Thursday, December 13, 2007

Then play on

Another valued tape gone. I have a considerable number from the dark ages when there were only magnetic tapes, and now my player is eating them and I’m faced weekly with a tangled wreck of what once used to be lovely music. It was Amjad Ali Khan’s Bhimpalasi last week, a leisurely evocative double-sided exposition that used to part of my travelling collection. Today it was Mian Tansen torn to shreds, quite beyond patchwork.

I’m struggling to digitise my tapes. I’ve found some excellent lessons online which seem doable if only I could discover why, after making all the connections I’m supposed to make, the output doesn’t pour out of my system’s speakers. The alternative is to take them all to a new-fangled electronics wala, which means some effort, time and money.

Then there is the dilemma. Should I indeed carry over all this – about 500 tapes – into the future? Or resolve to buy only digital music from here on and let these go? All these Mehdi Hassans, these Nusrats, the only version of ‘Nit Khair Mangan’ I have?
Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bismillah Khan, Prabhakar Karekar.
Noor Jahan, Farida Khanum, Nayyara Noor.
My grandfather’s collection: MD Ramanathan, TV Sankaranarayanan, Maharajapuram Santhanam. Kadri Gopalnath and U Srinivas.

Even writing this makes up my mind for me. It would be criminal, I think, to not at least try. I find the task daunting: the very idea of lugging these over, deciding how to sort and lump them… still, let us put it down in my list of things to do.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

From all I’ve said…

…let them not seek to find who I've been.*

My sister was at the computer today with some yellow web pages open on her desktop, and she said to me, somewhat regretfully, that when she had time on her hands and in search of something to read, she went to my blog – not to the current pages but the archives. She was in fact saying, this used to be a better blog.

It is quite true, of course. I have known this for a while, indeed realised it while it the slide was occurring, but I quite lacked the mind to force it. My posts then were spontaneous, more honest, more generous. I was not afraid to be quotidian, trivial or silly. But then, you see, I was not expecting to be read. Or at least not by anyone outside my family, one cousin and a few friends. What done me in was the audience, the unexpected audience. People I didn’t know, or worse, people I did. There is a paranoid, secretive streak in me and I held back, became more formal, more stilted and wrote only one of the half dozen posts that sprang to mind.

Also as I read more blogs myself, I saw no point in repeating sentiments or making points others had already made so well, or lower myself to be yet another voice in the clamouring crowd. What I had to say would have to be distinct or otherwise, very strongly felt. I feel now that this “sitting in the stalls” was unwise. What did it matter, after all?

A blog, a personal blog, is more than the sum of its posts. If it is written honestly and there are discerning readers, there is very little that can stay hidden – prejudices, leanings, irrationalities, inconsistencies all are laid bare. The best blogs of this sort are those that tell you what the writer is about; by including her moods and varying attitudes, the range of her swings, they tell you in essence the best as well as the worst of her. The mosaic of posts can introduce you to a person that you couldn’t possibly discover through several social encounters. If a blog can do that, I’d count it a success. Sadly, however much I like some posts, I must say this is not quite the blog it could have been.

Does this sound like an epitaph? No, there’s some writing in me yet. With infrequent updates and boring-as-all-hell posts we have driven off more than half our readership, hopefully taking with it all the ghostly readers who make me uncomfortable. Anew, we can pretend that there is no one around but us friends and now we may be cosy.

*What can one say that a poet can’t say better? This is from a
much-loved one by Cavafy:

From all I've done and all I've said
let them not seek to find who I've been.
An obstacle stood and transformed
my acts and way of my life.
An obstacle stood and stopped me
many a time as I was going to speak.
My most unobserved acts,
and my writings the most covert --
thence only they will feel me.
But mayhap it is not worth to spend
this much care and this much effort to know me.
For -- in the more perfect society --
someone else like me created
will certainly appear and freely act.
~Constantine Cavafy

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hyderabad BirdRace

Sorry for the hasty post but it's BirdRace time again. We had one last year and it was terrific fun!
It's on 2 December this year - do do come. You'll need to register with Siraj Taher (32936937) or Sushil Kapadia (9393319333) of the Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh. The official site is here and Ludwig has all the details here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cleaning up

Closet cleaning is tiring work. In spite of a conscious effort to live lightly, life clings. Things too pretty to be thrown away, old business cards belonging to people I can’t put faces to, contacts that were once important, now mercifully not. I unearthed this morning one card that says Sundeep Sikand! Could this really be the TV honcho? I had no idea I had ever met the man.

I found a bundle of letters, one from a friend telling me she’d fallen in love – she sounds ecstatic, borderline disbelief that she should be so lucky. I was about to remind her of it: ‘Hey, look! A slice of your life recorded, a leaf still fluttering in my shelf,’ and then drew back, hesitating. Would it be tactful? She could hardly be in the same state of mind, and if she saw this now, would she be indulgent, or cynical, or wistful? Second thoughts, as always, blunting that first exuberant impulse.

