lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A factorial tutorial

The trouble with being interested in words is this: you look up a word, the definition leads you to further searches and those in turn lead to more research. I had been meaning to look up 'recursion' and 'recursive' for a while now. I know incursion means invasion, but I didn't know what recursion meant other than recurrence. Saturday crosswords all done, I remembered that, and decided to give it a go.

My trusty Webster's was of no help. It said 'recursion' meant return and added that it was an obsolete usage.

The concise OED was enigmatic. It said that 'recursion' was the application or use of a recursive procedure or definition, and gave a second meaning that it was a recursive definition. The next word was 'recursive formula' which it defined as an expression giving successive terms of a series, et cetera. The next word was 'recursive,' which was defined as characterized by recurrence or repetition.

Then came a clarification that in mathematics or linguistics parlance, it meant " relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule, definition or procedure to successive results."

It was clear as mud.

So I turned to the Resident Mathematician. "It is mathematical logic, Lali," he said. "I will try to keep it simple," he said. I thought of Alice.

"You may call it 'nonsense' if you like," she said, "but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!" I murmured to myself.

"A function can be thought of as a sort of mathematical vending machine. If you put in a certain kind of number the function will return to you a number. Not all forms of coins are accepted by every vending machine, you see?" The Resident Mathematician said.

I thought of abacuses and computers. "I think I got that," I said.

"For example, the squaring function accepts all numbers."

I thought squaring meant to cause to match or positioning so as to be a square. It turned out not to be the case.

"It multiplies the input by itself, the "input", that is, and that's what it returns. If you feed it five, it will return twenty-five. If you input minus one, it will return one and so on." The Resident Mathematician went on.

I was getting cross-eyed, but I did ask for it.

"The cubing function cubes the number which is fed to it. But notice this, these two functions are defined in terms of the operation of multiplication." He went on, getting complicated at me. "But the factorial function is defined differently. The factorial function is defined like a recipe." I cringed.

"I see," I said, not seeing at all. Then the Resident Mathematician got more technical at me.

"You are told that factorial will only accept positive integers," he said. "Remember, squaring function accepted negative numbers? Then you are told that factorial of zero is one, the last item which completes the description. The factorial of a number n plus one is the factorial of n multiplied by n plus one." He went on, relentlessly.

This was getting worse by the minute.

"So, factorial of two will be one times two. To compute the factorial function for a particular number, you must know the factorial of the preceding number. This is a recursive definition." He said.

I sighed. "Honey, did I tell you about this lovely clue I solved?" I said. "Prevent big cities being readable? Five, eight. Block capitals."

The Resident Mathematician sighed.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Other Woman

There was an old fellow of Lyme
Who lived with three wives at one time.
When asked, 'Why the third?'
He replied, 'One’s absurd,
And bigamy, sir, is a crime.'

Polygyny is a male trait
. It is a biological imperative. Males need to spread their seed far and wide. Females need a strong mate to help raise their offspring, so they choose the best possible mate and tend not to stray. This is so for animals and humans.

Kings and noblemen had multiple wives and odalisques. These multiple marriages were mostly political alliances. What better way to ally with another kingdom than by marrying the princess? Even Yudhishtira, my favourite character in Mahabharata, had a second wife, a political expedient.

Now, monogamy is the norm. There is legislation that makes monogamy the only option. Where once it was perfectly acceptable for a man to have many wives if he could support them, it is now illegal to have more than one wife.

But that doesn't mean human nature changes. Men will still indulge in multiple relationships if they have a chance to do so, whether it is a one-night stand or a long-lasting affair. Literature and films have explored this theme of fascination for the forbidden, time and again. Adultery, affairs and eternal triangles are stock themes.

One woman is then, the Other Woman. She is usually called the home-breaker. She is frowned upon.

Whenever I consider the Other Woman, I think of Rangajamma.

She was a courtesan and court poetess. She was accomplished in arts and could compose spontaneous poetry. Her Mannarudasa Vilasam was a blatantly sycophantic deification of her king, Vijayaraghava Nayaka. She caught the fancy of the king, enchanted him with her wit, and he took to spending all his time with her, making her his unofficial wife.

The Queen was miffed, and sent a snippy message. Rangajamma's amused reply was an extempore poem.

"E vanital mamum dalapa nemipano? Tamaaruduvaarugaaro? Valapinchu nerperungaro? Tama kougitilona nundagaa raavademiraa vijayaraaghava yanchiludoori balmiche deevarakattenai penagi deesukuvachitinaa talodari?"

