26-Jul-2012

Internet maladies


I don’t know if anyone else has shifted to the new Yahoo mail format but my personal experience so far can be classified under the ‘tearing hair out of the roots’ segment.
 
Frankly, I was not going to change. Then I was tricked into it. While contemplating something deep at work, I clicked on Yahoo mail and noticed an ‘Upgrade, you unsuspecting moron’ button but no ‘Don’t Upgrade, you cautious user’ button.
 
I upgraded.

And clearly landed in some beta version with yours truly being one of the first users.
 
Every single mail I clicked, I was presented with the message that the mail was temporarily not available. This would not have mattered so much had I been checking one of the ten forwards I get daily. Unfortunately these are also the last days for filing IT returns and I have been engaged in furious correspondence with my auditor. Not the best time to be a beta user.
 
Incidentally a friend sent a forward that assessed one’s personality based on one’s email servicer. Apparently Yahoo users are yokels who usually WRITE THEIR MESSAGES ALL IN CAPS. I protested but not anymore.
 
In other internet news, I have been alarmed by the levels of mediocrity to which Facebook’s entertainment value has shrunk. People have started bombarding FB with all sorts of random messages and posters. There was one that especially puzzled me

“Falling in love is like jumping off a high rise. Your head says you will die but your heart says you will fly”

At first sight this looks like your usual gag-worthy poster. Then you give it a second glance and realize it is quite Nietzsche-like in the bleakness of its message. Falling in love can have happy endings sometimes. But everytime you jump off a high-rise, chances are you find your innards splattered on a concrete floor or at the very least break a limb. No matter how much your heart is flying. Does that mean falling in love is a suicidal endevaour? I would have been admiring the person for this underhanded manner of laughing at people who produce mushy posters were it not for the fact that the person concerned is a leading perpetuator of this crime. If you are being mushy, atleast stop to think a wee bit.

There is also a new function on FB that allows people to let the whole world know what they are reading. Presumably one uses it alert the world to all the intelligent and interesting stories they are reading. Except that most stories are along the lines of ‘Will Saif and Kareena marry this year?’ thereby possibly destroying a carefully cultivated intellectual veneer. Unless of course you belong to the post-the-posters category in which case people will just nod their heads and say ‘what else will she read’. See, no happy ending again.

Luckily I have finally learned how to block updates from specific senders and also block specific messages. Suddenly my FB space has opened up to accommodate the less prolific but vastly more interesting people who post something that I actually enjoy.

Which means I am also tempted to be a lot more active on FB. However as a lot of FB users have realized, it is difficult to be a hands-on FB user without giving away a lot about yourself, whether it be by way of hard data or just preferences and opinions. So for now, I continue to enjoy the relative anonymity of the blog.
 
Or so I think
 

19-Jul-2012

Back in those days


The 84-year old granny was visiting a few weekends ago. D, as usual, gave a warm welcome and promptly retreated into one of the rooms while Grandma and I caught up on family gossip and so on. Eventually the conversation turned to the time when she was a young mother.

Grandma was married to Grandpa, who was employed in a humble, transferable and low paying government job. She had to manage the household with practically no help in every new town/village they lived in. Which back then seemed to have involved a lot of physical labour given the lack of equipment (think mixie, fridge, washing machine, grinder, vacuum cleaner, aqua guard, microwave, oven etc).

Like all women her generation, Grandma also began to have kids as soon as she got married. A process that went on to the end of her reproductive years.

Her first three boys were born within a span of 4 – 5 years

‘Good Lord’, I asked ‘How did you manage the house and three boys?’

Grandma thought and said ‘I spent a lot of time before and after the baby in my mother’s house. I would usually come back only when I thought I could manage’

Then she added, ‘But yes it was getting to be tough managing the three of them’.

I could understand. My dad and uncles are hyperactive even today.

She continued ‘So I kept the elder one with me and sent off the other two to be brought up by my mom’

I rolled my eyes, aghast. ‘And?’ I asked.

‘And’ she continued, ‘they studied there till high school, I think’. Details which she sort of knew but being busy with the other kids that came after, she really did not fuss about.

Apparently she did not worry much about the children developing ‘attachment issues’. Infact I am quite confident that she must not have heard of the concept. As long as they were taken care of by a loving adult and were well-fed, she seemed to have been quite ok about where they were. This way, they got some attention, she got some respite and there was peace all around.

