February 2008


It was the morning a couple of days ago. I went into the garage to start the car, and warm it up. An empty cardboard box lay on the floor where it is not supposed to be. I also bumped into two rakes that usually would have been well out of the way. I now remember thinking for moment how come these are “out of place”. Then, as I headed back into the house, I noticed that one of the trash bags was torn, and some of its contents spilled on the floor. That irked me! We must have put something sharp into the bag and it must have caused it to be torn off! More work now to get a new bag to put over the existing one, clean the mess etc.

So I went back inside brought a new garbage bag, and bent down to pick up the old bag, when Wow! Near the garbage bag in another bag containing some old clothes – I saw this guy staring at me:

opussum.jpgI had no idea what it was. My first instinct was “that could be raccoon”. I remembered my colleague’s story of finding a raccoon in his yard, and how raccoons can get pretty aggressive. I could not be sure if this was a raccoon either as I had never seen one!

(ps: I did not take photos and so photos here were borrowed from various sources. There were far more important things on my mind at that time, and taking out the camera would have been most inappropriate)

Teeth BaredI tried to “shoo” it away by just making a loud “sh” noise – hoping he would just boot out of the garage door. All it did was jerk a bit frightened and then bared its teeth – sort of like the picture (although not scary as this – but nevertheless an impressive show). But it stayed put still staring back. I told my wife to call the Animal Control. My daughter got all excited – wanted to see it, wanted to name it. She may have entertained notions of wanting to keep it, until she saw its sharp teeth. She mentions “that is scary” – but still she was intrigued by it.

When the Animal control showed up, I told the guy that I was not sure if it was a raccoon as I had never seen it. He took a look at it and said No, that is not a raccoon – that is a Possum (actually an Opossum). I had never heard of a Possum/Opossum before – apparently they are marsupials, and nocturnal. The guy said they are generally not aggressive, this one probably lived on one of the trees in our neighborhood and is probably scared and looking for some dark place. I had left the garage door open late the previous night, and so this one must have crept in. It had made itself quite comfortable by pulling out enough clothes from the bag to create a “nice, comfy seat” and had settled in nicely!

I took my car out and parked on the driveway – to make room for the Animal Control to take the animal out. The guy actually lifted the Opossum by its tail! And it was quite a big animal! Don’t let the above borrowed pictures mislead you – our visitor was as big as good sized, fat cat!

They took him outside the house and just let him on one of the snow banks on our sidewalk – and guess what? The fellow lumbered quickly under my car which was now in the driveway and settled there 🙂 ! Like the guy said – just frightened and wanted a dark cozy place! The Animal Control guys said that it would eventually leave by itself once things were quiet and no one was around, and they left (!).

Now we were still in a fix. We had to take the car immediately, and leave to go someplace very important! But we had a fairly large (O)Possum who had taken shelter under the car! I guess I should have told the Animal Control guys to move it out before they left, but for some reason I didn’t.

There was no chance (in hell) I was going prod the animal out from under the car! The guy was big and had impressive teeth!

What to do? It was sort of a funny fix to be in. I took a good look under the car to see if the animal was “in the path of the wheels”. It wasn’t. I silently prayed, and cringing for any unpleasant sounds, I slo………….wly backed my car. As we backed out we were glad to see the Possum emerging into our view completely unscathed.

It was a funny sight to see the (O)Possum stare back at us and the car, a quizzical look on its face, stare back, teeth still bared. I could almost read his expression “Whatha …. ?!?!“. After a few seconds, it lumbered again a shady corner in the front porch! My wife was worried that it would just stay put there. But when we came back, it was gone! As the Animal Control guys said, once things quietened down, it went away.

As I was googling today to get info for this blog, I notice that such Possum experiences are not that uncommon. For example: See this one.

When I look back at it, I am glad the animal got out of the situation without getting hurt, and safely. I found the way it “lumbered around”, as well as how it made itself quite comfortable in that “bed of old clothes” somehow cute and charming.

