10 April, 2014

My Day With Tom...

This is the profile picture of the neighbourhood stray.

Actually, from the amount of time he spends in our yard, you could call him ours!

To date, he has not asked for/ stolen from our kitchen and I have never offered him food/drink. But, I have given him a name..... the most unimaginative 'TOM'.

As usual, one morning last week, I heard some neighbours yelling 'shoos' and kids hollering out exaggerated 'miaows'.......and, I knew.... Tom would now come to his safest haven - our yard! On a sudden whim, I decided to  keep track of the time he spent here.....




 I first found Tom at around 9.30 a.m- comfortably settled under the Allamanda shrubs.








Some time later, he was eating  what I call 'Animal-grass'......

You know, dogs and cats eat this particular grass when they have indigestion..... self-medication!

Since I have caught Tom eating Animal-grass quite often, I'm inclined to believe that he gets a tummy-ache regularly!



Around noon, Tom was where I expected to find him.... in the porch.

Here, he can stay away from the sun for long stretches.....and, that's exactly what he does!



A little later, at high noon, it seems to me that NOTHING can disturb Tom....

Take a look at him!

What I wouldn't give for a siesta like that!





 Alas! Tracking Tom isn't doing me any good........

Towards evening, when I water the plants, Tom's sleepy mood remains unchanged... Only, the spot and his posture has changed.

By now, I'm tempted to hose him down with a jet of water.





Even though I have never done that, Tom doesn't trust me.


He shifts from the ground and climbs on to the wall.

Hmph! Stupid cat!! If I wanted to, I could still give him a wash!!

From the expression on his mug, it seems like this is his last lap of sleep.

And, I'm right! A couple of minutes later as I take off for my daily beat, he's gone - without even thanking me for allowing him to spend the entire day undisturbed! Well..... his day has just begun!

You know, it is so sultry and hot this year that ideally, I would love to spend my days lazing about, doing nothing. And, this fat cat is doing exactly that - right under my nose!!

I think, I'm jealous........................

21 March, 2014

Live... and let live

 Conducting a research on lizards?        
 Short on them??
 Feel free to drop into my office-cum-study. At any point of time, you'll find at least one on the  wall.

 Right now, a little one is playing 'catch-me-if-you-can' with an adult!



Actually, the word 'lizard' sounds so unemotional and scientific. I prefer the Hindi chipkali... it sounds slimy and creepy - and, suits the creature better!

 Not that I haven't tried to chase the chipkalis away....I have tried every kind of repellant - from the commercially available stuff to placing peacock feathers at vantage points... and failed.

Now, my teenager tells me that her friend has a surefire solution - to write Kaanchi Maharaja all over the walls - mind you, it should be written in Kannada with chalk!

After having a good laugh (alone) at this one, I began to wonder..................................................

Maybe, lizards find it hard to move over chalk-dust?
If so, writing 'Stupid Chipkali' should work just as well as ಕಾಂಚಿ ಮಹಾರಾಜ!  Or, perhaps some artistic chalk-doodle all over the wall!

Well! I will not write on the walls, and, I see a major drawback with the last one - within a few days, the art will disintegrate and you-know-who will have the unpleasant task of cleaning the walls/ re-doing the art-work!

Some years ago, I had read an article by Maneka Gandhi... about why one should be nice to the chipkalis... They keep the house free from cockroaches, spiders and other keeday-makoday by eating them and are thus good for the general well-being of the human home.

 Since she is right, I have adopted her attitude. It is an attitude that we  'old - B'loreans' can sum up without beating round the bush....  'Swalpa adjust maadi' !!

15 February, 2014

Chillies, courtesy N


Some months ago, I had introduced you to N.

Well... N is someone I run into quite often. Every time, our interaction is restricted to smiles - a benign one from my side, and a shy one from his.


This morning, N's dad dropped in and gave me these chillies - sent by N from the patch that he has been cultivating near his home. I was quite touched, and glad!

There are exactly eight chillies.... enough for more than a week! And, anyone who has used chillies can tell - these are 'export-quality'!

I must confess here.... even though I have been managing a couple of chilli plants in our kitchen garden, I end up harvesting what remains after the crows and the bulbuls have had their party.

I guess, N has whatever it takes to make a good farmer.