From another letter, I remembered with a start, a forgotten nickname; I’d forgotten school-friends used to called me Shells. All of us dispersed and adrift now, we have carelessly let go of threads that held us loosely together.

Recipes! Always gathered, hardly ever used. Credit card statements – a few years’ worth. Notepads full of notes for stories long done. Notes with more detail than I put into the articles – I can’t bear to burn those. Phone numbers are a journalist’s lifeline, but am I a journalist? I find the tag burdensome, and shrug it off, with the numbers. They’re probably too old to be of use anyway.

Then considerably more grimy than when I started, I open a fresh bar of rose soap and bathe away the past. What washes away goes, and the rest, I carry anyway.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A tweak

A new quote, a new mood, a slant for this blog: Henry David Thoreau, who says, 'What men call social virtues, good fellowship, is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter, which lie close together to keep each other warm.'

It strikes a chord particularly because I’ve come across that quite a lot recently, one way or the other. People banding together, physically, emotionally, and disappointingly, because it so goes against the spirit of the thing, intellectually. Banding together, not necessarily from genuine kinship, but because it gives them security. Not a thing wrong with that – smart fellows, pigs, but I do think it a bit chicken in people (I’ve got the animal kingdom awfully mixed up but you know what I mean).

So to Henry David, who knew a thing or two about walking alone… salut!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Madhya Pradesh account

It's a been a longish while. What have I been upto? Some travel I can plead, but that was just this last month; the fact is I've been moody and self indulgent in this grand all-negating manner.

After I got back from Kurnool, Shweta and I took ourselves off to Jabalpur to trek with the YHAI. It wasn't an altogether fun experience - the organisers misunderstood the concept of trekking and put us into a rickety rattrap of a bus and carted us all over three districts, Jabalpur, Seoni and Chhindwara. We passed through some magnificent landscapes, though - through the Satpura ranges, touching the wonderfully soothing hot springs of Anhoni, the elegance of Pachmarhi and finally the mecca for tiger spotters, Pench, where, no, before you ask, we did not spot the tiger or the leopard.

My own troubles on the trip started on day one, when I discovered to my horror that a fellow traveller had managed to give me conjunctivitis. I was already in Jabalpur and there was no help for it but to mop up and hope everyone else wasn’t susceptible. I had nightmarish visions of a busload of red-eyed people pointing accusatory fingers at me.

The trip included three nights on the bus and this was truly horrible, more horrible than I can say. The bus tended to hurl its occupants out of their very cramped seats, the driver was fond of loud grating sounds banging through the night, and we stopped roughly every hour, when all the lights would come on and 70 people would get off and then try and fit themselves in again. Looking back, now that I have spent every available minute of the past three days sleeping, it looks better. Some views will stay forever, some people will never be forgotten and the long descent into Patalkot is a story I’ll be telling around campfires.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

From Kurnool

I remarked to someone earlier this season that the monsoons were passing me by, that somehow this year I hadn’t taken the time to linger in contemplation of clouds, or stood by the window watching rain fall, or even been caught in a drizzle. Foolish, of course, to say these things aloud and tempt the gods into uproarious laughter at your expense. Since I made that rash comment, I’ve hardly been dry.

Maredumilli I told you about here. Since then there have been less thrilling adventures every other day when we wrestle with our alternate-day water-supply. In Hyderabad, I can tell you without consulting the Met department, it has rained every other day since June at 6.00 in the evening.

Then, Ahobilam happens. I’m here on assignment and I thought it would be a nice change from tramping about in the wet, chasing birds and other nonsense. It’s a temple town, so I would enjoy the laidback-ness of it all, gawk at temple architecture, ask what century and so on. The most strenuous activity, I hoped, would be the pradakshina, or at the most trying for the best vantage points for the pictures. Hah hah.

First, it rains throughout. THROUGHOUT. Slow rain, fast rain, torrential rain, flash floods, everything. Second, Ahobilam doesn’t have the decency to be a one-spot temple town – it must needs be the centre of a temple complex, the various shrines of which are flung within a seven-kilometre radius. Ok, I say to myself, that’s fine – I have transportation and I could use a few drives in rain drenched hill roads. But no, ‘car won’t go there, madam. We have to go by walk.’ Do I hafta? I’m getting a little whiny here. Well, it transpires there are nine shrines of the Lord Narasimha – he RULES these hills, by the way – that everyone aspires to see. See, the whole thing is so devious: if you give people a number like that with legends and romance attached, anyone with an ounce of the fanaticism that drives collectors is sure to hare off, notching them up. Anyone would, really.

