Monday, September 29, 2008

We Dreamed of Africa

The Asoka pillar at the center of the assembly area was also the center stage for much of our six and a half year olds play activities. Perhaps it made us seem the center of the universe. To six somethings the universe is pretty small. It was around the pillar that several things revolved. That’s where Supriya (I wonder what happened to her?) tied her five year old brother’s hands when Sow and I were playing (the fool apart from simply running around and trying to catch each other). “Supriya why ya (“ya” was in our vocabulary an extremely hip term then!) you’re tying his hands?” Engrossed in tying his hands with a blue checked handkerchief she responds wiith a profundity that baffled me then (and even now). “He (what his name was eludes my memory) is very naughty. I don’t want him to run about ya, so I’m tying his hands because if I tie his legs together he’ll open it no- so only I’m tying his hands!”

Another sunny afternoon it was my turn to give profound answers. Sow and I were playing some vague game around the Asoka pillar. Green has always been one of my favorite colours. The cactus by virtue of it being green must have inspired some totally random neuro chemical reactions causing a short circuit in my already hyperactive brain. A reaction that was most often contagious. A plan is hatched. Sow and I all of six years are transported to some African desert (I’m certain we imagined a name- we were full of particulars and it was always all about the details) dying of thirst. (Our imaginations would not have let imagine that we would be dying of hunger considering we used to find eating an ordeal and had a truly “good” friend Neetha throw our tiffen/ and lunch into the next door quary- an activity code named “dabdab"! Or she could eat it if she wanted!). Anyway, we’re broken out of our spell by Sr Stanisless (who I fondly in my speech constantly called “Stainless steel” without any malice- only it seemed to me simpler to simplify what I thought was a mistake in how she referred to herself!) “Girls what do you think you’re doing?” Matter of factly or trying to include her (foolishly) in our make believe play I say boldly “We are in Africa. There is no water. Sister we are thirsty”. Kindly she says “You can carry a bottle of water into the desert children. Stop eating my cacti!” Having devoured between the two of us a large part of a fleshy non thorny cactus, sour faced we look up “Sister Stainless steel but we are in Africa! Are you thirsty too?”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Serendipity is Brian Selznick’s “The invention of Hugo Cabret”. The story is rather simple with a touch of Dickens. Orphan, thief, timekeeper Hugo lives in the walls of the busy Paris train station. He has pain, yearnings, dreams and secrets. His survival depends on anonymity, secrets and the clockworks. Everything is threatened when he is caught by a bitter old man while attempting to steal from him. Then comes an eccentric girl. Everyone gets interlocked- like the gears of the clock he keeps- with his own life. All their stories intertwine. All their secrets are threatned. There’s a treasured book, a stolen key and an automaton man – a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father. In them lies the secret and the fulfillment of their dreams. The book is a tender, intricately constructed story with a rather predictable end.
What is fascinating is not the story. It is how the story is told. Selznick has broken open the novel form to create an exciting read blending the picture book technique with that of the contemporary novel form. The novel consists of over two hundred pages of pencil sketches- very Van Gough like, captivating, enticing- light diffuses, darkness dispels both literally and metaphorically! What makes the read more exciting is that the mystery in the novel revolves largely around movie making- the technique Selznick uses in the pictures compliments the theme of the movies. The sketches are initially of large land scapes, as one turns the pages, the images become clearer in detail- there is a zooming in and words have a small part in telling the story. It’s a completely new reading experience while reminding one of childhood story books. It is a stunning cinematic tour de force of intertwined lives, dreams and secrets by a boldly innovative story teller and artist!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bad Monkeys

I met the last of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte) in an interview with her shrink. She's a woman with loads of attitude, a serious drug problem (among other problems!) with a licence to kill ( with this fantastic orange gun that causes MI, CI and Narcolepsy if want the target alive). She's in a psychiatric set up (all white-metaphor tabula rasa) after being arrested for a murder; a target she eliminated without being commanded to do so. Therein unfolds her story/ stories! She claims to be a member of a secret organization, her division "Bad monkeys"is an execution squad determined to eleminate evil from the world (evil not crime- there's a distinction). It sets the stage for a si-fi mixed with aventure with thriller genre- a heady cocktail really! Is Jane Charlotte's brain (she has one and later to my joy I found she grew a spine- though late!) a little bent with the drug habit? Is she lying? Is she plain crazy? Or is she playing a different game all together?

