Mango Showers (BH:D 265)

April 25, 2012

I am typing this from the cool comfort of the verandah. Till yesterday, seeking refuge indoors under the fan was unavoidable. But then it rained all night! Decisive, 'game-changing' mango showers!

The deep gray skies and the virtually omnipresent pothole pools of reflection left the city a self-conscious this morning. The drenched green canopies giving her what Kalidasa called the summer solaces that women bestow on their lovers with the cascade of bath-fresh hair. With each whiff of the occasional breeze, refreshing, cold surprises from the tree tops. On other days, the crows would have been the suspects. 

Since the label 'mango showers' had come to mind, I noticed the fruit-heavy mango trees inside Jawahar Nagar colony during this morning's walk. Mangoes of different shapes and shades of green mostly. There is one tree of the purple mango variety near the NCC office.

Though I didn't get to walk around much inside the IIT Bombay campus when I visited in October, with all the new construction, the number of mango trees there must have drastically reduced. In the 90s, the produce from all the trees inside the campus was so high that it got mentioned even in the Union budget. India continues to be the world leader in mango production by far with nearly three times the output of China. As early as last month, artificially ripened mangoes laden with harmful chemicals had hit the market. With the 'mango showers' finally here, it is time to look forward to fleshy, juicy, naturally ripeones.

While the rain began yesterday evening, I was inside the Bank Employees Union Hall near Kallamman Kovil at Pulimoodu. The monthly meeting of 'Narma Kairali', the local humor club headed by veteran satirist Sukumar was in progress. The rain might have been noisy but it couldn't beat the roaring generator outside the hall that kept going almost for then entire two and half hour event. Even then, thrice during the meeting, we had half minute long black outs.

Sukumar is an experienced hand when it comes to skewering politicians but the rest of the team was nowhere close to his caliber. I am pretty sure I am not biased towards the West when I say that stand-up comedy in Britain and USA are generations ahead of what I watched here yesterday evening. Couple of parody songs were funny. 

Only once barrier-breaking, original humor surfaced. Sukumar mentioned that a wiry, 50-something gentleman, in traditional, borderline religious costume showed up one day at his home. As soon as the door opened, the man said, "Saarine enniku venam. Saarinte body" (Sir, I want you. Your body!) Sukumar said his wife was shocked. She doubted if he has started experimenting with homosexuality as is the new fad among high society aged gentlemen in the city. Sukumar himself stood open mouthed. Turns out that the guest was a Yoga instructor and this was his opening line. 

The performers refer to notes and speak from a podium. A element of formality and ritualism hangs in the air. I felt this was a step backwards compared to the free flowing, stage utilizing, audience-involving performance of Chakyarkoothu which is a true precursor of stand-up comedy. 

The hall however was packed and there were some wives accompanying their husbands. Applause and laughter were limited mostly owing to the abundance of recycled jokes presented and the substandard delivery.

Recently, during a house visit I was offered a concoction brewed from a powder mix of coriander, dried ginger, cardamom, fenugreek with jaggery. It feels like an illegitimate offspring of the popular 'rasam' dish and the common 'chukku-kaapi' (dried ginger coffee). And like all this illegitimate, it felt good!

Dark Deja Vu (BH:D264)

April 24, 2012

Yesterday evening I made a business related home visit. It was power cut time in the area when I walked over. 

The house is close to the one where I used to have physics and chemistry tuition classes 18 years ago. Negotiating a downward slopping, shoddily tarred, potholed road in the darkness reminded me of another chemistry tuition routine from 16 years ago. 

I was one of the students of Mr. N. S . Nair in his ISC syllabus chemistry coaching. Walking to and fro his home, we had to cross a narrow walkway through a coconut grove and an abandoned field. Interesting walks especially during power cuts. 

Mr. Nair was a scientist at the Geological Survey of India and glorified the extra finger on the palm long before Hrithik Roshan's career began. Recently a mutual acquaintance told me that he still remembers me. Those of us who went to his classes from our school were the "rebels". 

You see, the teacher who taught us chemistry in school also ran her own tuition center in an ironic admission of the lacklustre job she was doing in the classroom. Non-rebellious students were supposed to go that tuition. I am told that it still flourishes and she has made it her full time engagement. Of course, with over 100,000 students (104,852 is the exact number for yesterday's exam) writing the Engineering entrance exam each year in Kerala, the business is booming.

Our chemistry tuition was conducted in a small outhouse. A symbolic cane was always kept on the teacher's table though we never saw it applied. I remember absolutely nothing from the chemistry that was taught. My brain can be forced to come up with some images apparently from those times. One was a particular walk during a power cut when, fearing snakes, we stomped the entire way through the fields and talked extra loud. 

After the meeting, walk back home at 9:30pm. The road and darkness is familiar but surroundings have changed much. The noisy crittens and rustling leaves of the wild growth by the roadside have gone. In those spaces, towering apartment complex and new homes. 

Lights dimmed by curtains from the upper floors of the tall buildings substitute for the stars. Chatter of television screens make much less sense than chirping crickets. The dieting pet dogs of the mansions and the lean, gluttonous ones of the streets wail about and bark against their man-made segregation and class!

