lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, April 30, 2007

Perils of late night poetry

The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum.

Poetry is a fraught thing, this I always knew. But it was only last week I realised how fraught. The week had started with aggravation piled upon aggravation, and Tuesday was no better. Well, it was marginally better and by late evening I was feeling calm enough to consider the poem again.

There are several things to consider when you are translating — the mood of the poem, the words, meter if any and more. Even if it is your own poem written years ago, you still have to be true to the poem as it is, not give in to temptation to tweak the original.

Duties for the day all discharged, I turned to the poem with a clear conscience. I was moving back and forth between the Telugu version and the translation I was attempting. It had been a long day and maybe I was too tired to recapture the mood of the poem. It was going in spurts; write, delete, write, delete… I leaned back in my chair and considered. Perhaps I should leave it be for the day. It was rather late, after all. Maybe run the whole poem through in my head once again? Recite it aloud?

Next thing I knew, I'd lost some twenty minutes. Had I blacked out? Strange, but I was working, right? I remembered that I was going to read the poem through, and reached for the volume. My arm remained where it was. I tried again; thinking it must have gone numb. This time it moved, but the wrist hung limp. I tried to grasp the book and my hand flopped like a dying fish.

My mind raced. I must have had a stroke. Nemesis had come calling, I drink, I smoke, I don't exercise religiously, and now I pay. I considered my options.

There was no point waking the lord and master; he'd only panic, fret and worry and I could manage all that myself pretty well, after all. Or I would, just as soon as it sank in. I couldn't call our doctor, it was too late in the night; and if I rang, I'd be told the doctor is sleeping the sleep of the blessed and the blameless.

But I could call B2. Family friend and orthopaedic surgeon, who would have made a perfect general practitioner too as he's a great diagnostician, B2 wouldn't mind getting a call so late.

Muttering invocations to Kdapt, FSM and Finagle I managed to dial the number with my right hand. I had to hold the phone to my left ear, though. That's the only way I can talk on phone. The phone rang only twice before B2 answered.

"B2, I am sorry to call this late, I think I've had a stroke." I hissed in a whisper. "Tell me what happened." He sounded concerned but calm as always. I supposed even orthopaedic specialists were used to getting emergency calls that wake them up.

"I was working late, you see, and all of a sudden I seem to have lost some twenty minutes, and my left hand is dead." He asked a few more questions before he said it didn't sound like a stroke.

"I don't think it's a stroke, Lali. You are not thinking clearly." Now there was a smile in his voice. "Well, being unable to think clearly, that's a symptom of stroke, isn't it?" I said in a querulous whisper. "No, it's a symptom of panic." He laughed outright.

"You got up, found the phone, and called me. A person who's just suffered a CVA can't do that. Think it through, Lali."

"But what about the blackout? My hand is hanging like a lump of dead something or the other, I tell you. I can't move it," I insisted, unwilling to let go of my stroke theory.

"You must have dozed off. Probably in an awkward position. My guess is that you have radial neuropathy, a pinched nerve. We'll see how severe it is tomorrow. Go to bed, Lali."

A new thought struck me. "I'm left-handed, B2," I wailed. "Shh. You don't want to wake the house."

"But how will I brush my teeth? Or cook?"

"You will have to teach your stupid right hand to be clever. You will manage, like you managed to call me," he said. "We'll get some tests done tomorrow, now go to bed, Lali."

"What happened to your bedside manner," I grumbled. He chuckled. "I am in my bed, not on my rounds, and you ought to be in bed too. Good night."

As it turned out, tests bore out his diagnosis, radial neuropathy, or what is commonly known as Saturday Night Palsy or Honeymooners' Palsy, where the radial nerve gets trapped and goes numb. Drunks and addicts and people who fall asleep in odd positions are the usual victims. I was so relieved to have my stroke theory demolished that being considered a drunk seemed no more than a flea bite of annoyance, I assure you.

I went to his chamber to get his seal of approval on the cock-up (yes, that's what it is called) splint that I was to wear to support the wrist. B2 said it was a good splint, taught me exercises to maintain muscle tone and strengthen the hand while I waited for the nerve signals to resume.

"How are you getting on with the poem, by the way?" He asked as I was taking my leave. I turned and glared. "If it is a choice between my hand hanging dead and my poem hanging dead," I began with quiet venom. "You'd choose the hand, of course. That's my girl." He completed my sentence and grinned at me. Bedside manner, bah!

Endeavour at poetry ought to come with a warning that it is dangerous to health, I tell you.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Missus Em plays mah-jongg

Actually, I never played mah-jongg. I first came across the game in Agatha Christie's novel, The murder of Roger Ackroyd, I got curious enough to read up about it, and came to the conclusion it wasn't my cup of tea at all; too complicated by half.

When I am feeling morose, thinking cryptic clues and anagrams is anodyne. So I was considering writing about anagrams again. Did you know that Braille is liberal, that royalist is solitary? That Minnesota nominates? Isocrates can ostracise? Marginally, alarmingly- same difference when it comes to anagrams. 'Drunk, idling morals' and 'dark nudism rolling' are anagrams of 'Larking in doldrums'. That's how blue I was, to construct anagrams of my state.

