By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cold Weather Ultimum : Minimum Minimum Versus Maximum Minimum!

Having spent all my childhood and adolescent years in the predominantly hot-or-warm climate of South India, I've always been fascinated by extremely cold weather, whether I am actually experiencing it or merely reading or writing about its many-sided manifestations. . 
So, talking about snowbound and icebound countries  --  real as well as imaginary  --  in my preceding articulations (Feb. 17, Stormy Britain, Snowbound America . . .), I recalled some cold-weather scenes which had made forceful impressions on my mind.  I didn't always write about them, but luckily some of them are on record, like the following winter vista in New Delhi.
----- ----- ----- -----
Glossary & annotations
Shanthi Path  --  Meaning 'Peace Way' in Hindi, this broad and beautiful avenue, with wide lawns and lush trees on both sides, bisects the Diplomatic Enclave where some of the oldest and most spacious Embassies (of countries like USA, USSR/Russia, UK, China, Pakistan, etc.) are situated.   
Chanakyapuri  -- Diplomatic Enclave, meaning "City of Chanakya'  in Hindi  --  Chanakya was an ancient Indian philosopher and royal counsellor, whose ideas on statecraft are often compared with those of  Machiavelli, the famous Italian historian and philosopher.
Moti Bagh  -- Prestigious residential area near the Diplomatic Enclave.  mainly housing civil servants.
Russian Embassy  --  I made a faux pas here  --  I should have said "USSR Embassy' or 'Soviet Embassy'.  Or was I being unconsciously prophetic?  For, of course, today it certainly is the Russian Embassy!
Foreign cars  --  Another faux pas!  I should have said ' imported cars'  --  for one of the two exclusive brands of cars running on Indian roads those days was the 110o-cc Fiat, made in India.   But just as we Indians never think of English as a foreign language, we never used to think of Fiat as a foreign brand! 
Kautilya Marg  --  A cross road in Chanakyapuri  --  Chanakya is also known as Kautilya.
Patel Marg  --  Important road named after Sardar Patel, a leading freedom fighter (and very close associate of  Mahatma Gandhi), who narrowly missed becoming the first Prime Minister of India in 1947.
Razais  --  Quilts, in Hindi.
 ----- ----- ----- -----
Evening News, New Delhi
17 January 1987
Winter Views
Driving to the office on a very cold day last week, I found the air thick with heavy mist on Shanthi Path. 
As I approached Chanakyapuri from the Moti Bagh side, I saw a long banner in bold blue letters at the circular traffic island. 
I'm sure you don't need a translation of that, except perhaps for a couple of words:  JEUNESSE means YOUTH, and ACCUEIL means WELCOME.
The winter vista in Chanakyapuri was fascinating.  The trees and the Embassy buildings were all wrapped up in the mist, and the wide, lawn-lined avenue stretched in a straight line ahead.  
As I read the French banner quickly, I had a wide-angled view of the rose beds on both sides of the road;  and for a moment I had the illusion of being in Paris.
As I drove on, I saw many foreign cars parked outside the Russian and other Embassies, and the illusion was renewed, if I ignored the traffic on the road, which had nothing Parisian about it.
A few days ago I had gone to the railway station before sunrise.  Along Kautilya Marg and Patel Marg, the bright amber light from the sodium vapor lamps created  a strong impression of deserted London thoroughfares in the night.
The whole week has been not just misty, but quite foggy in the mornings, and there has been a biting cold in the air.  The silhouettes of heavily-clothed people standing at the frost-bound bus-stops produced intriguing impressions.
The dull and gray sky and the chill in the air has brought typical English weather to Delhi, which was accentuated by the day-long drizzles on Friday.
The evening bulletins on the TV yesterday reported a minimum temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, but we thought it was the coldest day of the season, though the minimum had dropped to 4 degrees earlier this month.  
This may appear strange  --  but only till we take note of the fact the peak temperature for Friday was only 13 degrees, the lowest maximum of the season. 
We are snugly tucked inside our rugs and razais when the minimum is reached, and we never feel the difference between 4 degrees and 8 degrees, unless we have night duty to perform in the open air. 
But we are all widely awake and alert when the maximum is touched, especially if we go outdoors during the afternoon instead of remaining inside heated rooms.  And that's when a difference of 4 degrees (between 13 and 17, or between 13 and 9, for example)  makes a big impression on us. 
The criterion for the coldest day, therefore, is not the minimum minimum, but the minimum maximum! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stormy Britain, Snowbound America, And A Story Set In Iceboundland

I've written only one story in my whole life, and I am a very senior citizen;  but I do think  it's good enough to rank with the immortal tale of  The Ugly Duckling.  And isn't a single story of that kind enough to justify the author's credentials as one of the best story-tellers of the world?  After all, how many other stories of Hans Christian Andersen can you readily recall?

