Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The circle game

Once upon a time, Whitefield was a poorly serviced suburban outpost and plain old BTS didn't have a fancy online route mapping system.

Dusty summer and misty winter, I've stood in a sea of people waiting for the bus. They were hardly less full than the bus stops, but we made it inside nevertheless. Strangely, even tired out at the end of the day, I enjoyed the long, uncertain commutes; they were fraught with interest.

I hear regularly from my parents about the growth of Whitefield, I see the name mentioned more and more often in the New York Times and the Guardian, I see it as the address of practically every multinational I can think of, but nothing brought it home like seeing my old route on bus no. 331 picked out in pixels.

I've been unconsciously, automatically treating Bangalore as a new place I might be relocating to. I'm checking public transport, lifestyle and cost of living websites, reading residents' blogs, browsing entries on Google Earth and Wikipedia, and joining cycling groups. Cycling groups. In Whitefield. Just another surreal thing among many.

Looking at photographs of the Whitefield Riders' trips, I think: How far have the villages around Whitefield come that they can ignore a bunch of cyclists in helmets and gloves? These are things they'd consider mere frills and furbelows for high-speed motorcycles! Or used to.

I must say it's all very exciting, though there's a petulant voice thrust very far back into my mind that's saying "It's mine, give it back".

You can't go back, you can only look behind from where you came, and go round and round and round in the circle game, said Joni Mitchell.

On the other hand, BTS may have became BMTC, but their notices haven't lost anything in the translation from hard copy to soft: "If you do not buy ticket or pay less without demanding a ticket, you are only losing..." Nor, happily, has O Form.

The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell, 1966

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This frangipani has lived in two countries, suffered one relocation, endured ten nasty Arabian summers, survived the erratic job and emotional malaises of its owner and basically just refused to die in spite of every encouragement to do so. It insists on flowering profusely, prettily every year in wanton disregard for its chronic neglect. As I potter from room to room, filling the holes left by my paintings in the walls, the morning light streams through the French windows and the first of the tiny birds arrive to chitter around the flowers. I stand watching for a while, with a tub of Spackling and a butter knife in my hand, and come away with the strong feeling that all cracks can be patched just as simply, easily.


I just finished re-reading the last Harry Potter to decide what I thought of it as a book (in the first reading you just want to know how it ends.) Well, I've lost count of the number of times I've read The Chamber of Secrets, The Goblet of Fire and The Sorcerer's Stone (and I know I will read them again) but I have never opened The Order of the Phoenix after the first time. The Deathly Hallows joins it in the outer darkness of the back row of my bookshelf.

For this two things are largely responsible.
One: Unwisely returning to The Lord of the Rings immediately after, a terribly damaging comparison was automatic and inevitable.
Two: The unavoidable media hype that turns authors into celebrities apparently contaminates fiction with fact.

I was surprised at how hard it was for me to get past Rowling's inexplicable bloody-mindedness about The Tales of Beedle The Bard. If it were genuinely about being just for six important people in her life, why make a such a big deal of it in public? It doesn't make sense. A million paperbacks would hardly have affected the value of the ones handwritten, hand-tooled and personally illustrated by the author. They would still have brought in the millions for charity. They would still have been private and personal gifts.

As it stands "five wizarding fairy tales referenced in the last book of the Harry Potter series" are out of reach of the kids who would give away their lunch money to read them. Of course they could always take part in the singularly unimaginative Amazon contest that is going to allow one of them near one copy, under supervision. Whether close enough to actually read the damn thing is not specified.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Something's burning

We’ve all seen this forward a million times but it seemed like my own personal anthem the first time I read it and will now be the appropriate way to end to my intense – but mercifully brief – affair with the kitchen stove. All rise.

Delia Smith's Way Vs My Way

DS: Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar cone to prevent ice-cream drips.
Me: Suck the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone. You are probably eating it lying on the couch with your feet up anyway.

DS: To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the bag with the potatoes.
Me: Buy Smash and keep it in the cupboard for up to a year. DO NOT OPEN.

DS: When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking tin, use a bit of the dry cake mix instead and there won't be any white mess on the outside of the cake.
Me: Bakeries sell cakes. You can get a slice each of seven different types at one go.

DS: If you accidentally over-salt a dish while it's still cooking, drop in a potato slice.
Me: If you over salt a dish while you are cooking, please recite the Real Woman's motto: 'I made it and you will eat it.' Butcher's knife in one hand, optional.

DS: Wrap celery in aluminium foil when putting in the refrigerator and it will keep for weeks.
Me: It could keep forever. Who eats it?

DS: When catering for an evening buffet, calculate food portions and timings a week in advance, so that you're not rushing on the night.
Me: Open menu drawer. Select menu. Locate phone under pile of CDs. Dial. Order.

Freeze left-over wine into ice cubes for future use in casseroles.
Me: Left-over wine?

Something's Burning, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. Album by the same name, 1970

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose

Heading through the airport recently, I felt like I was walking through a world designed especially for and around me. It happens on some days, the planets align for you. In the words (somewhat) of Douglas Adams: "The universe speaks to you in a distinct voice and it says yes". I see it most not in the things that go right or the luck that attends my endeavours but in the manner of the strangers I encounter.

