Thursday, May 28, 2009

AMAZEMENTS, continued

Thanks to the comment posted by Scherezade in response to my previous Amazement, I followed links to TED -- stands for Technology, Education, Design -- and found a treasure trove of inspiration talks presented audiovisually. I am only too sure that I could spend the entire day being inspired, but the very first of these links will take you to a talk about the sort of reasons for which I will NOT be doing that ...

I've picked two of the three talks I linked to:
Don't Eat The Marshmallows ... Yet by Joachim de Posada
Are We In Control Of Our Own Decisions? by Dan Ariely.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This came to me via my OTHER prolific e-mailer friend, Amar Talwar. It features the talents of eight people who use their voices alone to simulate all the musical instruments necessary to produce an astonishingly diverse medley of music.

This makes me wonder if the day may come when my particular vocal talent will find an audience ... *grin* ... I have for some years specialized in imitating The Song of the Humpback Whale.

My very first performance left an indelible impression on some guests who were visiting my mother, at her home in Madras. I had recently heard the NatGeo vinyl record insert that had come along with our subscription copy of the magazine, of the Humpback Whales' astounding vocalizations. This was waaaaay back ... in those dim days when every house actually had a working turntable and "music system" for playing LPs and EPs and other quaint flat discoid media. A couple of days later, I turned the TV on -- and there was the same NatGeo programme, this time with a video of the whales' performance! It was only natural that I should feel inspired to sing along, right?

Alas, I failed to notice that my mother was sitting in the adjoining drawing room, with a pair of Exceptionally Respectable (translation: uptight to the max) visiting relations -- not close family and no-one related directly to me -- drinking a morning cup of tea and making soft-voiced remarks about how best to straiten laces and stiffen upper lips. But their efforts were gradually drowned out entirely by my unearthly howls.

As the relatives sat with their faces turning many shades of pale green, perhaps fearing an imminent invasion of humpback whales, my mother stammered, "... that's my youngest daughter. Visiting from Bombay, you know. An artist ..."

Sunday, May 24, 2009


While in Madras this time, I saw something I've only ever heard of before, never seen: a Hijra flashing.

In fact, as I write this, a haiku* suggests itself:

young Hijra
in the street,
red flowers
white sari
with impish glee

She and companion Hij had gone up to a paanwaala, clapping their hands in the approved manner. He, however, refused to entertain their demands and made "off with you now" gestures with his hands, as if sweeping dust off an invisible table.

Both ladies were dressed smarter than is typical. The other one looked rather like a college girl, in a tee-shirt, a skirt, heeled sandals and hair cut to shoulder length, swinging loose, like it had just been blow-dried. If not for her unusual height (for a girl) we may not have noticed her at all. The sari-clad lady was more traditionally dressed, but looked freshly groomed, somehow bright and chirpy, her sari a sparkling (literally -- I mean, it had tiny spangles on it) white with red and gold border.

All of this communicated itself in the 30 seconds of pause between a change of traffic lights on Nungumbakkam High Road!

The pair of them began to move away. But then, on an impulse (or so it seemed) the sari-clad one swivelled around, lifted her sari and jerked her hips up, holding her hands on either side of her crotch. None of us in the car could see anything. It wasn't even clear whether there was anything to be seen, because she was clearly wearing some type of underwear, perhaps a loin-cloth, not briefs. But it was her expression that was remarkable: somehow triumphant and mischievous both at once. The next instant, show over, she turned and continued walking, back very straight, head held high.

All the other motorists on the road -- afternoon peak hour -- lots of two-wheelers amongst them -- kept their eyes firmly averted!

*[yes I know it's not the right syllable count. It's a haiku only in mood]

AND WHILE I'M ON THE SUBJECT ... here's a bit of news regarding a somewhat specialized branch of culture:
Penis Puppetry. The link will take you to the article in the Sacramento News & Review (yes, with photographs, but not the kind that would cause the average maiden aunt to blush). It sounds like a hilarious show. Here's the text, for those who are too lazy to click:

Move over, Bacon!
Puppetry of the Penis meets male nudity taboos head on

By Becca Costello

In 1998, the Western world was hurtling toward the millennium in the throes of Y2K anxiety. Values were questioned. Mores were loosened. On the brink of a new era, popular entertainment struggled to shed its 20th-century restrictions and stay modern.

