Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

Sharada, fog of mercy

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Social, Women on September 7, 2013 at 7:24 am


O Sharada!
Your spotless white saree,
wraps your broken shell;
A gauze bandage
covering cigarette-butt burns.
I can’t see ’em,
My injured Goddess.
You hide them just well.

Above the river’s
turbulent waters,
Sunlight drenched,
you dazzle, you float.
A white mist, a fog
Of mercy you wear
like a white cloth.

Your Vina’s
Manicured music,
hides a string-bend,
pulled beyond it’s limits.
I strain to hear it,
O Sharada!
I thought it was music all along.

Are we ecstatic,
In your presence?
Are we blind to your cry?
Do we not hear
That your music
Is one of pain?

Should I lightlax3
My protest vigil candles
At your feet, Sharada?

Or if you so wish
Some fragrant mombattis
May cover the abuse
Just as perfectly as you have
All along.

Wealth and wisdom flow
much like a river gush.
Your discerning swan, though
sinks with a puzzled blush.

Take my eyes off from,
your broken face.
I need a loving smile.
Glossy calendar art,
Focus, help me pray
on godly things.
Of rituals I must complete

Here’s some talcum you may need,
to look just like her.
Take it, my gift to you.
A touch-up, a cover-up.
Sharda, a dab will do.
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Blowin’ In The Wind – Bob Dylan

In Music on August 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm


[Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform during a civil rights rally on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C.]

This recording is part of the Kearney Barton Collection at the Washington University Libraries. The artist is Prabha Devi, recorded in 1970 for the album “Sitar Goes International”.
“Blowin’ in the Wind” is a song written by Bob Dylan and released on his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. Although it has been described as a protest song, it poses a series of questions about peace, war and freedom. The refrain “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” has been described as “impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind”.
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.


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The Star-Spangled Banner

In Music on July 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

The American National Anthem





  1. American A capella


Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Short Story, Social, Writing Assignments on June 23, 2013 at 10:34 am



I entered the barber shop via a hidden and decrepit side-street. I gently stepped over Jimmy – that lazy dog sprawled across the entrance to the barber shop. It noticed me after I had crossed over and quickly stood up to wag it’s tail enthusiastically. Jimmy, and that included every mongrel here named so, practiced the art of the welcome at the slightest hint it may be required. This was the third Jimmy that stood guard at the steps in the past few years. I acknowledged him by calling it’s name. He must be a barber’s karmic avatar, just like the previous two, unable to break free from the cyclical karmic forces that tied them down to a barber’s shop. He let out a contended high-pitched whine that quickly lowered in pitch to a wide silent yawn as he coiled around himself for comfort and sleep.

I deftly pushed the glass door that had a life-size sticker of a smiling woman’s face with hands clasped in a ‘namaste’ position. This was all Babu the barber had to offer as a receptionist and I was OK by the lack of fanfare here. The banner on top of this shop provided me with gentle amusement. ‘Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler’ it proclaimed, mocking my fine sense of linguistic prowess and shaking my firm opinion on a gender biased cabal and profession. This was good. One already had a sense of psychological trimming-down outside the barber shop; and by means of a reverse meta-physical extrapolation: the real trimming of real overgrown hair awaited inside Babu’s parlous: The haircut.

“Come, come” Babu invited me in with his typical South Indian hospitality, anglicizing a word-pair borrowed from his native tongue – Tamil, that had a general predilection for reduplication. In Tamil, simply stopping with the single word “Come” would have meant giving the guest a partial welcome. An incomplete invitation bordering on business-neutral. Babu’s was different. This was home and it demanded completeness in all words, deeds and actions.

He said that out loud enough to mean a general invitation on behalf of the few contended men sitting inside. I could count at least three of them that were overstaying their welcome that only Babu’s could provide. Each one of them felt obliged at that instance to make light conversation with me sometime during the course of my haircut. A self sustaining bio-sphere of happiness. That was what drew me in. A momentary hypnotizing event, this haircut. I would pick on elements of this parlor, as I reclined on my chair to ruminate on it’s divine purpose within this cozy clam-shell of a barber shop.
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Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena

In Music, Music, Poem on May 21, 2013 at 12:10 pm



Album Title: Divinity 4 – Spiritual Music for Peace
Artists: Akhlak Hussain, Ashit Desai, Rakesh Chaurasia (Flute), Sunil Das (Sitar), Ulhas Bapat (Santoor)
Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena
This very popular devotional and sacred song is from the 1971 movie Guddi. This Hindi film song is sung as morning prayer song, in many schools across India. Lyrics by Gulzar, composed by the late legendary Vasant Desai in raaga “Kedar” and sung by the child prodigy Vani Jayaram. This song won several national awards at the time.

हम को मन की शक्ति देना, मन विजय करे
दूसरों की जय से पहले, खुद को जय करे

O Lord, grant me strength of mind and heart, that it may be victorious
Before I persuade another to victory, help me master and dominate my self

भेदभाव अपने दिल से साफ़ कर सके
दोस्तों से भूल हो तो माफ़ कर सके
झूठ से बचे रहे, सच का दम भरे
दूसरों की जय से पहले, खुद को जय करे

Let my heart not discriminate
Let my heart be forgiving
Save me from that which is untrue, and let truth prevail
Before I persuade another to victory, help me master and dominate my self

मुश्किलें पड़े तो हम पे इतना कर्म कर
साथ दे तो धर्म का, चले तो धर्म कर
खुद पे हौसला रहे, बदी से ना डरे
दूसरों की जय से पहले, खुद को जय करे

If I find myself on a difficult path, do this much for me:
Walk with me if my cause is right,
and if I must walk, then assure me my cause is right,
That I do not lose faith in myself, and fear no evil
Before I persuade another to victory, help me master and dominate my self


  1. I took some liberties in this translation. This line in particular, posed an interesting challenge:

    दूसरों की जय से पहले, खुद को जय करे

    From a Christian perspective: Jesus tells his disciples “remove the beam from your eyes before you plan on removing the speck from your brother’s eyes”. His tone here is one of admonishment.

    Gulzar however, puts a positive spin to the judgementalism in this verse. I find that very interesting. Maybe he meant it to be child-friendly? I translated it thus:

    Before I persuade another to victory, help me master and dominate my self



Other poems
tucker raghu vatican2
Aaj jaane ki zid na karo Hey Bhagwan – Raghu Dixit Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum


Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Religion on May 18, 2013 at 7:27 am

The song ‘Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum’ is from the 1957 classic Do Aankhen Barah Haath directed by V. Shantaram The song pleads for the strength to be virtuous, embraces death as a reality, accepts human fraility, and implores God to take all our sins and weaknesses. The lyricist Bharat Vyas penned this eternal classic.

Album Title: Divinity 4 – Spiritual Music for Peace

Artists: Akhlak Hussain, Ashit Desai, Rakesh Chaurasia (Flute), Sunil Das (Sitar), Ulhas Bapat (Santoor)


ऐ मालिक तेरे बन्दे हम
ऐसे हों हमारे करम
नेकी पर चलें और बदी से टलें,
ताकि हंसते हुए निकले दम

O Lord, you are our creator
Our deeds are the outcome of
a righteous path we walk and evil we shun
we smile fulfilled till our last breath
O Lord, you are our creator

बड़ा कमज़ोर है आदमी,
अभी लाखों हैं इसमें कमी
पर तू जो खड़ा, है दयालू बड़ा
तेरी किरपा से धरती थमी
दिया तूने हमें जब जनम
तू ही झेलेगा हम सबके ग़म
नेकी पर…

Frail is the human being
With a million shortcomings
But you who stands tall, is forgiving
The world exists by your grace
You who breathed life into us
Will surely bear our burdens?

