walk a-musing

Friday, April 28, 2006

Spring Heading Towards Summer

I was inspired to put up these photos after seeing Pridera's post

My daily(?!) walks had been a bit of an ordeal the first three months of the year thanks to the cold weather. Then not only has the weather improved, but I also got to see these beauties whenever I step out!

I don't know the names of most of them ....

I thought white flowers would not look good agaist a light background. But they look quite alright don't they?

On the other hand, these magnolias looked so magnificent, but the photo does not do justice at all!

So these are the flowers Wordsworth wrote about..Daffodils!

Some flash of colour


Thursday, April 27, 2006

My World - Of Heroic Mice and Thai Curries

"Hey V?.....How about going to the Kinokuniya book shop today?"
"Yayyy! Yippee! .......Will you buy me a book, Ma?"
"Mmm....Let's see...."
"Owww.....! I hate it when you say 'Let's see'!"

(Havn't I heard that before somewhere?....Oh yeah... that was ME many years ago.....complaining to MY mom..)

"V, look here, there is no rule that we HAVE to buy a book whenever we go to the book shop. It is good to just browse, you know! Sometimes we may get the same books in the library"
"I hate to just browse. I will only come, if we are buying books"

(I never said that to my mom! I was a nice, mild, undemanding.... oh alright, I just didn't dare!)

"See.... these shops even allow you to sit in a corner and read...., you can read some of the books there, make a note to look for some others in the library, and if there is a book we really like...."
"Right!...One book then?"
"Hey wait....! Let's see... I mean...Oh,ok!"

(Why on earth did I yield so easily?? hm....... C'mon, atleast he is not asking for video games, he is turning out to be a regular book lover.... and yeah....perhaps it will give me some time to browse for my books....)


"C'mom Ma, the kids' section is out there!"
"OK.. V, you be there... I will go round the shop and come back to you.....V? Hello ? V?"
"Ma, look! Magic Tree House books! There is one I have not read.... can I buy it?"
"Wait wait, go through the shelves..... there must be other books you will like...."
"But I like this....!"
"Your school has loads of MTH books"
"Not this one, See? This is new!"
"V.... Listen! I am not prepared to spend $6 on a book you will finish in 15 minutes. You can wait for the school to get it. Now look for other books"
(Sulk sulk....)

("Hmm.... This book is interesting....'Galileo's daughter'....Is it a biography, or....")

"Ma....look at this.....! This is really a great book on soccer. There are so many books on soccer there, come let me show you....."
"YOU can look through them V, let me spend some time here..."
"Just come for a minute...., please.... see? Isnt this wonderful? Here is Thierry Henry! Guess who this is.....? It is Ronaldhino when he was a kid!!"
"Hmm, nice. Ok.... can I go now?"
"Can I buy this..? pleeeease??"
"Dont even think about it!! $45 for a book of pictures of soccer players! Most certainly not!"
(Sulk sulk....)

("Ahha.... this is interesting! Biography of Iris Murdoch...I wonder if it is the same as.....")

"Ma.... I finally found a book I really really want. Brian Jacques is a really good author! All the characters in his books are animals. There are mice, rats, shrews, badgers, ferrets, otters, moles, squirrels...it is really informative..."
"Dont you play the 'informative' card on me! If you want information, we have the animal encyclopaedia at home"
"Seriously, you learn a lot from this book! Infact I have been telling YOU to read 'Martin the Warrior'. It is the best...and Ma,this is JUST $25. Or.....is that a lot?"
"Ofcourse it is a lot!......But well....Ok, you can have it..... Now, will you leave me alone for just a while....?"
"Wowie!! Thanks Ma, sure, you go ahead!"
(Hug Hug)

("'Ancestors tale' by Richard Dawkins.....is it history? Where did I hear the name of Dawkins before?")

"Now what ....V?
"I am really hungry......"


