Total Pageviews

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Writerly Discussion

Shall we add yet another subscription from the emails already flooding our inboxes? I'm sure everyone using the 'net has sighed over this question more than once. But today I've added, the promise of which is a mix of writers from beginner to best seller, discussing what it is that makes good writing work tick. (Did I state that right?) And what's not to like about a writing site whose values include hilarity and elegance of prose??
Today's entry was a totally timely call to reconsider goals. Eager to exchange my usual 'never have time' excuse for not writing, for renewed, enduring, proactive, productive writing habits, I offered my 2011 writing goals as a comment thereon. My goals will need tweaking til they are as specific as Roxanne's (another commentator), but here's a start:
I will write every day,
concentrate on developing and completing one larger writing project at a time -- while not neglecting to 'work the ground' for other projects, and
write a blog entry, and/or make a submission at least once a week .
Additional resolve, which a young grad student recently suggested to me, is to write these goals out and post them where I'll see and repeat them every day.
Lordwilling, this will most certainly be true! Happy 2011 everybody, happy writing!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Recorded of a Sunday morning, Guntur, India, November 21, 2010

This morning Franklin and I walked to church (3 blocks) because the driver wanted the day off. The loudspeaker was so loud, that too inside a concrete building, that my ears tingled. I like it better when we sit outside! (They have a shamiana outside one wing regularly.) I've developed a ruse of pressing a finger into one ear while appearing to be resting my head on my hand, changing sides periodically to give the other ear a break as well.

We sat in the wing that's mostly occupied by families and couples, opposite another one which is mostly used by women and children, both wing off the main section where women and men sit on different sides of the aisle. People filtered in (and a few out!) throughout the service. A few rows ahead of us, a dad came in following two young teen boys, and very intentionally plopped himself on the pew between them ...There wasn't going to be any nonsense there!...LOL...families!! A little girl and boy in front of us drew on paper, dropped pens behind the pew, the girl slipping around her mother and past us to retrieve them, twice, until Franklin picked it up and handed it back the third time; she tried to fold a handkerchief on the pew...toward the end of the 50 minute (!) sermon, the boy grabbed her, she grabbed his hair,and their father set them straight...ignoring them thereafter,
while she sat back and tried to chew sequins off the edge of her mom's saree...

(Obviously) I couldn't really follow the sermon today...It was too loud, and wide ranging, and lost me after the opening anecdote. Pastor seemed to keep repeating something about oil and cd's, which, my husband told me later, was not really the case. I think I got more from looking out the open window, where a bush pushed a bright red, hydrangea-like 'manmatha baarnamulu' (cupid's arrows) flower against the decorative metal grating, and a large group of people, maybe fifty, sat on plastic patio-type chairs under the shade of a tree nearer the gate.

A young mother with an infant in her arms sat between
an active toddler, who sat next to (evidently) the dad, and a grandmother. The poor mom must have been so tired; she sat the whole time, rubbing her eyes and (surreptitously, under her saree) her breasts, and looked like she was first sleeping, then crying into the baby's receiving blanket, with which she wiped her eyes now and then. The toddler got down from his chair and patted her arm, then went to his grandmother, who gave him her purse which he was hardly able to lug over to his chair. Except for this, the father and the grandmother were passively involved only in the service. I wanted to go and say something empathetic, a blessing, to the mother after the service, but by the time we came out they were gone.

We walked over to the nearby hotel for our usual after-church coffee, but Raja Rao did not show up (he had called earlier, but gone to a different church...he usually joins us) and, although the coffee shop is named '24-7' it was not time yet, so we walked out into the intense mid-day sun and scrunched under the vendor's umbrella with another thirsty family, standing while we ordered and each drank the refreshing, restorative water of a 'special Kerala' (large, yellowish) coconut through a thin straw, thrust into the heavy, freshly machete-slashed fruit. My gosh, they were HUGE; there was about a pint and a half of liquid in mine! Not an exciting taste-thrill, but especially good for beating the heat and sustaining health. Like the touch of the toddler, sustaining love of life.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Walk in the Stadium

