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A dilettante's experiments with Cubism

posted: 29.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments


I see a faint orange gleam far away in the sky
I am perplexed; what am I to surmise?
The weakened, fading rays of sunset
Or pert, lively streaks of sunrise?

posted: 28.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Cricket, Aayathu Ezhuthu

I lost interest in Cricket the day the infamous betting scandal broke out. Yet whenever Indian and Pakistan play, I allow my blithe unconcern for the game to slip into a partial concern. There is something about this traditional rivalry, something about the electric atmosphere on the day of the coveted encounter which makes it impossible for you to ignore the game. While taking an evening stroll down MG road today, a friend remarked “Show me one TV set today which isn’t tuned to the match”, and indeed - be it Barista or a restaurant serving Andhra food – they’ll all have a TV showing the match. Call it their love for the game or pure economics; if you are eating out, chances are you won’t miss cricket much. The din of crackers outside my apartment informs me that India has won; another salient feature of an India Pakistan encounter – the celebrations after a victory sometimes make Diwali seem bland. I am not complaining; nothing quite brings this country together like a keenly contested game of Cricket, even more so if we happen to be taking on Pakistan.

Another Rahman flick came out last week - Aayathu Ezhuthu. Actually, Aayathu Ezhuthu is just the Tamizh variant, this has been a simultaneous release in Tamizh, Telugu and Hindi (it is called “Yuva” in latter two). There are six tracks – all fresh tunes. I sometimes miss the Rahman of a decade ago and the simple melodies that used to be a key element in all his works. Except for one track (Track 3, Sandai Kozhi) in this album, all others are heavily techno/club – though most of them still grow on you within two hearings. This album will definitely qualify as an experimental work of Rahman, who also happens to have crooned for 3 of the 6 tracks. If you are a Rahman fan, definitely pick this album. (Oh yes, the opening notes of Track 5, Nenjam Ellam, for some reasons, remind me of the track “Warehouse” from Dave Matthews Band album Under the Table and Dreaming).

A friend explained to me that this album (the Tamizh version) has an interesting rationale behind its name. Aayathu literally means weapon while Ezhuthu implies “writing”. However, this is not where the exact connotation comes from – Aayathu Ezhuthu together mean “last matra” (diacritical) and this is where the real gist lies. The diacritical “Ah” is denoted in Tamizh by 3 dots arranged in a triangle (imagine 3 dots at each vertex of an equilateral triangle something like the symbol they use in Mathematics to denote “therefore”). Now, “Ah” like any other diacritic, is always suffixed to a character (e.g. கஃ) and this is the “matra” being referred to here. There are 3 protagonists (“heroes”) in the movie; each dot represents one of them!

posted: 25.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

A dark poem

I wrote this poem late at night, when I woke up the next morning I found it too grim to attribute it to myself. It definitely is a work that came from darker recesses of my mind, or perhaps I was possessed…

(One small note for friends and family reading this poem – seeking allusions to my present, real life would be a grand folly; rest assured I remain my jovial usual self ;-))

Feelix Mendelssohn, a 19th century composer (he, like Mozart, had a short life; 35 years – 1809-1847), wrote a set of beautiful solo pieces for piano. These little pieces, collectively known as “Songs without words for piano”, transcend a range of vivid emotions and are certainly not the cause behind starkness of this poem. I had written a small verse around a similar theme few months ago; the words came back to me with recurring clarity, prompting this poem.