जब ज़ुल्मों का हो सामना,
तब तू ही हमें थामना
वो बुराई करें, हम भलाई भरें
नहीं बदले की हो कामना
बढ़ उठे प्यार का हर कदम,
और मिटे बैर का ये भरम
नेकी पर…

When put to the test
O Lord, hold us firm
To our evil-doers, we are kind
May there be no desire for revenge
May every step ahead be for love
May every thought of enmity be wiped

ये अंधेरा घना छा रहा,
तेरा इंसान घबरा रहा
हो रहा बेखबर, कुछ न आता नज़र
सुख का सूरज छुपा जा रहाहै
तेरी रोशनी में जो दम
तो अमावस को कर दे पूनम
नेकी पर…

The world is engulfed in darkness
Your creation is afraid
He is uninformed and blind
The light of peace and happiness is hidden from him
Such is the strength of your presence,
a moonless night glows bright


The original song The movie online


  1. First translation to the prayer
  2. I saw a bit of Akira Kurosawa in this classic. An early part of Bollywood history, effectively indigenizing a western media/format with song and dance. The song presented here, is woven as part of the movie’s fabric, not in isolation but very much part of the story. It’s as memorable a hook, by Indian sensibilities, as say the theme in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
  3. Some Kurosawa elements in this Shantaram movie:
    The season as guide: Shantaram takes his convicts into a barren place. With the fury of the summer sun giving way to the joy that rain and spring brings, he highlights the transformation of beasts to men.

    Wilderness meets Village: Like Kurosawa, Shantaram toys with civilization meeting the frontier. This is a cusp where rules are flexed. It throws up surprises. The frontier convict does not know how to handle a villager.

    Ambiguous ally: The convicts are reluctant participants of an idealists’ open air freedom project to reform prisoners. They actually want to kill him and escape to freedom.

    Challenges to change: Shantaram gets deeper here. His convicts have not experienced freedom in a long while, and so when offered it, they cannot sleep in peace. They tie their legs with heavy weights, so it feels like regular leg irons, thus inducing “normalcy”

    Fake Opponent: The seller of toys is their unwilling partner. She turns around and imposes higher moral standards that the convicts adhere to without much resistance

    Sacrificial leader: The protagonist eventually gives up his life in saving the work of the convicts. He trades his life for his ideals.

    The transforming talisman: The idealist’s two eyes are looked upon as the watchful eyes of a jail warden, ensuring that the convicts do not escape. This trope in the end transforms itself in the eyes of the convicts. They no longer look at it as eyes that will catch them doing wrong, but as benevolent eyes that look down from the heavens to protect them.

    There is another transforming talisman: the dead tree: The convicts after their morning ablutions at a tank, take mouthful of water and spit water on a dead tree, more in jest than anything else. In the end, this tree grows leaves and becomes a beautiful blossoming tree. The convicts take flowers from this tree and gift it to the superintendent of police. This tree represents themselves. Society spits on these convicts as murderers and cheats. In the end, they are transformed to become useful citizens of the same society that ostracized them.

    Of deeper psychological interest are the talismans: Not only does the talisman transform the convict, it transforms itself, or in how it is being viewed over a period of time.


Other poems
tucker raghu vatican2
Aaj jaane ki zid na karo Hey Bhagwan – Raghu Dixit Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena


The anklet bells went dead

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Political, Short Story, Social, Women on April 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm




Bhanu Devi left the small water tap running while she scrubbed off the dried-up blobs of henna paste on her palms and feet. As the olive green henna dregs, washed away on the white tiles of a dimly lit bathroom, an intricate bloody-red pattern emerged on her palms and feet. She reminisced on her own wedding preparations of a long time ago.

“Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land” demanded her mother to the one applying the henna design, a day prior to her wedding, some three decades ago.

With that, the design grew even more intricate. Bhanu Devi snapped out of this dreamy haze when she heard foot steps behind her.

“Don’t waste the water” said Meera Bai the prison warden, rather stiffly.

Bhanu Devi looked at her palms. They were flush red with the henna design. Yes, they were intricate. Yes, a mosquito will find it difficult to find an open spot to land. She turned her palms over to reveal an equally red finger tip and nails. She weaved her fingers together and imagined herself as a dead corpse. She would make a pretty one, she thought. She shut the tap, picked up her white saree and gave it a quick wiggle. She was prepared to die.

Meera Bai escorted her back to her cell. It was too early for the other prison mates to be awake. It was 3:00 AM on a cold Tihar jail Thursday morning, and Bhanu Devi’s anklet bells proved an insufficient wake-up ringtone for the deep sleepers. She passed Rupali the prayerful, Mohsina the beautician, Savitri the musician and Jamila the vaastu expert. The anklet bells were Savitri the musician’s idea. They were all behind bars, they were all fast asleep. They knew each other for more than a decade now. They were the survivors who lived past an alarming mortality rate in this notorious maximum security prison for hardened criminals. She stopped at her tracks, as she felt a tug at her saree. She looked down. It was Jamila the vaastu expert, kneeling down, one hand holding the prison bar and the other, Bhanu Devi’s white saree.

“Face east, you will attain moksha” she whispered fiercely. Having said that she let out a loud wail and started crying.

Just the previous night, Mohsina the beautician applied the henna on Bhanu Devi’s hands and feet. She was constantly reminded of her brief as the rest of the girls giggled – “Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land”

Rupali the prayerful, read from the scriptures, but they did not have the patience to hear it. So she slipped into a love triangle Bollywood potboiler. “Rupali, tell us what you would have done, if you caught your husband cheating?” They actually knew it in great detail, and needed nothing to jog their memories. This unusual night was a last supper of sorts, and it threw up unusual questions. They already knew that Rupali had made it impossible to find any trace of the victim – her cheating husband, and his illicit lover, some two decades ago.

“Let us not dwell in a past where we can never find redemption. Memory only serves to confirm our rotten selves.” Rupali slipped into a simple sermon to an attentive audience of four that night. “Only action is a great redeemer, hence let us do good deeds”

Bhanu Devi leaned forward to clutch Rupali, but stopped abruptly realizing that she had pasty henna on her hands. “Thank you for keeping me alive in this dark world”

Mohsina the beautician pulled her gently back and signaled to Savitri the musician to wipe the tears from Bhanu Devi’s face “Just dab, not wipe. We do not want the kajal to smear the entire face”

Savitri the musician made it abundantly clear that the anklet bells be of the seventh note of the swaras. The “Nishadha” or the high pitched “ni” of the musical scale. “Nothing else would do” she had mentioned to Lalu the pimp, who was a tone deaf gate-keeper of prisons, and got it right after the fifth try. “Ni, you bloody idiot!” yelled Savitri the musician loudly into his ears. “Ni, Ni, Ni, SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi, Ni, Ni, get it?”