All the vehicles have safely reached their congested garages. A few students hurrying home after tuition, still in their sticky school uniforms, share the road with me. They are busy texting. Cellphones didn't exist in Thiruvananthapuram when I went to school. For us then, texting resulted in dog eared and abundantantly highlighted and underlined textbooks.

The headlines in the last page of The Hindu read like the 'state of the union': Record food grain production expected this year; India world's largest spam market; 47% of global measles affected live in India. Add to this the photograph of a thick diamond studded gold crown donated to some goddess by a Chennai businessman.

Talking about gold, Kerala celebrated Akshaya Thrithiya, the fad that has gripped this gold greedy population in the last few years. It used to be a simple auspicious day acknowledged as "Pathamudayam" marking the transit of the sun between constellations. Now the gold merchants in the state has managed whip up an Onam like frenzy about gold buying. 

Apparently, it is Balarama's birthday. Balarama walked around with a plough, epics tell us. May be it was a golden plough. The greatest demand yesterday was for gold coins embossed with the golden god, Sri Padmanabhaswamy's, image. But not far behind were coins with Islamic and Christian icons on them. 200% increase in business compared to last year. Shops had special 'shamianas' put up outside to accomodate the crowd. They were open for business till 2am! 

Mahabali should start getting seriously worried about his numero uno status in the festival calendar of Kerala.


Greeshma (BH:D 263)

April 23, 2012

According to the Greeshma chapter in Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, while the Indian summer is undoubtedly about merciless heat and lethargy, it is also a time of strange friendships. He sings about the peacock that allows the snake to rest in the grand shadow cast by its magnificent tail fan. A little later we are told about the cobra's hood providing solace to the tired frog whose home has dried to a trickle.

It's quite revealing that one of the greatest cities in ancient India, Ujjain, where the poet lived and wrote, retained so much wild nature for him to witness. 

Amma dropped me at the entrance of the steep slope that descends to Panavila junction this morning, on her way to the bank. By the time, I had walked the couple of hundred meters to the local office of a famous mutual funds, profuse sweating gave me a blotched light blue Dalmatian appearance. Neither the airconditioning nor the cold welcome at the office were any help. I had to come home and change before heading out to couple of other offices on the other side of the city.

In the small, cozy, wood-paneled office of an international fund, I wait for 10 minutes for the Monday morning conference call to get over. The top management in India speaks just as vaguely as they do in the rest of the world. And they too finish with a flourish of generic powerwords. I think that is a mandatory course in MBA across the globe. 

Much more topical, sensible and data-oriented discussion later.
"RBI cut the rates a little too much. They have given themselves room to raise it back up in the next quarter when inflation will climb."
I head bob in agreement. 

I had read through the RBI governor's monetary policy statement this weekend. It is a pretty good example of "adjectivising" data to fit decisions by clever, selective placement of words 'high', 'low', 'good', 'manageable' etc in front of numbers. Sort of like the pro-Kudankulam "scientific" article Dr. Abdul Kalam wrote. It is even more glaring in this case because Wholesale Price Index and Consumer Price Index are showing diverging trends.
Since the time of epics, India is a land of literally 'fantastic' numbers and an incorrigible obsession with them. That makes it a cakewalk to drown a premeditated interest rate decision primarily targeting inflation under an avalanche of irrelevant fiscal data.

"Italy has a few billion dollar payment due soon. We'll have more restructuring. Spain is in trouble and it is a much much bigger economy. Equity markets don't have happy times ahead. Debt is safer," the young, smartly dressed adviser continued.
"NRIs should be looking at MIPs instead of equity exposure at least for the rest of this year."
"I see"

While walking back from the bus stop, a barely out of his teens dude in formal trousers, full sleeve shirt and a fat blue tie was setting up a table under a parasol to lure folks into a new brand of water purifying system. His uniform was the worse thing for the season. Besides, in the last decade, the formal Western wear has become such a signature of low-paying sales jobs in India that youngsters have begun to show a visible sense of shame about it. The "cool" dress code that the Silicon Valley billionaires have promoted in the mean time has also contributed to it.

With neither the nonchalance nor the lethargy of Kalidasa's peacock and cobra shade providers , an old mother, easily in her 70s, holding an umbrella over her middle-aged, physically and mentally challenged son who kept staggering away from its shade.
She continued having a conversation with him and his responses, mostly animated grunts and laughs, seemed to make complete sense to her. 
I followed them for some distance, forgetting the blazing sun in the invisible shade that radiated from their sight.

Pakarnattam (BH:D262)

April 22, 2012

I had no idea what a "floating" theater means. But when has ignorance ever stopped me? So off I went with Achan to "Chilanka Floating Theater's Pakarnattam". The troupe was from Kozhikode. The act was a one-man show.