Songs Without Words

When our songs lost words
And those words lost their meanings
I questioned my inner self, my soul
I wanted solitude
Indeed, I had now earned it
And yet that gleam in my eyes wasn’t joy
I wonder when, if at all, it’ll stop raining

Life once was simple, uncomplicated
It was after all about just “I” and “Me”
Our hearts stirred and lives got intertwined
I learned, albeit with great efforts
New words, such as “Us” and “We”
But now; during days, I masquerade being alive
And at nights I walk in sleep, mumbling soliloquies

Driving home last night I felt your head,
Go down affectionately on my right shoulder
I whispered, something gently in your ear
You looked back but never answered,
Blinded by a flash of light, all I heard was a loud crash
The breeze was balmy, scorching, muggy
And now, the scarlet tainted night smolders

posted: 23.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Sparrows in my room

As a child I was enamored by my Mother’s compassion and love for animals. I vaguely remember how poorly constructed our house was when we had moved in it some 20 years ago. The roof above all rooms was a rather primitive structure, comprised of concrete slabs supported on thick horizontal planks of wood that in turn were mounted on the four walls of the room breadth wise. There would be tiny creeks between these wooden beams and the concrete slabs, which would encourage sparrows to fly in and peck at the (often termite infested) wood so as to carve a niche that they would then try to stuff with straw. This would go on for a few days, after which their gatherings would fall down for want of more room and their sheer weight. Mom would often fetch a small cutlery holder or steel cups and plant them firmly in their small niche, inside which these birds would slyly construct their nests. Unfortunately Dad did not share the same enthusiasm for cohabiting with sparrows and that often lead to discords when he came back from work in the evening; though ultimately he would have to relent to Mom’s persuasiveness and sparrows’ resilience.

The condition of our house deteriorated with every passing year owing to its shabby construction and things eventually came to a point when we had to get it reconstructed. This was no mean feat as everything had to be flattened to ground and we had to find alternate accommodation for the duration that the construction lasted. We moved into our unfurnished ‘new’ house 4 months later and shortly began carpentry work. Mom ensured that every tiny plank of spare wood was used in construction of small “cuckoo clock” houses where sparrows could roost. About 5 of them were suspended under our terrace ledge and within days they were (and still are) abodes to flourishing families of sparrows.

In our new house, I got my own room (it was a big deal then!). The curtains in my room were mounted on drapery rods fitted under quaint boxy wooden pelmets, atop which I had placed a small card-board painting, inclined against the wall. The little hole between the slanted painting and the wall soon attracted an enterprising couple of sparrows. For large part of the day, this couple would fiercely battle their reflection in the mirror in our verandah (owning to which it would have to be covered with newspapers) and for remaining part, they would toil on their nest in my room; behind the painting on the pelmet. In the evenings, the female would sleep inside the nest while the male would ensconce itself snugly under the pelmet.

One day, as I switched on the light in my room, I was greeted by a sound that was reminiscent of dozens of little anklets stirring together. The chicks had hatched inside the nest! Before I could even gather my senses the female hopped out of the nest and started chirping what sounded like an angry retort for having intruded on their privacy. For next few days, my table lamp was the only source of light in my room.

March flew past and April heralded the beginning of summers. I would still sleep in my room without turning the fan on lest the sparrows should get hurt but as it got hotter I eventually had to retreat to my sister’s room. The chicks had grown larger (and bolder) and often sneaked out of their nests when their parents brought them food. I must confess that their visage was a tad repulsive in their early days as they were yet to sprout feathers.

As they started resembling mature members of their species, the male sparrow would spend extended periods just outside my room teaching them to chirp. These lessons in speech are rather amusing to observe. The male contrives the sweetest of tweets you can attribute to a male sparrow (male sparrows are relatively raucous otherwise) and will wait patiently for the chicks to acknowledge his soliloquy. The chicks chime in chorus and this exchange goes on for minutes at stretch, after which their feeding resumes.

After about 45 days the chicks would be ready to fly off. This used to be an emotional and tense moment for us. Our verandah is fully covered except for this 5 feet x 3 feet railing that was placed to allow light and fresh air. While the sparrows would negotiate the gaps in the railing effortlessly, their chicks were ill equipped with maneuver needed to pass through. The chicks would almost always hatch in groups of three, of which the two would almost always make it to the terrace smoothly. The third, usually the timid one of the lot, would need help. One day we would wake up in the morning to hear faint chirping from under our bed or in the kitchen – one of the chicks, having failed at the attempts to join its siblings, would sit their exhausted. Above, its distressed parents would perch, chirping feverishly. Eventually, mom would have to lift it up in her palms and take it to the terrace for a successful reunion with its anxious parents. We would all heave a sigh of relief and celebrate the happenings of the early morning with a grand breakfast.

