13 November, 2012

Three years!

 As Alter Idem turns three today, I have been thinking about how it came to be......
It started out as one of the by-products of my lonely evenings, and continues to be that!

The name of the blog......
I had come across the term Alter Idem (meaning - 'the same, yet different') some years ago. It must have stayed in some corner of my mind. Because, it was one of the first names that came to me when I was thinking of a suitable name for my blog.

And, the picture on the header....
Travel anywhere in the Malnad between 8. a.m. & 10. a.m., and you will run into the cow/ goatherd with his wards. I have often wondered about the cowherd - have thought about how a profession that used to be represented by someone as multi-faceted as Lord Krishna has come to be represented by someone who's generally classified as 'good-for-nothing' !
Of course, they're a nuisance to other road users. But, then, there's something nice, peaceful and reassuring about the entire group as they go on with life at their own pace...... one of my favourite sights from my surroundings!

And, now, as always, the story.....

Once upon a time, the king of a certain land invites applications for the post of a minister. He narrows down the candidates to two. Undecided between the two, he sends them to his spiritual guru to make the final choice. After some hours, the guru, instead of bluntly saying 'you are chosen' , beats around the bush! He sends one candidate back with a sieve and the other, with a winnow. The baffled king seeks help from his cleverest minister. The minister seeks some time. While racking his brains at home, he notices his wife at work... she's cleaning grains & flour using a winnow and a sieve. It suddenly dawns on him - while using the winnow, the good is retained and the waste is discarded. While using the sieve, the good is filtered and the unwanted stuff is retained. He asks the king to appoint the man with the winnow.

You know, I usually share the first story that comes to my mind as I sit down to write the 'anniversary-post'. Strangely, 3 out of the 4 that I have shared belong to my school days!
 I had read this one as an illustrated story in 'Tinkle'.... a magazine for school kids brought out by the Amar Chitra Katha group when I was in my pre-teens.


15 September, 2012

Umbrella for fools!

Guess what?? It takes only an umbrella to make one look like a fool!!
Of course, not any umbrella.... it has to be this particular umbrella - the umbrella of my kid's kindergarten days.
And, it's not like this umbrella always had such a lowly status.......

You know, there's this school near home. Not so long ago, when the kid was about 2-3, one of her favourite routines was to wave out to the school-going kids - every morning & evening. Since she had learnt how to open the gate, I'd linger around, keeping an eye. Pretty soon, both of us knew all the kids who passed by, by their names!

It was during the rainy season, when this routine continued, that the kid noticed - while we held big, black umbrellas, the school-goers held small, colourful ones. She wanted a colourful brolly, and, well, we decided to humour her.

One of the greatest disadvantages of living in a small town is that, often, one has no choice but to buy what the shopkeeper has. And, I had my fingers crossed as I walked into the shop. To my great delight, the only colourful brolly he had was MOST agreeable!

 The kid, of course, was absolutely delighted with the new umbrella. One of the smaller kids in the brolly was her, and the rest were named after her school going friends!
And, now, there was an additional pastime - of standing out in the rain just to watch the rain fall off the umbrella!!

 I don't remember when & why this umbrella went to the corner, but, after a couple of monsoons, the kid & the brolly broke up....

 The other evening, after a long time, I checked in on the umbrella. The first thing that came to my mind was that the manufacturers could have used this umbrella for their ad - 3-4 years of not too careful handling by a kid, and a few years in a corner - but, still, in working condition!
The manufacturer's tag, unfortunately, is missing.

Feeling a little compassionate towards the umbrella, I decided to take it out. The kid called out, 'Are you going out with THAT umbrella?! You look like a fool'................

10-07-2014.... This evening, we took this brolly out - in the rains. We realised that in order to close it, one has to wrap it shut with the clasp..... The clasp had the brand name - 'SUN' !

12 August, 2012

The Lower Octave

In high school, my first language was Sanskrit. Correspondingly, Kannada became the third language. Third language Kannada was basically a repetition of what I learnt from Class 4 to Class 7. After Class 10, I didn't study Kannada formally at all.
 In spite of that, I had absolutely no difficulty in reading/ understanding the 2010 Saraswati Samman winner by  Sri.S.L.Bhyrappa --- Mandra.

