lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Repent in leisure

*Warning: this is a totally unapologetic post about Missus Em and her year where she crows, grumbles, gloats and wallows in her blog. You may leave now.*

At the end of the calendar year, if I look back, the leitmotif has been blogging. I discovered blogs, decided to blog and learnt how to go about it; and have been blogging compulsively.

When I started blogging, I was ignorant about the control key and uses thereof. I wrote, saved, tinkered, refined and published, all online. So when a kind friend taught me the 'ctrl A, ctrl C and ctrl V' method, I was overjoyed. I could actually write out, edit and tinker with my post without getting online. So thrilled was I that I posted twice in a day, just revelling in using newly learnt tricks.

They warn you about marrying in haste, but not about posting on the spur of the moment.

I wrote a post, conceived in the shower one Sunday, out of pique about classified advertisements in the weekend newspapers. It took me some half an hour to write, while luxuriating in the fact that I didn't have to get online to do it.

So, I wrote a post. It has been bringing visitors to my blog ever since. My site tracker tells me that Google searches for massage in Kolkata, sexy massage in Kolkata, unisex massage parlours in Kolkata, sandwich massage in Kolkata, the best body massage parlour in Kolkata, all lead to my blog.

It is depressing.

I do get visitors who are searching for the meaning of Neha, who are looking for the best way to make an omelette, who are trying to find out more about the quote' love all trust a few', or looking for 'I never saw a poem as lovely as a tree', who are researching the Zarapkar System of Cutting, who are looking for sensuous poems, who are looking for factorial tutorials, who are looking for Lalita Sahasranamam or 'young lalita porn' and more.

But this search for massage parlours in Kolkata yields me the most number of unique visitors and I despair that they probably never come back for more. It was a post written in haste, in pique and a burst of irritation. Now I repent in leisure.

Blogging reconnected me to people I lost touch with. Blogging made it possible for my son to acquire a Tatkal passport. Blogging helped me help Anantha when he was looking for an apartment. When an old friend needed to get in touch and Googled with the search words 'kalyan mukherjea telephone number', he was led to my blog and we met up and had a wonderful evening together again.

So blogging has been the leitmotif of the year. But it has had its share of the bizarre. I receive mails from readers, those who don't want to comment on the blog but have something to say about some of my posts. I cherish such mails.

This wasn't the first time a reader who came across my rant about the classifieds wrote to me, nor the first time expressed interest in 'making friendship'; though I much prefer mails that sympathise or add their own pet peeves to my list, I enjoy getting mails as a blogger at all. But this mail I received a few days ago has set me thinking.

hi. this is mayank , 33, executive with dsp, durgapur. want to have quality time wid u. what all services u give n charges. pl let me know. also ye age etc

My first impulse on reading it was to offer lessons on how to write a first missive to a stranger, and further services about punctuation, grammar and spelling. Then I wondered about how much I could charge for a lesson. And then it struck me that Missus Em has another career option, that of a part-time call girl.

A Happy New Year to you all, folks.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Many a slip

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were caught, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "Let us flee."
"Let us fly," said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

It is true, English is a strange language. The homonyms, homophones and homographs can be bewildering.

You pronounce words that are spelt differently in the same way; you spell the words the same way and pronounce them differently; as if it wasn't enough there are words that are spelt and pronounced the same way but mean different things depending on context.

You think I am exaggerating? Just consider.

Aisle and isle are pronounced the same way but mean different things; ail and ale, blew and blue, cereal and serial. These are all homophones. These are what crossword compilers rely on. Think of the fun they have with 'sow', 'sew' and 'so', or with 'two', 'to' and 'too', or with 'do', 'due' and 'dew'; with 'doe' and 'dough' or 'deer' and 'dear'.

Row might be spelt the same, but it means a line or to propel a boat when pronounced to rhyme with 'roe' (and there is another confusion); and to have an argument when pronounced to rhyme with 'how'. Bow when rhymed with 'how' means something altogether different from what it means when pronounced to rhyme with 'low'. These are homographs. The confusion they can cause is a great source of joy and chance to confound the solver, and crossword compilers take every opportunity to do so. Then there's confusion caused by changes due to tenses. Take 'lead' for instance.

Homonyms are something else. When a word has the same spelling and is pronounced the same way but has different meanings, like bill, fair, pulse or row… the crossword compiler's heart might soar, but we are in trouble.

I was in trouble too, but for a different reason. I was chatting with a friend and got baffled when he said that he is trying to screw up courage to propose to a young lady. I inquired if he wasn't too young, if he didn't need to be settled before he could propose marriage. Surely he'd have to declare his intentions to the young lady and see if she was favourably disposed, before popping the question?

That was first time I came across the usage. It seems the meaning of the word 'propose' has become wildly distorted while I wasn't looking. He meant 'propose' in the sense of professing interest, I think.

