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

Monday, July 31, 2006

From 'Acacacacademics'...

Let me reproduce two letters: the first one a Prof.'s response to a Ph.D fellowship application and the second, the candidate's response to the first letter. My contributtion is limited to blocking out the names.

Dear Mr. xxxx,

This is with reference to your application for Ph.D fellowship
at University of xxxx. We went over your credentials and research proposal and are very happy to note that you are highly qualified and that your interests are in near-perfect sync with our own research program.

However, we regret to inform you it has been decided to award the fellowship to another candidate and so we are not in a position to offer you the fellowship.

We also would like to inform you that in accordance with the laws of xxxx (country), you are eligible to legally challenge this academic decision at a suitable court of law.

With best regards,

Dear Professor xxxx,

Thank you for your letter. After careful
consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept
your refusal to offer me a research fellowship in your

I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an
unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied
and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept
all refusals.

Despite xxxx University's outstanding qualifications and previous
experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does
not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the
position of research fellow in your department this August.
I look forward to seeing you then.

Let me with you the very best of luck in rejecting the other candidate - and in dealing with any legal problems he might create - and other future applicants.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Techie's Take

I had run out of postable material when a Certain Indian Techie provided an interesting take on certain far-eastern cultures. Over to him:

"Hong Kong is not as full of aura as Tokyo/Japan. In my personal experience,I found Tokyo quite hyped, while HK quite ... personable.

In Japan, every norm governing minutiae of daily existence (silence on the trains, silence in the houses, silence unless utterly impossible) is meant to stultify the human spirit, and destroy any sense of community. All relationships are formal and couched in protocol and predetermined expectations. Any art that comes out of Japan is surely out of repression, even if the artist claims otherwise. I have no doubt that the Japanese horror films are simply a natural consequence of their insular, neurotic way of life.

Yep, Japan is great for a tourist visit, to see in a detached way from a distance and to capture on film. But that is about it!

In contrast, you can actually live in HK, and feel each person ....It's like a modern form of India. You actually see grand parents with grand children, which is a near impossible sight in Tokyo. It's quite scenic, too, though much smaller than Japan. Definitely consider coming here if you get one of those good vacation deals! :-)"

Monday, July 10, 2006

On A Keralan Urn (And Fireflies)

One of the exhibits at the Hill Palace Museum near Cochin is a burial urn from Megalithic Age Kerala. The urn is massive and probably held the dead person(s) whole and not ashes - as presumably its Grecian 'cousins' did (*).

The Malayalam word for this object is 'nannangadi'. The derivation of this name is a mystery. Well, the first half of this word 'nanna' appears to be the same as the first half of my own name 'nanda' - the compound consonant 'nda' going to 'nna' is very common in Malayalam (a phonological phenomenon presumably called 'anunasikaatiprasaram'). But this 'connection' does not get one much closer to the actual derivation. The word 'nanda' means joy in Sanskrit and one can't quite figure out what could be joyous about burial urns.

Nannangadies also feature in what must easily be the weirdest piece of lyric ever written. It is part of a song written by Bichu Thirumala for a Malayalam movie with the formidable name 'Kakkothikkaavile Appooppanthadikal' - a group of wandering urchins (they are rather blithe spirits, by the way) introduce themselves: "Nannangadikal, njangal minnaminnikal" - in translation this is "We are 'nannangadi's, we are a swarm of fireflies!"

Note: Bichu Thirumala, a prolific Mallu film lyricist has written much else about fireflies - in one of his old hits, he likens moments of silence to cute little fireflies; elsewhere he has a young lover refer to his girl as 'a firefly in search of a feather'!

Update (Feb. 2012):

And I just discovered my post was not the first instance of someone getting inspired by a nannangadi to pay a tribute to Keats and his 'Grecian Urn'. Here is a fragment of a poem by scholar/poet N.V.Krishna Variyar which goes (in my translation):

"As a tiny seed encapsulates an entire peepal tree, this nannangadi reveals to my eyes, the entire universe in all its throbbing vitality. And blazing forth from that timeless flux, alternately caressed and knocked around by inscrutable Destiny, I see the entire trajectory of Human evolution."