Maybe, I should encourage him by giving him some of the vegetable seeds that I have .................... and, then, hope and pray that he gives me some of the results!!

08 February, 2014

Shantaram


This book gave me my first nightmare in recent memory! And, no.... I'm not referring to the 933 pages!!

So much has already been written about Shantaram - 'powerful', 'original', 'vivid', 'compassionate', 'impressive', 'publishing phenomenon', 'extraordinarily vivid', 'gigantic, jaw-dropping, grittily authentic saga', ..... the book is all of these!

Many people out there feel that it is one of the better books written about Bombay - the city. Maybe, it is. In fact, people who are familiar with the Bombay of the '80s will be able to tell the facts from the fiction. They'll, perhaps, recognise some of the people in the book.....

Shantaram was meant to be my 'monsoon-book'. But, I started reading it sometime in December. After the first 200 pages or so, things became a little hectic and I picked up the book again last week....and, read a major portion on a very lonely day.

In the book, the author talks about acting as an extra in a few Hindi movies. He mentions one movie and his two second role in particular - a movie called Paanch Paapi. I took a break from reading and checked out the song sequence on you Tube. There!  Between 1.37 & 1.40.... that's the author.... a real chor, sitting with fake chors & comfortably nodding to the lyrics 'gora chor' !!!

I lost interest in the song after '1.40'. From the list of 'suggested views', I chose the interview with the author uploaded by CNN Asia sometime in 2009!

A well made interview, I watched all the 4 parts at one go - because the author revisits some of the places in the book. You know, throughout the book and in the interview, Gregory David Roberts, the author, talks about a clinic he used to run in the slum where he lived ..... something that is contradicted here.

 I had read most of the book, related articles, and, watched the videos on that single day. At around 3 a.m, I woke up - just as 'gora chor' was gaining on me with a fearsome expression on his face... wielding knives in a fist-like grip, edges pointed towards me (That's the best way to hold a knife if you are fighting someone - Shantaram gyaan).......................................................................... An overdose of the book and the author?? Powerful story-telling?? A bit of both, I guess!!

Apart from this nightmare, the book has given me/ continues to give me some creepy thoughts - mostly about foreigners lingering around in India (No offence meant here... just that all of them in this book are involved in criminal activities of varying degrees), and our own cops (for looking away and allowing so much to happen.... extremely offended here).

Otherwise, Shantaram, for me, is the exceptional story of a survivor, the re-birth of a fallen individual.

P.S : Since Bombay has given so much to the author, he spends a considerable part of his year there - giving back something to the city that gave him everything...... For more on that, you can go to his official website here.



 



07 December, 2013

Tender Coconut Dosa

Last month, as Alter Idem turned four, I realised that so far, I have not written anything about cooking. Maybe, I should count this one as a post with some cooking....

Actually, cooking is such an inexhaustible topic that I know what I'll do. Whenever I feel like writing a post, and can't think of something interesting, I'll share an indigenous recipe......

 I'll begin with my all-time favourite dosa - the Tender Coconut Dosa.



To serve about 2-3 people, you will need 3 cups
of rice - washed and soaked for a couple of hours; 2 1/2 to 3 cups of tender coconut pieces - the kind that's too raw to be used in dishes and too fleshy to be eaten as it is; salt to taste.








Grind all the ingredients to a fine batter. Add enough water to arrive at a paint-like consistency.   
This batter shouldn't be allowed to ferment.
In fact, the left-over batter should be immediately refridgerated. 




Spread the batter evenly on a warm griddle. Cover with a lid. After a minute on medium flame, remove the lid, turn over & cook for another minute. Before turning over, you can add a little ghee - for the extra flavour and taste!

That's all! Quite a simple one, right?! The only difficulty is in procuring the coconut that's just right!

You know, when this dosa is being made, there's a heavenly aroma around. If you could stimulate virtual smell, by now you'd be feeling very hungry!

Tender Coconut dosa tastes good with chutney/ sambaar/ jam/ honey/ chutney-powder/... anything. One popular accompaniment is what a foodie friend of mine refers to as Jag-Coco mix. I think, I'll call it Coco-Jag mix!

Coco-Jag mix , like the name suggests is a mixture of grated coconut & scraped jaggery. Adjust the proportions to suit your taste.
Since we don't like it very sweet here, I mix about 1/2 a cup of grated coconut with a little more than 1/4 cup of scraped jaggery. And, a dash of powdered cardamom - for extra flavour.