"Why need any woman take my name? Is she not a woman? Does she not know how to beguile? Have I broken into her house and wrested him away from her embrace like a shrew?"


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Small delights

There are a lot of things I hate doing, but have to do. Accounts and taxes (non sequitur: is death better than taxes as it turns up only once?) come to mind.

Going out in rain is a thing I hate. Rain is nice only when you stand in the balcony and watch it. Rivulets running down the grill, trees swaying, road glistening, an occasional car whooshing by, streaks of lightning followed by rolling thunder - all very nice when you don't have to get wet.

It is more than getting wet. I dislike going out in rain because the city gets drownded, as Huck Finn says. It's that water logging means I have to wade in slush and filth, because sewers are invariably choked with plastic and garbage, and I absolutely hate that.

Friday was bad. The night before had incessant rain, and the streets would be more like rivers than roads. The overnight flooding wouldn't have receded yet, and it was raining thin drizzly rain still. The sky seemed low, the clouds sitting on treetops almost. There was a misty look to the city.

Our area had had intensive drainage work done over the last three years and a pumping station installed, so we were spared, but I had to go out, in the rain. It couldn't be put off. There were few cabs plying. But the cabbies in my area know me, and anything for Missus Em, is their motto.

Is there a lot of water logging at the Great Eastern, I asked anxiously before setting out. That area won't be so bad, I was reassured. As soon as the cab turned into S P Mukherjee Road, I knew it was going to be bad. Traffic was slow, the streets were awash and inconsiderate drivers splashed the pedestrians and sheets of water rolled and heaved in waves. It got steadily worse.

Under the fly-over and near the Victoria Memorial it was nightmare time but, as promised, Great Eastern wasn't awash. But the side street I had to go into was. Not knee-deep as it was in some parts of the city, but this was water I'd have to wade through. One-way street and too much of a detour to enter it. No help for it so I rolled up my jeans and stepped out.

Did I mention I hate wading in the slush? I did?

Work done, I set off for the next destination, Theatre Road. It was flooded, but of course. I was under the mistaken impression that my destination was near Kalamandir, and the cabby and I realised we'd have to go back. Theatre Road is a one-way street. Turn left into Camac Street. And it got worse. The cab felt like a metal coffin being buffeted by the water that was churned up by the traffic. Turn in to Park Street, more water logging. Laboriously crawl along the street and reenter Theatre Road. There was garbage floating. There was muck and more. And the building I had to go into had water sloshing against the steps. Again I had to wade.

Did I tell you I dislike having to get intimately acquainted with sewage and garbage and overflowing drain water? I think I did.

Mission accomplished, I climbed back into the cab. Loudon Street. It was the worst yet. Traffic was at stand still at Minto Park. Each time a car moved the water thumped the cab. When a large SUV moved alongside, water entered the interior.

Try spending an hour in a cab tucking your knees to your chest because water, rain excess and sewage all mixed up, is lifting the car, rocking it, and threatening to come in and making good on the threat.

I was miserable. The driver was miserable. The traffic crawled, we moved a few meters ahead.

I was doing what I usually do at such times to alleviate boredom. Looking at number plates and thinking about numbers. There, ahead of the cab was a car. It had the number 4567. To it's right was another, and it had the number 7654.

Despite the discomfort, despite the hated water logging, sodden footwear, cold and clammy feet and drenched day, I smiled.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Erato strikes!

It happens all the time. You read a poem. An image strikes you. There's no help for it, you have to write one too.

Of definitions

When ego fades to nothingness
And soul hangs on the edge of something indefinable,
Do you know where you are?
Do you know who you are?
In whispered directions
In hissing of held breaths and gasps
In joined climbing of a joyous peak
How do you define
The deed, the need, the outcome?
Life worshipping life?
When heart is full
When speech is lost
When a monsoon of sweat brings bodies to harvest in due time
As hand meets hand and fingers flame caresses
When the sanctity of Vedic chants infuses sweat- drenched murmurs,
When kisses replace the one hundred and eight praises of divinity
And heartbeats echo the tempo of temple bells
As body worships body:
What is prayer?
What does it mean?
A little death.

Going within without without

Ai ai yo, what shall I do,
How shall I save my skin?

A non sequitur, I grant you. Are you reading this, my dear Non Sequitur Man? The things I do for fans, I tell you… Neha is miffed that I had no 'Within' in the 'without without' post. Worse, K is disappointed. Boo hoo. Lord and master is unhappy and I am heartbroken already. And then, and then Dear Reader, Rimi, that Imp, tells me my last post was incomplete.

