lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, June 28, 2007

En passant

Missus Em is sulking. She is in a snit. Her blog is accused of being incomprehensible. So she is going to write an erudite post so full of scholarship that it will boggle minds and drop jaws at the breadth of her knowledge. You have been warned.

Laurence Olivier could 'value cornier lie', but Alec Guinness had 'genuine class'.

George Bush, 'he bugs Gore', they say, they do.
George W Bush, 'he grew bogus' they say too.
Yes, President George 'Dubya' Bush is
'Ego upset by pride and hubris'.
But Tony Blair is 'only a Brit'
Even for Americans 'tis only a 'tiny labor' to discover it.

Paris Hilton is 'an Irish plot' and Victoria Beckham is an 'abhor cake victim'.

But Missus Em will have nothing to do with these film types, these political types and society types. She prefers to contemplate loftier ideas.

Ludwig van Beethoven was a 'Vienna vet who bugled' whereas Wilhelm Richard Wagner will 'cling harder while warm'. Did Sergei Rachmaninov 'ever sing a harmonic' as a 'sovereign chairman' or Maurice Ravel have a 'Valium career'?

Romeo and Juliet were 'la mort d'une joie' but Julius Caesar was a victim of 'casual juries'. William Shakespeare might have modestly said, 'I am a weakish speller', but 'we all make his praise'.

Satanic Verses was thought to be in 'Satan's service' and saw 'vast increases' in hatred for him and Salman Rushdie had to 'run amid hassle' because they thought he said 'read, shun Islam'.

A 'trap of hoping soon' is what readers will get caught in if they expect Missus Em to lark now; because 'apropos of nothing' is her new motto. Missus Em won't write about a topic any more, she won't. Missus Em refuses to be mollified. A 'problem in Chinese' it may be, but incomprehensible she will remain.

En passant and in 'an aptness' too, here is a link to a truly mind-boggling news item. Missus Em wishes she had thought of it when she still had a dog. Missus Em recommends that you read it and laugh.


Monday, June 25, 2007

The lament of the mistress

Writing poems is fun. It is an esoteric kind of fun, I admit, but that doesn't detract the fun quotient a bit. Reading poems is fun too. I get to argue, and one thing leads to another.

I am not easily provoked; I will have you know. I can't help having opinions and stated them to a neutral listener. But he turned out not to be neutral. He said I nit-pick, fuss and wax pedantic. I suppose I do, but never without reason, so I felt aggrieved.

"You quibble too much, Lali."
"Nothing of the sort," I said, primly. "My points are valid, honey."
"You never wrote metered poems…"
"Scuse me? I did too, I'll have you know."
"Let me finish what I am saying, willya?"
"Yessir. You have the floor, sir, and I am the doormat." He sighed.
"Limericks don't count. You never wrote a sonnet or a whatchamacallit, did you?"
"You can't criticise if you haven't done some work in the same field, after all."
"All right. You have the floor now."
"Is that official? Are you the doormat now?"

He only said that to get my goat, I knew. Of course, one can criticise without expertise; people do it all the time. You don't have to be a cook to say a dish is over-salted. If the lord and master says write a poem before you quibble at one, lady of the house obliges. So I gave him an impromptu tercet.

"You are still here but I miss you, when will we meet next, I fret; to banish the doubts I kiss you."

"Hmm. Tell me more about it. I am languishing unkissed here, by the way." I smiled.

"My cheeks wet as if with dew, small trysts are all I can get; you are still here but I miss you," I improvised. "You are leading up to something, I can see. "

"Stolen kisses and chances so few: you wonder at my cheeks so wet? To banish the doubts I kiss you," I continued. "But you haven't," he complained. I laughed.

"Stolen kisses, eh? The plot thickens," he said. "You bet. Shall I go on?" "You might as well."

"Giddy days when our love was new, madness in recall, hard to forget." I said. "You flatter me Lali," he sighed. "You are still here but I miss you." I concluded the tercet.