Picture Sources: http://www.backyardnature.net/opossums.htm, Google Search (http://www.suddenly-sometimes.com/suddenly_sometimes/2007/08/index.html)

Today I noticed something with my Yahoo! email account that somehow escaped my attention all this time. The URL did not start with https but was just plain old http.

I think even those who are not very net/tech savvy would know that https:// implies ” fairly safe” – i.e. safe as in the information you enter in a web-page with it (e.g. your password, credit-card information while purchasing) is less likely to be “eaves-dropped upon”. For a technical explanation as to why this is so you can read this wiki page.

Now, the question that burns in me today is why is https not being used for online email accounts – particularly, when a secure https connection is so prevalent nowadays. I have a Yahoo!, and a gmail account, and from what I can tell, both are not using https based addresses for the web-pages that display my personal emails. Both do use https based address for the login page, which is good, as there is protection for your userid and password.

But why not for the other pages? Perhaps this some sort of a resource limit issue as I can imagine a https based web page could take more resources on the server.

Or I am missing something and it is really https through out? I hope so.

If not, it is unnerving to realize that all the content of my personal emails is being exchanged between the server and my browser unencrypted i.e. “in the clear”. This can include sensitive information. For example, your bank sent your userid and password information when you told them you forgot (although here password is temporary).

Worse, you are one of those who sends yourself a “reminder email” that lists some of the userid, passwords for the various different sites you are registered with – so that you just need to remember you email account userid and password, read this email and voila! All the information is “readily accessible”! Well, the problem is, every time you refer to that particular email, this readily accessible, sensitive information would being exchanged “in the clear”. A “packet sniffer” out there on behalf of an identity thief could potentially sniff it out – I would guess these are the things they generally are sniffing for.

Now, admittedly this could be argued as “poor and careless” use of online email accounts. However, shouldn’t we also ask – why isn’t all our online email access always https based? When we are in the middle (and no longer dawn) of the internet age, when just about everyone has at least one online email account, when online email access is more often used as online purchase, why don’t these online email services make it as safe as online purchases?

I hope I am wrong and they are indeed secure.

Update: Looks like this article deals with the subject and confirms my fears w.r.t Yahoo! mail, but allays my fears for gmail. To quote from the article:

A secure connection to Gmail is available at httpS://gmail.google.com … Yahoo Mail! transmits your login information in the background to an https page, but you can click on the “Secure” link to reach an https page to log into Yahoo! Mail first. Once you’re logged in, sending and receiving your email happens over an insecure connection.”

What’s up with that Yahoo! ?

Not everything on my trip back to India was about carnatic music. I had also decided to squeeze in a bit of sight-seeing, and had decided Kerala would be ideal – in particular Thiruvananthapuram a.k.a Trivandum. A lot of that had to do with nostalgic memories of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple during a visit lo…ng ago. I remember standing in the sanctum santorum waiting for the doors to open. It was a full house – mostly silent except for a few whispers. Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, the bells started ringing, almost everywhere, their sounds quickly enveloping the place. At the same time, the three doors to the sannidhi flung open, the chants of the priests filled the air as they did deeparadhana to show the idol, Lord Vishnu in his reclining form, very long (which is why there are three doors). It was indeed a special moment, and I still look back at it with wonder and intrigue.

So in the midst of attending all those concerts in Chennai, we took a 4-day break to go to Trivandrum and Kanyakumari. It was a great trip. I did not however experience the same ambiance at the temple this time – I must have attended during some special or auspicious time last time. However, the temple is still impressive – particularly the majestic corridors, the typical “kerala temple look”, and of course the impressive sannadhi. We also visited the Zoo, Kovalam beach and took a trip down to Kanyakumari via Suchindram.

I have posted a slide show of the photos from the trip below.

