Thanks to everyone who emailed me in the last few days; sorry I couldn’t give an earlier update. I was actually in Bombay – I chose the worst three days to go in all the six months that I have been here, just four hours away – but I was not near the sites of attack, and am safe.
I went to Bombay to meet some friends, attend a workshop and finally visit the state archives for some work. The day of the attacks, a bunch of us briefly talked about visiting the Gateway of India, looking around some downtown sights, and maybe choosing a fancy place nearby for dinner – like the Taj coffee house nearby! But then we found something better to do and stayed in our northern suburb. An excellent idea, as it turned out! The scale and audacity of this attack, the high profile, upscale targets, Westerners among the dead, etc. has stunned everybody, I guess, including the global media*, even though it is hardly the first time the city has seen such senseless and sudden killing, and this is the seventh or eighth militant strike on an Indian city in the last six months. This is the second time I’ve been in the same city as a serial blast – I was in New Delhi in September, too, and this routine of texting friends to find out if they’re okay and thanking one’s stars that one was not too close to the scenes of carnage is becoming sickeningly familiar. This one rattled me a lot, and the atmosphere of fear, tension and utter exhaustion in Bombay was palpable.
There’s so much to rage about – the rotting, utterly bankrupt and corrupt political system, the bellowing TV anchors and their hysterical, irresponsible and speculative reporting (Note to media: adding a question mark to a rumour – “another bomb at CST Station?” on a moving ticker-tape, or inserting the caveat “Are these rumours true?” above a list of wild, front-page speculations is not ethical journalism!), the blame game among political parties that has already begun, the utter horror of 20-something, smiling youth spraying bullets into crowds, the bewildering cascade of global and local causes and chains that makes such mayhem possible, the knowledge that this will not be the last – but for now, my heart and condolences go out to a fellow Raveler, who lost her mother in the indiscriminate firing that day.
*Although someone told me that Deepak Chopra, of Yoga-lifestyle-living fame, was interviewed by CNN in the US as an expert on the matter – is that true? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that.
Today my blog is three years old. It feels like only yesterday that it turned two, even though this has been an horribly long and exhausting year. When I came to India a few months ago I was worried that with the higher temperatures the knitting would fall by the wayside and then so would the blog. But with each passing year I realise how prescient and apt my choice of tag-line was. The blogging (about the knitting, but much else besides, as it turns out!) really does keep me sane through some incredible highs and lows in my life. I hope I don’t tire of it anytime soon – or do you, my dear readers. Incidentally, my stats have spiked quite a bit in recent months, but I don’t really have an idea from the comments about who many of the new readers are – If you are a relatively new visitor, knitter or non-knitter, I hope you’ll stop to say hello today! I’m curious.
Above is another reason to celebrate. Much of the BPT sweater you see above was knit watching the glorious India-Australia cricket test series (The Border-Gavaskar Trophy), which India won 2-0, giving the Aussies a severe drubbing. I watched a well-played, drama-filled test series after years and it was most wonderful. Watching the Indian team, which has always specialised in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, methodically beat the mighty (and might I say snooty) Australians was only part of it. (Okay, a big part of it.) It was bittersweet to watch old favourite players play fiery final games before retirement (although Sourav Ganguly’s golden duck on his final test innings was too painful to watch, however Bradman-esque) and great to discover many cool and sexy new players (hellooooo Mahendra Singh Dhoni!) that I had seen in a lot of annoying TV ads, but never actually playing.
A third reason to celebrate is that the BPT is not only progressing very rapidly – it also looks like it will fit quite well! I have about 40-odd rows left to do on the body, and then the sleeves. I’m thinking of adding pockets in addition to the hood, depending on how much yarn I have left. The India-England one-day cricket series is beginning on Thursday. Here’s hoping that this encounter is as exciting, and at its end there’s a finished sweater to enjoy.
Last Diwali I rued the fact that I could never be home for this mid-semester festival. I had a blast instead with friends in the Bay Area. This year, amazingly, the food took a backseat even though I was with my family, and instead of celebrating at home, we skipped the festivities and the ear-splitting, incessant firecrackers in the city and went on a trip. We went back to north Karnataka: our route this time was Saundatti-Hampi-Aihole-Pattadkal-Badami-Kudala Sangama-Almatti. Below is a spread of one photo from each location respectively. As always, click through to Flickr for larger versions, and many more annotated photos of each site.
