The life of a goat

The topmost review for Perumal Murugan’s Poonachi: Or the story of a goat is just one line: “I’ll write the review when I stop crying”. When I picked up ಮಲೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಮದುಮಗಳು I knew I was going to be on it for more than a month. It’s 712 pages long, and I can’t get through more than 20-25 pages per hour. At that rate, I’d be at it for between 5-7 weeks. After close to 2 weeks, I am almost at the 40% mark. Given this, and that the neck might allow some metro reading, I picked up Poonachi’s kindle version to read on the commute. Bad idea.

You don’t notice it, but you feel the emotions when reading, and they show on your face. At times you glow, at times you well up. There is that beauty in it. In the simpleness of it. The name itself is odd. Poonachi is what you’d call a cat, not a goat. But the old woman sees the tiny goat kid which looks like a kitten and is reminded of her cat that passed away some time back. There seemingly is nothing here: A goat that lands up with an old couple and grows up with them. The goat’s story is part of the world where she grows up, where the rains are failing every year, where no vehicles seem to exist – the Govt officer comes riding a horse, a rich man owns a bullock cart. But there are terrorists, there are procedures and there are number tags for livestock. It’s an interesting world where when they have to travel to their daughter’s village they have to walk through the countryside dragging their goats along. At many points it reminds you of Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant”. There’s so much looking into the past. But that’s when you see it from the old couple’s perspective. But the story isn’t that.

There is so much of “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”. I wonder if the story will lend itself to an artistic interpretation a la Kaguya. But we don’t have much of an artistic film industry that can think beyond songs and dances. I digress.

A buck goes into heat, goes around sniffing the tails of the does. The herds watch, amused. They untie him the next day. He has his day of fun. At the end of the day he goes home with the doe to her herd’s pen. The next day a man, a boatman, turns up, carrying his tool. He castrates the bucks while they have no idea what’s happening, cries about the sin he’s committing, taking liquor as payment to drown his guilt in. The bucks go through their short lives wondering what happened that day, having their spirits completely broken. Later, in their daughter’s village, Poonachi meets Poovan, a billy goat and falls in love with him, only to be dragged back home by the laughing humans.

The book is very allegorical, and always the best allegories are those that can stand on their own if you forget that characters and situations are stand-ins for something else. And this is where Poonachi works. You feel for the goat, you understand her life, you get the idea of lack of agency, you get the idea of hierarchical authority, that the life of the goat reflects that of women at so many levels. This is also Perumal Murugan’s protest and survival story against the current environment where everything you say or write is fodder for an outrage industry. And still, you can’t help crying for the goat, laughing with it as it grows up and finds love first with the old woman, and then with Poovan, the billy. And this is what eventually makes you love the book.

As the translator says in the end, this is an animal story for adults, something that is rare and has books like Animal Farm as the shibboleth.  The translation is spot on, and this should be the standard for how translations should work. It isn’t that the language is kept simple, it’s that you can feel the Tamizh in the translation, in the adas, the ayahs, the Mesagarans and the general flow of conversations. Kudos to N Kalyan Raman for that. I wish I could read Murugan in Tamizh, but apart from the speed issues I have with the script, having no formal schooling in the language I expect I would struggle with the meaning of words. But this is something I want to try once. It should be far easier reading a 150 page novella set in current times than a 1000-page பொன்னியின் செல்வன்.

Personally, this reminded me of Em and The Big Hoom and The Shadow Lines in how deeply I felt about the story. There are those books that you love, and then those that you live and feel through. This was easily among the latter, not something you come across too often. Read, laugh, and cry with it. Not for public reading, unless you don’t mind looking silly and misty-eyed in the open.

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Us and Them

“Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?”

I remember sweating this question in college, on the eve of interviews. There always seemed to be so much I had no answer to. “Why should we hire you?”, and the more pernicious “Everyone goes for PG in 2 years, so will you, why should I hire you then?”. The last needed gentle massaging to prove that you won’t be thinking of your own future and leaving a multi-billion dollar MNC high and dry. As impressionable 21 year-olds impressing upon snooty and openly arrogant HR reps, who were enjoying the few days in the Sun when people look up to them, those were hardy days. There were always right answers where you were supposed to be favourable to the company, but at the same time looking after your own interest. “What if you are put in a project that is boring and not challenging, but the company needs desperately?” I had no clue as usual. As long as it pays I guess, I thought. One smart fellow said “I am ok with that for the short term, but in the long run I would hope to get just reward for that and move into something more interesting.” They had a winner there!

