Sunday, September 28, 2014

The peacock in the mess

The talk on one of my whatsapp groups turned to peacocks. This is rare. Most of my whatsapp groups feature a very high level of forwarded wisdom. One does not simply walk into them and start telling anecdotes but here was an actual chance. Discussion had veered to peacocks and I had a genuine peacock anecdote up my sleeve.  I told it. People promptly shushed me - rightly so, because it was a pretty blade anecdote - and I slapped my forehead in delayed enlightenment. I should have posted my blade anecdote in the rightful place for blade anecdotes, namely my blog. So here goes, dear reader, hope you enjoy it.

This happened back in Manipal's fine engineering college, where I was doing my stretch in the eighties. Manipal was a pretty rural place back then. Little farms dotted the countryside and large swathes of it was still forest. There were hyenas there, and leopards, but the prudent engineering student avoids adventure and we were mostly content with excursions to our local watering hole, the Red Sun Bar, and the occasional field trip to the nearby Kasturba Medical College in the hope that some winsome lass would fall in love with us at first sight. This had never happened - female medical students, for some reason, do not find poorly dressed, gawping, unshaven and mostly broke engineering students in dire need of some deo, sexy - but we'd keep trying our luck just in case.

Coming back to the story, peacocks, porcupines and the odd spectacled cobra were the more commonly spotted species among the fauna. Cobras were sacred. No one harmed them though several hundred-meter sprint records had been broken there by diverse people following an unexpected cobra sighting. Our hostel warden was reported to have surpassed Bob Beamon's long jump without a run-up and in a lungi. Porcupines were eaten by the locals, though how they caught them was a mystery to me. Our warden, the same guy who had outdone Bob Beamon, would warn us. "The porcupine's prick is deadly" he would say, to the delight of students who, for some strange reason, would drag the conversation around to porcupines just to hear him say that. Bunch of juveniles!

But the peacocks were mostly left alone. They wandered into campus and rummaged about in the grounds behind the mess kitchens looking for food. One peacock was sort of adopted by the kitchen staff of the North Indian Non Vegetarian (NINV) Mess and would be seen sauntering around in the mess in the morning. It would get spooked as people started coming in, and take off into the forest but every now and then, early breakfasters would find it pottering about in the dining hall.

One day, one of our class mates, a lad who had been recklessly experimenting with substances, quite unexpectedly staggered into the mess at 7 am, the hour at which it opened. He would usually lie stoned somewhere till the gentle rays of the noon sun woke him up but today, somehow, was different. Bleary eyed, he sat with three or four of us regulars waiting for the pronthes and dahi to appear. As they did, our friend the peacock walked in. None of the regulars paid it much heed, everyone's attention being fixed on the pronthes which the cook stuffed with aloo and served with a generous helping of curd. Everyone's that is, except our substance abusing friend, who for some reason found the presence of the bird unusual and who found the complete lack of reaction from the rest of us even more freaky.

He tried to bring the conversation nonchalantly around to the subject of large birds and their unexpected sighting but no one showed the slightest reaction. After a  while, unable to contain himself, he asked the lad sitting next to him, "Boss, is there a large peacock here in the mess or am I seeing things?" As anyone who has spent time in an engineering college hostel will tell you, that is the wrong way to ask that question. Without batting an eyelid, the lad the question was addressed to, replied "Peacock? Here? Boss, didn't find anyone else or what, pulling my leg morning morning?" Our substance abusing friend laughed nervously and pretended he was cracking jokes but his confidence was shaken. He surreptitiously cast anxious glances at the rest of us in the mess  and his sinking suspicion was confirmed. The peacock was visible to no one else!

He ate whatever he could of the pronthe and fled. The ending is happy, though. The experience was enough to put him off drugs and he turned over a new leaf. Studied hard, went abroad and is now the head of some large software company in the US.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More on the cow theme

In my previous post, I wrote about the unlikeliness of cows appearing in lectures on Electrical Engineering and the purity of the engineering student's soul being evidenced by his not knowing that. Today we shall examine the all pervading nature of that animal in an engineering student's academic life and how I bettered the Olympic 100m record because of cows.

