Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Liz Loves Dinosaurs!

Anyhow, today, I managed to have my fill of dinosaur fun. We have guests in town, so I took it upon myself to give them a guided insiders London tour of places that I love.This, of course, meant going to the Tate Britain to dwell on all the paintings drawn from literature. Then we took a boat along the Thames.

Then we went to Sloane Square to go shopping. Finally, after all this happy tourist jollification, we moved on the the most important thing of all - the Natural History Museum and the dinosaurs.
I used to come here with my dad all the time when I was growing up. The museum has changed a bit - the gift shop is significantly snazzier - but for the most part, I still get very excited about the dinosaurs. I also love how science is celebrated there - how it was made exciting for me, when I was a little girl. After living in the states and seeing the extent to which science is made an enemy, especially in conservative Christian circles, I am so happy that my childhood was spent taking in the wonders of nature and getting excited about evolutionary science.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Navaratri - The Festival of the Nine Nights

I happened to come to Madras during Navaratri, a festival celebrated throughout India, but celebrated rather differently in each region. In South India, it is known as the festival of dolls, because all the women and children spend time making dolls, then dressing them up, so that they can be displayed during the festival. In North India, I am told the festival revolves around the worship of the mother goddess Durga - it is sometimes known as Durga Puja up there.

When I arrived at my collaborator's house for the first time, his mother was busy making dolls. It was a wonderful sight. She would sit for hours during the day with bits of cloth and ribbon, creating the most fantastic dresses for these little dolls. His mother is now 76, with a serious illness that prevents her from walking a great deal. So, she occupies herself with little crafts.
They make her happy.

Her dolls are known throughout the neighborhood for being fabulous. In fact, during the night nights of the festival, people from near and far come to visit her house. I was just fortunate to be here while it was all happening.

The festival kept reminding me of the Disney "Its a Small World" ride. I wonder if this festival inspired the ride. You never know...

In other news, my collaborator took me to his family doctor, called Dr. Vijayaraghavan. This man is amazing. We waited for about half an hour so that I could go in - then within five minutes, he diagnosed my illness and gave me list of medications to take. Now, he doesn't prescribe any old whimpy meds - he prescribes hard stuff that will kill the bacteria for real. The first time I took a dose of the antibiotics, I nearly threw up and passed out simultaneously. But you know what, when I woke up the next morning, I seemed to be completely cured. So, rock on doctor V.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Life of a Tamil Scholar

We're close to the end of our project. Of course, keeping with my pattern, I am sick again. India seems to have this effect on me.

My friend Kannan thinks that perhaps India doesn't like me very much. It is just like the poems I am translating - India is like my suitor, who is interested in someone else - and yearning for India, I grow weary and sick.

My cough syrup is obviously making me delusional. That, or I'm spending too much time with this poetry.

My collaborator (whom, as you notice, remains unnamed and unphotographed), has a beautiful house. In our breaks, I have been enjoying the roof garden - it is a nice place to dry my clothes.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Madras, City of a Thousand Lights

I've been in Madras for about a week now. For the most part, my day has been consumed with working on the poems. We are now half-way done. The good news is that we have found a publisher who is interested in our work - we'll probably sign a contract in the next couple of weeks.

When we are not poring over texts, I have been able to go out and see the great, congested, populated city of Madras. It does not have the chaos of Bombay, but neither does it have the color. On the other hand, at night, the city lights up. The mosques, temples and churches are awash with twinkle lights, and it is a sight to see.

I have been running around to various bookstores to get the books I need for my work. (Books are WAY cheaper here than in the UK or the US, so I have been packing my suitcases full of fiction and poetry.) I have found some fascinating publishers that produce really fun books. For instance, the Blaft Press ( has a fascinating collection of off the beaten track bizzaro books, like the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.
To get around town, I have been using the auto that belongs to the family of my collaborator. Ramu, the auto driver, is very concerned that I am getting to see Chennai, so he is always taking me to the sights, even when I don't ask him to. It's actually pretty interesting, seeing all the cultures that have found their home in this city.

Of course, I had to visit the local Gandhi statue - it has become my custom to pay homage to the peaceful warrior in every Indian city I visit.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Poetry in Madras

I finally made it to Madras (now officially, Chennai). The terrible Jet Airways strike complicated my trip significantly and I was stranded in Bombay for 36 hours. Fortunately, Indians are amazingly hospitable people. Several of my father’s colleagues stepped in and sorted me out. One of his friends took me out for a delicious Chinese dinner before I spent the night at her house – then, the next day, she took me to the airport where I caught my flight to Madras.

Thank goodness the debacle is over and I’m here now. Chennai is hot and crowded. It doesn’t have the charm of Pondicherry. On the other hand, all the South Indian publishing houses are located here, and more importantly, my collaborator, Muthu is living here for the year. Muthu and I are colleagues in Berkeley, however, he decided to come back to his family home to work on his dissertation.So here we are, in his wonderful old house. The building was constructed eighty years ago and it is immense. It is built according to the old tradition of providing enough room for multiple generations of the family live together. Muthu’s cousins and their families live downstairs, while he and his parents have the top floor. They have a garden with several cows, which, as far as I can tell, serve mainly as pets.

His mother is possibly the sweetest person on earth. She has been feeling poorly, of late, so her close friend has come to look after her. Today, I found her friend combing, then braiding her hair. This is the kind of thing I read about in old Tamil stories.

For about five hours a day, Muthu and I will translate eight poems about love and a river. We have been sitting on the floor, like pundits, with our books open on little bookstands. The only things that are incongruent about the picture are our shiny new MacBooks. Oh well. To the best of my knowledge, editors no longer take manuscripts written on palm leaves.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Autumn Comes (as do deadlines!)

Overnight, London has turned all shades of brown and red. I am happy to have been here the week that Autumn came to town. It is a beautiful season.

I've also been blissfully busy on my current project. A colleague and I are working hard to translate eight Tamil poems about love and a river. We're pitching it as a book of annotated translations to several publishing houses in Madras. I'm heading back to India next Tuesday so that we can be more productive in our collaborative work - and also so that we can meet editors based in Madras.

I'm still enjoying all the traveling - but I realize that I need rest and recuperation to keep it up. London has proven to be a stable, peaceful place for me to come back to. My parent's house is warm and cosy and filled with creature comforts that you rarely find in hotels (ipod music dock, really high pressure hot showers, delicious home-cooked meals).

Lately, my parents and I have been finding peace by the water. We've been taking long walks out and enjoying the lovely lakes and ponds around London. It has been thoroughly therapeutic.

I think the wanderlust may wear off eventually, but at the moment, I think I'm still enjoying it all! Especially if I spend my downtime hanging out with my parents by lakes.

(I'm beginning to see a theme here with my eating habits...)