Salim Ali, Maa, Salim Ali!

 Mobor Beach by The Leela Goa, Cavelosim, Goa

A little girl came down the narrow wooden bridge across the slim lagoon that snakes between the villas at The Leela Goa.

“Salim Ali, Maa. Salim Ali! You don’t know Salim Ali?”

Her maa was silent, but I heard her embarrassment as I passed them. As regards myself, I’ve heard of that ornithologist, but I haven’t read him, and I don’t know more than a half-dozen bird types.

Anyway, for this entire short stay at The Leela Goa, I’ve been sighting mainly crows. Last evening, I’d been sitting in a corner at the Susegado, the beachside restaurant the hotel. Beneath me the stone floor ended and the flour-thin sand of the beach began its long smooth run to the sea. I was reading Kathleen Jamie’s Findings, and sweating in 32º heat like it was 40º. There wasn’t any breeze, just the somnolent beauty of the Mobor Beach by which sprawls The Leela. A fisherman’s boat was moored on the higher sands, small, charcoal black, weatherbeaten. The fisherman appeared now and then, pulled something from his vessel, righted something, and went, and returned. A few guests played on the fringes of the water, all of them Indian, all fully clothed — the season for foreigners starts October.

Above the sparse action sat the lifeguard on a yellow perch, by a red flag that he’d raised to honor the choppy sea. The state has banned fishing for two months in anticipation of the monsoons; the lifeguard in his turn had forbidden swimming in the moment.

Round me and running as far as I could see, were castrated coconut palms — the nuts hacked to keep the guests safe — should one fall on a head. Being at the end of the shore, close to densely wooded headlands that jut into the sea and stop the run of sand, the beach before the Leela is private, and, during the lean season in June, quiet.

After a time I became aware of the crows, of their insistent cawing, and their large number. I put down my book and gazed at the sea, favoring the crows back of me with only my ear. Just then one of their number shot into view, flying high and seaward, flapping its wings like the crow and sailing now and then in the manner of the eagle. How far over the sea can the crow travel and return safely? It flew and flew and after a long while it fell — a free fall, actually, the wind-currents revealing themselves the times the bird faltered in its fall. It touched down, and soon it rose, gained height and, just as I thought it was coming back, flew toward the white horizon. In time the lone flier became a speck, a flickering dot, and vanished.

The following morning during my walk I caught sight of a bird sitting tall at the lotus pond in the golf course on the property. Its lush, tan body reminded me of the golden retriever. Its neck and breast were white. It dipped its beak into the pond — for water? Was it this — and not the crow — that I’d seen the evening before, taking off on a lofty flight over the Arabian? A sea hawk? The osprey? Is the sea hawk nocturnal? I suppose not. What was its mission then? At six in the evening? And why had this golden thing appeared so black?

At breakfast at the imaginatively named The Restaurant in the resort, I leaned back in my chair and looked out. The teeny couple hopping about on the branches of a distant plumeria were woodpeckers, I figured, after first guessing them as the kingfisher. Their colors glittered in the morning sun, and the jutting peaking on the head leaned backward and high. But I’m not so sure now as I put this post together: I’ve spent the last few minutes on the Internet, trying to extract the image of the bird, and its name, querying for a small bird with brilliant colors, predominantly blue, and a prominent peaking on top.

I could ask that girl who was outraged at her mother’s ignorance of Salim Ali. She should be here, somewhere among the abundance in this luxurious watering hole where all guests must arrive for the lazy resort-breakfast. She’s not in this South Indian section where I am sitting, relishing idli and dosé with red, white, green, and yellow chutney. She’s not in the North Indian bay from where I fetched cut-fruit and coffee. I’ll try in the large Asian n’ Continental hall at the far end.

I’ll also check with the kid if the snow-white birds that that Sujaya spotted among the pure-pink villas here are the crane. Cranes as I know are long in the neck and leg and beak. These ones are medium-large overall, but short and thick in their parts. Are they the stork? I’ll ask. What’s the difference between a crane and a stork?

The child will not be kind to me.