One of my closest friends, a fellow Wodehouse fan named Deepak, lived in a section of the hostel called the K block which comprised of single seater rooms and was architecturally inspired by a cowshed. So faithfully had the architect recreated his inspiration that cows from far and wide would saunter into the K block and reside for varying lengths of time, feeling completely at home. Non bovine residents of the K block seemed to accept their presence with generous equanimity but occasional visitors such as myself were more xenophobic. "Why don't you shoo them away?" I asked Deepak one day. Apparently the reason was that if you attempted anything in the nature of violence, the bovine would deposit evidence of its visit in the form of a cowpat bang in front of the shooer's door, and languorously walk away, leaving the hapless inhabitant of the room with the choice of either picking it up and throwing it out or inhaling bouquet-de-cowpat for the next few days.

Deepak also had a bicycle. Back in the 80s, this was like owning a Mercedes 380- SL convertible which meant that Deepak was much sought after. Not by the women, ha ha, because we had just 40 girls in the college (there were 1200 of us manly guys), all of whom had very exacting standards of male beauty (Tom Cruise might have made it, and Salman Khan, but not Deepak or I). As I was saying, it was sought after by the likes of me who thought riding a bicycle in the hot Manipal sun was the fun thing to do. And it was, given the level of activity in Manipal on a summer's afternoon. Deepak was ever cautious, though. He would, in a manner reminiscent of how the UPA government gave out gubernatorial appointments, give his bicycle to only the most trusted of his friends, among whom, I am proud to say, I figured prominently. Also, I did not, like another hapless friend our ours, bang into a cow with the bicycle. Cows thus disturbed tended to poop or urinate on you (when you were lying concussed on the road after the collision) and Deepak was rightly concerned that some of it might fall on the bicycle.

But my most vivid memory of that splendid animal is the time when I was endeavoring to clear my fifth semester workshop exams. I was, how shall I put it, dexterity challenged and in order to make up for shabbiness of the workpiece I had made as part of the evaluation, I had put  my all into the written exam. I had drawn heart wrenching diagrams of whatever it was that we were doing that semester - I sort of recall it was foundry practice - and liberally quoted from Tennyson and Shakespeare. My plan was that after the examiner had seen the workpiece and recoiled in disgust, he would read the paper and realize, with tears welling up in his eyes, that here was a good man, a decent chap, deserving in all respects save the minor one of being incompetent, and would give me passing marks.

The plan was working when suddenly I realized that I had rashly left the paper - my masterpiece - near the window and a passing cow, doubtless attracted by the brilliance of its content,  had decided to snack on it. With a yelp, I rushed towards the window but the cow shrewdly withdrew its head and headed off in the opposite direction. Crisis brings out the best in me. I quickly marshaled my thoughts and lit out of the door, executed a sharp U turn and gained rapidly upon the cow. It tried to sprint away but it was, and you, dear reader, will forgive my humble-brag,  no match for my superior intellect and athleticism. Within seconds, I had caught up with it and snatched the paper from its mouth. Miraculously -perhaps it was the force of my personality that had startled it into doing so - it released the paper undamaged. Observers quickly calculated that I had done about 100 meters in 9.7 seconds, but since it wasn't an official event, the feat never entered the books.

I passed the exam.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The talk on one of our whatsapp groups turned to cows. That is to say, someone forwarded something about cows. Whatsappers are great forwarders of things and many of the things people keep forwarding to me appear to have existed forever, rather like the universe. I know there is a school of thought that believes the universe began as a little dot of very densely packed matter (like some of our suitcases), and suddenly erupted to fill up everything in sight (like some of our suitcases) and by this logic, there must have been a time when all the whatsapp messages in the universe were tightly packed into a little dot. But this would probably be 11.6 billion years ago, and anyway, all this discussion is deeply in the realm of metaphysics which you, dear reader, would judiciously choose to give a miss.

Coming back to the cows, the said whatsapp message dealt with how different economic systems would treat the possession of two cows. Between you and me, the thing went right over my head but the word 'cows' appearing so many times reminded me of the jolly old age when I was studying engineering and the class was being taught Basic Electrical Machinery by Shri K. J. Singh.

Shri Singh was a splendid chap, from the rustic heartland of Bihar, and while he was a great engineering mind, his accent was a little different from ours. Very few people understood anything of what he said (but that was also in part because most of us were singularly daft). However, everyone sat solemn and attentive in his class - he had a great personality - and wrote down everything that he said which sounded important.

So in one such class, he kept using the word cows. Some of the sharper chaps did find it odd - after all, cows and electrical engineering have little to do with each other - but everyone wrote it down faithfully in their lecture notes.

