Sunday, December 31, 2006

Back to the Beginning...

Two offerings for the beginning of the year: this dandelion puffball and a few links. The puffball is for you to wish on and the links are to ... punish you for believing that dandelions can grant wishes!! Okay -- okay -- my little joke. About three days ago, while clicking around, I wandered over to WIRED magazine and read their top story for that day. It was about enhancing one's performance with particular reference to mental abilities. It turns out we were all wrong to think that after the age of thirty we lose brain cells at the rate of knots -- well, yes, we DO but ... there's evidence that the brain can be kept limber and maybe even be coaxed into bulking up a little by doing "mental exercises". Well, whatever: I have always loved puzzles and am ALWAYS looking for sites where the games are reasonably interesting. From WIRED, I got this link to get a statistic for brainabilities and from there I arrived at GAMES FOR THE BRAIN which is where I've been exercising hard ever since! I particularly recommend the MAHJONGG SOLITAIRE... HAPPY GNU EAR everyone!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Chanumas, Everyone!

VT 2006, by Manjula Padmanabhan
A clever friend wished me "Happy Chanumas" this year and I decided he'd got it right -- blending Christmas and Chanukkah to make an interestingly non-secular greeting-word appropriate to the season.

The photograph is of the sunset that filled the sky on Thanksgiving evening, in Vermont. As always the photograph barely does justice to the real thing but I thought I'd share it anyway.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New for me!

Last night on Animal Planet, David Attenborough blew me away (though he didn't know it, did he?) by featuring an animal of which I had not the slightest awareness -- it's called an Amazonian BUSH DOG -- an unusual creature in several ways. It's the only aquatic canid, has webbed feet and is female-dominant. Quite a trip! The film shows the short, stubby Alphettes running through the woods and marking their territory in the time-honoured way (i.e., by peeing) -- except that in order for a female to do it, the little critturs arch their backs, balanced on their front paws! MOST BIZARRE!! Makes you wonder what sort of mood Mother Nature was in the day she created them ...

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Joke

This came to me in a spam-post -- it was supposedly a comment left at one of my posts of last year, so hardly likely to be a genuine post -- yet the spammer had the good sense to include a fairly amusing joke. Since I moderate comments, I can choose to reject the comment -- and of course I have -- but here's the joke:

During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the
criterion was which defined whether or not a patient should be

"Well," said the Director, "we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a
teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to
empty the bathtub."

"Oh, I understand," said the visitor. "A normal person would use the
bucket because it's bigger than the spoon or the teacup.

"No," said the Director, "A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a
bed near the window?"

Friday, December 15, 2006

Back From My Longest Blog-holiday Yet

Yes I AM alive! It's hard to explain how blog-holidays occur ... It starts with a gradual lapse of interest in the Internet because of using someone else's dial-up connection, followed by an increasing need to clear e-mail back-logs, which results in less overall time surfing or engaging in any non-e-mailorious activities ... and soon ... no blogging at all. *sigh*

Well, I'm back in harness now and also back in Delhiberate. Returned on Tuesday afternoon, on possibly the only flight to scrape through the fog that day, thank goodness. I'd had a surreal journey on account of a 14-hour stopover at Heathrow -- a scheduled stopover, but surreal nevertheless. Everyone told me I should take the opportunity to run into town and spend time with my uncles and cousins BUT ... I had realized well in advance that I wasn't going to be compos mentis. Look at this way: my Virgin Atlantic flight left Boston at 19.45, arriving in London around 8.00 a.m. after a 7 hour flight. Do the math: it means that as far as my body-clock was concerned, it was 2.45 a.m. While it's true I'm a night owl, and am often awake at that hour, I'm not really capable of social interactions at the time! So I figured I might as well save my relatives the annoyance of talking to a walking corpse (i.e., me) and just hang about the airport.

For company I had a newly acquired electronic Sudoku game and also a tiny MP3 device (lest anyone grow envious, NO, this was NOT an i-Pod or any of its fancier avatars, but a tiny little thing called a Zen Nano, 1 Gb and fairly user-UNfriendly) onto which I had downloaded an entire audio-book of shortstories. There were the shops in the arcade and a very lively Starbucks outlet and a selection of other eateries as distractions, but of course, like every tired traveller since the dawn of time, the only thing I REALLY wanted was a place to lie down and sleep. Heathrow isn't entirely hideous in this respect because it's got vast seating areas and some banks of seats are created in such a way that it's possible to recline full-length (i.e., four seats in a row with no armrests separating them). But only a few are like that and of course they are ALWAYS occupied, so I had to make do with being curled up like a prawn, using my backpack as a cushion, over the seat adjoining mine. There were lots of other transit-prawns strewn about the place, so I didn't feel even slightly self-conscious.

Between playing Sudoku, listening to stories and guzzling various Starbucks products, I managed to stay afloat. The flight boarded at 20.45 -- and it was packed to the rafters -- and my seat mate happened to be a rather portly Sardar. The seats were right at the back of plane -- the very last two -- and for that reason, slightly narrower than the rest. This meant that the two of us were squished together like incestuous Siamese twins and I am ashamed to say I actually considered asking the nearest hostess for a change of seat -- not because my fellow passenger was unpleasant in any sense, he REALLY wasn't -- but just that his physical size and the miniature seats guaranteed that I would be a basket-case by the time we landed. Very fortunately, he must have had the exact same idea -- and he acted upon it more speedily than me by finding a friendly Punjabi lady who was willing to exchange places with him. Once he and his mates were sitting in a row, they proceeded to spend the entire flight (a) getting drunk (b) trying to get further drunk but being frustrated in this attempt because the steward announced that they had run out of drinks (c) staggering about in the vicinity of the toilet.

Considering the 14-hour ordeal, you'd think I might have just fallen asleep, but ooo nooo, I am far too much of a movie hog. I'll watch the inflight movies on a plane if I have to pin my eyelids back, rather than sleep through! Especially on the London-Delhi flight (yes, this is an unabashed plug for VA, an airline I absolutely ADORE) is that you get FIFTY FILMS to choose from and you can watch 'em at your own pace, fast-forward, fast back and over and over again, just as you wish. I had already decided I was going to watch a movie called LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE -- I'd read about it on the Boston-London flight, on which it was NOT on the menu -- and I was thoroughly satisfied. It's about a totally dysfunctional family on their way to California from (? Albuquerque, I think) in their even more dysfunctional van, just so that their youngest member, Olive, can compete in a beauty pageant for the under-teen set. Olive wears big-frame glasses, is tubby around the waist and may even have a mild case of buck-teeth. But she's got a container-load of personality and ... well, I'm not about to give the plot away! Alan Arkin plays the role of the grandfather from hell -- but a sweet-pickle hell -- just like the rest of the family, mad but in a curiously adorable way.

The flight circled above Delhi for at least an hour, waiting for the fog to clear -- it looked like a blanket of fleece beneath us -- but once we were down, the queue at immigration moved so fast I was through it and out the other side before I'd had time to wake up. E was at the airport to collect me, and soon enough I was home and having lunch. After which I dove into bed and slept for about two days ...

There's really SOOOOO much to tell, especially about my time in Vermont, that I just know I'll never get around to it. So I'm going to end* this post with a photograph from the Fellini-esque Thanksgiving dinner we had at Stone's Throw Farm, at which the item featured in the picture at the top of this page was an ingredient. Believe it or not, that is a MUSHROOM ... an oyster mushroom, grown by the person holding it, Glen. I was completely mesmerized by the sheer size of the thing -- and it tasted great too. Glen also talked at great length about the fascinating life and times of a mushroom-farmer -- but it'll take much too long to go into all of that, so I won't. I'll just have to return with pictures of the turkey and the sunset and the pig and -- oh! I've just GOT to end this post RIGHT NOW! I promise I'll be back quite a bit sooner than I was the last time.
[*-- though I placed it at the BEGINNING. I didn't want visitors to miss seeing it merely because they found the rest of the post boring!]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Glad to be at Groton!

It's been a week already -- no, a week and TWO DAYS -- since I arrived in the US on Wednesday 1st November, and was whisked away to Groton School, west of Boston, to watch yet another production of HARVEST. I am so pleased and relieved to be able to report that I really enjoyed the show, directed by Susan Clark (or should I say, DR Susan Clark, Director, Campbell Performing Arts Center at the school) and performed by the youngest cast ever to take on the play. I will eventually get a link which will lead to photographs of the production, but for the moment I'd just like to record my appreciation of the entire experience.

I arrived in Groton on Thursday and stayed for two nights as Susan's house-guest, very warmly welcomed to her home by Amy, her partner and Samantha, their extremely charming (and thank goodness, FRIENDLY -- she's a BIG girl!) Old English Sheepdog. We've been in correspondence since early this year so we had agreed that my time in Groton would be spent fruitfully visiting classrooms, aside from watching the play. So I addressed a literature class on the morning of my arrival and later the same day, in the evening, read one of my stories at a post-dinner session. A number of students had been given two stories from the KLEPTOMANIA collection to read and at the morning's class we talked about BEADS; in the evening, I read the second story, SHARING AIR. I generally like talking about my stories because it's something I can do easily (without having to prepare, read up facts or fret about appearing to be brain-dead) and both these occasions were good examples of how pleasant it can be, when the audience is engaged and congenial.

The school was something of a revelation -- idyllic campus and curiously, given that this is the US, very ENGLISH. I had to keep reminding myself that I was across the pond from the Mother Culture -- the study hall with its rows of ink-stained (OLD ink stains!) desks, the wooden tables in the dining hall, the tall ceilings -- was that traces of Hogwarts that I kept seeing around me!? It was President Roosevelt's (FDR, i.e.) alma mater and has a gallery of letters received from every president since the school's inception. The study hall includes, on its walls, wooden panels inscribed with the names of every outgoing student, many of the famous or familiar. Since I spent three years in an Irish-convent boarding school I felt a strong (an unexpected) resonance -- a sense of being in a familiar place -- but a NICE one: this is the kind of school I would have LIKED to have attended.

Anyway. The next morning began early for moi -- I am not famed for early wakefulness! -- obviously the surroundings were a great help, because I was wholly conscious for the three art classes I attended, during which I showed a PowerPoint presentation I had made of my illustrations and prints (alert visitors to this blog will recall that I put together the presentation when I visited Madurai in August this year). Once again, it is so stress-free for me to show my own stuff that it was wholly pleasurable to just click my way through the presentation, talking about some of the hows and whys of the drawings/prints on display. The students were friendly and bright -- and the art rooms were soooooo cool! The two teachers whose classes I was addressing, Beth and Anne were so warmly welcoming it felt good just to be there.

