lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hot and bothered

There is a poem I am very fond of quoting:

As a rule, Man is a fool.
When it is hot he wants it cool;
When it is cool he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.

Everybody I know is complaining about the heat. Being housebound, I am not sure how hot it really is, though.

We all have our rituals and tricks to keep cool, and it is not always turning the air-conditioners on. At home, we shut windows and draw curtains closed before the day begins to heat up. This darkening helps. By the time we open things up late afternoon, there is already a breeze and things seem bearable. Also, we happen to live on the edge of the Lake. The green cover and the fact that we aren't boxed in by high-rises around us help, too. And the result is that I have no idea how hot it really is outside.

I began taking note of the weather and daily temperature in Delhi. The first winter saw a ritual evolving, reading the weather report, and the 'daily dose of horror' at how low the mercury can dip. Of course, the first summer saw me getting aghast at how high the mercury can rise, too.

Now Calcutta isn't as bad, we have the sea breeze, which Delhi hasn't heard of, and the nor'westers are more cooling than the dust storms of Delhi. But in recent years, I have noticed hot and dry winds blowing here too, and it seems like the temperatures are rising each summer.

But I discovered via this Telegraph report that the temperature readings I follow each day are not quite the gospel truth I thought they were. Those figures represent 'air temperature', a reading taken from a thermometer housed in a Stevenson screen, as unreal as it can get. This ignores earth's low-level radiation, ambient temperature that rises or falls depending on many factors. It is apparently, the 'real' temperature.

For a person waiting in a traffic jam at midday in summer, the heat produced by the high-rises, vehicles, and air-conditioners in offices, homes and shopping complexes all adds up and makes for a very 'real' hot day. Most major thoroughfares have scant tree cover to provide any relief, thanks to KMC's brainless lopping off of branches that might cast shade on the streets. Urban heat islands is a very descriptive phrase, and the effect can be felt as one moves from the business districts to leafy residential areas.

But since all that is ignored, if the papers say the maximum temperature was some thirty-eight degrees Centigrade, we have to add a good three or four degrees to it to arrive at the 'real' temperature in the city. Good grief!

Alipore Meteorological Office happens to be on grounds with abundant tree cover and the Stevenson screen is hardly the right place to measure how hot it seems to real people in the city. Why can't they take readings from five or six different points in the city and tell us how hot the day really was?


Monday, April 21, 2008

Missus Em decides to be cross

"And these people will grow up and become columnists and commentators on issues," I sighed. He sighed louder. "Now what?" "How anybody can write such ungrammatical stuff is beyond my understanding," I went on.

"Somebody missed a comma or an apostrophe?" he inquired in a long suffering polite tone. I heard the doorbell, but ignored both tones and went on with my grouse.

"No. People ignore tense continuity. Worse, they confuse and mix up tenses, often in the same paragraph or sentence. I'd have thought it's so simple - there are only three tenses and four variations. Even I can count that high, and I only need two toes on top of my fingers."

A look of alarm flashed on the face of our friend who entered as I spoke. We greeted him. Once we were comfortably settled with drinks at hand and things to munch, he asked me about it.

"What is this needing only two toes on top of your fingers? Some complicated yoga posture?"

"Nope." I grinned. "Tenses. People get them wrong all the time, especially the perfect tense. It's simple enough, after all. Present; present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous. I gnash my teeth. I am gnashing my teeth. I've gnashed my teeth. I've been gnashing my teeth. Past…" I stopped my chant to draw a breath.

"I get the picture," he smiled. "Don't laugh, it really bothers me." I said. I know I tend to be extravagant when writing, but I really am moderate in speech.

"You sound like my wife. She has this quaint way of putting it, she says she is so cross." He smiled again. "Our children laugh at her, of course, and say nobody says cross anymore."

We went on to talk about other things, mostly things that made us cross, and the conversation flowed. I thought about it later, though. Cross is how I feel; even leaving inflections and conjugation out of it, not mentioning apostrophes at all, cross is how I feel when I read newspapers or articles or essays on the Internet.

I know I am repeating myself here, but I am a mild person, and sweet-tempered to boot. But there are times when the sweetest temper can turn sour. I don't always grouse about it on the blog, though.

I didn't say a word when I completed this month's Genius puzzle in twenty-five minutes (and five of them were spent printing the puzzle and pencilling in the solutions) and felt let down, did I? I didn't say anything at all about my decision to never believe my surgeon again. (Oh, I trust him with my life, I just won't believe his time projections for recovery again.)

I didn't even mention my phone woes, and not just telemarketers' calls either. I didn't ever talk about the mails I get bombarded with, from banks, credit card companies, and more.

