Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Theory of Theories

Over the years of going through the futile exercise of education one is forced to "learn" theories and axioms propagated by venerated and cursed individuals. The author too admits having gone through this sad routine. However, unlike less the productive, the author spent more time contemplating the philosophy of theories than actually mugging them up. Why, wondered I while perusing through Newton and his laws, did the no good, jobless, individual just not eat the bloody apple and be done with it. He was probably suffering from a stomach upset or something. Which brought on further ruminations on the lines of the popular joke regarding Newton's excretory thoughts (his thoughtlessness to be more precise), followed by further reflections on the other popular joke concerning his marital status which spawned the law of equal and opposite reactions... And it is at this juncture the ferocious physics teacher swooped down upon me like a Fury and... I'd rather not go into that.

But to get back to the lost point, why do common ideas and things that stare you in the face like gravity and the whole food availability theory that Amartya Sen got the whole Nobel Prize for, become the bane of student existence? The fact is, until these dastardly devils give these simple truths unpronounceable names, these truths and theories were enjoyable thoughts. And e then-when they do name them, they become the dreaded THEORY. And now finally the point. The Theory behind Theories.

This theory states that any homily suitably endowed with difficult language and a name that spans time and space with more syllables than one can keep track of, automatically becomes what is generally referred to as the theory. This rule is applicable to any axiom- ranging from how to reverse a bike to best way to write graffiti. And of course once this is accomplished the poor piece of common sense becomes much cursed and generally bemoaned. And it is only when this stage is reached that we can know for sure that the theory has become a theory. Once they start appearing in text books and getting mugged up for board exams you know you've clinched the theory spot.

And this be-eth my Theory on theories. I'm thinking of the perfect name, but my latin is not up to scratch.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Name Shame, follow up.

I rarely if ever post any forwards, but this one seemed permissable. I am a red blooded Mallu myself. But I cannot deny the truth of the following email. I extend my thanks to the venerable Pyne for this valuable insight into the shrouded realms of impossibly impossible names.

The Science Behind Christening Mallu Christians

It has been a well kept secret for eons, shrouded in mystery and mazes of deceit, but finally Itty Boben Jacob Elias Kuruvilla from Pazhookaville, near Thelmasherry, Kerala has consented to let us publish this classified mallu formula, on the naming of mallu christian kids.

1. Select a combination of both the mother and fathers names. Eg: Suresh and Sharon = Susha or Joseph and Beena = Jobi.
2. The addition of a 'mon' (meaning son) or 'mol' (meaning daughter) is optional. eg: Sushamol, Jobimon
3. To attach a modern anglicised feel to the names, the mol or mon can be replaced with boy or girl. eg: Jobiboy, Sushagirl.
4. For the politically correct keralite family, mol and mon can be replaced by the universal 'kutty'(child), which can be used for both boys and girls! Eg: Jokutty, Susikutty

Even parents having combination names can still give their children suitable names eg: Libi and Jobi = Lijo

However, in the scenario where the parents already have combination names that cannot form more comprehensible child names. Eg: Itty and Amukutty, would produce only Itam (which doesn't even sound like a name) or Amit (which is like Northie and stuff!!!!), then

a. use an English word like Baby, Merry, Titty, Pearly, Smiley, Anarchy, Innocent, Infant etc.
b. use a combination of two English names that you think sound cool (but never cool enough) like Meredith + Gina = Megi, or Sharon + Darlene = Sharlene
c. Use a name from the Bible (and not Nebuchadnezzar! Use one that even velliammachi can pronounce!) like Jacob, Sam, John, Joseph, Mathew, or Jijo!
d. Use a name that sounds like a cuss word but isn't. Eg: Boben, Prussy, Shagi, JustinTimberlake etc.

Note: The use of the letter 'j' is useful in the naming of sibling where names that sound alike are a novelty. Eg: Ajji, Sajji, Majji, Bhajji and Nimajji, or Sijo, Lijo, Jijo, Anjo, Panjo, Banjo.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Karuppan the gardener.

My parents' hometowns are home to several interesting characters. Their quirks and mannerisms can rival any Wodehousian peer. One such one is Karuppan.

Karuppan is an honorable man. He works as a gardner and general Man-Friday at my father's sprawling farm home. He lives a simple life. Work in the fields in the morning, get his wages in the evening, proceed to go get sloshed, go back home and beat up his two wives and enjoy a peaceful slumber. Yes, Karuppan is a good, ordinary man.

But Karuppan has a unique and fatal power. - he possesses the binary opposite of a green thumb. If you don't want something to grow- call Karuppan. All he has to do is trim a tiny leaf from the farthest branch of the unfortunate plant, and its growth would be blighted for life.

My father,sadly, discovered this fact through first hand experience.

