lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, May 30, 2008

Duty calls

It might not be as pronounced in the latest generation, but us older folk remember the ordeal of duty. If you arrive from another city, no matter how short your time, you are expected to hunt up the addresses and go visit relatives.

Even in the same city, you are expected to make duty visits; in Calcutta, these would be during Durga Puja, or New Year visits. If you are closer, clan-wise, you are expected to keep in touch.

Duty does tend to make us all somewhat mechanical, especially if we are making duty phone calls. Rote set of questions asked and routine answers expected.

The land line rang. K answered. It was a cousin who believed strongly in doing the right thing, which is calling twice a year, to keep in touch. She went through the rote set.

After the expected questions about The Matriarch and the Son and Heir (she gave the emphasis, okay?) the conversation went like this:

Cousin: tumi kay mone achcho? (How are you?)
K: bhaalo achchi. (I am well)
C: tomaar bou bhaalo? (Is your wife well?)
K: na (No)
C: achchha, rakhchchi. (Good, I will ring off now)

Dislike of cousins by marriage can get intense, I admit. But this takes the cake, pie, pudding and ice-cream too.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The truth

The truth shall make ye free.
Somewhere in the Bible

In Mahabharata, the great warrior Karna was said to have had many causes that contributed to his death at the hands of Arjuna. While I might not have that many, I do have a few reasons that led to this longish gap between posts.

I could blame it on my back- it hurt a lot over the last fortnight. And the doctors all preferred to have tests done and debate the findings than do the basic, necessary ‘needful’ thing, which was to make the pain go away, or at least subside enough so I could think beyond groans and grunts for speech and function like a human being.

I could blame it on my sisters- one added a shortcut to my desktop and played so much Spider Solitaire while she was visiting that it started showing on the Start menu. Naturally, I tried it out. Naturally, I got hooked. Yes, blame it on her. It is easier to deal another game than to write a blog post, really.

Oh, and she suggested a laptop, too. I thought it through and decided I’d rather go for an upgrade for my antediluvian machine, with bells and whistles; and there is a reason for it.

Each time my computer was upgraded, it was because of my son and heir. Usually, I inherit hardware the men folk in the house have no use for. But this time around, he bought a game for me that he thought would entertain me and keep me occupied. I tried to play the game, and found my computer couldn’t detect its existence. Worried calls to my computer boys and I was told my system is too old and slow.

An upgrade again, then, and it is still cheaper than getting a laptop and the house wired so I can write in bed. If I can write in bed, I can very well get up, go to my work-station and write there, after all. I don’t have the patience to learn to use that tiny mouse pad area or the ridiculous keyboard, anyhow.

I could blame my computer guys too. They took almost all week to bring my machine back. Then I had to customise my settings all over again. All my bookmarks were lost, and I had to struggle to remember passwords. There were the weekend crosswords, too.

Monday rolled in, and I found that the Bank Holiday jumbo crosswords occupied my time a while. What was I doing when I wasn’t actually solving clues, you ask? The other sister- you can blame my long silence on her, too.

The last time she visited, I grumbled at her that I was spending all my time at the computer playing Solitaire. She commiserated, and introduced me to Mah-jongg solitaire played online no less. I was glad when they came to take my computer away for the upgrade Monday last week, I can tell you. I had done nothing, but nothing other than play Mah-jongg solitaire since she left. If I felt bereft without my computer, I was still glad for that little period of de-tox.

Now, to my despair (I know this is a lost cause), Mah-jongg again and a feeble attempt at kicking the habit all of yesterday, I woke this morning with a “still, small voice” telling me that I was being lazy about Larking.

One of my favourite scenes in Tintin comics is Captain Haddock’s innate good sense and temptation arguing it out. While I didn’t have an angel and an imp exhorting me, I still had a bit of debate with myself. This is because I have lately discovered that being good, being nice, and doing the right thing are all not mandatory, but optional. I have discovered too, that long suppressed wickedness, when let loose, is not easy to reason with.

So there I was, at almost four o’clock in the morning, with a mug of tea and Mah-jongg. Eyes hunting pairs and mouse clicking them away, and this internal wrestling match.

My Conscience: You haven’t blogged in ages.
My Wicked Self: So what?
MC: You haven’t posted in nearly two weeks.
MWS: So? Some bloggers don’t post for months, after all.
MC: But you do, regularly. People might think you are, um, dead.
MWS: Hah. I will do a Granny Weatherwax, a one line post declaring ‘I ATEN”T DEAD’ then.
MC: It has been done by every blogger who reads Pratchett, good grief!
MWS: Most of my readers are friends, and they all know the situation, so why bother?
MC: Not the lurkers and readers who don’t write in, you owe them an explanation.
MWS: I will tell the truth, then.
MC: That you have been busy playing Mah-jongg instead of working on your poems and blogging?
MWS: Yeah, why not? Maybe some reader can suggest another game.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but…um. Not quite, but that is a post for another day.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


It was a dark and stormy night. You were so gallant, walking me home.

There were gusts of rain, occasional thunder and those puddles we threaded our way through as we sang snatches of the evening's best in unmusical splendour. Frogs croaked in the ditches on the sides of the lanes. The rickshaw-wallahs at the corner of my street took notice of us and decided that one of them doesn't have to sober up enough to go fetch 'baby' back home from the concert.

I'd seen you before, of course, many times. On the campus, where they spoke in awe about how brilliant you were; at concerts, where we began nodding and smiling at each other; and then that Season. You seemed to attend most of the concerts I did. I had a season ticket, I assumed you did too.

