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

Friday, July 31, 2009

'Berlo' - Then And Now

Italy did not look anything like a stylishily booted foot; instead it lay stretched out and receding into the distance, limp and flat like an etherized patient. A spectral figure hovered above, reaching out to touch the center of the prostrate country, in a parody of God touching Adam (although unlike the Father, the hoverer here had a receding hairline and was plumpish and clean-shaven). And there was a little piece of text which went something like : "Waiting for the life-giving Touch!"

That was the only occasion when I ever got to see the Genesis of a proper political cartoon. The Maker: Thomas Kodenkandath ('Thommy'), scientist, artist and (then occasional and now prolific) cartoonist. The place: Trieste, Italy. The year: 1994. And playing God in 'Thommychettan''s vision was billionaire and soccer-club owner Silvio Berlusconi, who had just assumed premiership of Italy, promising a sharp revival of the country from economic doldrums.


Later during that visit, I spent a few days in Rome among a group of Italian students. The Soccer World Cup had just started and Italy was to open its campaign against Ireland. My host Francesco invited me to watch the match at a party of youngsters. The party happened somewhere outside the city; it was a very lively and drunken gathering numbering least a hundred; and a huge-screened telly had been set up.

The match kicked off and the Italian commentary, animated and loud and repeating the names of national heroes "Baresi,... Donadoni.... Roberto Baggio!.... Donadoni!..." reminded me of radio commenataries in Malayalam from my childhood... Then suddenly Ireland scored a goal. There was a hushed silence among the TV watchers; and suddenly someone began to clap and a large fraction of the audience started a round of applause.

I stepped away to fetch a drink and saw several of my new friends - surprisingly, Francesco included - standing away and chatting and not watching the match at all. I asked them why they were staying aloof.

Francesco said: "You know, all of us are great football-lovers but we are also committed left-wing activists. We are just not for Berlusconi, who is a big-time capitalist and is very right-wing."

"But what has the premier's politics got to do with the world cup?" I asked.

"Actually, he owns the clubs for which most of these guys, Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni,... play. And these chaps had made public statements supporting Berlusconi's politics. Many in our group cannot identify with guys who say such irresponsible things, just because they are paid by some politician. You know what, Elena (his girlfriend) actually wants Italy to lose!"

"And what about YOU?"

"I want Italy to win. But I am not going to support them 100 percent; I will try not to watch Italy's matches!"

"I too support Italy!" I said earnestly "but in support of your cause, I too will skip today's match."

It was just as well. Ireland won the match and most party-ers looked seriously shaken, including the majority of those who did not watch.


I returned to India in another couple of days. In my then hostel, I was the sole Italy-supporter and watched the Azzurri revive and win hard-fought matches against Bulgaria, Nigeria, Spain... before they narrowly lost the final (it was easily the most exciting *goalless* match I ever have seen; the decision came via a 'shootout') to Brazil. Even old Francesco gradually got hooked and watched the latter stage of the tournament with great interest - he even sent me a long email analyzing the final, describing how the Italian defense led by a semi-fit Baresi and Maldini had held the rampaging Brazilian forwards at bay for a full 120 minutes.


When Italy actually won the Cup in 2006, I was again a steady supporter; but age had taken its toll and I did not feel anything like the excitement I felt cheering for them in a losing cause a dozen years previously.

More interestingly, 'Berlo' is back as the Premier of Italy; and judging from the papers, is up to some rather different kinds of ballgames. Wonder what Thommy (whose latest work may be seen at and Francesco would have to say on the recent developments!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'Pub City', Revisited

July is by far the best time of the year to be in Bangalore, that still-attractive city that has been renamed 'Bengaluru'; but all I got for local looking-around were just over 3 hours on a late afternoon and that too because an arrangement to meet someone on serious business did not work out. And regrettably, I had no time to meet up with local friends - old or new.

Anyways, I had the above-mentioned slice of time and decided to tramp it from 'Majestic' to MG Road, sort of goofed up my direction and ended at JC Road and then did a course-correction and walked down to and across Cubbon Park and... well, at the end of a lengthy 2 hours, I was on Brigade Road and searching for 'Pecos'.