In America, much ballyhoo was made about Kevin Bacon’s full-frontal nude scene in the trashy thriller Wild Things. The unprecedented promise of unclothed penile presence in a mainstream Hollywood film caused people to flock to the theaters for the sheer novelty of it. After sitting on the edge of their chairs for more than an hour, the audience was rewarded with a chaste flash of Kevin’s “bacon” as he reached for a towel in a bathroom. Theatergoers were left squinting at the brief nude scene and wondering if they should be shocked, titillated or merely annoyed at the hoopla generated by a press as puritanical as it was salacious.

At the same time in Australia, an enterprising young man created a glossy calendar featuring close-up photos of his genitalia arranged in various origami-reminiscent formations. Simon Morley had hoped to capitalize on the “installations” he and his brother had created over the years during bouts of sibling rivalry, but he found his Puppetry of the Penis calendars were nearly unmarketable. He soon realized, however, that, though no one wanted photos of his penis on their wall 12 months a year, people were extremely interested in a live demonstration. In order to sell the calendars, he concluded, he would have to perform a live show.

In a garage packed with spectators, Morley first demonstrated exactly what he had “down under.” Manipulating his genitalia like a circus clown fashioning a balloon animal, he created installations such as the Hamburger, Windsurfer and Loch Ness Monster to the surprised delight of his audience. The performance-art version of Puppetry of the Penis was born.

Fast-forward five years to the present. Though Hollywood has yet to make any further strides on the penis-liberation front, Puppetry of the Penis has become an international phenomenon. Morley and his original performance partner, David Friend, have trained a team of puppeteers and have created an entertainment enterprise that includes seven touring companies (on three continents), a multi-lingual presentation and a how-to manual. Some 525,000 people have seen the show, and that number continues to increase exponentially. Next week, Sacramento will join the ranks of penis-friendly cities when Puppetry of the Penis comes to the Crest Theatre.

The show’s setup is fairly simple: Two guys wearing only capes and tennis shoes tell jokes and exhibit approximately 45 penis installations for a non-sexual evening of goofy comedy. Large video screens ensure that even those in the back row have a good view of the goods.

“It’s basically just a party trick that’s gone too far,” Morley admitted in a recent phone interview. “I think this is something that every man does. We just put capes on and charge people to see it. We’ve put a few West End and Broadway frills on the thing and taken it way too far.”

Every man might experiment with puppetry, but it takes a certain breed to act in the show. Puppetry auditions have been held worldwide to fill the ever-increasing demand for performances. (Note to aspiring puppeteers: Local auditions will be held on February 12 at the Crest Theatre.)

“It’s a very strange afternoon,” Morley said of the audition process. “We start off with a bit of a workshop, teach people how to do a few of these tricks. Then, we have them get onstage and do a few shapes. It’s an afternoon of sharing,” he laughed.

What qualities make a good puppeteer? “Well, we don’t like to talk size, but let’s just say the more clay the sculptor has to work with, the more he can create. You’ve got to be able to do the tricks,” Morley stated, “but a complete lack of shame is the first prerequisite.”

Enter Daniel Lewry, a veteran puppeteer and Morley’s co-star for the upcoming Sacramento shows. “I used to get drunk and do a few dick tricks at parties,” Lewry reminisced during a recent interview, “but I started my career as a bum puppet. I used to paint faces on my ass and recreate great scenes of cinema. We did festivals around Melbourne and played Sydney during the Olympics. The last show we did was Apocalypse Now. I got to play Marlon Brando!” he said excitedly before rasping “The horror! The horror!” into the phone.

Two years ago, Lewry’s friends urged him to attend the Puppetry auditions and pitch the bum puppet idea to the show’s producers. “They weren’t interested at all. They just said, ‘Can anyone do any dick tricks?’ So, I did the Bulldog and the Hamburger. Then, I did this trick I used to do, which they thought was hilarious. I just put all my tackle between my legs and did a handstand and made silly noises. It’s just something stupid to make everyone laugh, but it got me the job. What a Cinderella story, eh?”

Since then, Lewry has toured Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Canada and the United States. “I never thought my penis would get me this far,” he laughed. “I thought it would get me in trouble more than anything.”