Vyllopilli Samskriti Bhavan would have been the absolutely perfect venue, with its traditional layout, for a single actor performance lasting an hour on the story of Karna. Those who remember my note on Dr. Paulose's speech on Koodiyattam will recognize that Pakarnattam was a technique initiated by King Kulasekhara Perumal in the Koodiyattam dance form. It involves one actor playing out different roles to narrate the flash back story that leads up to the current scene in the performance.

Bichus Kozhikode, the actor and director, tranformed himself into Parashurama, Suyodhana and Arjuna during the act in which he remained Karna for the most part. One of the most wronged personalities in Indian mythology, Karna is perpetually a magnificently fertile character for theatrical reinvention. That is why I wish, along with the rest of the audience, that Mr. Bichus had the basic theatrical training of getting his voice across to the audience. The utter inaudibility made the performance as tragic as the story of Karna himself.

It is fantastic, at times, when an actor uses hushed tones and speaks in barely audible laconic manner. It is fantastic when Heath Ledger does it in Brokeback Mountain. It is not fantastic when done on stage without microphones. The fans at the venue were way louder than Karna in anguish or Parashurama in anger. And that's not something those mythical heroes will forgive.

Since none of us heard most of it, it won't be fair to comment on the script. There was an opening and closing poem which was delivered with excruciating loudness in contrast. It was fairly good quality, so I presume the rest of the script must have also been so. If only we could hear it.

Mr. Bichus has a spectacular physique and uses his physical agility charmingly on stage. The minimalist set, props and costume were brilliant. In fact, they could almost pass for a "Kavalam Narayana Panicker" production. But then having torches that fail to light up for the climax seals the amateur tag back on the team. While the main actor was inaudible, the couple of other voiceovers were loud and poor. Kunthi, the mother, who visits the son the day before the final battle to reveal his true identity, could have used a voice more mature than a 15 year old's. And for some reason the episode, where Indra asks for Karna's armor and ear-rings, that forms the crux of Bhasa's Karnabhara and is splendid drama territory, was left out.

I guess the actor can pass some of the blame to the soundtrack which was intrusive to say the least. There was something disturbing about the use of Hollywood or perhaps Chinese war epic blockbuster movie sound clips for a play that otherwise had all the appearances of ancient Sanskrit theater. 

The good thing about a play that fails to capture one's imagination is precisely that. The freedom the imagination enjoys while being seated in a theater. So off I went thinking about the concept of "Pakarnattam" i.e. the assumption of roles, the playing of multiple parts. Is life in the civilized society anything but Pakarnattam with wee bit improvisations that we manage to bring in for the delusion of uniqueness? Don't emotions flow along prescribed channels towards predestined destinations?

In a high octane climax, the prop of a chariot wheel stuck on the backdrop was pulled apart and flung on the stage. The prop fell on the stage with all the nails and pins pointing dangerously upwards and the actor was dangerously jumping around in the area. This, alas was the only captivating part of the entire evening's performance. The performance had its heart in the right place, but neither the brain nor the soul. And theater needs all three.

It is good to know that such amateur performances also manage to find a great venue like Vyllopilli Samskriti Bhavan. Pankarnattam managed to be my second disappointment there. Earlier one was the deeply morose and lethargic musical evening that featured some young local bands. 

I still have no clue what "floating" theater means. Hopefully it is not about words that fail to float towards the audience!

An ultra long walk this morning in search of quality mutton for my sister. I presume brothers have fetched meat for pregnant sisters since prehistoric times. May be it was mostly the husband's job. But then there was no Bangalore and 'work from home' arrangement in those days. And I am never going to be fetching meat for my wife. So I'll take this as a karmic fulfillment.

Saiju had alerted me about the "Sanuja Meat Stall" between Plamoodu and Pattom. I got there by 7:30 am. There was an orderly queue. So Malayalees tend to form disciplined queues not just at liquor stores. In front of me was a roly poly 50-something lady, fresh after her morning bath and almost certainly a temple visit. Besides the jasmine on her slowly graying hair, she had sandal paste and red kumkum on her forehead and neck, I presume exactly at the "chakra" points that yoga identifies. She reminded me of the 'Tam Bram' aunties I have seen at Houston Meenakshi temple.
"Randu kilo, Ellu Venda" (two kilos, no bones) was her order. 
As the butcher went about cutting up her order on the solid massive tree stump table, she gave her place in the queue to her driver and went back to car after checking with him that the car aircondition was on. 

On the way back via Marappalam, an even more orderly queue outside a fish shop that had an ominous "Thala kittum" (Head available) board hung outside. Across from the fish shop, another line leading to "Swadeshi Beef Stall". Glad they stopped at Swadeshi and didn't name it after Gandhi. The Malayalee discipline in front of meat and fish stalls on a Sunday morning is an interesting phenomenon....even Menons would agree!