It was only many lectures later that we realized that the good man was saying 'cause'

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Astrologers and their part in my downfall

I've never been much of a lad for the great science of astrology. It somehow does not inspire much confidence in me, given that its practitioners always tend to speak in very general, diffuse ways, some of which end up turning out right and suddenly, the astrologer in question is empanelled by the family to tell you what you should do next on the most personal level possible. Most officious, if you ask me.

And yet I get dragged, from time to time, to meetings with astrologers, for such is life, and this here is an account of one such experience.

It so happened, many summers ago, that a relative of the missus wanted a particular Bombay astrologer to be consulted for an answer to the question of when her son should marry. Since she, the relative, lived very far away, the missus and I were deputed to do the dirty work.

It was the first time in ages that I was going to see an astrologer. The last time I went was with an aunt of mine who took me to a chap who would tell you all by rolling a few cowrie shells on the floor. I remember being particularly impressed by how specific the chap was .

"Should my husband take the transfer?"

"No" replied the astrologer, who was a pretty august looking guy, with bhasma all over his forehead and his hair in a bad ass knot at the back of his head and continued with "He will get a promotion here only. For this, he should do a navagraha shanti and every friday go to a devi temple and pour milk" or words to that effect.

Both aunt and I were impressed. I couldn't help  wondering if he could reveal similar specific things in other subjects such as say mathematics.

"Auntie, can he tell me what the smallest number is that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways?"

"Hush child! So astrologer, what are the prospects of this doctor boy whom we are planning to see for our daughter?"

"This doctor boy is a good boy but the Rahu in his Mangal is interfering with the Guru. If he is an anesthetist, he will put many people to sleep"

"Or if he has a teaching position at the hospital"

"Quiet!" hissed the aunt.

Whereupon the astrologer impressed the daylights out of me by looking at me sternly and saying, in a low, magisterial voice "Seventeen twenty nine".

But I digress. Getting back to the story, missus and I landed up at the astrologer's palatial flat. I rang the bell and we were let in by a minion into a room full of religious photographs and books. We had taken our younger son along, then a very adorable three year old, and missus was telling him which religious photograph was of what, with the lad listening with that wide eyed look of intense attention that makes the arduous task of bringing children up completely worth it.

Presently the big noise himself walked in and so intimidating was his personality that I stood up instinctively. He motioned me to sit down and, divining with his astrological faculties who the real power int the family was, addressed the missus

"So what brings you here, Amma?"

Missus explained the relative, her son, the question of when, if and to whom he should get married, and offered him the said son's horoscope.

Astrologer looked at it perfunctorily and kept it aside. He looked intently at the missus (actually he had a strabismus in one eye, so it was difficult to tell, but I guessed it was her that he was looking at, given that I am universally considered deficient in aesthetic appeal) and continued looking for a longish while. I could tell that missus was feeling a bit uncomfortable. Son had spied a cat in the house and gone off to make friends. So it was up to me to break the ice.

"So, do you give only horoscope based advice or do you also advise on numerolgy and palmistry" I asked, just to get some conversation going.

The astrologer continued looking at missus. An uncomfortable fifteen seconds of silence followed. Then the astrologer spoke.

"Amma, you are saakshaat devi. You are the mother goddess herself. You exude the aura of divinity, the like of which I have never seen before"

The missus looked a little puzzled.

"Amma, you are destined to have a child. A daughter will be born to you. A girl of such unsurpassed goodness and divinity that she will bring peace and prosperity to the world. A girl who will .."

"But what about this auntie's son?" interrupted missus.

"Oh, he'll get married. But you? You will change the world by giving birth to this daughter"

I laughed a little nervously and said "But we weren't planning to have any more children. We already have two, you see..."

"Planning? The laws of Karma have no room for planning, sir. Things that are destined will happen, regardless of what mere mortals like us plan"

He continued in this vein for a few more minutes and after a great deal of persistence, we managed to get his verdict on auntie's son. ("Will he get married?" "Yes" "When?" "In three years time" "To whom?" "A doctor girl" - For the record, only answer no. 1 was correct. Auntie's son married his girlfriend before the year was out. She works in an ad agency)

As we rose to leave, he reminded missus once again that what was destined would happen, regardless of what we planned. Missus shot through the door like a bolt of lightning.

