questioncurl: (feminism)
2017-06-01 10:23 am
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Reading Update

What I Read: The Mystery of the Downs by Rees, this time again in collaboration with John R. Watson. It has a recurring character in the detective, Crewe, and some of the same lineaments of stock character types, internal police rivalry, misleading circumstantial evidence, suspicion falling on each character in turn, etc, but feels entirely different from the other three I've read. One reason is the length; it felt like half the size of the others and there were far fewer torturous twists and turns, as well as much less repetition/recapitulation, as various police officers and detectives tell each other what they've each discovered. (Not to say there wasn't any!) Another reason is that the central mystery (apart from whodunit) was solved not through deux-ex-machina-like deduction by the impassive detective, but involved the breaking of a ridiculously intricate cipher.*
     The main reason why I place it in a different zone is the presence and characterization of WWI soldiers. The plot, in fact, revolves around it. Spoilers galore )
Currently Reading:
If you discount the usual work stuff, nothing at all. It's a very strange feeling. 

Up Next: Probably nothing much because of travel. I'll keep some work reading handy on my phone but won't have a computer to read anything else. Part of me wants to buy a new Allingham in physical form, but I know I'll inhale it on the plane itself and after that it'll be dead weight to lug around through the rest of the trip. I won't want to give it away.
I'd actually bought a dense non-fiction book specifically for travel; it seemed likely to last me through the whole trip. But then I wound up enthusing about the cover design at work, and the press people borrowed it to see if they could reproduce the effect. I'm unlikely to get it back before I leave.

*This is not a plus point. I couldn't follow the unraveling of the cipher at all, and I'm inclined to blame poor writing. I'm not usually someone who will say eg: that I could never be bothered with the bell-ringing details of the code in The Nine Tailors or that the timetables were too boring in Five Red Herrings, I've plodded through a LOT of this kind of stuff, but I just gave up here and let it wash over me, much like the character Crewe was explaining to; like him, I kept wanting to ask, 'so does that mean you've solved it?' after every tedious list and table and meaningless string of characters. Maybe it would have been more engaging if everything didn't hinge on knowing obscure facts about the Bible, 
questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (Default)
2017-05-31 11:00 am

Of pigeons and gardens

Pigeon tales )

I've been reading about the decline in house sparrows though, and have been thinking of putting up a nestbox, apart from the water and food I anyway put out. It will be firmly outside though! Here is a bonus photo of the garden, looking much better after the transplants have taken hold:

 The wicker baskets have eggplant and onions (and a lot of grass I haven't weeded), while the big pots at the back all have various squashes and cucurbits. The leftmost and rightmost plants in the back row are lemon and pomegranate. In the foreground are all the ornamentals, and some hopeful basil sprouts. I'm hoping to come back to a jungle of vines and hopefully some incipient vegetables. 
questioncurl: a platter of food and fruits, with a notebook, on a blanket (food)
2017-05-23 12:00 pm
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 I made an elaborate cake last night.  First a cherry sauce, in which I cooked down fresh cherries with rum and honey and black peppercorns, then mixed it with melted dark chocolate and butter, then broke eggs into it, and finally combined it with the usual flour-sugar-baking powder mixture to make a batter. I've been having problems with the oven heating up too much and burning everything, so I was very careful this time, fussing with foil and reducing the temperature every ten minutes etc. The result was a beautifully risen, perfectly baked dark chocolate cherry cake. BUT. IT'S SOUR. Sour as an orange. Sour, like your mouth puckers after biting into it. I have a sour chocolate cake and no idea what to do to salvage it.

Maybe I'll drown it in the custard I made last week.     
questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (sculpture)
2017-05-18 12:11 pm

Wednesday Reading is light and fluffy

What I read

I finished the long fanfic—it's a Howl's Moving Castle (the movie) and Stargate crossover, and technically, I don't know either of the source canons. I've read the DWJ book, which is a favourite, and watched a Stargate movie (?) at some point in my teenagehood, so have a vague idea of the premise, but for the rest I just relied on general fannish osmosis. It was mostly good; better at the start than at the end, I thought, as the need to get the characters together slightly derailed the rather interesting premise of the plot. If I were to read with my editor's hat on, I'd suggest a second draft, to strengthen the plot and scatter the relationship arc a little more throughout the book, rather than essentially having a sandwich structure of 90% plot-100% slash-80% plot wrapping up because the main point of the story is already over. Having said that, with fanfic the point IS often getting the characters together, so this isn't exactly a complaint. And the writing was quite good and the world building was lovely and I absolutely adored the Calcifer analogue. 