Lalu, finally got it by sheer luck. It was the luck of trial-and-error. The anklet bells matched the damned “Ni”, a high-frequency note that Savitri the musician swore you could hear from the other side of the universe. It was her damned idea, that this high pitched note, could be heard loud and clear from a distance. Even from the gallows, that is.

Jamila the vaastu expert, gasped for breath, by which time everybody was awake. “Do not worry darling, we are with you!” cried somebody in the dark and it was clear it was a male voice.

Bhanu Devi walked the 240 steps north, 300 steps east, up a small staircase of 5 steps, 34 steps right and across the multi-faith temple-mosque-church for lost causes to arrive at the gallows. “Hey, Bhagwan!” said the hangman as he nervously slipped the black mask over her face and proceeded to tighten the noose that he hoped would not fail. He was no professional hangman. But they said they will pay him Rs.5,000 if he gets it right. They forgot to tell him it would be a woman though. India’s first woman to be hanged to death. “Beyond rarest-of-rare cases” he thought to himself as he pulled the lever.

Bhanu Devi slumped out of sight and into the dark gallows. She did make a valiant attempt to jangle the anklets in the depths to produce the “Ni” that Savitri assured would reach their ears. That she had moved on from this world to another.

“Did you hear that?” asked Savitri at around 5:01 AM that fateful Thursday morning. That high pitched “Ni” reached her ears.

Three times before it went dead.


  1. Pranab clears way for first-ever hanging of a woman
  2. Vijay Madhav’s cover – ARR’s Uyire/Tu Hi Re
  3. The Death Penalty Worldwide
  4. “It’s like living in a graveyard.”
  5. Dearth of hangmen in India



Other Short Stories
bharathi raghu pieta
A Delivery in the Slow Mail Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla Gudiya – A doll that saved me



Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla

In Arts, Carnatic, Music, Music on April 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I am a closet guitarist. When the institute where I train, offered me a chance to take a few free classes, I asked more out of a whim: you wouldn’t happen to teach carnatic vocals, do you?

Laxman, the institute manager, swiveled around in his chair towards a girl seated next to him and gave her two thumbs up. Then he swiveled back towards me with the same two thumbs lifted in elation. Responding to my quizzical look, he said, throwing a glance at the girl –

The teacher just accepted our offer to join us, about five minutes back! Your classes begin next week

I gauged her to be a pleasant 20-something. Every teacher here at this institute, was a 20-something and she fit in like a glove. It was me that was a bit fossilized at the edges.

I have been enjoying carnatic music for a long time. I remember it playing on our Murphy vacuum-tube-valve-radio of my childhood. It would entice me with it’s green-glowing magic-eye, like a firefly on a dark night. All India Radio ruled our house. A time before the advent of television. The gadgets of today appear to be post-armageddon by comparison! But I had never taken any formal carnatic vocal classes.

Armed with an old memory of having bagged a first prize for western style singing, a stainless steel lunch box, that we later etched my name on (for posterity, joked a sibling), I caved in to a heady rhetorical question – Why not?

I sharpened my two HB pencils and put it inside my soft leather pencil pouch. I threw in the sharpener and an eraser for good measure. Just in case we need that. There might be a lot of note taking. Don’t want to be caught without the correct instruments of this trade. I went to class with a mix of anticipation and nervousness. The guitar, on the other hand, was a safe bet, a familiar territory, do some fly-by strumming and pass off as an incorrigible junkie. Vocals sounded plain defeating. I was setting myself up for a grand fall here.

I waited for a few minutes inside our sound-proof audio room. Simple mercies, this soundproofing. I do not want the entire world to listen in!.

Did you guys meet yet? Laxman stopped by to ask.

No, I said, somewhat relieved.

She probably did not recognize you, he said, and went in search of her.

Why don’t we keep it that way? I thought, fidgeting nervously with my notebook.

Inside my head, I am a smart-aleck.  Outside, I wasn’t so sure.

She barges in, while I am still appreciating the sound-proofing materials.

Hello, how are you, I inquired in my super-cool natural voice.

I did put on a brave front till she asked me to sing. I gulped some much needed oxygen.

Did I hear that right? Me? Sing? I flatly refused to sing, to which she said –

You have to, or we will never know your pitch!

I thought to myself – She is forcing me to sing, is this even legal?

I do all this thinking, but she is firm in her demands.

I did some quick thinking and took out my mobile with a flourish. Brilliant, I’ll just sing-along. I played a carnatic tune by Karthik.

Big mistake.

I cannot sing like Karthik. I cannot breathe like Karthik. I am no Karthik. Here is what my mobile played:



The silly machine assumed that I will adhere to pure gold standards. Wrong!

I started off with my eyes closed. Closing ones eyes during such times is a very cool ostrich trick. I felt I had sound-proofed myself from eternal damnation. After about a minute that seemed to have lasted forever, I opened my eyes, expecting her to have run away or disappeared from the audio room.

But there she was. Unmoved. Unsympathetic. Not a trace of humor to break the embarrassment, in the relentless pursuit of music and it’s teaching.

The demolition was complete. Vestiges of my self-respect were visibly floating around the audio room. I coughed silently. Mostly to comfort myself.

I don’t remember all of the other details in this one hour session, as the carnatic vocabulary fell on me like a Chennai torrent on a tin roof. Thankfully, all bad things come to an end too. She proffered a hand-shake in the end and then introduces herself. Interesting, I thought to myself. She first icily demolishes, then she warms up.

The next day after my vocal misadventure, I open my notebook over a cup of coffee in the morning. Trying to remember what I had learned and hoping my note-taking will rescue me from a quickly fading memory. A near-blank first page greeted me, and one word, scribbled hastily on it, stared back at me – Mayamalavagowla.

Just one word.

I was overly equipped with assorted accouterments to scribble this one raga’s name in a notebook of 100 pages. The lessons must have glided smoothly over my head, for me to have trapped just one butterfly in an hour. I have work to do. This is a beginner’s raga. It should have had an easy two-syllable name. I’d have named it Ma-ya.

Oh! why did they have to complicate it?
Here is Professor Mysore Nagamani Srinath teaching her students Mayamalavagowla. Great for practice, I listen to her while driving, and practice with the windows rolled-up!


Other Short Stories
bharathi pieta pieta
The anklet bells went dead
Gudiya – A doll that saved me A Delivery in the Slow Mail



Pieta Carnatic

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Religion, Women on March 30, 2013 at 6:42 am

A Good Friday reflection, set to the Carnatic raaga, Jounpuri. Aadi taalam
Mahakavi Bharathiyar, wrote this poem when he had misplaced a photograph of his mother. He pines to see her face again. I have set this poem and it’s lyrics to the sorrow of a mother who has just lost her son.
The Shroud of Turin, was made public after 40 years. It is assumed to be an image of Jesus. Mostly wrapped in controversy and mystery! Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, signed it’s public viewing, beginning Good Friday 29th March, 2013. The need to see a picture of the divine christ, bears an uncanny but easy human parallel to the poet’s intense need to recover his mother’s picture. It is this intense need that keeps the Shroud of Turin very real for many believers of the faith, irrespective of what science confirms as true or untrue.
Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus. Pieta is a marble statue of Michaelangelo that depicts a limp and dead son in his mother’s arms. I wonder if these words of the Mahakavi, did not pass through a grieving mother’s mind?