The moment this book arrived a few months ago, I had decided to make it my 'monsoon reading'. At nearly 600 pages, of size slightly larger than the usual books, it had the qualifications to make my lonely evenings something to look forward to!

Well! monsoon arrived late this year. By then, I had finished reading the book!

Mandra is about the turbulent life of a classical musician, Pandit Mohan Lal. Panditji's journey begins from Haridwar  - as a bhajan- singing beggar-boy on the banks of the river Ganga - and reaches international fame, after plenty of twists and turns...... like the Ganga, actually!

Mandra, in classical music, means the lower octave. Though I'm not a follower of Hindustani classical music, I know that it is no mean task for a singer to achieve mastery over singing in the lower octave.
 In Kannada, the word also means low/ base as in 'vile'.........
 Revealing more will be like spoiling it for someone who wants to read this book. All I can say is that it must be a very difficult task for a writer to sustain the reader's interest in a 600 page book - and,
 Sri. S.L.Bhyrappa seems to have done it effortlessly! It is easily one of the best stories that I have read.

A couple of years ago, I had read Naayi NeraLu. Though I had read some of Sri. Bhyrappa's controversial columns in Kannada newspapers, it was the first complete novel by him that I had read. I guess, that book is not exactly an ideal introduction to the author. Mandra is!
And, after Mandra, he has become one of my favourite writers!  

27 July, 2012

Mother-in-law's tongue

Mother-in-law's tongue is the very mean nick-name for this common plant, otherwise known as 'Snake's tongue'. A very hardy succulent, I think it makes an attractive live fence. Known as NaagataaLi in Kannada, the sap from the 'tongue' is supposed to be a cure for ear ailments.

In addition to the one above, I have two other variations in my collection. This is 'Mother-in-law's tongue' with a dash of colour.... my favourite.
The 'tongue' in this type usually takes a twist or two and has a nice spiral shape.

And, kyonki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, this dwarf variety is the Mother-in-law's tongue when she was daughter-in-law ;)

All the three above have their origins in my mother's garden. She had a huge collection of succulents.....

Most gardening websites root for the snake's tongue as indoor plant for its air purifying properties. They advice against over watering. But, you know, some years ago, I had accidentally separated a 'tongue'. I had kept it in water in a vase. Over time, it has grown roots and more 'tongues'. This is how it looks now ---

    Ah! I can now be accused of holding the mother-in-law's tongue!
    (Strictly tongue-in-cheek statement, that one!)

     Actually, instead of offending mothers-in-law & snakes, we should be calling it by the unimaginative 'green tongue'.  But, there's a hitch here. I have seen a variety where the 'tongues' are a beautiful shade of purple-green. The tip is very sharp... 'blade tongue', perhaps? 'Sword plant' because it looks like a sword???

Anyway, a tough, hardy plant that can adapt itself to suit any condition....whatever the name!

20 June, 2012

Being called "Auntie"

My dad's sister was very young and unmarried when she became an aunt for the first time. To make things stylish and acceptable for her, we were asked to call her 'aunty' in angrezi instead of the usual atte.

Calling one's real aunt 'aunty' is one thing, but, I don't know since when there has been this alarming trend of calling all married women 'aunty'!

My first encounter with this trend dates back to lo..ng ago - to the only time when I worked in an 'office'.  I was new and the errand boy (a 40-50 yr old certified idiot!) came to me and said. 'Aunty.. if you want anything, just let me know. I'll get it for you'. The boss chided him - told him that since I was unmarried, he should be calling me 'maydam' and not 'aunty'. Thanks to that episode, I wasn't alarmed when people - sometimes, older than me - started calling me 'aunty'/ 'anti'!

It is another story that the errand boy, Srinivas, refused to call someone much younger 'maydam' and came up with ' Shomu' .... the only time in life that I have ever had a nickname! Thankfully, only Srinivas has called me by that name!

 Over time, I have grown inure to being called 'aunty'. The other day, though, I was quite taken aback when my kid's classmate's maa called me 'aunty'! Back home, I was quite relieved when the mirror told me that my hair hadn't suddenly turned grey!

Since I don't go about calling strangers 'aunty' (I manage with 'just a moment'/ 'excuse me', if I have to address strangers), I gave the form of address some thought.
 And, before giving up, I have concluded that 'aunty' must be an informal way of saying 'ma'am'!

