lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The three C's

"Hey thanks," he murmured as I set down his drink at his elbow. He took a deep appreciative sip and said, "Ah, that tastes good." I smiled as I settled into my rocking chair.

As friends go, he's the sort you never have to keep in touch or count visits and reciprocation. He'd drop in and we'd carry on from where we left off the last time. And this was no different, except that he got curious.

"What is the secret, Lali?" he asked, as he picked up a few of the munchies. "Huh?" I said, trying to figure what he thought was a secret. "This is regular whisky, and it tastes great, so what is the secret?" "There is no secret," I smiled.

"Nah, there has got to be one. It is staple everyday rotgut stuff and it tastes bloody marvellous." He saw my frown and added, "Now don’t get huffy, bloody is an adjective, an informal intensifier, not a swear word or blasphemy, come on."

I swallowed a smile and protested. "Look, I offered you Laphroaig, Glenfiddich, Baileys, rum or vodka, but you wanted the daily stuff."

"Yeah, because it tastes great here," he said, going back to the original question. "So, what is the secret?"

"There is none." I said. "I simply measure…" "Ah ha, you measure?" "Yeah, well. Doesn't everybody?" There were strangled sounds as the men laughed themselves sick. I waited it out.

"Let me get you another," I said and collected the glasses. "Handmaiden, isn't she," said the lord and master proudly. "Regular Ganymede, yeah" he agreed. I protested. Cupbearer I might be, but I refuse to be confused with young boys. They laughed at me.

"This is perfect," he sighed as he took a sip of the fresh drink. "But Lali, it's only mixed drinks you have to measure, this is just straight stuff. So there has got to be a secret, I swear."

"Swat you think," I mumbled huffily.

"Ouch, leave the Enid Blyton references out, Lali," interjected the lord and master. "Swat I said," said his best friend helpfully. I rolled my eyes. They went into another bout of chuckling.

"You know, this is daily stuff at home too, but it's great when you make it," he went on, demolishing the munchies and catching my hand to indicate he'd rather talk than be plied with more eats. I sat down again. The munchies can wait the refill, then. And conversation was going great guns after all.

But the lord and master had more to say. You will understand bar-tending the way Lali does it when you understand Hawking and the quantum stuff, he sneered at his best friend, as they seem to think putting each other down is the only way to proclaim affection.

"Ah. Hawkins, the world famous inventor of the pressure cooker." After stunned silence and obligatory groans we went on to other things.

Much later, he asked again why a staple drink tasted so good. "The three C's." I replied, as we hugged in leave-taking. Company, conversation, conviviality-- rotgut tastes good when somebody else is making the drinks, really.


Friday, May 25, 2007

One lives and learns

One filler post, coming up!

Look, I'd rather not tell you about my woes, so I will tell you of my misfortunes. For all my accumulated years and wisdom it seems I am a simpleton; an idiot, imbecile, a cretin even.

My cousins used to listen to music other than what used to be on offer on All India Radio and I heard this song way back when the world was young. I loved it; the refrain and the weary mood all touched a chord and spoke to me.

'Daylight come 'n' 'e' wan' go home' sounded poignant to me. It spoke of physical toil, bad work conditions, monotony and the need to go back to the comfort of the familiar. 'Come mister tally man, tally me banana', I used to sing to myself as I counted my day's achievements.

Then I heard Pradeep sing it. He was a whale of a man, and the only safe place I could offer him to park himself when he visited was our bed. (he broke a chair when he came wishing us a happy married life and sang a brilliant version of 'ek chatur naar' and those were days when he was merely overweight) He'd stretch out in imitation of Lord Vishnu on his bed of time serpent and sing to us.

Banana Boat was a song he loved to sing. He'd give it his full-throated baritone soul, voice soaring to make the room shiver and walls throw back echoes, but he always got the pensiveness right. When I hear the lines 'day, me say day, me say day, me say day' in my head, I can almost see him. A mountain of a man lolling on my bed, fat fingers snapping time as his voice freewheeled, soared and captured the mood; grinning as he sang 'a beautiful bunch of ripe banana' and went on to the deadly black tarantulas. Man, I'm tired, his voice would say; I need a break, his voice would say.

