lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lovely lady? Tart. Cheers!

"Lake Market." I said. The taxi driver stuck his head out of the window, and yelled "Airport!" at his buddies.

It's a running joke among the cabbies of my area. They all know my routine, and the usual places I go to. Whether I am going to Lake Market or my lending library, they all call out to the others that I am going to the airport.

When we interact with anyone over a period of time, we tend to develop a personal equation. The difference between acquaintance and a relationship is that connection- something two people share uniquely, something that connects them like no other two people in the world.

A relationship gathers substance when we have older convergence points to touch upon. The relationship feeds on the recurrence of shared interests, running jokes and continuing punch lines. Each meeting reinforces the basic connection and the relationship grows.

Whether it is the lads at my library or the staff of a bookshop, whether it is the cabbies at the local taxi stand or the personnel at my bank, I have a relationship with them all. It may not be a deep and close connection, but we interact, and that leads to a relationship.

The in-joke of the taxi drivers arose out of such relationship. Needing to hurry on a day when the streets were going to be chaotic, and their casting lots to decide who can get me there fastest; a private incident between the cabbies and me, it would make no sense to outsiders. It is a private joke.

There are private jokes between friends; family jokes that outsiders won't find funny. There are incidents that mean something only to the participants. These enrich the relationships. Friends tend to take each other's phrases and make them their own. My readers have taken to saying "the mind boggles" and I have taken to saying "muchly" and worse.

Friends develop phrases and code words that convey a whole wealth of meaning to each other, without having to spell it out. Families have these too. In my family "talking English" is all we need to say. It means nothing to outsiders, but we know exactly what is being said.

At the bookshop I frequent, I chat with the young man in charge of the science fiction and fantasy shelves. We both read the same authors, and we have lively discussions about the new arrivals on the shelves. He's been trying to persuade me to read a particular author, and our relationship has evolved to the point that he says the name and I roll my eyes. We don't need any further words.

The evolution of a relationship is fascinating. When you tentatively find common interests and gauge each other, when you find that every meeting is taking up from where you left off, when you find that you don't need to talk to fill comfortable silences; the growing strength of the relationship can be judged by these.

Private shorthand evolves over time. Couples have their personal secrets: pet names for each other that would mortify them if known universally, private rituals and signals. It is these that define and strengthen the bond between them.

Now I can't resist quoting:

"But a great deal of us is together, and we can but abide by it, and steer our courses to meet soon. John Thomas says good-night to Lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart."


Friday, October 27, 2006

Say hi

Here is a Bunthorne gem from today's Guardian crossword: Frantic SOS:" Save species!" (Mine and yours are exemplified here!) (10, 4)*

Computers and cell phones are about as personal as gadgets can get. (And thank you for not mentioning vibrators.)

In '94, when we acquired a computer, we used it jointly. I played Minesweeper, the Resident Mathematician installed software and taught himself TeX and LaTeX and our son and heir played various complicated role-playing games and learnt about fifteenth century Germany and civilisation via those games.

We each had our directories and I copied my poetry and attempts at creative writing to the hard disk. The only privacy was password protection.

The computer kept evolving, as esoteric things like motherboards, RAM and suchlike kept getting upgraded. But it was the same computer, and all I used it for apart storing my deathless prose was to play Minesweeper.

In '99, the Resident Mathematician got Linux fever. I refused to be infected. So we parted ways and he acquired a new computer and went the Linux, Via voice, Festival and Emacspeak way. We were amicably divorced, you might say, but still on talking terms, as our computers were networked. This had to be so, as I used the printer the most (I used to take printouts of crosswords almost daily), and so it was at my workstation. If he wanted to print, which was a rare event, we had to have communication channels.

Then we gave up on dial-up and acquired DIAS, and about ten months ago we embraced broadband. Our computers got so personal that I wouldn't know how to turn his machine on or use it. It has no point and click options; the Resident Mathematician would be flummoxed by my machine, too, it wouldn't speak to him. These become so private, and as we set preferences and make things easier for ourselves we resent the sight of even a maintenance man sitting at our desk to troubleshoot.

It seems like an invasion of privacy.

The Resident Mathematician doesn't use a mobile phone. I do. That phone is the most liberating thing I acquired. It allowed me to stay away from home for periods longer than a couple of hours without feeling edgy. I could keep in touch.

The phone is customised too. I set ring tones, alarms, and tones for messages and assign ring tones for friends. I store a lot of numbers on the phone that aren't written down in my phone book. The messages I receive and send, they are private communications. I might make an overseas call and hand the phone to the Resident Mathematician to speak, but the phone is mine, intensely.

And every now and then I change the settings, and use different ring tones. Last night I changed my phone settings and was struck by something. There is a provision for setting a greeting message.

So, here is a question.

What sort of a person would key in a greeting message that will flash when the phone is turned on? Who but self will see that message? It is not as if a friend or relative is going to turn your phone on, is it? So why would anyone bother to write a witty message to self that comes on when the phone is switched on?

Do you have a greeting message to yourself on your phone? Come on, 'fess up.


* Possessive case.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Search for meaning

An inquiring mind is essential to acquire knowledge.