I was only trying to save the State Government its blushes, good grief! But no, they want the full version. The things I do for people… I tell you, the mind boggles.

Teach me how to post pics fast, somebody; and better still, buy me a gadget that will do it before you give me that tutorial. Nice belated birthday gift it shall be. Though mind you, I will need tutorials. Praveen, are you paying attention? How do I put pictures of these idiotic documents up? Do tell. But here goes:

Memo No. IOL --------------, Dated, Kolkata---------------- 2006

From :: The Inspector of Lifts, West Bengal.
To :: Sri/ Madam ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sub :: Renewal / Revalidation of Lift License No. / Nos-----------
Installed at----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It is seen from our office record that you have not renewed/
Revalidated yoursubject licence being No. / Nos -------------------
since--------------------. This is a highly irregular practice. You are
directed to renew / revalidate the same and deposit the amount of money towards renewal / revalidation fees without any further delay. It may be noted that renewal / revalidation of licence is obligatory under law.

It is pertinent to mention here that operation of lift without valid licence is a serious offence as per law. You are directed not to offer any service to lift in any manner what so ever without to offer any service without following the above directive.

In case of any difficulty you may meet officials of the Lift Department for guidance between 10.30 A.M. to 2 P.M. on any working day

I did say the mind boggles. Why can't they pay me part-time to correct these idiocies, eh? Why do they prefer to sock me for the last paisa they can extract when I have to goggle at such illiterate tripe? Why can't they ask me to be editor, sub-editor and proofreader and all that, eh?

Now I grant you this: In the subject line, it did say license. But then, should I not indulge in fond fantasies of telling that Inspector of Lifts that 'licence' is excessive freedom and lack of restraint? And that it is freedom to deviate deliberately from normally applicable rules or practices, especially in behaviour or speech?

Yes, yes, I know the third and fourth definitions of 'licence' are that it is a legal document, giving official permission to do something and the act of giving a formal and usually written authorisation.

Yes, I also know about American usage, but still. It is so tempting. Karthik, I hope this explains it. I will talk about my dog's name and cluelessness later. Okay?

There you go kiddies.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Without without

I live in an apartment building. It is a cosy, small one, with just eight flats. As a notional, nominal head of our building's management, dealing with utilities and correspondence falls to me. All letters addressed to the building come to me.

I received a gem of a notice from a gent calling himself the Inspector of Lifts.

He tells me that it is seen from their office record that our building has not renewed / revalidated our subject lift licence since 2000. He further tells me that this is a highly irregular practice. He directs me to renew/revalidate the same and deposit the amount of money towards renewal/revalidation fees without any further delay. He invites me to note that renewal/revalidation of licence is obligatory under law.

He further says, and I'd better quote because this can't be paraphrased and you won't believe me,

"It is pertinent to mention here that operation of lift without valid licence is a serious offence as per law. You are directed not to offer any service to lift in any manner what so ever without to offer any service without following the above directive. "

The mind boggles.

Tell me, Dear Reader, should I write and tell him 'licence' is excessive freedom and lack of restraint? And that it is freedom to deviate deliberately from normally applicable rules or practices, especially in behaviour or speech?

Yes, yes, I know the third and fourth definitions of 'licence' are that it is a legal document, giving official permission to do something and the act of giving a formal and usually written authorisation. Yes, I also know about American usage, but still. It is so tempting.


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Maanga in The Larking

Writing 'The Maanga' is more difficult than I anticipated.

Let me back up a little and explain: I had a staccato email conversation with Nilu a day ago, full of brilliant one-liners and repartee. He asked me to write 'The Maanga', so I asked him if he will write 'The Larking.' After dazzling each other with our wit, it was agreed that I would talk about English in the Desi Blogosphere.

Right away, there is a snag. I am a newcomer to blogging. The blogs I read are few. I spend most of my time online doing crosswords and then reading news and dealing with my mail.

I knew there was this thing called blogging, of course. I heard that term some three years ago, but it meant nothing to me. Who wants to read the journals of other people and their innermost thoughts, I remember thinking.

Then, this January, I was searching for a Kannnadasan lyric and somehow I ended up at a site called Teakada. There was a wickedly funny summing up of the year 2005. So I read more. And more. And then I noticed the links. I clicked on them and discovered that there are clever people, witty people, thoughtful people, brilliant people - all writing regularly, regaling the world with information, analyses and witty essays.

I was gobsmacked that there were so many Indians, all over the world, writing about so many things. I wanted more. I wanted to add my voice, too.

