Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Snail Martyrs and Dragon Fruit

There are two bits of information that I have been meaning to share -- both totally amazing to me.

The first is about the curls on the Buddha's head -- some of you will know immediately what I mean -- you know, the small round bumps that are often shown covering the head of a statue of the Buddha in a seated meditation pose. I probably first saw an image of the Buddha (I mean in a conscious sense) when I was a child of maybe 10 and I remember asking about the bumps. I was told they were "curls". Not much later, my parents and I went to Thailand, and we spent three years there. All that time and ever since, I have believed that those bumps were "curls" -- even though it always bothered me that such curls were in direct contrast to the very smooth skinned, straight-haired type of person the Enlightened One was in every other sense (and in all other representations of him). The curls were an anomaly that were not explained by any other phenomena.

Well -- and now I know the true story: the "curls" are actually meant to represent 108 snails!! They are known formally as "Snail Martyrs" and they climbed up onto the Buddha's head when they saw that he was in deep meditation under the burning sun, to offer him the protection of their little bodies. Isn't that beautiful? My opinion of snails has shot up a thousand-fold! You can read more about it here.

The second astounding new fragment of general truth is that a fruit I was introduced to in Singapore some years ago, by my friend and host there Ela Ghose, turns out to belong to that amazing flower known as the Night Blooming Cereus. The fruit is called Dragon Fruit. The reason I find it so amazing is in part because I was introduced to the flower in my sister's home in Pennsylvania in the US -- it's a weirdly beautiful bloom that flowers only at night, producing one huge (like maybe 10 inches across) display in an astonishingly theatrical manner. I mean, you can practically see the thing opening up and people sometimes come over for Night Blooming Cereus evenings!

No-one speaks about the flower as being a fruit-producer. It is usually admired just for itself. So it was entirely by chance, while browsing the net for something else (that exotic spider lily I featured on this blog some posts ago), I suddenly chanced upon this item about the NBC and its Dragon Fruit.

The second reason it so amazes me that fruit and flower belong to the same plant (a cactus. Very likely, the one that produces the fruit is a different subspecies to the creature that lives in my sister's home -- hers has never shown the slightest sign of productivity. Of course, the poor thing is never exposed to any wasps/moths or whatever it is that pollinates it) is that the NBC is native to the US, while the fruit is best known in Southeast Asia. I saw a few in a wonderful farmers market near Irvine, CA, where I visited last year. But it's not well known.

Okay and that's my show-and-tell for the month!

Monday, February 13, 2006


On this day, 95 years ago, my dad was born in a tiny village in Kerala. He was the first child born to his parents, and would be followed by another ten -- five brothers and five sisters. His father was a Commissaire de Police for the French Government. He spoke Malayalam and French -- NOT English! -- and the only photograph I have seen of him shows him in a superb uniform, all glinting medals and French "kepi"! I never met this grandfather, but my father's mother, who was widowed when her youngest child was barely walking, is someone I remember clearly -- she was an extremely active and creative lady, who was a Sahitya Akademi award-winning author in her life-time and a social activist who enthusiastically joined Gandhi's freedom movement in those heady pre-Independence days. Even to this day, my uncles remember growing up around their mother who would write at the family dining table (perhaps by the light of a kerosene lamp), throwing down pages on the floor as she finished them, such was the energy of her literary flow!

My dad died in 1994, after a long struggle with Parkinson's. He put up a brave fight and was always, right till the end, glad to be alive, unwilling to give up or give in despite the terrible indignities wrought upon him by the disease. His journey was in many ways an extraordinary one, working his way from that small coastal village all the way up to the competitive exams in far away Delhi, earning the right to serve his country in the Foreign Service, reaching the rank of Ambassador in his final two postings, to Thailand and Iran.

In many ways, I was born a little too late to appreciate him and I do feel a sad regret about all the things unsaid and left undone. He was an exemplary Dad. In this day, when we hear endless horror stories about the vile behavior of men towards their wives and families, it is important to also record those men who are decent, kind, good-humoured and hard working. I rarely ever saw him ill-tempered and I never heard him raise his voice in anger to anyone. He was always mild-mannered and cautious, but he held his own, he fought for what he believed was right and I think he brought us up -- my two sisters and me -- to have a strong sense of what is decent and honourable in life.