"Be that as it may, I can't see how the fourth tercet develops." "The fifth, honey. I can count that high, you know?" "Yeah, rub it in, I lost count. So let's have the next bit."

"There's bliss now, there'll be grief anew; passion owes deceit a debt; to banish the doubts I kiss you," I said.

"Interesting. So the quatrain is more or less set." "That's what you think." I grinned wickedly.

"You aren't mine, I can't have you; sometimes I wish we never met." I stated, and he winced. I finished the quatrain. "You are still here but I miss you; to banish the doubts I kiss you. The lament of the mistress in a villanelle, so there."

"Tell me Lali, are you contemplating an affair?" I burst out laughing.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Author, author

In his preface to The Classical Groups: Their invariants and representations, Hermann Weyl said:

... the gods have imposed upon my writing the yoke of a foreign language that was not sung at my cradle…Nobody is more aware than myself of the attendant loss in vigor, ease and lucidity of expression.

Chandru tagged me to write about Indian writers I have read. What can you say anew about a topic you have already held forth several times on? If it is about books, plenty, as it happens.

Most urban Indians are lucky in that they grow up learning more than one language. We all have our mother tongues, and we all learn English. We learn other regional languages too, at least enough to get by with. For myself, I speak Telugu and English fluently, Tamil passably well and Hindi and Bengali atrociously. I can follow, or make sense of all south Indian languages even if I miss nuances.

Most of us read literature in more than one language too. We might start off reading children's literature in our mother tongue, and get an introduction to English literature in school. If we are inclined towards it, reading becomes more than just a hobby, it becomes a passion.

I have written earlier about my love affair with reading, about Telugu literature that made lasting impact on me, and my views on contemporary Telugu literary scene. But I haven't waxed eloquent on something Telugu literature has a rich tradition of: translation.

The first major work in Telugu, written about 1050 AD, Mahabharatam was a translation commissioned by king Raja Raja Narendra. Please thank me for refraining from chapter and verse and worse of literary history lessons, here. I will only say that since then, Telugu poets wrote on themes borrowed from Sanskrit classics or Puranas. They'd take an episode and develop it, and it wasn't until 1550 AD that the first original work, KaLaapoorNodayamu was written by Pingali Sooranna.

However passionate one is about reading, one can't hope to read all the great literature ever written in regional languages, there is just no way one can learn or acquire proficiency enough to appreciate literature in so many languages. This propensity to translate from other languages that Telugu writers have was a blessing for me, then. I read most of the great Indian authors in Telugu.

I read Kipling's Jungle Book first in Chandamama (don't say Kipling isn't an Indian author, I think he is). It was in that magazine too, that I read Bankim Chandra's Durgesa Nandini. Translations let me read his Kapala Kundala, and Sarat Chandra's novels and more.

I read K. Jaggaiah's translation of Tagore's Gitanjali long before I heard the more beautiful Rabindra Sangeet. I read Premchand in translation. I read Ghalib and Omar Khayyam in translation, too. I read Kannada writers, mostly Triveni, in Telugu. I read Sanskrit plays and classics in translated versions. I even read Jules Verne in Telugu before I read the English versions.

I had a buddy in college who read Tamil poetry out for me and explained nuances when I missed them. I can say that I heard, rather than read, Kalingattu Parani, Silappadigaaram and Manimekalai.

Later, my husband introduced me to Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Qazi Nazrul Islam and other Bengali poets, reciting from memory and reading to me. He introduced me to Abol Tabol, that wonderful book of nonsense by Sukumar Ray, too.

When we have so many languages, it is a blessing that there are translators. I am indebted to them for introducing me to regional writers I'd never have read otherwise. But there are Indian writers too, who write in English. There weren't that many when I was young, and the regular names have all been referred to by other bloggers who have been tagged, so I will give RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond just a nod in passing.

Of the famous names, I'd like to mention Salman Rushdie specially. My paediatrician, who had interesting ways of dealing with over-wrought young mothers, introduced me to Rushdie and Midnight's Children. It was the third or fourth visit in a week that I'd made to his chambers with my baby son, so he rooted in his shelves, brought out a book and said, "Read this and relax. Forget your son for a while." It worked, too.