The standard of English is like the curate's egg, though. Many people don’t bother punctuating correctly. Some don't seem to know the difference between 'lose' and 'loose' or 'their' and 'they're'. For every erudite essay, there were half a dozen incoherent blogs. For every brilliant observation, there were a dozen inane blathers.

The younger generation writes with energy, yes and with immediacy. They indulge in profanities, they write in slang but they still make sense. Most of the time. Why would I want to read about somebody's ingrown toenails if they can't make it a riveting essay?

There are bloggers who write one sentence blogs. They provide links, but I think it is a cop-out. Where is your take on it then, Sir, Madam or Thing? Are you a traffic warden?

There are blogs with specific target readerships. (Gosh, I feel so clued-in using terms like that) Madrasis writing about Madras for example: you can't really take umbrage to a phrase like jolluvittufying (translation: drooling) if you know the blogger's readers are knowledgeable with the slang. Ditto all regional languages.

So there are styles, categories and audiences. There are voices. 'Immense joy comes' is instantly recognisable as Amit. 'PUKE' says it is Nilu. Flippin' Writing is Chandru. 'The mind boggles', I say.

There are breathless airhead chick rants done by entirely too clever young women. There are thoughtful essays posted by studious young men. There are food odysseys and cookery blogs. There are spoofs and reviews.

There is a lot of profanity. There is a lot of vitriol. But I always felt that however valid a point might be, its impact is lost if it is made in slipshod fashion. Bad grammar and worse language detract, don't add to your point. Bad punctuation doesn't help either.

I always hear my typing instructor hissing "Two spaces after a period, one after a comma," when I read some blogs.

Admittedly, English is a second language to most Indian bloggers. Still, is some care and use of spell-check too much to ask? I make mistakes too, and when I notice it, even after I post, I correct them and republish because I care about that sort of thing.

Of course, it is a free world and people can blog as they want, and if I wince more than twice or have to cringe as I read, I can always exit the blog and never return.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another goodbye

If I never met him, I wouldn't be mourning him. I blame it on K, of course. I met him because K is a mathematician and students and quasi-students have a way of becoming family, more or less.

I hate, I absolutely hate phones when they bring bad news.

He was a guy I could talk turkey with. Yeah, okay, let's be simple: he was a guy I could talk about the nitty gritty of Carnatic music with. He knew what I meant when I made a pedantic statement that "Viriboni" is an encyclopaedia of the mode Bhairavi. He knew tempi and agonies of learning.

He learnt Indian music, the Carnatic violin, from the father of the L brothers and many were the times we talked music. He could talk about Vivaldi just as knowledgeably as about Syama Sastry's Yadukulakambhoji svarajati or on the care and nurture of musical instruments. He could analyse the nuances of Hindustani and Carnatic versions of ragas.

He was a grand cook. He loved cooking for friends and bringing over dishes to sample. He taught my maid to do a variation on the theme of chicken that I couldn't have, since I am a vegetarian.

He had an infectious laugh, and he laughed a lot.

He could perpetrate multilingual puns.

He was all soul and understanding. He was gentle and caring.

He is no more.

I hate cancer, that horrible disease. But he is gone now. I have memories of listening to music together, and sharing awe and amazement at approaches and interpretations.

I have memories of cooking upma, that innocuous breakfast item, for him. Because he knew it is not an easy dish to make and required adeptness. He used to cook for K and I wish I cooked more for him. It is in feeding that one expresses how much one cares, after all.

If I ever find another pal to sing "Viriboni" along with me, that pal would have a hard time measuring up to Georges Lindenmeyer.

I tell you, life is so unfair. I hate this, but nothing would do but I have to quote the Swan of Avon again. Good night, Sweet Prince.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Go fly a kite!

I never thought much about kite flying. Of course, we flew kites. A cousin of mine used to construct elaborate box kites and our maid's son was better at getting kites aloft and we flew kites together. But I can't remember, for the life of me, if there is a kite-flying season in Madras.

I never knew there was a season for kite flying, really. There is one such in Bengal. I remember the first time I encountered the stalls and pavement vendors selling kites. It seemed to be a ritual, a seasonal thing. Kalachand, our ancient retainer, bought a few kites for my young son and me.

Kalachand was an expert when it came to flying the tail-less diamond shaped kites that are popular here. When I couldn't manage to get mine aloft, after many tries, he condescended to attach a tail to my kites. Somehow, I never got the hang of flying a kite that didn't have a tail. With a tail, though, it was different. I could make my kites swoop and dip, touch the clouds and chase the real kites that soar in the monsoon skies.

