lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


"Sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" I played.

It was some eight months since I touched the veena. My cousin brought it as he came to visit us and I was glad to have it back.

New relationship and new life but old habits die hard, so I started with the beginner's exercises. The sarali and janta svaras were done, in three tempi. Now on to the lovely jumps, I told myself, as I struck the drone strings to get the beat set.

So, "sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" I played, paying attention to technique, raising the second finger to sound the 'ga', and remembering to strike the drone strings to indicate beat.

What's that, he asked.

I was surprised. It's just baby stuff, honey, I said. I need to get back fluency and I need to develop callouses, so I am doing basic exercises, I explained.

I know that, he said, a trifle impatiently, but what was it you played just now?

Datu svaras, I said, mystified.

It seems that since the musical schools diverged sometime in the thirteenth century, Carnatic music was blessed by composers who thought about the learning process and how best to teach the rudiments of music, and composers who took the trouble to codify lessons. Hindustani music seems to have no set lessons for the beginner.

I am glad there was a Purandara Dasa, though. I rather like the elementary exercises, they are fun. The sarali, janta and the datu exercises teach a student, whether a budding vocalist or an aspiring instrumentalist, a great deal.

It is not just scales. They teach, especially because the mode Mayamalavagowla is symmetrical in both halves of the octave, the relationships between the notes, and the distances. The exercises make the solfege familiar, and make it easier to learn other modes, the different pitches and tones.

The sarali exercises teach the basic scale, and grouping of notes to make phrases. The janta exercises teach twin notes and stresses, ascending and descending through the octave.

Of these exercises, the datu svaras are really enchanting. They teach how to move up the scale, leaping over a few notes, to glide back and forth on four notes before moving higher up in the scale and repeating the frolicking till the end of the octave is reached, and then to descend in symmetrical glides. There are several of these exercises, all variations on the theme of omission and jumps.

But he didn't know these marvels. Play that again, slowly this time, he demanded.

We both played music, he the sarod and I the veena. He was a serious musician, and I, just a student. He understood music, contemplated techniques and thought and studied the art. I was always a student, needing a lesson to master, and a teacher to play the lesson back for. I was teaching myself to learn without a teacher, but before that, I needed to get back to playing with ease.

Surprised that he didn't know the exercises, I played "Sa ri sa ga sa ma ga ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" for him. And I played " Sa ga sa ri ga ri ma ga, sa ma ga ri sa ri ga ma," too.

Like me, he was taken by the first exercise I played, though. It had a lovely logic, "sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri," did. The next day, as he was warming up, he played the exercise and I laughed as he missed the progression. He demanded I write it down for him, and I did.

Being the serious musician he was, he didn't stop at the end of the octave, but carried on up the scale, and I tried that out on the veena, myself. It was odd to hear the Carnatic musical exercises on the sarod, though.

When he took on a student, and taught him the exercise, I smiled a superior smile to myself; we have had the lessons for hundreds of years, after all.

This post is dedicated with affection to the fabulously envious dear girl, who is an enviable poet herself. Thank you for reminding me of music lessons, Neha.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

To whom it may concern

O, gum hai kisi ke pyaar mein dil subaah shaam, I wrote. Fingers hovering over the keys, I hesitated, wondering what more to say. That said it all, didn't it?

Gmail went ding at me. It was you. Hey babe, what's up, you typed. I smiled like I always do, at that address. It's fun to talk to you.

I said I was writing a letter. To an absent toy boy, I added, with mischief. I want letter, you demanded. I smiled again, at that imperative sentence, at your terse phrasing and the conviction, that certainty that you will get what you ask.

I don't care if you wrote it for someone else; I want letter, you said. It made me think of toddlers and tantrums. I abandoned the letter; it wasn't getting anywhere anyhow, and wrote to you.

Hey babe, what's up, you typed. I said I was working on a post. Do a post on me, you demanded. But what will I say, I hedged. Say I am nice, you said. You are nice, I typed, smiling.

I wasn't too sure about it before we met, but now I know you smile as you make those statements and declarations. You are nice. You make outrageous remarks, extravagant statements and imperious demands. You are nice. You make me smile, and sometimes laugh out loud. You are nice.

But, a post on you? What would I say, that you fascinated me, and intrigued me? That I found you pleasant company, easy to talk to? That you were, in fact, sweet?

I dithered. You went into spoilt brat mode, demanding a post. I want post, you said. I will come to Calcutta and stage a dharna in front of your house, you said. I smiled. I will thee kulichify, you said once, and I smiled then too.

So I abandoned the post I was working on and wrote about you. After a couple of paragraphs I realised that I didn't want to share you with others. Your demand is hereby declined, regretfully. You get no post.

Yours sincerely,



Friday, February 23, 2007

Nine times nine

Those who believe in numerology allege that the number nine is special. Perhaps it is.

