ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Paniyeli Poru - a Prelude

Periyar is Kerala's largest river by far; it is perennial and in a fair monsoon year, a mighty torrent. Near the village of Paniyeli, around 40 km from the heart of Cochin, is Paniyeli Poru, a rock-strewn and turbulent stretch of Periyar. In this context, the Malayalam word 'poru' can only mean 'rapids'. In most other(?) contexts, the word means 'struggle'.

Today afternoon. A pleasant hour and half drive from home takes me to the gateway to Paniyeli Poru. The surroundings are lush green, the weather inviting. A uniformed woman (the place is maintained by the Forest Dept) tells me to cough up thirty rupees for entry; then follows half a kilometer of atrocious mudpaths to a clearing amidst tall trees - the parking area. The monsoon-swollen river could be seen rushing past. I hear from someone the 'poru' proper are a kilometer upstream and a cobbled pathway leads off along the bank. I follow it...

... for two minutes. Two men appeared and told me to halt. One was youngish and in smart khaki, the other, older man was in shabby khaki. Shabby says: "We are closing. So you can't go further."

Self: So soon? But it is only 4.35 pm. 2 hours of daylight left!

Shabby: The place has to cleared by 6 so now Sir (he motions towards Smart) will go in and fetch those holidayers who are in the main Poru area. And that will take time.

Smart: Yes, people just come and wallow in the water and I have to herd them out!

Self: I came from far. And it is not too late. What if I come with you as you go in and walk next to you both ways. I won't cause any delay and won't hinder your work.

Smart: But then, other people will come and ask me to take them in too...

Self: But there isn't anybody else!

Smart: Wait five minutes and more tourists will come!

Self: But we could start straightaway and he (indicating Shabby) is here. So, if you could..

Shabby (to Self): I can't remain on guard here. I need to go home; been here since morning!

Smart: That is right. I have to now go in ... and they keep coming in!

Self: If you could let me in for just 10-15 minutes,....

Smart: No. Rule is rule and it applies to everyone. I can't make an exception for you.

Self: But the rule says 6 pm you said. It is not yet 4.45!

Smart: But if we let you in and something happens to you, we will be in trouble. And ... we need to go home, right?

Shabby: Yes Sir. That is what I said upfront.....

I turn and walk back a hundred meters and look back briefly; the two are still there and appear to be chatting. Presently, a bunch of tourists pass me. I don't pause to see what is being done to them.

Near the exit, I see a woman employee.

I ask: What time does this place really close?

She: 6 pm. We stop giving tickets at 5.

Self: I took the ticket at 4.35 and was denied entry to the main Poru area by two men out there. They said I was late. Strange ....

She: You mean... they were Forest staff?

Self: Seems so, two men in khaki. One was a certain ..... (I had read Smart's nameplate)

She: Oh, he is our Sir!

Self: Really?! I thought He was the one who created this river... or at the very least, that he is sole heir to this property! And he is a mere Sir, tsk tsk! Anyways, thanks Chechi! looks like this is a nice place; I shall be back!

Monday, September 22, 2014

To a Little Blue Bird

Let me first own up to a bit of license taken in the title above. The bird we talk about is certainly blue but not particularly 'little'.

1. A lovely Malayalam film song penned by P. Bhaskaran (in my prosaic prose):

"Once, on a balmy summer evening, the little Lord Krishna of Guruvayur was roaming the country in the guise of a mischievous urchin(*). He came upon a spreading peepal tree beside a gently flowing river and resting in its cool shade, began to play his flute. Divine happiness spread all around. Goddess Lakshmi herself came down, radiant as Moonlight, and sat beside her beloved. The music charmed the surrounding woods and gradually the entire Earth itself into profound silence; even the twinkling stars above were lulled into blissful sleep...

And in that heavenly dreamtime, the young lord and his lady turned into little blue birds(**) and flew away and were lost in the deep blue sky. And never since have they been seen by anyone - the Earth, its denizens or the distant stars."

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2. The essentials of a folktale as retold by Ruskin Bond:

In the wooded hills of western India lives "the idle school boy", a bird who cannot learn a simple tune though he is gifted with one of the most beautiful voices of the forest. He whistles away in various flats and sharps and sometimes, when you think is is really going to produce a melody, he breaks off..."

... the young God Krishna was wandering along the banks of a mountain stream when he came to a small waterfall, shot through with sunbeams. It was a lovely spot, cool and inviting...

Krishna was enchanted. He threw himself down on a bed of moss and ferns and began playing on his flute... a fat yellow lizard nodded its head in time to the music; the birds here hushed; the shy mouse-deer approached silently on their tiny hooves to see who it was who played so beautifully.