Aasaimugam marantho pochey,

Alas, I have forgotten love’s very face,

idhai yaaridam solven adi thozhi;

My grief is unbearable, my friend;

Nesam marakavillai nenjam,

My heart remembers the tender affections,

enil Ninaivu mugam marakalaamo;

Memory cannot fail me now;

Kannil theriyuthoru thotram,

I perceive him in my mind’s eye,

athil Kannan azhagu muzhuthillai

But I fail to capture his beauty in full;

Nannu mugavadivu kaanil, andha

and I find his eyes,

Nallavalla sirippai kaanom;

Wanting of his winsome smile;

Read the rest of this entry »

Dancing queen on rope

In Arts, Poem, Women on March 1, 2013 at 6:33 am


Suspended, a dancing queen, in mid-air

walks a tight rope, little girl
as we squint at the bright sun and gaze up
she moves, she sways to the drum beats
of an equally hungry father

she moves, he moves from
and we cannot see the pillar
or post up-ahead
she makes progress, she stops


she feigns a tumble
a misstep and we gasp
how bold, how brave, how young
we do ask relevant questions
relevant to us
a village circus ekes out a city life
it can’t, but we won’t, tell them

we have pinned her forever
to the sky
one less to worry about here on earth

she helps us navigate
boredom of ground realities



This is poetry of the damned. Poetry involves risk taking. One has to be a bit depraved or deprived of something to actually make an impact as a poet. They are personal and leave you vulnerable. That is the reason I stopped taking these risks. These risks are scary to me and I cannot sugar-coat them. But I intend to take some now. This being a revival attempt after I left the poetic form alone 25 years ago.

The Politics of Captain Nemo – Anil Menon

In Arts, Random Thoughts on February 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm
nemo-smallLike many current science fiction authors, Jules Verne would’ve been surprised to learn he was one. His ambitions were somewhat different. As he told Alexander Dumas, pere:

“Just as you are the great chronicler of history, I shall be the chronicler of geography.”

And he proceeded to do just that. There are four recurring characters in a Jules Verne novel: air, fire, earth and water. The womb’s domain, so to speak. Verne liked to place his human characters in enclosed, self-contained, unique spaces of one kind or the other– heavier-than-air flying machines, isolated islands, floating cities, villages on tree-tops, the earth’s core, cannon-balls to the moon, steel submarines 20,000 leagues under the sea– and send them out for a spin. For the most part, his people are two-dimensional cross-hairs; their main role is keep track of places in the reader’s mind.

But there is one marvelous exception. In 1912, some forty odd years after the publication of20,000 leagues Under The Sea, Sir Earnest Shackleton wrote in The Future of Exploration:

“…all the work of our modern oceanographers– of Sir John Murray of Challengerfame, Dr. Hjort of the Michael Sars, Prince Albert of Monaco, and of the various marine biological stations– has won less of public attention and interest than did a single one of Jules Verne’s heroes, Captain Nemo of the Nautilus. Thus does a good tale overshadow the romance of real life….”

How did Captain Nemo ever become something more than one of Verne’s story pegs? F. P. Walter  provides one answer:

“…much of the novel’s brooding power comes from Captain Nemo. Inventor, musician, Renaissance genius, he’s a trail-blazing creation, the prototype not only for countless renegade scientists in popular fiction, but even for such varied figures as Sherlock Holmes or Wolf Larsen. However, Verne gives his hero’s brilliance and benevolence a dark underside–the man’s obsessive hate for his old enemy. This compulsion leads Nemo into ugly contradictions: he’s a fighter for freedom, yet all who board his ship are imprisoned there for good; he works to save lives, both human and animal, yet he himself creates a holocaust; he detests imperialism, yet he lays personal claim to the South Pole….Hate swallows him whole.”

It is a plausible explanation. As Captain Nemo readies to destroy an enemy ship– of unspecified nationality– he rages at the tale’s protesting narrator in an Ahab-type outburst:

“I’m the law, I’m the tribunal!  I’m the oppressed, and there are my oppressors! Thanks to them, I’ve witnessed the destruction of everything I loved, cherished, and venerated–homeland, wife, children, father, and mother!  There lies everything I hate! Not another word out of you!”

But who destroyed everything Nemo loved? Which homeland? 20,000 leagues was deliberately silent on these issues. Verne had wanted Nemo to be a Polish rebel who’d participated in the January Uprising and whose family had been murdered by Tsarist Russia for that reason. But Russia happened to be a pal of France at the moment, and Verne’s editor, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, “persuaded” him to omit crucial details.

It resulted in an inferior book. Captain Nemo became a man driven by a series of general nouns. Just compare him with Captain Ahab, in whom motion and motive merged in an ivory stump.

But characters like Nemo do not leave their authors in peace. In 1875, five years after 20,000 leagues, Jules Verne wrote L’île mysterieuse (The Mysterious Island).

French readers learnt that Nemo was Prince Dakkar of Bundelkhand, a distant relative of “Tippo Saib” (Tipu Sultan); someone who’d fought for freedom in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, and whose family had been murdered by the British.

However, readers of the English translation– by W. H. G. Kingston– encountered a very different version. Here are some samples; the fragments on the left are from Kingston’s censored version, the ones on the right are from the much more accurate version by Stephen White.

1. Regarding Nemo’s Origin:

“Captain Nemo was an Indian, the Prince Dakkar, son of a rajah of the then independent territory of Bundelkund. His father sent him, when ten years of age, to Europe, in order that he might receive an education in all respects complete, and in the hopes that by his talents and knowledge he might one day take a leading part in raising his long degraded and heathen country to a level with the nations of Europe.” [Kingston] “Captain Nemo was an Indian prince, the Prince Dakkar, the son of the rajah of the then independent territory of Bundelkund, and nephew of the hero of India, Tippo Saib. His father sent him, when ten years old, to Europe, where he received a complete education; and it was the secret intention of the rajah to have his son able some day to engage in equal combat with those whom he considered as the oppressors of his country.” [White]

2. Regarding the effect of education on Nemo:

He traveled over the whole of Europe. His rank and fortune caused him to be everywhere sought after; but the pleasures of the world had for him no attractions. Though young and possessed of every personal advantage, he was ever grave–somber even–devoured by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and cherishing in the recesses of his heart the hope that he might become a great and powerful ruler of a free and enlightened people.””Still, for long the love of science triumphed over all other feelings.” [Kingston] “He travelled over all Europe. His birth and fortune made his company much sought after, but the seductions of the world possessed no charm for him. Young and handsome, he remained serious, gloomy, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, with implacable anger fixed in his heart.””He hated. He hated the only country where he had never wished to set foot, the only nation whose advances he had refused: he hated England more and more as he admired her. This Indian summed up in his own person all the fierce hatred of the vanquished against the victor. The invader is always unable to find grace with the invaded. The son of one of those sovereigns whose submission to the United Kingdom was only nominal, the prince of the family of Tippo-Saib, educated in ideas of reclamation and vengeance, with a deep-seated love for his poetic country weighed down with the chains of England, wished never to place his foot on that land, to him accursed, that land to which India owed her subjection.” [White]