I loved Vikram Seth's Golden Gate, which is a marvellous book. I loved his Beastly Tales, too.

There is one author who sums up Indian writing in English for me, though. Nirad Babu. That man wrote brilliant prose, I tell you.

But there are too many Indian writers who write in English nowadays. It is not humanly possible to keep up with the names, let alone read them all. Like I always sigh when confronted with bookshelves and choices choices, choices galore, too many books too little time, alas.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Not a bad apple, considering it's an orange

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
Romeo and Juliet, Act III Scene V

Partings are bittersweet. There is sadness, there is wrenching. There is anticipation of the next meeting and waiting for it. In thinking about the inevitable parting do we already miss the other while still in their company?

Noble metal adjured morning song (6), I said to myself, as I read the poem. Aubade is easy to construct a clue for, but not so villanelle. Level in all is an anagram of villanelle, I can tell you though.

Though the most well-known or most mentioned aubade is that embedded in Romeo and Juliet, John Donne's The Sun Rising is much cited, too. By definition, an aubade is a song or poem about lovers parting at dawn.

Donne's aubade is a grumble addressed to the sun. Philip Larkin wrote an aubade to life. But then, he was morbid. Aubades aren't very popular, I think. And villanelles would have remained an obscure verse form if it weren't for a few famous ones.

To be rigidly conventional, the villanelle should be seven syllables a line, using two rhymes distributed in five tercets and a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is aba for the tercets and abaa for the quatrain. An additional convention has the first line repeated in the sixth, twelfth and eighteenth, and the third line repeated in ninth, fifteenth and nineteenth.

But this was not always followed, in the beginning. Theoretically, one can write any number of tercets and round it off with a quatrain of abaa scheme and it will still be a villanelle; but the convention now is five tercets and a quatrain. The exact repetition of the first and third lines isn't always followed rigidly either, but that is a pity rather than poetic license, if you ask me.

Villanelles originated in Italy, and meant rustic songs at first. The term was used in France to designate a short poem of popular character favoured by poets in the late 16th century. These used to be unrestricted in form. It is said the current rigorous and monotonous pattern was set from a hugely popular poem by Jean Passerat. Here is an interesting essay and a translation. A sample.

J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle:
Eft-ce point celle que i'oy?
Ie veus aller aprés elle.
I have lost my turtledove:
Isn't that her gentle coo?
I will go and find my love.

The most famous villanelle, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas, illustrates the verse form well, as Thomas adhered to the meter mostly and the convention of repeating the first and third lines exactly. Elizabeth Bishop, in her One Art, ignored that convention and repeated the third line rhyme alone throughout the poem, and her poem suffers because of that.

Most poets ignore the seven-syllable rule, though. A truly neurotic writer would adhere to all the rules, perhaps, but poets always break rules; and if they know what they are doing the results are spectacular.

On the other hand, William Ernest Henley defines the rules of a villanelle in a delightful villanelle, it is a perfect example and charming to boot.

A dainty thing's the Villanelle,
Sly, musical, a jewel in rhyme,
It serves its purpose passing well.

A double-clappered silver bell
That must be made to clink in chime,
A dainty thing's the Villanelle;

And if you wish to flute a spell,
Or ask a meeting 'neath the lime,
It serves its purpose passing well.

You must not ask of it the swell
Of organs grandiose and sublime--
A dainty thing's the Villanelle;

And, filled with sweetness, as a shell
Is filled with sound, and launched in time,
It serves its purpose passing well.

Still fair to see and good to smell
As in the quaintness of its prime,
A dainty thing's the Villanelle,
It serves its purpose passing well.
Here is a parody of Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and it illustrates what Henley stated, that a villanelle is best suited for lighthearted ideas. While Dylan Thomas could sustain brooding intensity and powerful imagery, and build up to the climax to end with the brilliant last two lines,
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Bishop's poem stuttered because she chose to repeat the third line rhyme alone. A villanelle wasn't the right form for her theme anyhow. It wasn't, for Dylan Thomas' idea either, but he could carry it off brilliantly.