As I sat writing this piece, I felt inundated with other childhood memories spanning my days with sparrows (almost all of them worth mentioning on my blog) but for now I conclude with pictures I took on my recent visit home early this month:

For the discerning reader: A quick lesson in ornithology - Sparrows and their habits: The common house sparrow is one of the most common species of birds you will spot in urban India. The male and female can be easily distinguished by their appearance – the male is light grey in color and sports prominent black “beard” like plumage over its neck and breast, while females are streaked, light brown in color. Sparrows feed on different kinds of seeds and grains but also devour most common insects with equal fervor; especially when they are bringing their chicks up. In many big cities, their numbers are declining alarmingly – a trend attributed partly to pollution and partly to modern styles of construction which deprive these little birds of nooks and niches that are so essential to allow them to roost.

posted: 21.3.04 | permalink | 1 comments


The bright shining rays of summer sun
Gently tip-toe down my apartment staircase
They fill me with warmth, hope and life
Eschewing darkness, dilemmas of last night
Without a feeble trace

posted: 16.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

East and Far-East

When returning from Mysore, you will cross a little town called “Ramnagar”, barely 50 KM away from Bangalore. This is the same place where the legendry Hindi movie Sholay was shot; however that was not the reason why we had decided to break our journey there. The reason for stopping at Ramnagar, was a much more fundamental one – we were hungry! The Kamat restaurant at Ramnagar is well known for its sumptuous, delectable local cuisine. We got down from our bus and hastily stepped into the restaurant. We were escorted to an old rustic room without any furniture - except for an old, rickety, 2 feet high stool at the far end of the room. Framed pictures of Indian deities were neatly arranged on the stool and in front of them, incense sticks smoldered gently. We sat down cross-legged on the floor coated with dry mud and soon enough, were supplied with tender banana leaves, our platters for holding food this evening. While everyone waited for their food to appear, my eyes strayed onto the walls in the room. The walls were covered throughout, from the floor to the ceiling with large, lively, colorful murals. The life-sized figures of kings and warriors engaged in their routine chores, were painted in just three or four colors and yet they looked stunning, partly due to the thick, bold strokes of black used to outline them. The simple elegance of these works left me spell-bound:

About a month later I found myself in a modern “noodle bar” in a busy, up-market area of Shanghai. We had plans to embark upon a shopping spree that evening and in the interest of saving time, had popped into this joint instead of going to one of the plush restaurants serving choicest of oriental fare that we had been frequently for past days of our stay. I was stunned to see murals similar in style and execution (plain, solid colors; bold motifs with thick black outlines) to the ones I had encountered in the roadside restaurant at Ramnagar. My friends attributed my excited looks of that evening to the prospect of having to eat noodles with chopsticks, they obviously had missed the writing (painting?) on the wall ;-)

posted: 14.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Thinking in Poetry

I go through these weird moments during conversations when every second sentence I say, usually happens to rhyme with the last one; as if I were trying to converse in sonnets. I’ll admit that there are times when it is contrived (you can clearly tell, because you’ll be instinctively searching for a solid object to hit me with) but more often than not, it just happens of its own accord (when in doubt, check with me before you take the path of non-violence ;-)).