To propose means primarily to make a proposal, declare a plan or a course of action for something; to present for consideration; to intend; to put forward or nominate for appointment to an office; or to ask someone to marry you.

The synonyms for propose are to advise, aim, declare oneself, offer, pop the question, project, purport or to suggest.

If we consider it as a noun, proposal means something proposed such as a plan or a supposition, an offer of marriage and the act of making a proposal. Here the synonyms are mostly marriage related – a marriage offer, a marriage proposal, and then proposition.

Ah, proposition is an entirely different thing. As a noun, it means a statement that affirms or denies something and is either true or false; a proposal offered for acceptance or rejection; an offer for a private bargain, especially for sexual favours; and the act of making a proposal, and a task to be dealt with.

As a verb though, there is only one thing proposition means: suggest sex to, or as my Webster primly puts it, to make an indecent or an immoral proposal to.

Young people these days take language and stand it on its head, and it takes old-timers like me a while to figure out what exactly is meant. To me, to propose meant, given the context, offer of marriage. But to my young friend, it meant declaring himself to be enamoured.

Boy: I want to marry you. I want you to be the mother of my children
Girl: But how many do you have?

Twixt the intent and speech, there definitely seem to be many a slip these days. Humour me for being an old fogey and I grant you English is strange, but still: as to the confusion between to propose, proposal and proposition and to proposition, I may feel tolerant, but when it comes to mistaking prepositions and propositions… the mind boggles.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Tara! Tara! Tara!

There are several. Women named Tara in mythology, I mean. Tara is also the seat of the Irish kings till the sixth century, but let's stick to mythology. Before we explore that, let's consider the name.

Tara means star, this we all know. It also means the pupil of the eye, some may know. But there are more meanings, I found out, as I consulted my books for this post.

Tara, my Sabda Ratnaakaramu tells me, is a wind instrument; a woman, particularly Brihaspati's wife, Vaali's wife, and the pupil of the eye. CP Brown's dictionary doesn't have the definition wind instrument. My Suryaraayaandhra Nighantuvu has a bit more. It tells me that Tara is a wind instrument, a woman. In the next entry, it elaborates further.

Tara is a pearl I am told; Vaali's wife and Angada's mother; Brihaspati's wife; Buddha Devi; Harischandra's wife, better known as Taramati or Chandramati; a fragrant unguent and the pupil of the eye.

Of the three women mentioned, Buddha Devi is the feminine aspect of Bodhisattva and a major divinity in Tibetan Buddhist mythology.

Tara in Hindu mythology is one of the aspects of the divine feminine principle. Where the Buddhist tradition holds her a gentle goddess, there are praises to Tara as a fierce and fearsome goddess of battle in Hindu traditions. She was worshipped by Shakti cultists and practitioners of the Left Hand Path. She was invoked as the force that transports the worshipper to higher planes of awareness. Taarini, as she who transports and conveys is one of the names sung in her praise.

The other two Taras in Indian epics are both interesting figures. Take Tara, wife of Vaali: some versions of the epic have it that she is one of the celestial women born out of the churning of the Ocean of Milk. She makes her appearance in Ramayana in the Kishkindhya Kaanda.

When Sugreeva challenges Vaali to single combat, Tara advises her husband to befriend Rama, return Sugreeva's wife to him and end his exile. Vaali scorns her advice. When Sugreeva challenges Vaali a second time, she again advises that there might be a ruse, and begs him to make amends. After his death, even in her grief, she is diplomatic. She anticipates the coming events and makes sure that her son is not persecuted. She succeeds in her statesmanship, since Angada is made crown prince.

Later, after the rains have ceased, Sugreeva is still revelling in his regained kingdom and Lakshmana comes bearing an angry message from Rama that the Vaanaras have forgotten their pledge. He is furious at the signs of revelry. Sugreeva sends Tara to defuse his anger, and she does just that.

In Kamba Ramayana, she is portrayed as a chaste widow, but in the Valmiki version, Sugreeva takes her and the other women of Vaali as an appurtenance of the throne. She shares Sugreeva's revels, and is described as being flushed and unsteady with wine as she goes to placate Lakshmana. This clearly shows the changing social mores from the time of the Valmiki's epic to Kamba's version of it.

The other Tara, Brihaspati's wife, I am tempted to describe as the mother of the mother of all battles. She is the original ancestress of the Lunar Dynasty and without her affair with Chandra, there wouldn't be a Mahabharata.

There are no details about this Tara's antecedents. She just appears as Brihaspati's wife. She falls in love with Chandra, who is her husband's disciple. She leaves Brihaspati to live with him. There is outrage all round, as this is transgression on many levels.

