Monday, May 31, 2010

Classic Milds in the Rain

I love the theatre, a play in whatever language that you may take me to. I love it for the improvisation and the spontaneity of the actors. It is almost an oxymoron, but I love theatre for how real and live it can be. And I love Rangashankara for making theatre so accessible and not the sole domain of the intellectual elite.

Last evening’s play ‘Classic Milds’ was a slice of what I would call the urban life, on the lines of that great Hindi movie ‘Life in a Metro’. Or perhaps it is too presumptuous to say that, life really isn’t too different in the rural areas either; it probably sounds more fashionable to restrict some emotions and events to the urban psyche.

The play consisted of shorter episodes by different writers, mostly written in the early 20th century. None were irrelevant to modern times. I especially loved ‘One for the Road’, written by Harold Pinter. Now I have never read his plays, but it was told by the narrators that he is known for his use of silence and the tension, suspense it creates. This sequence was inspired apparently by Pinter’s travel in Turkey where he got into a conversation with two women about the alleged torture of political prisoners in that country.

There is one polite torturer, all the more dangerous because of it. Then there is one political prisoner in the first scene, his beautiful wife, raped more times than she can now remember and a son in the background somewhere, one who is deemed to be a prick. Those tortured do not speak much, it is here that Pinter’s silences come to play. It is almost like the torturer, downing several drinks, is on a monologue trip. The best was the last scene where the man is told that he will be allowed to go, that his wife would join him in the next few weeks, “if she was still up to it.” The man, so tortured already that he can barely speak, asks for his son. The torturer only says, “he was a prick.” The cries of the man at that instance was torturous enough to the audience.

In ‘A Separate Piece’, there is a man, without a clear background, with money who wants to do nothing. He gets into a hospital where it is accepted that you don’t do anything all day. While he is happy doing just that, everyone else is formulating theories as to who might be and getting him to do something. Goes only to show how the world will never, ever let you do what you want, and instead, always try to bring you in line with what is generally perceived to be the right thing.

The play was performed by Akvarious Productions, Mumbai. It was definitely one of the better ones I have watched. But then, almost anything in Rangashakara has a potential of being good. A little strange woman wanted to debate the play with me; I realized that it is sometimes hard to make another person understand the nuances of culture and practice of subtlety. I would never make a very great teacher I think.

As I stepped out of the theatre, it was raining heavily. Jay and I ended up having tea and something that passed off as hot chocolate. But then I refuse to complain about Anju’s café there, I love the place. And of course we ended up discussing Milds and life and all that jazz, like always.

There is just something about rain that makes me…I don’t know. There is just something about it that necessitates deep thoughts, conversations and evenings. Thank goodness the monsoon is nearly here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Madikeri Madness

On very popular demand, here is another of our guest writers, ATS, writing about a one day trip we took to Madikeri a few months ago. Despite what he says about me at the end of this travelogue, despite doing just that (!), I have stopped myself from making any corrections, except for adding notes to factual ones.

Ukkada, Madikeri.

You know, I had passed through Madikeri several times earlier but the only thing or the place I had seen there was the yummy Idli Wada at the bus stand hotel and the stinky toilet. There has been a big deal of interest about 'Coorg' in Bangalore in the past few years with a lot of IT folk who have lots of money and are jobless on weekends wanting some quiet place to booze and make noise heading there.

Now I had the chance to go there and actually see some places other than the bus stand toilet, courtesy my friend and now ex-colleague Deepa. We were going to Madikeri on Ugadi, the start of the New Year in this part of the world, though only for the sake of tradition. But its festival alright and any festival is good as you get to eat a lot of stuff which are otherwise not made everyday. I was going with Deepa who had just become my ex-colleague, Deb, who was about to become my ex-colleague and Nandi, who is desperate to become my ex-colleague.

I am writing this as a travelogue but basically it is a primer for any of you who are on the verge of going insane with your mechanical life in the city wanting to go to Madikeri but short on time (precisely 14 hours) and of course money. I know we don’t want to leave our beloved city, which is an archeological site plus construction site plus combustion chamber, all rolled into one. But you know some times you are forced to part from the city like I had to, so it would be a narration of our trip as well as a kind of 'lonely planet Madikeri' sans the cost and kms and all that nonsense! (In any case, all my expenditure was borne by my generous fellow travellers) . Only thing is you won’t get to see Deepa’s place probably, which is an absolute delight and her lovely parent’s hospitality, which is unmatchable. I am not even sure how it is in any of those shady home stays where you can stay.