My mother was a huge fan of Coco-Jag mix. She would mix in some thin poha (beaten rice) with left-over Coco-Jag mix and relish it as a snack between meals.

Instead of tender coconut, you can grind any finely chopped vegetable like carrot/ ridge gourd/ bottle gourd/ raw or ripe banana/ raw or ripe jackfruit/ chayote/ salad or sambaar cucumber/ ash gourd,.... with rice and salt and make dosas. It is one of the easiest ways to introduce your children to vegetables. Consider the water content in the vegetable while adding water to make the batter.

There! I had intended to share one recipe and have ended up sharing four!!

 Like I said before... cooking is an inexhaustible topic!!


13 November, 2013

Quattuor!

Yes!! Alter idem is four today!

As usual, to celebrate, I'll share a short story. You know, normally, I share the first story that comes to my mind as I begin to write the 'anniversary-post'. This time, I decided to rack my brains to remember something unusual and less known.......

 After some serious thinking, one of my favourite writers, Oscar Wilde, came to my rescue!  I had read this story about 5 years ago in an anthology of short stories written in the 19th century. Since I have forgotten the names of the characters, I'll call them X, Y & Z ('Maths-style'!).

X, an idle aristocrat is snacking in one of Paris' street cafes when his friend Y joins him - with the complaint that he does not understand women. The sagely X tells Y that women are meant to be loved and not understood, and offers to solve Y's 'love - problem'....
 At this, Y shows X a picture of Z and asks for his opinion. The expert that he is, X concludes that there is something mysterious about the beautiful Z.......
And, Y tells the story.... 

One day, while walking down a fashionable street, Y sees an interesting face and is smitten by her.

Now, if you have read stories/ articles written about the Victorian era, you will be aware that the aristocrats of that era led an idle life revolving around fashion, parties, plays, socialising and romance. At one such party, Y meets Z and learns that she is a widow. Over the next couple of days, Y runs into Z at a few more parties. Even though Z does not seem averse to Y's attentions, she keeps him at a distance. This makes Y more and more curious and he ends up falling deeply in love with Z.

One evening, Y is scheduled to meet Z at her house. The same noon, after lunching with a friend in another part of the town, Y sees Z - moving about quite furtively. Since Z hasn't seen him, Y decides to snoop on her. Z enters a house and locks the door behind her... but, not before dropping her handkerchief.

In the evening, Z receives Y and tells him that she has been indoors all day. This lie upsets Mr.Lover-boy who has dropped in with the intention of proposing to Z. He exposes her lie, gives her a piece of his mind and storms out of the house and out of the town for a few days. On returning, Y learns that during his absence, Z had died of some illness.

Y is shattered and out of sheer curiosity, goes to the house that he saw Z go into. The house turns out to be a sort of boarding house. From the land-lady, Y learns that Z would often drop in and spend some lonely hours there - meeting no one and doing absolutely nothing........

After giving him this background, Y asks X to come up with an explanation for Z's strange ways.
X is quick -  maybe, he understood women!! He concludes that the lonely Z had some kind of a mental illness -  pretending to be a secretive person leading a mysterious life. He sums her up as a sphinx without a secret..... which, is also the title of the story...

 Unlike other stories by Oscar Wilde, this is a story that seems open-ended. It leaves you wondering if Z had a secret... Had she seen Y and dropped that hanky on purpose? Was she fond of Y as well? If she hadn't died??

 
 'Sphinx' is a term used to describe a secretive person.
In Greek mythology, sphinx is a monster with the body of a lion & the head and torso of a woman. This monster poses unanswerable questions to young men and eats them up when they fail to answer. Finally, when one young man answers, she kills herself....

Now, doesn't this story seem like an inspired version of that mythological tale??  


 You know, after writing this post, I thought of Oscar Wilde and decided to check if the net had a collection of his witticisms..... no disappointment there, of course!

To my surprise, I also discovered that this story can be read online - here.

  And, I thought I was sharing a story that was hard to come by!!!


  

25 September, 2013

Helplessness.....

We have not yet seen the end of the monsoon here. Even though it has been raining everyday, there is some sunshine between showers. After a break of nearly four months, it is time for me to get back to gardening.

