Saturday, July 07, 2012

First Summer Rain

I reached home all wet. It was a big relief from the burning Summer.
Here's the naughty me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Night I Couldn't Sleep

DivisaderoDivisadero by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grazing through Divisadero is like inhaling in the spirit of Ondaatje. Bought this in anticipation of meeting the man himself at Jaipur Literary Festival. Couldn't go due to bad weather.

Sat up the whole night yesterday trying to write a review, but couldn't. My words become weak in front of his. Read it to feel it. Wonderful. Happy that I bought this book.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Celebrating Latin America in India

"Shukriya, very much" - A "thank you" in Hindi from the professor arouses more cheers from the crowd. It was the second day of the event that spanned three remarkable evenings. For the common music and art enthusiast in India, this was just a sneak peek into the virgin world of Latin America - something we see and hear only in documentary channels highlighting the rich history or diverse wildlife. Fiesta Latino Americano was the result of a coordinated effort between Indian Council ofCultural Relations (ICCR) and the Embassies of Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.

For first-timers like me, this was a window of opportunity to have a closer look and feel of various kinds of music and performing arts from Latin America. Day 1 saw the foot-tapping numbers of Afro-Colombian music for the common man of the city streets, presented by award-winning band "Mama Julia y Los Sonidos Ambulantes" from Colombia. They knew they are performing in front of a totally foreign audience who don't have a clue about what is coming up, and hence took pains to explain their music in English.

Day 2 bloomed with the sweet smiles of Ballet folklorico presented by representatives of the University of Veracruz, Mexico accompanied by Tlen Huicani - a group of musicians in Mexico specializing on regional Mexican music from different states and regions. Viewers were swept off their feet at the amazing level of coordination of the rhythms and the movements of the salsa dancers. Every tap of the foot, every turn of the leg, every twist of the body appeared so much in sync no matter how far on the stage the dancers were, from each other. They presented Ranchero and other forms of music originated from different states of Mexico. A bold move from the male dancer asking the audience to follow his steps counting "ek, doh, teen" (one, two, three) made the audience cheer out loud before joining him.
 After several songs and dances, the professor and his team just took off their colourful traditional shawls, to reveal shining white shirts and trousers.

 To a disappointed crowd thinking that the event just came to an end, the professor explained "Now, we present the music of Veracruz.. we all are from Veracruz. Our traditional costume is all white.. see? white shirt, white trousers, white shoes, and ..mmm...maybe this too!" pointing to his head emphasizing the shining white hair, much to the crowd's joy. In a country where elders (especially the ones with white hair) are openly respected, there was no wonder why we shouldn't stand up and cheer for him. 

The audience were mesmerised on the final and concluding day by "Tango Emotion" the brain child of ace musician and national music professor Enrique Cuttini and his team from Argentina. His Excellency El Ambajador de la Argentina indicated us to "just close your eyes and enjoy the music." The tango dancers elevated the spirits of the audience with their rhythmic moves making sure no one even dares to blink.

Professor Cuttini is a man of small stature and a smile as sweet and innocent as a child. He did not need to ask the audience to clap their hands to the rhythm of the music many times, unlike his predecessors did during the previous days' performances. We were actually clapping hands to the rhythms of tango. Part of the group was an amazing vocalist who walks on to the stage with such ease despite knowing that the majority of us who cheer for him don’t have a clue about what the lyrics say.

The whole exercise taught us Delhi-ites  a valuable lesson – when it comes to music, you don’t always need to understand the lyrics to feel it. Sometimes the feeling the music itself is sufficient.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's In a (Place) Name?

It all started with a business request. After an overwhelming delivery of a project within a short term, the customer in Russia was happy to hand me over a long list of requirements. The problem: The city names were all written in Russian, and the time to work on the business proposal was very less. He was quick to direct me towards Google to address this issue and get going as quick as I can. Quite a good idea. It was surprisingly quick. The one special kind of translation Google has that Yahoo hasn't: the ability to translate a file. Select and upload. The good thing is that Google tries not to mess up the formatting of the file (mine was an Excel table with place names. Good job, Google!). But the problem wasn't over.