3. Regarding how the world viewed Prince Dakkar:

To the eyes of those who observed him superficially he might have passed for one of those cosmopolitans, curious of knowledge, but disdaining action; one of those opulent travelers, haughty and cynical, who move incessantly from place to place, and are of no country.””This artist, this philosopher, this man was, however, still cherishing the hope instilled into him from his earliest days.” [Kingston] “In the eyes of a superficial observer, he passed, perhaps, for one of those cosmopolites, curious after knowledge, but disdaining to use it; for one of those opulent travellers, high-spirited and platonic, who go all over the world and are of no one country.””It was not so.This artist, this savant, this man was Indian to the heart, Indian in his desire for vengeance, Indian in the hope which he cherished of being able some day to re-establish the rights of his country, of driving on the stranger, of making it independent.”[White]

4. Regarding the Sepoy Rebellion:

Instigated by princes equally ambitious and less sagacious and more unscrupulous than he was, the people of India were persuaded that they might successfully rise against their English rulers, who had brought them out of a state of anarchy and constant warfare and misery, and had established peace and prosperity in their country. Their ignorance and gross superstition made them the facile tools of their designing chiefs.” [Kingston] “The English yoke was pressed, perhaps, too heavily upon the Indian people. The Prince Dakkar became the mouthpiece of the malcontents. He instilled into their spirits all the hatred he felt against the strangers. He went over not only the independent portions of the Indian peninsula, but into those regions directly submitted to the English control. He recalled to them the grand days of Tippo-Saib, who died heroically at Seringapatam for the defense of his country.” [White]

So on and so forth. At the end of the rebellion, the British kills Prince Dakkar’s entire family, he loses his kingdom and his fortune, and he is left only with hate. He became a man in search of death. As is often the case, he proceeded to inflict on others what he sought for himself. In The Mysterious Island, Captain Nemo, now on his deathbed, sought something else from the protagonists: understanding.

“I had right and justice on my side,” he added. “I did good when I could, and evil when I must. All justice is not in forgiveness.”[White]

It is the first time the word “justice” appears in the tale. This line is missing in Kingston’s translation.

Of course, the British translators were faced with a difficult dilemma. What were they to do with the iconic Captain Nemo whose hated enemy was revealed to be… their homeland? The revolutionary had become a terrorist. It’s not surprising the translators elided what they could not swallow.

What is surprising however, is that the White version was available as early as 1876. But until Walter James Miller publicized the discrepancies in 1963, most English readers– including myself– typically encountered W. H. G Kingston’s version or other equally distorted versions such as those by Rev. Mercer Lewis and Edward Roth. Even today, Barnes and Noble continues to sell Kingston’s version under the “Signet Classic” imprint (Penguin); in fact, the volume has a new foreword by Bruce Sterling as well as the original introduction by Isaac Asimov. It is unconscionable. Walter Miller, discussing the misleading Mercer’s translation of20,000 Leagues, remarks:

“…there is still residual bad news. Barnes & Noble, in their fat Verne anthology, actually feature the Mercier Lewis version of Twenty Thousand Leagues! The Quality Paperback Book Club, Scholastic Magazine Press, Wordsworth Press, and Nelson/Doubleday all still issue the Mercier Lewis as genuine Verne….Thanks to publishers like these, many American adults still do not know the genuine prophet of science fiction; do not know about his social and political stance or his splendid literary talents.”

I should mention that B&N also sells Jordan Stump’s accurate translation (Modern Library Imprint, Random House).

The perils of translation are many. Consider:

The sentence “This sentence is in French” is false.

What would happen to the truth-value if the above sentence had to be translated into French? Or how about this: the Aymara of the Andes don’t match up the words “back/front” in the usual way with “past/future.” They seem to have a different conception of time. As far as they’re concerned, the future is what you cannot see, so why should it be lying in front of you? So how should “Back to the future” be translated? The surprising twist in the movie title, obvious in English, is completely lost in Aymara.

Proust thought C. K. Scott-Moncrieff’s rendering of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu asRemembrance of Things Past completely misrepresented his work. I ran the title through Google’s translator. I doubt Proust would have been happier with Google’s version: With the Research of Wasted Time.

Fortunately, great works survive their translations, great authors survive their works, and great characters survive their authors. Nemo is neither Prince Dakkar nor is he a Polish rebel. As E. F. Bleiler wrote:

“Who else was Nemo? It used to be said that Nemo was Lord Byron in a diving suit, but a fitter description (as Verne’s friends and relatives knew) is that Nemo was Jules Verne in a diving suit.”

Anil Menon


In researching for a movie review, I came across this piece written by Anil Menon. There was a despicable illustration and quote on his blog site (had nothing to do with the article itself) that I wanted excluded, hence copied the contents over to this site. This is Anil Menon’s masterful analysis and not mine.


of Men
da pope petraeus hijra
We have Pope Francis! The Petraeus Affair The Hijras of India


The Pearl Fishers of Mani Ratnam’s “Kadal”

In Arts, Movie Reviews, Music, Music, Place, Religion on February 10, 2013 at 9:43 am

A brief history of Christians in coastal Tamil Nadu


A picturesque Manapad, the cradle of coastal Christianity in Tamil Nadu.

ஏலே கீச்சான் வெந்தாச்சு – நம்ம சூச பொண்ணும் வந்தாச்சு ஹே ஈசா வரம் பொழிஞ்சாச்சு Mate, the tiger fish curry is done cooking and Joseph’s girl is here. Jesus has showered his blessings
Elay = Mate; Keechan = Tigerfish, freshwater fish available in Tuticorin and Cuddalore Joseph’s girl = Mary. In this case Beatrice

This opening title song Elay Keechan, immediately brings to mind a certain people.  Elay and Yekki are how you would address a boy or a girl in this coastal town.  It’s a corruption of the Portuguese terms Ela and Equ.

How did the Portuguese come to influence the language, culture and religion of the fishermen here? 

Mani Ratnam’s latest movie Kadal is about a fisherman from a village close to Tuticorin called Manapad.  This is of immense interest to me, as I consider the place my cultural roots.  Having grown up in bigger cities all my life, I always come back here, to figure out what makes me me. That journey of self-discovery is absolutely thrilling.  I wanted to see if Mani Ratnam added to my understanding of myself through this movie.

Let me introduce my cultural heritage to you then, via a popular song.  A 1973 movie Do Phool saw Mehmood singing and dancing to a funny Tamil song.  The Hindi speaking population ingloriously mutilated a Tamil song in Muthu Kodi Kawari Hada much less understood what it meant.  Apparently Mehmood used to love mimicking Nagesh and Asha Bhosle loved LR Eswari and the song and dance in Do Phool was a remake of another tamil song called Muthu Kullika Varigala from a 1967 Tamil movie:  Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi.  

What does Muthu Kulikka Vaarigala mean?

Muthu Kulikka Vaarigala,  in Tamil means Do you want to go deep sea fishing to harvest oysters for pearls?

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Goan Sausage Kati Roll

In Food on February 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm

kati roll 101

My daughter loves my cooking. Only because it is usually experimental stuff and the exitement is in waiting to see how the dish turned out! Some consolation if it actually turns out good. So I made her Sunday breakfast – Kati Roll with Kulcha and Goan Sausage.