Now, I have searched a bit for the song and I could only find a paltry few seconds of Harry Belafonte singing it. I prefer remembering Pradeep sing it, though. But life is full of rude shocks. I came across this link, which rather reinforces my belief that when correctly viewed everything is lewd. The mind boggles.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Heavenly interlude

Downpour of appropriate quantities on hill in Aries (9)*

It is just past four in the afternoon, but an eldritch darkness has descended. The light reminds me of eclipses. The storm is building up nicely, I think. As more practical people in the house rush about closing windows, I stand at my bedroom window, holding it open.

The gusts of wind turn into a steady gale and the storm starts in earnest. This one believes in dramatic entrances, there is lightning and a simultaneous thunderclap to announce arrival.

The rain pours down driven in sheets by the gale, darkening the street below further and I see it bouncing off the parapet of the house next-door. I track the gusts of wind tree by tree. The Rain Tree at the edge flings its branches to one side and bows over, the Copper Pod follows suit; the palms in my neighbour's garden join and the Acacia at the edge of my vision. By the time I turn back to the Rain Tree, the branches are waving wildly in another direction.

A particularly strong gust proves too much and my window bangs shut. I capitulate and move to the French doors. Across the street at the lake, the Banyan at the edge is lowering in the rain, some branches dipping into the lake with the gusts. The Gulmohur and the young Rain Tree to my right are twining their branches and parting. The trees shed their coats of dust and the many greens are now discernible.

A mynah among the shrubs in the balcony cocks a beady eye at me. I pretend not to notice. It is not convinced, gives an alarm call and flutters away, but only up to the farthest corner, though. It has no intention of seeking other shelter, and it knows me by sight anyway.

I open the French doors enough to stand between the lashing rain and the close warmth of the room. The contrast between cold gusts of rain and warm swirls of indoor air is strangely pleasurable. I think of Maxwell's Demon. Am I one now, I muse.

There is a large black ant scurrying on the balcony floor. Emmet, six-footer, social worker, I think distractedly. I think I solved a clue, but the storm is too gripping to go fill in the solution. Time passes, and the gale loses strength. The rain tapers off to sullen drizzle. There is lightning and I count the seconds to judge distance. The storm is moving away. It is still overcast so it will rain elsewhere, I conclude, not begrudging other parts of the city this respite and benison.

I look to see if there is a lightening of clouds in the east. I check the time and sigh. Too late and wrong angle to hope for a rainbow. Well, one can't have everything. Maybe the storm will return later.



Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sex between sects

I find all this outrage and umbrage taken at arts rather bemusing, to say the least. Guardians of decency, morality and Indian culture decide what is acceptable and in doing so decide what is good for everybody; who made them arbitrators?

When they ban books, force art exhibitions to close and stop filmmakers plying their trade, these guardians of public propriety only display their own narrow-mindedness. When I read about these things I am always reminded of Tom Lehrer's assertion:

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed,
Everything is lewd.
(I could tell you things about Peter Pan,
And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!)
I suppose I should be glad that these people don't seem to read science fiction. They'd have lynched Frank Herbert for his idea of Orange Catholic Bible,
the 'Accumulated Book,' the religious text produced by the Compendium of Ecumenical Translators. It contains elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Sarri, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddhislamic traditions. Its supreme commandment is considered to be: 'Thou shalt not disfigure the soul.'
When these guardians of public morals turn their attention to music and dance and their own faith, will they ban performing Jayadeva's ashtapadis? Kshetrayya? Will they raze Khajuraho? Will they prohibit the chanting of Lalitha Sahasra Naamam as it contains praises of the goddess body part by body part? Will they ban the Puranas and classics where gods copulate and covet other men's wives, ascetics lech, and unnatural births abound?

All right, I have finished ranting.

I have been thinking about this lovely padam of late. A padam is a slow composition with romantic or erotic love as theme, and features towards the end of a recital. This one though, I have not heard or seen performed, well known as it is.

