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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Global Warping

Not my term, but something I saw while wandering around on the internet. It seems very appropriate for the strange weather patterns we have been seeing.
Today, I stepped out for my morning walk in late December, wearing a light windbreaker jacket, in case of rain. A few minutes later, I gave up on the jacket, and took it off, tying it around the waist and rolling up the sleeves of my sweater. It was practically hot! 64 degrees F at this time of the year! Not unheard of.
I faintly remember going out in a T-shirt and jeans on a Christmas eve about 20 odd years ago, chasing after a toddler son who was wearing just a light newly-knit sweater and cap in addition to his usual sleeper. So the temperature may not have been unprecedented. What is strange however is that this stream of warmish spring-in-winter days have been going on for more than a few weeks.
The trees are confused- Fir trees sagging instead of standing tall and crisp in the snow that is more usual. Oak trees still wondering whether to finish dropping their leaves or not. Moss and lichens growing on the barks, making merry with the unexpected warmth and humidity. Hyacinth and daffodil bulbs deciding that their winter's sleep must be over and putting out cautious little shoots.
The roads are dead silent, no cars rushing about, it is still early Sunday morning. Only the crows hold argumentative congress on the trees "Is this global warming or not?", they cackle and heckle across the roads. A couple of robins and starlings settle on the tree branches, adding to a minor chorus counterpoint to the crows.
A fat-bottomed raccoon waddles unconcernedly across the road, and it must be really disoriented. It does not turn to look at me as I walk briskly towards it. It's following another raccoon that sped across to the large lawn nearby.
So much for local phenomena. In Trivandrum, I hear my mother talk of wearying daily rain, pouring off the newly installed "super-roof" with a steeper pitch to promote the roll off of water instead of stagnating on a flat-roofed terrace and seeping into the concrete. The repainting of the house is done, but it's taking forever to dry, an activity planned for when December was known for hot days and cool nights but instead has turned into rainy days and chillier nights.
Chennai reels under 100-year floods, the likes of which last occurred in 2005, but had less to lose at that time. Ten years of complacency led to rampant building in low-lying areas as builders saw their opportunity to cash in on the insatiable need for land and housing. Now several of those sparkling new homes sit in the middle of flood zones, while old paths for the water of the rivers are clogged with refuse. The heavy non-stop rains are unusual, but again not unprecedented.
Will these remain unusual or will they become the new norm? That remains to be seen, but call  it what you will, times are a-changing, and it's only the foolish who do not learn to adapt.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tour de France - Part XV

Suji waited desolately at the bus stop outside the school. She didn't have a watch to tell her how long she had waited, but the school bag was beginning to weigh heavier on her back and the sun inched lower in the sky. Why didn't the bus come? Or for that matter, why didn't she see any other buses? Could it be one of the sudden strikes that the French workers were famous for?

"I don't want to stand here. Let me try to walk home, I'm sure I could reach home before it starts to get too dark." Suji turned determinedly down the road and started trotting briskly, following the footpath, past the route that she usually watched from the bus window. Luckily, it was all mostly downhill.

She reached a small maze of roads and made a wrong turn. Looking at the high facades a bit uncertainly, she darted into the tiny storefront with the  'Coiffeur' sign and asked the man there, "Does this road  go down to the bridge?" "Yes," he replied, reassuringly enough. She pressed on, the heavy bag no longer weighing her down, now that she was back on the right path homeward.

The underpass to the Pont de St.Cloud came by soon enough. Suji watched cautiously for a break in the traffic and scooted through the dark little tunnel as fast as her legs could carry her. She emerged triumphantly on the other side, making it just in time to the sidewalk before a few cars started coming through, and turned around to see a Pedestrians Prohibited sign behind her. Oops.

But the main hill was past. Suji waited patiently for the traffic lights at the intersection beyond the bridge, then crossing into the sidewalk of the large boulevard that led to one of the side roads where she would turn for home.  Just as she had almost reached the end of the boulevard, she saw Amma rushing up to meet her. "You walked! All that distance! I just found out about the sudden bus strike and was coming to try and get you from school."