Beginning with the nine months of gestation, there are a lot of things that come in nines. There are the Nine Muses and the nine planets until they kicked Pluto out of the club. In Indian lore we have the nine gems, the nine grains, the nine moods and more.

While I don't believe in numerology, or even like numbers, I do like solving clues that are nine letters long. Standard cryptic crossword grids are fifteen by fifteen, and depending on the pattern, nine letter clues feature a lot. When I was a newcomer to cryptic crosswords, solving a nine-letter clue used to be very satisfying, and gave me a sense of achievement.

The longer clues aren't always tougher or the shorter ones easier, of course.

There is Bunthorne's famous 'Amundsen's forwarding address (4) mush ' or that clever one, 'Potty train (4) loco'. Brummie's 'Bicycle a vexed Congress eschewed in this state (8) celibacy', or Chifonie's 'Hit chap in relationship (7) tangent' come to mind.

The length of a clue has no bearing on its fiendishness, clearly.

"Then fill up the glasses with treacle and ink.
Or anything else that is pleasant to drink:
Mix sand with the cider, and wool with the wine—
And welcome Queen Alice with ninety-times nine!"

I could of course give you ninety great clues, to suit the quote, but I have desisted, not just out of my charitable good heart, but out of the consideration that what few readers I have will exit the blog en masse and swear never to return.

So I am contenting myself with nine times nine. Hey, don't run away, it's only nine compilers and one example per. Here are nine lovely clues by nine different compilers, nine letters long, in nine different styles.

Taupi creates a doubt about the definition in this gem. What's usually done with princess finishes off warder (9)

Custom and Diana without the last letters, and the solution is custodian. But the 'what's usually done' reads like a definition, and this is misleading the solver cleverly, while being fair.

Audreus set this clue. Dull edge on yuppie's first marriage (9)

The economy of this clue is lovely. Mat, rim, on and the first letter of yuppie, and the solution is matrimony.

Brummie used 'broadcast' not to indicate an anagram, but to indicate 'as heard' in this clue. In need of a life, you seize broadcast of old Jewish party (9)

Sad, and you seize. Sadducees is the solution.

Bunthorne, who regularly set devilishly long and complicated anagrams, set this short and witty clue in 2005. Ferdinand sleeps with cows (9)

Bulldozes, heh!

Chifonie sets brief and elegant clues, and here is one example. Bordering a hypotenuse (9)

This is short and sweet. Alongside.

Crispa, who passed away last month, set this beauty. "Men's my one failure": Mother of nine (9)

Failure is the anagram indicator, and mother of nine is the definition. Mnemosyne, the mother of the Nine Muses, is the solution.

Paul sets elegant clues. Title embracing word of enlightenment is greeting religious mentor (9)

It sounds complicated, but 'aha' inside Mr., and is and hi. Voila, we have Maharishi.

Shed misleads diabolically while being fair here: Man with beard first taken in by inferior gardening equipment (9)

Until one remembers that awn is beard in botany, and adds m for man and sets it inside lower, the solution, lawnmower, eludes.

There are dozens of Araucaria clues I can cite, but I have to content myself with just one. So I jotted down some ten of his clues, and closed my eyes and stabbed a finger. And here is what my finger chose: Rise of first-class rubbish - something to eat in restaurant (9)

This is a beauty. A1, rot and tart, all written backwards. Restaurant is the definition, and trattoria is the solution.

There, nine randomly chosen but lovely demonstrations of compiling brilliance from some of my favourite compilers. And not randomly at all, but because he started a series of nine with the witty title 'noveau rasa', and because he once incorporated a crossword clue in a poem, I invite you to go read this blogger.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Double Dutch again

Like Wordsworth's, my heart leaps up once in a while too; but unlike his, mine does so when I behold a name. Be it Araucaria or Paul, Enigmatist or Shed, my favourite compilers cause my heart to leap and I rub my hands in anticipation.

Today, the setter was Brendan. He always has an interesting twist in the crossword, and today was no exception. I realised there was a theme as soon as I solved the first and second down clues. After the doubles a few months ago, he has doubles on his brain again.

Eight of the down clues were themed, and the theme was reduplicates, both exact and ablaut. Before I tell you about them, here are some of the other gems.

Fetchingly enterprising types? (2-7) go-getters
The economy and the humour of this clue are lovely.

Like metal company found by sea (8) cobaltic

Lunatic craves celery when moon is blue (8,4) scarcely ever
Plain anagram, but nice with it.

Deride school with a grunt when put in another form (5,2,5) laugh to scorn
Misleading, but another anagram.

Fashionable style - with parts switched, mind (5,3) inner man
In and manner switched. Mind is the definition, and what a mind!