So, ‘by walk’ it was to be. By now reconciled, I arrived shiny eyed and bushy tailed, joined duly by the guide. I had acquired a new full-suit raincoat that I was eager to try out. I donned it, feeling very like a hearty all-weather English woman. The weather turned a bit waspish and the drizzle thickened. Seenu-Guide set a pushing pace, and we encountered a couple of other guides, cronies who hailed him, wanting to know where he was headed. ‘Jwala,’ he told them succinctly, this being the Narasimha we were setting off to see – merely four kilometers uphill, but a steepish climb. I noticed raised brows and dubious looks; there was not much traffic today, and most guides had taken the day off. A little way into the trail I saw why. The path we were supposed to take is up a rocky hill stream – not alongside it, up it. Normally this is doable and in dry season, it should be possible to do it without getting your feet wet. Now, of course, it has been raining for three days and the waters were roaring and rising still. With one hand wasted on the umbrella we waded into the gushing stream, gingerly feeling underfoot for stable rocks, trying to maintain balance in the face of some very business-like waters.

Of all things I dislike on a trail, wet rocks are the worst. They can be treacherous and I’ve slipped and fallen a couple of times, once banging my knee badly. Now I was expected to walk about two and half kilometers through this rock-strewn stream, traversing it back and forth in an attempt to find the easiest path. The feat was accomplished without damage to life or limb, and I gave much thanks to my all-rubber Bata sandals, although I must write to them about the quality of their Velcro.

How striking are the differences between adventure enthusiasts and the uninformed pilgrim-adventurer. The first is detail obsessed and particular about preparation, gear and safety; the second knows nothing of all this, will turn up in saree and heels and still manage to do everything the former does! It is quite lowering.

Back now in the hotel room and because I leave here tomorrow, I promise you the sun will be out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In Vino Pathos

Shame and scandal again in this year's Tour de France, and heroes are tumbling off pedestals with alarming regularity. Vinokourov and the entire Astana team were banned yesterday and the Yellow Jersey Rasmussen was unceremoniously booted out today after a gutsy stage win only the day before.

It's an arduous sport, this cycling. It's all about the physical, then it's all about the mental and then it's about the human body again. I couldn't ride out a kilometre with 60 stitches in my knees and elbow, leave alone stretches of 150-220 km daily for a fortnight. Then I wouldn't assume that I could get illegal blood transfusions and get away with it, not when the sport and its officials are in such uber suspicious mode.

Why would a rider do it? Is good performance so addictive? Is it that frustrating not to have your body cooperate that you simply HAVE to help it along? Is it worth it, to be able to fly along mountain curves, cross that white line first, pump the air when you know you could just as soon be flying home in disgrace, in tears?

I'm all for clean sport and fairness, of course I am. But I can't help feeling for the desperation these men feel, the loneliness that must grip at the end of a long stage, when you have finished way down the lists, in a body that can't execute what the mind can imagine. A cyclist on dope is a pathetic creature.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thanks for all the magic, Jo

One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.

Three days to go, my counter says, before we hold Deathly Hallows in our hands. My feelings are so chaotic, I become incoherent. The theories buzz feverishly in my head, there is mounting excitement, poignancy that this is the end of an intense seven-year stretch of fandom, and fear that the inevitable deaths will cast a cloud over what surely will be the final victory.

I am now wondering if I should permit myself to start on Half-Blood Prince, which I have been straining at the leash to do anytime these past weeks. The mother is on Azkaban and Shweta is trying to finish work so as to leave Saturday completely guilt-free. The father is bemused with all this preoccupation and has very graciously promised not to repeat a single HP spoiler or news and even consented not to switch on the TV the whole of July 21st.

There is of course no dearth of reading material on the internet. There are excellent essays everywhere, and the tension among fans is quite palpable. I particularly recommend this one called Harry Potter and the Nice Big Knot by Susan Faust. In fact, this entire list if you have time on your hands.

What does it take to bond so many people at once? I find the universality of it quite astounding. Are we that similar under the skin? JK Rowling’s Harry Potter story is a rather moral one. She doesn’t preach but the values she holds up are unimpeachable. If that should find resonance with so many millions, it makes me feel very hopeful, very un-cynical.

And she has quite as many fans as Harry. On the forums, someone called joshswenson posts in anticipation of Book Seven:
Jo, please remember, you tread hallowed ground
Our childhood laid bare, our heart strings unwound.
We’re scared silly, we admit it, but you have our trust.
Go now, be brave, and do what you must.

One last request, we ask: please be our Patronus
And most of all thanks for the magic you’ve shown us.
What will happen to the Harry Potter phenomenon after this? Will it die out once it is all known, fizzle out like a hex that needs unblinking eye contact? Will later generations even understand what it was like to grow with Harry Potter? What it was like to wait between books, to be told a story over ten years? Like Sheherzade’s Caliph. Perhaps not. Which makes being part of this big pan-world hoopla really special.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Monsoons, Maredumilli

Occurs belatedly that I said I was going to Maredumilli, went, had a wonderful time and never said anything about it.

It was just as I had predicted. We were moving straight into the path of the depression exactly on the day it crossed the coast and we spent a considerable part of the three days either getting wet or trying not to.

Rajahmundry was mostly spent at the train station, organising tarpaulins for the luggage. A brief glimpse of the Godavari and the famous bridges across it and soon we were hurtling along to Maredumilli. The tarpaulins were well worth the wait, because soon enough the heavens opened. Car windows were rolled up but fat droplets sneaked in anyway.

