Monthly Archives: March 2011

Invoking the ancestors

In my current Netflix documentary fever, I’ve been addicted to the PBS/BBC sponsored television series, “The Story of India” that features Michael Wood, a British historian tracing the history of India. It makes for enjoyable viewing as Wood traces the Dravidian roots in Africa and then actually travels back and forth from Harappa, down the plains of the Ganga to trace history in 1500 B.C. and then Turkmenistan and Central Asia as the supposed origins of chariots and Aryans and the Soma drink mentioned in the Rig Veda, from Patna to talk about the Maurya dynasty to Peshawar to unravel the lost kingdom of Kanishka and the Kushans and more.  It isn’t clear whether his travel schedule was true to the chronology of events, nevertheless makes for some fascinating archeological investigation interspersed with some misfitting Bollywood songs in the background. Sigh !

The third episode of this six-part series discusses the Spice Route & Silk Route and the impact that global trade had on India and vice-versa. Two things that really amused me – India was so self-sufficient that in an almost lopsided barter system, the only imports Indian merchants and kings coveted had to do with a shiny dazzling yellow metal. With an endearing style of a slick of humor, Wood talks about how the fascination for gold has prevailed through two thousand years of dynamic Indian history and has infact prevailed only for one reason – to make ornaments!

The second anecdote mentioned that a common complaint by Romans, as noted in their chronicles, was about how Indian royalty and merchants delayed and faulted on payments. Ah ! We (Indians) are like this only.

The other scene that totally cracked me up (and is the subject of this post) was in this segment about how Romans loved clothes (or was it pearls, hmm, unlikely) and textiles that Indian merchants sent abroad. Wood chats up with this jewelery store owner in Madurai and explains that the owner inherited this legacy of gold trade through many generations of ancestors. In a moment flushed with excitement, the goldsmith chimes in to say that his trade was manned by generations of ancestors and very cutely describes ancestors in a phrase – “father, grandfather, and grand, grand, grand, father, father…”

Haven’t laughed so hard in quite a while !


Found the links to the first episodes on Google Video. There are other clippings of the series on Youtube but I don’t think the entire series is up there.

Episode 1: Beginnings

Attached here, is the episode pertaining to the grandfather anecdote. Fast-forward to 18:04 minutes


A few old feathers that flew my way

I love Facebook ! This piece of information shouldn’t come as news to anyone who knows me or knows of me and if you’re my Facebook friend, you probably have had your news-feed getting spammed from my wall. But sometimes you love it, and that I’m optimistically sure about. So for those moments, when you are entertained by my wall, I love Facebook.

This year, rather the first quarter of this year has been spectacularly joyous in surprising ways routed through Facebook. Almost every week I’ve found myself accepting a ‘friend request’ from an old school buddy. It is quite amusing to notice the high that I experience in sending messages to old classmates, some of whom I haven’t seen in twenty years, which would make me younger than ten on the last occasion we were together. What fun it is then when my girlfriends remember almost every prank we played and escaped punishment from because I was the goody-two shoes and the teacher’s favorite. It’s really funny that the ones with the kids were the big pranksters who traded in early for a quieter domestic bliss. But most of my friends are in the peri-wedding age and space (peri = before, during, after an event, just showing off some medical jargon here), some of them already married, some in the process, and so we have reconnected so well over the trials and tribulations of organizing wedding ceremonies and then adjusting to a new way of life.

Infact one of the activities I look forward to every morning is catching up with two of my closest school buddies on a long Facebook message thread that started at the end of my wedding celebrations, and is carrying along through the ongoing preparations of one friend’s wedding and then will definitely carry through the just-announced-impending-wedding celebrations of the third friend later this year. Given that these two were the forces behind my wedding shopping and organization, we go over what happened at my wedding and what we learn from all the gaffes, learn of the newly committed gaffes, and learn that there will always be gaffes. I also console myself that I am playing the role of the bride’s friend well, even if in surrogate. Somehow, it just isn’t as much fun by email. On Facebook, we’re also able to keep track of ‘current events’ and pass our comments in public and in private – the only thing that is missing is a hot cup of tea and pakodas to share.

