Monday, 31 March 2008

A NEW AIR TERMINAL, BAGGAGE WOES

An article on the recently opened Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport had me zapped. Sixty six flights cancelled, and 16,000 pieces of luggage waiting to be reunited with their owners. 16,000! The mind indeed boggles!

How will they ever clear the backlog, one wonders. It might take over two weeks, the authorities say. The terminal apparently has people sleeping anywhere and everywhere waiting to travel, rather like our railway stations, I thought. Read about it here.

My mind went back to our first trip to the USA to visit our son and his wife in Seattle – and our four boxes I was so worried about! It was 1998. The dreadful 9/11 hadn’t happened, and as far as we could tell, everything was going to be smooth. We were to change flights at Singapore, and then fly east over the Pacific to get to the west coast of the US. We landed peacefully at Singapore, and spent the night at a hotel in the airport, booked so considerately by my son. Next morning we were to board an American airline. Because we had checked our luggage through to Seattle, we were carefree and relaxed - till at the counter of the American airline, someone mentioned that the airline we had travelled by to Singapore was careless about transferring baggage to connecting flights.

And that started me off. I kept pestering my husband, who is generally a very patient person, with my doubts and suppositions of the luggage not being loaded. He reassured me as much as he could, and I managed not to give voice to my ‘what if’s. I remembered my friend who had flown to the US 30 years ago, soon after her wedding, and whose baggage did not land with her, but caught up with her much, much later.

After a longish flight, with a halt at Narita airport in Tokyo, we landed safe and sound at Seattle. The immigration people were so sweet and courteous. The person who interviewed us asked us the usual questions, and when my husband told him our son was working with Microsoft, wanted to know if we would ask him ‘to get my computer fixed’. With a smile, he waved us in with a six month visa, (no fingerprinting, and no gruelling sessions then) and we went to collect our baggage.

We waited for the baggage to come in, and waited, and waited. People who had reached the belt after us had started moving away with their baggage, while we continued to look for ours. With great foresight (we had then thought) we had marked our boxes with huge Xs, like Marjiana did in the Ali Baba tale, for quick identification. We waited, and waited, and waited, till all the boxes had come and were collected, and there was only the conveyor belt left. I was horrified. Apart from all the stuff we had brought for the children, all our clothes were in there.

What would I do? I wear only saris, and my daughter-in-law might have a couple of them. But what about blouses – she is petite, and half my size, and I had visions of myself in ill fitting tight clothes. For my husband, I calculated, some quick shopping might have to be done, but for me, I doubted that I would get my requirements that easily. Dismally I looked on, while my husband went to check with the officer on duty. He waved him on to look at some boxes which belonged to the first class passengers, and had been deposited separately. And there nestling among them were our boxes. My fears having turned groundless, we stepped forward cheerfully with the baggage into what turned out to be a very happy six weeks.

That my husband swore never again to travel with me, is another matter.

On the same trip we went to visit friends in Lake Charles, via Houston. Upon landing we found that our luggage was missing. We had traveled in one of the small planes where if you ask for an aisle seat, you get the window seat as well. I was sure the boxes might have got lost in Houston, a huge airport almost as large as a town, where we had changed flights. But to our very pleasant surprise, we found our boxes - they had arrived ahead of us in a previous flight!

That was one trip that had no baggage problems, and to be honest, only once in the following few trips, was one box misplaced. But it was delivered to us the following day at home, intact, except that it had got wet somewhere along the way – not Chennai, because it was not raining here then – and ruined some of the stuff in the soft box.

Horror stories of misplaced-then-turning-up, and lost-forever luggages are aplenty in our family. No amount of compensation from airlines will really recompense the true losses. Especially now that post 9/11 you are allowed hardly anything worth mentioning in your hand baggage.

But there is humour everywhere – I remember this particular cartoon, of an annoyed passenger standing in front of an airline counter, demanding to know why they are refusing to send his pieces of luggage, one to London, one to Melbourne, and the third to Houston, when they did it perfectly well the last time.

But of no comfort to those waiting interminably at Heathrow’s prestigious new terminal T5 for connecting flights and lost baggage.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A QUIET ROAD, NOW

It is bliss.

Absolute silence, broken only by a lone car or autorickshaw passing by, or the voices of the people on the street. No maddening honks, no muted roars of stalled vehicles waiting for the lights, and no thundering buses, sounds with which we had been living the past 15 years or so.

