Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Musically speaking...

When I was much, much younger than I am now (possibly 7 or 8 years old) and living in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, the only music I knew was what my parents listened to, and I don't remember much about it in any case. Except for the songs from a couple or three very old Hindi movies, which I l loved and played over and over. And over.

This was in those days of cassette tapes, which you could buy pre-recorded (yes, like CDs). There were two tapes which I considered mine. One of them had the songs from the 1951 movie "Deedar" on the one side, and "Andaaz" (1949) on the other. I knew - and still know - every song on that tape, and today the song playing really loudly in my head has been Meri kahani bhoolne wale, sung by the truly immortal, golden-voiced Mohammad Rafi. In fact, all day long I'd been fighting the urge to belt it out, mainly because - call it an instinct - the solicitors at my workplace would not have appreciated the melody of this beautiful song in the middle of the workday...or at any other time, I suppose.

However, the closer it came to leaving time, the more insistent the urge to sing became and, as I hurried to my car, I was already singing (although not as loudly as I wanted). It was a huge relief to get in the car and finally, FINALLY release the song. Whoever noticed me as I drove home might have thought I was in agony, or possibly just off my head, because believe me, I was bellowing my lungs out as I hit the high spots. If you click on the song link above and listen to the song, you'll notice that Rafi sahab started out on a ridiculously high note and rose higher still in the course of it. Just right for bellowing. And it wasn't just "Meri kahani..." that was rendered, it was followed in good order by others from the movie. You'd better believe that they were in the exact order as on the tape.

Oh, the other tape (which I mentioned earlier) had "Baiju Bawra" on one side, and I've no idea what was on the other side, because after listening to Baiju Bawra, no other movie songs sounded good enough. So I kept having to rewind the Baiju Bawra side over and over. But wouldn't the tape wear out on the one side, you ask (and you do realise that the mere asking dates you, don't you?) Well, yes, it did wear out, and so did its replacement, and its replacement too, and so on down the line. It was a loooooooong time before I graduated to CDs, but even those stopped working when they accumulated enough scratches. It's such a blessing that you can't wear out YouTube videos!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The call of the not-so-wild

In my first year at the Meenakshi College for Women in Chennai, I met Gee, with whom I quite reasonably soon (for me) became best friends – mainly because she had enough friendliness and gregariousness in her for the both of us (and spill over to include dozens of others, but that’s beside the point here).

What thrilled me to bits was that, in her, I’d found someone who also loved books (actual books without pictures or cartoons) and reading, and who read nearly as voraciously as I did. All through school there had been a drought of book-loving friends in my life, so it was doubly sweet that we had so many favourite authors and books in common. At that point my biggest craze was Gerald Durrell and his fabulously funny books, and we spent many happy hours discussing his writing with great enthusiasm. 

I always love anybody with a sense of humour, and Gerald Durrell had that in spades. Along with a pronounced funnybone, he also had the ability to make every animal, bird and insect that he came into contact with seem really attractive to be around, and his lifestyle appeared to be incredibly fun (even though he went to great efforts to talk about just how difficult it was really). I've always had this amazing ability to completely ignore things that don't fit into my world view, so I just skated right past the difficulties and dangers that he described, and latched on to the fun bits - which, to be fair, were aplenty! 

So then I had this fabulous and original (to my thinking) idea of writing to Mr Durrell at his Jersey Zoo, describing just how much I loved his humour and his writing and his life and the animals in his zoo, and expressing the hope that I could one day work there and help look after the livestock. Given that I was in my first year of college - 17 years old! - my naivete in expecting him to reply personally to my lovingly hand-written letter was really rather extreme. (It never occurred to me that he would probably have been getting hundreds if not thousands of such fangirl letters, nor that he probably didn't have the time to reply personally to each letter - not unless it was accompanied by a fat cheque for his zoo, I guess.) 

I told Gee that I'd written to him, but she felt that I would likely not get a reply. However, remember what I said about ignoring things that didn't fit into my world view? Of course I brushed off what she said and waited impatiently for a reply. A few weeks later, when I got a letter with the Jersey Zoo address on the envelope, I was thrilled beyond words! My hero had written to me, and Gee was wrong! Eagerly, enthusiastically, I tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter...only to have every last atom of enthusiasm extinguished within the space of the first three words of the letter: "Dear Mr Shyamala". 

Dear Mr Shyamala??? My hero had called me "Mr Shyamala"! He thought I was a man! Seriously, how I expected anybody in Jersey to realise that "Shyamala Ramanathan" was not a man is beyond me, but the fact all the same is that I was crushed, absolutely crushed. And embarrassed. Bad enough that my hero had not seen my letter, but worse, not even the minion who had replied had bothered to read it (proof: I was addressed as "Mr Shyamala" - and anyone who'd read even a few lines would have realised from the gushing that the writer could only have been a teenage girl). Worst of all, it was a classic "money begging" response, asking me to send a donation if I wanted the animals in the zoo to continue being looked after. 

