Nature Abhors a Vacuum

July 26, 2013

Sandy was the first proper pet Amit and I had. When I say “proper”, I mean, aside from various stray dogs who inveigled their way into our hearts (but not our homes) over the years. And when I say “was” – I mean, she is no more.

It was heart-breaking.

She was the sweetest little thing that ever came into our lives, a ray of eternal sunlight, a perpetual joy. But she wouldn’t sit still for long, at least not at night. A couple of cold, wet, miserable nights we let her into our room with every intention of letting her stay. But she dug her claws into my legs, purred noisily, chewed my hair and generally kept me awake until I was forced to throw her out. I still had not come around to giving her a third chance. I thought I would, eventually, some day, especially when it was cold and wet, or if she were sick, but that day never came. One morning, when Amit was out of town, when I opened the balcony door and called to her, she didn’t come. It was a first, and I was a little worried, but I put it down to an adventurer’s spirit and left some food out for her and went to office.

But she never came back.

Our neighbours told us. She was lying on the road, a few houses away, dead. The street dogs got to her.

As the days crawled by and time waged a silent war on our guilt and sorrow, we decided we would get another pet. Maybe a dog, this time. Dogs are easier to restrain, to keep indoors and to allow into the garden without allowing them to escape into the big bad world out there beyond the gate.

Soon enough, there was a posting on the CUPA page on FB – 25 day old pup for adoption. I called the number. The pup was a street dog, either abandoned or orphaned by its family. Black, male.

It was Wednesday. I told the lady that we’d decide by Friday and if we were going to take him, we’d be there on Saturday. Meanwhile, don’t hold him for us.

On Wednesday evening, I was about to drive the kids to tennis when Tara said, “Mummy, in that house over there, I saw a kitten, just like Sandy.”

My heart skipped a beat. Of course, it can’t be Sandy, I thought. Two neighbours had said they’d seen her dead and both of them knew her well enough to have recognized her. Besides, even Tara didn’t think it was Sandy, it was just a kitten that looked like Sandy.

All the same, I drove very slowly past the house on the corner… but we saw nothing.

As soon as I reached the tennis court, I messaged Amit. “Did Tara tell you that she saw a kitten like Sandy in the house at the corner of our street?”

In five minutes, I got a reply. “I heard.”

Hm. Ok. We were both being very nonchalant. It took another 25 minutes for Amit to say, “We can get the kitten.”

And so we did.

He went to the house on the corner and looked around for a cat, which appeared soon enough and came and rubbed against his legs as if she’d known him all her life. This cat is a lot like Sandy, but a lot bigger. We still don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl, though Mrini has examined its nether regions carefully and pronounced it to be a girl because “it doesn’t have the sticking out thing.”

For the moment, she’s been christened Polly – Tara’s choice, since she was the one who saw her. She looks pretty happy and purrs all the time, even when she’s alone and asleep, apparently. She’s quite different from Sandy in personality, of course, being far less playful and much more mature and cat-like. She hasn’t played any scratchy or bite-y games with us yet and I suspect she may not. She looks completely self-assured and at ease, considering she is in a new environment and surrounded by a whole lot of new people. She wandered all over the house without showing the slightest sign of nervousness.

We haven’t let her out at all so far. For one thing – once bitten, twice shy. Our facing neighbour has informed us that they have lost three cats to the street dogs outside, so we obviously don’t want Polly to be the fifth. For another thing, Polly, having grown up quite a bit already, presumably has an area that she considers home and if we let her out she might make a beeline for it, leaving us high and dry. I fancy Polly is a little puzzled by this development. She slept blissfully curled up among the pillows in the guest bedroom last night, so I don’t think she’s complaining, exactly. All the same, she sits by the door or window and looks outside as though she would very much like to be out there. One part of my heart says she should be out there – cats belong out there; why should we take away her freedom and imprison her in a gilded cage? She never asked us to, and we haven’t exactly got her permission or consent. But then, I think of Sandy. I wanted that kitten to have her freedom and she wound up dead. Keeping Polly locked up indoors might be a mistake, but at least it’s a different mistake. I can’t make the same mistake twice.

The kids took Sandy’s tragic fate in their stride, quite unperturbed by it aside from wondering what would happen to all the cat food. But for Amit and me, it left a huge hole in our home and hearts. Polly doesn’t exactly fill that hole; Polly doesn’t bring Sandy back to life; but, sitting in my lap and purring contentedly, she makes it a little easier to bear.

Opting Out

July 23, 2013

I opted out of my archaeology course today.

Bereft would be too strong a word, but I certainly feel sad about it. It’s a course I started back in 2007, and it’s been a fairly comforting presence in my life since then. Anytime I felt things were too slow and boring, any time my life was too stagnant, all I had to do was to sign up for another module.

So why opt out now?

Well, these courses have rules and this one had a rule that said you can only take so many breaks in the duration of the course. It’s actually a four-year (part time; two years if you do it full time) diploma programme and they had allowed me to extend it all the way till the end of next year, which would make it about seven years. But I have to complete it by then. And in order to complete it by then, I have to take up the next four modules without a break, which is tough. I have to let a lot of things slip when I’m working on these modules and it’s ok only because each module lasts only 12 weeks. If I have to let a lot of things slip for a year and a half, I’m worried that something will fall and break and that might not be good.

These courses are demanding. The first six modules that I completed went towards earning a Certificate. The next two – one that I’ve completed and the other that I’m doing right now – are towards a Diploma, but they are tougher than the first set of modules. The investment in time and effort is high, the investment of money even higher. It’s not even justifiable, given that there is no conceivable way I can use this knowledge professionally. The amount of money I’ve spent on this course so far could possibly have bought me a small car. I can’t even estimate the amount of time and energy I’ve spent.

