Friday, December 03, 2004

Veer Zaara, a review from India

I watched Veer Zaara recently. It is sort of like DDLJ, except the guy in Indian, the babe is pakistani and they run around Punjab instead of running around Europe.
Here be spoilers..

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;

Oh, wait, that's Romeo and Juliet. Veer Zaara is totally, completely, utterly different from every other love story ever created, of course.

Movie starts in Pakistan.

Rani Mukerji is a lawyer who wants to free Shah Rukh Khan who is an Indian prisoner in jail. SRK initially refuses to talk to her, then realises that he has a soft-spot for good looking pakistani women and opens up...
zoinzoinzoin, Flashback.
22 years ago..

SRK is a squadron leader of a rescue 'copter squadron in the IAF. He sings a song.

Preity Zinta is a babe in Lahore. She sings a song. Everyone in Pakistan sings and it rains all the time. The ones that dont sing speak in an impenetrable punjabi accent.

PZ's grandma dies and requests (before dying of course) that her ashes be immersed in Punjab. PZ hops over to India, gets in a bus accident, is rescued by SRK and who then proceeds to help her immerse the ashes.
Everyone in India sings and those that don't speak in an impenetrable punjabi accent. PZ makes deep observation (during the course of a song) that 'your country is just like mine'. You bet! Both countries love ridiculous bollywood movies and both countries want kashmir.

SRK takes PZ to his ancestral home where we discover that Amitabh Bacchan and Hemamalini are his foster parents. A&H live in the same house that was used for Pardes. Again, everyone sings and dances. A gives some advice to SRK involving women and bicycles which totally escaped me (the theater had a really bad sound system and there was that punjabi accent again). Oh, and SRK is all over Preity all the time, of course.

SRK goes to drop off Preity at the train station where her fiance has come over to pick her up. Preity had forgotten to tell him anything about the engagement. In Tamil, we call it 'giving alva'. In Hindi, it is called KLPD. I guess it is hard to introduce that topic in the middle of all the singing and dancing. SRK wishes her the best of luck.

After going back, PZ decides that she loves SRK more than her fiance. SRK gets the news, goes to Pakistan and they embrace at a durgah in the rain in front of the two families. In case you were wondering, there is a song going on in the background, since, as we all know by now, everyone in Pakistan sings.

PZ's dad faints, Pz's mom comes to SRK and asks him to leave her daughter alone, because her dad would surely die if she were to marry SRK. SRK obliges, tells PZ something about duty and asks her to marry the fiance. Then, on his way back, the fiance gets SRK arrested and puts him behind bars on trumped up charges.
Present day.

Does Rani manage to free SRK? Will the lovers unite? Do we care?The answers are yes, yes, and no.

The morals of the story are

- Everyone in Pakistan sings, everyone in India sings. Therefore we are alike.
- If you plan to declare your undying love to a girl before her marriage, it is advisable to do it out of sight of her fiance and his family.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A river trip report from last year..

Yeh, un dinon ki baath hai..

This is something that happened in the Summer of 2003. It was a fine summer weekend. Pleasant weather. I got up Saturday morning feeling full of energy, all ready to go out and do great deeds. I reflected that I had really not worked out hard throughout the week. Maybe I would go for a nice long run to make up for it. I then had a heavy brunch and slept off watching Shahenshah on TV.

Woke up 4:30 ish, decided to go have a pleasant hour's paddle on the Schuylkill River. I had discovered a couple of weeks previously that the Schuylkill flowed right past Phoenixville and that the section was boatable. There is a canal that parallels the river so one could paddle down the river, get on the canal and paddle up. The canal, apparently was a quiet, slow-flowing body of water. No need to take drinking water.. Just a little hour's paddle.. Max two hours paddle..

So, I got up to the river, got all dressed for paddling, got on the river 5:30-ish and proceeded to have a pleasant paddle down. There were some little riffles where the water got a bit faster. The river consists of slow sections interspersed with places where the river was constricted due to maybe a fallen tree or just natural features. The water was a little faster here with riffles. This little detail would prove vitally important later.

Well, about an hour down, no sign of canal. The river was getting distinctly more pushy. I decided to take a right channel to get past a fairly small looking island. That little island ended up being fairly long. And beautiful. Deer suddenly running up the banks, clearly disturbed by this strange half-man, on a boat. Blue herons taking off in the most stately manner. I was pretty much all alone on the river. No places renting boats along the banks. Just a few houses and mostly woods on this section. I was vaguely thinking about the line 'Just a lonely impulse of delight' (

My poetic reverie was interrupted when I reached the end of the island and found that the main stream (the left channel) of the river was flowing quite fast and there was what seemed to be 2 feet drop on the river on the left side which I had bypassed by paddling the right-hand channel. By now, of course, it was nearly an hour into the paddle. The canal had to have appeared by now.

Now, that didnt bode well. I figured I would go downstream some more. The canal had to show up. As backup I decided to call up my friends and ask them to come downstream and give me a ride upstream. No one seemsed to be around to pick up their phone. By now, it is nearly 6:45. Upon enquiring with a couple of fishermen I discovered that I was way-way downstream of where I was supposed to be.

Now, I had to paddle upstream all the way. Or give up and try to get to a road and hitch a ride. I figured that going upstream couldnt be all *that* bad. After all, I had paddled slightly more than an hour. I had another hour's sunshine and anyway, if the water got too swift or shallow, I could always get out and carry the boat.

So, up the river I went and it was something. At the island I had passed earlier you about, the water was too low for my paddle to get enough 'bite'. While it doesnt matter too much if you are going downstream, it is the most important thing if you are going upstream :-)

Well, I got off, and started dragging the boat along. Pretty soon, I was wading through thigh-deep water. Where the water was shallow enough to get on, there was not enough purchase for the paddle and where I could have paddled, I couldn't get on. Finally, I found a place which was shallow enough to get on, deep enough to paddle out of. And that is how it went to get out of the island.

Once on the main-stream, of course, it was a matter of slogging through the slow sections and trying find the little eddies that would help me get past the faster riffles. Occasional getting out of the boat and pushing it along the river. At places, I was in waist deep moving water. It ended up being a total body work out :-).

