Living in a Louis Kahn

A tribute to the architect on his birthday (Louis Kahn: Born 20 Feb, 1901)

When did it really strike me that I was living somewhere very special? Well, when one of my architect colleagues introduced me to his sister—another architect—as follows:

‘Meet Meena. She lives in a Louis Kahn.’

Wow! That’s the nearest I ever got to being a brand person! No one is going to ever accuse me of ‘wearing a Satya Paul’ or ‘carrying a Prada’. But this felt good!

I lived on the campus of IIM Ahmedabad, as a faculty-spouse for over 15 years. On an everyday basis, living in the IIM houses was/is about: ‘Oh God! The wall is seeping again’. Or ‘Why are these rooms so cold?’ or ‘This red brick is completely impractical for Ahmadabad. Look how they pit’.  I suppose it needs an outsider’s perspective and a bit of distance to help us appreciate things we take for granted or actively crib about!

Living on the IIM-A campus is something special—it’s being part of history and a special vision. A vision forged by the founders of the institution, and given physical shape primarily by the architect (because, frankly, there is no landscaping to talk about!!).

Some things about the campus never cease to surprise, for instance: How is that there are so many students around, but it’s still such a quiet and serene place? How is it that the lives of the families living on campus and the lives of students almost never intersect? The only time you see students is if you go to the bank or decide to walk the path going between the dorms to reach the main gate. The only time you hear students is when they do a particularly loud ‘Tempo’ shout. Considering it’s not a very large campus, how does this work?

The arrangement of houses is again something special. There is such a respect for personal space. At an everyday level, that translates to ‘You simply don’t have to ever see your neighbours unless you want to!’ But at the same time, there is the comforting feeling that the community is there when you need them!

IIM houses, are to say the least, quirky! Anyone who has lived in different ‘regular’ houses (and believe me, we have!) would know that it is not possible to take it for granted that door and window curtains are transferrable from one house to another. Why do measurements differ from house to house? No one I know has an answer! And the door from the drawing room to the rest of the house! Some houses have wooden doors, some glass; the position is a bit different in each house. That ‘below the staircase’ storage space bang opposite that door and how to screen it visually has perplexed one and all!

And the completely non-uniform lawns! We’ve lived in a house with the most luxurious 3-sided lawn; one which had decent-sized lawns on both the back and front; and one which had a shamefully tiny odd-sized strip in the front, and a lovely one at the back!

Nature is very much a part of life on campus! Butterflies, dragonflies, birds nesting in the bushes, bats mucking up the verandahs! On and off, monkeys were an active presence in our lives—they would jump on the cars, topple over the scooters and kick over the dustbins. It was as if all these had been set up as a gym for them to use! And the famous campus crow, which has been much studied by Prof. Venkat Rao, and which took a malevolent pleasure in messing up his scooter. We always had lots of vultures. But what with the general decline of the species, they almost disappeared from the campus. Hopefully now, with the banning of the drug implicated in the decline, the campus too is seeing a revival.

I’ve written only about the physical aspects of the campus. But I believe that this actually governs to a large extent the other aspects, and is what makes the IIM campus what it is, and defines the community. Detached but supportive. Making one feel a part of something larger, a grand vision. Quirky and individualistic. And just a bit impractical!

–Meena

This is about the old campus only. I don’t relate to the new campus, having left the campus by the mid-naughts.

Pomelo in My Yard

I marvel when I see the pomelo tree in my yard. It is no higher than 6 feet, and doesn’t have very strong branches. More a bush than a tree, almost. But the number of fruits it bears at a time, and the size of those fruits! I spanned one of the fruits on my tree and the circumference was upwards of 18 inches! And a tree may have up to 20 fruits at any given time. I really wonder how the tree takes the weight!
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Pomelo or Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis is the largest citrus fruit, and all other citrus fruits have apparently been hybridized from this. The pomelo tree shares ancestry with the grapefruit.

The origin of the name ‘pomelo’ is uncertain. My mother used to call it Bablimass, insisting that this was the Tamil name. Probably a corruption of pampa limāsu, which means “big citrus”

Coincidentally, there is a GI link to the pomelo. The Devanahalli pomelo is a variety of pomelo (Citrus maxima) grown in the region around Devanahalli taluk, Bangalore Rural District, India and locally known as chakkota.

The Devanahalli pomelo is protected under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act (GI Act) 1999 of the Government of India, under the title “Devanahalli Pomello”.

