Saturday, March 31, 2007

What Blue is Doing in Hyderabad

I was just thinking today, when I put up the last post about directing and children's literature, that I hadn't yet mentioned on this blog what I was going to do in Hyderabad.

I suppose I could make you guess. It would be interesting to see what kind of responses came up.

But the truth is that I am going to Hyderabad to direct an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass with students at a location which I am going to piquantly leave unnamed for now.

I'll be spending four months there, guest directing the project. We're even working on translating the piece into Telugu and possibly touring it to local schools.

This combines all of my favorite things -- theatre, teaching, literature, writing (I had the privilege of creating the adaptation, and I can blog about that process if you would like, as it was more fun than can be described), linguistics/translations, and working with children.

So now you know, and we can all be excited together until I get to go. ^__^

Friday, March 30, 2007

For All The Fans of Girls' Literature

... and come on, girls' literature is everyone's literature.

Do you remember in Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes when Pauline and Petrova played Tyltyl and Mytyl in Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird? And how the book included two large scenes from the play within its text, so we could understand what was going on?

When I was a kid I used to act those scenes out with my Barbie dolls, holding the book flattened out under one knee and reciting Mytyl and Tyltyl's lines.

So when I got into grad school, and they asked me what play I wanted to direct, I said "well, what about Blue Bird?"

Here are some production photos (used by permission).

First: Tyltyl and Mytyl by the window, watching the party outside.

Second: Bread, springing to life.

Third: The children finding the Garden of Birds in the Palace of Night.

There are many more photos (including the ones of the twelve-foot puppets). If you would like a link to the entire set, email me at thisblog'stitle at hotmail dot com.

Again, click on any image for the detail view.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hindi Lesson 3: Is Dadiji Sweet, or is she Wicked Sweet? Plus: Pratap Counts Bikes!

From Inside Higher Ed: A recent study by the National Academies has just taken the time and effort (and who knows how many grant dollars) to prove what I blogged here for free -- that most foreign language study at universities is surface-level and ineffectual. The cutest part is that IHE calls this study "the most extensive review ever." Like, totally.

Meanwhile, in Pratap-land, we learn the finer details of categorizing old people:

प्रताप: दादी जी बुर्ही है लेकिन बहुत अच्छी है।

It means "Grandma is old, but she's very good."

Now help me out with this, though, before I condemn Pratap for making a false correlation (as if all old people were "bad," but Dadiji is an exception).

He's calling Dadiji acchi, which seems to be the feminine form of accha, which -- from my limited understanding -- is not only an adjective meaning "good" but also a colloquial, catch-all form of praise. That is, what Pratap is saying is much closer to "Grandma is old, but she's really cool."


Pratap also visits the Kumars' garage and announces that there are "दो-टिन पुराणी सैकिले है." Two or three bikes? Come on, Pratap, you're standing right there. Is it that hard to tell how many bikes there are?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Recipe for the Potato Karhi

The potato karhi I made yesterday turned out brilliantly. I think it had something to do with the starch of the potato... and the warmth of the garam masala... and the punch of the chilies... and the fact that the yogurt was quite, quite sour (as Ms. Jaffrey suggests).

So -- since I altered the recipe quite enough that I can claim it as my own -- I'll share it with you.

Start with three potatoes, peeled -- if you're like me and don't have a potato peeler you can use a knife to hack at them; in which case you'll probably need to use four potatoes. Cut them up into small, relatively-even "in the grand scheme of things" pieces and toss them into a large mixing bowl.

Add whatever sour plain yogurt you have sitting in the back of the refrigerator; mine came out to about 2 cups.

Add enough water until the mixing bowl is about 2/3 full. Stir until the yogurt and water are smooth.

Take a generous amount of chickpea flour (about 1 cup); add it little by little , stirring slowly into the yogurt... until you get impatient and dump the rest of the measuring cup in at once, mashing the lumps against the sides of the mixing bowl.

Cover the bottom of a small soup pot with oil (your choice; I'm not starting that debate up again). Start heating the oil. Get out your spices. Realize the oil is going to burn away before you can get all of the spices un-Ziplocked and ready to go. Turn the heat off.

Put the following spices into a clean mug: 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 big pinch fenugreek seeds, one small pinch haldi (pause to clean haldi from fingers, countertop), several shakes of garlic powder, several shakes of ground ginger, one shake of asefoetida, and as many ground chilies as you're brave enough to throw in.

Turn entire contents of mug into soup pot.

Pause, remember, and start the burner again.

When the cumin seeds make popping noises, add the yogurt-flour-water-potato mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover, except for the part where you have to stir every three minutes so the potatoes won't burn.

Cook the Basmati according to the directions on the package. Ignore the advice you recently got that you would be much better off if you didn't eat so much rice and you should instead eat your karhi on a chappati or, better yet, a piece of whole-grain bread -- because you tried that, and it was just not any fun. Karhi needs fluffy white rice. It's, like, part of the deal.

After about ten minutes, add a giant pinch of garam masala to the karhi. Continue to stir. After twenty minutes, grab a fork and spear one of the potato cubes. Eye it, blow on it, eye it again, and pop it into your mouth. Howl for a moment because A. it is very, very hot and B. no, of course the potatoes aren't yet fully cooked.

Continue to stir. Everything will start to smell really good right about now.

After thirty minutes (give or take), it should be done. Add salt and eat. If necessary, howl for a moment because it is -- still -- very, very hot.


Musings on Hair

Niranjana, this one's for you.

My hair's just grown long enough for me to put it into a coronet. Which I really like, because although the two single braids are fun they aren't quite professional enough for teaching.

When I catch myself in the mirror I am reminded of the above image, from Little Town on the Prairie (drawn by Garth Williams).

