Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arithmetic and economics with Jayalalitha

Puttachi is totally taken with this whole Jayalalitha episode. She is following the story with fascination.  When I told her that when the police raided her house, they found 800 kg silver, 28 kg gold, 10,500 sarees, 750 pairs of shoes and 91 watches, her eyes grew wide, and after that, she hasn't stopped thinking nor talking about it.

Note that the "Amma" in the conversation below is me, and not Amma Jayalalitha.

Puttachi: Amma, what will she do with so much stuff? Totally unnecessary!  They should just let her keep 10 sarees, 1 pair of shoes, and 1 watch, and give away 10,490 sarees, 749 pairs of shoes and 90 watches to the poor.

*After an hour*

Amma I have a better idea. What if the poor don't want sarees and shoes and watches?  So what they should do is - open a mall, and call it Jayalalitha Mall. They should put all this up for sale, and give the money from the sale to the poor.

*After another hour*

Amma, how big her house must be, if she had all this in her house! Then how much would she have spent on building the house?

*Half an hour later.*

Amma, just imagine, how many cupboards she would need for 10,500 sarees!
Me: How many do you think she would need?  If 1 cupboard can hold 50 sarees, how many cupboards will she need for 10,500 sarees?
Puttachi: 10,500 divided by 50! *Grabs a pencil*

*Some time later*
Amma, how much money would she have spent on buying all that?
Me: Calculate. If one saree costs Rs.6000, and if one pair of shoes cost Rs.800 and if one watch costs Rs.4000, then how much did she spend on the sarees, shoes and watches?
Puttachi: *works it out furiously*

We'll add the gold and silver, and get back to you with the final figure :)

Whoever thought you could use Jayalalitha to teach kids arithmetic? 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kukkarahalli Kere on Mint Lounge

My article on my favourite lake, Kukkarahalli Lake is a part of Mint Lounge's travel special issue.  Read it here.   You can read the rest of the stories here.

I've written about it on my blog before, several times, here.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review - Hangwoman by KR Meera

One of the most intense books I've read - Hangwoman by KR Meera. My review on Women's Web.

Had been to Jumpstart Fest today. Good experience.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Here comes the god of all things!

My article in yesterday's DH Living - Here comes the god of all things!

Comments welcome!

Last week, DH asked me to write about why Ganesha is so popular. They gave me a deadline which I could almost reach out and touch. I wouldn't have minded such a short deadline had I not had two other deadlines before the DH one. Yet, I decided to step up to it, and accepted it.

Two days later, DH told me that I'd have to give the article 1 day before the original deadline. They apologized too, saying that something had come up and they needed it earlier. So essentially, after I'd sent off the other two articles I'd been working on, I had 24 hours to research, interview and get quotes, write, edit, and turn in this front page article on Ganesha.

Last year, I couldn't have done it. But this year, I did it. In 24 hours, the article was done and dusted.

You can see that the result is not too bad.

So why could I do it this year, and not last year?  It is because I've been writing more regularly this year. My brain is used to churning out decently-formed sentences. Where previously I would have struggled to form good sentences at one go, where I would have had to think much more, wonder which sentence was effective and which wasn't, it was far smoother this year. Regular writing has strengthened my writing muscle.

It is to be noted that not all the writing I've done is publish-worthy. A lot of it is garbage. Yet, the very act of writing regularly has helped.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Stalking Ruskin Bond - in Mint Lounge

Sometimes, some bits of writing turn out better than I expect.  When I started writing about meeting Ruskin Bond and sharing a roof with him, I never knew the result would satisfy me so much. 

Writer on a Hill - published in today's Mint Lounge.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 31 - Somanathapura

From Shivanasamudram, we went to Somanathapura - one of my favourite centres of ancient architecture.  Beauty in miniature.

