Thursday, June 28, 2007

8 Bits of Brown!

This will be another one of my long posts, but it was so much fun to write that I just couldn't stop. ^__^

Little Brown Squares:
India As Represented in Early Video Game Culture
A Semi-Scholarly Paper
(No Bibliography)

By Blue

Let's start with the big one -- probably the worst thing Nintendo's done to "promote" India. To explain it requires a confession. Before I started planning my trip (nearly a year ago at this point), I didn't know much about Indian culture or history. I thought Nehru was a collar and Punjab was Daddy Warbucks' assistant. (If you want to know why so many people pronounce it "Poon-jab," blame John Huston. Or Albert Finney. Take your pick.)

But worst of all, I thought that rupees were a made-up currency used only in Hyrule.

Most video games call their money something generic, like "gold," "gil," or "GP." But the people who made The Legend of Zelda called it rupees. One has to wonder whether the good Japanese designers were aware of the existing currency, and whether it was meant as a homage... or whether they just liked the sound of the word.

The second worst thing? Turning Shiva into a hot chick with giant boobs.

See the animation here. That's one sexy, sexy avatar.

Many early video games were based upon a similar theme: one character has to go to many different lands to find XYZ (a crystal, a princess, a bunch of orbs). That was the extent of the storytelling -- beat a level, and someone would say "well, guess the thing's not here after all," and then the character would have to go somewhere else, conveniently filled with enemies which were harder to kill.

Some games, like Super Mario Brothers, just went ahead and called them Fire World and Water World and Pipe World (yes, I know, the drug imagery in that game is rampant). But several other games took the extra step and named each of the worlds after exotic, far-away locations. Ice World became Russia, Sand World became Egypt, and India? Obviously, sexy-sexy India was Fire World.

In Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon Another Story, for example, each character has to travel to a different country to look for a crystal. (They're always looking for crystals in these games.) Rei, the "hot" Sailor Scout, goes to India, where she learns the magical spell Burning Mandala. I have searched the web for a screenshot, but in vain (and yes, Shripriya, I tried Yahoo). Instead, I give you this description, from the RPG Classics Official Walkthrough:

Now at Kritayuga, Head north until you enter the building. Walk up all of the stairs and save once you see the Luna-P ball. If you are not at at least around Level 16, gain a few levels while you are in this building and then save once you are confident. To face Nergal, go up one more floor and talk to her. In an attempt to save Faregg, you will now face Nergal.
Yes, you read that correctly. Rei gets sent to Kritayuga. And Nergal, of course, is a giant snake-monster. Faregg is a generic brown-looking sprite with a turban. (Edit: Animated visuals can be found here. Brown sprite fun!)

When you go to India in video games, you always seem to fight guys in turbans. Go to 8 Eyes, play the India level (you can choose the level on the title screen), and see for yourself. The desis in 8 Eyes are wearing the classic turban-lungi combination. Oddly, when they die, they turn into very Christian-looking white crosses which float up and off of the screen. I guess all the desis in this game got converted by missionaries.

For another variation on the turban-lungi look, try Mendel's Palace.

From the other side of the pond (American game companies as opposed to Japanese) we get Disney's The Jungle Book, featuring a Mowgli who is not exactly brown but more of a sickly yellow color (wheatish moldy?).

But, perhaps to make up for it all, there's this guy. Watch the intro, and he'll appear. Brown skin, thick black hair, general Hrithik Roshan appearance... and he learns magic by jogging! (And Daniel, since his name's Jake, he's probably a Hinjew. ^__^ Everybody wins!)

The end, for now. Feel free to leave other examples in the comments!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

All Your Games Are Belong To Me

This is part two in what will be a three-part series -- then I promise I'll stop blogging about video games.

But... I love my games. And I thought that today I would amuse you by listing all of the video games I have beaten.

That's different, of course, from "all the video games I've played." That list would be about three times as long. These are the games I have played through to the very end; the final boss; the last level.

I'm not putting links to all of these games, because that would be much-much-much too time-consuming. If you are curious, y'all can google them for yourselves.

Games I have beaten completely:

Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
Chrono Trigger (and yes, I beat it eleven times to get the eleven different endings)
Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon RPG: Another Story
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Curse of Monkey Island
Escape from Monkey Island
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Bubble Bobble
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Games I essentially beat (that is, beat all the levels but gave up without collecting all the 100+ stars or eggs or wizard cards that open up the SECRET SPECIAL WHATEVER):
Mario 64
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Yoshi's Tetris

Games I came darn close to beating, but quit because there was too much fracking level-building:
Final Fantasy V
Secret of Mana
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Now let's take a minute to ponder this. A video game takes, on average, between 20 and 50 hours to complete. I have 26 titles listed above. If we use the mean time (35 hours), it means that I have spent approximately... 910 hours of my life beating video games.

Oh, wait, that's not that bad after all! That only comes to about 38 days. A little more than a month. Maybe two months total, if one counts all the games I dabbled in but never tried to beat.

And considering that I've been alive for 307 months total (math nerds, you now have enough information to figure out my astrological sign and my Chinese zodiac year), the two months I've spent playing video games seem but a small fraction.

Now I feel like I haven't played enough. ^__^

The third part in the series will be the most interesting one: Visions of India As Depicted by 8 Bits of Nintendo-Style Graphic. You just wait.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Before video games were all about wrecking cars and killing prostitutes; before they were giant advertisements for the War-In-Iraq; before they ever featured someone ripping out another person's spine... they were about little square-shaped men jumping down pipes and eating mushrooms.

And little blob-shaped things blowing bubbles.

And little square-shaped things with swords collecting Orbs.

On this site, you can play them all (for free, legally, without downloads -- it's a real-time Java setup). All the Nintendo games you can remember, plus all the ones you never heard of (Alfred Chicken? Baby Boomer? The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?)

Make sure to play Barbie, a "girl"-themed game in which our eponymous heroine has to avoid getting hit by tennis balls. Poor Barbie.

Or Family Feud, if you can remember what the survey would have said... in 1990.

Or Orb 3D, because IT'S IN 3D!!!

(Have you figured out yet that you can click on the links to go straight to the games?)

My favorite new discovery is Flipull - An Exciting Cube Game. (Mom, you will become addicted to this one.) Although the title seems to beg for irony, it really is a rather exciting -- or at least captivating -- cube game.

Anyway. I'd write more, but... would rather play magic box of games. Come join me!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Health Care Fun, or: Maybe I Should Take My Chances With The Mosquitoes

Here's an outline of the trail of calls I've been making today, trying to get the last of my immunizations in order. Everything is taken care of except the malaria tablets, which I've held off until now because the student health service told me they should be taken four weeks before departure.

1st call: my university's student health service.

"Hi, I'd like to get a prescription for malaria tablets!"

"Are you taking summer classes?"

"No, but I've paid for summer health insurance."

"Well, I'm sorry, but our facilities are only available to students taking summer classes."

(Trying not to sound irritated:) "Then where can I go with my insurance policy?"

I get a phone number of a local health department. A phone tree takes me to the immunizations wing. It takes almost four hours to get a live person on the phone (the phone tree dumps me into an answering machine; I leave my name and number, and call back every hour thereafter as there is no response... on the fifth try I get a human).

"Hello, foreign immunizations, how may I help you?"

"I'd like to get a prescription for malaria tablets, please!"

"Do you have a written prescription from a physician?"

"No -- may I make an appointment with one?"

"I'm sorry; we don't have any physicians on staff."

You don't have any physicians on staff? At the Local County Health Department? Don't even the smallest of rural clinics have physicians?

"Okay, where can I call to set up an appointment with a physician?"

And then I get this speech about how it's going to be difficult, because most hospitals in the area don't even stock malaria tablets, because who goes to India these days? (My guess is at least some of the 800 desis who attended the Bollywood concert make a trip, now and again, but refrained from saying it aloud.) But she puts me on hold for a while and then tells me that she's got the name of a pharmacy that currently has malaria tablets in stock, and that I should call them and have them refer me to a physician.

I call the number.

"Hello, student health service pharmacy!"

Well, this isn't going to do me any good.

But the guy on the other end of the phone is more than helpful. From him I learn the following:

1. Yes, they have malaria tablets in stock.
2. No, I can't get a student health services physician to write a prescription for me... because I'm not taking summer classes. (At this point I'm considering enrolling.)
3. He would be able to fill the prescription for me if I got a physician at another hospital or clinic to write it.
4. This would not be covered by my insurance.
5. Neither would the physician's visit.