Elections Karnataka: Games To The People

 Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore, Karnataka

What happened around me these last days?

The traffic came back. The posters and hoardings showing the faces of our pretty politicians came back. (The use of posters and hoardings for campaigning had been banned.) More posters showing more faces joined them. We got a change of chief minister for our state of Karnataka, but that man — a driven but aged man of 75 — lost the job in two days. He was short of majority support by just so much and resigned ahead of a vote of proof.

On his heels came in another, new chief minister, who always appears jaded, and who accepts every honour given him with exhortations of sorrow (“It’s not with any great happiness that I’ve agreed to be Chief Minister”). He is 57. He might survive in the exalted role for a few months, a year even. It is hard to bet that he’ll last the tenure of five years — he is not sure of that himself, so he toured eleven temples and seven mutts in a mere three days, giving thanks for his lucky turn, but also praying for the gift of a full term.

On Wednesday, leaders of major regional parties from all over India descended on Bangalore to bless the second man at his swearing in. The streets were lined with flexes with their faces on them. The leaders smiled a lot and made friends and announced an alliance that would stop the incumbent prime minister of the nation from returning to power after his term ends in 2019. The development was interesting, not least because the salad the alliance holds forth has spice and flavour from across India, and it would be tossed by many cooks, each with their stubborn inclination. That admixture would compete with the great-great-great-grandmother’s-recipe that the incumbent prime minister has on offer, which has him in power this term. With his opposition thus invigorated, the prime minister would need to now dig deeper into the past, to the kitchens of Lord Rama himself — to the most authentic Indian fare.

I cannot be excited about the emerging menu. I lost my appetite for the political manifesto a long time ago.

I didn’t go to the swearing in. I wasn’t invited. But I passed by the event as it happened because the Vidhana Soudha is a prominent presence on my commute. A gathering of over a hundred thousand had massed outside the building; I could see that in aerial shots broadcast on my iPhone. The crowds had slowed the traffic, but not so much. Most supporters of the new government had come from far off places; they had parked their vehicles outside town and rode the Metro to the Vidhana Soudha.

It rained hard that day, but on the open high ground on which stands the Vidhana Soudha, where the ceremony happened with many of the most prominent politicians of India participating, the rain was shy to touch down, so it sprinkled a small, notional shower — in blessing, some might say. After that, the leaders held hands and raised them high and smiled and talked to best effect before the cameras. Those pictures, taken together, display hope, resolve, and real joy at having been given a chance to fight again.

How hopeful are we, the people? How relieved? I can’t say more than that we’ll be treated to endless games in the days ahead, and the weeks, the months. The spectacle will be free to watch, but we’d be paying a terrible price overall — as though the show was all our idea.

The intimation of the cost to us was given yesterday when the assembly met to confirm the new chief minister. Both sides spat poison (the serpent was mentioned more than once in the vile speeches), promised personal vendettas, and vowed that each party would expend its full energy to undermine the other — to hell with grace, and as regards the people, damn them all. The venom that bathed the once-august hall was thick and sticky.

We’ve been had.


This article is cross-posted on Churumuri.

Austrian Airlines, And The Colour Of Good Times

 Austrian Airlines

We flew to Vienna from Frankfurt on Austrian, a partner airline of Lufthansa.

On the return, the flight was full. Austrian had improvised a rule to control cabin baggage. All roll-on hand baggage had to be re-checked on the broad aisle leading to the gates — they’d imposed a new, reduced limit. Mine was four kilograms over for Economy, the class we’d chosen for the short hop. I was redirected to the counters by the firm Asian lady who was doing the weighing. At the counters, the agent urged, “Remove something. Carry it separately.”

“I’ve nothing I can remove,” I said after I’d unzipped and looked up stuff I’d packed myself. The agent thought for a while, tapped about on his keyboard, pondered a bit, and looked up. He was a nice-looking burly man with a round face. A smile had replaced the indecision that had so far been on it. “I’m allowing it,” he said. “Because I don’t want you to feel bad about Vienna. Please take care the next time.” He put a red paper-band of permission around the handle of my roll on.