When we flew kites and tried to cut strings of others' kites in friendly rivalry and when Chikkoo or Tina from across the street trotted over with the cut kite, or when we struggled to launch our cousin's aerodynamically perfect on the drawing-board creations, it was all just childhood, pastimes and play.

It's different in Calcutta. I learnt that this kite flying was all about kicking off the silly season of festivals. Perhaps this flying of kites just after the monsoons is nothing more than a primitive thanksgiving for a good monsoon.

[I am omitting diacritical marks below, all right? You are warned.]

Visvakarma Puja is just the beginning of a round of merrymaking and the mayhem of festivals. They are not big on the elephant god here in Bengal, and they don't have Varalaksmi Vratam. They have a quaint thing called Rathyatra, and its attendant Ultarath, too. But it is the Visvakarma Puja that really puzzles me.

Visvakarma is the supreme architect. He built cities, constructed flying chariots and fashioned weapons for gods. He is a sculptor, master smith, master carpenter and craftsman. But he certainly isn't a deity.

He built Lanka, he built the city of Indraprastha for the Pandavas, he made weapons for the gods. He constructed the three flying cities for the three asuras, Vidyunmali, Kamalasksa and Tarakaksa, and then he made the earth a chariot so Siva could destroy them. He turned his son-in-law the sun on his lathe to reduce his brilliance, and used the detritus to make a discus for Visnu.

You can find out about Visvakarma here. But let me warn you, these are badly written. Worse, they are full of errors.

I had an entertaining half-hour when I consulted my trusty Vettam Mani. Puranic Encyclopaedia is a wonderful book for these things.

Mani cites references from Visnu Purana, Devi Bhagavata and a long rambling tale about Visvakarma's daughter Citrangada, and his amorous adventures with Ghrtaci from Vamana Purana. He also mentions references from Mahabharata, and Valmiki Ramayana, Agni Purana, and Uttara Ramayana.

Visvakarma is the son of Prabhasa, the eighth Vasu, and he is also a prajapati, says Mani blandly.

I had to consult my ancient Purvagaadhaalahari to discover that there are two Visvakarmas mentioned in Puranas. Compiled by Vemuri Srinivasa Rao, this was published in 1952, and is out of print and unknown today. But it is a gem of a reference book.

I learnt that Visvakarma is a prajapati, and he is different from the architect of the gods. Rao cites Bhagavata for the prajapati reference, and Brahma Vaivasatva Purana for a sanitised recounting of the romance with Ghrtaci. The offspring of the union are artisans, carpenters and smiths, sculptors and builders.

Visvakarma isn't a god, at all.

He is big in Bengal, though. All those who work with gadgets worship him on the Puja day. Mechanics, drivers and technicians all stop to consider him that day. One can see cars, worshipped and propitiated, sporting garlands and streaks of vermilion and sandalwood on the day. One can see air-conditioners and elevators, all sorts of equipment all bearing marks of worship.

In the south, we do this on Ayudha Puja, so let's not sneer.

One might laugh, but it makes sense to overhaul your machinery, whether it is a car or a computer. If one has to set aside a day for care and nurture of one's tools of trade, it might as well be dedicated to Visvakarma, the master craftsman.

But I wish I knew why he is depicted with a kite in his hand, though. Why is he invoked and worshipped by flying kites? Neither Mani nor Rao could enlighten me about this custom, nor could the Internet. True, they all tell me Visvakarma built flying chariots, but they are strangely silent about the kite. Ah, it must be a Bong thing.

Never mind. I'll just go and fly a kite now, shall I?


Monday, September 11, 2006

Age cannot wither her...

I should have been reading Darwin's Watch, racing through the Discworld story first, then settling down to the science bits, occasionally moving my lips as I encounter big words. Instead there I was, fretting and trying to work out something. This is numbers and as I have repeatedly told you, Dear Reader, I don't do numbers. The resident mathematician tried to be helpful, but he kept confusing me.

"Take a baby," he said. "Twelve months after it is born, it is one year old on its first birthday, right?"

I cautiously admitted it sounded about right. You never know where mathematics goes next. "So," K said, "On your ninth birthday you are nine years old, and so on and so forth." After verifying this, counting on fingers of both hands, I had to admit he was right. "So on your forty-ninth birthday, you will be forty-nine," he concluded triumphantly. It seemed so unfair.