And that brings to an end this month's a-post-a-day. Thanks for being with me :) Coincidentally, I'd ended my first a-post-a-day attempt with Somanathapura too, a sketch, though.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 30 - Shivanasamudram

We'd been to Shivanasamudram on Monday.  Puttachi hadn't seen waterfalls, and I knew she would like it.

There are two falls there, Gaganachukki and Bharachukki. (Such musical names, no?)  Till Monday, I thought that Gaganachukki and Bharachukki were two segments of the same falls.  But turns out that there are two separate waterfalls 12 km away from each other.  


Bharachukki from a higher point.

Gaganachukki also has a hydel station, which was the first in India, established in, I think 1902.  Bangalore was the first city in India to be electrified, thanks to these falls.


The other segment of Gaganachukki

We'd been to the hydel station when I was a kid.  I remember the thrill of going down the slope in the trolley, but I don't remember much else. I get it confused with images of the other hydel stations I've been to later, as an adult. 

 Now there is also a solar power plant set up by BHEL in Gaganachukki.

Hydel station

Quite breathtaking in terms of volume.  Worth a visit in the monsoons.  It is about 135 km from Bangalore, 77 km from Mysore.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 29 - Growing shoots in a glass jar

I remember doing this project in school - we'd lined a glass jar with cotton, and placed seeds between the glass and the cotton, and moistened it everyday.  Great way to see how a seed grows into a plant. Puttachi and I had started this last week.  We got back after 4 days in Mysore, and to our surprise, the shoots have, well, shot up!

Check out the roots!   This one is Rajma.

It took just about a week to ten days for the plants to grow so much from seed. We'd "planted" rajma, white peas, moong beans (hesarukaalu) and black chickpeas.  The fat stalk is the rajma plant, and the one with the tiny delicate leaves is moong. 
If you haven't done this with your children already, do it! It is a great way for them (and us!) to observe the sprouting, and the development of shoots and roots. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 28 - Monkeys

On a day-trip today, I clicked this pic of a monkey and its baby.  

I find it really adorable, the way monkey babies cling to their mothers.  Reminded me of an incident.  

When Puttachi was about two years old, we were watching a group of monkeys rampage around the trees of our neighbouring houses - from the safety of our barred balcony.  The people who lived behind our house decided to light crackers to scare the monkeys away. A monkey mother with its baby were examining the contents of an upturned dustbin on a terrace, and as soon as the first cracker was lit, there was a pretty loud sound.  The monkey baby jumped, sprang on to its mom and clung to her.  At the same time, in a mirror-image action, Puttachi jumped, sprang onto me, and clung to me.  The action was so similar that I was overwhelmed, while at the same time, I was laughing with amusement, and marvelling at how cute the entire thing was!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 27 - First prize in the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction contest

Very pleased to share with you that my story The Awakening won the first prize in the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction contest.

Here's what the editors have to say about my story: "The choice of winning story was ultimately influenced by the clean direct simplicity with which the protagonist approaches the complex choice he makes, and the deceptive lightness with which the story is told."

You can read it in the Just Before Monday section of DNA.  It is available online here - The Awakening  - or here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 26 - My grandparents' notepad

I'm in Mysore, in my grandparents' place.  I just saw this notepad that they've made.  Scraps of paper, the back of printed sheets, and the empty spaces behind advertisement pamphlets - they have cut them into pieces of approx the same size, and clipped them together.  They use this to write their lists, make notes - and note down Scrabble scores.

Yes, those numbers in my grandfather's neat handwriting is the score in one of the innumerable Scrabble games they play with each other.  And they are amazingly serious and competitive about each game.  They even have a fat dictionary on hand which they use to see if a certain word exists, and to cross-check if the other makes an unusual word.

Back to the notepad - saving resources like paper comes so naturally to them.  I find it so cute. I also use scraps of paper to write my lists, but my Tata and Ajji have elevated that to an art by making that neat makeshift clip pad. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 25 - Why I love writing fiction

I love writing fiction.   My world, my rules. 