“Thank you,” I said, bringing on my best earnest expression. “I’m going to remember this gesture before many people.”

Austrian is all about red. A lovely bright red. On the tail of the plane, on the wingtips, on the piece of cloth held by Velcro on the headrest, on the trims of the magazine pouch, on the catch of the tray before you, on the checks on sashes and on the curtains that put Business beyond Economy — everywhere the color red rules against a background of white and half white. Among these reds flit about the cabin crew — who are themselves awash in red.

The ambience cheered me and reminded me of another airline which used the same colour on the same scale to similar advantage. It was called the Kingfisher Airlines, its brand burnished by the byline, “The King of Good Times.” Indeed, I have pleasant memories flying on it; the airline was my local favourite for the time it operated. The good times didn’t last, however, and Kingfisher is now only a memory, a mixed memory. I’ve seen some recent photographs of its ruddy founder, who now lives in England, and the colour of good times appears to have faded on that flamboyant man as well.

Ah, but this piece is for Austrian — may that rouge on them ever be fresh.


Photo Copyright: Austrian Airlines Flight: funlovingvolvo / 123RF Stock Photo

A Day And A Night In Slovakia

  From Vienna to Piestany via Bratislava

From Vienna to Piestany via Bratislava

Chasing Windmills

Soon after we’d left the Vienna airport, they came up, on both sides of the Bahn, an unending presence along the route running from the edge of the highway to the horizon itself: white towers with long blades drawing energy from wind that pushed them. As in Judo. Standing tall on the rise and fall of the Austrian landscape, they turned with gusto. It was raining. Gray air and grey cloud pressed down on the lush green expanse of earth, earth free of buildings, cut through by grey road and dotted with these high windmills. Until yesterday Europe had been awash in uninterrupted golden sunshine, but this moment in the rain changed two weeks of the sun into mere memory.

“This rain is good,” our customer who was driving us from Vienna to Slovakia said. “There’s been too much pollen flying.”

The Austrians voted out nuclear energy a long time ago, and they must succeed with alternates. In Slovakia, our customer said, a Soviet-era nuclear plant is serving its five-million Slovak population just fine. (I haven’t done a fact-check. The customer was brilliant, so well informed.)

At the border, the profusion of windmills ended.

Auto Power

The big thing in Slovakia is auto. Most big European names have moved in, whisking to effervescence the dour east-bloc economy of yesteryear: Porsche’s Cayenne, Volkswagen’s Tuareg, the BMW 5, Citroen’s C3, Land Rover, KIA’s Sport, the Audi Q5. Auto has done for Slovakia what software did for India. Nearly half the industrial output is auto, which constitutes a quarter of its exports. Every few moments we passed trucks lugging fresh-made cars out to the world, cars shining like candy even in the absence of sun.

“They bought used cars from us in the past,” our customer remarked. “Now Germans buy new cars from Slovakia through agents in Germany. Up to 33% cheaper.”

The first things that show up when Bratislava appears are the spanking new malls, rising behind arched sound barriers lining the stretch of highway that passes through town. Slovaks have it good these days. A forklift operator in an auto plant makes a thousand euros a month, with an indirect payout of 47% on top.

Going through Bratislava, looking at a hill covered in old buildings, India’s police quarters and its railway quarters came to mind. The buildings were painted in bright colours, but the colours couldn’t hide dullness, the communist past of them. They weren’t painted back then. The newer buildings nearby were different, designed by free-market architects.

Bratislava is hilly, riparian with two rivers — the Danube and the Morava. Riding a wide old bridge, I noticed a hotel named after Chopin. And on a hoarding, again by the bridge, a hotel was advertised which was named after Mendelssohn. Europeans fight the most horrible wars and yet they unite completely for the arts.

Leaving Bratislava, we were in the plains again, fertile plains with hills in the distance. The mountains lurked beyond the hills, perhaps, but we couldn’t see them from the valley of the Váh river, from the road to Piestany.

