lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, March 30, 2007

I ask you!

There are times I wish the lord and master shuts up and lets me get on with it. The evening at Chez Em went something like this:

"Um?" (Not now, please)
"You were watching something on Youtube earlier, weren't you?"
"Mmm." (I am trying to read, you know?)

"How long are these clips? Usually?"
"Depends." (Please, honey, things are getting fraught in my book)

"I mean, are they all short? Have you ever watched a longish clip?"
"Um. Honey I only follow links." (Lemme read, will ya?)

I write about something and that reminds me of something and I dig up something else, going feverishly though my shelves; I settle down to read again a lovely novel I read five years ago, and he wants to talk. Sigh.

"Do you watch movies with it?"
"Um. I never tried to, so I can't say, as such." (Good grief, honey, I am trying to read)

"But are movies available there?"
"I suppose."

Belatedly, it occurs to me that I ought to pay more attention to this. That "still, small voice," the bane of humanity, speaks up inside me, hey this is the love of your life, your raison d'être speaking, so I mark my place and look up.

"What are you going on about?"
"There was a hilarious film once." (Sigh, I thought it was something important)

"A couple of men kidnap a millionaire's son. He is a brat. And the parents don't want him back, so they refuse to pay the ransom. And the kidnappers end up paying, heh, and praying for the hostage to be taken off their hands…"
"Must have been funny." (I know your taste in films, you liked A Fish Called Wanda, I recall)

"Yeah. The kidnappers hire a nanny, and the brat gets infatuated with her, and one of the kidnappers falls in love with her.'
"Sounds hilarious, I'm sure" (Bah. Films? What do I care about films if they aren't crossword clues?)

"So I was wondering, there must be a Youtube version of this, right?'
"Umm." (I love this bit in the novel. The descriptions take my breath away)

"Marilyn Monroe played the nanny."
"Umm, Norma Jean Baker and or Mortenson."
"You know that?"
"Huh? Sure. Marilyn Monroe's real name. She sang Happy Birthday Mr. President."
"How do you know about that?"
"She featured in a jumbo crossword once, of course."

"Did you hear what I said?"

I play the conversation back in my head and realise my mind must have been wandering.

"Okay, so Marilyn Monroe played the nanny, did she? Was she good at comedy?"
"I meant, do you think there might be clips of the film available on Youtube?"

"I suppose. What film was this? I'll look it up."
"Lali, I can't remember the name of the film. Why do you think I am asking?"

"Oh. Okay, I will ask around."
"Who will you ask? S isn't in town or I'd ask him."

"I will blog about it, of course. Now, honey, please may I finish reading this?"

I ignore his sigh and stick my nose into my book again.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Laahiri Laahiri Laahiri Lo

I am going through a bout of nostalgia, thanks to Neha remembering Maya Bazar.

The movie was released in the year I was born and it still draws full houses whenever screened. It is a timeless classic. I don't remember when I saw the film first, but the dialogues and the phrases coined by Pingali Nagendra Rao were part of Telugu lexicon I grew up with. We referred to gongura, the famous green stuff of Andhra, as Saakambhari Devi prasaadam, we would say tasmadeeyulu to refer to the enemy camp and regularly alluded to the famous advice "Rasapattu lo tarkam koodadu".

The best known song in the film is "Vivaaha bhojanambu" but my personal favourite is the rollicking "Aha naa pellanta" where Savitri, that great actress, does a marvellous imitation of SV Ranga Rao.

The scene is this: Sasirekha is rejoicing about her upcoming marriage. But Ghatotkacha is impersonating Sasirekha. He keeps forgetting himself and lapsing into his natural mannerisms. Savitri, looking delightfully girlish and endearingly plump, captures SVR's mannerisms perfectly.

The song, sung by P Sushila, is boisterous. Sushila uses a mocking tone and sings with great insouciance that is perfect for Ghatotkacha's impersonation. Ghantasala's jati interlude with the impish atu tantaam itu tantaam among them cracks me up every time I hear the song.

Though the credits say Ghantasala, the song "Laahiri laahiri" was composed by S Rajeswara Rao. Ghantasala did the orchestration alone. This is the song Neha went into rhapsodies about in her post.

Sasirekha and Abhimanyu on a boat ride, the mood is dreamy and the song languid. It is a lovely song, and the first that many will name if asked for a song based on raga Mohana in Telugu films.

For non-Telugu readers, I offer a translation of the song:

Smitten and intoxicated
Oh, oh, the world swings, it rocks.