Now cut to the chase directly to Madikeri bus stand where we got down when it was still pretty much dark (also my sleeping time). Now I must warn you, I know we all are used to carbon dioxide and monoxide to live in the city but in Madikeri they live on oxygen so you might need to do some acclimatization, which I did.

We reached Deepa’s place pretty early which is located on a small hillock amidst greenery and one might get confused about being in a serene village, but make no mistake it is just five minutes away from the town centre. As soon as we reached her place, we went out for an early morning walk, which turned out, to be a short guided tour of the town. (Now don’t worry about early morning. I know that in the city it can be a traumatizing experience watching those fat aunties in nighties and nikes discussing tomato prices and a group of oldies laughing hysterically at the corner of the park. But I assure you it is perfectly safe out there.)

At first we climbed a small hill that really seemed an uphill task for me thanks to ITC. But I managed to climb up to see an event which happens once in several years at least for me (I know it is the same for you as well!) no, it is not solar eclipse, it is sun rise. The scene on top is pretty beautiful as you can see the lush green landscape with silver white clouds slowly unraveling their blanket over the sleepy town and in the horizon you can also see several hills plastered with green.

I even named one peak 'Wow 630' because at 6.30 in the morning if you see towards that peak playing peek-a-boo with the sun, all you can say is 'Wow'. (Kodavas are famous for their warrior lineage and army backgrounds, hence they might adopt it!)

And no, this is not a suicide point guys, if you are with suicidal tendencies. If you jump probably you will end up with as many scratches as on my watch, so there. (crime reporting hangover).

After the sun rise we soon started walking on a narrow but beautiful road. Meanwhile, Nandi was parched early morning (being a water correspondent, she is always on the look out for water resources) and the only thing available anywhere in sight was milk packets from a local milk parlor. Since strange looking people asking for water in those neighborhood houses early in the morning would have raised an alarm, we did not dare ask. So, if you are out early make sure you are okay with drinking milk without boiling it.

But finally we managed to drink water (rather stealthily) from Hotel Valley View, which is really a fine place to stay from the looks of it and what’s more you can even eat or drink anything in sight early in the morning as nobody will be around, save for one dreary and sleepy guy who wont take the trouble to bother you.

Next on the course is Raja Seat, a small lovely garden with a view point of the mountain range where the early rulers of the Kodava land used to sit and watch the sun set or sun rise. (Probably with a scotch peg in hand. Kodavas love their drink. I am almost sure it’s sun set since it is highly improbable that a Raja would get up early morning just to watch the sun rise? Ha! He is the Raja after all!)

Now before you get to the Raja seat, there is a temple which we did not visit. (I am not very religious).

Now to say that the view from Raja Seat is majestic would be an understatement. Especially early in the morning, the pristine beauty of the surroundings would definitely enthrall you. Not just that, if you are lucky, you might also get to see one uncle trying to break his own ribs just by some heavy duty breathing, another uncle trying to level the ground with his sheer weight and the third one trying his luck to turn the Raja Seat itself towards another direction by his strength. (You might not believe this, but you have to witness it)

There is a toy train next to the Raja seat and again I have to warn you all with suicidal tendencies, do not bother. (I am reiterating this because, who else will read 'Lonely Planet' kind of books! The title itself is very suggestive!) If you are planning to kill yourself, this would not be the place since you would have to wait hours for the train to start as they wait till all the seats are filled up and you might be bored to death lying on the track waiting for the train to come!

After spending some time in the Raja Seat, Deepa next guided us towards the Palace of Chikaveerarajendra or V as his symbol says, the famous ruler of Kodagu of yore. It is a must visit in a Madikeri trip and it is gorgeous. We had crossed the typical and yet beautiful sleepy town of Madikeri to reach here.