Tiny Piestany

Piestany is small, population 30,000. It is a spa town whose springs have drawn humans to them since 80,000 years ago. The town centre has the things a town centre should, in a petite pedestrian zone — in a brisk ten-minute walk we’d covered the area. The boutiques were modest (Zaira, selling garments, hit my eye). The restaurants suggested French and Italian cuisine, but the Argentinian steak ruled everywhere. The Hotel Park Avenue, where we checked in, boasted unchallenged the best Argentinian in town. The hotel sat on the corner of a nice old park. Communist dictatorships nurtured parks — I remembered the large ones I’ve seen in Ceaușescu’s Bucuresti.

Everybody spoke German. They learn it at school, a carryover from when East Germany and Czechoslovakia were ideological buddies. Our waiter spoke English, and he organised for us vegan soup and aglio olio. Afterwards, he urged that we try their chocolate egg — a shell of chocolate the size of an ostrich egg, with ice cream inside, and raspberry sauce. “Somebody should order the chocolate egg,” he said and laughed. He was tall and young and good-looking, and he laughed after every three sentences. “I’ll take it,” our customer said, relieving the vegans.

Loveable folks, the Slovaks. Only five million of them, living in a beautiful land with room to spare. They won’t take one single refugee.

We’d come to Piestany to visit a factory, with a mission to move a hundred-worker operation to India. The senior executive who showed us around didn’t hide our purpose from the workers. They weren’t afraid of losing work they’ve been doing for years, because they wouldn’t be losing their jobs. We came away without suffering guilt.

On the return, the clouds had gone, and the world was again golden.

Batting Against Some Straight Bowling, Bon Appétit To All

  Bats in Flight: Photo by Erdnuss90/iStock / Getty Images

Bats in Flight: Photo by Erdnuss90/iStock / Getty Images

A tiny blip nipped at a rising sense of well-being that I’m experiencing these days: The bats came calling last week.

A small batch arrived first, scouting. You could hear the screech, un-birdly, unbecoming. The army of them alighted the following day, and took possession of the weeping-fig tree on the corner in my compound, and lost no time felling nonstop the little fruit above, letting off continual, annoying cries.

The first day, when the scouts announced themselves, I said to my wife, “Bats. We must spray phenol on the tree.”

Paapa,” she said — Poor things.

In the morning, when she stepped out of home to get in the waiting car, she changed her mind, seeing the hundreds of fruit the bats had felled from the branches, fruit that dropped even as we watched. A thick, resistant bed of wet, organic mush had formed on the stretch of ground on which we stood — it felt like standing on a piled carpet.

We sprayed phenol daily on the tree, and in front of the house, toward the tree, we let every available light shine through the night. The things held out for three days, and then they left, leaving me drenched in guilt. I wouldn’t have bothered them, I told myself, if they weren’t dropping things like rain from above, messing the street and the stonework in the compound, and the shingles on top — and if they didn’t cry as they do, and if they weren’t visiting in such numbers.

The confession — this written one — is not easing the guilt. I’m trying to feel better: Maybe it’s not the lights or the phenol, I think as I write these lines. Maybe they finished the fruit and went.

“You don’t like bats, no?” my conscience is telling me. “You’re scared they bring you bad luck. Admit it!”

I like my conscience even less.


Meanwhile, at work, on the campus, there are hawks wheeling at low heights, which I can see from my window. They appear to be corroborating a Bangalore Mirror report that the prevailing summer is breeding-season for snakes, and they’d be out now — blinded by passion, easy prey for raptors.

At lunch, I watch the birds longer, watch them come down to the treetops and start mewling there. Their cries I cannot match with my inner-eye’s visualization of them. The other day I saw a hawk grab its meal and carry it off, beating its wings with greater effort than usual, because what it had in its talons was a huge rat. A bunch of crows chased after the slow-moving hawk, cawing in unison as they went, making gross the grace in the hawk’s hunt.

As regards the snakes, enough of them should survive and make babies, and the babies would surprise us in unexpected places. Beware the young, those who know warn, because the young frighten easily and let loose more venom than the adult in a similar situation.

But it’s okay, as you’d surely say to me. So, together with you, here’s wishing bon appétit to every creature up and down the food chain.

