Monday, 26 February 2007


Some days ago I was sitting and chatting on our balcony, with my cousin who was visiting us from Cochin.
Suddenly his relaxed demeanour seemed to change, and he looked at me expectantly, as though waiting for me to do something.
I asked him what the matter was, and he said, “Shall I answer the doorbell?”
“I didn’t hear it,” I said, for I hadn’t heard the metallic ring of the bell.
“There it is again,” he said. I did not hear it then either. Was I becoming deaf, I wondered.
“There,” he said, and then it hit me. It was the warbling of birds from our mango trees - he thought the call of the birds was our doorbell! He had mistaken the true notes of the birds for the electronic mimed sounds made by some calling bells
His own doorbell, he explained, is the chirping of the birds.

We are fortunate to live in a place surrounded by trees, a couple of coconut palms, some asoka trees and about six mango trees.
There are so many birds we hear, but not always see. There is the screeching of the parrot, the harsh cawing of the crow, and sometimes the plaintive notes of the kuil/koel. On occasion, we have seen woodpeckers also. And many other shrill and sweet notes which I cant identify, counterbalanced with crisp squeaks of squirrels In this urban area, this is a little haven for the birds, and a little bit of heaven for us.

There is a special spot outside the verandah at the back, the ledge where I scatter rice grains for the crows.
Some days the crows come to peck at the grains, some days the squirrels get there before the crows and polish off the grains.
Lately I have noticed that one crow visits regularly; and if I am late with the rice, I have had it. There is such aggressive and demanding cawing, that I have to rush with the rice to appease it.
There is another crow (or maybe it is the same) that waits while I scatter the rice, but doesn’t start snapping at it. It waits and looks around. Usually I just go back to my chores, but one day I hung back to see what happened. The crow waited, and cawed. Soon a squirrel came rushing down the branch of the mango tree and jumped on to the ledge where the rice was, and started chomping. The crow waited patiently, and after the squirrel withdrew, came for the rest of the rice. I noticed on the following days also, the two ate in perfect amicability.
A strange friendship, which continues to date.

This year the mango trees are fully alive with blossoms. The recalcitrant tree on the east, which fails to bloom some years, seems to be weighed down with the heaviness of the blooms. Perhaps the plentiful rains of the past two years is the reason for this bounty.
And if it is possible for trees to look so – it looks happy! There are more coconuts also this year on our palms.

There is one tree just outside our front yard, on the pavement, which is covered with green leaves all year round. Towards mid January, it starts shedding leaves, and by mid February, we can see the house opposite from our balcony.
Soon the branches will become completely bare, and small tight buds will appear, with the promise of yellow blooms.
One fine day in April, after all the leaves are fallen, the tree bursts forth in yellow glory. Little danglers of yellow blossoms hang from every possible place on the tree, and the whole tree looks lit up. Not a sign of a single green leaf, and the branches remain invisible. For two to three days this splendour lasts, and then slowly the blossoms fall off, the branches become bare and the green leaves start sprouting once again.
This tree, whose name I don’t know, waits all the year round for its one day of magnificence, for its one day in the sun, and then goes back to getting ready for the next year.
A quiet lesson.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007


It was something I had coveted for long. My boss has it, my colleagues have one each, and all the car and auto drivers have one.My plumber has one, the lady who supplies me flowers has one, and if I am not mistaken, my domestic help has one too – though she has never used it in front of me, out of consideration to my feelings.

So when I retired last year from my job, my colleagues’ farewell gift to me was, you guessed it, a cell phone, complete with new number and a month’s usage paid for.I was delighted and tried to learn the different functions from the youngest of my colleagues.

My cell phone is a basic model – you can make and receive phone calls and save phone numbers as in an address book. Pretty functional, and I was satisfied. (I have seen other models that take pictures, record sound, and videos, and heaven knows what else – but can they make calls? I have since found out they could.)

When it comes to technology, I have discovered that it is the youngsters who know the most. At work too, my young colleagues who are whizzes on the Mac and PC, always had tips for me to make better use of the Mac. It is in inverse proportion – the younger they are, the more they know the latest.The young lads helped me happily now, too, and showed me how to use the cell. They taught me to save numbers, and to scroll for the different functions. And so I was satisfied. I could now call people on the cell, receive calls from friends, call home when I went out, definitely content.