Being a man of a pioneering aspect, my father was determined to bring order to the "pretty
wilderness" that adorned the premises.

"The yard is a terrible mess,we've got to do something about it."
"Hmm?Yes. Do you want some tea?"
Yes. But I am serious-- All the trees need a little pruning and the bushes need to be replanted."
"Hein? Looks fine to me."
"What fine?! You can't see the road from here!"
"Not from there, but if you bend down and twist your neck and peer from between the jackfruit tree and the mango--"
"That's it! I am going to fix it."
"But you can't do all that alone."
"Of course not." scoffed my father, "I've asked Karuppan to come."
A furitive and fearful glance passed between the rest of us. "Do you really want to do that...?"
"Yes,I do. He's handy and nimble."

"You know," said my oldest uncle. "That backyard mango tree was never quite the same again."
"And the left side sapota. Took five years for it to bear fruits again."
 "All nonsense! I'm calling him tomorrow and clearing up this mess."

He didn't notice the rest of the family shooting each other dubious glances.

At the appointed hour Karuppan turned up and the work commenced. Discarding his shirt of an indiscriminate dirt shade, Karuppan quickly shimmied up and began to unceremoniously lob off random branches of the big mango tree that stood in the yard.To the uninitiated, the mango tree is a very special part of any Mallu family lore. It gets the full brunt of sentiment. Especially when it is a very fruitful kind as this one definitely was. And Karuppan besides having the blackest thumb in this part of the world (both literally and figuratively) was of a rather chop-happy nature.

Suppressing a moan of horror, my  father rushed to curb the carnage.

"What are you doing?!" shouted my father at the figure swinging on a branch like a monkey."Get down."
Karuppan obligingly descended and stood respectfully scratching his armpit.
"What were you doing!"my father bellowed.
"Cutting branches."
"All of them????"
"Oh no,no,no- I was going to leave a few. On the top. "
For a moment my father actually seemed to contemplate shaking the man but restrained himself admirably. "The trunk doesn't really count as a branch." he said.
"Hahaha! Very funny sir!" Karuppan grinned, displaying rows of betel stained teeth."Don't worry,I've been doing this for ages. You need to cut them so they will grow more." With that, he took up his tools, scurried up the tree and continued to chop.

My father, though always confident and and rarely cowed, couldn't help feeling a little bit of doubt at this declaration. May be they would grow back. And the man is a farmer and a gardener, he ought to know. But some deeper instinct warned him to keep an eye on Karuppan. Following this altercation my father concentrated his efforts on restraining Karuppan. With each branch lobbed off Karuppan seemed to grow more zealous. In fact, it can be safely surmised that he resented my father's insistence on leaving some more branches on the tree than he felt necessary.

By evening our yard was filled with denuded trees and their branches. Karuppan still in attendance cheerfully helped move the latter while splattering the ground with betel juice at steady intervals. Before Karupan left for his evening entertainment, my father asked him with ill concealed anxiety, "The branches... they will grow..?"
" Definitely!" Assured the able gardener, busy counting his wages," They'll be full of mangoes when you come next vacation."

Next vacation came- but there were no new branches. The next vacation came, and there were branches but no fruits.Several vacations passed with no fruition. It was only last year that we finally got a few mangoes from the tree Karuppan attacked that morning.

A few years back we'd made our house. My father, having still retained his pioneering nature, decided there must be a garden. The pots and seedlings were duly bought. And once again Karuppan was pressed into service- to dig and nothing else. He kept shooting wistful glances at the saplings and finally my father relented and let him plant a few.

Unsurprisingly- every other plant except his took root.

Recently,he'd come to our place to help with something--nothing to do with plants. During his break, armed with tea and biscuits he lounged near the garden. Mid-sip he turned to my father and said "See all my plants have grown so well!"
My father choked lightly on his tea "What? Where?"
"There, that one, between the bluebells and the cosmos."
"Isn't that just grass?"
"They are so strong and healthy."
My father took a long sip.
"You know, a lot of people say things about me."
My father took another long sip.
"And they are right. I've got magic fingers" he grinned proudly waggling his fingers.

I don't think my father had the heart to correct him.

Singing in Landmark

One of the landmark discoveries of my college days is Landmark.

The Apex Landmark was my earliest haunt. I'd go there everyday.So much so that the security people would recognize me by sight,actually enquire if I missed a day in between and smile indulgently as they heard me sing along with whatever music was playing. That is my earliest memory in Chennai- singing in Landmark.