Composed by Vangala Seenayya, better known as Ghanam Seenayya, this padam in raga Kuranji is brilliant. Then I found a version, much abridged in that only one charanam was sung, online. I was disappointed to hear it, I must say.

What was wonderful satire was turned into a dirge, and all playful humour was lost. Mispronunciations were there aplenty, the accent was awful and the phrases were broken in wrong places. That wasn't all or the worst, though. The singer ruined the punch line.

You see, artists tend to start with the anupallavi when performing padams; I don't like it, but it's a free world. But if the artist understood the lyric, and realised that the anupallavi contains the punch line, surely the song would have started with the pallavi? The joke is built declaration by declaration.

శివదీక్షాపరురాలనురా నే శీలమింతైన విడువజాలనురా
శివశివ గురునాజ్ఙ మీరనురా శ్రీవైష్ణవుడంటే చేరనురా
Sivadeekhshaa paruraalanuraa, nE Seelamintaina viDuvajaalanuraa,
Siva Siva gurunaajna meeranuraa, SreevaishNavuDanTE chEranuraa

I have been initiated into worship of Siva; I cannot forgo my virtue the least bit; in my god's name I won't break my teacher's commandment; I will not sleep with a man who worships Vishnu.

Ghanam Seenayya was a devotee of Ranganatha Swami of Sri Rangam, all known compositions of his bear the signature 'mannaaru ranga' and are dedicated to the god. So this is a tongue in cheek description of a seduction of a basivi, a woman dedicated to worship Siva by none other than the god.

I think we had greater levels of tolerance and sense of humour in earlier centuries. Taraa SaSaankamu, Tara's seduction of her husband's disciple Chandra, written around the same time, in the early eighteenth century, did not provoke howls of protest about degradation of morals. Siva deekshaa didn't either, for all that it poked fun at the differences in Hindu sects and insularity thereof.

Only the first charanam seems to be performed these days, which is a pity as one misses the point of the composition.

వడిగ వచ్చి మఠము జొరకుమురా శివార్చనవేళ తలుపు తెరువకురా
మడుగుకావిచెరగు దీయకురా మాటిమాటికి నీవు నోరు మూయకురా
vaDiga vachchi maThamu jorakumuraa, SivaarchanavELa talupu teruvakuraa
maDudukaavi cheragu deeyakuraa, maaTimaaTiki neevu nOru mooyakuraa.

Don't come rushing into the monastery, and open the door during my devotions; don't fumble with folds of my drape, don't keep silencing me. (maDugu is clean, kaavi is the saffron dye favoured by ascetics.)

పంచాక్షరీజపశీలనురా కూకిపలుకులు వినజాలనురా
కొంచెపు వగలు నేనెంచనురా మ్రొక్కుదు రుద్రాక్షసరులు తెంచకురా
panchaaksharee japaSeelanuraa, kookipalukulu vinajaalanuraa
konchepu vagalu nE nenchanuraa, mrokkudu rudraakshasarulu tenchakuraa

I am committed to reciting the panchaakshari mantra, I cannot listen to your sweet nothings; I will not consider your beguilements, I beg you, don't break my rudraaksha ropes. (kookipalukulu - sounds of a pigeon, cooing)

అజ్జచూచి చన్ను లదుమకురా నా సెజ్జగొలుసుబట్టి గదియకురా
బుజ్జగించకు పసిగోలనురా నా కెమ్మోవి నొక్కకు భక్తురాలనురా
ajja choochi channu ladumakuraa, naa sejjagolusubaTTi gadiyakuraa,
bujjaginchaku pasigOlanuraa, naa kemmOvi nokkaku bhakturaalanuraa

Don't squeeze my breasts at every chance, don't pull me closer by my sacred chain; don't cajole an innocent maiden, don't caress my mouth, I am a worshipper. (sejja is the pouch Shaivaites carry round their necks, containing the relics of their faith.)