When a favourite blogger finally deigns to post it is time for rejoicing. But when you wait six months for a post, you get to quibble. It is a lovely poem. He calls it an aubade and addresses it to life, but it is neither an aubade nor a proper villanelle, I tell you.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dear Basant Dhawan,

I am sure you are a nice man. I have just read a letter you signed.

You are grateful on your company's behalf, you said, for my patronage. But when you append your name to even form-letters, you ought to make sure that text matches fact, you know, really.

It will save me money, for one thing-- from having to invest in dentures because I gnash my teeth, and hey, it will save the earth too and slow global warming if I didn't feel it was necessary that I write back and tell you a few things. Paperwork saved is the huge global warming mountain nibbled at, after all. Let's save a few rain forests, shall we?

You mentioned I've been using your services for a long time; is a little over eight months a long time? Really, truly? Do I have to change my time reckoning and rethink how long is long?

You invited me to spread the joy of WorldSpace Radio around by telling my friends about it. You included an easily filled form for names and addresses, and you informed me that for any friend who signs up on my recommendation, I will get one 3D sound headphones and three recommendations would mean an automatic entry to a lucky draw where I may win a Bose Home Entertainment System worth Rs 61,760! What happens if a dozen friends sign up? How many headphones will I get? Will my name be entered thrice in the lucky draw? Do I get that Bose Home Entertainment System free? Or will you decide I am ineligible?

Why do you think I will give you names of my friends and means of how to contact them just because you sent me a letter? Phone numbers will do if I can't furnish complete addresses, you say? That is rich.


Your kind letter telling me all this, that there was fun to be had, prizes to be won, such giddy stuff and more was addressed to Lalita Mukhergy.

I wish I knew her. She seems to get letters and offers and seems to have an active social life, which I rather envy. I hope you find the real Lalita Mukhergy and motivate her enough to sell subscriptions on your behalf, I really do. Here is wishing you best of luck.

May I ask a small question, though? How would you like it, Basant Dhawan, if I addressed you as Vasanth Divan or Vasant Dhavan or Boshont Dhabon, or Vashant Devan, or Vaasanth Deewan? Do tell.

Nevertheless, let me congratulate you on your efficient helpline. You have cheerful, helpful, articulate and competent staff manning your lines. They always sort out my problems and guide me step by step to solve whatever trouble I report.

And now about the entry for the lucky draw and the Bose Home Entertainment System? Can I consider myself a winner?


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Outrageous bombast with a banner (8)

Flagrant, of course.

One reason I love crosswords is that I learn new things, and find out things I'd never have known otherwise. Did you know that France, Norway, UK and USA all have red white and blue flags? I didn't know about Norway, till today.

One of my favourite compilers at Guardian crosswords, Brendan almost always has a theme to his crosswords. Today it was flags. The first across clue set the tone.

9) Right places passed over in trip - one flies over Paris for example (9) tricolour
Tour around r and loci written backward.

10) Has important role as crewman in vessel (5) stars
12) Bunk in ship as indication of rank (7) stripes

13) Celebrity, when old, 10 and 12 (5) glory
The Stars and Stripes is also called Old Glory.

25) Organised workers given raise that symbolises national merger (5,4) Union Jack
16) Standard description for 9, 25, 10 and 12 (3,5,3,4) red white and blue

Then there were these gems:

20,17) Prohibitionist's main policy that's prominently printed in paper (6,8) banner headline
This is lovely, prohibitionist as banner.

23) Friend and worker following a method of signalling (7) pennant
Penn and ant, and method of signalling. Charming.

22) Stone sink (4) flag

Which led me to solve 3) State of 16 22, emphatically not without monarch (6) Norway
No way around r, and that is how I discovered that the flag of Norway is a tricolour and is red white and blue.

And, by the way, it is official now. Neologisms appear all the time, and people use them. OED adds new words and that makes them accepted usage. But for cruciverbalists, a word appearing in a crossword does that. Emails and spam and references to the Internet have been coming up in crosswords for quite sometime now. Google as verb has been around for a while but Shed, in yesterday's Guardian Crossword made it official for us.