(*) Rekesh makes the following observation (Feb 2012):
is a very recent (December 2011) article on nannangadis - apparently, the first time human bones were actually found in such a jar. If that is the case, how did the archeologists figure out decades ago that these objects were actually burial urns? Further, the urns I've seen have somewhat narrow mouths (12 inches or less wide), difficult to fit a person through.Perhaps they tried to cremate the bodies first and then place the bones into these urns?

My response: I went and reexamined the nannangadis - there are 3 of them at Hill Palace, 2 large and one small. The largest of the lot is a somewhat deformed sphere of about 4 feet diameter - a very roomy container; but yes, its mouth is narrow (about 18 inches across)! So, we have a problem; it would have been very hard indeed to get a dead adult into it in one piece!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


As is well-known, the Indian railways insists on imposing Hindi at all levels, all over India. Display of place names, time tables and all other info is mandatory in Hindi along with English and the local language - even in areas where Hindi is unknown. Whether the largest fonts and most prominent position should be reserved for Hindi or for the local language is often passionately (and sometimes violently) debated.

Ottapalam is a small railway station in Kerala (the local language is Malayalam and Hindi is very much a peripheral phenomenon). Here too, one can see time tables in Hindi as well as Malayalam and English. The tables have columns for train names, timings and their frequency (whether the train runs everyday or on certain specific days of the week). All three languages are treated equally, font-wise and otherwise.

In the 'frequency column' on the Hindi time table, it is written - for trains running everyday - in confident Devanagari script - 'divasOm'. For non-Mallus, this 'divasOm' is a colloquial corruption of the Malayalam phrase 'divasavum' (=daily); and it has nothing whatever to do with the actual Hindi word 'roz' for 'daily'. And I know this entry to have existed in the time-table for many a year!

Update (June 2009):
The other day, I saw, on a multi-lingual road direction board in Bangalore, something written in confident Devnagari script: "Kempegauda Bus Nildana" - an exact transliteration of the Kannada phrase meaning "Kempegauda Bus Station"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Of Crowns And Kings

The former 'princely state' of Cochin was not one of the hefty kingdoms in India at any point of time. At least in the last century of its existence (1850-1950) its *usually* weak and senile Kings (the rule of succession entailed the oldest surviving male member of a large extended family - almost a clan - becoming the Maharajah, and so the 'ruler' tended to be very well on in years, almost always; of course, I am not saying old => weak!) inspired not awe and fear but sympathy bordering on ridicule among their subjects; indeed,to this day, the folk memory of the 'Kochi Rajavu' is that of a generally well-meaning but inconsequential puppet-king, propped up by the British.

Nevertheless, the Maharajas of Cochin used to be proud custodians of a golden crown - now, it is kept under high security, among other massive items of jewellery, in a glass case, in an air-conditioned hall within the 'Hill Palace', which stands atop a small hill about 10 kilometers from the heart of Cochin city (btw, the palace itself is no big deal in terms of opulence - it is more of a grand bungalow - although the estate surrounding it is vast and the view from the top is impressive; it is now a state-owned museum). The crown, more substantial than beautiful, is of solid gold and is studded with several dozens of emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Apparently, it was a gift from the Portuguese in return for some trade concessions (a kickback, Bofors ishtyle?)

Tradition says the Kings of Cochin stopped wearing the crown on their heads when some territory was lost to the Zamorin of Calicut. A pledge was made that it would be kept only on the lap until the lost territory was regained - it never was. One suspects the decision not to wear the crown on the head was also a pragmatic one - the whole thing weighs nearly two kilograms!

Note: I had never before seen a proper golden crown anywhere, not even in the Mysore palace, abode of an infinitely richer prince(ling).

Update (July 2011): Now, the secret 'nilavaras' at Padamanabha Temple, owned (or managed) by the Royal family of Travancore have been opened to reveal treasures running into hundreds (may be thousands) of billions of rupees - in comparison, the single crown and a few dozens of gold ornaments on display at Hill Palace is not even peanuts. And (shudder!), Travancore might not quite make it to the top 10 among the erstwhile royal families of this country in sheer wealth!