మోము మోమునుబట్టి చేర్చకురా నీ నామముతోడ బూతిగూర్చకురా
వేమరు తొడభిక్ష వేడకురా పోపోరా మన్నారురంగ మల్లాడకురా
mOmu mOmunabaTTi chErchakuraa, nee naamamutODa booti goorchakuraa
vEmaru toDabhiksha vEDakuraa, pOpOraa mannaru ranga mallaaDukuraa

Don't bring your face close to mine, don't mix your sect markings with my sacred ash; don't repeatedly beg for alms of my thighs; get away with you, Mannaru Ranga, don't struggle with me. (toDa bhiksha is a lovely phrase, an euphemism for sexual favours, and mallaaDu is to grapple in close quarters)

As the song develops, it is clear that the seduction is proceeding apace. The nayaki keeps saying no, and yet in each charanam she permits more liberties. The last line makes you wonder who is seducing whom.

Now all Shaivaites can go to holy war with Vaishnavaites, having read this outrageous padam explained, ha!

This is my two-hundredth post, by the way.


Update: Here's a spirited rendition of the padam by S Janaki, in the film Pooja phalam, music score by S Rajeswara Rao. Link gratefully received from Megha.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A simple rant

When I feel morose, I think anagrams. It cheers me up. I could do with some cheering up right now, I tell you.

So I tell you that Charon needs no anchor, seminar remains, and Stainer retains. A senator should avoid treason. Existentialism can limit sex in East. Clean forks are useless for eating corn flakes. Fiendish is finished. Never get a salami cooked for vegetarian meals. Expect varied expert advice.

Parliaments practise paternalism and 'a simple rant' or better still, 'rampant lies'.

Here are some for the Non Resident Mathematician— double negative is nag due love-bite. From unfair resort one gets Fourier transform. Scalene triangle produces stern allegiance and alien rectangles. Mystic lovelies make velocity smiles.

Collateral damage is alleged amoral act. Seven-year itch is heavy in secret. Dual gender is general dud. Humble arrogance is changeable rumor. Ménage à trois is an orgies team.

Priority halts with poly-arthritis, you see? With one arm already in a splint and a sling, the other is over-worked. That brought on a bout of arthritis which, like the wandering Jew, is migrating from joint to joint. Currently, I am going barefoot because one ankle is so swollen that I have grown too big for my boots. Right knee sympathises with the ankle and joins in. Right wrist and elbow refuse to be left out. Shoulder is making noises about solidarity and may join the party, it is suspected.

So, I am consoling myself trying out anagrams. Present favourite is that Venus de Milo mused in love. I love Ms. Nude too, since like her I am now mostly 'armless.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Being newly in love

"adi oka idi le, atanike tagule," I hummed, smiling. I was in thrall of a new obsession and that song describes new love perfectly.

I don't know about current film music, but Telugu and Tamil or Hindi film songs that I grew up with are what strike me when I need an apt phrase to sum up a situation. Because there are songs in our films for almost any situation, I can quote snatches of old film songs that are perfect for pangs of separation, sorrow of parting, unrequited love, betrayal, rejection, loss or for being smitten.

The song I hummed has two versions, Tamil and Telugu. I suppose a Hindi version exists, but who cares?

To digress a bit:

If it's a tough task to write to a tune, it's tougher to write and replicate nuances of another language. Kannadasan could do wordplay using participles in his famous honey song paarthen, sirithen and round it off with eduthen koduthen suvai then, inithen illadhapadi kadhai mudithen. But when a song is written for a situation, a mood and a film, lyricists don't compete or try to cap each other's brilliance. The languages are different, the grammar and idiom. It is silly to try to match wordplay then.

Same tune and all, but the Telugu version choochee valachee has its own brilliance, even if playing with participles couldn't be continued throughout. So the Telugu version says sandiTa bandee chEsee naa bandee vaSamaipOtee, marvellous in its own way: having imprisoned my love in my arms, I surrendered to my prisoner.

But to get back to adi oka idi le, it's another song written for the same script, situation and the same mood. Even the tune is the same. But it differs from the original song; anubavam pudhumai is a brilliant song, but so is adi oka idi le.