This patch of Andhra has some of the finest forests in the state and they look unbelievably beautiful in the rain… we sighed at every turn. The camp site was a lovely spot. On a slight hillock with the Valamuru stream curling around it. About a dozen tents neatly arranged. The facilities however were rudimentary and every meal was brought in from elsewhere. Not having coffee – or failing that, tea – first thing in the morning is more basic than I like.

Dry enough to begin with, the tents got progressively damper around the edges; and what with all our sodden stuff hanging from tent openings or draped over packs… well, it was wet. Then there were meals. There was no concrete structure at the camp site, and meals were had under this lovely machaan built around a Mangifera indica. Here we stood huddled as we ate, being dripped on from between the planks above us. The generator lights attracted insects but we tucked in generously, casually plucking out insects from our food as we went.

The stream I mentioned had a little low bridge over it. Two days of incessant rain later, the water had risen and sloshed cheerfully over the bridge. We, who had just pulled on our socks and shoes, sat down to take them off again to cross over. Incredibly nice to walk the bridge with water swirling around the ankles, though. Good we didn’t know it when we dangled our feet in its waters but the stream is supposed to have quite a few crocodiles.

Birding in these circumstances was surprisingly good, because when it did stop raining for even half hour stretches, the birds came out in plentiful numbers. At least five lifers for me: the Large Yellow-naped Woodpecker, Crimson Sunbird, the Orange-throated Green Pigeon, the Lorikeet and the Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch. As we settled ourselves in our jeeps to head back to Rajahmundry, the sun came out. Of course it would!

People back home were worried, we learnt later, because there was flooding in Kurnool and elsewhere, with loss of lives and property. Families exchanged phone calls for news and everyone wondered at our sanity in going off to the wild at such a time. Fortunately we encountered no such troubles and came back in blithe ignorance of what was happening elsewhere. Much fun came.

Monday, July 02, 2007

You go, Mika Brzezinski

ज़िन्दगी भर मेरे काम आये उसूल
एक एक कर उन्हें बेचा किया
- जावेद अख़्तर

It is ridiculous to feel sorry for people who're perfectly happy with their lives but for some years now I've felt a pang for people intent on making a career in the media. High-minded journalistic values make way for baser priorities and if you're to stay in the business, you must play the game by other people's rules. It must be frustrating. At least I know I have been.

But with some people, something's gotta give. Look at how this lady, newsreader Mika Brzezinski on the cable news channel MSNBC, deals with it.
The story's here, and the clip is here:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Godaari gattundi...

Off tonight on a small birding trip to Maredmilli forests in East Godavari.

Whether three days or ten, the things that have to be taken have to be taken. They are laid out on the bed now, waiting to be ticked off and put in. I had an accident years ago that hurt my back. I’m perfectly alright now but every time I have to pack, the psychosomatic pain kicks in – a small part in the lumbar region protests very vehemently as if to tell me, ‘What the heck are you thinking? Who do you think is going to carry that? Me!’ It disappears though the minute I finish packing and carry the bag to test weight and balance.

There is a depression developing off the Bay of Bengal, and there is a skulking feeling we will be huddled under the eaves for at least part of this trip. There are enough of us to make even that fun though.

That happened once in Nizamabad. We arrived at the bus stand to torrential rain, waded through swirling waters to get at lunch. Later, while the drizzle made it difficult to bring the binoculars out, we braved it anyway to go sightseeing. There is a rather nice fort there with a koofiya underground path and everything. Turned out to be a day for places of worship: we counted a mosque, an old Shiva temple built by the Satavahanas and a church, and finished with hot mirchi bajjis. Then the skies cleared and we had two days of breathtaking birding.

That’s that. Ta, then.

Monday, June 11, 2007


There is work, of course, but I'm feeling wonderfully lazy today. A nice feeling that the world is out there, with innumerable adventures lying in wait, if I should feel like venturing out and taking them on.

Incidentally this new blogger has developed an annoying habit - it deletes the selected word and the word after it, leaving odd gaps in the text, and if you don't reread and set about filling what you'd already typed in, you sound like an incoherent idiot. As you will have gathered there is no point to this - just time on my hands and no thoughts at all. Very much 'Dear Diary'. I hardly ever type right into the draft box, do you? It's mostly Word first, except when I'm trying out the Devnagri, of course.

I have discovered author Mary Stewart. Recommended to me by someone who also liked Georgette Heyer and I looked in all the usual places for anything by her and it turned out to be a case of' 'diya tale andhera' because I finally found them with Nishu. I don't quite know if it works like that, that people who like this writer will like that one. I suppose it does; affinities exist after all. At any rate people at the Literature Map seem to think so.

I have stumbled over a quirk in myself I didn't know existed. I tend to linger over my morning coffee in a rather ritualistic manner and I like to read. I usually run mental fingers over my options and sit down reading quietly for a goodish while before I can face the day and people. Not the newspapers but preferably fiction. Now I find I can only read women over morning coffee. I told Sudha when I realised this and she laughed. Like I needed another neuroticism.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another nail

Voila, eet ees Sanjeeviah Park.

