Monday, March 31, 2014

Translation set in stone

My department often gets translation requests for strange content and into obscure languages. We do try our best to oblige. But we had to say no to this one we got yesterday -

I wish to get a five word sentence in English translated to both Latin and if possible Egyptian hieroglyphs.”

All I could mutter to myself in response was,

“Quae in inferno…?!” (What the hell…?! in Latin according to Google Translate.)

Now where is that hammer and chisel? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Goodbye, cruel world

Tomorrow the world will end.

No, you say? It's all a misinterpretation, you say, by ghoulish doomsayers whose ambition in life is to go down with a placard saying, "I told you so!" The fact is, you say, that it is a very normal rolling over of a calendar. If the world didn't end on 31/12/1999 when the Gregorian calendar rolled over, or whichever dates the Hindu calendar, or the Sumerian, Vanuatuan, Martian, Andromedan, etc calendars rolled over, it's unlikely it will end tomorrow.

Sure, but come on, admit it. There is a tiny voice inside all of us that goes, "Ooh, but what if it is true? Wouldn't it be most exciting?! I'll get to see whether Hollywood does a decent job of forecasting human behaviour in a disaster situation. Will my neighbour look at my stricken face while time slows down all around us, wipe away a tear from my dust-caked face (look, we're all the same colour, Ma!), and risk a severed limb in order to pull my little one out from the nursery window?" (Real life scenario is probably more like this - "Damn, I forgot that my baby is stuck in the nursery! My neighbour legged it hours ago having shown me the finger when I asked for his help pulling out my prized Eames lounge chair from the collapsed house. Should I risk mutilating myself trying to pull out little Sassy? ... Ah, stuff it. The world is going to end anyway, and if not, I'm still fertile, I can produce many more Sassies if I save myself and keep my body fit and in working order." And with those misplaced priorities and that twisted logic you join the fleeing masses in no particular direction, cursing gravity for resolutely keeping you glued to the planet that is going to explode into smithereens any time now.)

Annyhoo, so if the world ends tomorrow, what would I like for my last meal? We don't give much importance to these things, but we should take a tip or two from the judiciaries around the world, who, unless it is an urban myth like Satan's tail and horns, allow prisoners with death sentences to have a last meal of their (the prisoner's not the judge's) choice.

If I was a foodie, I would have said, I'd eat a meal as follows -

Starters would be slow-roasted organic free-range plum tomatoes... (yes, you heard right. The society for prevention of dietary discrimination ruled that non-vegetarians cannot have monoploy over the term 'free range'. If you allow your tomato vines to grow as they wish without restricting them to the lattice in the corner of the garden, they can be certified free range. They taste better because they're free and happy.)

OK, where was I? Ah, yes, slow-roasted organic free-range plum tomatoes with mozzarella made from milk drawn gently from a 8-year-old Italian buffalo at dawn (it makes such a difference), and lightly seasoned with Lake Titicaca salt (quite a rarity as the lake is freshwater).

The main course would be mashed heritage potatoes, preferably from a seed bank in Peru, preferably a variety that is extinct outside the seed bank. Also, tri-coloured quinoa salad with goji berries, chia seeds, cultured vegetables, activated almonds (thanks for introducing me to that, Pete Evans!) and maca root. (Get it? The South American theme? My tribute to the Mayan prophets.)

For dessert, I would have creme brulee made from organic free-range eggs (which means the eggs are allowed to roam free in the farm, you numskull) and organic free-range milk and organic free-range sugar (you figure it out). The flame to caramelise the sugar also has to come from organic free-range fuel, of course.

And finally I will have siphon coffee made with beans grown on the southern slopes of the Andes, watered only at sunset with the urine of the one-eyed sloth. I know, I know, elephant dung coffee is all the rage now, but I find it a little too earthy for my taste. I like the bright tang of my sloth urine coffee better.

BUT...I'm not a foodie. What I will REALLY do for a last meal is charter a plane to Bombay right away. I won't give in to the temptation of eating at my childhood home because it will take weeks to eat my way through all my favourite dishes that Mother makes. Instead I'll have chaat at Matunga (Central, market), wada pav at Dadar (Central, near the circle), dahi misal at Dadar (West, Kelkar Rd), and finish off with ras malai at Wadala (West, near the station).