And Suji continued happily home, holding tight to Amma's hands.

P.S. The distance was about 3.5 km and took about an hour to walk.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Walking thoughts

The other morning I stepped out before sunrise. The skies were covered with a blanket of clouds, so I was disappointed not to see the familiar constellations, the triangle of Venus-Mars-Jupiter blazing in the east. I looked up at the leaf-lorn tree tops, and then just for a fraction of a second, Venus opened her eye in the clouds and winked at me. A little later, Sirius followed with the same benediction.
As I approached home, a strange white light streaked the eastern sky. How odd! It ought to have been a yellow light, portending the sunrise. The moon was still too early in its waxing phase to produce that kind of a light. What might this light be? And even as I watched it, it faded away back to grey nothingness.

--------------

This morning, I went out on the usual rounds. Not too many leaves remain on the trees, but the pear trees still show up with their greens barely starting to turn to red. The maples and oaks are done jettisoning their leaves, so colors have mostly turned from brown reds to brown and black. Except for the one tree that I saw, glittering with gems of red, orange and green, as the sunlight caught it exactly right. I was tempted to whip out my phone to capture the beauty of the moment. But the urge passed and I continued on my walk. The brightness of the sun hid behind a cloud, and the jewel-like beauty vanished.

I got home and opened up a page of Rumi who opines:
"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent."

Wise words, and yet I infringe upon the advice, as I try to write of what I didn't feel like capturing in a photograph.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parrot Saga - The End by Subha


Our pet parrot Sankaran despite living with me for 28 years,neither spoke intelligent words nor allowed anyone to touch him. But he was quite friendly and used to take food from our hands. I was so used to his voice I could easily make out what he wanted. It was like an infant whose mother could recognise its needs. I could understand what he was saying or feeling any time of the day. His happiness at talking with other birds and parrots who came and perched on the wire mesh in the work area was phenomenal, and he would flatly refuse even his favourite food if it was handed out to him when he conversed with them. He created such a racket. Our entire house would reverberate with his voice!

He was never sick, not even a single time during his lifetime and only four months ago did he show signs of ageing with a blister near his eye. Even then he was happy, angry and friendly as usual and did not show any signs of pain. He used to jump around seeing me. "Ki ki ki.." was his greeting the moment I entered my kitchen. I must give him a piece of coconut soon after I broke one. He loved Mysore pak, cake, mango and apples, hated rice, just like my younger daughter. He survived mostly on paddy, payaru (beans) and oranges which my husband used to give him every day

October 3, 2015 was like any other day. But not for him. He was fine till noon, eating his regular food, and walking back and forth on his wooden perch.
Around 2:30 pm, my maid saw him sitting on the lower perch, something that he never did for long intervals, coming down only to drink water. I could see him breathe with difficulty. I gave a piece of banana and pleaded with him to eat. He ate a tiny piece and looked at me sadly and intensely. Then  he climbed slowly to his usual perch on the high bar. By then it was 3:30 pm . I mixed some honey and water and gave it to him in a 'karandi ' (long spoon) . He hesitated a bit, and then drank most of it.

I checked him again around 5:30 p m when he was sitting and watching outside. I went for my evening walk and returned within 15 minutes as my mind was troubled. I spent sometime folding my clothes and then went to see him. To my shock, he was lying on the floor of the cage with his head in the upright position. He must have come down to the lower perch to lie on the floor of the cage. He must have left this world around 6 p m.

I was totally perturbed.

His earlier last look haunted me, as though he was trying to tell me " Thank you for everything, I am going to leave you today... "  I cried..... I later informed my daughters and the maid servants who took care of him during my absence.

It was a long night, raining cats and dogs throughout. I was waking up every hour. Next morning, on 4th October 2015, with a heavy heart I buried him in our yard and bade him farewell.

REST IN PEACE, MY DARLING!

Your bird friends, other parrots, my children and grandchildren will miss you too.

Note (Sujatha): 28 human years translate to about 112 parakeet years. So he was a truly old soul!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's in a name?

A poet by any other must surely read as sweet... to badly paraphrase Shakespeare.