Oddly enough, being a penis puppeteer has even improved his relationship with his family. “They didn’t really get into the bum puppets. They heard I did it, but they didn’t ask any questions. But my mom’s seen Puppetry of the Penis. It was a bit scary having her in the audience. I made her stay up at the back, so I couldn’t see her while I was performing. My mom is very proud, which is a strange thing.”

Morley’s mom goes even further. “She was horrified at first,” Morley said, “just tortured by it. But now, it’s a big hit, and it’s popular culture in Australia. She’ll ring me up and say, ‘I want another 10 tickets.’ She swaps them for free haircuts and golf lessons. She trades on it.”

Though their families are supportive, being a penis puppeteer can interfere with one’s love life. When asked if an actor gets propositioned more or less after joining the cast, Lewry admitted, “You get less. Women have seen it, heard it, they’re sick of it. They’ve seen you in the nude. It’s like, ‘I know what he’s got to offer. There’s no mystery there.’ Then, I go home, and I’m like, ‘Jeez! I play with my nuts for a living, and I still can’t get a date!’ ”

Though he feels the show has neither helped nor hurt his sex life, Morley affirmed, “We honestly don’t get propositioned after shows.”

However, the performance does attract another kind of fan--the amateur puppeteer who insists on unwrapping his package in public to show his favorite penis trick to the actors. “We get way too much of that,” Morley groaned. “We don’t want to encourage it. Please don’t come up to me in the bar afterward and show me your genitalia!”

Of course, anything as taboo as public nudity also garners the opposite reaction. “Though both men and women come to see the show, a lot of heterosexual men in this country go, ‘Dude. That’s way too gay!’ ” Morley confessed. “If they were half smart, they’d realize it’s the perfect place to pick up women. It also makes a wonderful first-date show. It breaks all the ice.”

It’s the odd protest in the midst of worldwide praise--such as Salt Lake City’s KSL-TV refusing to air an episode of The Tonight Show featuring a discussion of Puppetry of the Penis, or The Sacramento Bee’s rejection of the show’s paid advertising--that forces the comedians to acknowledge the larger implications of their show. “We’re well-aware of the social implications. We just choose to ignore them most of the time,” Morley laughed. “We’re about celebrating the penis and liberating the male genitalia. Women and men have been told for a long time now, ‘You can’t laugh at a man’s genitals. You’ll hurt his feelings.’ We say, ‘Not true!’ We make them three stories high on a big screen and say, ‘Have a good, old-fashioned belly laugh.’ ”

Still, some refuse to get the joke. “Even last night, we had two people walk out,” Lewry said of a show in Santa Cruz. “I don’t get it. It’s called Puppetry of the Penis, and there’re two nude guys on the poster. Really! What are we going to be doing? Do they actually expect puppets?”

Well, that or Kevin Bacon.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Encounter in a Taxi Cab!

Last night I returned from my trip to Madras after an unexpectedly long stay away (I thought I'd be away at most a week). Usually, the trip from the airport is nothing more than a reminder of what demonic heat feels like but last night's trip was a different -- in a NICE way for once!

I had got my usual prepaid-taxi vouchers, had wandered up to the pick-up point, was assigned #12 -- fought off the six or seven weasels who were attempting to jump ahead of me in the queue -- and got into the cab.

Young driver. When he asked me for my name so that he could convey it to the policemen at the check-point (... for those of you who don't travel to Delhi by air, this is a service which is meant to prevent attacks on travellers who happen to sit in a vehicle driven by a murder/rapist -- in the event of a crime, the police will at least have some ideas where to start looking. Or anyway, that's the theory), and I said my surname, he mangled it so badly that I began to laugh. Anyway, one thing led to another and as we were chatting, he happened to ask me which was better, Delhi or Bombay. I said "Bombay" of course(ha! No brainer!).

This news caused him such sorrow that he was obliged to tell me a story which might named The Parable Of The Honourable Cabbie.

(this is a free translation, based on my extremely sketchy grasp of Hindi and his several excursions into English)

"Some months ago, I was at the domestic terminal," he said, "and there was a passenger there who was stranded. Seemed to me, he was some Foreign Airline Person, but an Indian. So I asked him where he wanted to go and he said, 'International Terminal'. And none of the other cabbies would take him, because of course we all want to go only to the city.

"But I said, 'Chalo -- I'll take you.' He asked me what it would cost him and I said, 'What are you prepared to give?' and he said, 'Ten'. So I said, 'Okay, I'll take you there for ten.'"

