Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Facing death, heroically!

Imagine you are the mother of a eight year old son and a five year old daughter. Imagine that you had this conversation with your doctor:
"Well you know," he said, "this is mostly palliative care. If we didn't do any chemo, you'd begin to have some very unpleasant symptoms soon. So I guess we'd be hitting a single if it acted enough to make you comfortable for a while. A double would be if it actually shrank your tumors some. And a triple -- which is very unlikely -- would be if we were still standing here six months from now talking about what to do next." Apparently a home run was not an option.
How would you face the situation? Here is how Marjorie Williams faced it. The extract ends with this poignant sentence:
I became a professional patient. And all my doctors learned my name.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Unruly classes and first class blues!

I got a link to this really cool extract via Kitabkhana.
Professors of education at New York University never lectured on how to handle flying sandwich situations. They talked about theories and philosophies of education, about moral and ethical imperatives, about the necessity of dealing with the whole child, the gestalt, if you don't mind, the child's felt needs, but never about critical moments in the classroom.
Petey said, Yo, teacher, that's my sandwich you et.

Class told him, Shaddap. Can't you see the teacher is eating?

I licked my fingers. I said, Yum, made a ball of paper bag and wax paper and flipped it into the trash basket. The class cheered. Wow, they said, and Yo, baby, and M-a-a-a-n. Look at dat. He eats the sandwich. He hits the basket. Wow.
A certainly-not-to-be-missed piece. It has its hilarous moments (like the one about the suicide note). But it is also full of wisdom:
They were high school department heads or had other important jobs and I disliked them the way I disliked anyone with power over me, bosses, bishops, college professors, tax examiners, foremen in general. Even so, I wondered why people like these examiners are so impolite they make you feel unworthy. I thought if I were sitting in their place I'd try to help candidates overcome their nervousness. If young people want to become teachers they should be encouraged.

That is what I felt at the time but I didn't know the ways of the world. I didn't know that people up there have to protect themselves against people down here.
The classroom is a place of high drama. You'll never know what you've done to, or for, the hundreds coming and going. You see them leaving the classroom: dreamy, flat, sneering, admiring, smiling, puzzled. After a few years you develop antennae. You can tell when you've reached them or alienated them. It's chemistry. It's psychology. It's animal instinct. You are with the kids and, as long as you want to be a teacher, there's no escape.
This is where teacher turns serious and asks the Big Question: What is education, anyway? What are we doing in this school? You can say you are trying to graduate so that you can go to college and prepare for a career. But, fellow students, it's more than that. I've had to ask myself what the hell I'm doing in the classroom. I've worked out an equation for myself. On the left side of the blackboard I print a capital F, on the right side another capital F. I draw an arrow from left to right, from Fear to Freedom. I don't think anyone achieves complete freedom, but what I am trying to do with you is drive fear into a corner.
In spite of that killing price of nineteen pounds, I would still love to own a copy if the extract is any indication. Next time I should remember to check the book and browse through it - in Strand may be.

By the way, take a look at this extracts page of Guardian and Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Penelopiad of Margaret Atwood

I saw this review about a new book of Margaret Atwood called Penelopiad; here is an interview with Atwood about her acting debut as Penelope!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The window to my soul...

Take a look at this piece about Pie as a feminist tool: it is just lovely. It starts with
Whenever I wanted a particular man to start paying attention to me, I would start making pies. A simple and obvious flirtation? No. I didn't make the pies to attract the man, I made the pies to test him.
And then,
Pie is a window to a man's soul, a lens by which you can see his true nature and know the measure of his worth. You won't be able to take it all in, not in one slice of pie, not in a thousand. Pie is so revealing -- especially rhubarb pie. But to start with, you can choose several traits and look to confirm their presence.
What pie reveals is how well a man can identify his hunger. How large and looming is that hunger? Can he name it? How does he meet it? How does he greet it? In the feast of life, will he save room for the pie?