But the real reason I'm putting up this picture is because Mr. Williams included another detail, one I didn't notice until I was old enough to realize what it was.

Garth Williams drew fifteen-year-old Laura Ingalls with hairy legs.

When I noticed it, at age nineteen or so (yes, I still reread the Little House books sometimes), I was intensely gratified and wanted to personally thank him.

It almost made up for the fact that no female character until Are You There God, It's Me Margaret ever seemed to go through puberty -- because Mr. Williams cared enough to include a small marker of its existence.

(It's also a reminder that 19th-century American women didn't shave their legs, but that's another topic for another time!)

Click on the image to enlarge the detail. (Copyright Harper, 1953.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

आलू का करही

Tonight I made आलू का करही, which should read "aloo ka karhi," which seems to be the way of saying "karhi with potatoes thrown into it."

It was an inspiration because I knew I had to use up the potatoes in my crisper before I forgot they were there and they turned rotten. (I had bought the potatoes to make the गोबी का सौप, and so now I had to find something to do with them.)

To combat the intense carbohydrate overload of a dish containing both potatoes and rice, I added a huge pinch of garam masala, because I had read somewhere on the internet that eating cinnamon alongside carbohydrates helps the body process them without turning them into whatever it is about carbohydrates that is bad for you.

But straight-up cinnamon seemed like it would turn the karhi too sweet, like the Gujarati karhi I made a month ago, so I put in garam masala instead... along with a pinch of ginger, because I thought it would make sense.

I haven't had a chance to really test this dish yet, because I didn't make it for tonight's dinner (which was the last of the spinach-chickpeas-tomatoes thing) and it's actually for tomorrow's lunch and dinner, as well as Thursday's -- I've got the little containers all lined up in my refrigerator.

But it smells fantastic. The pungency of the garam masala against the chilies is absolutely intoxicating.

One side note -- the potatoes had to be stirred almost constantly, as they were in perpetual danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. I don't remember this happening when I've boiled potatoes to mash; is it because they were cooking in a yogurt sauce instead of in water? Maybe it's a density thing, because potatoes in water seem to float and potatoes in yogurt definitely sink.

Just letting y'all know, in case you want to try to cook this yourself. ^__^

यह मोटा नही है, यह बरी हड्डी है!

(It's me, reading Teach Yourself Hindi... or possibly Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, since that's the book it actually looks like. Anyway. Just an inspiration from the previous post.)

Hindi Lesson 2: Buy The Book You Already Own

Here's a dialogue between Pratap and his Hindi teacher, Mr. Sarma.

For those of us following the story, this is the teacher he flew all the way to Delhi to visit. Because, y'know, there aren't any Hindi teachers anywhere else.

Is Pratap's teacher any good? Let's find out:

प्रताप: अध्यापक जी, याहा कितने विद्यार्था है?
सरमा जी: अभी चौदह है -- नौ लार्किया और पीएसी लार्के।
प्रताप: यह "टिक यौर्सेल्फ़ हिंदी" कैसी किताब है? क्या यह अच्छी है?
सरमा जी: ह, बुरी नही है। लेकिन सस्ती नही है, काफी महागी है।
प्रताप: क्या ये सब्द्कोस भी महज है?
सरमा जी: नही, बिल्कुल नही। बहुत सस्ते है।
प्रताप: और व मोती किताब क्या है? क्या व बी सब्द्कोस है?
सरमा जी: नही नही, व सब्द्कोस नही है, रामायण है!


Pratap: Teacher, how many students are here?
Sarma ji: There are fourteen now -- nine girls and five boys.
(Pratap's eyes light up; the odds are in his favor! Of course, he's going to pursue Sangeeta regardless, because she's the girl in the story who's been given a name.)
Pratap: What kind of book is this "Teach Yourself Hindi?" Is it good?
Sarma ji: Yes, it's not bad. But it's not cheap, it's quite expensive.
(Does this mean that Pratap has come this far without even purchasing his textbook? Does he know that he flew to India to study from a book that's available at any Borders or Barnes and Noble? Do the book's authors think that shamelessly advertising for a book that the reader presumably already owns is a good idea? And calling it "expensive?")
Pratap: Are these dictionaries also expensive?
Sarma ji: No, not quite. They're very cheap.
(Well, that's a relief.)
Pratap: And what's this fat book? Is it a dictionary also?
Sarma ji: No, no. It's not a dictionary, it's the Ramayan!
(And it's not fat, it's big-boned!)

This chapter's lesson seems to be about comparing things -- numbers and sizes and so on. The trick seems to be to get the vocabulary to stick in my head after I'm through reading it, though.

But you just wait until the next lesson... the one about the lovely Sangeeta. I've peeked ahead and -- well, to put it bluntly -- it sets feminism back. Way back.

For Love of Spinach (the Unnamed Dish)

Springtime... when a young girl's fancy turns to... vegetables.

Well -- *blushes* -- his name is Spinach, and he's full of iron, and according to Wikipedia also contains 450% of my daily Vitamin K. And he's totally hot.

All kidding aside, I have fallen in love with this vegetable. I can't get enough of it. I spent all weekend adding it to things: dal, rice, dal rice, lime pickle...

Though it seems that my favorite combination is the one I created myself, using spinach, chickpeas, tomatoes, and various spices (that would be mustard seed, oregano, garlic, and ground chilies, for those of you keeping track -- and today I threw in some asefoetida as well, for it's... um... digestive properties).

It's fascinating how vegetables taste when put together. And how I can almost feel all the vitamins and nutrients rushing into my bloodstream. ^__^

The other thing about spinach is that it seems to be the conduit for exuding smell. That is, when I eat a meal with a lot of spinach, I can smell all the spices and things hovering around my skin afterwards, but when I don't, then I don't. Strange. (Anyone else notice this?)