Oh, also, by this time, the sun was setting and the moon was rising. Beautiful. The sun was making the water take on a really beautiful shade of pinkish red. After sometime, the sun set and the moon was out in all its glory. Just beautiful. The last hour, I paddled purely by the light of the moon.

While it was really beautiful, I had to be really careful not run my boat into an unfriendly tree that had fallen across the river. Going up the last riffle was really really interesting since I had to paddle largely by feel.

At long last, sore and aching, I reached my put-in point. And discovered that I couldn't figure out where exactly I had left my car. I had left my waterproof light at home :-) I had actually paddled further upstream of the place where I had parked my car. Sometime now, my friend called up to find out why I had called :-)

Now, finally having reached back, and feeling pretty good about myself, I stepped out of the boat and promptly fell on my ass in the muddy slushy water and got properly dunked. It was not even knee deep. My cellphone got fully immersed and gave up its ghost.

Upon chatting with some fishermen, I discovered that the canal doesnt join the river as such. It runs parallel to the canal. I should have taken out and portaged across to the canal. Clearly, I should have read the website more carefully :-)

While it took me about an hour to get downstream, it took nearly 3 to get upstream. I was really fortunate too. If it hadn't been for the fact that the river is quite sluggish, I wouldnt even have made it up. Well, I have learnt my lessons. I always carry my torchlight and water. And, I make sure I know exactly what I am going to do :-)

I also learnt that paddling in the moonlight is a really really cool experience :-) I did the entire section (the river+portage+canal) this year with a friend of mine on a moonlit night.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell

This is an Arthurian trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. The three books are The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur.

I came across this book when I was reading about the recently released movie King Arthur (yeah, the one with Keira Knightley in a leather bikini playing Guinevere). Apparently no one is quite sure if King Arthur was a real person on whom the adventures are based or if he is just fiction. The earliest Arthurian tales come from the Welsh. They speak of a great warrior who fought the invading Saxons so well that the saxon invasion was temporarily stopped.

The story of Arthur and his brave warriors adopted by the bards during the middle ages. This is where we see concepts like The Round Table, Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, Knights embarking on quests, knights displaying chivalry(a concept by which you seek to defend women against all men but yourself), knights following a code of honour even unto death, knights being good christians and all other spiffy stuff.

I am given to understand that the womenfolk of the early middle ages pretty much paid for such stories to be made up in the hope that the menfolk, who were brutal knights who bathed maybe a couple of times in their lives, and who spent time swinging huge implements capable of causing much blunt trauma at each other and pretty much everyone else who came in their way, would take up these ideals. Ok, I am being more than a little facetious :-)

Suffice it to say that most of the stories of King Arthur that we know today are latter-day additions by French and English authors and were written to appeal to a medieval sensibility.

Bernard Cornwell takes a different tack. He sets the tale in the early sixth century AD. The Roman empire has withdrawn from Britain, leaving behind a group of states which are constantly jockeying for power. The saxons (a germanic people) are invading from mainland Europe but the Britons (the present-day Welsh) are not in any way united enough to put up a common resistance.

The tale is told from the perspective of Derfel Cadarn, who is now a monk in a monastery but was once a warrior. He had fought alongside Arthur until the end. Derfel, the narrator, is a son of a Saxon slave who is brought up by Merlin. The story, revolves around him and we get to see his childhood, his training and his battles. At the beginning of the book, Derfel is an old monk and he has a constant visitor, the queen of the realm who wants to know all about Arthur and his wonderful band of warriors. Derfel, having been one of them, tells her the stories. So, we see the entire tale in flash-back.

The Arthur in this book is a warrior and an able leader of his men. His one great weakness is an irrational belief in the goodness of other people. All he wants is a little farmhouse where he can hang out with Guinevere and raise cattle. Alas for him, he is too good a warrior not to attract attention and the people around him a bit too jealous and ambitious. He comes across as a good man, who tries his best to keep his promises.

He lives in troubled times, however. Merlin is trying to put together the thirteen treasures of Britain so that he can summon the Old Gods of Britain. Every king and chieftain is trying to figure out how to defeat the others. All the while, two Saxon chieftains, Aelle and Cedric are trying to take over Britain, whilst simultaneously fighting each other. All the usual characters from Arthurian tales are present, Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Galahad , Lancelot etc. There are, however, no women in lakes distributing swords nor does Merlin conjure up thunderbolts.

What we have instead is a fascinating description of how the Britons lived. We get a glimpse into the politics and religions of the time. The battles are very well written with vivid descriptions of the tactics and the action. I rather like the sword-and-shield-adventure genre but this book rises above that. The story told in the book covers nearly 60 years but one never gets the feeling that the book is slow. As an aside, since the book covers such a large time-span, the author lets us see how the legend is already starting to develop. So, what was to Derfel a near defeat has now been sung into song by bards and now the people believe that it was a briliant victory. Of course, Derfel knows what the real deal was with the Round-Table, but no one wants to listen to him, least of all the queen. People want the glamour and 'spin' has a long history :-)

The author has done a good job of incorporating the Arthurian tales into a semi-historical setting. One can see that a lot of work has gone into historical research of late fifth century Britain.

In all, while it is not exactly Lord of the Rings, it is a great read if you are looking for a nice adventure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

I very recently read this book.

If you are among the one or two that haven't yet read the book, the story revolves around Robert Langdon, a symbologist from Harvard and Sophie Neveu, a French Cryptographer. Robert Langdon is woken up in the middle of the night while on a trip to Paris to be told that the curator of the Louvre museum has been killed and the police need his help to solve the crime.
There, he meets with a beautiful French cryptographer, Sophie Neveu. I wonder if there will ever be a female heroine in a novel who is not beautiful. You know, why couldn't have Sophie Neveu been a plain looking French cryptographer? Makes no difference to the story. But, I digress..

Anyway, the dying curator has left enough clues that Sophie and Robert alone can crack because a. Robert Langdon knows a lot of historic symbology b. Sophie knows a lot of cryptography. The novel then develops into a rollicking adventure involving a lot of history about The Holy Grail, early Christianity, shadowy secret societies like the Priory of Sion, extreme religious groups like The Opus Dei and a mysterious villain known only as The Teacher.

