September 2017

So, I just added a page to my food blog, titled by the neologism that’s in the title of this post as well. It is a recipe, but since it counts as a legit entry, I figured I’d claim it as my #37, which is slightly overdue. But is also an entry point into these plays on words that I delight in concocting, almost as much as I do in concocting the foods in question. More often than not, the concoctions are created in spur of the moment, rather than with any planning or forethought, the word plays even less so than the foods.

Both guac-un-mole and squashamole are derived from guacamole, that delicious avocado dip that is now quite common-place the world over or at least in North America. Guac-un-mole (named so because it’s not a mole–which is sort of a word for sauce) but has all or most ingredients that go into it, and the squashamole because it was basically a dip made of squash that vaguely resembled guac in texture. It then occured to me, given that I used nuts as well that it might just easily be compared to homous, which lead to its other name squashomous.

Then there was the whole bit about salsifying and falsifying which brought in Popper in a most satisfying way and suggested a whole new way to enjoy poppers as well.

Okay.. enough.. like I said, this post is a short way to link to a real post on another site, which gives it some free advertising and helps me fulfill a quota too. Double and triple whammies abound! (#s 37 & 36)


The thought occurred, while answering an email about my current book project, that in  that I should write about the various strategies I have adopted in the years since I conceived of this book, in order to tackle a large project  more manageable. That my title is alliterative is just a happy co-incidence.

Stepping stones: Every project has its stepping stones and they come in many forms. I am reminded as I am typing this that a formal proposal is a natural stepping stone, but the one that I was thinking of particularly when I started to write this is what I call a stepping-stone publication. Undertaking such a project eases one into the larger task so by the time one actually officially “begins” the latter, there are already bits and pieces ready and available to be patched-in, expanded or otherwise modified. Two papers that I published, in 2014 and last year, are two stepping stones of slightly different types. The first was a “preview” of sorts–call it a testing ground–where I first floated the central idea that eventually became the basis for the book. The inception of this paper goes back a few years earlier actually–but at time the “book” was yet a dim possibility. It still serves as the outline for my larger project–10 pages to the roughly 200 that my book is supposed to be. The second paper, is a far more specific, and details a specific argument based on a specific archival find. It was an actual stepping stone, the first official paper that I wrote before picking up the courage to tackle the larger, more intimidating book itself. Funny thing is that I didn’t actually get to the content of the paper until recently, almost two thirds of the way into the book. But having it there helped. A third project currently underway, is a segue from the book–a way to suss out some ideas and get into material that is less familiar to me.

Spin-offs: Such articles are exactly what the label implies. Home in on a particular aspect–one idea or something–that has already been written into the book and spin a slightly different angle or go into greater depth about it. I recently submitted my first spin-off effort. I actually began it as a stepping stone, but didn’t really get into until recently by which time the chapter had been written. But as I wrote the paper I found myself revisiting the chapter and changing details. Of course I do that at almost every reread in any case, but this time the changes were more substantive as opposed to merely cosmetic. I have more spin-offs from my dissertation (but no stepping-stones, although paradoxically, the first paper has that phrase in the title). And while it may seem repetitive, I think spin-offs are hugely useful exercises because they keep you in the game.

So that’s my two bits worth on my writing life (#38)

It’s been more than two years and I still have not written about my summer residential language sojourn in two very beautiful places in France. They deserve better by me, both the wonderful people who hosted me and their beautiful homes and environs thereof. I had such a lovely time there–really it is the last time that I can remember being carefree (well, mostly).  Some might say I was in a fool’s paradise, but I’ll gladly take on the label of fool again, if the Loire Valley and Dordogne are part of the package!