Perhaps it's all the Vitamin K.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

On Oleanna and Education

I saw a performance of Mamet's Oleanna today. If you are unfamiliar with the story, well... at its barest bones, it is this:

A female student (Carol) visits her male professor (John) in his office after receiving a poor grade on a paper. John attempts to engage Carol what he considers a "personal" level. Carol files a sexual harassment suit with the university. John calls Carol to his office again to try and explain that his actions were non-sexual. He ends the meeting by grabbing Carol's arm as she turns to leave his office, which prompts her to take her case to the state (as technically his action could be considered both assault and attempted rape). John calls Carol to his office a third time to beg her to stop the charges, as he has now lost his job and will soon lose his home and family. She refuses, and the play ends as John, enraged, breaks the rules he's thus far only been accused of breaking and attacks Carol, beating her to the ground.

Many people say this play is about sexual harassment. Depending on how a director chooses to stage the opening scene, John's actions could be interpreted as friendly or predatory, as the stage directions simply say "he puts his arm around her." Likewise, it's a fair consideration whether or not any touch between teacher and student is appropriate, and a case can be made for Carol's choice to interpret John's actions as harassment.

Not to mention that during the course of the meeting John tells a dirty joke, intimates that if Carol returns to his office for private tutoring she will get an A in his class, and states repeatedly "I like you." All which he states casually but which Carol chooses to interpret as sexual innuendo -- and with good reason. Many women have experienced that moment with a superior where their sexuality suddenly becomes the stated or implied focus of the conversation, and few are as courageous as Carol is to name it and report it.

On the other hand, people also have analyzed the play as an example of political correctness gone to extremes; of an innocent man taken down by a young woman who uses the only weapon she has to hurt him; of an educational system which bans touch, bans familiarity, bans all of the interpersonal communication professors like John deem necessary to connection and learning. It's also been read as a commentary on a legal system in which the accuser is always believed (remember the spate of false accusations of sexual abuse in the mid-1990s) and the accused loses job, money, and social standing regardless of whether or not the occurrence actually happened.

After watching it, though, I don't think the play is about sex. It's about education. It's Mamet's critique of the educational system.

Here's why. It has to do with Mamet's structure, something I missed in my readings of the play but which became abundantly clear when I heard it spoken aloud. The play is in sonata form (Mamet, like many playwrights, is a classically-trained musician). Exposition-development-recapitulation-coda.

The exposition is the first act; John and Carol's first meeting. The development is the second act, when the two of them argue over the themes of the first meeting, passing them back and forth and altering them just as a composer alters a melodic line. The recapitulation is the third act, but this time (like many sonatas) the key is switched -- lines spoken by John are now spoken by Carol, and vice versa. And the coda (or cadenza, if you'd prefer) is the beating at the end of the play.

What Mamet does in this play is take the traditional, accepted interaction between student and teacher and, through the use of recapitulation, flip it around.

He reveals that when a teacher tells a student she is wrong, or when a teacher takes individual sentences from an essay and says "these are bad," we believe him; although the student protests that her sentences are misunderstood or the class lecture was unclear -- but when the interaction is flipped; when a student tells a teacher he is wrong, or when a student takes individual sentences from a conversation and says "these are bad," we distrust her, accuse her, vilify her.

Yet what John does to Carol is exactly what Carol does to John: takes a sample out of context and assigns a grade to it. John fails Carol's paper; Carol fails John's professorship. Carol's choice of words (in class discussions, on the paper) will get her kicked out of school; John's words (in his office) will get him kicked out of his job. And both of them argue that it's unfair; that a sample so small should not determine the course of one's future.

We miss it because we are so focused on the sex story to understand what he's doing. But it's right there.

If you'll let me riff for a moment: let's break down the sonata form even further -- the first and third acts each begin with John/Carol postulating to each other about learning/morality, each telling the other what he/she "knows" to be the One Right Way.* Halfway through (that would be the modulation to the second theme, often in the dominant, usually opposite in dynamic and articulation to the first theme) a single statement is made.

Carol says "I just want to know about my grade."
John says "I just want to know about my job."

And then we are off into the B theme, in which John/Carol lectures Carol/John about the idiocy of focusing only on the grade/job, and their lack of understanding of the true issue at hand, which is that taking responsibility for one's education/actions is solely upon the individual, and the only reason that Carol/John isn't learning/treating women with respect is because Carol/John chooses not to do so...

In the words of Mr. Mamet: "Don't you see?"

*There's the "studying India" connection. ^__^

यह आसान है! (Unless, of course, this doesn't say what I think it says.)

Team DesiPundit is awesome -- thanks for linking!

And I can still read Devanagari -- it didn't slip out of my brain overnight.

Rock on!

(P.S. I emailed Garret Wilson about the amazingness of his teaching technique and got a very nice note of thanks in return. So... visit his site and say hello!)

What Really Happens on "Girls' Night"

A dear friend (and reader of this blog) came into town yesterday, as it was her university's turn to be on spring break. (And that's what people do when they're on break -- they come visit me.)

In addition to the usual 'round-the-town adventures (imagine a group of young, upwardly-mobile women driving home from a classy lunch when one of them -- me -- screams "LOOK! That sign says you can get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny for 47 cents!" and suddenly we turn the car around and all pile out), my friend asked me to cook for her, since she had been reading the accounts of my cooking experiments on the blog and said they always made her salivate.

I said that if we were going to take the time to cook Indian food, we had to watch a Bollywood film while we were at it.

She, never having experienced Bollywood, said "ooohhhh... sure!"

I made dal, and rice, and there was naan and lime pickle and the spinach-chickpea-tomato thing from the other day (which was still the hit of the evening), and we watched Bollywood.

Now here's the question. Which Bollywood film did I show my friends?