And he jokes about himself. Brendan and his like are such dogs (5,7) Irish setters

And here is the toughie. Introduction of expert cricket side's to sign on (12) prolegomenon
This is a gem. Introduction is the definition, and pro, leg, omen and on. This took me a while to solve.

Now for the theme clues, reduplicates: the six-letter long ones, four of them, were all exact reduplicates. The other four eight-letter long clues were ablaut reduplicates.

Salts forming deposit on teeth (6) tartar
He did this before, I grumbled to myself, but remembered that the definition was different.

Sweet smell from person in European city (6) bonbon
This is a clever one. BO in Bonn, and sweet is the definition.

Drum putting bird up (3-3) tom-tom
I've seen the piper's son being evoked for tom-tom, but this is the first time I came across the motmot backwards, and it is usually spelt momot.

Is able to preserve old dance (6) cancan
Remember my lesson about homonyms? This is a lovely example.

The other four were ablaut reduplicates:

Musical performance contributing to blessings on godchild (4-4) sing-song
This clue has the solution embedded.

Violent exchange, or what periodically interrupts it? (4-4) ding-dong

Game between opponents at opposite ends of the table (4,4) ping pong

Greek in family circle no good for epic (4,4) king Kong
G and k between kin and o, and NG for no good; rather good though, right?


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Madras, nalla Madras

The flight was delayed, they hadn't fed us, and the baggage took ages to retrieve, but we weren't frazzled as you might think all these annoyances would've had us be. We were in Madras. There was some confusion as we checked in, but we were cheerful as we ordered a late lunch of dosas from room service. We were in Madras.

The drive from the airport was a pointer. I hadn't been to Madras since late 2003, and the traffic seemed to have grown worse. The city seemed to have spread, too. The newer buildings that have come up made Madras a strange place. But there was an instant connection that we all felt. This was hometown. Wherever we lived, this was where we really belonged. We were back home. We were in Madras.

There was a lot we were going to do. Combining sibling bonding with retail therapy, visiting our alma maters and fulfilling some promises at 'our' temple, family stuff needing loose ends tied up, visiting old friends and haunts… we all had plans.

Agastiyar Koil is the only temple that is real to me, whatever great and famous temples I might have visited. The little nandi into whose ear I used to whisper wishes that would come true, the ritual of snapping fingers at the shrine of Chitragupta so he could record the visit, the one hundred and eight perambulations that we used to offer (and still did in my sister's case), those cool stone shrines and the familiar idols- that temple's where faith and ritual begin and end for me, nowhere else.

The first thing we did was to indulge in some recuperative therapies. Spas, malls and shopping. Then we dealt with the family stuff. We ate huge meals. We watched old Tamil films on the telly, reciting the dialogues word for word with the characters of a movie that we saw perhaps three decades ago.

Sprawled on beds and complaining about the standard of coffee, we planned our days' outings. Eating huge buffet breakfasts and lunches, we moaned that the city is unrecognisable. But we each found our old haunts without any trouble, so was the city so changed, after all?

Spanking new buildings, malls and all, Pondy Bazaar was still Pondy Bazaar. Higginbothams was the same, so was Poompuhar. Even the newly uncovered pieces of the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram seemed familiar, as was the revamped Temple Bay resort where we used to go regularly. They still served heavenly lunches and the sea still seemed most glorious there.

If the nandis on the outer walls seemed more eroded than memory served, if the crowds seemed to violate what we felt was our private shrine to youthful memories, we overlooked it and enjoyed ourselves, all the same.

Children's Garden School, Queen Mary's College, The Presidency College- memory lanes were trod and new paths were taken. Everything is different, we sighed; it's all still the same, we gloried.

Waking up in the early hours, peering out of the window and seeing a maid sweep a courtyard and decorate it with kolam; saying Edward Elliott's Road and sparking a conversation with the auto rickshaw driver; dodging overloaded buses and swanky cars as we crossed Thyagaraya Road; every thing was poignant, it was all reconnecting with our youth.

In the few days that we spent frenetically soaking up the air of Madras to last us till the next time we could visit, there was something else I was doing. Meeting old friends and revisiting old favourite places was one thing, I was also meeting friends I knew well, just hadn't met face to face yet.

The bloggers of Madras welcomed me back home warmly. The articulate and the bright, the suave and the flamboyant, the scathing and the subtle, the reserved and the friendly, Madras has a lot of intelligent young bloggers that I read regularly. Chenthil writes lovely book reviews, Anantha is a source of film news and more, and I absolutely had to shake Chandru of the word games by the hand for this post of his.

I missed my template guru, Praveen, by a few days, and Prabhu couldn't make it, but the Woodlands Drive-In dosa date with Anantha, Chandru and Chenthil was a lovely interlude in my Madras trip. Conversation flowed freely as I demolished a dosa and they educated Missus Em. Coffee, chole batura and convivial atmosphere, the Drive-In was exactly as I remembered it. Now I have more fond memories of it.