These are very good things to know about men.
I am wondering if there is any Indian dish that can be used as a feminist tool in these parts of the world; how about dosas? Or, obbattu? Anything else? Anne Dimock says:
"I think pie's got a very deep and profound meaning in a lot of people's lives," she says. The memory of pie "really evokes a powerful connection for them. I think it speaks to our longing for family, for some closeness and togetherness and perhaps innocence."
It is, and will always be, Idlis and Dosas that give deep and profound meaning to my life; not to mention the coffee to cap it all off! So, if you want to take a peek at my soul, you now know what you should feed me:-)

Eye-catchers in today's Hindu!

Prof. MSS on Mission 2007: every village a knowledge centre. Apparently,
Mission 2007 aims to provide knowledge connectivity to every village of India by August 15, 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of what Jawaharlal Nehru called "India's tryst with destiny."
What is important is to ensure that all such initiatives designed to help rural and tribal families are pro-poor, pro-women, and pro-livelihood in both design and implementation.
Since Prof. MSS is the Chairman for National Alliance for Mission 2007, the above comment is reassuring.

An apology from the cloning pioneer, that makes a sad reading.
South Korean renowned stem cell expert Hwang Woo-suk on Thursday admitted using ova donated by his two fellow researchers at a press conference. Slowly saying in a depressed tone, the famous professor delivered his apology to South Korean people for the ``embarrassing and tragic'' news.

Review for the play Mahadevbhai. The reviewer is all praise for the play:
Though profoundly ambitious, the production is endearing in its utter simplicity. The play does not just talk about Gandhian principles, but lives it. The modest design, the simple props pulled out of the old trunk, the persona of the young, unassuming actor taken on by the artiste tidying up the stage after using the props, with the dignity of labour of a true Gandhian, the ambience created by the music and the lights, everything evokes Mahadevbhai's commitment to the Gandhian way of life. The flowers on stage create a feeling of reverence for Gandhiji as well as Mahadevbhai.
It is not often that one comes across a piece of theatre where everything is so perfectly balanced. The playwright, performer and the production team richly deserve the standing ovation they received.
It is a pity I missed it. Hope they perform it in Chowdiah sometime - I would love to go!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nandi Hills: A photo blog!

Rajdip recently made a trip to Nandi Hills. It is a nice place to spend a saturday or sunday. Here are some phographs that Rajdip got from his visit: the hill, the view from the hills, and finally, Rajdip himself (looking like Mithun-da:-)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!

We watched the latest Harry Potter yesterday. For all their literary shortcomings, I think the novels are much better than the movies. The latest movie is no exception. Having said that, I should say that the movie is good in parts; several sequences are made very nicely. However, on the whole the movie is not as satisfying as it could have been; may be because, two-and-a-half hours is not sufficient to make a satisfactory film version of the novel.

On any day, I prefer Richard Harris as Dumbledore; Michael Gambon is a very poor substitute - but then, this perception is subjective. Mad-Eye Moody was really cool; he did make you notice him whenever he was on the screen. McGonagall, and Snape are great as usual, though, somehow, Snape did not make you hate him as much as he did in the other ones. The return of the Dark Lord was a let-down; it was not as great as I was led to believe.

The final verdict: good movie - watchable once - but, not very satisfying if you are expecting a nuanced, and more balanced portrayal of things.

Tales of two story-tellers!

The MetroPlus Bangalore supplement of the Hindu today carries an interview with Chetan Bhagat, the author of Five-point someone and another with a Pandavani singer called Teejan Bai. The Padmashree award winning, Bhilai steel plant employee who cannot read or write and the IIT-Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad educated Chetan make a nice contrast; but, both are story tellers by profession. While Teejan Bai apparently identifies her lot with Draupadi and likes Bhima, and retells stories from Mahabharata, Chetan Bhagat says:
Yes, to me what is around us is more important than what happened a hundred years ago. After all, when the reader picks up a book, he asks "why should I care? What does it all mean for me?" If there is no good answer, the book won't work.
Take a look at the profile and the interview. Though, by themselves they are not great pieces, the differences between the personalities, lifestyles and views make a nice contrast.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The new KISS principle!