Google Translator's job is to translate. Literally every word of it. Well, if the entry is a sentence, the Translator does the additional job of making sense out of it and presents a clear message. Since I'm using translators almost every day since the past five years or so, I have learned the art of communicating with simple messages so that the person using a translator at the other end understands my idea well. But translating names is a different ball game altogether. It just needs the expression of the original term in a different language, not the exact meaning. So I had to write back to the customer citing that English place names is necessary, because I am not able to locate many cities in the map. Try translating the city name “Yellowknife” to Chinese and ask a Chinese man to locate it in the map of Canada!

With limited time to demarcate the city areas, it was a literal firefight to locate city names like “Electric steel” and “Queen + Anniversary” on the map. I shook up my hitherto inactive Russian basics and got the job done. Two days after I finished the job, the apologetic customer (himself a Chinese) got back to me with a detailed list of city names in English. 

The follwoing weekend, while traveling on the Metro during my weekend pilgrimage to the library, I stumbled upon the announcements in English and Hindi:

What if the English messages were just translations of original messages in Hindi? What if they tried Google to make instant translations? Will they face the same trouble that I did? I was curious. I was thinking and laughing to myself during the following part of journey. Imagine this:

NOIDA Sector Pandrah
NOIDA Sector Fifteen

Agla station New Ashok Nagar hai
“The next station is New No-Unhappy City”

Mayur Vihar
“Peacock Park”
Akshar Dhaam station
“Letter-House station”

Pragati Maidaan
“Development Ground”

Rajiv Chowk
“Former Prime Minister breathless!” (Oops! That looks like designing cryptic clues to a crossword puzzle.) Sorry, I made that up.

Check-out the Metro Map and you will know what I was thinking.

Does your city/country/locality also have such names that sounds funny when translated? Feel free to share.

Image Courtesy:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

For the Survival of the Unfit


I am fond of cats. Be it any species, even the wild ones. And I honestly believe, there is no animal that you can’t domesticate (I am a little opposed to the term and the concept of “taming”) since I grew up between snakes, had lizards, hamsters, crows and even a tortoise for pets (most of them were not in captivity) as I grew up. Quite recently I had a friend from Russia visiting me, who pointed out that she hasn’t seen a single cat during her fortnight-long stay in Delhi. Here is the fact:

Delhi doesn’t like cats

“I don’t see any cats here. Surprising! If you were in Russia, you could see them everywhere – all sizes and shapes.” She was peacefully sipping tea in the front room.

Well, that’s true. And it is also true that I love cats. I have loved them all my life.

The reason behind the suspicious absence of cats in all neighborhoods in Delhi I’ve lived, can be attributed to two basic reasons:

(a) The abundance of man’s so called “best” friends – canines
Tooth-flashing, tail-wagging, barking and biting canines. It is not that I dislike dogs, but there used to be “a peaceful coexistence” (to borrow the words of Nikita Khrushchev) of canines and felines when I used to live with my parents till the early 90’s.

Here in Delhi, I don’t see that. Both species are at war (as usual) and in Delhi, the dogs outnumber their feline opponents. I found a reason why.

Delhi is a large city and is not immune to such untoward incidents like carjacking, theft, etc. In an effort to control bad incidents, individual neighborhoods and resident societies have employed security guards of all kinds and calibers. In neighborhoods like mine, the security guards prefer to “outsource” part of their work to the stray dogs, so that they themselves can report late for duty or have their way while at work. Dogs will raise alarm if they see unusual people or situations. Unfortunately, we do not have a comprehensive animal management policy for the urban areas, and at the same time it is against the law to kill a stray animal on the streets, no matter what nuisance they create. Hence the security-men feed the stray dogs, who over a period of time, infest the neighborhoods. Since cats are yet to be put to such crime-control efforts, they are not a preferred option for anyone. As a result the canines are large in number and the felines (if they are there) have to constantly be on the watch lest they fall prey to stray dogs. Being a cat-lover, whenever I see a dog chasing a cat in Delhi, I always shoo away the dog.

