Bronzes at the Chennai Museum

The Government Museum in Chennai has an amazing collection of bronzes from around what is present day Tamil Nadu.

Here are some photos from my visit there last month. Click on any of them for a larger version on Flickr. Despite the sad condition of the displays – dust-covered and poorly lit – the wonder and detail of the craft and work is still easily visible.

This is a Nataraja from Vellore, circa 19th century:

Vellore Nataraja I

Vellore Nataraja III

The hair of other Natarajas I’ve seen until now have resembled the one above: a ring attached to the back of the head out of which locks of hair emerge. This next one, however (my favorite of the lot), has hair that is very much part of Siva’s head. It’s from Melaperamballam in Thanjavur, circa 10th Century AD.

Melaperamballam Nataraja III

Melaperamballam Nataraja I

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Green Public Space in Chennai

When we lived in Chennai in 2008-09, my partner-in-crime and I bemoaned the lack of public space in the city to just hang out. It seemed that there were the beaches and a few small parks scattered throughout the city, but no public space with grass, lots of trees, and shade.

Enter the Semmozhi Poonga, opened to the public in late November, 2010. I visited on December 29 for a cost of Rs. 5, and was pleasantly surprised to find a park with well-maintained and sittable grass, lots of trees and shade, playground equipment for kids, and benches occupied by young lovers.


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Sri Lanka’s New Social Contract

“I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner…” And he that carryeth this person is called sovereign, and said to have sovereign power; and every one besides, his subject. – Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan

If you happened to be in the vicinity of Ault Hucknall, England earlier today and felt the Earth move slightly, there is no cause for alarm; it was just Hobbes shifting in his grave. I’ll leave it to the theorists to figure out in which direction.

The Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the country’s Constitution, essentially codifying absolute power in the Executive. What else do you call it when term limits are removed and the election commission’s appointment is moved to the executive branch? Right. It swings the balance just a nooooooodge in favor of the incumbent (not that the election commission seems to have much by way of teeth anyway).

In addition to facing no term limits, the President now gets to appoint (after considering the “observations” of the Prime Minister, the Speaker, and opposition leaders):

The Election Commission
The Public Service Commission
The National Police Commission
The Human Rights Commission
The Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption The Finance Commission
The Delimitation Commission (draws electoral district boundaries)

The Chief Justice and the Judges of the Supreme Court
The President and Judges of the Court of Appeal
The Members of the Judicial Serviec Commission, other than the Chairman

The Attorney-General
The Auditor-General
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman)
The Secretary-General of Parliament

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Innoru pazham

A quick post in which we celebrate Kavundamani and Senthil, fixtures in the storied comedy track of Tamil cinema. Actually this is just an excuse for me to share my favorite routine. For a more in depth look at these guys’ comedy and their caste implications, check out “On Castes and Comedians: the language of power in recent Tamil Cinema” by K Ravi Srinivas and Sundar Kaali in Ashish Nandy’s 1999 book, The Secret Politics of our Desires: Innocence, Culpability and Indian Popular Cinema. Excerpt:

Especially noteworth is the dominant mode of comedy over the past several years which comprises two comedians, one of whom is in a dominant position and the other subservient (these are usually played by two well-known comedians in Tamil cinema, Kavundamani and Senthil, though there are exceptions). The dominant one constantly bullies, exercises authority over, and is scornful towards the physical appearance and personality of the subservient one. The latter is clever at dodging this direct and indirect violence, and eventually succeeds in outwitting the former. Though this is nothing new in terms of structure and is well represented in a variety of comedy traditions, ranging from circus clowning to the Laurel and Hardy films, its caste implications are particularly strong in Tamil cinema and this adds a different dimension to the basic structure of comedy.

Anyhoo, here’s the clip, from the 1989 film, Karagaattakkaaran (translation after the jump):

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TIME Makes a Mess of Past and Present

Have you seen this?

It’s the cover of the latest issue of TIME Magazine, and its story details the horrific ordeal of Aisha, an 18-year-old woman who was abused by her in-laws. Although she managed to flee to Kandahar, they found her and took her to a mountainside, where her husband mutilated her.

“When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out,” Aisha said, describing the attack. “It felt like there was cold water in my nose. I opened my eyes, and I couldn’t even see because of all the blood.”

Aisha is now in the US for reconstructive surgery, courtesy of the Grossman Burn Foundation.

But Aisha’s haunting face isn’t alone on the cover. She shares it with

What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan

No question mark, no room for doubt, no opening for a conversation. Rather, a declaration – and accompanying a noseless face, a conclusion: This is how it will be when we’re not there to save them.

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Bravo, Murali!

On the last day of his last test match, Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan picked up his 800th test wicket, an unprecedented feat.

Of course, he’s been so far ahead of the field for so long that unprecedented doesn’t mean much, but it’s a nice round number to end the brilliant career of one of the most fun players to watch in cricket, whether he was batting or bowling.

Murali began the match against India (the first of a three-test series in Sri Lanka) on 792. Sri Lanka’s first innings total of 520 put the pressure on India, and Muralitharan only needed 17 overs to pick up 5 wickets. India was forced to follow on and drew out their second innings. Muralitharan required a staggering 44.4 overs for his final 3 wickets. Sri Lanka’s openers went on to seal the deal, easing Sri Lanka to a comfortable 10-wicket win. Here’s the scorecard.