Then I can wait happily for the end of the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What happened today

Today I saw the fattest pigeon ever. Jesus, was it tubby, looked like it had just swallowed the fattest squirrel ever. It was like someone had stuffed an over-pumped football into a pigeon skin and zipped it up. I wonder if it has a weak heart and clogged arteries.

Today I also skidded on the frost while walking and nearly fell. But I didn't fall. Plus there was no one else on the road to point and laugh at me. Maybe that's why I didn't fall.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Another milestone

Yesterday I saw new snow for the first time in my life. The only snow I had seen so far was on the slopes of Kulu, a hill station in India. It was rather sad and grey as it was several days old.

Yesterday, when my husband woke up and went to the window, he looked at the thermometer and said, "Yes, my suspicion was right. The thermometer is broken. It shows 7 degrees even though there is snow outside."

I was still half asleep, and so did not actually jump out of bed, but groggily tried to process this bit of information. Say, what?! Snow? And he is talking about it as if he's discussing any old weather. Well, a bit of snow is any old weather for a Lithuanian, I'm sure. After all, they don't consider it to be a cold day if the mercury does not dip below -15 and anything less than a foot at least of snow in the front yard is just a piddling bit of moisture. But for me, it was a world event. As soon as my brain rose above the fumes of sleep, I came to the window and peeped out. It was not much, just a soft layer on the rooftops and cars, plus a light sprinkling on the grass. Nevertheless it was thrilling. There was a sparkle, either in the air or in my eyes.

It is a blessing to be able to experience things for the first time constantly. And an even greater blessing to feel the unsullied delight in these experiences.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The festive season in Dickens' land

I grew up witnessing one kind of Christmas in my real world, and conceiving another kind in the world of my imagination.

In Bombay, Christmas was perhaps not as festive as Diwali, because Christians are a minority. Besides, commercialism hadn't crept into festivals then. Only Valentine's Day was catching the attention of retailers, mainly greeting card shops (Archies was synonymous with friendship cards, little heart-shaped stickers and sentimentally worded keepsakes for teenagers. I should know - I was a major customer).

Christmas was like a gentler version of Diwali. The Catholic Colony in my neighbourhood would have star-shaped kandeels lit up in almost every home, as would homes here and there in the rest of the neighbourhood, including my upstairs neighbours, the Chars. Monginis and Birdys would have festive cakes. I didn't quite understand why some of them looked like a log of wood, but who cares when the log is so chocolatey? Then there were the home-made 'foreign' sweets made by my Christian friends' families, oh, and the home-made fruit wine. It was so exciting to share in a slightly dissimilar, yet mostly familiar celebration.

And then there was the Christmas I would read about, see or hear of. Charles Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol, was one of my earliest insights into Christmas in a foreign setting. The cold, the gloom, the roast and pudding, the fireplace, the fur and woolen coats - it was all so alien and so delicious to imagine! The movie Home Alone 2 was among the many Hollywood movies that further fed my imagination about Christmas in cold countries. Oh, the snow, the mittens, the ice-skating, the soaring cathedrals, the toys, the cakes and cookies, the twinkling fairy lights and shiny ornaments on giant Christmas trees!

When I moved to Australia, I had another new experience - some of the elements of a Western Christmas, but minus the cold and the snow. In fact, soon I got used to the fact that Christmas was not just warm as in India, but it was positively hot. Christmas got associated with heatwaves, barbecues, ice creams, beaches and Santa's cap alongside shorts and thongs (or flip flops if you're not Australian, or Hawaii chappals if you're Indian).

Now last Friday, we went to Central London. It was freezing cold. When I emerged from the Leicester Square station subway onto the street, a beautiful night welcomed me. The streets were lit with endless shimmering designs. People thronged the place, dressed up in warm, snug coats, hats, scarves and gloves. Some people were dressed in Santa costumes. The moon was playing hide-and-seek behind some wispy clouds. At last I was experiencing what I'd only heard about. It felt like my first Christmas once again.