Whether defending myself from the charge of being elitist or playing politically incorrect but fun games making flagrantly arbitrary judgements about passersby, meeting Nilu was entertaining.

I enjoyed meeting my knight in shining armour, Raj, who treated me to early supper and the best rasam I had in ages that I hadn't made myself. We talked like old friends taking up from where they left off and in a way that was true, as even emails are conversations. But I really loved meeting the youngest blogger that I know, who is certainly the most angelic. Regretfully, I met Ram for only a short while, as our schedules couldn't match.

With more baggage than we set out with, we packed and paid our bills and drove back to the airport. We were dispersing, and I for one was glad for the slow roads and the traffic jams Sai Baba caused. It gave me more time to breathe the air of Madras. We were still in Madras.

As we said our good-byes and went to our respective check-in counters, I couldn't help singing to myself that old song, Madras, nalla Madras. Like Chandru said, 'twas fun.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Cruelty to cats

"It isn't supposed to be done, it is a thought experiment, Lali," the Resident Mathematician said, with a touch of weariness.

After some debate if experimentation and thinking things through are the same, I granted that you could contemplate, muse about or consider impossible things. After all, Lewis Carroll said, via the White Queen, "…Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…" But when it comes to actually believing them, like Alice said, there is no use trying.

"The idea behind the Schrödinger's Cat was to try and imagine a way in which the effects of probabilistic behaviour at a quantum level could be made discernable at a macroscopic level," he said. I rolled my eyes.

The Resident Mathematician was trying to educate me. He said that electrons are waves and particles, depending. On what, I demanded. That's silly, I argued. A thing is or isn't, look at Jain philosophy and the Saptabhangi argument, I said.

He said that depended on the observer, the very act of observation determining the thing observed. Then he mentioned the wretched thing.

"So you imagine that you take a cat and put it in a box that can be sealed completely. You add a small lump of radioactive material, and a vial of poison gas. You arrange it so that in a given period of time, there is a fifty-fifty chance that an atom in the lump will decay and release a neutron, which will trigger the release of the poison gas. Now, until you open the box and observe, the cat is in an indeterminate state, you see?"

"Really?" I said, appalled. "Who could think up such cruel and impossible things?" I had a good mind to take names and addresses and file complaints to local SPCA, and dash off a letter to Maneka Gandhi, too.

'Accord rightness' is an anagram of Schrödinger's cat. That ought to tell you, for pity's sake. Or 'groins scratched' or 'third snog scarce' too, for that matter.

I am one with Discworld's Death when it comes to thought-experiments that confine a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas and a lump of radioactive material. I don’t hold with cruelty to cats (mind you, in all caps and bold font), Death says, and I agree.

Besides, if you tell me that you put a cat in a box other than for trying to take it to the vet, apart from marvelling at your foolhardy nature and armour-plated limbs, I'd ask, what for?

And if I get an answer that the cat is simultaneously dead and alive and that it can only be determined by opening the box and observing, all I can say is, piffle. Ever tried putting a cat in a box? I rest my case.

The Resident Mathematician talked further. Probability waveforms and other big words flowed past me. When he finished expounding, he looked at me expectantly.

"A cat in a box is bad enough, honey, don't bet on its state if you value money; whether alive or dead, it's spitting hatred; Schrödinger's thoughts aren't remotely funny," I summarised.

The Resident Mathematician sighed.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nostalgia of the literary kind

It started as an ambitious plan of re-enacting a drive we'd undertaken ages ago- driving from Madras all the way up to Vizag and beyond, in a leisurely week of new sights around every corner.

But common sense prevailed, and we decided to fly to Vizag and Madras and spend a few days revisiting old haunts. We did drive to Annavaram and Simhachalam and other places, and that went a small way to relive the earlier drive.

For me, the drive to Annavaram, Kakinada and Rajahmundry was poignant and nostalgic for another reason.

I had never visited Kakinada, and Rajahmundry was only ever seen from windows of a train, the majestic Godavari always an eagerly awaited sight. But I knew all about East Godavari district. Every town and small settlement felt as familiar as Madras and Calcutta. I'd read all about them and roamed the streets, through the writings of great storytellers in Telugu.

On the drive to Annavaram, it began. Each signpost triggered memories of books read. Tuni, Yelamanchili, Kadiam, Pithapuram, Ramachandrapuram, Vizianagaram, Dakshaaraamam, Srikakulam- all flooded me with remembered wonder. Each town name resonated with an author or a poet, a story, a novel or the classics.

I suddenly understood exactly what George R. R. Martin meant when he said the setting becomes a character in its own right.

On the way to Annavaram, we'd stopped to take pictures of signposts to Tuni and Yelamanchili, places our parents hailed from. After visiting the temple, we decided on impulse to drive to Kakinada. We could take pictures of McLaurin High School, and PR College. We'd heard so much about them, after all.

