July 14, 2011

Barb Wire

No, I don’t mean the movie that is basically Casablanca in a dystopian future, with Pam Anderson as Bogart.

I mean the real thing- in all its pointy glory.

My worst barb wire memory involves a bicycle. There I was, learning to cycle on a leafy University campus. I rode downhill, and felt confident enough to negotiate a sharp turn. At the crucial moment, I froze and couldn't turn or brake. As I went hand-first-to-avoid-going-face-first into a fluffy hedge, I expected it to gently break my fall, in a planty sort of way. But the university campus that I was cycling in had decided to put barb wire inside the hedge, just for fun to lacerate the tongues of passing cows.

You can imagine the result- the cycle was in two pieces, joined tenuously by the brake cables. My right palm was in similar shape. I was rushed home and taken to the nearest doctor. On a Sunday evening, that was a piles clinic. (You probably didn’t imagine that part.) They were kind enough to clean the wound and point us in the direction of a less-specialized, and less piley doctor. Who happened to be one that believed that doctors over-prescribe, and the body has natural healing process that will holistically self-heal. So no stitches for me. At the end of a week, when the bandages were removed, I found I had an angry scar along my palm. This led to two outcomes- the first was that in the years to come, I found that a sharp tap on the scar led to a shooting pain along my right hand. And second- throughout my childhood I could never claim that I had stitches. (This was an important talking point for children in the 90s).

Last week, Johhny Hoogerland reminded me of my accident. (He was hit by a car seconds before this, while cycling at high speed).

Pic source: Yahoo

In conclusion- barb wire bad. Stop hiding it in hedges. Stop using it to hem in pastures. Just stop using it. And don't call me babe.

May 17, 2011

Not quite Cinderella

The other shoe lies somewhere at the bottom of the Kundalika river, along with one earring and some of my skin.

After falling out of a raft at the start of a Grade 4 rapid, I think I'm going to go ahead and stop thinking of white water rafting as a Disney ride.

April 18, 2011

Filmi filmi, wizard howl

Two days, two deaths.
March 26th- Diane Wynne Jones
March 27th- H R F Keating

I have read one book by each of them, and seen a movie based on one of their books. Coincidence?

The Perfect Murder was of course, neither perfect, nor a murder. It was a murderous attack on Mr. Perfect, the Parsi secretary at a South Bombay business house. Naseer, fat family tycoons, suspicious wives and daughters in law in low-cut Merchant Ivory type sari blouses, the monsoon... I remembered the movie and the author because Keating had written the initial Inspector Ghote books without ever visiting India.

Years later, the Herr Doktor gifted me Filmi Filmi, Inspector Ghote- a murder mystery on a film-set with movie stars, agents, fat financiers, light boys with ambitions to finance movies, all under suspicion. The set was set in Kamaal Amrohi studios, on JVLR (Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road, obviously) which I drove past every single time I visited Mumbai as a chile. The filmy characters even picnic in Powai, where I now live. Knowing an area that a book is set in.. joy! After all, the only thing I liked about The White Tiger was its opening line with the office address of a BPO transport agency near Electronic City, off Hosur Main Road. Ahhh, I thought.. Hosur Road, where the bison freely roam...

And then there was Ms. Wynne Jones, who should be read for her mad photograph alone. Howl's Moving Castle is of course, brilliant. It's funny, charming young adult fantasy fiction with clever bits that make you re-read the book. The movie is beautiful, as behooves young Mr Miyazaki, but it can't help but miss out on the plot twists. So I'd recommend watching it only if you aren't going to read the book. Which would be silly.

Among other series, Wynne Jones also wrote about a school for young wizards (long before she who must not be named). The Chrestomanci series. Wonderful stuff, strongly recommended for young adults. Although.. I haven't read any of them yet- I freely admit.

HRF would have approved.

April 07, 2011

Plane sailing

Heading for a long flight on a budget airline? Going to be in the train for more than 24 hours? What keeps you awake at night a week before leaving? What's the last thing you do before locking the door? Paranoid types turn off the gas, those with sensitive systems go for Pre-Departure-P/ P-D-Poo . My personal idiosyncrasy is obsessing over journey reading material. Of course, if I'm going on holiday, there's a whole separate obsession about holiday reading, but this is not the blob post for that.