Presently, the flute slipped from Krishna's fingers and the beautiful young god fell asleep. But it was not a restful sleep, for his dreams were punctuated by an annoying whistling, as though someone who didn't know music was tinkering with his flute.

Awake now, Krishna was shocked to see a ragged urchin standing ankle-deep in the pool, the sacred flute held to his lips. ...

It was too late, for it is everlastingly decreed that anyone who touches the sacred property of the gods, whether deliberately or in innocence, must be made to suffer throughout his next ten thousand births(***).

Krishna, in his compassion for the little boy, pondered... surely the punishment could be less severe?

Krishna said: "forever, try to copy the song of the gods without success!... and May your rags disappear and only the dark blue colors of Krishna remain!" And lo, the boy was turned into a bird we know as the Malabar Whistling Thrush, with its dark blue body and brilliant blue patches. He continues to live among beautiful, forested valleys... trying unsuccessfully to remember the tune that brought about his strange transformation.

Note: As an earlier post here noted, Italian renaissance man Cardano once said: "The story of Narcissus is an allegory - of a writer who gets so obsessed with his own work that he keeps editing and polishing it to the exclusion of every other study". Maybe the whistling thrush is an allegory of the writer who can only produce scattered blog posts.

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3. Excerpts from the travel notes of contemporary Malayalam writer Santhosh Echikanam (my translation):

"Who have we come to meet in this jungle?" I asked with growing impatience.

"The Malabar Whistling thrush!" said Jaison with a lound laugh.... "Yes, a singer, the very Yesudas among birds! The White Saheb called him the 'whistling schoolboy'. But man, he is no idle whistler but a composer of genius; he never gets you bored with the same melody like the cuckoo. .. A life totally dedicated to music - each time he sings, he tries a different raga, sometimes even alters his voice.... and he is a great looker too"

Jaison showed me a snap. I was impressed: "no coincidence, he looks like Ilayaraja" I said.

The whistling thrush is the most disciplined of birds. He wakes with the rising sun, bathes and begins his sadhakam/riyaz. His 'bhoopalam' and 'mohanam' soon calm the woods into meditative stillness; even the wind stays calm lest his sruti be disturbed... As the sun rises above the trees, this Yesudas falls silent. And when dense monsoon clouds gather above, he makes an exception and produces an extra performance on an altogether different key.

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4. A bit from Khasak (there is chance the reference is to a different bird altogether):

As Ravi approaches Khasak for the first time:

"the whistling call of a bird rang high from up above. The old porter listened with intent: "Its bound to rain in the evening or maybe tomorrow!" he said, for the whistle of the maanian is the harbinger of rains.

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5. Wiki: "The male thrush sings its varied and melodious whistling song from trees during summer. They may sing for a long time around dawn but at other times of the day they often utter sharp single or two note whistles. They were once popular as cage birds, with the ability to learn entire tunes"

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6. Over to the Guru of Kerala birdwatchers, the late Professor Induchoodan:

The whistle of the thrush lasts but 8-10 seconds; and it is repeated over and over, aloud. Whatever, its call has a certain electrifying quality.... its high decibel level can be attributed to an effort to be heard over the roar of monsoon-fed jungle streams. And when in form, the thrush gives the impression of a Gandharva, lost in his musical offering to Nature. ...

It has been reported that this bird is easily tamed and it settles comfortably in human households. However, one feels its call, which can overpower even the persistent din of waterfalls, could be sheer torture in a quiet human dwelling. But in the sun-dappled depths of a forest, while singing full-throatedly beside a gurgling stream, this little bird adds a whole dimension of sweetness to the joy of Nature. It is pure music that can turn any birder crazy enough to seek it out into a full-fledged poet. Once a like-minded friend of mine asked: "Can one not liken the roar of the waterfall to the rumble of thunder and the song of the thrush to a bolt of lightning?". Sure, my Friend! And those out there who may harbor doubts could consult Keats's ode to the nightingale or Shelley's to the skylark.

And now for a thimbleful of disappointment: The great Salim Ali has said:

"Personally, I would choose as our most accomplished songster, the Greywinged Blackbird of the Himalayas. A number of its close relations, members of the thrush family including the Malabar Whistling Thrush and the Shama follow close on its heels"

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7. A confession: I have never seen this bird. And I can't quite remember ever hearing its call. Those who have seen Ray's 'Pratidwandi' (aside: it should ideally be spelt 'pratidwandwi' in English) would recall its recurring recall of an unseen bird's whistling call. Was it our hero (google with 'pratidwandi bird')? As of now, I have no sure answer. The film too does not tell us if Siddhartha's query to an unseen bystander: "what is that bird called?" elicited any reply.