Brihaspati sends a message asking her to return, but she refuses to do so. The gods get involved and Chandra is ready to wage war with them all for her.

My Puranic Encyclopaedia states that she is restored to Brihaspati after Brahma's intervention, but she is pregnant by then. Brihaspati and Chandra both claim the child, Budha. Another dispute arises, and the gods ask Tara to name the father. She says the child is Chandra's, so he is raised in Chandra's household.

He is the first of the Lunar Dynasty. He married Ilaa and begat Pururavas, who dallied with Urvashi and begat Ayus and he begat Nahusha and so on and so forth. Budha married the beautiful Ilaa, but she was actually a king called Sudyumna who was under a curse, but that's another story.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

In silence, in my heart

"Tumi rabey neerabey hridayey mamo, nibido nibhrito poorNimaa nisheethini samo," he sang.

"I appreciate the sentiment, honey, but shouldn't you wait until I go away before you sing songs of separation?" I said.

Bengalis. They are worth a 'tap tap tap' a la Obelix, I tell you. They refuse to speak the way the rest of the world does, they say 'sha' for 'sa' and the other 'sa'; they can't say 'ah' but say 'au' or 'o' or 'aw'; they can't make up their minds about 'ba' and 'va' and 'pa'; and he, she or it. But they write great poetry, I tell you.

I like Rabindra Sangeet in theory. When your introduction to the genre is through private recordings of Debabrata Biswas singing, accompanying himself on a harmonium, and cracking wise once in a while, you can't help but like the tunes, songs and the poetry of it. But when I heard what passes for Rabindra Sangeet on All India Radio, wailing and mournful dirge-like renditions of the same, I was shocked.

"How could they take something beautiful and destroy it so?" I ranted. But that seemed to be the norm. The pure and evocative voice and the discreet accompaniment of the harmonium of George-da seemed a far away and lost dream.

This particular song is a favourite of ours. We used to sing it as a lullaby, this and other Rabindra Sangeet.

"It is not so much a song of separation as a pledge, I think," he said. "Like the dense permeating night of full moon, you will stay in my heart silently." He said. I winced. "That's awful, honey." I offered my honest opinion. He bristled. "Let's hear you do it then."

"Um, you will dwell silently in my heart, like the night in her thickening moonlit secrecy."

"Ha!" He scoffed. "How did you arrive at thickening?" "By using the definitions for nibida and nibhrita, of course." I said. "But the use of 'nibida nibhrita' for a moonlit night is odd. One associates the adjectives with darkness, moonless nights maybe."

"Your definitions might be different than Bengali usage, Lali." I shook my head. "Not likely, these are tatsama words. The meaning won't change all that much, and I can prove it to you." I wandered over to the shelves and consulted my dictionaries.

"Nibida means density, thickness, that which is strong and firm. Nibhrita means wholeness, stillness, secrecy, that which is hidden, that which is not clear, that which is alone and low key and steadfastness." I recited, translating the Telugu words as I read.

"So how does this sound? You will dwell in silence in my heart like the still night in her moonlit secrecy?"

"Mamo jeebano joubano, mamo akhilo bhubano tumi bharibey gourabey nisheethini samo," he sang.

"My youth and life, my whole universe, you will enrich with nobility like the night."

"Lame," I said. "And why turn the order of the words around? My life, my prime and my entire world, you will make exalted, like the night, that night…"

"Hmm, why world, why not universe?" "Because bhuvana means world, not universe. That would be vishva."

"Jaagibey Ekaaki tabo karuNo aankhi, tabo anchalo chhaayaa morey rohibey dhaaki," he sang.

"You know, I never liked this verse." I said. True, this verse always jarred in the song. It is out of place with rest of the song's sentiment, and changes the mood. If the rest of the song is avowal, this is supplication.

"I always thought this was tacked on because there needed to be four verses, asthaayi, antara, sanchari and abhog. George-da sang it like sanchari, too, repeating the beginning.

"You will alone stay awake with your kind eyes and enfold me in your anchal, this sounds so awkward after the first two verses."

"Um, wakeful, alone, your benevolent gaze will hold me enwrapped in the shadow of your drape, like the night, that night… Right, this is plea, not pledge," I said.

"But George-da used to sing the words jaagibey Ekaaki with such depth of loneliness." "Yeah, he made it haunting."

"Mamo duhkho beydano, mamo saphalo swapano tumi bharibey sourabhey nisheethini samo," he sang.

"Sourabh is the root for surabhi, is it?"

I rolled my eyes. "Sourav is the ex-captain, sourabha is fragrance and that which is agreeable, and surabhi is a wish-granting cow. Nothing to do with each other." I said. He snorted.

"Isn't there a version that reads sakala svapna?" I asked.