The ideal journey book is light and entertaining, but not too gripping, so I can let go of it and nap, if needed. And not too frothy or reread 500 times- one doesn't want to be seen publicly as the Girl with the Georgette Heyer. One week before the journey, I buy the perfect book. Three days before leaving, I finish reading it. Two days before leaving, I'm filled with rage and panic at being reduced once more to a nothing-to-read situation. The day before leaving I scramble and pack something that's sat around the house, unread. An hour before leaving, I remove the unread book, look around for a better one, don't find anything, repack the unread one and add another book that is dull/ fat/ both. O Pamuk's Snow has been that unread book. Twice. And on two flights I have gnashed my teeth and breathed deeply all over the sleeping spouse to wake him up and entertain me because I couldn't bear Ka (narrator) in perpetual kar (snow) in Kars (town) anymore.

While my ideal book (yes, it’s still a book, no kindle/ Ipad here) for the journey is usually fiction, there has been the occasional brilliantly researched and Guha-written exception.

I have twice stumbled on a book which fuses with the journey into one inseparable experience.

Item 1. NYC on a Friday evening, waiting for the Amtrak to DC
I got there early with some sort of international-people-can-use-multiple-times pass, stood in a LONG line to book a seat and then waited without anywhere to sit for a LONG time for my train, as the next few trains were full up. Edging away from the mass of New Yorkers who were beginning to resemble Dadar commuters waiting for the Deccan Queen while the 6:50 fast to Virar arrived at the same platform, I drifted into a bookshop. Umberto Eco’s How to travel with a salmon deposited itself into my waiting hands and opened to a page that read,

“American trains are the image of what the world might be like after an atomic war. It isn’t that the trains don’t leave, it’s that often they don’t arrive, having broken down en route, causing people to wait during a six-hour delay in enormous stations, icy and empty, without a snack bar, inhabited by suspicious characters, and riddled with underground passages that recall the scenes in the New York subways in Return to the Planet of the Apes. The line between New York and Washington, patronized by newspaper reporters and senators, in first class offers at least business-class comfort, with a tray of hot food worthy of a university dining hall. But the other lines have filthy coaches, with eviscerated leatherette cushions, and the snack bar offers food that makes you nostalgic (you’ll say I’m exaggerating) for the recycled sawdust you are forced to eat on the Milan-Rome express.”

(found the quote here. My google skills never fail to amaze you)

Umby was exaggerating, of course. I know why, though. He had probably had to wait as long as I did. And while grateful for the little metal bars below the seat in front of you that are such a help for weary long-legged travellers, he’d also probably found that they are mysteriously absent on the train that brings you back from Washington to NYC. And it wasn’t just in my train that they were missing- I asked around.

Item 2
That was then. More recently, I boarded a Bom-Del flight- Indian Airlines it was. Or Air India. Or Apache Indian. Or whatever they’re calling it these days. Plumped onto seat, kursi-ki-peti-d and de-shoed. My seat-neighbour quickly described her living situation – married, no kids, joint family, great cook for parties. As we waited for a late passenger to board, she asked me for my phone number*. My reading material proved hefty enough to silence her for a while- Trotter Nama packs a literal punch.

The captain announced that the flight was delayed, and I began the book. The narrator, for those of you who haven’t read it, started with a chat to a seat-neighbour on an Indian Airlines flight, explaining his strategy of getting onto the plane at the last moment, to score an upgrade.. and well, I don’t remember the rest of it, but I was struck by the coincidence. Struck enough to tell her about it. Turns out she was “into books, but only by Chetan Bhagat”**. Mid-way through the flight, she took out her phone to check the time. And this was before the days of the iphone with its airplane mode. Eyes almost falling out of my sockets, I hurried into an explanation of the potential dangers, the accidents that had led to the cellphone ban and as a post-script- the lack of concrete evidence, as well as current thinking that the ban was more for cellphone companies than airline safety. She smiled indulgently, patted me on the head and turned it off to pacify me. The book Trotters onto an incident in a hot-air balloon that ends in grisly fashion. It is not mentioned explicitly, but I sense that an annoying co-passenger with a cell phone is involved. Sub text is everything!