What makes me think of this now is the onflowing news about the extreme cold waves in stormlashed Britain and snowbound East America as a sequel to the climatic convulsions in the Arctic Ocean  --   because the story,  which I had featured in my column Articulations in THE HINDU in 1992, visualizes an imaginary country called Iceboundland.

So here are a couple of news items, and my one-and-only (and hopefully immortal!) story:

----- ----- ----- -----

The Independent
14 Feb. 2014

Communities across Britain were met with hurricane-force 100mph winds yesterday as stormy weather continued to batter parts of the UK, causing travel chaos and leaving tens of thousands of homes without power.

Gusts of 112 mph were recorded in Aberdaron in North Wales, the strongest so far in the storm on the day dubbed "Wild Wednesday". Work to clear the debris and damage caused by these winds has begun this morning.

Britain remains on alert, with the River Thames expected to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years, and more than 400 flood warnings were in place across England and Wales.,


The Guardian
13 Feb. 2014

A large winter storm continued to dump rain, ice and snow on the northeast [of USA}, 24 hours after unleashing the same mix in the south. Snow accumulation totals in some areas of the Appalachian mountains surpassed two feet. . .

The northeast braced for an additional 3-8 inches of snow Thursday night, as cooling temperatures turn a midday rain back into powder. A winter storm warning remains in effect for much of the northeast . . .
Road closures, train delays, and flight cancellations halted travel for much of the day across the northeast. Officials said it could have been worse if a good share of potential motorists had not heeded warnings to stay off the roads.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio defended his decision to keep city schools open, saying the storm came in faster and heavier than expected.. .  [but] a lot of parents declined to send their kids out in the storm.

----- ----- ----- -----

7 June 1992

What are friends for?

A great advantage of living in New Delhi, if one is interested in the cultural scene on a global scale, is that one has many opportunities to attend music concerts given by visiting foreign artists.  They come mainly from the West, but sometimes from other parts of the world also.  Occasionally there are excellent programs featuring foreign dancers too, especially folk ensembles.

 A surprise awaited me when I attended a  recent performance given by a folklorist from Norway, Birgitte Grimstad, at the India International Center.  For an hour she rendered folk songs in Scandinavian and other European languages (including English) in a concert mode, supporting her own voice on the Spanish guitar.  Then she turned actress and story-teller  --  and, moving around on the small stage, treated the audience to a fascinating Eskimo tale about a young boy and two eagles.

To impersonate the eagles -- a young bird and its mother -- Ms Grimstad donned a colorful costume, in the form of an enormous pair of flexible wings.

For me personally, this charming cameo had a special attraction because more than fifteen years ago I had spun a story about a black boy and a polar bear who were great friends, to tell my own children who were little boys then.   Ever since, I have recited the story to many other children:  they have invariably loved it, and some of them have even remembered it after a long time.  Somehow I had never written it down on paper. but had just been carrying it around in my memory.

After hearing Ms. Grimstad telling the Eskimo tale in a captivating style, I felt an overpowering wish to hear my own story narrated by her.  So I approached her after the performance and asked her for a very special encore.  She became interested, and agreed to meet me a couple of days later at the Norwegian Embassy.  "And oh,"  she added.  "Please send it to me in writing tomorrow  --  let me take a look at it first!"

So I wrote the story down for the first time, and sent it to Ms. Grimstad.  When I met her next day, armed with a voice recorder, I found her  in a very cordial and communicative mood.  She told me  she actually hails from Denmark, though she has been living in Norway for a long time.  For a while we exchanged views on the state of the folk arts in India, Norway and other parts of the world.  Then, without making any fuss, she just picked up the paper I had sent her and read the text fluently into my recording machine:


Once upon a time there was a little black boy who found himself all alone in Iceboundland, surrounded by the Arctic Ocean.  Nobody knows how he came to be there, who brought him from Africa, and what happened to them.  Anyway, there he was, the little boy, all alone in Iceboundland, shivering in the bitter cold even though it was summer and the sun was shining brightly.  Nobody knows what he ate and how he survived:  but there he was, the little boy, all alone and shivering under the never-setting summer sun.  