I could do a trivia post, I considered. Now, I know trivia about a lot of things, all because of cryptic crosswords: the names of the nine Muses, racing tracks in England, heraldic terms and more. I could write a poem or fiction. But there's no guarantee any of these options would lighten my mood.

Then came the Guardian cryptic crossword compiled by Araucaria. Mah-jongg as a game features once in a while in clues, but this was the first time I came across a crossword whose theme was mah-jongg and its tiles.

There are too many suits and mah-jongg terms to accommodate in a standard 15 by 15 grid, of course, so Araucaria only used the honour tiles for eight lovely clues. There were two others to facilitate arrival at the theme obliquely, in an 'aha!' moment, but I didn't need them to figure the theme out.

The first two across and the last two across were themed, tying up with 10 across. These were:

5 Gold inside pole for one of set in 10 with…(6)
6…Westbury, 24 and 25 (6)
24 Well bound (6)
25 Calculator of number in old part of Iraq (6)

And 10 was: Contest to remove right from officer swallowing heroin (named "horse", they say) (3-5)

Here, contest is the definition. Major is the officer- remove 'r', add 'h' inside, 'n' for name and GG, baby talk for horse- voila! Mah-jongg.

So, 5 is 'au' for gold, 'tum' for inside, 'n' for pole and the solution is autumn. 6 is simplicity itself. 'W' and 'inter' for bury and we have winter. 24 is typical Araucaria, either word can be the definition, and the answer is spring. 25 misdirects with the definition 'calculator'; 'm' inside Sumer is summer. And there we are, with four seasons, the honour tiles in mah-jongg.

(Cryptic crosswords use these convoluted homographs-- shower can mean rain, to bathe or he who shows; flower or banker can mean a river. Summer was used as a homograph here.)

There were four down clues linked to the theme, too.

5 down: Classical member of set in 10 and setter turn into flower (6)
14 Opener at 10 'e's associated with abroad, we hear (4,4)
16 Make a hole in the capacity of classical member of set in 10 (6)
17 Garment for one of set in 10 with 14, 5 down and 16 (6)

5 down is a bit of an in joke. An 'u' for turn, inside aster, and Auster is another compiler for Guardian. Auster is the name of the South Wind in classical mythology. There is another, less well-known name for the South Wind, Notus, and Araucaria would have had fun with it. But the grid needed six letter clues.

14 is East Wind, who opens play in mah-jongg. The dropped aitch and twinning make it a nice clue, but classically the East Wind is Eurus, unusable with the grid.

16 is cute. 'Bore' for make a hole and 'as' for in the capacity of, ergo Boreas, the North Wind, also known as Aquilo. I wish Araucaria could have used this, but he couldn't have, not without wrecking the across clues in the lower half of the grid.

17 requires a bit of explanation. That zephyr is a lightweight fabric or garment is not well known outside cruciverbal circles. There is another name for the West Wind other than Zephyr, Favonius.

There were other gems, too.

Song was wrong (4) Lied
Lovely to see and hear the tower? (6) Eyeful
Look for return of transvestite queen (6) Regard
Among religious group one gets to drink endless DDT (11) Insecticide

How amusing. But the fiendishly misleading one, which had me wondering how I arrived at the solution and why it was right, was this: Have a pound to pay on bottle top and cloth (3,5) Tea towel

Cloth is the definition, I fretted, but how to justify, what's the logic? Have a pound to pay is 'owe L' and the misdirection stumped me until I thought of feeding bottles, tops of which have teats. Diabolical clue, that was.

But the reason why this puzzle touched a chord in me was this clue: Absence of wind instruments after party left (8) Doldrums

It suited the theme, fit my mood and lifted my spirits.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Excuse me

If you accompany me on my shopping trips to Lake Market, you will notice something. The vendors all call out (yeah, I know vendors call out to all and sundry) and I respond to each and every one of them.

Namaste didi, says a fruit vendor, adding that the grapes are sweet today, rather. Namaste bhaiya, I say, as I walk past his stall. Maa, dim laagbey, asks my egg-waali. Arre, gato kalyee nilam naa, I say. Ki hollo, didi, calls out another and I smile a greeting, suppressing the usual pun that strikes me. Aayiyegaa, didi, says another; jee, I reply.

I was talking about this with that young lady, Rimi, and she remarked that like her, I suffer from terminal politeness. But it is one thing to walk past vendors crying their wares on pavement stalls, in other markets. In Lake Market, where I shop for groceries, it is different.

You see, if you have been doing your grocery shopping in the same market for seventeen years, they all know you, and you know them too; from the chap who sells you tender maize in season to the chap you exchange greetings with but never buy a thing from. You might not patronise them every time you are out on a shopping trip, but you do meet them, so you greet them.

It takes no time and costs nothing to be polite.

This basic courtesy thing starts when I step out of my building actually, with the security guard. Namaste, memsaab, he says as he holds the gate open for me. I could sweep past him, not acknowledge his greeting, of course, like some of my neighbours do. But I always say, namaste, bhaiya.

There are the cabbies too, and doormen and salespeople. And waiters. I am always taken aback when persons who will excuse themselves with elaborate politeness to answer calls when in company look through waiters.

It is appalling to see people being dismissed as wallpaper. Yes, they are doing their jobs, yes, we are paying them for it, but they are persons, with histories, characters and quirks thereof, and more. And what sort of manners are those that are reserved only for peers?