Abutting the Hussain Sagar, about 60 acres in all. Not a great space, not particularly well landscaped but a lung nevertheless. Snogging couples in particular find it a most inspiring retreat. Sunday mornings bring in the fitness-conscious: yoga classes, runners, walkers. The water isn't very clean - after all, this is the Hussain Sagar, the dumping place for no fewer than five streams of sewage and industrial waste. But there is hope because once the effluent treatment machinery falls into place, once they figure out exactly how to contain the Ganesh festival dumpings, there is every chance the lake will become a cleanish place.

We were here last Sunday to do some summer birding. The pied mynas were there, nesting with heartening gusto. Then, towards the end of our ambles, a bit of news that left us looking rather grim. Instead of seeing how best they can save this space, how optimally they can use these acres to absorb the havoc we create in the city, how well they can provide a space for flora and fauna as well as the more sensitive of homo sapiens... instead of this, authorities are planning, wait for it, an amusement park. Apparently as it stands the park doesn't bring in revenue.

The present plan includes a maze, a miniature park (World) with replicas of the Hanging Gardens, Niagara Falls, Eiffel Tower and what-not; a children's park with a shoe house, windmill, a sand castle; a miniature park (India) with a version of the Meenakshi Temple, step wells of Gujarat, a Taj Mahal and such-like. There will also be a mono rail, an underground tunnel, cable car and party zones.

I can see it perfectly, of course. The steady stream of revellers and party makers, with their children in tow, consuming chips, kurkure and cola by the armful, throwing wrappers around, wheeeing as they take the cable car. Lovely.

Tax payers' money going on these monstrosities! and I assure you, monstrosities they will be. These chaps routinely exhibit the most appalling taste and have contrived to put NTR Gardens on any top ten list of the ugliest man-made spaces.

I hate feeling ineffectual. Bah! I will spare you my seething blubberings.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

a passing cloud

आज कल फिर दिल-ए-बरबाद की बातें है वही
हम तो समझे थे के कुछ अक्ल ठिकाने आयी

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

गर नहीं वस्ल तो हसरत ही सही

An excuse merely to use this lovely devnagri script conversion thingy that blogger gives us. What a wonderful tool this is! I love the script but hate to write in it - it's fiddly, my handwriting goes out of control and I never manage the spaces well.

I've just typed a couple of things and indeed the software seems to read my mind, allowing for corrections and variations with ridiculous ease. Who knew!

Anyway, here's one of the pieces I picked up to experiment with, this ghazal of Ghalib’s. I particularly love the images this one evokes...

the idea of a sigh released into the universe, working its magic in small packets of energy, weaving its yearning endlessly till the desired effect at long-last takes place.
आह को चाहिऐ इक उम्र असर होने तक
कौन जीता है तेरी ज़ुल्फ़ के सर होने तक

Ghalib turns a bit Dantesque here and a poor droplet is exposed to the ravenous jaws of a hundred open-jawed crocodiles... its journey to becoming a pearl is fraught with perils.
दाम हर मौज में है हल्का-ए-सद्काम-ए-नहंग
देखें क्या गुज़रे है कतरे पे गुहार होने तक

आशिकी सब्र तलब और तमन्ना बेताब
दिल का क्या रंग करूं ख़ून-ए-जिगर होने तक

हमने माना के तगाफुल ना करोगे लेकिन
ख़ाक हो जायेंगे हम तुमको खबर होने तक

The rays of the sun bring with it the dewdrop's destruction: a glance from grace.
पर्तावे खुर से है शबनम को फ़ना कि तालीम
मैं भी हूँ एक इनायत कि नज़र होने तक

Old magic, the proverbial blink of Shiva's eye. Not longer than a glimpse, the duration of life; we are held entranced only while the spark dances.
यक नज़र बेश नहीं फुर्सत-ए-हस्ती गाफिल
गरमी-ए-बज़्म है एक रक्स-ए-शरर होने तक

What but death, 'Asad', can cure this life? The candle burns in every hue...
गम-ए-हस्ती का 'असद' किस से हो जुज़ मर्ग इलाज
शम्मा हर रंग में जलती है सेहर होने तक

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wishes, horses and green fields

That is our coconut tree and that is our crop. Our biggest haul ever.

All through our childhood, Shweta and I have bewailed the fact that we don’t have rural roots. A village to visit in the holidays, fields to roam, farmer-grandparents to indulge us with freshly plucked tubs of mango. Sadly our ancestors seem to have been a citified lot – what farmlands they used to hold was sold many generations ago, and our own grandfather wasn’t in the business of growing rice but rather manufacturing airplanes.