Okay... and matching his polite cheerfulness (while resisting asking him why the university insists I purchase their insurance to remain enrolled if I cannot actually access said benefits, much less the student health service itself), I ask him if he can refer me to a physician.

He can't. He mentions the County Health Department. I explain that I called them and they have nobody on staff able to write a presciption. He suggests the health department in the next county over.

At this point, it is too late in the day to call (the place closes at 4:30 in the afternoon), but I will continue these adventures tomorrow.

There is a hospital, of course, where I live, and I'm sure it must have physicians -- I wonder what would happen if I called over there?

Or I could forego the entire thing and trust that since I'm already immunized against Hep A, B, typhoid, and polio, maybe I'll get lucky with the malaria. ^__^ After all, as I learned today, India has no actual immunization requirements.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pongal (and grapes)

So I made the pongal recipe from Mahanandi (by way of DesiPundit).

I crossed my fingers and hoped that the instruction to grind peppercorns, cumin, and cloves together would result in something a little like garam masala, because I don't have a grinder (but I do have garam masala). ^__^

It was probably this alteration that made my pongal turn out a little brownish-gray (Indira's is nice and fluffy white). See below.

(Daniel, I know I shouldn't have chosen a purple plate, but I didn't plan on adding grapes until I had already spooned out the pongal!)

It was fluffy, as per Indira's description, and tasty, but it doesn't look a thing like hers. Hmmm.

And... yes, there's paneer in it. I wanted to use it before it went bad, and I thought "why not?"

What should I do differently next time? Buy a grinder? ^__^

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New Header Fun!

You should recognize the illustration I've photoshopped myself into, although it's a little blurry. I'm wearing the second salwar I ordered from ebay (for $0.01 plus shipping). It was described as having a "flared khameez;" when I put it on, the skirt stuck out so much it looked like a little blue dress... thus the inspiration for the photo above.

If anything else, it's appropriate. ^__^

Oh, and I need some kind of tagline to stick under the title; the right half of the header looks a little bare. I'll begin to puzzle on it; but if you have a suggestion, let me know!

And From The Other End Of The Pool...

I am obliged to feature the people who would rather not pay a naming consultant, but instead choose to give their children a "made-up" name... or, equally frequently, an appropriated one. These are the people, of course, who brought us Neveah (now the 70th most popular girls' name in the country).

Team Desi beware... these people have found the name Kali and think it is "a simple name to show you think your child is a goddess!" On the plus side, someone wrote in to say that a baby named Kavindra would undoubtedly grow up to be "super-fly."

Just click here.

(Editor's Note: She is debating whether or not the inclusion of this link, or the resultant contempt implied, is inappropriate due to what appears to be class-based stratifying. After all, why is "Leah" different from "Neveah?" Both are simply phonemes, air pressed through obstacles; and in terms of spoken sound they're much the same. Regardless, the most telling thing about this particular link -- and what makes it depressing in addition to rather hilarious -- is the logic involved in these parents' name choices. Which is, coincidentally enough, remarkably similar to the logic presented by the wealthy, consultant-hiring parents.

Culturally, it seems, naming is no longer a link to the past; it's a necessary way to push your baby into the future. Because both sets of parents know their children have to grow up to be super-fly.)

Buying Branded Babies

I'll try to keep this short because my goodness! I've been long-winded of late.

From the Wall Street Journal (by way of Salon), an article describing the latest trend among upwardly-mobile parents: hiring a professional baby namer.

These people seem to cost between $50 and $400, depending on whether you want them to just give you a few ideas or whether you want the whole numerology, astrology, history-of-the-name, etc. business.

Why are parents doing this? Because they understand that they're going to send their kids out into an extremely tight job market (not to mention the college admissions market, and perhaps even the preschool admissions market), and they want to confer the best advantages possible.

With a spooky sense of recognition that there are going to be a lot of people out there with the same talents and abilities as their (yet unborn) child, they're hoping, quite simply, to garner even the smallest edge by choosing a name that sticks in a future employer's head.

For $475, one family got the name Leah Marie McCombie; for $350, another got Natalie Dziello; for $50, Ava Mistretta; for $25, Max Phillip Kessler.

How much did Pran and Savita pay the astrologer who named their baby Uma?

Related story: Nanopolitan's Your Name On Google.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Battery-Charging Not Included

After I posted about my laptop battery not recharging, my father went to talk to the IT people at his place of employment to ask whether the Geeks at Best Buy had the right idea.

His IT people told him that the problem was probably not in my power cord; in fact, if my power cord had enough juice to allow me to run the laptop, it ought to have enough juice to charge the battery. (This is what I told the Geek; S. can verify. I'm not a CS person, but I do have a fair command of logic.)

The IT people said that the problem was probably in the computer's motherboard, which would cost more to replace than the laptop itself.

Hmmm. Before I start proposing solutions (and before I turn to the "IT back office for the world" for advice), I want to take a brief moment to comment on batteries.

Not a single piece of electronic equipment I own can hold a charge. My cellphone must be fully recharged after every two phone calls. I have worn out *two* cellphone rechargers in two years from recharging my phone so often. Perhaps I should get a new phone -- but getting a new recharger and carrying it with me in my purse is so much cheaper.

Not to mention that the problem is nowhere near isolated. I received a digital camera for a Christmas present in 2004. My parents included a battery charger as well.

The batteries that came with the phone lasted for about two months (or 50-odd pictures) before needing to be recharged. So I popped them into the charger. Immediately their working capacity was more than halved. For a while I could get about ten shots off of the camera before the batteries died; now it's fewer than five. Because the recharger is cumbersome, I don't often bother taking the camera outside of the apartment, and so (except for my food pictures) it's rather like not having a camera at all.

And the battery on my laptop (or the motherboard -- a more unnerving thought) stopped recharging one year after I purchased the laptop. (Right after the warranty expired, of course. ^__^) My laptop became a desktop for over a year until I finally had enough disposable cash to purchase the new battery (cash that seems, at this point, wasted).

For a while I floated around the theory that the problem had something to do with me -- not that I was abusing my electronics (because I don't! honest!) but that I was somehow absorbing the battery power of everything around me. Like, you know, one of those Indigo Kids. ("My giant intelligence attracts all the batteries around me and uses them to power my brain!")

But the other thing I use every day that requires a battery (which shall remain nameless, for knock-on-wood purposes) has never experienced such failure. Which renders the "I'm magic" theory moot.

Now that I've finished my rant, I have two questions:

1. What do y'all think? Is it the motherboard after all?

2. If "everything is cheaper in India," should I buy my next laptop there?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Third Dinner Post Today!

A (lost) Zen koan:

If the dinner can be eaten without utensils, what is set in place of the fork?

Dinner With (Bad) Dad Part II: Blue's Story

After reading Dinner with Dad, I sat for a moment and tried to remember what eating dinner was like with my family.

We ate dinner together nearly every night until my sister and I were in high school and started having other obligations; after that it was more of catch-as-catch-can, though we still sat down every night we could and even when we ate at different times there was always something cooked.

I don't believe that my parents ever cooked separate meals for my sister and me. We ate what they ate.

I'm sure I threw a few temper tantrums over food, but at what age did they stop? And how did my parents get me to stop them?

I do remember "you have to eat X number of bites before you can decide to stop" sorts of things. I don't remember yelling.

(I also remember the one day my sister refused flat-out to eat some homemade split-pea soup because she said there were worms in it, and how my parents told her to stop making up stories because it wasn't going to get her out of eating the soup... and of course, then we all found out she was right and there were worms in the split peas. ^__^)

So... since my mother is one of this blog's most devoted readers... Mom, please leave a comment and let us all know how you did it. ^__^

Dinner With (Bad) Dad

Now that S. has taught me how to use Borders like my own personal library, well... okay, I went last night and I read all of Cameron Stracher's Dinner With Dad.

(I couldn't help it, it was right there when I walked in the door, and it had gotten so much press in the NYT...)

The premise: Stratcher, a high-powered lawyer AND professor, spends most of his time on the road and sees his family for about eight hours a week. He decides to change that by promising that he will be home at least five nights per week for dinner and cook at least half of those dinners by himself. For a year.

(Book deal to follow.)