The author, through his characters, takes a lot of shots at the catholic church and present-day Christian religious dogma. He feels that the history of Jesus of Nazareth has been thoroughly distorted by the church to further its own patriarchical agenda.

This book caused a flurry of reactions in the popular press, at least in the US. Refutations, refutations of the refutations etc. Lots of dust :-)

Without going into the facts behind the book, I felt that it was a good book, with taut storytelling, remniscent of Ludlum at his best. I really liked the way that history was woven into the story through the means of the symbologist and the historian. Quite cool and interesting history too!


A bit predictable, I could figure out who The Teacher was and that Sophie was of the Merovingian line.

I also felt that the book copped out in a big way. So he knows where the grail is, but he wont do anything about it. YEAH RIGHT!. If the author (and Langdon) feel so strongly about the Church putting down the feminine side, why not release the docs and make the church pay for its transgressions? This whole bit about 'The Grail is attractive only because it is hidden' was, in my opinion, a major cop-out.

Also,that bit about 'But the feminine is being slowly given prominence as we realised what damage has been wrought by the masculine so why bother releasing the grail documents' is also wishy washy crap.

If a religion is subverting the teachings of its founder, and you have the means to expose it, you certainly should. To me, that's a no-brainer.Let us say that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed followers of ahimsa and the whole of the bible and quran had been written by their followers who were grinding their own axes and you could prove this incontrovertibly, wouldn't you do it?Just think how much it will change life.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Twilight Samurai

This movie tells the story of Iguchi Seibei, a low ranking samurai through the remniscences of his daughter.

The movie is set in 19th century Japan, in the declining years of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Once the Tokugawas became the Shoguns in the 17th century, they froze the status of all the people (so, a farmer couldnt become a warrior, the warrior couldnt go back to becoming a farmer etc) with the Samurai (the warrior class) on the top. They also managed to do what no one else had been able to do in Japanese history up to that point, which was to impose a peace that held for nearly 250 years. The clans were no longer permitted to war upon each other, and indeed, even private duels were frowned upon. So, the samurai we see in this movie are not the warriors of the Sengoku Jidai period (like in Kagemusha, Ran or Seven Samurai), but admininstrators, managers, clerks and politicians.

This is not a 'standard' samurai movie. If you come in looking for guys dressed in period armour swinging swords and spears at each other, you will be disappointed. Twilight Samurai moves at a more deliberate pace. The grand events of the time(the rebellion by the Choshu Clan, the loosening grip of the Shogunate, food shortages causing starvation deaths) serve more as a background rather than being the main story.

I was really impressed with the tone of the movie and the marvelously restrained acting of the leads. Apparently this movie was a mega-hit in japan and the Japanese really identified with Seibei. I do not blame them. Hiroyuki Sanada has played this role to perfection. He's the same actor who played the tough-guy samurai Ujio who beats up Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.

Iguchi Seibei is a poor samurai whose wife has just died after a long illness. Her illness and funeral have left him deep in debt. He has to support his two daughters and his senile mother on a meager income. He hurries back home after work every day to do the daily chores and works in the night to make little insect cages to supplement his income.

Despite all these stresses, he goes about his life doing what needs to be done without complaint. He is a conscientious and caring father. In all, he leads a contented life, and asks for no more than to be able to continue living that way.

Then, one day, he meets his childhood friend Tomoe... I will let you, gentle reader, to discover what happens next.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Idlis on the Beach

It all started with a email sent to a friend of mine. I hadnt met him in ages and pretty soon it was decided that we would meet on a weekend and go to the beach.

Despite the fact that I love the beach, I hadnt been to one all this year. With the summer quickly drawing to a close I was getting desperate. My previous beach trip in this country had been something of a dampener with one friend deciding that he would enjoy the beach sleeping in the car and another rolling up in a blanket and reading a book, leaving me to play in the waves all by myself.

I drove up to Jersey City with two kayaks, my Mongoose, trusty companion of many a trip and a borrowed Ocean Kayak Frenzy. We had decided to go to Sandy Hook National Park in New Jersey. The idea was to try the Frenzy on the waves and then take out both kayaks on the Bay.

Well, the appointed day started kind of cloudy and cool. Exactly not the beach kind of day :-) Undaunted, we all set out for the beach. My friend and his family (wife, brother, and his parents) and I.

One of the cool thing about having parents along is that good food is ensured. This time, it was chutney sandwiches and idlies. A little note on the idlies first. These were not just idlies. These were nicely coated with molagapodi and nallennai(gingelly oil). This has to be the absolute apex of idlies. Mouthwatering spicy stuff.

Anyway, we went to the beach and promptly launched the Frenzy. As the 'senior' kayaker, I got the privilege of giving it the first shot :-). The waves were really gentle and the sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. I took the kayak out for a little bit and returned, thereby convincing the assembled populace that the kayak was safe :-)

We played around for a bit in the water and discovered that while the water was not too cold, the cool wind made it a little uncomfortable after leaving the water.

Paddling in the sea was a new experience for me, though I didnt venture too far from the shore. The waves were gentle and it was more a bobbing sensation as opposed to the kind of working over that the rapids on a whitewater river give. Even only a short distance from the shore, the only sounds you can hear are the waves (and the occasional motorboat). When I went a little further out to sea, I could see the New York City skyline and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. All very picturesque especially when the sun came out of the clouds. I even got to go and 'rescue' a little kid's beach toy which had been blown offshore by the winds :-). The last time I went out, there was a wind blowing from the shore. I 'rode' that wind out to get the furthest I ever did from the shore. I noticed that the wind was getting a bit stronger and the sea a little more choppy. Getting back was interesting, since the wind was still there, but not really hard.

After a while more friends from Boston showed up and with vegetable puffs from Hot Breads. We all had another 'go' on the kayak, desultorily played some soccer and decided to head back.