"There is, but that doesn't make sense. The contrast of sadness and pain with fulfilled dreams makes better sense. George-da sang it as saphalo shapano, anyhow."

"My grief, my pain and my dreams come true, you will suffuse with fragrance, like the night, that night…" I offered.

"Tumi rabey neerabey hridayey mamo," he sang. And I sang along.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Chrysanthemums and carnations

"I asked you to wear a pink chrysanthemum. So I could recognize you, you know."

"I am wearing a pink chrysanthemum. I should have imagined that that was a fact that the most casual could hardly have overlooked."

"That thing?" The other gazed disparagingly at the floral decoration. "I thought it was some kind of cabbage. I meant one of those little what-d'you-may-call-its that people wear in their button-holes."

"Carnation, possibly?"

"Carnation! That's right."

Psmith removed the chrysanthemum and dropped it behind the chair. He looked at his companion reproachfully.

"If you had studied botany at school, comrade," he said "much misery might have been averted. I cannot begin to tell you the spiritual agony I suffered, trailing through the metropolis behind that shrub."

Leave it to Psmith PG Wodehouse

I recall the above passage quite often these days, as I go off to meet my online friends. When we meet strangers, even if they are people we have corresponded with and read the blogs of, there are some arrangements to be made; the venue, for instance, the time and so on. We exchange phone numbers.

(To digress a bit, we all think our cell phone numbers are something we offer to a select few people. I once remarked snootily to a friend that not many people have mine, and was embarrassed as the said phone rang, with a call from SBI Card asking if I wanted to avail of the easy instalments facility, IFB reminding me that my maintenance contract will expire soon, and text messages from Kingfisher Airlines about a ticket, Airtel about a great offer…all during the couple of hours my friend and I were together. I will just say that while he sniggered, he didn't say anything, but he is a sweetiepie. Our numbers are out there, however fondly we imagine them to be private and available only to a few.)

I've noticed that when I go to meet friends I've made online, men tend to worry about finding the person at the venue. They ask for a picture so they can recognise the friend; they try to plan ahead.

"I will be wearing a carnation."

Or the equivalent. A blue T-shirt, or a green shirt. I will be carrying James Joyce, I will be doing a crossword or I will be sitting at the corner table. I've heard all these and more; from my men friends, of course.

I wonder why men worry about finding the person they are going to meet. Is it a worry that they may look silly scrutinising every person who walks in? But women, my online friends at least, just know they will find each other. We exchange phone numbers to coordinate or call if we are delayed, but we never worry that we may not recognise each other. My women friends and I just decide on a place and go there, perfectly confident that we will find each other.

When Rimi, Urmi and I met, we just fixed the venue. We didn't have to tell each other what we'd be wearing or carrying to aid recognition. It was the same when Rimi and I met Priya. We'd seen her picture, of course, but it was a misleading thing as it did her no justice. But we'd have known her, no worries.

So when my date suggested that a bookshop sounded a little tricky, what with so many aisles and browsers, I was amused. It's not as though two middle-aged people looking for each other will have trouble finding each other, I said, and added that the coffee shop might cut down the area of search.

Less than two weeks after I met Arka (read this poem of his), the only male buddy who didn't fret about recognising me, I was on a blind date again. But this was different. I wasn't meeting a buddy or a blogger. I was meeting a reader. The reader had written asking if it was bad blog etiquette to ask for a meeting with the blogger as we both lived in the same city. Curiosity works both ways, I'd replied, saying that I'd be glad to meet a reader who seemed to be trawling extensively through my blog archives.

So, there I was, chatting with the staff, both good friends of mine. We were discussing fantasy, authors, books to be bought for Eloor, the library they'd both worked for before joining Crossword Bookstore, and more, when I caught sight of a lady entering the shop. She didn't glance at the display of the new arrivals or stop at the shelves but went straight up to the next floor.

I concluded my chat and made my way upstairs. There she was, sitting down at a table for two at the coffee shop.

"Missus Tee?" I said just as she said "Missus Em?" at the same time. We beamed hugely at each other and hugged. We hadn't met before, had exchanged only a few mails. But we had no trouble finding each other, of course.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Infinite disinterest

"Isn't that the great taboo?" K asked.

"Not nowadays," I said. It is true. Splitting infinitives isn't regarded as a major grammatical sin these days.

"It is more a sin to write a tortured sentence to avoid splitting an infinitive," I said. "I'd rather split an infinitive if it conveys my meaning concisely than write an awkward sentence, so there."

"Of course, there's no such worry with bare infinitives," I added.

"You made that up." He accused. "I don’t have to, English is odd enough without my having to make up rules and definitions." I sniffed.

Bare infinitives, dear Reader, are verbs that consist of the base form without 'to', such as 'He heard me speak', 'I saw him wince', 'Need I say more', and 'I had better stop'.