Except when said poet uses a female Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou to mask a pedestrian WASPish male name of Michael Derrick Hudson and submits the same poem only 9 times (instead of 40 as the WASPish) before it gets selected for publication.

The editor Sherman Alexie ( of Native American extraction himself) who was unfortunate enough to select the poem had this to say:

"But I had to keep that pseudonymous poem in the anthology because it would have been dishonest to do otherwise.
        If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I gave the poem special attention because of the poet's Chinese pseudonym.
        If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world.
        And, yes, in keeping the poem, I am quite aware that I am also committing an injustice against poets of color, and against Chinese and Asian poets in particular.
        But I believe I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem. I think I would have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP. It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity.
        But that's not what happened. In the end, I chose each poem in the anthology because I love it. And to deny my love for any of them is to deny my love for all of them."
And throw into the mix the fact that Hudson 'borrowed' the Chinese pen-name from a classmate of long ago, whose family is now protesting the use of their daughter's name.

And that an indignant writer of Chinese extraction pens this op-ed on NPR complaining about the cultural appropriation that Hudson has committed, by trying to take advantage of the slightest of 'ethnic minority' affirmative action to corner more of a literary market already overcrowded with the output of white male writers.

Except that for a writer of Chinese origin, he calls Hudson names indirectly in a patently incorrect last line
" And so what about the pen name Yi-Fen Chou, used by Michael Derrick Hudson? If you know Chinese, you know it actually means "a piece of stink.""
The real name Yi-Fen translates approximately to 'righteous indignation' according to online translators.

So what to make of the output of Yi-Fen Chou vs that of Michael Derrick Hudson in the anthologies. Read the examples below to make out any differences. Is the perception of the poem different if you think the poem is written by someone of Chinese vs. WASP extraction?

Yi-Fen Chou in the Painted Bride Quarterly

"So here’s to all those pretty waitresses you’d break up over
who don’t really want to be

waitresses. You inchling! I over-tip three soggy dollars
and some silver and you’d think I’d screwed

an archduke’s monocle into my watery left squint, slapped
my thigh with an ivory walking stick

and strode forth in jodhpurs from the foxed
crosshatching and curlicues of an old English copperplate…

Toff! Blabbermouth! I sneeze green into a monogrammed
sky-blue handkerchief and elucidate my sorries over

another all-American soundtrack..."

Michael Derrick Hudson:

To think I used to be so good at going to pieces
gobbling my way through the cops

and spooking what’s left of the girls. How’d I

get so far, sloughing off one knuckle at a time,
jerking my mossy pelt along

ruined streets? Those insistent, dreadful thuds

when we stacked our futile selves
against locked doors. Our mumbles and groans!

Such hungry nights! Staggering through the grit

of looted malls, plastered with tattered
flags of useless currency, I’d slobbered all over

the busted glass and merchandise of America ...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Go Set a Watchman- The Review

Since everybody about knows now that Atticus Finch was just a tired old racist, from all the gazillion reviews and discussions out there, there are probably no other major spoilers in this review.  However, if you are planning to read the book, please take a look at the review after you have read it.

I must confess that on first read, I devoured the book avidly, looking for oddities in the book that might signal not-HarperLee's actual words, but was completely mesmerized by the first few chapters. This couldn't be anyone else other than Harper Lee, I decided. Words like 'enisled', references to 'Asquithian atttitude' couldn't have been used by anyone else other than her.

All the stage-setting was very nice, with gorgeous little episodes of childhood, then weaving back to a  grown up Scout/Jean Louise as a 20-something sophisticate returning from New York to  her family and beau in small-town Alabama. The pacing started to flag, crawling slower than a rabid dog moseying along a deserted street on a blistering afternoon.

Then, suddenly, wham.

The grand reveal occurs with Jean Louise eavesdropping on a meeting attended by Atticus, and she discovers him to harbor the racist attitudes only too common in that era, not being the shining knight that he was in To Kill a Mockingbird.