Needless to say, the company that I got into eventually was one where I did well in the written tests and reasonably OK in the interview. They had zeroed in right after the test though. But that is not the point of the post. Continue reading “Us and Them”

Butterflies and other bugs – Mallathahalli Lake

This isn’t the season for birding. The winter birds are gone, the monsoons have set in. We are left with the usual suspects – the coots, egrets, lapwings, a few stilts, and some ibises. The Monsoon has also meant a spurt in the Parthenium that takes over the entire path of the Mallathahalli Lake. This usually discourages walkers, and encourages different forms of urban wild to take over. What you usually get is butterflies. Lots of them.
Yesterday, as I made my way for  close to a km through the Parthenium, I ran into at least 5 types of butterflies – Plain tiger, Pioneer, Mottled Emigrant, Common Castor and Common grass yellow. And surprisingly, a tiny spider which turned out to be of the Rhene species.
img_4728 Continue reading “Butterflies and other bugs – Mallathahalli Lake”

Neck pain and the different types of Yoga

A week of physio left me somewhat in a better state. Regular neck exercises continued, but the neck continued to have issues. A trip to BR hills was done with all this, while I continued to struggle with the neck. Slowly I entered my second month of neck pain. Something needed to be done. I started looking for Yoga centres. The other option was ozhichal (Ayurvedic massage). Yoga felt better as I felt it would give me a more lasting outcome.

Google maps showed me a place close to mine, but that place seemed to have closed, but I got a number and called him. He asked me to come to Chandra Layout where he was starting regular classes after a break. This turned out to be the old Vivekananda Kendra who’s classes I used to attend when in school in Chamarajpet. The teacher, who reminded me of Atul Kulkarni in Hey Ram, assured me that in 2 weeks I’ll have good results. The classes began in the evening. Turned out that they didn’t have enough people turning up. This was also coupled with the main teacher not showing up and his assistant handling the classes.

Ashtanga Yoga advises holding an asana for 5 breaths, but we were ending up holding for close to a minute when the assistant was around. And a lot shorter when the main teacher was around. A week later, my lower back issues had flared up. Two weeks later, the assistant came close to breaking my elbow backwards. All this added up to my general annoyance with how the classes were being conducted. A 4:30 class would start at 4:45 as the assistant would turn up late. The next day I’d be late by 5 minutes and he would be asking me about it. I answered him “howdu, late aaythu” and he stopped asking after that. After all that effort of turning up, he’d end up making us 20 suryanamaskaras and then sending folks home. On asking I was told that there are no people yet. Then another day we ended up doing 1.5 hours of asanas without a break. When the main teacher was there, things were smoother, shorter asanas, he would be engaged completely in running the class even when everyone was in savasana. The assistant would be playing with some kids in the back when he was running it! Continue reading “Neck pain and the different types of Yoga”

Bye, bye BMTC!

It has been 2 years since the Metro was launched between Mysore Road and Byappanahalli. Since the day it opened, it has been my main transport to get to work. So much so that I can’t think of any other way of commuting to work! The issue since then has always been the last mile, the last 6K from the station to the office. I decided to go with BMTC and the results have been mixed.

On mornings, it would take anywhere between 20 mins and 45 mins for that distance, not considering traffic. Evenings, anywhere from 25 mins to 1 hour considering traffic. Mornings, I was mostly down to using one bus, and evenings I had to switch once. None of my colleagues who use the metro chose this option. There is a campus feeder that runs every 20-30 minutes and takes a lot less time between the destinations. I am not a fan of waiting for a feeder and being restricted to its timings. But I realised I was doing pretty much the same with the buses. Once I ditched using BMTC to get to the metro station from home, parking my vehicle there, I was mostly consistent with what time I was reaching BYPL. This made the argument moot. Continue reading “Bye, bye BMTC!”

K Gudi stories – a Bazooka, a treeshrew and birds

“We start at 3:45” said the manager as we were about to leave for our rooms after checking in. The month of May having more daylight meant that afternoon safaris started later than in Winter.