Thinking in Poetry

Sometimes, even before I know
My sentences rhyme and words flow
Living alone I thought would help me grow
And after a year this limerick is what I throw?
Its not Wordsworth, won’t go well with high-brow
They’ll even ridicule me perhaps, call me coarse as a crow
When confronted, this is how our conversation will go
“Not pretty, might look like poetry; is a futile exercise though”
“I was bored! After all I was idle and had a Sunday evening to blow”

posted: 8.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Currency Compendium

One of the side effects of a highly itinerant life is that your wallet on any given day would have a hotchpotch of currencies, representative of the countries you visited or transited through. I’ve been carrying US $, RMB (Yaun) and Singapore $ - in puny (pocket change) denominations for past two weeks. The tinge on a 10 RMB note resembles that of a 100 Rs note and has been a source of profound confusion. While coming to office this morning, as I rummaged through the potpourri of currency notes to fish that elusive 10 Rs note, the auto driver caught a glimpse of my wallet’s messy innards. He stared at me blankly for a moment in a state of utter bewilderment, as if I had just landed from mars, and asked me what that green looking currency note in my wallet was. “1 American Dollar” was my prompt reply. Without wasting a second, he put his hand into his trouser's pocket and pulled out a soiled, battered, folded currency note, which he proceeded to unfold with utmost care. He pointed to it and asked my expert opinion on country of its origin and its current market value in Rs. I told him that he was carrying a 20 Thai-Bhat note, which happens to be priced at slightly more than a rupee. He grinned broadly, satisfied at his recent discovery, and drove away; leaving me nonplussed…

posted: 8.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Ice crystals on my window

I am a big proponent of window seats when traveling; irrespective of the mode of commute. True to my habit, while traveling from Shanghai to Singapore, I inveigled a window seat; though it was a bit disappointing to discover that the window merely overlooked the colossal Boeing 777 wingspan, quashing any chance of catching a glimpse of the landscape below, almost completely. The disappointment was ephemeral, as I gradually realized that lack of fancy terrain does not always translate into lack of photo-ops!

Here is the enormous left wing of the Boeing craft (the initial cause of my dejection) that I had flown in. Since it tapers further away from window, it almost looks infinite, as if it is fusing far away with the horizon.

The sudden changes in atmospheric conditions outside, in particular the variation of temperature, as the plane gains altitude, can lead to interesting displays on your plane’s clean window pane. The window I was sitting next to, thanks to a light drizzle in the morning, had collected a small cache of scattered water droplets. The moment we were cruising at a height of about 37,000 feet, these accumulated droplets, crystallized into wonderful, glittering icicles (a must see in high-res, these make for an enchanting wallpaper)

posted: 6.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

A date with Metro…

I was reading Ruskin Bond’s account of Delhi of the 1960s while flying back home. Though it is a period I don’t relate to (my parents probably will), I found his vignettes engrossing. I’ve spent a great part of my life (almost entirely) in Delhi and yet it’s a city I’ve never quite belonged to. My visits here are reluctant, almost grudging and are mostly confined to seeing family and attending to work, this time however, I had a little escapade planned.

The Metro rail project is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever seen in this city or for that matter in this country. The execution has been meticulous, on schedule and thoroughly professional, something which is more of an exception in India than norm. Traffic in Delhi, like in most big cities in the world, has been, and remains, a nagging problem. The Metro, Delhi’s answer to Metro in Kolkata and Mumbai’s local trains, is meant to address the increasing congestion that plagues roads of Delhi. The construction has been (and still is) on in full swing for past 6 years or so. The first section became functional in December 2002, about two months after I had moved to Bangalore – an irony of sorts because I was privy to all the traffic snarl ups caused by construction of the Metro infrastructure, in a hope that in grand scheme of things they would only serve to convenience my commutes. (To tell you the truth, the traffic flow in some areas of the city had actually improved, thanks to the conscientious planning and routing by Metro workers!). Now since I wouldn’t swap my current stay in Bangalore for living in Delhi in near (or far) foreseeable future, I requested my sis to take me for a guided tour of the Metro on Sunday.

