Archive for July, 2015

Construction and destruction! The Arch in St.Louis turns 50

July 30, 2015

For every arch that’s carefully built



There’s someone making sure the bricks are spilt!


This is the city of the famous arch, so the catenary arch is one of the construction projects at the St.Louis Science Center.

Why I like FaceBook

July 25, 2015

t, with the setting sun
The day’s work and outings are all done.
How nice it is to take a peek
At what my friends have done, all week.
There may be those who’ve moved the earth
There may be those who’ve just proved their worth
In simple, everyday, tiny deeds.
News about you is just what I need.
Thank you, my friends…each shared word
Through my eyes, in my heart is heard.
I’m off to sleep; the world does not end
Nor sets the sun on a place without a friend.


July 22, 2015

Music is the sound of children’s laughter. -Deepa Mohan

The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth….150715

July 22, 2015

She was happily playing house


She was the “Lady of the Rings”


But at dinner, the little mouse


Was bothered by just a single thing.


The tooth that was loose


Had just that momeent to choose

To come out. First Mom looked, then Dad….


Well, “coming out” wasn’t all that bad!


Next morning, a smile (with one place airy)


Showing part of the gift from the Tooth Fairy.

But you can see the other one fear and wonder,


could it be the food that broke the tooth asunder?

Don’t happy!

July 20, 2015

All this worry that we’re not eating, sleeping, living right….here’s a quotation that Shobitha Kedlaya cited on a wellness group I belong to, and find increasingly uncomfortable….

If only people freed themselves from their beliefs in all kinds of Ormuzds, Brahmas, Sabbaoths, and their incarnation as Krishnas and Christs, from beliefs in Paradises and Hells, in reincarnations and resurrections, from belief in the interference of the Gods in the external affairs of the universe, and above all, if they freed themselves from belief in the infallibility of all the various Vedas, Bibles, Gospels, Tripitakas, Korans, and the like, and also freed themselves from blind belief in a variety of scientific teachings about infinitely small atoms and molecules and in all the infinitely great and infinitely remote worlds, their movements and origin, as well as from faith in the infallibility of the scientific law to which humanity is at present subjected: the historic law, the economic laws, the law of struggle and survival, and so on, — if people only freed themselves from this terrible accumulation of futile exercises of our lower capacities of mind and memory called the “Sciences”, and from the innumerable divisions of all sorts of histories, anthropologies, homiletics, bacteriologics, jurisprudences, cosmographies, strategies — their name is legion — and freed themselves from all this harmful, stupefying ballast — the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory.
– Leo Tolstoy
Letter to a Hindu.

Tamil magazines: Illustrators of old

July 20, 2015

I grew up with my mother buying and reading a lot of Tamizh magazines.

Even then, I could make out the differences in content (though I was not an avid reader of Tamizh) between the more serious content of magazines like Amudasurabhi,Kalaimagal, or Kalki, and the more populist stories and “thuNukkus” (trivia, and jokes) of magazines like Ananda Vikatan or Kumudam. Later came other magazines like “Kungumam” and others that I nolonger remember; I married and moved out of the sphere of Tamizh magazines. My parents-in-law were not regular buyers; indeed, for a few years, I missed that regular part of the Deepavali festival, which would be the purchase of all the “Deepavali malars” (festival issues of magazines.)

I bought some old magazines (during the period they were not sold in south Bangalore because of linguistic issues) for my father-in-law in the last few years when he was living with us. I stopped buying them when he passed away in 2004.

Not being very fluent in reading the language meant, naturally, that even as a child I looked at the pictures more carefully. Indeed, I seem to have always done this…in all the Disney, Dell, Gold Key and Classics Illustrated comics, I could tell the various artists, and prefer a few of them.

I do not always know if the south Indian artists were men or women, except that it must have been even more difficult for a woman to make her living in this way. This doubt exists because so many Tamizh writers of the day used their spouses’ names as nom-de-plumes


is the first such pseudonym I can think of!)

But back to Tamizh magazines. Several names spring to me…the first one being

“Gopulu” (S Gopalan)

whose work was always a part of Ananda Vikatan to me. My mother often bound together several serial stories after tearing them from the magazines (yes, those bound volunes are still there in Mylapore, in the locked-up house). His illustrations for “thuppariyum sAmbhu”, plays by “marinA” or the illustrations in the deepAvaLi malars, were instantly recognizable.

One of the older artists whose work I have seen is that of


He is credited with making Ananda vikatan as popular as the articles and stories did.