In the path of gushing moonlight as star and moon dally
In the caress of little breezes laden with loving fragrance
The world swings intoxicated.

In the rocking, chuckling and shimmering waves that arouse sweet thoughts
In the boat of love that beguiles, on this pleasant outing,
The world swings intoxicated.

In this delicious ambiance that sets everyone playing
In the gentle mischief of the lord who thrills all minds,
The world swings intoxicated.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Kumaari Dantu Ramasita veelunaamaa

My persistence pays off, once in a while.

In my youth, there used to be a slew of Telugu magazines, weeklies mostly, and some monthlies. There used to be a rich and varied lot of contemporary literature, scholarly articles, poetry and stories to read. There were the 'Andhra' magazines, Prabha, Jyoti, Patrika, Bhoomi, all with 'Andhra' tacked on, and there were the monthlies Yuva and Jyoti. Bharathi was a scholarly magazine where literary research and critical reviews stood out.

Being who they were, my parents were sent complimentary copies of all these magazines, and we kids used to compete for the magazines that arrived every week, shouting "I first," and grabbing them from the postman.

All these magazines published short stories and serialised novels, and encouraged budding poets and cartoonists. My first poem was published in Andhra Jyoti magazine, and my first short story, too.

It was in these magazines that I read the satirical column 'Vantinti Kaburlu' by Puranam Seeta, the moving 'Amaravati Kathalu' by Sankaramanchi Satyam, and 'Bhoo Matsya Gundra', the brilliant satire of Prasanna Kumar Sarraju. It was from these magazines that I discerned the trends in contemporary literature, like writing in dialects, the unfortunate dalliances with badly composed haiku in the genre of mini-kavita( where I sinned myself by composing a tanka about it), and the idea of a complete novel as a supplement with monthly magazines and more.

When living in Delhi, I used to try and keep in touch by buying the magazines from Madrasi pockets of civilisation. In Calcutta too, I kept in touch with the literary scene through the magazines.

But there was a slow and distressing change. Illustrations got vulgar, poetry lost depth, short stories and serials became unreadable, being peppered with transliterated English and badly constructed sentences. New writers seemed unable to write without imagining their work being optioned for film rights. Descriptions were more like screenplay directions and scenes unfolded like cinema, not literature. Serials had to have a cliffhanger ending for each instalment. It got pathetic. And then it got worse.

Most magazines seemed to fold, they became erratic, or maybe it was only their arrival in Calcutta that became erratic. The number of magazines I bought came down, and I found myself buying only two - Andhra Prabha and Swati weekly. I don't read the monthly version of Swati; it's more priggish and sanctimonious than I can stand.

Prabha still had some nice features, like the Bachelor's Kitchen, where readers sent in quick and easy recipes for singletons. They had lovely serials like 'Varshini' by Dr. C Ananda Ramam in 2002, which is one of the best novels in Telugu I ever read. Then Prabha stopped, too. Hasam, a magazine devoted to humour and music, had a brilliant beginning, faded into ordinariness and died after a couple of years.

There is only Swati now. And their offerings range from ordinary to grossly bad: the agony aunt column where Malathi Chendur pontificates, the mandatory 'everything you always wanted to know' column about sex education, pages devoted to mental health and marital problems, tips for housewives- the usual stuff. Plus that irritating classification, sarasamaina katha, which is nothing but an excuse for publishing stories that are written around a bedroom scene and the accompanying illustration in bad taste.

They do have political commentary and some regular columnists who can string two sentences in Telugu without resorting to English, but these are aberrations, not the norm. And then there are Bapu's cartoons, which seem caught in a time warp, however brilliant they are.

I still buy the magazine and read it, more in despair and occasional disgust than in any real hope that things may change for the better. But, once in a while, there comes a great short story. In Swati's latest issue, dated 30th March, I read this gem of a story by Vamsi, Kumaari Dantu Ramasita Veelunaamaa.

Set in coastal Godavari villages and written in beautiful illustrative prose, with a story line that seems quaintly old-fashioned even as it holds a mirror to contemporary reality of prawn hatcheries and commercial fishing, this story is brilliant. Not perfect, it could have done with some editorial intervention(if there is a gun mentioned, it should fire before the story ends, remember?), but it is one of the best stories I've read in Telugu in recent times. The accompanying illustration by Bapu is perhaps not vintage Bapu, but it is evocative all the same.

Swati is not available online, so I can't give you links, but I urge any and all my Telugu readers to read this story. So long as there are stories like this, there is some hope for Telugu literature.

This is the reason why I still read Telugu magazines.