The two of us sit at Delifrance, eating pizza baguette and sipping tea......with V happily reading about the adventures of Luke, Martin's father. I glance through the 'Vegetarian Thai Dishes' I bought for $4 from a display next to the cash counter. I suppose they keep them there just to comfort harassed moms.
Over the last few years, I have learnt all about the comparitive sizes of various Dinosaurs, the complex evolutionary paths of different Pokemons, the jinxes and hexes used by Harry Potter and other witches and wizards, the adventures of Martin the Warrior (mouse), the differences between Vampires and Vampaneze (ugh!), and more recently, the missions of the young MI6 agent Alex Rider.
The other day, a friend asked me,
"Anu, you like Amitav Ghosh's books, don't you? Have you read his recent one on Cambodia?"
Amitav.... Ghosh.....?? Er....Who is that?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Charity shops

A feature of every town in England is the charity shop. The way it works is this. Let us say you have a book you no longer need, or a sweater you no longer fit into, or a toy your child played with ages ago and has now outgrown....and you just don't know what to do with it. What you can do is take it to a shop run by a charitable organisation and donate it. They decide whether it is in good enough condition for someone else to be interested in buying it. If it is, they fix a price on it and display it in their shop. The price is much less than its original price and there are many people ready to buy it. The organisation gets money for its work, you feel good that you did not throw away something that was once useful to you, and you actually helped in a good cause.

I think this is a wonderful idea. There are charity shops run by Oxfam (which I believe started the trend and has hundreds of shops), Amnesty International, Salvation army, British heart foundation, cancer research UK, Marie Curie cancer care, British red cross, and many others. They sells books, clothes, toys, CDs, cassettes, gifts and so on. Most of them are single room shops with very pretty window displays, that would tempt you to go in and have a look. Most of the shops are run by volunteers. It has been estimated that nearly a hundred billion pounds are raised every year for charity through these shops. There is the additional advantage that many things which would only have gone to the landfill are being given a further use. One step towards 'reduce, re-use and recycle'!

I hear there are charity shops in many other countries. I wonder why they have not caught on in India. There are innumerable organisations working for good causes. There would be lots of people happy to buy things in good condition, available at low rates. I am equally sure there are many people who hang on to unused items in the house for the simple reason that they dont want to throw them away, but would gladly part with them if they are sure someone will use them.You may say that one might as well donate things to people who actually need them. But there is always the problem of linking up the needy to the one giving the charity. This is an excellent way of bringing them together! Are there charity shops in India that I am not aware of?

I volunteer at a charity book shop. It is both agony and ecstasy for me! More about it in my next post.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Did they rule my country?

"Just look at this inefficiency.... terrible.....! Whereas, in foreign countries......"
Are such comments still made?

2005. We shift to this town in UK, stay at a serviced apartment for a few weeks, find a suitable apartment to rent. So far so good. With three days left to move, the fun begins. The estate agent says he has mailed the rental agreement, but we don't recieve it. We go to the agency. A cursory "Sorry about that!" , and we get a new form. We find that our 'previous landlord' in UK has to give a letter saying we have always paid our rents on time. We call up the manager of the serviced apartment. "Sure!" she says and forgets all about it for the next 24 hours. When the letter doesn't arrive, we call her again. "I was busy. I will try to send it today". TRY......!?? She knows that we HAVE to leave the serviced apartment the next day and if we havn't got our apartment by then, we have nowhere to go! But the letter arrives the next morning. We move.

There is gas, electricity, and water in the new apartment, but we have to apply for the telephone. We do. We get a letter on the 1st, telling us our telephone number, and saying the line will be activated on the 21st. 21 DAYS?? This is a 'first world country'! Surely there must be some mistake? We call the service provider from the mobile. But the letter is right, no engineer is free before that date. On the 21st, the engineer will make the connections outside our building and the phone will start working. Sigh! We settle down to wait.

The much awaited day arrives, and I lift the phone every few minutes to see if there is a dial tone, but no, silence. Towards afternoon it occurs to me to dial the number given to us, from my mobile. I hear the phone ringing and....... a lady picks up the phone!! Ooops, I have dialled a wrong number! Since someone HAS picked up the phone, I tentatively ask if the number is such and such and the lady says no. Ah..., so I HAVE dialled a wrong number. I dial again, careful not to make a mistake. The same lady on the other end, a little exasperated. "No...! It is NOT that number!" .......Just where is my call going? Now we call customer service. After being on line for 45 minutes (no exaggeration!) we are told that the engineer has finished with our area for this week, and will visit us after 5 days. Wha...?? Can't believe this. Meanwhile a friend visits me from Bangalore and through him I come to know that Mysore is now completely Wi-fi!! I can sit in a park in Mysore and access the internet.