The book is a really fantastic read. Nothing is what it seems. It's a multi-layered piece of fiction. An onion! At one level it's a psychological thriller (like no other!). Highly engrossing, speculative, entertaining with it's multitude of motely characters and settings. It takes you through a sleepy town, the deserts of ozyamandias, clown city, LA- Nevada and an intricately constructed (as also is the story) ants nest! There's Charolette's narrative (which has many an unexpected turn, visions and revisions) that introduces a hoard of characters: a high strung (?) single mother, Phil her good kind brother who is kidnapped by the Troop (Was she responsible? Did she hate him? What were her intentions?). A "Friendly" police officer. Representative of the organization Bob True, probate officer Anne Charles (who also has a story). Mr. Dixon a blond crew cut-leather trench coat- pebble glasses chap who is attached to Malfeasace (a Panopticon division- the organizations "eyes"!), a set of "Scary Clowns" led by "Love" (the name's ironic- they're in the same game- to rid the world of evil) an anit-organization, the "Troop" devoted to exactly the opposite end. A host of bad monkeys, a bad Jane who comes into existance through the drug related "altered state of mind" theory and a whole range of x drugs that can change the laws of physics; and a story that doesn't fit- and a story that keeps changing. It's funny. It evokes a range of thoughts, emotions and reactions. It's at times laugh out loud funny but thrilling through out! Ruff is "enormous fun"; he doesn't disappoint!

If one chooses to peel off a layer of this onion (which one is likley to do if one is as insomniac- it takes up time!) the reader is transported to a new dimension. It's not humour that hits here- it's the reality of bad monkeys! There are bad monkeys (amongst us)- there are essentially two categories of them. Sociopaths and Malefactors. It amused one to think that the general conception is that sociopaths can't tell right from wrong. Ofcourse thats not true! They know the difference- enough to hide what they do- they choose not to care about it. Moral Maritains. (At least their behaviour is consistant with their moral indifference- I respect that- appreciate it immensely even in a bad monkey!). To me, the malefactors are harder to take. Malefactors seem to possess a normal sense of conscience. They experience guilt but it doesn't stop them. Both bad monkeys lie. Sociopaths lie to other people. Malefactors do that too, but they first lie to themselves.... an elabourate story... in order to justify... It's not funny (the novel) if one chooses to process this layer. I chose to and I have no intentions of sharing my thoughts so don't be worried! Or mortified! No morbidity I promise!

Another layer peeled brings to the forefront several important issues. Of freedom, choice and responsibility. Ruff is a geniuos. In his stories within stories within changing stories helps see the light. Truth unfolds: you are shown through the streets and days where one made choices and became what one became. Underneath the humour is a world of illusions dispelled; where darkness settels in with portraits of people- Mom, Phil, Truth, Dixon, Love- all of who are metaphors (Names!). All of who are attempted to be destroyed. Stories of Jane, by Jane. Of Bad Monkeys- are they a Nod problem (ref:Bible story of Caine and Able). In the novel there are no stories of heros (despite it being almost sifi adventure), just of ordinary men who make choices- to take a hard fall, to stay till the last dance, of extraordinarily evil men - liars who choose to be bad monkeys- who know of love, truth and intergrety but have perhaps never understood it- all they know is manipulation (I give they have a brain- spine some do). It's really a fantastic story about a simple (mundane) truth- "Omnes Mundum Facimus" (We all create/ make the world- It takes all sorts to make the world). It drove home a point! It's helping me set my house in order!

It's a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fantastically satisfying at which ever level you choose to interpret! It's about choices- you "choose"! It was a great start to a brand new year and a brand new day- well worth the sleepless night! I second the Daily Telegraph " If you leave this book on a train you'll buy another copy tomorrow"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Case File 1

Case Files of Depart- Ment(al):

Dr xyz is on leave.

Q: Why?

He fell off the bed and fractured his shoulder.

Q: (With all due respect) On which floor was his bed and which floor did he fall to? :/

Blue Bin Burning

This is a story (real) of a long, long time ago. There were two six and a half- seven year old kids waiting for their parents to come back from the PTA meeting. The teachers had for some reason decked up the assembly area with diyas. We were tired of waiting and perhaps of the slide and the swing and all the other entertainment the school had provided to keep us occupied. We walk back into our class room (STD I) which was left unlocked for some reason again! (If you look back at all the “some reasons” the universe was conspiring to create mischief!).

We wander around class aimlessly, draw pictures on the black board- attention is short and we look for something else to do. One of us brings in a lit diya (for some reason which will soon reveal itself to our minds!). Sow and I are wondering what to do next. Voila! A plan reveals itself in the form of a full overflowing blue plastic dustbin. Sow looks at it and says “Hey, there’s so much paper we can clean it. Lets burn it”. To me it sounded like a plan but there was the fact that plastic burns which I mentioned to her. They had taught us that at school (well they had also taught us that we shouldn’t play with fire –yes, yes, I guess I forgot that part and so did she!). “No, ya, my mom burns things in the dustbin nothing happens” “But maybe your dust bin is metal?” “No ya, it’s plastic only” “Sow it’ll burn and melt”. “No nothing will happen” “I’m telling you I’m right, it’ll burn”. “No it won’t” “Ok. Lets burn it and see”. Two geniuses and what do you think happens next? The fear of Sr. Rosemary (our grade I teacher) didn’t make it to our hearts before we carefully lit a sheet each and threw it into the blue plastic bin! Well, look at it this way- it was just a scientific experiment!