Have we moved from the city to a village? No, we are on the same road in the same city: C. V. Raman Road, Chennai. Varying actions like building a flyover on the main road at the junction of the road, and suddenly making it a one-way road, opening it to lorry and bus traffic, had ruined the peace of this quiet residential road. But now, it has finally found grace in the eyes of the people who formulate the traffic rules in the city.

By waving their magic wand about, they have designated sections of the arterial roads on either side of our road as one-way, reversed the one-way on our road, and also imaginatively made alternate streets one-way in opposite directions – rather like New York, commented my husband.

Net result is, there is no bottleneck at either end of our road, there is free flowing traffic everywhere, and best of all is the silence.

Earlier we could not, to borrow a phrase, hear ourselves think. The TV had to be on full volume for us to hear anything, and we would out-shout the TV to make ourselves heard. And finally relegated it to the farther most room from the road. You could have been pardoned for thinking we lived on a highway. Even our building (an old solid one built in the 50s, not a flimsy apartment complex built recently) used to reverberate when the heavy buses went past. Buses taking the corner would sweep past pedestrians dangerously closely. Once I was walking by with my umbrella open, and a bus grazed past me and almost knocked the umbrella down. No amount of representations in our local newspapers or mainstream papers seemed to work. VIPs who live on this road did not want to waste their clout on a matter like traffic noise pollution. From being a place where we could walk in safety, it became a place where we could not let our children or our senior citizens go out without an escort.

After many years, we are now enjoying this newfound peace, listening to the birds and the squirrels, which live on the trees in our compound. Will it last? I don’t know.

People who are not satisfied with this arrangement are the businessmen whose establishments are affected by the one-way rule; residents on the roads which are now open to traffic which used to be diverted to our road, and also car and auto drivers who have to move circuitously following the one-way rule to reach their destinations. Auto drivers use this as an excuse to further fleece their hapless passengers.

We understand that some powerful lobbying is going on to bring the road rules back to status quo. But till then, we will enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008



This photo by A. Muralitharan in The Hindu shows the Chromepet police station floating after yesterday's rains.

Monday, 24 March 2008

RAINS - UNSCEHDULED

It has just stopped raining.

I thought since the sun was shining so brightly in the morning, it might not rain, and I stepped out without taking the umbrella. And then it started – the thunder and the rains as heavy as any monsoon downpour. I came back drenched. The rain lasted for a few hours.

The off-season rains have been flooding the streets of Chennai for the last few days – any more and I am sure, not only the low-lying areas, but also the other parts of the city will start floating. And we may have to move about in gondolas. Well, I maybe exaggerating, but you get the drift, don’t you?

The rains are always good for a city that is perennially water-starved and depends on the annual North-East monsoon for its water supply. The monsoons are unpredictable, and some years go by without a whisper of a drop. Memories of private water lorries thundering down the roads, and queues of coloured plastic pots waiting for the Metrowater (water provided by the Corporation) lorry, are still a nightmarish thought, not all that long ago.

However the last two years have brought bountiful rains and the water table, which had reached alarmingly low levels, has risen considerably in the city. Rainwater-harvesting (to recharge the ground with run-off rainwater and store it for use) by responsible citizens has contributed in no small way to this, encouraged (if not threatened exactly) by the local corporation. In fact, civic officials used to come to check if rainwater harvesting facilities had been adopted in the grounds of private houses. Incongruously, the corporation did not go in for rain harvesting on its own buildings.

Most families used to buy water in those barren years, and every family had a budget allocated just for water. Now, our wells are full, and so are the sumps into which the corporation water falls, the temple tanks have enough water for theppam(the float festival) and the hand pumps spout water unprotestingly any hour of the day. But one failed monsoon, and it will be back to square one.

This is one city that will not easily say, “Rain, rain, go away.”

Thursday, 20 March 2008

WORLD CARROM CHAMP ILAVAZHAGI

“Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced a cash prize of Rs.1 million for World Carrom Champion Ilavazhagi.” This was a recent news item in March.

Huh, Ilavazhagi, who?

That would have been the reaction of many in a country obsessed with cricket and adulation of cricketers. Ilavazhagi is the winner of the women’s title in the fifth World Carrom Championship held at Palais Des Festivals, Cannes in February. She defeated P. Nirmala, also from India, in the finals.