As a bonus we all went to the beach again the next day, in Manasquan this time. The waves were a little bigger and gave us a little more of a working-over :-)

In all, my first beach trip of the year was really good. Hopefully, I should get to do a little more of this before winter

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Vande Mataram - by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

Happy Independence Day, Fellow Indians
This was the part of a play called Anand Math written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee(1838-1894). The sanskrit song is in italics.

The version of this song I like the best is the Revival from A.R.Rehman's Vande Mataram album.

Vande Mataram

Sujalam Suphalam
richly-watered, richly-fruited
Malayaja sheetalam
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests,
The Mother!

Shubhrajyothsna pulakitayaminim
Her nights rejoicing in the glory of the moonlight
Phullakusumita dramadala shobinim
her lands clothed beautifully with her trees in flowering bloom
Suhasinim sumadhura bhashinim
sweet of laughter, sweet of speech
Sukhadam varadam mataram
giver of bliss, giver of boons, the Mother
Vande mataram
I bow to thee, Mother.

Friday, August 13, 2004

an ode to idlis

This is an essay I got by email ages ago.
It is basically a love letter to idlis.

What makes this essay so cool is that the idli is really common-place. It's probably the most common breakfast in a Tamil home. It is only after I went off to college that I realised how rare and precious a good idli is. Many restaurants really screw up their idlis. Once you start travelling towards the North of India, idlies start becoming scarce or are these really hard white rocks you can throw at passing mongrels.

I have no idea who the author is or where it is from. But whoever he or she is, my kudos!

The Ultimate Guide to Idli Heaven
I refer not to the restaurant two-per-head felt cut-outs, stranded on a steel plate next to a puddle of chutney. I'm talking about the genuine home-made product.

Here it comes, with the expert flick of the wrist scooped from the mould, toppling like a tipsy full moon onto the waiting banana leaf where it quivers, puffing out little spurts of steam after its exertions. Here comes one more, and another. Quick! While it is still within its gauzy wrap of steam, the idli must be anointed. Leave to the kaffirs such blunders as ghee. The only true unguent is the oil of the sesame seed - clear, red gold, aromatic and just a soupcon of it, drizzled while the idli is still breathless so that it seeps in, leaving no trace on the palpitant skin. There are still some pleasures to be savoured before you bite into the idli. Inhale. The first hot rush of steam has left the air vaporous with the aroma of rice, subtle, yet substantial. This is not the avid rush of Basmati that cavorts over all other flavours. It is an odour, simple, pristine, on par with that of water cooled in earthenware. Breathe it, it is the grain of life.

At the first lungful you will detect the sharp, sweet, festive aroma of sesame. If you don't, that oil is no good. Sesame oil is to the flavour of rice what butter is to bread - it enhances, but never dominates. Heretics who anoint their idlis with ghee will smell only ghee. These subtleties are lost on them. The oil of sesame must be used with great reticence, not sloshed about like olive oil, soaking the idli like a post-office sponge. (The purist will not acknowledge sesame: gingelly oil is what it should be called). At the second whiff you will discover a green aftertang of banana leaf. The leaf's first protest was lost in steam. This is the merest whimper of green, but it lingers into the first mouthful.

Those idlis are still very hot. Test them. Touch them. Naturally, with your fingers. Good food must be caressed, not impaled. And before you touch, look. The perfect idli is white, biconvex and stippled with tiny pores still breathing steam. If it slithers and collapses on the leaf, it is a failed idli: it will be sticky, dense and unleavened.
The other sort is just as bad. The rampant idli stands solid and spherical, with a predisposition to roll. It has not pores, but pits and craters. It doesn't have an aroma. It simply smells sour. It has the consistency of wet cottonwool when hot and that of a loofah when cold. If it must be eaten, do it quickly, and use a fork. It is probably a restaurant idli and deserves to be impaled.
The first mouthful must be hot, but not so hot as to blister the tongue. Coffee will accomplish that later. The first idli is never tasted. Before you have time to think, it's gone. Halfway through the second, judgement returns. The tongue feels the teasing fizz of the idlis's delicate pores before it yields to its softness. The teeth hang around, de trop.
Which brings me to accompaniments. Chutneys, all 10 ghastly restaurant varieties, ought to be anathema in the kitchen, but they've sneaked in somehow. I'm no chutney connoisseur, so let me pass on to "milagai podi," a spicy, aromatic, crunchy gravel of chillies, roast dals and a hint of asafetida. Build a little volcano of this next to your idli. With your little finger, dent its peak. Now fill the crater with sesame oil, dab the idli in it, and bite. Your tongue will be lava, and you can now model for Dali's Exploding Head, even if you're no angel. Of course, tamer versions abound.
On restaurant menus, idli-sambar is a compound word. Here is a warning - not just any sambar should do. The only sambar fit for the idli is made with onions, and not any old bulb, either - only baby onions, tiny pearls, their sweetness almost liquid within their ammoniacal hearts will do. The gravy must be smooth, never slimy, tart, but not sour, and just fiery enough to be grateful for the exploding sweetness of onions against the teeth. Sesame oil loses out with onion sambar. Nothing but ghee will do here, the home-made stuff, of course, dabbed on before the sambar engulfs the idli.
I wonder if there is anybody anywhere in this country who has never tasted an idli. Idlis are ubiquitous, easily masticated, digested and absorbed, nutritious, addictive and have practically no side effects. Toddlers and patients rejoice in them. Hostelites thrive on them. Office goers welcome them as relief from the many varieties of deep fried protozoa that conspire against leave encashment. For though chutney and sambar are often guilty, the idli can seldom be indicted.
Idlis have a sense of occasion. There is the Deepavali idli of childhood eaten at 6am, when the stomach cringes. You have been up since 4am. Now the oil bath, the sulphurous fog of crackers, the stiff new clothes, all combine to make the eye-lids droop and the head ache. The Deepavali idli tastes different because of all these things and because of its proximity to Mysore paak and mixture and other goodies that the heart craves, but the stomach rebels against at this hour. Only the idli will do.