Still, we grew up with neighbours who had these roots. Anjana aunty’s belonged to Coastal Andhra, the prosperous paddy-growing tracts of the state. Sacks of rice and other produce would arrive regularly, as well as huge jars of homemade pickle, that thing they make with pressed mango, and my absolute favourite: regipalla vadiyalu. This is a delicious utterly lip-smacking thingamajig they made with ber (the small reddish variety), red chillies, jeera, jaggery and salt, put through god-knows-what process. The result however was this dried blob that would keep for months and gave off a variety of tangy-hot-sweet tastes as you bit into it. The regipalla seeds would still be there, nearly whole and you’d have to suck them carefully, scraping the pulp off with your teeth and spitting them into an ever-growing pile. I lived for these and Aunty never failed to put aside a generous portion for me every time a consignment arrived. None of the Swagruhas seem to make them, alas.

It felt good this week to gather our own coconuts, from our own tree. In this day when supermarkets will sell you ready-to-eat meals, chopped assorted veggies, and sprouted-for-three-days lentils, to have them fresh off our solitary tree, to pretend they were all from our own polaalu.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hee hee

There's a funny email doing the rounds.

Bill Gates, it seems, has introduced Windows in Telangana: Kitkeel Renduvela Eedu. Search of course becomes devulaadu, Save is bachainchu, Save as = gitla bachainchu, Save all = anni bachainchu and Help = nannu bachainchu.

FoxPro is nakkalekkal turumkhan, Access denied would be dorkavattaneeya and 'This program has performed an illegal operation *"Abort, Retry or Ignore"?' translates 'Ee karyam dongalekkaku vattindi, jaldi voorku lekunte malla kottu leka marshipo'.

Exit, naturally, is igavori.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why all this madness over babies?

Is it their helplessness? What is it?
These idiots with insistent ids
Who yowl when their unbridled bids
For love or milk go unregarded
For seven seconds—or who bawl
For no substantial cause at all—
Why are these egotists bombarded
With kisses, hugs, and smiles to spare?
Others, I think, deserve a share.

—Vikram Seth
13.46, The Golden Gate


It is raining ‘em babies. What’s more, a good number of them are coming in twos.

My cousin Hemanth added twin girls to his tally last week; our Bashku has a new baby brother she’s fascinated by.

[Bashku posts: 1, 2 and 3; her mother Sowmya blogs here – mostly about her]

My friend Usha has an absolute doll of a baby who is six months old now; Sabiha’s three-month-old twins her keeping her awake all times of day and night, and at least two ladies in my small blogosphere circle – the Marauder and MadMomma – have had the stork visit. Congratulations, people! I wish you every joy.

I love babies. True, they scare the hell out of me before their necks have steadied and I daren’t hold them before then. Also I don’t know quite what to say to rheumy-eyed, inward-looking centres of self-absorption, but three months does wonders for their personalities, bringing awareness in their eyes, and intelligence and humour. They begin to grin, clutch, grimace and I fall in love again.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wailing wall

A picture in the Deccan Chronicle this morning.
A wall with photos of Indian cricketers on it, now hideously disfigured with lipstick, bindis and whatever else the decorators have thought will indicate emasculation. A crowd gathered in front of this wall with shoes and slippers, beating it in deliberate public denunciation.

Sometimes, my countrymen shame me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

dimaag ka dahi*

bheja fry with taalimpu and all. i want to run away.

ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal jahan koi na ho
apna, paraya, meherbaan, na meherbaan koi na ho

jaakar kahin kho jaaun mai
neend aaye aur so jaaun mai
neend aaye aur so jaaun mai…
duniya mujhe dhoonde magar mera pata koi na ho
*this very useful addition to vocab courtesy Ravi Kissen, Bhojpuri star

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Walk the Rock

Raison d’être
When people are told that Hyderabad has a ‘Society to Save Rocks’, one of the usual reactions is disbelief. Of all the things that need saving in this world, why on earth would we need a society to save rocks? We are barely able to keep enough to save ourselves, people tend to ask, why must we waste energy on saving rocks?

There are many answers, and they come in shades both simple and complicated. If the sheer beauty of the rocky Deccan landscape moves you, then that is one. If the evolution of the planet earth interests you, then you will be convinced utterly by geology: the story of their birth, and their existence. If you revere ancient things, a shelf life of over 2500 million years must command your attention and your respect. If you’ll be convinced by ecological arguments, you must know of how rocks represent not just themselves but ecosystems, with their unique flora, fauna and micro-organisms depending on them for survival. Put those together and you come up against one – if you’ll excuse the pun – rock-solid argument: rocks, particularly rocks like these, must be saved because they are irreplaceable. Because you cannot grow them, and once lost they are lost forever.

The back story

Hyderabad, in fact the entire Deccan Plateau, is littered with stunning rock formations. The city still has a few within its limits but as you leave the kilometres behind, these rocky outcrops become more abundant and lie in every direction from Hyderabad. Moula Ali, Shameerpet, Gachibowli, Jubilee Hills all boast some unique shapes. There are tall proud structures, some notable for their elegance, and others for their arrangement, as if some giant had casually piled them up in play.