While I appreciated Stratcher's goal, I was very disillusioned by the portrayal of family life he lovingly detailed in his book. Well, not so lovingly, because he spends half his time furious with his children (Simon, age 12, and Lulu, age 6) and their behavior. He spends about the other half of his time trying to figure out why his wife resents him. And he spends approximately 120 nights in the kitchen.

Cameron and his wife Catherine come off as rather inept parents; the sort who solve problems by yelling impotently at their children and might, in a few months, be begging for the help of a SuperNanny. (Except, of course, that they're in the wrong economic class; the people featured on SuperNanny are usually lower-middle to "white trash" and the Stratchers have enough assets to bypass the television offer and hire their own British nanny themselves.)

The children are pulled at the dual poles of overwork and overindulgence; they attend high-pressure schools, have a myriad of extracurriculars (when Cameron spends one afternoon driving his children back and forth after school, he logs five hours in the car), and -- most importantly for the book -- have never been taught to eat what's in front of them. Catherine has been preparing separate meals for the children since their Gerber days, and thus both Simon and Lulu exist on high-end Kraft dinner.

And when Dad puts down a homecooked meal, they throw tantrums. Both of them; Lulu with the kicking and the screaming (she's six -- isn't that a little old for the behavior?), and Simon with the adolescent "you're ruining my life" crap.

Sure, Cameron might be bulking up the conflict for the sake of his book, but... it's rooted in truth. As is the extraordinary tension between Cameron and Catherine (she's also an academic, though perhaps part-time, as she does all the stay-at-home parenting before and after school). The first day Cameron comes home to cook, Catherine tells him to get out of the house, as she needs it (all of it?) to get her academic work done.

The atmosphere is one of extreme selfishness all around. Halfway through the book Cameron quits his lawyer job because he is discovering the joys of being with his family (despite the fact that over half of the dinners he describes seem to end with Lulu screaming "I don't like artichokes!" and Cameron screaming back "you have to eat them!"). Soon he discovers that his academic's salary won't cover the family's NYC suburb expenses (gee, he could have done the math before... thank goodness he had that book deal waiting in the wings).

It would seem that frugality would be the order of the day, but Cameron heads in the other direction, purchasing fancy Williams-Sonoma cookware to further his project, as well as new gadgets for his kids because he believes that they will need to be up on their computer/iPod/Playstation skills in order to make it in the rat race working world.

(Note to Mr. Stratcher: Wanna know how to help your kid make it in the working world? Don't name her "Lulu.")

Anyway. Long story short, the book paints a pretty picture of a self-absorbed, entitled family who all scream at each other when they don't get exactly what they want. Oh, and they eat dinner together.

And the fracking book's a bestseller.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shorty #3: Upma

It's an upma!

Shorty #2: Time

S. left some of his books behind at my apartment after his last visit; I've been curling up with them (in absence of curling up with him, obviously).

And thus it was that I read A Sideways Look at Time, by Jay Griffiths.

S. told me it was pretty repetitive, and it was; certainly the perpetual thesis can be summed up as "we are overworked, and it's the fault of the person who first decided to create hours and minutes."

However, it makes an interesting comment about male time vs. female time and male work vs. female work. In short ('cause I'm keepin' it short, y'all): male time is linear while female time is cyclic, and male work progresses towards a destination while female work is comprised of repetitive tasks (cooking, cleaning, washing, etc.).

Griffiths goes on to say that when women find themselves in male working environments (i.e. offices), working under male time, their psyches suffer; however, it is patently and overwhelmingly clear that most office work is as cyclic as laundry. The work I do gets done and redone every day; I know exactly how my day will unfold before I arrive, and (unlike cooking) there's no possibility for variation. Thus Griffiths' argument that women become depressed doing office work because it is linear and not cyclic holds no water.

Coincidentally, nearly all of my current colleagues are women. All of us, repetitively drudging in cubes to "free" us from the repetitive drudgery of housework.

Griffiths, why did you never comment on this?

Shorty #1: Hair

Quoth Daniel, upon reading my last post, "wow, that was long!"

Okay, fine. ^__^ Today you get three shorties.

There are certain pieces of art that demarcate a "before and after;" there was a moment, after all, before I heard Bernstein's Candide or saw Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood or opened the Mahabharata.

And there was a time before I ever heard the soundtrack to Hair.

(Ennis, don't laugh!)

I may be the only person of my generation currently rocking out to the 1960s American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, but it's so intricate and tricksy and travels just along the edge of harmonic predictability.

Here's a clip of that old favorite "Age of Aquarius." Note how the composer creates tension by combining a syncopated bass line against a rapid, arrythmic electric guitar against an almost-behind-the-beat hi-hat. (It's a little fuzzy in the clip and sounds much better on my own sound system.)

Also yay Twyla Tharp.

It also occurs to me that I am, at the moment, surrounded by members of the Age of Aquarius. (No, not you guys... the people in the cubes next to me.) And I wonder, just a bit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rereading Ms. Burnett: A Little Princess

I had occasion, this past week, to reread Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess.

This book was my favorite book for years and years, due no doubt to my perceived similarities between myself and Sara Crewe, the story's heroine. Sara is brilliantly intelligent and loves reading books more than anything else, but unlike other brainy heroines like Jo March, Sara is no tomboy and in fact enjoys "being a girl" (dressing up, playing with dolls, all those frilly things).

Add to that the fact that Sara is trapped in an educational environment which is Not Tapping Her Potential (and later on becomes trapped in a similar working environment), and she became the perfect character for the young Blue's literary transference.

But that's not the subject of today's analysis. I was curious, upon rereading, to determine whether or not Ms. Burnett's books could be considered racist. And (I'll jump to my conclusion right now, before laying out the argument) it seems to me that the books are not deliberately (though perhaps unconsciously) racist, but are instead extremely classist (which can read, if you like, as a form of racism).

Both Sara and her literary sister Mary Lennox (of Burnett's The Secret Garden) were born in India. Both were the daughters of British officers, and both lived their early lives in extreme luxury (before being shipped to Britain and developing their character by surviving harder times).

In one of the early chapters of The Secret Garden, Mary's chambermaid Martha expresses surprise that Mary is not brown, because Martha thought that all people from India were brown (why Martha is unaware of the giant British presence in India is not explained), and Mary launches into a diatribe about how insulted she is to be presumed thus:

You thought I was a native! You dared! You don't know anything about natives! They are not people -- they are servants who must salaam to you.
Despite the acidity of this statement, it does not, in my opinion, make TSG a racist book. It makes Mary a racist character, but that is part of the point; she spends the text growing outside of herself and eventually learns compassion and empathy for those around her.

But ALP is a bit more tricky. Sara has compassion and empathy from the beginning of the text; there is no problem there. In fact, Sara can be read as a gigantic signifier for Desis Are People Too. Sara speaks Hindi and is aware of Indian customs as well as Hinduism, making her able to communicate with her neighbor Ram Dass in a way that helps quell his homesickness for India.

And yet there are a few burbles in this relationship; Sara understands that Dass is not a "heathen" (as other characters presume him to be), and yet she calls a statue of Buddha an "idol;" and of course everyone in the novel refers to Dass as an "oriental." Interestingly, the omniscient narrator does not, a subtlety indicating either the characters' narrow-mindedness or the simple fact that "oriental" was the term du jour. (The narrator does use "native," which can be taken as an attempt at political correctness e.g. "Native Americans," or, unfortunately, a different form of racism e.g. "going native.")

But except for the "idol" slip, Sara treats everyone around her with respect and kindness, whether they be teacher or classmate or scullery maid or lascar. And in terms of India, she is the very model of (moderate) cultural relativism.

And yet a strange thing happens in the last third of the book, when Sara, who is forced to spend two years as a domestic servant after her father's death leaves her penniless (thus building her character), begins to regain her former status. She reveals a behavior that is not overtly racist (for she never implies that Ram Dass is inferior because he is desi) but extremely classist.

When Ram Dass sneaks into Sara's attic bedroom and changes her meager servant's possessions for a panoply of Indian-themed furnishings, Sara responds by giving her servant's possessions to Becky, the scullery maid who has become her closest friend.

This has always troubled me, a little; when Sara and Becky sit down for their first meal in the transformed attic bedroom, Sara uses the provided teacup and Becky drinks from "the mug on the washstand." Even as a child I thought "well, if it had been me, I would have given Becky the teacup and had the old mug for myself," perhaps because it had been drilled to me that one always gives the best to a guest, particularly if the guest is a friend.