If many of the photos appear hazy and out of focus, there are a few possible reasons:

  • I suck at photography.
  • Many of them were taken from either a speeding train or a moving car.
  • My camera (a Nikon Coolpix L11) is a simple point-and-shoot one. I found out during the trip that while this camera handled outdoors fine, it sucked big time for indoors – almost unusable 😦 ! Hence all photos below are ones taken outdoors. Actually for outdoors, it seemed to do reasonably well even for those taken from a moving frame of a reference, which I thought was impressive for such a “simple camera”. The ISO settings are supposedly “automatic” and so when it works (outdoors), it is great, but when it doesn’t (indoors)- you are screwed!

Here is the slideshow:

Vodpod videos no longer available. from vodpod.com posted with vodpod

The photos tagged From a speeding train are exactly that. It was just after break of dawn, and the Chennai-Trivandrum Express was speeding along the various towns of Kerala. As I was brushing my teeth, I was able to look outside the train windows next to the washroom and for the first time, get a view “unfettered” by the tinted glass of the AC sleeper coach. One look outside and I knew I had to get my camera, and I hope from the photos you can see why. I had no idea if my small digital camera can handle snaps taken from a speeding train, but I am surprised by the results. But they are no comparison to what eyes saw and “drank”.

The photos tagged From a moving car are also exactly that – taken during the Trivandrum-Suchindram-Kanyakumari car ride. Again, the results are surprising to me considering my expectations. They are far from professional, but I expected them to be all junk. Just like the view from the train, the view outside was divine – quite special, even though all I was doing was capturing just plain nature on a day just like any other day. That reminds me yet again as to how much beauty there is all around us – if only we looked! We do not necessarily need to go to exotic paradises to see something that catches our breath – that can happen even in your own town tomorrow!

The Suchindram temple is known for its architecture – although this famous “scene” from Hindu mythology (seen in the close-up) is not unique to that temple. No photos of Padmanabhaswamy temple – obviously could not take it inside, but also forgot to take snaps from the outside!

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons for my last trip back to Chennai was to attend “the season”. This is not a meteorological thing (side bar: what do meteors have to do with daily weather, and climate?). “The season” is how people in Chennai refer to the annual Carnatic music season, which takes place in the month of December.

A fan of carnatic music in Chennai in December is like a chocolate lover who finds himself in the mythical chocolate city, where everything – streets, buildings etc. is made of chocolate. You eat and eat and eat, and there are still buildings and buildings of chocolate left (Note: I am not really a chocolate fan. I am picturing a Simpson’s episode where Homer dreams of being in chocolate city). You are full, your tummy is bursting with chocolate, and you look around in dismay thinking “but there is still so much more chocolate to be had!”. That is how many carnatic music fans may feel in Chennai during December. The number of concerts per day, over many days, is so much – it is mind-boggling. You want to soak it all in, but there is only so much that is physically possible.

In this post, I write about 3 things:

  1. A “short summary” on each concert I attended. This is probably a pointless exercise – except that it does remove my own doubt whether I really did attend as many concerts as I think I did (albeit not all of them in their entirety).
  2. A “short summary” on each sabha (concert hall) canteen where I tasted the food. On the other hand, how can this be pointless :)?
  3. A couple of things I think I will experience only in Chennai concert scene.

The Concerts

This time I decided that I would try to catch artists whom I normally don’t get to see in U.S. That meant a lot of youngsters, and a few “super seniors”. I did make a few exceptions and caught a few seniors. Here is a list of the concerts I caught along with a brief reflection of stood out. They are not necessarily in chronological order. I will also stick with the positive aspects. For negative points – I will leave that to the reviewers!

