lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On poetry

You need the tumultuous experience of lovemaking before you can undress the subject word by word, make love to the idea and get intimate; first with subtle caresses and considered words; then with ardour like surf on high tide, words pouring out because you have it, because you are there.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Readers of Larking ought to give heartfelt thanks to The Telegraph, Calcutta. Really, I mean it. There I was, thinking through a serious post about how global warming relegated more serious issues and crises to the backburners.

I was going to tell you that overpopulation is a major worry in our present resource-starved world, and how governments are ignoring it. I had done research, come to conclusions and thought of solutions.

I was going to tell you that colonising space, mining the solar system are urgent needs of the day. I was going to tell you how world governments should pass fertility laws and control birthrates, how these laws should be enforced. I was going to tell you that reproducing should not be a right, but an earned privilege; that people with inherited diseases, incurable disorders mustn't be permitted to pass their genes on. I was going to tell you what problems might arise in implementing these laws and how to solve them.

I was going to rant about how we have plundered the planet and are edging close to a violent end, and how it would be a good riddance- there would arise other species that can thrive in the havoc we've wrought on the world; Earth goes on regardless. I was going to tell you that HIV and avian flu are nature's way of fighting back and ridding herself of pesky humans.

But The Telegraph came to your rescue.

In August I wrote about post ideas and how they are forgotten even if jotted down, and mentioned a post I was going to do on earworms. They must have read that. In September I wrote a guest post on SelAm, and talked about advertising jingles and earworms. They must have read that too.

They must have done the same research I did too, to quote James Kellaris. Well, we can all Google. Their supplement t2 doesn't seem to be available online. The paper version has a last page very wittily called Backpage, which has a feature, Funspace. They don't believe in spaces, clearly.

Today's Backpage and Funspace carried an article with the headline "Always on my mind" about earworms, quoting Kellaris' research. About earworms and advertising jingles, snatches of music that lodge themselves into the brain and refuse to vacate; ring tones, even though I think that is rather improbable.

What Missus Em thought three months ago, The Telegraph considers today. I rather expect they will carry an article about imposing fertility laws and controlling population in three months' time.

Somebody in their offices obviously follows my blog.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The many uses of toyboys

"Why is everybody busy when I want to talk," I grumbled. Really, it's so unfair. It was imperative that I spend some time on the phone and nobody was available.

One friend was commuting and I could barely hear her over the traffic noise. I can hear plenty of horns out of my window; I don't need them from her phone too. Another didn't answer. I said a few unladylike things. A third was busy. Another was either switched off or unreachable.

I sighed and turned to my toyboys. I can rely on them to talk a while and amuse me. Ha! The first didn't answer. What is the world coming to? I called the Non Resident Mathematician. He didn't answer either, sigh.

Well, I could change the wallpaper and some settings on the phone then. Or send nasty text messages to these cruel lot. I was in the middle of composing a pithy message telling him what I thought of his insensitivity when the Non Resident Mathematician called back.

'Sorry, I was at the gym, " he said. "What is it? Why did you call?" I told him. He laughed. We chatted some five minutes and my purpose was achieved. I thanked him and rang off.

The next day the other toyboy called. "I was with some people," he explained. "Was it something important?" I said it was last night, but that it didn't matter now. "I called back later, but your phone was switched off."

I know, I said. "Tell me now," he said. I said I had needed to talk a while, but that was all right, I talked to my toyboy, it is okay, really.

"What do you mean you talked to your toyboy? I am your toyboy, dammit!" I clarified that I talked to the other toyboy. He sulked.

"Why did you need to talk? Why didn't you call again and talk to me?" I said it didn't matter, I just needed to talk to someone.

"About what, for heaven's sake?"

Nothing in particular, I said. I explained why I needed to talk to someone. "You are crazy, Lali," he declared flatly and hung up.

I was gobsmacked. I'd been charging my phone before the battery actually ran low all last week, as I needed to keep in touch and coordinate things. The indicator was showing minimal charge, but not the message. So I needed to talk until the 'battery low' message beeped before I charged my phone. That was all.