If we smile an apology before taking a call when with others, if we remember to say please and thank you and excuse me, we are, in courtesy stakes, practically perfect, Emily Post's darlings. But are we her darlings if we walk past without acknowledging somebody we know by sight, or pass everyday? When we fail to thank the doorman? Perhaps, but I can live on credit and goodwill for at least a month, shopping in Lake Market, simply because I acknowledge people.

A couple of months ago, I went to the restaurant we used to frequent on the first Saturday of every month. The last time I was there for lunch was three years ago, when I treated a toy boy to lunch. They greeted me with open arms. Hello ma'am, how nice to see you, you have been neglecting us, so on and so forth they gushed. I said I was only ordering take away, nevertheless they ushered me to 'my' table, urged a beer on me as I waited, and the maitre d' admonished a new lad that ma'am prefers roasted papad, not peanuts.

If you argue that this is because I am an old and valued customer, how do you explain the fact that the maitre d' of a restaurant in Hyderabad asked me if I wanted my usual table, the third time I went there? Oh, perhaps it is because I tip well.

I was going to rant further on this, but there is wonderful news to share. Ram and his team have won huge funding of $100000 in Duke University's CURE competition, for their work in developing an inexpensive and portable colposcope. This will benefit millions of women in remote areas and underdeveloped countries. You have done us proud, Ram. Congratulations!


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Malice, some forethought and such like

It's all because of my son, and I blame it all on him. What are children for if not to grumble about and assign all blame at the door of? He is going abroad again, debating again, all very nice, I am sure, but who gets to do the donkey-work, the legwork, the running around and feverish fretting? Why, Mom, of course.

I blame it on our system of abundant holidays in a working week, and announcing sudden holidays, too. Bengali New Year falls on a Sunday? No problem, we will close down on Saturday, and dedicate it to Dr. Ambedkar. The notice went out too late, and unsuspecting customers went to banks and found the shutters down? Too bad, not our problem.

If I am apportioning blame, let's dish some out to the Reserve Bank of India, too; it was their regulations that caused me grief and tension and immeasurable angst these last twenty-four hours. And at last, let's blame the gentleman who thought everybody knew what he knew.

Wait, I am ranting here, and you don't know what this is all about. Let me draw a deep breath (calm down, for pity's sake) and explain.

It is like this: if people want visas to visit other countries, the embassies issuing them want to know a few things about them— their financial status, if they are able to support themselves when abroad, if they have plans to stay on, and so on and so forth. Fair enough.

So my son called me and said he needed a few documents. I asked him if the documents I'd provided less than seven months ago weren't enough. He said not. (I suspect he lost or misplaced them, some or all, but I didn't dare ask and he didn't say.)

That was on Friday. Therefore, on Saturday I went to the State Bank of India, my branch, with a letter asking for a certificate that would attest to my financial status and solvency. The bank was closed. Dr. Ambedkar's birthday, you see? Not to mention that the Bengali New Year fell on a Sunday and people missed out a holiday because of that.

I went again on Monday. The last time I needed this document I'd spoken to the manager of the branch and he'd done the 'needful', so I went to him this time, too.

This time, he said that I should give the letter to the manager of Personal Banking, on the first floor. So I went upstairs. There were some six or eight people, crowding the gentleman's table, all with equally demanding and urgent things to get done. I waited my turn to talk to him.

He said photocopies of updated passbooks would suffice. I said that they would not, as I needed a certificate stating that I am an account holder with their branch. (Why should my transaction details be disclosed, anyway?) It is for visa purposes, I explained. He took my letter and asked me come back the next day for the document.

My son's text messages got progressively sarcastic, asking which part of the statement 'I need them' I didn't understand; and vitriolic, asking if I was so super-glued to my computer and Internet that I couldn't get anything done. I was glad when the network died periodically, though it only meant there'd be more texts to cringe at when the signal was restored.

I went again yesterday. The gentleman had balance statements all ready; not the document I'd asked for, a certificate that I was an accountholder with the branch. I pointed this out. He said that my letter said a statement. I explained again. He asked me to come the next day for it. I said I needed it that day. I said I could come later, if necessary. Come in the afternoon, he said. Two o'clock, I asked. Come after four, he said.

I walked down to the bank a second time and was there, promptly at four o'clock. The shutters were down, and the branch was finished for the day. To put it mildly, in Lewis Carroll terms, I was frumious.

Now he could have said that it wasn't possible for him to provide the document yesterday. He could have said it can't be done, he could have said no. He needn't have asked me to come after four. Unless it was a very roundabout way of saying 'come tomorrow', because he thought I knew the branch closes at four. Well, I didn't. I did all my bank transactions in the morning, and I had no idea whatsoever when it closed in the afternoon.

If he'd said no, I'd have gone the next day, but he said, come after four. I walked in the afternoon sun, on a hot April day, when he knew that the bank would be closed by then. If this wasn't malice, I don't know what is.

I just hoped fervently that there wouldn't be a call from my son; I dreaded explaining what happened and having to listen to a five-minute tirade of how gormless I was.