As we entered the palace gate walls, we were told by Deepa that the district machinery has now habituated the place. There is a small church which has been converted to a museum on the right hand side but we could not go inside as it was early in the morning. There is a small building next to it which is well stocked library, I am told. I have a fascination for libraries as I have always had this feeling that libraries are where the transformation of a person happens with so many ideas, vivid imaginations, beautiful prose and poetry filling up racks and ultimately brains. (In some ways it also showcases the people around it) Sadly I did not get to check out the library.

There is a small concrete ramp bang in front of the palace wall and if you glance on the other side you get to see this 'romantic jail'! This is what Nandi had to say looking at the place from above. From the looks of it, it was indeed a romantic and antique jail. The jail has been shifted to other place now. Deepa even provided some proof by saying that earlier love birds that were separated by the cruel judiciary would exchange glances from this place and probably blew some air kisses too. Now that is Romantic alright!

After taking in the view of the romantic jail, we entered a more romantic building, which is the palace itself. Now I have to say one thing. We should be really proud of government and our so called administrators. They have preserved the building so beautifully, I am sure it is in the exact condition as it was during the Chikaveerarajendra’s time. It looks like, they have not even moved a singe brick or painted the walls or even tried to do some damage by attempting restoration of the building. Their sense of history baffles you. The DC has his office in the same building and I am sure he is very fat.

When you are visiting the place, do not try to move the stone Kachwa (tortoise) which is located at the centre of the palace. I am told that there is a tunnel under the Kachwa which leads to the other side of the town. Now that is romantic! I wonder how it must be inside the tunnel. Thankfully we did not have Indiana Jones with us and we proceeded out of the palace. Besides the Palace or now the DC office, there is the civil court complex (yeah, the same place where every one sleep walks through out the day and speak strange language and does not now what they are saying.)

We finally finished our morning sojourn by crossing an old Ganapathi temple right outside the palace. We had to reach home you see, breakfast is important or so I am told since I don’t have that bad habit.

Our second leg in the afternoon was pretty much green. After a brief spell of heavy rain (yeah the same thing. Huge water drops pouring from the sky. A kind of natural shower. I know we have not seen that kind of rain here in our city for some time now)...the good thing about Madikeri, I think now is that everything over there is romantic. Even the rain which I hate here in our city is romantic over there!.

It was a lovely afternoon as we were in the jeep along with Deepa’s parents and it was pouring outside. We were going to see a water fall. We were supposed to go a hill but rain altered the plan. Hence we were on our way to Hattihole where the water fall was located. It was a beautiful ride with all of us pretty much excited.

The roads were pretty good for WRC sadly they don’t have a leg here. I especially loved the ride because of the vehicle. A Mahindra MM 550. While growing up, the first four-wheeler I ever steered was a Mahindra Commander from the same vehicle family tree which our family had for many years. It was on that sturdy vehicle I had several memorable trips in my life and even learnt the basic lessons of four-wheel driving. It was and still is a Man’s vehicle just like the Charminar cigarettes which embodied the Man’s ciggy image while we were growing up. Though a ride on it rattles the bones out of your body, driving is a pure pleasure on that one especially in the hilly areas. So the ride was pretty nostalgic for me in several ways.

Our luck was not shining on us this time as we could not get out of the vehicle for some time as it was still raining outside when we reached the spot. But we managed to get out of the jeep after some time and caught a glimpse of the milky water fall after wading through little bushes and rocks. As Deb put it, we managed to get a screen shot of it mentally. Wish we could have spent some time there but we had to move on as it was still raining.

As we were heading back, we stopped for a little photo session besides a water stream which was running parallel to the road. You know, after a spell of rain there is a fragrance or smell (I don’t how to put that) that emanates from the earth which I love. (Now don’t go around asking people where to get that earth flavored deo. You don’t get it) This earthy fragrance, chilly breeze, the green environs, the water stream, all this makes me happy and sad at the same time because I do have an option where in I can stay and try to make meaning of life somewhere in a place just like this but now I have gone too ahead in other direction probably I can't go back. (Yeah Yeah I know there is this mine of stories, a new movie coming up in the multiplex and a great pub where all the hot girls in town come in the evening and look as if they have given all their regular clothes to Haiti victims).