No, it is no longer Keep It Simple, Stupid --- it is Keep It Short, Stupid. Here is what Don Aucoin has to say on the issue. Apparently,
Last month, physicist Stephen Hawking published ''A Briefer History of Time," a condensed version of his best-selling ''A Brief History of Time." If such cosmic matters can be made first brief and then briefer, what's next? ''A Tale of One City"? ''Sketchy Memories of Things Past"? ''A Snapshot of the Artist as a Young Man"?
In a development that means you could, theoretically, absorb the wisdom of the Scriptures while stalled in traffic on the Southeast Expressway, a British publisher recently released ''The 100-Minute Bible," which boils down the Bible into a 64-page paperback by picking out what the publisher calls ''the principle [sic] stories of the life and ministry of its central character, Jesus Christ." This mini-tome is not to be confused with ''The HCSB Light Speed Bible," published last month, which promises to, ''in an exhilarating sweep of 24 hours, expose your mind and heart to every word and teaching of the Old and New Testaments."
Nice read; link via PTDR.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why translating poetry is easier than prose

Here is an interview with Charlotte Mandell where she tells why translating poetry is easier than prose. Link via reading experience.

Blogging and academic career!

Here is John Hawks (whose blog I like a lot) on blogging and tenure with many interesting ideas and links.

An update on the Chomsky interview!

Do you remember this post about the interview by Prof. Chomsky? Here is the follow-up (via Uma).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Frontline on KRN

Here is an obituary to KR Narayanan (with some wonderful photographs) by Gopalkrishna Gandhi; and another about the Citizen President by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan.

Calvin and Hobbes: character descriptions!

This rather brief, but very interesting essay tells us what Bill Watterson thinks about his characters, namely, Calvin, Hobbes, Calvin's parents and Susie Derkins; he also tells us the inspiration behind each of them. A nice read, even if you aren't a great Calvin and Hobbes fan.

Friday, November 18, 2005

You know you are in Madras when...

(1) Pleasantly plump Tam-land heroines ask you the colour of your silk saree from colossal hoardings;

(2) Every third bill board that you see is a silk saree advertisement;

(3) In the traffic signal your auto slightly nudges the scooter-wallah ahead, setting his scooter into a roll. He turns around and says Sandhu kedachchaa boonduduradha? - Do you have to squeeze yourself in, if you see a crack? The auto driver just mumbles Gevanikkakala-ba - I did not notice you, man;

(4) Almost all the women in the age range fifteen to fifty carry long, densely strung jasmines on their hair;

(5) Almost every guy on the bike carries a small comb in the back packet; and,

(6) On your way home in the night, when you turn the corner, the fragrance of the parijata flowers stuns you for a moment.

I spent the last four days in Madras (ostensibly attending the NMD-ATM - Go here for the technical feed back). It was wonderful meeting Shankara and Phani (and his family). Phani got the Young Metallurgist of the year award (and made a 300 seconds presentation about his work). And on the personal front I got to meet my brother and his family, my sister and her family, and, my fiancee and her family. So, all that explains the break in blogging. On the whole, a memorable four days - I just loved it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A novel and masala dosa: two links!

Did you read the review of Kavery Nambisan's The Hills of Angheri by Uma recently? Here is an interview with Kavery about the novel in today's Bangalore Hindu Metro Plus. The same issue of Metro Plus also carries an article about Janata Hotel; here is an earlier recommendation by another gourmet.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Shaadi No. 1 a review!

They might as well have named the movie "Shady No. 1". The algo for the movie runs something like this:

Step 1. Get a couple of skimpily clad women; call subroutine music; call subroutine dance

Step 2. Get some more skimpily clad women; call subroutine music; call subroutine dance

Step 3. Repeat Step 1 and Step 2 till you exhaust the given two-and-a-half hours.

