Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Today's Kannada Phrases:

Wanda Naygaloo = thank you

Tumba Chennai G’day = very good

Mugeetoo = stomach is full

Today (Tuesday) was Guruji’s birthday – he seemed quite pleased at my gift of chocolate in the midst of all the flowers – and I wore a pink sari because, at the last minute, every Indian person I know came out of the woodwork to tell me that wearing black to such a function would be a bad omen. So much for the fabulous new black sari. The night before the birthday puja-cum-party (which began at 10:30 AM) I took my pink sari from 2002 next door to be pressed (Rs 12) and had dinner with Matrika at the Southern Star, where there was a huge function for bankers and MPs – money and power – that of course got rained on.

Then after an unsuccessful attempt to track down the genius tailor who has a fever and half of my clothes in his possession, we flew down to Devaraj Market just before closing to get a princess kit (matching and rather flashy pink earrings, necklace and bindi). I hate it when you ask for pink and they pull out green and say “take it” but it also has its charm….

I brought it all over to Three Sisters to see if it would work out and they were all quite pleased with how the jewelry matched up with the sari. The color pink was a huge hit, but of course they wanted to know where I got the sari and how much it cost. It was fun, acting like girls – like I never did when young, what with being raised by wolves and all.

And today was the big dress-up. Shashikala (middle sister) draped my sari and Harini pinned it in a million places. I'd put my hair into a ponytail but of course it was falling all over the place. I put on the bangles (12 gold ones on each wrist), the ankle bracelets, the sari pins, the bindi and princess kit and went back to the hotel to show the woman down the hall. She gave the head-shake that said it all looked good. Then she knocked on my door. I let her in and she showed me a hair clip. She undid my hair , asked for a comb, sat me down on the bed and proceeded to re-do my hair. It looked quite good when she was finished – like Sonia Gandhi’s younger sister. Then she re-draped my sari, with fewer pins (not so good for the 6km scooter ride to the shala).

When I went back to 3 Sisters (which is three doors away), I showed Harini, who said, diplomatically, “Everyone has a different way of doing the sari.” Nagarathna (eldest sister) put a string of orange jasminy flowers in my hair, and Shashikala – who studies with Guruji at the old shala – and I made our way to Gokalum, where the puja was already in progress…of course it started to rain on the way there.

The place was packed. Lots of westerners and Indian women in saris. During the puja, which revolved around a big, smelly fire and lots of Brahmins in white, I noticed that all of the Second Series Guys were also in white, and seated in front. A Western caste system. (We are also just as big of busybodys as any of the Indians; if a student farts in Gokalum, they hear about it in Chevalamba Agrahara within the hour). There was a Bollywood dance performance by some students – Phillipa really stood out – and then the gift-giving and photo-taking.

After paying respects to Guruji we went downstairs to eat in shifts. Downstairs in their garage, which is bigger than any garage I’ve ever seen and has a long sink with several spigots for a hand-wash. As with the 2002 wedding where I ran into Guruji and family, there were plastic chairs set in front of narrow tables, and you ate facing another group of people. It had a certain game show aspect to it. There was a banana leaf at each setting. Once we were seated, barefoot Brahmin guys wearing nothing but orange dhotis, sacred threads and moustaches ladled out some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, including FIVE types of sweets. FIVE. It was exquisite, plus I sat between two people from ’02. In the midst of eating I realized it was the opposite of Hooters – instead of nearly-topless women pushing beer and steak, we were being served saatvic food designed to help control the mind by topless guys. I like the turnabout.

Later I learnt from a long-time student that this birthday was far more intimate and, in many ways, more special than last year’s big fete for Guruji’s 90th, which had some 500 people in a rented hall. This year there were between 150 and 200, and it took place in their home – which, we noticed, has its own elevator.

By 2PM it was over, and I went home to sleep it off. But not before I told both Sharath and Saraswati “Wanda Naygaloo” and “Tumba Chennai G’day” and “Mugeetoo.” To Sharath --- who usually adjusts me in Pasasana -- I added, “Well, always Mugeetoo. But now more Mugeetoo.”

On Monday I had an entire conversation in Kannada with the doorman at the Southern Star – who has a full moustache and perfect posture and is dressed in full Raj-era regalia, including tall, elaborate hat with feathers and tassels, long military dress-style jacket with braided ropes and breeches. Afterwords Matrika (WHO, CONTRARY TO SHALA GOSSIP, IS NOT MY PARTNER) asked, “What was that all about?” A translation:

DOORMAN: Have you finished your meal?
CACA: I have finished my meal. (pointing) Stomach is full.
DM: Good, good.
CC: Have you finished your meal?
DM: No, meal not finished.
CC: No meal? What time meal?
DM: 8 o’clock
CC: 8 o’clock? (in English: Coming! Good!)
DM: Yes
CC: See you soon.
DM: Come back soon.
CC: Good night.
CC: (pointing at sky) Full moon!


  1. A pink saree...a girl after my own heart!

  2. i think it's ultra cool that you are speaking conversational kannada. you should be very proud of yourself. nothing shows more respect to the indian people than taking an interest in their language & culture.
    bravo for you, girl
    : )

  3. wow, so impressive the sari the language makes me even more mysore sick.. love dr d. xxxx

  4. "like I never did when young, what with being raised by wolves and all."

    this struck me as very funny. nicely tongue in cheek; very effective here caca. i have thoroughly enjoyed your posts. thank you

  5. Love your writings! Thanks for the detailed report on Guruji's birthday bash.

    Very envious of you Mysore people! Hope to be there one day.