Okay coming back to our trip, our next pit stop was a hanging bridge. It is actually wooden planks tied on ropes connecting two shores across the water stream. It was fun to walk on it and we had our photo session by our pro Deb who was clicking non stop on his cell phone camera through out the day and we had a ciggy break also here. I love to smoke in such places you know; the city is too polluted to even enjoy a cigarette!

We next halted at a hotel for a pint of warm coffee after the cold spell. Though coffee was really bad, I particularly enjoyed the place. You see, it was actually a typical shop which one usually finds in villages across the hinterland, where villagers gather around at dusk and exchange village gossips, discuss crops, debate about the politics and Devegowda, of course.

On the way back to Madikeri, there was a divergence and we ended up a small hillock in a place (I forgot the name) with a superb view of mountain range lying miles ahead and the new 'Romantic jail'. (Note: This place is called Ukkada. -D) It was literally a hair rising experience especially for Nandi. Static energy, we were told. There are higher chances of a thunder strike here than normal places it seems but we left unharmed. (Paapi Samudrakke Hodru Molakaludda Neeru is a popular Kannada saying!)

The second last stop in our second leg was two temples (Note: refers to Gaddige, the tombs of the kings and his favourite queens and ministers, not temples. - D) which were built by the Kodava rulers. The buildings are very interesting because of the architecture (I am told its Indo-Sarsenic) There are four Nandis on all four corners of the dome and it was one of the rare architectural marvels I have seen. But I could not go inside as it was too late in the evening. We also got see the Madikeri town from the top there with sun setting in the backdrop. It was a spectacular view with the sky painted with orange hue.

Our final stop was at a temple (Again I forgot the Gods name. In fact I go to temples not to pray usually) If you are visiting Madikeri, visit the temple whether you are religious or not. It does not matter. (Note: refers to the famed Omkareshwara Temple. -D)

The day which started early in the morning with a walk later ended with another evening walk as we strolled down the streets while chatting about inane things. Later it was time to pack up and head back to the city life which we did after a sumptuous dinner or feast. (Whatever, I just ate.)

So here goes our Madikeri madness log. If you have read till here, I am pretty sure now you will have suicidal tendencies, but do me a favour. Do not write my name in that suicide note! I also have to thank the three fellow travelers for their generosity in tolerating me and my PJs ;-) They were wonderful company. Adios.

(I have deliberately not dwelt upon Deepa’s place much and also about her really really wonderful parents who hosted us that day, especially the food for me. It would be blasphemous and superfluous to write about that. I will cherish it personally. On a lighter vein, I am even trying to persuade Deepa’s dad to hire me as a 'writer' (Not the one who is always seen drinking wine, flirting with Mars and Venus alike, attending so called lit-fests and has a ego bigger than himself and jotting down some crap once in a while) for their plantations now.)

PS: I know the reactions from all three; Deepa will search for spelling and grammatical mistakes (MS word helps you know!) and yell at my PJs as she is used to sitting besides me, Nandi will say 'Arre pagal hogaya kya!' and 'Mazaaaaaaa Agayaaaa' and Deb will immediately chop down the copy to 600 words and then start reading! :-)

Eom\ (can’t help it!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One of Those "Once Upon a Time..." things

Once upon a time, there was a girl.

I must tell you, just because the story begins this way, it is not a fairy tale. Neither will it end with a happily ever after.

Once upon a time, there was a girl.
She used to listen a lot, to people, their problems, their conversations.
She gave time and a ear, sometimes a very patient one.

Some days, she would let out a silent scream. Of course no one heard. Or could ask why or what, they didn't hear.

It didn't matter, most times. When at times it did, a magical, safe room would appear. In there, the silent scream became real. Around that room, she could run, for hours, sometimes for days.

Once outside, she would lock the room, hope to never find the key to enter again and pick up the smile that had slipped off just outside. And the next conversation would begin, cheerfully "How was your day? What happened?

(No, this might not make sense to you. Or to me at a later date.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Rain, Another Memory

Perhaps when I grow old, it is moments of insanity that I will want to remember the most. What would human life be without memories? And how would I be the 'me' I am without those insane, utterly inexplicable moments of sheer spontaneity?