"Wait," I said. "Surely the day a baby is born is its first birthday? By that reasoning, twelve months after birth it would be a second birthday, and the baby will be one year old." I was quite pleased with this thought.

"It doesn't make sense, Lali." Said K. "Why not?" I asked.

"It would be your fiftieth birthday, and you will still be forty-nine." He said, with entirely unnecessary relish, I thought. Then he rubbed it in, by singing Oh my darling, Clementine.

Approaching fifty is no joke, folks. I've been doing the math, and I tell you, it isn't nice. And in these moments of mild gerontophobia, it is clear spouses are of no help. Nor are friends. It is bad enough to have too many young friends who read that I dislike being called "Auntie", and have taken, with great glee, to calling me "Mami" and in one case of extreme cheekiness, "Mummy." It is worse imagining their taunts about senile dementia when I turn fifty.

But on the other hand, I read that the fifties are the new forties. If that is the case, the forties are the new thirties, and the thirties are the new twenties, so the teens are the new childhood when all parents stage a protest and say, get potty trained now, or else, probably.

Let's leave diapers out of this, you say? Quite, I agree. And I am not ready for incontinent diapers for senior citizens yet, after all.

But it is not so much fear of age and aging that makes this particular milestone appear so unattractive. There are so many women who are much older than my approaching forty-nine, and who are scintillating and wonderful. Take Rekha, for instance, or Sophia Loren or Shabana Azmi.

It is just that realisation hits, that our allotted span is nearly half done. It is taking stock, deciding whether you have lived as you had wanted. It's looking back and wondering how you could have been so naïve and gauche; or idealistic and full of dreams. It is slowing down, feeling one's body age, realising that you may feel twenty, but you most definitely aren't twenty.

"I have to update my profile in Orkut, then." I said. "Let it be," said K. "Who is going to sue you?"

"But that is lying," I said, "And you know that's a sin." I grinned.

"And lying she knew was a sin, a sin. Lying she knew was a sin. Aah, Rickety-tickety-tin." We chanted in unison and fell about laughing.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Missus Em is marooned

This is not Bin Laden wreaking havoc, just Missus Em moaning she can't get online, but still. Cut off from the world and nobody is claiming responsibility.

Broadband is dead dead dead. Desolation and despair.

The feeling does not last long because Missus Em's inner self springs into action, tells outer self to stop being morose. She complained, lodged her protest and got a docket number, didn't she?

She starts composing undying purple prose, but the dead ADSL link light is a deterrent. It doesn't let her work. It gnaws at her, and ruins the whole day, to be frank. Good grief, she is going to have to get stroppy about it. She is miserable, so she will make others miserable, too.

So Missus Em goes to the local telephone exchange and states she wishes to see somebody with the ability, authority and the 'Can do' attitude that is so necessary to get on in this world, to solve her troubles and end her misery.

The local exchange is a familiar place to her. Many were the hours she spent there whenever she had an absurd need to have a functional phone. The lady at the counter tells her she can go in and see the Divisional Engineer in thirty minutes.

Missus Em has neglected to carry a book to while the waiting period away. So she reads the notices.

Visiting Dates
Mon Day
Wedness Day
Fri Day
Visiting Hours Between
3 P.M. to 4 P.M.
Except on govt. Holidays
and Pay Day of the Month
by Order

She reads, in frank astonishment.

Surrender form, will be issued against the xerox copy of last paid bill, by order

She reads, in disbelief.

She digs in her bag and unearths a sheet of paper and jots these memorable words down, so that she may never ever visit on wrong days and commit a gaffe or photocopy a bill with a Canon instead of a Xerox copier. They must have ways to know which copier it was, surely, she thinks.

The guard, who has been observing this act of devotion to etiquette, asks Missus Em, in that spirit of solidarity that grips all South Indians when they are north of the Vindhyas, "Tamizh-a?"

She admits that she is actually "Telungu." That is practically the same thing, decides the guard and tells her, conspiratorially, that she can go in right away, if her need to see the DE is so dire.

Gratified by this, she enters the labyrinth that is the Telephone Bhavan, and meets the DE. He is an old friend. Many were the hours she hobnobbed with him when her broadband connection was being installed. Many were the times she batted her eyelashes at him to wheedle a promise that her connection will be sorted out, right away.

The DE picks up a phone and tells somebody to go with a modem to Missus Em's house, pronto, and see what's what. "Please, I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms, I've got the DTs," says Missus Em, piteously. The DE reassures her that her addiction to the Internet can be resumed very soon. "They will verify Internal, then External will go to your address," he says cryptically. Having done crosswords most of her life, she decodes this to mean that they will see if the problem lies with them or with her router.