But it is on rare occasion our conversation touches on these niceties, so I sallied further.

"The basic uninflected form of the verb is called the base, and it's usually the infinitive form, as in 'to go' or 'to take'. Of course, there is the imperative form too, such as 'Go away' or 'Gimme', " I said, revelling in memories of grammar learnt in school.

"Stop that," he murmured. I affected sudden deafness and went on with the recital of remembered rules and lessons. "It is also the form that the verb in the present indicative tense takes, such as 'I always go there on Wednesdays' or 'I exercise regularly'. But this doesn't apply to the third person singular." I said.

"So she says." I detected a touch of weary resignation. I ignored it. This is important stuff, after all.

"Base also refers to the basic element in word formation, of course." I went on, warming up to the subject. "In this sense it is known as the root or the stem. Enthuse is the stem for the word enthusiastic, for example."

"Despair is the stem for desperation, I suppose?"

"Absolutely. Infect is the stem for infectious, and so on."

"Bore is the stem for boring, then?"

I ignored that too. "A split infinitive is one that has had another word, usually an adverb, placed between itself and 'to', such as 'to rudely interrupt', for example," I said severely.

This used to be considered a huge grammatical gaffe, but it is not so anymore. As I said, it makes for clumsy sentences sometimes, and slavish adherence always to rules is not always a good thing.

"Lali, can I request you to kindly change the topic?" He said. "Umm, you…" I began, spluttering in outrage. "I thought that'd get your attention. I wanted to clearly send a signal." He said.

I rolled my eyes and gave up.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Baby's got her blue jeans on

I put it off as long as I could; six months, in fact. But there was no getting away from it, I needed to buy a pair of jeans. Much as I loved the old pair, they were getting too disreputable even for my lax standards.

So I devoted a morning for the expedition. I thought it through and decided to avoid the malls and big shops. They are too crowded and the trial rooms are always occupied, the assistants disinterested and the styles too trendy for matrons. Instead, I went to the discount outlet my son favours. He has his reasons to patronise that place, mainly that he can save money and buy games, but he always manages to get decent jeans from there, so it was worth a try.

Years of experience have taught me well. You buy footwear late in the day, when your feet have put in a day's work and will tell you immediately if the shoe fits. But you buy clothes in the morning, when you have the energy and enthusiasm to try various outfits. So I went in the morning.

It is silly to wear ethnic outfits when you go shopping for clothes. You have to keep getting in and out of clothes to go back to the racks and get the next outfit, after all. How many times do you wriggle into and out of a churidar before you cave in and buy an outfit you will regret buying a day later, or give up on shopping for that day? So I wore a skirt.

I stated that I was looking for ladies' jeans. A pleasant young man directed me to shelves marked 'Girls'. No matter, I thought, I am youthful at heart, after all.

Next came my pet peeve when I buy clothes– the size. There must be millions of women like me with measurements that are odd numbers, but you will never find odd numbered sizes in any store. That is a rant is worth another post, so I will just say that I added an inch to my waist measurement when asked for size.

There were a bewildering number of cuts and designs to choose from. Boot cut, straight-leg, low-rise, mid-rise, flares, embroidery, patches… but no high-rise fitted waists, though. That seemed to have gone out of fashion. After browsing through the samples I selected a couple and went to the trial room.

There's a thing that always makes me wonder; the trial rooms are always tiny, there are never enough hangers or hooks, nor any ledges to park handbags on, and the mirrors somehow always make me look pudgy, unlike mirrors at home. Is it the lighting? Is it the double mirrors and an infinity of reflections in a tiny closet that makes trial rooms seem eerie?

I stepped out of my skirt and pulled on the first pair, or at least tried to. Going by the waist size was a bad idea. Manufacturers don't care about waist/hip ratios, it seemed. Indian women by and large, and I mean large, have wide hips even when they have wasp waists, and yet not a brand considers this or makes jeans to accommodate the wasp waist versus wide hips figures.

I couldn't pull either of the pairs up beyond my thighs. Not comfortably, anyhow. I suppose holding my breath, sucking my stomach in, and some wriggling might have worked, but I wanted jeans to live in, not jeans to impersonate a mannequin with.

I wriggled out of them; stepped into my skirt and went back to the racks. The young man suggested the next size.

I took two more pairs into the trial room; these, I could pull on comfortably and zip up without discomfort. So I applied Missus Em's test. Most articles on how to choose a pair of jeans will tell you to walk around and try a couple of jumps. Maybe bend over, or do some deep squats to check the jeans. The Missus Em Test involves sitting down cross-legged. If I can't do that comfortably, there is no point in my buying the jeans. These two pairs passed.

I got out of the jeans, stepped into my skirt, went out and asked the young man to keep them aside. But you didn't show them to me, he said. I was surprised. Was he being sympathetic because I came alone, without a friend to offer remarks and criticism?