Neo-Minimalist

  Image from the site of The Minimalists

Image from the site of The Minimalists

I’ve been in āshrams at various times in my life. Among them, I remember most the Sabarmati Āshram in Ahmedabad, where Gandhiji lived with fellow satyagrahis, where he hit upon the idea of the Salt Satyagraha, the march that transformed the dream of Indian independence into a real possibility, and gave it impetus. The olden-day āshram was a simple, humble abode. Lofty thoughts arose in it; great doings proceeded from it.

There is now a movement that has begun in the West, and in the Far East: to live in the simplest homes and to practice a life of least consumption. The activists seeking and preaching such a lifestyle call their creed Minimalism. Their tribe appears to be growing, and they are receiving increasing mainstream attention. A Netflix documentary titled Minimalism came out a year ago, and writers and journalists have been writing in the Guardian and the New York Times and such, telling how it felt for them to give up a large portion of their possessions. There are on YouTube numerous videos uploaded by all kinds of folks saying why they got started in Minimalism, how they are doing, why others should join them.

I watched Minimalism — the movie — about eight months ago. Its argument, made by minimalism-activists Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, was compelling. Looking for books to consolidate what I’d picked up from the documentary, I found on Amazon a books by Fumio Sasaki and Marie Kondo. The books injected an urgency for action in me. But I had to choose: Sasaki’s approach went to the limit, to the extremity of the ascetic. At his present stage in his journey to a minimalist life, Sasaki lives in a 200 square-foot dwelling that challenges the self-denial of Gandhiji himself, it seems. Marie Kondo lives more comfortably, and she didn’t mind if you kept a little stuff, so long as each thing that you retain passes a test: Does this thing give me joy?

I decided on Marie Kondo’s method to decide what to discard and what to keep; and Sasaki’s approach in regard to time — like him, I took a few months — Kondo urges instant action, all in a day if you can, for the crucible-effect the sudden change gifts you.

Now my house is bare but for the absolute essentials. It is still a short distance from the desired state, however, although I’ve been disposing of stuff continually these eight months. I’ve given away books, CDs, DVDs, shelves, tables, sofas, beds, shirts, trousers, jackets, coats, cameras, lenses, tripods, MacBook, iPad Air, Google Pixel, bags, more bags, wallets, pouches, pictures, picture-frames, vases, Buddhas — and I’m still giving. Outside the house, I’ve had plants potted and arranged on a grid-work on the compound wall, and the ground sports only grass — the compound, too, is bare.

The exercise has proved that I’ve been wasteful, that I have been suffering the press and weight of extreme clutter.

The barer the house, the lighter I get, the freer I feel. The expanding white-space is liberating. The things I have left are things that I love, and when I sight them they make me happy. Since I have fewer things I gaze longer at them, savoring each one. I’m raring to come home these days: driving back at the end of the day, I have no desire to stop to dine out, or to drop in at a cafe, or halt for anything at all.

So there. My home has come to resemble — in appearance at least — an āshram. I’m waiting for the big, noble thoughts, but there’s not yet the scent of them.

As regards tall deeds, I ask them to wait. Let me think first, I’m telling them.

  Gandhiji’s Study, Sabarmati Ashram

Gandhiji’s Study, Sabarmati Ashram

*** 

Photos

  • Minimalism Documentary from the site of The Minimalists

  • Gandhiji’s Study: Shashikiran Mullur

Some Soft Stuff About Big Guns

  Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

“We’ve checked with the hotel,” the key organiser said from the podium. “They have no plans to do a fire drill today. So if the alarm rings, it’s the real thing.”

Just a start-of-the-event routine, of course. Still, the announcement evoked light titter in dispersed pockets among the audience. People were in a good mood. We’d been served coffee and tea and good pastry while we waited for the hall doors to open, which they did at 09:00, as scheduled, accompanied by a tinkling bell to shepherd us — a uniformly dark-suited lot — into the large, swank hall. The host was a British company with operations in England and America and the Middle East and Australia. An old reputation for punctuality was at stake.