  1. Sankaran Namboodri at Brahma Gana Sabha: Very good begada alapana.
  2. Sanjay Subramaniam at Brahma Gana Sabha: A very bold suddhadhanyasi RTP – had a lot of unexpected, unusual flavors (unusual at least to me).
  3. Neyveli Santanagoplan at Krishna Gana Sabha: Easily one of the best concerts. Superb sahana and a very rare treat in the form of RTP in Kannada.
  4. Amruta Murali at Narada Gana Sabha: Impressive. I love her style of singing – soft yet with depth. Sahana and Ritigowla were the highlights.
  5. Jeyashri and Jeyaraj (Veena) at Raga Sudha Hall: Sublime music from the husband and wife pair whose lineage is quite illustrious (traces to Muttuswami Dikshitar)
  6. Nedunuri Krishnamurthi at Music Academy: This was the inaugural concert at Academy. It was an excellent one by the super-senior. The Anandabhairavi alapana was exquisite.
  7. Sowmya at Music Academy: Caught about 1.5 hours. before I had to head back home. Excellent Janaranjani and Kedaram. BTW, these two renditions at this specific concert have caused quite a storm in the music circles 🙂
  8. Prasanna Venkatraman at Mylapore Fine Arts: Caught only one song – a detailed mukhAri. Was good in spite of an audio system that sucked as bad as it can possibly suck. To me there were lot of traces of Sanjay Subrahmanyam (his current guru) in the mukhAri alapana. A couple of my friends (a bit vehemantly) denied this when I mentioned it. But consider this – I had no idea he was learning from Sanjay – but I could sense it just from the alapana.
  9. Sikkil Gurucharan at Mylapore Fine Arts – had to miss most of the concert as I ran into a long lost friend. But caught a superb kannadgowLa before that.
  10. Nisha Rajagopal at Music Academy: Good dhanyAsi.
  11. Amruta Venkatesh at Music Academy: She is touted as one of the most promising newcomers. Her delivery is solid. Only problem (mine nor hers) was this was the day after Nisha Rajagopal’s concert, and she also did dhanyAsi (same krithi – mInalOcani)
  12. Suryanarayanan Suryaprakash at Music Academy: Very good bahudAri. If I remember right, he did neraval which I have never heard before in that raga.
  13. Saketaraman at Music Academy: Good tODi – this in spite of it having to compete with the super stereophonic effect of the human snore from not one, but two gentlemen – one in the row behind me, and one right next to me!
  14. Mudicondan Ramesh (Veena) at Music Academy: Excellent sUryakAntam and also a nice ragamalika pallavi – those kind seem quite tricky!
  15. Smt. Vedavalli at Music Academy: One of the best. Superb tODi with a complicated pallavi where the super-senior gave the mrdangist all that he can handle and more (although he took it all in the right spirit)!
  16. Vijay Siva at Velacherry: He is one my favorites and so no surprise that I loved the concert. He started a detailed maNirangu and for the 10 mins or so during the alapana, he had the 5 or 6 local ladies seated in the first two seats in a complete state of despair as they violently throw guess after guess at each other. They obviously did not get the answer, as once Vijay Siva started the krithi (rAnidi rAdu), one of them looked it up in the krithi index book and I heard n*(n-1) (i.e n times n-1, n being the # of mamis) utterances of “maNirangu” as each mami announced “maNirangu” to each every other mami. I found this amusing, but somehow charming 🙂 !
  17. Hyderabad Brothers at Parthasarathy Swami Sabha: A brilliant pUrvikalyAni, which took up almost the entire concert – because the concert was way too short. In fact probably less than 1.5 hours. Perhaps shockingly, the elder brother shared as much of the limelight as the younger brother 😉 !
  18. Abishek Raghuram at Music Academy: Great young talent albeit a bit over-exuberant. Caught only one song, a madyamavati (rAmakata sudha) – forayed a bit too much away from the classical form of the raga. But looking at the confidence this young man has w.r.t his voice, stage presence etc. – impressive indeed.
  19. Tanjore Sankara Iyer at Raga Sudha Hall: He is a contemporary composer and so a very highly respected man in the music circles.
  20. Master BalamuraliKrishna at Mylapore Fine Arts: Caught the last one hour of his concert. Excellent, detailed Hamir Kalyani – something that is not that common