Saturday, March 24, 2007


No, this is not a post on bondage and domination or sado-masochism. That gives me yet another post idea, mind you.

I am sure most of my blogging friends will agree with me, we bloggers tend to write posts in our heads as we go about daily life and chores. I know I do, certainly. As I stand in queues, as I do my grocery shopping, as I chop vegetables and stir stews, as I sit in an idling cab waiting for the signal to change, I write in my head. I think out post ideas, avenues to explore for the said ideas, and even compose whole paragraphs in my head as I go through the day.

But, what happens is this. Life intervenes, and the golden thoughts, those glittering gems of ideas get swamped by other things, and I go off on tangents or forget a salient point until after I have published the post. I kick myself mentally, of course, but by then it is too late.

Any given time, there are a few ideas I am mulling over, thinking through. Sometimes they fall apart, sometimes the urgency passes; sometimes some other thought seizes me.

What I would like is some gadget that can transcribe my thoughts as I am thinking them, the perfect prose as I compose it in my head, long before I have to sit and get my fingers dancing on the keyboard. By then the freshness of the original idea is already lost, changed by subsequent thoughts and musings, changed by life as it happens.

If this sounds like I am whining it is because I am. There are too many things clamouring for my attention, too many things I absolutely have to do, and all the while there are these post ideas that are slipping away. It is pathetic, I tell you.

There is a phrase that describes my predicament rather neatly. 'An embarrassment of riches' and then there is the other phrase, 'spoilt for choice'. What it boils down to, is that I am strapped for ideas. There are things I want to write about, yes, but there are too many of them and I can't make up my mind.

I could write about 'manners maketh man'. I could write about Cain rising up and smiting Abel. I could write about 'something in the way she moves ', I could write about 'hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukaare chale gaye'.

I am thinking about too many things, and unable to settle on a topic. So, I am not going to write about any of the above.

Why should I bother to write anything anyway, as most of my readers are probably in mourning over India's World Cup debacle? Write in and tell me what you'd like me to blather about next. It is the weekend, so I am settling down to my beer and Saturday crosswords. There is a brilliant Prize crossword by Paul to solve.

There is such a thing as getting my priorities right, after all.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ask my lord to come, lotus-eyed lass

"Pa da pa ma ga ri - ga ma pa ma ga ma - ga ri ga ri sa-a-a," I sang in an undertone, looking at the notation as my fingers plucked the notes tentatively. It sounded good. Interesting. I like this, I decided. I played it again, keeping time this time.

"Ni sa ga ri - sa ri sa ni - nee-e-e," I played. I waited out the cycle of rhythm, tapping my nails on the wood of the veena marking time and repeated the phrases.

"Sa ga-a ri ga ma ma ga - ma da pa - ma pa ma ga ga ma-a-a-a" I added, sight-reading as I played. Yes, this is good, I thought and laughed at myself. Of course it is good, it is a composition of Syama Sastry, after all.

There is something magical about reading notation and playing it on the veena. The notes take on life and become music. It is one thing to learn from teachers, repeating what is played and writing down the notation later, but it is another to read the notation and try and turn it into music.

After I lost my teacher to relocation and more, I tried to learn new compositions from books. Though Carnatic music is kritically oriented, I revelled in learning jatisvaras, svarajatis and varnams.

I'd taught myself a few obscure compositions, mostly varnams and svarajatis, with an occasional kriti. When it came to kritis I always chose a piece I had both vocal and instrumental versions of, to guide me. But for varnams and svarajatis, I had plenty of books and plenty of compositions to choose from. I learnt more varnams than are usually taught to music students, and many jatisvaras, which are good practice for fast-paced playing.

When you learn a piece that you haven't heard before, teaching yourself from a book, it's different than learning from a teacher. You have to learn the notes, the phrases and the pauses. While phrase groups are indicated in most books, the gamakas are not, unless it is Subbarama Dikshitulu's Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, so you have to figure out which embellishments to use and which notes to combine in a single stroke. If it is a raga you are not familiar with, it gets that much harder to bring it to life and showcase its entity.

When learning from a teacher, you learn a snatch, a cycle of talam at a time, the notes and execution all together. But when you are teaching yourself, you have to learn the notes, memorise them and then learn to play the lyric instead of the notes, playing three or four notes with a single stroke to sound the words. It is a painful and slow process, but you'd have learnt another composition at the end of it, there is that satisfaction.