If the drive to Kakinada was on the spur of the moment, so was the visit to Dakshaaraamam (I refuse to call it Draksharamam). The temple was lovely, the entry from the south, which is uncommon. We had an entertaining young priest to guide us through the temple complex and tell us garbled stories about how the temple came to be.

But for me, the stories were already told by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, who wrote two lovely stories, Kanaka Veene and Ravichandrika, about Sreenaatha's last years. But it was when we decided to drive to Rajahmundry and passed through Ramachandrapuram that it hit me. Sripada Subramanya Sastry, one of the greatest short story writers in Telugu literature, made the district so familiar to me that it was homecoming.

I knew Ramachandrapuram; I almost looked for Mahendravaada, a Brahmin agrahaaram in the vicinity, and remembered the story, Goodu Maarina Kottarikam. It is a simple tale about homesickness warring with passion in a newly wed young woman's heart, and her parents' missing their daughter fiercely.

Each time we passed a small town, I thought of the stories set there. And Rajahmundry, well I knew the place. Alcott Garden, Dhavalesvaram, Innespet, Kotilingesvara temple, Bobbarlanka- they were all familiar names. Sripada made them so.

Sripada was a rebel. Born into a family that kept to kulavidya of Vedas, he learnt Sanskrit, the Vedas and the classics of Sanskrit. He wasn't allowed to consider the Telugu literature, and was forbidden from dabbling in it.

In his autobiography he wrote poignantly of the persecution his well-meaning father and brother heaped on him, how he wrote in secret, and how he slowly discarded the stilted classical style in favour of the vernacular spoken style, and more.

His conversational prose and style was unique, and he had no influences on him other than the Pancha Ratnas, the famous five dramas in Sanskrit, and the memorised rote-learnt Vedas. He had no English, and while he regretted that he never read the great authors of the language, he escaped the inevitable influence.

After Simhachalam, we decided to drive up to Arasavalli. Lunch at Vizianagaram had me feasting on memories of Kanyaasulkam, Gurazada Appa Rao's path-breaking play. Again, all the names of the streets and areas seemed utterly familiar.

In Srikoormam, a garrulous priest told us how the temple came to be in a highly entertaining fashion, in English. We dared not glance at each other lest we burst out giggling. But it was in Arasavalli that my literary nostalgia peaked and my cup ran over.

In Annavaram, Dakshaaraamam, Simhachalam and Srikoormam, the priests recited the mantra pushpam. The priest in Annavaram blessed us in clear Telugu. In Simhachalam we were blessed generally, with Sanskrit hymns. But the priest in Arasavalli, after reciting the mantra pushpam, raised his voice in that Saamayika hymn, ShubhikE, shira aaroha shobhayantee mukham mamaa.

I thrilled to hear it. ShubhikE, Shira Aaroha was the title Sripada used for a brilliant short story illustrating the differences of culture, prejudices and jingoism of people everywhere. With razor sharp wit, he seethed against the blind denigration of the Telugu culture by misguided youth preferring to ape the North, or the West. That was written in 1942!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Going by numbers

W. Fancy lines, past and high-level, get the bird (8)

I don't like numbers. But I do like lists. They are interesting, useful things. Think about it, what are dictionaries, but lists of words? There are special reference books too, with different kinds of lists. My Roget's Thesaurus and Crossword Companion are such. I like them, and use them when I need to look up lists of words. Even when one can figure out the solution by cruciverbal logic, one has to confirm it, after all.

The clue was for an alphabetical jigsaw crossword, so the solution had to start with w. Bird is the definition and the quickest way to confirm the solution was to scan the list of birds in my Crossword Companion, then.

So I looked up birds' names, eight letters long, starting with w, to confirm my solution, whimbrel.

Now, I could have trawled through the Webster's or the encyclopaedia, but Roget's and the Crossword Companion simplify the search. The Companion, especially, is very useful for enthusiasts, as it is geared towards cryptic crosswords specifically. It has lists of odd things like horse-drawn carriages, musical terms, gods and goddesses in various religions, characters of Dickens and Shakespeare, lists of painters, poets and famous ballets or operas; all grist for a compiler's mill, after all.

The earliest known compilation of words is the Amarakosham, a Sanskrit work, dating back to the tenth century. There are more dictionaries and books of lists in specialised subjects than one can imagine.

One such is the Bala Siksha. Commissioned by the East India Company, it was written by Chadalavaada Sitarama Sastry, in 1856. Its aim was to teach Telugu children the basics of the language, from alphabet to prosody. It had wonderful lists of aphorisms, interesting words, word pairs, palindromes, idiomatic phrases and more. It gave basic lessons in elementary mathematics, geography, too.