When I want to find out something, I consult my reference books. If they don't provide a ready answer, like millions of people all over the world, I turn to Google for answers nowadays.

Google does provide links that answer whatever doubt I am trying to clear. Some days though, Google provides me as an answer. Don't laugh. Really it does. Enter the search words "what does Neha mean" and see. People do, and they arrive at my blog.

The results are proof that Lali is the answer, sometimes. There is a web definition that Neha is an Indian actress and a link to Wiki. The next result is my post where I mused upon names and meanings and wondered what Neha meant.

I didn't know there was an actress called Neha, and I didn't know any Neha then. Now I do both. I still don't know what Neha means, though.

Neha herself said it means two things, love or rain. These links seem to think so too. I searched Sanskrit dictionaries online, and there were no results for Neha other than an invitation to consider 'neh' and a definition for that which boggles the mind.

My Telugu dictionaries, the six-volume Suryaraayaandhra Nighantuvu and Sabda Ratnaakaramu didn't have an entry for Neha either. But they did have 'Neharamu', which is a variation of 'NevaLamu', which means a gem encrusted necklace.

Then I checked my Brown. CP Brown is greatly revered by Telugu scholars, and rightly so. His Telugu-English dictionary and the English-Telugu dictionary are a source of joy. As also his translation of Vemana. I checked my copy, but you can do the search online, and find out what has been occupying Missus Em's mind today.

My BrowNyam tells me that 'NevaLamu' is bloom and brilliance, daintiness and tenderness, apart from meaning a necklace. Sounds good. 'Neehaaramu' means hoarfrost and dew, and 'Neehaarika' means a bit of frost. Or perhaps a moisture-bearing cloudlet. So if taken as a variant of 'Neehaaramu' Neha could mean moisture I suppose. I prefer the daintiness/tenderness, and bloom/brilliance version, myself.

I have spent the afternoon searching, going off tangents, reading online; I have a better idea, but I'm still not sure what Neha means. My inquiring mind has acquired knowledge today but not certainty.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Menopause blues

I tend to be longwinded, I know. But here's a haiku, just to prove I can be succinct too.

Body knows not if
It's hot or cold; she's on fire
But not with desire.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

You sew and sew!

I was looking for something and found something else. An old notebook, yellowing with age but clear enough to be readable still. And I was transported a quarter century back in time.

My tailoring lessons. Dated, lesson by lesson, were wonders I forgot; arcana, indeed. The first page lists the syllabus. Then came a treatise on how to hold a needle.

"To acquire skill in hand sewing attention must be given to the correct position of the hands," I admonished myself therein, telling myself that "the point of the needle should be held in the right hand between the thumb and the forefinger. The hand must be spread so that the needle's eye rests on the upper side of the thimble, on the sharply bent second finger. The needle points diagonally over the left shoulder and the work progresses right to left, except in embroidering which usually progresses left to right."

I don't remember the source of this pearl of wisdom.

There's a laboriously drawn table of needle and thread guide, for both hand sewing and machine stitching. It had notes about the kinds of seams, how to sew them, when they are appropriate. Take the fell seam for instance:

Fell seam: This is used on heavy material and gives a tailored finish. Baste the seam so that the wrong sides meet and stitch 1/2" to 1/8" from the edge. Trim one piece to within 1/8" of the stitching and crease the other edge towards the trimmed one. Lay the seam flat on the garment and baste and stitch from 1/16" from the creased edge. This leaves a double row of stitching visible on the right and makes a smooth seam.

Sigh. We used to call it the lungi stitch.

There are detailed diagrams for each lesson; diagram on the recto and detailed construction notes on the verso, in tailorese that is gobbledygook to me now.

When I learnt tailoring, we started off learning how to work the foot pedal. Freewheeling, and then learning to attach the belt that links the sewing machine to the treadle. We were made to practice stitching with empty needles on sheets of old newspapers before we were allowed to thread the needle, and before we actually sewed anything, there were more lessons.

We were exhorted about tension settings, stitch counts and checking the settings before we dared turn the crankshaft that set the machine sewing. The sewing machines in the school were used by many people, and each would have had different lessons, so it was imperative to check the thread tension and stitch count before starting.

We were taught many varieties of seams: my notebook describes the running stitch, back stitch, overcast, hemming, French seam, fell seam and plain seam for hand sewing; plain seam, monture maker, run and fell, drowser seams (don't ask) one and two, overcast, herringbone or double backstitch, top sewing, counter seam and buttonholes for machine sewing.

After we learnt to stitch ruler straight holes on a sheet of paper we were allowed to sew fabric. We were taught the lore of machine sewing, feed the fabric steadily, pull the it away from you as you release the presser foot, knot the two threads to finish the seam, always snip the thread diagonally, never bite or break it by hand, and more.

We were then treated to the giddy excitement of making a bag. I made mine with denim. It had two compartments, a sliding adjustable strap and two pockets on the front. I have the construction diagram and the arcane sounding instructions of how it was made in the notebook. I'd later decorated it with multiple and many sized lazy daisies all in stark thick sewing yarn, and used it for a decade before the zips gave up their ghosts.