One day the little boy met a big polar bear, and they became good friends.  The bear hugged the boy and made him feel warm, and they went everywhere together.  They never met any people or other bears, but they were always together and became great friends.  The boy was always hugged by the bear, which kept him very warm and made him very happy.

But  when the winter came to Iceboundland, there was no sun, and it was dark day and night, and it became colder and colder every day.  Even though the bear kept the boy warm, he could not stand the darkness, and he was terribly frightened.  He could not eat or sleep, and he became very thin and weak.  After some time he became a bag of bones, and it looked as if he would die.

The polar bear became very sad, and could not stand the thought of its friend dying.  So it said:  "Boy, you get on my back, and I will carry you to Africa, to your own country, where you will become well and strong again!"  The boy thanked the bear and got on its back, and the bear carried him Southwards.  It crossed Europe, swam across the Mediterranean Sea, and landed in Africa.  Then it carried the boy still Southwards, where it thought his country was.

As they went forward, it became hotter and hotter.  The little boy began to eat and sleep well, and he started walking with the bear.  As they walked together, he became stronger and stronger.  But the polar bear could not stand the heat any more, and it started feeling weaker and weaker.  It could not eat or sleep, and soon it became extremely tired.  So it said:  "Boy, from here you must go on your own, .  For I can't go any further, and I must go back to Iceboundland!"  So they said good-bye, though they were very sad to part.

But when the polar bear started going back Northwards, it found that it was too weak to walk.  It could not even stand properly, and it collapsed.  And it looked as if the bear would die.  The boy was very sad to see his friend like that.  He could not let him die!  So he said:  "Bear, don't worry!  I am healthy and strong now.  You just get on my shoulders, and I will carry you back to your country!"

So the bear got on the boy's shoulders, and he carried it back Northwards.  He swam the sea and crossed Europe, and when they were  in Scandinavia the bear began to walk with the boy.  As they walked together, it began to eat and sleep well, and it became stronger and stronger.  But when they approached Iceboundland, they found it was still winter and bitterly cold there, and the boy became miserable.  He could not eat or sleep, and he became very weak again.   

So the bear carried him back to Africa, and then the boy carried it back to Iceboundland.  Again and again it was the same story.  Whenever they said good-bye, one of them could not walk or even stand up properly, and had to be carried back in the opposite direction.  As a matter of fact, children, they are still doing it today!  That's why, if you are somewhere on their way, you can sometimes see the bear carrying the boy South, and sometimes the boy carrying the bear North.

What did you ask me, children?  You want to know why they could not say good-bye somewhere in the middle, near the Mediterranean Sea?  

Well, I don't really know  the answer!  I suppose the boy and the bear were such good friends, that the strong one could never say good-bye till the weak one had become really strong! 

---- ----- ----- -----

PostScript,   2014

Did she, or didn't she?

After Ms. Grimstad read my story into my voice-recorder, I asked her whether she would care to include it in her repertoire.  She said she'd love to do so, and even visualized wearing some striking black-and-white costumes for the narration.  

One of the greatest omissions of my life has been that I've never followed up things properly wherever my personal interests are concerned.  I did sometimes think of contacting Ms. Grimstad  (with the Norwegian Embassy's help, if necessary), and finding out whether she did ever tell my story in her performances in Norway or anywhere else --  but I never came round to taking the necessary initiative.

Perhaps even now it isn't too late to contact her, and maybe I should make a serious effort to do so!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Year Blues : Human Side Of The Routine-bound Burocraftsmen

As we are settling down in the 14th year of the 21st century,  let me share with you a New Year story I wrote in New Delhi's evening paper exactly 40 years ago.  I would paint a far brighter picture of the economic and social environments in India today if I re-told the story now;  but the significant thing about this old cameo is that the predicament of the twin characters may still sound remarkably true today in many other countries in the world.  
........... .......... ..........