Here are a few clues.

1. Of course it's a SRK vehicle. (Although my friends did not find him attractive, and much preferred the other male lead.)
2. It's not one of the ones that is perpetually rented, as I had to snag it from Namaste Grocery at the last minute.
3. The friend who came in from out of town loved it (after the first dance number she said "this is the most AMAZING thing I've ever seen in a movie"), and we sat together on the couch and gripped each other's hands during all the melodramatic-emotional parts. Another friend got tired of it and kept asking "Isn't he _____ yet?" (I'd fill in the blank for you, but then it would be too obvious.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

OMGWTF Devanagari!

Now that I've got the cooking post out of the way... I have to tell you this. It is the most amazing thing ever. (No, really. EVER.)

So I've been sitting with my Devanagari flashcards and with internet-style Devanagari flashcards, turning them over, going "ummmm.... ya?" and turning them back only to find out it was actually pa (or, if I was really off my game, sa).

I was afraid I was going to have to write y'all and tell you that the Hindi project was given up; that I couldn't even learn the alphabet.

Then, as I was searching the internet for advice, I found this website.

It was created by Garret Wilson, who seems, as far as I can tell, to be a computer programmer. I need to write him. I need to find him and prostrate myself in front of him.

Because... Garret Wilson taught me Devanagari in one hour.

This is how he did it:

He introduced each letter individually as a phoneme, not a letter; and then --- OMGWTF I can't believe he did this -- went and put the letter in the middle of lines of English text! For example:

(Sorry about the superscript, btw -- I can't get it to come out any other way if I'm combining Devanagari/English in the same word.)

I could feel my synapses building. I don't know what kind of a learner I am, but it's this kind.

And so I raced through his exercises and took the tests at the end and passed them all and now I can read Devanagari.

And I've been checking in every hour or so and I can still read Devanagari.

And I went back to the examples in Teach Yourself Hindi and I could read that Devanagari too.

This is the most amazing thing ever.

(Now... only 20,000-odd vocabulary words to learn. ^__^)

Gingery Cauliflower Soup and... ?????

I recently had the chance to make Madhur Jaffrey's Gingery Cauliflower Soup (which she calls gobi ka soup -- strange that ginger gets mentioned in the English title but not in the Hindi one) from Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. (My dearly loved World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking is coming back to me in a few days, due to the quite obvious realization that there was no law preventing me from inter-library-loaning a book twice. Or, thinking towards the future, three or four times.)

As I do not have a blender, I wasn't able to quite execute the last step of the recipe, and using a hand masher helped to break up the chunks of potato and cauliflower but failed to turn it into the creamy puree it was originally intended to be.

However, it was still tasty, if a little heavy on the ginger (which was probably my fault and not Ms. Jaffrey's -- how much ginger powder is equivalent to "one-inch piece ginger, slivered" anyway?).

I still have plenty of the soup left, but since I had been eating it for the past two days, I thought "mmm... tonight, something different."

With no recipe jumping out at me, I grabbed a large pan and tossed in a little canola oil, a little mustard seed, a little oregano, a little garlic, some ground red pepper... and chickpeas, tomatoes, spinach, and paneer.

I watched delightedly as it simmered into a cornucopia of color. A little salt for taste, and then -- well, this dish was about the tastiest thing I had ever contrived to put together.

And so I'm turning this delicious combination of flavors over to you. But it needs a name. (Maybe it already has one and I don't know it.) I don't think I can call it something from Chrono Trigger this time.

So: be creative, Team Readers! Otherwise I'll have to name it myself, which will be less community-building-style fun...

On Language, Pitch, and "Ear Training"

When I was a young thing, playing Little Red Ridinghood in a community theatre production of Sondheim's Into the Woods, I had to make an entrance and start singing without any real setup or introduction. Thus, I had to know my starting pitch before I began.

The first few times were a little hairy.

"Is there nothing that can help me in the orchestra?" I asked.


Then I had an inspiration. "Play the pitch for me."

The note was played.

"Thanks; I've got it."

I had always thought until that day that "perfect" pitch was something one had or didn't have, like a photographic memory. But I was able to memorize that particular tone and carry it with me through the rest of the rehearsal and performance process.

Once I had the first tone solidified, it became a matter of intervals until I could pull "from the air" any note in the chromatic scale.

I don't claim now to have "perfect pitch," because when I hear a note I have to think about it for just a second (unlike my college roommate who could hear a tone cluster and instantly rattle off its individual components). But -- if you give me a minute -- I've got near-perfect accuracy.

Why am I telling y'all about this? Because I read this article in the NY Times yesterday detailing how music and "ear training" can help a person learn a language.

The article (by Eric Nagourney) explains that people who study music have an easier time coping with the pitch gradiations in spoken Chinese. Chinese, unlike English, uses pitch to delineate meaning. The same syllables spoken through different resonators (read: different parts of the mouth, though really the nasal cavity is involved as well) code as different words and are perceived as having different pitches.

Thus a person with a strong pitch sensitivity has a better time hearing the differences between similar-sounding words.

Here's my take on this: I've long thought that traditional, music-theory "ear training" courses should be required for all theatre students as they approach their study of dialect. Linklater training and IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) are fine and useful, but a person needs to understand both pitch and rhythm before they can master the "up-and-down flow" of a particular dialect. I've gotten through dialect scenes using pitch and rhythm alone.

More importantly, here's my take in regards to learning Hindi: finding the pitch of the language seems to be the easiest part. I can put my voice through the rise and fall. I can match Pratap and Kamala's pitches on the Teach Yourself Hindi CD -- and match them perfectly.

But what I've found (and what surprises me) is that pitch is separate from phoneme. I can wrap my tongue around any interval, but I can't replicate an unfamiliar vowel sound.