I had jotted down that it could be made without the adjusting strap, or without the side compartment or pockets, and noted that the outside could be made attractive by embroidery or saddle stitching or contrast colour yarn where seams will be visible. I further noted that "It cost: Rs 15.40 for the fabric, Re. 1.50 for the rings, Rs 4 for the zips and Rs 2.25 for the needles. Altogether Rs 22.85" for a bag I made and used for a decade. Before you snigger and write in to tell me, I know. I can't add to save my life. Or maybe I was counting the price of the heavier needle alone.

You need to be very sure about your pattern before you cut. Tailoring is not like computer games that you can start again. We learnt to cut complicated patterns to minimise wastage of fabric.

We sewed our way through pillowcovers, three kinds of; petticoats, four varieties of, including one with flounces and frills, and then we progressed to plain knickers, pilch knickers, Baba suits, sun-suits and chemises.

We were taught to oil and maintain the sewing machine, a lesson that came in very useful when I took to looking after and using my mother-in-law's machine. She inherited it from her mother-in-law, and it was an ancient but very reliable machine. I kept it busy for quite a while; making curtains and constructing lounging suits and salwar suits out of saris I'd never wear.

Over the years, I've acquired a few tailoring books, Zarapkar System of Cutting, Andhra Tailoring, and Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing are but a few. I picked up an interesting book from a pavement bookstall of Gariahat- Elizabeth Craig's Needlecraft, a complete guide to needlework, knitting and crochet, with special reference to wartime problems, fully illustrated with over 400 line drawings and photographs no less.

But easily the best of them is Easy Cutting, by MB Juvekar and VB Juvekar, first published in 1943. I have the 1962 edition, and the flyleaf has an inscription from my father to my mother, dated 13th July 1966. To Rama with love, it says in Telugu.

I used to enjoy the planning of a garment, detailing it in diagrams, and thinking out design details. I wonder why I stopped? Nowadays it is all I do to replace a lost button or mend a tear. That notebook tempts me to take up tailoring again, almost.

I was researching some links for this post and discovered, quite by accident, that Shakespeare might well have been the perpetrator of the first "Knock Knock" jokes.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Until the water begins to laugh

I am not much of a coffee drinker; for all that I am a South Indian. I like the occasional cup of filter coffee certainly, but I don't make a religion out of it. The recent profusion of coffee bars leaves me unmoved. The varieties of coffee they offer impress me not. I am a tea drinker, you see.

When we were growing up, we used to drink a glass of milk first thing in the morning. It wasn't until I started college that I discovered hot stimulants like tea and coffee. Oh, both coffee and tea were made and consumed at home, but that was for grown-ups.

It was in the Queen Mary's College canteen that I had my first cup of tea. And coffee. Vile though they both were, I preferred the vileness of tea to coffee. Later, in Presidency College, we used to have long chat sessions in the canteen over endless cups of tea.

I started having a cup of tea in the afternoon at home too, around that time. But it was made by the maid, and it was always Brooke Bond Red Label, and it was always cooked. Yes, I said cooked. It was made by boiling the water in a saucepan, spooning the leaves into the water, bringing the water to a rolling boil again and straining the decoction. Milk and sugar were added to this and it was ready to be served.

I know. It sounds ghastly.

I got married, and our khansamah served tea, and I suppose he made it the same way. It wasn't until he quit and I entered the kitchen that I had a reason to make tea myself. It was by chance that I learnt to brew tea. I'd just spooned the tea leaves into the saucepan when the phone rang, so I turned off the heat, covered the saucepan and went to answer the phone. Voila!

Then a friend gave a gift. Some Darjeeling tea, a brand called Runglee Rungliot. It came in a canister, and had detailed instructions about how to brew a good cup of tea. I was an instant convert. I became a fanatic about brewing tea properly.

I learnt the mantra, 'One for each cup and one for the pot', I learnt the finer points of warming the pot so that the boiling water doesn't cool too fast once it is poured, and I learnt the trick of adding milk to the cup before pouring the tea.

Once that lot of tea was used up, I found I couldn't go back to Red Label. It was like Cinderella dancing with Prince Charming and settling for the chimneysweep. I explored the teas on offer. Lipton Green Label was a decent tea, I found.

A cousin gave me an infuser. This is a perforated steel egg, with a little chain attached to the top. That chain makes it ideal for brewing individual cups of tea. It also does away with the need to strain the tea as the leaves are contained in the infuser, and it can be simply lifted out.

I don't drink as much tea as I used to, but I still brew it properly. Each cup of tea I brew is made the same way. Boiling the water, warming my tea mug, measuring out a heaped spoonful of tea into the infuser (one for the cup, one for the pot, remember?), and placing it in the mug, pouring the boiling water, covering the mug and steeping for four minutes - it never varies. My infusers lost their chains, but I still use them, as they hold the mess of tea leaves together and are still ideal making single cups of tea.

Nowadays I drink Castleton, which is a very good Darjeeling tea. I tried Earl Grey, but I didn't like it. And don't talk to me about teabags, please.

I laughed in delight as I read Douglas Adams teaching Americans how to make a decent cuppa. It is exactly how I brew it.

