miercuri, 9 martie 2011

A few scrapings

Nothing much to write about, so here are a few scrapings:

Two days ago there was a Jain holy day. A Jain friend called from Calcutta to ask forgiveness for any wrong she might have done to us. It’s something Jains are supposed to do on such occasions – ask forgiveness of everyone they know.

(Note: Ditch the Raft has a very interesting post about this Jain holy day, Paryushan, and about a similar tradition in Judaism.)

We sometimes go to a tea pub in Adyar. The last time we went, we had continually to swat flies. When we mentioned it to the owner he said, “Actually, we don’t kill flies: we’re Jains.”

We’ve acquired a new car. I mention it because of the way it was delivered: with a flower garland strung across the front, and accompanied by a box of sweets.

It’s customary to give sweets to people on happy occasions. When I was a student here, you knew people’s birthdays: they would come into the dining hall wearing new clothes, and carrying a box of sweets, which they would hand around to all.

Chauffeur Training

We bought a new car last week. Today I received a letter from the company which sold it to us, signed by one Mr. Heavenly. I love that name! It's obviously a Christian name, since it's in English, but it's one I've never encountered before. Mr. Heavenly writes, in part:

... We are sure your car will give you years of trouble free motoring pleasure to you & your family.

As part of our endeavour to continuously provide value added service to our customers, we have initiated a chauffer training program specially designed for your chauffeur. This aim of this training program is to enrich the driving knowledge of your chauffeur in areas of vehicle knowledge, driving habits, safety feaures, maintenance schedules & self-help. Experienced staff will conduct the training of 04 hours duration...

I prefer to drive myself, though many people we know do have drivers. It's a nice idea. I could use assistance in several of these areas myself, especially self-help.

Newspaper Stuff

A few things from this morning's The Hindu:

Monumental task: Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore gets a facelift - another article in connection with the temple's upcoming Mahakumbabhishekam -- a reconsecration and general sprucing up. The huge temple tank, which has gone dry in recent years, has been filled with trucked-in water for the occasion.

Sena 'treatment' to Mani Shankar Aiyar - Politicians beat an effigy of another politician with shoes. This is one of the most insulting things you can do to someone here. Sometimes a perceived miscreant will be garlanded with a chain of shoes.

Operation Cobra Rescue in Sriperumbudur - this caught my eye because the Irula tribals who rescued the eponymous cobra family (32 babies and their parents), and who are expert snake and rat catchers, have here been euphemised into "snake trans-locaters."


Today's New York Times Magazine has an interview with Meera Nair, in connection with the release of her new film, Vanity Fair. (Filmography) The interview seemed disjointed and perfunctory to me, a handful of sound-bites. It contains this, which should be obvious, but probably isn't:

As an Indian citizen living in New York, do you see the U.S. as a force for good?

No. Islamophobia has completely raged in the Western world since 9/11. Americans are only given one very biased point of view about the Islamic faith.

You seem to be suggesting that Americans view all Muslims as terrorists.

Living in New York, we never felt foreign. After 9/11, we felt foreign.

Have you been mistaken for a Muslim on the streets?

Last time I checked, Muslims looked like every other human being. My parents are Hindu, and I married into a Muslim family. I would be happy to be mistaken for a Muslim.

My Sister's Chair

I meant to write something for the blog today, but instead I painted a picture of my sister's chair.

I've always admired my sister's ability to live in a certain way -- to cook beautifully, to assemble small things that one would not expect to see together, to put colours together with a flair that I lack. The chair was in the attic guestroom of a house she doesn't live in anymore: an early 20th C. house in a Boston suburb. She painted the wide old floorboards sky blue, and the walls white, with a big yellow sunburst on the sloping ceiling. Most of the room was blue and white and yellow, with a bright poster of a beach somewhere, so that you didn't feel that you were shivering in a New England winter.

Vinayaka Chaturthi and a Song

I came downstairs to music blaring from a public loudspeaker – A. R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram. Today is Vinayaka Chaturthi, the festival of Ganesh.

(AFP photo)

Hearing Rahman’s music reminded me that I’ve been wanting to put up an MP3 of a song of his that I love: Porale Ponuthaye, from the Tamil film Karuthamma. It’s a song of sadness and longing, just a woman’s voice, with almost no instrumental accompaniment. (The file size is 7553 kb, the playing time is 6:23. I'll keep it up for a week.)

The tune of this song appears twice in the film, the second time in a faster, happy version. Rahman used the faster version again for the album Vande Mataram.

The woman who sang this song, Swarnalatha, won a National Film Award for it in 1994.

You can hear the fast version, and lots of other Tamil film songs on streaming audio, at Tamil Songs Page (the link is to the page containing songs by Swarnalatha, including Porale Ponuthaye). I prefer the slow version, but the fast one is catchy; it’s interesting to compare them.

If you do download this song, please tell me how you liked it.

(And here's the Tamil Songs Page for the Top 10 Songs -- listen to
what Tamil popular music sounds like these days.)