Then in the evening, I attended the opening night of the show, after a sit-down dinner with many of the Trustees of the school. The show was followed by a reception at the Headmaster's house. It seemed to me that everyone was able to relax with and enjoy the play -- given the very weird world that it presents to its audience, with its unlikely story and its bitter-sweet ending ... I think it was a real accomplishment that the young cast pulled it off so well. Josephine Ho was JAYA -- it is such a demanding role, onstage for the entire length of the production -- and she performed with tremendous dignity and poise. Everyone did well -- Hannah Wellman as MA, William Castelli as OM and Alex Klein as JEETU, to mention only the four lead characters -- oh! And Haley Willis as GINNI! -- and if I'm not mentioning the entire cast it's only coz I will eventually post a link to their website where pix and other references will be amply available.

I particularly enjoyed the costumes of the Agents in the final act, designed by Catherine Coursaget -- perhaps the funkiest costumes eveer created for the play, matched only by the Greek production, I'd say! -- and the two major gadgets in the play, the Contact Module and Video Couch were also way up there, topped only by the outstanding Athens production.

Considering this was a HIGH SCHOOL production that's really commendable.

I went back to Arlington (Boston) on Saturday and on Sunday returned with my niece Divya and partner Liam to see the show again, with them. Once more, I think we all enjoyed our time in Groton. Then on Monday, I returned to the school one last time to have a session specifically with the cast, followed by dinner back in Boston with Susan and Catherine.

I could go on and on but at this moment, I am in Sayre with my sister Surya and family -- it's a beautiful Saturday morning, and I can hear that Su is in the final stages of her stupendous Saturday brunch of spicy sausage and Egg Glorium (some people might think of it as an omelette, but those of us who have eaten it know better) so ... I must flee! I've not read through this account, so it is undoubtedly full of proofing errors. Will return and correct at leisure.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Veils and Questions

My friend Viji Ghose forwarded this article to me some days ago and I've been meaning to post it here but have been too pre-occupied with all my travels to get around to it (I'll get back to the news of my travels later). I read the article with much interest -- on the one hand, I was glad to read, finally, a piece from a Muslim woman criticising the experience of being veiled -- on the other hand, it made me think about the many issues to do with being veiled that we all need to examine and to process through our different filters.

For instance, I have often found myself thinking that women who wear make-up are in a sense, veiling themselves. In fact, the whole industry of women's fashion and self-adornment has become an extraordinary type of inverted veil -- fashionable, glamourous women spend what amounts to huge quantities time and effort obscuring their true appearance behind masks composed of cosmetics and clothing. How would it be if the mass of women living in cultures that require women to be perfectly groomed and coiffed at all times were to be forced to "remove the veil" of their glamour and appear unadorned to the gaze of the world? Would that be the same as asking Islamic women to remove the veils behind which they have grown up?

Another thought, and of a similar bent, is: supposing we turn the mirror of culture around, so that we are no longer looking at Islamic women and their veils as an aberration but instead at some cultural feature which is considered "normal" in the west -- for instance, breast enhancements: supposing western women were told they could NOT enhance their breasts? What would they think about it? After all, there is something analogous here -- breast enhancements are potentially uncomfortable surgical procedures that women employ in order to make themeselves more attractive to men.

Though it is not a cultural REQUIREMENT for women to enhance their breasts (in the way that wearing the veil is a cultural requirement), nevertheless it is something that so many women find worth doing that it amounts to a type of pressure -- after all, millions of women (or so we are told) have found better jobs/salaries/husbands on account of their breast implants. And, unlike the veil, which is by and large benign(there are no major health disorders caused by wearing the veil -- yes, vitamin D deficiency has been reported for some veiled women, but as far as I know, it has rarely been life-threatening) breast enhancements have been associated with health risks.

So ... would it be acceptable for western women to be forbidden (by whom, I wonder?) to enhance their breasts -- and would such a ban be analogous to Islamic women being denied the right to veil their faces or to wear head-scarves? And here's yet another question, sort of in the same vein -- if Islamic women can be asked to remove their veils, should Jewish/Islamic communities be told to cease to circumcize their boy children? Just as female circumcision is condemned because it is performed on young girls without their consent and at a time when they are helpless, the same should be true of little boys who have no say in the shearing away of intimate body-parts.

Many questions! Here, now, is the article posted to me:

"Even other Muslims turn and look at me"

Muslim journalist Zaiba Malik had never worn the
Niqab. But with everyone from Jack Straw to Tessa
Jowell weighing in with their views on the veil, she decided
To put one on for the day.
She was shocked by how it made her Feel --
and how strongly strangers reacted to it.

By Zaiba Malik, The Guardian, London, October 17, 2006

"I don't wear the niqab because I don't think it's
Necessary," says the woman behind the counter in the
Islamic dress shop in east London. "We do sell quite a
Few of them, though." She shows me how to wear the
Full veil. I would have thought that one size fits all
But it turns out I'm a size 54. I pay my £39 and leave
With three pieces of black cloth folded inside a bag.

The next morning I put these three pieces on as I've
Been shown. First the black robe, or jilbab, which
Zips up at the front. Then the long rectangular hijab
That wraps around my head and is secured with safety
Pins. Finally the niqab, which is a square of
Synthetic material with adjustable straps, a slit of
About five inches for my eyes and a tiny heart-shaped
Bit of netting, which I assume is to let some air in.

I look at myself in my full-length mirror. I'm
Horrified. I have disappeared and somebody I don't
Recognise is looking back at me. I cannot tell how old
She is, how much she weighs, whether she has a kind or
A sad face, whether she has long or short hair,
Whether she has any distinctive facial features at
All. I've seen this person in black on the television
And in newspapers, in the mountains of Afghanistan and
The cities of Saudi Arabia, but she doesn't look right
Here, in my bedroom in a terraced house in west
London. I do what little I can to personalise my
Appearance. I put on my oversized man's watch and make
Sure the bottoms of my jeans are visible. I'm so taken
Aback by how dissociated I feel from my own reflection
That it takes me over an hour to pluck up the courage
To leave the house.

I've never worn the niqab, the hijab or the jilbab
Before. Growing up in a Muslim household in Bradford
In the 1970s and 80s, my Islamic dress code consisted
Of a school uniform worn with trousers underneath. At
Home I wore the salwar kameez, the long tunic and
Baggy trousers, and a scarf around my shoulders. My
Parents only instructed me to cover my hair when I was
In the presence of the imam, reading the Qur'an, or
During the call to prayer. Today I see Muslim girls
10, 20 years younger than me shrouding themselves in
Fabric. They talk about identity, self-assurance and
Faith. Am I missing out on something?

On the street it takes just seconds for me to discover
That there are different categories of stare. Elderly
People stop dead in their tracks and glare; women tend
To wait until you have passed and then turn round when
They think you can't see; men just look out of the
Corners of their eyes. And young children - well, they
Just stare, point and laugh.

I have coffee with a friend on the high street. She
Greets my new appearance with laughter and then with
Honesty. "Even though I can't see your face, I can
Tell you're nervous. I can hear it in your voice and
You keep tugging at the veil."

The reality is, I'm finding it hard to breathe. There
Is no real inlet for air and I can feel the heat of
Every breath I exhale, so my face just gets hotter and
Hotter. The slit for my eyes keeps slipping down to my
Nose, so I can barely see a thing.

Throughout the day I trip up more times than I care to
Remember. As for peripheral vision, it's as if I'm
Stuck in a car buried in black snow. I can't fathom a
Way to drink my cappuccino and when I become aware
That everybody in the coffee shop is wondering the
Same thing, I give up and just gaze at it.

At the supermarket a baby no more than two years old
Takes one look at me and bursts into tears. I move
Towards him. "It's OK," I murmur. "I'm not a monster.
I'm a real person." I show him the only part of me
That is visible - my hands - but it's too late. His
Mother has whisked him away. I don't blame her.

Every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirrored
Refrigerators, I scare myself. For a ridiculous few
Moments I stand there practicing a happy and
Approachable look using just my eyes. But I'm stuck
Looking aloof and inhospitable, and am not surprised
that my day lacks the civilities I normally receive,
the hellos, thank-yous and goodbyes.

After a few hours I get used to the gawping and the
sniggering, am unsurprised when passengers on a bus
prefer to stand up rather than sit next to me. What
does surprise me is what happens when I get off the
bus. I've arranged to meet a friend at the National
Portrait Gallery. In the 15-minute walk from the bus
stop to the gallery, two things happen. A man in his
30s, who I think might be Dutch, stops in front of me
and asks: "Can I see your face?"

"Why do you want to see my face?"

"Because I want to see if you are pretty. Are you
Before I can reply, he walks away and shouts: "You
fucking tease!"

Then I hear the loud and impatient beeping of a horn.
A middle-aged man is leering at me from behind the
wheel of a white van. "Watch where you're going, you
stupid Paki!" he screams. This time I'm a bit faster.

"How do you know I'm Pakistani?" I shout. He responds
by driving so close that when he yells, "Terrorist!" I
can feel his breath on my veil.

Things don't get much better at the National Portrait
Gallery. I suppose I was half expecting the cultured
crowd to be too polite to stare. But I might as well
be one of the exhibits. As I float from room to room,
like some apparition, I ask myself if wearing orthodox
garments forces me to adopt more orthodox views. I
look at paintings of Queen Anne and Mary II. They are
in extravagant ermines and taffetas and their ample
bosoms are on display. I look at David Hockney's
famous painting of Celia Birtwell, who is modestly
dressed from head to toe. And all I can think is that
if all women wore the niqab how sad and strange this
place would be. I cannot even bear to look at my own
shadow. Vain as it may sound, I miss seeing my own
face, my own shape. I miss myself. Yet at the same
time I feel completely naked.

The women I have met who have taken to wearing the
niqab tell me that it gives them confidence. I find
that it saps mine. Nobody has forced me to wear it but
I feel like I have oppressed and isolated myself.

Maybe I will feel more comfortable among women who
dress in a similar fashion, so over 24 hours I visit
various parts of London with a large number of Muslims
- Edgware Road (known to some Londoners as "Arab
Street"), Whitechapel Road (predominantly Bangladeshi)
and Southall (Pakistani and Indian). Not one woman is
wearing the niqab. I see many with their hair covered,
but I can see their faces. Even in these areas I feel
a minority within a minority. Even in these areas
other Muslims turn and look at me. I head to the
Central Mosque in Regent's Park. After three failed
attempts to hail a black cab, I decide to walk.