Wedding breakfasts these days are austere. In my childhood they were orgies of gluttony. Idli was still the entree, big flying saucers awash with chutney or sambar. But they were crowded out by a steaming mound of pongal and avial, crisp vadais, rava kesari or badam halva, jilebi, and a glass of badam kheer. The timid gulped coffee, gobbled their idlis and fled before the pongal came on. Breakfast had barely cleared the gullet before you were hauled back for lunch.
There are idlis and idlis. My father remembers from his childhood in Chdambaram, 60 years ago, tiny idlis the size of a quarter anna coin. With two annas in hand, he would be sent out for this holiday treat to a homely little shack called Chaitanya Hotel. He would stagger home clutching a banana leaf bolster that held at least 50 of these tiny idlis. To this day, my father insists they had a flavour all their own.
The idli is a true cosmopolite. It is only in Chennai that there is a curfew on idlis after 10 am. Idlis are breakfast, you are severely told. But other, more frivolous sorts can be had, any time. My mother recalls her first sight of Kanjivaram idli, brought home as prasadam from the temple. To the five-year-old it looked exactly like the full moon, the size of a dinner plate and misty with ghee, speckled with crunchy golden cashewnuts and crisp peppercorns. The secular version is less fulsome, but still rich, textured, indigestible, and not the easiest of things to cook. You can eat prasadam-sized wedges, that's all.
Then there are the bye-blows, and we must be kind to them - rava idli and semiya idli. Rice has refused to acknowledge these, semolina and vermicelli have blundered in. They are both worthy, I'm sure, but they are not idlis.
Finally, there is the ultimate picnic meal - the stuffed idli. It's one up on the masala dosai because it doesn't wilt. It's easy to eat, no accompaniments are necessary, it's delicious when cold, and leaves no litter. Simply bite into one and find out.
Bon appetit!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Fiery Fledgeling - A poem by Subrahmanya Bharathi

Bharathiyar was born Subrahmanian in December 11, 1882. He proved a child prodigy and
was given the title Bharathi (another name for Saraswati, the Goddess of learning). He fulfilled his early promise. He was a prolific poet and a firebrand. He quite naturally joined the freedom movement and was the editor of many nationalist magazines. He wrote many poems that exude a strong nationalist sense. Quite unfortunately for India and Tamilnadu, he died young after an accident with a temple elephant.Here is a link with the details of his life.

He was a firebrand with strong opinions on freedom from the British, social equality and women's equality. He was also a keen observer of the human condition and many of his poems mocked the mores of the day. One of his poems states 'People swoon over romantic love in stories but stamp out the same kind of love in their own homes.'.

He covered a wide range in his poems. The themes covered include nationalism, Tamil, religion, history, love, social conditions, women's rights and nature. He was a very proud man, proud of his country and proud of his language. This feeling comes through in his poems. In one of his poems, he says 'Bharatha naadu paarkellam thilakam/ neer athan puthalvar, in-ninaivagatraatheer' (India is the jewel of the world/ You are its children, never forget!'). In another he says 'Senthamizh naadenum pothinile/inba then vanthu paayuthu kaathinile' ('When someone mentions TamilNadu, it is as honey to my ears').

He wanted to inspire Indians to stand up for themselves and realise their potential. In this respect, he reminds me greatly of Swami Vivekananda. I think it is a great loss that he died when he did.

I find his poetry to be beautiful and inspirational. Many of his songs have been adopted for movies. Manathiluruthi vendum from Sindhu Bhairavi and Kaakkai Siraginile from Ezhaavathu Manithan are two examples of beautiful songs nicely adapted for movies.

The poem that I have translated here is a little offbeat poem.


Akkini kunjondru kanden
Athai angoru kaattilor ponthidai vaithen
Venthu thaninthathu kaadu!
Thazhal veerathil kunjendrum moopendrum undo?
Thatharikita Thatharikita Thithom

The Fiery Fledgeling

I found a fiery fledgeling
I placed it in a forest hollow
The forest burned to ashes!
Is age a factor in fieriness?
Thatharikita Thatharikita Thithom

It is simple poem. The phrase akkini-kunju brings to mind a fledgeling that is made of fire. The poet found a fiery fledgeling, tried to protect it by placing it in a tree hollow. However, the fledgeling burnt the forest down :-)

I wonder what was the inspiration for the poem. Is he referring to unintended consequences? He tried to protect something that needed no protection and ended up burning an entire forest down. Is it an admonition not to underestimate anyone? Is he telling us not to nurture things that might destroy us? Had he just heard about the myth of the Phoenix which is born from its own ashes? I suppose we will never know.

To me, it is a slightly enigmatic and humorous poem.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Thiruvilayadal Redux

This is a recent email exchange on a mailing list with my college buddies. To really enjoy this, ofcourse, you need to have watched Thiruvilayadal. Thiruvilayadal was a very famous Tamil movie in our childhood days when Sivaji ruled the roost. Thiruvilayadal literally means divine play. It consists of many episodes where Shiva comes to TN and mixes it up with the local folk. It used to be shown quite often on TV. The days when Doordarshan was the only game in town.

Basically, in the episode that is being referenced inthe email exchange, the pandyan king gets a doubt. So,he announces 'Does women's hair have a natural fragrance or is it a result of revlon shampoo? 1000 gold coins to anyone who can tell me'. Clearly Pandyan kings of the sangam age had too much time (and money) on theirhands.

A poor poet called Darumi, played by Nagesh, wants the money. This is probably one of Nagesh's best comic turns. He displays the pathos of being apoor poet with such humor.. Anyway, Nagesh is a poet of limited talent and goes and cries his frustrations out loud in the temple. Lord Shiva (Sivaji plays this role with his usual aplomb, overacting, rolling eyes,twirling moustache etc), comes to him in form of a poet and gives him a poem which says something to the effect that 'yeah, of course, women's hair has natural fragrance.'

The chief poet of the pandyan court, called Nakkeeran says 'dude, that is so wrong, did you write thatcrap?' at which point Darumi goes back to the templeand cries. Shiva comes to the court to argue his case and as the ultimate rebuttal says 'agree with me or be burned'. Nakkeeran says 'Smoke me if you will, but mistake's amistake'. All very dramatic, much is lost in the translation. You can see where Tamils' tendency towards stubborn argument reaches back intothe mists of history. Apparently, they dont think too much of going against gods on a matter of principle.