Three Days Offline

On Sunday morning the line which brings the Internet to me was cut -- or "cutted," as the voice on the other end of the phone said, when I called to complain. The Voice told me that the line would be restored by four o’clock in the afternoon. That was specific, and therefore comforting... but in fact the line came back only on Tuesday evening. So here are some highlights of the last three days offline:

Mary bought the weirdest snake gourd I’ve ever seen. Usually they are long and straight. This one would scare me, if I came upon it in the dark:

I drove out to do some errands on Monday, and just outside the gate many water buffaloes were sashaying down the middle of the road. I’m used to one or two, so this show of strength was pleasing to me. Buffaloes are attractively ugly, with their used-inner-tube hide and knobby hindquarters. I drove past them very gingerly in my new car.

I squished a dung-beetle while playing badminton. It was inevitable: it’s apparently their mating season, and every day I see them cavorting ponderously in the grass beside the court. They are quite cute. They have black flattened-oval backs, with three white dots on each side and one in the middle, so that they look like half-dominoes in a funhouse mirror. Lost in the throes of passion, they keep scuttling onto the court. And I was trying to score a point. Alas.

It has been raining off and on for the last several days. The covered atrium in the center of the house magnifies the sound, so it’s like being inside a drum. The drainage on the roads is poor. Temporary floods appear immediately on all the low-lying roads. After the rain there are puddles, and the humidity is 100%, but seeing grey skies, instead of that endless blasted pale-blue, is a great pleasure.

This morning Lakshmi told me that many ant-like insects had entered the drawing room. All insects have been burgeoning because of the rain. I rushed in to see, and found a heap of half-inch translucent tan-coloured wings on the floor by the French window. When I looked out at the verandah I saw drifts of them, and realized that these had blown in through the slight gap between window-frame and floor. Some colony of insects held its mating ball last night, while we were sleeping.

Another one of those days

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day driving around in circles –- although that is difficult in Chennai, because there are so many cul-de-sacs culs-de-sac dead ends – trying to get a few things done, with little success. Although I saw a rare rainbow in the east, where rain was falling, wasted, into the Bay of Bengal.

Just as I got home the power went off, and stayed off for four hours, and we were waiting for some important calls, and in the middle of that the generator tripped, and we got it back, but by then we were pretty frazzled and irritable. And then around midnight it went dark again, and this time we felt it was out for the night. So I spread a couple of quilts (one block-printed Rajasthani razai and one red-and-white quilt, patched by me, but hand-quilted in a beautiful medallion design by my tailor’s sister-in-law and some of her friends in Lahore) on the drawing room carpet, because that was the coolest room in the house, and we lay down to sleep there. But after an hour the power came back again, and we were able to repair to the bedchamber.

The day before yesterday, part of the nearby slum where Lakshmi lives burned down. She said there was some dispute, and the fire was set, but it must be hard to know. Such fires always consume hundreds of huts, because they’re made of thatch and paper and such. She was okay, because she has a cement hut, and she was on the far side of the slum from where the fire was, but the electricity lines were all burnt, so maybe that had something to do with our blackout.

Mary came back from one of the many visits she’s been making to various doctors lately. She’s been suffering a lot from arthritis in both knees, but she doesn’t want to accept that she may have to put up with it. So she goes from one doctor to another. Many of the doctors who serve the poor seem careless and ignorant – though that may be unfair. (For the rest of us, Chennai is a regional medical center: people come here from other parts of India and even from neighbouring countries for certain kinds of treatment.) Mary or Lakshmi or Chinnaraj or whoever, will come back from the doctor with a handful of nondescript pills twisted into a newspaper, and no information. If I ask, “What did the doctor say?” the sick person will say something like, “I was afraid to ask, because then he would get angry and say, Go to another doctor if you don’t trust me.”

Mary has had one offer of an injection in her knees which would cost Rs. 1,000 – a lot! – which we guess must be cortisone, but which has to be taken on faith. Someone else gave her some heart medicine. She has been told that she has gotten old (vaayasaayichchu) and that she has to do physical work, and therefore this pain is inevitable and given vitamins and antacids. Three days ago she went for an x-ray, which showed that she has osteo-arthritis. Yesterday she took the x-ray to a doctor, who said that her body was deficient in iron and salt.

Ramesh told her that the only real solution might be knee replacement, which would keep her immobilised for months, and she said, “Yes, I heard about it on the radio. They said it’s very good, but you can’t bend your knees fully.” It’s interesting – the radio is an excellent source of information on all kinds of subjects. She has people who treat her as though she doesn’t deserve to know what’s going on; and then she has the radio. And, of course, Ramesh, who goes through his books, deciphering what each tablet really is, and explaining what’s really going on.

Lakshmi is worried because her sister is in the hospital, awaiting delivery of a child. But it’s not coming. She’s overweight, and her body has swelled up with liquid, and her blood pressure is high. The doctors told her she had too much salt in her body.

So it goes. And yet so it goes on -- babies do get born, and people manage their pain.

But really, it was one of those days, for everyone in the house.

Later: As we were having breakfast, one of Lakshmi's relatives called to say that her sister required emergency surgery. She took Rs. 1000 from me -- when these crises happen, money is collected from whoever can give -- to help pay the hospital, and tearfully rushed off. For her, today is also going to be one of those days.