So this morning I went to the bank again (sigh), on a slow boil already. The only silver lining was that the validity period of my cell phone came to an end and there was no time to get a recharge coupon, this came first; so I was immune to texts from my son. If he called home on the landline to rant, well, his father could bear the brunt of it. Me, I was sweating it out on the streets, wasn't I?

The shutters were up, but the folding gate was still closed, and the security guard was letting in only bank officials. There I waited, I was going to be fair, I was going to be polite, I wasn't going to lose my temper, I was, I wasn't, I was, I wasn't…

The gentleman walked up, and was allowed in by the guard, who unlocked the padlock for him. Excuse me, I said. The gentleman turned to me, with the same half-smile he wore when at work, looking quizzically at me. You asked me to come after four yesterday, and the shutters were down, what did you mean by that, I asked. The gentleman looked at me as though I spoke in Swahili, and went in. The padlock was back on.

All good intentions and calm questions flew out of my mind. When the bank opened for business, I went straight to the manager and launched into a rant. Why couldn't he have said come tomorrow, I raved. Why make me walk in the afternoon sun to encounter downed shutters, I raged.

The manager listened in bafflement and said, but why didn't you use the side entrance?

Huh? What side entrance?

The entry is from the Southern Avenue side; you could have asked the shopkeepers and they'd have told you.

How is a person who only ever used the bank in morning hours to know that it downs shutters at four o'clock because of RBI directives and further business if any is conducted by entering the premises from the side entrance? I saw the only entrance I knew closed, and I left. Was I supposed to ask paan and tea shopkeepers if the bank was still open, and how to enter it? Why would it strike me? Why didn't the gentleman tell me to use the side entrance, and where it was?

The manager, realising how upset I was, gave me a conducted tour of the ground floor, showing me where the side entrance was, how it was to be accessed from Southern Avenue, and more. He escorted me to the gentleman, and asked that matters be 'expedited'.

Her document was ready yesterday; she never came to collect it, said he. Explained the matter, he said, but I thought everybody knew where the side entrance was.

I didn't. So everybody doesn't know. Bah!

The good news is that my couriers will deliver 'soonest', they promised me, and though the recharge coupon I bought was valid, the transaction is in trouble since my phone seems to have died. Hallelujah!


Monday, April 16, 2007

Announcing Roudri

Blogging, as a famous blogger says once in a while, will be light.

A few posts ago, I'd gleefully declared that I would start a new blog for poetry, and inflict my poems on the blogosphere. Though it was only in jest, that made me think. Larking is not a poetry blog though I do occasionally post poems, and those tend to get ignored by you philistines, anyhow.

Over the weekend, after I completed my sacred duty to cryptic crosswords, I'd set up another blog. This meant, of course, that I was eyeballs-deep in templates and layouts, and that dreaded acronym, HTML.

Template all tweaked to my temporary satisfaction, I published a first post to see how it looked. It looked awful. Back to the drawing board, so to speak. More tweaking, and publish again. Hmm, not bad, but do I want that colour scheme? Back to square one. All in all, I had a frustrating, exhilarating and constructive weekend.

Because it's going to be devoted to poetry, and Telugu poetry mostly, I wanted everything to be just so. With poetry, it had always been like that for me; even choosing the name to publish under.

When I first published poetry in my teens, I'd used the name on my school's records, B Lalita. But by the time my poems were going to be published in a collection, I'd taken to using my father's pseudonym as my surname. This was because though he had a name that only his bank recognised and insisted upon, my father was known to the world of Telugu literature and Telugu cinema as Arudra.

But I didn't want to publish as Lalita Arudra, I didn't want the surname to influence or colour how people read my work. We were mulling over pseudonyms I could use, when my father suggested Roudri. I had to grin.

It was typical of the man and his sense of humour. There I was, trying to deny that I was his daughter when I wrote, and he suggested a name that said, in one way, 'Arudra's daughter'. It was an inevitable joke in a household of punsters that indulged in multilingual puns, and I loved it.

Roudram means wrath, and roudra means wrathful, but roudri means several things, after all. It is a woman, a woman's name, a year in the sixty year cycle of Telugu calendar system, and it is another name of the mother goddess, just like my given name is. More deliciously to me, it is the Srti or tone of antara gaandhaaram, the ga used in Sankarabharanam and Kambhoji.

The possibilities were endless to incorporate some private jokes into poems if I wrote as Roudri.

Of the twenty-two Srtis in an octave, roudri is the eighth, belonging to the jaati deepta, and the gaandhaara graama is sung only in heaven, unheard in mortal world. Its pace is said to be leisurely, and its season the rains. All in all, perfect to write an introductory poem full of allusions and metaphor.

I thanked my father for the name and wrote a tongue in cheek poem introducing myself, and the collection was published. When a review appeared dissecting the poem's internal meaning I was tickled pink, I can tell you.

So I wrote as Roudri, and published another book of poems. These are not available anywhere, thank goodness, as they were badly proofread and contained mistakes galore as my scrawl was mostly indecipherable to compositors.

Thanks to publishing online, I can correct those typos and howlers and publish them again in a medium that will ensure that they aren't lost like the printed books.

I hereby inform my readers that I have set up Roudrisms, and will be posting my Telugu poems there, instead of inflicting them on you here in the Larking. Do check it out and give me feedback, and remember Larking is still my primary playground.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mutton dressed as lamb

Sad old tarts. (Been mums)
Mama's old 'n' buttressed!

