blogs around.

There are at least half a dozen more I'd like to mention - but either they already have a fair amount of readership, or they don't blog often enough - so I'll stop here.

If you feel likewise about any blogger that you read regularly, please carry this forward. Let's all get to read more good blogs out there!

Also, I have just joined BlogBharti as one of the contributors. What I like about them is that they give preference to the so-called "Z-listers" over "A-listers". Whenever I came across good posts in unknown blogs, I would wish I could link them all on my blog and give them a little publicity - I can conveniently do that now - on BlogBharti.

Most of the blogs of my regular commenters are already on my Blog Radar. But if you come across a good blog, or a good post, on any subject, which you think deserves to be read, please lead me to it. Thank you!

Friday, January 26, 2007

PG Aunty

During the 16 months that I worked in Mumbai, I lived as a paying guest(pg). Many people had advised me against going for a pg accommodation, citing restrictions and lack of privacy. But when I did go house-hunting and found this house with a convenient room and a nice Sikh lady in charge, I jumped at it. I decided that I would need company in my first few days in the big bad city, and then later, if I felt that the pg cramped my style, I could always move to a flat. Besides, I didn't plan to live in Mumbai for too long. So I moved in. [I did try flat-hunting after a month or so, but at every stage I evaluated the merits and demerits of the flat and the pg I lived in, and eventually gave up the idea of moving into a flat of my own].

PG Aunty, as we all referred to her, was a very interesting woman. Very fat, with thinning hair, she had a perpetually worried look on her face. With five daughters, three of them yet to be married, she was forced to take in paying guests after her husband's business suffered severe losses. With a large house with many rooms, she had quite a few girls rooming with her. Add to them, the three daughters of her own, and a stern silver-haired silver-bearded husband, she had her hands full.

Her schedule was remarkable. We girls left home for work at different times in the morning - The two girls who were my colleagues, and I, were the first to leave. We had to catch our bus at eight in the morning. Aunty would rise at around seven, and go straight to the kitchen to start the food manufacturing for the day. She had a four-burner stove, which she utilized completely. On the back left burner, the tea boiled. On the back right burner cooked the vegetable curry of the day. On the front left burner was a tava on which she cooked chapatis for us to take as packed lunch, and on the front right burner was another tava on which she cooked thick parathas. All simultaneously.

She had two lumps of doughs - one for parathas and one for chapatis, and her hands never stopped working. She would pluck out a fistful of dough from the dough, and with three - just three (I counted) twists of the dough, it would become this perfectly spherical ball. She would then roll it out quickly, into, needless to say, a perfectly round chapati/paratha, and then it would fly, as if on its own to one of the two tavas on the stove. Oil would be poured on the chapati/paratha (this is where I would avert my eyes). A couple of quick turns and twists, and the chapati would come out of the tava and get wrapped up in aluminum foil and go and sit in our lunch boxes, and the paratha would fly into our waiting plates. In the milliseconds that she had between making these chapatis and parathas, she would add the masala to the curry or sugar to the tea, and stir the contents of those vessels. And by the time we came back for more parathas, the ready curry would have magically found its way into our boxes, the box would be packed and ready for us to take. How many times have we tried to tell her that we would do the packing ourselves, Aunty, please don't bother - but no. It would somehow get ready, as if she had a magic wand. And in all those mornings, during all those months, she ensured that we were never late. Only once did we miss our bus by a whisker - and that was because Aunty couldn't wake up in the morning because it was too cold (by Mumbai standards).

I can't speak enough about her cooking. It wasn't gourmet fare, but she was a good cook. Cooking for so many people, thrice a day, everyday, is far from easy. And she did the best that she could. Yes, it was Punjabi food most of the time - but I did not complain. I am such a foodie that I don't mind any cuisine, as long as it is good. I did miss South Indian food sometimes, and once, when I missed Saaru too much, I bought a packet of MTR Rasam powder and made Saaru for everybody that night. She also used to make something called Sindhi kadhi, which tasted remarkably like our huLi - so I enjoyed that quite a bit. Sometimes as a "special treat" to me, she would make Idli - sambar. The idlis were like stones and the sambar was not at all like sambar - but anyway I told her that I enjoyed it - I couldn't bear to see disappointment on her enthusiastic, eager-to-please face.