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(*) 'urchin' is a translation of the original 'karumadikkuttan' (the latter is the byname of an ancient black stone Buddha idol, now installed in a small shrine in the backwater villlage of Karumadi in Kerala).

(**) Malayalam poets casually use the words "kuruvi"(sparrow) and "kili" (parrot) to mean any "little bird" - Bhaskaran's choice is 'neelakkuruvi' (blue kuruvi). Blue sparrows do not seem to really exist anywhere on Earth. The exact Malayalam word for 'thrush' appears to be 'pullu' but curiously enough, the Mal name of the hero of this post goes "choolakkaakka"( literally, 'whistling crow'). 'Maanian' appears at best a very local name.

(***) Another episode from our mythology: While celestial sage Narada was on a flight somewhere, a garland of divine flowers slips off his 'veena', drifts down and, blown here and there by a breeze, gently comes to rest on queen Indumati - the unsuspecting lady is killed instantly! And moving abroad, one recalls the fate of Phaethon the Greek, who dared to drive Apollo's chariot.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chuffed With Kabaddi

I have a complicated equation with cricket. A longstanding reader of cricket writing, I am also quite a hardboiled cynic about most things concerning this game, including the recent Bharat Ratna award to Tendulkar. And after year after year of IPL excesses (and the recent charade of a 5 match test series in England), the kick-start of the Kabaddi league has ... bowled me over.

Almost everything about the new show called pro-Kabaddi is an improvement over IPL. And this improvemt is nowhere more apparent than in the names of teams. 'Jaipur Pink Panthers', 'Puneri Paltan' etc. are absolutely refreshing compared to the IPL banalities. Even 'Youuuu Mumbaaa!' shares some of the real primal appeal of the game of kabaddi itself, a fairly uncomplicated contest of athleticism and teamwork.

An eminent Kerala intellectual had once remarked: "We are still stuck with a feudal mindset. Just look at the names of IPL teams - Royals, Kings Eleven, Super Kings,.... silly anachronisms!"

Sir, you missed the daftest of the lot: 'Kolkata Knight Riders'. What the hell can that phrase possibly mean? An allusion to a long-forgotten American TV serial? Give us a break! To most moderately sensible knowers of English, 'knight riders' makes sense only when applied to damsels, not to male sportsmen - just like 'lady killer' or 'lady-killer' does not really refer to a lady ('Night Rider' too makes a similar kind of effed-up sense, In Racist American slang)!

And just in case someone would counter the above objection by drawing parallels between 'knight rider' and 'knight-errant' or 'knight templar', well, to anyone who knows his basic history, representatives of Kolkata referring or deferring to *anything* to do with knights must be pure anathema - for this is the city of the greatest knighthood-spurner of them all, a certain Rabindranath.

And I am equally chuffed to see ace-spiker Tom Joseph finally land the Arjuna Award. Considering the nonsense done to him last year by Ravi Shastri et al, it is a bit of an atonement for desi cricket that the Committee that decided on the award was headed by Kapil Dev.

Thanks Vishnu - and thanks Bacardi!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Deja vu - Scolari

Throughout this World Cup, as I followed the fortunes of Brazil with hope, then shock and then abject despair, their boss Luis Filipe Scolari kept giving me a strong sense of deja vu - there was this undismissable feeling of having seen his face somewhere long ago. No, not at the 2002 World cup when he coached Brazil to glory - 2002 is simply not long enough ago for someone my age!

I decided to investigate. Wiki, where I started, said "the media has been fond of pointing out Scolari's facial resemblance to actor Gene Hackman". Many other online pages mention this resemblance. But I knew this was not what I was looking for - today was the first time I heard about Gene Hackman! I did check the Wiki page on the actor and felt: "okay, there is a resemblance but Hackman's face has distinctly more pronounced angles than Scolari's".

There was plenty of time for just this kind of thing; so I fetched my old books and pored over them, especially those associated with strong visual memories of childhood. Among them was Readers' Digest 'Library of Modern Knowledge' - a tome of 1979 vintage that I had not opened in a good quarter of a century. And in one of its articles on visual arts, I saw exactly what I wanted, this picture of a marble bust of Roman Emperor Vespasian (1st Century AD)

Further online searches yielded this page which says Vespasian bears "more than a passing resemblance to Gene Hackman". But the same page says Vespasian also looks like a whole host of other characters ranging from Lyndon Johnson to some other XYZ.