For the record, we haven't had the daughter.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Roasting chicken on a wood fire!

The son was bored. He had just finished his class XII exams but had the IIT entrance looming over his head, and judging from the fact that he gnashed his teeth and furrowed his brow every time he was reminded of it, he wasn't particularly looking forward to the prospect. There are chaps who will excitedly jump up and clap their hands in childlike joy when told that the IIT entrance exam is just a month away and there are chaps who will not. Younger son was resolutely among the latter.

"Play your guitar" I suggested. But his heart was not in that either. Apparently he had heard the guitar playing of one Joe Bonamassa and he despaired that he would never play anywhere remotely as well as him. "Look at Annie", consoled missus. Does the fact that he can't sing deter him from believing that he will one day be mistaken for Mallikarjun Mansur?"

That perked up the lad a bit. Slanderous libel, of course. I sing very very well indeed. But mother and son had a laugh and the missus, going all "awww" at my evident inability to see the humor in that, said "Lets grill some chicken"

"On the Berkely  Darfur stove?" I piped up excitedly

"Why not?"

So we marinaded a kg and a half in one cup dahi, 6 tbsps chilli powder, 3 tbsps salt (it did turn out to be a tad salty so you can consider making that 2 tbsps) and let it rest for an hour.

That done, it was time to light up the stove. This is easier said than done for city slickers but I luckily found that missus has a decent amount of experience. After laughing impolitely at my very scientific approach at initiating combustion, she rounded up some dried leaves and wood shavings and lit it up in a few minutes
I remembered an article written by my friend Madhu Menon, in my opinion one of this country's finest chefs, in the Mint newspaper. Dug it out surreptitiously on the phone and using his principles, grilled the chicken first on a hot flame for about two minutes (the Berkeley Darfur stove's capacity to deliver a very hot flame came in handy here) and then the second side for about 6 minutes on a side of the grate where the flames were not that intense

The result was chicken nicely charred on the outside and beautifully moist inside. Missus and son both loved the beautiful wood-smoked flavour!
I grilled a few potatoes and onions as well, and some cherry tomatoes plucked fresh from mom's terrace garden. Oh, and some fresh oregano leaves as well!
 Cheers, and hope you had a great Holi too.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

In which we make Chicken a la Uday Velhe on the Berkeley Darfur Stove

Uday Velhe works with me. He is our press operator and is mostly a shy and retiring person. Like Blair Eggleston, Wodehouse's fearless novelist, Uday would, if he found himself ensconced in a boudoir with a scantily clad Russian princess, take the seat nearest the door and talk about the weather. But let him loose with a knife and some provisions and he can knock you off your feet with the awesomest chicken curry you ever ate!

Here he is, in action, with the famous Berkeley Darfur Stove, an energy efficient wood burning stove developed by UC Berkeley for refugees in Sudan's Darfur.

The recipe is elegantly simple, serves 15 and uses 3 kg of twigs on the Berkeley Darfur Stove!

In case you don't have Uday (not looking his best in this photo, alas, because when I clicked him, he was straining to break a largeish twig)

you will need 
2 chickens, dressed (about 2.2 kg)
1 kg chopped onions
250 gm grated coconut (preferably freshly grated coconut)
100 gm (or, if you're in Mumbai, 20 rupees worth) coriander (aka cilantro) leaves
0.75 kg tomatoes
100 gm garlic pods (shelled)
a 'small piece' (in Uday's words) of ginger
4 bay leaves
2 star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
2 tbsp Garam Masala
6 tbsp Chilli powder
1 tbsp 'Eastern' chicken masala (Rs. 5 only) though Uday says any chicken or mutton masala is good enough
Some oil, of course (Uday prefers Sundrop super refined sunflower oil, the healthy oil for healthy people)
Salt to taste


1. Light up your stove (DUH!)
2. Sautee the onions

3. When the onions are nicely caramelised, says Uday,and you will know this from the smell, which is rich enough to spurn wall street jobs which promise seven figure bonuses, remove them and keep them aside

4. Roast the grated coconut. No oil and all, just roast

5. Grind the above, (i.e., the sauteed onions, the grated coconut, 3/4th of the 20 rupee worth coriander leaves, half the garlic, half the tomatoes, the small piece of ginger and the spices, ie, the star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves save two), into a paste on the mixie