Indeed, the cartoon of the impishly-smiling “vikatan thAtha” with the triangular, pointy “kudumi”, with his even more impish monkey, was the well-known image of this magazine. Alas, even that seems to have been discarded, according to

this blogpost

The height of aspiration, it seemed to me then, for an illustrator, was to be able to draw “portraits” of the various gods and goddesses whose temples dotted the southern Indian peninsula. At one time, there was just one Madras Presidency….divergence into four States came later. The pioneers (as I saw it) amongst this form of illustration, which carried the images of gods and goddesses into thousands of homes, was

“Shilpi” , Maniam, his son “Maniam selvan”, “Vinu”, “Simha”, “mAyA”, “thAnu” and others. They *always* seemed to sign their names with a few dots at the end!

They must have visited so many temples to create the excellent paintings that were published by the Tamil magazines. He is credited with making Ananda vikatan as popular as the articles and stories did.

Other artists like Umapathi and Jayaraj specialized in the illustrations of everyday scenes, and it was part of my growing up to see, in these artworks, a leisurely south India that I didn’t realize would vanish over the decades. Balding men swung on teakwood swings in the front porches of bungalows shaded by trees, pampered hand and foot by shy women peeking from the edge of the doorways; men wore “vEshti” and the women wore sarees (often the 9-yard variety) until social changes brought in Jayaraj’s illustration of women wearing frocks and salwar-kameez, with shorter hair than was the norm earlier.


is a nice compilation of several artists from that era.

I feel sad that these creative talents are still described as “cartoonists”. Yes, they did produce many hilarious little cartoons and jokes for the magazines, but their serious creative work was surely worth of being called Art.

Certainly one person who elevated humor to an art form was


whose often wordless jokes (I later saw more of the genre from Sergio Aragones in MAD magazine) were eagerly looked forward to by so many readers! I can never forget his cartoon of Neil Armstrong getting out of the lunar module on the moon, to be greeted by a Malayali running a “chAya-kadai” (tea-stall) there, a nod to the way these enterprising Indians moved all over the world.

Growing up in Kolkata, I do believe that I got to know as much of southern India, especially of Chennai, through the illustations of these talented artists, as through reading articles and yearly visits. I think that my mother, especially, missed the south, and these magazines, and the art, kept her in touch.

More expert people than I am have probably written well about these artists. I do wonder at the practical logistics. What were they paid? Was it enough for them to make a living? How else (movies, apparently, and theatre set-painting sometimes) did they make some extra income? Life must have been simple then if one could make a living as an artist and cartoonist; today, it is very difficult indeed. I remember most of these names as the artists igned in Tamizh at the bottom of each illustration. Very soon, though, the illustration itself told me who it was, and looking at the signature was only a way of confirming my “diagnosis”!

I still enjoy the cartoons in the Hindu, by Keshav, Surendra, and others…and that will lead me to an endless discussion on Sankar, Mario, Hemant Morparia, Maya Kamath, Ajit Ninan Ponappa, and so many others who’ve delighted many moments of my life! I’d better keep this post to old tamizh magazines and those who illustrated in them.

Cartooning, too, seems to be falling on hard times, as

this meeting of cartoonists

appears to suggest.

This is my salute to these talented, hard-working people who suddenly came out of the dim shadows of my childhood to suddenly crowd into my thoughts and reminiscences. I was not always keen on the concept that drawing pictures of gods and goddesses, or depicting everything realistically, was the best form of art, and I think the everyday illustrations and depictions by these artists did much to evolve my notions of what art is, and can be.