A Walk in the Stadium Thursday, January 6, 2011

We need to walk more: We are getting a bit spoiled, living in this India society where most every-one who has a car has a driver to drive and take care of it, as well as drive them (us) places. Ours is a cream-colored, 'standard' Indian-made Ambassador, bought second hand last year. Our driver, Raghava, is a soft-spoken man with typically insightful Indian networking skills, besides generous portions of general helpfulness, quick thinking, and a penchant for vigorous stick-shifting, the latter probably accrued from previous employment as a city bus driver. This evening, Raghava drives us to a stadium in another neighborhood for an evening walk.
Night falls early and quickly this near to the equator; it is already dark at six thirty as our headlights join bright lights of traffic and shops along a bustling main road during the busiest, evening hours. Fruit stands lit with bare light bulbs, lights of open-sided refreshment cafe's and bakeries shine upon the road, silhouetting customers standing at their counters. One of the first of the best, "Baker's Fun" is a large, brightly lit pink box sporting an evening fast-food section opposite gleaming glass cabinets of cakes, cookies, and curry-, chocolate-, or cream filled pastries. Next door, strings of white lights outline the "Little Planet" gift shop, the exterior of which is highlighted in hues of ultra-violet. Clusters of Chaitanya students, incognito in deeper shadows under a tree and around the now-darkened entrance of their franchise high school and college steps, seize the opportunity to chat while waiting for friends' or relatives' vehicles, or the school's bus, to take them home.
Every kind of commerce is doing a brisk business; even more people are walking than there are vehicles, along this stretch of road. Raghava turns a corner at the uber-busy intersection of four different neighborhoods, slows past a couple dozen garage-size shops including pre-packaged snack store (where open carts prepared hot snacks to order, last year), a barber or two, tire repair-while-your-wait shop, and a 'dollar' jewelery shop. He drops us in front of a watchman who swings the tall iron-grating of the stadium gate open, just wide enough for us to enter. Raghava parks the car beyond a small sea of motorcycles outside the compound wall, and joins us for a short while, before we have even made our first round.
Inside the stadium, there is an orderly, purpose-driven bustle. Undeterred by a limp and a cane, we step right in to the flow of a couple hundred walkers already immersed in the medium to brisk strides of their evening constitutionals, making rounds on a track which would fit comfortably around a football field.. Wearing sandals or tennis shoes--incongruous but practical below flowing sarees and comfortable salwar-kameezes--, ignoring the occasional rock jutting up from the burnt orange, beaten earth perimeter path, single, pairs and groups of women, singles and pairs of men, some on cell phones, chat comfortably with their peers. Life's burdens are lifted, problems solved, advice shared in the coolness of January evening air and anonymity of this public place. Husbands and wives (the older and younger ones walking abreast of, middle-aged ones walking behind, their husbands ), young and old, singles, pairs, and groups of women and men are in constant fluid movement around a three story concrete building and two large play areas. They flow around us too, sometimes with a side-or backward glance, but never with annoyance, as we move at a slower, but comfortable, steady pace.
Inside one corner of the track a concrete surface, further divided into a roller rink and a basketball court surrounded by benches and a four tier concrete gallery, is well lit by multiple stadium lights, while a larger ground encompasses a second, single, straight track ranging along one side of the building at the center of the rectangular campus,and a still-larger maidan...
Lights high up on the light green,three story concrete building, which houses a gym and a variety of fitness and activity rooms, are muted by the time they near the ground, casting latticed shadows from trees and shrubbery along two sides of the larger track. The dimness and shadows are reflected in the muted voices and relaxed demeanor of the walkers. The maidan is dim, backlit by the brighter rink and court behind a small group of youth attempting to organize casual contests on the straight track, and families sitting and chatting, smaller children cavorting, on the maidan as though they were in a park.
The third side of the perimeter track backs a private high school, the fourth runs along the backside of shops on the main road, punctuated by a secondary gate toward which some of the walkers veer at the end of their walk. Nestled behind shops at the busy intersection we passed on our way here, is another, smaller exit. Nearer that part of the track, a low divider corrals bicycles and a few onlookers...mostly men...
Brighter, stadium lights blaze over eight or ten youth of varying ages, engaged in a session of pick-up basketball. Next to them, a dozen earnest, helmeted in-line skaters bend to practice their skill, speeding and slowing as they weave gracefully in and out of each others' paths, today's newspaper report of district youth skating competitions no doubt fueling their determination. The youngest appears to be about eight, the oldest and tallest, a shorts and t-shirt clad girl, perhaps fifteen or sixteen.
Older gentlemen sit and gab with each other on a series of concrete benches on two sides of the roller rink. Their heads and eyes turn casually toward us and back, a few of them with arms flung casually over the back of the bench and their neighbor, as we pass. They seem to be scanning for information, and perhaps for the possibility of new faces to join their accustomed evening coteries. Young mothers with children too young to allow free roaming, wives waiting for their husbands to finish walking, and grandmothers, some of them evidently babysitting, sit on the triple-tiered bench at the end of the rink, beside a column bearing details of the stadium's creation and namesake.
High in a velvet sky, a sliver of new moon graces the scene that bears ample witness to the wisdom of the stadium forebears. A young man, once gatekeeper at a small school near our home, materializes out of the crowd, toward the end of our walk. He now works security at the stadium compound, and is as obviously enthusiastic about this new assignment as he is to greet us after a year or so of our absence from town. We must definitely come again.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day in Brodipet