After a dozen or so compositions learnt from books, I grew bolder and tackled the great trio of svarajatis by Syama Sastry, in Todi, Bhairavi and Yadukula Kambhoji. Of these, my personal favourite is the last, a beautiful piece that is haunting, full of captivating phrases and brilliant scholarship.

I like Syama Sastry's compositions. They are hard to master. The beauty of the phrases and permutations is subtle. Composed a couple of centuries ago and still sounding miraculously fresh, Syama Sastry's oeuvre is a grand mixture of erudition, brilliance and heart-breaking eloquence. The tunes linger, and keep echoing in the head long after the song comes to an end.

Syama Sastry's compositions are wonderful in their rhythmic innovation. His favourite talam seems to have been misra chapu, seven beats with a three/four divide, though he did compose in rupakam and adi too. He composed a few songs in viloma chapu, seven beats with a four/three divide, which is a rare meter. His Sankari Samkuru in Saveri can be rendered in either rupakam or tisra adi, which is rather a difficult composing feat to manage.

After the svarajatis, I tackled the Ananda Bhairavi varnam, in the more demanding beat of ata talam.

Syama Sastry composed two varnams, one in adi talam, in Begada, a complicated raga that I had no hope of mastering untaught, and one in Ananda Bhairavi, a raga I am familiar with, though I wasn't ever taught it by either of my teachers, other than the baby song geetam, that is.

Every student of Carnatic music learns the Ananda Bhairavi geetam 'Kamala Sulochana' and some might learn the svarajati 'Raaveme Maguvaa', but there aren't any varnams in the raga other than this, as far as I know. There are kritis by all major composers in this raga; Syama Sastry's own 'O Jagadamba' and 'Mari Vere Gati Evaramma' being my personal favourites, along with Rama Dasu's 'Paluke Bangaaramaayenaa'.

The phrases I'd played so far formed the first line of the pallavi and the lyric is simple: 'Saamini rammanave' - ask my lord to come. In varnams the libretto is sparse, and a student learns to play libretto clearer than in a geetam or a svarajati.

The identity of the raga is established in the opening phrases, and the composition proceeds serenely. I especially love the muktaayi svara. There are some gems of phrases, startling combinations and beguiling rhythmic intricacies. Throughout the composition, the spirit of Ananda Bhairavi shines through. Like 'Viriboni' in Bhairavi, this varnam is a reference work and a lesson in how to develop the raga.

'Saamini' has an anubandham, which is sung after the charanam and the ettugada svaras. When a varnam has an anubandham, returning to the charanam after executing the anubandham concludes the rendition. But in 'Saamini', the anubandham is followed by a repetition of the muktaayi svara and the piece is concluded by returning to the pallavi. My books inform me that this is a rare thing.

There's a reason why I am going on about this, though. I'd goofed up a few posts ago. I'd loftily stated that Syama Sastry composed only in praise of Kamakshi. Well, the varnam is proof that I was wrong and I am mortified that I forgot a piece I sweated to learn and gloried in learning. 'Saamini' is in praise of Kanchipuram's Varadaraja Swami, you see?

Oh, and the libretto of muktaayi svara and the other ettugada svaras is racy, and states that the lord is great in bed.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blame it on Ogden Nash

To absent toyboys

When fever is high and throat is dry
And lips are cracked in pain,
As I search for calm, a momentary balm
And look for solace in vain,

No text messages or offies, no mails,
There's a dearth, scarcity, a famine
Of solicitous and caring males,
Not a one sent a single line.

My 'flu and my ague, all a result
Of a supposed secondary infection,
Are made much worse by the insult
Of such utter and total rejection.

Nobody wrote or said 'hi',
No 'what's up', how's life', 'how be thou'
You all ignore me, and I sigh.
How starved am I of online love.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Experiments with Strewth!

There are some incidents in our lives that shape our thinking and how we act; they change the way we see things, and turn us into the people we are.

I grew up in a family that didn't swear. As with discovering tea and coffee, I discovered slang and swearing in college. At college, I learnt the stock words and phrases that comprise the vocabulary of collegiate speech, and took to using them myself, if not at home, among my circle of friends.

But I was pulled up short and stopped to think about it once. In those days, I used to be a member of a lending library called Pastime. I used to share cups of tea and chat with the owner. Once, I'd advanced an argument about some book and added the cool phrase, dash it. He took his jeweller's loupe out of his eye (repairing timepieces was his hobby), and looked at me curiously. Why say dash it, Lali, he inquired mildly. Why not say what the dash was about?