It is strange how people get offended when they hear the truth.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The impossible virgin

No, this is not a post about Modesty Blaise novels, though I am a fan. The impossible virgin I am considering is Ahalya. Now, virgin is only one of the meanings of the word kanya, but it is irresistible, so sue me.

There are five women celebrated as the pancha kanya in Indian literature and oral tradition;

అహల్యా ద్రౌపదీ సీతా
తారా మండోదరీ తథా
పంచకన్యాః స్మరే న్నిత్యం
మహాపాతక నాశనం
(ahalyaa draupadee seetaa taaraa manDOdaree tathaa panchakanyaa smarE nnityam mahaapaataka naaSanam)

is a well known sloka, and Ahalya is the first of these five. If you consider the names and their stories, you have to wonder why they were designated. My own feeling is that it wasn't for virtue or chastity, for those change according to times and mores, but for their fortitude and strength of character and how they influenced events around them. Another thing to note is that with the exception of Draupadi, the other four are all characters from Ramayana.

In fairness, I must tell you there is a version of the sloka that counts Kunti as one ofthe five maidens named, and please thank me for not saying more about it (I dislike Kunti anyway). I am going to hold forth about other things.

Most of us know the story of Ahalya. Let me give a quick recap:

In Valmiki Ramayana, Vishvamitra narrated the story of Ahalya to Rama when they reached the sage Gautama's hermitage and Rama wondered why it was deserted. Indra came to Ahalya in the guise of her husband the sage Gautama. Although she knew it wasn't her husband, in her vanity, and because she was curious, because she was flattered by the attention, she let him seduce her. Gautama encountered Indra leaving the hermitage and cursed him to lose his testicles. He cursed Ahalya to be invisible to atone for her vanity, and live on air, until she was released from the curse by Rama's advent and left. Rama entered the hermitage, she was released from the curse, and Gautama took her back as his wife.

That is the bare-bones tale in Valmiki Ramayana.

There are many variations and embellishments added to the story in retelling. Each version of Ramayana written has another little snippet to add to the story. Considering that there are versions of Rama's story in Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Bhutan and Sri Lanka; considering there are Jataka tales, Jain and Buddhist versions of the epic, vernacular translations, it is no wonder the story got embroidered.

The curse varies according to the version. Ahalya turns invisible, into a boulder or becomes dust. And in addition, she is cursed that her beauty will no longer be unique. Indra, on the other hand, has his testicles dropping off (necessitating what was probably the first transplant surgery, when the devas bestowed upon him the testicles of a ram); or is cursed that he shall have a thousand phalluses or vulvas all over his body (later mitigated to a thousand eyes), and has to forever fear for his position as the chief of devas.

Padma Purana says Ahalya became petrified, Adhyatma Ramayana says Gautama cursed her to be a boulder. There is mention of Ahalya's adultery in Kama Sutra, referring to Indra as ahalyaa jaara. More about that later.

In several versions Indra crows like a rooster so that Gautama, thinking it was dawn, goes to his ablutions and then Indra beds Ahalya.

In Kathasaritsagara, Indra turns himself into a cat as Gautama returns to the hermitage. When questioned by Gautama as to who entered their abode, Ahalya replies quite truthfully 'eso thiyo khu majjara'. (Esah stitah khalu majjaara, it was a cat that stood there) Kathasaritsagara was written in Prakrit, where 'majjara' is a distortion of 'marjaara', a cat, and 'ma + jaara' means my lover, too.

Apart from this interesting tidbit, Vettam Mani mentions how Ahalya was foster mother to Vali and Sugriva, but I am puzzled why he cites her as a princess of the Puru dynasty.

There is more about Ahalya's tale in the uttarakanda of Ramayana, which is a later addition to the epic solely to deify Rama. (Some scholars think even balakanda is a later addition.) Brahma created her as a paragon of beauty.