I went back to the trial room and went though the 'step out of skirt, pull on jeans' routine. Yes, it fits well, he agreed, kneeling to turn the edges up. I sat on a handy ledge at a mirror, pulled the top I wore up a little and looked behind me; just as I knew it would be, there was a gap of three inches between my back and the jeans. He said a belt would take care of that. I shook my head. I don't wear belts. He supposed the waist could be taken in.

As he whipped out a tape measure and measured my waist at least two inches below my natural waistline, I pondered why it was that women don't feel self-conscious about tailors or sales persons invading their personal space, why they don't feel awkward letting a perfect stranger wield a tape measure, tug the seams of the jeans into line and more. Perhaps it is only with doctors that we are that trusting and unembarrassed otherwise.

I obligingly held my top rucked up as he considered the waist, front and back. It didn't show much if I stood, but the gap was definitely gaping if I sat down. He then hooked a clinical finger in the waistband of the jeans and checked the gap, cinched the excess at the sides, and judiciously pronounced that an inch taken in at each side ought to do it. I repeated the 'get out of jeans and get into the other pair' routine and he repeated his examination.

We considered other styles. He suggested a low-rise pair. I was doubtful, he coaxed and I tried the jeans. These actually fit perfectly, until I sat down, rucked up my top and looked behind me. There, peeking out of the gap was the flash of my panties. I sighed.

We, and I say we because we were a team now, tried another pair. These fit well, too. Again, except for the gap at the back when I sat down. I considered my selections. Which did I want to buy? Take them all, he said, adding that the pair I had on fit so beautifully there was no question of leaving them out.

There are purists who say jeans ought not to be sized, but I dislike edges that are overlong and fold like accordions; that looks odd in my opinion. As none of my selections had a large flare or fashionable flourishes, I decided to get the lengths adjusted.

I went back to the trial room and did a last round of the 'step out of jeans, step into skirt' routine and emerged to hand the jeans over for adjustment. He noted the length and was adding the waist measurement when I told him not to bother about the waist. I said that I don't wear short tops. This was true, also it occurred to me that adjusting the waist might change the comfort factor, and the one thing all my selections had in common was comfort.

I collected them yesterday, and dear Reader, I type this wearing my new jeans.

This post is dedicated with affection to the reader who prefers to remain anonymous, who quibbles, banters and makes me laugh, who brought to my notice the other definition of the word cheesecake, and most of all, who directed me to this lovely song.


The song of the doomed

Lady with secrets, smiles of innocence
They hint at things, your eyes of perdition.

Your eyes, they tease and promise and beguile
Yet you claim innocence with that your smile

You hint at many things, promise some few;
Where does this leave me, the same old, or new?

The path to a place, Lady, 'tis well known,
Is paved with good intentions (yours unknown),

The way to the door that you say is ajar
Which seems to be close but in truth too far.

Tell me, Lady, that your laughter is kind,
I suspect not; but I find I don't mind.

Gazed into eyes, those gates of perdition,
I've seen the shadows and the flames within

I am lost, Lady, it seems I fell prey
I've become a stag in hunt, brought at bay

You're Artemis, Lorelei, Circe and more
I plead devotion, the same as before.

Lady with secrets, smiles of innocence
They hint at things, your eyes of perdition.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Missus Em falls in love

Sudden arbitrary affection that springs
out of some perused lines — and love happens

Instantaneous and full-blown affection and falling in love happens regularly to me. I read a few lines of a blog post, I fall in love.

A chance made comment and I fall in love. A lovely picture and I fall in love. A haunting tune and I fall in love. A memorable voice and I fall in love. I fall in love with turns of phrase, mannerisms and more. I fall in love with poets, writers, musicians, crossword compilers and bloggers.

I fell in love with Wodehouse. I fell in love with William Hazlitt's critical essays. I fell in love with Coleridge's prose (yes, you read that correctly). I fell in love with Kipling and Mark Twain and Thurber. I fell in love with Terry Pratchett. I keep falling in love with Shakespeare over and over again.

I fell in love with Rembrandt, Van Gogh and others. I fell in love with Rafi. I fell in love with Balamuralikrishna and TN Seshagopalan.

I fall in love with such regularity I think it must be a syndrome. There is a name for it probably and I just haven't Googled with the right search words.

Of course, this is an extravagant way of saying it. Appreciation and admiration is what it amounts to. But 'charmed, I'm sure' doesn’t quite have the dramatic ring of 'I'm in love', does it?

The latest episode of my falling in love happened this Monday. I look forward to the first Monday of the month, as the Guardian Genius crossword appears that day. This month's puzzle is set by a new compiler, Lavatch.