A middle-aged American tourist stops me. "Do you mind
if I take a photograph of you?" I think for a second.
I suppose in strict terms I should say no but she is
about the first person who has smiled at me all day,
so I oblige. She fires questions at me. "Could I try
it on?" No. "Is it uncomfortable?" Yes. "Do you sleep
in it?" No. Then she says: "Oh, you must be very, very
religious." I'm not sure how to respond to that, so I
just walk away.

At the mosque, hundreds of women sit on the floor
surrounded by samosas, onion bhajis, dates and Black
Forest gateaux, about to break their fast. I look up
and down every line of worshippers. I can't believe it
- I am the only person wearing the niqab. I ask a
Scottish convert next to me why this is.

"It is seen as something quite extreme. There is no
real reason why you should wear it. Allah gave us
faces and we should not hide our faces. We should
celebrate our beauty."

I'm reassured. I think deep down my anxiety about
having to wear the niqab, even for a day, was based on
guilt - that I am not a true Muslim unless I cover
myself from head to toe. But the Qur'an says: "Allah
has given you clothes to cover your shameful parts,
and garments pleasing to the eye: but the finest of
all these is the robe of piety."

I don't understand the need to wear something as
severe as the niqab, but I respect those who bear this
endurance test - the staring, the swearing, the
discomfort, the loss of identity. I wear my robes to
meet a friend in Notting Hill for dinner that night.
"It's not you really, is it?" she asks.

No, it's not. I prefer not to wear my religion on my
sleeve ... or on my face.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


It's been a hectic last ten days (or ... whatever. I've lost track of whenever it was I began this cycle of junketing ... no, hang on: it was the 13th of this month. Strange. Feels like at least one year ago last week) -- I left for Bombay on Friday 13th morning, spent the weekend there, left for Madras Monday 16th morning, spent four days there, arrived back in Delhirium Friday 20th evening, and then on the morning of the 21st, E, E's friend J and I left for a hillstation called Chail, in the Himalayan foot hills, (7000 Km up) spent 3 days there, returned to Delhicose on 24th evening and tomorrow, 26th morning, I'm off to the UK for five days, followed by the US for six weeks! And I won't even begin to get into what I'll be doing while I'm away ... or anyway, NOT TONIGHT, Josephine.

There's much of interest to report upon from my trip, but I'll confine myself to just two items: in Bombay, at my friends Jayant and Gulan Kripalani's home, I listened to a reading of monologues written by me, in rehearsal for a performance later in November, at the annual Prithvi Festival. Three of the monos were from HIDDEN FIRES (look to the column on the right of this page, there'll be a link to the SEAGULL website where you can read more about the book) but one was new, written specifically for Jayant, called THE WISH. It was a very good rehearsal, and I can only hope the performance will match it -- you can find out more about the festival at the Prithvi site (too sleepy to dig up the link right now. Maybe later somewhen. Maybe after I've finished packing for tomorrow's flight).

The other item concerns the successful sale of my picture book "I AM DIFFERENT!" by the well-known children's book publisher, Tulika, based in Madras to the German publishing giant, Fischer Verlaag (I hope I've spelt that correctly coz I'm not going to look it up just yet. Maybe after packing). For the first time in recorded history, I feel I actually made a bit of money on a book and that too, of illustrations. It's a picture-cum-puzzle item, concept and illustrations by me. Value-added touch? It's in 16 languages (16 pages, 16 languages). Kind of fun. I worked on it for most of January, in collage and 3D paint. The result looks very different to my usual stuff -- sort of chunky and knobbly. It was fun to produce -- and I'm hoping it'll be fun when it's out in the world too.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Laws of Life Learnt Outside Class

Got this list from my niece!

1) Lorenz's Law of Mechanical Repair
After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch.

2) Anthony's Law of the Workshop:
Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

3) Kovac's Conundrum:
When you dial a wrong number, you never get an engaged tone.

4) Cannon's Karmic Law:
If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the
next morning you will have a flat tire.

5) O'brien's Variation Law:
If you change queues, the one you have left will start to move faster than
the one you are in now.

6) Bell 's Theorem:
When the body is immersed in water, the telephone rings.

7) Ruby's Principle Of Close Encounters:
The probability of meeting someone you know increases when you are with
someone you don't want to be seen with.

8) Willoughby 's Law:
When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will.

9) Zadra's Law Of Biomechanics:
The severity of the
itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

10) Breda 's Rule:
At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle arrive

11) Owen's Law:
As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do
something which will last until the coffee is cold.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Joke -- and Some Questions

The Joke
An American gets on a plane and finds himself seated next to an Indian. He immediately turns to the Indian.

"You know," he says, "I've heard that flights will go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger. So, hey, let's talk!"

The Indian, who had just opened his book, closes it slowly and says, "OK, so what would you like to talk about?"

"Oh, I don't know," says the American, grinning. "How about nuclear power?"

"OK," says the Indian. "That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff -- grass. Yet the deer excretes little pellets, the cow turns out a flat patty, and the horse produces muffins of dried poop. Why do you suppose that is?"

The American guy is dumbfounded. Finally he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea."

"So tell me," says the Indian slowly, "How is it that you feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?"

The Questions
I think it's fairly obvious that this joke has been re-ethnicized to reflect current political realities. However, I don't believe it suits stereotypes of either Americans or Indians in today's world! The typical international traveller never wants to talk to his/her fellow-passenger, in part because the flights are so long and the prospect of being stuck with an 8-10 hour conversation is too nightmarish to contemplate, in part because neither passenger may want to talk to a foreigner. My guess is that this joke started out about two passengers of the same nationality but belonging to different social groups/classes.

So my questions are: which nationalities (or infra-national ethnicities) are most likely to have been the subjects of the original joke? Which ones might better suit the current situation? Which Indo-ethnic flavours might be substituted for "American" and "Indian"? Your move.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


This would've been more effective if I had continuted posting messages for every lesson I had but ... I've been too pre-occupied! Just the effort of waking up in time every morning, in order to get my day together before arriving at the 'tute has been enough to keep my energy fully engaged. Most days the classes have been from 10 a.m. to 11 or 12 depending on whether they've been "practicals" (inside a car) or "theory" (inside a classroom). The simulator (what one friend unconsciously malapropped as "stimulator classes") sessions are for only half-hours at a go -- a great shame, coz they're certainly more fun than being out on the road!

Which is where I went today.

Between my last post and this one, I've had a total of seven practicals, five simulations and three theory classes. The instructors have ranged between good and very good -- thorough, patient and good-humoured. The seven "practicals" prior to the Real Life Session have taken place within the Institute's track, which isn't all that long (around 700 m, I was told) but does include such features as a steep rise and various dodgy curves and bends plus a choice of parking options.

Of course it's easy enough to putter about on a course where the only other moving vehicles are being driven by other students, with their instructors beside them. Theory classes are endearingly earnest -- yes, of course (we're told), 90% of other drivers won't understand your hand-signals but we've STILL gotta teach them to you! They emphasize defensive driving, try and inculcate safe-driving practises and have drilled us at length with the "MSM" and "PSL" methods -- Mirror/Signal/Manouevre and Position/Speed/Look for those of you who have haven't been to an institute.

So ... how was it out on the Open Road? Keeping in mind that I've already BTDT (been-there-done-that) with the Seven Star Acad., I'd say today's was an entirely more grown-up experience. To begin with, it was in the middle of the day, on the Ring Road, (going towards ISBT, then onto the road alongside Prag. Maidan -- the one that links up with Mathura Rd) and even though it was a Sunday, there were buses, trucks and other lumbering entities zooming around. Not to mention assorted three- and two- bugs meandering about heedless of learner drivers sweating behind their steering wheels.

The car seemed to be more under my control than the instructor's and we didn't pretend to drive while he(in today's case, she) held the steering wheel. What was VERY interesting was that it really did feel a lot like the simulator! Except that there were no irritating messages appearing in my field of vision every time I crossed lanes, to remind me to turn on my indicator. Of course this COULD be coz I did turn on my indicator every time and I didn't forget to signal when I wanted to u-turn and I didn't get flustered or even mildly depressed by the amount honking and parping that went on around me.

We got back to the Institute without mishap and I felt quite encouraged. It will be months before I'll want to be out there on my own of course ... but that is another story. One step at a time.

Two more practicals to go, then a final theory class and then two exams, one practical, one theory. But no license -- for that I'll need to go to the RTO again. For today, PHEW! And three rousing huzzahs for the IDTR.

Monday, September 18, 2006

New! Improved!

So I'm back at it -- learning to drive, that is. If you will recall, the previous session ended with me going to Madras/Kodai/Madras. After two weeks of being there I had naturally forgotten whatever skills/confidence/abilities I had gained prior to being away ... BUT I did get myself a learner's licence in the process and that's what counts.

On account of the LL I am now enabled to enrol at a highly superior School for Would-Be drivers, called the INSTITUTE OF DRIVING TRAINING & RESEARCH, at Sarai Kale Khan, between the Ring Road and ISBT. Their telephone number is: 24355003 and 24353541. I read about the place in CITY LIMITS magazine at the time I was reviewing driving school options back in July, and it sounded thrilling, so I went right over. They had just opened shop and were still setting up their systems, but they also said they required their trainees to have Learner's Licences. Whereas the 7 Star Academy didn't require ANYTHING except a willing student with functioning hands, feet, eyes and fees.

Getting the LL wasn't in any real sense connected to the 7 Star academy, but the sheer adrenalin generated by driving around the streets was enough to get me to the RTO and back, armed with the bit of paper and licencing stamp that a learner needs.

So last Friday, after weeks of lying around THINKING about returning to the Instt, I finally flippered over (in a taxi, what else) and -- ta-daaa! -- in fifteen minutes, I was all signed up and registered. As it happened, I had chosen an ideal moment to go there, coz a new session was just about to start and I could enter my first class the next day. The course is constructed out of three types of lessons: Theory, Practicals and Simulation. There are 4 Theory classes conducted only on Saturdays, lasting an hour.