These are two well-known anagrams of that awful and derogatory idiomatic phrase, 'mutton dressed as lamb'. 'Odd tantrums assemble' too; less striking, but interesting all the same. If you are wondering why I am thinking of anagrams of the phrase, it is simple: I am considering whether it applies to me, now in my glorious middle age. Age-appropriate dressing is something that is bothering me these days.

I recently saw something that disturbed me, you see. I was at my salon. There were a couple of women, dressed richly if tastelessly. One of them had her daughter along, a toddler. The toddler was going to get a haircut for the coming summer months. Well, that's nice. But the mother had dressed the child in clothes that made me want to weep.

Fashions change, I know. If jeans and skirts seem to hover on the pelvic bones on the strength of a prayer now, they will probably be back hugging the waist next year, but to dress a two-year old in low-rise jeans and a top that stopped halfway to her waist, to make her wear high heels for pity's sake, is ugly. Toddlers should be dressed in clothes that are comfortable and practical. They don't need sequins and embroidery and fashion that are more appropriate for teenagers or supermodels.

Talk about lamb dressed as mutton, I thought to myself. But then, it having struck me once, I seemed to see children dressed in adult fashions everywhere I looked. And it's disturbing. We read reports that girls are attaining puberty earlier and earlier. Now it seems that toddlers are becoming little girls earlier and earlier.

On the other hand, we see older women dressing in clothes that are more suitable for younger women, too. This is why I have been mulling over age-appropriate dressing. But try as I might, I can't make up my mind what is age-appropriate for a person who always dressed for comfort, not style.

Our grandmothers never had to worry about age-appropriate dressing. They wore saris, and that was that. Our mothers wore saris and that was that too. But for my generation that grew up wearing western wear, and lives in jeans and comfortable clothes, this is something of a poser.

When I was young, little girls wore frocks and shifted to long skirts and blouses as they grew older. It never struck me then but we all graduated to half-saris as puberty set in, one could probably tell which of the girls in a class of twelve or thirteen year olds started menstruating by the fact they wore half-saris.

At home, my sisters and I wore frocks, and at school we wore the uniform. Long skirt in a ghastly green, and white blouse. Later came the addition, a half-sari of lighter green. The long blouses that we wore became short and we bared our midriffs for the first time when we first wore a half-sari.

My mother had an excellent dressmaker, a Frenchwoman, who made our clothes, and we wore some lovely frocks, sheathe shirt-waisters and perfectly tailored slacks and tunics. Kate made our first grown-up blouses, too.

In college, we wore half-saris and slacks, bell-bottoms and with a great sense of adventure, saris. I suppose we felt all grown-up and mature wearing a sari. Soon, with the growing popularity of Hindi films (think Aradhana), there came the newfangled fashion of salwar kameez. Used as I was to the drape of half-sari and sari, I found the chunni unwieldy and irritating.

After marriage, without the influence of my mother and sisters who liked clothes, I dressed very casually. Jeans and tops were fine for doing my marketing in, running the house in and taking my son to nursery school in. For the rare socialising, I wore saris my mother gave me, never worrying that they were not the height of fashion, they were classy, weren't they? I never had much interest or patience to find matching petticoats and blouses, to follow prevalent fashions of sleeve lengths and such niceties.

True, I had some salwar suits made occasionally, but I preferred buying ready-made clothes, wearing them out and getting more. It is more than a decade and a half since I last wore a sari.

So, what is age-appropriate for me to wear now? The clothes I always wore, or saris and salwar suits just because I will hit the Big Five this year? Why should I wear a sari now, after living most of my life in comfortable clothes? If nothing, I'd feel awkward and overdressed in a sari.

True, it is hard to find sedate tops in my regular haunt, Fabindia, these days. The length of tops nowadays is shorter than I am comfortable with, but I can still find pieces that I am happy enough to wear.

Women with big hips shouldn't wear pencil skirts, women with short necks should avoid necklines that draw attention to that, and women with sagging upper arms should avoid sleeveless blouses: it is common sense. So, there are styles I avoid, not because they aren't age-appropriate, but because they are unsuitable for my body type.

Then there's the question of feeling comfortable. I wear shorts and lightweight cotton tops in summer months, but I wouldn't wear them to go to Lake Market. It is the same with skirts. No matter what, I won’t wear skirts with hemlines above my knees.

I suppose people can remark snidely that I am 'mutton dressed as lamb' because I wear western wear, because I don't follow age constraints but go with what is my usual garb and ultimately, comfortable. I wear what I feel comfy in, so sue me.

But isn't that better than women who spill out of their blouses and display spare tires and capacious bellies in saris worn well below their navels? I don't display more flesh than my arms, at least.

Shouldn't clothes be more body-appropriate and lifestyle-appropriate than age-appropriate?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How have the mighty fallen

One thing, as they say, led to another. Reading poetry is hard work.

Writing to me after a recent post of mine, Chenthil sent a translation of a poem of his:

The majestic elephant
that defeated many an emperor
in rousing battles
is now blessing people
for a rupee
just like me stringing words
for you, the reader's, praise.