Courtroom Drama (BH:D261)

April 21, 2012

It should have been along the lines of the bombastic, gripping, edge-of-the-couch intense court room dramas that pack American television channels. But then the reticent, soft-spoken, rarely speaking MMS is at the helm of affairs. Therefore

The Supreme Court: so we should let the ship go?
Govt Attorney: Yes, Your honor!
TSC: But two Indian citizens have been killed.
GA: In international waters, my Lord.
TSC: They seize to be Indian citizens once they are at sea?
GA: Our citizens are always at sea. Especially when they are on a boat more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest coast.
TSC: Is this the government's stance?
GA: Yes, that Italians are italians.
TSC: Meaning?
GA: Just like how we clarified earlier that gays are gays.
TSC: And Indians are Indians, we presume?
GA: Quite so. Except when they are of Italian origin.
TSC: And the Kerala Police was wrong to detain the Italian marines?
GA: Yes, they have been ordered to repent for 42 days.
TSC: Have the families of the victims been informed?
GA: They can read it in the papers. That's our preferred mode of communication successfully applied even on senior ISRO scientists.
TSC: Indeed. What does the PM say about the matter?
GA: The usual.
TSC: Silence?
GA: Deferred, reverential and thoughtful
TSC: Will it be broken?
GA: Hopefully in 2014.
TSC: Final argument...
GA: "Letting go" is the purest message since the time of Buddha. The armed forces have already been trained in Ahimsa with the supply of substandard equipment. 
TSC: But that message was law only during the Mauryan Empire.
GA: Your honor, and the Roman Empire ascended soon after. 
TSC: And it has reached the Indian shores?
GA: Precisely. The message should reverberate with the citizens. That they should have no attachment.
TSC: To their own lives?
GA: And property...unless of course, they are of Italian origin.

Degrees 2012 (BH:D260)

April 20, 2012

Though I passed by the arched gate of the Fine Arts College several times this week while shuttling to the accountant and bank, sadly didn't have the time to take a look at the Degrees 2012 exhibition till today. By 10:30 this morning, I was walking up the narrow, creaking, wooden stairs of the main building to the Painting section of the exhibition.

Four halls of the upper floor were dedicated to paintings in different mediums. A handful of very impressive oil and acrylic works. Loved that the photograph of the artist with contact information was provided next to each work. Since almost all of them have emails, it is easy to express our appreciation. Couple of artists like Sabin Das and Moona Krishna showcase captivating work. Sabin's forte is trompe o'leil type effect with which he specialises on heavy equipment for some reason. Moona's works are thought-provoking.

Absolute clutter of broken chairs, canvas stands, dried and squeezed out paint tubes and tins in the corridors outside the rooms. I suppose the college teaches that art must be revolutionary, disorderly and nonconformist. 

Fantastic statues, mostly busts in stone, bank the shady road that leads from the main building to the studios in the lower, farther end of the campus. Life like quality for a few. With his sunken manboobs and slightly protruding belly wrapped in a double tucked 'mundu', the statue of an aging, balding Malayalee immediately brings so many village uncles to mind.

The sculpture segment wasn't as great as the painting section, but that's just the personal opinion of an artless mind. The labyrinth made of cigaratte cases, the empty letter box in terracota and a small installation titled abortion featuring shiny screws drenched in red sindoor did hold my attention. 

In the last building, with its claustrophobic spiral stairway, the "applied arts" section. Catchy, classy, colorful final year projects that focus on complete brand building are on display here. The hilarious campaign for Beau elastic condoms and the simple elegant thermocol plate resembling a paw print for the "Save Tiger" campaign are worth mentioning. 

Carelessness with English left a bad aftertaste though. Its a pretty sorry state when an entire campaign with its posters, covers, websites, tshirts and brochures all advertise an "eletronic" wristband! Just the way Malayalees pronounce it!

Overall a good featuring of some very proming talent. As is said colloquially "faaviyum faavanayum olla pillaru" (Kids with future and good imagination). Even more encouraging was the steady stream of young visitors.

Walking back from the college took the road beside Public library with its second book shack. Picked up two Art Buchwald books for Rs. 60 from the very first stall. "Puthiya stock udane varum bhai" (New stock will come soon) promises the shack proprietor.

Unusual number of parked cars on that road. Cause is a wedding at the Bishop Periera Hall. A hoarding for the new movie "22 Female Kottayam" right outside the hall. Rather unfortunate placement for a movie that climaxes in violent Bobbitting to be outside a wedding venue. Melodious christian devotional song rises from the choir inside. May be that should help. Or may be not. "What would Jesus do?" isn't a good question to ask in the bedroom. 

Flipping through Buchwald's "Washington is leaking", I get to Kanakakunnu Palace. The gate has been decorated with a cutout and announcement of Rajaram Mohan Roy Library Foundation National Seminar, a Ministry of Culture initiative. The sun deters from checking it out. Mandatory seminar attendees, I presumed, all dressed in their best possible 'kasavu' sarees, green blouse and jasmine in their hair, were being herded into the venue by several buses. Turned out they were volunteers for the massive "Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha" annual rally in the evening.

Back again at the Fine Arts exhibition in the evening with Saiju. With his architect's eye, he points out the boldness and finesse of a few color combinations that I was blissfully ignorant of in the morning. While leaving, we attempt to climb over a locked gate. We contemplate jumping off the wall. Three young men, college students hopefully, sitting on the wall, are pleasantly amused by the two hesistant middle aged souls. Luckily a lady lecturer pulls up her car at that back gate. Suddenly someone rushes to fetch the key to let her in. We squeeze out.