At the first class, there were about 20 other students and I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only senior citizen -- there was one lady who was certainly older than me and at least a couple of men who were perhaps retirees. The majority of the students were men, in the 20/30 age-range. Everyone looked all tight and shiny, which is not a surprise considering the fees start at -- well, not sure what the lowest is, but I paid Rs 3500 for an LMV (yes, you got it: Light Motor Vehicle), non-commercial. We sat in a bright, air-conditioned room and had an ex-army man as an instructor. He was very good, coz he was smart, confident and clear. I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt inclined to salute at the end of the lesson! One tiny drawback: the instruction was in Hindi and since I was the only English speaker I felt a bit unwilling to make a big deal of wanting full translations. So comprehension for me was at the 85% level -- but I asked him to take it a little slower than usual, and he did. And all the on-screen data was in English, so that helped too.

He had a drop-down screen on which to project a series of slides with text n pix about the main features of a car, gave us a quick tour of what an engine is and how it runs. Then we were shown an actual car (taken outside, i.e.), its various intimate bits were identified and we were given a tour of what our daily maintenance routines should be. The institute occupies a considerable area (the pamphlet I have relates to their other location, which appears to be bigger, at Wazirabad Rd), and includes a dinky track complete with road-signs and traffic lights and of course cars. It is managed by Maruti Udyog Limited on behalf of the Government's Dept. of Transport, so it looks kind of official and substantial.

There is a pleasing can-do atmosphere which, as we all know, is somewhat rare in these delhirious sectors of the galaxy -- and I adore miniature tracks! -- I've always wanted, for instance, to play mini-golf at malls in the US, not because I like golf but because the course looks SO CUTE. Anyway. So that was Saturday. On Sunday (yes! No rest for the illiterati) I had my first simulator session and today I had my second. The simulator is a small cabin rather like those cabins you see in video-game parlours, but instead of death-ray-canons and planet-annihilators, they have a standard Maruti-style dashboard and three monitors laid out so that the student's visual field while seated at the wheel is of a landscape which moves as the simulation proceeds. Kind of kewl ...

Of course, the first day, there were mouse problems (in order to get the program started the instructor sits beside the student, on a chair placed just outside the cabin and navigates through an on-screen menu of options) so I had a somewhat uncertain session of learning when and how to press clutch, brake n accelerator. But ... whatever. The sim is really only a kind of acclimatizer, I suppose and considering that I've actually been-there-done-that on Delhirium's Delhicious roads, it was mild entertainment rather than Serious Instruction. At today's session, the mouse worked fine, but I was suddenly zooming off at speeds of 80 km and above, so that was a bit hair-raising! But there was no other traffic (not even bugs on the windscreen!) and the scenery was Temperate Latitudes Placid -- green lawns on either side, fir trees, blue sky.

My first Practical is on Wednesday. I assume this means driving around the dinky track in a Real Car. That should be fun -- all the joys of driving, but without the stoats, weasels and combine harvesters of real roads!! Ah bliss.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My friend Anvar sent me e-mail with the text of Kiran Nagarkar's Op-Ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on September 11th this year. It appears alongside pieces by four other international authors, commemmorating the day and while also reminding us of the multi-facetedness of terror. Definitely RR(recommended reading).

If you're wondering why the link takes you to a site other than the NYT it's coz a direct link requires registration.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Once in a while, I review a book that has a style so strong that it affects the way I write the review. Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman was one such book for me. As you'll see if you read the review, I'm not sure what exactly I thought of the book, but I certainly enjoyed writing my comment about it!

And yes, I've been silent for rather too long. I could claim that last weekend was so busy that it's taken me all week to get over it ... But it was busy-NICE, so that doesn't really count as an excuse. A friend from Bombay days, i.e., this is really ancient history, covering the period 1980-82, was visiting from France, with his partner. My friend's name is CLAUDE SEVESTRE, and he taught me French at the Alliance Francaise all those many years ago. We've met a couple of times since then, but of course, there are always huge gaps of time during which we keep in sporadic touch. But the Internet makes much possible that didn't used to be -- such as being able to find people who have changed address many times and who travel around a lot, which is true of both C and moi.

He and is friend Fabrice (spelling?!) had already spent three weeks (I think) in India and were on the way out. We'd made this date to meet several months ago, so it was something I was looking forward to and made a special effort to be in Delhi for. It was very pleasant to catch up with news. They were here from Friday night to Sunday night, and stayed at the nearby and highly convenient (for me! My hostessing skills are spottier than a leopard with measles) Hotel Savoia. On Sunday, we spent the day doing something unusually energetic for me -- i.e., we hired an a/c taxi and drove out to NEEMRANA, had lunch there and drove back -- all very comfortable and easy to do. I've been to Neemrana once before and found it quite magical, so I knew it would be fun. It's one of those buildings that never stops growing, rather like a banyan tree, so going there is a continuous adventure. It takes exactly 2.5 hours from where I live, either way, so the a/c taxi is mandatory (and NO, my driving skills have not yet reached that point where I can race off across the countryside)(nor do I have an a/c car)(or a licence)(yet).

I could take another two hours writing out a description, but frankly -- it makes much more sense to just leap up and go there yourself. Just click the link! You'll see what I mean.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Just Like That

Many eons ago, when I was just starting out as a web-crawler, a cyberbuddy sent me the following EASTER EGG (if you don't know what that is ... ummm ... ask Zigzackly!! He's better than Google coz he not only knows everything worth knowing but he also explains stuff very nicely. Such as, the other day, how to sort out my query about RSS feeds) -- and it remains one of the best I've seen (well, discounting the eggs hidden in MYST I & II, which weren't fun so much as part of the general MYSTification). If there are others, please share! I know there are prolly web-sites dedicated to EEs -- and I even have links to them buried somewhere in my puter, but can't find them just now and am too lazy to look. I've not tried it on any other versions of EXCEL but I would guess it won't wurk.

Try this easter egg, if you have Excel 97. Follow the instructions exactly.

1.On a new Worksheet, Press F5
2.Type X97:L97 and hit enter
3.Press the tab key
4.Hold Ctrl-Shift
5.Click on the Chart Wizard toolbar button
6.Use mouse to fly around - Right button forward/ Left button reverse

Monday, August 21, 2006


AMUZEMENT: an amazing amusement. Not hugely amazing, I might add, but in keeping with the modest quality of "amusement", something that amazes in an amusing but not particularly life-altering way. (I realize that, in the way of neologisms, this isn't a promising one -- coz there's no audible difference between the original amusement and my little variation. Whatever)

Two recently visited websites have affored me amuzement in the past couple of days: How Stuff Works and (just today) Weird Fortune Cookies. I've added them to my side-bar, so they'll remain in place long after this post has moved out of sight.

Oh -- and -- I'm back in Delhicose (to rhyme with "bellicose"). On the transport-bus from the aircraft to the arrival lounge at the airport, the driver chose to open only one of the automatic doors of the bus. Not because it didn't work, just coz he didn't feel like it. When those of us who were trapped at the front of the bus (not wishing to walk the great distance to the back), asked him to oblige, he ignored us, thought he got down from his seat. Then he walked around to the door and gave it a kick, from the outside. It opened. He looked away, scowling absent-mindedly, as we stepped down and out of the vehicle.


Inside the arrival area, the space beside the baggage carousels was like a riot scene. Three flights were being accommodated on one carousel. Passengers were smashing and grabbing for their luggage. I scraped the skin of the pinky finger on my right hand while doing the jerk-and-haul operation for transferring one of my items from the carousel to my trolley.


There was blood on the receipt for my prepaid taxi, when I handed it to the policeman manning the prepaid-taxi-post as my taxi pulled away from the cab-rank. But no-one noticed.


When I got home, I solicited the cabbie's help to get my cases to the front door -- it's not a major distance, but some louts look the other way, while holding out their hand to be given the receipt (for which they collect the money they're owed for the journey) and also for a possible tip. This one obliged good-naturedly. I had only 1C notes with me and had debated going in to get change. But it was hot and I was tired. So I gave him one. Now -- I know many of you are going to be cursing me for being both lazy and idiotically lavish but -- his face lit up so bright that it just made my day.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Kodai WorkShop Report (at long last)

It's been well over a week since I got back from my workshop, yet I haven't scraped together the energy to blog about it. Dunno why. It was a very pleasant experience (maybe that's why? It's easier to share rough stuff?) -- mostly because the organizers made me feel so cherished and well-loved that I could pretend for a few days that I really am competent enough to talk to other people about Being An Author.

The trip was composed of two distinct elements/locations: Madurai and Kodaikanal. The organization responsible for planning and setting up the workshop, called SCILET, is based in Madurai. It is part of AMERICAN COLLEGE, an institution which is celebrating its 125th year of existence (it has a charming, old-style campus with red-brick buildings, echoing faintly of the Indo-Saracenic style). SCILET stands for Study Centre for Indian Literature in English and Translation and was begun by two Eng Lit professors at the college, Premila Paul and P. Nair (who will have to excuse me if I've got their names misspelt -- we spent so much of our time together talking and laughing that I never got around to formalities such as written names and addresses). The particular person who got in touch with me and was in some ways the Spiritual Host of the entire trip was Dr Paul Love. I could describe him as an American missionary/academic but that would be a very dull and incomplete description of an unusually warm, generous and friendly presence who was the guiding spirit of the whole experience, Madurai and Kodai combined.

Here's a quick overview of my trip's itinerary: I flew from Madras to Madurai on the 1st of August, spent a night at the North Gate Hotel, gave a talk about Being Me at the SCILET auditorium on Wednesday morning and then in the afternoon of that day was driven up to Kodai in a van, with Paul and two associates, Tom and Debbie, whom I had met just that morning. We got to Kodai by around 6 and I was settled into a comfortable room at the Kodai Club. Thursday, Friday and half of Saturday were given over to the Workshop and on Sunday 6th August, Paul, Debbie and I returned to Madurai, going straight to the airport, whence I caught my flight back to Madras.

It's possible that the most energy I spent was in putting together the slides that I presented at the auditorium in Madurai. I'd never worked in PowerPoint before, though I've often wanted to. My idea was that I'd get a number of my illustrations together and show them in chronological order, while talking about what I was writing at the time I did those drawings. Naturally, it would have been far too organized for me to have done this before I left Delhi, so instead I brought a CD with me which had what I hoped was a fair sampling of my drawings (scanned and rendered as JPEGS), to Madras. I've been attempting over the years to keep some sort of record of my work, so I have bits and pieces already scanned and compiled into folders on my computer. I hadn't really planned on putting them together in PowerPoint, but in Madras, while talking on the phone to the young man at SCILET who would be helping me with the slide presentation, I realized that it could take an awfully long time for him to arrange my input into a coherent slide show and that I could speed things up if I organized them IN ADVANCE.