A little bit of free advertising by way of a preface. I took these classes through an organisation (since it’s London based, I’ll go with the Brit spelling) called Eurolingua that arranges  residential programs for a number of languages–mostly European. Having flirted with learning French for several years now–two stints at the Alliance Francais in Philadelphia and New York and one summer course d’eté in Dijon as part of a grad program requirement are some of the formal attempts while more informally I tried (and managed all of three time! over several years) to join the French table at Yale. Then a friend in Korea mentioned her experience–very positive–and so I went hunting online as well, and Eurolingua turned up with some interesting possibilities. Then a couple of years later, opportunity in the guise of unemployment supplemented with a check for retirement from my Yonsei (Korea) job presented itself. So I wrote to the folks at Eurolingua, and Voila! And after a conversation about my goals and expectations, the co-ordinator set me up, with two different tutors.

2015-08-24 19.17.16Le premiere professeur était M. Sylvain Fremaux. A music conductor (we found out that we were both grad students from Yale, though separated by several years) who teaches French in a community college in Oregon, Sylvain owns a charming home in the village of Mer, which despite its name is nowhere near any sea. But as I learned, the name is meant to signify marshland, which being dint of being on the banks of a river is appropriate enough. (When I check the dictionary, however, the word for marsh or marshland is marais, which is a well-known neighborhood in Paris…). I spent 3 glorious weeks in Mer, where in addition to daily French lessons–which included among other readings an abridged version of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and supplementary translation sessions with me trying to work my way through Anne-Marie Moulin’s idiosyncratic prose style–and plenty of conversation in French, bicycling trips of the area, and weekend visits to some lovely chateaux, a fascinating museum (Musée du Compagnonnage) in Tours, and other sights in the famed Loire valley region. The region’s wines are famous and with good reason as I found out for myself in a visit to a wine fair in Mer where various locals came to show off their wares. I met several people thanks to Sylvain, but I cannot write about his stay and not mention Sylvain’s wonderful father, the famous conductor Louis Fremaux, who at nearly 93 (his birthday was just around the corner) was still up for driving and biking around the countryside.

2015-09-13 17.52.38La deuxième enseignante était M’mselle. Danielle Mazars, who after years of living and working abroad. With her I shared not an alma mater, but a place of past residence, Cairo. My two weeks at her home in the gorgeous Dordogne, which is part of the greater Aquitaine region and according to Wikipedia, (for I must acknowledge all my sources) roughly corresponds to the ancient country of Périgrod (a name likely more associated for us foodies with foie gras) were completely different but as enjoyable and educational as the previous. Danielle’s farm is far from any town as such–the closest is Sarlat–and sits in the heart of cave country, not far from a chateau owned by the family of the pilot-author St. Exupéry. By caves, I mean the prehistoric type with paintings. The most famous of course are les grottes de Lascaux, with the breathtaking images rendered in gorgeous hues of sunset and flame. But there were several others that I visited along with Danielle and will write about in a dedicated posts. Dordogne has its share of chateaux other than the aforementioned one and I paid some a visit, and then there was the type of medieval town called a bastide, which, if I can dig up my lessons, deserve a separate post just because they have such a fascinating history. I must also her dear and lovely friends many of whom invited us for dinners to their homes and encouraged my halting language skills and for whom in return I cooked an Indian meal at Danielle’s home.

A quick word about the photographs in this post. I included them for they are more personal reminders of the time I spent there The grapes, which might well be a symbol for all of France, are those handing in the garden area of Sylvain’s home and while not wine-worthy (said he not me) were great to pluck and nibble on days when I sat outdoors working on my lessons or translations. The sheep belong to Danielle and would come running and line up by the wall to be fed the buckets of cut up peaches when they heard her calling. Missing from the photo are a small black lamb that I named Seana (after the recently watched claymation Sean the Sheep Movie) and her friendly sweetheart of a dog, Darius.

Au revoir mes amies. Jusqu’à la prochaine fois (#39)

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 8.32.10 PMDescribe the tone of a loved one who is deceased. Or about the inability to hear it.

I’d completely forgotten that I’d noted this prompt down from my book Writing from the Senses, and came about it sort of accidentally today. I really cannot remember whose voice I wanted to write about at the time the prompt caught my eye, but encountering it today made me think of my two grandmothers and their voices and speech mannerisms and thought perhaps I should try and record those memories.