26 May, 2012

Missing him.....

About an year ago, I had introduced an acquaintance - someone I used to meet every evening. Over time, we had graduated from being nodding acquaintances to talking acquaintances. We had even begun to explain our absences for the evenings we missed seeing each other!

Though our conversations revolved around plants/ gardening, I had learnt that he was a farmer from North Karnataka, had had differences with family members and had come here to spend the rest of his life - far from the madding crowd......

Earlier this month, I was away for a week. After I came back, I noticed that my friend was missing. I assumed that he was visiting his daughter (with whom he was on good terms).

 It's been about 10 days since I returned, and still, no sign of him. Though in full bloom, his garden is looking a little weedy. I decided to make enquiries about him with the all-knowing watchman.

'You don't know, Maydam-avre (How I ABHOR that address!)? The other day, a group of Maataajis (women sadhus) were here. He left with them. I think he has joined their group and has gone for good.'

Of course, he is situated in such a way that he can take off at will - go wherever he wants to, whenever he wants to. And, I know, I will get used to not seeing him.

But, I will remember him whenever I see this coleus in my collection. He had given me the cutting one evening......

07 May, 2012

Bunkey & co.

Desolate, hungry and lonely - those were my first thoughts when I saw this stray outside the gate last week.

 Clearly, it was crying to be adopted and something about its appearance touched a chord in me. I decided to make friends...first step towards adoption, actually!

Every time I tried to go near it, it would run away, and return very hesitatingly after some time! So, I placed some breakfast leftovers and some water near the gate - 'The way to a hungry dog's heart is via its stomach' principle!

 Later that evening when I broke the news.....

 Husband: THAT thing?! It doesn't even look like a dog!

 Kid: You should call it 'Bunny'..it has such long ears!

 I settled on 'Bunkey' after a character from Enid Blyton's 'Noddy' stories...and looked forward to seeing it in the morning.

 Alas! Bunkey didn't return at all!

 Of course, it wasn't the food!! Just that somebody else beat me at adopting it!

 Yet again!

 Twice in the past, I had almost adopted strays. Both the times, they were here for less than a day. Even before I could buy a leash, they had run away. Not before giving us some moments of amusement, though....

Meet Gojal and Masi....

09 April, 2012

Kursi ka kissa

These days, if you're living in Karnataka, it is very difficult to get away from politicians and their affection for chairs. In fact, all that fuss makes me very conscious of the fact that I have never had a favourite chair in all my donkey's years of existance!

Of late, though, one chair has been getting a lot of my attention.....

Last month, there was a night - long volleyball tournament, about half a kilometre from home. All that cheering and commentary ensured that I had a very disturbed sleep. So, the next time I passed by the ground I took a moment to glare at the hoarding with the pics of the organisers. Instead, I ended up gazing at the very attractive referee's chair!

Back home, I took a closer look at the chair (this pic to be precise!) and decided that the green surroundings and the skeletal design are the chair's only plus points! With no arm rests, it looks like one has to sit uncomfortably straight!

Of course, the referee who has to sit on it must have some acrobatic skills in addition to a ladder to get on it! Once there, I guess he'll feel very safe from the players' ire..... or, probably not!! I'm sure, 2-3 players have to only shake the supporting poles to topple the referee!

Well! At last, I find a likeable chair - only to realise that the chances of me sitting on it are non-existant! Because, forget umpiring - at the time of writing this, I have absolutely no acrobatic skills & do not know the difference between a volley ball and a throw ball!!!

18 March, 2012

A Reluctant Voter

Ever since that dramatic day 6-7 months ago, when namma MP became namma Mukhya mantri, we knew it.... by-elections would be forced on us. And, today, we, the people of the Chikmagalur - Udupi Lok Sabha constituency had to choose our new representative.

I have been unenthusiastic about this by-election right from the start. For one, I have not been able to tell the difference between having & not having a representative in the Lok Sabha! Secondly, those noises Mr.Y has been making about returning. Lastly, those noises didi has been making about mid-term polls.

Mid- term or full term, our new representative doesn't have much time to prove himself. And, quite frankly, I'm tired of all the petty bickering and scams. I decided to skip the parties and vote for an independent candidate this time. My choice would be someone with a likeable symbol.