DIN (BH:D259)

April 20, 2012

Most of the week went in clawing myself into my cousin's company and getting its website going. To be in the director board of a firm in India, one needs to have a Director Identification Number. Like all other glorified numbers in India, to obtain this number one needs to submit other numbers. My PAN card number and UIN card number were used in the plea for the DIN number. I say plea though the application calls itself an application. May be it should be called a prayer. 

You kindly see, Dear Sir/Madam, that India has managed to carry over its entire lethargic, bureaucratic red-tapism into the cyber world. Visit any government website and most of us in our 30s will get a flashback of old school textbooks. Crammed with the most useless information, squeezed in illegible fonts all over the place and written in obscure, mind-numbing, flowery, bombastic, scholastic language that is rejected even by the esteemed Journals of Statistical Analysis of Most Boring Mesopotamian Tablets. If you are ever tripping from psychedelic drug, please logon to some ministry's (governmental not church) website and watch the drug retreat in shame. 

Among the numerous columns of texts of varying sizes, boldness and slant, there are snaking "feeds" and slideshows zooming past. As I grow dizzy, the accountant manages to find the small box for logging in. He is used to finding right slots among chaos. That's what he gets paid for. "With e-filing, things have actually become more costly," he reveals to my surprise.

We spent 15 minutes trying to get a digital signature to work. "They keep changing the format and now everyone is supposed to renew the digital signature every year at a cost of Rs. 500. There is a firm contracted by the government that does this." The pen drive provided by the firm doesn't work. We call them up fervently hoping that someone has made the mistaking of staying back in office after 5 pm. Lucky break. They promise to email the new signature in an unheard of format shortly.

Signature arrives. Application gets loaded. The site rejects it with a tantric message appearing in glaring red font. I am perplexed but the accountant is undeterred. "It does that a few times!". I admire the great Indian web designers who have managed to capture the arrogant, soul-less soul of the proverbial "desi-babu" into html format. The website behaves just like the disinterested, soporific clerk one used to run into any government office. Now the clerk has arrived on your desktop at home. 

"Don't worry about it. I will keep trying," the account reassures me. I stand terrified that any time now a hand will stick out of the cd drive, Ring-movie style, asking for a bribe to get the application through. 15 more attempts and a new mantra appears in green. 6pm, I leave his office.

Next day 6am, I find that an email with the holy grail number has arrived in my inbox at 4am. That is 10 hours of processing time for a single page application. It is better than 10 months anyways. And fortunately computer servers seem to be OK with working at nights...so far. Any day though, they might form a union!

Gandhian Moms (BH:D258)

April 19, 2012

Mathrubhumi weekly has published a cover story on the ongoing Kudankulam nuclear power plant protests. Haunting photographs of a few moms who are in the frontline of this battle. 
A battle fought in the purest Gandhian non-violent way. 
A battle that has been deliberately ignored by Indian media which is working as not watchdogs but hunting dogs of the government, both state and central. 
A battle that has risen above caste and religious barriers. 
The fight of a land....under the leadership of women...mothers, sisters, daughters...without facebook, orkut and twitter...but with speeches and poems in Tamil thundering from the dais...to inspire, to sustain.....for the right to live. 

The government has tried almost all the cheap tricks in the book against its own people in this matter. They tried dividing the people along caste lines infiltrating the camps with spies. Mullaperiyar dam issue was brought up to ensure that people of Kerala didn't join wholeheartedly in the protest though Thiruvananthapuram falls well within the range in case of a disaster at the plant. 
Promises of wealth under the guise of a 500 crore development package was made to the Panchayats. The local government leaders refused. Justice was more important to them than money. The politicians in Chennai and Delhi couldn't understand that attitude at all. How can anything be more important than money?! 
Rolling blackouts lasting 18 hours a day were imposed on the state to justify the need for a nuclear power plant. But poor people are not automatically idiots. That is just a capitalist delusion. When sustainable, renewable wind farms on either side of the proposed nuclear powerplant are already generating more electricity than the plant's capacity, only the amply greased palms will continue to write about the "need" of nuclear energy for the state's development.

The protestors, fighting for their life and livelihood, don't expect any sympathy or support from any political party. When the local elections was announced, Chief Minister Jayalalitha took a very friendly stance. But as soon as the voting ended, she order the arrest of over 200 of the agitation's leaders. And she is called "Amma"! She is anything but that...

Aamir Khan is launching a national TV show focused on the grass root problems and progress of the nation. I don't think poor, dark people, especially "Saala Madrasis" from south of Tamil Nadu will make good national TV. So Kudankulam won't be on his radar of "problems." After all, Abdul Kalam himself refused to meet the protestors but dutifully wrote a pseudoscientific center spread on The Hindu newspaper about the glories of nuclear energy. Taking of glamorous supporters, one would have thought superstar Rajnikanth would weigh in on the matter.If only his gurus showed him some divine vision.  