Every year, after the heavy rains, the garden looks haggard and unkempt because of the lack of attention. With every passing year, it has been getting more and more difficult to find someone to pull out the weeds and do the other menial tasks. This year, as I was mulling over some  probable candidates, I thought of N.

Though he looks to be about 15, N is 18 years old. I know that because about 2-3 years ago, I saw his date of birth on his marks card. Class 10 results were out and N was refusing to go to school to check his results. Someone told his dad that these days, one could check them online and he came to me with the register number, requesting me to check N's 'pass-fail'.

Of course, I wasn't expecting great marks, but I didn't think N would be this bad! It was one of the toughest moments of my life.... to look at N's dad's face and tell him that his son had scored 61 out of 625 in Class 10. Well.... after that N refused to have anything to do with studies. He started working as an odd-job man, thus adding Rs.250/ day to his family's income.

 N  came here on a day when I couldn't afford to hover around as he was working. After giving him very detailed instructions, I could only hope that he would follow them correctly.

 One of the customs in this town is to provide mid-morning and evening tea to people who work for you. As I gave him his tea, I checked out on how N was progressing. To my relief, he was doing quite well.  Suddenly, I realised the logic behind one of the govt.'s educational policies that I don't quite agree with.....................................

In Karnataka, all students in all govt. schools are promoted from Class 1 until they reach Class 10, irrespective of their performances in examinations. The freebies (uniforms, books, meals, and, a bicycle during the mid-term of Class 9) along with the absence of  the pressure to pass guarantees that almost every child goes to school  till he/ she turns 14 - the legal age for children to start  working.
Since the intention/ end result of all these incentives seems to be the eradication of child labour, I guess, I will have to accept the 'pass everyone'  policy. If only there was some other way to stop child labour.....

Since N lives nearby, he cycled down to his duties here. I got my first close look at the 'free cycle'.


Initially, bicycles were given only to girls from BPL families. Soon after, all the boys & girls studying in govt. schools were included in the scheme. This basic model from 'Atlas Cycles' has been the favoured model thro' the years.

The present govt. is continuing this scheme, with some changes. Boys will be given blue-coloured bicycles and girls, brown. Schools will soon stock air-pumps and some bicycle spare parts. And, of course, some crores have already been set aside.

Now, if you do some arithmetic, you will realise that there is a large difference between the estimated cost and the actual cost involved. More arithmetic including other states with such schemes will make you wonder if our economy will ever look up....  As it is, the govt. is cheating the tax-payer by churning out large numbers of knowledge-challenged children from its schools year after year. Do they have to over-charge us for the bicycles? I can only imagine the irregularities involved with the costs of uniforms, books, etc....

 Anyway...... I was quite happy with N's work. He had followed my instructions perfectly. Unfortunately, this feeling of contentment was not mutual. Nothing to do with me or the job, of course! Apparently, some of N's ex-classmates - on their way to college- saw him at work (Wonder what happened to their bicycles!). The boys jeered and the girls giggled, upsetting him thoroughly.

N has now decided not to take up such 'demeaning jobs'. He has already petitioned his dad for an auto-rickshaw. You don't have to pass Class 10 to get a license to drive an auto-rickshaw. So, all I can do until next year is hope that the boy changes his mind/ attitude.....



05 September, 2013

Views from Kundadri

One summer afternoon, we were returning home via the Tirthahalli- Agumbe road. Suddenly, we saw a signpost that said 'Kundadri - 7 kms'. Wonder how we had missed it during our previous journeys on this road!  Kundadri was one of the local places on our 'must-see-sometime' list. And, we decided to check it out this time.

Kundadri is a small mountain belonging to the Western Ghats range. Until a few years ago, trekking was the only way to reach the top. In order to make the Basadi (Jain temple) at the top  accessible to all, a businessman from Mumbai spent a few crores to build a narrow, motorable road. One still has to cover the last few metres  on foot.

See the 'Welcome' arch somewhere near the centre of this pic? That is how the diversion from the main road looks like from the top!

Since the sun was shining down brightly upon us, we decided to bide some time at the empty, shady parking zone. The others divided the newspaper and I reclined the seat to have a comfortable cat-nap.
I must have been in this blissful state of semi-sleep for about ten minutes when we were joined by about eight young men on 4-5 mo-bikes. After noting the local registration number on our vehicle, they gave us a once-over and made their way to the top. Obviously, they were regulars here...