Anyway, Shiva burns him without much ado. Later, after much prayer by the Pandyan king Shiva says 'ha ha, just kidding, Nakkeeran was right afterall' and restores him to mint condition.
This retelling doesnt include all the overacting, pure tamil and special effects that went into the movie.

Nor does this email exchange. Basically, this all started after a typical evening conversation at a friends place 'Macha, why dont Tamil movies have Tamil women in them?'. This rapidly escalated into a email question posted to our entire group.

Does this seem terribly inane? If so, just dont bother and move on. This is *my* blog after all :-)

To: ****** From: "M" <>
Subject: [thattiko] yen? kyon? why?
Don't disregard this message. If you do then your DVD players might never work, your cable TV will flicker all the time and your PS2 player might just spontaneously combust.
Folks, this is a crucial time when all Tamil countrymen and women need to rethink where Tamil cinema isgoing. In particular R and I had a discussion (in the presence of GVK and S)about why Tamil movies don't cast tamilian females instead go with naarthies (north of Madras anyway).
I first thought... hmm color. Tamilians are usuallydarker than naarthies. We are color obsessed people.Our matrimonial section usually says something like"Want a **fair**, God fearing, rich (optional, can be compensated by extremely fair complexion and vice-versa) traditional, professional girl.". Evenwhen we go to a marriage, mamis say "Ponnu chekkachevernu mahalakshmi maadiri irukka". (Where people see Mahalakshmi is still a mystery to me).
But then the two tamil babes that I know of (Simran and Sneha) don't have a very fair complexion.

I don't think figure is important. All our babes are fat or moderately fat.

The only reason I can think of is the mystery surrounding non-native people. Take for example ourfavorite hero James Bond. He usually has a Russian chick or a spanish babe ... He hardly sleeps with a babe who speaks British English. But I don'tunderstand that completely either. The way hip people speak in Madras (you know those people who feel embarassed to call it Chennai) talk, they could befrom Mars!
Anyway, enadu sandehathai theerpavarukku aayiram porkaasu vazhangappadum.
From: K<> Date:
Subject: Re: [thattiko] yen? kyon? why?

To:******* From: "R" <>
Re: [thattiko] yen? kyon? why?
With apologies to Nagesh and Thiruvilayadal..
> Anyway, enadu sandehathai theerpavarukku aayiram porkaasu vazhangappadum.

Scene : Madurai, but this looks suspiciously like Mass Ave, Arlington Heights, MA..
Big Fat dude, beating a drum from the first floor and announcing 'Naattu Makkalukkor Narcheithi. Madurai Pandiyaarasanin santhegathai theerthuvaippavargalukku aayiramporkaasugal!'
We see a small lean guy screaming at the big dude fromthe bottom. This is Darumi, an impoverished local progr^h^h^h^h poet. He has been wandering around sight-adichufying when he came upon this announcement.
'Aayiram porkaasugala? Enna pa kelvi ithu? Antha Arasanukku appadi enna santhegamam?'
(At this point, it is better to kick in the English dubbing. Sangam era Tamil is hard to understand. Thedubbing techniques arent advanced enough at thispoint, so at some points, the lip movements might notsynch with what is being said. Occasionally, the system fails completely, and we slip back to the vernacular.We apologize for the inconvenience.. Now, getting backto the story..)
Darumi : 'Dude, so, what does the king want to know?'
BFD: 'He wants to know why Tamil movies seldom use Tamil actresses. If you know the answer, you can tell him and get your 1000 bucks..'
Darumi : 'Do you know the answer?'
BFD: 'Macha, if I knew the answer, do you think Iwould be shouting myself hoarse?'
Darumi 'Ayyo, Ayyo, Aayiram dollarache, Aayriamdollarache. Ayyo, I could buy a laptop on ebay, Icould get myself a canon digital SLR, I could maybework up the confidence to ask that cool chinese babeout for a date. illa illa, enakku illa enakku illa'..

Darumi goes to the temple.Cries out his desperation and frustration. 'Kadavule, Only you can help me'.

God shows up in form of a uber-geek. slightly torn blue jeans pants, kurta, glasses etc. He has this really condescending grin plastered on his face. Just one look and you want to haul off at him. This particular avtar went to IIT so, well, if you did beat him up, it would be a good thing.. However, Darumi is a pacifist.
Darumi : Nee yaru man?
Uber-Geek : Me, I am just a wandering film afficiando.Why, only yesterday, I was watching this cool movie called Italian for Beginners, you must watch it sometime.
Darumi : Watha. Vanthuttan. En man, you also listened to that announcement and are here to pick up that 1000 bucks that the Pandian king is offering,right? My thalaiezhuthu.
UG : 'So, what does your king want to know'

Darumi's ego is pricked by this newcomer's presumption. He never liked IIT dudes anyway. He decides to test his knowledge.
Darumi : 'What always goes together?'
UG : 'Aiswarya Rai and Beauty'
Darumi : 'What is never together?'
UG : 'Abhishek Bacchan and a hit movie'
and so on and so forth, touching upon various things, Does Madhuri Dixit dance better than Ash (yes)? Is Preity's smile made better by the dimple in her cheek(of course)? Is Rajini the coolest hero ever(yes)?

At long last, Darumi is convinced that the Geek can answer his question. And he puts it to him 'So, tellme kind sir, why do Tamil movies predominantly use non-Tamil actresses?'
UG meditated for a while and told him, 'dude, I can tell you, but you wont like it. Back in the day, when acting actually mattered, Tamil babes ruled the roost at home and even assaulted bollywood.But alas, those days are far gone. These days, the only role that the actreses have is to look good.Their acting just doesnt matter anymore.
So, working back from this, one must reach the inevitable conclusion that Tamil women just dont look as good on average and that is the reason why women from other states are able to take over Kollywood heroine roles. I mean, you went to college, right? Tell me, how many of the acknowldged 'babes' in your college were Tamil? Not many right? QED'
'Now, if you run back to your king and tell him this,you are going to get your head chopped off for your pains. So, you'd be better off asking that chinese babe out for a date. Better watch a couple of chinese movies before you go, and it will give you soemthingto talk about. '
Darumi heeded his advice, watched 'Spring, Summer,Autumn' took the girl out for a date and everyone lived happily ever after.
To: ********* From: "M" <>
Subject: [thattiko] porchuvaiyila porutchuvayila?