Sara does not suffer from a lack of thoughtfulness or consideration; in an earlier chapter she (though faint from hunger) gives her food to a beggar child whom she recognizes as hungrier than she. Instead what she reveals is an assumption that people originally of a certain class should receive certain things, while people of a different class should receive others.

When Sara gets new blankets, for example, Becky inherits her old ragged ones; and yet neither Sara nor Ram Dass think to give Becky a new blanket as well.

"Wait," you might say, "but the presents Ram Dass brought were for Sara and not Becky, and they were given because Sara could speak Hindi and treated Ram Dass as an equal. Sara was not obligated to immediately turn over her new gifts to her friend."

Of course not; but note the end of the book. Sara is adopted by the wealthy Mr. Carrisford, and she treats her friends thusly: Ermengarde and Lottie, who belong to the upper class, are invited to study and play with her; while Becky, the scullery maid, is invited to become Sara's "personal attendant." Sara never considers that Becky could also use the opportunity to learn or play, or that Mr. Carrisford could easily adopt Becky as well as herself. Becky, in turn, relishes her new assignment because Sara generously allows her all the food she could possibly want.

And Ram Dass? He does what a good desi should; drops his former friendship and instead waits upon Sara and calls her "Missee Sahib." And Sara complacently accepts this.

So. What to make of this? I've been puzzling on it all day, trying to figure out why Burnett wrote her ending as she did. It is clear that Sara's two-year sojourn to the poor London underclass is not intended to make her "aware of those who are less fortunate than she" (the way Mary Lennox in TSG becomes aware of Dickon's family's poverty and begins to contribute to their welfare). Sara begins the book aware of the network of lower-class servants supporting her excess; during the first third of the book (before she loses her fortune) she creates a secret arrangement so that Becky (whom she recognizes as "a little girl just like herself") can have time to rest and eat and listen to stories.

The thesis of the book seems to be in the following conversation between Sara and the evil headmistress Miss Minchin:
"I suppose," -- to Sara -- "that you feel now that you are a princess again."


"I -- tried not to be anything else," she answered in a low voice -- "even when I was coldest and hungriest -- I tried not to be."
This implies, more than anything, an awareness not that people are inherently equal, but that upper-class individuals can maintain their status even when their situations no longer match their birthrights. Soon after Sara loses her fortune she wonders when she will lose her identity and begin to act like Becky; to "forget and drop my h's and not remember that Henry the Eighth had six wives." She spends the remainder of the novel working to counteract this feared decline, and thus comes the kindness, the generosity, and the "royal" politeness. (Sara notes that the kinder she is to the cook, the more inclined the cook is to scold and punish; no wonder, as Sara's mannerisms must have appeared incredibly patronizing.)

And Becky and Ram Dass remain where they are because that was where they began and that is where they are destined to remain, although Sara states outwardly that they are People Just Like Herself. (People who should be given good food and a warm place to sleep, but whose function in life is to support others.)

For those who have read the book: is this a fair analysis of the text? Does the language Burnett uses make the text racist in addition to classist? When you read it, how did you interpret Sara's actions?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Musings on a Weekend Visit

A comment, during the first hour of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue: "Um... not much is happening in this film, is it?"


A shopping story. Without divulging any more than is necessary, remember that I am a fairly petite person who is small but by no means skinny (that honor is reserved for my sister, built straight up and down like a model).

Which means that in most generic department stores I am a size 6, and in the juniors section (where I still occasionally hunt, although less and less often) a definite 8. "Juniors," after all, are not supposed to have hips.

Anyway. At Ann Taylor (where S. took me, or -- more accurately -- I took him, since we quickly tired of exploring ill-fitting options at Target), I am a size 2.

No, not even that. A 2 petite.

I would say "be jealous" but I am myself appalled. (How would my sister, who is a department store size 0, manage? Does Ann Taylor make negative sizes, or would a person so slight slip through the cracks, um... literally?)

It also occurs to me that fudging the sizes requires the customer to spend more time in the store and carry more items into the dressing room, increasing the possibility of multiple purchases. Great. Because there's nothing quite as exciting as being manipulated.


A comment, in the middle of the film: "This concerto is awfully depressing-sounding for a celebration of the unification of Europe." (Not to mention that it doesn't seem to actually be a concerto at all, as there is no featured solo instrument.)


The whole reason we were out shopping in the first place was because we had learned that the battery I had recently purchased for my laptop (to replace the battery that appeared to be dead, as it no longer charged) was not charging. So we went down to the local strip mall to talk to the Geeks at Best Buy. Our Geek said he didn't really know what the problem was but his best guess was that it was the power cord that had worn out, not the battery.

Cost of a new power cord? $125. For a cord. Positive wire, negative wire, ground wire twisted together and wrapped in heat-resistant plastic. Plus the special little dooby shaped in only a particular way which guaranteed it would fit in only one particular kind of laptop.

Looks like I'll be buying mine on Ebay.


A comment, in the middle of the film: "But none of these plotlines are going anywhere!"


S. also taught me the luxury of browsing in bookstores; that is to say, taking a book (or several), retiring to a cushy armchair, and remaining there until the book is finished. Which was a very nice thing to do on a hot day when one no longer has access to her university library due to a series of bureaucratic idiocies (as with my university health insurance, one is instantly dropped from the rolls as soon as one is no longer attending class; thus persons wishing either health insurance or library privileges during the summer must jump through a series of hoops and cut a small check).

And I taught him the luxury of "going into a store just to play the sample X-Boxes and Playstation 3s." We almost bought a Wii. The only reason we didn't is because we couldn't find any Wiis available (plenty of Wiimotes and Wiipacks, but no actual Wiis). Ah, wiiell.

A question, posed after we both woke up to find the credits of Blue scrolling across my laptop/DVD player: "Are we anti-intellectuals after all, if we fell asleep during a Kieslowski film?"

Pretty Spinach Dish!

S. often teases me about the lack of edible food in my refrigerator (to which I perpetually refer him to the abundance of pulses and grains in my "Indian food cupboard").

He's also been eating rather poorly as of late, due mostly to an erratic work schedule.

So -- to prepare for his arrival and for the afternoon he would spend telecommuting in my apartment while I temped in someone else's cube -- I cooked up a very nutritious, tonic-like mixture of spinach and tomatoes and chickpeas and cheese, which I first invented in March.

Below is the picture. Doesn't it look delightful?

(Editor's note: S. never did eat it. He worked so hard that he forgot about lunch, poor thing. Then we went out to dinner and had tapas. The spinach dish was put into Tupperwares and is now serving as quite excellent cubefood.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Kindred Spirit (or, Canada Is Always Best At Everything, Isn't It)

I realized recently that I had never finished reading L. M. Montgomery's journals, and since I now have much more time for reading than I could ever hope, I've managed to make a great deal of headway into them.

Reading these journals is absolutely fascinating. Where to begin?

Let's start with the language itself. Ms. Montgomery is remarkably articulate, as would be expected. However, she considers her education to be extraordinarily poor. She went to a one-room rural schoolhouse which changed teachers every six months or so (Montgomery's critiques of these various teachers are fairly scathing; however, I remember writing the same sorts of things myself, in my own high school diaries). From her own accounts she believes herself to have had a spotty, inferior education; and yet her use of language is phenomenally above any student in any modern high school I have ever had opportunity to encounter.

"Well, fine," you might say, "but Ms. Montgomery was smarter than the average bear." In return, I give you this love letter, written by a fourteen-year-old suitor, which Montgomery pasted into her diary:

Well, Polly [Montgomery's nickname], it must be done. I had at first intended to write quite a lengthy epistle, setting forth my poor opinion of myself, my very inferior personal endowments, my happiness, or rather ecstasy if your note proved favorable to my wishes etc. etc. etc. But I have altered my paln of arrangement and resolved to give you hard, dry, plain facts, for they may possibly appear as such to you, but they are nevertheless as true as gospel. Here goes: Of all my fenimine friends the one whom I most admire -- no, I'm growing reckless -- the one whom I love (if the authorities allow that word to come under the school boy's vocabulary) is L. M. Montgomery, the girl I shook hands with, the girl after my own heart.