Here is a small variation to the famous kati roll of Calcutta. Instead of the Sheek-kebab, I substituted it with some Goan sausage. The Goan sausage at my local meat mart is usually very spicy so I use regular sausage to blunt the effect. Use them half and half for my recipe here.

Anardhana Sauce

Half cup pomegranate seeds, ground

two tablespoon honey

half a lime

quarter teaspoon of chat masala

The anardhana (pomegranate seed) softens up if you soak it overnight.  This is a souring agent and it has been losing it’s prominence in the Indian recipes, hence my reintroduction.  I have no clue how it is actually done and this is my experiment.  Mix everything and keep aside.  The best of this sauce is from Kati Zone, a kati roll franchise in Bangalore.  It’s their secret sauce, and I confess I cannot even claim to have reached the first rung to saucy heaven.

Yogurt sauce 

Half cup yogurt

small cucumber grated

Mix it up, keep aside.

I got some semi-baked kulchas from the neighborhood bakery counter of the Total Mall.  This flat bread has a semi-sweet yeasty good flavor that forms the basic flat bread to this roll.  Bake it for a few minutes till it picks up a tan.  Let cool outside the oven for a few minutes.  A teaspoon scoop of the sour pomegranate paste is spread on the kulcha.  Hold an aluminum foil in your left hand, place this kulcha on it, throw in the Goan sausage and fold it with the foil.  Wrap the aluminum foil so the ingredients are held tight.

Offer on a plate to a deserving candidate!  Awaiting feedback as she is not done with breakfast yet.  I think it turned out good.  Substitute sausage with potatoes and paneer or minced lamb and I am sure it will be equally yummy.  Kati roll rocks!


This guy appears to know more about it than me:

Anar Dana Chutney


Anar dana: 1 Cup
Raisins: 2 Tbsp
Vinegar or Lemon Juice: 1 Tbsp
Black Pepper: 1 Tsp
Cilantro (Hara Dhaniya): 1 Cup Chopped
Mint: Some leaves
Ginger: 1/2 inch
Green Chilli: 2-3
Salt to taste


  1. Soak anar dana over night.
  2. In a grinder add all the ingredients and grind them well.

Delicious anar dana chutney is ready. This is a great side dish, you can use it as a dip also.

Posted by Mussarat J. Moghal

Amidst the heat and dust, a 100% desi-margarita

In Drinks on December 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm


I came across a fascinating story recently.  The famed Tequila and Margarita of the West being processed and manufactured, right here in India.  The guy behind this was Desmond Nazareth.  This being an India first, I had to participate in the toast first and a blog next!

Tequila is a refinement over a native drink of Mexico, by the Spanish Conquistadors more than 500 years ago.  They took the sweet syrup of the agave plant and fermented and distilled it further.  It has come to become the national identity of Mexico’s proud heritage.  From Jalisco, Tierra del Tequila, published by Artes Mexico, 1995:

Tequila reminds us of a particular world, a world that was born of shared imagination – a wild, rural landscape of robust men on horseback, accustomed to difficult tasks.  A powerful shadow, that of the mountain also called Tequila, falls over this great region. That terrain of hard beauty is as hypnotizing to contemporary travellers as it was in centuries past. 

Almost all of the Tequila is manufactured in Tequila, a small town in a valley west of Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, Mexico.  The largest consumer of tequila is the US and then Mexico.  Two of the largest and well known tequila brands being Cuervo and Sauza.  It takes a minimum of 8 years to make a bottle of tequila.  It is distilled from the roasted center (piña) of the blue agave plant.  Tequila is a Geographical Indication (GI) belonging to the Mexican Government.

Panning the camera back to India, we see a man in search of bringing this Mexican buzz to India.  In the process, he went the whole 9 yards:

From growing the blue agave Indian equivalent to also manufacturing the liqueurs essential for a great margarita.  

While doing some spirit and soul searching in India, Desmond appears to have had an ‘aha’ moment.  In his own words:

A random question was triggered off in my mind, for no apparent reason: why is Tequila®, a globally known alcoholic beverage, made in only one country (Mexico), whereas almost any other equally well known alcoholic beverage (whisky, vodka, rum, gin, champagne, wine, beer) has multiple producers in multiple countries?
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Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin

In Music on November 12, 2012 at 7:54 am

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven

The lady here represents our naive selves.  We get what we want all the time and in our naivety think that the glitter is the gold. But she does not know if the doors to the store are open but she is on her way there, nonetheless.  This alludes to a naive hope that she has.  She is buying herself a spiritual after-life, or so she seems to think.


There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

The sign on the wall, is difficult to comprehend.  We know they have multiple meanings and we need a guide to help us interpret it correctly.  This guide could be an authoritarian entity that gives us a singular meaning to the sign on the wall.  The songbird represents our own deep thoughts and when it sings, we like what it says.  And what it says is that this authoritarian guide could be plain wrong in his singular interpretation. But we are apprehensive of our own logic and interpretation of the sign on the wall. We are afraid we could be as wrong as our guide. But this is sufficient reason to question why the guide is so cocksure. It makes me wonder.

There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder

Looking to the west, appears to be for better prospects than the current quagmire you are in.  My spirit is crying to go west.  The rings of smoke that appear through the trees, is my soul trying to tell me something; send me smoke signals.  I pine to leave and breakaway from the clutches of the current condition I am in. Unlike those onlookers that appear to be standing motionless around me.  I wonder when I will break free.  I wonder.
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Nagumomu – Your smiling face

In Music on November 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

nagu-mōmu kanalēni nā jāli telisi
nanu brōvaga rādā śrī raghuvara nī

Knowing my sorry plight of being unable to see your charming face with a smile,
can’t you save me, Supreme among Raghus, O Rama!

naga-rājadhara nīdu parivārulu ella
ogi bōdhana cēsē-vāralu gārē iṭula uṇḍudurē

O Bearer of the great Govardhana  mountain! Isn’t there anyone in your retinue
to correctly advise you of your daily engagements? Why are they like this?

khagarāju nī ānati vini vēga canalēdō
gaganāniki ilaku bahu dūrambu anināḍō
jagamu ēlē paramātma evaritō moralu iḍudu
vaga cūpaku tāḷanu nannu ēlukōra
tyāgarājanuta nī

Eeven after hearing your order, Garuda did not execute your commands expeditiously?
Could he have excused himself saying that he was far from earth in VaikuNTha, your heavenly abode?
Exalted Lord! Ruler of the Universe! To whom else can I appeal?
I can’t bear it if you disregard me. Take me under your fold,
One praised by Tyagaraja!