In the eighteenth century erotic classic ahalyaa sankrandanam, Samukham Venkata Krishnappa describes with great humour the arguments that broke out among the sages and devas in Indra's court as they tried to decide who among the celestial maidens was the most beautiful. The passage reads like a stag party. They asked Brahma to adjudicate. Brahma stated that all of the apsaras had some fault or other, and created Ahalya as a faultless beauty.

హలం నామేహ వైరూప్యం హల్యం త త్ప్రభవం భవేత్
యస్యా న విద్యతే హల్యం తే నాహల్యేతి విశ్రుతాః
(halam naa mE ha vairoopyam ta tprabhavam bhavEt
yasyaa na vidyatE halyam tE naahalyEti viSrutaa)

Halam, apart from being a plough, means distortion, defect or crookedness. Halyam is that which is distorted or in the case of a field, that which is ploughed. Ahalya is she who is without any defects. Though all devas desired her, Brahma bestowed Ahalya as handmaiden to the sage Gautama. She was later given in marriage to him. In Ananda Ramayana it is said that Gautama circumambulated a calving cow and thus earned the merit of circumambulating the three worlds, and won Ahalya's hand.

The story can be viewed from many angles. I am not going to dwell on the patriarchal societies, or feminist viewpoints. I am not going to talk about temptation or fall from grace and virtue, and redemption; all these have been done before, by others.

In taittiriya and brihadaranyaka upanishads there are invocations to Indra addressing him as ahalyaayai jaara. Ahalya means several things. The clearest is, a tract that can not be cultivated, land that cannot be ploughed, wilderness, soil unsuited to cultivation and, (sigh), and saline tract. Indra, as chief of devas is the lord of rains and thunder, and seasons. So the liaison is allegory of land being made arable and fertile. Thus is Indra ahalyaa jaara.

Indra's seduction of Ahalya is night being overtaken by sunrise. Aha means daylight, aha rliyatE syaam and so on, and hence Indra is called Ahalya's paramour, says Kumaarila Bhatta, in his commentary. Yet another explanation of that invocation is that Ahalya is vaak, that is sound, and Indra, one who conjoins vowels and consonants into coherent speech.

Whether viewed as allegory or just a tale, Ahalya's story caught the fancy of many poets. Apart from ahalyaa sankrandanam, there are several other retellings of the story, often with further detail. As times and moral climate changed, Ahalya was made an innocent victim, not a willing adulteress. In most Ramayanas in Telugu, Ahalya is a victim of deception, but in Ranganatha Ramayana, she bore Vali and Sugriva to Indra and Surya and bestowed her favours freely and was a serial adulteress.

When we were discussing this, chastity and virtue and social mores, Chenthil told me that in Kamba Ramayana Ahalya was portrayed as a victim of Indra's deception. He also said that the tale has been extended in a different viewpoint by a modern Tamil author. I demanded a translation, pronto, so I can have one more Ahalya tale, and this promises to be a cracker. How many authors can conceive of Ahalya turning back to stone in disgust after she hears that Rama made Sita undergo an ordeal by fire? Your turn, Chenthil.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge

It is over.

I stare at the message and wonder why you chose to send it.

I am not deaf or blind, I'd known it was over for sometime now. Your voice body language growing distance said as much in the last few weeks. I knew it when you shifted uncomfortably when I sat close. I knew it when you didn't smile when they played our song. I knew it when your calls grew short and letters shorter.

Why would you send this message? I am not stupid, I protested once, when you teased me about something. You tweaked my nose and said no, I wasn't stupid, just silly sometimes. There is a message in the message, then.

You could have told me face to face, when we met last when I bit your shoulder when you moved away and slept out of my encircling arms. I had known. You could have spoken but you just left.

You don't want me to call or mail or send you messages. You don't want me to ask questions. You don't want to explain. I did send some mails last week, left messages that you didn't respond to, made calls you didn't answer. Now this. You are telling me to leave you alone; it is over, and that is that. You could have spoken words. You didn't.

I won't cry over this. I knew you would leave some day, I didn't know you would leave like this, with this terse message. It is over. I won't call. Not now. I won't write. No silly messages with private jokes, our private endearments and pet names. Not now. When love is over, all that is left is pride. I will cling to it.