The Devanahalli pomelo has a unique, sweet taste, unlike other local varieties which have a bitter taste. Five decades ago, this plant was crossbred with local varieties, and it was nearing extinction. A few old Devanahalli pomelo plants were identified in the area and then propagated widely, thanks to which the variety has been preserved.

A story goes that Mahatma Gandhi tasted this fruit when he visited Nandi Hills near Devanahalli. He liked its taste and suggested that the authorities conserve this variety.

I wish the pomelo in my yard was a Devanahalli pomelo. But due to the special soil conditions at Devanahalli and its GI status, mine is not and cannot be!

So though I am not more than 20 kms away, sadly mine is a Rajanakunte pomelo, not a Devanahalli one!

I only ever tasted a fruit from my tree once, and did not particularly like the taste. Oh, if only I had a Devnahalli Pomelo tree!

So near, yet so far!

–Meena

Promoting GI, Protecting Diversity

Last week, I happened to go to Goa (regretfully, not a holiday!). The airport, as many airports across the country, is full of shops.

Apart from the usual brand shops and the special Goa memorabilia shops, I came across a fascinating outlet here. It was a ‘GIs of India’ shop!

Oh, I have jumped the gun! GI could stand for any number of things. I am referring to Geographical Indication, which is “an indication which identifies goods such as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”. GI is a type of intellectual property right, which certifies a product as having originated in a specific geographic location—for instance, that the Mysore silk you just bought is indeed produced in Mysore; or the Jaipur Blue Pottery is indeed from Jaipur.

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Madurai Sungudi is GI registered

India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 1999. The first GI product to be registered was Darjeeling Tea. Now there are 330 GI registered products—a fascinating range, from the usual suspects to the completely unexpected—from Kanpur Saddlery, to Beed Custard Apple; from Coimbatore Wet Grinder, to Varanasi Glass Beads!

The shop at the Goa Airport was very new, just being set up. But the staff were extremely enthusiastic and eager not just to sell their products, but also share information on the concept of GI shops. They said that a large chain of these was coming up across the country.

Indeed an exciting way to create a market for these amazing products, and preserve the diversity, both natural and cultural.

I’ll be on the lookout for these GI shops, for sure!

–Meena

Jodhpur: Ancient City, New Experiences

Jodhpur is an old city, going back to 1459. The magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, the slightly anachronistic Umaid Bhawan Palace, bazaars, the camels that still stride the streets, the food…an experience for all the senses.

One danger with going back to re-visit old haunts is that the present almost never lives up to past memories.

But as far as Jodhpur is concerned, I will not complain on this count! We’ve been going back every few years, and it just gets more interesting!

fort 4This year, the highlight of our trip was the Mehrangarh Fort. We go there every visit, but this year new areas seem to have been opened up. Shaded gardens, cobbled paths, open spaces from which to view the city–many of which I do not recall from dozens of visits. fort 2And the whole, immaculately maintained.

ziplineAnd the zipline running from the Fort! This has been in operation for about a year now, it seems. It has six segments, some offering dramatic views of the blue city; others of the ramparts of the fort; and yet others of the Padamsar lake. And most important, it looks safe and well-maintained, and the people running it come across as professional and competent.

I must not forget however the highlight of our trip. We went to catch a movie at the mall with our friends. And there, waiting with us was a lovely Rajput couple, with their little 6 month old son. He was bundled up in a green velvet teddy-bear like costume. After the usual cooing around the smiling baby, we asked what his name was. It was Rudra Pratap Singh! Wow! What a name for a gurgling little fellow dressed in green velvet! Will it put pressure on him? Or will he just grow into it? Who knows?

–Meena

PS: I did not zipline, scaredy me! Raghu did.

World Cancer Day: February 4

wcd3Scientists in Israel say they will find the definitive cure to cancer within the year. Who would not like to believe this? Who is there today who has not lost someone to cancer– a family member, a friend, a colleague?

Even as these reports hit the news, there were others saying this was all bunkum.

Well, I do not know enough about the matter. Reason tells me that it is unlikely that a panacea is so close. But my heart would like to believe it.

I have lost my brother to cancer. And the MMs lost a dear, dear friend in her thirties to the Dreaded C. These losses have left indelible imprints, and maybe changed us as people.

But equally have the incredible stories of survivors: young nieces who survived and have made a full lives for themselves; a sister in law so gutsy, I even forget what she has gone through; friends like Anita (who did two guest pieces for the blog last year), who have overcome; an amazing and brave lady I knew in Italy, who not just survived cancer, but started an NGO (called Attive Come Prima) which has helped generations of breast cancer survivors to cope.