Well. That took all of one afternoon and half the night just before departure -- do I need to add that I had two computers to work with, one that had a CD burner and the other that had PowerPoint and it was a struggle to get them to cooperate with one another? But eventually I succeeded in squeezing a couple of CDs out of my machine, which would, I hoped do what they were supposed to do. YOu can never really tell with computers: hours of work can still result in stubborn "Please Insert CD in DRIVE E" responses at the receiving end.

So it was a huge relief, when I got to Madurai, to meet the very charming and hugely efficient Lawrence, who smoothly transferred my material to his machine, helped me rearrange the slides so that they were in the correct order for my talk and then walked me through a rehearsal, at the auditorium, so that there would be no surprises the next morning. So yes -- it worked out rather well. I really dislike the idea of just droning on about myself (and have never done it before, so I wasn't even sure what I'd be like) to a captive audience of mostly students and some teachers and interested literary-minded local citizens, so it helped to be able to distract their attention with projected images of my drawings, some of which belonged to the prehistory of my life (i.e., the Years Of Struggle, in Bombay). It was quite amusing even for me to see them blown up large on the screen behind me -- most of my work is small and fussy, so it's always a kick to see it suddenly huge.

The ride up to Kodaikanal should have been a nostalgia-fest, because the last three years of school for me were spent at Presentation Convent, in Kodai -- but I didn't recognize anything much except just a tiny section of the ghat road which looked almost as lushly forested as I remembered it -- that and the threat of feeling car-sick, which I DIDN'T ... but only just. The road is just as hairpin-bended and steep as my tummy remembered it to be. The actual hill-station is now an unsightly jumble of concrete hovels -- buildings which look as if they were made out of plaster of Paris and slapped together in any bit of open space that might afford a few inches of "view". Very sad. I didn't really recognize anything at all -- not even the lake, which was one of the pleasanter Sunday walks we used to be taken on, all those many years ago, at the end of the sixties. Everything is plastered over and built up and anyway, my convent was tucked up at the summit of a hill that was a good half-hours walk away from the lake and from the Club, where I stayed on this visit. Old PCK is now a Tamil Medium school, so there wasn't much point visiting it. And anyway, I'd been quite miserable while I was there -- not exactly happy memories, at the best of times.

The Kodai International School was my host in Kodai and at the Club, when we arrived there, I met Pramod and Sheila Menon who together represented my very warm and genuine Welcome Committee. They took me under their collecting wings and settled me into my room at the club and assured me that I could borrow warm clothes if I needed them ... yes! It was shivery COLD in Kodai -- it's about 7000 ft above sea level -- especially after the muggy heat of Madurai! And at night, one of the Club "boys" actually set up a fire in the fire-place. I went to sleep to the delightful snapping, crackling sounds of Real Fire (as against the hiss of gas) in a Real Fireplace.

The two and half days of the workshop were easy and fun -- that's really all I need to say! Oh, okay, okay ... here's a rough breakdown of what it was like: there were about 40 participants, comprising the seniormost students of the Kodai School and Eng Lit students from American College in Madura, plus a handful of teachers and Paul, Tom and Debbie. Since I was so unskilled in the workshop department -- never having attended one before this, in any capacity -- I chose the path of keeping everyone too busy to notice that I didn't have any tremendous experience or special expertise to share.

So for the first day, I set out two tasks. For the first task, I'd brought along photographs of my artwork (I had them with me, from Delhi), handing out one each to each of the participants, along with a mechanical pencil and a small notebook. I adore mechanical pencils (the kind with a microtip lead) and I believe no-one can have too many small notebooks! So that was my little free gift for the session. I bought the notebooks and pencils in Madras, at Landmark. After everyone had their "kit" I asked each participant to describe the photograph they had got, in whatever way they wished -- my aim here was two-fold: one, I wanted to hear each person's voice, to give me a sense of who was here and what they had to offer and two, to give the participants an immediate sense of involvement and "presence".

The second task had to do with creating a piece of micro-fiction. First I described what I meant by this term (it's something I read about on the web) and then I read out a few examples I got from the web. Then I handed out photocopies of these short pieces -- they are just super-short stories -- but REALLY: 100 words or less -- and set the participants the task of writing their own microfictions. As a way of helping them enter their task, I gave them a theme to focus on -- domestic help -- and asked each participant to stand up and tell the assembled group about the person they might use as the focus of their piece. This was (I think) a little odd an unexpected -- and for that reason, it was really quite interesting. For instance, a couple of the Madurai students said, "My mother"!!

This got us to about an hour after lunch, after which the participants were free to wander about working on their pieces. The next day, we started the session with each participant reading out their respective micro-fictions -- and that was quite interesting too -- after which we moved onto my next project: dramatic monologues. First I described what I meant by a monologue and then I read out one of mine (from the collection called HIDDEN FIRES, pub by Seagull). I think this went down quite well, so immediately after lunch, I asked each participant to discuss possible ideas for their monologues and then, as on the previous day, they had time to themselves in which to write their pieces.

That evening, Friday, I was the guest of a small gathering at the Club, where I read one of my short stories and also another monologue from HF. Paul DID give me, well in advance, a schedule of events, but I had forgotten about this evening. This was probably all for the best, because I didn't have more than a day (after being reminded on Thursday!) to fret over what I'd do/say/read etc. -- I chose "Sharing Air" from the KLEPTOMANIA collection because it's the shortest and I think it went down well. The audience was friendly and engaged, so it was easy to just relax and do my thing. As long as no-one expects me to talk about Literature -- or indeed anything that requires names or dates -- I can manage reasonably well. And dinner was good too, and so was the company.

Saturday morning was the last lap -- the kids read out their monologues, I ended the session with one more reading of "Sharing Air" (since I'd had my rehearsal the night before!) and another monologue and ... then it was a wrap! We all agreed that it had been fun and then straggled off in our separate ways. Paul, Debbie and I had a very pleasant afternoon visiting the beautiful hillside estate and garden belonging to long-time Kodai resident, Pippa Mukherjee (spelling??) and in the evening the three of us (P, D and moi) had dinner with the Menons, at Woodlands.

There are SO many people whom I'd like to single out for special mentions, but I won't, only because it would take far too long. Also, I'm rushing to complete this and post it before I return to Delhicose (to rhyme with Belicose) tomorrow. It is doubt bursting with grammatical inconsistencies and other errors, which I'll only get around to fixing tomorrow night -- so I've got to cut this short RIGHT NOW. The trip down to Madurai on Sunday was pleasant and not in the least tiring, despite a three-hour delay in the arrival of the flight from Bombay, on account of torrential rains there. I got back to Madras by about 5.30 and ... that was that!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Elsewhere Once More

Or maybe I should say, "Forever Elsewhere"? I am back in Madras. I had a hectic last couple of days in Nude Elly -- always, always, pre-departure frenzies -- there was a sudden revival of the monsoon and my second last driving lesson was cancelled as a result of which the last one, NOT TAKEN, was scheduled for the morning of my departure to Madras ...

But I DID manage to buy a box of celebratory kajoo burfee for Mr Moccha and was able to wish the other two students happy driving before bidding a final adieu. I don't expect to see them ever again -- in fact, as I write this, I can't remember whether I've even mentioned them so far? There were usually two other people in the car with me for the driving sessions every morning. In the second week it was a young man and a young woman, but on one occasion there was a second young man. The strangeness of being cooped up in a tiny red car amongst total strangers was easily set aside by the fact of being cross-eyed with terror. No-one introduced themselves and except for the fact that I said a cheery GOOD MORNING!!! every day, we would not have so much as sneezed in one another's direction. I find all of that totally bizarre and cannot explain it. Perhaps they were all experiencing terrors beyond comprehensiontoo, but I rather suspect it had more to do with being in a social situation for which they had no natural preparation, and hence, no conversation. Whereas I, having been trained as a journalist, can pretty much talk to anyone at any time.

So even though I had another brief experience of reversing, I never got around to learning how to park!! Weird. And now that I am in Madras, I am cut adrift from lessons behind the wheel ... There are three cars in the house but no-one to sit beside me at the crack of dawn. Well not just yet, anyway. Maybe when I return from Kodai ...

Which brings me to the reason I'm here (I mean, aside from visiting my Mum): I've been invited to lead a workshop at the Kodai School in -- surprise! -- Kodaikanal. A literary workshop, focusing on narrative. I've never done anything like this before so it's possible that I am going to spend three days twiddling my thumbs in front of 30 perplexed and bored students but ... you never know. They might rise to the occasion and teach me a thing or two.

Meanwhile, in the midst of everything, I've been reading a coupla interesting books that I've been wanting to share here. First on the list, a rather odd choice, called How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone. Its sub-title is: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle -- How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers -- and I picked it up because it appeared to include some interesting brainteasers. And it does. Back in the days when I used to be smart, I was pretty good at puzzles and brainteasers but these days I am content to read about them while only taking the occasional stab at solving them. But I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys scraping through the back-alleys of logic.

Another fascinating read was The Genius Factory by David Plotz. It's a must-read for anyone who wondered whatever happened to that news-item curiosity called The Nobel Sperm Bank -- did the women who signed up to be impregnated by the sperm of Nobel Prize-winning men actually go forth and produce a race of super-brats? And if not, why not? And other questions of this nature. The book is a chatty and informal attempt at satisfying your curiosity, while answering the lead question in a roundabout fashion: yes and no. Some women DID have smart kids but ... there's no way of proving that they wouldn't have done just as well with any old sperm. Meanwhile, at least a couple of the sperm donors featured in the book appeared to be of the kind that make nerds look like handsome -- and apparently there only ever were three actual Nobel Prize winners who donated their vital fluids(it turns out NONE of them fathered any of the sperm bank's progeny). Plotz is a journalist and follows up the leads in a manner that is highly readable -- just short of gossip-column readable -- by the end of it, I for one felt I'd got my money's worth.

And then, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. This book has been around for a while and I've been waiting for a the paperback version to come out coz I didn't feel like buying the hardback, coz I wasn't sure I would really want to plough through the WHOLE of it -- and was pleasantly surprised when I did. It's light reading -- I guess the name kind of gives that away -- but produces some interesting sideways thoughts -- I don't know whether I'd want to use the word "revelations" because there's a sense in which reading it is a bit like watching a magician pulls facts out of a top hat. I mean: are those REALLY facts or just ... cute white rabbits? Still, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to anyone who likes to think that some of the really big questions aren't being answered only because no-one's bothering to ask them.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I got my Learner's Licence todayeeeeeeeeeee!