A digression: the only bank that doesn't pester me is HSBC, and that is because we parted ways in a very acrimonious fashion. They gave me an ATM card. Free, they said. I used it sparingly, but was quite happy to have it. A year later, their monthly statement showed a charge for it. I protested. They said it was free only for the first year. I said they hadn't said so explicitly when they gave me a card I hadn't asked for.

I said I would have no more truck with them. They offered me a different account, where the card charges would be waived, better services and more. I said, no thank you. But Missus Em, said the person I was speaking to. Stop right there, I said; did she know that was the first time any of the bank staff actually addressed me by name, or looked at me properly? (They generally treated me like the Invisible Woman.)

Oh, wait. The reason why HSBC doesn't pester me is probably because they don't have my email address.

As I was saying, I don't grumble about these things. Then again, I said earlier, there are limits. Reserve Bank of India and their directives to banks get my goat. Really.

Some months ago, State Bank of India sent a letter to my mother-in-law. As per RBI's directive KYC, they needed to know their customers. Their records have inadequate proof her identity and existence. She needed to provide some documents to satisfy their requirements.

I provided the documents, and a covering letter; to prove that an account-holder for three decades was who their records claimed she was. As I anticipated, there arrived letters addressed to my husband and me, wanting us to help SBI know their customers. I did the 'needful'.

Then, two weeks ago, a familiar envelope arrived, addressed to my mother-in-law. The SBI, following RBI directive KYC, wanted her to provide documentary evidence that she was who their records said she was. Again.

Did you know, sexpot in area, a riot expanse, repeat on axis, sane expiator... are all anagrams of exasperation?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Still life

That was a wonderful book, was Fup. Grandaddy Jake Santee, Tiny, their hen mallard Fup, and the rampaging boar Lockjaw. What I remember best about Jim Dodge's book is Grandaddy Jake's pursuit of the still life. I regret giving the book away.

I live a still life now. Curtains flutter and birds swim in the sky I see from the windows; light and shade play games on the walls and on my retinae. I await and note the passage of planes flying too high to sound their passing but that leave contrails as memory.

But there is the phone next to me. Always. It rings and memories take flight, like a flock of birds startled at feeding. I always think of the Thousand Lights Mosque then. I wonder if anybody even remembers the pigeons there.

But I was talking about memories, how they take flight, bloom and overwhelm, all in the space of a heartbeat.

How many years do you have to be apart before a voice stops being instantly recognisable? Or a name all that one has to state? The phone rings and I know it is you. I know half a dozen Rams, variations on the theme of, but there is only one you. As we talk, I remember inconsequential things, things you probably don't remember, but then you probably remember things I forgot or never gave importance to.

Do you remember that cricket game one blazing summer afternoon, when I asked if I couldn't be the good keeper rather than the wicked keeper? Or that walk to Teynampet, badam kheer and how we gave up and took the bus back home? Sucking on ice cubes?

There were the endless board games and our version of go-moku. I thought of you when I read about Shibo Yangcong-san and HEX running on the march of the ants. Do you remember those evenings of solemn discussions when we were older?

The phone rings and more memories blossom. Of the first time I wrote to her. The first mail I received from him. The first time he called.

The phone rings and my sisters transport me back to my youth, shared jokes and signals so esoteric that the original joke is lost. Leela Vanalata Mahatma Gandhi Dorasaani? Why do we laugh at that?

The phone rings and I am a tentative seeker once more, finding friends in chat rooms and remembering the laughter shared. The phone rings and I talk about poetry and favourite authors. The phone rings and there is gossip. The phone rings and suddenly I am awash in memories and talk, more memories being forged all unnoticed till later.

So what are you doing, is a silly question when you call and open the conversation. We both know that. But it is a point from which I take off and fly in memories and now.

Physically I am in my bed, yes, watching flights of birds and planes, the transit of stars at night along the dome of sky. I wonder at a flashing bright point moving entirely too fast until I remember Clarke, and smile at the satellite winking its way on the canvas of my sky. Physically, I am confined to these four walls. But the phone rings and my mind soars.

It is a still life, but memory is the flight of birds.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Or how to read a poem:

She tossed the first four lines off casually, even as we chatted. It would be impressive, but then this is Neha, so it was only to be expected. Then she adds the next five. And what a perfect lullaby the whole poem makes!

When you read the first sentence in this poem, you are struck by the imagery. Then you read the second and realise that the first was the refrain of a lullaby. The cadence is right, the length too, for South Indian lullabies. We don't call it refrain, of course, but pallavi, and the repeats makes it poignant.

Here too, the next five lines establish the lullaby-hood of the poem though she calls it an ode. They speak of the deeds the singer will perform for the grown woman being sung to. That clinches it, especially as the eye is dragged back towards the first line. One can almost hear the drone of the song and sense the woman nodding off to sleep on a stomach overfull of soup.