At 3:45 as we hung around the waiting area to have our jeeps announced, A came over with “Guess who else’s here?”, and nodded towards a jeep. And seated there with his wife was someone we knew from, rather had come across in, Kabini, a bazooka – the worst kind. On his bio on social media sites he calls himself as “wild cat tracker”, not just a “photographer”. K Gudi does not have that many wild cats to track, at least not that many in the only zone allowed for safaris. The naturalist once gave his formula – 1.5-1.75 hours of birding and 15-30 mins of mammals at the end. It’s that skewed. Maybe he’s here for his birding? We hoped for the best, the best being not being in the same jeep as him. But going by past experiences and the group sizes that we could see, we knew the inevitable, that we’d be allocated to the same jeep, and that’s exactly what happened.

The three of us in the back, the naturalist in front of us with another guest, the bazooka and his wife before him, and the other guest’s husband right next to the driver was the configuration. And right from the point where we started, it was exactly what we had feared – a big cat chase. And as it turned out, as if just to humour him, a tiger had passed along our path with cubs in tow, and we ended up following their pug marks. This is also when we discovered that even within that one zone, there was a mammal area and a bird area, and the tiger was in the mammal area. Its pug-marks were declared to be “fresh”. It had just passed by, we could even smell the markings. Like at all times where we are on the trail of a tiger with a bazooka at hand, we hoped the tiger would stay away and not be seen.
Pug marks! Continue reading “K Gudi stories – a Bazooka, a treeshrew and birds”

The pain in the neck that won’t go away

After much though, and fear that this is going to be bad news, I decided to pay the local Ortho a visit. But first I had to get the bike fixed for the reserve light being on all the time. It was a crowded time, and the supervisors weren’t too keen. One, however asked me to come on Monday morning as it might take a while.

I went along to the doctor and even that was crowded. After a wait of half an hour, I was in. What problem? Neck pain for a while. He did a lot of pressing, pulling, making me resist, making me move this way and that. Two X rays, of the right shoulder and the neck were ordered. The giggling nurses did that over 20 minutes.

Once the reports were ready, it was time for the low down. Turned out to be spondylosis, degeneration of the intervertebral discs. Also turns out to be surprisingly common among the jantha with sedentary desk jobs. Occupational hazard I guess. In my case, he blamed it on the long travel. Is it because of lifting the laptop bags? Apparently not. Weights go to the shoulder, not to the neck. Quite likely reading on the metro, constantly being in a position of putting the neck down and reading constantly. After all these years, it takes its toll. Neck needs to be moving at times naturally, one position for a long time will hurt.

Also happens to be that this isn’t the first set of discs to go out of commission. The lower back had gone for a toss years back. I have been managing with exercises since then. Once again, it is surprisingly common with a lot of people. Our roads do their bit too.

So what’s the route ahead? More exercises, this time for the neck. A lot of medicines – he loves getting his patients to visit his pharmacy and racking up a bill there. Most of the medicines were supplements like Calcium and vitamins, with one NSAID. A cervical pillow for the neck and head, and a neck brace. Why the brace? Wear it when traveling. When riding the bike, or in the car or in any form of travel. That should look interesting. A bill of Rs. 3700.img_4504

Get an MRI too. How much would it cost? Around 7k. Last time my father had got that done, he had asked him not to bother with the MRI, and to go for it only if the pain does not dissipate. The referral was written in the letterhead of the place which does the MRI, which kinda gave me my clue about why he was insisting this time.

So, the plan is to add the exercises to my existing routine, wear the neck brace on the bike or on the bus. The decathlon bandanas come handy now, can be worn on top and look perfectly normal. And also travel less to work, maybe once or twice a week. I barely feel any pain on days I WFH and weekends. It is always the travel days that suck. It might even be necessary at some point to look for a job closer home.

Thankfully no restriction on things like walking, running, swimming (which I anyway don’t do), and cycling. So am good on those things. Continue with the good things that people should be doing, and avoid the bad things. I played a round of tennis in the morning, and it didn’t hurt much. The shoulders have a lot of radiating pain though, which might take a while to go.

Thus it goes. One part of the spinal cord is being managed over the years, another gets added to it. Things we have to learn to live with!

As I speak more, I hear more about others, same age or younger, and their issues with slip discs and having to live with it. I wonder how many things we exchanged for a desk job – heart disease, obesity, diabetes, spinal issues. The list keeps growing. What price development, eh?

And as for the city, as travel gets worse every day with increasing distances and burgeoning traffic, who bears the cost for all this? And what does it all lead to? Where does it all end? How many parts can continue to run without management? Turns out even the brain needs to be managed with interesting activity to avoid dementia or alzheimer’s at an older age. Means we are not getting stimulation even there?