Five days pass and finally a mechanic arrives, checks all the connections within the house, tells me that everything in the house is ok. There must be some fault with the lines outside. I am assured that an engineer will arrive shortly to correct it. I wonder what 'shortly' means. A couple of hours later, I am relieved to see the engineer working furiously outside the apartment, in the midst of a tangle of cables. I learn that our cable had been connected to the apartment downstairs. They had TWO cables leading to the same phone! Cool! I just hope that the exasperated lady downstairs hasn't made long distance calls through my line.

I have just started reading a book called 'Empire. How Britain made the modern world', by Nial Ferguson. According to the blurb, the book discusses this: "....Just how did a small, rainy island in the north atlantic..... rule the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia". I would really like to know.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Current Run Rate

Most of my old friends won't believe what they are reading. "Anu...? run rate..? Is she talking about cricket? what does Anu know about cricket? She doesnt even like cricket!" They are actually right. I don't know much about cricket and what I do know, does not particularly excite me. You see, I grew up in a family where my father believed that cricket was not a sport at all. He pointed at some of the famous cricketers of the 70's and their big paunches, and said that if the so called best cricketers developed paunches while being on the team, it can't be much of a sport. I think he is right. I don't think much of a game which, if I played, I would be standing waiting for something to happen 80% of the time. I prefer games like tennis, basket ball, badminton, where there is continuous action for everyone....

But sometimes one has to develop an interest in some things for various reasons. In my case, the reason was, I married and, ....no no, my hubby is not a great fan of cricket either. He is mildly interested, but is ready to sit through the night to watch only soccer..... I got married and moved to an apartment, where my neighbours had two young school going sons. They became my great friends, particularly the younger one who was about 8 years old. When I got back from work in the evening, little Chinu always welcomed me outside my door, giving me the day's news. It could be something interesting that happened in school or home, or a fight he had with his friend. One evening he was hopping in and out of his apartment when I entered the building and as soon as he saw me, called out, "Auntie.... Azhar duckoo....!".

(This is one of the beauties of kannada. Whenever we like a word that belongs to English, all we have to do is add an "oo" or a "u" to it and it becomes our own. For example, when we speak about computers in kannada, we dont have to look for a kannada word for computer, we can just say "computeru" and we have a new word!)

Anyway, here was little Chinu telling me that Azhar was a duck. I was zapped! Even with my limited knowledge of cricket I knew that there was this guy called Azhar who was the captain of India's cricket team. What can it mean when you say he is a duck? How on earth did he transform into one? Chinu's countenance did not indicate whether I was expected to be happy about it or sad. Before I could react, he dragged me into their house. I walked in and looked at the screen totally unsure what to expect. There I saw this normal looking man without feathers or beak, but with a bat under his arm, head bowed, walking slowly amidst a huge uproar. He didnt seem particularly happy. And as I watched, a cartoon duck made an appearance, also with a bat under its arm, shoulders drooping, and started walking behind the man. I was about to laugh at this, because it was really very comical, but a glance at Chinu's father alerted me to the fact that this was not something one could laugh about. After nodding my head to everything the boys and their father excitedly told me and a few "waa"s and "chhe"s, I walked home with a determination to find out about this duck business from my husband. He would surely know.

This was my entry into the world of cricket. I wanted to impress Chinu, so I thought I better learn something about ducks. And I did. Soon I could calculate 'run rates' and 'required run rates' and since I normally start watching the match only when there are a few overs left and ofcourse, India is playing, I even make "intelligent" guesses about the chances of India winning a particular match. (I hear someone saying, "Aww.. no one can guess thaaaat". But I never said I guessed right!)