But quick backtrack: Day Eleven, I was introduced to the reverse gear -- for all of fifteen seconds -- but wottheheck. Day Twelve, three flyovers. Day Thirteen -- i.e., today -- two flyovers and some heavy traffic.

Some of you may be surprised to hear that I've only JUST got an LL. Well ... when I signed up at the Seven Star Driving School I asked about the need for a licence and they pooh-poohed the very idea. But of course, the truth is, everyone on the roads is SUPPOSED to have a licence and basically I've been driving around on the wrong side of the law all these days. I tried not to think about this too much, once I knew, which was after a week's lessons.

The School offers to procure licences for their students for the modest sum of 1700 roops(around $35), which works out to just over three times the actual cost of the licence. So I didn't feel like forking over the blue notes. Believe me, I didn't feel like spending a morning sweating at the RTO either -- I have a middle-class person's neurotic dread of going anywhere near Govt. offices of any kind, and in particular the kind that issues licences. But one of the results of learning to drive, I told myself, was having to face up to such gruesome realities as standing in queues and jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops placed between licence-seekers and the seek-object.

I have an errand-person whom I shall refer to as R who fetches and delivers stuff for me. I had despatched him a week ago to get me the registration form. It's been lying on my desk all this while, unfilled until just last night. I had to use the poison-tipped cat-o'nine-tails to force myself to crank up my muscles and get the thing filled -- yes, filling forms is one amongst the many ordinary everyday tasks that I absolutely abhorr. I managed to put off sticking on the photographs till I was in my taxi and en route to the RTO (I had taken the gluestick with me in order to perform this task. And was carrying my passport and voter ID card in a little pouch strung from around my neck -- a black pouch, which was hard to see against the black-and-white kurta I was wearing -- in order to foil the pickpockets who might want to rummage in my backpack). I located the photocopies of my passport and I.D. card at the very last minute before I left. It is ever thus that I approach all my interactions with Govt. offices -- in a grey, bumbling fog of unwillingness, resulting in NOT getting everything together and thus having to do whatever it is at least twice over.

R had not only got the form for me, but he'd also discovered there was a written test to be done. No-one I'd spoken to about getting a licence had mentioned the need to do a test for the LL. When I asked R about the test, and where I would get the information I'd need in order to do it he said, as if it were as obvious as the sky overhead, that all I needed was to know how to identify road signals. "That's all they ask about," he said, "road signs".

Ahhhh well. I'd already been-there-done-that, hadn't I? In Vermont? And failed?

I went on-line, found the Regional Transport Office's web-site and located their manual. That was last week. I glanced through the material, finding it both depressingly familiar and also, confusingly NOT: for instance, it was a surprise to see that there were separate road signs prohibiting (a) Handcarts (b) Bullock-carts (c) Tongas (horsedrawn carts) and (d) Bullock- AND Handcarts. What about Camelcarts? Elephantcarts? Not to mention Autorickshaws, Tempos, Auto-tempos, Tricycles, Hyundais ...

However, I could not force myself to read through the whole manual. Reading the Vermont manual was as much as I could do in one life. I kept putting off the RTO visit until this weekend, when I realized I might put it off forever unless I forced myself to go. And when I got there, after 2 whole weeks of procrastination ... I found it was quite painless after all.

Though it was 10 in the morning, the endless stifling queues had not yet formed: there were only five or six bodies between me and the front of the counter -- though of course those bodies could not dream of forming a line, but had to bunch up like puppies in a basket, all in one spot. But at least there weren't dozens of counters, and after the first one there was the doctor's examination which consisted of going to a small room in which sat three youngish men, one of them in dazzling white. He was the doctor. He gave me a penetrating glance and said, "Can you see? -- good -- Can you hear? -- good --" whereupon he ticked off what ever he had to tick off on the form, stamped it with his stamp and sent me back to first counter.

Then I paid my fees and proceeded to the Hall of Examination. Prior to entering the hall, I asked for and was given a cog-sheet of road signs to study -- they had been reduced to the size of miniatures but I sat on the seats outside the Hall and did my best to commit the tiny symbols to memory anyway.

The hall was semi-filled with young lizard-types concentrating hard on their "papers" -- and soon I was one amongst them. Shades of Vermont -- ah the multiple-choice questions again! Ah the laminated question-sheet! -- but I took my time filling in the squares in the answer sheet and ... half a day later, I got my licence. I am now a bona fide learner, yayyy!

They didn't tell me how many of the answers I got right or anything. And the man who handed out the examination sheet, before I sat down to do the exam, insisted that I HAD to make an entry under "identifying mark" on my form. I don't have any blemishes strong enough to be worth recording so I asked him to say what would be acceptable. He looked up with an embarrassed expression (it is, after all, rude to stare, particularly at females) but nevertheless located a tiny spot, he said, on my right temple. So there it is, on the record, now and forever.

Identifiable and enabled to LEARN TO DRIVE a light motor vehicle on the roads of India, for the next six months ... woohoo! It's just a bit of paper with my photograph stuck onto it -- one page of the form I filled the night before -- and I'll have to be sure to keep it safe between plastic for however long it takes before I am confident enough to apply for the permanent licence.

Also, for those of you who plan to follow in my footsteps, let it be known: the test is NOT exclusively about road-signs!! It's also about such imponderables as whether a pillion rider must (A) wear a helmet (B) wear a scarf (C) wave to his/her friends and relatives (D) pick his/her nose; the reasons why a driver should be especially careful while approaching pedestrians at a zebra crossing when it is raining; the proper etiquette for motorists entering a roundabout. No doubt the answers to these and other questions are in the manual, but since I didn't read it, I can't be sure! I replied as best I could, but as I knew from bitter experience, that doesn't really help with multiple choice questions. I really wasn't sure, when I returned at 3.30 pm, whether or not I'd get the LL.

Let it also be known that the man who handed me the above-mentioned cog sheet with the miniature symbols, confirmed what R had told me, i.e., that the road signs were all that I needed to know for the test. Well, he was wrong, and so is anyone who tries to tell you that you won't need any preparation for the test.

I have two more lessons at Seven Star. Today, being a Tuesday, is their day of rest. I'm wondering what challenges remain in the final hours of instruction. My guess is: parking.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Day Ten of Driving Class and --

BLOGS ARE BACK!! Phew. That was nasty while it lasted, but many blessings upon the heads of those who established alternative routes to our little acre of the web, here in Blogistan/Bloganahalli/Blogipur/Bloganam. And so quickly too! Now that I think about it, I was barely inconvenienced -- Friday to Sunday, that was it, I think. On Monday pkblogs had swung into place, followed swiftly by others. There be angels amongst us! Thanks be to them.

And now we return to our regular broadcasts re Learning To Relax At The Wheel Of A Weapon of Minor Destruction. Today was the tenth day of this epic journey from crawling pedestrian to superhuman internalcombustionenginewallah and friends: it's not happened yet. The transformation, I mean. I continue to be a crawler except that I just happen to be sitting in the driver's seat of an infernal machine for 20 minutes in the morning. I may even be regressing, because I feel less and less competent with every passing day.

Oh I have my brief spams of competence! I mean, I am an EXCELLENT buckler of seatbelts and I've really got the art of ... err ... igniting the engine, shall we say, down pat. I can do it with skill and grace. I can release the hand-brake and I can push the gear lever into Position Uno! Yep. I can do all those things. Then Mr Moccha tells me to ease my left foot off the clutch -- to which it is of course welded -- and then the sorrow begins.

We start to move and all the ghouls of the motorway leap out of my dreaming subconscious to dance upon the dashboard. No-one else can see them but THERE THEY ARE -- a conga-line of tiny dancing terrors, singing out in chorus, straight to my brain, a song which goes a bit like this: "Brush them, crush them/ Turn them into motor kill! You have the power/To turn off their liiiiiights!" That's the theme, you see: the thing that beads my brow isn't my personal death, but the many bloody encounters that I could cause if I just forgot to look in my rear-view mirror or lost control of my right foot.

I continue to feel mute with envy at the ease with which all the other drivers on the road seem to just sail along, completely unaware (or so it seems) that they could be mowing down families of innocents at every zebra/giraffe/buffalo crossing. Whereas I feel the lives of DOZENS of people pass before my eyes, as I pass them on the road, my shoulders hunched, my eyes averted, trying desperately not to feel guilty for the crimes that I have yet to commit through a moment's inattention.

Ay me.

It is hard to be a driver.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Message for Our Times

My friend Viji Ghose forwarded a message to me from a friend of hers, Indrani Robbins. I don't know Indrani, but I wrote to her immediately asking if I could post her heartfelt e-message on my blog, and she very kindly agreed. I have not changed a word of her e-message, but I have added a space between the first and second paragraphs because they ran into one another after being pasted here.

hello my friends: i received the following from
another friend and it sort of disturbed me. no one can
disagree with the problem here, but the solution. ah
the solution. well, given all this hoohaa about
democracy and me a citizen of the largest democracy,
etc. (who of course has never voted because one might
have attained the age but attaining a ration card or a
voter identification card... that's another epic
heartpour), i thought i'd present my pov on this prob
of our times.

why am i doing this to you guys? this long laborious
email? this rant about a situation that we seem
powerless to do a thing about? to the point that we've
almost stopped caring? because i'm disturbed enough to
want to talk about it, write about it, and being my
friends you gotta suffer. lots of love

POV 1: this is what i received

"I am an Indian citizen. One among 1 billion of us.
When somebody bombs us we die. Just like Americans did
when the Al Qaeeda drove their planes into the WTC.
Just like Londoners did when terrorists attacked the
city last July. But while Americans have the right to
retaliate and bomb Afghanistan off the face of the map
because the terrorists HQ was based there, we Indians
have to negotiate, talk, send peace buses, and "build
confidence" with the government across our border -
the Pakistanis who are supporting the terrorists with
money and explosives.

The world applauds how resilient we are in the face of
our tragedy, how quickly we go back to "normalcy".
Ironically we ourselves applaud our resilience. The
fact is that the world expects us to be less than
human - hey you fella, so what if you lost your
colleague, friend, partner, husband, wife or brother,
get on with it old chap, that's it my boy! No time to
mourn. No time to fume and rail at the injustice being
meted out, no time to even call the terrorists the
filthiest of names, no time to give incompetent
politicians and policemen, intelligence agencies and
the powers-be a piece of our mind. (Shivraj Patil, our
honourable defence minister said something to the the
effect that we knew that an attack was planned but we
didn't know the time and place.