This seems unfair -- because what is a vowel but a pitch shaped by an aperture obstacle?

Which means I have to figure out how to make my aperture shape the obstacle. A different challenge than learning how to pull pitches out of the air, though -- theoretically -- it should be similar.

And when I figure it out, I should write Mr. Nagourney.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pretty Makeshift Capris!

Today is the first truly nice spring day.

Today is also, coincidentally, the first day of Spring.

I celebrated by turning up the bottoms of my blue jeans.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Zut Alors: The Trouble With University Education

I've become very interested in Abi's posts (at Nanopolitan) about the function of the university experience.

Particularly this post, which cites a Christopher Caldwell article positing that the purpose of a university education is not necessarily to deliver measurable learned output, but instead to mark students as "being capable of future learning" (i.e. in a company or other job).

Sure. Measuring learned output is tricky, and you'll never catch me supporting any form of governmentally-sanctioned standardized testing -- especially at the university level, as has been proposed.

But consider this: I had two years of French coursework at my (rural, underfunded, inefficient) high school and three years of French in undergrad. Both the high school and the university described, in their syllabi, that the purpose of these courses was to teach students "about French."

Not to actually teach the language -- to teach students about the language.

Neither high school nor university presumed that any actual French would be learned (read: mastered). Sure, we would be able to conjugate a few verbs and string together a few basic sentences, but that was not the point of the classes, although ostensibly they were French language courses. The idea, as stated on the syllabus and by the faculty, was that the coursework would expose students to the experience of learning another language; the experience of dipping into another culture. The classes themselves were simply necessities; mandates determined by some state authority as fundamental to a student's liberal education.

After five years, how much French did I retain; how much did I actually learn? Un peu. Perhaps less than that.

Thus I have to argue that the experience of "how to learn," or, as Caldwell states, the idea that an educational institution's primary goal is to prepare students for learning later on, seems circuitous and ineffectual.

I'd rather have left the classroom actually knowing how to speak French.

That, however, would have required a very different course and a different educational mindset. And, possibly, a greater potential for student "failure," as it is far easier to pass a course requiring one to "experience" something than it is to pass a course requiring one to master something.

So... thoughts on this? I suppose the other half of the argument is that had I really wanted to learn French (or anything else), I could have done so on my own regardless of any course... but I'm quite busy enough with Hindi now, thank you. ^__^

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Testing Blogger's Hindi Patch

क्या यह मूर्ति है?
यह मूर्ति नही है। पत्थर है।

If it's not a statue, but it is a stone, then I've figured out how to do this.

Is the Devanagari correct?

(Half) Step Up to the Plate, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Today was the first day in a long time when I was able to drive with the windows down. Just because the windows are down, of course, doesn't mean the music stops -- or that I stop singing. Which makes me one of those people, I know, but as I can carry a tune, it probably isn't that bad to get stuck next to me at a stoplight.

Anyway. So I was rocking out to "Maahive" (from Kal Ho Naa Ho), and in the middle of it I suddenly realized that there was no post-bridge leading tone modulation.

I stopped the stereo. (The people in the cars around me sighed with relief.)

In all the Bollywood songs I could think of, were there any leading tone modulations? In fact, were there any modulations at all?

For the uninitiated, here's what I'm talking about: the vast majority of musical theatre songs (and "top 40" songs as well) follow a standard formula: ABABC(A)B. Or: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, (optional verse), chorus.

In musical theatre, there is nearly always a phrase modulation after the bridge (or between the optional verse and the final chorus), which turns the tonic of the original key into the leading tone of the new key. In other words, everything shifts a half step up.

Top 40 used to do these modulations but they have fallen out of favor in the past few years, even in cases where their absence is glaringly noticed (Natasha Bedingfield, I'm talking to you).

Bollywood seems never to do this. And I'm fascinated to find out why.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blue's Back in the Kitchen

Today I was back in my own kitchen. Making karhi. And here's what I learned: never, ever, ever try to avoid vegetable oil messiness by electing to cover the bottom of the pan with PAM instead.

And most importantly, after doing so, never throw in a generous pinch of ground chilies.

Just don't. The results are indescribable. I'm going to be coughing up "ground chili essence" for a day or so.

Karhi turned out all right, though, so the experiment wasn't a complete failure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pretty Blue Diamond!

Some random musings from my D.C. trip:

The Hope Diamond is desi. Who knew? (Probably... um... lots of people. But not me.)

In the Chinese wing of the Freer Galleries, there were a handful of objects, including this incense burner, which were labeled as "essential to a Chinese scholar's study area." It made me wonder what will eventually be displayed and labeled "essential to an American scholar's study area" -- a computer, obviously, but what else? A mug full of pencils? A handful of candy wrappers? A Successory?

I spent an afternoon trying to seek out desi-related things at the Smithsonians, and what I found was a mixture of historicism and exoticism. The Sikh exhibit, for example, was tucked into the Natural History Museum between a bunch of stuffed jaguars killing stuffed gazelles and a room full of butterflies on straight pins, as if Sikhs belonged in the same category as "mysterious creatures of the savannah." In fact, perhaps to complement the stuffed jaguars and pinned butterflies, the exhibit featured life-size cardboard people, each labeled "this is a Sikh." Just like, I suppose, "this is a Tyrannosaurus Rex."

(On the other hand, there was a lot of interesting information, much of which I didn't know, as well as a button one could push to hear thirty seconds of bhangra. I'm always one for pushing buttons in museums.)

There was an Islamic art wing in the Freer museum which managed to completely avoid ever using the word "Muslim," and a Jain statue hiding at the very end of a collection of Hindu statuary which, on the label, described Jains as "austere ascetics." Partially accurate, perhaps, but it doesn't make Jains sound like anyone you'd want to meet -- or like real people, for that matter.