I did not find that once-upon-a-time favorite haunt of mine but there were other similar establishments and at the entrance of one was a board advertising 'Happy Hours' from 10am to 6 pm.
1 Mug - 70 Rs - happy price 40 Rs
2 Pint -120 Rs - happy price 70 Rs
and so forth.

I saw the time. It was 5.55; and I entered and was surprised to see the place more than half empty.

I ask my waiter upfront, "Happy hours are on, right?"
He shows me his watch. It showed 5.57. He smiles a rather sympathetic smile at me and asks matter of factly: "What you want?". I say: "A pint".

He produces a largeish mug, which I notice is only around 80 percent full. But then, I am from 'dry' Ahmedabad and keen to get on with things.

About half a dozen minutes down, I have emptied the pint-mug. The waiter comes back and asks me. "What?"

I take a few seconds to do some mental calculations - which concern the additional kick any further consumption of the drink would produce and how it could impact the further 4-5 kilometers of walking that I have to do - thru Bangalore traffic(*). And then I hear him say:

"Happy hour over. So..."

I take a further few seconds to decide whether I should have another pint or just a mug when he says, ominously: "Pint, now 120 rupees, okay? Mug, 70". And he presently adds in Kannada with a generous smile:

"Actually, you go to some wine shop, you can get what you want - cheap!"

"Why wine shop?" I ask back in English (my own Kannada is minimal). "You wont give me more?"

"No, no... actually I thought..." he pauses, perhaps not sure what to say.

"Okay, give me one mug" I have finished my calculations. "Ondu maggu!"

He silently goes off and returns with a which is dispensed with, with relish.

The waiter comes with the same one-word query: "What?"

I hear myself responding with a question: "Are you going to close or...?" but then I quickly pull back and say. "Okay, bill!"

He brings the bill. I take my time, search my pocket exhaustively and pay for it with the only 1000 rupee note I have. He brings the balance. I again take my time to gather the cash in its entirety and step out; I see the waiter again at the doorway chatting with a doorkeeper - and he gives me what looks like a smile. The doorman appears to be smiling too and wishes me "Good evening, Sir!". I halt, fish out a wad of low denomination notes from my pocket, give the doorman 10 bucks, give the waiter (what must have looked like) a smile and walk into the raging traffic...

(*) - Most roads in Blore are one-way tracks. And many of these have medians. When one crosses such a road and semi-consciously follows the standard protocol of "look to your right and get to the median. Then look to your left and do the rest", a fatal accident is a very, very likely outcome. To those of my readers going to Blore, let me wish luck!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Scalloping Away

Many years ago, I spent a short while at a Biology Research Center - the idea was to learn (and do research in) Molecular Biology. Sometime during that short-lived experiment (I left the place, having totally failed to cope with the work, but that is not the story here!), I got to attend a Research Presentation. A lady researcher spoke on some deeply specialized aspect of fruitfly genetics and kept mentioning something called 'scalloped' almost as if the word was a noun (rather than a past-participle it very much sounded like) - "Scalloped gets expressed.... " types.

In those days there was no internet and I did not have the habit of looking up new words. At any rate, I left the place in another day or three so I did not find out what 'scalloped' - or 'scallop' for that matter - meant.


A few years down the line, I got a job in a team maintaining a rather elaborate piece of Software controlling milling machines - the software would automatically plot pathways for a cutting tool so that it could fashion a specified component from a lump of metal. One of the issues to be addressed was 'scallops' - long, cusp-cross-sectioned remnants of metal which used to be inevitably left over on the component after the machining operation was done. And in this context the words, 'cusp' and 'scallop' were used synonymously. I already knew well what a 'cusp' was so I did not search for the meaning of 'scallop'(although online dictionaries were available). And again, I did not try to find out what the lady-biologist's 'scalloped' was.


Last month, I got to run thru the Red Fort(*) in Delhi. I was particularly impressed by the compact marble edifices and their beautifully proportioned arches. I overheard a guide telling people how the liberal Shah Jahan embellished Islamic buildings with Hindu-style arches (he meant the ones formed by several small arcs with a sharp outward point in the center, for example, this ). Indeed, it is generally observed that arches with just the outward point in the middle (and no arcs) are Muslim and the ones with many arcs plus the central outward point are Hindu - the farthest arch in the above picture is Muslim while the rest are Hindu.