After my rain soaked memories the day before, it rained again last evening. Very heavily, causing much destruction in the city. But that part is for the papers to blow up.

As for me, I was at Jay's, where we were supposed to do some 'work'. (I'm trying to convince myself that the afternoon was productive too!) Just when we were about to plan to go out, it started raining, one of those slow rains that build up tempo and end up as a crescendo, the exact kind that I love. Three of us girls stood on the balcony staring out at the blowing winds and the lashing rain. A sudden storm, of the brain kind, and in minutes we were in the park outside her house, walking and half running in the rain.

Just then, the rain reached its crescendo and we broke into giggles. Yes, all 20-something, supposedly mature, working women that we were, lost all decorum in the utter joy of being there at that moment and giggled uncontrollably. The neighbours thought we were mad, of course; not that we were anything less!

We did get lectured by other jealous friends that we had lost it and that trees could have fallen on us and all that adult talk. Ma listened to me breathlessly narrate the madness, peppered again with giggles that wouldn't stop and just said a "hmm, change into something dry," in that tone of again-you-and-your-insanity-are-beyond-repair! :-)

I hadn't done this getting wet in years! Probably not after high school, and I don't want to think how long ago that was! The utter uninhibited manner of being young and being free and with other giggling girls makes for my third favourite thing now, about the rain. Made me realize too, we get so caught up in the business of life that we forget to practice constantly the art of actually living it.

Reminds me yet again of what a friend and fellow blogger wrote:

What is the point in living if the highest thing at stake, life itself, is not risked? I have risked it many times, and my mother doesn't like me for that.

No, I am not down with fever or even an inkling of a cold. And yes, I can't wait to do this again, maybe not in the city, but in other, more insane forms, perhaps!?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Simply titled "Rain"

It is well past midnight. And it is raining. My two favourite events, or time of the day/season. I love the rain. I love this time of the night when I feel like I have the world to myself and my thoughts, when I don't have to shout in my mind to hear over the other noises in and out. Put the rain and the time together and I am delighted. As I am now. It is these two that make me either write poetry which ma finds depressing or dream with a mind that has come unhinged from the grasps of practicality and unmindful to the obligations of boundaries drawn by age, time, space, imagination.

I wish I could wax eloquent about the sound of the rain drops on the roof. Here in the city, it is a concrete terrace above my head. But I let my mind wander and reach to a place 250 kms away, to the 'Minuguthare' residence, home, where the soothing monotone of the rain drops on the tiled roof was the perfect lullaby to curl up in bed, under a thick blanket. And so was it the perfect music to wake up to, open just one eye and see outside the window and groan about having to get up at all. The cold. The rain. The beautiful thunder and the gorgeous lighting! I can't wait for the monsoon.

I must say this again. On my latest trip, when we were coming down to Kolkata from New Jalpaigudi, under the threat of the very destructive kal baisaki, I vividly remember the sole light of a train piercing the darkness, even as the coaches were momentarily being lit up by what we call 'kol-minchu', lightning in a straight line.

This was meant to be a quick note to myself in the future about the rain and the cool breeze tonight. I have to go now and listen to the music, catch the rhythm of each drop as it falls on a different surface and wonder at the collective hymn that wafts in through the window. There isn't the green of home, or the cold cold weather, or a warm blanket, or mamma's hug tonight. But I can dream, as always.

For it is raining.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

And Thereby Hangs a Tale

The title of Jeffrey Archer’s latest book is too lovely for me to bother thinking up something else to head this post. It is a line from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Archer quotes it before the book of short stories begins. Not that I would know even otherwise, I never studied literature. Sometimes I wish I had, maybe I could quote more from those works or maybe write better, but well…

Archer had told me about one particular story in the book when I interviewed him last year. (Yes, I am showing off!!! LOL!) Caste Off, set in Delhi, with a little chauvinist Rajput, a beauty with brains character and a typical love story. I borrowed the book from the library, there are other books that I would rather buy. No offence to popular fiction though, I have no qualms in admitting I read, and like, Chetan Bhagat too.