6. Heat some oil (lots of oil, actually. About 200 ml.)  and fry the rest of the garlic and the two bay leaves you saved from step 5 above, in it till it is nice and brown

7.Dump into this half the paste from step 5 above, the chilli powder, the garam masala and the Eastern Chicken Masala and fry it, till all the water in it is gone. You will know this, says Uday, by the fact that the oil begins now to float on top 

8.Then add the chicken
and fry it for about ten minutes

8. Add the rest of the paste, the rest of the tomatoes, the rest of the coriander leaves and about 1 liter of water and boil the bejesus out of it. Here, you have to add the 'salt to taste' which I measure out as about 8 tbsp. But I could be wrong (I was drinking beer by this time)

And Voila! You have Chicken a la Uday Velhe!  

Best had with Pao or Chapati

Saturday, March 1, 2014

My black tea anecdote

I grew up drinking regular milk tea till somewhere along the way I started drinking black tea without sugar. I think it was those Indian Airline flights. The air-hostess would walk down the aisle with a pot of black tea and black coffee and then return after a half-hour with milk, by which time such tea that hadn't spilled on your shirt because of turbulence had turned quite cold and when mixed with the lukewarm milk, was very difficult to send down the hatch.

Anyway, I began to drink my tea black and once I got used to the slightly bitter and acidic taste of unsweetened black tea, I found that I no longer relished the with-milk version. This would occasionally be a problem in the industrial areas that I frequented, especially when I would visit someone's factory. Bombay's protocol demands the serving and drinking of 'cuttings', miniscule cups of tea which taste like very old tea leaves boiled in very stale milk for a very long time, which is pretty much what it is, but I soon evolved the ability to quickly swallow the foul brew without gagging. Whenever possible, though, I'd try to get my fix of my good old black tea, no milk no sugar

On one such outing, I landed up at an Udipi restaurant and, encouraged by the warm and welcoming manner of the waiter (he asked me "kyaa chahiye?" instead of "kyaa mangta hai?", showing himself to be a man of culture and breeding), I asked him if I could be served black tea.

"Of course" he beamed and went into the kitchen to place the order. He returned a moment later with a slightly apologetic look.

"Cook is asking, black tea means what?"

"Oh, simple" I told him "make the tea but don't put milk, and don't put sugar"

He smiled benevolently and went back into the kitchen to relay my instructions.

And returned after a moment, looking even more apologetic

"Cook is asking, should he put tea leaves?"

"Yes, please put tea leaves" I told him.

My order was properly executed. The son, when I told him this, laughed and said the guy was trolling me but I don't think he was. Do you?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Maruti 800 nostalgia post

Back in the 80s, one of my closest friends was Rajesh. He was a stock brocker. Or, to be more specific, a species known as 'sub-broker', with the right to go into the ring and trade on the out-cry based trading floor. The basis for our friendship was  that I used to consider myself a shrewd investor (until I craftily invested all my money away) and Rajesh was the chap who would execute my orders.

Rajesh was passionately interested in money. He would spend every waking moment thinking of money and let no opportunity pass of making some, regardless of how ridiculous or unethical it might be. Applying fraudulently for student discounts on air-fares on the erstwhile Indian Airlines, booking flats meant for poor people and profiteering on them, selling Amway subscriptions, he did them all. He called himself a moral agnostic (his interpretation of which was that he did not believe in the existence of right and wrong) but despite all that, (or, more likely, because of it) was good fun to hang out with.

One day, he announced happily that he had got an allotment for a Maruti 800. We were overjoyed. "When are you getting it?" asked Sameer, another of our faithful band of devotees

"Getting it? I'm not getting it. I'm selling the allottment. The going rate is 50,000"

There was a collective sigh of disappointment. "Buy, man. It is such a fantastic car. What will you do with another 50000? " someone advised, but without much hope, because we knew Rajesh was a hardboiled egg.

So you could have knocked me down with a feather when the next morning, I got a call from Rajesh, asking me if I could drive. Apparently, he wanted to go pick up the car, the change of heart effected by his blushing bride Kamala, who expressed a desire to own one.

I couldn't drive, alas. The simultaneous control of the steering wheel and the bunch of pedals below was too much for my rudimentary thinking equipment at that point in evolution. It was only after the missus entered my life and taught me how, did I manage to make a car move without causing damage to life and property.

It turned out that none of our trusted band of friends knew how to drive a car.