But she was the authority in Punjabi cuisine. She made some of the best parathas, and some great curries. These had too much oil in them sometimes, and part of my lunch ritual at office was pouring out the oil floating on top of the curry - but it was delicious nonetheless. She made great Baingan ka bharta and stuffed brinjal. Her potato fry was also very tasty. Her Khichdi was delicious. It was kind of too gooey for my liking, but I loved the taste. Her masterpieces were the Methi Malai Matar and the most exquisite Dal Ka Halwa. Strangely enough, her Carrot Halwa was uneatable, but if you ate her Dal Ka Halwa, you would forgive her for anything!

Sometimes she would turn fiercely money-minded. If we took extra curds with our dinner three days in a row, her eagle eye would notice it and say, "If you want so much curds, you should pay fifty rupees extra each month!" On the other hand, when I was down with a bad stomach upset, she made bland food and lassi for me, apart from the usual food for everybody else, and nearly hand-fed me everyday until I got better.

She often joked and laughed with us, and told us her problems. She in turn wanted to know everything about us - especially whether we had boyfriends. Sometimes the child in her would come out and she would indulge in playing pranks upon us. She also occasionally conspired with us against her husband who tried to be very strict with us. Uncle had set 11 pm as the curfew for the pgs, but if we pleaded with Aunty to relax it for "jusssst one day", she would turn a blind eye and even distract her husband when we let ourselves softly into the house after 11 pm. Uncle always wanted to watch Aaj Tak channel on TV. So when we wanted to watch something else, we would switch on our channel and then "lose" the remote (The TV was slightly conked out - the channel change button on the TV set did not work). We would then "find" the remote and hand it back to Uncle once our programme ended. Aunty knew all this, but she just smiled and said nothing.

She was extremely sensitive. She would take offhand remarks to heart and worry about the layers and layers of meanings in that comment. It worked the other way too. She was very conscious that she would hurt one of us inadvertently.
Once she came to me early in the morning and told me about her expenses and that they had to pay the daughters' college and school fees that month and they were out of money and all that. Just when I was wondering where it was all leading to, she said, "I wouldn't have bothered you otherwise, but could you please pay your rent for this month quickly?" I was surprised - I had already paid the rent for the month. I reminded her, but she was confused. I then jogged her memory, told her that I had brought the money to the kitchen, but her hands had been busy and so she had asked me to keep it under the sugar box. Enlightenment dawned on her face and she grew extremely apologetic. "How could I do this to you? You are always the first one who pays the rent, and always within the third of the month - and I doubted you of all the people... " She apologized until I was worried I would get late for office. I said "Aunty, it is ok, such things do happen...." But she called me even at office - twice - to apologize, "Bura mat maan-na, Shrooti, please, kya boldiya maine, kya sochegi tu mere baare mein..."... I finally had to tell her "Aunty, aap mujhe sharminda kar rahe hai"... She stopped, but she was extra nice to me for the next week!

She wasn't in town when I left Mumbai. Her daughter who lived in Indore was not well, and she had gone to visit her. It was good in a way, because she would have become "senti", and I, being the softie that I am, would no doubt have cried.

I still call her sometimes, and I once even wrote a letter to her in Hindi - it's very touching to see how thrilled she always is to hear from "her girls", as she calls us.

Good times and bad, I have had them all in Mumbai - but there is no doubt that by and large, my stay was comfortable and convenient - and a lot of the credit for that goes to PG Aunty!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rising for the National Anthem - below your dignity?

Republic Day is round the corner and this brings me to a topic that I have often wondered about.

I am sure I am not the only one to have noticed it - but why do we Indians hesitate to stand up when the National Anthem is playing? The last time I remember an entire gathering rising at once when the National Anthem was sung/played was at school.

The first time I noticed this phenomenon was years ago, when I visited Delhi with my cousins. We were watching the Light and Sound show at the Red Fort. The show ended, and the National Anthem was played. The audience sat rooted to their seats. My then eleven-year-old cousin looked around in surprise, then stood up promptly, ramrod straight. We quickly did the same. Since we were somewhere in the front, the rest of the audience followed our example, and slowly, everybody rose. Did they really need an eleven-year-old to tell them to rise when the National Anthem is played?

I remember a campaign from a while ago. I remember watching it in theaters before the movie began - I don't quite remember having watched it on TV. A wizened old man is sitting on the footpath (at a shoeshine stand?) along with a number of young boys. The old man tunes the radio with knobby fingers. The national anthem starts playing. The young kids sit where they are. But this old man struggles hard to get up, and then stands up - on his only leg. It starts raining then - and the picture is of the very old one-legged man standing, chin up, in the rain, as the anthem plays in the background. The other kids look at him, and stand up too. It is followed by the message "Respect your national anthem" or something like that. Even then, I thought - do you actually need an ad to tell you to rise when the national anthem is playing?

