I saw this video.
Then I saw two crows (presumably the ones that dispossessed my neighbour’s Labrador of his biscuit) deep in conversation. I listened and transcribed their conversation for my readers
I saw this video.
Then I saw two crows (presumably the ones that dispossessed my neighbour’s Labrador of his biscuit) deep in conversation. I listened and transcribed their conversation for my readers
Surely, somebody, somewhere in the dark recesses of ISRO is speculating that the launch of Chandrayaan was astrologically inauspicious, and that the failure to account for the Katapayaadi Sankhya of Mars being malefic in Capricorn while calculating the launch time. Or perhaps it was Rahu kaalam when it went on its way.
Original Image credits: Johniponken
Did you know that regular urban crows in Madras, the ones with the grey neck have a caw that is distinctly atonal and harsh sounding compared to the larger jungle crows (Ravens, Andankaakka), which have a softer, tonally pleasing caw despite their unfortunate (and mythical, I might add) employment as Yama’s messengers. Perhaps it was by design. If ravens are harbingers of doom, it makes a certain morbid sense for them to have a more pleasing ‘harbinging’ voice so that they can say – “You are all about to die” but say it in a dulcet voice that softens the impact of the message.
I once tried taking my guitar tuner near a raven to measure his caw frequency, but the crow did not seem very comfortable with that situation. He let out one brief caw before flying away, and that registered at E flat momentarily on my tuner. Next time, I hope to try this experiment by leaving some rice and the tuner right next to it (and hope the crow does not get interested in Korg tuners). Of course, since I cannot see the readings on a tuner from a distance and the tuner does not record its readings, I will have to leave my cellphone (with its video camera running) near the tuner (and hope the crow does not get interested in touch screen mobile phones). Or I could try Puppy Manohar’s brilliant solution
That apart, jungle crows tend to be loners while these greynecks stick together, like birds of a feather and all that. Greynecks are also smart. They will collaborate to steal food from dumber animals. I have seen them cheat my neighbour’s hapless Labrador of his snack biscuits by co-ordinating a smooth distract-and-pilfer manoeuvre with one of the crows first making enough noise to convince the dog that it is worth his effort to leave his biscuits, lift his bulky labrador body and come chasing after the crow. The dog of course obliges and chases after the bird. The crow then says “caw-caw-caw-ca-ca-caw“, which translates to “How is it that you never seem to remember that I have wings?” and flies away to safety. The dog, with his characteristic labrador fat tail wagging furiously, tongue hanging out and panting, is now mentally cursing himself, not for forgetting that crows can elevate themselves, but for forgetting that Mr Crow probably has an accomplice who is, at this very moment, picking up his biscuits and saying “caw-caw ca-ca“, which translates to “So long, sucker”. He then goes back to his spot, dejected, and lies down with his jaw resting on the ground and puts on his trademark sad-eyed look that says “I could do with a few more biscuits”. I could walk up to him at that moment and read aloud Lonely planet’s review of Madras and he wouldn’t care, unless he smelled biscuits on me. Dogs can be remarkably sophisticated when it comes to the incredible simplicity of their lives.
Now, why am I telling you all of this? Because I promised to.
And also because, 300+ comments, regionalist hate, and an unchanged Lonely Planet entry later, I needed a therapeutic post. Because Lonely Planet does not matter. In my desire to rebut their craptastic overview, I had to assume that their review actually matters in some meaningful sense, because unless they mattered, my post wouldn’t matter and if my post didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have posted, and since I did, this ridiculous chain of illogic must come to an end somewhere. Let’s just say that it was just one of those xkcd-esque moments. Somebody was wrong on the internet, and I had to get involved.
If you want to read a real introduction to Madras, read maami’s, not Lonely Planet’s.
I decided instead to make some small updates to my Madras map
And I also give my neighbour’s labrador some Tiger biscuits. He approves.
Update before you read this: Lonely Planet seems to be in the process of editing their piece on Madras since this post. Some of inaccurate references are now gone, but the opening paragraph is still nasty and compared to Delhi, still a turn off. But all the same, thank you LP, for your quick response. I am hoping that the editorial team actually does some real research this time before finalizing the article.
Another Update: After a couple of days of random edits, looks like the article is back to its original craptasticity. No change in tone, still sounds like it was written by a poorly informed, close minded writer with a serious grudge against the city.