But there are folks who have done much better! Here is yet another page that is titled: "emperor vespasian looks totally like gene hackman". And, a little below, is the confident comment by a certain Rogerio Esteves: "replace hackman with scolari and you are right!". . Absolutely, Senhor Esteves! 'Big Phil' just has to get rid of his moustache to actually become old Vesp (not to merely look like someone)!

Note: And at least one website says Vespasian and Scolari share the same birthday - November 9th - albeit nearly two millennia apart! Dampener: this is not corroborated by Wiki which says the emperor was born on 17th November in the year 9 AD. But we can argue further: mabye Vesp's birthday was 17th November as per the Gregorian calender; what if according to the Julian calender which was THE calender then, he was indeed born on the 9th? There are doubts - indeed, the date of the Russian revolution are 13 days apart in the two calenders (whereas 17th and 9th are only 8 apart). Wonder whether this mismatch of 5 days (=13-8) could be due to the difference between the ways the two calenders treat century years. Whatever, even if the dates of birth are not the same, they are quite close.

And, I just noted, this is the first post in a very long time here that has no connection at all with Kerala, oops!

Here is another bit of face-matching:

Question: Is there any resemblance between Roger Federer and super Physicist Edward Witten? The answer must be a very dismissive NO, isn't it?

But there is a certain actor by name Michael Stuhlbarg (I know him a lot better than Hackman!). His youthful pictures bear 'more than a passing resemblance' to Fed; and in 'A Serious Man' (thanks to Vimal, I recently saw this very interesting film), he plays a Jewish Theoretical Physicist who is (to me) at least visually, very consciously modelled on Witten. And as they say in Physics textbooks, I leave it as an exercise to the Reader to verify this proposition.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Thumbi' and 'Thendan'



"Whose delicate touch has made your bashful innocence blossom - was it the gentle breeze? or the mischievous 'thumbi', drunk on nectar? or was it the love-lorn song of the youthful Gandharva peeping out at you from among the peepal leaves?"

(a Malayalam love-song in free translation; the author: ONV Kurup. Note: In the original, the peepal peeper is a 'Kinnara'. I use 'Gandharva' instead. For justification, let me refer to an earlier post here titled: 'On the Kinnara Trail')

This post has two parts - both refer to earlier posts here. And both parts have something to do with the works of Kerala's favorite auteur, the late P. Padmarajan.

'Thumbi' Part 2:

The monsoon has been stingy so far and I have not been getting to do much rain-swimming in our little 'kulam'. Today luck appeared to turn with a heavy midmorning downpour - and I plunged in. The rain quickly thinned into a gentle drizzle. I was thinking of quitting when I spotted two blue and very slim dragonflies; they were hovering a few inches above the water and occaionally gliding here and there but doing nothing much otherwise. Lazily floating a few feet away, I watched them. The 'thumbies' did not appear troubled by the raindrops. Were they searching for smaller insects to devour? Were they courting? Well, it did not look like either was the case - indeed each one seemed to be on an own-trip to nowhere in particular. The drizzle then ceased altogether and the insects drifted away and were not to be seen. Within a minute or so, the rain revived and the thumbies were back, up to the same intriguing game!

Soon, the weather cleared up decisively and the blue thumbies were soon gone; and there suddenly appeared two big, black and sinister looking ones. They seemed to be chasing one another over the water with intent and vigor. For brief moments they even caught and latched on to one another and kept flying furiously in one tangled piece. And this show lasted but a few minutes and they too were gone.

Inference: At least some thumbies enjoy a 'thoovanam' (a gentle shower of rain). And perhaps Padmarajan, who made 'thoovanathumbikal', knew this.

Aside: For all of the Mallus' love and fascination for the thumbi, nothing in our films can quite match what Kamal Hasan does in the Tamil film 'Satya'. Courting Amala on a grassy hillside, our hero spots a little poompatta (butterfly) fluttering about, chases it, dives into the grass, takes a dramatic tumble and comes up with a thumbi caught between his fingers. As to what happens next to the thumbi ("with the thumbi" would be more appropriate!), I refer my readers to videos of the song 'Valai Osai'.

'Thendan'

Note: This piece continues the old post: 'On the Kinnara Trail'.

My present home-town of Tripunithura is a famously haunted place. Many of its scores of built-in-19th-century residential buildings ( most are still in use) have ghostly residents who have been camping there for generations. Some of the ancient trees here are known to harbor Yakshis. There have been several sightings of the spirit of Kannagi (yes, heroine of Tamil classic Chilappathikaram!). A nasty 'Brahmarakshass' stalks the quiet lanes at night - some folks fear this demon enough to build seven foot plus walls around their compounds...