My thoughts swirl and images form in my mind that threaten to overwhelm me. I bite my lip. I picture you deleting my name from your contact lists, my number from your phone. Will you erase all traces of me? Will you read once again all those hours of chats before you delete them and those hundreds of mails, excising me from your life?

You can delete me from your life, can you delete me from your memories? Can you forget that scented evening when we walked arms around each other? It was cool. I shivered and you wrapped me in a bear hug. Can you forget that? Won't the surf and sands of that beach where we first met evoke me the next time you walk that path with another? Will I be a stranger when we run into each other?

There was a time when we thought incessantly of each other and lived for the moments we met. It is done with, but can you wipe those memories away? Won't a thought of me cross your mind when you hear our song?

I blink my tears away and delete your message. You won't forget me that easily.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Doing nothing with an immense success

You are being boringly good, I complained to my toyboy. He was unmoved. Come on, go out and find a girl to dance with, I chided. He laughed and said he was working, studying even. I sighed. He is turning into a workaholic.

As I rang off, I stopped to consider my situation. What do I do? Nothing. But as Kipling says, doing 'nothing with an immense success' is what I am good at. So I suppose I am thriving. There are many things I am not going to write about.

There's Paul's crossword on Thursday, with a sly twist, where the solutions were anagrams of a one-word clue and an anagram indicator. Wand? (5,4) Disease?(7,6) Acts? (4, 6) Satchmo? (7,5), and so on. False dawn, seaside resort, cast adrift, and stomach upset; but who cares or wants to read about it, eh?

There's Brendan's offering on Friday, of authors and books. I could do a post called 'one for the books' or 'author, author'. It is not an easy thing to compile a puzzle so that each of the twenty-six solutions is an author's name or a title. I won't write about it.

There is the question why I bother with the poetry blog at all, considering I haven't posted a poem in more than two months. Well, it was supposed to be where I published my old stuff, but the old stuff seems pathetic and so on and so forth, alas. So I won't write about it.

I could write a pro bono publico post to educate poor misguided individuals who use multiple exclamation marks about the redundancy of it, or hold forth about ellipses again. Don't use those three dots if you don't know what they stand for, I could say. But I won't.

There's my eternal grouse, that of any blogger, about comments. I would be in a state of panic if some hundred people commented on anything I wrote, to tell you the truth, but it makes a nice dream and an item for a wish list if I ever get silly enough to compile one. There is the wish list post, too. Of all the things I want but can't get my hands on, of all the things I wish I could do and more. I am not going to write that either.

There's the matter of unsent letters, too. Letters I wrote and never mailed, either by snail-mail or the other option. The letter to Tabitha King, for instance, after I read One on One. I really ought to mail her. Or post it on the blog. But I won't.

There's the gnashing of teeth when I read bloggers who talk about their personal lives in excruciating, nauseating detail, too. But I am a nice person, so I exit the blog, never go back and leave it at that. I won't write about it.

There's the choice of writing an open letter to all the people I am playing Scrabble with on facebook. Dear people I play Scrabble on facebook with, I don't mind losing. I lose most of the time, actually. I mind having inactive games. I mind having to nudge you and plead with you to make your word. Just play your turn, will you? But I won't write that either.

I am refraining from writing about any of these things. I am not even going to crow about solving today's weekly Prize puzzle by Araucaria in one go, and online. Like Kim, I am going to revel in doing nothing with an immense success. I am going to bed.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

The eyes have it

There is something in Dirk Gently's theory of fundamental interconnectedness of everything, I mused as I searched among my music. It began with my lending library. And the kind assistant who pointed out a book I might want to read. And one thing led to another.

I am indebted to Edward Luce, really. I was so irritated by his assertion that the Grand Trunk Road bisected the country north to south that I read Kim again. Kipling is an author you can read again and again, especially the Jungle Book.

That led to musing about idiom and how it gets exotic in translation. That led to Rafi and a lovely song. Call me a maudlin idiot, but I am a sucker for Rafi and love songs. But what reminded me of Rafi and his immortal songs is an interesting thing. Ever tried to free-associate reading Kipling, have you? I have.