Suddenly, another vehicle came up. As the occupants- 2 boys & 2 girls - got off the car, two laggards from the earlier group stopped to investigate. To me, they looked like  students from not-so-far Manipal. In fact, if betting was in fashion, I would put all my money behind my guess!!

Laggard 1: Lo! Ningyaavdo? (Hey! Which one will you have?)

Laggard 2 : Ibroo chennaagilla, maaraaya... (Both aren't good enough, man...)

The scoundrels, both of whom wouldn't have made it to the qualifying round of any beauty contest, carried on in this fashion for a couple of minutes. When their jibes drew absolutely no reactions, they went away - to join their friends.
Just wondering.... what would have happened if there was an altercation? We would have been forced to intervene? How does one handle unruly behaviour like this one??

Even though we were not involved, this incident had dispirited us. We needed a change of scene and we decided to go to the peak. The Manipal-set followed us and stayed a few metres behind us - probably, they felt safer....

After climbing about 70-80 steps, we were there! At the entrance, there is this beautiful pond - named 'Malathi'. You know, the water must have been quite warm... wonder how the fish manage!
 There is a parapet around this pond. But, I'm sure, some people will jump over the parapet - to get a good pic/ to partake this water as holy water,...
Let me tell you a folklore about this pond. Take it with a BIG pinch of salt, okay?
If you throw a lemon into this pond, it is supposed to re-surface at some other water body in the plains - many miles away (Sorry for forgetting the name of this second water-body)!

Right next to this pond, there is a small temple. No frills and fancies - only a cool, dark room with an idol of a Digambara monk. The lone priest, who treks everyday from the foothills, tells us that about 250-300 years ago, a wandering monk- Kundakacharya- decided to spend his last days here. The locals built this temple in his memory and named the hill after him. The talkative priest tells us a little about the management and the activities associated with the temple.

 After the customary aarati by the priest, we spent some time, drinking in the lingering fragrance of flowers & incense. The priest told us that we could take pics if we wanted to. One of the Manipal boys took a lot of pics and we decided to explore the surroundings....

From the other side of the temple, you can have a panoramic view of the landscape. It would be dangerous to get too close to the steep edge.
Once again I think of  people who will take the risks to get good pics - unmindful of the fact that a mishap could spoil the trip for everybody...

 A ramshackle building blocks the approach and the view from behind the temple.
In front of the temple, the mountain descends as a not-so-steep, rocky slope with patches of green puddles here and there....

After lounging about for a few minutes, we decided to leave. The Manipal group had left much before us. The bikers had vanished. There must be some niche out there that can be used as a hang-out.

You know, this visit to Kundadri was an eye-opener of sorts. Quite alarmingly, we realised the total lack of security in places like this. According to newspaper reports, these days Malnad's popular nooks and peaks have been encroached by vandalisers.  If the concerned govt. departments have failed to provide security, well... we should look after ourselves.

To all you people going to such places - Take care...



21 August, 2013

Chasing a bird....

Birds do not have ears .... but, I'm sure, they could hear each other.... the mother, and the baby-sunbird.... Let me explain....

Today, for the first time, I had to chase a bird from inside our home! I was cooking lunch and had to take a call at my home-office. On returning, I saw a tiny, panicky female sun-bird fluttering about in great confusion! It seemed like this little one had just learned how to fly... and, had somehow managed to give her mother the slip!
It was quite disturbing to watch the confusion.... the cheeping bird inside and the cheeping bird outside. If only I could speak the bird language.....

I was quite sure that the bird would be smart enough to catch wind movements, and opened all the windows. Alas! I was wrong....




Tired, after about twenty minutes of non-stop flying, she began to take tiny breaks on accessible (to me) ledges. That was when I decided to capture and release her....



You know, there is this plastic container in the kitchen that is a relic from my husband's bachelor days.

Within a couple of minutes, she was safely inside that container, and I released her near the Allamanda shrub - a favourite hangout of the sunbirds.





This incident took me back to the days when I would read out bed-time stories to my child. One of her favourite stories back then was about this naughty baby-squirrel. One morning, he takes off on his own, loses his way and has a lot of adventures before finally getting back to his mother - wiser, tired and glad to be home.

Here's hoping that this little birdie has found her mother and all is well!