The Canteens

Here is a list of sabha canteens where I tasted the fare and my reflections:

  • Music Academy: A mixed affair. I did not like the Kicchadi, and the “mini meals”. In fact, they sucked. But the fresh hot Mysore Bonda at around 3PM or so made up for it. Excellent coffee. You get strong coffee for Rs 10 – yes just 10 rupees That is about 25 cents. Now, I paid $1.90 last week at a Starbucks for freaking Expresso – it was given in a cup where the expresso occupied 1/10th the volume. I forgot to tell the milk, and so had to add cold milk from the counter. Okay, my goof-up but in the end I had what was equivalent to “Ari pOna kazhanir coffee” (i.e. Suckiest of the suckier coffees of the world), and I paid about $2 for it! I am not in tune with the young generation, and “in-crowd” nowadays, but I do believe “enna koDuma Sir idhu?” applies here?
  • Mylapore Fine Arts: Excellent full-course kalyANa sAppADu type meal (i.e. like a big meal at a wedding), meaning gets served on a banana leaf with 10 waiters bringing stuff after stuff after stuff. I can still picture the “ad” for the canteen – kAdu kuLiRa kutchEri kELunga, mUkku piDikka sAppidunga (literal translation looses the charm: basically listen to enjoyable music, and eat till cant eat anymore).
  • Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha: Had breakfast there. Impressive menu – mostly typical South Indian fare – meaning I loved it :)!
  • Narada Gana Sabha: Again excellent full course “kalyANa sAppADu” type meal. Very satisfying.
  • Brahma Gana Sabha: Disappointing – Not really at the same level as others.

Only in Chennai

Two things I experienced while attending in a Kutcheri which I do not expect to experience in the US:

Cell Phones: Now I am not talking about a cell phone ringing because someone forgot to switch it off or put it in silent mode. That happens everywhere. But when the phone rings so at a Chennai concert, the phone owner does the following: 1. Slow…ly gets it out of the packet (remember that the thing is blaring now) 2. Looks at the caller id. In many cases, he may need to take a few extra seconds to read this. 3. AND answer it right there: Allo! Enna? Appidiya! Naan ippo Academila irukken.. Illa – innu oru manneram irukku (Translation: Hello! What? Oh i see! I am at the Academy now .. No – there is still one more hour).This happened not once, not twice but atleast 3 or four times for me.

The Human Snore: Think of this. You are in a city which is hot 365 days a year. You are retired and so have all the time in the world during a weekday morning. You like music but are perhaps used to free concerts at the temple in the town you grew up. In general, you think music is free, or don’t want to pay too much. You get easily tired by the Chennai sun – even in December.Now picture this – A dimly hit Air Conditioned hall beckons you in the 10AM-4Pm sun. Nice seats. There is music of course and it is free. You also have a canteen right next door with wonderful snacks. So no wonder these mid-morning concerts are huge magnets that specifically attract retirees (i.e. thaathaas and paattis). They get into a cool hall, for free, away from the burning sun to stretch their legs, cool their bodies. Their tired minds and bodies are soothed by music for about 15-30 minutes, and soon it naturally coaxes them to sleep (yes – carnatic music can indeed do that). After a delicious nap, they wake up, and have this inexplicable mid-afternoon South Indian urge for “sweet, kAram and coffee”. They then realize “Bale! Bale! These sabhas – they have thought of everything!” and walk next door, to the canteen, munch on the snacks and head back home. Life is good.Now during the 30-45 minutes when these Thaaathas doze off, they are not aware of themselves, but you are of course. As you are completely soaked in a heavy weight rendition of tODi, you realize Wait a minute. Not everything I hear seems like tODi! It takes a couple of minutes for you to realize that you are listening to the human snore, and takes you even longer to believe your own ears.