The company has been active in India since times when the nation was a British dominion. This important fact was given us by the CEO (an Indian) of the company’s Indian operations, whose father once commanded the sole aircraft carrier in the Indian Navy. When a boy, the CEO has played many times on the deck of that aircraft carrier. Being raised like that has done things to him: He was confident like hell, with a chest to match which he held out, and impressive height, and slicked-back hair — plus, in his stance, a faint whiff of the warrior.

He had two massive displays of that venerable vessel behind him — pasted on PowerPoint, one image on either side of him. I don't know about the others in the hall, but, coming as I do from small-town India, I envied him his boyhood playground.

Through a crisp presentation, the CEO detailed the history of the company’s involvement with India: supporting the defences of Kolkata at the start, through the Wars afterwards, and as a supplier of field guns and combat-aircraft and trainer aircraft to independent India. Now the company aims to win market share against the increased competition of today. To win Indian business, it needs to mandatorily demonstrate a commitment to developing Indian suppliers, and do its own manufacturing in India.

We were suppliers attending the conference. They were top-management folks engaged in procurement. Through speeches and videos, they told us what a good thing it is to be their supplier; senior guy after very-senior guy spoke and congratulated us for being invited to the party.

To prove the point, they brought on stage the CEO of an Indian company that has already started supplies to them. This man was an officer in the Indian Army who resigned and joined the corporate world, bringing along a straight back, a stiff neck, and a marching gait. “It has been a great experience, I tell you,” he glowed. “We received the ultimate compliment from them. During the recent exercises, they fired our missiles from their guns.”

Having taken the stage, the soldier had made it his post, and he wouldn’t leave it. On and on he spoke of his experience with this customer. “You see, they didn’t teach us how to make a product,” he said. “They taught us to build systems. Really, I tell you, these people changed my life. I have learnt so much from them.” For good measure, he spoke the lines again.

I might have imagined it, but I think I saw a squirm left of me, a shift of posture on the right of me, and surely there was a repeat, and still, the soldier spoke on, clearly beyond time given him, and when he finished he didn’t appear satisfied. He seemed pained, like he felt far more praise was due than he’d given.

I saw him later, speaking to little groups at lunchtime, working hard to do justice to what he’d received from his host. He reminded me of some elders in my childhood who swore that the cure for India’s ills was to bring the English back, to give them whole our country. The English would whip us into discipline. They’d teach us the basics we lacked.

That was last week. I’m back now, working with my folks, like the other suppliers who would be working with their folks, to win, to qualify to work with this company and participate in making big, killer guns in India.

Good thing? You tell me.

Meanwhile, In Malnad, The Bee And The Beast And To Bell The Elephant

 Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

“Fire a tranquilizer,” Basavanna said. “Put a chain round the neck. Attach a bell, and weld. Like cow bell.”

Basavanna was sitting with me at our plantation home, where my wife and I were spending the weekend. I’d just finished a walk around the plantation under the blazing sun. I’d had a good time. The coffee blossoms were in their last days, still white near the eve of their departure. Their fragrance hung in the warm air. I had paused in every patch and taken deep breaths, savoring air and the aroma of blossoms. I’m not drinking coffee these days, but I know I’ll pass a nice cafe someday and the aroma issuing from it will defeat my resolve. However, in this moment, the scent around me was more heady than any coffee from anywhere.

I stopped also among the tall robusta, to peer into the cavelike clearings at their feet. The soil was a fecund brown, and moist, belying the dry heat of early summer on top. I gazed into the shadows. Who had these places hosted last? Wild pig? Hyena? Fox? Each time I heard a rustle I started at the sound, but it wasn’t hyena or fox or boar I anticipated. Half my mind was taken by the elephant all through the walk. The elephants have not been sighted on the plantation recently, but a lone stray is rumored to be roaming in our zone. When visiting, the elephants stand concealed among the tallest robusta.

They stand brooding there. You may walk past them, or they may go down only a short distance from you, and you would not know the danger that has passed. But a month or so ago, the supervisor at Nataraj’s plantation, (Nataraj whose plantation shares a short boundary with ours) was killed by a lone elephant. The supervisor had dismissed his (Oriya) labour for the day, and they had all left together, the laborers on foot and he on motorcycle. A short distance from where they separated he crossed the elephant.