The remarkable Obelisk in Jubilee Hills is a dignified rock. On the other hand, Mushroom Rock in Gachibowli is a perennial favourite with picnickers. This domed rock is in fact two layers of rock separated by natural pillars, with enough room between them for a tallish man. Then there is the very graceful Hamburger arrangement in Gachibowli – rounded flat boulders placed neatly in a tapering column – which leads to absurd fancies of a child in nature’s playschool. There is another, the Pathar Dil Rock, also sometimes called the Pav Bhaji rock, which is a set of four rocks, curiously arranged in a bunch, not unlike the pav bread that gives it one of its names. Not surprisingly, the rocks frequently seem to invite locals to prayer. The Plateau is dotted with temples and mosques formed at the heart of such formations, such as for instance, the famous Maula Ali dargah.

How did these bizarre shapes come to exist? About 4.6 billion years ago, when the earth was newly formed and its outer crust very thin, molten magma pushed up to the surface and hardened under the crust into domes and sheets of granite. Gradually, as the top layers of the crust eroded, they revealed the hard granites underneath. The crystalline granites have been weathered by millions of years to what they are today. Horizontal and vertical cracks developed and a phenomenon that geologists call ‘onion peel weathering’ was responsible for the typical rounding. The results are breathtaking.

Sadly, man-made pressures have taken their toll on the land. Quarrying is incessant, both to use the granite as building material as well as to clear space for human occupation. Rapidly the Deccani landscape is being cleared of its most distinctive physical feature.

Making a difference
The Society to Save Rocks has been working to preserve rocky landscapes since 1992, and it has met with a remarkable degree of success: it has succeeded in bringing up rock-preservation as a priority; by persistently pressurising the authorities, it has brought nine formations under protection and has proposed a further list of 20 sites that will benefit from being categorised as heritage sites. The Society won the INTACH Heritage Award for 2003, but most importantly it has brought the campaign to save rocks in the public eye and kept it there. The people of the twin cities have become sensitised to their heritage and today when people look over their sites and plan their homes, they no longer call for dynamite to clear away the stones. Instead they call their architects and painstakingly chalk out how to incorporate rocks into their homes. Consequently it is not uncommon to see Hyderabadi houses with a boulder separating the living room from the reading nook.

On the rocks
What keeps the Society truly buzzing are their Rock Walks. On the third Sunday of every month, a few hours before sundown, groups of people set off enthusiastically to look at these magnificent boulders. The modus operandi is simple: the company gathers at a pre-determined point, and eventually sets off in a little cavalcade. As the group reaches the chosen rock site for the day, the members unfurl themselves from the vehicles and amble on between the rocks and of course, if the site permits it, on them. Children particularly delight in rocks, scrambling over with merry ease while adults follow with grunts. The photographers and the sketchers tend to spread out, walking away to find the best vantage points or the most interesting lighting. The rest of the group chatters, meeting old friends and making new ones as they soak in the raw, elemental beauty of the rockscapes. Interesting shapes are pointed out, crevices are examined for lizards and insects, photographs are taken and after an hour, sometimes two, the walk is done. Biscuits are munched and tea is passed around if someone has been kind enough to think of it. And so, with the rocks silhouetted magnificently against the dying sun, ends another tribute to these silent sentinels to the passage of time.

Ms Frauke Quader,
Secretary, Society to Save Rocks
Tel: 91-40-23552923
*All pictures here courtesy Society to Save Rocks


Sunday, 18 March is going to be a busy day for nature lovers in Hyderabad. The Birding Society is going to the zoo again (in the morning) and the Society to Save Rocks is having an outing to Maula Ali Dargah that afternoon. Some enthusiastic people are intending to do both. God be wi' ye, and carry plenty of water.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Losing out

“So, do you like Hyderabad?” he asked.
I was chatting with a just-met acquaintance and the polite getting-to-know-you conversation brought up this one. The answer, of course, should have been a quick, unequivocal yes. I’ve lived all my life in Hyderabad, it’s the only city I can call home. I have always loved it, always come back to it with wide embracing arms. And still I hesitated a moment too long over yes.

Hyderabad is losing its essence. That indefinable thing that used to be found somewhere in the midst of its slow, unique beat, its friendly people, its good natured Dakhni humour. Going, going, gone. It is now a metropolis, and not a particularly nice one. Fast, busy, impatient. Glitzy, shallow.

Just the other day, someone likened IT to locusts that leave landscapes ravaged, mere skeletons of their former selves, a nod to how that industry transformed Bangalore, I suppose, and how it affects Hyderabad now. Perhaps that is unfair; maybe the rise and consolidation of IT only coincides with other developments that would have happened anyway.

Whatever the reason, you cannot go across town today without being severely traumatised. Punjagutta is a nightmare, and you can be stuck in traffic jams in Ameerpet at midnight. People no longer plan parties on Saturdays, and many people whose jobs don’t need daily commutes are planning to move out of the city.