Incidentally, Rajnikanth is in Thiruvanathapuram busy doing motion capture shots for a song in his upcoming movie, Kochadiyan. Deepika Padukone is also in the Kazhakoottam studio. 

One would have thought that a protest like Kudankulam which has been forsaken by the Congress and the regional parties of Tamil Nadu is fertile ground for the Communitst party to jump in. Veteran leader, V. S. Achudanandan was ready to visit the site and participate. But the party in Kerala has forbidden him. You see, the nuclear plant is built by the Russians. Though communist party is ardently against belief systems, they strongly believe that in Russia everyone continues shits gold and pees honey even after the fall of the Soviet empire. So nothing must be done against a nuclear power plant with Russian technology even if it is built less than two kilometers away from a government housing colony and is commissioned without doing any safety mock exercises whatsoever. 

Talking for Russians, Siberian dance troupe Larisa performed in the city yesterday evening. Free tickets were available in advance at the Russian culture center. I had picked up two assuming that tickets meant limited seating. Much horror on reaching the venue yesterday. For a hall that can seat 600, 6000 tickets seam to have been sold. Those who had managed to find seats were left struggling to keep their faces away from the butts of those standing beside and craning their necks to see the stage over the heads of those standing in front. The photographs of the dancers rehearsing at the beach, published by the leading dailies yesterday, clearly worked. I would have assumed the organizers had better sense than give away so many extra tickets. They hadn't. I left before the show.


Inland (BH:D257)

April 18, 2012

An afternoon of traveling around southern Kerala with Saiju. As we head to the auspicious land marking ceremony of a new house around 50km from the city, the owner calls to say that he would like it done before "Rahu Kalam", the most inauspicious time of the day according to the Hindu astrological calendar starts. I chuckle about his being a time-watching Muslim while the other guys in the car quickly figure out when is Rahu Kalam on a Tuesday.

One of them remembers a mnemonic he was taught in high school. "Eleven boys had a good football coach," he says. The calculation is not as simple as mnemonics are meant to be. We start with Monday. The starting letter for "eleven", e is the 5th in English alphabet. We take 1.5 times 5 to get 7.5. On Mondays, Rahu Kalam is from 7:30am to 9am. They always last 90 minutes. Similarly for Tuesdays, 'boys' gives b which is 2. Taking 1.5 times 2, we get 3, thus 3pm to 4:30 pm.

With the letters b, f and c available to make a mnemonic, I though it was a rather clean to have boys, football and coach. A much more entertaining obscene mnemonic was quickly made. Obviously it won't be taught in school. At least not by a teacher in a classroom. 

Back home, I was told a much simpler mnemonic to remember Rahu Kalam is "Mother saw father with their two sons". The first letters of the words in this sentence represents the days of the week that start with it. Here, one needs to remember that on Mondays, the time is 7:30-9am. Now we keep marching forward in 90 minutes chunk and figure out which day that would be from the mnemonic. So the next chunk 9am-10:30am would be Rahu kalam on "saw"=Saturday. 'Their' is for Thursday and 'Two' stands for Tuesdays. Wholehearted apologies for sharing this absolutely useless knowledge.

A property has been brought to road level by removing tonnes of soil 20-25 ft high. The exposed soil walls stand on two sides of the land with a sacred, sacrifical mix of yellow, red and cream hues. At the far end, the culling has cut through a well, revealing its cross section down the entire depth. The split well stands like a gaping, festering wound on the earth beyond repair.

Another site has two houses and a small shrine in it. Total area of 1.5 acres. One of the house is ancient and the other is an old one. The people belong to a caste called "Ambalavasis" who are traditionally associated with temple duties. Hence the shrine and its importance. "We want a new two storey house here," said the wife standing in the front yard of the ancient house. She gave specifications of all the rooms she needed. "But the darshan (front view) should be towards the shrine. Our budget is strictly 25 lakhs. After this is done, we need to conduct our first daughter's wedding. You know, how much gold costs these days!" 
"We can do a single floor home for that budget, " suggests the architect.
"But we have two daughters!"

Since the shrine is present, dividing and selling a part of the property to raise some more funds is out of question. I stand around listening to the conversation amused about the "way of life" that involves 'rahu kalams', shrines, gold and marrying off daughters. Millions in this land pass by never getting a breather from their 'way of life' to admire the beautiful planet? Is it not gorgeous enough to give them pause, to rethink, to reconsider?

At another upcoming home, as the architect, mason and the owner get busy over measurements, a little white lamb chomps down on a leafy wild plant near the unpolished new compound wall. The movement of his jaws are lightning fast. He is the Bruce Lee of feeding. Leaves disappear into his mouth in an unbroken succession. Once in a while, as if to change taste and revitalize its appepite, he munches on a piece of banana that is lying on the ground. His mom bleats intermittently from her tethered circle around a Jackfruit tree in the neighboring house. 

I wonder how despite such nonstop eating, this little dude stays so lean. He quickly illustrates. In one vigorous leap, he is on the parapet. Then back on the ground and in five spirited gallops he is back with his mom. The speed, agility and incredibly energy expending motion packs all his life in every leap. We have only accumulated the voracious grazing habit and conveniently skipped the animated bouncing.