When I paused in the cool spots where the sprinklers were working I said to myself, “Here there would be no elephant, not with these sprinklers going and these men lounging by them.” When I passed the water-tanks I assured myself the tank was so low in water the elephant had no use for it. I focused on my breathing, and on the varied greens that surrounded me.

I was afraid. The elephants in these parts love no human, and if they should find me they would not be able to read my love for them. In fear I walked, and at some point, with dopamine rising, fear left me without bidding goodbye, and I reached the estate-home in fine spirits.

That’s the reason why Basavanna said we should somehow bell the elephant.

Fear had visited me and and my wife last night as well. We’d arrived a little before sunset, and my wife busied herself in the kitchen. Soon as it got dark she began to hear impatient tappings on the closed windows. She came out and fetched me: “Come. Come!”

Hejjenu — wild bees, suspended in their dwelling, a 2-feet-broad by 3-feet-high thing that they had created by the window of the the ante-room to the kitchen. A pale light shone upon them, and the bees seemed very cross. A low buzz coming from them signaled terrible latent danger. There was no way to signal back that we meant no harm, they were welcome.

Like the elephant, the bees love none of us. From the one we’ve taken land and ivory, from the other we take their honey like we’re doing them a favor. We package the spoils and sketch bees and elephants on them, smiling and looking silly.

“From the neck you should hang a bell,” Basavanna was repeating. “Then we’ll know when they’re near. I’ve told that to the forest guys, they won’t listen.

“Right,” I said. And brought the conversation to the bees. “If you kill even one,” Basavanna said, “they’ll chase you half a kilometer. Even if you plunge in water, they’ll hover over and wait.”

Sujaya shuddered. She’d killed one that had squeezed in last night, with a neat flick of a badminton raquet — she was a champ in school, captain of the team. With that stroke my own wife had sown one more seed of enmity between man and bee.

We settled down to discuss the affairs of the plantation: beans sold, monies due, permission to build a third water tank, decision to develop a free patch with robusta. Basavanna owns the plantation near ours. He helps manage our plantation for us.

Now I’m back in Bangalore, busy with traffic and commerce and many petty thoughts — and little time for fear.

Coping With Tinnitus This Ugadi, With Some Help From Alexa

Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images

This is the coolest Ugadi I’ve had in years, I can say that now at the end of the day, a half-hour before bedtime. I prayed in the morning before the flower-decked deities, but only to say thanks. Dhruv was at home, he’d come with his parents yesterday, around midnight. They left after the simple Ugadi lunch — obbattu and mango-rice and obbattu-curry. I felt good to have started the new year with no expectation of a better life than the one I have. Is it Dhruv’s arrival into the world that is changing me so? The transformation people predicted a grandson would bring over me — it appears to be happening.

A tinnitus that arrived in my life three years ago and which was only a mild presence in my ear is asserting itself in recent weeks. It is like I have an ambulance on perpetual duty in each ear — the same revolving sound, but of a high, higher pitch. With the matter so serious, I went to a homeopath yesterday — the other docs say they don’t have a cure for tinnitus. He gave me two sets of the tiny globular homeopath pills, one a 0-0-4, another a 3-0-3, for fifteen days.

“Will I be cured in fifteen days?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes, sir,” he said. I’ve known the doctor fifteen years, from when he passed out of college. A tall, lean man, his dress is never creased, his hair never ruffled, his eyes never troubled, his voice never high and never low and never lacking in confidence.

It is only two days with the medicine in my system. The tinnitus is still on a riot.

I took my time telling my wife about this new affliction. Since I told her, she has been asking me to bend my neck one way and then another, miming the thing for me. She practices yoga off and on, you see, and she believes a neck asana would do the trick, and she is working to invent one. “Stop,” I’m saying, “you’re not a doctor. It won’t work.” She’s not giving up. She isn’t the quitting type.