Search force in Humberside port (6) Google


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Potato frying 101

"… We have, reluctantly, translated them into metric terms because Nanny Ogg used throughout the very specialized unit of measure known as the 'some' (as in 'Take some flour and some sugar').

This required some, hah, experiment, because the 'some' is a unit of some, you see, complexity. Some flour is almost certainly more than some salt, but there appears to be no such thing as half of some, although there was the occasional mention of a 'bit' as in 'a bit of pepper'.

Instinctively, one feels that a bit of flour is more than some pepper but probably less than a bit of butter, and that a wodge of bread is probably about a handful, but we have found no reliable way of measuring a gnat's.

….We have not been able to come up with a reliable length of time equivalent to a 'while', which is an exponential measurement - one editor considered on empirical evidence that a 'while' in cookery was about 35 minutes, but we found several usages elsewhere of 'quite a while' extending up to ten years, which is a bit long for batter to stand."
A note from the editors of that wonderful tome, Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, Terry Pratchett, Stephen Briggs.

My father believed in research and backing any statement he made with proof. If you are a literary historian making pronouncements on deciphered inscriptions it makes sense to be cautious; even otherwise, it is good policy.

Conditioned by my father, I am always impressed and a bit awed by cookery blogs. How can they say so confidently 250 grams of this, 10 grams of that and so on? They give weights and measures and cooking times as though it is all set in stone. Those blogs intimidate me. I picture the bloggers weighing ingredients on scales until the weight is exactly right (do they chop veg to match stated weight?), doling out spices by teaspoonfuls or hunting for the quarter teaspoon measure which must have emigrated or sought refugee status elsewhere, like mine has.

Rimi asks for my pasta recipe, Dipali suggests I write about our majjiga pulusu/moar kuzhambu/kadhi debate. I wouldn't know where to begin, really.

I cook by approximation and guesstimates and instinct. I am not as much a free cook as my sister is, who dips into the salt and sprinkles it by hand, trusting her judgment and experience, but I still cook without measures, mostly.

We all have cups or bowls we measure rice and lentils with for daily cooking, of course, and we use spoons to add spices to the dishes. But most of us won't be able to state exact amounts of anything used, I am sure.

Take potatoes, for instance. When you cook for two people as a regular thing, you learn to judge quantities. I cook two or three potatoes, depending on size. It also depends on whether I am cooking for two meals or one, on other accompaniments. If my son is at home, I cook thrice the amounts, as he likes my stir-fried potatoes and demolishes them faster than I can cook.

So if I want to give you a recipe, how can I say 200 grams or a kilo? I can stir fry one potato or a dozen, the technique is the same, but I couldn't tell you how I go about it if I had to give weights. Four cups of pasta, I can say, but it might be three onions if large or seven or eight if small. It all depends, you see?

But my son rather likes my stir-fried potatoes. Like most of my daily cooking, it is a simple recipe. There is no secret ingredient, other than the ease that comes with making a dish countless number of times. These potatoes go best with rasam and rice or curd rice.

I suppose there is a secret. It is to dice the potatoes evenly. Whether it is a couple of them or a couple of dozen of them, they will cook better if they are evenly shaped and sized. I can tell you how I go about dicing the potatoes in great detail, actually.

I use chandramukhi potatoes that are popular in Calcutta. These cook fast and tend to be rather moist, but they are ideal for my stir-fried recipe. I wouldn't know how other varieties will turn out, or how long they will take to cook.

I pare potatoes and slice them, one centimeter thick (yes, I measured that), and then cube the slices a centimeter thick. Depending on my mood, the season, or the phases of the moon, I might make the thickness half a centimeter, too. If I was insanely rich or ran a restaurant, I suppose I'd discard the edges as they will be uneven, but I am not that much of a fanatic about symmetry (Hercule Poirot, please forgive me).