There was theoretically a collection of Indian miniatures on display somewhere, as well as an illustrated Ramayana, but I never found them, and the people at the Freer information desk had never heard of either collection.

I had a great time looking at all of the artwork and statuary and household objects, but it makes me wonder how much of what I'm reading about the displays is filtered, and what they're leaving out (or adding in), and why. It also makes me wonder where the art and artifacts came from, and how we obtained them. (Yes, I know, this is not an original thought by any means.)

And yet, if little white girls couldn't go to museums to see these things, how (besides going to India) would they ever come in contact with them?

And... double yet, what does it mean to put a statue of the goddess Saraswati on the same level as a giant diamond and Seinfeld's puffy shirt?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Eating in D.C.

I'm going to be traveling for the next week or so, and thus posts will be sporadic... but I'll come back, don't you worry.

Part of my travels will take me to Washington, D.C.. I don't know if any of you know the area, but if you do, well... I want to know where to find the good Indian restaurants. Bonus points if they're inexpensive. Double bonus points if they're serving things I won't find in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook.

Thanks! I'll think of you all tomorrow when I am on a plane trying to memorize Devanagari flashcards.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hindi Lesson 1: How Not to Talk to Your Host Family

Here's a dialogue between Pratap and Kamala. I'll start trying to type in Devanagari as soon as I get the patches set up on my laptop.

Pratap: Yah kamra bahut bara hai! Kya dusre kamre chote hai?
Kamala: Ji nahi. Sirf ek kamra chota hai, dusre bare hai.
Pratap: Kya yah bari almari khali hai?
Kamala: Ji ha, zarur, dono almariya khali hai.
Pratap: Dur yaha ek mez aur do kursiya hai. Kya pankha nahi hai?
Kamala: Pankha nahi hai, lekin khirki kafi bari hai.
Pratap: Bahut accha. Kamra saf aur bahut havadar hai.


Pratap: That room is very big! Are the other rooms small?
Kamala: No. Only one room is small, the others are big.
Pratap: That cupboard is empty?
Kamala: Yes, of course, both cupboards are empty.
Pratap: And here is one table and two chairs. There is no fan?
Kamala: There is no fan, but the window is quite big.
Pratap: Very good. The room is clean and very airy.

I understand that Pratap is a paying guest and he might want to make sure he's getting a good deal, but seriously. He's so astonished that an Indian family has big rooms and were able to give him two empty cupboards for his stuff? And he's already complaining about the fan? If I were Kamala, I would have said "Yeh deravaja bara hai. Namaste." (How does one say "get lost" in Hindi?)

Later in the chapter, we get this gem:

Pratap: Kya yah murti hai? (Is this a statue?)
Kamala: Yah murti nahi hai. Patthar hai. (It's not a statue. It's a stone.)

You just want Kamala to be muttering "idiot" under her breath.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Teach Yourself Hindi Stereotypes

Now that Nickel and Dimed has closed, I've got a few more hours every evening to devote to alternative pursuits.

So... I got myself a copy of Teach Yourself Hindi. (Best marketing scheme ever -- I googled "teach yourself Hindi" and there it was, a book with that very title. It's like it branded itself into my own precognition!)

Never mind that the Devanagari is already making my head spin (dear Teach Yourself people: why did you have to put this brand-new alphabet into 10-pt font??? GRRR!!!).

But, in case you're not familiar with this particular text, I thought I would share with you a passage from its introduction. To help us learn the language, we are given a series of dialogues which comprise "a soap opera based on the life of a Delhi family." I've deconstructed authors Rupert Snell and Simon Weightman's description of this family for your amusement. My comments are in italics.

Quoting Snell/Weightman: "Pratap (21) has come to India to study Hindi at a private college run by Sharma ji (apparently there is no one willing to teach Hindi in London). Pratap's divorced mother Anita (ooh! divorced!), living in London, has arranged for him to stay as a paying guest with the Kumars. The Kumar family consists of the strong-willed Kamala and her obedient husband Prakash (see! we're breaking stereotypes!), their daughter Sangeeta (19) (here comes the romance plot), sons Rishi (14) and Raj (12) and Prakash's elderly but spry mother (guess the stereotype-breaking only went so far), whom everybody addresses as Dadi ji ("Grandma"). Tensions between Kamala and Prakash are not helped by their shared concern about the future of Sangeeta: they would like to see her married, but she strongly cherishes her independence (yep, stereotype-breaking is officially over). Sweet-natured Dadi ji, meanwhile, has a calming effect on the whole family (gee, you think?).

"Prakash's younger brother, the aspiring author Arun, often stays wtih them (this reads like a mashup of two characters from Suitable Boy); he speaks a rather Sanskritized or formal Hindi (whereas his co-author Prem speaks a Hindi liberally sprinkled with English) (Hinglish rep... check). Suresh, a neighbour of the Kumars, is another frequent visitor; he is closer to Kamala than to Prakash (and they're totally boinking).

"Prakash works in a company recently taken over by Mr. Khanna, who has a rather pathetic office peon called Chotu (please let your readers make up their own minds about Chotu's patheticity, thank you). Khanna's younger sister Pinkie is a close friend of Sangeeta Kumar (ten bucks says she's comic relief -- can't have an Indian story without a quirky character named Pinkie, right?). Khanna's son Harish, like Pratap, admires Sangeeta from afar (yep, there's the romance plot); but Sangeeta's heart is engaged elsewhere (well, that's what happens when you admire women "from afar;" they tend to fall for guys who talk to them "in person")."

