lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pencilled in

I am vexed; irritated, miffed and nettled, too. I know I tend to get annoyed at silly things, but the pencils are the last straw in a day filled with irritants.

Don't snigger, I use pencils. All right, snigger if you want to. Yes, I know I am not a mother of a schoolboy any more and that there are oodles of kinds of pens to be had out there, but I use pencils. I have my reasons.

I print prize puzzles to solve at leisure; they can't be solved in one sitting, anyway. Now it is arrogant and silly to start filling the solutions in ink, when you aren't sure of them. What if you fill in a provisional solution in ink and have to change it later? How many times will you overwrite before it looks a right mess and you have to print the puzzle again? It makes sense to use a pencil then.

I always have a notepad nearby, to jot down thoughts and ideas, phone numbers or messages, or a list of things to do the next day. This pad is where I arrange my daily life.

I use the notepad for poems too. While I jot down post ideas or thoughts with a pen, I use a pencil for the poems. Don't laugh, it makes sense. When you are fiddling with the order of words or lines, when you are dithering over a word, wondering if it sounds right, it's simpler to use a pencil.

Even if you space the lines wide, how many crossings out, over-writings or writing above or below will it be before the whole thing is a thorough mess and you can't make sense of the lines anymore? So I work with a pencil. It helps too when I am translating. I write down the original stanza by stanza, leaving a six or seven line gap in between to fill in the translation. If I worked with a pen it won't be long before I'd have to use another page and start all over again.

And for some reason, my handwriting is always neater and more legible when I write with a pencil. Give me a pen and I will write you a scrawl.

It's my bit for the planet, too. I don't know how many trees make a notepad, but if I can manage a poem on a single sheet of paper by using a pencil, I'd rather do that than waste some three or four because I was using a pen. This is the reason why I print on both sides of a paper, too. Crosswords and such trivial pursuits ought not to consume much of our precious resources, so even if flipping back and forth is inconvenient, I prefer to do that than waste an entire side of a paper by leaving it blank.

Maybe this is my upbringing. We were repeatedly admonished not to waste things, to stretch things and make them last. Things were recycled; clothes were handed down, bed sheets became slipcovers became kitchen towels became dusters became floor mops until they became tatters and imaginative uses were found for those, too. We conserved things. Built-in obsolescence is an obscenity to me.

We were trained to turn switches off before leaving a room, close a tap tight, conserve water (Madrasis can give lessons in water discipline to Frank Herbert's Fremen, ha); save, reuse, preserve, conserve was the mantra dinned into us. Perhaps this is why the hijacking of the adjective conservative incenses me. The original meaning of the word was being careful of resources and managing them well.

All right, rant over. To get back to my grouse: pencils.

Mothers of school-going children know all about pencils; how they keep getting lost, misplaced, stolen, taken off by a bully, whatever. What they never get is worn down to a stub. They seem to get sucked into some black hole before they get half way used. I remember writing with pencils that were almost too small to get a decent grip on. But these days, pencils never last that long.

Maybe it is shoddy manufacture, maybe nobody cares but these days, pencil points keep breaking after you reach a third of the way down the length. It doesn't matter the make, brand or company. I've tried all sorts. My current crop of pencils is Steadtler, but no matter who make them, the points break off as you sharpen them once they become shorter.

I know what I am talking about, okay? I've just spent some ten minutes trying to sharpen a pencil. Any pencil. I have three Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 2Bs in front of me, of varying lengths, the shortest being three inches and a half (yes, I measured them). Not one of them will take a point. I sharpen them, and the points keep breaking off.

I have the Times Crossword Club Monthly to solve, some cryptic clues I am trying to compile in Telugu, a poem I am working on and the pencils won't get sharp. Why? Is this a conspiracy to aggravate me?



Blogger anantha said...

One thinks of a compromise. You won't use a pen and you wont let go of your pencil. So let me suggest a cross-dresser. It stays sharp all the time - The Mechanical Pencil (Drumrolls!!!!)

7:26 pm  
Anonymous Non Sequitur Man said...

Another simple solution would be to use a laptop and the other Notepad. Of course, this makes a larger carbon imprint than what a pencil might leave on milady's fingertips. What you gain on the swings... etc.

8:28 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

You are using sketching pencils Lali. Change to harder graphite and you won't have to rant like this. Did you lay them on for the sketching toyboy, by the way?

10:14 pm  
Blogger Raj said...

The whoke thing about pencils is that.... forget it, its' pointless.

10:26 pm  
Blogger dipali said...