But the most 'spectacular' of Tripunithura's supernatural denizens is, unquestionably, 'Thendan'. Here is a quote from memory from K.T.Ramavarma's 'Kairaleevidheyan': "Thendan resides on the peepal tree at the eastern entrance to the Poornathrayeesa (Vishnu) temple, the very heart of Tripunithura. In the third quarter of the night, he awakens and placing one foot on this peepal tree and the other on the 'paála' tree beyond the western gopuram of the temple, raises himself to his full fearsome height with the temple beneath him. Occasionally he stoops like a crane to lap up water from the temple tank. Any mortal who ventures out and sees him in this act is sure to die within the week!"

The big and sprawling peepal tree serving as Thendan's abode/pedastal was cut down recently and replaced with a slender sapling. But Thendan is still very much around - a stone slab stands right next to the sapling as a marker of his presence. A notice has been put up warning devotees NOT to offer flowers to Thendan.

Note: I recall being reminded of Thendan when I first saw the painting 'Colossus' by Goya.

I recently chanced upon a volume on Kerala's Vedic Traditions by Varanakkod Govindan Nambuthiri. Some interesting excerpts: "The ritual of 'Othoottu' is a stylized ceremonial chanting of the Yajurveda performed in temples built expressly for this purpose. These temples are called 'Gandharva Kshetras'. Normal Pujas etc happen in these temples only on a few designated days.... The Rigveda says three deities act as guardians and protectors to a girl from birth until her marriage - Soma, Varuna and Vishwawasu, king of Gandharvas, in that order... During the wedding, the groom chants a 'sukta' which respectfully asks the Gandharva to leave, since his work is done - the maiden has found a human protector."

Maybe the phenomenon of young women getting possessed for life by Gandharvas, very widely attested to by Keralan tradition (and mentioned in my own earlier post on Gandharvas), comes about when the protector gets possessive. But, what has all this got to do with Thendan? Plenty! I call Govindan Nambuthiri's book to witness:

"There are only two extant Gandharva Kshetras - at Ambalakkunu in North Kerala and at Irinjalakuda. Neat Talipparanmba temple stands a peepal tree that is revered as the abode of a Gandharva. And the 'sankalpa' (= 'esoteric visualization'?) of the Irinjalakuda Gandharva portrays him standing with one foot on the 'paala' tree next to the Trimurti temple at Triprayar and the other foot on the peepal tree next to the Koodalmanikyam temple in Irinjalakuda ( the distance is of the order of a dozen kilometers!) with hands folded in obeisance to Bharata, the presiding deity of Koodalmanikyam."

Thus, Thendan, who has terrorized Tripunithura for centuries, has quite a bit in common with a Gandharva. Maybe he IS a Gandharva gone rogue. Indian tradition holds getting straddled as very demeaning and even Lord Vishnu, whose temple is subjected to this indignity by Thendan every night, seems unable to do much about him - or maybe He is indifferent, which is worse! One can only hope that the presence of a kindly guardian spirit of vastly superior stature looming 'kilometers and kilometers' above Irinjalakuda-Triprayar (the distance from there to Tripunithura would be only 2-3 strides - for the latter!) is enough to keep terrible Thendan in check.

The Gandharva myths have strong shades of the boozy Greek God Dionysus - Gandharvas are brewers and heavy drinkers of Somarasa, the liquor of Gods. But the Gandharvas are also supremely handsome and great musicians to boot so the Apollonian element is even stronger in them (for evidence to these claims, let me point to the Padmarajan's 'Njan Gandharvan'). The 'Colossus of Rhodes' was an immense statue of Apollo that was said by some to have straddled the entrance to the harbor of Rhodes. So, do the legends of 'Desi straddlers' like Thendan owe something to Greek myths?

World-cup update: Sometime ago, an article here mentioned the 'chakkara kuduma', a kind of coiffure sported by some castes in traditional Kerala and that now is to be seen only in period films. Description: shave the head except for a ~6 inch circular patch right at the top. And now, this style appears to have become quite fashionable among soccer players from Latin America!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Tale of Two Goals

Something happened very early today during the Honduras-France match at the World Cup. I quote from Hindustan Times:

"...a volley from Karim Benzema, who ended the night with two goals, came back off the post. It bounced back into the area, hit Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares and then the ball bounced back towards the goal. The keeper tried to scoop the ball to safety, but Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci awarded the goal -- classed as an own-goal -- after consulting the instant technology. ..."

The media have been repeating all day how the hapless Valladares has become the first ever goalie to score an own-goal.