After much emotional drama and anguishing, interspersed with odd chapters involving trains-of-thought bitching about old classmates at a 'Coffee' thrown by redoubtable Aunt Alexandra, Jean Louise works out her angst and finally comes to some terms with Atticus, after a deus ex machina attempt at reconciliation initiated by her uncle John.

Etc., etc. It hardly matters when the rest of story starts to read more like a screenplay than an actual novel.

I finished the novel feeling - " Wow, it's over and it was quite a ride! Harper Lee seems so prescient and almost topical in her portrayal of race relations that still raise so many troubling questions about race and the justice system in this day and age."

Then the doubts started to niggle as I read a few more reviews and Facebook comments. I reopened the book and started to do random comparisons in style with the text from To Kill a Mockingbird.

1. TKAM has characters speaking in complete paragraphs in most chapters. GSAW has them speaking in very short sentences, which would definitely tie in better with a screenplay.

2. The 'moving scene' with Calpurnia moves the reader only if we think of it in context of the closeness of Calpurnia to Scout in TKAM, which doesn't fit right with the contention that GSAW's manuscript predates TKAM.

3. In the 'Coffee', one of the trains-of-thought has odd references for the era." When Jerry was two months old...toilet training should really begin...the cutest sweatshirt you've ever seen...little red elephant...Crimson Tide"  ( edited for brevity).
Sweatshirts as a male fashion staple did not come in vogue until around the early 1960's, having only been a mainstay for college athletes in the 1930s-50s. It most certainly would not be considered suitably 'cute' attire for the Diaper set that the moms of the 'Coffee' were discussing.
Consider that TKAM, written c. 1957 and published in 1960, mentions no sweatshirts for establishing the sense of contemporaneity. While GSAW is supposedly written before TKAM, it contains too many 'Look Ma no hands!' references of this kind and sounds more like a novel based on a screenplay, complete with costume research indicators.

4. In the climactic chapter where the big discovery of Atticus's real attitude to race comes, the language is laughably cliched.  "She felt sick. Her stomach shut, she began to tremble....Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died. She was numb." is too egregious to ignore. It reads like too many bad climactic scenes in too many dystopian Young Adult novels.

These are just a few examples. I suppose I could make a career out of analyzing each reference that sounded off color on second review. But that isn't the point of this review.

I come to bury the myth of Harper Lee's writing GSAW, not to praise her writing, after all.

It's my conviction that we are seeing another publicity/money grab by the publishing/media/entertainment conglomerates. Over 1 million copies sold without extensive marketing and publicity needed, for this is the 'output' of the legendary Harper Lee, or so the customer is led to believe.

The original writing of Harper Lee is still there, primarily in the first half of the book, but on closer examination, I land  upon too many odd little 'explanatory' snippets, oddities of style that indicate not-Harper-Lee.

 The publishers have pulled in an excellent team of ghostwriters and maybe even screenwriters to massage the original partial-at-best manuscript into a coherent book, but the dissonancies introduced by them are scattered all over. 

All we need now is for some academic to do a comparison of writing styles between TKAM and GSAW and find that approximately 60% of the latter is filler material. Or maybe not, for who would want to go against a media monster claiming a princess in sacrifice. The Cetus of the publishing/media conglomerate must have its Andromeda, after all.

Once the buzz over GSAW the book wanes, watch for the screen version to be announced within the next few months. It's very likely that the casting is already decided. Let me guess, Robert DeNiro will play a suitably aged Atticus,  while the line of actresses to play Jean Louise, Alexandra and Calpurnia is already too long out the door and is the only thing still preventing them from announcing the movie any time too soon.

Either way, the moguls and moneymakers will have their way and humongous profits in the end, and some of it might go towards keeping an old lady in Monroeville, Alabama more comfortable in her sunset years, and to line the pockets of a 'loving caretaker' lawyer into the bargain.

More links of interest:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122318/harper-lees-go-set-watchman-should-not-have-been-published

http://futureofbookpublishing.blogspot.com/2012/04/state-of-publishing-industry-2015.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/27/bestselling-ghostwriter-reveals-secret-world



Monday, June 1, 2015

The Selfie Compliment

I don't know what else to call it. It ought to rank up there with the latest addition to the dictionaries along with 'humblebrag' and 'backhanded compliment', among others.
It goes like this.