He was also the source of my interest in puzzles and cartoons! He was an avid crossword puzzler and reader of cartoons. We still have in the family, the collected album of "Curly Wee" comics that were serialized in his local newspaper. He cut them out and stuck the strips neatly into a volume, when he was growing up and they are still enjoyably readable now. He had a warm sense of humour and loved nothing more than to read a good book. Towards the end of his life, when reading was a chore because his eyes were weak, he took to watching art movies on TV and knew more than most of us about the best new films on the art circuit.

So anyway. I thought I'd share that with those of you who read this blog -- and especially for those of you who still have dads. Go give him a hug, go tell him you love him and that he matters to you.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Family-Witness Account of HARVEST!

-- my niece D and partner drove down from Boston to NYC to see the play! I am hugely impressed at their enterprising spirit and very grateful too. Despite the other accounts, I needed to hear from someone who knows me well enough to report on the performance through (almost) my own eyes. Not entirely, of course, because she is very much her own person, but from what she says, and from the photographs I've seen, I have a much clearer impression of what the play was like. I think I would've liked it ...

Here's what she says:

On Sunday, Jan 29, 2006, we drove down to NYC to the East Village to
see the final performance of Harvest at La MaMa, a well-known venue on
the independent theatre circuit. Off the bustling 2nd Avenue, 4th
Street is a quieter stretch of brownstones peppered with little
restaurants and specialty shops featuring those eclectic items that
define New York chic when worn just so, or by today's It Girl. There,
nestled between the residential doorways and store fronts, is the
unassuming entrance to La MaMa. Opening the door, one first encounters
the heat barrier – strips of heavy plastic designed to keep the
bitterness of winter outside where it belongs. Then one enters the
cramped, no-frills box office space – featuring minimum seating along
a corner where photos of past performances serve as wall paper; a
closet bathroom; and two call windows to pick up tickets to one of the
two theatres housed in this narrow Manhattan space. Harvest is playing
in the ground floor theatre.

Ten minutes before the show, the staff opens the door and starts
ushering folks into the hardwood floored corridor that flanks the
stepped seating area. Again, one is struck by the narrowness of the
space – the stage seems barely wider than a large drawing room and the
set is not much deeper. This is perfect staging for a play that
transpires in a one-room flat in a tenement building in a bustling
Third World metropolis. The stage is set with a single bed on the
right with an end table featuring a picture of Ganesha. On the left is
the "kitchen" area. Along the back is a railing with clothes hanging
to dry in the supposed inner courtyard of the tenement. There is also
a door separating the balcony from the living area. Taking a seat on
the second tier of folding chairs, one notices the rustic style of the
theatre, the exposed brick of the walls only enhances the roughness
of the set.

The play begins with Ma and Jaya waiting, and bickering, for Om to
return from InterPlanta. Once Om comes home and breaks the news that
he got the job at InterPlanta, the guards come to disinfect and
reorganize the living space. The two male guards are dressed in button
down dress shirts with blue ties tuck efficiently away, below the
third button, dark blue pants, and rubber gloves. The one female guard
is wearing the same shirt and tie, with a short tight dark blue skirt
accentuating her petite frame which is made all the more delicate by
her hair being twisted into several little buns in a pixie-like style.
The guards work quickly to clear the living area and finish each
other's sentences as they briskly explain the Interplanta rules. All
the props are removed and white plastic sheets are placed over the
door and the balcony area, creating a not only hermetically sealed
living space, but also a flat screen for the series of InterPlanta
commercials that are projected throughout the play. The only thing
that the guards add to the living space is the contact module, an
interlocking paper pieced puzzle light fixture that Manjula herself
would have enjoyed assembling. This whirls to life and Ginny's larger
than life image is projected on the screen behind the characters. She
is blond, blue-eyed, and overly made up, speaking with a typical, but
not quite charming, Southern twang. The play progresses and we meet
Jetu who promptly demonstrates that he knows Jaya a little more
intimately than her own husband. As Interplanta woos the audience with
how they "Make Lives Worth Living," the living area is transformed
with sterile white furniture and stain steel accessories. Om is
sterile as well in a white cotton kurta pajama. Ma, in contrast, is
wearing a black velvet wrap around bath robe with a leopard skin
collar, and chunky slippers with little cow heads that smile back at
their wearer. Jaya is wearing a brocade silk sari and is the only one
questioning this new false reality created by Ginny – her very own
"human fish bowl"- a concept, which given that Harvest was written in
1996 and the current plethora of reality TV shows, is scarily