When we were walking back home that night, I saw that the leaves fallen on the ground were glittering. It was below zero, and so the the leaves had frosted over. I just couldn't have enough of it. The street was lined with leaves encrusted with pinpoint diamonds. No Swarovski ornament could produce anywhere near the fine sparkle of the glittering frost.

I think Christmas this year is going to be anything but humbug.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shoot me, not my phone

Oh, I love this one - a bulletproof iPhone case. No, really. A Japanese company advertises it thus -

The hardest, heaviest, strongest iPhone case in the entire world. Designed to withstand a direct hit from a 50 calibre (12.7mm) shell, so you can rest assured knowing your iPhone is safe.

It is unclear to me why someone would want to shoot my phone instead of me. Is the iPhone that bad? Either this product is targeted at toughies/high-profile people who have terribly incompetent marksmen enemies out to get them, or at teenagers who risk being parted from their beloved perpetually-glued-to-the-ear phone in a rather dramatic fashion by their irate parents.

The manufacturers do not mince their words about the cumbersome nature of this case either. They warn you -

This case is the heaviest iPhone case in the world. Hold it in both hands when talking on the phone.
This case is so hard it will probably scratch any table you set it on. Carry a small cloth with you and set the case on top of that.

I was considering buying an iPhone and then buying this case for my iPhone. Until I read the last line in the advertisement -

We don’t intend this product for actual use. Any claims regarding difficulty of use will ignored.

Aw...Christmas this year will not be magical. Oh, wait. Maybe it will. Why don't I go and buy those brilliant Bic pens for women? Finally someone understood the needs of the modern woman - pens in pink and purple, "Designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand," as they advertise it. God bless them. At last women everywhere can start writing. This will be the start of a new revolution, mark my words.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Death by limescale

..which brings me to my number-two gripe. The water here doesn't suit me, quite literally. London has hard water. On the day of my arrival to this great city, something happened that profoundly changed my perception of our world. I had my first sip of London tap water. It took a few moments for my brain to process what my tongue was sensing, i.e., the water didn't taste like it does in other big cities I've been to or lived in. There's a conflict, like when you know through long experience that computer nerds have no interest in art, and bang, on your first date with Mr C++, you are dragged into a discussion about the relative merits of Dadaism in postmodern art. It unsettles you, the way something comes along to shatter a long-held conviction, like computer geeks cannot comprehend art, or that hard water is the bane of small towns that are too poor and uncool to source or generate soft water.

So once again, London water is hard. I'm not talking about a slightly-rough-around-the-edges kind of hard. This is seriously high on the Mohs scale. Granted, not as hard as in Salem, India, where years ago, I once washed my hair with tap water and when it dried, each strand stood to attention in the most rigid manner. And even though half my hair parted ways with my head when I combed it, the remaining hair felt as thick as before thanks to the salt coated on it. No, London water is not that bad, but then even in a town like Salem, they have soft water in the pipes now.

I can, and have, gotten over the fact that the water tastes awful, and it's acting funny with my tummy (it could be my imagination acting funny, but the point is I've gotten over it). But what causes me exquisite agony is the limescale. I never appreciated before, the privilege of living in a world free of hard water and limescale. I never knew how the other half lived. Now I am in that selfsame wretched, desolate other half. Limescale everywhere, wherever there is water. There is something so particularly provocative about limescale on the taps. The marks on the sink edges, the bath tub, I can somehow ignore, or at least not brood obsessively over. But the taps...the taps... They look so fabulous every time I clean them, which makes it all the more distressing when just a few minutes later the unavoidable water drops on the surface dry up and leave behind limescale marks. It's like the sigh of regret when you see the first indelible stain on the brand-new carpet. Except, in this case you sigh at the first indelible stain every few days.

Vinegar is my new best friend, although not my husband's. Every time I spray vinegar in the bathroom, he coughs markedly, bustles around, opening windows, closing doors, and remembers vague chores that require him to get out of the home.

I used to think dust is the worst enemy of the scrupulous housekeeper. Living on this side of the fence, I envy those soft-water elites whose hearts are as light as their feather dusters.