I floundered. I had no idea what the dash was about. I was just speaking the language of my peers. He then elucidated that 'dash' was a substituted expletive. (Bleep! I didn't know that.) Saying 'dash it' wasn't any better than saying the curseword or profanity itself, was it, he asked.

Taking recourse to swear words to express irritation or annoyance is something we all do, after all. We swear to shock, we swear for emphasis, too. Our speech is usually peppered with interjections, exclamations and the current cool phrases.

Words that would never be uttered in polite society once are now so common that we don't remember the original taboo on them. Time and mores weaken the sting of some words and phrases, and some fall into disuse and fade from our collective consciousness. There was a time saying 'Od's Blood' was blaspheming, who but readers of medieval literature know the phrase or its meaning now? There was a time when publishers would cut a 'damn' whereas books these days are full of profanities. Words that used to be bleeped out in broadcasts feature as titles of song albums now.

Writers of fantasy novels give authenticity and character to their created worlds by inventing a set of exclamations and expletives for them. Asimov's Elijah Bailey exclaims "Jehoshaphat!" Foundation series characters say "Galaxy!"

Robert Jordan's Nynaeve mutters "Light!" or Mat Cauthon swears "Blood and bloody Ashes!" In that world, 'flaming' is a common expletive.

Anne McCaffrey's dragonriders swear by the First Egg and exclaim "Shards!"

In Watership Down, Fiver effectively grabs the attention of his friends with what to them is a shocking impiety, "Embleer Frith!"

Larry Niven's characters in Integral Trees say 'Treefodder!' and 'Feed it to the tree'. Niven uses the phenomenon of acronyms becoming words and his characters in Known Space novels say 'tanj' (There Ain't No Justice) as an expletive. Also, he speculates that as religion stops being a major force, that there might be a church of Finagle, whose prophet is Murphy.

But after that conversation, I couldn't bring myself to utter casual expletives. So my speech turned mild. But speech needs some interjections, so I developed my own. I say 'good grief' a lot.

From my husband, I picked up saying 'strewth', but not exclaiming 'good Lord'. For an atheist to say 'good Lord' is a bit silly, anyhow. Why bring theoretical places of afterlife into conversation? So I don't say 'hell' or 'good heavens' either. And cured of euphemisms, I don't even say 'heck' and the only time I'd say 'flipping' is when I am talking of omelettes or dosas. As for that good old Anglo-Saxon word which ought to be paid extra every time it is used as an exclamation, interjection and adjective, I think the only time it should be used is between two consenting adults.

Even so, sometimes there arises a need to express oneself forcefully. So I borrow Nanny Ogg's expression and say, "I'll be mogadored!" and it is truth too, as cats do seem to like me.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Dear Makers of Amul Cheese Tins,

You know, I have a can opener. In fact, I have several. More than one, certainly. The one I think of as the can opener has been in the family for some forty years and is doing sterling service still.

Can openers are such a wonderful invention, I must bow to the person who conceived the idea. They don't seem to care about my left-handedness and work equally well if I am turning the lever clockwise or anti-clockwise; they just need to get a bite into the edge, and then it is voila time.

Now, you used to have a nice tin, which it was easy to open thanks to the aforementioned device. And then, perhaps you got the 'improved better new version' bug, you went and started making tins with ring tabs. Hullo, cheese tins aren't beer cans, you know? The weight of the metal sheet and the thickness all differ, don't you know?

I was brought up to be obedient and follow rules and instructions. This morning as I pottered around making breakfast, I took out the new cheese tin and I noticed that you have added a ring tab, as though a cheese tin was a beer can. The helpful instructions printed on it said to pull the tab up towards the rim and then to peel it back.

I obediently inserted my index finger in to the ring and pulled the tab up, no problem, but to pull it back? Did you have Samson and Hercules and other strongmen in mind when you decided to go for this? Do you think the superhuman strength mothers display to pull their children out from under cars or whatever carries over to opening a tin of cheese?

I acquired a gash, thin and not immediately bleeding as such, on the first phalanx of my index finger before it occured to me that I could use my can opener as usual. But my assumption of Herculean might had lifted the top of the cover in a few uneven chunks. So after I wielded my trusty can opener, the top still wouldn't come off, it was being held down by slivers and twists of metal.

Usually, my can opener runs its lovely course round the edge of the tin and I insert the tip of a knife and lever the top open. Today I had to get my pliers which also cut metal to do the job. But before I got to that point, I already had three what in cruciverbal speak would be: Delicate fabric shares wounds (11) lacerations, bleeding freely on my thumb, two on other fingers.