But methinks they have jumped the gun: something very similar happened seven world cups ago - an event I was actually witness to, like millions of other soccer lovers. It was Mexico, the very first world cup they showed across India on the telly. I quote from Wiki article on French footballer Bruno Bellone:

"It was the quarter-final match against Brazil in 1986 for which Bellone will most be remembered ... In the shoot-out (after the match ended locked 1-1), Bellone took France's third penalty. It hit the post and rebounded onto Brazilian Goalie Carlos and then back into the goal. ... In the following year, the laws of football were clarified in favour of the referee's decision."

Elsewhere online one reads:

"The law covering penalty shoot-outs was clarified after a controversial incident involving Bruno Bellone in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between France and Brazil. Bellone's spot kick rebounded off a post, hit the Brazil keeper's back and bounced into the goal. Referee Ioan Igna gave the goal despite Brazilian protests, and France went through 4-3 on penalties. In the following year Law 14 was clarified to support Igna's decision. Basically, a goal is given if the ball rebounds off the post, crossbar or keeper in any combination and "through the momentum imparted by the original penalty kick travels between the posts under the crossbar and completely over the goal line".

Indian expert P K Banerjee had then opined on lines somewhat like these: "The key word is 'process'. From the moment the kick is actually taken to the ball having ended its journey decisively - that is the complete process. When Carlos made his ill-judged dive, the process was still ongoing; he interfered with it and redirected its trajectory into his own goal. So when the process was complete, the ball was in the net. So, it is indeed a goal. It happened not because of Bellone's skill but Carlos's error so it can't be credited to the Frenchman; but a goal, it is!".

So, coming back to the present, Frenchman Benzema not being given credit for today's goal would be okay since it was the 'contribution' from Valladares that got the ball across the line. But then, does one also go back and change records to say (taking just one further and legitimate step from where PK left off): "Bellone was not the scorer; it was an own-goal by Carlos!"? In that case, Valladares has a clear forerunner and today's media have got it wrong.

But hold on! Goals scored during shootouts are, for some mysterious reason (mysterious to self!), not treated at par with goals scored during the actual match - not even with pentalties awarded during the match. Even if someone scores in a shootout, he wont be credited with having scored a goal - if he nets a penalty during the match he would be. Ergo, Carlos did not score an own-goal; indeed, even if Bellone had hit the net straight, he would have scored but what he scored wouldn't have been a proper goal(*)!

I might have stopped making much sense but can't help adding a bit more: it is actually an error to call the final shootout a 'penalty shootout'. Why? Easy! Because, a shootout happens not because somone hacked down anyone near the goal or made some such serious rule violation. So, it can only be called a 'spot-kick shootout' or just a 'shootout', nothing with 'penalty'. And this might actually explain why shootout goals are not treated as equals to penalties slotted during the match proper.

Again someone might counter-argue, "okay, the shootout penalizes no individual but both teams are actually being penalized for failing to produce a result in the 120 minutes by making them go thru the stress of the shootout!" But that is a very unfair argument. Indeed, two teams may actually go hard and fast at each other and still remain deadlocked in regulation time. For example, as I can myself vouch for, the 1994 final between Brazil and Italy - a draw (and a goalless one at that) decided via a shootout - was quite an intriguing tactical battle between the Brazilian attack and the Italian defence, which kept most viewers engaged right thru; it was certainly one of the better matches among the 7 World Cup finals I have seen.

And finally: Although Benzema is officially not the scorer of that goal against Honduras, Wiki says he has been credited with an 'assist', the scorer being of course, poor Vallederas! Question: Was it an assist or a 'force'??

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(*) That could mean the title on top is in error. What we have been analyzing are not "two goals" but "a goal and a shootout scoring shot". We could also say, this post is a tale of 'two goalies'.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Rambles

1. CAKKA

- "a jackfruit falls into a rocky cleft, and the tender honeycomb lies crushed."

- "wispy clouds play upon the cliffs jutting out from the mountain; jackfruits hang from crooked trunks..."

'Cakka', as the jackfruit is known in Malayalam was a hugely loved fruit in these parts even millennia ago. As evidence, see the above samples from the classical Sangam poetry in ancient Tamil. Indeed, even at the most cursory look at Sangam love-songs (arguably the best translations into Malayalam are by N V Krishna Variyar), one can't but be struck by how much loving attention the cakka alone among all our summer fruits receives.

Here is an article on the Jackfruit - just the kind of piece I would be very proud to have written and most probably, couldn't have. Samples:

"Often this tree recalls for me gifted, understated individuals in large families, who barely receive their due, but shoulder on regardless and carve out their own trajectory..."