As the play progress, white InterPlanta boxes are piled up along the
back of the set in front of the balcony screens. The resulting effect
is that as the more and more absurd InterPlanta commercials are
broadcast, the images are splintered across the boxes and partially
blocked screen. The visual fragmentation of the InterPlanta advocates
only adds to the sense of body parts and life parts that are being
traded at the will and whim of the credit card endowed.

As the voyeurism continues, Jetu returns to the household the day the
guards come for Om . Om crumbles at the prospect of paying his debt to
his benefactor. Therefore, the unwitting guards take Jetu in his stead
with Ma's full support of her least beloved son. Upon his return, the
audience gets to meet the living, corporal form of Ginny which is now
being projected directly into Jetu's mind thanks to the first stage of
the transplant process. Enamored by her lily white form, Jetu greedily
agrees to continue the transplant process with the promise of having
more intimate knowledge of this fresh foreign flower, while carelessly
brushing off the reason and concern of the steadfast Jaya. Time passes
and the living space is in disarray, as is Jaya who is back in her
simple red cotton sari, but her hair is now out of its neat pony tail
and she splays herself across the arch of the sofa. The contact module
whirls to life and beckons to Jaya. She is thrown by the new voice,
and then the living space is invaded by the holographic image of Jetu
who now has the arrogance and seduction of the real recipient of the
InterPlanta services. He unveils the true nature and mission of the
transplant process which Jaya rejects unless it is on her terms. The
play ends with Jaya assuming control of her life and the situation and
proving that one voice can prevail over the monstrous machinery of
Manjula's eviscerated vision for the future of global consumerism.

In case it isn't clear - I loved the production and thought it did
much justice to the play and its harsh sentiments.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More Cows!

Yup. It's that time of life again -- those political cows and their ideological products ... A new set (well, new for me. I've read the earlier list dozens of times. This is the first new lot in a LONG while).


You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
Barbara Streisand sings for you.


You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.


You have two cows.
The government takes one and gives it to your
You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage
his cow.


You have two cows.
The government seizes both and provides you with
You wait in line for hours to get it.
It is expensive and sour.


You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of


You have two cows.
Under the new farm program the government pays
you to shoot one, milk the other, and then pours
the milk down the drain.

You have two cows.
You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do
an IPO on the 2nd one.
You force the two cows to produce the milk of
four cows. You are surprised when one cow
drops dead. You spin an announcement to the
analysts stating you have downsized and are
reducing expenses.
Your stock goes up.


You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch and drink wine.
Life is good.


You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size
of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the
They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded
trains. Most are at the top of their class at cow


You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink
lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run
a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately, they also demand 13 weeks of
vacation per year.


You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.


You have two cows.
You have some vodka.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.

The Mafia shows up and takes over however many
cows you really have.


You have all the cows in Afghanistan, which are
two. You don't milk them because
you cannot touch any
creature's private parts.
You get a $40 million grant from the U.S.
government to find alternatives to milk production,
but use the money to buy weapons.


You have two cows.
They go into hiding.
They send out radio tapes of their mooing.


You have two bulls.
Employees are regularly maimed and killed
attempting to milk them.


You have one cow.
The cow is schizophrenic.
Sometimes the cow thinks she's French, other
times she thinks she's Flemish.
The Flemish cow won't share with the French cow.

The French cow wants control of the Flemish
cow's milk.
The cow asks permission to be cut in half.
The cow dies happy.


You have a black cow and a brown cow.
Everyone votes for the best looking one.
Some of the people who actually like the brown
one best accidentally vote for the black one.
Some people vote for both.
Some people vote for neither.
Some people can't figure out how to vote at all.

Finally, a bunch of guys from out-of-state tell
you which one you think is the best-looking cow.


You have millions of cows.
They make real California cheese.
Only five speak English.
Most are illegal cows.
Arnold likes the ones with the big udders.


Has two cows
And they are pets.

... and finally:


You wonder: What are "cows"?