I know it is only one finger out of ten, but if it weren't for our opposable thumbs we humans wouldn't be what we are. I know too, I am left-handed, so a cut up right thumb doesn't sound like a disaster. But have you considered that no matter handedness, most tasks need two- handed operation?

If it was one cut I could have stuck a Band-Aid on it. Gritting one's teeth and carrying on is what people do after all. But, dear Makers of Amul Cheese Tins, multiple lacerations meant that I could not dress the cut. Cuts. Whatever. How many spot Band-Aids can a thumb take, after all?

I abandoned grating cheese, anyhow. And then I abandoned the notion of cooking with any vegetable that needs peeling since you know, peeling requires using a thumb to guide the blade and all that, and my thumb wasn't up to it.

Even cooking innocuous Dal Palak or stir-fried okra was fraught. Did you ever consider the phrase adding salt to wounds? It hurts. And consider adding a twist of lemon to a dish. Do you know what the juice of a lemon does to a cut?

But, dear Makers of Amul Cheese Tins, what hurt most was this: as I bled and tried to stop the bleeding and open your tin at the same time, I dripped blood on surfaces; of the pliers, the can opener, my chopping board, the tin and into the tin. There is no way, no amount of scraping off the top that will suffice, that I can bring myself to eat cheese from that tin.

Please, could you see your way to making tins the way you used to? I am a vegetarian, you see?


Thursday, March 08, 2007

My lady's chamber

Lace re-worked in suit by couple having love and money without sex appeal (12, 3, 2, 7)* A clue with no definition, by Araucaria.

When you wake up at three thirty in the morning, the world is a quiet place. There is a pleasant chill in the air and the dawn chorus hasn't started yet. I step into the balcony with my cup of tea and gaze at the silent street and yellow pools of light. There are a few stars in the strips of sky visible through the trees and the bars of the grill.

Five thirty here is midnight GMT, this I know. Then I can go and download the latest crossword and get my daily fix. I wonder why everything becomes an obsession for me. Italicised is idealistic, I smile to myself. I love anagrams.

I wonder what happens to a person's email account in the event of death? Will the inbox fill up overflow? And then what? Will there be notifications sent? Won't they add to the clutter in the inbox? Will I get many mails today? Will there be a note from the latest pal? Will I feel disappointed if there isn't?

I wonder why a room is ghar in Bengali and why it means home or house in Hindi. The Sanskrit version is griha which means a chamber for a specific purpose doesn't it? Goosey, goosey gander, whither shall I wander? Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber. Why do the maids call the bedroom boudir ghar, it belongs to him too, after all.

I live my life online and in my head. Inside me, there is a world that is brighter, more vibrant and gentler than the real one. Am I a different person than what I seem to others? Which is the real me, what people perceive or what I am in my thoughts or what I write?

Some intrepid and zealous morning jogger passes, pounding the pavement. He crosses without bothering to check for traffic. I tsk, tsk. True, there is no traffic, but still it's a bad habit not to stop and check for traffic.

I wonder if that elderly gentleman still goes on his morning walk. Does he wonder what happened to me, that woman who he used to exchange smiles with? Does that big Alsatian look for me as he wrenches his mistress' arm out of the socket as he plunges ahead, sniffing, sniffing and reading the news of the day in a world of smells?

Perhaps I should join a gym again. Go and meet more people, interact with the world a little more than I do. But then I'd get into those arguments with trainers again and that's aggravation I can do without. Best stick to the routine I already have.

Hmm, that clue doesn't seem any closer to solution even after a night's sleep. Araucaria is so crafty. I must look up rivers and read a bit on triolets; there might be a glimmer there. One across is proving tough. What am I missing?

I miss Madras and the early morning sounds of milk boilers whistling. I miss Suprabhatam but silence is nice too. There is an early bird, tuning up for the day. Too early for the magpie robin, though. They seem to be late-risers. I wonder if I can spot one today. Are mediums late-risers, is there a clue there? Perhaps.

The watch chimes the hour. I take a last look at the quiet world and turn to go in. I have to wake my son now.


*Acceleration due to gravity

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Missus Em is miffed

There is already a file by the name 'xyz' and are you sure you want to replace it, my computer asks me every once in a while. Yeah, yeah, I grumble, I know I want to. It used to be worse, until a kind friend taught me how to change settings and reduce the annoyance of the mouse pointer always landing on 'no' as if making my mind up for me. That made my hackles rise, every time.

Windows is what I am used to, and Word is what I compose these deathless posts with, but there are some annoyances that rankle.