I used to leaf through the book as a child, and I do so now too, still fascinated by the lists.

Of all the lists the book has, I used to like the groups by numbers. Of things that were twofold, the concrete and the abstract, jeevatma and paramatma were cited. Threefold things were plenty. The three times, tenses and the trinity were a few I learned about. I learnt about the four Vedas, the four stages of life and the four kinds of heroes in literature. The lists of fives taught me about the five elements, the five gardens of Shiva, and the five parts of Hindu almanac, five classics of Sanskrit and more.

The sixes were the character flaws, the six emperors, the six chakras in Yoga, the six tastes of food, the six strategies of kings and more. The sevens and eights were there too, as were nines and tens.

There were the eleven rudras, the twelve synonyms of the sun,the thirteen types of character, fourteen branches of study, sixteen adornments, eighteen puranas and descriptions, the twenty seven stars in astrology, the sixty-four arts and the seventy-two questions Yudhishtira answered to revive his brothers in Mahabharata too.

Come to think of it, there are things listed by numbers in the western culture, too. The three Norns, the four directions, the seven deadly sins, the seven wonders of the ancient world, the nine muses and the twelve labours of Hercules come to mind. In science fiction, Asimov's three laws of robotics are famous. Then there is the periodic table.

In the list of eights, the eight types of heroines are interesting. They are the Svaadheenapatika, Vaasavasajjika, Virahothkantita, Vipralabda, Khandita, Kalahaantarita, Proshitabhartraka, and Abhisaarika. Tongue twisters, they may be, but they are interesting classifications of a woman in love.

Take Abhisaarika. Any woman who dresses up and goes to meet her boyfriend is one. If he stands her up and she seethes, she is Virahothkantita. When she sees him another girl and is furious, she is Khandita. When she sends text messages or gets friends to mediate, she is Vipralabda.

When she spruces up her place in anticipation of his visit, she is Vaasavasajjika. As she pines when he is away, she is Proshitabhartraka. When she has a huge row with him and repents it later she is Kalahaantarita.

As for Missus Em, she is none of the above. She has a husband who indulges her slightest whim, and pampers her silly. She is a Svaadheenapatika!


Monday, February 12, 2007


I wonder where you are now. I wonder what you are doing, whether you think of me at odd moments, as I do of you.

I know it is over. We never said so, but we both know it. Even so, there is a part of me that keeps wishing for what we had. You went away, moved on to other things. I try to do the same, to move on.

Yesterday, as I walked the same path we walked together two years ago, I thought of you. Those puppies I petted that day are full-grown dogs now. I remember how you looked on indulgently, holding my bags so I could cope with their exuberance better. I remember what you said then. Perhaps you didn't mean it. Do you remember, even?

All that remains to me now is this wistfulness, a hope that you will come back someday, if only for a short while. You'd go away again, I know, and I will revisit this very same longing all over again. Perhaps it is for the best then, that you won't come back.

When you sang for me, when you sketched for me, when your world revolved round me, when you were there – I never realised what a precious thing I had. I took it for granted, as my just dues. I thought it would be the same, always.

You grew away from me. I wrote a flippant note, remember? Jaayiye, aap kahaan jaayenge? Well, now I know.

You are in this the same world, the same country, even. But you could be on another planet. You are lost to me. With love and much regret I write to you,


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Camphor flame

The priest droned on, telling a garbled version of the sthala purana, and my attention wandered. I looked at the courtyard and imagined Kuhoo dancing there. "Sigapoovaa raavE yane," I murmured to myself.

A short story by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, Ravichandrika, is a beautiful tale. It might even have been true. There is a second tale Kanaka VeeNe, which is equally delightful. Also true, perhaps.

Srinaatha, that great poet of fourteenth century, had a turbulent life. He was feted and pampered and honored in all of the Kondaveedu Empire, and in the land of the Kannada speakers, too. But later, his lords vanquished and patronage departed, he sought the sanctuary of the River Godavari, and lesser kings. Rajamahendravaram and the temple of Maarkandeya Swami gave him shelter in his need.

An ascetic in the temple, Chitti Pantulu, befriended him. At his behest Srinaatha went to worship the lord in Dakshaaraamam, and composed Kaashikhandam and Bhimakhandam there, in the precincts of the temple.

Sastry's Kanaka VeeNe paints a vivid picture of how that happened, how Srinaatha went to Dakshaaraamam and composed his last poetry.

The tale recounts the legend of how Shiva graced the street of the courtesans in Dakshaaraamam, the garden of Daksha, every night, and how townspeople shunned it in deference to the lord's cavorting there. Srinaatha learnt of it, and met the courtesans; they performed the old story for him- how Kama was incinerated by Shiva and how he was given life and form again. Inspired by that, he composed Bhimakhandam and Kaashikhandam in the orchards attached to the temple.