This story came back to me when I was going through the comments about the new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s impending maternity leave. As expected some people had pointed out that the only way the CEO would be able to manage in her new job would be through hiring a nanny and letting someone else bring up the kid. Naturally there were a lot of remarks about what a bad mother that would make her.

Then I thought of my dad, uncles and aunt, all in their 50s and 60s, leading ordinary normal lives with nothing more than the usual share of angst and joy.

Perhaps our generation has given motherhood such an apple-pie sheen that we forget it is just another job to do and each one does what works best for her and her child.

13-Jul-2012

Mum's the word

Mom and Dad are staying with us just now. Mom is in the midst of reminding me why there is quite nothing like mom’s cooking.

The timing could not have been better. The bai (maid cum cook) has usually churned out good food. Unfortunately she has been going through a low phase and has become incapable of producing anything edible on a consistent basis. While I have put it down to bad spirits and am waiting for a recovery, I have also been starving a bit given my lack of interest in the kitchen and D’s lack of time and inclination to do anything less than a perfect dish.

So the arrival of mom is as welcome as can be.

The magic began almost as soon as she arrived. One evening of eating dosas made from the unfermented batter stocked in the house had wizened her to our drastic situation. Stocking fresh, edible batter was a matter accorded great priority. Since then breakfast or dinner has been a series of hot and soft idlis or hot and crisp dosas. This is usually accompanied by atleast two side dishes (a far cry from our habit of just eating podi or pickle). For variation, she has thrown in adai, puri/bhaji. Lunch or dinner is no longer a boring affair with thick dal, random sabzi and rotis dry from being stocked in the fridge. Rotis are made fresh and again accompanied by a variety of side dishes. I get veggies and packed rice for lunch – lemon, coconut, sambar, tamarind. My colleagues have caught onto the taste and can barely wait for me to make my polite offer to sample the fare . To top it all, I also get a light snack when I get home – puttu, idiappam, vadai, bajjis. If there is no hot snack (and there is no danger of that yet), there are always the readymade snacks which the dad has thoughtfully brought from home – thattais, chips, mixture.

Weekend meals are more special. Last Sunday was a perfect ten when the visiting 84-year old granny presided over the cooking and produced mouth watering mutton dishes (mutton kozhambu, kola urundai, mutton rasam). Mom added to the melee with her chicken curry. The poor bai, sadly no longer a force to compete with, produced a veggie that had become over ripe and could not be eaten and quick substitutes had to be found for the vegetarian uncle and cousin who had been invited. The rest of us were too busy gorging to care that all they had to eat was rice and beetroot.

Mom has been here less than a week and already my life is a gastronomic heaven. Of course, the thought that haunts me is what happens when the folks go back home.

It will be back to bai’s cooking which I am hoping would get inspired and improve.  And going back to letting my mouth water while the Sis sends me detailed mails of how Mom is in fine form these days.

Which is probably why I have thrown all caution to the winds and am eating like there is no tomorrow.

Burp.

p.s. The Mom thinks that some day I shall produce such delectable stuff and has stored all her recipes here -  http://malarumninaivugal.blogspot.sg/

04-Jul-2012

Borrowed books


Thanks to the circulating library I have discovered in my neighbourhood, I have suddenly had the pleasure of reading a whole lot of books I did not really want to own. They are not bad books but I really don’t see myself reaching out for a copy to re-read or even gaze at it lovingly to think how much pleasure I had while reading it.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R.Martin – The book came highly recommended by P, and then J. It had been a while since I had sat down to lose myself in a fantasy series, and the book was much welcomed. Especially since I had only recently become aware of how many games, TV shows etc this book seems to have created.

The book itself was quite entertaining. Told from the points of view of different characters, it spans an area that covers the cold North and goes down to the Southern seat of the ruling kings and further below. The focus is largely on the northern based, Stark family. When the king requests Eddard Stark to take up a position in the court down South, a chain of events is set in motion. Needless to say, passions run high, betrayals are strife and the story takes major twists and turns. In between there are events happening beyond the Northern wall. Also, the surviving heirs of the erstwhile ruling family are in free lands.
 
When the story ended, I was craving for more and promptly borrowed the second book in the series

A Clash of Kings by George R.R.Martin – The book begins with the civil war for the king’s throne. As the war progresses, the general garb of civilization deteriorates. There is no sanctity attached to one’s position, noble or otherwise and most characters can only hope not to fall into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the warring clans, the activity beyond the Wall has become more eerie. This book is a lot darker than the previous one.