It is in this context that Feb 4, World Cancer Day is important. World Cancer Day is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control to bring focus on the disease and come together to fight it. The day is marked by events across many parts of the world.

It’s a day to take a pause and see what we can do. Know young people who may be vulnerable to taking up smoking? As a parent, teacher, mentor, friend, do what you can to stop them. Know a family battling the C? Be there for them—physically, emotionally, every which way. Know about a good organization working on the issue? Donate generously.

‘9.6 million people die from cancer every year – this number is predicted to almost double by 2030. At least one third of common cancers are preventable. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. 70% of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries.’ Union for International Cancer Control.

–Meena

SOPing my Life

I am a great believer in Standard Operating Procedures.

SOPs had their origin in manufacturing, specifically pharma. An SOP is simply a documented process that an organization has to ensure services/products are delivered consistently every time.

But I find SOPs even more important in my personal life! I am pretty forgetful and not very organized. SOPs are what come to my rescue! Whenever something goes wrong more than once, I know it is time to find a systems solution.

For instance:

  • It happens pretty often specially during longer travels, that I reach where I need to go and find I have forgotten something important. So this has a two-fold SOP. First, I have drawn up a standard list of things needed during travel. And second, I bring down the suitcase the weekend before, and start putting in things as I remember. Not just clothes and things, but gifts to be taken, medicines, books for the journey, walking shoes, etc.
  • I know I need to take my cheque book to office the next day. Or, I have to take the strip of antibiotics that I am on. But I also know that I am sure to forget. So I have a designated place in the cupboard. Whatever I have to take with me to office the next day is put there, the moment I think of it. It could be a document I have been working on, work-related brochures I picked up on my tours and were in my suitcase, whatever…. Yes, it does mean going up and down with each item. But I have found it is quite a fool-proof method. The alternative is a good 75% chance I will leave it behind.
  • I often forget my specs and am at the other end of where I need them. So the SOP is to duplicate my reading glasses. I keep a pair in each handbag, in offices where I travel to often, as well as one in my bedroom and one in the living room of my house. Sounds extravagant? Not really! I buy them at Rs. 250 a pair!
  • I have organized my sari-blouses and my salwars and chudidars by colour. And have one organizer kitbag for each. So there is the a white salwars bag, cream salwars bag, greens and blues bag, reds and maroons bag, etc. I think it has helped. Rather than messing up a whole cupboard shelf, I only mess up one kit bag. Not quite Marie Kondo but…
  • And so on and so forth….

I am sure many people are organized enough without these aids. And even those that do have them, don’t necessarily think of  them as SOPs. But I just feel very organized and professional calling them that!

–Meena

Who Stole the Magic of the Movies?

Wasn’t movie-going a magical experience?

9b25c6ed-5b6b-40a3-a117-3852fd9590f7But a bit of the magic went away with the advent of TV and the proliferation of channels showing movies through the week. And then came videotapes and CDs and DVDs. And then came movies on demand. And then came movies on internet. And then came Netflix and Amazon Prime… Each reducing the magic a bit more.

But in-between  came multiplexes! So fancy, so luxurious. Such sinkable seats, such expensive eats. Amazing sound, luminous pictures. With this development, a lot of people thought that whatever the convenience of watching movies at home, people would flock back to theaters for the community-watching experience. The hush of the hall punctuated by collective laughs and sighs. The magic of a shared emotional experience.

But while technology is getting better, human behaviour is getting worse! So today, when I pay between Rs. 300 and 500 for a ticket, I have to contend with (a) mobile calls in loud voices which typically start ‘Ahhh Hello. I am in the theatre. Watching xxx…’ and go on for 3 minutes! (b) light flashing in my eyes in the middle of movies as people look at their SMS, Instagram, FB; (c) children running along the aisles, screaming and shouting, with no check; (d) babes in arms bawling; (e) my seat being shaken by the person behind who has their feet up on it; (f) loud conversations and discussions.

I remember my mother telling me that till I was about 3 years old, my parents never went for movies. They were no exceptions. In the days of yore, people with children did not go for movies because they didn’t want to disturb the other people in the hall. They did it because that was the socially responsible thing to do. And that at a time when there was no TV, no alternative source of entertainment.

Contrast this to something that happened to me a few months ago. Raghu and I were at a movie when the guy next to me got a call. His phone rang loudly and he started a conversation during the movie. After a minute, I really got mad and gestured to him not to talk. To no avail. After another minute, I told him firmly to ‘Please don’t disturb all of us. We are trying to watch the movie.’ He made a face at me and said into the phone ‘OK yaar, I’ll call you later. There are some people near me and they are making a big fuss. These oldies are such a pain.’ Or words to that effect! (I solemnly attest that this happened!).