Made in mid nineteen sixties, Kathalikka Neramillai is more famous for the comic genius of Nagesh, but it has some lovely songs. When it was remade into Telugu as Preminchi Choodu the original tunes were retained.

The original, anubavam pudhumai is a masterpiece depicting the fresh giddiness of new love, describing all states thereof. But then, it was written by a master poet, Kannadasan. In Telugu, the other magical poet, Atreya, wrote the equally brilliant lyric.

Both songs deal with the obsessive thinking about the sweetheart, reliving the last meeting, the words spoken, the gestures and tones, the caresses bestowed; the state of being lovelorn, how each aches for the other are brilliantly captured in both.

It is ages since I heard either of them, so I searched for the songs. I found the Tamil version easily enough, but I have Megha to thank for the Telugu version and Anantha to thank for Megha.

When you consider the songs side by side, as I have been doing today, it is impossible to decide which is better. I have listened to them over and over to make up my mind. I can't.

Both songs mention the girl's walk. The young man takes liberties in both. They relive the meeting in both, they go into raptures over each other in both, and they are swooning with desire in both. Love is a new experience in both.

Kannadasan says anubavam pudhumai, and goes on to describe the new state, the new bold thoughts and the new desires; but Atreya says adi oka idi le and defines the experience in the very opening line as indefinable. That is a bit like something, the lovers say, because nothing can describe it. I like that.

The first time your amour holds your face in his hands, your cheeks feel branded, and you will feel the imprint of those hands for a long time after. The idea ponnaana kai pattu puNNaana kannangkaLE is too enchanting to leave unexplored, but idiom in Telugu doesn't suit literal translation. So Atreya says siggEla annaaDu naa bugga gillaaDu, capturing the initial shyness and being coaxed into intimacy beautifully.

When she sang those lines or when she sang, kaNNenna kaNNenRu aruginil avan vanthaan, P Susheela conveyed the breathless excitement of initial intimacy and remembered wonder at those bold moments perfectly.

Who doesn't remember the delicious shivers a caress creates? In the lines pani pOl kuLirnthadhu kani pOl iniththadhammaa, mazai pOl vizunthadhu malaraay malarnthadhammaa, Kannadasan makes the rapture clear.

Atreya says enDalle vachchaaDu manchalle karigaanu, vennellu kuriSaaDu vEDekkipOyaanu, and that is equally beautiful. I wouldn't dare attempt a translation of the Tamil version, but the Telugu can be interpreted like this: he arrived like the sun, I melted like dew, he rained moonlight and I burned with it.

Watching one's love obsessively, one notes the stance, the carriage and more, one is enchanted by everything. thaLLaadi thaLLaadi nadamittu avaL vanthaaL, says Kannadasan and adds later, singkaarath thEr pOla kulungkidum avaL vaNNam. That's lovely, but can't be carried over to Telugu.

So, naDakEdi annaanu naDichindi oka saari, says Atreya. He makes the girl sashay for her sweetheart. But where you can see the poet incarnate is in Atreya's next line, naDumEdi annaanu, navvindi vayyaari: where's that walk, I said, she walked for me; where's the waist, I said, she laughed at me.

Classical poets described women's waists in many charming ways. Sreenaatha, in calling Damayanti astinaastivichiktsaahEtuSaatOdari, said that her waist sparked debates whether it existed or not. So following tradition, Atreya's young man asks a silly question and gets a laugh in reply.

Whenever I hear this song, I wonder if Atreya wrote that deliberately tongue in cheek. You see, he surely must have known the female leads were the same as in the Tamil version. And Rajashree could be described as plump or buxom only if one wanted to be kind. To have a young man ask her where her waist is provokes mirth.

Or maybe Atreya meant that since it was clear she had no waist, the question was laughable.

"adi oka idi le," I hummed.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I am in lurve," I declared loftily.
"Yeah, but what is that song?"
"Just sums it up, honey."


Saturday, May 05, 2007

The cup overfloweth

Lali is having fun today. It is the first Saturday of the month. It is May, and it's the fifth of May.