Yes, Polly, it is true. I always liked you better than any other girl and it has kept on increasing until it has obtained "prodigious" proportions. Oh, wouldn't I like to see you reading this. But I must conclude or you will say it is very lengthy after all. Remember I am waiting for you to fulfill your part of the transaction with ever-increasing impatience.

From Nate.
Name one fourteen-year-old you know who can write like that. I know this blog has readers from several countries, so I expect a full survey of responses. Anyone?

Reading about Montgomery's adolescence and adulthood also gives me the strange ticklish sensation that in the "idyllic" days of the 1890s, even people in what Montgomery describes as a "backwards Island town" were... um... cleverer than we. In nearly every entry Montgomery describes attending some town event or another; lectures, poetry recitals, debates. She gives an analysis of a town debate about whether Napoleon or Wellington was the better general; 100 years later, I don't even know who Wellington is and I'd doubt anyone in my "backwards Midwestern town" could create any kind of debate on this particular topic.

It is also very interesting to watch how Montgomery changes after she leaves her small island town to attend college in Halifax. She writes about how wonderful it is for her to get a formal education; and yet as soon as she immerses herself in this formality, her own ideas and musings diminish and eventually disappear. Her journals are no longer philosophical and imaginative and instead serve as a collection of classes attended and meals eaten. This may be a byproduct of Montgomery's growing up (as adolescence seems to prompt flights of fancy) but it also seems directly related to her new ambition to memorize correct answers for the big-city (and therefore authoritative) university. After she leaves university, she slowly begins to regain her own voice. Thank goodness.

Finally (as I don't want this post to get too lengthy; if you want to know more you'll have to read the journals yourself), I was astonished to discover that like her literary alter ego Emily, Montgomery received, on average, four marriage proposals per year. And she was a woman who was clearly outperforming (in terms of both ability and ambition) all of the men around her. Clearly they did not fear strong women like their contemporaries do.

So in 1890s Canada, even backwoods students could communicate complex ideas with articulate and correct grammar, small towns were full of intellectual debate, and high-performing women were beleagured with suitors.

Plenty of people talk about wanting to move to Canada now. I would like to move to Canada then.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blogging MouseRaj Continues!

So now we've learned that MouseRaj's first project will be an animated feature titled Roadside Romeo, starring the voice talent of Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan.

(I could make some kind of crack right now along the lines of "Kareena has a voice???" but I won't.)

Right now they're planning to market primarily in India, but Disney would like to take the film to a world audience. Um... yeah. Because children everywhere love reading subtitles. Are Kareena and Saif planning to do an English-language track? Or is MouseRaj going to recast with Lindsay Lohan and Justin Timberlake?

(And BTW -- be careful when distributing in Canada; in parts of Toronto, "roadside" is urban slang for "promiscuous.")

The film is about a lost dog. It's also been reported to include "Bollywood-style dance numbers."

So it'll be one dog in the front, with two blonde dogs on either side, backed by about five rows of dogs, all dancing. The real question is whether they will dance on four legs, or whether MouseRaj will anthropomorphize them and have them dance on two legs, doing the patented BollywoodBhangra arm movements with their front paws.

And if they are anthropomorphized and dancing on two legs, will these dogs be wearing clothing? And if not, will their genitalia just kind of be glossed over? Will the blonde dogs have feminine curves? Will they be the kind of anthromorphized animals with long, human hair (and the two ears poking out)? And in that case, will there be dogs with moustaches?

Will the sexual metaphors be canine-related? That is, instead of two flowers blooming, will we see... um... rain falling on a fire hydrant? Or better yet -- someone unscrewing the fire hydrant and water shooting out?

Will the dogs pee on the tree after they dance around it?

MouseRaj's second project is an animated version of Dhoom 3 featuring SRK. Before I get all "Dhoom is now for children???" I want to ask this: if we're capitalizing on Bollywood stars' voices, why is no one tapping Mr. Bachchan, the only Bollywood star actually known for his voice? Or... did they ask and he refused?

The article notes that Disney has already made an animated Ramayana. (Yeah, I went WTF and where can I get a copy???!!!, just like y'all did.) However, I did the research and found out that they're actually referring to a film made by Nippon Animation (the distribution rights are handled by Disney).

This film's title? Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama.

It is now on my list of goals to make an animated film titled New Testament: The Legend of Prince Jesus.

Anyone know how to draw?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Head of the Class

So Ruby Payne and the NYT have just informed me that "upper-class people don't eat casseroles."

(Technically, it's rich people don't eat casseroles, but since Payne's lecture/book combines class and wealth, one can make the assumption that upper-class people don't, either.)

Well! Guess I have no class.

Of more interest is her analysis of humor:

Humor in poverty? About people and sex. In the middle class? About situations. In wealth? About social faux pas.

Okay. What if you're like me (and perhaps like a lot of y'all as well) and find the most humor in well-played wordplay (and occasionally, numberplay)?

What class does that belong to? The faux-intelligentsia? The real intelligentsia? The nerds? And does this particular humor cross economic lines?

More Musings on MouseRaj

(I hope I am the first person to call it MouseRaj. ^__^)

The first Indian Disney Princess will be named Maya. I'd lay money on this. Possibly Lila, but more likely Maya.

Someone will have to explain to the Disney execs why creating a cartoon Ganesh to serve as Princess Maya's sidekick... is a really bad idea. ("But think of the marketing possibilities! He's cute and cuddly, and we can sell his mouse separately!")

And continuing the Disneyfied conversation between Arjuna and Karna:

Karna: Oh, no! I can't remember my mantra!

Arjuna: It's okay, Karna. Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, I made a mistake when I refused to fight you that day in the palace. I should have known that a prince isn't defined by where he is born or raised, but by what's in his heart.

Cue Alan Menken song: Our Hearts Make Us Brothers or some crap like that. With tabla.

Have I crossed the line? ^__^

Monday, June 11, 2007

One makes films where no one ever dies (except Bambi's mom), and the other makes films where no one ever has sex...

So Disney's teamed up with Yash Raj, eh?

And they're going to make Bollywood-inspired animated Disney-style films?

Get ready for a version of the Mahabharata where Arjuna and Karna become friends at the end. ^__^

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ten Year Bookiversary

I just realized, the other night, that it has been ten years since I started writing my (unpublished, full-length) novel -- and eight years since I finished it.

Technically the bookiversiary, then, should be in 2009; but who knows where we, and the internet, and blogging, and all of that will be in two years.

So I'm going to celebrate my fifteen-year-old "starting the novel" self (as opposed to my seventeen-year-old "finishing it" self) today.

And, out of either pride or malice, I am going to post a sample of this book, titled The Red Book of Cordia. Started ten years ago this summer.

What was inside my fifteen-year-old mind?

Tiva Shirala stepped out of the door and closed it silently behind her, wrapping a torn brown shawl around her slender arms. She looked up at the sky -- blue -- and sniffed, wiping her nose with the corner of the brown shawl. She did not own a handkerchief. Tiva was one of the first ones up this morning in Wrylan Dos, and she walked briskly and sharply to the railer tracks, climbing into the waiting cart. Staring at the sky wouldn't make the work get done any faster.

Not that it mattered, thought Tiva, how fast or how slow you worked; there were always more jobs to do until the day was done, so you might as well take the time you could, if you were that kind of a person. Tiva was not that kind of a person. She pumped the little railer treadle with a firm, steady pace, and flipped the lever as she came to the crossing tracks just as she had flipped the lever every morning for almost a year.

But she was lucky; railer-riding was one of the easier jobs, considering all the work that needed to be done to keep Wrylan Dos up and running. She had been surprised that Jen had let her take the duty, when it was offered; but for some reason Jen Lindell liked her. And, Tiva reflected, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

All right. I cheated and found a passage I still liked. To make up for it, here's a passage that makes me cringe, a bit:

Coco backed away, crawling backwards on her hands. Lex Ravian??!!! All the stories that Coco had been told about the man came rushing back to her memory. Lex Ravian killed men, destroyed buildings, and did unspeakable things to women... If this was really Lex Ravian, then she would do very well if she pretended to be tough and fearless. Coco didn't realize that she looked very un-fearless crawling backwards away from a campfire.

"I've heard of you," Coco gasped out, trying to keep her voice as steady and tough as possible.

Lex laughed. "You've heard of me? I've heard of me, too. In fact, if I think of all the things that I've heard about me, I get scared."