Proud parent "My child just got accepted into an exclusive program at X university for pre-med!"

Listener " Oh, wow, congratulations! You must be so proud of her. That's a great school. I know because my aunt's second cousin's niece graduated from there as a neurosurgeon with a 4.0 GPA at the tender age of 20!"

Proud parent looks deflated, Listener is blissful at having been able to suck out all the air from the former's sense of pride in her offspring.

For the want of a better description, I propose 'selfie compliment' as a name for this mode. The object is not to shower compliments on the 'complimentee'; rather, its purpose is to drag them down from their lofty pedestal while reflecting the utmost credit on the family pride of the 'complimenter'.

Highly common in competitive societies (ex. Indian, Jewish, Chinese ), this would sit well in academic descriptions like the one I found in Google books about The Primitive Mind and Man by John Alan Cohan about the giving out of compliments and the reactions to them.

Why can't a compliment be a simple appreciation of something that someone has done, rather than a mode to lessen their happiness by triggering envy?

Friday, May 29, 2015

One in a crowd

Graduation day arrived early for S. He finished up his B.F.A at New York University in 3 years instead of 4, after carefully hoarding credits for his high school courses and overloading a couple of semesters.Now on into the big (not yet bad) world for a gap year of sorts, after graduation rather than before.

He stays on in Manhattan, not too far from where we dropped him off as a freshman, pursuing internships and jobs in film. Opportunities galore, but who knows what will click for him.

At the Yankee stadium, cheers rose and fell in various sections, as the president of NYU conferred degrees on the one representative student from each of the many schools that constitute the university. S was a tiny black and purple dot in a sea of purple. 8000 graduates, and 27000 near and dear.

 You are special, graduate, but you are not. Remember that you are a unique individual, who has attained another pinnacle in your life. Go forth and do great things. But remember that you are also one of a great mass of humanity. There will be struggles, contests to survive, in a tough job market where thousands of others like you are vying for the same jobs. But there will always be opportunities, if you can seize them.

A couple of days later, we left NY with the pithy salty words of advice from Robert De Niro ringing in our ears.
Robert De Niro stated the truth at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts graduation on Friday: "You made it — and, you're f—ed."
At the Madison Square Garden-set ceremony, he bluntly noted that graduates with degrees in nursing, dentistry, business, law and education all have a future of stability ahead of them — a choice those other students made using reason and logic, but one that the crop of performers could not ever make.
"You discovered a talent, developed an ambition and recognized your passion. When you feel that, you can't fight it — you just go with it," he explained. "When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren't just following dreams, you're reaching for your destiny. ... You're an artist — yeah, you're f—d. The good news is that's not a bad place to start."
Our consolation was the words he ended his advice with:
The actor suggested a mantra for the new grads: "Next!" a phrase to be shouted when "you didn't get that part" or "you didn't get that waiter's job at the White Oak Tavern. ...  There will be times when your best isn't good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best, it's okay. Did you get straight A's in school? If you did, good for you, congratulations. But in the real world, you'll never get straight A's again."
So, S, and all other hopefuls on the world's stage out there, break a leg!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mockingbird Uncaged?

"Nelle Harper Lee" by Unknown - ebay posting. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nelle_Harper_Lee.jpg#/media/File:Nelle_Harper_Lee.jpg
This is mostly my speculation,  based on the recent reports regarding the investigation into possible elder abuse of Harper Lee, of which one part has now been completed and closed.

 I am starting to see the publishing of 'Go Set a Watchman' as not a caging of the mockingbird, but rather, its release. A couple of reader comments on the NY Times story set off this train of thought.