Stay tuned for further updates on the Kumar/Khanna story! Also for my confounded struggles with spelling and grammar. The first page of the text says "Devanagari is quite easy to learn." The next four pages, with their two hundred tiny characters, seem to prove that it is not. But I'm clever, and I have fortitude. Time to jump in and take the ride.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Vegetable Oil is the SUXXORS

I have been handling myself all right since the departure of World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking -- I've made a few recipes from memory and a few by feel, and of course my favorite shorvedar shaljam (which is actually in Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, which I own).

Of greater concern is this whole vegetable oil thing. I guess I always thought that oil was oil, and its job was to lubricate things (namely, the bottoms of frying pans). But my well-intentioned "moment of frugality" choice to purchase generic vegetable oil instead of olive oil has had strange and unforeseen consequences.

Everything I cook now tastes a little bit greasy, even when I halve the amount of oil required. In fact, when I opened my little container of cheese vali gobi (from Climbing the Mango Trees) this afternoon, I was greeted by a cheery red film of oil and tomato bits which had decided to rise to the top.

Obviously I need to go buy olive oil, and fast. But why should there be this much difference between the two oils? Is it a chemistry thing? Is it because the olive oil I had before was "pure" and the vegetable oil I've got now is probably chock-full of lab-created filler?

What's the cause, and what do I do with half a bottle of generic vegetable oil?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

I'll Never Let Go, Raj... I'll Never Let Go

1995 must have been a good year for film.

In the United States, it gave us Titanic, a film that...

No, wait. Damn you, Salon. I don't know what crack you were smoking, but a bit of fact-checking reveals that Titanic and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge were not, in fact, released at the same time. The former was released in 1997. The latter was released in 1995.

This changes the nature of this post considerably. I was going to write about the similarities between Titanic and DDLJ and propose theories as to what in both our national and international cultures prompted the creation of these two films, both the highest grossing ever of their respective countries, both in the same year.

Now I think the post may turn into "did Titanic steal from DDLJ, and, if so, what?"

A bit of backstory first. I saw Titanic in the theatre when I was sixteen (do the math and you'll know how old I am now). I only saw it twice. I wanted to see it three times (okay, I wanted to see it fifteen times) but couldn't find anyone to go with me after the first two showings. I had posters of Leonardo DiCaprio in my bedroom. I sat by the radio and hand-recorded all five versions of "My Heart Will Go On," including the techno dance-mix and the parody versions. I loved that film. At sixteen, I would have lived and died for that film.

I just saw DDLJ. Not because I'd been putting it off, but because it is never, ever in stock at Namaste Grocery. It is perpetually rented (along with K3G). Today, I got lucky.

The two films are remarkably similar. They both feature a young, plucky, "non-conventional beauty" (remember how Kate Winslet got slammed for her weight, and Kajol for her unibrow, while it was plainly obvious to anyone who watched either film that both women were just gorgeous) who is on the cusp of adulthood. Both are engaged to a man not of their choosing, but who will bring financial security to the family. (The man is also -- in both cases -- a real jerk, prone to violence and dirty tricks.) Both meet a strange young man while away from home on a trip.

In both cases, the young man and the young woman fail to hit it off at first meeting; this is nothing new, of course, in romantic films. Raj and Jack are initially attracted to Simran and Rose, but the women find the men crass and off-putting. However, both films offer each man an opportunity to rise to the occasion and prove himself a match -- in terms of social graces -- to the more "refined" female. In these two films, both of these opportunities appear at fancy dinner parties; Jack dons a tuxedo and holds his own among the nouveau riche, impressing Rose with his charm and quick wit, and Raj (again in formal wear) proves to Simran that he is in fact the talented pianist he claims to be. Thus the attraction begins.

The next twenty-five minutes are all about the young man breaking the young woman out of her comfort zone and teach her how to "live life to the fullest." "Make it count," says Jack Dawson, as he teaches Rose how to spit. "Small mistakes happen in big countries," says Raj Malhotra, as he teaches Simran how to hitchhike. And is the imagery of Jack and Rose "flying" at the prow of the Titanic all that different from the imagery of Raj and Simran flying down the road in a convertible? Both, at any rate, involve a lot of blowing hair.

The turning points of each film's "first act" -- the moment where Rose and Simran begin to warm up to Jack and Raj -- both involve alcohol and dancing. Jack takes Rose to a steerage dance party, where she shies away until she's consumed a tall glass of Guinness and then -- voila! -- is at the center of the dance floor. Raj leaves a bottle of cognac next to Simran so that she may keep warm as they spend the night together in the barn (another similarity; note that both women must remove themselves from their original "class standards" to truly open up); she drinks, starts dancing on a haybale, and we are swept off into a Bollywood musical number.

After this, of course, it's true love all the way.

There is, perhaps, no DDLJ equivalent to Titanic's famous nude sketching scene (though, to be fair, DDLJ started out the film with a near-naked Kajol), and although DDLJ was filmed during Bollywood's "no sex" period, I would argue that the fishing scene at least makes itlook like they're having sex. (If anyone has a link to a pic or clip, please let me know and I'll post it.)

The third act of each film is slightly different, if only because Raj and Simran are not trapped on a sinking ship. There is also, of course, no "Heart of the Ocean" diamond to provide an (unnecessary) subplot. And yet the similarities tick and tick again: Rose refuses the lifeboat from Cal, but takes it from Jack; Simran refuses Karva Chauth food and drink from Ajit, but accepts it from Raj (in both cases only accepting the means necessary to survive from the man they love). There's the "lacing up" scene with Rose and her mother, and the "windowseat" scene with Simran and hers ("do what's best for the family, honey, and forget about love" -- although I would argue that DDLJ's version is much more nuanced and memorable). Cal and Ajit both call in their henchmen to kick the shit out of Jack and Raj.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Jack dies (did I give away the ending to anybody?) and that Simran and Raj live happily ever after. I suppose one couldn't make a film called Titanic without having one of the lovers die (or a film called "The Big-Hearted Lover Gets the Bride" without having the lover get the bride).