So that was one reason why I decided that becoming a naturalist and conservationist like Mr Durrell was not for me. The other reason, of course, was that it occurred to me (eventually, after the tears had dried) that I decidedly did NOT like slugs, spiders, caterpillars, earthworms, bees, wasps, ants, snakes and such like creatures that Gerald wrote so affectionately about, and that I did NOT want to be stung, scratched, bitten, poisoned or otherwise harmed in any way by getting up close and personal with them. My heart had finally caught up with what my head had been trying to tell me - basically, that I was not cut out to work with animals. With some relief, I came to the conclusion that I was much happier reading about them, and that it was much easier to love them all by proxy and within the confines of a book. 

That was the end of my naturalist dreams, but it didn't stop me enjoying Gerald Durrell's books, and I still persisted with a few daydreams about how when I was in a job and earning money, I would send the Jersey Zoo a big fat cheque and THEN ol' Gerald would send me a hand written letter to thank me for my love and loyalty... My dreams die hardest of all, I'll have you know. It would make John McClane green with jealousy. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Letting loose my inner William

Do you remember the Just William books, by Richmal Crompton? My friend Brinda and I were crazy about William (yes, at age 26 - so what?) and hunted down as many of the books as were available to us, by hook or by crook. Incidentally, isn't Richmal the most unusual name? I've never come across it anywhere else, never heard of anybody else with that name, in reality or in fiction. Until I checked on on the Internet, I hadn't even been sure if Richmal was a man or a woman (woman, if that was unclear to you too). 

In one of the books, William is collecting writing implements for him and his gang to bring out a newspaper. Richmal Crompton's description has remained with me all down the years - "William's task was to collect pencils. Henry's was to supply the paper. William collected pencils, and in collecting pencils as in everything else he was very thorough. He seemed to attract pencils like a magnet. They left their hiding-places of bureaus and davenports and attache cases and pockets and boxes and flocked into his possession. For days afterwards the adult members of the Brown family were indignantly accusing each other of having taken each other's pencils, nor was peace restored till Mr Brown brought back a large supply of fresh pencils from the City".

Specifically, the bit which says "he attracted pencils like a magnet"? I do that too! Not in collecting pencils, but in other things - and the main place where I do this nowadays is on Amazon. Over the years, my interest has been taken by various things arty-farty. It started with fabric painting when I was in my early 20s (and had got my first job). Camlin fabric paints were my favourite, and also the only ones that I knew about. At that point the magnet effect hadn't started because I hadn't quite grasped just how much money could buy, and I was still innocent enough to only buy what I needed. (Yes, I do wish I could go back to that state of mind - it would save a bleddy fortune, I tell you!)

However, that innocence didn't last long. In Singapore I had other vices to pander to, but artsy craftsy didn't come into it. It was only after coming to the UK, during the couple of years that I wasn't allowed to work here, that I really got into the arts and crafts. Apart from indulging in loads of fabric paints (which I didn't use as much as I should have) from Dylon and other manufacturers, I did a few courses.
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Watercolouring was the first, and of course I bought all the paraphernalia - sketchbook, artist's easel, palette, water colour paints, the best brushes I could afford (although I wasn't quite far gone enough to pay over £100 for a single brush!), books on teaching yourself to watercolour, a DVD by a famous children's TV arts presenter on step-by-step watercolour painting - you name it, I bought it. I didn't, however, use all these things as much as I should have, because by then my interest was taken up by....
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Embroidery. This was a craze that lasted a few years (and is still ongoing, although perhaps with a little less craze) - so I bought embroidery threads by the dozen, supplemented by some really beautiful expensive silks from a trip to the USA by way of a shop called Michaels (I think). I admit to going slightly bonkers there because of all the things that I wanted to buy that weren't available back home (or at least not in the same avatars).Oh, and I went to the Hobbycrafts Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham and while I tried very hard to restrain myself, I still ended up with silk fabrics, threads and a few books on embroidery. Of course at the same time I was also trawling Ebay and Amazon for whatever offbeat books I could find, and yet more silks.
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In between, I experimented with...

Jewellery making. This didn't last beyond the one beginners course that I attended. Too much like hard work, and it required a workshop if I wanted at all to make anything worthwhile. I didn't want to play with fire and I definitely didn't want to bend metal into weird shapes. However, that didn't stop me from getting the paraphernalia that went with it - copper wire, a whole set of pliers of different sizes and a jeweller's magnifying glass, plus a book on metal craft. After that...