I have seen this attitude - this reluctance to rise, everywhere. For example, in Mumbai, the anthem is played before the movie begins. Only half of the hall rises immediately - the others do follow suit, but only after embarrassed looks at each other. And some people remain seated throughout, one leg over the other, munching their pop-corn.

Why are we expected to rise when the National Anthem is played? For the same reason that we rise when a senior person enters a room - as a mark of respect. Is it below our dignity to display respect for our Anthem?

I don't mean to say that people who don't rise are unpatriotic or that they don't respect the anthem. For that matter, just standing up for the anthem doesn't reflect your patriotism. But it is just a gesture of respect. And I don't think these people mean any disrespect. But then why the hesitation in standing up? Why the embarrassment? Why the sheepish smiles? In fact, when only one person in a group rises, I have seen him being ribbed and teased. I am sure he will not rise the next time.

I have no idea what the scene is in other countries. I doubt that this is the case there. If it is not, please enlighten me, all you well-travelled folks out there. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you tell me stories about an Indian in the US rising immediately if "The Star-spangled banner" is played, and remaining seated when "Jana Gana Mana" is played.

On the lighter side, what do you do when it is being played on TV and you are sitting at home, alone or with family? Do you change channels? Or do you rise? Just curious!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Life, memories, and contemplation.

[Warning: I wouldn't recommend this post to you if you are in a depressed frame of mind.]

Many times, I wonder - Why do we behave the way we do? Why do we do the things we do? How do we learn to say the things that we say?

When she died, even before I could digest the fact that she was no more, even when I was reeling under the shock of the terrible news, I found myself speaking about her in the past tense. "She was so full of life, how can she be dead?" I said. And realized even in that state, how fragile life is - how soon one can change from being spoken of in the present tense to the past tense.

As I tried to grapple with the reality that I would no more see and hear her in the tangible sense, I found myself clinging to things which were her - intangible or semi-tangible. Or things that had her mark. I didn't delete her mails when cleaning up my inbox, I saved her last message in Orkut. I looked at her photo for a long time - observed how her hair falls around her face, how wide and spontaneous her smile is. I find myself thinking about the lac bangles she got for me from her trip to Gujarat. They are in my mom's house. I know I had wrapped them up and kept them carefully - they are very delicate - but are they safe enough? I have this urge to pop down to mom's place immediately and keep the bangles in a safer place. I know I will never wear them again. But I also know that I will treasure them forever.

Does that mean I didn't care about her when she was alive? Didn't I delete her forwarded mails without a second thought? Did I look at her photo for a second longer than was necessary to recognize her? Other than the fact that she had cared enough to bring me those pretty lac bangles, were they so precious to me when she was alive? Then why does this happen the moment the person dies? Is it just that you see the person in those things, in those objects, and feel - she is not there any more, let me at least keep these close to my heart..?

But what is death? When a person ceases to exist, we call it death. But what is existence? Is it just that she is not around any longer - we will not hear her speak any more, we will not hear her laughter any more, I cannot put my arm around her any more?

But what about her image that exists in all of us? That image that has no death? It might fade a little with time - ten years from now, I might have difficulty remembering how exactly she laughed, how tall she was - but her image will never disappear for as long as we live, will it? Doesn't she still live on, in that sense?

There is a very touching and poignant Raccoon episode in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin finds a wounded baby raccoon and brings it home, hoping to nurse it back to health. But in the course of the night, the raccoon dies. When he hears about it in the morning, Calvin bawls his lungs out. His father tries to comfort him, and Calvin says, "I'm crying because out there he's gone, but he's not gone inside me". [This particular strip is here, and the entire Raccoon episode here.(A must read for Calvin fans)].

Could it have been expressed more beautifully?

Then that means death is not when a person ceases to exist. It is just when the physical form of a person ceases to exist. So what is the right word for "death" in the physical sense?

Questions as usual... and the answers, elusive as always...

But life goes on.

"She" is a much-loved cousin who passed away in a road accident ten days ago. She was very active, cheerful, and lived every moment fully. We'll all miss her.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lakes of Mysore - photographs - continued

The previous post had snaps from Kukkarahalli Kere. Here are snaps of Karanji Kere.

The main pathway at the entrance, leading to Karanji Kere.

Karanji Kere as seen from the watch-tower. And if you are wondering why the tree is white - those are bird droppings.

I find myself wishing that I were this duck - floating blissfully in the cool waters of Karanji Kere.

A butterfly in the butterfly park, Karanji Kere.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lakes of Mysore - photographs.