No interviewing, no struggling to get quotes right.  Not much of fact-checking.  If I cannot confirm a fact, or if I don't find enough information about something that I want to use in my story, I can leave it out altogether, or tweak the story into doing what I want it to do.

I can make my characters listen to me.  Though some of my characters have a tendency to take off in the middle and do what they want to, I can bring them around to do my bidding, if I so wish.

The story on paper always, always, looks blander than the way it sounded in my head.  So I love spending time on my drafts, working with words, sentences, changing them to reflect the moods and the colours in my head.  I revel in the feeling of accomplishment that comes to me when I get a sentence, a phrase - as right as I possibly can at that moment.

Sometimes, a story or a scene doesn't sound quite right.  And then I leave it, and come back to it after a week. Then it strikes me what I need to do to change it.  If that means chopping, and hacking my precious story to pieces, then so be it.  If it means sentencing it to the Recycle Bin, so be it.

But the high of satisfaction that comes from a story well-written is addictive.

And every time I send a story out and it gets accepted for publication, I go back to it and read it immediately, and feel a surge of pride about my story - but it is a kind of detached pride - as if the work was done by my story, not by me.  Good job, kid, I tell my story.  And sit back.

But each time a story sees the light of day, the big pile of incomplete, half-finished, skeletal, first-draft-languishing-in-folder stories seem  to acquire a demonic dimension - as if challenging me, saying, "Oh yeah?  You think you're good?  Let me see how you'll shake me up into a publishable story."  The challenge seems insurmountable.

And every time I'm flushed with the success of one of my stories, I come across, as if by serendipity, stories written by writers who are infinitely more skilled than I am.  And then I withdraw, tail between my legs, into my personal space where I feel inadequate and sorry for myself for a while - and I wonder why I even bother writing - until I feel better enough to feel inspired to reach the next level in my writing.

And then the whole cycle begins again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 24 - Throwback to Puttachi's babyhood

Peevee's new-born has my eyebrows.  Ok, so now that I've gotten that recorded, I'll move on to other less important matters. 

The baby's pictures remind me a lot of Puttachi.  Must be the mop of hair.   Though my other niece, my brother-in-law's daughter, also reminded me of Puttachi when she was born, the resemblance wasn't as striking as it is with Peevee's daughter. Got to be the hair.  It even falls onto their foreheads in the same way.  For each picture Peevee sends, I'm digging out a similar picture of Puttachi's at that age.  It's fun.

And I'm still restless that I can't wrap her in my arms.  Well, I've made and sent a crochet shawl to do the wrapping for me until I get to her.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 23 - Lazy post

Every a-post-a-day marathon must have a Lazy Post.  This time, it arrived later than it did in the previous a-post-a-days.  I couldn't put up a post today because I was too busy being un-lazy all through the day.  So I don't have the energy to think up an insightful post this late in the night.

So, see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 22 - When your story touches a chord.

It is always lovely when people let me know that my story has touched them.  Different people are moved by different stories, and it is interesting to see who is touched by what, and why. It is also fascinating to see how people interpret the stories.

My recent published story, Interlude - was no different. Some liked the format, some interpreted it as saying that family comes first, and some assumed it was my own story.

But what was different about this story was that within hours of my posting it on FB and on this blog, at least a dozen women mailed me to tell me that it is the story of their life.   And with each mail, I felt a little less alone, but a little more depressed.

Yes, the story is entirely fictitious, but it is also true that several times during Puttachi's early childhood, I wished I could take a break.  Not much - I didn't want to go away on a vacation - but I would feel this urge to go and sit under a tree in Lalbagh for the entire day. (Never got to do it, though)  So the seed of the story is true - the urge to get away - but the rest is fiction. 

And many women identified with it.  Enough to tell me that it was as if I was writing about them.  That they felt I was looking into their heads. 

And though that flattered me as a writer, as a person, it saddened me - to think that there are so many women out there who are feeling bound and frustrated in their roles.  Some of the fortunate ones get over it, we find things to do that make us feel better - but think of the millions of women all across the world who feel this way and have nowhere to go!