Among my cookery books is a gem, Food for the Emperor, a book of recipes from Imperial China and a dictionary of Chinese Cuisine. Compiled by John D. Keys, it is a collection of marvellous recipes and anecdotes, excerpts from Chinese literature and histories.

Here is an excerpt I love:

"I am sending you some leaves of tea. They come from the tree belonging to the monastery which lies upon the mountain Ou I.

"Take a blue urn of Ni Hung. Fill it with water which has been melted from snow gathered, at sunrise, upon the western slope of the mountain Sou Chan; place this urn over a fire of maple twigs that have been collected from among very old moss, and leave it there just until the water begins to laugh. Then pour it in a cup of Huen Tcha in which you have placed some leaves of this tea, cover the cup with a bit of white silk woven at Houa Chan, and wait until your room is filled with a perfume like that of a garden at Fouen Lo.

"Lift the cup to your lips, then close your eyes. You will be in Paradise."

Ouang Tsi (723-737), to a friend


Monday, October 16, 2006

Yet another farewell, good grief!

Here's a short tale for you as related by Bennett Cerf talking about Russel Crouse and his bent, funny nay punny mind.

"…A Crouse creation of which he was particularly fond (he said he wrote it on a ride to Punsylvania ) involved the Sunday-evening opening of a Broadway play starring that glamorous queen of the "silents," Gloria Swanson. While the star was frugally proceeding to the theatre by subway, however, the system broke down, and Miss S was stranded three miles north of Times Square, necessitating a postponement of the premiere to the following evening.

The name of this poignant tale, naturally, was "Sick Transit Gloria Monday."

I read that DesiPundit is shutting down.

I never knew there was a group blog called DesiPundit, not until they linked to my musing if character flaws and shortcomings are sins. I discovered through my site tracker that many of my visitors that week arrived from DesiPundit. Then I discovered that they set out to make blog-hopping easier for Indian readers, and they did accomplish that. I am a newcomer to blogging and they pointed me to some lovely blogs.

I read their reasons, I understand. Now they are closing shop. Others have said goodbye in their fashion. As I said to Neha, thanks for being there, DP.

Ah, well. Cerf also tells me that an eccentric bachelor passed away and left a nephew nothing but 392 clocks. The nephew now is busy winding up the estate.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

With a Little Help from My Friends

What makes a person a resident? What are the criteria that decide it?

I tried to reason with the Deputy Commissioner of Police in his huge and intimidating office with its high ceiling.

My son is a dependant. We, his parents, have been living ('have resided continuously' in Bureaucratese) in Calcutta for the last sixteen years. That should make him a resident, even though he has been in a boarding school for six of those years and in college since last year.

But no, he is not a resident of Calcutta, even though his ration card states he is, because he hasn't been continuously resident here for one year. Worse, he wasn't even born here, he was born in Madras. That birth certificate damned him.

I am not a resident myself, probably, as I was away from Calcutta for a fortnight last year. If I tried to apply for a verification certificate and stated that datum honestly, I'd probably be refused a certificate, too. No matter that I was here in Calcutta the other three hundred and fifty days of the year. Not a resident continuously for a year, the DCP would have shaken his head, and refused to give me a certificate.

No matter that I lived here for lo, these many years. No matter that I have no criminal record.

I am told that the purpose of this verification is to ascertain if a person applying for it lived at the address given, and if there is a criminal record against their name. My son definitely was living here when the inquiring officer came to talk to him. The gent checked all the documents we provided. Those included the domicile certificate from his school, the letter from his University saying he has been selected to represent them in a debate. Doesn’t that imply that he is a student there? It is a residential school, so he would be living there, obviously. Surely there is no further proof required?

And if they needed to verify couldn't they check the web page of the school, couldn't they call and ask? The Registrar or the Hostel Warden or the Vice Chancellor would have confirmed that my son was a student and yes, they issued a letter stating he will be attending a debate in Oxford and Cambridge in November, along with others.

But I was told that my son would have to go back and apply for a verification certificate from the police district of his school's area; or ask the Regional passport Office to transfer his application to Bangalore and process it there.

I pleaded time constraints. I tried to point the absurdity. My son is not continuously resident in Bangalore either, as he spends his vacations here. So won't the Bangalore Police say the same?

I wrote about this earlier and prayers and good wishes poured in. Neha and Ram sent prayers by express courier. Chandru donated a virtual whip to speed things up. Rimi sent a good luck hug. Ferrari sent a prayer to be redeemed as needed. The Marauder's Map commiserated. Ram prayed for miracles, which he believed in. Brazen Head suggested agents and spreading cash around. D.N.A. said to look to the family. Ramki wanted updates. My blogging family felt like a real family in the immediate support and sympathy offered.

Neha, bless her soul, went one step ahead and did what D.N.A. suggested, called on the blogging family for help. She asked me to get in touch with a person, a Government Babu and a blogger, who might be able to help.

But all that cut no ice with the police and I walked dejectedly out of the office.