"... the jackfruit also finds mention around 400 BC in Buddhist and Jain literature. 'Indian Food: A Historical Companion, OUP, 1998, points out that poetry in the Sangam period records the serving of jackfruit to wandering minstrels and a lover compares his beloved to the dainty stalk of the jackfruit."

I myself am not much of cakka-lover and in my childhood, this had marked me out as something of an oddity - those were times when everyone else used to hog 'cakkaculas'. But in recent years, the clear majority of Mallus seem to have developed a 'cold tongue' for this fruit - every summer Kerala gets a bounty of cakkas and the bulk of them are never even plucked. It is not at all uncommon to find jacktrees with scores of untouched fruit on their main trunk barely a few feet above the ground - a sight very reminiscent of the Ephesian Artemis. Come monsoon and the scent of rotting jackfruit fills our countryside compounds; and this happens when everyone is screaming unto the heavens how every fruit and vegetable is obsecenely overpriced!

Whatever our Sangam forebears sang, modern Kerala poets seldom mention the cakka. Despite the absence of the generic 'cakka', sporadic references to 'varikka' (also called 'thenvarikka' = honey-sweet varikka), a strain of jackfruit, still occur in film-songs; 'koozha', another other major variant of the fruit is summarily ignored. Such poetic choices seem primarily to spring from considerations of euphonic/lyrical-sounding qualities of words(*).

My own unenthusiasm for the cakka leaves out none of its strains but I do know a gentleman who eschews the thenvarikka but feasts on koozha-cakka. Here is another link were one can read more about the 'cakka'in general and the varikka-koozha schism in particular.

Update - May 25th 2014: A fruit-vegetable mela has just begun in Cochin. Focusing on the jackfruit, it tries to correct Kerala's 'criminal wastage of cakka'. The show has been named (predictably enough!) the 'then-varikka fest' - not the direct and honest 'cakka fest', not to speak of the 'koozha fest'.

2. VARAHA, BAHRAM AND VRITRA

Several years ago, I wrote here on a brief visit to Udayagiri in MP. The post mentioned the giant Varaha carving in one of the caves. While the mention itself was honorable (it had to be since the carving is a famous classic), it was also brief to the point of being pretty much contentless(**). For instance, I failed to note the many hooded serpent being trampled underfoot by the hulking boar-man as he strains to lift Bhudevi - the 'standard' Dashavatara narrative features Varaha slaying the Asura Hiranyaksha but does not feature snakes anywhere.

Some time later, a note here on Thugs devoted a lot more lines to the most infamous of them all, a certain Bahram. Among the issues raised there was his religion with a remark that Bahram was a Muslim name.

Yesterday, during a desultory browse, I chanced upon the Wiki article on 'Veretraghna'. Let me quote.

Verethragna descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g'han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) "slayer of the blocker". In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahran, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive.

Verethraghna is sometimes identified as a boar. Boar figures are widespread in Sassanid (Persian, early centuries after Christ) art, appearing in everything from textiles to stucco and in silver ornaments, coins, and seals. Other animal motifs have been found that recall the aspects of Bahram.... The bird motif on Sassanid-era fire altars are also believed to represent Bahram.

... the figure of Verethragna is highly complex (and) parallels have also been drawn between it and (variously) Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu,...., Heracles.... Verethragna cognates with Sanskrit word Vritraghna(वृत्राघ्न),which means the slayer of Vritra, in Vedas Indra is frequently praised as slayer of Vritra(the enveloper).

The Wiki article on 'Vritra' says:

In the early Vedic religion, Vritra ... is also a serpent or dragon, the personification of drought and adversary of Indra. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi ("snake"). He appears as a dragon blocking the course of the rivers and is heroically slain by Indra.

The Wiki article on Verethraghna never mentions the exact word 'Varaha'. But one clearly sees 'Varaha' as a derivative - and a cognate to the allgedly Muslim Bahram (a Persian name only brought to India by Muslims). And the many-hooded serpent being subdued by the Udayagiri Varaha could only have been Vritra.

Udayagiri caves were excavated around 5th century by which time Vishnu's avatara myths might not have fully crystallized - so there is no Hiranyaksha on view. And the Varaha might well have been as much Indra as Vishnu - the former actually has much stronger claims to being 'Verethraghna' who could, in turn, assume the boar-form; furthermore, religious imagery has traditionally mapped the body of the charging boar to a raincloud, its terrifying tusks to lightning and the pounding of its mighty hooves to thunder - and Indra has been, from the beginning, the god of rain and thunderstorms. In a broader sense, these carvings might mark a stage in the process of the gradual supplanting of Indra by Vishnu as a principal deity. Theirs seems to have been a close-run contest that went on for centuries (the Govardhana episode in the Bhagavatam again shows how Krishna-Vishnu desicively shows Indra who is the boss).