Our representatives may be a little muddled up about their responsibilities, but, we, the dutiful citizens of the country aren't! Telling ourselves so, husband and I trudged to the polling booth this morning. We had it easy because the booth had opened only a couple of minutes ago.

There were about ten independent candidates - their symbols ranging from a boy playing cricket to a broken half of a coconut! I chose the ceiling fan, because, it is an appliance that we have been using 24x7 these days....

As I came out, I hoped that Mr.Y & didi can't have their ways. Either of the two will make this by-election a futile & expensive exercise :(

09 March, 2012

A soothing read

The other Sunday, the newspaper supplement had a write-up on some of the erstwhile royals of Tamil Nadu - the Sethupathis of Ramnad, one among them. The current 'Raja', while talking about his duties & responsibilities, had mentioned a century-old school in Madurai that he had to look after.

So, imagine my astonishment when the book I read last week was a school days memoir of someone who had studied in the same Sethupathi School - the school where M.S.Subbulakshmi made her debut as a singer!

'Green Well Years' by Manohar Devadoss is about this gang of 5-6 adolescent boys. Schoolmates, these boys spend most of their free time together. Their favourite hangout place is a large, open well on the outskirts of Madurai. The water looks green....hence, the title!

The author weaves a series of autobiographical incidents from his boyhood days with the history & geography of places in and around Madurai. In fact, life in Madurai during the early years of Indian Independence is so reminiscent of R.K.Narayan's Malgudi! One feels quite envious of the laid-back life style of that era!!

The book is unique for the pen & ink sketches by the author - like this one on the cover. These sketches (about 30-35 of them in the book), are special because the author suffers from near blindness due to a degenerative eye condition.

The author believes that the memories of his carefree childhood and the high spirits of his wife (also suffering - from paralysis below the neck) give him the strength to face his tough life. He is so matter-of-fact about the cruel blows dealt to him. This positive attitude inspite of all the setbacks is what makes this book exceptional.

18 February, 2012

Unhappy times

Road - widening hits home : (

When the announcement had come two years ago, all of us had accepted the fact. Yes, our roads were too narrow to accommodate the sudden increase in traffic - both local & tourist.... and, widening them was necessary.

Proposed & approved way back in the 70s, financial shortcomings had post-poned the widening works till now! Those of us along the proposed widening path were hoping that the financial crunch continued & the proposal would remain just that!

Alas! it didn't happen that way. Today, the dreaded moment arrived and was gone within a couple of minutes, leaving all of us sailing in the same boat ......

Most neighbours have lost old, high yielding coconut trees, mango trees, etc. Some have lost a portion of their verandas. We have lost about 8 feet of our garden.

My favourite corner would look like this at this time of the year.

Now, it looks like this .....

Soon, it will be tarred and be called 'road' .......

To give me some credit, I have managed to re-plant/ propagate and save all of the 20 plus varieties of plants that had to be sacrificed. Though I'm heart-broken for the moment, I know, one week of rains and things will look better.

Irreplaceable, of course, are all those huge wayside trees that had to be felled.

The weather's warming up and all of us, including the road users, have begun to miss our canopies.

And, as this one across the road came crashing down, I realised that all we now have are memories - of the pleasure of having centenarians towering over us, protecting us .....

11 February, 2012

Jobs & Attitudes

The other evening, my friend and I were in her veranda - talking about this and that - and her farm hand walked in. He had finished his day's work. As my friend got him his tea, she told him, "Heard that your son's post has been made permanent. Now, you should think of getting him married".

That was all the opening he needed - to pour out his opinions, quite oblivious to the presence of a stranger.
"What 'permanent' akka. With his Rs.7,000 per month income, I'll have to look around for a girl who earns at least that much. Otherwise, how can he manage?
Just see...both of us leave home at around 8.15 in the morning. While my work place is at a walkable distance, he spends Rs.20 one way as bus fare.Then, amidst work, I have proper lunch, tea,...& walk back home, in time to do some chores there. For this, I earn about Rs.6,000 per month (Farm hands in these parts are paid Rs.200 - Rs.300 per day, plus meals). I save whatever remains after spending for the usual daily needs.
Look at my son - no proper meals, only what he takes in his lunch box. Coffee/ tea means extra expenses. Once again, he has to spend for the return journey. Often, he has so much work load, that to finish it, he has to bring office work, home & he cannot save money at all.