And I wonder if the people around these women are even aware that they are feeling this way.  If they do know, would it be better for the women?  Would it make a difference?  Or not?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 21 - A little bit of nostalgia for the Mumbai monsoon

Eight years ago, I wrote about the Mumbai monsoon. 

Every monsoon, I remember Mumbai, mostly with fondness.  But one memory that keeps coming back to me is going to Pune from Mumbai during the monsoon.

The beginning of the journey wasn't pleasant.  Taking an auto to Andheri station, fighting the crowds to get on to the local, getting off at Dadar station, wading through water, and negotiating with the rains using a useless umbrella, getting to the Pune bus-stop.  And then once I was in the Volvo, it would be alright. The sights from the large windows weren't very pleasant till we got out of the city, but were interesting nevertheless.

And then once the bus reached the Mumbai-Pune expressway, it was like watching a movie.  The smooth roads, the rolling hills, the mist, the clouds - all through Lonavla and Khandala.  Those simple sights, comprising of green grassy hills and white mist and clouds are some of the most relaxing and pleasing sights I've seen.

Of course, mixed with it was the joy and anticipation of going "home" for the weekend.  "Home" in this case was my aunt's place, which was, for me, very close to actually going to my own home. I felt loved there, I could ask my aunt to make bendekaayi gojju and I could spend a fun, relaxed weekend with my cousins. 

Thinking of those Mumbai-Pune journeys now arouses in me, along with a tinge of nostalgia, a twinge of pain, because one of those cousins was her.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 20 - Yakshagana - Girl power!

We'd been to a Yakshagana performance yesterday.  All the performers were children, below 15 years of age.

Yakshagana performances blow my mind.  The tremendous energy of the performers, the costumes, the makeup, the music, the drums, the dialogues, the dance, the facial expressions - the combination is enthralling - and it has to be experienced to be believed.

South Kanara (a coastal district of Karnataka) has long been the hub of Yakshagana, and it is good to see it thriving in the far-off city of Bangalore.  And it is lovely to see children going in for Yakshagana training, ensuring the sustenance of this folk art.

But there was another thing that made me immensely happy. 

Yakshagana was traditionally performed only by male artistes.  Even the female roles were performed by men.  But yesterday, the lead role of Krishna was performed by a 13-year-old girl.  She happens to be the daughter of the director of the academy in which the kids learn Yakshagana, but yet!  To see her on stage, so confident, so uninhibited, so skilled, performing with an abandon that most dancers can only dream of - her performance sent thrills down my spine.

Here are a couple of pics.  Please excuse the picture quality - by camera phone isn't the best.

I hope more girls break more barriers!
An aside: My story "The Awakening" made it to the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction shortlist.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 19 - Insects