In the comments, Rebekah from Birmingham wrote:
"In 1972 while discussing casting calls that had been or were to be held at town and gown theater by James Hatcher(he did the casting for the mockingbird )was told by stage crew who worked there and also at at Birmimgham Children's Theater that Harper Lee had written another book .However she was waiting to publish until after her older sister died.Supposedly this was because the book was extremely critical of Monroeville and certain recognizable people there at that time but also had negative things to say about Atticus.The later reason was the one her sister invested on a delayed publication as she felt it would embarrass the family.Hearsay from many years ago but it seems to fit." 

and Michael Currier:
"A lot of people hold back publishing letters until after family members die and are beyond being hurt. I always wondered about if Harper Lee's sister dominated her but was hurt by To Kill A Mockingbird (the sister and the mother are left out of the book!). Was Harper Lee unable to publish it until after her sister's death?
On one hand she never published it, but she also never threw it away and kept it in a secure bank box.

Was it Harper Lee that dis-liked the public attention, or was it the sister who disliked it?"


Would this account for the gleeful and thrilled demeanour of Harper Lee, as described by her lawyer and publishing agent? A final chance to see in print what a possibly over-domineering elder sister had prevented from being published?
Maybe the new novel will push Atticus off his pedestal ,and possibly reflect uncharitably on A.C.Lee, Harper Lee's father, who was considered to have been the inspiration for Atticus in some ways, and Alice Lee herself, who had been inspiration for Jem.

The new book becomes a must-read, not only for the eyes to be opened about old literary heroes, but the new light cast on Harper Lee, in all her glee at having finally outwitted her elder sister by the simple act of outliving her, and getting out the book that Alice insisted was never to be printed.

Update: And the saga continues...  Was the book discovered earlier and quietly pushed aside? Why bring it into the limelight so many years after the first 'discovery'?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Treasure Trove

The question is, to whom does it belong? To the descendants of the Jewish dealers who were forced to sell it at a reduced price to the Nazi government, or the German state, that contends that fair compensation was paid to the dealers?

In today's news about the Guelph treasure or 'der Welfenschatz' :
"Two claimants to a collection of medieval ecclesiastical treasure valued at $276 million and known as the Guelph Treasure, filed a lawsuit against the German government at a US District Court in Washington on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The claimants, Alan Philipp and Gerald Stiebel, allege that their Jewish ancestors sold the collection under duress for much less than what it was worth to Hermann Göring, the second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany. Göring later presented the treasure to Adolf Hitler as a gift. Today the treasure is on display in the Bode Museum in Berlin.
However, officials at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages Berlin's state museums, maintain that the transaction was consensual and that the collection was acquired at a fair market price at the time."
Much more detail about the Guelph treasure is here in a carefully chronicled document of the various pieces that constitute it, along with the provenance and historical background, and the various locations it resided in till c. 1930.

In 1929, Prince Ernest Augustus, created Duke of Brunswick, of the house of Hanover, had a sudden need for hard cold cash. He sold the Guelph treasure, of which the house of Brunswick had been 'guardians' for several centuries, collected from various sources starting in about the 11th century AD, for 7.5 million marks to a consortium of Jewish art dealers.

The art dealers successfully sold assorted pieces from the collection in the years prior to the rise of the Nazis, for around 2.5 million marks. At some point, they were apparently 'forced to sell' the remaining part of the treasure to the Nazi government for an amount of 4.25 million marks c. 1935, estimated by a major auction house to be only about 35% of their value at that time.

It wasn't till 2008 that descendants of the art-dealers came to know about the Guelph treasure pieces, which are now exhibited in the Bode museum in Germany, from statements of their relatives about having had those pieces in their home before they left Germany. And so they investigated it and believe now that they are the rightful owners of the Guelph treasure, and are suing to get it back.

Both sides have marshaled their arguments and seem to have persuasive evidence to back their assertions, as seen in this article. The courts will decide, and the final destination of these artifacts will be determined, in due course.

I'm curious though about whether any descendants of Ernest Augustus of Brunswick could stake a claim to the reliquaries. Or maybe even the Vatican. After all, the chain of custody had to start somewhere with someone being cheated of a fair price for their treasure.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cabin Fever

I don't suppose that I have it.

I'm bored of all the pictures of gleaming piles of snow on the denizens of the deck. 8 inch snow-cake on the table, check. 8 inch snow liner on the deck railings, check. 8 inch snow pile on the chairs, check... You get the idea. It's pretty, and it's cold enough (-6 Fahrenheit just a couple of nights ago).