Bravo, Neha.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

A harmony saga

What price Ogden Nash? Indeed, so let's have a bash
At being playful and jaunty and deal in sundry mish-mash.
Or rather, in merry and amusing anagrams
Which are easier than essays, rants or diagrams.
Well, I am incapable of Nashian infinite expansion
While winking at the old-fashioned idea of scansion;
Much as I'd love to take more of your time,
I seem to have run out of couplets that rhyme.

So here goes: 'A harmony saga', also known as 'anagrams ahoy!'

I called them 'semi-fascist tyrants' while they were here, but now that all three of 'my fantastic sisters' have left, I miss them very much. So I consoled myself with my favourite occupation. No, it is not correcting other people's grammar or raving at idiots. That would leave me with little time to do anything else, and also I learnt to grin and bear it to save wear and tear on my teeth.

Though it is 'a stagnating romp', I indulged in some 'anagram spotting', and very rewarding it was too.

Did you know that eroticism is an anagram of isometric? That violated can be rearranged to read dovetail? It makes you stop and think, I tell you.

Have you ever seen that 'continued' and 'unnoticed' contain the same letters? Or that new 'directions' need 'discretion'? That 'malediction' is 'a mild notice'? 'Imprecation' 'metric piano'? 'Magic trap' can be 'pragmatic'. When 'le mot juste' is 'mute jostle', what can we expect?

Rearranging the letters of 'petulance' gives 'lucent ape'; and 'fantastic' can be rearranged to read 'isn't a fact'. My pet peeve these days, 'socialite feminists', I discovered can be 'Felicitation Misses'.

When I see the huge number of comments other bloggers get and feel envious, I remind myself that the phrase 'sour grapes' is also 'sugar poser' and while it might form part of my 'par grouses', I ought not to grumble too much about it. So even if it can read 'cite liars' I tend to be 'realistic' and wish them well. I can't write about the things they do, anyhow.

I discover instead that- 'Oh doubt a man? Touching!' is an anagram of 'Much Ado About Nothing', and smile. (You thought I wasn't going to bring the Bard into this, did you? 'Wherefore art thou Romeo' is an anagram of 'raw theorem of outré hero'; so there.)

'Save the turtles' is an anagram of 'leave truths set' and that ought to tell something to people who mail me about their well being (the turtles' I mean). Species are supposed to go extinct, and the sooner we do, the better for planet Earth. 'Stave the result', and stop asking me for help to 'save the turtles'.

In other news, I am living in 'interesting times' which is an anagram of 'grim entities sent', by the way. And if I had to wish for things, I would dearly like those regulars my site tracker says I have as visitors to take time and 'post a comment', as it is the 'commonest pat'. But Frank Herbert did say, if wishes were fishes we'd all cast nets. I wonder if he considered 'vegetarians', an anagram of 'envisage rat', when he said that. But that is beside the point.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Future tense

When expectations are that Missus Em will do an anagram revel, and I am working on it off and on, I promise you, I am tempted to write about something else. More so, because this is a project I am hoping to complete soon. Yeah, well, before I die. But since the doctors won’t commit themselves about how long I have, it gets interesting. What if I am still blogging after one year?

What future holds is obscure anyway, so I refuse to consider it more than necessary. Here is a translation of a poem, For Memories, that I wrote in the nineties. The original is below, too bad if you want transliteration.

Future Tense

The golden orb of sun has sunk in the west.
In this light of crackling campfire and
Unclear time,
What musk of urgent desire
Will accompany these memories and scent them?
Pearl-glistening moonlight
Night's live orchestra for us
What swooning satiety will fill your eyes?
How many jasmine night dreams
For us- plucking heartstrings?
How many jasmine night dreams
For us- desire overflowing cupped hands?

జ్ఞాపకాల కోసం

సూర్యుని స్వర్ణబింబం పశ్చిమాన వాలిపోయింది
ఈ కణకణలాడే చలిమంట వెలుగుల్లో
అస్పష్టంగా కనబడే కాలం
ఏ ఆతురత నిండిన ఆర్తి కస్తూరి
ఈ జ్ఞాపకాలకి తోడు పరిమళిస్తుందో
ముత్యాల మెరుపుల వెన్నెల
రాత్రి సజీవ సంగీతం మన కోసం
ఎంత నిర్వాణసమమైన సంతృప్తి
నీ కళ్ళలో నిలుస్తుందో
ఎన్ని మల్లెల రాత్రి కలలు
మన కోసం - గుండె తీగలు మీటి
ఎన్ని మల్లెల రాత్రి కలలు
మన కోసం - కోర్కె దోసిళ్ళు నిండి


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