Coco's eyes were wide with terror, but she did not move. Her long strange day had numbed her mind slightly, and she was exhausted. So she sat still, watching Lex cook the meat over the fire. Lex switched back and forth from watching the meat to watching Coco. Their eyes met often, causing Lex to grin and Coco to shiver. Coco hated the expression in Lex's dark black eyes. She hated the way he was looking at her; staring at her, practically. She glanced up at the jewel-starred sky and wondered if Lex was going to do unspeakable things to her.

If only my parents had shelled out $10,000 for a college admissions coach who would have tried to increase my chances of acceptance at Harvard by marketing my book to Alloy Entertainment (on the stipulation that I rewrite it to include more girl power). I wouldn't have screwed it up.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Dash of Ash's Cookbook: Tomato Chutney

Until last year, I always thought chutney was a white thing. I mean, we ate it at Thanksgiving, which is when white people gather to eat the whitest possible foods (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy...).

But, as I learned when I started reading Madhur Jaffrey, chutney comes from India, and the cranberry-jello salad we ate at Thanksgiving was about as far from real chutney as can be imagined. Perhaps it should start going by another name.

I'd made one chutney before, but since it was on the same day that I first tasted lime pickle I think I've forgotten most of what it was like.

So when I saw Ash's recipe for tomato chutney on her blog A Dash of Ash, I decided I wanted to try again.

I had all of the ingredients except the cranberries and the serrano peppers... cranberries were easily found, but I still have no good idea what a serrano pepper actually is (and couldn't find any at Namaste Grocery), so I used the ground red pepper I had sitting in my cupboard instead.

In exchange for the major linklove, I'm going to take the liberty of asking Ash directly: Is this close to what yours looked like? ^__^

And here's the picture-on-a-plate, although it doesn't look very appealing next to leftover bean and cornbread casserole. And, sadly, they didn't really complement each other as well as I hoped. Should have gone for upma; that would have been a nice dish to try with the chutney.

It occurs to me that since Ash took her recipe from another blog (Bong Mom's Cookbook) and changed one of the ingredients (omitting the khajur, because she didn't have any), and since I took the recipe from Ash's blog and changed one of the ingredients (red pepper for serrano), we've begun a meme of sorts.

I challenge someone reading this blog to make the tomato chutney, change one ingredient, and post about it.

This could get interesting. Imagine what dish we might create after four or five iterations?

Cary Tennis Gets it Right

We were in a theatre class my junior year of undergrad. We had just finished reading August Wilson's Fences (lovely play). The professor steered the topic towards why the character of Troy "doesn't change," despite the events he lives through.

And then she asked "what do you think makes people change?"

Students threw out a few obvious answers; growing up, being involved in a political shift or upheaval; taking on a new career, etc.

My answer, however, was this: "I think that people only change -- only really change -- when they work to try to understand another person. And the most common way people do this is by loving someone else, so perhaps people only truly change through love."

My answer was summarily dismissed.

Well. Four years later, Salon columnist Cary Tennis writes a brilliant essay with a similar theme. This essay is in response to a poor Stanford undergrad who wants to know how he can bring "the spark" back into the relationship with his girlfriend... of fifteen months.

I'm taking the liberty of reprinting the entire response.

Dear Stanford Undergrad,

Thank you for adding the word "dormcest" to my vocabulary.

So how do I want to help you? I want to help you by reminding you that while Stanford is expanding your sense of unlimited horizons in personal achievement, personal relationships are a different matter. She is one course you are never going to ace no matter how much you study.

If you initially felt a profound, ecstatic love and desire that left you speechless and seemed to connect you with the very gossamer sinews of the universal cradle of consciousness, good man. You're probably doing it right. But it comes and goes, the majesty of entwinement.

Call me a mystic or a cynic, but this is what I recommend: Proceed in this relationship admitting that you know virtually nothing. Go forth wanting nothing but the naked truth of you and her, not to be a hero of right conduct and high ideals, not to be the perfect Stanford couple, none of that high-minded stuff. I say focus on the nitty-gritty, intractable mystery of individual lives and how they imperfectly intersect at best. Accept the ups and downs. Query yourself deeply: Are you being authentic or are you trying to show off?

Your relationship is not the stage where you display your triumph. It is instead the forest where you lose yourself in order to find yourself.

So let me tell you what I hope for you, apart from my hope that you get the relationship as right as you can get it, and don't sweat the small ups and downs, which come with the territory. Let me tell you what I hope. I hope that the awakening of your ideals and cultural power bestowed upon you by Stanford will be accompanied by an awakening of deep humility before the problems and challenges of American democracy. That is what I hope. And that is why I say that she is a course you are never going to ace. Because she is, by proxy, the real world you face, untamable and largely unknowable.

I speak to you now in your capacity as a future member of America's elite, for America's elite needs now to turn away from dreams of empire, to turn away from dreams of personal excellence, which have become synonymous with dreams of empire, to turn away from dreams of self-perfection, which have become synonymous with the will to power and a master civilization, to turn away from our own perfect reflection and see instead how much damage our self-absorption is doing in the world, and not just physical damage but moral and intellectual damage too, as lies infect our promise.

If you study economics or politics or science you will see how difficult it is to change institutions and nations, and I hope you will realize that one reason it is so hard to change institutions and nations is that individual humans are unimaginably complex, subtle and, at root, unknowable.

It is the mistaken belief that people can be knowable and thus malleable that lies at the heart of America's most wrongheaded and tragic behavior in the world.

What I mean is, you cannot even know what's going on in your own girlfriend's head. Consider what that means about the world you are soon to join.

I sense that you have high ideals, but I honestly think at this point in our history we need something like sobriety and realistic expectations, something like humility, to counter our tragic hubris.

So think of your girlfriend as the world. Consider yourself a guest there. Meditate on how unknowable it is.

Yes. Exactly.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why can't it be Bollywood cover band concert EVERY weekend?

A. R. Rahman is playing in Chicago tomorrow night. (Given SepiaMutiny's propensity for noting... well, just about every desi-related thing that happens anywhere ^__^, I'm surprised they haven't posted about it. But on the other hand, none of that crowd seems to like the Bollywood very much. Though they do like the cricket.)

I would pass bricks to see this concert, but I did the math and figured out that it would cost about as much money to go as I earn in an entire week of temping. And I'm not quite that profligate.

(I feel rather like I did in undergrad, when Mandy Patinkin was giving a concert only an hour's drive away and I begged and begged everyone I knew who had a car to take me... I told them I would pay for their tickets and gas... and all they said was "Mandy who?")

However, if I'll miss Mr. Rahman I have seen what is perhaps the next best thing. Last weekend I went to a concert by a local Bollywood cover band made up entirely of members of the IT department at one of my city's major businesses.

If I gave the name of the band, you would know where I lived and how to get there, as their title coincidentally covers both pieces of information. So... I won't.

The concert took place at our local symphony hall. It was packed to the brim -- over 800 tickets sold. Lots and lots of saris, and lots and lots and lots of children.

The band was very talented, which didn't surprise me (particularly when I read the bios in the program, which all went along the lines of "such-and-such studied music for 17+ years until he moved to America and started working in the IT department of Big Company"). Their "costumes" left a little bit to be desired; the women all glittered in saris and salwar, but the men all wore the same rumpled polos and chinos that they must have worn earlier that day in the office. Come on, boys. Step up.

The funniest moment, though, happened at the beginning of the program, during the first number (a "original" rock version of Vande Mataram which sounded nothing like this rock version of Vande Mataram -- does it have an official tune, or are there a few variations?).


The band begins to play. The curtain rises. The entire stage space is filled with fog. We're talking up to the flyspace. Possibly 10,000 cubic feet of fog.

Everyone (including the audience) is singing Vande Mataram. The fog begins to spill out of the stage over the audience. In unison, all the fire alarms in the building go off.

Nobody moves. Everybody keeps singing. The entire hall is filled with the fire alarms and the icky-sweet smell of stage fog and the subwoofers.

I asked S., later, why in this crowd of 800, nobody seemed concerned about the fire alarms? This was his explanation:

The first thing desis do when they get to America is disconnect the fire alarms in their kitchen, because otherwise the alarm would go off every time they cook. They're used to American fire alarms not meaning actual fires.