It is a miracle how Kipling manages to capture vernacular and nuances. There is a passage, when Kim meets up with the lama again, and the old lady of Saharunpore asks of his comings and goings….

"…as much as may be without shame. How many maids, and whose wives, hang upon thy eyelashes?"

That got me thinking. Hanging upon eyelashes? It is peculiarly Indian idiom rendered into English and made exotic thereby. I will hold you in my eyes and look after you, is a promise in Telugu. Apple of the eye is well known idiom. But hang upon eyelashes? Where did I hear this before? Then I remembered where I came across that phrase. Teri ankhon ke sivaa duniya mein rakha kya hai. It is a brilliant song, sung perfectly.

I like sappy songs. Declarations of love and songs of obsession, devotion and infatuation, in Rafi's voice, acquire an extra dimension. It was in teri ankhon ke sivaa that I first heard that expression, palkon ke taley. Later I heard jalte hain jis ke liye, and there is mention of palkon ke taley there too.

As I heard the song over and over, scribbling a rough translation, I marvelled at how I came to listen to it this time. Edward Luce, Kipling and Majrooh seem so disconnected after all.

What else is in the world but your eyes?

When you raise them it dawns
Lower them and dusk falls
My life and death hang upon your eyelashes

In their sights they hold visages of
Laughter in spring times
All cities of my dreams dwell therein

Look up and it is day
Lower your eyes, it is eventide
My life and death hang upon your eyelashes

In these eyes are images of my future
In kohl of desire
Is written my destiny

Lift your eyes, it is morn
Lower them, it is twilight
My life and death hang upon your eyelashes

What else is in the world but your eyes?

Go ahead, call me a romantic fool, but I love the song.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Province of knowledge

"Sleep with grimiest of violent idiots."

No, it is not advice, recommendation or exhortation. It is what happens when I have to wait a month to post about a crossword I solved. I ended up doing anagrams of the part of the quotation that formed special instruction to Guardian's October Genius puzzle. I've more horrendous ones, and you can thank me for not inflicting them on you.

Genius puzzles are generally tough to crack, and Lavatch is a good compiler. When the special instructions, which usually accompany such puzzles, state that

10 17 12 18: this principle applies to ten clues in the manner to be determined. Other clues are normal,

my heart soars.

When I am asked to give lessons in solving cryptic crosswords, all I can say is, it requires practice, memory and diligence. More, it requires a cussed-ness of mind that won't let one shrug and move on to other things. A good vocabulary helps, as does a handy Roget's, and treating words in clues as instructions. I told a friend recently that I could possibly explain how I solved a crossword, but it would entail some two hundred words or more to explain how I arrive at one solution. It is some free association, thinking about definitions, other meanings of words and more. Experience helps too.

It is not as though I get the solutions instantaneously, not as such. Some solutions do leap out, others have to be worked out, yet others guessed at and checked. Solving a cryptic crossword is never a straightforward 'start at one across, go through the numbers' affair, even if the quick or concise puzzles sometimes are.

10 17 12 18: So primitive, with little good sense if rambling, according to 13(2,2,3,9,2,6,2,6)
13: What? Son's partner gets married in unappealing locations (6)

A thirty-four letter long solution that needs another solution for clarification! I remember actually rubbing my hands together in anticipation.

Now Lavatch is as tricky as they get. Not only did I have to figure out what the long clue states and how it ties in with 13 across, I still had to figure out which ten of the clues the rule applied to. The good thing was that that was all, no further tinkering was required.

I solved the obvious ones first; then tentatively pencilled in what seemed the right solution, never mind I didn't know why yet. The grid was such that the longest clues were only thirteen squares, and there was only one thirteen letter long clue… it was frustrating. I mean, I thought 7 down was psalm.

I forgot to mention, a lot of charity for him (5)

But why? Then light shone. PS, for postscript, most of alms for charity- him as homophone for hymn. Eureka moment indeed.