Once the potatoes are diced, I rinse them to remove excess flouriness, and pat them dry. Then I heat the frying pan. I use a nonstick frying pan. I suppose these can be cooked in a standard cast-iron pan, but I prefer the nonstick pan as it takes very little oil.

I add the potatoes to the heated oil, shake them about so they get coated evenly with the oil, make sure they are well spread, and cover the pan. In the three or four minutes it takes them to get crisp and golden edges, I mix my spices together. This is better than adding them to the potatoes one by one.

Other than salt, I add powdered cumin and coriander mainly. Dried mango powder and chilli powder too, but that is a gnat's. I can't give you measurements. For three medium sized potatoes, I suppose I add a tad less than a spoon each of jeera and dhania powder, and a pinch of amchoor and a very judicious spattering of chilli powder. Again, this depends on my mood; some days I might go heavy on the coriander, on others it might be the cumin that dominates.

I must caution you about one thing, though. My spices are ground at home. I dry roast the cumin and coriander seeds and grind small amounts regularly to keep the flavours fresh. I am not sure how the potatoes will turn out if you use ready bought spices. Even the dried mango I buy whole strips and grind at home. The chilli powder is a mix of two kinds, Kashmiri for the colour and regular for the punch. Those I do buy, from a shop that specializes in fresh ground spices.

So, after the potatoes develop a crisp coating I sprinkle the spices, all thoroughly mixed, make sure that it is all evenly spread, lower the flame, and put the lid on again. As they get crisp and done, I shake the pan once in a while.

The next thing to do is to cook the rest of the meal, and serve it. Simple, like I said.

Recent conversation at Chez Em:

"Honey, are you feeling generous?"
"What do you want to buy?"
"Um, you know those kitchen scales that come with digital readouts? I think I'd like one."
"Well, then I could measure things as I cook them and start a new blog, Lali's Kitchen."
"But you don't measure things anyway. And what's wrong with Larking?"


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Famous Grouse, four muses ago

Groan: An expression of appreciation for the horrible.

There are some things that irk me. Typos and grammatical errors in newspapers have lost their sting these days, I have learned to ignore them to save wear and tear on my teeth, but there are things that still get my goat I tell you.

Why can't tennis players simply win or lose? Why do they have to storm into the next round or crash out of a tournament? Why are teams trounced? What's wrong with simple statements like 'India lose'?

I may be working on a post, or maybe blog-hopping or reading my mail. "Updating your computer is almost complete. You must restart your computer for the updates to take effect. Do you want to restart your computer now? " Asks a message that pops up. I click 'Restart Later'. Less than ten minutes later up pops the same message. Why? Haven't I already stated that I want to do it later?

I send a request that no promotional messages be sent to my phone. It is acknowledged. I still get messages from Airtel, some half a dozen each day, about great tunes to download, about recharge offers only for me, and so on. Why?

There was a song in some film, it was Sharmila Tagore I think, that made me grind my teeth every time I heard it. A schoolmarm singing with her class, how does the wind blow, why do the clouds float, I don't know, you don't know, only God knows. Really? Why was she a teacher then?

There is a beauty parlour off Lansdowne Road I will never venture into. Nor would anybody who thinks about words. What were they thinking when they called themselves Senioreeta? That they were going to turn middle-aged matrons into teenyboppers and hence older women would rush over to them in droves for the experience?

Do you want to see your Add here? Asks an outdoor advertising company on sandwich boards. No thank you, I grind my teeth.

The phone rings and I answer. Who is speaking, says the caller. You called this number so it is up to you to introduce yourself, I fume. Really, is that too much to ask?

While we are on the subject of phones, why don't my friends call me? They know I have a phone, they know the number, so how come it is always me calling them up, not the other way around?

My old phone got bad karma and died. I acquired a new one, some ten days ago. I had no idea of how it'd ring, though. Nobody calls me. It is nice to get calls out of the blue from pals and toy boys. It is nice to receive text messages too. So why don't people call me or message me? Why is the whole world busy when I need to be entertained, amused and pampered? People have no sense of priorities, I say.