As I raced through the 15 stories in the book in just half and evening and one night, I was reminded of Archer’s words when he was in Bangalore for the book tour of Paths of Glory. That is one good book I would highly recommend, a historic fiction about George Mallory, the man who might have been the first to climb Mount Everest in 1924. With a lot of emotions and detailed descriptions of the expeditions, it is one of his best. Kane and Abel is fantastic too, I was told he is bringing out an updated version of it in October this year where though the plot will remain the same, there will be slight modifications.

And so when he was here last year, he was talking of how it is the story teller that we remember the most, not necessarily the literary genius. How true. That is what Bhagat had mentioned too. Ultimately, I suppose it is about the number of millions you sell and make. Archer is a captivating speaker as well, highly entertaining. So are his books.

I can claim to have read quite a lot of books in my lifetime! But despite turning up my nose at what some would demean as pulp fiction, I must admit that there is a pull to it that rarely can any of us readers resist. I picked up the book late yesterday evening and read through the night. I did not have to be reminded how amazing a story teller he is. These are those books that you simply don’t want to put down. There is this sense of urgency when you are turning the pages, that desire to get it over with, so that you can be free to do other things like cook, eat, sleep. That is, I think, what all of us who put thoughts into words, dream of, to be able to write in a way that you can’t wait for the story to finish. You come away knowing fully well that there was not anything great about what you read, but till so far that you are between the pages of the book, there is the world of the author that you let yourself be pulled into. Quite like one of those utterly commercial Hindi movies with stale jokes, silly songs and no real storyline.

As for the book itself, my personal favourite from the collection would be Caste-Off, though it quite reeks of clichés and the white-man’s views of marriage and caste. Maybe I am just biased. It made for a good read though. None of the stories have any surprises though, they are all quite predictable, to say the least. That reminds me of Sidney Sheldon, that other popular author, whose stories were all predictable to the letter, yet made for reading of the kind I attempt to describe above.

I was very disappointed with the story ‘Blind Date’ in the collection. It is a straight rip off from one of Ruskin Bond’s old short story, I forget the title of that one. Archer’s is set in a restaurant while Bond’s was set in a train. That apart, almost down to what the male protagonist thinks, there is not much difference. Hmm Mr Archer? The story ‘Better the Devil You Know’ reminded me of that Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley starrer, Bedazzled, I think about the devil and the seven sins. But I could live with that similarity, it is the one about Bond that I am horrified over.

These stories will not surprise you if you are a seasoned reader. But I would recommend it, if only that you can see and appreciate Archer’s genius and mastery over his words and his readers. That's the real work of a story teller, and damn Archer is good!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stealth Paws, Training Dogs to Kill: In Tehelka magazine

Something I wrote for Tehelka. Read here or see below.

It takes a lot of hard work at this puppy farm to create the doggy equivalent of Rambo, says DEEPA BHASTHI

In a farm 100 km north of Bengaluru, the laws of puppyhood are being violated — dogs are being taught to be not cute. In this 21-acre facility called Stealth-Paws, 40-odd dogs are being trained to go against their natural inclination to be man’s best friend. Instead they are trained from the time they are five weeks old to become canine superheroes. At the farm they are taught systematically to assault and disarm criminals, to rescue people, to search for drugs and bombs.
Stealth-Paws started as something of a hobby four years ago for techies Balaji Venkataraman and Masood Ahmed. The dogs’ ferocity and intelligence comes at a standard 1000 euros each. Private security agencies from India, Europe, the US, the Middle East, and UK as well as the armies of China and Mexico all buy dogs from Stealth-Paws. Though the demand for these pedigreed dogs is booming, Venkataraman and Ahmed, who is the chief trainer, continue to think of the farm as a hobby. But it’s serious business all day long for the dogs. Half a dozen handlers train Dutch, Belgian and German Shepherds in special task operations.

Trained to perform under extreme stress to save human lives, these dogs are not your tail-wagging dogs waiting for a cuddle or a belly-scratch. When they are happy, they may grab at the mobile phone or wallet in your pocket, mistaking it for a ‘bite roll’ — a training toy — and playfully drag you along. The handler smiles almost indulgently but visitors cannot be blamed for stepping lightly around them. Of the three breeds, the Belgian, or ‘Mali’ dogs, are the meanest of the lot. Their ‘workability’ is not spoilt by generations of being pets. The German Shepherds are naturally affectionate, less ‘workable’ and come with a comparatively delicate health. “It is the difference between a fashion model and a daily wage earner,” says Ahmed wryly.