Such is our preoccupation with cricket that even hockey, the (once national?) game at which India has been champs, has been sidelined. Except that a hue and cry was raised when the team failed to qualify for the Olympics this year. But the players were spared the ignominy of having their houses stoned, or worse, burnt down, to which our cricketers are subjected when they are perceived as having fared badly by their adoring fans. We have to grant that to our cricket lovers – they are scrupulously fair.

Never has Viswanath Anand, world chess champion, been feted the way the cricketers are, not even in his home town Chennai. Little wonder he prefers to live in Spain. So what would one know about this young woman, Ilavazhagi, World Champion in a lesser known game?

In fact, I was amazed to learn that the game was totally unknown in the USA, and that a carrom board could not be bought there. There are people who do play the game, but they are Indians, or of Indian origin.

In India, it is a game that holds the interest of one and all across villages and cities. And if there is a world championship being held in Europe, I assume there must be other countries where it is played.

Ilavazhagi is the daughter of Irudhayaraj, a fish-cart(three wheeler) driver who transports materials like PVC pipes to make a living for his family – a wife and three daughters. No mean player himself, he trained and taught Ilavazhagi to play carroms from childhood. And she played to win. Her victories included the Asia Cup and SAARC Cup.

The small one-room apartment they share in Vyasarpadi, Chennai, is barely enough to house the family. The carrom board has to be accommodated definitely, and after that it is a tight squeeze. The trophies she has won over the years are far too many, and her home is just not big enough to house them. Those that have been left over after filling up the space under the bed, have been given to neighbours and relatives for storage or display, as they see fit.

But for Ilavazhagi the need to get a job was greater than housing her trophies. Even while she played she has been looking for a suitable job.

Many Thamizh magazines (they were the first to pick up her story after her victory) publicised her difficulties in enlisting help to make the trip to France, and earlier, to other places where the tournaments were held. Financing the trips has always been a big hurdle, not easily overcome, though she has been playing for the state for almost 14 years. Her bitterness shows when she remarks upon the recent big-money talk in the auctioning of players in the Indian Premier League deals.

The award from the Chief Minister was some sort of recognition to this world champion. The notification said, “Ilavazhagi's victory has brought fame to the state. This cash gift is being given to encourage her to achieve other, bigger victories.”

The good news is that Ilavazhagi now has a job. Sri Ramanujar Engineering College at Vandalur, has appointed her as the Sports Secretary of the college.

Now perhaps, with the worry of getting a job out of the way, Ilavazhagi can concentrate on her next move – not on the carrom board, but on getting a regular sponsor.

Photo from Internet

GOOGLE'S LITTLE CELEBRATIONS

When I went to Google today to do the usual search (research?)– I saw Google decked out like this:


- and learnt it was to mark the first day of spring, or the spring equinox.

Google does this often – present its logo in fun forms to mark different occasions. Earlier ones this year included:
Alexander Graham Bell's Birthday - March 3, 2008


and Leap Year - February 29, 2008



Older ones can be found here

Saturday, 15 March 2008

TRIVIAL LINKS

How can you connect the current Prime Minister of Ireland with the Beatles?

In 2007, a movie called ‘P. S. I Love You’ was released, starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. Everyone knows this.

The movie is based on a book by Cecelia Ahern, called PS, I Love You. Almost everyone knows this.

She is the daughter of Bertie Ahern, current Prime Minister of Ireland. Not many may know this.

And very few today might know that this is the title of a song recorded by the Beatles in 1962. It was on the flip side of ‘Love, Love, Me Do’, their first release.
Listen to them here.

FOR A CLOSER LOOK ..........





Just run your mouse over the picture, and you will get a close-up. I was guided by my e-friend to create this 'mouseover' effect.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

ANOTHER BEAUTY FROM MORAGHAT



This striped beauty is a multi-layered petunia.

A BIZARRE DREAM

I had a weird dream early this morning. Most dreams are, I suppose, but this was disturbing enough for me to wake up panic-stricken.

I am in a strange house, which in the dream is my home, and is not in the least like the one I live in. In the morning about twelve guests from outside Chennai land at my doorstep, bag and baggage. “We came because you invited us to visit you,” they say. Of these, I know only some.

My first thought is to check the fridge for milk – only my husband and I live here, so how much milk would there be anyway?
One litre – not enough for coffee for 12, I decide, and call our grocers who supply us with extra milk when required. I pick up the phone, but there is some cross talk going on. And all the time, at the back of mind run questions like how long are they going to be here, should I fix breakfast for them or make it lunch straightaway.