A few weeks ago, I went to our apartment garden, and happened to catch this conversation.  A group of young girls, aged between 8 and 12, were excitedly calling to the mother of one of them, who was walking past.
"Aunty, aunty!" they said.  "Come quick, and look at this!"
"Look at what?" asked the lady.
"An insect!" said the girls.
The lady stood, feet apart, and put her hands on her hips.  "Insect?" she said, making a face.  "An INSECT?  You have nothing better to show me than - an insect?"  And she walked off. 
The poor girls - their faces fell.
Honestly, I hadn't given insects much thought or attention (except for grabbing a broom whenever I spotted a cockroach) - before Puttachi came into the picture.
Since little ones are so close to the ground, they see insects and other creepy-crawlies all the time, and when you see it through their eyes, you realize how fascinating they really are. Sure, some of them make my skin crawl, but I try not to show it openly, especially when Puttachi is so excited about it.
Puttachi spends hours sprinkling sugar near ant nests and watching them carry the sugar crystals away.  Once she came and told me how a fly and sugar had a fight over a sugar bit, and naturally that led to her own story!
A week ago, we spotted a slug lying on the path in our apartment complex.  It was alive, but ants were swarming around it.  Puttachi was disturbed.  She insisted that she had to move the slug away into the grass.  So she took a long stick and tried to prod it gently.  But she started worrying that she was going to  hurt it, and she handed the stick to me.  The slime of the slug makes me want to gag, and the last thing I wanted to do was touch it, even with a stick. 
But I didn't want to make faces and go ack-thoo and make a big deal out of it.  Puttachi saw me hesitating, and she asked me, "What happened, are you scared?"  So I said, "I'm not scared, but I'm feeling a little disgusted because of the slime.  But that's okay.  Let's see what we can do."
I pushed it, and it turned over on its back and exposed its underside to me, and didn't do anything to make me feel better.  But Puttachi was watching it so intently that I didn't have the heart to throw the stick away and run, which is what I wanted to do.  So I turned it over again, and pushed it slowly into the grass.   She was satisfied.  Then she told me, "Amma, thanks for helping it even though you were disgusted.  I was so worried about it."
Now for all my effort, she'd better not become like one of those annoying look-at-creepy-crawly-and-scream girls!
Btw, this is an insect we saw near Rishikesh.  It reminds me of Edward Munch's painting, The Scream.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 18 - Our children's safety

The news of a six-year-old who was raped 1) in school 2) by teachers 3) in broad daylight has driven parents crazy with fear and worry.   School, we always think, is absolutely safe - and suddenly we are not sure of that any longer. 

Day by day, the story is getting more horrifying.  This report made me cry.  To think that teachers, attendants, doctor, and the management - everybody knew about it, but sat on it for a week, and nobody thought of raising the alarm, telling the parents?

And the school is actually washing its hands off of all the responsibility?  How inhumane can we get?  While the rapists are direct perpetrators of the crime, the school, and all those people involved are equally culpable, and there is absolutely no excuse to let any of them walk away from this, unpunished.

Is there anything we can do other than feeling helpless?  The first step is to educate our children about CSA. If you haven't done this yet, please do.  There are several resources online to help you speak to your child in a way appropriate to his/her age. In this case, though, even if the child knew about CSA, she would've been helpless.

Rightfully, we should have strict security measures in all schools, and stringent background checks for the staff.  But that is easier said than done.  So we as parents have to do whatever we can to equip our children to be safe.

Also, tell your kids that it is okay to scream.  Loudly. And tell them that they don't owe blind obedience to teachers or anybody else in authority. And tell them that they should avoid going into any place alone.  And if anybody wants to take them away to a secluded place, they have to protest.  Again, loudly. 

I can't think too clearly right now, but this is what I thought of, off the top of my head. 

Please pitch in with comments, if any.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 17 - A course on music theory

I'm up to my neck in work and routine stuff. Sometimes it seems like I cannot manage everything.  There are several things around the house that need my attention.  And there are times when I feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the endless chores that I have to do everyday.

And so - I went and signed up for a course on Fundamentals of Music Theory on Coursera.

Yeah, I know, "mental."

I'm learnt Indian classical music, but for years, I've been wondering about the theory of western classical music.  I've listened to, and enjoyed it, just as music - but it always bothered me that there was something deeper out there that I didn't know.  Something that, I was sure, would help me appreciate the music better.

When my cousin V started learning western violin and saxophone, I tried to read up on the theory and notations, hoping that if I didn't understand anything, my aunt or V would help me.   But like with all my self-studying, this petered out due to lack of discipline.

I came across this course on the day it was supposed to start.  So I had no time to worry about how I have no time, and how I'll squeeze this into my schedule.  There was no time to change my mind.  I signed up, and jumped in.

I've finished the first week of lectures, and realized that it needs more work than I thought.  But it is not as difficult as I expected it to be.  I've already understood the very basics, and that itself makes me happy.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the course (only 5 weeks totally, thank goodness) and I'm hoping that I'll hang on and manage to finish it.
- -