So 13 would be m for married, in unappealing locations which are dives or hmm, holes… Holmes. What? Son's partner as Watson's partner, yeah, but is it Sherlock Holmes? Somebody else? What did Sherlock Holmes say, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever, however improbable and all that? That doesn't fit with the thirty-four letters… Wait, it is an anagram, that rambling is an anagram indicator. Let's see: two, two, three- first approximation: it is the? And what letters are left? Wait. Solve some others.

See? It is easier to solve a clue than to write about how the solution is arrived at.

Hips and hands going down?(9)
Firm prohibitions for following tense male reptiles (10)

Ha! Shipwreck and here is a beauty, thecodonts.

That gives a w and an o in the first six-letter part of the clue. Hmm, think. It is the something of something…to? By? At? In? Let's try the anagram out. Much crossing out later, I crosschecked the solution. It is the privilege of wisdom to listen.

It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior.

So which are the other homophones?

Sea in Spain's extremely pretty (4) see, espy
Students find it hard; it is shown by marks…(5,8) Marx, class struggle
Spooner's to adjust curtain that's whole (7) hole, pitfall
Woman with northern fare (4) fair, even
Roe deer ultimately second to game (4) row, tier
Sick novelist overturned ice pots (7) eye-spots, ocelli
Rule a hooligan must mount no bull (5) noble, boyar

Plant boy left on list, say (7)
This was really sneaky. Heel is a synonym of list. Heal is the homophone. The solution is allheal.

And here was the real toughie,
Made Serena strain terribly, clutching pen, to get a little education (13)

I kept thinking in 'made' and 'maid' terms, and it didn't help to consider Serena Williams and her grunting either. Terribly is the anagram indicator. An anagram of strain around quill and Ed for little education-- tranquillised and the homophone here was 'serener'. Sneaky, I tell you.

Thus it is the province of Missus Em to tell you all about it. And this month's Genius by Locum is even sneakier, and I have to wait a whole month before I can crow about it, alas.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dilbar dil se pyaare

"Dilbar haan dilbar," I murmured.

"Not that song again," you groaned. "Yes, that song again," I teased, breathing the words against the column of your neck. I know that behind the mock exasperation there is a fondness. You like me singing that to you. It is our song. It's an unabashed declaration of being totally smitten. I am.

"Saari duniya haari hum se hum tujh pe dil haare," I sing at you. It is true too. I lost my heart to you strangely, all at once and nothing first. You said something and I was instantly in love. In all the time I have known you I never had cause to regret losing my heart to you.

"Gehri nainon waale," I sing at you. I could lose myself gazing into your eyes. Your glance scalds me, burns me and brands me sometimes and I blush. My own glances must mean something, since you flush too. Then you look at me so tenderly that my eyes brim with tears, I feel exultant and humble at the same time.

Like Aruna Irani in the film, I call you 'mere garam masale' once in a while. You laugh. "Which one," you asked once. I considered that. Spices are flavouring. They add additional notes to the song of a dish. What spice are you?

Not ginger or garlic, though you do bring pungency of desire. Not cardamom or cloves, though you add fragrance and fire. Not cinnamon though there is fragrance fire and pungency all there. Not cumin and coriander either, flavourful but too common.

Your smile brightens my days. Your voice gladdens me. Your presence is haven. Beside me or away from me, the idea of you brings joy. What spice are you? Spices enhance the flavour of food without masking the natural taste, but they aren't essential. Are you melange?

Then I thought that all these spices are seeds, pods, fruit, bark or resins, they grow out of earth. They enhance, yes, but they are not necessary, or vital. There is something else that is absolutely vital- of the earth, no the earth itself- salt.

Did you know that people die if deprived of salt? It is essential for life. Salt preserves food. It kick-started civilisation. It is vital for lives. It is not a spice, it maybe called a seasoning, or an additive, but it is a necessity.

You don't just enhance my life. You give it meaning. You are not a spice. You are a necessity. You rejuvenate me, you imbue joy into each minute of life. You are salt.

"Dilbar dil se pyaare," I murmured. Your mouth curved in a smile against my neck in silent acknowledgement.


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