The dogs are constantly monitored for their physical and mental potential. “By the time they are 12 weeks old, we test the puppies and categorise them depending on their ability to handle stress, memory, agility, learning speed, attention span, problem solving capabilities, genetic makeup and sound sensitivity,” says Venkataraman. After this the dogs are ‘streamed’ — some trained to sniff and track and others for assault. “The best of the litter become multipurpose dogs. Some might drop out. The best of the best remain,” chips in Ahmed. Some of these elite dogs get trained in the most complex tasks — hunting out narcotics and explosives. The pups’ advanced education would give Lassi and other movie dogs an inferiority complex. They learn to track and sniff out criminals, maneuver and attack through fire, smoke, gun shots, bombs, over narrow planks, down steep ladders and in water.

Zippo, one of the elite Dutch Shepherds dog, gives a live demo. He leaps from the ground into the window of a bus, part of the training paraphernalia. Before that, he gingerly treads across a tricky 3-inch narrow plank, 20 feet above the ground, between climbing up and down ladders. Zippo slips once or twice, but egging him on is his handler Ishaq. Ishaq switches between curt commands and gentle ‘good boy’ and ‘it’s okay, go Zippo’ murmurs.

Another Mali, at a single command, leaps at the handler, who in a thick bite suit, doubles up as a decoy. Nothing will make the dog lose its grip on the decoy, till the handler says so; it is all about command and trust. Every dog has a separate handler — the dog will not take commands from anyone else. The handlers, on their part, do not force dogs to comply all the time. “They have their moods too,” shrugs Ishaq. Fed on a bones and raw food diet once a day the dogs stay lean, and undoubtedly, mean.

Zippo and his companions will travel far once they are through with classes. For now, it is just another hot summer day at the farm.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 19, Dated May 15, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How to Dig a Well, Bake a Cake and Other Mundane Lessons

It is not at all about scooping out earth and dumping it all around a hole in the ground, this business of digging a well. It takes days on end and there is much math involved, I figured. I suck at math, I could never be in a position where I had to use geometry every day and still remain sane a week later. That brings me to the question of algebra, why would you ever want to use those absurd xs and ys in everyday life?

I digress.

So we have a new well dug up in front of the house, a deep one, 26 feet, I think. That is another area I am rather bad at, I simply cannot estimate the height of something in terms of feet or metres. Now, this well had already been nearly dug out when I made my appearance on the scene. The four people who were caked in mud and that smell that is so…well, muddy, were in the process of soothing out the interiors, so to speak, and preparing to install cement rings in the well.

It makes for interesting viewing, the whole process, more so when you have little else out of the ordinary to do. I spent a few mornings doing just that, periodically walking up to the well, peeping down gingerly and counting the number of rings that were being slipped down. I asked a few questions, but quickly got bored. Merely peeping down and watching the rings being put to place, the earth around them being soothed out, the way it was all shaping up made for an interesting lesson in something I know I will never myself do.

And then I baked a cake. 'Baked' sounds like too much more work than I actually did, made is more appropriate I suppose. This is a recipe for a coffee and coconut cake that is the easiest in the world to make. You ought to figure that out, I never attempt to make something for which the recipe is more than ten lines long. Ah, the cake now! It is one that doesn’t need eggs or an oven under certain temperatures for a certain period. All you need is sinful Milkmaid, coffee decoction/powder, biscuits and desiccated coconut powder. And a refrigerator. I must put in the recipe here, one of these days. That’s an addition to the list of simple recipes I was long supposed to have put down here. Those with recipes less than ten lines.

What I also did a few days ago at home was chase away a snake a long, slithery, black and shiny rat snake. I love them, though I don’t think I would ever hold them like Steve Irving, despite it being mine and dad’s one fond dream. I love the way they slither along, the elegant way in which they rise their head, the way their skin looks. Yes, I also hate the way the bottom of their body looks, its just plain creepy. I continue to be wary of them, the vestiges of the natural fear of snakes refuses to go away. But I find them fine creatures and have spent many hours observing them on the ledge just outside my room.