These days, after learning four letters, people think that it is beneath them to hold a spade. I may be a coolie and my son may be working in an office, but, often, I feel that I'm better off than him".

Saying so, he rinsed his tumbler at the tap nearby, kept it at its usual place, said 'NaaLe barteeni ' (I'll come tomorrow) and walked homewards.

The farm hand's little speech had triggered a series of thoughts in both of us. We waited till he was out of sight and had a chat about it! Both of us agreed that he had a few valid points there. We appreciated his attitude towards his vocation and left it at that.

This morning, I was tearing out yesterday's date from the calendar on my desk. As usual, I ran an absent-minded eye over the sentence at the bottom. It said, 'There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes'......it reminded me of that evening at my friend's place.

06 February, 2012

Lotus Eaters

The other day, on our way to Chikmaglur, we passed by this pond near a sleepy hamlet..... and, we saw something that we had never seen before!

Monkeys, or any other animal in the wild for that matter, do not like human attention/ interference. When they are in a group, they are fearless and do not hesitate to show their dislike.

Fearful of attack, I didn't dare to go closer than about 40 feet! That's why, in this pic, one can just about make out that these monkeys are eating some part of the lotus plant!

As a term, 'lotus eater' is synonymous with 'pleasure seeker'.

On the other hand, it is a well known fact that the entire lotus plant is edible in one form or the other - roots, stems, leaves, flowers & seeds!! I remember seeing lotus stem in brine on the shelves of some super markets.
As food, roots, leaves, etc. are supposed to have several health benefits. Curiously, the seeds are supposed to be slightly narcotic.

Whether they were having a rave party or attending a health camp or simply having breakfast (it was 8-ish in the morning), these monkeys were having a lot of fun.
Lotus eaters..... whichever way you want to look at them!!

18 January, 2012

Ash gourd & beliefs

Whenever a farmer comes to my doorstep selling vegetables, I buy them. The other day, one of the regulars dropped in. This time, he had only ash gourds. Since my own ash gourd vine was looking good, I had to tell him that I didn't want any.

He then expressed a desire to see the vine - to check out the variety, etc... Soon after seeing it, he told me that the vine would produce only one gourd and that I should be offering it to some temple instead of using it!

Well! I hadn't heard this one before! Though nobody knew why, every single person advised me against using the ash gourd if it turned out to be the only yield from that vine. And, 'Give it to some temple' was the final line that everyone added!

You know, as far as vegetables and beliefs go, the ash gourd is one that has many attached to it... each one of them, meaningless and without logic.

My mother believed that a whole ash gourd should not be cut with a knife by people whose parents were alive. Fortunate to have had parents throughout her life, she would always drop the whole gourd from a height. After that first cut, it was okay to use the knife!!

In Karnataka, God knows how many ash gourds are broken this way during Ayudha Pooja (ninth day of Dasara) and at house warmings. As kids, it was explained to us that breaking an ash gourd was a substitute for animal sacrifice. Of course, nobody had a convincing explanation to the need for animal sacrifice ('to please Gods' - an unacceptable one!).

Though the ash gourd is a vegetable that is used on regular days, many cultures don't have it on the menu during joyous/ festive occasions. However, no such restrictions for the death - related occasions.....

The other day, a friend's friend dropped in for some plant cuttings. We were meeting for the first time. On her way out, the woman asked me the ubiquitous 'How many kids?' When I said 'One', she shook her head very reproachfully, and in all earnestness, said, 'You must've eaten ash gourd curry during your initial days of motherhood'!!!
One of those moments when I had wanted to laugh - very badly - but couldn't!

Well... that's all I can remember right now, but, have you noticed? All these beliefs have such gloomy implications. How unfortunate that a vegetable that has a very long shelf life is associated with death and negativity :(


PS: In case you're wondering... the vine in our back yard had only one gourd. Though I like to think of myself as a rationalist, I couldn't bring myself to use it!!

After offering the ash covered fruit to the ash covered God, I have been wondering if all Gods are okay with this gourd!

They should be okay, I guess - after all, they didn't make such rules!!

Century on the Bronze Anniversary!

This is my100th post, and today is the eighth birthday of Alter Idem !! That's an average of a post per month......1.04 to be precise!!...