One of my adolescent fantasies was to drive a rough and ready jeep (4×4 vehicles are often generically called jeeps in India) through the rugged landscape and bad roads from Pune to my grandpa’s in Bagalkot. In this fantasy, my superior driving skills got me through the bruising country, and I drew up at the gate of our old house in a triumphant swirl of red dust. I was of course lissom, and wearing chic dark glasses, short shorts and a skimpy top.
The house, as you know, is gone. Let’s not even go near lissom or the short shorts. And it wasn’t a jeep, it was a small compact car, but boy did the rugged landscape, the superior driving, and the bad roads part work out just like I’d imagined. We encountered some of the best (NH4) and worst (too many to list) back roads in northern Karnataka. This was my first time truly driving a car for extended periods in India, and I enjoyed it immensely. The area is now very cash-crop-intensive, with sunflowers, corn, tobacco and sugarcane nearing harvest all around us. (This increase in this cashcropping, especially corn in the past decade, warrants a separate post, really. Michael Pollan is right – corn is fucking everywhere.)
A Bay area friend was frequently on my mind, as I thought of the history of the region, and about Kannada and Kannadigas. The state (Karnataka) and the language (Kannada) are hardly unique in their diversity of dialects, religious-cultural influences and histories, especially in the subcontinent. But it is still interesting to closely watch how our family, settled outside the state, adjusts to the subtle differences of word-usage and twang from district to district, and how we modulate our speech accordingly when we visit.
When asking for directions, my father reverts to the rural Bijapur speech he spoke as a kid on the farm. My staunch Kannadiga-patriot brother-in-law insists on speaking “pure” Kannada the minute he crosses the border, his Marathi evaporating fast. Oh this red soil! he murmurs, his eyes misting over. He points out our “mistakes” and tells us how to speak the “correct” Kannada of southern Bangalore and Mysore. We roll our eyes, because we can still tell the northern Hubli strains in his accent. His sons mimic him in the hopes of getting the goodies they want to pry out of him, both cunningly bilingual in Marathi and Kannada since they learnt to speak. My sister and I freeze initially, and it takes us a while to acquire that delicious sing-song of Bijapur district-speak. We soon surprise ourselves with our fluency. My mother decides it’s not worth the effort – her Marathi is better, she taught the language for years, and her Kannada shows it. The ratio never falters with her.
The Maharashtra-Karnataka state border has been witness to serious tensions over these linguistic differences, each state wanting a piece of the meaty, tobacco-rich area. Like other census-based partitions in South Asia, it has not been a happy one, each side left feeling cheated out of the boundary arrangements. Bigots on either side proudly refuse to speak the other language, even though it is impossible not to be bilingual here. When we were kids and we would travel down the National Highway 4 (Bombay-Bangalore), sometimes during violent outbursts, my sister and I played a game – converse only in Marathi till the border town of Nipani, then only in Kannada. The one who used a word from the other language lost a point. We realised very early how porous our versions of both languages were – we kept losing points. It has remained like that, thankfully, and unlike many fools in both states, we don’t chase the vanishing horizon of excessive linguistic purity.
At the glorious ruins of Hampi, purity keeps tempting people into dangerous pasts. Local guidebooks and tourists are at pains to insist on the exclusively Kannadiga roots of the kingdom’s dynasties (even though Krishnadevaraya, its most famous king’s love for Telugu is well-known), the newly elected BJP government in Karnataka is only the latest in a long line of cheap memory-makers to cash in on Vijayanagara’s position as a Hindu bastion against Muslim intrusions into an imagined pure Indian culture. The stone carvings themselves, meanwhile, hint at more complex memories, of central Asian horse-traders, Indo-Persian and Dravidian architecture, Hindu mythology and art, animist deities, and a deliciously polyglot landscape.
History and language are, and ought to be, messy. I wish we’d focus on keeping our monuments clean and tidy, instead of the pasts and peoples they are traces of.