We spoke in the canteen over bad coffee. It was a bad year for the Season, what with the rains and the cyclone. Nevertheless, the concert hall was within walking distance, so I attended all the concerts: the lecture-demonstrations, the afternoon concerts of the hopefuls trying to break into the scene, the evening performances of the stars, the late night concerts of the in-betweens.

It turned out we were both waiting to listen to the late night artist. You asked me how I'd get home. I said my rickshaw-wallah would turn up; if not, I'd walk, no sweat. So at midnight you walked me home.

And we kissed. You were tall and lanky I raised my arm to cup your head and woke up. The crook of my elbow shielding my face as I slept was heavy.

Last year we met again in a bookshop. You seemed prosperous, not exactly overweight but getting there. You said I hadn't changed at all.

We spoke over decent coffee. You suggested lunch. I hadn't much else to do, so I accepted. I was out of touch with the music scene, and you seemed indifferent to it. Authors and books didn't occupy much of conversation time either. You talked discontentedly of your wife who seemed to spend her life in spas, and your corporate angst.

You said you remembered that night. I thought of the dream. I nodded and launched into a discussion of that artist's career. You wondered if I had more free time. I smiled no and walked away.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

How many agorots to a shekel?

Money isn't everything: usually it isn't even enough.

"I don't know much about money," I objected. Writing about things I don't know is not my cup of tea, so I was dubious about the suggestion that I write about money. "I do know how to write cheques," I conceded.

That is about all I know or do about money matters, anyhow.

Later though, thinking about it, I decided that I was doing myself an injustice. While it is true I don't know much about money (it is, ultimately, numbers and I don't do numbers), I realised I do know quite a lot about money, too- things most people wouldn't know at all.

Take synonyms, for instance. I know a lot of synonyms for money: cash, coin, pelf, lucre, funds, riches, wealth, capital… or slang terms tin, dosh, loot, brass, bread, dough, ready, rhino, moolah, readies, shekels, spondulicks (ha!), wherewithal…

All this is trivia, I agree. It is knowledge gained from a lifetime of doing crosswords. But it is still knowledge. When a compiler decides on money or currencies as a theme, one scrambles and learns in a hurry.

My readers can reel off currencies better than I can, I am sure. Dollars, euro, yen, yuan, and more, and they can probably tell me exchange rates too. But while I can't tell you how many groszys there are in a zloty, I can tell you they are Polish currency. I can figure out rial, riyal, riel, krone, krona and kroner for clues. I can tell you stotinka is a Bulgarian coin.

I know that apart from being a body part and a punctuation mark, colon is a currency unit of Costa Rica and El Salvador. As is lek Albania's, pengo Hungary's, obang Japan's, and dong Vietnam's.

There are the evocative names, pfennigs (Germany), bugshas (Yemen), and zaichik (Belarus). There are thalers, abbreviated from Emmanthalers, from which came the dollar. There are the old English coins- bobs, royals and crowns; tanners and florins; and the improbable sounding dandiprat.

But all this doesn't mean much, so I objected, "I don't know much about money."

Being Nilu, he only said, "that's why." All the more reason I should write about it was what he meant.

"Reminds me of my son. There was one time, he was a little boy then, he wanted me to buy something. I said I didn't have the money. He said, well, go to the bank and buy some money."

"That's all there is," said Nilu. We laughed.

But, writing cheques is unreal, as is the world of crossword clues of kyats, pesos and korunas. The money I collect in my piggy bank and change to bank notes though, now that always feels real.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

One special moon

Waking up at all hours of the night has its charming surprises. I see moonrise at times I wouldn't have otherwise.

I like looking at the moon. From the bedroom window or the balcony, the sight of the ruddy globe clearing the treetops on full moon days always lifts my mood. Each evening after, the moonrise is later and later, and soon I forget to watch out for it.

Over the last fortnight though, I have seen the over-large seeming full moon and the waning moon both rise. When I go to bed late, I do see the gibbous moon putting in its appearance, but to wake up in the small hours and see the moon looking thinner each day is a new experience.

I never set much store by rites and rituals and holidays on the calendar; always thought them a waste of man-hours and misinterpreting what those rites marked- passing seasons and the need to prepare ahead for coming seasons.

I preferred always to watch out for other celestial events, rather. Eclipses, transits of Mercury across the disc of the Sun, meteor showers, comets crashing into gas giants… these are far more interesting. I was enthralled by the last total solar eclipse visible in India, disappointed by Halley's comet, and fascinated by the coppery hue of the moon during a total lunar eclipse. I remember being appalled and flinging a book away when I realised the writer set a solar eclipse on a full moon day.

As I wake earlier and earlier these days and see the crescent moon over the treetops, I am seized by a whim. There is one rare phenomenon of the moon- sighting the thin crescent on new moon day. I'd like to see that. There is a name for this crescent of moon that appears on new moon day, just before sunrise or during sunset. It is called sineevaali.

But it is easier said than done. The predawn hours that have been clear for the last week or so turned overcast today, the last day of the waning moon. There is no point trying to spot the crescent in the evening, I don't have a good western view, the city lights make it impossible anyway. Even in the mornings, it is only chance that allows me to look for the moon in the early hours. Had the KMC placed their street lamps on slightly different spots, the glare would have drowned out the delicate fading out of night and fading in of dawn.

Tomorrow, Monday the fifth, is new moon day. It is the day when the Times Bank Holiday Jumbo puzzles will come out, and the Guardian Genius. According to my Telugu calendar, the star that rises with the moon is bharani, the star I was born under. To see the crescent moon at dawn tomorrow would be a perfect foil to all these.

It is also our anniversary. Whether I spot the crescent moon or not, happy twenty-fifth, Kalyan.


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