This is a powerful idea. I tried to read the original Tamil version, but the script defeated me. The image stayed with me, though. I tried to figure out why. Then it came to me that Chenthil, true to the ideal of poetry that it should make one think, left the idea and image incomplete. He left it for readers to fill in the blanks and supply the missing comparison from their own experiences and levels.

This is about reduced circumstances, about how the mighty have fallen. There is a proverb in Telugu, selling firewood in the town where you once sold flowers. This is about loss of station and dignity.

Those were my first thoughts.

So who would the poet be? Can one imagine Kalidasa writing advertising jingles? Shakespeare? Yes, he wrote for money. Actually, Kalidasa too, since he wrote under the patronage of a king. Writing was a profession for them. Almost all Telugu classical poets wrote under patronage of kings.

Vyasa wrote for posterity. Valmiki wrote to sing of the perfect man. For me then, it was Valmiki, the Adi Kavi. I know that the Epic of Gilgamesh is older, but there's no stated author there, after all. And this is very much an Indian image and concept.

C Rajagopalachari, in his English rendition of Ramayana says:

The story begins with the visit of the Saint Narada one morning to Vaalmeeki's aashrama. After the usual welcome Vaalmeeki asked him: "O, all-knowing Narada, tell me, who among the heroes is the highest in virtues and wisdom?"

Knowing through his supernatural power why Vaalmeeki put the question, Narada answered: "Raama is the Hero that you ask for."

Thinking further on this, I read the poem to my husband. So what is the Tamil version, he asked. I confessed I couldn't read it, not well enough to repeat. Naturally, he asked me how I would render it. Having no idea of the original version and going by the translation, what that conveyed to me and how it moved my thoughts, I extemporised:

The war-elephant that rampaged in battle
Now bestows blessings for coin.
I sang the story of the perfect man,
Now I bleat for your attention.
Yours truly, Valmiki

I mailed it to Chenthil, and immediately regretted the levity that 'yours truly' introduced into a poignant idea. Truly, Internet makes it easy and regular when it comes to regretting hitting the Send button. But Chenthil said this was forceful, but asked in an aside if Rama could be called the perfect man, given the slaying of Vaali and Sita's ordeal by fire.

I thought further, and tried this out:

The war-elephant that rampaged in battle
Now bestows blessings for coin
I sang the world's first poem
Now I write ditties for your praise.

I decided that if I wanted to have a go at translation, I needed to read the original. I nag very well (ask any of my blogging friends). So I nagged Chenthil into sending me a transliterated version. I may have trouble reading the script, but I can follow classical Tamil, after all:

perarasargalai perumporkalil
vetri konda yaanai
otrai roobai kasu
vaangi aasi tharugirathu
inthak kavithai padikkum
un paaraattukkaga
vaarththai valaikkum ennaip pola.

The war-elephant that
Unmade emperors in mighty battles
Now bestows blessings for coin
Like my twisting words together
For plaudits from you, Reader.

Now his translation seemed perfectly fitting. I beat a hasty and chastened retreat. How have the mighty fallen, indeed!


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why I chat with young men

Because young women don't deign to chat with me, as it happens.

Now that isn't true, really; I chat with young women as much as I chat with young men and enjoy myself as thoroughly doing so, but that won't make for a dramatic title, will it?

I don't socialise much. I get invited to attend art shows and poetry meets and such cultural stuff, but I generally prefer to stay at home reading a book or solving a crossword. Most of my interaction with people, young or otherwise, is online these days.

Seriously though, the reason we chat online or exchange long arguments in mails is we all like to communicate. But fun as it might be, I've noticed how communication evolves when we talk online.

When you mail somebody, out of curiosity or with a genuine question, and when they reply; when you communicate with a person for any length of time online, what happens is this-- you establish your levels of intelligence, linguistic competence, sense of humour and what you each find offensive.

You start carefully, with some courtesy and reserve. As the exchange lengthens and you get a feel of the person, there develops rapport. You have common ground, and find other things to talk about too.

In short, you build a relationship, however ether-based and ephemeral it might be. Once you have an idea about each other's levels of tolerance, there is much fun to be had, though.

I have a pal who rants at me about global warming, as if I personally caused it. I have a pal who asks me why Ganguly gets a warm welcome when the rest of the team slunk in. I have a pal who demands that I debate a point when I have no argument to offer. I have a friend to dissect Tenali Ramalingana's poetry with.

I have friends to discuss if people ought to get a license to procreate. I have friends to rant about government policies with. I have friends to argue Rafi versus Kishore for the umpteenth time. I have friends to share nostalgia for Madras with. I have friends to trade clues with, friends to clarify doubts, friends who ask me for clarifications; I have pals for all occasions, really.

What happens is, we develop personal equations and private jokes that arise out of our conversations. And as you trade jokes and puns, some become running gags.

A chance mention of Cinderella hour as I take leave, and a buddy ends up addressing me as Matilda, and our conversations now start with either of us saying, shall we dance? I correct a pal's usage because I know he won't be offended, and now he always says hi with a ' ready for my lesson, ma'am'. Where is my word for the day, demands another, as we trade obscure words.