The paper burned and with it the blue bin. Were we afraid? “Sow, I was right” “Ya, but how does my mom do it? It doesn’t burn at home”. We watch the blue blob oozing and curling. It hits us. Oops we better get another dustbin before Sr Rosemary finds out. We decide to replace it with another dustbin from another class. Determined we go in search of another blue dust bin. Not to burn this time. Were we afraid? I don’t remember do you Sow? I don’t remember if our search for a blue dust bin was exhaustive. Our parents came and we went home without having replaced it.

Sr Rosemary comes in the next day and is (as expected) shocked and annoyed looking at the remains of the dust bin. Blob of blue. “Children which one of you has done this?” she asks. No response. “Class leaders ask who has done this?” One girl with a short crop another in pigtails stands up. That’s us. Ironic. No, we’re not standing up to say yes it was us- now fear of Sr Rosemary has gained roots in our small scared little faint hearts. We ask “Who did this?” We did put money from our “dumb box” (why was it not called money box?) to buy a brand new blue dustbin rather than gooseberry and mangoes coated with filthy masala and lollypop. A feeble attempt of saving our souls!

That was a long time ago. A few weeks ago my friend got married. I was introduced to her husband with the story. We laugh. (We do that quite a lot actually!) She says “But you know, I’m sure my mom burnt things in the bin”. “Sow, maybe it was a metal one”. “Or maybe she put off the match before she threw it into the bin?!”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In my brief stint as an under-grad lecturer I came across much creativity; some in the course papers that I taught. I wish I remembered more!

One of the course particulars involved basic neurophysiology , brain functions and methods of studying the brain. Semister exam time. One feels one must ask basic questions to assess fundamentals and it assesses fairly most who fall in the+_2 SD of the normal distribution.

Question 1 (2 marks) Define neuron. "Basic" absolute basic- everyone should know. Right? Wrong! I am.

Answer: "It is some cells in the body which go to the brain and move all over there looking for information. It keeps on moving fast fast to find information. It goes somewhere and all after that."

Question 2 (5 marks or 10 I forget): Diagramatically represent the brain, label it and explain the functions of the visual cortex.

Answer: An elabourately drawn eye (like at the back of several auto-rickshaws), with long eyelashes, lenses shaded and wide dark pupil. Arrow pointing to pupil label beside: Visual cortex!
Basic Statistics and Research Methodology: Q: Normal Probability Curve (5 marks)
Answer: "It is a mountain that is used by statisticians. The shape is like mountain. Single mountain. Staticians find out many things like who is normal by looking at this mountain with numbers in their mind! "

In a course on basic learning theories one of the theories that speaks of insightful learning had been included for the test paper. Wolfgang Kohler demonstrated insightful learning through a chimp named Sultan. The question "Write a brief note on Wolfgang Kohler" was aimed at eliciting the paradigm he used to demonstrate insightful learning, and his theory yada yada.

Answer: "Wolfgang Kohler was the owner of Sultan the chimpanzee. He was a kind owner he gave it many banannas!"

Well, answers do come!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Howard Roark???

One of the many things I've been wondering about is who the architect (with the amazing aesthetic sense) of the new hopsital buildings is. He/she has an odd sense of humour (don't know about sense!) reflected in a few things.... To aid in population control and increases disasters at the hospital! Well gets us more business i suppose! For one the new psychiatry casualty has glass so low that seemed to be designed keeping suicidal patients in mind- with the specific aim of helping them complete their attempt successfully- and yes, the new rehab center does'nt have doors to prevent people from checking out the view from the balcony or even jumping from it! All he has to do is sholve his head/ hand and voila! For another, the floors housing the psychiatry patients is wonderful off white glossy polished (read slippery) tiles - good skid ground for our "not so here and now" lot; no wonder the pavillions are strategically placed beside the neurology/ neurosurgery casualty- we are a multidisciplinary hospital after all! The neuro emergency apparently says "suswagatha" (welcome) too (for good reason)!!! Rehab, is a glass structure (Dark Tinted) and has no central AC; and the candel making chaps have no ventilation- breathe the smoke and wax coat your lungs and reduce your duration with us! It amazes one that the rehab (where the most chronic of cases) come has no loos! Is it an attempt to be therapeutic and learn bladder control? Well it certainly (the buildings) is novel.... the road to hell is after all paved with good intentions!