"Kamala knows, no?" asked Madhukar

"Kamala has a drivers licence, yes, but I don't think she knows how to drive a Maruti 800"

"A car is a car, man, lets take her and go pick the car"

"Yes yes, lets"

Rajesh was still hesitant, but he decided to ask Kamala.

Kamala was a little reluctant. "I'm not very sure..." she said "I got my licence because the police inspector was my classmate's father. I've driven my dad's Fiat though"

"Driven a Fiat, no? Then no problem" was the general consensus and Kamala and Rajesh went to pick the car, with four of us in tow.

The showroom person laconically zipped out full speed in reverse with the car, making our collective hearts leap, and stopped it where we stood. Rajesh and Kamala did a little namaskar and Kamala put a red tilak on the dashboard and the hood. We got in, the four of us behind, Rajesh on the front seat and Kamala behind the wheel.

The car started, most eerily for that age, in one turn of the key. Most Fiats of that generation wouldn't sputter to life without the starter making sounds for several minuters like Navjot Singh Sidhu laughing.

Kamala shifted into the first gear and the car leaped forward. After a few dorso-ventral oscillations, the vehicle achieved a reasonable steady state and Kamala drove with something approaching confidence. Then, the road turned, but for some reason, Kamala didn't. The car headed straight towards a lamp post. "Khambo aave che!" yelled out Kamala, lapsing, in the panic, into her native Gujarati (it means "the lamp-post is coming at me"

"Do something! Do something!" squealed Rajesh

"Khambo aave che!" Kamala reiterated



observed the rest of the company and the car finally stopped against the lamp post. The front grill, the bumper, the radiator, a substantial part of the steering assembly and the blood pressures of the six of us went for a toss

Rajesh was the picture of calm. He comforted a near hysterical Kamala and soon had everything under control. The insurance company very sportingly agreed to pick up the tab and all was well.

Monday, January 6, 2014

From where do you get your temper, Annie?

('Annie', if you've stumbled on to my blog recently, is what my sons call me. The reason for this is a long story, but the boys, despite all kinds of protestations on my part, continue to call me Annie)

The breakfast table discussion this morning turned to anger and display thereof and everyone very democratically elected me as the one with the fiercest temper. I dissented, of course, but who listens to me?

"I'm the calmest guy in a crisis, I will have you know", I told the missus and the lads

"Ha, you manage to get pissed off by mall parking attendants even" said the missus, invoking a stray case where I heaped vituperation on an uncaring shopping mall security guy who, just for fun, made me change the location of my car thrice. "And he was perfectly right too"

"But my displays of anger are always bursts of sharp language" I told them "I have never hit anyone on the head with a coconut"

"There is that, of course" conceded the missus and we proceeded to consume the excellent khara baath that my mother had rustled up

"What coconut?" asked younger son, and I couldn't help smiling as I recalled the anecdote

My great grandmother had a legendary temper. She was a strong woman and a very severe disciplinarian. My father, who grew up under her care, recalls how she would dump unfinished breakfast on the head of the person leaving it unfinished, the punishment being that he or she couldn't wash it off all day. One of the earliest lessons learned in that household was that nobody messed with her.

She had five sons and all of them were devoted to her. So devoted that they would suffer all her displays of temper with equanimity. There was just one time when they broke that rule.

My grandfather told me this story. It seems they had a maternal uncle who was a very lazy devil and would lounge around all day listening to Hindustani classical music, of which he was inordinately fond. My great grandmother, whose day was just work and more work from the moment she woke up - cook, clean, wash clothes, tend to cattle and god knows what else -, hated to see him lolling around, but she bore it silently.

One morning, she was awakened by the sound of someone shrieking. It was extremely early, some 4 am or so, and she ran to the verandah, from where the cries seemed to be emerging. It turned out to be her brother, the maternal uncle, inspired by the mood of the hour, singing an early morning raga. Great grandmother lost it. She picked up the nearest thing she could find, which turned out to be a coconut, and hit her brother on the head with it. The coconut shell cracked, recalled my grandfather, and maternal uncle fell in a heap. By now the entire household had assembled and when they realized what had happened, all five of her sons yelled at their mother at the top of their voices.

Luckily, maternal uncle, who had to be hospitalized and was in a pretty serious way, survived and went on to raise a family. 'He never sang again, though" recalled my grandfather with a chuckle. "I wonder why"