Food and morality

July 15, 2015

Here’s <LJ user=”shortindiangirl”>’s well-reasoned reply to my query.
The question was why there was so much moral baggage around what we eat. The asker is tired of moral superiority from non-vegans who are haughty about carnivores, and explained that it’s the moral high ground she opposed, not the vegetarianism. My answer (below) seemed to resonate with a lot of people. So I’ll repost it here.
1) We are not using our own skills to hunt, kill, prep and eat the animal. If we did, people would have less moral baggage. Hunting by hand or with tools we can fashion ourselves would be considered morally superior than collectively joining forces as a humanity versus a single animal.
2) We do not eat for hunger or nutrition alone. We eat for power and joy and greed. And we refrigerate and we waste, which really makes us killers without cause except convenience and insensitivity.
3) If we were using our skills and hunting, killing and prepping ourselves, we would be far more cognizant of what it takes to kill, but also what life means for the animal. Our lack of recognition of the sanctity of life itself is part of this moral baggage. Because we have the cognitive capacity for more.
4) We do not eat by killing in a manner that most of us would be able to tolerate coming face to face with. The animal farming industry is nothing short of holocaust level evil where humans exploit non human creatures who feel pain and emotion, by torturing them, hurting and maiming them, separating them from their young, denying them basic elements of of sustaining life, barring them from any dignities of life itself (conditions of infection and physically visible disease not to mention neurological or cognitive diseases), forcing them into cannibalism by starving them into becoming omnivorous, etc. We treat them, quite simply, like “animals”, and not like fellow living creatures, co-habitants of the Earth. We are capable of better.
5) We eat in a manner that isn’t fundamentally sustainable as a harmonious ecosystem. We eat in a manner that loots the earth and disrupts natural systems. For that one cow that is going to end up get wasted from sitting in a refrigerator too long, we forego a rather large patch of agricultural land that could nutritionally feed more (even with similar wastage).
In my mind it is very similar to asking why there is moral baggage about raping women. Unfortunately we live in a world where it is commonplace, acceptable and part of the system. And we have so many human problems that it will be a long time before we truly see animal farming practices as worth solving.
I do understand that you are comparing the chicken eater to the one who consumes ghee and milk. The analogy is the eve-teaser feeling morally superior to the beating-rapist. Yes, one is worse.
There can be moral baggage attached to something without the need for any person to feel superior. When the “system” is a certain way, we each pick our battles to join or reject the system in a manner that fits the eco system of our own private lives. Thus we need not judge anyone’s choices, but as a humanity, we must be at least aware of our evils.

I call myself an “impure vegetarian” (the opposite of the moral-high-ground-tone in which many poeple proclaim themselves to be “pyooooor vegetarians”.) I am willing to try anything once, but have never liked non-vegetarian food enough to change to being one regularly.

Song of angels: the alphabet, STL, 130715

July 13, 2015

I was just walking in, saying something else, when I heard two sweet young voices raised in song. I instantly pressed the “record” button.

These are moments from Heaven…

Purple Martin Event, Forest Park, 090715

July 11, 2015

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Forest Park Forever had organized another session with

<a href=””&gt; John Miller </a>

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where he would tell us about the

<a href=””&gt; Purple Martins </a>

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<lj-cut text=”Lots of photos and info if you are interested”>

These birds, though listed as of Least Concern, were threatened. The wiki entry says, “Purple martins suffered a severe population crash in the 20th century widely linked to the release and spread of European starlings in North America. Starlings and house sparrows compete with martins for nest cavities. Where purple martins once gathered by the thousands, by the 1980s they had all but disappeared.” Several people, including John Miller, are working steadily to ensure that they do not die out, especially because they have become almost entirely dependent on human-provided housing, and cannot nest on their own!

Adult males are entirely black with glossy steel blue sheen, the only swallow in North America with such coloration. Adult females are dark on top with some steel blue sheen, and lighter underparts. All in all, a fascinating bird to keep learning more about!

These birds hawk insects (mainly dragonflies, apparently) high up in the air (mainly dragonflies, but other insects as opportunity provides)

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unlike their cousins the Barn Swallows, which swoop over the grass and fields, catching insects just above the ground.

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I walked over a little early, but John was already at the nesting boxes.

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He determined that I was a birdwtcher and not a random tourist, and decided that he’d let me watch what he was doing…checking both the “house”

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and “gourd”

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type of nests, following a meticulous list.

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He showed me this baby bird.

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He said that out of the 67 “homes” that have been provided for the Purple Martins in Forest Park, 63 have been occupied, and he’s seen as many babies fledge this year as he’s ever done in the 10 years (since 2005) that he’s been involved in this work.

The nests were earlier in the form of bird “houses”, but increasingly, John and his team of volunteers find that the gourd-shape gives better protection to the nestlings because of the deep bowl-depression in the center.

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John has also incorporated a vent in the design of these plastic gourds, as well as a “jar-lid” type of unscrewing lid that he can gain access to the nests with.

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He says that a set of gourds like this one would cost around $600, but they can last forever, with maybe just the lids needing replacement sometimes.

I was trying to find out how the design of these gourds has evolved, but I think John could not understand my accent. However, I realized that it is he who has been refining the design of these homes. Some of them now have “owl guards” to prevent the Great Horned Owls (sorry,

<a href=””> Mark Glenshaw </a>,

Charles and Sarah not welcome here….)

Those curved long pieces are what keep owls out.