That night people were radiant towards me, they smiled, they chatted, wanted to know what I was doing or where I was going. They were responding to something in me, though I was as unsocial as I usually am. It might have been joy. It had been a few months since I left the country (surprising how quickly I got used to travelling often), so walking into an airport again to go somewhere, anywhere, was a pure, heady blast of oxygen.

It was also my first trip after quitting the habit. It was interesting to observe that the "smoking room" signs sparked the strongest wistful craving I'd felt in a while. At the same time, not needing to go to the smoking room for that last, essential cigarette was a pure, heady blast of freedom.

Perhaps it was the unaccustomed oxygen level in my cells.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


In the light of some of the comments the "Don't call me desi" post below has inspired, I feel the need to appoint a counsel for the defence.

Check out this interesting video of Sanjeev Bhaskar talking about being Indian and British at the same time.

Incidentally, his saying fish fingers when he was asked what he had for tea reminded me of one of my father's stories about going to a Jesuit school in Mangalore. Since most of his classmates were Catholic, he and his brother always claimed to be Catholic when it came to stating religion. It was as much wishful thinking as wanting to fit in.

And what Sanjeev says about the dichotomy created by not being into Bollywood films that much but rather The Beatles, Stanley Kubrick and their ilk, reminded me of some of my classmates. Mine was a rural school, so many came from very, very conservative backgrounds. The kids' "westernised" tastes in music, movies, books made them a sort of fault-line generation in their families, with all the discomfort that entails.

Not belittling the difficulties of growing up straddling two cultures, I would still say that it brings me back to what I said in my earlier post about some things also being human concerns, not just Indian ones.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't call me desi

I can see why you'd need another word for Indian in North America, but I don't have to like it.

One of the things that hits you when you leave India is that your identity is suddenly consumed by the fact that you're Indian. Having grown up in the country, my Indian-ness is not something I feel the need to justify, or even think about. It's just there, a part of me, like the shape of my wrist or the sound of my voice – when was the last time these intruded upon your consciousness?

You realise with a shock that for most people you meet, it takes a while to see you, because you're just an embodiment of whatever stereotype they're holding at that time. Many years spent abroad have inured me to this, I've come to accept and work with it. But while I understand and humour it from non-Indians, I don't forgive it in fellow Indians, no matter what passport they hold.

Another surprising thing you learn rather quickly is that the Indians born in other countries seem to be more prone than others to judge you by your passport. Most of those I've met – with some notable exceptions – have apparently never been anything but painfully conscious of their origins, making them defensive and strangely parochial. This is at first amusing, and then offensive, for those of us who know that India, more so than any other country, is what you make of it, and therefore has as many faces as there are people on the planet.

Wondering anxiously ("Am I being defensive as well?") why this word in particular makes me so angry, I found several possible reasons.

Of course the fact that I don't subscribe to the Hindi Supremacy makes the word annoying (please don't bother to say "national language"; I've heard it before). My bloody-minded dislike of being arbitrarily herded into any sort of group definitely has something to do with it. As also my tendency to instant fury at small-mindedness or tunnel vision, two traits that all labels exhibit.

Take the otherwise normal person who makes the startling comment that "being South Asian makes it even harder with respect to finding literary compatibility, especially if you want to date someone desi". Or that all "desi parents" are obsessive-compulsive about getting their daughters married. (Coming from a family that has never put any pressure on anybody, I resent this sweeping conclusion. Bollywood and Zee TV are bad enough, without thinking Indians endorsing the stupidity).

It's worth considering that the sentiments involved in the subject of a daughter's marriage are human ones, not merely Indian. This, finally, is The Reason – the reducing of everything to the word desi, a tiny little window edged with garish mirror-work and maybe also some badly carved elephants. As if that's all there is to the country, or indeed, the world.

Don't even get me started on gora.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Stealing the Ambassador

What a waste of a brilliant title.

When I commandeered it unceremoniously from my brother's bookshelf, it was in the irrational hope of either a rollicking read with the unapologetic exuberance of Sacred Games or a multilayered, multicoloured production like Midnight's Children. Or maybe even a tale of deep, chronic decay in the style of Rohinton Mistry or Sarathchandra Chattopadyaya. Or something else entirely, a new and wonderful type of book.

Even the ominous blurb – "Twenty-three year old Rajiv Kothari is lost in a nation he has always called home and beckoned by the one his father left long ago" – could not dim the promise in the title.

Well, you already guessed it. All it is, is yet another tourism brochure. I've only read half and maybe it'll turn into a technicolor dreamcoat in the second half. But I think I'm too depressed to slog it out to the end.

If Sameer Parekh's grammar wasn't just a little bit questionable, he might even have won the Booker. And, as it stands today, I can't think of a worse indictment (though I have to admit I wouldn't exactly kick it out of bed if it was ever offered to me...).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Modern miracles

I was going to write about it, but I have no words. There are just so many things wrong with the article, from so many angles. Is it the treating of the fact as "a miracle", as if it's surprising that female reproductive organs could possibly lead to pregnancy? The complete absence of any awareness of absurdity? The presenting of it as news by the BBC? Surely this sort of thing should just be left to Fox and Oprah. Is it... no there's no way to comment on this without the engine seizing up entirely.

It's here to enjoy for yourself.

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