That was funny! Here is the continuation in the Raja'scourt.
Darumi: par vende emmai paar vende
King: Alright ... go on...
Darumi: Tamilnaatin selviyar are boring
Tamil makkal are very daring
Thats why other state's babes are fairing
Also ikkarai** akkarai** better feeling

Chief Poet Nakeeran: Inda paatil kurai irukkiradu ...
And then ultimately the God in the form of a nerd comes to the court.
Nakeeran: Your song is screwed up dude!
God: In the syntax or in the semantics?
Nakeeran: If its in the syntax it can be forgiven. The problem is with the semantics. The college you went was Manipal. First of all the number of women is very small and the test of tamil babes in Manipal is a statistically insignificant test.
God: Oooohhhh ... aaahhhh (anger)... You are accusing the person who wrote the compiler and the OS. How dare you judge me (Oops Hollywood crept in). May you always suffer with Windows and never move to Linux or anyother OS.
Now the whole court is stunned and asks the God for mercy. God smiles and says he does this to all frustrated Windows users and pardons(!) everyone.

Finally Darumi gets a free upgrade on his OS (fromWindows 98 to Windows 98 service pack 2) and goes homehappy.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Kogi Kaishakunin's blog

This blog has been started by my friend and a few of his buddies.
The first post is about the Mary Chapin Carpenter concert in Philadelphia.

Kogi Kaishakunin, in case you are wondering, is the official name of the Shogun's executioner in the Lone Wolf and Cub movie series. The movies are based on a manga series of the same name. The story evolves around the adventures of a high-ranking samurai who turns assasin. These are set in the early Edo period of Japanese history, just after the Tokugawa shogunate has taken control of Japan. Ogami Itto, the main character, used to be the official executioner for the Shogun till he was framed on charges of treason and kicked out. Now, he roams around the countryside, a hitman for hire, with his little kid Daigoro (the original Japanese title says 'Child and Expertise for Hire'). The movies feature some cool swordsmanship and interesting plotlines. They are dubbed in English and sold as Shogun's Assasin which Mudra Rakshasa assures me are absolutely horrible. We all prefer to listen to the dialogues in the native tongue and read the subtitles, I guess. Dubbing always leaves something to be desired. Of course, he is also the guy who once watched an entire Chinese movie without subtitles or dubbing (and he doesnt understand a word). But I digress.

I have not read the manga, but Kogi Kaishakunin (one of the authors of the aforementioned blog), assures me that they are cool. Kind of funny that the guy who calls himself Kogi Kaishakunin should accuse me of wanting to play with swords rather than go to a concert:-)

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Yet Another Delaware River Trip

I went on a day-trip on the Delaware River from Upper Black Eddy to Lumberville. There is a trip report up on the Curd-Rice Kayakers' Webpage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Delaware River Trip

This Memorial Day weekend, I went on a kayak camping trip on the Delaware River. Here's a pretty decent trip report by Mudra Rakshasa.

I am the guy referred to as Sambar :-)

It was pretty cool prepping for the trip. The trip to EMS was most enlightening. I found that you could get sleeping bags that fit in a cylinder about 8 inches by 4 inches and indeed I did get one. My kayak is not a rec or expedition type kayak, so the smaller I can get things, the better. I found a waterproof flashlight with an LED in the place of a conventional bulb. It actually works completely immersed (I checked :-) ). It also is supposed to provide 800 hrs of light. One can get it in Walmart.

As the trip report suggests, I was pretty keen on making it to the Delaware Water Gap proper. The four mile stretch before the Smithfield beach take-out (which is about 8 miles upriver of the Water Gap take-out) killed all interest. The water was flat and the wind was against us. The sun was hight. These 'dead' conditions tend to sap the paddler's strength and enthu. Oh well. Next time :-)

Another interesting aspect of the trip was that the temperature plummetted in the night. It was 75-80 degrees in the day. After sunset, the temperature quickly dropped to the high thirties. This cold nixed Mudra Rakhsasa's plans of a midnight swim. He had done it last year, with just the moonlight and my flashlight for illumination. This year, well, we just couldnt wait to hit the bed. This cold probably contributed to the generally unsettled sleep that everyone had.

In all, the trip and its aftermath (which involved having pizzas for dinner on the shoulder of the freeway, another story entirely) was thoroughly appreciated by all concerned, especially the two who had never been camping before (my cousin and his friend).

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Daughters' Lament, A poem from the Purananooru

The Purananooru is a set of four hundred Tamil Poems dating from the Sangam Age (300 BC to 300 AD). Puram means external and nanooru four hundred. These poems are devoted to life in general. Agam(internal) poetry deals with love, relationships, family and the such-like.

As general reference points, in 380 BC, Plato was writing his Republic and the future Roman Empire was still a small republic in Southern Italy. The Mauryan Empire was established 324 BC. Alexander fought Porus at Jhelum in 326 BC. The inhabitants of what would later be known as the British isles were probably holding meetings to decide whether it was time to come down from the trees :-)

In this time, South India was ruled by chieftains and kings. The three main ruling dynasties, the Cheras, the Chozhas and the Pandyas had already been established. These kings spent a lot of time fighting each other and on occasion going North to fight someone else(atleast one king was known as Imayavaramban : he whose boundary is the Himalayas). A perusal of recent history will show that little has changed in modern Tamil Nadu :-)

The Tamil Sangams were meetings (similar to conventions of today) for the poets of that age. The Sangam era refers to the third Sangam which was hosted by the Pandyas.

The first one was supposedly held 10000 BC and the sage Agastya is supposed to have been the person presiding over it. Agastya also is popularly held to be the first one to codify the Tamil language. This might be more legend than history.

I have not been able to figure out when the second Tamil sangam was held. The book Tolkappiyam, which is a book of grammar dates from this era. Incidentally, this is supposed to be the earliest grammar book.