My phone beeped. It had rung before, but I didn't answer the call as I was pleading with the DCP. I assumed it was K wanting news. I answered this time. "Lalita Mukherjea?" said a stranger. He introduced himself and invited me to step into his parlour, where he could write me a waiver for the police verification.

Deus ex machina, indeed.

There is something called an ECNR waiver. A letter, from a Deputy Secretary/ Director/ Joint Secretary/ Add. Secy./ Spl. Secy./ Secy./ Cab. Secy. to Govt. of India; or a Joint Secretary/ Add.Secy./ Spl. Secy./ Secy./ Chief Secy. to a State Govt.; or a Sub Divisional Magistrate/ Additional DM / District Magistrate of the district of residence of the applicant; or a District Supdt. of Police/Range, DIG/IG/DGP of district of residence of the applicant; or a Colonel and above or equivalent rank in the Air Force and the Navy or a General Manager of a Public Sector Undertaking can vouch for the applicant and dispense with the police clearance. The applicant can submit that waiver and ask for his passport application to be considered under the Tatkal scheme and issued quickly.

With a little help from my friends, I found that my son could do away with the need to prove his residence, continuous or otherwise.

I blogged on my woes on the 10th. The DCP refused to give the certificate on the 11th. All those prayers and good wishes from all over the globe did the trick. My son collected his Tatkal passport on the 13th, with a little help from my friends.

What a wonderful world this is!


Friday, October 13, 2006

To Sir, with love

You know, I never ever referred to him by name or said Chittibabu, been so rudely familiar and all that? Before I started blogging? I always referred to him as Guruvugaru. That was what he was to me.

The first year I started learning from him (I started on Ugadi) I went to seek his blessings on Vijaya Dashami and I found I wasn't the only one (auspicious day and all that). Yeah, yawn, Missus Em will tell you about calendars and festivals and rites and rituals later. Let us just stick to the story right now shall we?

We students used to infest the house and trouble our Gurupatni no end. She'd serve coffee, feed us if we were on extended lessons; she took care of us just as much he took care of us.

But Guruvugaru was capricious; he would call at 6:30 in the morning and tell me to come for a lesson. He never considered my other occupations and concerns as worthy of a thought. He felt like teaching, so I should present myself and be taught and that was that. He recognised no other occupations or timetables.

I'd go for my lesson. Sometimes I'd find him reading newspapers or pondering on a chess endgame problem, sipping coffee (Sudha, I need a cup of that brew you used to make, I tell you), and he'd nod at me. That meant 'go up and get warmed up and get ready, and maybe I will come up and teach'.

Then I'd go up to the first floor, take the students' veena out of it's stand (I used to be terrified doing that…what if I dropped it, knocked it against the sides of the cabinet, what if what if), and sit down with it, check the tuning and play the latest lesson he taught. Repetition of lessons is how rote memory works, after all.

Oh, the days he went back to sleep after asking me to come for a lesson, I'd have the pleasure of going through the whole lot of the elementary exercises that are taught to students of Carnatic music. Sarali, Janta and Datu exercises, before I launched into the latest lesson. But heaven forbid I reduce the strength of strike or volume. If he was only reading the newspapers or pondering a chess puzzle, he'd yell up at me asking if I had perished and reached the Pearly Gates already. My fingers used to go numb, recover, go into cramp and recover before he'd deign to come up and sit behind his wondrous veena.

If he did. I used to be superstitious and count as lucky the days he wore a blue shirt.

There used to be days when he abandoned teaching and applied himself to elucidating a Raga for me. I may be the only person who heard him play Viriboni in all the three tempi, just to deliver a lesson on time keeping and multiples. He was generous that way. I had private elucidation of how a Kalyani musing and Alapana should go, and where and when a niraval would work just right in Khamas.

With two veenas between us was but one aspect of our relationship. He read me, the amateur poetry I wrote and decided I was better suited to words than tones. He understood my passion for language and shared it, to an extent. The only other person I can think of who had the complete GBS is my father, good grief.

Some days though, he'd just call up to me and say that he didn’t feel like teaching. He'd invite me to try to figure out the chess problem or tell me about the books he ordered and that would arrive shortly. He could and did used to make atrocious puns; we both loved P G Wodehouse. Ogden Nash, too. K and Guruvugaru got on like a house on fire. Similar minds and musical musings.

Every Diwali, I used to take my offerings to the kids, always reserving two huge clay flowerpots for him to set off, just like my father did back home, when he came back from his club. That used to be the signal to wind down our celebrations.

We students used to throng and greet him, and mingle with the kids. His eldest gave me tips on tackling the Rubik's Cube. The kids were a source of joy whenever I had a moment from being tyrannised by Guruvugaru.

He taught. He taught as he pleased, according to his judgement of the student and he taught with immense dedication to the task and great passion. He loved teaching and moulding his students, by singing and generously playing again and again. You haven't heard the best of Chittibabu if you weren't a student.

And when he taught, the lesson always took. I can't play 'Lambodara Lakumikara' on my veena without hearing him play that baby-song for me.

You live on, Sir. Happy Birthday up there and give Narada et al a good run for their money. You rocked, you rock and you will rock, always and forever. Thank you for teaching me.