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And when there are sites threatened by construction, he works actively to find alternative places where these homes can be erected.

He showed us the fledglings that were sitting on top of a nearby tree.

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(out of nowhere, this Eastern Kingbird flew in, perched for a while on the martin-homes, and then flew off.

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I quickly took a snap!)

He said that they would return to their nests for shelter for a week or two after fledging…I’ve never heard of this bird-behavior before. He also laughed and mentioned that newly-fledged birds are more heedful of their parents and settle down into the nest quickly at dusk…

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but older fledglings are more rowdy and adventurous, not realizing that they are at risk from predators (raccoons and owls…apparently there are no snakes like the Black Snake,which raid birds’ nests, in Forest Park).

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He “changed” a nest, that had got soggy and moldy with the recent rain,

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and took out the nestlings while he did this. It was a sight to see him put them in his bucket,

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and he lovingly lifted them and put them back once he’d set in a new bed of pine needles for them.

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In other nests and gourds, there were nestlings in various stages of growth.

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From egg-hatching to fledging

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takes about 28 days, so we were there in just the right window of breeding. Wintering in South America, purple martins migrate to North America in spring to breed. Spring and fall migration are both somewhat staggered.Soon, he said, the birds would be on their way south, to the Amazon basin(“I think they speak Portugese over there,” John quipped) and would return next year.

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The bird would not mind nesting in the same sites year after year, but volunteers clean some of them out in the interests of cleanliness. Mites can often proliferate and if too numerous on the nestlings’ bodies, might cause them to fledge too early.

His passion for these beautiful birds shows every time I meet him; “enchanting” is the word he uses for them. He showed us these excellent portraits of the male

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and female

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I thought I’d need to be over 6 feet tall to look into the nests, but John later provided a small step-ladder so that we could look at,

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and photograph,
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the nestlings. Though the parents flew around, waiting with food in their mouths, they did not seem unduly alarmed, and have probably got used to people like John not causing them harm.

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They went in to feed the nestlings and came out with the fecal sacs, and flew off to “dispose” of them elsewhere…Good Housekeeping!

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Certainly, a symbiotic relationship where humans provide them shelter and they provide hours of delight in return!

I asked him about the fake Purple Martin I’d seen at the gourds at the Wehr Nature Park in Milwaukee, and he said that some people used decoys, hoping to get the birds to nest in the gourds…however, not always successful, and no one still knew what exactly made the birds decide to use a particular set of “houses” or gourds.

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He talked about the various locations of the homes in Forest Park and elsewhere in St.Louis.

After he winched the homes back up in the air, attached the raccoon-guards on the poles, and we moved further away, the martins flew back in large numbers.

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The fledglings had learnt how to fly, but not yet how to land! They quarreled and bickered among each other, just like human children.

As they settled down for the night,

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and the lights came up to dispel the growing darkness of dusk,

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we bid goodbye to the Purple Martins in the purple twilight,

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and went on our way.

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I’ve referred to the Purple Martins in other posts,

<a href=””&gt; here </a>


<a href=””&gt; here </a>

Visit to Milwaukee, 250615 to 300615

July 6, 2015

It was great to visit my nephew Nagraj (aka Praveen), his impressive wife Nithya, a foodie who blogs


We drove down to Milwaukee through a storm


and a sunset


The next 3 days, we spent in various ways.



Looked at several wildflowers like these Forget-me-nots


insects like this Geometrid moth


many birds like these Cedar Waxwings



insects like this Ebony Jewelwing


mammals like this chipmunk


and this doe


and her fawn


we also played for a while!




spent time at home,


made mischief,


lay down with lions,


We enjoyed walking around the historic 3rd ward and looking at landmarks like the Art Museum





took plenty of photographs


pushed ourselves a bit


met up with friends from Wisconsin



DnA drove off on Sunday, but KTB and I stayed on as we felt so comfortable with their warm hospitality.

She took us to the local library:


She baked a yummy zebra cake to celebrate Praveen’s completing 12 years in his job:




She had two sous chefs who mainly helped by licking out the batter bowls!


She took us strawberry-picking:


I made puchkA, the Bengali version of pAni pUrI (and some other stuff that they liked to eat…I’m not an expert chef like Nithya, but I can make some “nostalgia” dishes!)


Antara and Nithya both suffered from strep throat and fever, but still managed to take very good care of us.

KTB made a nice thank you card:


We enjoyed our visit very much, and hope that Praveen, Nithya and Antara come to St.Louis soon, too!