Those of you reading this who have any familiarity with Delhi will know that we are already approaching the Heavenly Realm of Cabbie Behavior with this response. Anyway. To continue ...

"So then I took him to the International Terminal, and we talked all the way and he seemed very happy with me. So when he got down, he gave me 10 ... TEN US DOLLARS that is!! And he also asked me for my telephone number. So when I told him I didn't have a phone, he gave me an additional FIFTY US DOLLARS and told me which phone to buy -- this is the phone -- and it costs Rs 12000!"

Here he waved the phone in the air -- I didn't examine it carefully in case I died of terminal phone-envy (yes, I have a small problem in this arena) -- but I had noticed him talking on a phone with a very fancy ringtone earlier in the ride. Of course almost all entities with opposable thumbs have cellphones these days, so it doesn't necessarily mean very much. But STILL. To continue ...

"And he gave me his number. And since then he has come back to Delhi a few times, and taken me out to dinner -- I had never before in my life been inside a five star hotel, but now I've eaten three times in the Maurya, the Taj and the Oberoi ..."

He seemed genuinely delighted and needless to say, I was as pleased to hear this story as he was, telling it to me. Of course, I could not help pointing out that the reason the Stranded Passenger was so exceptionally grateful was that he had after all BEEN STRANDED to begin with and that by showing sympathy, this cabbie had proven that he was not only entirely deserving of his good fortune, but perhaps an avatar of some yet-to-be-identified divinity. He told me that he knew that Delhi had a terrible reputation and therefore he was doing his own little bit to redress the balance!

I gave him the usual fifty rupee tip I always give prepaid cabbies and I also resisted the urge to take his number down. I'd prefer to think he'll be out there, a little Rogue Saint roaming the streets all on his own without me or anyone else tracking him down and flooding him with celebrity attention. May the Force be with him.

And now, onward to something very different: an Online Jukebox sent to me by (who else?) My Friend Anvar. These links will take you to a website called
UPCHUCKY, where each year is represented by twenty hit songs from that era. Kind of fun! Anvar sent me the whole list of links from the fifties to the nineties, but I'm only posting these few here and leaving the rest for you to research on your own:


Happy listening!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sunday, May 3rd

Two Sundays ago, on the third of May, my brother-in-law Girish Doctor, passed away. It was a sudden death, in the sense that he hadn't especially been ill. But he'd been slowing down steadily over the past two years. He seemed to have been anticipating a major change in his life because a few years ago, he began putting his personal affairs in order and acquainting his daughter with the paperwork (my sister and nephew having shown ZERO interest in practical matters! Just like me. It's a particularly annoying family failing).

I came to Madras from Delhi the same day that I got the news, but only in the evening. By that time the ashes had already been immersed in the sea.

GCD was a major presence in my family (by which I mean, the small nuclear unit comprising my parents, my sisters and our immediate partners/children -- but not the families of our partners or of the huge clans connected to all our uncles, aunts and cousins). Aside from my father, who died in late 1994, this is the first death. My mother is still very much with us, so we still have four generations -- spanning from her to my four year old grand-niece -- but this now is the first death from within my generation.

A decidely ODD feeling. Not exactly sad, because we are all approaching those ages when death becomes no longer really tragic or "before-his/her-time". I have to admit that one of the satisfactions death affords me is that it is still, despite all the technology at our command, FINAL. There are no bribes to pay or strings to pull that can bring someone back from that last goodbye. So it's a kind of thrilling Absolute, in an existence where nothing at all is permanent.

I'm still in Madras, therefore not at my home-computer -- i.e., I'm not in a place where I can compose at ease and at length -- the phone line is blocked up when one of us is online so aside from everything else, it's a bit antisocial to remain logged in for long.

Just one other comment to make -- after coming to Madras for two days, I went on assignment for OUTLOOK TRAVELLER to a delightful resort called SHERGARH just outside Kanha national forest. Since I have to write the article right this minute, I don't want to say anything more about the trip. The issue should be out in June. But in case you can't wait that long to know more about the resort, do click on the link. I had four great days and returned to Madras on Sunday via Nagpur and Bangalore (ah-maaaaazing airport in Bangalore/Bengaluru! Wow. Didn't esp want to catch my flight!).