Coming back to the mirth of other feathers that flew my way, of course, there are times when I am in a dilemma – of accepting a request when I recognize the face, but realize that I just got to know this ‘friend’s’ name.  Or worse, when I’d run helter-skelter in the opposite direction to avoid her in school or wherever we met, and now, I have been invited to invite myself to be stalked ! Oh yes, Facebook customization has worked well for me, but it required some effort. Some of these acquaintances happen to be peers, who for some inexplicable reason, sent cold hostile vibes my way leaving me piqued and irritated and weirdly-wanting-to-hide-my-face-in-a-dark-veil. I’ve even, on a rare occasion, stood in front of the mirror and wondered if I was ugly and fat – big issues for a young girl learning to maneuver the awkwardness of teenage; makes me to stop to wonder about kids that really (syn. actually, truly, in reality, evidence admissible in court) got bullied by their peers.

That my mother happened to be a school teacher and I was often the irritating enthusiastic kid in school (and both these were reasons enough to make me popular among other school teachers) were the only seemingly rational explanations. It is indeed nice then that today I can enjoy a happy conversation with them and comment on their status messages and photographs with ease and without any fear of ridicule. In fact, I realize that I probably intimidated several others unintentionally which makes me truly exclaim at how successful we must be that we escaped teenage relatively unscathed, and came away wiser.

The third class of old-acquaintance-popping on Facebook is occupied by not-so-much-an-acquaintance but more of the oh-i-recognize-this-face-and-i-am-recognized-by-this-face variety. Typically those who traveled in the same school bus but alighted at a different stop, or those several years older and think of me as a kid, or those several years younger whom I deemed too fattu to acknowledge.It is actually weird then that I get excited to catch up with them on facebook – to catch-up means to see their recent photographs of their travels and life in different part of the world and mostly of their kids. I have no clue why I am delighted to see pictures of mere acquaintances’ kids; no maternal instinct playing here please! Usually I find them through a mutual friend and very greedily hoping that they haven’t closed photograph access to strangers 😀

Really, that’s all I care about – see the photographs and I’m done with them. Sometimes I’ll let my mom know about them and she loves to hear about her school students. It’s an easy class to deal with – we don’t show any real interest in each other, just enough to cry aloud, ‘i-still-recognize-your-face-from-the-last-bus-ride-we-shared-two-decades-ago’. If I get a friend request, I don’t feel rude about ignoring it and we politely see through each other on other mutual friends’ walls. Hmm, maybe we’re talking about facebook etiquette here, are we?

Oh, there is even a fourth cadre – friends-of-friends-who-I-became-friends-with-on-Facebook-and-became-good-friends-with-via/through/because of-Facebook. More feathers in my social cap – that’s social networking at its best !


As I might have done, can Facebook be used interchangeably as a proper noun, common noun, verb, and adjective?

Feeding our obsession for all things to do with POTUS

… nothing American about it. Infact it probably has more to do with a general fascination for history, the history of power, history created by current affairs, and then, about the creative access to records of the powerful, real and reel. Skrao is generally known to be and ribbed about being obsessed with history and American presidents in his circle; I am always learning of factoids that are pepper our conversations, infact I stopped calling myself a history buff after I met him. 🙂

My own POTUS fascination is more an extension of popular obsession for dynasties and the hidden lives of those who rule us – ably supported by addictions to The West Wing, and Youtube videos of interviews and other trivia. Shakaal, my ex-roommate’s boyfriend introduced me to the first season of The West Wing – and I was hooked so tightly that I used it as my route to escape the tragedy of my dad’s death! My unsuspecting brother Chinnu had no idea of how life was going to be possessed when I introduced him to the first episode of the first season. Skrao has resisted, but not for long because I plan to get the collector’s edition of all seasons.