After several attempts, I decide to step out myself and get it, as my domestic helper hasn’t arrived yet. Day dawns for her only at half past eight. I leave home, which I realise is a flat on the first floor and go down the steps. There is a high compound wall around the building, and there are steps going up to a gate. When I get there I find I can’t open the gate. I run down the steps and look around for another gate, and see another one. But there are no steps leading up to it. I decide to take the short cut via the temple (which one?), but a wall has come up blocking the route.

I decide to (I think) return home, and go up the steps. But my front door is now no longer near the top of the steps, and I will have to clamber over a balustrade to reach it. However, my neighbour’s door is open, and she lets me in. Some of my guests are there, two of them being her parents. Weirder and weirder. She (who has by now by some transformation become my niece) then opens her fridge, shows me about 20 packets of milk in the chiller tray, and says that she is always well stocked.

A crow cawing near our (real) window wakes me up, and I am relieved that there are no surprise guests at home.

Whatever would Freud have made of this one, I think. Housewife’s nightmare?

Me? I just filled up my fridge this morning with milk packets.

Monday, 10 March 2008

UNBELIEVABLE RED


Have you heard of red petunias, let alone seen one?

In my college days in Delhi, the winter garden at our home was run over with petunias of every hue - pink, violet, mauve, magenta , white, and even striped ones.
But red?

Well, believe me, there are. Here are pictures of the red flowers in my sister's garden in Moraghat, near Darjeeling. While her husband grows tea, she grows these flamboyant beauties and others.

More on her blog http://seventhchords.blogspot.com/

FORBES LIST - INDIA'S PRIDE?

Four of the top ten in Forbe’s list of the richest men are from India. Wow! Are we impressed?

Sadly, I am not.

One is a person who has settled and made his fortune abroad. The other two are in India, brothers from the same family, expanding a fortune founded by their father. And the last one is a real estate person. Well done to them.

But this is not representative of the real India. I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the richest Indians, and do not envy them their wealth. But it is a misrepresentation of our country. The message that is going to the world surely will be a distorted one – of wealth abounding.

A quick look at last year’s suicides in Andhra Pradesh by devastated and debt-laden farmers alone is enough to show that India is not there yet. A government which has written off Rs. 60 thousand crores' worth of farmers debts, could have, with a little foresight, prevented this.

I am not qualified to find a solution, and I would love to see India there as one of the richest countries in the world, side by side, just like Warren Buffet with Anil Ambani. But I fear we have a long way to go. Many people in the rural areas still do not get a square meal everyday.

Till this anomaly is resolved, we need not feel proud of Indians’ presence in that list.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

GOODBYE, SUJATHA

‘Blogs are an endless ego trip. They can never pose a threat to regular journals or newspapers.’ So said Sujatha, noted Thamizh writer, who passed away recently.
Maybe not, but where else can I record my appreciation of him, and the hours of pleasure his works have given me.

Growing up in the North and going to a school that did not teach Thamizh, and then in Pondicherry where the second language was - you guessed it - French, my introduction to reading Thamizh came rather late – and it was self taught. I wanted to read Thamizh magazines to be aware of local events - especially the movies that were showing. Rather lowbrow tastes, but I still love movies. And then those little cartoon boxes with the jokes under them. My mother got fed up reading them out to us all the time, I am sure.

And that is how I started reading short stories in the magazines, captivated by the illustrations of Gopulu and Maniyan. And then came Sujatha, like a breath of fresh air, breaking the cliché of family themes in stories.

I remember reading his murder mystery ‘Nylon Kayiru’ first, which was serialized in Kumudham. And if I am not mistaken, that most popular lawyer Ganesh and assistant Vasanth duo made their debut here. This was in 1968. And I was hooked. I managed to read most of his works published in magazines. Any announcement of a new serial by Sujatha was an event to look forward to.

He could be the ever young Vasanth who would glibly reel off laws and rules, he could touch hearts with the serial ‘Kakitha Sangiligal’, where a renal failure patient cannot find donors even among the closest matches in the family. (There was a parallel in our family to this moving story, when a young niece donated her kidney to her husband). He understood the hearts of the devathais of Srirangam. His 'Karayellam Shenpagapoo' highlighted the charm of Thamizh folk songs, garbed in a thriller. He knew the pulse of the common man, and knew what would appeal, and used it freely to write dialogues for movies.