And finally, I should note that I actually finished reading the Pamuk. Didn't buy the Eco. And Trotter has now occupied the spot vacated by Snow.

*How to deal with this without giving rise to massive sulks for the next 2 hours, and more importantly, without feeling embarrassed and guilty? This is particularly difficult if the askee is same sex/ at a community event /doesn’t seem to be asking for fraansip reasons.
I just gave the woman my number, because I was too slow to think of a way out. It’s not a bad strategy though- the kind of people who randomly ask you for your number probably do it to so many people that your number is lost in their database. I hope.

**Far be it from me to be a book snob, but it just goes to show you, doesn’t it?

March 18, 2011

Prelude to a Sunday

Feral children roam the streets. The ones that are alone press themselves against walls and duck behind parked cars, hoping not to be seen by neighbourhood gangs. Some are armed with seemingly innocuous plastic bags filled with a transparent liquid. Tiny, but in the right hands- deadly. Others strut around carrying weapons, with ammo strapped to their backs. The little uns fight their battles, while the old uns walk past, unthinking. Two days from now, they won't be able to ignore the mayhem.
Holi hai indeed!

March 09, 2011

How not to review books

A few books on running that I've been gifted. Thanks, N!

-What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami
"First Murakami I've read where nobody is obsessed about ironing or suicide"
Read this a year ago. It's very re-visitable. Murakami turns out to be just the kind focused, early-sleeping, successful runner I imagined him to be.

- Why we run- A natural history by Bernd Heinrich
"Most Misleading Book title and cover picture"
I expected a book in the manner of Dr Tatiana. Instead, I got a male German Jane Eyre becoming a runner at a Lowood-type school in New England, while discovering iridiscent beetles all over the place.

- Running and Philosophy- Michael Austin (ed)
"Why Kant I run after hitting a training Plato?"
Am running out of clever ways to characterize books. The book does what it says.

February 16, 2011

Auroville Marathon 2011: You'll never run hungry again!

Or rather: if all you do is run the auroville half marathon, you'll never go hungry again. I'm back from a blogging breag and happy to report that Auroville is the best half marathon I've ever run. Why?

1. The company- first official half-marathon for N. The obligatory fun and games associated with training together, almost not getting to the venue on time, celebrating the end of the run, limping up and down the hotel stairs together.. Also had fun training through the year with my Mumbai running buddy and meeting runners from Bangalore and Chennai. I liked the whooshing sound they made as they flew by.

2. The course: Green and windy as it cuts through the spiralled canopy of trees, beautiful houses, pony paddock, schools and gigantic golden orb that is auroville. It's a trail, so was probably kinder on the knees than concrete, though the uneveness may have caused a lil damage of its own. Tough spots: an uphill sandy patch. and the last 2km without shade.

(Great pic, no? Not mine. Not this year either. From here)

3.The weather: perfect. The morning was cold, specially for those who had ridden in on rented Honda Activas.

4. The organisation: flawless. Water stops regularly, friendly volunteers, cyclist and drumming encouragers, course well-marked, tshirts at the end, and apparently some massages at the finish that I didn't bother with because of..

5. The food: Each aid stop (every 3km they said, but seemed more frequent) had the obligatory water, electral (which N said tasted like vodka, in a bad way. Electral complex?),sliced bananas, oranges, glucose biscuits, sliced five-stars, peanut chikki. and some pain management stuff. Did I mention that bananas, oranges, bikkies, chocolate and chikki are all major weaknesses? throw in some chips and you're looking at my birthday party!

Guess who ate too much en route and probably slowed down at the end because she felt a tad bloaty?

Post-run, they had laid out a breakfast of tea, unpolished rice cooked with whole peppercons, sambhar and vadai. There was a humongous line for the food, but by dint of hanging around in a totally different part of the field and looking pathetic, a new food table conjured itself in front of us and food was dispensed with very quickly.

6. Post- post-run- we returned to our hotel in Pondicherry with a large number of stairs (ow ow ow ow ow) and a restaurant under a mango tree. a nap and then a supposedly french, but actually italian brunch was consumed very slowly over 3 hours.

Dinner was tiffin- dosai with three types of chutney and sambar the likes of which those pune udipi joints with their watery red liquid can only dream of..

Oh and the run wasn't bad either.