By the time, I ran through this book, my enthusiasm for the series had dimmed considerably. Personally, I think that each book in a series should have a segment neatly wrapped, while keeping the main theme alive for the next book. The Lord of the Rings did that well (maybe except for Part 2, which was mostly a journey, connecting books 1 and 3). Harry Potter does it well. This series, on the other hand, falters here and hopes that the reader, after 1000 pages can still focus on the main storyline, without having the satisfaction of atleast one segment completed.

There is still a part 3 to go but I am going to wait a while before I get there.

After this I wanted to read something that I knew would reach some sort of conclusion at the end of the book. So the long neglected The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai was picked up. This book was yet another reco by P and J. Infact both had gifted it for a birthday knowing fully well that since I was not particularly impressed by the author, I would not buy the book left to my own devices. At that time, Kiran Desai had been all over the news with her Booker prize and her annoying giggle. Besides, I had just read her mother, Anita Desai’s Fasting and Feasting and considered it terribly over rated and assumed that the daughter must surely be too.

Oh well. As these things turn out, I quite enjoyed the book and the writing style. There are two parallel stories in the book, that of Sai and Biju. Sai lives in Darjeeling with her rather aloof grandfather, Jemubhai Patel. Having studied in England, and having picked up a culture that alienates him from his known world, Jemubhai is happy to have succumbed to the life of a pucca gentleman in an alien place, till orphaned Sai appears at his doorstep. He tolerates her presence and the young Sai grows up with no real sense of her identity. Meanwhile, their cook’s son Biju, has ended up as an illegal immigrant in America. He realizes that this is the best shot that life is going to offer him to make money and be a success but learns that being poor, illegal and away from home is not a happy state of affairs. In the background of all this is the Gorkha agitation for their own land. Sai and Biju try to make the best of their separate but similar situations.

The author is particularly gifted when it comes to observations about how people live and think. Worth a read.

Arranged Marriage by Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee – A collection of short stories, most of which have to do with arranged marriages and living overseas. A lot of immigrant stories one may have heard before, redeemed by the author’s ability to narrate them differently. A quick and pleasant read.

Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro – R had recommended this book a while ago and Z surprised me by showing up with her copy of this book during a recent visit.

It is such a good feeling when you discover an author whose writing style you fall in love with at the word go and Alice Munro was clearly going to be such an author for me (Thanks R and Z).

The short stories are set in small town Canada and revolve around the daily lives of people populating these areas. It is amazing how small town stories often tend to be similar. Yet Munro gives it a strong Canadian flavour and paints such vivid pictures of the characters that you can almost see into their heads. I enjoyed each story, losing myself in them and savouring them long after I had finished. Comfortingly enough, the characters all don’t come to a sticky end (my greatest worry when I find a good writer is that they will end up writing depressing stories). You find a mix of the good and the not-so-good which is what the real world is usually about.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth – So right after I read this book to remind me that even a great author may not have books that will consistently interest me. Vikram Seth tells us the story of his grand-uncle, Shanti Behari Seth who was married to a German, Hennerle (Henny for short) and lived in London. Shanti’s story is quite interesting in itself. He studied in Germany, and then served in the British Corps in the WWII as a dentist. Henny, whom he had met in Germany, meanwhile escaped the Jewish persecution in Germany but sadly her sister and mother did not.

Shanti’s story is unique since not too many people write about Indian dentists serving in WWII. Henny’s story, though tragic it is, does not offer any new insights into what it must have been living as a displaced German Jew in those times. However what could have been interesting is the story of them together but unfortunately it is not. This is partly because while the author is able to interview his uncle, his aunt is long dead before the research on the book begins. Seth tries to piece together her story based on a bunch of letters he discovers well after her death. Also, Henny herself never confided into her husband about the trauma of having suffered the loss that she did. Even what intimacy there must have been is not captured. So you can never get a clear picture of how the relationship between the two was.

The most interesting nugget of information I learnt was that a lot of the key characters in Seth’s masterpiece, A Suitable Boy was based on his own family. Mrs Mehra was drawn based on his maternal grandmother, Lata was probably his mother and Haresh was definitely based on his father. This is by no means new information to anyone who had bothered to do a Google search but I was delighted to find out more about one of my favourite books. I would have loved to meet the Chatterji family!

I must say borrowing books has been good for my reading given that I enjoyed most of the books I read. Not to mention, it is always wonderful to have friends who point you towards interesting books leading to limited downside risk of a bad book and the chance to discover good books.