Please share your favorite Murali memories below.

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I’ll Have a Pint of Your Finest

What do Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona and Indian cricket master Sachin Tendulkar have in common, besides being gods?

They’ve both sold themselves.

In 2009 – at around the same time that Tendulkar was uncomfortable with fans touching his feet – Kraken Opus announced that their next project would feature Diego Maradona:

The first 100 copies of the latter book will contain a sample of Maradona’s blood and his hair. Inside there is a depiction of his DNA. “Not only are we telling you the story of your god; we’re taking you inside the icon,” Mr Fowler said (The Sunday Times).

This year it’s Sachin’s turn.

Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar’s blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman’s career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out (Wall Street Journal).

As revolting as I find the idea of a publishing house “telling you the story of your god,” I can’t say I have much sympathy for the ten people who spend 75k on it either. But I suppose that’s just an example of how disposable income can exaggerate the deification of celebrities.

As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking about how appropriate such a venture would have been for M.G. Ramachandran, Tamil film star-turned-politician who has been similarly deified, and whose speeches and addresses began, “En Rathathin Rathame,” or “blood of my blood.” Perhaps the introduction to his Opus would have begun, “En Rathathin Rathame, itho en ratham!”

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How Much, Baby, Do We Really Need?

Jyotsana’s comments on Amardeep’s post last week reminded me of my favorite Kannadasan song

பால் இருக்கும் பழம் இருக்கும் பசி இருக்காது paal irukkum pazham irukkum pasi irukkaathu
பஞ்சணையில் காற்று வரும் தூக்கம் வராது panchaNaiyil kaaRRu varum thookkam varaathu
Verse #1
நாலு வகை குணம் இருக்கும் ஆசை விடாது naalu vakai guNam irukkum aasai viDaathu
நடக்க வரும் கால்களுக்கும் துணிவிருக்காது naDakka varum kaalkaLukkum thuNivirukkaathu
Verse #2
கட்டவிழ்ந்த கண் இரண்டும் உங்களைத் தேடும் – பாதி kaTTavizhntha kaN iraNDum unkaLaith thEDum – paathi
கனவு வந்து மறுபடியும் கண்களை மூடும் kanavu vanthu maRupaDiyum kaNkaLai mooDum
பட்டு நிலா வான் வெளியில் காவியம் பாடும் – கொண்ட paTTu nilaa vaan veLiyil kaaviyam paaDum – koNDa
பள்ளியறைப் பெண் மனதில் போர்க்களம் ஆகும் paLLiyaRaip peN manathil pOrkkaLam aakum
Verse #3
காதலுக்குச் சாதி இல்லை மதமும் இல்லையே kaathalukku chaathi illai mathamum illaiyE
கண்கள் பேசும் வார்த்தையிலே பேதம் இல்லையே kaNkaL pEsum vaarththaiyilE bEtham illaiyE
வேதமெல்லாம் காதலையே மறுப்பதில்லையே – அது vEthamellaam kaathalaiyE maRuppathillaiyE – athu
மேகம் செய்த உருவம்போல மறைவதில்லையே mEkam seytha uruvampOla maRaivathillaiyE

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Drama drama drama at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in New Zealand last week.

You remember that big nuclear deal between India and the US a couple of years ago, right? You know, the one where Bush gave away the whole store to secure some sort of foreign policy legacy? Well, that decision appears to be coming back to bite the US right in the nuke. China now wants to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan. Given the lengths the US went to make sure its deal with India went through, it’s going to have a hard time objecting to this agreement without upsetting Pakistan or further alienating China.

The reason the India-US nuclear deal was a good idea, at least the way it was sold to Congress, was that the deal would promote non-proliferation by bringing India into the fold of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its monitoring and regulation. But India only agreed to this on the condition that it would split its civil nuclear program from its military nuclear program, and that only the former would be subject to inspection and regulation.

The US also pushed through an exemption in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which allowed India to trade in nuclear material and technology even though it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Signing the NPT is a prerequisite for participation in the NSG for every country except India. This blanket exemption drew concerns from the non-proliferation crowd. Their argument was that if India was supplied with enrichment and reprocessing technology for their civilian program, there was no mechanism preventing them from using that technology for their military program.

Makes sense, right? An inspection of a facility can establish whether or not the right amount of nuclear material is there, but how can an IAEA inspector determine whether a particular reprocessing method has been duplicated in a military facility that’s off limits?

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Tamtini, anyone?

If you’re like me, sometimes you get a fever, and the only prescription is more tamarind.

A few months ago I found some mint in the fridge that was on its way to brown, and thought I’d salvage what I could and make myself a mojito. Unfortunately there was no lime to be found, so I decided I’d try with tamarind instead.

I took a lump out of a wet packet of tamarind (you know, the one that comes in plastic with the seeds), dissolved it in water, took out the seeds, and strained it. I muddled the mint, added a little sugar syrup, rum, and the tamarind. The result was… all right.


I asked my genius partner-in-crime for her opinion, and she thought the same thing – all right. Then she thought about it for a little while and said, “You know those little Thai tamarind candies? The ones with chili powder in them – make it taste like that.”

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