Goodnight Sir, but please keep an eye on me as I try to learn Anandabhairavi and the ata tala varnam as it ought to be, you and Syama Sastry both, I beg you.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Heartbreak City

It is a cruel world, but I know for a fact, this city is more so. Autumn is a bad time to try and get any thing done in Calcutta.

"You certainly have a bad sense of timing, sonny," I said to my son. He came home on the first of October, and will leave on the fifteenth, and that's the time frame we had to acquire a passport for him.

Let me back up a little and fill you in. My son is a student. He was selected to represent his University in the Oxford Union Intervarsity Debate 2006. He was advised to apply for his passport here in Calcutta. His vacation break is a fortnight long. To apply for a passport, get a verification certificate from the police and then change the application to the Tatkal category and collect the same in this period was always going to be tough.

And now consider this. The first of October, apart from being a Sunday, was the penultimate day of the annual idiocy called Durga Puja. The city goes berserk. Everything shuts down. Government machinery grinds to a halt.

The application was duly submitted when normal life resumed. Then I went to our local police station to apply for a certificate of verification, so I could submit that and avail of the facility of Tatkal, issuing a passport on the basis of urgency.

I don't know any Deputy Secretary/ Director/ Joint Secretary/ Add. Secy./ Spl. Secy./ Secy./ Cab. Secy. to Govt. of India; I don't know any Joint Secretary/ Add.Secy./ Spl. Secy./ Secy./ Chief Secy. to a State Govt.; I don't know any Sub Divisional Magistrate/ Additional DM / District Magistrate of the district of residence of the applicant; I don't know any District Supdt. of Police/Range, DIG/IG/DGP of district of residence of the applicant; I don't know any Colonel and above or equivalent rank in the Air Force and the Navy; I don't know any General Manager of a Public Sector Undertaking.

That above litany is a list of people who can provide certificates saying they know the applicant is of blameless character. I don't know such bigwigs.

But I do know that the police are there to help citizens. So I asked them.

A kindly gent at the station told me that I'd have to apply to the DCP(Don't ask me about the alphabet soup of these designations, please.) at Park Street. So I went there and related my story. A large and placid man at the Park Street DCP offices told me that the DCP was on leave, but if I submitted an application for the verification certificate, they'd try to speed it up; but I shouldn't expect much because the next three days were off days, and I could go back to my local station and ask about progress on Monday, certainly.

Lokhkhi Puja and the weekend. If that wasn't enough Monday was a Bandh. A Bandh called by some political parties, endorsed by some others, taken note of by the government which decided that the IT sector should be allowed to function without hindrance but the rest of the populace can like it or lump it. So on Monday, my bank had shutters down. On Monday the police station was nearly deserted as all the officers were on the streets.

I went back today. The 'Process' office was closed at 10:30 in the morning because they all worked hard the day before, thanks to the Bandh. I was told to come back later.

I went back later. The application had been forwarded and an officer assigned, but he hadn't arrived as yet. I waited. He read the application sent over, he looked at the documents I thought would be enough to prove all my claims. He hemmed and he hawed and he said he would visit the address, talk to the neighbours and do the needful.

He has to send that report to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, and somebody there has to authorize a certificate, issue it and then inform me before I can collect it and use it to try and obtain a Tatkal passport.

Bureaucracy and red tape and all that; this is a city of heartbreak, I tell you. Who should I seek compensation from when that passport doesn't materialise before my son has to go back to school? The mindlessness of religious festivals? The fact that the police are understaffed and thus cannot deal with events and the routine at the same time? That lady who stole a day from my timetable by calling for a Bandh when it was a totally inappropriate response to the issue?

Who will pay for my heartbreak if my son doesn't get a passport and has to miss his chance to debate in some of the oldest Universities around? Who will compensate for his disappointment?

Say a prayer for me, folks.

Update: 11 PM
The officer assigned came and did the needful, yes, in the evening. His report will go to the offices of the DCP on Wednesday, and he suggested that I go and ask about it in the afternoon. Even if I lay my hands on that certificate the same day, nothing further can be achieved, as the Regional Passport Office doesn't function round the clock.

If and this is a big if, and when that certificate arrives, the next round of worry will start- the Tatkal procedure and the impossible time frame. No light at the end of the tunnel as yet. No way out of the tunnel, either.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Double Dutch, elucidated

Double trouble, or twice the delight? That is the question, I said. It's definitely doubles and delightful to boot.

I heard the howls of protest, but aren't some of you glad that I left out the solutions? Your little grey cells got a workout and you solved some and you were thrilled. See? Missus Em knows best. I did tell you, at the very outset, that all the across clues were repetitions of a few letters. That was the theme. Let me tell you how the solutions were arrived at. (Yeah, I am gloating, so sue me)

Officer with American company joining us for African food (8)
Couscous. This is a wonderful clue. CO as in commanding officer, US as in America, Co as in company and us.

Here I changed tactics and solved the down clues. The idea was to arrive at the letters in the across clues. That would make it easier. It's not cheating, merely prolonging the pleasure.

Opening with key, he can wrongfully enter (6)
Chance. C as in musical key, inside an anagram of he can, and note the misdirection of 'wrongfully enter'. Wrongfully is the anagram indicator here, but not for enter.