The function call music just rehashes music from other movies, while, the function call dance is (as so very memorably described in that classic, Bollywood Calling) "Shake, Shake".

On the whole, as Amardeep said it was crappy, silly, and cheesy; we did enjoy it in a fashion. But, my verdict would be "Chalta hai, we did not have any other movie running nooo... what to do?".

Reco for weekend reading!

I read The Vendor of Sweets of RKN a few days ago. As with any RKN novel, there were a few times when I laughed out loud; a few where I stopped to mull over; a few where I went back to re-read some passage for the sheer pleasure of it; and, finally, a few where I had to stop since tears welled in my eyes.

The magic of RKN lies in his simple narration, which, in the space of a few sentences can bring a vivid picture to your mind, or, make you identify with the mental state of a character completely. The passages where Jagan reminisces about his own marriage and married life, and his talking to Grace about her falling out with Mali are crafted so lovingly and beautifully, it is worth reading the book just for those (and, re-reading in case you have read it already).

Thanks Shencottah for the book and recommendation; and, here is my hearty recommendation to anybody looking for some weekend reading!

Eric predicted Paris burning two years ago?

At least, he claims to have; and as he gazes into the crystal ball of his mind, he comes up with more burning news! Disclaimer: Some parts of the post are obviously in bad taste (and my linking to the page no way implies that I agree with his analysis, or wisdom).

The official portal of the Government of India!

Shencottah informs us about the National Portal of India. The site even has an opinion poll as to whether Right to Information Act will enhance transparency in government functioning; somehow that reminded me of hitchhikers guide to galaxy.:-)

Monday, November 07, 2005

"Oh! My sainted aunt!"

My ejaculation on reading this is no different from that of Bertie Wooster; link via Amardeep Singh. Here is the wiki page on Cambridge four (though, they call it five).

Boy, do I love David Dhawan!

Amardeep says:
The cap to my weekend was a viewing of the cheesy/crappy/silly/entertaining Bollywood film Shaadi No. 1, a David Dhawan movie so outrageously stupid I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.
I just can't wait! I am planning to watch it this week and am planning to do a review post; and, I know that the suspense is killing you! :-)

A time for poetry!

These days I am back to reading poetry, reciting some, and listening to lots and lots of it:-) In case you are in mood for some poetry too, here are two poems of Billy Collins from the NPR site. I liked the one about the lanyard (Yeah! Till I read the poem, I did not know the word). It starts fabulously;
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
and, ends, beautifully;
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Epigraphia Carnatica!

No, it is not about Carnatic music, but is a collection of inscriptions dating from 3rd-4th century AD to 19th century from the Karnataka region.
The project was the brainchild of Professor S. Settar, then Chairman of the ICHR. "The Epigraphia is an extraordinary feat of scholarship. Nowhere in the country had the epigraphical wealth of a State been collected and presented so systematically. The entire history of the Old Mysore region till modern times can be written from it," Settar told Frontline.
Here is the full story from Frontline.

Inner ape discovery: some counter thoughts!

Did I tell you about a review for the book Discovering the Inner Ape, some time back?
An Update
In case any of you missed, my 'fellow primate' Fred Bortz has put the following comment on my 'extended family' post:
Thanks for recommending my review of Our Inner Ape. Your readers might also enjoy my broader collection of related book reviews or even my whole Science Shelf website.

I also have a personal blog at www.scienceblog.com and another website that focuses on science for young readers.