We shuttle from one home site to another continuously feeding an ever growing desire to drink tea. We get stuck at a level crossing. By the time the train has passed, "intelligent" Indian drivers with their great civic sense have managed to choke the roads on either side of the gate. Impossible impasse. Everyone wants to get ahead. So nobody goes anywhere. Blaring horns. Showering abuses. A hoarding by the roadside guarantees "Moksha" (salvation) with the viewing of 12 Jyothirlingas in a traveling exhibition. Free Entry. Sure why not! We already know what hell feels like.

We sublimate the desire for tea into a conversation. How did Malayalees become so addicted to tea that was apparently introduced in India only in the 17th century by Rober Fortune after tricking the Chinese out of its secret? Or could it be that Chinese sailors to the Kerala shores brought tea centuries ahead of the British? Why didn't coffee become as popular except that universally Malayalees refer to breakfast as 'Kaapi'? What was the common drink before tea and coffee?

We realize that a lot of folks in our generation don't drink tea. Their parents never encouraged that habit. Even fewer in the younger generations drink it. Colas and other powder drinks have risen in popularity. It must have been the same dynamic that led to the succumbing to the tea. 

Graduating to drinking tea instead of milk was a great right of passage for me. I used to be disappointed when all the grown ups around were drinking tea and I was offered sissy milk. Sipping on tea was entry into the adult club. I can relate to folks who carry this a little further and take up smoking. 

Driving by relatively deserted section of profoundly peaceful Varkala beach and the green rippling carpet of Anjuthengu lagoon. As the sun sets, we pull into a highway side tea shack. As Saiju is catching on emails on his smart phone, a boy comes over to our table.
"Is that a Galaxy Note?"
"My daddy also has one!" He runs over to his dad who is busy ordering and comes back with a white version of the phone. 
"What is your name?" I ask
Cold batter destined to an ephemeral split lives in toroidal 'Vada' avatar in the small, dirty glass shelf of the shack, meets hot oil with a silencing hiss.

NBS (BH:D256)

April 17, 2012

On Friday, while walking from the accountant to the bank, I had noticed the virtually unnoticeable National Book Stall squeezed between a hotel and a bank across from the gate of the old government Secretariat that is well known for the regular violent clashes between the police and the protesters.

Yesterday morning, after yet another and hopefully final visit to the bank to get a credit card, I went into this NBS shop.

The oldest proper books, as in not the illustrated comics kind, that I remember reading are from my paternal uncle's home library in our ancestral home. Almost all of them had the classy NBS swan logo with the B forming the wing and N the tail. I had read Malayalam translations of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan. And forever that made Tarzan, Jane and the lovely apes, Malayalees for me. Uncle's collection also had translations of Bengali and Hindi detective pulp fiction. Stuff that opened with enticing lines like, "Bang....a gunshot!" 

Memories are a good thing to carry into the NBS book store. The place is dimly lit, cluttered, disordered and dusty. A 50-something lady who satisfied the quintessential small town government school headmistress image was busy writing on a huge ledger book at the front desk. It was the only unoccuped desk in the shop, beside the entrance to the left. Though I was the only customer, she took great pains in ignoring me. 

A mundu-clad younger man was busying himself carrying stacks of books from one room to the other. A much friendly toothy welcome smile from him. The shop is like a three layer dungeon. Thanks to the door and couple of glass windows, the front room is well lit. It holds the poetry session on a row of standing shelves, two desks and wall display panels. There is barely space for one person to move about between them. 

Light from the front room barely manages to filter into the second room through the straight arch opening. This is the beginning of the dust kingdom. Communist books to the left to start with. Relatively dust free ones on the upper shelves. Bending down, we come face to face with unopened stacks of thickly dust coated older books. Old gems still with the 1980s price tag in the Rs. 20-30 range with hardbound ones making it into the then expensive Rs. 50 category. The communism section seamlessly melts into the religion section. 

Found the first, third and fourth days of Nalacharitham Aattakatha in this section. The story of Nala, in Kathakali format, attributed to Unnayi Warrier, is performed traditional over four consecutive nights though they are called "days". I had found a copy of the "Second Day" on Friday at Bhasha Institute book shop. Blowing the dust away from these copies of the other days, heartening discovery that they were in the 20-30 range. 

Travelogues, spirituality, drama and children's books occupy rest of the shelves and obstructing desks in the room. Found N. P. Chellappan Nair's scathing political satire from 1960, "Ebileesukkalude Nattil" there.

The third room is straight out of some ghostly horror movie set. Cobwebs add drama to the eons of dust. Dust that has gathered dust. There are glass panes high on the side walls that once might have been meant as ventilators. Now buildings on either side, virtually sharing the wall, have reduced them to the role of noise filters. I guessed that some restaurant or tea stall kitchen operated next door. 

Despite the fear of dust allergy, I was drawn in by a handicapped "50% off" cardboard skeleton of a display that precariously hung from one of the shelves. I have always found collectible books under such reduced tags. The final cave of NBS did not disappoint. English translation of Kalidasa's RithuSamhara and Meghadutta for 50 bucks. Sweet!