Beading. I went to quite a few classes, and made some bracelets and a couple of necklaces, some of which were even wearable, and one really rather complicated necklace that I gifted away (kinda sorta regret that, almost). But I bought dozens and dozens of packs of glittering little beads in various shapes and of various makes from various Internet crafts shops - and believe you me, a lot of the beads are incredibly expensive (I lusted after them, but couldn't afford them)! Other accessories like beading needles, wax, strong threads, a design board, and so on, also found their way to me. Sequins, too. I had big dreams of embellishing T-shirts and clothes with the beads and sequins - I did a few, but again, not enough. However, the beads remain with me, because they are just so very pretty! Shiny, glittering little things in such gorgeous colours. If I could eat them, I would! Then...
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Colouring. I always loved it, and with colouring being classed a de-stressing activity, I was only too happy to buy colour pencils and gel pens and sketch pens and adult colouring books (by which i do not mean pornographic pictures!). I'm not in the least stressed but I do enjoy colouring very much. It's something that my niece (five years old) and I have in common! 

My latest venture is sewing. This was partly wanting to take it up and partly being pushed into it willy-nilly by my sister and brother who gifted me a gorgeous Janome sewing machine last year. It sat at home for a few months while I guiltily ignored it, too scared to actually check out its workings. ew. But of COURSE I had all the accessories arriving at my doorstep in a series of deliveries way before I signed up for a few classes at a local sewing school (which unfortunately closed down a few months after I joined! - I swear it wasn't my fault)  - so the pinking shears, the tailor's scissors, sewing threads in a dozen colours, 3-foot quilting ruler, square quilting ruler, needle threader, seam unpicker, measuring tape, rotary cutters in two sizes, flat-headed glass pins, table-top ironing board, cutting mat in two sizes,  and various other necessities were all in place before I knew how to thread the darned machine! And let's not forget the cloth and pre-cut fabric squares for quilting. 

To be fair, I've actually stitched usable things that look quite pretty too: A Christmas table runner and four matching placemats. A cushion cover complete with piping and concealed zip. At least a dozen little bags which I gifted to various little girls I knew (it's a different matter that my mother had to sew zips to the bags to stop little-girl possessions from falling out). A small quilt for a small child (which incorporated some embroidery too). And now I'm working on a bigger quilt for a bigger child, my niece, who is 5 years old. When I complete it, I will be making a bigger quilt still, for my sister. This sewing lark might just be the one that lasts the duration...but there will probably be other things to try, and let my inner William loose. Watch this space, won't you? 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

It's National Poetry Day today!

And to show my appreciation for poetry, I will refrain from writing any.

It's no joke to invent a pun
Writing a poem is also not fun
Coming up with a limerick
Is at best a bit of a shtick -
Now I wish I had never begun!

What? A limerick isn't real poetry! That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.


I'm a pretty damn good touch-typist, and have been one ever since my sister and I took typing classes at a typing and shorthand institute very close to home, when we were living in Abhiramapuram. I can't actually remember the name of the institute now, but I remember that the typing instructor looked and sounded very much like the Tamil actor Bhagyaraj (he of the "ek gaon mein ek kisan raghuthatha" fame), and had a really droll way of talking that had me and my sister in fits of giggles at the most inappropriate times (like when he was giving us instructions before our typing exam, for instance). He would chide us for our inattention, but that just made the giggles worse. Poor man, he was only trying his best to help us pass the typing exam! 

Those were the days of manual typewriters, and while I learnt to type on a manual one, I never again had occasion to use one of them after leaving the institute. At home I had my dad's electric typewriter, which was infinitely easier to type on compared to bashing the keys on a manual. And once I started work, it was straight onto computers and keyboards, which were of course easiest of all to use. 

While I can type up a storm and maintain well above average accuracy, there are some words which I always, always type incorrectly - not on purpose, it's just how it happens. For instance, "Shrewsbury"(my adopted hometown). It comes out as "Shrwesbury", or "Shrewsbruy" for some reason I've never been able to fathom, and then I have to go back and correct it. Another word that I misspell is "brown", which comes out as "borwn". It's not a word that you  would normally encounter in the way of work (not in my work, at any rate), but because the cookie always crumbles in the most inconvenient way, there's a new client at work whose surname is Brown, and who lives in Shrewsbury! 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Who "nose" the answer?

Have you ever noticed when people blow their noses into a handkerchief or tissue, they invariably look at the handkerchief or tissue afterwards? Why do they do that? What are they expecting to see there?  

If you can hazard a guess, please leave your insight in the comment section. (I'm expecting dozens of comments, same as for my previous blog posts. Not. Ha!)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Driving Mrs Crazy

When you're driving behind someone who's crawling at 10mph in a 30mph zone, and you can't pass because there's traffic coming the other way, when you get more and more irritated, and when eventually an opportunity to pass opens up and you can leave that tortoise behind...do you zoom ahead thankfully, only to suddenly realise that you're doing nearly 40mph, and slow down sharply so that you're no longer breaking the speed limit? Or is that just me? 

If ever I get caught speeding like that - and I'm not a speed freak in general - it will be entirely and absolutely the fault of those "careful" drivers whose "safe driving" makes law-abiding people lose their temper and inadvertently ignore traffic laws. If going over the speed limit is breaking the law, doing 10mph in a 30 zone should be equally an offence!