Ravichandrika tells of an event that happened during his stay there, and what happened years later.

Unmoved by the enticements of the courtesans, Srinaatha meditated there, in the gardens attached to the temple, until a clever minx begged a boon of him, asking that their offspring be a poet great enough to win his approbation.

She was clever, wasn't she? Srinaatha was charmed by her clever phrasing of the request and granted her boon, only saying that a son born in her profession had no future, hence she might be better off asking for a daughter to please the lords, the mundane or the heavenly.

He left Dakshaaraamam, and went back to Rajamahendravaram. Chitti Pantulu died, and keeping a word given to him, Srinaatha waited in the temple, offering worship in that man's stead. Years passed.

Perhaps he knew of the events, perhaps not.

In due time, a daughter was born to the courtesan. She was born mute. But she could dance. From the day her mother took her to introduce her to the lord in the sanctum, she worshipped him with dance. She became known as Kuhoo, as that was all she could utter, when she heard the koel call.

By that time Srinaatha was a permanent fixture at the temple of Maarkandeya Swami- a man who had resigned from worldly pursuits and if kings and courtiers visited him, he was unmoved, he was done chasing fame and renown, after all. When a close friend Annayya Mantri described a dream he had had and asked him to accompany him to worship again at Dakshaaraamam, Srinaatha gently refused, saying that he had given his word he'd await Chitti Pantulu's return to hear his poetry.

Annayya Mantri's dream came true, on the night of Shiva.

Kuhoo worshipped the lord with dance, and a swarm of bees chased the crowds away. On Shivaraatri, the lord himself invited her to join him, sending the bees as messengers, thereby telling her to come to Srisailam, where he was known as the lord of the jasmines.

Annayya Mantri, who was unharmed by the messengers of the lord, recited Bhimakhandam and Kaashikhandam to the young woman, and she spoke for the first time in her life. He called me, she said, and this was how he invited her, Sastry says:

Sigapoovaa raavE yane, nagumomuna cherisagammu naade yane, nee sogasula nanu gaisEyave, jigikempula movi sudhalu jilukan raavE.

(What an invitation! This is no less than the lord god in charge of endings, Shiva himself, begging a maiden's attention and more.

Come, the flower I wear in my locks; half of my smiling countenance shall be yours; accept me and welcome me to your graces; bestow the nectar of glistening ruby lips, come.

Sigapoovu: a flower worn in hair. But here, the hair ornament is the crescent moon that Shiva wears in his matted locks. Nagumomuna cherisagammu naade yane: he is offering union, as arthanaareesvara, no less, a chance to become the feminine aspect of his wholeness. Nee sogasula nanu gaisEyave: but then he is pleading, accept my attentions, let me partake of your grace. Jigikempula movi sudhalu jilukan raavE: come, bestow the nectar of your glistening ruby lips on me, he is begging.)

Kuhoo left for Srisailam. Informed of the events by Annaya Mantri, Srinaatha travelled there. In the temple gardens, jasmine-scented moonlight paid homage to Kuhoo, and the lord made her gifts of serpents to adorn her wrists and neck. Like a snow-clad peak she shone as she awaited the lord to consummate their union; and the lord awaited the father to ask for the maiden's hand.

Srinaatha saw his daughter for the first and the only time. She greeted him as father. And the lord turned her in to a flame of camphor and took her to himself.

Where is Srinaatha, asks Sastry, is he not alive in his poetry?

Where is Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry? Does he not live on in his works?


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Simon says

We bring forth our young and fret about them. They have a life of their own and, reluctantly, we school ourselves to accept the boundaries they set; much later after the initial few years of being the absolute centre of their universe. Failing their yardsticks as they change is the tragedy of being a parent, perhaps.

That dear girl says, post. That is enough. So Missus Em pontificates.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kiss the girl

You wanna kiss the girl
You've gotta kiss the girl
Go on and kiss the girl

Kiss the Girl, The Little Mermaid

Sometimes a second seems like forever.

As you bent your head, eyes locked on mine, giving me time to step back or turn my face slightly to offer my cheek…

I could step back.
I could avert my face.
I could smile and shake my head no.

I did none of the above. I waited. Big-eyed, you teased me later, apprehensive but determined.

I could have turned my face and your lips would have pecked a platonic kiss of affection and we'd have gone back to our bantering and fencing with words. Perhaps. That wasn't an option, not any longer, was it?

So I waited.

As your face came closer I saw more clearly, for the first time at such close quarters or in such detail, that gash in your left eyebrow, a small scar where no hair grew– a childhood accident perhaps. Was your mother beside herself with protective fear when it happened, I wondered, in a flash of sympathy with the past that had nothing to do with the intensity of the moment.

I noticed that your lips are full, well defined. I liked the way how your upper lip looked chiselled and the lower one fleshy and succulent. I wondered how our mouths would fit together, my own lower lip is full and the upper lip a slim cupid's bow(very Clara Bow, you said later).