I love this song!  This was the theme song played by the nadaswaram troupe during my wedding.  Set to the the Carnatic Abheri raga (Bhimpalasi in Hindustani), this here is a fusion rendition by Karthik and then a Canadian Band “Phatwave”  singer Aathirai Sivapalan in the second interpretation.  Fabulous!  I include the lyrics, because I had no clue what it meant when I fell in love with Nagumomu and Abheri

சுட்டும் விழிச் சுடர் தான் – Subramanya Bharathiyar

In Music on November 9, 2012 at 7:40 am

சுட்டும் விழிச் சுடர் தான்

சுட்டும் விழிச் சுடர் தான் கண்ணம்மா சூரிய சந்திரரோ
வட்டக் கரிய விழி கண்ணம்மா வானக்கருமை கொலோ
பட்டுக் கருநீலப் புடவை பதித்த நல்வயிரம்
நட்ட நடுநிசியில் தெரியும் நட்சத்திரங்களடீ

சோலை மலரொளியோ நினது சுந்தரப் புன்னகை தான்
நீலக் கடலலையே நினது நெஞ்சின் அலைகளடீ
கோலக் குயிலோசை உனது குரலின் இனிமையடீ
வாலைக் குமரியடீ கண்ணம்மா மருவக்காதல் கொண்டேன்

சாத்திரம் பேசுகிறாய் கண்ணம்மா சாத்திரம் ஏதுக்கடீ
ஆத்திரம் கொண்டவர்க்கே கண்ணம்மா சாத்திரமுண்டோடீ
மூத்தவர் சம்மதியில் வதுவை முறைகள் பின்பு செய்வோம்
காத்திருப்பேனோடீ இது பார் கன்னத்து முத்தமொன்று

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Raghu Dixit – Hey Bhagwan

In Music on November 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Raghu Dixit

छोटी सी यह ज़िन्दगी उससे छोटा एक सपना
एक बार इस धरती पे देखलूं खुदा अपना

My life on earth is brief,
I’d like to see my small dream come true.

हे भगवान् मुझको तू ज़िन्दगी दुबारा दे

Dear Lord, I ask of you to breathe new life into me

रात के अँधेरे में मुझे जो उजाला दे
जब थक जाऊं तो अपनी गोद का सहारा दे

Through this dark night, shine me some light,
Let me lean on you till my last step

हे भगवान् मुझको तू ज़िन्दगी दुबारा दे

Dear Lord, I ask of you to breathe new life into me

आज भी तू देखता होगा कही दूर सातवा आसमान
कैसे खोया जा रहा है अपने आप में इंसान

You might have watched from afar,
How we are so involved with ourselves

हे भगवान् मुझको तू ज़िन्दगी दुबारा दे

Dear Lord, I ask of you to breathe new life into me

यह दिल को संभालूं कैसे तन्हाई में डूबी रात है
अकेले हो तो क्या हुआ रे उसका जो सहारा है

How do I handle my restless heart, I’m drowning in the loneliness of the night,
But I am not afraid to be alone here, I have you by my side

हे भगवान् मुझको तू ज़िन्दगी दुबारा दे

Dear Lord, I ask of you to breathe new life into me


  1. Project Raghu Dixit


Other poems
stairway raghu pieta
Stairway to Heaven Calling Muruga Pieta Carnatic


Nee Nenaindal – Shankar Tucker Feat. Vidya and Vandana Iyer

In Music on October 31, 2012 at 1:28 am

Nee nenaindal agadadu undo
Nirajadala nayani mahalaksmi

Once You have determined
That it be so
Is there anything in the Universe
That cannot happen thence,
O lotus-eyed Goddess Mahalakshmi?

Manida vazhkkaiyile inba tunbam
Mari mari varuvadum un seyal andro

In man’s life is pleasure
In man’s life, pain
Turns do they take to metamorphose
All by Your will and Your doing alone

Ella perumaigalum irundalum adu
Unnadi vanangnmal nilai perumo

Even if we have with us
All the sucesses in the world
How oh how will we retain them,
Without worshiping Your divine feet?

Unnarul parvai illadavarkku
Ulagile vazha vazhiedu amma

And those beings on whom
Your benevolent gaze does not fall
How else can they live in this world,
O Mother of all?

shankar tucker and vidya&vandana sisters

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo – Urdu poetry by Faiyaz Hashmi

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem on October 29, 2012 at 1:45 am

Once in a while you hear a soul stirring rendition that stops you on your tracks.  That makes you forget your past and your future.  Actually makes you forget the present too!

This piece here is breathtaking for multiple reasons.  The singer Rohini Ravada, the clarinetist Shankar Tucker, the Urdu poet Faiyaz Hashmi collude to bring time to a standstill.

Faiyaz Hashmi’s innate genius is on display here:  taking what appear to be commonplace words and infusing them with extraordinary depth of meaning.

Shankar Tucker is an American jazz clarinetist who has successfully crossed genres:  Western and Indian.  That’s no easy feat considering the fact that Western jazz accords an unrestricted freedom and Indian classical music has it’s incredible but inspiring restrictions! An accomplished Hindustani and Carnatic musician, he studied under the classical Hindustani bamboo flutist Pundit Hariprasad Chaurasia.  Shankar calls Chennai home, but is globally popular for his YouTube videos at ShrutiBox, and locally much sought after by his India fans during his India tours.

Yes, he loves the Kolavari song, especially the nadaswaram piece and mimics it “pa pa pa pam” with a smile.  Cross over artist, he must be!


आज जाने की ज़िद न करो
यूं ही पहलू में बैठे रहो
हाय मर जायेंगे हम तो लुट जायेंगे
ऐसी बातें किया न करो

Do not leave me
Come, stay by my side
I think I’ll die, or be lost, if
you insist on leaving me tonight

तुम ही सोचो ज़रा क्यूँ न रोके तुम्हें
जान जाती है जब उठके जाते हो तुम
तुम को अपनी क़सम जान-ऐ-जान
बात इतनी मेरी मान लो

Think for a moment
Why wouldn’t I stop you? Because,
every time you leave me, I am left lifeless
Listen to this one request of mine,
Don’t insist on leaving me tonight

वक़्त की क़ैद में ज़िंदगी है मगर
चन्द घड़ियाँ यही हैं जो आज़ाद हैं
इन को खो कर मेरी जान-ऐ-जान
उम्र भर न तरसते रहो
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4-minar yatra – Sun, Mar 8 1992 1:02 am

In Place on October 28, 2012 at 2:24 am

Sun, Mar 8 1992 1:02 am

Adhering to the old addage of supply meeting demand, the Hyderabadi bazaar hawked it’s tupperware and boti kebobs amidst the thickest of human civilizations. The milling crowd was so dense that if Rahim bhai with his Dubai luggage got onto the local APSRTC bus he would create enough room for people a mile around to at least swing their arms while walking.

Something wasn’t right. Invariably, there were more passengers boarding the bus than were alighting.  The volume of humanity in the bus grew bigger and larger but amazingly by some quirk of science called surface tension that keeps an overfilled glass of water from spilling over the brim, the bus could actually hold more than it could actually hold!

It was a hot summers afternoon and one could almost hear the heat crepitating. Rahim bhai was slammed between a cold steel railing in the bus and an open shirted Romeo with a calico bandana and a “char anna ki atter” swab plugged in his ear.  The exuding aroma of this over killed Yeves Saint Laurent made the cunductor sneeze. “Arganic Chemistry at vark!” thought Subba Rao already running late for his 2.30PM Chemistry Lab, Osmania University.  Rahim bhai stood on his toes to get a glimpse of the outside world through the small window which was now almost completely obliterated by this pan-chewing Romeo, leaning over, like a dunking duck, to spew out a jet-stream of red betel-juice onto the cracked hot asphalt road passing swiftly below.