It is also known that Hindu temples, traditionally, never used the arch - they were all post-and-lintel affairs. This was a bit strange because the aesthetic appeal of the arch was well-known here very long ago, judging from the facades of Buddhist caves; perhaps the crucial step of constructing a *structural* arch from appropriately cut stones was never made here until the advent of Muslims(**). And even when the arch was adopted (after some initial resistance, it appears) into temple-designs (both Hindu and Jain) and into secular buildings such as palaces (mostly around Rajasthan), the many-arcs-within-the-arch pattern appears to have been so heavily favored and the single-outward-point one was so totally excluded (both for rather mysterious reasons) that the above 'communal divide' came about. Anyways, *both* patterns were (almost certainly) originally Muslim innovations (so, whether Shah Jahan was being 'secular' with those arches is a little doubtful; he almost certainly did not need to borrow their designs from temples - and Shah Jahan had no reputation for 'reusing' temple portions in his buildings).

Note: The capitals of some of the marble pillars did look unmistakeably temply in style though. And that many-arcs-with-central-outward-point arches are not much seen in Islamic buildings outside this subcontinent may after all indicate *some* Hindu contribution.

After some web-research, I discovered that that the many-arced-arch is often called a 'cusped arch' or 'scalloped arch' (again cusp is synonymous with scallop) - and a google images search with either of these as key will yield several pictures of those lovely Red Fort arches. Another phrase which means pretty much the same is 'multi-foiled arch'. The Moors of Spain, who were basically Muslim, also used many-cusped arches extensively in their buildings (for example, in the Alcazar of Seville which predates the Red Fort by a few decades: or in the more famous Alhambra , which is still older by a couple of centuries).
That the multi-foiled arches of the Moors do not have the central *outward point* maybe a matter of detail; anyways, the absence of this central outward point is, to me, the reason why the Moorish arches do not quite equal in grace the Mughal ones.

Now, to finish the scallop/scalloped story, here is what Merriam-Webster says:

Scallop (noun) =
1. Any of numerous marine,... mollusks, that have a radially ribbed shell...
2. A valve or shell of a scallop
(the logo of Shell Petroleum features a scallop)
3. One of a continuous series of circle segments or angular projections forming a border

Scallop (verb) = to cut or finish in scallops.

As for the fruitfly connection: 'scalloped' is the name of a particular fruitfly (drosophila) gene. Here is an online sample that I found today:

"Scalloped ... encodes a member of the TEA/ATTS-domain family of transcription factors... Scalloped functions downstream of Notch (from the context, another gene) signaling during development of the Drosophila wing and acts as an intermediary between the signaling pathways that pattern the wing and the regulation of wing growth."

I am too tired now to find out what it is about a gene - which is a sequence of biochemical units - that could have scallops. Maybe it is some anatomical feature of the fruitfly (guess: - fringes of its wings) which gets a scalloped appearance when that particular gene is 'expressed'.

(*) The Red Fort is (mysteriously) not a World Heritage site. Humayun's Tomb (also in Delhi) which is on the list, struck me as a distinctly inferior building - it looks quite impressive from afar but from close quarters, the designs and patterns on its walls - incuding an unusual (to self) 'Star of David' which was repeated all over) - are not quite up to scratch.
Note: On further examining Humayun's Tomb, it looks a lot more impressive viewed from a corner than face on.

There is plenty of detail in the Red Fort which I could only gloss over - a foot square picture of the lute-playing Orpheus(!) atop the imperial box in Diwan-e-aam, the Scales of Justice,... and so much more.

(**) A bright Desi student of Architecture once told me: "If you ask me about ancient Indian architecture, it is, to a good approximation, Zero! No arch, no dome, no grand structural innovations, and no sense of space whatever - just walls and pillars and more walls and more pillars and sculptural decorations all over... Even large temples have only dark and conjested interiors!"