Somewhere down the line, I learnt that Sujatha was the pseudonym of S. Rangarajan, and that he wrote under his wife’s name. (See picture for the two Sujathas- source: Internet) . His articles on literature were published under his own name in magazines like Kanaiyazhi. I enjoyed his series of articles (some in question-answer format) on science and its nuances, and was awestruck by his articles on Thamizh literature - though I have no great understanding of either.

Here was a person whose knowledge was unlimited, ranged from science and technology to literature, and spanned many other fields. He was a scientist who worked in BEL, Bangalore. His contribution to the development of the Electronic Voting Machine has, I feel, not been recognised enough.

Sujatha had a wry sense of humour. He wrote that it was always the men who would come up to him, greet him and say something, but invariably followed it up with the statement, “Of course, I haven’t read any of your works, but my wife does regularly.”

His self deprecatory humour was evident when he claimed that the writer Rangarajan of Kanaiyazhi did not think much of Sujatha’s writings!

We will miss Sujatha.

A couple of links for the Sujatha fan
http://www.lazygeek.net/archives/2005/05/happy_birthday_dude_sujatha_ra.html
http://www.sujathalogy.com/

Saturday, 8 March 2008

BACK ON TRACK

Whether it was the whining, or just that Google got over its teething troubles, I was happy to welcome chat guests on Google Talk Chat Badge from my blog a day after I wrote the whining post.

An old proverb in Thamizh goes, “Azhutha pillai pal kudikkum” - The child that cries gets fed at once is the gist. And it worked for me.

Thank you, Google, and thank you, e-friend, who introduced me to it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

THE TALK THAT DIDN'T WORK

I am embarrassed!

I read about this new feature of Google’s in an e-friend’s (nice term, I think, for people you meet through the net) blog - Google Talk Chat Badge.

It says that posting this badge on your blog allows you to chat with your visitors if they click on the badge. Installation was easy – I am no techie, but I can follow instructions. As I thought it would be a good idea to chat to visitors, I promptly installed it.

But much to my embarrassment, though I am alerted each time a visitor clicks on the badge wishing to chat, and am directed to the talk page – nothing happens!

I am left wondering who the mysterious wanna-be-chatter was. And embarrassed to think what the would-be-chatter thinks of an invitation offered, accepted and then ignored! And should I un-install that badge?

Buck up, Google!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

MAHEMA

Today’s newspaper carried in its columns the news of the death of Mahema Devadoss. I was distressed to see it.

Mahema was a most pleasant personality, with a very sweet and ready smile. I met her first, about 12 years ago, when I went to interview her husband Manohar for our newspaper (I worked for a neighbourhood newspaper). He had just published a book, ‘The Greenwell Years’, about his salad days, and the book was illustrated with his pen-and-ink drawings - his forte. Though I was meeting them for the first time, they welcomed me so warmly and affectionately. One of the nicest couples I have met.

I remember the room where I waited for them - there was a portrait of M. S. Subbulakshmi, done by Manohar. Manohar came in and we started talking. A little later Mahema entered, in a wheelchair. I had not expected that, and it was rather a shock.

I learnt that in 1972, a few years after they were married and when their daughter was just a young child, they had been in a road accident, as a result of which Mahema was paralysed from the neck down. She needed help for everything – including getting into the wheelchair, and out of it. Manohar considered it his privilege to take care of her every need, day and night, though his failing eyesight, owing to an incurable complaint (retinitis pigmentosa) made his vision very weak over the years. And she, drawing on her inner strength, faced life positively – she conducted Spoken English classes at home, started writing, using a splint on her right hand to help her, and was a member of many fund raisers for charities.

After that first meeting, we were in fairly regular touch. Mahema even made the effort to attend my son’s wedding. Whenever she needed anything to be mentioned in our paper, she would call me and make the request so affectionately. ‘Rajima,’ was how she referred to me. And so does Manohar.

In the last few years, they have put to good use Manohar’s gift of sketching buildings and Mahema’s descriptive and accurate prose, to publish greeting cards for the festive season, and use the proceeds for charity. A well qualified woman, she had the gift of writing in chaste English, and took pains to research for the material.

Manohar wrote about her in his book ‘A Poem to Courage’ – a tribute to her great courage in the face of adversity. She was indeed one of the bravest and most uncomplaining persons I have known – and so is he.

Photo: Courtesy 'The Hindu'

Sociable