The median to this two-way traffic lane was a broken yellow line. The Romeo’s red streak aligned well with this yellow line. The ever late, impatient Subba Rao would normally eyeball the speed of the bus by noting the pace of this jaundiced visual staccato. Today, he realized  he had a “kalar-aption”- yellow or red.

Rahim bhai caught a glimpse of the blossoming Gulmohar tree in the Woman’s College compound. “Koti” mumbled the conductor as the bus rolled to a stop.  “Next istop apna hai” advised the Romeo, giving advance notice of his whereabouts to the world.

—–peter vas

The sighting of Sita – N. J. Nandini

In Music on October 24, 2012 at 10:57 am


The story of Sita’s abduction by Ravan, a demon king, is one of lust.  In the epic Ramayan, Soorpanaka, Ravan’s sister, lusts after Ram and loathes Sita his dutiful wife.  She tricks her brother Ravan into abducting Sita to Sri Lanka, so Ram will distance away from Sita on grounds of infidelity and make way for Soorpanaka’s advances.

At least, this is Soorpanakas’s plan and it backfires tragically.

Sita is abducted by Ravan.  Ram is heart broken and he searches for Sita but cannot find her.  It is Hanuma that sights her in Lanka.  He is overjoyed at this.  He spends considerable time, assessing if this is the Sita that he is searching for.  Finally concludes it is her, by giving her Rama’s ring that she recognizes at once and is overjoyed.  He then proceeds to get back to Ram and give him the message that he has been dying to hear:



The Carnatic vocalist Nandini, dramatizes Hanuma’s sighting of Sita in Lanka to Ram. The first word that he expresses is almost of disbelief that he has actually sighted Sita there. That abrupt expression (a single word meaning ‘I have sighted’) of joyous disbelief is the genius in this rendition.

Why is this song more popular with the female vocalists, even though this is Hanuma’s point-of-view?

Hanuma’s poetry conveys Sita’s abject sadness at being distanced from her beloved Rama. The message is so poignantly conveyed that the messenger disappears and the poetry seems to emanate directly from Sita herself.  Hence popular with female vocalists. They are best suited to give voice to Sita’s yearning and therefore soul to this song. The messenger in showing his intense loyalty to Ram and to Sita, once again effaces from his own message.  In any event, they are permanent residents of his heart.

The colloquial versus the literary

Embedded in this song are the words that Sita uses in disgust at Ravan’s advances. Those two words do not belong in this literary poetic piece. But they do color her rage like no other two words can. The poet mixes with great ease the colloquial with the literary. They are ‘che che’ which defines the dirt that Ravan is.  The dirtbag is after all in close proximity to the divine.
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the versatile dosa comes of age

In Food on August 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm

One of my principle grouses when I moved to Bangalore, was the bland food on offer from the street vendors. Every big city that I had been to, I have fond memories of vendors dishing out their kebabs, chats or the kotthu-parrotas of the south.  Bangalore was different.  I had to search far and wide, but nothing came close to the big metropolitan fanfare.

Until recently that is.  I was making a dash to the local restaurant at HSR Layout to pick up dinner for the kids.  I was lucky to find a parking lot for myself but was surprised that the other cars parked there had passengers in them.  I presumed that the smiling faces were enjoying the McDonald’s paneer tikka burgers.  I could see from the parking lot, that the McDonald’s that was nearby was packed with people on a Saturday.  But the folks in these parked vehicles were enjoying something else being dished out by a street vendor close at hand.

There was an open auto-rickshaw on the sidewalk.  The milling crowd was unusually vocal and boisterous.  I had to know what drew everybody there.  I had to nudge my way through.  i was hit with the aroma and a sizzle of melting butter that I can only explain as other worldly.

There were six flaming stoves that were being tended by a man with a small electric fan.  A quick check by tracing the twisted wire confirmed to me that a 12 volt battery from underneath the auto-rickshaw driver seat, was powering this contraption and a couple of CFL lightbulbs dangling from the makeshift canopy.

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M F Husain – the changing titles of a storyline

In Arts on July 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I stumbled upon a great interview of MF Husain.  He had already passed away a Qatari citizen.  It made me wonder, what lead him to abandon his India and become a Qatari citizen.  Let us start with India:

‘Tanjore Paintings of Balaji with Gold leaf and Semi precious stones’

proclaimed the craft store in the neighborhood.  This summarizes to me the middle class understanding of art.  At least it does in good old South India.  The leap from this middle class sensibility to that of an art aficionado is a mighty one and fraught with many misinterpretations.

Often times class gets confused with crass in the eyes of the beholder. The gold leaf and semi precious stones dictates fine taste.  That which had a price has value.  Not the other way around as value simply cannot be judged.  No bragging rights if you cannot convince your audience that the item you posses is of immense value.

MF Husain painted on a very different canvas using strange colors and brush strokes to manifest a new grammar for a new language. His subjects depicted the vibrancy of Indian life.  None of them wore gold leaves or semi precious stones, most wore nothing at all.  The artist himself was a shabby barefoot painter of thoughts.

He loved being barefoot for a couple of reasons.  He mentioned once that he wanted to be assessed for his works and not by the footwear he dons.  He was making a statement by being barefoot. The characters in his artwork were naked for the same reason. They were making a statement and he never once wanted to gild them with gold leaves and lose the message.  Know them not for their heavily ornamented and stylized calendar art depictions.

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conjuring up the curd rice

In Food on February 23, 1992 at 4:59 pm

‘Curd Rice’ evokes a certain inexplicable emotion in the south part of India like no other rice dish does. One has to get under the hood to discover the physical relationship between rice and beholder. The process of savoring it is indeed much greater than the product itself! If relishing is greater than the relish, we have zoomed in on the right dish.

A good amount of buttermilk (‘moru’ in Tamil) is first added to piping hot steamed rice. The ratio according to some experts in this field is one-is-to-one. Traditionally plantain leaves have been used with much success as mixing plates but not so much as holding plates. Technological advances such as stainless steel plates were introduced in the 60’s and have gained immediate acceptance worldwide among the “moru sadham” populace as they could help in the mixing and holding. ‘moru sadham’ loosely translates to ‘curd rice’ in the tamilnadu part of the south India.

The traditional plantain leaves however offers an interesting challenge which can be met with some techniques advanced by field technicians. There is tremendous “run” of the buttermilk which should be curtailed at once to avoid ruining the tablecloth. Although traditionally, one has squatted on the floor, one can foresee the elevation of the status of the plantain leaf from floor to table soon. An 8″ dia. pappadum or ‘appalam’ as it is called here, can come to the rescue to contain the hasty ‘run’ of the buttermilk.

The pappadum should be crushed in the hand and immediately sprinkled around the “running” buttermilk. This arrests the spread of the buttery menace at once. More crushed pappadum can be added and a small berm shaped out of the soggy mess. The increasing pore pressure from within this coffer dam of sorts should be kept in mind and a hasty meal is required to counter any circumferential rupture. The mix can now be moulded in the hand and quickly taken up to the mouth. The head should be bent low and held close to the plantain leaf so that falling debris does not ruin the tablecloth, sleeved bush-shirt, angavastram or even heaving exposed belly.

It should be noted that the buttermilk has a knack of seeping through the moulded ball and cascading down the arm.

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