Purananooru is only one of the books to come out of the third Sangam**. It is a collection of poems by different poets. The poems cover a broad swath of topics.

Most of the poems are dedications to different kings and chieftains. The poets would sing praises of the king and the king would reward them suitably. The kings got their names and deeds immortalised in song and the poets got food and gifts.

Other poems deal with the courage of warriors in battle, the sorrow of grieving mothers or wives and general thoughts of poets on life, the Universe and Everything.

In all, the poems give us a glimpse into the lives of the people. Courage was highly respected (mothers ask to hear if their sons died with a wound in the back or in the chest). High moral values were stressed (A poem says, 'Regardless of the land, Where men are good, life will be good.'). As was charity (Another poem says 'They that give food, give life'). There are poems that celebrate nature and agriculture.

Other poems are a more general reflection on life. There is a poem saying words to the effect that the poet would love to live free like the deer, but unfortunately, his relations are tying him down to a family life. The famous line Yaathum Oore, Yavarum Kelir (All cities are our own, All people are our relatives) by the poet Kanian Poonguntranaar is also in this collection*.

Paari was a king who lived in the sangam age. He was the king of Parambu country. I dont know where that area is in present-day Tamil Nadu. He was considered one of the seven great 'vallal's. I am not sure what the exact translation for vallal is. Basically, any one who gives away a lot in charity is considered a vallal. I suppose one might say 'philanthropist' or 'charitable person', but it still loses something in the translation.

Paari is the subject of many poems written by the poet Kapilar (who also seems to have been his friend) who praises him and his bountiful land. Paari was destroyed by his rival kings, an occupational hazard in those days. This poem was written by his daughters lamenting his death.

Attrai Thingal Avvennilavil
Enthaium KondOm, Nam kundrum pirar koLaar

Ittrai thingal Ivvenilavil
Vendru eri murasin Venthar em
Kundrum Kondaar; yaam enthayum ilame

Last Full Moon
We had our father, we had our hill
This Full Moon
Kings play the drums of victory
They have our hill, We have lost our father.**

This poem conveys a deep sense of loss with haiku-like brevity.

The daughters seem to have accepted that defeat and death are as much a part of a kingly life as victory. They don't express hatred towards the victorious kings. They are just lamenting the loss of their father and their home.

PS. The attentive reader will notice that the phrase attrai thingal, avvennilavil is used in the song Narumugaiye Narumugaiye (from the Tamil movie Iruvar) written by the poet Vairamuthu.

* Yaathum Oore's claim to fame is that it is the first line in a song in the movie Ninaithale Inikkum, with Kamal and Rajini playing members of a disco band touring Malaysia. Incidentally, there is a song called Ennadi Meenakshi which also starts with a couple of lines from a Bharathiyar poem (Vaarthai Thavarivittai, Kannama). It's kind of sad that one must get introduced to Tamil poetry like this, but, I digress.

**Translation, as close as I can make it.
Attrai Thingal - last month(thingal=month)
Av ven nilavil - in the full moon (ven nilavu=full moon),
enthaium kondOm - We had our father (enthai=our father) kondOm (we had)
Nam Kundrum pirar kolaar - Others didnt have our hill

Ittrai Thingal - this month
Iv Ven nilavil - in this full moon

Vendru eri murasin venthar - The kings whose victorius drums sound
Vendru eri murasu (Drums(murasu) of victory(vendru eri)
kundrum kondaar - they have our hill
yaam enthaiyum ilame - We have lost our father (ilame = dont have/lost).

*** The others are Nattrinai, Kurunthogai, Ainkurunooru, Pathitrupathu, Paripaadal, Kalitthogai and Aganaanooru.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Ulysess, by Alfred Lord Tennyson(1809-1892)

This has become one of my favorite poems. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
Here's a link.

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson(1809-1892)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

In this first stanza, we can see that this is not the young Ulysses but a much older one, who is not very happy with his lot. He feels that his subjects take him for granted.

Ulysses was gone from his country (Ithaca) for twenty years. While his fellow warriors might see him as a brave, resourceful leader, the people who stayed home might not see him that way. This is reinforced in the next few lines.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

Ulysses looks back on his life. He was a man amongst men. A trusted, cunning warrior and a beloved leader of men. In the plains of Troy, he lived and walked with the greatest Greeks of his age. What a feeling that must have been! To know that you are in the presence and indeed are one of the greatest of your time. He has travelled a lot and has seen much. All this has left a mark on him, as can be expected.
For such a man to have to rule people that 'hoard and sleep and know not me' must have been trying.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

This is a most eloquent description of Wanderlust.

As tho' to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The last three lines are really beautiful. Here, the purpose of the poem is finally revealed. Ulysses wishes to leave his kingdom and to travel again. Travel, for its own sake.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

Ulysses abdicates in favor of his son. And, soon, we see what his plans for the future are.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads-

Ulysses' love and pride for his men shows through clearly here. He has assembled those that remain of his old crew to go on a final voyage, and apparently, all his buddies are here. These men are clearly not among those that are referred to in the first stance as 'That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.' That description of his subjects is contrasted with the description of his mariners 'that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me'. Now we know why he prefers his mariners to his subjects.

you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

Ulysses acknowledges that his fellow adventurers are old and weak, but is determined to do something worthy of their past 'Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods'!

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Ulysses and his men know that they might never return. Indeed the tone of the poem suggests that they don't wish to return. They want an end worthy of their lives. Not for them a death on the sick-bed.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

These lines are so moving. A fitting finish to a beautiful poem.

I love the fact that Ulysses is not crying about the times past. He looks back, not with longing, but with pride. He knows that he (and his men) have accomplished great deed that will live on forever, long after they themselves are gone. He has fulfiled his duty as a king and his successor is ready.

All that he wishes to do now is to go forth again with his friends. He does not seek to recapture his youth, but to accomplish something worthy of his greatness. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world'!

Ulysses wants to travel. He is tired of the repetetiveness of his life. He wants to feed his wanderlust, knowing full well that it can never be slaked. He seeks adventure, purely for its own sake, not for any other motive. 'To follow Knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought'.