My son has inherited his father's love for soccer. But he has to play soccer, rugby and cricket in school according to the season. The coming season being 'summer', it is time for cricket. Meanwhile, having attended a rugby match in school, I have decided that cricket is much better than rugby, atleast for young boys to play. I don't have to be worried about my child breaking his bones in a 'ruck' or a 'scrum'. Ofcourse people have pointed out to me that in cricket, if the child dozes off while fielding, a ball may hit him and hurt him. But I think this can be prevented, by getting a few extras to stand around the field and talk to the boys to keep them awake. Anyway, my son will attend a cricket coaching camp soon. Since there are school holidays now and the India vs England series is on, I have been watching it with him once in a while, and imparting to him what little knowledge I have.

And I think I have found a flaw in the terminology of cricket. Why is 'current run rate' called that? For me 'current' means 'belonging to the present time'. In terms of run rate, current run rate is the run rate during the last 3 or 4 overs. What is now called 'current run rate' is actually the average run rate for all the overs before the current one. The average run rate is important, but the run rate for the last few overs is equally important. Consider this. India is batting second and in the 46th over. We have made 225 runs till now. We need 50 more runs to win. That is when I switch on the TV. The announcement says, "current run rate is 5 runs per over, required run rate is 10 runs per over." Depressing indeed. I would switch off immediately. But the fact is that we have a number of wickets still on hand and the players have been hitting left, right and center in the last 5 overs, making about 10 runs per over. What term do you have for this recent run rate? None. The announcement should be, "The average run rate is 5 runs per over, the current run rate is 10 runs per over, and the required run rate is 10 runs per over." If I hear this, I can decide to keep the TV on for a few more minutes and hope to see India win. What say you? (Ofcourse there are some who say that India winning is really not so good, we should consistently lose, so that other games in India have a chance of revival. Well....)

I wonder if my father will disown me if he gets to read this?? Naa.... parents are very forgiving. But I can hear him saying to my mother.."She should never have given up her job. Look what a 'nirudyogi' she has become. She spends time thinking about and writing articles on cricket!!"
(the nearest English equivalent of 'nirudyogi' is 'jobless')


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Snakes in the lunch box

I wrote this in response to the comment by 'Bru' to my previous blog.

I was in class 5, so perhaps I was around 10 years old. My school, which was on the outskirts of the city, had many acres of fields and gardens around it. One afternoon, I was sitting on the grass, watching some senior students play throwball. I clearly remember scratching the ground beside me with a stick, and unearthing what looked to me like small tubers or plant bulbs. There were about four or five of them. They were less than an inch in diameter, and what made them different from ordinary tubers was, they were very soft and they appeared to be pulsating. My sister is a biology enthusiast. I vaguely remember that I wanted to take them home and show them to her. The only container I could get was my empty lunch box. Naturally, I put these interesting objects into it and carried them home.

I dont remember clearly what happened at home. The version I get to hear from time to time is that I left the lunch box in my book case. After a few days, the room started smelling really bad. When my mother searched for the source of this stench, she discovered little dead snakes and eggs in the lunch box.

For years I didn't believe what my mother and sisters told me. Perhaps my mother had thrown away the contents of the box by the time I came home from school, or more likely, threw the lunch box out. I insisted that I had never brought home snake eggs, and definitely not baby snakes. They were something else. But once on discovery channel, I happened to see snake eggs, and from the way they were being handled, I knew what they must feel like to touch. And it then dawned upon me that what I had picked up that day were indeed snake eggs!

But why did I keep them in the book case? Why did I not show them to my sister? Did I forget all about them once I put it there? I have no idea! Now I feel terrible to think of the poor snake babies hatching into a dark suffocating box and never seeing the light of day! On the other hand, what would have been my mom's reaction if she had opened it and found live snakes in it?? Better not think about it now!

Sunday, April 02, 2006


In a few days, my son V turns ten! Just the other day, when he was 4 or 5, and was pestering me for a pet, I had promised to get him one on his tenth Birthday. The reasoning was that , no pet could be happy, cooped up in our 21st floor apartment in Singapore. In a few years, we would go back to India, and live in a house. Also, at the age of ten, he would be old enough to take some resposibility in caring for the pet. Perhaps, I even secretly hoped that if we put it off long enough he would grow out of this fancy for pets. V has neither forgotten my promise, nor has he lost interest in pets.