Instead, I have whipped out the knitting needles and am getting tremendous amounts of knitting done. I sit and knit while surfing the internet .Don't ask me how it's done... it involves watching speed knitting contests and 'technique improvement' videos that I really didn't need to watch while click-clacking away busily through another 6 rows on my latest project. It's a hoodie with a pretty variegated yarn that is pretty rough on the fingers. A soft yummy yarn it's not.

Before that, it was a grey beanie for my husband, with a soft shiny yarn that felt very nice as I worked with it. Except when the stitches slipped off the needle halfway into the knitting (Double pointed needles, I hate you!) and I struggled for a few days to recover, stitch by painstaking dropped stitch. Luckily, the pattern was a very forgiving textured one, so the 'recovery' is almost unnoticeable, now in the finished beanie.

Before the grey beanie, I made my first cabled project, a pale purple girl's 'sweetheart hat' that M promised to wear at least a couple of times. " I'm not a beanie kind of person," she said. But she did keep her promise, and wore it a couple of times, maybe even a few more times in the future.

In January, it was a race against time to finish a dark blue vest that I had started making last year. I was determined to get it ready by S's birthday, and finished it off just on the morning of his birthday. (Thank goodness that he is a late-riser on holidays).

Enough with the words, and now for the pictures.




Friday, February 6, 2015

To Cage a Mockingbird

..and try to turn it into a goose that lays golden eggs. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
John James Audubon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That's what this whole episode of the announcement of the publishing of a new 'sequel' to Harper Lee's iconic To Kill a Mockingbird smacks of.

The picture on the right seems oddly apropos of the current story of Harper Lee and her 'new old book' due to come out in July this year, already a bestseller well ahead of its publication.

A group of mockingbirds trying to defend the nest against a predatory snake bring to mind the familial barriers protecting Harper Lee against the media onslaught and unscrupulous agents and others who tried to get her to publish 'just another novel', even after she decided not to attempt it after the adulation received by "To Kill a Mockingbird." Her elder sister Alice, who died last November, was her fierce protector, till she grew too frail herself.

I had, many years ago, blogged about the dirty underbelly of the publishing industry, and how they specialize in ghostwritten polishes of mediocre follow-ups to massively popular first books. Or what should have been single or dual books being drawn out into three or four with filler ghostwritten material, just to 'string them along' longer and make more money from the readers and massive audience for blockbuster movies based on blockbuster book series.

As I mentioned to my friend Ruchira, of erstwhile Accidental Blogger, after reading these:  Guardian article1 and Guardian article 2,  I'm starting to wonder if, rather than a full-fledged novel manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, there is a faint outline by Harper Lee  which is going to be edited to resemble the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' stylistically by persons unknown, who stand to benefit more by its publication than Harper Lee herself.

This New York Times article avers that Harper Lee has authorized the publication of the new book, in a signed comment, drafted undoubtedly by her lawyer, Tonja Brooks Carter, who took over purporting to represent Harper Lee's interests after Harper's elder sister Alice Lee,a sharp-as-a-tack lawyer herself, who retired only at the age of 98, passed away three months ago at the age of 103.

Historian Wayne Flynt opines that, far from the fragile mental and physical condition portrayed of Harper Lee in the media in the more recent years (these not-too-complimentary articles insist that she was in failing shape), she is in great shape mentally, lucid and cogent whenever she met him.In addition he is thrilled at the prospect of  more sequels. Which makes me wonder how much of a cut of the proceeds from the sales of the new book he was promised.  Maybe I am being too cynical, but  statements like the one he made (see below) make me suspicious.
"Flynt said that if the new book is successful, maybe it won't be the last.
"It does make you hope that we won't have just one reprise of the book," he said. "Maybe there are several more."

If this becomes a blockbuster, watch out for the miraculous discovery of the long-lost 'Atticus' manuscript, probably timed to release when the hype over Go Set a Watchman fades away.