Makes sense to me. ^__^

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I LOVE Thomas Hardy, So Don't Knock Him, Joe Queenan!

There's an article in the NYT complaining about teachers assigning summer reading lists. The article makes one very good point, and then one very bad one.

Author Joe Queenan notes that in order to get students "hooked on reading," teachers have begun including pop-lit choices among the usual assortment of "classics," which he believes is a bad idea:

While minor books can ultimately lure readers to the mountaintops, so-so or crummy books — well represented on many of the lists I have seen — only lure readers to more so-so or crummy books. There is a direct line from “Slaughterhouse-Five” to “War and Peace,” from “The Red Pony” to “The Red and the Black.” But Dean Koontz leads no farther than James Patterson. “Sister Carrie” paves the way for “Anna Karenina”; “Carrie” paves the way for “Cujo.”
But then he ruins his own premise by deciding to re-read the book from his own summer reading list, long, long ago: Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native. Queenan describes hating slugging through the book on those long, pre-global-warming golden days of summer, but recognizes it as a classic and wants to give it another shot.

He gets as far as page 6, and cites the following sentence as an example of why the book is so boring that reading it would "wreck the summer of '07:"

“To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.”

I loved The Return of the Native. And I love Hardy's complex sentence, leading one through and around until the reader, like the narrator, feels the adrift mind detach from the harassment of day-to-day life and soar in the midst of his red-soiled fields.

Anyone else agree? What's the verdict: is Hardy fascinating or boring?

Another Recipe for White-Girl Food

Unlike the last recipe for "white-girl cuisine" I wrote out for y'all, this one I'm actually quite fond of, and would be tickled pink if any of my readers tried to replicate it.

It's a cornbread-and-bean casserole, which is an excellent example of white-people food because the recipe, instead of being handed down for generations like Madhur Jaffrey's alan ka saag, came from the back of a can of baked beans. (Cultural note: most white-people cuisine either comes from the frozen foods section of the supermarket or from recipes on the tops or bottoms of cans. Case in point: the very famous green-bean-and-onion thing, which came from the back of a can of Campbells soup and -- when I was growing up -- was eaten exclusively on holidays. ^__^)

I added my own improvements.

Whatcha do: get yourself a large can of baked beans (the vegetarian kind, if you're so inclined), and whatever vegetables you particularly like. I chose tomatoes and my favorite veggie, spinach. You could add onions, corn, peppers, etc. as well.

My mother used to add ground beef as well, although that would probably make the dish inedible for a good half of my readers. (Daniel, without the beef this should be kosher, yes?)

Anyway. Mix together the beany-vegetable goodness and spread it out over the bottom of a cake pan or baking dish (no need to grease; there's enough juice from the beans that nothing should stick).

Then get yourself a box of Jiffy (or generic) cornbread mix and add the eggs and water. Spread the cornbread mixture over the beany-vegetable mixture.

Cook at 475 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Then -- the best part -- pull out the baking tin and spread a layer of grated cheddar cheese over everything. Replace and cook for five minutes more, until there's a really nice crust.

It's rather like lasagna, if one replaces the beef with beans, the pasta with cornbread, and the ricotta cheese with cheddar. ^__^

Here's a picture, along with the very, very white "pre-bagged lettuce salad with ranch dressing." Because, y'know, ranches actually taste like that.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Book meme! Book meme!

I got tagged by Niranjana at Brown Paper to participate in the following meme:

Grab the book that is nearest to you (no cheating), turn to page 161,
post the text of the fifth full sentence on the page, post the rules and tag three people.
Well, if you've been paying attention, you should have a pretty good guess of which book is closest to me right now.

That's right, it's In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje's prequel to The English Patient. Which I should have read first, but I didn't know it existed at the time.

(Random question -- for those of you who've read Ondaatje, how many read before English Patient before Skin of a Lion? My guess is that most people read English Patient first.)

Anyway. And on page 161, fifth sentence down...

Oh, blast. There aren't any sentences on page 161. It's the beginning of a new section of the book: a blank page with a single word, "Remorse."

Well, that's no fun. Niranjana had a similar problem. I'll follow her precedent and choose the book that is next closest to me.

That would be everyone's favorite cookbook/memoir, Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I've posted about this book before.

Page 161, fifth sentence...

My admiration for her knew no bounds.

I agree. My admiration for Ms. Jaffrey (and her delicious recipes) knows no bounds. ^__^

Now I will tag...

Sashi at Buoyantville,
Abi at Nanopolitan (Abi, do you do memes? If you don't want to sully your blog, please tell me what you're reading in the comments, because I'm curious. ^__^),
and Gaurav's new friend.

Bitterlemons, I don't believe you have a blog but I think you should play too. Just drop it in the comments. ^__^

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Blue Sends Linklove

I haven't been commenting much on other people's blogs lately, but I have been reading them. I do read nearly everything that passes through my Google Reader, so I just wanted you all to know that I have learned, in the past few days, about StumbleUpon; superstar JEE test-takers getting endorsement packages; other Bollyfans who love SRK as much as I do (and who have the pictures to prove it!); why a certain person hasn't been writing for a while; whether or not men are interested in "inner" or "outer" beauty; and, if they are interested, how they blow it by saying stupid things on dates.

I've also had the opportunity to google Reddy Rao. I didn't know who he was before, or that the name even existed, and I really wanted to get this joke. ^__^

Evil Will Always Triumph Because Good Is Dumb

Bonus points if you recognize the above quote. ^__^

Unfortunately, it is sad but true. Sadder even because I like to think that I'm a somewhat intelligent person, and I almost got lured into doing something very, very stupid.

As you may or may not remember, my roommate moved out due to unexpected circumstances, which left me scrambling to find someone to fill the apartment. I posted on the usual suspects: craigslist,, etc.

About a week into the search, I got what looked like a promising response. A young woman named Lizzy Knith sent me an email, describing her interest in video games and her plan to study fashion design in the US in the fall.

Only one part of the email seemed a little off. I'm a British, wrote Lizzy. A British? Perhaps it was some bit of Brit-slang I had not heard of, perhaps akin to the recent trend of lolcat-speak. I can has roommate?

Lizzy and I began a correspondence. It seemed like a good match; her interests were nearly identical to mine. She was chatty and personable and we soon agreed that she could move into the apartment on June 10.

Then Lizzy told me that she was going to ship a few things from London to my apartment before she actually flew in; her furniture, her sewing machine ("which I just can't live without!"), and the car her parents had given her in honor of her trip to America.

When I mentioned this to S., he said "but a British car won't work here."

I agreed that was rather strange, and I debated for a while about how to word the email back to Lizzy. Surely I would insult her intelligence by implying that she was unaware that in Britain, they drove on the opposite side of the road.

She wrote back: "Oh, no, it's all right. We had the steering column transferred to the other side of the car."

The things technology can do these days!

And then I got the most recent email: Lizzy wanted me to know that her first month's rent and security deposit, as well as the money to pay the movers bringing the furniture, was on its way. Her uncle, who was sponsoring her trip, was sending the payment to me by money order.

Where does said uncle live? In Benin.

And where is Benin? (Daniel, I know you know. ^__^)

Benin is in Nigeria.

This is the new version of the "Nigerian Scam." Unlike the poorly-punctuated emails of yore, urging "Kind Sir or Madam" to send money to a poor displaced businessman, the scammers have figured out how to spell and how to sound reasonably articulate. They can also hold up their end of a conversation.

The game, this time, is to lure people (mostly students) into accepting money orders from young, perky potential roommates. After the victim deposits the money order, the scam artist will write back saying that the roommate can no longer take the room (usually there's a mysterious illness, or a family tragedy). The victim is then asked to send the sum back to the scam artist. The artist collects the sum, and the victim collects nothing, particularly after the bank discovers that the original money order was counterfeit.

I went back and ran Lizzy's first email through a search engine. Sure enough, it appeared in near identical text on a scam warning site, although "Lizzy" was now "John" and the oddly-phrased "I'm a British" became "I'm a Canadian."

I feel so, so stupid. Obviously as soon as I got the message about the Nigerian money order I knew, but I spent two weeks (and two weeks I could have been looking for a *real* roommate) corresponding with someone who didn't even exist.


I've cut off the correspondence, of course, but I wonder if the money order had already been sent, and if it will ever turn up in my mailbox. I'd rather it didn't.

Anyway, that's that. If you're looking for a roommate in the near future, don't get tricked like I did.