Satisfied by this assurance that Peace and World Order would be restored shortly, she takes her leave, with a final bleat that she is going crazy without the 'Net. At the gate, the friendly South Indian guard says to his buddy, the other guard, "Do you know, Madam is Madrasi." His buddy is suitably impressed and asks "Enda area?" She confides it was T Nagar. Bonding over, she goes home to mope again.

An hour later, the phone rings. A voice asks if it was true that Missus Em is having broadband problems. She breaks down and confesses all. A further hour later, the phone rings again, and she repeats her tale of woe. We are checking, there does seem to be a problem, somebody will arrive with succour tomorrow, says the voice, in tones that hold a promise that heads will definitely roll if that didn't happen.

Tomorrow arrives, but the Telephone people don't. There is nothing for it but to go and find out. She knows she can call, but they have a way of hanging up while she is still stating her grievance, if she is lucky enough to have somebody answer her call at all.

She knows that to be present, to mope and sigh and wipe a tear in front of them is the best way to convince the Telephone people that her need is urgent and her distress great. That alone will persuade the DEs and AOs, the TOs and JTOs and other alphabetical soup officers to take up her case, do the needful and expedite the matter.

The friendly guard waves her in. No need to involve the Complaints desk lady, this is Missus Em's personal fief now.

A lanky young man (Missus Em knows him, too, another old friend) is surprised to see her. "Why are you here? We have verified and External are taking care of it already," he says. It is not even his department, but he knows all about Missus Em's problem. How sympathetic! Missus Em is touched. She explains that unlike what she had been promised, nobody has turned up to check her connection, and launches into her deprivation speech.

Her cell-phone beeps. It's Mister Em. The Telephone people, your computer man and the electrician are all here, and the router is fine, he says. I've downloaded my mail, he adds, insensitively.

Now if Missus Em had not been diligent and harried the local exchange the way she did, would this have happened so soon? They fixed her broadband connection just to get her off their backs, ha.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Toy boys ahoy!

Friend: somebody who knows all about you - and likes you just the same.

When we make friends in our childhood, there is always the Sword of Damocles of parental disapproval; of parents making sure our friends pass muster, that they belong to the same social circle or class. When we are young, these ties are limited by factors that are beyond a child's ability to control. Later, we prefer not to mix our family and friends, mostly.

I always knew my mother disapproved of my best friend in school. She had a traumatic time, what with her mother dying and her father marrying her aunt, the mother's sister. She called herself Cinderella and no adult could ever understand what she went through, what she shared with me. My mother only knew of school reports that she was a troublemaker, a handful.

We weren't like the groups who met over the weekend or during weekdays to do homework together. We lived in different social orbits. Most of my friends were in Mylapore, Luz and Mandavalli, whereas I lived in T Nagar. They were all from conservative families and my family was somewhat bohemian. Visiting each other and hanging out after school wasn't possible.

It was the same in college. Family life was still separate and my social life happened in canteens, movie theatres, Marina beach and college campus. Of course, my boyfriends came home to pick me up for movies or in my buddy's case for the gooseberry tree in our garden. But they didn't become part of the family. Other than polite greetings, they hardly spoke to my parents, nor my parents to them.

Adulthood and moving away from home bring a change. You don't have to justify your friendships. You don't need approval nor have to put up with disapproval. Your friends are yours, and that is that.

When you change cities, you leave behind your friends. There was no Internet and text messaging to keep in touch then. You may start off writing each week, but it tapers off, and gets reduced to cards, and even those dry up and stop after a while.

Marriage brings a different set of friends, those of your spouse's. You may get along with them, but you hardly know them as well as your spouse does, and your circles don't always jell.

Being a homebody mostly, I never made many friends. Oh, I had acquaintances aplenty, but not friends. Some of the friends I made at my gym would drop in once in a while, but I never socialised much.

But Internet changed all that. I have a lot of friends now. People I chat with, exchange mails with, have furious debates with. Where else but online can I find a kindred spirit in Hyderabad to discuss fourteenth century Telugu poetry or argue that Srinaadha's fondness for the phrase "gamikarmeekritanaikaneevrita" is pedantry not poetic brilliance? Where but online can I say, "Ole Massa done freed us slaves," and get a chuckle in reply? Where but on my blog can I talk away about crosswords to my heart's content?

Most of my friends online are so young, though. I suppose it is inevitable. The majority of Internet users are young, after all. I have only a couple of buddies older than me, and they are both male. That's another thing. I have met some wonderful women online, but most of my friends are male. That's inevitable, too.