Really! What did he expect - a phone call from the
terrorists giving him the details of the local trains,
timings and compartments in which the explosives would
be kept! We also have to prove to the world that we
are RESILIENT. Be happy with Musharraf's "quick
condemnation" and go back to the business of dealing
with old betrayers. After all we cannot "change the
region's positive course", as LA Times' editorial put
it. So what if a few hundred Indians die - Indians who
are not into big time negotiations. Indians who just
want to earn their living and return home to their
families after a hard day's work. But well no,
Musharraf and his terrorist friends will deny them the
luxury of going back to his family because en route
the train blows up! And our incompetent politicians
and policemen will let terrorists do their horrific
jobs and launch a hunt post-facto...

So Bombayites died for a cause: for the peace of the
region! As did Delhi-ites last year before Diwali. As
did people in Bangalore when Pakistan-supported
terrorists hit the city. As did Indian tourists who
had gone to Srinagar for a holiday....And as many many
more will die...Wow, that's some consolation! If you
feel as angry about what's happening to us, please
feel free to pass this on. If your reaction is: "hey
nothing is going to change - this is India," feel free
to delete the mail! "

POV 2: here's what i'm thinking.

i was born in what we call independent india. my
earliest memories include hiding in darkened corridors
in our home in duliajan, assam during the '65 war with
pakistan (earlier of course, my mother along with me
and my 2-month old brother had to be evacuated from
assam during the "chinese aggression", while my father
stayed back to blow up the oil installations and
storage tanks in case the chinese marched right up to
them. needless to mention he and a handful of his
colleagues were prepared to sort of die in the
process). then came the '71 war, the creation of
bangladesh, memories of rushing out of the car on
parliament street, new delhi to take shelter as
pakistani bombers flew low over us. later, in 1980 we
lost our father in the midst of yet another strange
sad war between two peoples of this independent india.
what was stranger re the last incident was that our
fam didn't raise a cry of "badla badla badla" a la all
good hindi films one had ever seen. all my mother
wanted was to raise us in peace.

but even before all this, i think my subconscious
picked a word that i'm today struggling to bring into
a more visible, conscious place. and the word is,
"partition". no this is not a nice kashmiri walnut
wood screen. this is what happened to, dare i say
these words? guess i will: my land, my people. why it
happened and how, we could again go on and on about.
but to whom it happened. to our grandparents'
generation, our parents', yes, but did it end there?
the madness, the mayhem, the hatred that starts at the
bottom of our being, almost genetically coded: muslims
are bad bad bad, hindus are kaffirs, sikhs are this
parsis are that. did it really end there?

i am told more than 90,000 people have died in the
kashmir tragedy. we know people die every day in our
country, thanks to the unfriendship we share with
pakistan (and bits of bangladesh). and yes it is
bloody unfair that the americans can do what they have
to any place on earth they've ever felt like doing
anything to. i know we are always uncomfortable when
we meet a pakistani, sometimes even a bangladeshi. i
keep hearing the "pakis" are our enemies, no doubt
they believe we're the original baddies of the world.
so what should we do? let's go to war. again. let
people die. again. let bbc and cnn make money. again.
let's not solve the problem. sorry for this tautology,
but yes, again.

or. take a look at that word we say so easily:
partition. take a look at what it did to us. how it
hurt us, all of us who live in our fabulous
subcontinent (c'mon guys, eat the food of our nations
and you'll know no mean small culture could have
thought up that stuff). feel this word, yes feel the
sadness that was and is "partition". swords, knives,
blood, trains filled with bodies crossing borders,
fathers beheaded, sisters raped, daughters abducted by
the "other" and forgotten by their own, lahore never
to be visited again, dilli gone forever, goodbye
mymensingh, farewell kolkata, mindless anger, flaming
red rage, miles of tears, not a single smile anywhere,
what a time it was that time. only 59 years ago. yet
to most of us on my mailing list it's just a word. a
fact. the begininning of lifelong enmity.

my mind keeps saying it is time to look a "paki" in
the eye and feel our real feelings. we are one people,
torn asunder, still bleeding. time to heal. time to be
intelligent and strong. not with guns. but with

it's time to seek forgiveness and forgive. "partition"
needs closure (yesyes i don't like this v irritating v
american word, but in this case, i think it works
beautifully, so ta america). and it's only after that
we can really start talking. without clutter and
confusion. no we won't be able to resolve all our
probs, some yes, the others we'll agree to disagree on
and carry on as most friends do, with differences but
not mindless hatred.

and it's definitely time to stop looking to our
politicians for any kind of anything.

so what's going to happen if three or two or one of us
feel this way? how will it change things? i don't
know, just this something in my head heart gut that
keeps saying these things. it says war is yesterday's
thinking. anywhere on earth.

once upon a time there was undivided india. today we
are pakistan, india, bangladesh. three nations, could
one day be three great nations.
if we are truly independent india, let's free
ourselves of our baggage. here's to all of us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The On-Going Peeve

... I still can't access my blog! This isn't, for me, a major loss of life and limb because I'm not a working blogger and I'm grateful that I can (a) continue to post new items as well as edit old ones and (b) keep track of comments on account of comment moderation. But I CAN'T post new comments -- which must seem a bit rude to the few faithful commenters who leave messages here -- and I can't SEE my little patch of the internet! Most annoying.

My more energetic and web-savvy friends Zigzackly and the Babu (of Kitabkhanna) are out there and waging battles with the powers that be -- who may or may not be responsible for the blockage. No doubt, if you visit their blogs, you'll find more information.

Ah well. As far as driving updates go, today was the weekly holiday so, no class. I used the time I would normally spend browsing blogs to catch up on my museum visits ... yes, courtesy ALLAN SEALY, whose recently published book RED features a real world visit to the HERMITAGE, I was able to visit that wonderful museum in Leningrad, online. His book includes the web-address -- but lucky you! here it is for your delectation. I had to download the Java applet which allows the very cool panning and scrolling visit that the site is set up to provide, but if you've already got it installed, you won't even need to wait 10 minutes before you're in and jogging through the rooms.

Of course, being lazy, I only visited the MATISSE ROOM and that too, entirely on account of Sealy's book (ohhh -- okay! I visited the PICASSO ROOM too! But only because it was right next door). If you want to know what the connection is, you'll just have to buy the book and read it and love it. Well parts of it: I didn't love ALL of it, which saddens and distresses me, because this is one author whose writing I admire unreservedly ... really and truly. I think his FROM YUKON TO YUCATAN is one of the best travel books I have read. So perhaps, keeping in mind the Persian concept of the crooked line, a blemish-free book is to be avoided as it might mock the perfection of creation.

I've already bought and given away three copies of the book (besides keeping one for myself) so I guess it's clear I don't mind a blemish or two ...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wherein I Fly Over

Yes, today, during my sixth driving lesson, I Flew Over. It happened in the same dreamlike way that all the driving episodes have happened so far -- nothing I can actually believe in. Not only that, but I even overtook someone -- admittedly, it was a tortoise of a vehicle, one of those limping, rattling, three-wheel jobs which crawls about in the fast lanes of roads like an arthritic hermit crab, so over-taking it was really at the level of a snail over-taking a pebble -- but STILL!!! It was a personal first. And then after that, there was another flyover and a couple of major roads.

Being unable to believe I am at the wheel continues to be a problem though. It's as if every morning begins with a dream, a rather tiresome and grimy dream in which cyclists and autorickshaws veer towards the car I'm in, and motorcyclists buzz me like curious hornets, then buzz away again when they realize that I'm some insane short-haired granny-type, attempting to learn to drive on their private Grand Prix racing strip, hahaha -- they're basically so juiced at the mere idea that they don't bother harassing me -- and half an hour later the dream ends with me waking up at the gate of my house. Weird. I am very good with speed-breakers in this dream, and I meekly turn left and right when told to by Mr Moccha. Back within the home colony, I drive one circuit around the little park in the centre and bring the car to a very friendly little halt at my gate.

But is this real life? I think not. Aside from being soaked in sweat once I'm back in the house, I don't consciously feel anything, neither fear nor pleasure, while driving around. Practically the only new bit of knowledge that has entered my waking life is the realization that other drivers, just like me when I'm at the wheel, can apply their feet to the brake pedal. Until I understood how easy it is to control the car (i.e., until I realized that a car will NOT behave like a startled horse and therefore will NOT rear, snort and charge down the road with the terrified driver clinging to its wheel) I wasn't even aware that this image (of the horse) was in my head. Now that I know it, I feel more benign towards drivers in general -- they are still crazy, incompetent and rash, but at least I understand a little more about how they negotiate the maze-in-motion that is urban traffic.

I'm even -- dare I say it? -- a little dazzled. There they are, these reckless motorists, slaloming about the roads, every day, playing their arias on their brakes and accelerators and all this while I had NO IDEA HOW THEY WERE DOING IT!! It's like being a blind person who has lived in a museum all her life and now suddenly can see -- yes, it's a wild museum, and chaotic, and the cause of many deaths (one a day, in Delhirium, I believe) -- but still: a kind of mad spontaneous public art.

The fact that the dream occurs every morning just after 8 probably explains why it's not nightmarish yet. Mr Moccha assures me however that next Sunday the final lesson will be in mid-afternoon and through traffic. But for the time being, well ... toot-toot, parp-parp and tallyhooooooo! Ah'm jus' chasing mah dream.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wherein I Learn To Use Gears

-- but before I get to that, I'd like to pause a moment to acknowledge the sadness that overtook me two days ago, upon hearing the news of the bomb blasts in Bombay. I have long since stopped caring who/what is responsible for grisly public tragedies: it matters only that there are at least 200 families whose lives have been shattered by the deaths caused by the blasts and many hundreds more who will remain incapacitated by the serious injuries of those who survived.

This might not be a practical suggestion, but: if the media and the world at large could cease to publish the names/organizations/nationalities of terrorists and focus exclusively on healing the wounded and caring for the bereaved -- if, in short, terrorists ceased to get attention through the use of terror -- maybe they would be forced to find more acceptable methods of addressing their grievances.

I suppose that's a vain hope.

Ah well.

Back to the driving lesson.