Are these similarities coincidental (that is, if I ran the comparison between DDLJ and, say, When Harry Met Sally would I find most of the same stuff) or is this unique to these two particular films? Does it have anything to do with their theoretically "similar" release dates? What does it mean for multiculturalism if a quintessential Indian and a quintessential American film share, essentially, the same story and imagery? Did James Cameron watch DDLJ while making Titanic?

What do you all think?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

How did Lucy Maud manage it?

There is a piece of peanut stuck underneath the "m" key of my laptop. I cannot get it out. It makes typing words that begin with an m (such as mouse-trap, moon, memory, and muchness -- sorry, did I just mix literary references there?) somewhat difficult. I have to hit the key two or three times to get it to send.

So... I've tried the "holding the computer upside down and shaking it like Etch-a-Sketch" trick, and I've tried the "banging on the back of the computer" trick, and now I'm looking for ideas.

What should I do?

Snowed in (or: Pretty Leather Mules!)

As you can probably guess (by the fact that I'm writing this and not schmoozing with Joseph Roach* and his friends) I did not make it to MATC. Over 400 flights to Minneapolis were canceled yesterday.

On the plus side, I got to see my show again and I got to see my parents, who drove in to a matinee performance. (I also got to go shopping with my mother and she bought me a pair of pretty leather mules! I seem to have acquired a collection of backless shoes as of late... odd, because they're kind of useless in the face of continual snow. Does that stop me from wearing them, or from wearing sturdy shoes in to campus and then changing in my office? Absolutely not.)

My advisers were in to see the play this afternoon, which always makes life a little squirmy because I want to sit right next to them and say things like "I know that light cue came up a beat late! The stage manager usually does it perfectly! I really didn't direct it like that!"

I'll write a longer post soon, but I wanted to stop in and say hi. So... hi!

* Just so you know -- I don't actually know Mr. Roach. Or his friends. But he's the person theatre grad students are supposed to watch out for at these conferences, on the off chance that they might end up next to him in an elevator or something and be able to share a few seconds of his time.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Desperately Seeking Cookbook

The excitement of opening a show and pretending to be famous for a few days aside, today marks a piece of sadness in my life... the day the non-renewable, inter-library-loan, out-of-friggin'-print copy of Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking had to go back to the library.

Yes, I own two other Jaffrey cookbooks. But none I liked so much as this one. (Okay, I actually really, really like Climbing the Mango Trees, so maybe it isn't a fair statement. But I'm being maudlin, so I can elegize a little.)

*commences being distraught*

I'm going to get my own copy as soon as I can, but in the meanwhile, how will I remember how to make saag and/or mattar paneer?


Oh, wait. The internet has six kajillion recipes available.

*considers, decides it will be more fun to play distraught for a while*

But how will I know if they are any good?????

Two Audiences

Sorry I haven't yet posted; I've been pretty busy running the press junket of sorts; my university has a television station, a radio station, and a handful of student newspapers and I have been running around, being interviewed at all of them...

For the local NPR affiliate, I got asked the following question:

"What do you think is the ultimate purpose of theatre?"

That was, of course, an awfully heady question to be asked on the morning after an opening night, where I may or may not have spent the evening at an opening-night party and may or may not have been drinking pink-flavored liquor and playing X-Box... so I paused, assembled some kind of coherent statement about how the wonderful thing about theatre is that it can have many purposes, and draw a different audience for each purpose and each play, and waited for the next question, which was:

"But do you think the purpose of theatre is to educate, or to entertain?"

Oh, my.

"Well," I replied, trying not to laugh, "that question's been around at least since Aristotle asked it, and so I'm not sure I'll be able to give a summative answer on such short notice!" And then back to the statement that there are many kinds of theatre, etc.

It was a very strange interview. The student journalist seemed to be trying to get me to say that theatre was useless, or at least outdated, which of course I was refusing to say. But I got thrown questions like "what is the point of a political play if audiences remain passive after watching it," and "do you think theatre is still effective when more people get both their information about social issues and their entertainment from places like YouTube?" Truth be told, I'm not sure the theatre we're doing right now is particularly effective, and certainly YouTube and the like are much better at fulfilling theatre's original function -- a sort of combination town crier/storyteller/entertainer/pundit.

And yet Rose still took the time to vacuum our playing space for us because she believed so much in the play we were doing, and two nights ago we had our special "industry night" in which we invited the university's entire maintenance/civil service staff, and filled the space with people who may never have seen a play before and certainly not a play about the working class, and who left the play saying things like "I was so glad to see our daily life -- our world, our concerns -- on stage."

That was our first audience. Our second audience, on last night's official opening, was largely made up of university students, most of them friends of someone in the performing ensemble. They were louder, laughed harder, and seemed to have a really good time. But -- as the NPR journalist asked -- "will this play change people's lives?" (Dear lord, save me from these hard-hitting journalistic platitudes.) This play probably won't make that particular audience "think" any differently, even if plays should -- this group sees about fifty plays a year, and last night was just another night in the theatre, just as it might have been another night at the movies or another episode of Lost.

What is the purpose of theatre? Don't ask me that now, not during a time in my life when I am re-evaluating the purposes of everything (yes, there's nothing like trying to understand another culture for casting difficult aspersions upon, say, ingrained stereotypes and assumptions).

And why do I think that I'd rather fill the theatre with people like Rose and Dan than with my opening-night audience, the theatre dorks and aficionados who are in fact the only group of people still keeping theatre alive in America?

Enough of that. I've got another interview to give this evening (the fifth in three days), and then tomorrow I get on a plane to present a paper at the Mid-America Theatre Conference. I can only hope I won't be swarmed by paparazzi when I arrive. ^__^