Here is another review for the book from spiked-science - link via PTDR. Here are some samples from the review:
Our Inner Ape describes the behaviour of our two closest living relatives - the bonobo and the chimpanzee - exploring what they can tell us about ourselves. De Waal argues for human and ape equivalence, and, according to the world-renowned zoologist, Desmond Morris, 'he provides us with a revealing picture of the inner ape inside each and every one of us'.
However, the reviewer is not in agreement with these sentiments, as is clear from the following:
Primatology may be able to give us some insight into our evolutionary past, and help us start answering the difficult question of how human consciousness emerged. But ape studies cannot tell us much about why we behave the way we do today and how we got as far as we have.
A thought-provoking review; might be worth taking a look at. By the way, the review also touches upon another topic of interest to us, viz, the cultural transmission of behaviour:
A review by Andrew Whiten and his colleagues of a number of field studies reveals evidence of at least 39 local variations in chimp behavioural patterns, including tool-use, communication and grooming rituals - behaviours that are common in some communities and absent in others. So it seems that these animals are capable of learning new skills and of passing them on to their fellows.
Reviewing the literature on primate behaviour, it emerges that there is no consensus among scientists as to whether apes are capable of the simplest form of social learning - imitation.

RKN on music, veena, Doreswamy Iyengar and all that!

I was looking for something else, when I stumbled on this interview of Gowri Ramnarayan (who else) with RK Narayan. RKN talks about music, his informal veena lessons, his friendship with Doreswamy Iyengar, and many other things. RKN seems to be very unhappy about the cassette player that Gowri uses to record the interview. First he says,
What is this? A cassette player? Why don't you take notes instead?
and, then
Do you have to stick the record player at my nose?
The interview is also full of the typical RKN-ian descriptions like this:
English literature must not be taught in English. It must be taught in an Indian language to make an impact. But our teachers don't know this. (Nor, for that matter, do they know much English.) What I did was to teach him poems like "Ode to a Nightingale" (which he found very difficult) in Tamil and Kannada. Doreswamy began to appreciate them so much that he would say, "Keats has so much manodharma!"
On the whole, a very nice read.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The two moods of Cauvery!

Here are two photographs of the river Cauvery after the recent rains. She is calm and collected in one and maddeningly swirling in another.

Photograph courtesy: Bhargavi (G) MP.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A translator's woes and fantastic zoology!

Got a link to these wonderful pieces of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney on his translating Sophocles, and Michael Dirda on Jorge Luis Borges' The book of imaginary beings. Both the links are via bookslut.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tirumala - Two photographs!

These photographs of Tirumala and the (slightly edited) comments are from a very special somebody; this is also the first-ever guest post on this blog.

isn't it absolutely gorgeous? :o) I just love it…

The beautiful natural stone arch above is known as "Sila Thoranam". It is one of the earliest geological formations and is very very old and the hills are scattered with such rocks. ... told me lot more about that but all that generally floated above my head and I was caught up by the beauty of the place. The stones have formed in such a way that it resembles a delicate arch. Looks very beautiful. It is said that the Lord did penance when he came to Boolokha from Vaikunta before settling in Tirumala. This place is higher up the hills and one of the best places for nature lovers. The route to this place is dotted with tall stately pine forests and is a feast for the eyes.

More about "Sila thoranam" is here. Different pages on the net give different ages for the rock; wiki says it is the second oldest; I would tend to believe that.

A nice page!

A very, very interesting page: See this article on Johnson's dictionary, for example.
Another link: Here is the complete review's review of Dr. Johnson's dictionary by Henry Hitchings.
While Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, which celebrates its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary this year, is a greatly admired book, it is also surely one of the least read. Yet Macaulay called it “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure,” and even a short look at it will reveal the truth of his assessment.
Johnson’s first public statement about the Dictionary was his Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language of 1747. This essay appeared as a thirty-four-page pamphlet addressed to the Earl of Chesterfield, whose support Johnson sought. (When Chesterfield, who had largely ignored the project, eventually attempted to claim some credit for what he saw was going to be a successful publication, Johnson wrote his definition for patron: “One who countenances, supports, or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.”)
When the Dictionary was published, Johnson’s individual effort was particularly praised. The actor David Garrick, a former student, raved that Johnson had “beat forty French, and will beat forty more!” referring to the number of Frenchmen who had taken fifty-five years to do what Johnson had done in nine.
And much, much more in the same vain! So long and happy reading!