I had my third one today. Tuesday, like I said, is a day of rest for the August Academy and Wednesday it was raining hard. Today, at eight o'clock, on the dot, there was the little red chariot, with its two occupants -- Mr Moccha and the silent young woman who is my co-student. I must correct a peculiar misconception: apparently the car I've been using does NOT have that triangular contraption on its roof! I seem to have manufactured it in my imagination, when reconstructing the lesson from memory.

Anyway! Today marked my transition from illiterate invertebrate to gear-using primate. I will admit that for the two days since my last lesson, I have been practicing changing gears by imagining what it might feel like, in my head. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, this IS how I navigate the by-lanes and cul-de-sacs of reality -- by imagining as much as I can of the path ahead in advance. It's a very cumbersome, resource-intensive approach, because it means I virtually relive everything that happens in my life except for the tiny bits of experience that occur unexpectedly(these are nearly always the nasty bits. I try very hard to imagine every type of nasty bit just to be fair and balanced, but -- wouldn't you know it? -- there are always very many more of them than I can possibly dream up).

As a result, it was almost fun, today. I won't bore the readers of this blog, nearly all of whom are drivers (only because most people who can turn on a computer are equally adept at leaping into cars and driving off into the sunset) with the details -- but I was quite surprised to find it didn't stress me out. Of course, Mr Moccha kept telling when to make the changes, but I think one element that has made a big difference is that I have finally realized that I can unhook my left foot from the clutch. Wow! What a relief. I am sure I've been told this many times over, but it has only now really got through to me that the brake is what I need in order to go fast or slow until there's a gear-change to worry about.

And the reason it got through to me now and not for all the 53 years before this moment, is that I finally made the effort to watch E's feet while sitting in the passenger seat day-before-yesterday, as he drove around the block to a friend's house. That's when I saw that his left foot sat quietly to one side while the right foot danced about -- stopping, starting, stopping, starting ... quite a busy little character, that foot!

This leads me to wonder whether left-handers feel uncomfortable, using their right feet for all that below-the-ankle-level activity? Since handedness is connected to the separate spheres of left/right brain activity, surely it should affect the feet to the same extent (gt -- are you reading this?)?

So we got home after a peaceful ride all the way through the mayhem of 8.00 a.m traffic -- busses parping, cyclists tinkling, school children leaping out in front of the car, all of that nonsense, and I was no longer wholly white-knuckled. A little, sure -- but less than the previous two days.

There's the reverse gear to be faced, of course, and parking and ... well, it's much better when I avoid thinking of the farther shore of competence and just stick with what I have today. Which is: 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears, yayyyyy!

A demain ...

15th July

Here's a grouse: I can't seem to log into my blog!! No idea why. Can't log into ANY blogger pages, so I'm not feel personally insulted. But it certainly cuts into my daily road-warriorette saga. Today was the fifth day of my transformation-to-be and what can I say? At one level, yes -- I can sense fundamental changes occurring in my DNA -- I feel a desire to change gear, and I no longer have that sense of lateral vertigo -- the combined dread/desire syndrome -- of fearing that I will crush every cyclist and motorist that comes within ten feet of my car. But at another level, I continue to feel utterly detached, as if there's someone at the wheel but it's not me (... PINK FLOYD ref, yes).


Monday, July 10, 2006

The Adventure Continues ...

... and so it came to pass that on the 9th of July 2006, I enrolled at the SEVEN STAR DRIVING SCHOOL. Well, to be quite accurate, I enrolled on Friday the seventh and after a bit of cheerful banter with the man at the other end of the line, during which he tried to convince me that rush hour on Delhi's roads was THE ideal time to sit behind the wheel of a car, we agreed that eight o'clock Sunday morning would mark the dawn of my new life as a driver.

The office of Seven Star is about six minutes by foot from my house, along the busy thoroughfare that leads towards Jamia Millia Ismailia from Mathura Road. It's a booth-type office, crammed into the corner of a decrepit building. There's a chai shop on one side and a dirty lane on the other.

It has a desk right up front. At the desk sits a man who looks as if he's been fashioned out of river clay, in thick lumps that were never quite cleared of pebbles, weeds and earthworms before he was baked into existence. In front of the desk are three metal folding chairs on which several other men sit, but when I appear, these others leap up and wriggle away -- all except one, who remains in order to open registration books and flourish receipts in the manner of a well-trained flunky.

Registering is childishly simple: I pay Rs 1400 (i.e., less than $30) and enter my address in their register. There is no learner's licence -- Mr RiverClay almost sighs when I ask about it, as if the question reveals the depths of my naivete. "There's no need of a licence when you're with Us," he says, grandly. I ask to be collected from my residence, a luxury costs me an additional Rs 200. And that's it.

Sunday morning, after staying up most of Saturday night to watch the World Cup third-place final between Germany and Portugal, I set three alarms to ensure that I'll wake up really early (for me, that is) -- at 6.00. There's no clear reason why I needed two hours prior to my Appointment With Destiny: it takes me only half an hour, max, to get showered and dressed, to make tea for me and E and to go online to check for e-mail. Nevertheless, I DID wake up at 6, got myself together and then, with a whole hour to spare, meditated upon the path that was opening up to me.

Yes, of course, I'd been backing and forthing up the driveway of our friend's home in Vermont. But that was on another planet of experience. Here, now, I was in Delhirium -- nightmare traffic capital of the world -- home to some of the most manic individuals known to the internal combustion engine. Answering the "why" of my desire to become a driver under these circumstances is the reason, I realized, that I'd woken up earlier than necessary. It's how I take any decision: first I have to imagine myself doing the thing that I want to do and if I can create an efficient virtual construct of the experience, I am ready to face whatever it is.

But an hour later, when I heard the latch on the front gate, that signalled the arrival of my tutorial coach, I had not succeeded in forging a clear picture of me in my new avatar-to-be. My mind was blank as I opened the front door.

My teacher turned out to be a short, moccha-coloured man who had the strange distinction of being both dour and cheery at once -- as if he knows he has a thankless and possibly life-threatening job, which he has to approach optimistically all the same, in order to be good at it.

The chariot was a postbox red Maruti 800, bearing the school's name in huge letters on the elongated-cone-shaped contraption on its roof by which all instructional cars here announce their presence -- after all, they need all the warning colouration that the paint industry can endow them with, to avoid being pulverized by every public bus, truck and SUV driver on the roads.

I was surprised to see a young woman sitting at the wheel. She was just finishing her lesson -- but seeing her being instructed as she drove the short distance towards her residence was reassuring for me, besides allowing me a few more minutes of normal breathing before it was MY TURN.

Short pause here to say: AAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGH.

For the next half hour, sitting at the wheel of that bright red Maruti 800, I dodged between cyclists, pedestrians, handcart-wallahs, snorting buses, more pedestrians, cycle-rickshaws, autorickshaws, cars, trucks, buses -- and did I mention, pedestrians? My mouth was open, I think -- I don't quite remember -- and nothing seemed very real. Mr Moccha had dual controls and changed gears for me now and then, while telling me to press the clutch, apply brakes and "-- SLOW! SLOW! SLOW! -- right -- give accelerator -- show indicator -- GO! GO! GO! -- " etcetera.

Here's the strange thing: I wasn't afraid. Not even slightly. I think I know why -- it's because I didn't believe what was happening. It was like a dream, and after I got home, I spent another hour lying down in bed, trying to convince myself that I had reallyreallyreally turned onto the Ring Road and then onto Mathura Road and then at the traffic light, back towards my home, all with DTC buses garrumphing at my back and other motorists hopscotching about and kamikaze pedestrians throwing themselves under the wheels of any vehicle willing to kill them for being criminally vulnerable.

SO ANYWAY, today I had my second lesson. Once more, the other girl was in the car when the chariot arrived, and this time, she sat at the back while I climbed into the driver's seat. Once more, my mind disengaged from the events taking place, as we puttered around the colony and out the gate! It is REALLY bizarre: I knew I was physically present and doing stuff, but mentally, I was no longer my own familiar self. I was an imposter version of myself, and that imposter was apparently driving around with other actual wheeled entities containing soft-bodied bipeds competing for space on the roads.

Today, after dropping the girl off at her destination, we -- or "I", rather -- progressed smoothly down the long road that passes alongside Jamia, and it was a little teeny bit like being in a land-locked sailboat, because there were speed-breakers every ten feet and I got the little red car to negotiate each of them with a smooth, rolling motion, just like forging forward through a line of mildly boisterous waves on the ocean. My tutor was still changing gears for me -- he told me to press the clutch each time and explained the finer points of why he was doing what -- but I was mesmerized by the road, the other vehicles floating about on either side of me and the deep desire to just push through this stage of consciousness to some OTHER one, preferably one that included a recognizable version of myself.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Seven Stars' off-day and since the rains have started, it's possible there won't be classes until we have a dry morning. Mr Moccha told me that my problem areas are: not releasing the clutch, causing the engine to overheat and gripping the steering wheel too tight. I could have added that the worst problem of all was this out-of-body experience that occurred the moment I sat in the driver's seat of the car, followed closely by the fact of living in a ferociously overcrowded city with manic traffic. But my language skills do not stretch to that limit. Mr Moccha speaks to me in pidgin English and I reply in kind -- which is all for the best. If I could talk to him normally, I would spend the whole half hour explaining the metaphysics of why I was clutching the steering wheel, rather than steering the clutch (okay, okay, silly, pointless meaningless pun, but ... you get my drift) -- and never get around to driving. This way, he ended today's lesson by saying, in Hindi, "Why are you scared? DON'T BE SCARED -- as long as I'm in the car, nothing can go wrong." And that was that.

Later in the day, having recovered from the lesson, I visited my friend S. at her press. She's been championing my desire to learn driving for several years. Today, she spent a good two hours giving me a pep-talk about Just Doing It. She has a standing offer to take me out on test-drives and for touch-up courses whenever I'm ready. I plan to take her up on her offer some time next week. While talking to her, I said that the real challenge for me was to STOP thinking of myself as a driving-challenged person and reconfigure my mind so that I could see myself in this NEW! IMPROVED! light.

But I suspect it's going to take a while. All through the lessons so far and regardless of what I'm doing and how well or ill the car's faring, inside my head, there's a little person sitting with her face buried inside a cushion and screaming, very softly, AAAAAAARGGGHHHHHHHHHH ...

POST SCRIPT: Zig sent me a link to the piece he wrote about his experiences as a LearnerDriver in 2003 -- interestingly enuff we have both used the word "kamikaze" to describe street elements. Hmmm. Probably means something deep and potentially disturbing, but I'm too lazy to work out what it might be.