PS: The architect has managed to simulate the experience Lazarus' rats must have had in the maze!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Round Notes

A few exerpts from work

On rounds we see this manic patient ( it seems to be the season for maina!) and the history is presented and diagnosis confirmed. But what the heck it's supposed to be "teaching rounds" so Chief decides to ask the resident to do a Mental Status Examination (MSE) on the patient and asks the resident for his impression in the various areas assessed. The chap (resident) was looking stumped when it came to his impression of personal judgement: the patient had responeded to his question of "What would you do in the future?" with " I want to serve you all here and this institution!" Chief helped him out with the obviously right answer "Social judgement impaired!" His and ours!

India's such a collectivistic culture etc etc I never cease to hear that in our Depart-mentals, nevertheless this was the heights of it. . . Hospital rules have it that all patients in the open ward must have an attender 24 hours. There's this manic chap (a rather disruptive one at that) who'd been with us for over a week. Owing to his symptoms his caretakers had fled since he'd been giving them more than a blue eye! On rounds we decide he's better and since he has no attendent he ought to be discharged- we ask nevertheless " how are you feeling now? etc etc and who is with you- looking after you here? "My wife ran away and my relatives are'nt willing to come but thats not a problem- my neighbour's attender s now my attender! Love thy neighbour no sir!" Real collectivist!

Yet another Manic being assessed on "insight" into illness. Patient says he's in a hospital and the JR asks " But what kind of people come to this type of hospital?" trying to elicit the response indicating someone slightly mental. The guy goes "Why sir, doctors like you!"

Eat Cake

" If I were to imagine peace- it would be the center of a cake- rising"
I don't remember which one it was vee and shru wanted recepies for so I'm putting a few so you can't blame me!

Hungarian Tea Cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup cold butter, cut up
2 large egges room temprature
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven. butter baking pan. sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg & salt in a large bowl. stir in both sugars and walnuts. cut in the butter. remove 2/3 cup of the mixture & set aside. beat eggs, milk, baking powder, baking soda & vanilla into the dry ingredients. spoon batter into prepared pan. sprinkle with reserved topping. bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes clean.

Cinnamon Crumble loaf
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
Crumble topping
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut up
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven. butter & flour the pan. sift flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder & salt into a large bowl. beat in milk, butter & egg. spoon batter into prepared pan. bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes clean. Crumble topping: dot the butter over the cake. sprinkle with sugar & cinnamon

Coffee Loaf
1 cup flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 table spoons instant coffee powder, dissolved in 1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven. butter & foulr pan. sift flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt into a large bowl. beat the coffee mixture, eggs, butter, & vanilla into the dry ingredients. spoon batter into prepared pan. bake till toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

happy baking!

Keep Off....

It’s four something a.m. The two power-points I had to make are done and mailed to “mommy” at some unearthly hour for which I know I won’t be appreciated! “Mommy” likes me to follow a “few” rules and most often they are the ones most difficult to follow! I do try though! Anyway, sleep eludes me or I it- maybe it’s not a unidirectional relationship- maybe it’s bidirectional- I’ve stopped wondering about it though. I pick up a copy of “Keep off the grass” that my brother bought but left behind. The jacket cover says it’s about a twenty five year old “hot shot” American Born Confused Desi (ABCD)investment banker from Wall Street going off on a soul searching experience- destination India! The reviews say it’s “An unlikely, remarkable story”. For want of something to read/ do since I can’t even go for a walk for want of light outside I decide to try it.

The novel centers around the quest for “self” by the ABCD/ the central character who decides to come down to India, in an attempt to understand himself, fill the emptiness of life, and question materialism by enrolling himself in IIM-Bangalore. That kind of is supposed to depict his general level of confusion one supposes! The soul searching consists of predominantly the following activities alcohol binges, smoking up, smoking up and more smoking up. A trip to the Himalayas and Benares included. The cliché. There’s friends of course-a patriotic friend (ex-army) and a dopey son of a politician- sidekicks both. There’s little apart from that- a justification for the title perhaps! The ABCD finds he loves the sights and smells of India (made more acute by weed) and then moves to what apparently is the next level- to return or not to return. Well, that’s solved easily enough through utilization of social support from a stranger- a British born author based in India he admires. The high point of the novel being that the ABCD goes all the way traveling by train and asks the author what made him stay. The author’s reply of India being the best fit solves his existential dilemmas and his parting comment “Keep off the grass” (i.e. lawn) before shutting the door creates in the ABCD the resolve to keep off the “grass”! How cool is that!!!

I plod through looking for the “remarkable” story- plodded right through the end having failed miserably in finding it! On the bright side – it’s bright outside!