Best of all, I have pals with wit and humour. They know what's fun, what's funny and what isn't. They know banter, badinage even; they amuse and entertain me when we play like this:

: wait. i will come to calcutta and ask you as my bride.
: son/husband? who owns you now?
: you'll ask my husband for my hand? brilliant.
: i am nice no? he will say yes
: owned by husband, ruled by son, alas
: will defeat both of them and then we will elope.
: what is their worst sport?
: tell, and I will challenge.
: son has ELO 1953
: huh, how Calcuttan is that?
: K is an algebraic topologist, that's his sport.
: will challenge in kabbadi
: perfect!
: ok -- tell husband I am coming and asking
: husband telling, please take her off my hands, she is a dreadful nag, but never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.
: But we will still elope. Thrill wanted no?
: indeed, ha.

It is all dreadfully politically incorrect, of course, but such fun when you both know it. Nowadays we sign off with promises to set a date for the elopement.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Missus Em's first love

Like everything else, this became an obsession too. I'd been thinking about doing an occasional Telugu post, maybe a poem or two, for a while now.

I began my writing career in Telugu, back when the world and I were young. Telugu poetry will always remain my first love. I still have all the cuttings of my published poems. (Blame it on my mother, she is a great one for scrapbooks)

I use iLeap to save my Telugu poems on my computer. They claim it is an "intelligent, internet ready indian language word processor" but their manual was clearly written by people who were not. In the four years I've been using it, I haven't managed to figure out how to do anything online with it. It's frustrating to write in Telugu and not be able to publish it online, just because the manual doesn't tell me how.

Actually, I acquired iLeap so I could compile clues for cryptic crosswords in Telugu. I had a software that generated grids, and I was going to combine the two and create crosswords in Telugu. It didn't work out. To look on the bright side, I learnt the phonetic keyboard conventions and had transcribed all my cuttings and poems on to my computer.

Much later, I took to blogging. I was astonished when Gilli first linked to a post of mine, or DesiPundit. I saw from my site tracker that I had an unusally high number of visitors and that was how I learnt that I got link love. That is how I discovered filter blogs and blogs in regional languages, too.

Naturally, I wanted to do some Telugu posts myself. My iLeap is useless, unless somebody gives me lessons. So I asked Chenthil how he wrote his Tamil posts. He gave me the link to a neat software. But it had no tutorial, and after three weeks of practice I still don't know how to insert a poorNaanusvaaram. I didn't like the look of the fonts, either. However unwieldy it is, iLeap has some nice fonts.

A couple of days ago, I checked the Telugu archives of DesiPundit, and found there are blogs with fonts that aren't too bad. So I wrote and asked Goutham how he wrote his posts, and he directed me to lekhini. This is a nifty tool for online composing. And it is perfect for me, as all I had to do was to copy and paste what I wrote there. Overjoyed, I transcribed a poem of mine. I am not too happy with the fonts, but you know what they say about beggars.

Written two decades ago, the poem's sentiment is still valid. Those of you who can read Telugu, please do give me feedback. Those of you that can't, eat your hearts out, Missus Em is gloating.

నేతి, నేతి

ఇది కాదు జీవితం ఇంకా నిరీక్షణే
ఎదలోని తలపులు ఎదురుచూస్తున్నాయి
ఒక మల్లె విరియాలి ఒక జల్లు కురియాలి
నా అంతర విపంచికను మరికొంత మరికొంత
మేళవించాలి శ్రుతి చక్కదిద్దాలి

ఇపుడిపుడె గొంతెత్తి ఇరుల సంగీతాన్ని
మనసింటి కాంతి శ్రుతి ఆలపించగరాదు
స్వరాలు ఒరుసుకొని గమకాలు మెరియవు
సందేహం నీడలో సంగతులు విరియవు

అసలు, రాగమెన్న లేదు గతి వెట్టలేదు
నేను పాడబోయే గీతి రచించనే లేదు
ఎదురుచూస్తున్నారని గళమెత్తలేను
నా శ్రోత నా ఆత్మ ఇంకా నిరీక్షణే

But Larking is not a poetry blog nor a Telugu blog. I am not even sure I can add labels and categories without changing my template and destroying my blogroll and site tracker. Inserting the codes was bad enough the first time, a nightmare that I don't want to repeat.

So it is with great glee that I hereby announce, I am going to set up a separate blog for my Telugu poems, and I am going to have fun inflicting my poetry on you folks.


Update: Anon and others want it, so here is a transliterated version, perhaps I will do a translation bimeby, who knows?

nEti, nEti (not this, not this)

idi kaadu jeevitam yinkaa nireekshaNE
eda lOni talapulu eduruchoostunnaayi

oka malle viriyaali oka jallu kuriyaali
naa antara vipanchikanu marikonta marikonta
mELavinchaali sRti chakkadiddaali

ipuDipuDe gontetti irula sangeetaanni
manasinTi kaanti sruti aalapinchagaraadu
svaraalu orusukuni gamakaalu meriyavu
sandEham neeDalo sangathulu viriyavu

asalu, raagamenna lEdu gati veTTa lEdu
nEnu paaDabOye geeti rachinchanE lEdu
eduru choostunnaarani gaLametta lEnu
naa srOta naa aatma yinkaa nireekshaNE

Um, do get back to me about a setting up another blog or trying (sigh) to add labels and losing my template so far. At the rate, I'd be better off starting an anonymous blog, I tell you.