Coming from the book starved world of the middle east, and a school whose library was as big as the general ATM booth,Landmark was a Brave New World. Add music to this potent drug and I was enslaved.Dust stained and dismal after a day at College followed by work at the NSS centre, the tired first year student trudged through the A.C cooled portals of the beloved establishment- and fell in love. I found solace in endless shelves of worlds.Volumes bound in seductive leather,perfumed paperbacks which make your mouth water at their scent... was it any wonder that I was entrapped. I used to spend entire days there, reading until my arms chilled and I could no longer feel my fingers and toes.Landmark turned into the worst place to ask me to wait- I'd generally remain caught up in whatever book I'd be reading and completely forget any appointment. In fact I'd miss my curfew simply because I was reading. In my stuffy hostel bed I "recollected in tranquility.."of stories and music. I'd close my eyes and once again I'd be singing in Landmark.

First year rolled into second. I changed hostels but I still held on to my haunt. Most evenings would find me balancing precariously on the side of a shelf or sitting on a rickety stool bent over a book and humming along with the music. I remember an instance when they were playing Coldplay's The Scientist. As usual I began singing along and realised there was another voice singing as well. The guy on the other side of the shelf had the same revelation simultaneously. We gave each other sheepish grins and continued while I tallied another Lover to Landmark's list.

Second year crooned into third and third year into graduation. Following a short stay with the family (I'm still trying to figure out which creates the more painful parting, a long stay or a short stay),I returned into the warm- perhaps over warm- arms of Chennai. Post unpacking and such obligatory processes, I proceeded to reactivate my dormant contacts. The classmates came first. Most of our conversation revolved around up-coming entrance exams, future prospects and all that depressing stuff. The juniors, perhaps under some misconception of overnight maturity or trying to appear interested, endeavored to follow the same track. I was hit by a sense of over-powering change. Like when one stands on the beach and the water washes away the sand from beneath ones feet,and one has unknowingly moved. Dispirited and unhappy I sat slumped on my bed and decided that stasis would only lead to greater depression. Picking up my wallet and phone, I went to the first place my feet lead me- Landmark.

Standing in the Indian Writing section, I pick up a misplaced Gerald Durrell and transport myself to the sun-kissed island of Corfu. The Beatles' Yellow submarine plays in the background. I smile, not only at the antics of the Durrell family and their menagerie, but also at myself. What is there to worry when I have this? Things change, as they ought to. But there are the anchors that keep you steady even in the course of the flood. And for that you have books,music and moments like this- singing in Landmark.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hairy Tale

I think it started with Rapunzel and Sohrab&Rustam.

This fascination with a feminine head of flowing,glossy locks has endured and even grown through the ages. And now it's transferred to the masculine head as well- pioneered by Mahendra Singh Dhoni,Vikram and for a while Amir Khan to name a few. My family has always had issues with my hair. Especially my father and brother. Coming from a stock of Class A Mallus, they maintain that long flowing tresses are an essential for the enhancement of female beauty. And no argument- reasonable or otherwise- can ever convince them otherwise. It's all my mother's fault of course! She's the one who set the precedent. Whenever I passionately champion the wonders of un-long hair, they merely turn and point to her.But surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly,she had always been my staunchest supporter in the cause of manageable short hair. But that reprieve didn't last long.The number of things done to my poor tresses outnumber the number of things done to my face(refer to previous posts).But like my face it has remained firmly untamed. In fact, my mother actually had plans of taking me along while she tought Shelley's Ode to The West Wind. She wanted to give them a clear picture of "maenad's hair" (for the ignorant- go read the poem).

It's not that I don't like my hair- I love my hair ,I really do. It's distinctive and very like me: messy, notorious and a not a little scary. Since it's so much like me, isn't it the natural course of things that I carry forward the similarity and keep it short? I remember that glorious time when the hair-lady had made a mistake and bobbed off my mid-back trail.I didn't have to really comb it for ages! A lazy girl's dream. But then it grew...sigh. But all said and done, my hair does look nicer long. When it's short I look more like a hobbit than ever. But then it's such a bother... It seems my hairytale has no happy ends-they are all split.

And why am I writing about this? I've been charged with getting a haircut. Why am I not rejoicing, you ask? Simple- there are instructions. Left to my own devices I'd just take a pair of scissors and snip away. But noooooo. It has to be done in a system. I should go to a stylist and get a trim as opposed to a chop. And I have to make sure that it swings just so and that the "volume" (isn't that something in stereos?) is maintained and GAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!The physics, and lately the chemistry, of hairstyling-especially female hairstyling- is hair raising. The names itself require a hundred page glossary. The prospect of journeying into the tangled lands of beautiful hair makes my hair stand on end. Ah why oh why are we put to such tests!? Is it not bad enough that we have a facial hair ripped off to appease beauty. Must we bow our heads to these edicts as well?

May be I'll just make a trip to Tirupathi, what say?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Talking in tongues.