Oh, and btw... you can't actually do that thing with a car that "Lizzy" told me was done to hers. Just so you know. ^__^

Monday, June 4, 2007

Where Is Blue From, Part II: The People In My Neighborhood

The last poem has inspired me to tell you a story. Or, perhaps, the story inspired the poem. Either way. ^__^

Last night, at around 11:30 p.m, when I was just about tucking myself into bed, I heard this strange screaming-squealing noise. At first I thought it was one of the small children who live in the apartment next to mine (the one whose parents use the two-foot alley between our buildings as their own private dump, and who throw items into the alley via their ground-floor windows).

But it didn't go away, and it sounded like it was coming from inside the apartment. So I went to investigate.

A gray cat with white feet had somehow managed to get into my heating system, and had found its way to one of the vents. The poor thing (damned determined was what it was) was repeatedly banging its head into the vent grate to try to dislodge it, and accompanying every headbutt with a piercing meow. Kitty had managed to push the grate about four inches out from the wall (impressive), but not quite enough to squeeze through.

I removed the grate and let the cat into my apartment. (This did not make my own kitty particularly happy.) The gray cat did not look at all malnourished or scruffy; it actually appeared fairly healthy and tidy, which led me to believe that it wasn't a stray but had simply lost its family somehow.

I had remembered seeing several "Lost Cat" signs posted around the neighborhood, so I sequestered the two kitties into two separate rooms and went out to find one of the signs and contact the people I hoped might own this cat.

"Hi, sorry for calling so late, but I think I may have your cat. The sign said that the lost cat was gray. This cat also has white feet. Does your cat have white feet?"

There was a pause. Then, on the other end:

"Hey, Tracy, does our cat have white feet?"

Another pause.

"Doug, does our cat have white feet?"

Another pause.

"Mike, do you remember what that cat looked like?"

At this point, I'm thinking y'all don't deserve to have a cat, but I keep it to myself. The group of roommates come to the conclusion that their lost cat does not have white feet, and I return home.

Now, a truly good person probably would have let this gray cat stay in their apartment for the night. But I'm not completely good, not all the time, and I could hear the gray kitty and my kitty meowing bloody murder at each other through their closed doors even from outside my apartment. So I set some food and water out on the apartment's front porch and went to tell the gray kitty that he could eat and drink all he wanted outside, but he couldn't sleep here.

And I took the gray cat in my arms and put him out on the porch.

But someone saw me. A pair of someones. The two young men who occupy the upstairs apartment, above the diaper-throwing family. These two men spend their time, as far as I can tell, hanging out of their bedroom window (screen open, one leg in, one leg out). They like to catcall me (oh, fine, pun intended). The first time I met them, one of the young men was hanging out of the window and combing his leg hair. That's probably all you need to know about these two.

From the window: "Put our cat down!"

"Is this your cat?" I asked.

From the window: "Duh. Now put it down."

"Will you come and get him?"

From the window: "Nah, we'll pick it up tomorrow. He's not going anywhere."

When I left for work this morning, the food and water were gone, and so was the cat.

And that is a story about the place where I live. ^__^

Yet Another Temp Poem

I listen to you talk
About your remodeling,
Carpeting, trips to Florida,
Weddings to plan.

I smile but don't add
Anything of my own.

How can I? I live in a
Building where the
Next-door neighbors
Regularly throw dirty diapers
Out of their ground-floor window.

My stories would stain your carpets.

The Problem With the Aubergine

So I asked S. why the eggplant didn't turn out.

You didn't use enough spices
, he said.

But I put in a lot of spices! Look at the picture -- you can see all kinds of spices on that eggplant!

Then he sent me a link to an Indian cooking blog called Mahanandi. A link to a post all about eggplant curries.

I won't steal the images because they're copyrighted, but if you're curious to know just how much spice is required (and, perhaps, to compare Mahanandi's pictures with my now meagerly spiced eggplant), click here.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Mmmmm.... aubergine?

Dear S.,

I think I broke your eggplant.

I am very sorry.

Below you can see the results of my trying to cook the eggplant S. gave me when he last visited. I don't think I cooked it very well. It tasted very mushy and very bland and a little sour. Perhaps I waited too long to cook it; but the flesh was still firm, and it didn't seem squishy or rotten.

Strangely, it tasted fine when mixed with the hummus and eaten on top of a (whole grain, organic) tortilla chip. Didn't try mixing it against the cheese.

What did I do wrong? I popped the mustard seed and cumin, added the onion, added the eggplant and some water, covered it and let it simmer until the water was gone, added a bit of milk and garam masala, let it cook for a few more moments...

Hmmm. On the other hand, the apples were lovely, and S. gave me those as well. ^__^

Friday, June 1, 2007

Any Resemblance to the Original Novel is Purely Coincidental

So I just sat through all three hours of The English Patient.

Before we begin the rant, three minor notes:

1. I didn't know Colin Firth was going to be in this movie. I also didn't know he was going to look so puffy and bloated. Was it a character choice, or was he having a really bad year?

2. No one -- may I emphasize no one -- sits down at a piano after who-knows-how-many months of not practicing and rips off the Goldberg Variations. Especially on a piano that's turned f**king SIDEWAYS.

3. I would like to purchase Kristin Scott Thomas' entire film wardrobe. If you have information on how I can do so, please email me at prettybluesalwar AT hotmail DOT com.

Now the rant.

Yes, I knew going in that it wasn't going to be "like the book." What I didn't know was that Ondaatje had helped to create the film, and has gone on record as stating it is a good adaptation which "preserves his artistic vision." (Hey Wikipedia, where'd you get that source, btw? I'd like to see it.)

Unfortunately, it does not preserve either his plot or characters.

This begs the question: what is the artistic vision Ondaatje had when writing the book? Was it a sort of feeling, maybe? Did he get a sense of a plane swooping over a desert with silk flapping out the side, perhaps to the strains of a melody which sounds suspiciously like the waltz from Carousel?

If the essence of the book can be boiled down to, say, Almasy and Katherine in the cave -- if that's a sort of "artistic impression" an author might want his readers to remember -- well, the film nailed that. I curled up on the couch and cried for poor Almasy and Katherine, and I'd spent the past two-and-one-half hours not caring about either of them.

But a book is more than a vision, yes? A book has... well, a book is like somebody's life as it actually was. And films seem to have a responsibility to present that particular life.

There are, of course, writer/screenwriters like Michael Cunningham, who explained away the differences between the book and film versions of The Hours by saying "the film version is like my final final draft, with all the edits I would have made in the book had I known to make them all those years ago when I first wrote it." (Can't link this one for you; it's on the DVD special features.)



Okay. Here's the question. Why do we make movies based on books? It would seem that we make them because enough people love the book that we know they'll pay to see a "fully realized" version. They want to see the story brought to life.

Then why do we change the story? I understand truncating for time, but why, for example, dispense with Caravaggio having known Hana since she was a child? How does making him a stranger to Hana add anything to the story?

Maybe, however, there is an ulterior motive. Perhaps Ondaatje knew that, at this particular moment, all the people who had read the book would tap sensually at the shoulders of all their dates (who hadn't read the book) and whisper sexily "in the real story, he was her sort-of uncle!" This would not only increase bonding among dates, possibly leading to nookie, but it would also increase sales of Ondaatje's book, as undoubtedly the non-readers would immediately go out and purchase this text to inculcate themselves with the reading half of the date, because they're hoping this will lead, in turn, to even more nookie.


But seriously now. Why do we so fantastically alter stories when we transition from text to film? Do we not trust the audience to understand a "book story?" Do we want to add extra drama/fights/gore/sex/sandstorms?

This is a question I have never been able to satisfactorily answer, and it just makes me sad, because I know that whenever they make a movie based on a book I've particularly liked, I will go shell out my hard-earned $10 to see it, despite the fact that I know perfectly well it will probably be a poor interpretation which will leave me disappointed and/or angry.

Does it make you all as angry as it makes me?

But perhaps the best revenge we can take upon this film "adaptation" of The English Patient is simply this: the knowledge that no one will ever be able to watch that film again and truly believe in Ralph Fiennes' character. They'll sit there, just as I did, and spend the three hours thinking Voldemort, Voldemort, he looks like Voldemort, wonder if Warner Bros. stole the idea, ha ha, now Voldemort's sad...