Spent a good 10 minutes in that neglected cavern of forgotten literary pursuits. No idea what will the ultimate fate of these books be. The book shop, mostly because of the location, will manage to putter along for another decade for sure. The NBS publishing house continues to churn out outstanding works in Malayalam, so their future seems pretty safe. 

In the well-lit poetry section, I picked up "Pathittandinte Kavitha" (Poetry of the decade), an anthology of Malayalam poems in the last decade edited by the accomplished scholar and poet, Ezhachery Ramachandran. Fairly good haul for 300 bucks. Good use of the Vishu "Kaineettam" gift money! 

While preparing the bill, the woman at the counter slips in "NBS Bulletin", the thin magazine that contains reviews (glowing ones, of course) of recent NBS publications. Browsed through it on the bus on the way back home. One of the reviews of a new Children's literature work rues the impersonal, unattached, child-rearing practices of the Western world infiltrating Kerala. I wonder if the writer had ever been to the West and how many friends he has there whose child-rearing practises he has personally witnessed!
Ignorant xenophobic cliches are pathetically license-free in this land. 
The "Western" monster is the strawman to which Malayalees happily latch their insecurities, inhibitions, greed and jealousies.


Sexy Drinks (BH: D255)

April 16, 2012

Going by the Delhi Police's attitude, consuming alcohol is a direct cause of getting raped for women in India. Women might as well order a molestation or heavy duty gangrape at the bar. Those who are not into binge drinking can order a socially acceptable unasked for fondling. Bars and hotels should display a menu for assorted assaults possible. 

Delving deeper into Delhi police first information reports, matters become a tad more complex. Attire combination with alcohol influences the nature of the crime. Accordingly, women have the power, at least in the National Capital Region, to determine how exactly they want to get violated. Men are powerless. They are natural born rapists who can't help it as soon as a woman shows some skin or is seen drinking. 

It is very unfortunate that the product of such grand distillation, of both thought and grains and fruits, of the human civilization has had such a fall from grace. India was once the land of Soma, the intoxicant of the gods. Today it is the land of alcohol-justified rape.

Rape aside, one would think, alochol has a relationship with sex as old as culture itself. I remember something about "alcohol-fuelled marathon sex sessions" of William and Kate referred to in Sarah Lyall's 'The Anglo Files'. Apparently in Britain, alcohol is the equivalent of the Indian astrologer. It determines the perfection of the match after completely removing any thought or logic from the equation. 

In Tom Standages outstanding 'The history of the world in 6 glasses', it is not surprising that the first three fluids that course through the course of history happen to be the Egyptian and Mesopotamian beer, the Greco-Roman wine and the exploring European rum and brandy. It is only after Renaissance that we settled for coffee, tea and coke.

Two advertisements that I saw yesterday between the hugely entertaining IPL match tell me that no matter what the Delhi Police may think, non-alocholic drinks are also "mind-blastingly" sexy. Alcohol advertisement is still hush-hush in India. And it is usually macho men who advertise it as club soda. Accordingly, it is adventure and out of the box thinking that is fuelled in India by alcohol. Sex is, on the other hand (ahem!), lubricated by mango juice and cold coffee. 

Katrina Kaif, draped rather carelessly in a red flowing cloth and a cut piece from it banding over her breasts, dreams sitting on the window of what looks like a Rajput Palace. In the dream, extreme close up of her biting into juicy mangoes. We are given quick generous shots of her beauty. Suddenly she bolts out of the room, across the portico and out into the open yards. There we see the object of her quest. A mango tree that miraculously manages not to hold on to fully ripe golden mangoes on almost all its branches.

Ms. Kaif throws her flowing pallu to catch the mangoes. They conviently fall into the water tank splashing slow-motion water (which is the second most popular type of water in Bollywood after mineral water) on her pallu-less grace. The mangoes in the tank transmogrify into a glass bottle of Slice mango juice which Ms. Kaif sucks on and we are done. "Buttery nipple", "sex on the beach" and other evocative cocktails can't hold a candle to Katrina's slice!

Purab Kohli comes to presumably Deepika Padukone's apartment while Karan Johar is hanging out there. Or may be Karan and Deepika live together. I have no clue who Purab Kohli is. When I saw the ad I thought it was Farhan Akhtar. That is pretty much the level of my Bollywood awareness. Google told me about Purab. Anyways, Purab needs coffee shaken by Deepika. As she goes to the kitchen, he dreams about her doing the shake Shakira-style. 

This is Nescafe's cold coffee ad which is a long way away from the old coffee ads that involved the arranged marriage theme. Bru instant coffee used to be marketed as the coffee that could impress any prospective, anal retentive, south Indian mother-in-law. Now, the ad subscribes straight to Eddie Izzard's "coffee means sex" stand up routine. 

If this is how mango juice and cold coffee is getting marketed, I wonder what to expect once alcohol advertising becomes legal in India. May be porn legalization should precede.