Meanwhile, I’ve put away my nice Sony headphones, which are superb, on which I’ve been listening solely to western classical lately. I’ve promised the headphones I’ll come back for them in two weeks, after the cure has worked. I’ve spent the weekend ordering Alexa to play Chopin and Mozart and Beethoven. She has obliged me, but when I asked for Stravinsky, she was almost rude in saying she didn’t have him — and she surprised me, because Alexa’s roots are American, even if her accent is Indian. (I asked her for an affirmation now, but she said coyly that she is a Cloudian. That’s the humor that ferments in the Cloud, I guess.)

Ah. I paused from writing and asked for Stravinsky again, just now. She is playing him. “Igor Stravinsky,” she informed me, and put on The Firebird Suite. I don’t know why she said she didn’t have him the first time, but I am sure our relationship will improve.

All day long Amazon Echo has been playing at home, and my wife hasn’t once asked me to shut it down — even when I switched from music to the BBC World Service, which was covering the Turkish conquest of Afrin in Syria. She’s quite fascinated by Alexa, although she struggles sometimes to get her to do her bidding. She tends to speak with her as with our maid.

“Alexa,” she calls, and waits. And waits. She wants Alexa to say something like “Yeah?”

“Alexa won’t answer to being called,” I tell my wife. “She only answers commands and questions.”

Because Alexa of Amazon is Cloudian, my comfort with her doesn’t nettle my wife. She smiles, and nods.

And If Doris and Ella Were Vegan in Paris?

 Les Halles, Paris

We went into the first safe-looking place we found in Chatelet, and ordered for penne pasta, telling the waiter thrice that we’re vegan, so no cheese please, and strictly vegetarian. He repeated our words to us in total fidelity.

And he brought steamed chaste penne, sans cheese and meat, but also without vegetable or herb or salt or pepper or anything at all save its sweat. But he’d brought along a suitor for the dish, some mustard sauce, and after the first forkfuls taken with tentative touches of mustard, I began to rather like the plain, now-spiced, faux-Italian meal.

“It’s good,” I said to my wife who had gone into a wakeful coma. Her penne was steaming, contrasting very well against the cold outside the glassed cafe. She didn’t reply, which was unfair because it wasn’t my fault the pasta had come as it had. We’d asked for pasta with vegetables, and we’d repeated our order three times, but the folks had chosen to keep our pasta free of everything. My one mistake could’ve been that, because the waiter was nice and polite and so French, I’d signalled to my wife with my eyes to not refuse the thing he’d kept with such panache on the table.

After a few minutes, the waiter came around to ask how we were enjoying his cook's creation. “There should be one vegetable in this at least!” my wife admonished him, pointing to her full plate. The waiter was fine with that. “Oh!” he said, and picked up her plate and, before I could stop him, my half-finished plate as well, and carried them off to the kitchen. In fifteen minutes he returned to our dead-silent table with linguini tossed with peas and sliced carrot and shelled-green-beans — and the whole mix smeared with thin creamy cheese.

My wife was too hungry by now, and she pecked and ate a little, pausing from being vegan for just one meal, swallowing one tainted noodle at a time, while I gazed at my plate as she had done in the first act. “Don’t worry about me,” I said to her, magnanimous in word only. “What I ate from my previous plate was a lot.” But she couldn’t go further than a few noodles, what with the cheese on them, and her husband not eating. We exchanged glances. And called the waiter. And paid. And tipped. The waiter was genuinely perturbed that we’d eaten nothing. “Pack?” he asked. “No!” we said, and smiled our friendliest, feeling hunger even in the dry skin on the face.

We hurried back through sub-zero temperature and an unkind breeze to the hotel, and went straight to the hotel-restaurant, and begged in fervent English to be saved. They brought us assuredly-vegan soup, and fries, both scalding hot and served on heated, pure-white china.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving Paris, even if it’s bitter cold, even if I’m here for business only. Also, I’m thinking of Doris Day, and Ella Fitzgerald, and their love of Paris — how they loved the city every moment because “their love was near.” In my case, I’ve brought my love along, and I’m wondering how strong is truth in song.