Till I was initiated into the messaging cult.
Till I met this young person, no one had told me that the cell could be used for text messages. Well to be honest I knew that, but did not know how. And then I did not think the expense worth the effort, since only a few paise more allowed me to make a call.

Now he told me that it was much simpler to SMS, as it is shortly called. “I shall flood your cell with SMS,” he promised (threatened). “And you can reply.” I told him it would be quicker for me to call or email my answers. I realized later that messages are discreet and private, you don’t have to have the whole world listening in to your conversation - or subject the whole world to yours - and a PC is not exactly portable. Of course, there is always the blackberry.

“Nah,” he said, brushing aside my timorous objections. “It is very easy.” And so the game began. He showed me how to use the keys for messaging, and said ‘Go’. He would send a message, and by the time I had found the option, replied, and hit the send key, there would be another one from him – and not just a short one. Since our common interest is trivia, he would send me interesting material, and I would limit myself to laconic monosyllables like “Fine”, “Gud”, and painstakingly finding the right alphabet on the tiny keyboard and punching the words in. And then looking for the right phone number to send it to.

So I struggled with messaging, unlearning all the correct spellings, (the use of which I have always prided myself on) and using new phonetic spellings, like ‘gr8’ for great, and ‘4’ for for. Those keys are not made for adult fingers - Arundati, my two year old granddaughter can handle them better than me, I thought, till I saw my young friend in action. Even while talking to me, he was sending messages to someone, not once missing his key, or batting an eyelid.

I have now been at it for a week.I can still not do more than two words a minute, and another minute to hit the correct buttons to send. Invariably, I choose the wrong option, lose my message, hunt for it and sometimes not find it. Then type the message all over again, and send it - this time to the wrong person!

Er, the local cell shop is offering trade-ins right now - I think I will trade this model for one that takes pictures and plays the radio, or maybe a blackberry..

Sunday, 18 February 2007


Last week my sister Viji took Bombay city by storm when her article on Mani’s Lunch Home in Matunga appeared in the newspaper DNA.
She had suddenly made the modest restaurant a happening place! Here she is on her weekly visit to Mani’s – and if you want to read about it visit her blog at

Saturday, 17 February 2007


Written on Feb. 10
We were back home after a two day trip to Thirupathi.

Each time we leave the house locked and go away, I am always jittery about security, wondering if the house is safe. We live on the first floor of a beautiful house, and my brother-in-law’s office functions on the ground floor.

During the day the place is busy, and I have no qualms about going away in the day time leaving the house locked. But come night, it is a different proposition. The office closes by 6 pm, and the grounds wear a deserted look. As a retired couple’s place, the first floor really doesn’t show much activity even when we are at home. Many is the time people have come asking if the place is available for rent.

But this time, I left with total peace of mind, for my brother-in-law had arranged for security to man the premises, while there was some construction going on downstairs.

There are different men on duty in the day and at night; they would report to my husband as they changed. ‘Changing the guard’ my husband calls it facetiously – a bit like Buckingham Palace, I thought, when they come up and briskly salute together.
We came back last night and were happy to see everything as it ought to be, and the smart security person at his post.

Early this morning when I went down to pick up the milk, I saw my neighbour who asked me if I knew what had happened in the night.
He told me gloatingly that a burglar had attempted to enter our home!

Shocked, I checked with the security person, and he confirmed it. He said he and his colleagues from the nearby buildings had overpowered the person and had taken him to the police station.

Worse was to come. I learnt that the burglar had not directly entered our premises, since we keep the gate locked. He had gone to our neigbour’s place where the stairs can be accessed from the road; he had gone up to their terrace, and from there jumped to our terrace which is easily accessible from there – a bare 10 inches separate the two.
There he had been followed by the security person who had caught him.