Sympathies, Lali. The joy of a good pencil.......ah! I remember pinching my father's V.Perumall Chetty pencils as a child, and that they were wonderful.
Mechanical pencils don't have the right grip or feel, somehow.

12:05 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Anantha- Sigh. Kid, you just don't get the point. Those mechanical thingies keep breaking too.

NSM- That's carbon footprint, dear heart. I'd rather have these minor irritations than feel guilty about wasting resources trivially.

Ash- I didn't know they were sketching pencils, okay? I bought them because I dislike the black and red pencils on offer, or the yellow ones. These were a nice blue. And no, I didn't buy them with the toyboy in mind.

Raj- I did warn readers that I was going to post pointlessly, you know. What else can you expect? Why am I trying to justify the post? Forget it, you got it in one.

Dipali- I wish I could remember brand names like you do, lady. And right you are about the mechanical pencils not feeling right in the grip.

9:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Give me a pen and I will write you a scrawl." Here's a pen Lali. Scrawl something for me.

Talk about shoes and ships and sealing wax next.

Secret admirer

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliant. Although I prefer ink pens myself, I can so relate to your pencil rant.

4:02 am  
Blogger Sivaram said...

A group of people copied out the entire book "To Kill a Mockingbird" using only one pencil !

Do visit :

But yes, I too use pencils, and prefer wooden ones, and the tip keeps breaking, right in the sharpener.

11:37 am  
Blogger Chimera said...

I do not like the sharp tones the mechanical pencils make, as if they are snickering at their wooden counterparts about their sharpness becoming blunt with time- but what it doesn't know is that is where the beauty of the writing lies.

2:30 pm  
Blogger Alien said...

I could say that about ink pens..

btw have u ben dropping ur pencils around or chewing on them??

1:05 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Anon- @#$!%&! Here, my scrawl for you.

Anon2- Um, do you mean proper fountain pens? Sigh.

Sivaram- Trust you to come up with interesting info. Will check the link right away. :-)

Chimera- Heh. 'The beauty of writing lies' inspires me. Off I go to write some lies. Seriously though, you are right. There is something that makes writing with a pencil more real than writing with a pen.

Alien- Chewing on pencils is a bad habit, ET. :-)

7:41 am  
Anonymous rajesh said...

qpmlukj Lali, have a heart. Turn word verification off please. Nice post. But you are slacking off, aren't you? new post ASAP or I will call you Auntie again.

11:32 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rajesh- geddpbcz. It stays. I am not slacking off. Don't threaten me, child, it has no effect.

5:49 pm  
Anonymous Vanchinathan said...

First time visitor here.
Just curious about your attempts with Telugu crossword. (I can understand something like 30% of telugu as spoken in chennai. But otherwise illiterate)
I am very bad at solving cryptic puzzles in English. Someone suggested taking a bunch of puzzles along with solutions to study them, analyse them etc. I did that. It did not make me a better solver, but ended up learning how to make a puzzle in my mother tongue.
Would be happy to know of your experiences in compiling.

7:16 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Vanchinathan- Hi and welcome. I just compile clues, I haven't ever managed to do a complete symmetrical grid as yet. It is just that, English is in some ways an easier language to play crosswords. Indic languages have phonetic script, and that's a large-ish hurdle for clue-setting. Did you notice that most crosswords in Indic languages tend not to be symmetrical grids?

The only way to solve cryptics is to keep at them, and try to figure out how the solution was arrived at the next day, if you haven't cracked it. Believe me, after some two decades of it, I still get flummoxed occasionally.

Do drop in again.

7:30 pm  
Anonymous vanchinathan said...

I've been reading your posts for some time and the
cryptic clues you cite are almost always difficult;
They are way ahead of the clues in the newspaper I get to see in Chennai (Business STandard is one newspaper that gives tough puzzles, but I get see that paper once a month or so).
A tough clue I found there two years ago was
(whic I did not solve:-( ) :
Top scientist converting time into energy (7)

About Tamil puzzles, now I have manged to live with symmetric grids (exclusively). But the major trouble is setting a reasonably challenging puzzle. This is where the phonetic system is biassed---in the sense that it makes it easy for solvers. If the reader
solves 1ac. as, say, "vankaay" she gets too much clue for 1dn, as it starts with "va". In English it would have been just "v".

9:35 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Vanchinathan- I cite the toughest clues I solved, yes. And that 'va' or 'vankaay' dilemma says it all. Our script adds vowels to consonants. It means we have to think of vowel plus consonan, unlike compilers of English cryptic clues who only have to think about punning extravagantly.

10:19 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

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