Dear Lonely Planet
I came across your entry for Chennai (Madras), and like a responsible citizen coming across a crumpled, empty packet of Lays chips on the street, I feel it is my responsibility to move it to the dustbin. But that would be rude of me, and Madras tradition demands that I invite you for a cup of filter coffee and a have a healthy discussion instead on the subject of urban cleanliness. As the person who originally pointed me to your article said, the problem with your piece is that it is about as far away from objective reality as Ramesh Powar is from Mutthiah Muralidharan’s world record. You romanticize the problems of other Indian cities while at the same time unzipping your fly and letting loose at Madras.
But wait a second. So I have a problem with one magazine’s portrayal of my city and I choose to rant about it online, eh? Too commonplace, and frankly, that’s not Madras’ style really. See, even in Tamil movies, when a hero is not given a chair to sit on, he does not immediately beat the shit out of everyone in the scene, but instead, fashions a seat for himself by the creative use of an angavastram. I mean, I could take each one of your claims, and comment on them rather critically. Like for example
Chennai has neither the cosmopolitan, prosperous air of Mumbai (Bombay)
So, the 24/7 crowds at Saravana Stores in T Nagar do not represent prosperity because it’s the prosperity of the lower middle class, while swanky malls that sell cups of sweet corn for Rs 40 and theater tickets that cost more than a bypass surgery represent prosperity elsewhere? To paraphrase Rajini, rich-getting-richer and poor-getting-poorer is not prosperity, but slightly-poor-getting-slightly-rich all around is. And then we have
the optimistic buzz of Bengaluru (Bangalore)
Um, with no disrespect to Bangalore, a city I have lived in and loved, the only buzz I hear is the rumble of a million cars stalled in back-to-back traffic, and the pessimistic buzz of travelers waiting to get inside the city from its new airport that is practically light years away
difficult to get around
O really? You mean, more difficult than Bangalore? The public transportation system in Madras is far more comprehensive than Bangalore or Hyderabad. And to top off your first paragraph, we have this gem
Even the movie stars are, as one Chennaiker put it, ‘not that hot’.
Once I read that, I felt like a Mylaporean complaining about the quality of Idli in Darjeeling, like Michael Schumacher complaining about the lack of acceleration in an Ambassador. For starters, who the haemoglobin leaking four letter profanity is a “Chennaikar”? An obscure opening batsman for the Mumbai Ranji team I did not know about? The only thing remotely resembling a “Chennaikar” is a Hyundai Santro. It’s Delhiite, Banglorean, Hyderabadi, Chennaiite (if you have to), Calcuttan (or simply Dada) and finally Mumbaikar. I mean, who wrote this piece? A random amit who did not like the chapathi at Saravana Bhavan? Or somebody whose company forcibly transferred him to Madras? And I’m not even going to get the part about thermodynamically challenged movie stars.
Deep breath. Ok. Sorry. I had to get that out of the way. I suppose it’s because I lived in Delhi and Bombay before I settled down in Madras, so getting confrontational about trivialities is a bad habit I’m trying hard to shake off. So now, let’s get down to the Madras way to dealing with this. Let’s assume we are at Mylai Karpagambal mess (which you do not mention in your article) eating Keerai Vadai (which you do not recommend in your article) sipping on filter coffee (which you mention….no..wait..you dont, bloody amit) and I make the following observations
So I propose to you that you cannot be fair and balanced if you only romanticize or severely criticize. So since you present an amit view of Madras, how about a Bihari view of Mumbai? Your article says
Measure out: one part Hollywood; six parts traffic; a bunch of rich power-moguls; stir in half a dozen colonial relics (use big ones); pour in six heaped cups of poverty; add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants (don’t skimp on quality here for best results); equal parts of mayhem and order; as many ancient bazaars as you have lying around; a handful of Hinduism; a dash of Islam; fold in your mixture with equal parts India; throw it all in a blender on high (adding generous helpings of pollution to taste) and presto: Mumbai.
How about we Biharize or Jharkandize that paragraph like this?
Measure out: one part plagiarized Hollywood, six parts car driving assholes who would like nothing more than to run us over, a bunch of feudal power-moguls, stir in half a dozen hate mongering Maratha morons like Raj Thackeray, pour in six heaped cups of grinding poverty that comes to Mumbai in the vain hope of a better life, add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants that employ us as cleaners and exploits us all the time, a handful of saffronized Hinduism out to slaughter the poor muslims among us, a dash of radical Islam out to terrorize the innocent, fold in your uncomfortable mixture with equal parts a callous India that couldnt care less for the labourers from my state, throw it all in a blender, spit in chewed pan, and add generous helpings of smug feelings of superiority, and presto: Mumbai
By itself, it would be rather unfair right? How about this view of Delhi, as seen through the eyes of a Madrasi?