I guess the only truth is in exercise. Exercise, exercise, exercise and live happy. No other options. And if possible, commute less.

Update:

After 4 days of struggling with pain, mainly from the cervical pillow which takes some time getting used to, I decided to get an MRI done. I found an online code for the nearest MRI place which was to give me a 25% discount. Except that when I got there, turned out that the offer had elapsed a long time back. So I had to pay the full Rs.7000 and lie down absolutely still for close to 30 minutes inside a cylinder while it made all kinds of loud noises.

The report came in 2 hours and said that there was “NO DISC BULGE”, and “LOSS OF CERVICAL LORDOSIS”. This meant that the doctor was completely wrong on the slip disc diagnosis. Loss of cervical lordosis means that posture has created some straightening of the usually curved neck vertebrae. Bad news, but not as bad as it was assumed to be. The doctor suggested taking 4-5 physiotherapy sessions and continue with daily exercises of the neck. Also, don’t sit in one position for too long.

I started physiotherapy yesterday and after all the machines were done, the therapist held me at the nape of the neck where the skull begins and pressed hard. The pain was unbearable! But after he released me, he asked me to turn left and right. The relief was immeasurable! Hadn’t felt that way turning my neck for years. All those years had accumulated inflammations in the muscles. Today had another session where he worked on some more muscles there. The feeling is a lot better, but he ruled out bikes for a few weeks. The doctor however didn’t disallow, only suggesting short distances while wearing a neck brace. I guess I’ll just drive around then.

Anyway, this is the story. Thankful that it wasn’t such bad news. But then, this is a proper warning call about taking posture and exercise seriously.

Rest in Peace, Putty Girl…

The Cat came into our lives in Jan or Feb 2011. I had just moved back and saw this scrawny cat sleeping near the house, and not running away. Some milk bowl filling happened, a few kittens were brought along, a few were delivered under the TV, some neutering done, and the cat hung around for 6 years after that. What was a blink of an eye and a maturing decade for me, was a lifetime for a cat.
Curled up cat
The year dawned with her meowing less, and soon stopping making all sounds. I made fun of her, some sound came, and then even that stopped. She looked weaker, and her movement more trying, that feline grace was no longer there, she scaled 4 ft high walls, but was knocking the milk bowl when trying to gain her stepping, things she never did all these years.

She became more bent, people who visited commented about it. It was harder for me to register the changes. Most likely, I refused to notice the changes. It’s summer, she gets thinner now for the heat. Will be alright once the Monsoons come. Then she started drooling, and not grooming herself, which meant she was now smelling.

A vet visit happened, with a photo taken. I waited inside the one room setup, while a pug was brought in. The elderly vet suggests a chest belt, gives it a few injections, and suggests some diet changes for its weight. How much? Rs. 300.

My turn. I gave him the whole history. Does she drink water? Yes. Then no rabies. Of course not, she’s been vaccinated for that! Plus she’s not afraid of light, craving for it rather.  A couple of meds were given, one an antibiotic. Try feeding her these in milk. What’s wrong with her? Baayalli Happale, mouth ulcers. She can’t swallow because of that. How much do I owe you? He waves me away. It’s nothing.

The cat refused to drink, refused to eat anything. Next morning, she isn’t seen. Once the Sun is out she’s seen lounging by a neighbour’s compound wall. I ask them permission, go in, and pick her up into the common compound wall. She goes to sleep where I can reach her. She’s no longer drooling. Has the drooling stopped or is it dehydration?

Afternoon, I call him. Give me half an hour. I drive down to his clinic. A she-goat outside, with her owner and an auto-driver he’s arranged to bring it. Three injections for her standing by the road. Once in, the farmer gets called. How old is your goat? 40 years sir. Amused vet. How many times has she delivered? Twice sir. He writes down 4 or 2 in a diary. The farmer gets instructions, bring her tomorrow for more injections, give her some bevina soppu (neem) and agase soppu(Flax). She’ll be ok. Don’t go and sell her just because someone offers you a deal. Arthavaaythenayya? OK sir, he leaves.