This also raises the question as to what happened when Ms.Lee had episodes of being less lucid and cogent. Could someone sneak documents and statements to her that she might sign without question? What of the mysterious (criminal defense background primarily) lawyer who is calling all the shots, releasing Harper Lee's purported statements about how humbled and amazed she is at the publishing of her book (rather contrary to the reclusiveness and bluntness which characterized Lee in earlier times) Here is an interesting blog post about Carter's lawyering  from Pam Dae,a blogger who has been trying to get more information about her.

As far as conflict of interest and monetary remuneration goes, Carter stands to gain a lot of money from the process of representing Harper Lee in these dealings, maybe even enough to recoup her investment from the now-closed restaurant that Carter and her husband opened in Monroeville, Alabama a few years ago.

Mockingbirds shouldn't be killed, nor should they be caged and made to sing sad songs of captivity.

 Nor should the lesser music of other birds be passed of as the song of the caged mockingbird.

P.S: And all this may yet turn out to be a tempest in a teapot, but short of actually having Ms.Lee come out and speak about her consent to all this in public, suppositions of 'elder-exploitation' are not going to be laid to rest.

Update:
 The state of Alabama is quietly investigating allegations of elder abuse with regards to Harper Lee. See this NYTimes article.

A DHR investigation continues, but a State Security commission investigation has been closed based on 'satisfactory answers' from Harper Lee to the investigators.

An intrepid reporter who attempted to get a direct interview with Harper Lee a little over a month ago got a precious response, a handwritten "Go away" missive signed by her.

See a change to my thoughts and suspicions regarding the whole affair here.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Ordinary Life of a Maharani

A couple of months ago, I came across this striking photograph on http://www.oldindianphotos.in/
 and wondered about the lovely Indian lady in formal Victorian court attire. The short description below the photo indicated that this was Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch-Behar, in a photo dated to 1902 when she travelled to England and was presented at the court of Queen Victoria.
Curious to read more about her, I looked for the Wikipedia entry and also came across her autobiography which can be either read online or downloaded.

She started with a fairly ordinary life as a child, till her father, Brahmo luminary Keshab Chandra Sen, decided to take off on his own tangent and start his own variant of the Brahmos and a school for young women. His daughters were well educated, and consequently sought after as brides for leading princes, of whom the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar Nripendranarayan was one. Suniti was married to him at a young age and went to live with him after she came of age.
An unremarkable person, made remarkable by the circumstances, she describes a life of conjugal happiness, much love and lightness, a large family with many children, a faithful and loving husband. She dwells at large upon her stays in England and seems to have been the toast of the English court. She has never a cross or unkind word for the majority of her acquaintances, life sailed a smooth keel till the passing of her husband, followed by the shock of losing the beloved son who briefly took over the kingship.
Life went on, and she passed on in due course, but not before taking the time to author her own story as well as another booklet of Grandma's tales.
Here she is in widows weeds, as photographed shortly after her husband passed away. Her hair is greyed, but her eyes still have the clear serenity that they had in her heyday, despite the sorrow that now shades them.

(Photo credits:"Her Highness Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar" by Pinewood Studios - V&A Picture Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
"Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar" by Photographs from the Lafayette Studio Archive of the V&A, London - http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/cooch2.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A word of advice

To all those spammers who 'love my writing' and are desperately trying to get their comments with links to their websites, please come up with actual decent readable content on your sites ( a personal blog similar to mine, with tons of actual stories and/or experiences would be ideal), and I might even condescend to publish your comments. Supplements and hacking tools infomercial sites, not so much.
Think about it! Repent and turn into bloggers, all ye spammers, and the Great AntiSpambot shall relent and graciously allow your comments to come through the Eye of the Needle...err...Spam Filter.

Update: Nice try! A spammer tried sending me links to CNN, then to the personal blog of some author of young adult books. Sorry, guys, you will have to try harder. Just valid links aren't enough. I demand that you actually read my posts and come up with actual valid responses to the material in the blog post. Not just 'lovely post', and 'I would love to link to it' etc. Those are red flags, especially if accompanied by suspicious links.