Now this particular black snake was in the bathroom. Before ma and I raised an alarm, armed ourselves with a long stick kept exclusively for this purpose and began to prepare for some excitement, the snake slithered away. Nothing much to it, just added a little noise to my otherwise quiet stay at home.

I am back in Bangalore, back to “plain problems”. It rained in the evening. The smell of the earth and the imagined feel of the rain drops on the tips of my fingers was nice. And I didn’t miss Madikeri just as yet.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Notes from Paradise

The insides of a very ripe fig, one that has turned a deep reddish black, is filled with honey of a thick kind. Some would call it gooey; ma has names that are far more gross, she doesn’t like them. As I bite into one specially succulent one, the honey deliciously oozes out. The outer red skin I peel off slowly, a bit of the white sap threatens to stick. The flesh is sweet, but thanks to the hoards of squirrels and birds, I rarely get to taste the sweetness of a fig in its full ripen wonder. The fig that grows on the only tree I have ever absolutely loved to climb, perch on to read a book on the banks of that little emerald pond in the estate. One perfect summer bite.

* *
My first mango of the season. I will not have ma peel and neatly cut them into slices. Mango is meant to be had only one way, ripened, soft, eaten without cutting, being messy with the juice dripping all over. Again, I bite in and the juice drips down my hand. One perfectly shaped yellow mango. What would be summer without them?

* *
The terrace of my house is where I have spent many summer evenings pretending to study for the exams in April. Just after mid-March when I would have talked myself into sitting down with the books, the skies would have cleared up. March isn’t too cold in Madikeri, spring or at least something close to it would have set in. The dark blue skies with millions of stars and planets (for the longest time ever I wanted to be an astronomer until I realised that it involved studying physics) would be my canvas for the dreams of tonight. Some bright and others not, some outlandish in their brilliance, some too far, some that fell down to the earth, the ones that stayed there every night after night-- both my dreams and those stars.

From that terrace, this night, I see the full moon peeping through a branch of the silhouetted Kashmir tree that my grandpa planted some 48 years ago. No clouds today, just a pale yellowish moon, possibly singing the clouds to herself. On the other silhouette, a tree that yields jackfruit, the fireflies of the night have their little party, not noisy like those crickets in the garden, but quieter, the tail lights on and off now and again. There is only a slight breeze tonight. The railway radio tower that used to be a familiar fixture every morning on Stewart Hill for all these decades is wasted away; they took it down recently. The hill stays barren. Lights from the distant town. The full moon though outshines them all, the fireflies and the houses, with her quiet song of those past evenings under the starry skies.

* *

The absolute joy of waking up on my own bed in my own room, to hot breakfast (not to mention ma’s impatient tone), wishing a sunny good morning to Ginger, only to be met with a glare for having disturbed his 23-hour a day beauty sleep, a lazy morning, a slow afternoon, slower evening with song, rain and conversations, ma and Appa and impromptu treks and short picnics to interior villages along winding coffee estate lined roads, rather Bohemian the days!!

* *

As I sit to write this, the clouds threaten to burst right above my home with the fury that tails behind the first rains of the season. Even as I perch my feet up and sit back to think of the first line, there is a slow rumbling in the distance. From the verandah, I see a thick sheet of rain furiously sweeping closer and closer till I, home are engulfed in that rumble. There is the hurried patter (there isn’t any cute pitter, the rain is lashing out) on the front courtyard, that familiar tone of relentless rain that won’t ebb for months now.

As for me, I remain perched up on a chair in the verandah. The rain has reduced in intensity, but not the thunder that my granny says is the sound of demi-gods and goddesses grinding rice and urad dal for the batter for the next day's breakfast of idlis and dosas!! I look over at ma’s lovely garden that is shaped like the sun and his rays; the pink and red flowers look quite happy. No, I wouldn’t be able to say what flowers they are, I don’t know the names of any, except for a rose.

Then there is the wind that looks like it might chill me to my bones if I stayed here any longer. The sound of the glorious rain is soothing though. And then there are the breathtakingly beautiful hills. Life is deliciously slow-paced.

I am thinking, here I am, living a week in absolute paradise.