Elevated tracks and corridor: They had mushroomed in the middle of this busy road with astonishing alacrity (I had endured countless traffic jams at this very crossing just 2 years ago). Note the colorful mosaic of numerous ceramic tiles in the background of second picture:

We started our ride from Shastri Nagar; there is a Metro station at a walkable distance from our home. The Metro in Delhi, at least the current functional phase, largely uses elevated tracks. The stations are clean, airy and spacious. Not being in the basement has allowed them to do away with the air-conditioning. While it felt pleasant even at 2:00 PM in noon in February, I am certain it will not stay the same once the hot Delhi summers beckon. Overall, the focus has been on basics rather than floss, and indeed the basics have been covered well. My first reaction at entering station was to pull out my camera and snap a picture, which was met with disapproving yelps and angry looks from the customer service counter near the entrance – photography at all Metro stations is prohibited. I felt sheepish at having been reproached for a seemingly harmless act and apologized; it certainly had tarnished my mood for our onward journey. The tickets are affordably priced – a one way journey to Shahadra (an otherwise arduous 70 minute commute by road) is priced at 7 Rs, the highest published fare yet. The frequency of trains is good, with a train every 3 minutes.

The entrance to Shastri Nagar Metro station, photography beyond this point is prohibited (while I have one picture that I clicked inside, I’ll refrain from publishing it):

Our designated train arrived within two minutes of our having brought the tickets. The doors slid open and we hopped in. My first experience with trains as a means of commute within city was in Hong Kong four years ago, and it felt exactly like that. The trains fortunately, unlike the stations, are air-conditioned. Even on a Sunday afternoon, the train was running full. We were standing for rest of our journey that lasted 20 minutes. There were 6 stations between Shastri Nagar and Shahadara, each about three minutes away from other; with a stop time of half a minute. All stations have been tastefully done. Each station has its own unique two-color scheme that it follows consistently. There are large, colorful ceramic tile murals at each station that are pretty and vivid. The announcements inside train, first in crisp Hindi followed by English informed us of our arrival at Shahadara. We stepped out, went to the exit, and proceeded to locate the ticketing counter for buying tickets for ride back home. I had recovered from the calamitous prospect of not having been allowed to photograph and was my usual keen observant self (I did try seeking permission to photograph at Shahadara station again, without much use).

Route Map, the dotted lines indicate routes that are not yet functional

For the first time I have seen accessibility provisions made at a public utility place in India. There were doors in the train for disabled, special exit gates at stations and elevators to allow them to reach the two storey high train platforms – at most places in India, these little nuances get overlooked.

May be I am tenacious, but I wasn’t still convinced that photography was banned here! I mean this wasn’t a defense installation but an ordinary public use area. I finally came across a poster with catalog of prohibited items/actions. I reproduce the complete list, without permission, with occasional spicy remarks of my own:

Littering (yup, it is not implicitly implied in India)
Food or Drink
Flammable Materials (we ought to be traveling naked, clothes are flammable ;-), I am deliberately being unreasonable :-))
Spitting (yup, in India that needs to be told)
Photography (sulk, sulk)
Heavy Luggage (not sure how they were going to impose that)

Some rules and laws in India tend to defy logic (for instance, when flying, photography over all Indian territory is prohibited – little ludicrous given the fact that thanks to advancements in satellite imagery, I can pretty much pin-point and capture any street or important installation from space with a resolution as high as few centimeters) but some of them are plain hilarious. Take for instance this notice at the ticketing counter:

“वयस्क के साथ 3 फीट ऊँचाई तक के बच्चे की यात्रा मुफ़्त है।”
“Travel of child upto 3 feet with adult is free”

I’ve seen tickets being priced differently depending on age of your child, but never his/her height! And yes, believe it or not they had means of imposing this! At the customer service booth near the entry to the main platform, is a yellow marking where a child suspected of having grown beyond the mandated 3 feet limit for free rides, would be made to stand for measurements! Fortunately, they did not have a decree prohibiting sketching at the stations, here is a rough sketch of the customer service cubicle:

The journey back home was insipidly swift. I was all but thoroughly impressed! Such immense progress in such a short span of time is not something you get to witness in Delhi all that often. The sheer proportions and fastidious execution of the Metro project would ensure it a place in History books; not to mention the profitability that the proper day-to-day operations of the Metro would entail...

posted: 1.3.04 | permalink | 0 comments

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