I have never taken care of an animal before. Ofcourse, that does not mean that I don't understand how he feels. When I was about eight, I desperately wanted a cow. It was all very simple. I would keep her in the shed behind the house. I would keep the hay in the loft. I just had to learn how to milk the cow, which I was sure, I would master in a few days. When no other line of reasoning worked, my mother told me that the red oxide floor of the shed was too smooth for the hooves of the cow, she would slip and fall. My (then) simple mind accepted that and I gave up the idea of owning a cow. Ofcourse I still love cows, and during the summer holidays in Mysore, when a wandering cow smells the water melon we are eating and ambles towards our house, I like to give her the thick skin of the melon and watch her as she eats it with a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes and a juicy "crrunch...., crrunch....". I nurse a small hope that one day I will own a tiny farm and a line of adorable cows.....

Back to my son. When bigger animals were ruled out, V asked for fish. In a moment of motherly weakness, I brought home a fish bowl and a couple of red coloured little fish, fish food, a net, and whatever else the shopkeeper insisted were absolutely necessay, to care for the fish. V was supremely happy. The bowl of fish sat on the dining table when he ate, shifted to his room when he played, stood on the table beside his bed when he slept. Things were great for a couple of weeks. Then one morning we found one fish dead, and in a few days the other. Naturally, my son was very upset. He could not understand why the fish had to die. I said the space in the bowl was not enough for them, and perhaps they were not happy with the chlorine in the tap water, which we used to fill the bowl. I said no to buying any more fish. We shouldn't bring home and kill the poor creatures.

On our next trip to the botanical gardens, V took a bottle and the net with him. With me hanging on to him from behind, he diligently collected dirty water and some little swimming things from a pond. He was very happy that he now had some fish, which he would keep in the water they were used to. They would surely survive. We came home and observed the little swimmers. I felt they were tadpoles. He was sure they were fish. I said we would soon find out, they would develop legs. But they died.

My son walked around unhappily for a few days. One fine rainy evening, he ran into the house and took a small plastic box and ran out again. The next thing I knew, I had a snail, lovingly called Melville, on my hands. The next few days saw me washing and tearing lettuce at lunch time, not for my salad, but for Melville. I told V that Melville was lonely, it was not good to confine him in that box. I hadn't chosen my words well. That evening, Melville got company. I cleaned the box, and made salad for two snails from that day. Taking pity on them, I sometimes spread a paper on the center table and allowed them to wander around for a while, much to the disgust of my friends. One day, V saw me washing their box wearing gloves and with wrinkled nose. He finally took pity on me and took the snails out and set them free. He occasionally came back from play saying "I met Melville today"

After this there were a series of other creepy crawlies. He once brought home a grass hopper and played with it in the balcony for a few days, till it found a way out and flew away. Another day, he found a cocoon on the stem of a plant and brought the stem home. We put it in the empty fish bowl and covered it with a net. I will never forget the look of exultation on V's face, when he came home from school, and found the cocoon open and a dull brown coloured little butterfly flying around the bowl. He voluntarily took the bowl out and set the butterfly free. Next were three spiders in a jar. They were with us till the bigger spider ate the smaller two.

The experience with the fish(?) from the botanical gardens had left V with a desire to grow tadpoles. On the next trip to Mysore, he got his willing aunt to bring home a terrarium and spent the next day adding mud, arranging stones and planting some small plants in it. Next, we had a dozen tadpoles swimming in the water in the terrarium. Much of V's time was spent counting the tadpoles hidden behind the stones and leaves, making sure they were all alive, and observing them with a lens. To his glee some of them soon developed little legs, their tails disappeared, and one day we found a tiny frog sitting on one of the plants, looking out curiously at the world. We quickly tied a net round the mouth of the terrarium, to prevent it escaping, Next day when we were getting ready to leave Mysore, there was another little frog looking out at us from the top of a plant. V did try to sell the idea of taking them with us, but didn't succeed. The next thing we heard from Mysore was that the frogs had escaped despite the net and everyone at home was on their hands and knees trying to catch them. Even a week later someone would come upon one of the little fellows in some unexpected place.

NOW. V wants a REAL pet. Real, according to him being, one that either meows or barks. Heellppp!!!!