Cheers again!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Everything is extraneous

Property of Electra's instruction to Orestes? (6)* Or why Missus Em loves Shed

"Everything is Eventual," says Stephen King. Well, everything is irrelevant now, I say.

It happens when I am in the zone. When I strike a purple patch in my career of solving cryptic crosswords (it happens once in a while), I solve the daily lot in no time at all. It happened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, too. Then came the monthly Genius puzzle.

I downloaded it late last evening and I printed it out, since one does not hope to solve Genius or Prize crosswords by the 'read online, solve and fill in the solution' method. But then life and other loves intervened and I left the puzzle semi-solved, my head buzzing with possibilities as I went to bed. Some six clues left, I fretted.

This month's Genius crossword has a lovely twist. The special instructions said:

Each of the Across clues contains an extraneous word. The initial letters of these words should be arranged to form an appropriate phrase and entered at 3, 18 down.

So, sixteen clues, each with an extraneous word, and I'll have to figure out which that is, and then an anagram of the first letters of those words to form a phrase. My heart soared.

Today, I might have been physically present in my bank, standing in line, but mentally I was in the zone, thinking clues; I might have been whipping eggs for breakfast, or dicing potatoes to my absurd levels of perfection, but my mind was elsewhere. What I was doing was just going through motions, my mind always on the last few clues.

Standing in the queue (yes I know, again) I was reading the streaming (screaming too, in a way) packages and deals and schemes offered by my bank. Electronic Fund Transfer, I read.

E F T, eft, I mused. Immature newt. Amphibian. Frog. Frenchman. Rene. Descartes. Cogito; ergo sum. Really, free association takes more time to type than to think.

But Descartes' other quote, that except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power, is more apt.

Now I have to think harder. Brummie thought, and set the puzzle. Now I have to think and solve it. Mind against mind, wit against wit; you set a clue and I solve it and laugh, I mused. How godlike it must feel to compile a crossword.

I recalled a conversation I had with my baby son: Lali, what is god? Well, many people think the world, solar system, galaxies and all must have somebody who designed it and looks after it, that entity is called god. Do you think there is god, Lali? I am waiting for proof. Does Daddy think there is god? No. Does Tengu (our pariah princess dog) think there is god? Umm, she thinks Daddy is god.

Bhadralok is too slow, other lines are moving fast, muttered a man who kept poking me as if crowding me could get him to the counter any faster. I stifled an impulse to tell him to go stand in the lines he thought moved quicker. Each line takes about the same time to reach the counter and then it depends on the transaction, so if you want to be stupid, be stupid, I said to myself.

The clever trick to solving cryptic clues is that there is no trick. Crossword clues are precisely given instructions, more so when by masters. A series of instructions and a bit of verbal prestidigitation, yeah, but most clues are fair.

And Brummie is always elegantly concise. So. If there is an extraneous word it will stick out, to be idiomatic, like a sore thumb. But there is the thing about life happening, and such interventions. So I dealt with it.

Late lunch and more interruptions of the entertaining kind and I settled down to the crossword, solving the phrase and then fretting about the last down clue. Until I am satisfied with the reasoning and am sure, I can't hit the submit button, and there is the last down clue. Pesky thing, only five letters long and mocking me.

Everything is extraneous now. Gotta solve it or die, says Inner Mule. But there is always salvation, for the righteous and the humble and the meek.

The Resident Magician solved it for me as I ran my solutions past him to check if they sounded right logically.

Bah, he solved the last clue.

Missus Em will go to honourable seppuku as soon as she discharges the sloppy slobbering kisses and hugs and virtual love various toygirls and assorted admirers keep sending Mister Em. Oh, and Missus Em thinks she ought to submit her solution first too.



Sunday, April 01, 2007

Each man kills the thing he loves

"And all men kill the thing they love,

By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"

The surf loves and longs for the beach, you see, but tides dictate terms, so the waves leave kisses and intricate patterns on the sand they are being dragged away from, you said.

It just seems like a rare natural phenomenon, that double rainbow, but it is nature climate and weather signalling that we belong together, you said.

You gave me joy, you taught me passion. You gave me laughter. You taught me to see beauty everywhere in the world.

When we walked on the beach and scrutinised retreating waves and the memories they leave on wet sand, you gave me insight about how yearning shapes us. When we strolled on rain drenched paths and gazed at twin rainbows you taught me that the ephemeral is eternal in memory.

You knew things about me that I never told anybody else. You were the repository of my guilty secrets, foolish hopes and painful memories. You took my hurt, made it your own and I hurt less. You took pride in my achievements and made my joy complete. You gave me hope where I had none, and determination when I wanted to give up.

My trust I gave you, my faith and passion. My grief I shared with you and all my enduring joys. Not a joke that I laughed at went unshared with you. Perhaps I clung too much.

Then, perhaps to balance the joy, you gave me tears and for passion grief. To counter laughter you gave me helpless anger. Alongside beauty there is ugliness now.

I want to turn the clock back and unmake it all. I'd not have revelled in the first joy of finding and bonding had I known this would be future. I'd have walked away before I gave you the power to hurt me.

You gave me a lot of things, just give me one thing more. Turn the clock back.

Unbreak my heart.

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