It's a beastly hot day and her watch died yet again, there are annoyances galore (left hand in a cock-up splint with thumb in abduction, no less), but Lali is having fun. There is food delivered, there is chilled beer and there is news from son and heir saying he is fine.

She is brimming over with ideas for her poetry blog; she has plans for it. She discovers that a 'memorialist' can 'immortalise' and to her joy, she completes her daily dose of Sacred Duty in what seems like no time at all. There is even a Saturday Prize crossword by Araucaria, which she cracks as she sips her beer.

She has celebrated this day in varying degrees of happiness, solemnity and cheer over the years. Events have occurred to mar the day or rob it of its significance, but she has never let them take the day away from her list of special days.

She knows calendars are there aplenty. By Mayan long count today is, by Julian Day 2454226, and more calendars than she cares to consult differ about it more confusingly. Sticking to the conventional three hundred and sixty-five count though, she knows that many years have passed.

There's been joy and sadness, despair and courage, hope and vindication; but most of all, in these many years that have passed, she has had constancy and companionship. She was never alone.

One score and four years ago Lali hitched her wagon to a star and rode a train north. She followed her heart and dared to hope. Having reached her destination, she looked out of the three-tier compartment window into the seething masses that milled around purposefully on the platform. Her eyes spotted the man she travelled to meet. He was looking into the train, compartment by compartment.

She dragged her suitcase out from under the berth, bid her adieus to her travelling companions and made her way down the corridor. His eyes lit up when he saw her, hers must have too. He took her suitcase, sagged under the weight, and quite unselfconsciously summoned a porter.

They didn't speak much as they made their way out of the station. As he drove into saner traffic, he looked sideways at her and smiled. She smiled back. He took a hand off the steering wheel and held hers.

Today, perhaps Missus Em would admonish the driver to concentrate on the road. Then, Lali just squeezed his fingers back. They never let go, metaphorically speaking. Happy anniversary, Kalyan.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Snark is always a Boojum

In the middle of the word he was trying to say,
In the middle of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
The Snark was a Boojum, you see.

The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll

There is a magpie-robin singing in the mango tree in the backyard. A koel is calling from across the street, in the trees that surround the lake. It is a strange juxtaposition. The magpie-robin's song — a freely offered gift, a long, complicated phrase. The koel's call— piercing, reaching across the lake. The magpie-robin contemplates its song, tinkers with the phrase, adds some trills, and makes another offering. The koel calls again and again, the same notes repeating, getting sharper and insistent. Its call gets mocked and parodied, driving it to frenzied repetitions, growing more strident.

I hear them both as I sit here staring at your mail.

You want my life to be all sunshine and laughter, picture postcard perfection and impossible happiness. Why should I disabuse you of that imagined life? You want me to be chirpy, all glib retorts and smart comebacks, placing your allusions and capping them. I do.

We connect online and we play. How does it matter then, that the picture postcard depicts a chamber of horrors? On the evenings we while away in banter, discussions and serious dialogue, I am as much a disembodied spirit as you are, I am as anonymous as you are, as smitten by the notion of us, as much revelling in our relationship.

You want me to be sunshine and I am sunshine.

Online relationships are a bit like hunting the Snark. They work only online. The enchantment will never carry over to real life. In real life, instead of instant wit, one might find measured speech. The caustic critic could turn out to be a silent observer. The charmer one imagines will never be the actual person.

It is easier to let go of online relationships too. Sometimes one loses interest, learning as much of the person as one can stand; then the intensity cloys, suffocates and finally, bores. One lets days pass between connecting again, the conversations become shorter, and one lets it all slide and we talk no more.

The opposite can happen too. The initial wonder of discovery keeps growing and attachment deepens. So now you've changed your tune, now you say you want more, now you say want to, have to, need to meet the wonderful me I project.

I thought our nightly dalliances were where we met mind to mind. For me you are the last star that shines defiantly against arriving dawn. Now you want to be more than a chance wanderer swum into my ken. We are ships that pass in night. True, we have regular ports of call, so pass each other regularly, perhaps. Now you want us to dock side by side.

I thought what we had was the magpie-robin's song. It's the koel calling, instead.


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