I read the name with wild surmise. Not a day after we played the Shakespeare game, I thought. I took a printout and did some research. Apart from being a clown in All's Well That Ends Well, it turns out that Lavatch is a compiler of crosswords. This was the first time I saw the name in the Guardian crosswords, though. (I don't do the Listener crosswords, I know my limits.)

Like always, the puzzle had special instructions:

Each across solution contains a body part. However, these have been swapped around to appear in the diagram in the same order as on a person. Definitions in the clues give a real word or phrase; subsidiary indications lead to the required grid entry with the swapped body part. (The first number(s) in brackets after these clues indicate(s) the real word or phrase and the second number(s) the required grid entry,) For example "Corresponding publication about rent (8); (7)" has the definition MATCHING and the grid entry MATEARG ("ear" having been swapped with "chin").

I have solved the down clues (and there are some gems there), and am wrestling with the theme clues now. I can't say more about it because this is a prize puzzle, so it will have to wait until next month.

But I can announce to the world that a new planet has swum into my ken, and Missus Em is totally in lurve.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To thine ownself be true

Altogether original song audition (6)*

We live our lives in the world, but do we wear our hearts on our sleeves all the time? We all have personas, façades and veneers. It is how we insulate ourselves when we interact with the world. I wouldn't go so far as to say it is armour, but it is as a defense mechanism that we develop our personalities and mannerisms. We present a person to the world that is not always, wholly and entirely, the true being. Our real lives are lived behind our eyes, in our heads. But on the whole, most of the time, we interact honestly with the world, real or virtual. Or so I thought.

I have been accused of many things, but this was a first.

In a conversation, a reader of my blog opined that I was inscrutable on my blog, while being apparently transparent. My posts on crosswords maybe obscure but I am a straightforward person, I'd have thought, I said. Not so, said the reader. The reader said that I was impersonal and added that I wore a cloak of urbane geniality as armour.

This made me think. Admittedly, first of a clue featuring an ancient city and a curse, (Nemesis! old city at first is sophisticated; old city toff pressing, no, that is urgent and so on and so forth) but then I pondered some more. Okay, about Humpty Dumpty and what Carroll meant by 'impenetrability' and all that. And then I thought further.

I am not an anonymous blogger, after all. I don't hide behind a clever alias and avoid association of my blog with my real life. I blog as myself. I write about things that interest me, things that occupy my mind at the moment. So why does that reader think I am inscrutable and hide behind a façade? That I write impersonally, and not about things that really mattered to me?

It did not occur to me to opt for pseudonyms or anonymity when I signed up with Blogger. After all, I'd been there and done that, in the ancient past; it doesn't work. I signed up as myself, Lalita Mukherjea, spelt with an 'a' at the last.

When I started out blogging, I was going to talk only of crosswords, and the joys of solving clues. Then I found there were other things I wanted to talk about. I talk about language, relationships, pet hates and more. I talk "of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings", more or less. Surely I am revealed as a person in all this? Every word I write reveals me, to those who can discern it.

There are bloggers who write about their lives, so do I. There are bloggers who rant and ride hobbyhorses. So do I. There are bloggers who write occasional fiction and poetry. So do I. There are bloggers who write scathing political commentary, who write about weighty issues. I have no opinions there, except to quote Shelley and Tilton and say these things pass.

There are bloggers who write about their sex lives, love lives, and tribulations of daily lives. That is their choice. It's a free world. I prefer to write about words and crossword clues and conversations at Chez Em every now and then.

The reader said my blog gave no clues as to what I think, if I am happy or sad or mad. Why should it? How much a blogger reveals of herself to her readers is a matter of personal choice, surely? If I don't talk about the scalding I received in a careless moment in the kitchen but prefer to talk about the wicked clue I solved today, that is my prerogative, surely?

This is a matter of privacy in a public arena. We are, on the whole, faceless voices on the blogosphere. Granted, some bloggers posts pictures and reveal a lot about themselves. They talk of their lives in great detail. Granted, too, that there are bloggers who are totally anonymous and prefer to stay that way. Then there are the via media bloggers like me, who blog as themselves, but keep private life just that.

Talking this over with friends, I found several views. A friend said that I write a very personal blog, and all that I am is clearly seen. He added that transparency is different from maintaining a divide between the blog and private life.

Political bloggers, bloggers who write on social issues and comment on news and events, bloggers who blog about their fields of expertise can be detached and impersonal; but personal blogs like mine are expected to be intimate and confessional, said another friend. A 'Dear Diary' style, she called it. She added that my blog is subtle even while being personal.

Another said that readers expect some glimpses into the private life of the blogger, want to know more about the real person and opined that this could be the reason why my reader said I was impersonal even as I was seemingly transparent, that he or she wanted to know me, blogger and real person in entirety.