I was relieved that the security person had taken care of the whole affair. My husband and I had slept peacefully, as we had not heard a thing. I presume we were just tired after the journey.
I thought what a good thing it was that we had used the services of the security firm, and began wondering if it would not be a good idea to use them all year round.

But only for the next few minutes – till we learnt that the failed burglar was none other than the security man who had been on duty the previous night! He had thought that we would be away for another night.

This is not the first time this has happened to us. Ten years ago, when we went to attend the wedding of my son in Trivandrum, we had used the services of another firm.
We came back to find that a lot of building material left behind after some construction work was missing from the grounds. It transpired that the security man had been in cahoots with a small time burglar and had given him the whereabouts of the materials, and details of the best time to take them away.

Post script: Which brings me to the point – do security firms check the antecedents of the people they hire?
Do they have any criteria for selecting them? At many places I have seen wilting, stooped figures in security uniforms, manning buildings, opening and closing the gates. I suppose these persons, mostly retired and long past their heyday, are enough for that purpose, but what happens when a real threat occurs?
Security firms must clean up their act, and spruce up their manner of employment. What they need are able bodied younger people, and not ill–fed, undernourished senior citizens.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Listening to music in the good old days

Almost everyone has an earpiece attached to the ears – either it is the iPod or a mobile.
And everyone is listening to his favourite music, available at the pressure of a fingertip on a teeny weeny button.
And the number of songs available on the tiny gadget is limitless.

Back in the late fifties and early sixties when I was a teenager, people like me who craved film music were totally dependent on the radio. There were no tape recorders or cassette recorders – these, if memory serves me right, flooded the market in the late 60s and early 70s. The CD players came much later.
(The first cassette recorder in our family was the one my husband and I brought back in 1973, after our two year sojourn in Manchester, where my husband did his M. Sc.Tech at the University of Manchester.)
So it was only the radio, and there would be only one in each family. There would be scheduled hours during which film music (both Hindi and Thamizh) were broadcast, and these too, mainly on Radio Ceylon. (I don’t know if it is Radio Sri Lanka today). There was no Vividh Bharathi, and AIR considered it in the main sinful to play film music, and had only a meagre slot for it.

And heaven help us film song aficionados, if the cricket matches were on, and the commentaries clashed with the music hours. Not being interested in cricket at all, I could never understand why the men in the family could not wait to read the scores in the following day’s newspaper. My argument was: how can I listen to music on the newspaper?
Many were the battles my brother Bala and I fought over radio time – which, most of the time, he won, for my father wanted to listen to the commentary, too. Most unfair.

And, o, the agony of having to wait for your favourite song to come on - either from the Shanker Jaikishen ‘Anari’ or the S. D. Burman ‘Pyaasa’ – you were assured of listening to it on those Wednesday nights, if it had a place in Binaca Geeth Mala, the Hindi hit parade, compered by the incomparable Ameen Sayani. And there would also be the request programme every morning at 8.

I remember waiting for the current favourite to come on, with paper and pen in hand, to jot down the words. So that we could sing along too. And if your mother called out to you at the crucial minute, you had to forego the song, and wait for another opportunity. Somehow, learning the melodies was never a problem
I liked to listen to pop songs too, and these we could get on Radio Ceylon’s service meant for Ceylon. Once again, the words had to be jotted down.

It would take at least four hearings to get the words right. Living in Pondicherry then, it was difficult to get hold of the song books of the different films. The Thamizh song books were easy to come by – and they were prettier too, in the form of a booklet with attractive pictures on the cover. The inside pages had a story synopsis, without a spoiler, along with the songs. The Hindi booklets were just a sheet of paper with the songs printed on both sides, and folded ingeniously to form a booklet of four pages. The cover just had the name of the movie and small picture of the heroine.

How easy it is to sing along (karaoke) today – one can just download the lyrics from the net, or buy the cassettes or CDs and keep listening to favourites.

I had a pretty good collection of song books, those bought from Delhi by a favourite uncle, and later Bala when he went to study there, the local Thamizh delights and my own book which had ‘fair copies’ of the Hindi songs transcribed neatly from the hurried jottings.
They are now lost - either when my father was transferred back to Delhi in 1962, or later when I got married.