So I don’t want to go theatres anymore. It is not for positive reasons like the convenience of watching a movie when I want, or the comfort of the armchair in my room. It is for negative reasons…wanting to avoid the anger and sadness of seeing people not caring for others, not observing basic courtesies, not taking responsibility for their behaviour or that of their children. And the knowledge hat these problems are not confined to movie halls, but pervade so many aspects of life.

Is it only me, or do other oldies have this problem too?

–Meena

 

Intelligent Design

The very first rule on good parenting is

Any decent psychologist will give you is

‘The consequences of the act should be clear to the child

Reward or punish the behaviour immediately and consistently

And make the connection obvious’

 

And when my friend bought a puppy the other day

The kennel owner gave him the same advice

 

Which brought to my mind a question

‘How come God doesn’t seem to know this rule

Which so many mere mortals seem to understand?

How come in His world

We do not see wicked deeds being punished

Or good ones rewarded?

On the contrary

The wicked seem to flourish

And seldom is good returned for good’.

 

Oh! Maybe I just don’t get it

Maybe I am an ignoramus

Maybe we humans are supposed to be so evolved

As to do right

Because it is right

And shun wrong

Because it is wrong

And not bother about consequences and rewards

Yes indeed! That in fact is what the Gita tells us

 

But for me

I am not at that high plane

I don’t know if there is a world or a life

Beyond this one

And, as a rational being,

I do not see why I should do right

If it is not rewarded

Or not do wrong

If it is

 

Without getting into the debate

On intelligent design

I would say

That this is

Not Very Intelligent Design!

–Meena

Art Mart

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A dramatic 6’x4’ acrylic on canvas by Mahadeva Shetty

The first Sunday of January is marked down in every Bangalorean’s calendar as Chitra Santhe Day, the day when the busy Kumara Krupa Road is taken over by artists exhibiting and selling their works.

20190106_111151The Sunday just gone by was the 16th edition of the Chitra Santhe. About 1500 artists from 16 states of India were there, and 400,000 people visited!

As a regular visitor to the Santhe, it is something I look forward to. More than the art even, the festive atmosphere, people taking the time to look at paintings and talk about them, mothers and fathers discussing art with their children….

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Grateful to the organizers and the city for this opportunity. And since it is about art, less words and some pics this time!

–Meena

Reach for the Rani Muthu!

I am sure ‘Rani Muthu’ means nothing to anyone except Tamilians. But to them, it means a lot! Rani Muthu is a daily tear-away calendar, without which no Mami can operate!

blog picIt is amazing how much information a page of approx. 2.5 inches square can pack. Not only does it give the ‘English month, date’ and day, but equally boldly, the Tamil day, date and month. This is just the start. Other information includes:

  • Rahu kalam: This is the period ofRahu— a certain period of time every day that is considered inauspicious for any new venture.(Of course, self-respecting Tams don’t need to consult an almanac for this, they know it offhand. For the next tier of not-so-well informed, there are mnemonics like Mother SaFather Wearing ThTurban Suddenly. Too complex to explain to the uninitiated, but a breeze for the savvy ones)

 

  • Yama gandam: Yamagandam means death time. Only death ceremonies are performed during Yamagandam. Any activity commenced during this time invites the ‘death’ of the work or energies relating to that work. So activities during Yamagandam leads to a failure or destruction of the end-result.

But it is not all gloom and doom. The page will also give you:

  • Nalla nayram: Good time to start anything.
  • Festivals falling on the date (local, regional, national, pan-religious included).
  • Phases of the moon
  • Whether the day is auspicious for house-warmings, and other sundry celebrations.

Last but not the least. Quirky little illustrations enliven the pages. You have to look closely to figure them out, but it is worth it.

The size and the colour illustration on the main card board have remained unchanged for as long as I can remember (and that is pretty long!). A very benevolent pic of the God-child Subramanian is a pleasant sight to look at first thing in the morning.

Sadly, I could find no reference to the history of the Rani Muthu. And, as journalists say, e-mail to the concerned did not get any response till time of publication. A senior uncle says it goes back at least to the ‘50s.

Rani Muthu is a Tamil household essential. Many regions and states in India have their own calendar-almanacs, which are as basic to a home as a threshold.

What would life be without Rani Muthu!

–Meena

Scrambling to buy a Rani Muthu by Jan 1 was one of my year-end tasks. Alas, with the passing of my mother, this is one more ritual that I will no longer undertake.