Delhi, that festering pit of immorality, that hellhole of rape, corruption and violence, is a city that glorifies showines and materialistic consumption. But that apart, a good idli will set you back by Rs 70, which is ridiculous really. It’s also a bit like the US, in the sense that Delhiites rarely know that there is this rather large place called “The Rest of India” that surrounds the city in all directions. For example, they call Bangloreans Madrasis, which sort of pisses them off. Also, every guy in the city is named amit for some reason
You get my drift? Your piece on Madras looks like it was written by someone who hates the city. So how about you get a real person from Madras to write your piece (just like the ones that wrote for the other cities) and do my city the justice it deserves.
PS: If you introduce me to the person who wrote this, I will gladly treat him to keerai vadai at Mylapore and then over coffee, we can discuss some of the nicer aspects of Madras he so unfairly ignores.
PS 2: If you believe Madras does deserve a better travelogue, the feedback link is here
PS 3: Don’t forget to follow @the_amit
PS4: For a more reasoned rebuttal of the Lonely Planet piece, read this
PS5: And for a real guide to the city, no one does it better than maami
PS7: More research here on Dilip’s blog
Update: The general feedback says that the original preface was a little dense, so I’ve moved it to the end, because denser/heavier things always sink to the bottom.
The following tale is set in an alternate Madras universe. It’s called “The Parallelogue”
The bus was 47A. Behind it was engraved
There was once a girl from Madras,
who was wheatish, demure and BA pass.
She ran into a bloke one day,
on bus number 47 A,
she reported him for eve teasing to the police brass
Right next to the limerick was crudely etched -
Nandhini loves Karthi
And next to that, in black paint -
P James Magic Show 9841072571
I woke up with a headache. Sleeping late always gave me a headache in the morning. My friend had kept me up all night explaining this stupid new game he had learnt from his Brit friends. After a couple of hours of listening to the rules of this game that shared its name with an annoying insect, I told him it wouldn’t catch on. Why, he asked. For starters, it’s too biased in favour of individual performers, I said. It’s a team game only in the sense of bowling and batting peacocks doing a mating dance while the fielding crows watch and occasionally run after the ball. Then we have all of this ridiculously expensive equipment and a playing surface that requires some badass gardening skills to put together. The middle class will hate it, I predicted. This game is tailor made for 2 kinds of kids – Bullies and rich spoiled brats. The rich ones will bring the equipment while the bullies will do all the batting and bowling, I conjectured. And all of this will mostly leave traumatic childhood memories in most children who happen to be fielding crows all their lives.
I drank my filter tea. It cleared my headache.
I dressed and took an auto to work. I am an English teacher. The auto driver drove at a constant speed of 40 km/hr and spoke to me about the finer aspects of post-modern Thirukkuralism. I kept an eye on the meter. He smiled and told me to relax. The meter will run as fast as you want it to, he said. What if I say – don’t run at all, I asked. Ah, he said. That is the point. The meter represents your state of mind, he said. He dropped me off at the school, and I thanked him for my daily dose of philosophy.
I said Hi to the other teachers. We were all in uniform. The kids wore what they pleased. I walked into my class. I said -
“When I was young, my college mates were memorizing word lists, learning things like “cogent”, which for reasons only known to aerial italian food, means “Logical and persuasive, as in making a cogent argument”, and learning not to misspell “supersede” and “colloquy”, I, on the other hand, was memorizing said word lists just so that I could solve cryptic crosswords faster and win the annual “What’s the Good Word” competition at BITS Pilani. It also helped me get better at Scrabble (Ah the joy of 7 letter word bonuses). So what’s the difference? My friends have forgotten what “dilatory” means, while I still know that it’s a personal diary written well after the fact. I also know that “cogent”, in fact, refers to your male roommate who studies or works at the same place you do. “Crepuscular” is an adjective that describes something that is well-toned, healthy and looks like a Dosa. “Maudlin” is an altered distribution of Torvalds’ OS, while “Petard (John-Luc)” is a grenade that is shaped like a smooth bald head and says “Make it so” before going off. And finally, “dulcimer” is a quality that describes the taste of food that has undergone low intensity heating for too long.”
The bell rang. It was lunch time.