I was getting into a regular stew about it, you know, and then the Non Resident Mathematician called. He called to scold, and wonder if I was bedridden. He called to talk to the Resident Mathematician really. Anyway, the phone rang. It took me a while to twig to the fact. (Not my fault, my phone never rings, after all.)

So I got scolded, sidelined and I learned that the default ring tone is awful. I changed it pronto. My phone will sound nice if it ever rings again.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Smoke without fire

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

A.E. Housman

"Interesting, dear. Your blood is interesting." He murmured as he shuffled the reports and made notations on his own prescription.

I bit back the first response, the first several responses that sprang to my mind, and counted up to ten. Then I counted my blessings, the first one being I was numerate enough to count up to ten. I'd already come to the conclusion that he addressed all his female patients as dear to avoid having to remember names.

As things stood, I'd been suffering for forty days and nights now. The pinched nerve was old news. Less than a week into wearing a cock-up splint and functioning one-handed, I'd developed painfully swollen joints all down my right side. As things stood, this was disaster on the scale of the Great Flood.

I went to my doctor when I found my knee and ankle swollen. He prescribed something, asked for tests. After five days the inflammation spread to wrist, elbow and fingers, too. My doctor suggested I see an orthopaedic specialist. So I went to B2. He declared war on any possible latent infection and started me on a mega-course of antibiotics; and he wanted more tests, too.

(In the last five weeks I went through so many blood tests that I have puncture marks like a junkie, and am in danger of developing anemia through blood loss.)

After ten days I still had the swollen joints and low-grade fever and constant pain that accompanied every movement. And more joints were joining the party. I began to feel that I was a living representation of Indian polity, I tell you. You can't get more morbid than that.

When you go to a doctor and display swollen joints he'll note that you have poly arthritis, prescribe anti-inflammatory painkillers and ask for blood tests to check for RA factor and uric acid. When the tests state that your blood is fine, but the swelling and pain persist, he'll ask you to consult a specialist. B2 suggested I see a rheumatologist.

So I saw one. He seemed a nice man. He apologised for being rude and asking a lady her age. He clucked over my swollen joints, and asked for more tests, a veritable alphabetical soup of tests. While we waited for the results he started me on a course of medicines. These involved an injection. He said that it could have three effects-- it would do nothing; act like a magic bullet— all pain and inflammation gone, never to return; or it could give short-term relief.

I winced as I heard the word intramuscular. You would too, if you had just completed a course of Neurobion administered intramuscularly. My bruises were still in the fading purple and sickly yellow stage. Nevertheless, I followed his prescription. The injection acted like a magic bullet, yes; for all of twenty-four hours.

For the last forty days I have been adrift on the Sea of Pain, with no land in sight. I wouldn't recommend it as a diet plan or wish it on anybody, but being unable to hold a fork or a spoon makes for a great way to lose some weight. Don't snigger and suggest I could have used my fingers. That was worse.

But even as I suffered, life had to go on and it did. Pain or no pain, I had to run a house, I did. We are wired to forget pain as soon as it ceases. So as and when the painkillers kicked in, I tried to get on with life. There was a silver lining and that was my friends. Whether commiserating or cheering me up, calling for updates or listening to me moan, they were there and they kept me sane.

Chenthil wrote me a get well soon poem. He drew my attention to things and kept me diverted from constant pain. Prabhu kept me entertained with He / She previews. Neha sympathised and sent hugs. Being practical, Anantha gave me lessons and introduced me to links and persons. Megha came through magnificently with songs I was searching for, enabling me to write what I thought about them and take my mind off my misery.

Juggling assignments and exams as she was, Rimi found time to listen to me whine and kept my spirits up. Darling by name and nature, Priya came to my rescue in several ways, and made me feel cherished each time she scolded me for overdoing things.

Nilu advanced the theory that chocolate is panacea, and offered to come and administer therapy while we worked out details of our elopement. He wants me to clean out my husband's bank balance before we elope. Now if this sounds mercenary it is because you are petty-minded; I am sure he has a noble reason for that.