Glossary & annotations
(in same sequence as in title & text)

Burocraftsmen  --  I am glad to say I still haven't lost my lifelong passion (and, may I add, rather special skill) for coining colorfully imaginary expressions and names by bending, twisting and welding  together real-life words and names.  For some recently minted samples, please see Buronautics : Worker Found Guilty Of Act Of Work!;  and OPCW Wins Nobel Prize For Peace : OCPW Bags Nobel Prize For Burocrafts!  And now, Burocraftsmen is a natural sequel which I can't resist!
File Bhavan  --  Headquarters Building of the Filemaster-General  (see FMG below).  In the blog Expanding Business Of Exporting And Importing Brains, I had  explained the related expressions as follows:  'Bhavan' is a Hindi expression which broadly denotes 'institution'.  Various Departmental Headquarters in New Delhi are located in spacious buildings bearing native names like Krishi Bhavan (Agriculture, 'krishi' meaning crops),  Udyog Bhavan (Industry and Commerce),  etc.  For no reason known to me, there's also the hybrid Rail Bhavan, housing the Railway Headquarters, which made my imaginary File Bhavan sound very real!

Ali Babu  --   As explained in an earlier context, 'Babu' is a Hindi word which roughly means 'clerk' in official circles in India, and Ali Babu has a hilarious root in the classic Arabian Nights tale Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves.

FMG  --  One of three vital imaginary characters I've mentioned earlier :  Filemaster-General And Ali Babu Go Away On Furlough!  ;  Rulemaster-General Vs. Bulky Rules CommissionThe Taskmaster-General Tackles A Tricky Task;  and How The President Of The Philippines Got Rid Of All Government Officials!

"Your good self"  --  Conservative persons with low ranks  in independent India  still  have a way of addressing their official or social superiors respectfully in the third person, as their ancestors used to do in the British regime.  'Your good self' is a commonly used expression in the North. 

Moti Bagh  --  An important residential area in New Delhi, primarily providing Government-owned housing for serving officials.  This is where I lived during most of the 1970s and '80s.

11 o'clock queue  --   As a rule, the working hours of all Central Government offices in India are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some exceptions here and there.
A suitable bridegroom  --   In India, traditionally marriages are 'arranged' by parents.  This is still the predominant practice, , though the scenario is changing progressively.   
Compensatory off  --   In Government of  India offices, although there are provisions for paying overtime wages for working on Sundays and public holidays, it is more common to permit officials to be absent correspondingly on some working day(s) of their choice, as 'compensatory off'.

........... .......... ..........

Evening News, New Delhi
25 January 1974


Ali Babu and the New Year Day

Everybody's face in File Bhavan was beaming with broad smiles.  People were going round and round in groups all day long, wishing one another a happy New Year.

Judging from the good cheer which was overflowing, it was difficult to believe that everybody in the office had any worry  --  or any work, for that matter.

When Ali Babu came into the Filemaster-General's room at 3 p.m. to get the latter's signature on some routine paper, the officer asked him to sit down.

"Tell me something,"  the FMG said.  "All you fellows look as if you are really happy!  Is it because you have no work to do today?" 

"No, Sir!"  Ali Babu said.  "Most of us don't have much work even on other days."

"You have solved the transport problem, by any chance?"

"No, Sir.  The queues are getting longer and longer at the bus-stops.  I saw your good self in the 11 o'clock queue at Moti Bagh yesterday morning."

"Oh, you did?  Is that why you are all so happy?  That the boss can no longer drive to the office every day, and he's also late sometimes?"

"No, Sir.  We have always been late, and it has never made any difference to us whether the boss comes on time or not!"

"Then why are you so happy today?  Do you think the prices will come down?"

"They say coal prices are going to double from today, and I don't have a gas-cooker, Sir."

"Has your son found a job yet, Ali?"

"No, Sir.   He is still looking for one."

"You have found a suitable bridegroom for your daughter?"

"No, Sir.  She has lost her typing  job also."

"Have I sanctioned any overtime to you by mistake?"

"No, Sir. I worked the whole of last Sunday, but you have sanctioned only a day's compensatory off."

"Tell me then, my good man,"  the Filemaster-General asked.  "How is it that you are looking so happy today?"

"Well. Sir,"  confessed Ali Babu.  "I am happy because it is New Year Day.  With due respect to your good self, Sir, don't we say Good Morning to everybody every wretched morning of the year?