Following a suggestion from Vimal, one could sum up: In 'Animal Farm', two boars fight to the finish to decide who gets to act like God. In Udayagiri, two Gods are caught in a struggle to decide who is the 'true Boar'.

And finally the religious affiliation of thug Bahram remains an unsolved mystery - albeit one that is not much worth probing.

3. KORAH WAS A KOULIK!

A year or so ago, I wrote here at some length on a very unique name, proudly borne by an artist I had just gotten to know - a certain Mr. Kora Koulik (the latter half pronounced 'Cowlick'). That post had focussed on the sad tragedy of the biblical rebel Korah and the conclusion arrived at was "like Korah, like cowlick - plucky, pesky, diehard rebels both!"

The other day, I saw the story of a certain 'kaulika/koulika' in the Panchatantra. 'Kau' of 'Kaulika' is pronounced 'cow' and the Hindi equivalent of 'Kaulika' is 'Kaulik/ Koulik'.

An online search for 'kaulika' led to the following:

1. Kaula describes a type of Hindu tantrism that probably derives from Kapalika or "cremation ground" asceticism and Kaulika is a practitioner of kaula. (based on Wiki)

2. Monier Williams gives several meanings for 'kaulika': (1) a weaver (2) an adjective derived from 'kula' meaning family/tribe to mean 'pertaining to/ belonging to a (noble) family' and (3) a follower of the 'left-hand' sakta ritual; hence the word can also have the broader meaning: 'heretic'.

Leaving out the 'weaver', one observes: The artist's byname/surname 'Koulik' could mean the Malayalam phrase: 'kutumbathil pirannavan'( = 'hailing from a noble family'). Rather more interestingly, we could quote the Wiki definition: "A Heretic is someone who propounds a heresy; A Heresy is any provocative belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs" and make the connection: "Hey, the Korah of Bible was a solid heretic!"

Indeed, Wiki says: "Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion". The Bible never says Korah renounced the faith of the Jews; he only revolted against Moses and Aaron so he was no apostate. Korah certainly was massively irreverent but only towards the custodians of the faith and not towards the faith itself so he was no blasphemer either. Moreover, Martin Luther, who treated the then Pope just the way Korah treated high priest Aaron was in fact branded a heretic and excommunicated. So, Korah certainly was a Kaulik. QED!

4. 'GOOD WILL HUNTING'.

Many things about this film are admirable - none more admirable than that it was made by two nearly 25 year olds. While it is no 'Citizen Kane' (made by another 25 year old), 'Good Will..' makes a damn good fist of telling a hard-hitting story: A freakish Mathematical genius, convinced he and he alone decides what to do with his gifts, chooses to (largely) let them go waste. The scene wherein an eminent mathematician, almost in tears and cringing in abject frustration, pleads with the 'Hero' to try and make contributions that measure up to his limitless talent, hit me the hardest.

But I did not like it at all when the film cooked up a back-story of abuse and stuff to explain (and sort of justify) the genius behaving like a screwed up bastard. Indeed, I have seen enough of life (and of geniuses) to know that a genius needs no more reason to behave like a screwed up bastard than the most mediocre of mediocrities (and the latter, most of the time, needs no reason whatever).

5. Gulmohur and the 'Standard'

The other day, I casually picked up a cluster of gulmohur blooms from the footpath and saw something very curious. The Wiki description: Gulmohur flowers are large with four spreading scarlet or orange-red petals up to 8 cm long, and a fifth upright petal called the standard, which is slightly larger and spotted with yellow and white.

This odd fifth petal and its very unique coloration is a feature that had eluded me all these years. And I don't yet know if any other flower has this characteristic.

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(*) this connects with the 'thumbi effect' mentioned in the last post - how a none-too-apppealing object acquires a much loved presence in poetry by virtue of a sweet and pithy name. More precisely, what we have with cakka is the opposite effect - a less than sweet name relegating an object to the fringes. One could call this phenomenon the 'cakka effect'; alternatively, with reference to the last post, it could be termed the 'poompatta effect', literally the 'butterfly effect' (the latter phrase of course has a rather different technical meaning in English)!

(**)To quote myself: "The caves and the sculptural decorations are said to date back to the Gupta period (4th-5th century AD) and almost exclusively deal with Hindu themes. The well-known highlight is a colossal relief of Vishnu as Varaha, lifting up the Earth (personified as Bhudevi)".