Kind of language used by cultural icon (6)
Uralic. Kind of language is the definition. It is one of those clues where the solution is imbedded in the clue. Cultural icon.

American author in family group on Cyprus (6)
Clancy. No comment.

Dead - unlike Pluto, for example (10)
Unanimated. I refuse to explain. You all know better than I do.

Short dress a friend put on in sheikdom (3,5)
Solution: Abu Dhabi. This is an old favourite. A habit as in dress without the t and a bud above that, ha!

One police force intervening in domestic crime (8)
Homicide. Variations of this clue are cropping up fairly regularly these days. I as in one and CID for the police force in home, for domestic. Voila!

Bias isn't commonly seen in cosmetic treatment (3,5)
War paint. Cute, eh?

Formerly altered three, zero and four, say (10)
Heretofore. This is a good clue. An anagram of three, and o, with fore.

Isn't switching partners in court natural behaviour? (8)
Instinct. What a mind!' 'Switching partners' tells you to change the order of north and south, and then it is simplicity itself. In, and 'ct', crossword shorthand for court.

Frightens girl in love with boy (8)
Overawes. O for love and Wes the boy and Vera in between.

Are a set of rules needed when calling elsewhere? (4,4)
Area Code. Longish definition, but simplicity itself.

"Arrest that woman". Said the emperor (6)
Caesar. This is lovely. 'Seize her, ' as heard.

Melancholy detective without love (6)
Morose. This is another regular. Inspector Morse appears in crosswords with some frequency.

Cable 5 attached to Queen Elizabeth (6)
Hawser. I knew the answer, but I wanted to clarify with 5 across, which was

Warlord executed for treason (3-3)
Haw-Haw. Here is a link if you didn't get that.

Now for the real joy of this crossword, the across clues. They were all doubles, and Brendan came up with some beauties there.

A fish swallowing a scrap, something got from seaweed (4-4)
Agar-agar. A gar, with a rag in side. This is brilliant.

Quiet noise made, knocking back the odd drink (6)
Murmur. Rum going backwards twice. Charming, right?

Move slowly between church and home for your health (4-4)
Chin-chin. Inch inside ch and in. This is superb.

"Tea for two" as dance music (3-3)
Cha-cha. No comment.

Take special note, having originally ordered port in spa (5-5)
Baden-Baden. This took me a while to figure out. I knew the answer, but needed to satisfy myself with the reasoning. Spa is the definition. Ordered comes first, then 'take special note' and then a port. Bade, N.B. and Aden. Beautifully constructed.

One way to buy this land in Australia (5-5)
Never-Never. Perfect! But I refuse to explain, I do.

Fierce person creating problem with teeth (6)
Tartar. Heh!

Rude type outside pub, back on a Pacific island (4,4)
Bora Bora. This is a priceless clue. Boor around bar written backwards, and then a. What joy.

Confined in quarters, admit nothing, keep calm (3,3)
Now, now. Another beauty, this. Own and o in two Ns.

One confused host entertains another's big names (8)
Hotshots. Anagram of host, twice. Clues like these make my day. Brendan goes against the convention that you should ignore punctuation in crosswords, it is there only to mislead.

Low grade in examinations only boys get (6)
Testes. This is a new one and wonderful, to say the least.

A flightless bird in her grasp? Right on! (4,4)
Hear, hear. A rhea inside her and this is one of the all time great clues I have come across.

Now is it any wonder I am in love?


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Double Dutch

Double trouble, or twice the delight? That is the question.

If it is Friday it is usually Brendan. This Friday was no different. Brendan's proving to be as much fun as Araucaria, and that is to say a lot, Dear Reader. Take a gander at this. He compiled a crossword where each across solution is a repeat of letters.

I always start with one across and work my way through. One across was: Officer with American company joining us for African food (8)

I giggled. But when I read the next across clue, I realised that there was a pattern. I took a minute to scroll through the clues. Yes, all the across clues seemed to be repetitions of a few letters. Oh joy! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Cheat that I am, I changed my modus operandi and tackled the down clues.

1 down: Opening with key, he can wrongfully enter (6) Marvellous, yeah. Priceless, actually.

2 down: Kind of language used by cultural icon (6) Hmm. I have to think.

3 down: American author in family group on Cyprus (6) I got that, even though I don't read him.

4 down: Dead - unlike Pluto, for example (10) Nice take, bud.

6 down: Short dress a friend put on in sheikdom (3,5) I laugh out loud at this, it's been done before.

7 down: One police force intervening in domestic crime (8) Been there, done that. But a nice divvying up, I grant.

8 down: Bias isn't commonly seen in cosmetic treatment (3,5) Good one, this. Brilliant, in fact.

13 down: Formerly altered three, zero and four, say (10) Now, Missus Em is in love, totally.

15 down: Isn't switching partners in court natural behaviour? (8) Oh, yes. It is, it is.

16 down: Frightens girl in love with boy (8) Same difference, I say and smile.

17 down: Are a set of rules needed when calling elsewhere? (4,4) Obvious, and Missus Em is grateful for small things.