This Sunday was spent talking a lot about history and the making of it. From the story of the rise in interracial marriages and children of mixed races in the bigoted Southern states in the US to excerpts of  the Wikileaks cables about the Gandhi family and Indian politics in the ‘Hindu’ newspaper. But what stoked my interest most was the discovery of documentaries on Netflix. Um, well, I guess they aren’t discoveries – Skrao has been mentioning them for a while and I chose to watch ‘The Odd Couple‘ during lunchtime over a short documentary. (In short about that movie – classic 1968 comedy that had me clutching my sides in laughter). Later at night, when he started to play the hour long documentary, I was glued to the screen in minutes.

The President’s Photographer’, as the name suggests is a narrative about the Official White House photographer’s attempts to archive nearly every moment of the presidency – in this case, The Obama term. The show was filmed in the first sixteen months and mainly around the time when the Health Reform Bill was being debated. With a 13 hour working day, and unimaginable access to The Oval Room, even and especially during important and historic meetings, as well as rather private family hours, Pete Souza captures around 20000 to 80000 pictures a month that encapsulate every hour of Obama’s term. As a matter of fact, he is not allowed to delete any of these pictures – they officially belong to the National Archives and the Presidential Library. About 5% of these pictures captures ‘handshakes’ – a matter mundane to the President, but momentous for the ordinary citizen clutching on to the President’s grasp !

Digital photography of course allows him such liberty that wasn’t available to earlier photographers. Think about it, digital photography was not around during the Clinton administration – in my mind, that is still recent ! (Though I have been told, that these days that Pulp Fiction is now considered a classic. Hmph ! ) The documentary mostly features the current presidency with a few references to the past – one that stuck with me was about how Prez. Nixon disallowed free access to the Official Photographer, Ollie Atkins, in his time. On his last day of the presidency, just before he spoke to the nation about his resignation, he bellowed at his photographer who’d taken one picture before the last address and was obviously waiting for his prized catch – the moment after Nixon resigned. Nixon refused to pose for any more photographs and only allowed the CBS videographers.

That makes me think of the power of photography. It has greater allure of retention than video does – video calls for greater attention spans, I guess. There is probably something innately embarrassing about the video recording, the only ones we usually enjoy are of kids in the uninhibited self. The photograph, I think, engages the viewer in a long stare and permits us to build our own scripted narrative of the moment encapsulated. With Skrao’s developing interest in photography, we delighted in observing the different lenses used to capture the President in introspective, retrospective, and powerful moments. And moments where he totally succumbs to children, like when he bent down to a little boy who wanted to verify if he shared the same style of haircut.

I end this note with my favorite part of the narrative (a one-hour voiceover by Morgan Freeman) – “A (presidential) motorcade has a certain glamour to it. But the realities of security mean that the president and the first lady often arrive in some of the least glamorous parts of the building“. In this case, they were traveling in a dirty grey freight elevator. That image lingers.


We watched the video on Netflix, but found the same video here. Highly recommended viewing. Also, other documentaries on Netflix have been very promising. For now, we’re watching the commentaries on India 🙂

Grocery Shopping

… is one of my favorite events of the week. Given that I cannot drive, it ensures that Skrau comes along and spends time with me. Actually, it’s more enjoyable with him around because grocery and especially shopping for fruits and vegetables is one of his favorite things to do – so much so that I’d like to invite his family and friends to see the sparkle in his eyes as he runs through the aisles of the supermarket in search of the reddest of peppers as can be. He always has something to mutter about what we can cook and how we should cook it – and given our fads for spices and newly-discovered foods, we’re always concocting ideas and recipes for the week.

What I also love is the fact that Skrau cruises around the grocery store to fetch all the essentials, which gives the Frau the time and space to meander about with the cart, looking out for ‘discoveries’. At my leisurely pace, reminiscent of a heavily pregnant lady (that I am most certainly not),  I look up the stacks of eggs, teas, sauces, juices, salad dressings, frozen ready-to-eats, breads, biscuits, cheeses, and all things that we never buy. I don’t think I process much of these in my mind – I am almost blindly staring at them and enjoying my stroll as if I were taking in the sights and smells of the flowers and trees in a landscaped park. This is probably why I insist on the ‘shopping experience’ and only entertain the idea of going to a well-designed, well-air-conditioned supermarket store! Along with my obsession for ‘organic foods’ especially milk and gelatin-free yoghurt, such habits have earned me the epithet of ‘smug shopper’ from the spouse. 😀