So I waited.

In that moment that seemed to take forever, as your face came closer, so many thoughts skittered through my mind. Then your mouth descended on mine.

Bimba, bimbi, bimboshti, I muttered as I searched reference books for botanical names later, much later. You stretched luxuriously, laced your fingers behind your head and offered, bimbaadhari.

"Not a valid word, I tell you," I grumbled, " Dondapandu, forsooth." And you laughed.


Friday, February 02, 2007

They also serve...

I checked the lines at each counter and chose one that seemed to be moving the fastest. I had already spent half an hour at the bank, and wasn't going to stand in a line any longer than I had to.

State Bank of India, my branch, is in shambles these days. They'd changed the interior and the counters get crowded if more than four people queue up. Lines snake all anyhow and rows and arguments erupt over which line leads to which counter.

Their machines for updating passbooks are mostly out of order, with the one working machine seeing the longest lines. And on days all the machines are kaput, there is pandemonium with customers protesting loudly.

They had changed their system some weeks ago, all accounts have new numbers now, and elderly customers and pensioners are going Librarian-poo over it.

I'd neglected to get my passbooks updated for a while, and I wanted to get that chore done today. I was told that entries of transactions prior to the fifteenth of December would be updated at a counter that still had the old system. (The last couple of times I tried to do it, the printer was out of order.) Today, the manager called a young man over to do it, and the lad wrote the entries. Beautiful handwriting and all that, but still. A bank with a zillion customers and no working printers for weeks on end; the mind boggled.

I'd already spent fifteen minutes waiting for the manager; another fifteen watching the lad fill in the entries, and now a queue. The day can't get worse, I decided.

It did.

There was a tap on my waist. I turned. A wizened old lady, bent almost double, was sitting in one of the new chairs that added to the crush in the new interior. She said that she was ahead of me in the queue, sitting until her turn came. I nodded.

I opened my book and tried to read. "Excuse me," said a voice. A young woman, in very trendy clothes and heels that made me vertiginous just to look at, asked me "Is this the line for updation?" I swallowed a snigger and said that that seemed to be the case.

It must be Murphy's Law, but the line seemed to have slowed down since I joined it. There was a huge argument going on at the counter, about some missing entries.

There was another tap, on my shoulder this time. I turned round. There was another woman, clutching a huge handbag and several shopping bags. "I am behind you," she said. I nodded.

I moved with the line, patiently waiting my turn. Some minutes later there was an argument behind me; the woman, who said she was after me, was arguing with the person who was actually standing behind me. She was saying that she was there before him. She called upon me as a witness. I told you I was behind you, she said. I went to talk to the accountant, and this person has taken my place, she said.

"You are after me if you are actually standing in the line, not if you leave it to do something else." I said as icily as I could manage. "But I told you I am behind you." she spluttered. "So? You weren't there, and this gentleman took the place," I said.

As there were some six others behind that gentleman by then, the argument ranged free and wide. I shrugged. I'd be long out of there before they'd resolve it, none of my business, then.

This happens everywhere we have to wait in line, I notice. I find this habit of booking a place in a queue and wandering off to do something else rather unfair. That old lady who was sitting and waiting her turn was different. I didn't mind that.

If they gave tokens or numbers for each counter and if there were enough chairs for everybody to sit, it would be a different thing. I'd like to wait in comfort, too. But when everybody has to stand and wait, you can't reserve your place in line and vanish, coming back when it is your turn.

A more inconsiderate behaviour is reserving seats in airport lounges. The last time I saw such rudeness was when we flew out of Vizag. We'd called to make sure the flight was on time. We were told that it was. After we checked our baggage in, we found that the flight hadn't taken off from Raipur. There was no telling when it would arrive. There were passengers milling around and the visitors' gallery was crowded. The Air Deccan flight to Madras was cancelled, and the hapless passengers were getting their booking changed to Indian airlines. The noise level was deafening.

Amidst all this chaos, there was this man, who calmly used a chain and padlock secure his suitcase to the seat and wandered off, to have a cup of coffee, perhaps. There were elderly people, there were handicapped people in wheelchairs, there were young mothers with babies, and this man 'booked' the seat. The gall of it astounded me.

I tried to remonstrate with him. He said he intended to come back, as if that made things better, or his inconsiderate behaviour acceptable.

My sister knew what to do, though. She walked into the airport manager's office and reported unattended baggage lying in the lounge. She said since airport security is a serious issue, and the public is expected to report any suspicious incidents, she was bringing it to his notice.

Some minutes later, there were a lot of security men visible, and the visitors' gallery was cleared. We didn't have the pleasure of actually seeing the man get his just deserts, but reading The Hindu's report a couple of days later rather chuffed me.


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