19 down: "Arrest that woman". Said the emperor (6) Heh! Yes sir, right away sir, say I, as I fill in the solution.

20 down: Melancholy detective without love (6) Another Old Faithful.

21 down: Cable 5 attached to Queen Elizabeth (6) Um, I know this one, I am sure, but let me cross- check with the across clues now.

Like I said, I usually solve the clues by number, begin at the beginning and all that. Unless of course it turns out to be a totally challenging crossword and then I have to think and check other clues and see what letters I have got on the grid already and am sure about, and how they might help me arrive at the solutions for the other clues.

But Brendan had already set the tone; repetitions of letters was the theme. So I started on the across clues, which I knew will be all doubles, twins or pairs in some way. I had to get the across clues before I could solve 5 down and 21 down. But hey, there is no pleasure without pain, like the monkey said while indulging in a chore.

5 across: Warlord executed for treason (3-3) Ha, I was right. But let's just make sure, shall we?

9 across: A fish swallowing a scrap, something got from seaweed (4-4) I knew it, I knew it!

10 across: Quiet noise made, knocking back the odd drink (6) Oh, Missus Em is swooning, smitten all over again.

11 across: Move slowly between church and home for your health (4,4) Yeah. I am chuckling, too.

12 across: "Tea for two" as dance music (3-3) I knew it. All suspicions confirmed, yeah.

14 across: Take special note, having originally ordered port in spa (5-5) A nice twist and it took me a while to figure it out.

18 across: One way to buy this land in Australia (5-5) I giggled madly at this.

22 across: Fierce person creating problem with teeth (6) Oh, what joy!

23 across: Rude type outside pub, back on a Pacific island (4,4) Ditto, ditto. Missus Em is giggling helplessly here, good grief.

24 across: Confined in quarters, admit nothing, keep calm (3,3) Oh, oh, oh. Smitten, I tell you, hopelessly in love with this guy.

25 across: One confused host entertains another's big names (8) Priceless, corkscrew thinking won't begin to describe it.

26 across: Low grade in examinations only boys get (6) Now, I am floored. This is seriously good stuff.

27 across: a flightless bird in her grasp? Right on! (4,4) This is about as perfect as it can get.

Folks, I know I should provide the solutions, but let Prakash have his fun. I will post an update with the solutions tomorrow. But I am beginning to wonder though. Which is more pleasurable, the solving or the crowing about it? Hmm, must consult the Bard about this.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none

Give me your trust said the Aes Sedai.
On my shoulders I support the sky.
Trust me to know and do what is best,
And I will take care of the rest.
But trust is the color of a dark seed growing.
Trust is the color of a heart's blood flowing.
Trust is the color of a soul's last breath.
Trust is the color of death.

Give me your trust said the queen on her throne,
for I must bear the burden all alone.
Trust me to lead and to judge and rule,
and no man will think you a fool.
But trust is the sound of the grave-dog's bark.
Trust is the sound of betrayal in the dark.
Trust is the sound of a soul's last breath.
Trust is the sound of death.

Lord of Chaos. Robert Jordan, Book Six of the Wheel of Time

When we are young, we believe everything we are told, mostly. We trust our parents implicitly, know that they always mean well and want the best for us. Our world is explained through them, and we take our world-view from them. But at some point we begin to question, realising that our parents might not know everything, and that they are not always right. But that trust in them remains.

We trust our families to stand by us. We trust our best friends with our deepest darkest secrets. We trust our spouses to cherish us and bestow our hearts to them. We trust that a good brand name assures us of quality; that a doctor knows how to treat our maladies; that we aren't getting short-changed by shopkeepers.

We trust a lot of things. We trust pilots we don't know with our lives. We trust elevators and machinery.

I am finding that being so trustful isn't as easy as it used to be, as I grow older. If trust is certainty based on past experience, the trait of believing in the honesty and reliability of others, complete confidence in a person or plan, it requires affirmation to continue. Once is all needed for trust to stop being utter belief and faith in a thing.

When I was young a doctor was a godlike person. His word was divine commandment. Nowadays I wonder about his competence and if he is fully abreast of medical advancements. All it took was one doctor making an ill-judged decision.

When I was young I'd have thought nothing of trusting that a young man with his new bike knew how to control his mean machine. It wouldn't have occurred to me to worry that there might be an accident. I loved going for wild rides. Full speed on and whiz down the Marina, yeah! Or longer rides, with the wind blowing my hair and my delighted screams away until I had to shout into my buddy's ears. Now, I worry about the skill of the driver whenever I get into a taxi. I wonder if I will reach home in one piece. All it took was one minor mishap.

When I was young I took what anyone said as truth. Now I wonder what undercurrents there are in the statement, what is left unsaid?

Trust between two people is a fragile thing. You trust that your spouse is faithful. All it takes is one doubt, and that trust is tainted with nagging suspicions. And once broken, trust can never be fully restored. There will always be reservations.

There are some things you can take on trust, though. I was casting about for a title for this post, and failing to come up with my own, fell back on that evergreen option, Shakespeare. He delivered.

The Bard always provides the apt quote, trust me on this.


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