First, my paternal grandmother Kamakshi Patti, who died a long time ago in 1982. The first thing that comes to mind with her is a visual, but I do have some vivid memories of her habits or speech and her sayings, and since this post is about the memory of sounds, tones and voices, I’ll stick with that. The thing I remember most of all is her whisper. The adjective “sibilant’ might have been coined with hers in mind, so onomatopoeically perfectly does it suit. Her whisper was not the type one associated with secrets, far from it. It was a carrying sound in which every syllable could be heard with crystal clarity. Probably because, oddly enough it was guttural too, in tone. I remember how my cousin Kappu once fondly said that while she often strained her ears in vain to hear gossipy conversations between her Mom and Patti (after the lights went out at night and everyone including the women were in bed) when they spoke in normal voices, she could relax and hear everything once my grandmom resorted to whispering. And since Patti saved that voice for the juiciest bits, my cousin never missed an important detail — can’t say I remember any details myself, but yes, I too share fond memories of listening to those whispers.

Two more specific sound related memories: My grandmother never spoke English but she would always talk about a song that she learned during her brief years of school, and sing (sort of) the opening line to us. “Welcome welcome, hearty welcome” it went in a Tamil accent, whose tune I couldn’t for the life of me reproduce. But I always remember (and hope I always will) the pride and joy with which she told us about the song. Then there was the way she said the words “beans”–always mispronouncing it as “beems.” For some reason this infuriated, or at least irritated, my obnoxiously snobbish brought-up-on-English self at 7 or so and equally all-of-those-things younger brother. We would try and try to make her say it right and she would patiently repeat it after us but get it wrong every time. Poor thing–she never got upset with us kids despite our atrocious rudeness.

One last memory of her that I’d like to record in this post is not exactly about her voice, but related, which is her remarkable facility for communication with all and sundry, despite not sharing a common language. As far as know Kamakshi Patti never spoke anything but Tamil, but she was the quintessential intrepid soul who could with gestures and a lot of hand waving, she could make herself understood when needed. I particularly remember the way she got a visiting American boy called Raji Thron (who may or may not be the same person who has a yoga website) to perform all sorts of chores like grinding dosa batter on the old fashioned stone or  fetching water to clean said stone, which she certainly could not get myself or my brother too. She was widowed relatively young and still made her way to on her own by trains and buses (and changing them) all the way to the Hindi-dominated North India where we lived, on her own several times. Like I said, intrepid soul.

Intrepid is not the first characteristic, I associate with my other–ie .maternal–grandmother, Chuppu Patti, who might have been the kindest person I can think of in many ways. I would have said gentle, but while her soul was gentle–perhaps the gentlest of anyone I’ve ever encountered–her voice was not. It was strong, slightly hoarse (as was my K Patti’s too). She had a great facility for various Indian languages and could speak some half a dozen of them to my knowledge. I particularly remember visiting her in Sringeri in the state of Karnatka, just a few months after they’d moved there, and being amazed at how easily she seemed to speaking to all the local shopkeepers in their language. Not so my grand-dad who’d moved there the same time, although he being of a more scholarly bent of mind (more on that below), when he got around to it also learned to read and write the language.

I have many more memories of this grandmother since she was with us until 2013, but I don’t have the kind of specific anecdotes about her voice  as I do about my K Patti. This last is just a tiny bit ironic because this grandmother actually shared her name–Subalakshmi–with one of the most famous Carnatic music singers ever, down to the initials M.S. that preface the given name. What I remember most about C Patti is her gentle but consistent nagging of my grandfather to do whatever he was supposed to rather than read whichever book he happened to get his hands on on any given day. Actually come to think of it I just remembered something after all–an exasperated remark, in Tamil naturally, to the effect of “As if he’s going to do a PhD with all that reading!”

On that note this sleepy person who did go on to get a PhD by reading (and writing other things besides blogs), during said Patti’s lifetime–though regrettably not until after Thatha, the non-PhD avid reader passed away–will end this post, which may have actually caught me up on my blog-once-a-week resolution made on June 10 (#40).

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