Readers and friends who prefer to remain anonymous kept in touch and made me feel special. Thank you, Dipali. It's a pleasure to talk to you, Man With No Name, have I told you lately?

So, there's always a silver lining, you just have to look for it. There are always blessings, if you count them.

So, I bit back the first response. The results of the alphabetical soup of tests were there in their cryptic glory and all the man had to say was they were interesting.

But this was the man who brought, like the dove did to Noah, the first whiff of landfall or deliverance from pain. I didn't want to antagonise him with irony or one-liners. So I said, as mildly as I could manage, "How so?"

All my tests were negative for RA factor but I had all the symptoms, he said. He was treating me for a disease my blood tests said I did not have. It was passing strange, he said. Do I have rheumatoid arthritis or not, I asked straight out. The tests say not, dear, he said. It was clear he thought so, though.

There is no fire, but plenty of smoke, indeed. But Ararat, ahoy!


Friday, June 01, 2007

Choose a pique

There were a lot of things that have rankled in the last month, and I will tell you all about each and every one of them, never fear (or rather, quake in your shoes), but this was the top of the list over the last ten days. So, I am doing what I always do: writing it out of my system. You have been warned.

Definition: A statement intended to put a word in its place.

A definition is so many things, actually. It is a concise explanation of the meaning of a word or a phrase or a symbol, it is also clarity of outline, an account, distinctiveness, explanation or sharpness. But in crosswords, definition is something else.

In concise crosswords, it is usually straight forward, and a good vocabulary and a quick recall of synonyms will make solving them simple. Loafer (5) is idler. But in a cryptic clue, it could be a type of shoe, or somebody who makes loaves, hence a baker. This is because cryptic clues are presented in a coded form. While a good compiler can be infuriatingly sly, he will always be fair; and however coded the clue, the solution is always reachable.

A good clue will read like a piece of ordinary language, a statement, question or a definition. But good compilers don't waste words, and all the words contribute to arriving at the solution. So when I went about solving Guardian Prize crossword last fortnight, I thought I was losing the battle of wits with Araucaria because I was missing something. But that turned out not to be the case. He compiled a bad clue. All right, a clue I didn't like.

The crossword had some lovely long and involved clues.

6,9 A don with knot twice untied expresses doubt (1,4,4,4,2,5)

The economy of this clue is breathtaking. Expresses doubt is the definition, and the solution you arrive at has to mean that. A don- so, I don. Then, with knot twice untied. An anagram of ' with knot, with knot', and the solution is-- I don't know what to think!

6,8 Whittaker's part (boy, English) to Scottish summit, holding on- hence 14down, 20, 16.

Part of 'Whittaker', son, E, to, knowe with on inside it. The solution is-- it takes one to know one.

And this ties into 14down, 20,16 Advice to Scotland Yard about reporter's knickers (3,1,5,2,5,2,5)

Again, the clue is brief, elegant. Reporter's here is an indication to go by how the word is heard. Here if we read the word as nickers, it falls in to place. Set a thief to catch a thief.

There were other lovely clues. After trust, after writing (9) sincerely

Amin in country concerned with pupil's surroundings (7) iridian

Flower for reporter to dispose of and eat? (9) celandine

Island hospital authorised assistance in crucial blow (8) Hokkaido

But the clue that bothered me even as I solved it, even after the solutions were published and annotations given to see how they were arrived at, was this:

Much more angry having lost part of dress circle at opening of theatre (7)

The solution is Olivier, of course. I solved it, and fumed. I saw the annotation and fumed. Now I write about it and I fume.

Olivier LIVI(d[ress])ER after O— was the annotation. But I disliked this clue. Much more angry is livider. Without d, and o to begin with. I still think it's a bad clue.

Et tu, Araucaria? Sigh!

I believe in positive thinking and silver linings, though. So I am anticipating the weekend's lot of puzzles, and I have the pleasure of the latest Carl Hiaasen and a new Percy Jackson book to look forward to. Not to mention that I will be pampering myself silly at my salon, getting the works. Life isn't too bad then.


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