We, the teachers, walked into a restaurant. The Pacchayappan High Class Non-Veg Restaurant. The Menu read -
young, innocent plant embryos and uteri transported long distances to be savagely slaughtered, callously cut, sinfully sliced, brutally boiled and finally, fiendishly fried in horrendously hot oil
Well fed and cared-for goats, lovingly tended to and allowed to freely roam, then humanely and quickly separated from the land of the living to nourish the eater with precious protein
Baby grass cruelly hacked from mother plant, left alone to dry in the hot baking sun, then mercilessly ground to a fine powder, flooded with water, turned into a sticky dough devoid of shape and dignity, flattened with blunt cylindrical weapons, mixed with roots of a starchy tuber, separated from the rest of the plant which dies a horrible death, and fried on a hot griddle and served with calf-nourishment liquid cruelly squeezed out of a lactating cow and allowed to be ravaged by bacteria
Freely roaming, lovingly cared-for fowl mercifully spared the pointlessness of a long life on a warming, polluted planet, bones carefully removed after death to make for a succulent snack that honours the bird’s rich textured life
It was Friday. The guys suggested a movie later in the evening. I agreed. We saw “Dandanaka Dubakoor”, a commercial entertainer that had item songs featuring sensitive, clean-shaven men doing the dishes at home. The Hero was Vijaya, and the general plot involved her and her cohorts solving global problems using diplomacy, conversation and extended shopping trips.
I came back home and switched on the TV. The news anchor was annoying beyond belief. She was wasting my time with a detailed analysis of why a certain politician should be sacked because he used “economy class” and “member of the flight crew” instead of the politically correct “Cattle Class” and “Air Item”. I hit the red button. It sent a small electric shock directly to Barkha Goswami, reminding her that what she was doing was irresponsible journalism.
That was when I remembered that I had to attend a colleague’s wedding. Damn, I thought. I walked over to my Ubuntu PC, and logged into their wedding website. I looked though my photo album and picked a reasonably flattering looking photo of myself and uploaded it to the site. Within 5 minutes, my image was photoshopped/video-edited into the reception video, where I posed uncomfortably still for the video camera. I hit the “Send the same old Tea set as a gift” button, and hit logout. “Please have dinner and go”, said a popup. I sighed. I clicked OK.
In 30 minutes, the wedding dinner was home-delivered. Chapathi, Paruppu usili, Paneer Butter masala, Sambar rice, 3 pieces of potato chips, followed by Gulab jamoon, Ras malai, vanilla icecream and Beeda. And a garish business card that read “Parasakthi Caterers”. Matches are made in heaven. Dinners are made in oven. Dont let Ivan or Avan cook the meal of your life. Trust us
In case you were wondering, the actual wedding took place on Twitter earlier in the day . chi_arjun and sow_bhanu now follow each other.
sow_bhanu used to follow me. She teaches Science at my school. She left me because my torrent upload/download ratio fell below 1
Such is life.
Update: This was originally the preface, but most people found it too dense.
Writing Science fiction is hard, because any good sci-fi worth its crystalline Sodium Chloride has to satisfy the nerd audience, and that is very hard to do because that’s a demographic that has the time, energy and a sufficient lack of mental entropy to find the slightest of violations of the laws of physics the author might indulge in, even if these are laws that the writer made up himself. So if I wrote a story where the speed of light is 30 km/hour but kept the distance between the Sun and the Earth at 150 million km, nerds would tear me up (on online discussion boards, i.e.) because they would contend that life would never have evolved unless I adjusted several other factors suitably (like the half-lives of elements, for starters).
So the sci-fi fan’s foremost requirement is that the author obey the proverbial Shakespearean rule “To thine own self be true”, or to rephrase “If you are going to invent a completely implausible universe, stick to the stated details and boundaries of your own implausibility”. But, authors have a couple of tricks that they use, in fact sometimes too often. One of them is the notion of a “parallel universe”. So every time you read a story that involves a parallel universe (a.k.a alternate timeline, a.k.a circum-positioning of threaded jasmine flowers around auditory cavity), you know that the writer is simply being lazy. Parallel universes are convenient, too convenient in fact. The author simply gets to choose what changes in a parallel universe without explaining any of the dubious underlying mechanisms that cause them. With an alternate timeline, I don’t have to explain anything. I could write something like -
“The crow gobbled up the rice and dal kept on the window sill and let out a sonic, mind-altering caw that caused everyone in the house to fall down unconscious.”
and when the nerd says – “Explain that”, I say “Parallel universe. Altered evolutionary timeline”, and the nerd then experiences an aneurysm and goes back to playing World of Warcraft. In case you were still not sure where this was going, like a tourist trapped in a Madras auto with the meter running, this is a vague justification of sorts for the story you just read. Hopefully