They all tend to be savvier than I am, about computers, and they don't mind giving me lessons.

Praveen taught me how to tweak my template. Another taught me how to retrieve lost or misplaced documents. Yet another friend demystified the control key and taught me how to copy and paste using it. From them I slowly learnt to use my computer as more than a glorified typewriter.

Karthik Ram, (he likes a lil separation between) translated a song for me beautifully. Siva and I agree on environment issues and exercising sensibly. We both think flab is admission of personal sloppiness. The other Ram a k a Prophet of Doom croaks "the end is nigh" and posts lively comments on my blog, yes, but he also gives HTML tutorials.

Lahar can coax me to mail him crosswords, grids and clues. Arka can wheedle what I'd have thought unlikely, a literal translation, and I do mean a verbatim translation of a Tyaagaraja composition from me.

The thing about online friendships is that age isn't a barrier. Common interests, intelligence, English skills, and a sense of humour are all that are needed to make connections and for a friendship to flourish. But as these friendships grow, I find that I am socialising more now.

When an online buddy comes to Calcutta, or I go to his or her city, it's but natural that you want to meet up in real life. I find that my young friends are all as much fun in real life as they are online. I met the trio of lovely lady bloggers Urmi, Rimi, and Priya.

I met a buddy in Hyderabad, my pals came to Calcutta and I met them for a meal or coffee. Of course, I know about stalking and harassment; that it could turn unpleasant. But here is where my age is a great asset. All my buddies are just that. Buddies.

The last time I went to have coffee with a pal, my irreverent son remarked that Mom is off to meet her toy boy. I was scandalised. I looked it up. Yeah, that's Missus Em. When in doubt, look it up.

Good grief. Young and personable they certainly are, but they are just friends. Except for my toy boy, of course.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

The exact thingummy (8,7)

"This proves it, Mom. You have lost your marbles; not that you had many to start with," said my son, rather pityingly. "Watch it, kiddo. Half of the marbles you have got are mine." I replied amiably.

He had a point though. I was talking to inanimate things, again. My microwave oven had beeped its reminder to open the door and remove the dishes, and I'd said, "Cool it, cool it. I am coming."

I talk to gadgets. I plead with them if they are acting up. Come on, come on, I say as I wait for Mike to boot up. Aw, not again, I moan when Firefox and Guardian crosswords play out their saga of strife and my browser crashes. Come on baby, you can do it, I encourage my toaster to burn slices of bread to my son's peculiar specifications of toast.

I talk to food as I cook it. Hold it, hold it, I say to the mustard and cumin seeds as I go to fetch curry leaves to add to the seasoning. Burn baby, burn, I say as I roast corn or aubergines.

Of all the things that go wrong or throw tantrums, my BSNL broadband connection is the worst. I don't know why it fails. I can't call and find out since nobody answers the one eight hundred number. I can't even find out my usage details, because I can't log on to Data One, and the complaint I registered on the first day of this year hasn't been attended to, not to date.

I can and do perform white magic, though. Talking to gadgets helps. Mike obediently opens a Word document it's been claiming it can't open when I threaten it with bodily harm. Put out willya, always works with my printer, though it groans and grinds its way through the document I am trying to print. My cell-phone needs strong language to function. All my gadgets need mantras.

As gadgets go, the router we have for our broadband connection is the thing in need of the most hocus pocus. When I can't get online, no matter how fervently I wish to, the thing to do is to switch off, pretend I am an isolated single computer for a while and turn the switches back on again.

And then my router caught on to this pretense. Now I have to not only turn the switches off, but also unplug them - the router and its attendant big black thingummy. After a few minutes of being divorced from the plug points, it seems like my router kisses and makes up with the broadband connection and everything is fine again, until the next hiccup.

What are most gadgets called anyway? They are these generic doodad, thingamabob, thingamajig, whatchamacallit and so on descriptions, which are difficult and esoteric.

Of course, I know egg whisks and ice-cream scoops. I know nail files and cuticle trimmers. I even know a Philips head screwdriver from the regular one, though I never dated either.

It is easier to call a sphygmomanometer the blood pressure thingie. Theodolite might be a specific instrument, but I call it the surveyor's thingie. Seismographs and tachometers are something we don't have to be familiar with in daily life, thank goodness.

I know what that big black thingie I unplug and plug back into the socket to make my broadband connection come back to life is. I can't for the life of me remember what it is called, though.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. /body>