We were in Mysore last weekend. I have already written about how cool I think Mysore is, and I don't need to reiterate that I had loads of fun.

This time, I went determined to visit all the three lakes in Mysore. Kukkarahalli kere, of course, being about a quarter of a kilometer from my grandparents' house, I visit every time I go. But I hadn't visited Lingambudhi kere and Karanji Kere.

So, I did it - visited all three lakes, and did a lot of leisurely walking and birdwatching. We saw pelicans, painted storks, cormorants, egrets, herons, moor hens, kingfishers, bee-eaters, woodpeckers, snake birds, ducks, teals, and many more birds that I cannot even name.

Kukkarahalli - I have already written about it here, was perfect as usual. Lingambudhi kere is good, still quite undeveloped... but has its own beauty. We witnessed a marvellous sunset here. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me that day. I had heard a lot about Karanji Kere, and I was not disappointed. They have developed the surroundings very well, and it is a treat to walk around the place. The view from the watch tower is great - you don't feel like coming back down. There is also a butterfly park, on a little island, which is lovely, well worth the long walk to the place.

I will not write any more, but will just leave you with these photographs.

Kukkarahalli kere, with Chamundi Betta in the background.

A pelican swimming meditatively in the waters, Kukkarahalli Kere.

A cormorant in the reeds, Kukkarahalli Kere.

Tranquility, Kukkarahalli Kere.

The rest in the next.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Of fountain pens.

When in Mysore last week, I saw my grandfather's fountain pen. And I found myself picking it up and admiring it and gushing about how no one uses fountain pens these days and how long it was since I had even set eyes on one.

And that, as usual, took me back to school. How precious fountain pens were! Especially as we had just left "childish" pencils behind, and now were considered old enough to actually write with pens! Though some of us thought that ball point pens were better, we were told to use only fountain pens until our handwriting "gets set".

I remember that mine had a black body and a gold cap, and the nib was a small, elegant, one, not one of those "atrocious" large ones. I took great pleasure in taking upon myself the responsibility of filling ink carefully into the pen, with an ink filler. I loved the colour of the ink in the ink bottle. Rich, dark, blue - Royal Blue, said the name on the bottle - truly royal it was. Of course, I hated the same ink just as much when it got onto my fingers.

A little later, I got a new pen, which did not need an ink filler. It had a mechanism built into the pen itself - you depress the little button at the side, dip the pen into the ink bottle, and let go - and the pen "drank up" the ink. This pen even had a tiny window that told me when the ink in the pen was getting over, and it was time to fill up. In spite of all this, I very often forgot to refill my pen and discovered the slip only after going to school. And then it was time to take the help of the adroit fingers of a friend who would share some of the ink from her pen, by pouring it directly into my pen. For you see, you couldn't borrow fountain pens, because "the nibs took the shape of the inclination of the owner's writing, and if anybody else used it, the nib would split".

When the topic of fountain pens came up, my parents talked about ink wells and blotting papers, both of which were alien to us. Blotting paper, at least, I have laid eyes on some time in my life, but ink wells? Those were ancient! To think they actually had to keep dipping their pens into a bottle of ink to write! [A piece of chalk in our boxes absorbed any accidental leakage of ink from our pens - we had no need for blotting paper].

Fountain pens had lots of other uses too. We had a game in class, where we took a sheet of paper, drew a broad, curved path from point A to point B, and rubbed a piece of candle wax along the path. We then let loose a drop of ink from our pens on the path at point B, and by turning and twisting the paper, we had to bring the drop of ink to point B, without it smudging the paper. The narrower the path, the greater your skill. Needless to say, I was pretty hopeless at it. My expert friends had to get new rough books every week, they tore that many sheets to play this game!

Fountain pens were great weapons too, against unsuspecting classmates and detested teachers. A surreptitious flick of the wrist, and drops of ink settle on the target's back - and the perpetrator could virtually go undetected, because the target doesn't discover the misdeed until much later, unless, of course, someone squealed (and squealers were so quick to be ostracized, that this was a remote possibility).

When we were given permission to graduate to ball point pens, fountain pens were forgotten... I don't even remember where mine went.... but have you noticed, the handwriting is never quite as good as in a dot pen as in a fountain pen.

Now of course, pens themselves seem to be getting outdated - the last time I used a pen was to perhaps sign a cheque or a credit card statement (that might give you an impression that I am very rich, but that would be wrong). Just as I say, "Ink wells? Wasn't that messy?", my grandchildren might ask me, "You actually held something in your fingers and wrote with it? How painful!"....... Who knows?
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