So what is at issue here is the level of privacy. Being honest and transparent is one thing, but confessional mode of blogging is not my cup of tea. I have a persona, I am Lali and Missus Em and Grammar Nazi, maybe, but that is not all I am. So, does Missus Em pick her nose? Does she use Q-tips? Are these things she wants to talk about? It is hard to imagine an avid readership waiting to hear about these things.

We have our woes, we have our sorrows; we have our curses and duties and burdens. Some people may choose to blog about such. I'd rather talk about the latest clue that gifted me a moment's joy and laughter. If I want to tell the world my life story, I will write an autobiography. I won't blog about it.

I was going to use polytetrafluoroethylene as the title of this post, then desisted because my husband's software will have trouble pronouncing it. So there, dear reader who quibbled about Teflon veneer, you have another datum.



Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bard games

It began as a quest for a post title. After mulling over a few, I turned to the evergreen option, the Swan of Avon.

"All the world's a stage," I said, "would make a nice title." "As You Like It." He said. "That's the drag play, isn't it?"

"Double-drag," I grinned. "It was all men those days, right, so a man playing a girl dressed up as a boy is double-drag."

"But you rely too much on Shakespeare, Lali," he said. I agreed that I do. I argued that it's because I know the plays through crosswords. Quotes of the Bard, plays and characters in any given play, all feature in crosswords as themes, after all. Solving them has given me a wealth of knowledge about Shakespeare. I said as much.

Not as much as actually reading the plays, he argued. That too, I allowed, but maintained that cryptic crosswords and Jeeves and PG Wodehouse are better for remembering Shakespeare quotes and plays.

"I bet you can't recite them all, though." He said, rather rashly. "You are on." I said, in a flash. He had a convent education, so he thinks he knows his Shakespeare. I don't have much education, but I know my crosswords, after all.

"All's Well That Ends Well," he said. "Antony and Cleopatra," I said. "As You Like It," he conceded. "Comedy of Errors," I countered.

"Coriolanus, hmm, does anybody read that?" "Literature students, perhaps. Cymbeline." I said.

"Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," we said in unison. "That's a rich source. You can find umpteen quotes from Hamlet." I said. "There are more things, Horatio," he said.

"Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love." He added wickedly.
"This is the very ecstasy of love," I giggled.
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks".
"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason!" I sniffed.
"Get thee to a nunnery."
"That it should come to this," I countered.
"A hit, a very palpable hit," he conceded. I grinned.

"Henry the fourth," he said. "Part one," I said and beat him to it by reciting, "part two and then Henry the fifth and Henry the sixth part one."

"Turn and turn-about. Play fair, Lali," he admonished. "Parts two and three, Henry the sixth," he said. "Henry the eighth," he added.

There was a break in the recitation as we considered if Tony Blair would apologise for the abominable way Henry the eighth treated his wives.

"Julius Caesar," he said as we finished sniggering. "Ides of March," I mused. "Friends, Romans and countrymen," he said. "The evil that men do," I said. Another great source for quotes and post titles, we agreed.

"King John," I said. "Does anyone read that?" "I did, strong reasons make strong actions, so there."

"Bah, King Lear," he said.

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child and all that," I said. We considered our child and agreed that it doesn't apply. "But there are better speeches and quotes there, Lali," he said. "I am a man more sinned against than sinning." "So young, my lord, and true," I taunted. "Howl, howl, howl, howl!" he countered. "Nothing will come of nothing." I agreed.

"Love's Labour Lost."

"Ah, " we said together. There is a wealth of quotes there. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day." I said. "Worthy of Wodehouse, that piece of writing," he said. We remembered "Over Seventy" and laughed.

"Measure For Measure."
"Merchant of Venice. The man that hath no music in his soul…"
"Spare me, honey." I begged. "The quality of mercy," he chuckled.
"Merry Wives of Windsor."
"Midsummer Night's Dream."

"Ah, what fools these mortals be. Much Ado About Nothing."
"I never read that." " Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever," I said.

"Othello, another huge source," he said. "Umm. Pericles, Prince of Tyre," I said. "Richard the second and Richard the third, " he said. "Romeo and Juliet," I sighed. We contemplated the play.

"Taming of the Shrew," he went on. "The Tempest," I countered. This was getting close now. We were running out of alphabet and he hadn't missed a play yet.

"Timon of Athens." He said. I swallowed a groan. I was hoping he wouldn't remember it. "Titus Andronicus," I said.

"Twelfth Night," he said. "Gotcha!" I crowed. "You forgot Troilus and Cressida." "I never read it," he sighed.

"Two Gentlemen of Verona and the Winter's Tale." I gloated. "See, doing crosswords is good for something, I tell you."

"A hit, a very palpable hit," he said glumly.


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