(b) Delhi doesn’t eat fish like Kerala or Bengal does

Though I couldn’t corroborate the statement with solid facts and research reports, I believe there is an aeonian relation between cats and fish. Naturally you will find felines in abundance in places where fish is a significant component of daily food.

Thus people of states like Kerala and Bengal where fish is an almost mandatory part of the daily food are used to keeping cats for pets. On the contrary in Delhi where “non-veg” usually means chicken, more chicken and much more chicken, it is natural that there is no significant feline population.

A little more than a decade ago in another city, a member of the church where I used to visit, mocked me for being a “grass-eater.” You guessed it right: “Grass-eater” is the impolite expression common in the North to indicate a vegetarian person. Since people in the North are more obsessed with chicken and I was yet (yes, I started falling prey to chicken after moving to Delhi) to taste it, naturally he couldn’t know my choices. I met the same person on a different occasion where I was visiting a Malayali friend in the same city and we all had lunch together. Since there was the typical Central-Travancore “meen curry” (fish cooked in spicy gravy) which my poor Northern friend couldn’t eat despite his hard efforts, it was my turn to throw the same question back. It takes a lot of patience and good practice to remove the bones from fish before you eat, and no matter how deep a carnivore you are, never challenge a Malayali with fish!

Image Courtesy:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Glimpses of the ‘Us v. Them’ Debate


While reading Gayatri Jayaraman’s entry on gastronomical North-South debate in the Livemint Blog (1) this afternoon, I was remembering a conversation with a distant relative of a close friend about the ‘strange behavior of people in Delhi’ which prevents him from having many friends here, despite having several relatives. I am too, not distant from this feeling that took me almost a decade to overcome my surprise about the strange way people respond to your queries. I would like to share my thoughts on some such observations I picked up from different parts of the country. North v. South or India v. Others. Having been able to overcome (I believe so) the barriers of culture and region, I do like to be an independent observer without hurting sentiments of people around me. I also feel that friends across the globe would also find it an interesting reading.

My initial observations are from my city.

People in Delhi shut the doors on your face
It has annoyed me more than once when I visit a neighbor or friend to hand over something (even a domestic delicacy or a gift), they just take accept it from you, make some comments, and finally shuts the door on you. In rural Kerala, we take this as an offense (my family doesn’t even shut doors at the face of beggars!) when someone shuts the door on your face. Even a stranger who visits my house just by mistake gets a proper treatment and a set of questions (‘who are you looking for?’, ‘what is the house/family/person name?’ etc.) and is shown the door peacefully and the door is shut only after person exits the compound.  

The fair logic I feel for this anomaly is based on two other observations:

(a)    Delhi has one of the world’s highest population of mosquitoes
 Uncomfortable, but true. This explains why we all have metallic external doors with a wire-mesh small enough to keep mosquitoes away but sufficient to let in the flow of air. One of my friends who came calling from Russia just thought that this metallic grill is the only door of the house. I can’t blame her for thinking so. As she found out later, there is a separate opaque wooden door too. Given such a high population of mosquitoes in the city, no one would risk keeping the door open for more than a few seconds. So you better come inside and talk or I may have to shut the door!

(b)    We don’t welcome strangers so easily
The level of crime in the city is alarmingly high and no one would risk being friendly enough to open the door and come out to welcome you if you visit their house with a query. Yet there are instances where people really come out to help and be friendly. But yes, Delhi is cautious and hence the quick door-close.

This has become so much of a practice here having evolved due to changing circumstances and environment of the city. Therefore a typical Delhi-ite would never see anything wrong in the practice even if s/he is at the other side of the door.

Image Courtesy:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Here are some photos of my recent trip to Gwalior. Filled with glimpses of history and the glory of yester-years. It was nostalgia of a different kind!