The other guy waiting before me, gives some sample of his pet for a lab. He gets a long list of meds to give, when to bathe, how much to bath the dog. After 20 mins of lots of meds, and a Rs. 800 bill, he leaves. How heavy is the cat? Must be just over a kg. He fills up three syringes, antibiotics and a couple of general meds. On the way I ask him about the previous guy. German Shepherd. Has skin issues. Skin issues are caused by diet. Which is surprising because this guy is a regional head for Pedigree (food products corp). Most people can’t care for their dogs properly.

We reach home. The cat still sleeping. Be careful, if she wakes up in shock, she might go into delirium and bite. Get a cloth. I find something. Now cover her head and her front body and hold tight. I try holding her, she escapes a bit. Tighter. No loosening. I hold her tight, the cat struggles, then gives up. He checks using his stethoscope. A sanitary wipe comes out, she gets the 3 injections one after the other. I release her. She goes and sleeps a few feet away. He confirms dehydration. She needs to drink water or milk. She’s blind in one eye, he announces, but she’ll be ok. Cats manage.

I drive him to his clinic, my nerves jingling. He gives me an ORS bottle, maybe she’ll drink. Clean her with a wet cloth, and then this antiseptic swipe (which he gives me). How much do I owe you? Rs. 200. I come home, wipe her with a cloth, see if she can drink some milk, she drinks a bit, eats a bit. And goes to sleep near the door. I have lunch, and then can’t find her.

She’s found at a neighbour’s keeping her back towards a wall. Happy to say hi, but not coming anywhere. I give her some food there, she eats and leaves some. Next day I see her in the middle of the road drooling slightly. I carry her in, give her some milk which she drinks, and some cat food which she eats. There’s a faint meow, a sound of relief. She goes to sleep near the door and is missing again in 15 minutes. I find her at the same neighbour’s, but leave her there.

I find her today at the same place, she eats a bit, but the neighbour confirms that she’s meowing a bit. I feel hope, she looks a bit better. No drooling, but no grooming either. I feel a bit hopeful, but I know I no longer will see the cat running up to me, tail up, her meow Dopplering towards me. She’s now an old cat who’ll need to give up her independence and trust humans to look after her, and also forgive the guy who closed her face and got her 3 pricks in the back. The choice will be hers to make, I won’t get a say in this.

Update:

I never intended this to be an obituary. But it is now. A while back a neighbour saw a dog dragging what looked like a cat and leaving it in the opposite site. It was Putti. There was no doubt. I called Kashappa, the area gardener, packed her in a garbage bag, and carried her to the BBMP park. We dug a pit for her, and I buried her, taking one last look at her lifeless body in the glow of the phone’s LED flash. I left a part of me there in the park, under 2 feet of red soil. I’ll miss you girl, miss you loads.

Bees on Pongamia blooms

The ಹೊಂಗೆ(Pongamia pinnata) trees in front of the house bloomed by February. I count three trees surrounding the house, one in front, one across the road, and another on the side of the house. Each tree has its own blooming cycle. The one opposite starts first, around mid-February, followed by the one in front, early March, and then, the one on the side, by mid-March. By April, they are all done, and the trees wear a darker green canopy that they retain until winter.

This year, the ones in front of the house had bloomed by February. Their blooming is accompanied by the buzzing of bees. There are two kinds that I see – Apis cerana, Asiatic honey bee, and Apis dorsata, Giant or Rock honey bees. The much smaller Asiatics were there in decent numbers along with smaller plains cupid butterflies. Once I saw a large eggfly (butterfly type) flitting around, their numbers going down every season.
Apis cerana, Asiatic honey bee

Continue reading “Bees on Pongamia blooms”

Bears and birds – Daroji and the Tungabhadra canal

We drove into the JLR campus near Daroji when the Sun was right above us. Every afternoon is a hot afternoon in this part of the world. It looked like there was no one around. The campus seemed to be sleeping off the heat. Slowly, one person materialised and guided us to another building and the parking lot near it. There was some lime juice waiting, and a person, who I later came to know, was a forest department officer, walking around. And a lot of sparrows flying all over the place.
House sparrows!
After the formalities in that place we moved to our cottages. The afternoon safari at 3:30 PM had just 5 adults and a child, apart from the driver/spotter. It started off in the burning post-heat noon and us feeling sleepy as we made our way into the shrubby terrain which was more brown than green.

Despite the heat, life turned up in corners. First, a pair of Rufous-tailed Larks.
Rufous-tailed lark Continue reading “Bears and birds – Daroji and the Tungabhadra canal”