In part of course, the problem is too many people packed into too little space. Hyderabad has a meagre 6% of its total area under its roads. The international standard is 20-30%. Delhi has 18%, Bangalore 12% and Mumbai and Chennai have 10% each; only Kolkata has as little. To compound the problem, we also have the highest traffic density in the country: 2,337 vehicles per kilometre of road, and more than 10,000 vehicles being added every month. Just to complete that picture: Mumbai has 448 vehicles, Kolkata 345 and Delhi 184 to that very same kilometre. Seriously scary, that’s what.

We change in character as well. We now no longer have kirana stores, and even the humblest shop must advertise itself, not with paint boards with character, but neon lights. The small shops are gone, the old homes, with filigreed balconies and small wooden windows, are torn down. If we had a unique culture, it has now dwindled to pockets, in the gallis of lesser localities, tucked out of sight in the city’s underbelly. There are malls everywhere; swanky new buildings with reflecting glass and useless really, because you couldn’t buy a safety pin anywhere on Begumpet Road.

Hyderabadis are looking on this rapid transformation with consternation and helplessness. We are losing something very, very precious and quite irreplaceable. Such a pity.

Friday, February 23, 2007


been so long.
been travelling, been ill. in fact, the same old story.

this last bout leaves brain in a delicate state of yogurt-ness. no concentration, no focus, just daze and diffuse.

in delirium, i had a post somewhat composed, and just as I had a few coherent sentences, a few words leaped out and multiplied themselves several times over, overrunning the rest, taking over the page and then running away altogether.
i expect them home shortly however, when they will be spanked, reproached, scrubbed clean and presented to you again, as if nothing had happened.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Kahin gungun kahin rundhun

…ke jaise naache zamin.

Have been handed over from song to song today. Morning had me humming Julmi sang aankh ladi re and so to Madhumati. Salil Chaudhury’s lilt with Chad gayo paapi bichua, the romance of Aaja re pardesi and the grief-stricken Toote hue khwabon ne.

That triggered of images of another superbly atmospheric movie, Dil Diya Dard Liya. A morose Dilip Kumar pacing the hallways of the huge gloomy bungalow… Guzren hai aaj ishq mein ham us makhaam se. Then, of course, Koi Sagar just demanded to be played as well as Dilruba maine tere and Sawan aaye ya na aaye.

A pattern was emerging here, so I picked up another Dilip Kumar starrer, Naya Daur. Maangke saath tumhara, Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka, and that wonderfully developmenty Saathi haath badhana saathi re.

Salil Chaudhry, Naushad and OP Nayyar. Shailendra, Shakeel and Sahir. Ab kya bolna?

Dil Diya Dard Liya
Naya Daur

Monday, January 29, 2007

The days are just packed

Nice things this weekend. One excellent documentary on elephants, the Federer-Gonzalez final, a sitar recital and the icing, a temple dance.

So rare these days to see living arts. We see dance performed of course, but it was satisfying to see it as part of ritual, as integral to prayer, to living. Temple dance sank earlier this century along with the morass of the Devadasi system surrounding it, and what we attended yesterday may or may not have been the authentic thing, but it was fascinating anyway.

It was a Iyengar temple for Lord Ranganatha, and the occasion an annual 8-day Brahmotsava. The dancers circled the temple premises, the priests placed offerings, recited shlokas and invoked 11 deities, with invitations to come grace the festivities. There was Brahma, Garuda, Indra, the elements Agni, Varuna, Vayu, the yaksha Kubera.... Among the directions was Ishan, whom the dancers interpreted mainly as Shiva. There was another whom I hadn't heard of at all: Neruti or Nairutya. Apparently the god of the south-west, a rakshasa-god in charge of controlling the egos of the gods. And his vehicle? Man, or rather, higher man. Not a very high profile chap, wonder why that is. Reminds me strongly of Pratchett on gods and fashions, but too lazy to go look up and quote now.

Friday, January 26, 2007

mice and men

Sat down a little while ago to check proofs, with ambitions of getting through a good many pages in one sitting. Only, I'd organised atmosphere too well: I had on Ulhas Bapat playing Bhoopali, and there I was staring at the grey blocks and not one sentence sank in.
I can never remember if I'm dominated by my left or right brain (one test put me bang in the middle), but listen to music while I concentrate, I cannot. So while it plays out, this post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Suddenly, chatty

The day starts with unexpected energy this morning. I had to deliver proofs to the ICRISAT bus stop, where people kindly take my packages and deliver them into the hands of folk at the communication office. Having dawdled over my coffee I had to make up for it with a filmi sprint to outrace the bus, as Bhavani garu and the gent from accounts looked on (presumably) encouragingly.

This by no means is the most interesting thing to happen to me these past few days, or the most profound, but it’s recorded on this blog for posterity (?), because I felt like it. Hah the power!

Which brings me to ponder over what actually makes it to these pages. If it means too much, it’s out; if it’s too inconsequential, I hesitate. If it makes me angry, then I wait till it blows over, if it makes me unhappy or muddled, then I’m too incoherent. So it happens that the window narrows to strictly middle-of-the-road stuff that is neither too intense nor too irrelevant. This, moreover, should time and inclination coincide. All of which is just too chicken, but there it is.