"Come on, I know what I am saying," I mutter as Word's spelling and grammar check suggests that I might want to consider 'lesson' where I typed 'lessen'. It also suggests, on occasion, that I ought to replace 'their' with 'there's' or that a sentence is too long and worse.

When I once wrote, 'Chat enables us to converse, and our personalities are revealed, common interests are found that much sooner', spell-check suggested changing it to 'Chat enables our personalities and us to converse'. Honest.

As an Indian, I use a lot of words, italicised or otherwise, that aren't found in Word's vocabulary. Fair enough. But its suggestions for Hathi, for instance, are heath, hatch, hat, hate, hats and heaths but not hath, which I ought to replace with hat, hatch hate, hats or hash, I am told. It even suggests that I change 'that aren't' to 'those aren't' or 'that isn't'.

If you doubt it, here is a spell-checked version of Jabberwocky, some words surviving only because there were no suggestions on offer:

'Twas brisling, and the stilly toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wade;
All missy were the borogoves,
And the mom rates outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwocky, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujube bird, and shun
The furious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the Manxmen foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought

And as in offish thought he stood,

The Jabberwocky, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffing through the bulgy wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hats thou slain the Jabberwocky?

Come to my arms, my bearish boy!
O frabjous day! Callow! Chalet!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brisling, and the stilly toes

Did gyre and gamble in the wade;
All missy were the borogoves,
And the mom rates outgrabe.

This is so routine that usually I click the "Ignore' button and go on, but on some days everything nettles. Yesterday was one such.

There were exactly two open counters in the bank and one manned by a rookie, since most personnel seemed to have taken a day off to recover from celebrating Holi and/or to fret about Madhyamik exams of their progeny. Word doesn't like the word Madhyamik, it tells me. Too bad, it can like it or lump it.

The real reason why I am annoyed, irritated, nettled, peeved, riled and more is something else. The Monday Blues. In spades, too. I come home after the bank irritation, library blues where no book enticed and think that there is always salvation. There are always crosswords, right? Wrong.

The first Monday of the month and the Genius puzzle, eagerly awaited: it is Araucaria, and a delicious twist of transliteration into Italian, where W is U, X is S, Y is I, J is G or GI and K is CH or C. Lovely, I say, rubbing my hands in glee.

This is the Genius puzzle, after all, so I print it out, rather than hubristically trying to solve it online with the interactive version. As I read the clues and the solutions leap up, I giggle happily, as this is Araucaria and at his best.

But. I like crossword grids the way they are. The symmetry and the blank squares are what make them charming.

Now this miracle of a crossword, this cup of forgetfulness I was looking forward to partake of and get over my day's irritations with, this month's Genius puzzle turns out to be, for the first time, a barred grid. I violently dislike barred grid crosswords.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sleep, baby, sleep

There are some things you share only with your spouse, and then there are some things you don't share even with your spouse, not until years later, reminiscing about walking the baby.

When you are walking the baby singing lullabies, going over and over the ones you grew up with, adding verses to them out of sheer desperation; when you are exhausted and counting minutes until you can wake your spouse and hand over duty with the clear conscience of two hours of the task attempted- which is getting the baby to fall asleep- you don't want to confess that you felt like shaking the baby and muttering 'sleep, willya', not even to your spouse, who is feeling as fragile as you are, anyhow.

Believe me, take this as gospel from someone who's been there; marry somebody who speaks the same language, it goes easier when you sing lullabies. Because when spouse takes over and songs change, baby gets interested and lies awake luxuriating in new sounds and takes even longer to fall asleep.

We have all been through it, and in case you are thinking of sniggering and saying you are unwed, let me tell you, you will go through it, sooner or later, unless you have sworn to remain single, or not start a family.

When we lived in caves and huddled for safety in cowering groups behind the shelter of a fire, perhaps lullabies were nothing more than grunted or crooned pleas to the infant to sleep, fall silent, let the tribe be safe.

But lullabies have been there through the ages, to sooth a fussing baby and we all sing lullabies as we rock the baby to sleep. Hushabye, baby, we all beg, implore and plead with the little bundle of uncaring, awake alertness.

Depending on the singers' abilities and invention, lullabies grow. In the west, 'Bye, baby bunting, father's gone ahunting', the somewhat sinister 'Rockabye baby, on the tree top,' 'Frere Jacques' and others are famous.

In Carnatic music, Nilambari is suited to sing lullabies. There are well-known lullabies from films in many languages, and old folk music of all languages in India has a few lullabies. In families too, there are lullabies handed down from mothers and aunts that we learn and sing to our own children.