It’s interesting, that’s the only justification I can offer. It’s something I’ve wanted to study for ages. And it feels good to know that even at this stage of life and career, I’m still studying something, still learning, not yet stagnating. Any kind of learning is learning, after all, even if it is of no use professionally. It’s still something I’m happy to be role modeling to my kids.

So I had a long, hard battle with myself. My heart said – keep at it, it’s just a matter of a year or so. I’ve done extremely well on all the modules so far, why lose momentum. University rules prohibit me (or at least make it quite difficult for me) to resume this course at a later date. It will be more expensive and may require taking extra modules. And it’s always more difficult to get back to something once you lose the momentum (however relaxed the momentum might have been).

But the common sense part of me said, I can’t. It’s too tough, putting everything else on hold for so long. It’s too expensive. And, after all, I’ve taken up the most interesting modules already, so after this am I pursuing it just for the sake of the diploma, or just for the sake of completing it? That’s not a strong enough reason. There are so many other things that I could be spending my time doing.

In the end, the common sense part of me won and I wrote to the university saying, in effect, so long and thanks for all the fish. I might come back for seconds. And then we went into the complexities of how I may or may not be allowed to resume the course later on and all that. But it didn’t change my decision – for now, I’m done.

I know it’s the right decision, made for the right reasons, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough decision and a sad one. If I had decided to keep at it, it would have been a tougher decision (which normally makes it the defacto right decision, right?), but a happier one. This course of study, this format, this particular university and its staff and its teaching methodology, all have been companions of mine for quite a long time. It’s not easy saying goodbye, or even adieu. But it’s the right thing to do right now.

Twirling Dervish

July 1, 2013

I thought this was hilarious. It’s written by my mother.
Why do people eat noodles? Why do people eat spaghetti? This is not a rhetorical question, like why do people eat food? I am trying to get to the bottom of what it is about noodles and spaghetti that makes them the preferred mode, for a number of people, of ingesting carbohydrates.

Appearance wise they do not have a lot going for them. They look like long worms suffering from anaemia and anorexia. The flat forms, in addition, appear to have been run over by a steamroller, not having sufficient energy due to the prevailing indispositions to get out of the way in time. In the raw state they look like very thin sticks, matchsticks if you will but very long ones. Once they have undergone the ordeal of boiling water they flop around, lifelessly if the exposure has been overlong, with a little spring if it has been too short. One can’t tell by looking at them, but applying a finger will establish that they are slimy. At this point there is no way of overcoming these drawbacks.

Noodles and their ilk have no taste unless they have been severely doctored. They are made with refined white flour (or rice flour), which has no taste. The flour is mixed with water, which also has no taste. Sometimes an egg or two is added, but eggs are not known for taste either, as witness a kiss without a mustache. The resulting mix, having been shaped, is put into boiling water which may or may not have been salted and which is thrown out anyway after the creatures are cooked.

However if one has got this far then it behoves one to improve the glaggy pile of gluten and starch with a sauce, with meats and veggies and herbs and seasonings. It is possible that it – the gluten and starch – functions as a base for the said sauce, meats and veggies, but it is less likely to complement the concoction and more likely, in fact, to require additional seasoning to counteract its essential tastelessness, see para above. Care has to be exercised to ensure that the meats and veggies are not robbed, not completely swindled, of their own flavours and textures. If sufficient precautions aren’t taken the meats and veggies will languish on the sidelines, humans will starve for lack of flavoursome nourishment, and noodles will overrun the planet.

To get back to my first question. See above. I can’t be bothered to type it out again. It’s not really a matter of why, but of how. I had seen it on tv, and when we went to Rome I saw it for real. There is a pile of long white things, which I am going to call noodles for the sake of brevity, in front of one, on a plate, maybe some sauce, some bits of veggie and some bits of meat. There is a fork. I will not even try to get into chopsticks. One picks up the fork, inserts it into the pile, collects a few noodles and twirls it around to make a tidy bundle, though some laggards fall by the wayside. When the fork is sufficiently loaded it is raised to mouth level. At this point, inevitably, there will be one or two strings of noodle hanging from it, unless one is well practised. The forkful is conveyed into one’s mouth and the hangers-on are sucked in afterwards.

At what point is it politic to stop twirling? When the fork has a reasonably tight mouthful. There is no other logical way of stopping the twirl. Theoretically if one were to go on twirling the whole plateful of noodles would wind themselves around the fork, barring a few recalcitrant numbers.

Etiquette says that if there are stragglers, the forkful must be dumped and one must start all over again. Etiquette says one should do the twirling against the sloping side of the plate. If a spoon is provided, one can twirl against the spoon, but that is not quite the done thing. Cutting noodles is also not done. Anyway it does not work because as soon as they are cut, the slimy little buggers slither off and you get a mouthful of nothing.

There is no reason to eat carbohydrates in this form.

In Full Bloom

July 1, 2013


After a long, long time, the hibiscus has rewarded my patience, persistence, and eternal optimism. The last few blooms from this plant were sorry looking things, and after those it stopped producing buds altogether and showed every indication of giving up the ghost entirely. I moved it to a different location, and now, despite its worm-eaten leaves, after weeks and weeks and weeks, it’s finally produced one happy looking bloom that’s lasted two days, and there are another three buds on the way.

Not that I’m overly fond of hibiscus or anything, but it’s good to see persistence and hard work paying off. Especially after so many other plants have completely withered away.

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