My mother tongue is malayalam.
Therefore,logically, that would be the language spoken at home.However- showing evidence of strong familial similarity to the author- logic is thrown out the window. The common linguistic scene that greets the eye-the ear, perhaps would be more appropriate- is a a sea of languages sloshing together like spirits in a cocktail.Something on the lines of "Athu ko vaha leavekar vekum kalambaffy karo."(simple transalation: 'Leave that and get going', number of languages used 4)is as common as day in our residential premises. And this is a simple example.
Trissur Malayalam flows into cheri Tamil and that mixture is splashed with a dash of some tapori Hindi and then heated with some rapper lingo and shudh, school-tought-Hindi. To this is added a smattering of French a breath of Arabic along with a brand of English that is unique to this family , and Voila! That's our language. It is surprising that any of us understand each other. Even my father,being the only comparatively sane person among a horde of confirmed lunatics (sorry,ma),does. Yet people who come home and chance upon one of our informal conversations will most definitely be at sea.

Forget the languages themselves, the various allusions-intertextual and otherwise-the quotes (from books,movies, relatives etc.), the mannerisms to go with each of these and of course the accents... Hmm.. maybe we should declare what we speak a different language as a whole.

The point being that there are more things than the tenets of the Mendelian Theory that bind family members together. And no,not all that sentimental stuff either- though that's definitely an aspect. Families connected,and each member made uniquely a part of that family through the bonds of language. No one family- no matter how alike- can speak like any other. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is another reason why language must always be respected.
Go Linguists!

Dr.Ames' Inventory of New Age Diseases- 2

Welcome to the newest edition of Dr.Ames' Directory for New Age Diseases.This edition's prime diseases are:

Fartigo: This is an airborne menace. Like the foot-in-mouth disease (refer to Edition1)this diabolical disease works pulse like- rippling outward. It may be compared to an atomic explosion. It hardly ever effects the source, except in very rare cases when the source is struck by chagrined embarassment. But this is , as mentioned earlier, very rare. Most sources feign ignorance and several go unknown-thus creating an aura of mystery. The general symptoms are immediate nausea and necessity to cover the nasal passage following the inhalation of noxious fumes. General moaning and occasional cases of loss of consciousness have also been recorded. The disease can be almost fatal in small enclosed spaces. The best remedy is to catch hold of the source and dispose of it in the nastiest way possible.

Like-aemia: This is a speech defect. It is characterised by excessive use of the word "like". Generally deemed a disease of the young, this illness has spread its tentacles into not so young speech as well. In it's most virulent form,cancerous like-aemia cells can overide all the cells in a sentence thereby creating a tumor in the sense lodes of speech and consequent breakdown of communication and leaving listeners cell-shocked.The origins of this disease may seem harmless- a "like" here, a "like" there. But soon this becomes a "like" everywhere. The disease must be nipped in the bud and this can be achieved by constant teasing and in the case of little children or easily dominated individuals- a sharp, forceful down/side ways movement on any fleshy part of the patient's anatomy should suffice to discourage.

Sore-i-ass-is: This ailment is very broad-based(no pun intended). It usually manifests itself on individuals who spend a lot of time on their behinds. It is characterised by numbness and alternating soreness experienced in the posterior. This disease is an occupational hazard for drivers,especially bikers,in a traffic jam, 10 ruppee ticket movie watchers,students in an exam hall and government officials. Another variation of this is seen in students whose ends have made an acquaintance with the rougher end of a ruler/cane/paddle/any hard and effectively pain inducing surface. A brisk massage or a special exercise called the Guntherian-bum-dance is very effective in tackling Sore-i-ass-is.
No-money-a: This too is a highly wide spread disease. It is characterised by a lack of GFCs (refer to Edition1). Almost everyone who has made an acquaintance with GFCs believes that they have suffered from this disease or are suffering from this disease. But the perenial patients are always- students. Students, especially the college variety,constantly succumb to this illness and have to undergo an intensely painful drought period. They sometimes try to combat this through the Borrowing Maneuver, but this generally increases the risk of relapse.The best method to tackle this menace is by cultivating several GFC banks and by appealing to the Green Cross run by Parental Associates for GFC transfusions in dire scenarios.

The Common-Scold: This is a common ailment stereotypically manifested in the female. However the doctor holds that this is equally or more applicable to the male. It is usually seen in parents. The symptoms of this disease is a characteristic repetetion of dialogues or threats, better knowns as scolds, issuing from the male/female in question. Continuous exposure to the Common-Scold can result in sore-throats (for the patient), headaches (for the receiver) and general discomfort. The only way to tackle this is to grin and bear it. Cotton helps though.

Further developments in the New Age Medical scene will be updated as and when the venerable doctor feels like it. The good doctor expresses gratitude to fellow physicians for their valuable inputs. Until the next time,good health and happiness to all.