Skrau and I typically also indulge in some geeky antics. Like at the billing counter, as we wait for the salesperson to calculate our bill, we play our own game of guessing what the billing amount would be with a leeway of two dollars either way. While I would initially dismiss this off as another of his nerdy shenanigans, I’ve improved in my informed guesswork in the past few months and now look forward to playing this each time we go out, much like the excited kid who now knows to add things up ! 🙂 (We never grow up, do we – especially when we know that we have a good chance of winning !)

My shopping expeditions always lead to getting something unique, albeit, the next time we go shopping. This has definitely convinced me that I am not an impulsive shopper, given that I mull over the new idea for a few days and then buy it. I don’t know if Skrau knows so. Getting ‘egg whites’, red-and-yellow peppers, corn, some spices, snack foods, are just some of the foods that are my contribution to the experimental shopping list. Oh yes ! I think I can pout how this goes to show that I am an avid grocery shopper myself, who has now been relieved of essential grocery shopping and left to indulge herself during our outings.

Also these anecdotes add more weight to my belief that food and all-things-related-to-food take up a large chunk of time and spatial dimensions in life (puns unintended). I’ll probably end with this anecdote, a bit ill-timed given the on-going Japanese tragedy.

Food & Japan – It isn’t always sushi

Skrau’s American colleague is married to a Japanese and one day while passing by a bunch of Japanese women, he exclaimed how he was now comfortable with the language (after many years of marriage) and could understand nuances of the conversations. Then he goes on to say how it wasn’t really all that difficult. Skrau asked him what that particular conversation was about, to which pat came the reply “It is and always is about food”. And he went on to mention how at his in-laws’ home in Japan, (they’re unharmed by the earthquake-tsunami), they’re barely done with breakfast when they start talking about lunch and dinner. As Skrau narrated this to me, I was fairly reminded of how my mother talks about next day’s dinner plans right after we’ve finished today’s dinner. A second later, I realize, Skrau does this all the time, and then these days since the conversation with his colleague, he punctuates his sentence with, “I am Japanese” in sardonic defense.

At the beginning and at the end of the day – all cultures are bound by the basic necessities in life – clean food, water, air, shelter (and as my husband quips, electricity and the internet). Or all cultures are Japanese.


In a quirk of fate, came across this in today’s NYT and put it up as a link on my Facebook page. I was surprised to know that Japan was the net largest importer of food in the world.

To this, husband commented : “densely populated, mostly mountainous and high standard of living (high demand for food) = no space to support cultivation. i think they are net importer of most things including national security (thanks to the post-war constitution) and culture ( true of most countries )”

Counting my blessings.

I don’t think I am generous anymore. I guess I have decidedly reserved this space for my personal enlisting of joyous moments. If it benefits ‘public health’ so be it ! I think the pressures of being a worldly wise person have been responsible for the rather large lags in postings, and in my world, I place a lot of value on noting, anecdoting, and archiving memories. I am certain about this because I’ve largely benefited from past diaries that have given me great many laughs and insights into how-and-what-I-was-thinking-on-may-23-1998 ! But more so, because I have benefited even more by maverick acts of archiving and preservation taken on by my husband since his childhood.

I think I have been inspired by Neil Pasricha, whose serendipitous claim to fame is attributed to his blog brought him to the other side of my laptop screen on Ted talks here – . With no such aspersions or aspirations of fame, Neil Pasricha’s idea behind his blog has stayed with me, long after I saw his talk on Ted more than a month ago. My previous post has been, as you may now realize, evidently an offshoot of the ‘awesome’ talk .Given that I love writing, and given that I am fickle and easily pleased and displeased, I believe that replicating his idea is a perfect way to keep my love going.

Therefore, an introductory post for what-might-be the nature of the blog henceforth; and the actual post for today coming up.