As a baby, my son used to sleep perfectly happily as long we were pacing up and down, singing to him, and would wake and start fussing the moment he was set down in his cot. I learnt a set of lullabies from my mother and aunt, and I crooned them to my son as he trained us to walk him through the night.

In my experience of walking babies to sleep, I found reciting my notes on lectures about clinical psychology worked like a charm with my first baby nephew; I think he fell asleep out of sheer boredom. My son was made of sterner stuff, and would wake up the moment the drone of the song stopped.

Thinking about lullabies in my family, this is the one I remember best:

'Jodu maamidi PaLLu dooraana galavu' Twin mangoes on a far away tree.
dooraanunchi tethurE paapa maamallu' And baby, your uncles will bring them for thee.
'Abbaayi maamallu etuvanti vaaru?' What sort of uncles doth the baby have?
'Anchu panchela vaaru, angeela vaaru' Of gold- edged dhotis and vests, they are.
'Chevi cheviki chaareDesi pogulla vaaru' Of huge hoops in both ears, that's how rich they are.

There used to be another line here, but I can't for the life of me recall what it was.

At about the time Chenthil wrote about lullabies, by coincidence, I was elucidating a lullaby by C Narayana Reddy to a friend who was Telugu but didn't have much familiarity with the classical Telugu references. It is a film song, apparently, but I have been out of touch with movies for so long that it was new to me. I enjoyed elucidating, and I hope you will too:

'vatapatra saayiki varahaala laali
raajeeva netruniki ratanaala laali'

This is a nice beginning, the coins and gems are mentioned to suggest the preciousness of the child. Most lullabies have rich images, for that reason. Vatapatra saayi is Vishnu after the PraLayam, end of the world and before the beginning of the next cycle. He is depicted as an infant, floating on the ocean on a banyan leaf, sucking his big toe.

'Rajeeva netra' is not an adjective I'd have chosen, but I suppose I shouldn't quibble about it, as lotus-eyed was the only thing that would fit the meter and befit the second half. 'Ratnaalu' is gems in general, so it goes well with the coins mentioned in the first line.

'muripaala krishnuniki mutyaala laali
jagamelu swamiki pagadaala laali'

'Muripemu' means gaiety, fondling, caressing, and grace. Muripemu and pearls were used together by several poets in the classics, so CNR is following tradition here. Notice the mention of marine treasures here, pearls and corals. Again, there is the suggestion of how precious the child is.

'kalyaana raamuniki Kausalya laali
yadu vamsa vibhuniki Yashoda laali'

This is where the real beauty of the song begins, the list of mothers down the ages, and each reinforces the depth of love the singer feels for the child. The usage kalyaana is touching, since Kausalya would have been rocking the infant Rama, and dreaming big dreams for his future. But the 'yadu vamsa vibhudu' is ironic, as Krishna was never king, he was the youngest son. But he was certainly a leading light of his clan.

'kari raaja mukhuniki giri tanaya laali
paramaamsha bhavanuki paramaatma laali'

This time the poignancy is in the usage kari raaja mukha. This recalls the tale, of the beheading of Ganesa and the grief it caused Parvati. A mother cradling her child after an accident is the most fiercely protective thing in nature, after all. 'Bhava' is another name for Shiva and the devotion Shiva and Vishnu had for each other is beyond respect or worship. They are two aspects of creation and the universe, and they are indivisible. And this signals the end of the list of mothers.

'alamelupatiki annamayya laali
kodanda raamuniki gopayya laali'

Here CNR starts listing the devotees who sang for their gods, and easily the most prolific of them was Tallapaaka Annamayya. He sang 'Jo achyutaananda jo jo mukundaa', the most famous Telugu lullaby ever, for his lord Venkateswara. And Bhadrachala Ramadasu, whose real name was Gopanna, was another who sang several lullabies to his Rama.

'syaamalaanguniki syamayya laali
aagamanutuniki tyaagayya laali'

Syama Sastry wrote only in praise of Kamakshi; to use 'syaamalaangunaki' and mention Syama Sastry is a bit lame. I'd have said Kshetrayya, and while Kshetrayya never wrote a lullaby, he wrote exclusively on Muvva Gopala, so it would have been more apt. Tyaagaraaja, of course, wrote lovely lullabies for Rama.

Even in this age of musical mobiles over cribs playing Brahms Lullaby and recorded music, babies will fuss and parents will sing, and lullabies will evolve and change and yet remain the same, a means of bonding with the baby. Now sleep willya, baby, for pity's sake?


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