New Year's morning is raucous as well...Our own and the neighbor's phones (Windows are open) ringing with greetings to/from friends as well as every member of the family, now scattered worldwide. Brother-in-law Ramesh, just 'in' from the 'states, is awake, has already been to the neighborhood '711,' a little old shop in a fadey but classy old building two blocks away, and is busy debriefing a six year absence, renewing connections with life in Brodipet. Sister-in-law Chandrahas and her husband come to call. The veggie hawkers and Venkateswarao, the neighborhood ironing man, conclude their business early. A shirt tail relative comes for his usual perusal of the newspaper, two or three beggars surface with holiday hopefulness, and even the postman comes to collect his holiday cheer. Franklin dispenses paper money (all but one of the coins are to be retired in the new year, the newspaper informs us). A former helper and still good friend comes to call, and the guys cluster over tea in the sunny back yard, A neighbor's puja prayers are particularly loud and long.
Raghava, our driver, a mild mannered man who 'wears many hats,' helps Manjula strip piquant gongorra leaves from their red stems, and cook chicken and coconut rice (evidently a new preparation for both of them) for lunch. This was one of my mother-in-law's specialties, for special occasions. There is a 'stir' when the rice is deemed too dry, but should neither be watered down or burn...the joint decision is to wrap and grab a towel around the sides and lid, and flip the whole thing, flat lid in place, upside down...unf. nobody thinks of adding just a bit of water, and it ends up being dry anyway...Never mind, it's well past lunch time...and at least the rice is not burnt.
The next drama is asking 100 yr old Tata to pray...He does not understand, first what, then why, he is being asked to do so. Feeling around himself and his
cot, he asks where is his book. He is used to praying over an open Bible. Ramesh has taken it to use, but it is fetched back. Then he wonders what to read. Cook,
son, daughter, all add their two pice worth to no avail. Finally Franklin takes the Bible and chooses a Psalm, starts to read, and this is all the priming Tata needs...he finishes several of the verses Franklin starts...but is again confused when asked to pray...Finally Franklin prays, a short prayer for an Indian one, for each member of the family and their families,for forgiveness and forbearance. He and I sing the doxology, while the others (two brothers, sister and brother-in-law) have already gone to the kitchen and are dishing out the yellow coconut rice, chicken curry, and Gongorra Mamsam. (It's meat, this time lamb, in a curry in a gravy with semi-pureed gongorra greens.)
The relative leaves his newspaper to join us, and, for once, the helpers do too (they usually demur, won't eat in our presence, as a matter of prevailing custom). Conversation flows as we eat, and veers toward interviewing the relative for whatever he can tell of people and places of common interest. The helpers retreat to tackle the dishes. The conversation, now at a pace I cannot follow and a pitch akin to heated argument--although it's not-- and the rich food at a late hour (it's already three o'clock) challenge my mind, nerves and stomach. Completely unnoticed, I retreat to an inner room where the 'volume' is lower, and I can meditate about my own distant family, our daughter and her crew so recently departed from India, son and fiancee' on the verge of new beginnings in their lives.
New Year's day evening, I analyze perforce the incessant, urgent chant of a Hindu celebration or observance further down the street...It's an insistent ostinato to the tune and rhythm of the first line of "Good King Wenceslas," repeated twice, the second time '...out' omitted in favor of prolonging the last two notes, '-las-- looked--,", to the unison accompaniment of electronic harmonium and a tinkling rhythm instrument. Occasionally there is a 'verse;' after a few hours there are more frequent tacit interludes and new voices, some of them youthful, taking up the chant. The chanting's losing strength by the time I lie down to sleep at 10:20 and peters out by the time I finally doze off, wondering if Indian friends abroad miss the nighttime chanting soundscape of the neighborhood as much as I miss the absolute stillness of a snowy Minnesota night...
Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night. God bless us, everyone.