On the go 

Another Golden Age mystery (as an aside, I am finding US mysteries of the same era mildly irritating. There's nothing *wrong* per se, but something just seems slightly off. Maybe it's the improbability [to me] of having country house settings and gilded rich characters.  Maybe it's the sense that US police wouldn't have the same hangups about offending the wealthy/influential characters in the same way. I think the problem I have is that  class markers in them seem to be more or less the same as the UK ones in ways that don't quite ring true to me. I don't have an issue with the presence of rich Americans; they're practically a stereotype; but when your American rich gentleman sleuth seems to be a Wimsey clone, down to rare-object collection and fine wines, I'm dubious. Or when your policeman is dithering about whether to question a wealthy businessman and he isn't thinking of the suspect's political influence with the senator, but of his family background, I again have to stop and think about which country the book is set in. And when everyone is playing golf and dining in clubs and going for country house holidays, I just want to put the book down and find a Wodehouse or Christie.)

...none of that had anything to do with the book I'm actually reading. I just chose it because the title made it absolutely clear that if wasn't set in the US. It's The Hampstead Mystery by Arthur J. Rees and John Rea Watson. It turns out the first was Australian and I can't find anything about the second.  But the book is enjoyable enough. An anonymous letter to Scotland Yard leads to the discovery that a judge has been murdered in his house while everyone thought he was on holiday in Scotland. There is a shady ex-con butler, various enigmatic femmes fatales (the judge is a bit of a player) and rival investigations by Scotland Yard and a private detective called in by the dubiously bereaved relatives.

In terms of characterization, well, the only fully realized character is the junior police detective, who is constantly worried about the senior detective stealing the limelight. The senior detective is vain and predictably does everything he can to aggrandize himself. The private detective has no personality, and the other characters are all one-note variations: flirtatious Frenchwoman, shifty butler, seedy fence, angry daughter, etc.       

I'm  enjoying it because, while it has some of the longwindedness, repetition and seemingly endless twists and turns that bored me in the other books I've been reading from that time, the structure makes it far from tedious. Essentially, we follow the investigations turn by twist in real time. Each twist exposes a little more of the truth, but the skill of the writing lies in telling more  to the reader than any of the characters actually know—when Scotland Yard discovers something, we are told their deductions; in the next chapter, when the private detective Crewe deduces something else, we follow along; but we know that the Scotland Yard's inference will be important later and neither will be able to discover the truth alone. This pleasant consciousness of being half a step ahead of either detective but still baffled is what prevents it from being tedious, and pulls the reader into the story.

Up next

More by the same author(s). A quick search led to me this very thorough account of the traces left of the author's life, which mentions:
  • Dorothy L. Sayers in the introduction to Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (1928) mentions "Mr. A. J. Rees's sound and well-planned stories".
    Also: "Messrs Rees and Watson write of police affairs with the accuracy born of inside knowledge, but commendably avoid the dullness which is apt to result from a too-faithful description of correct official procedure."
  • • The Lone Hand claims that The Merry Marauders was favourably reviewed by London papers.
  • The TimesAthenaeumPall Mall Gazette, and other journals praise the humor of the book and the easy style of the author.'
Recommendations enough for me!
questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (Default)
2017-05-11 10:06 pm
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A propos my last gardening entry:

questioncurl: (feminism)
2017-05-11 04:53 pm
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Rant ahead

So, I came across this article the other day, titled 'Capturing the Colorful Style of Punjab, India'. I was intrigued. Punjabis are stereotypically flamboyant, and often have a distinct panache. These days, there's a lot of interesting fusion with hiphop and street style in Punjabi music and fashion, as well a longstanding tradition of protest and dissent that comes out in surprising ways. So I was expecting the article to talk about something like what these guys are selling or what this group is doing in London.

Instead, it's just lazy. First, there are the photos themselves. If someone made a list of how to depict 'exotic India', every photo here would fit on it, no questions asked. 
  • The majority of them feature turbans or saris. I also wear saris fairly regularly; I also have friends who wear turbans. But that doesn't mean that that's what most people wear. Not even in temples. Not even in Amritsar. 
  • Women in the photos generally have covered heads—which makes sense because they are taken in and around a gurdwara, where everyone is supposed to cover their head. But this isn't mentioned anywhere. And where are photos of sheepish-looking unturbaned men using their handkerchiefs to cover their heads? Oh right. every man wears a turban in this version of Punjab.
  • What transport do these demure women and valiantly mustachioed and turbaned men use? Rickshaws. Two-wheelers. Trains. This for a state that's mocked mercilessly in the rest of India for its fascination with cars, the bigger and showier the better. Chandigarh (the capital) has the most number of cars per head in India. 
Then there are the clueless stereotypes. And not even clueless stereotypes about Punjab, which would at least indicate some engagement with the place.  
  • 'People wear bright colours.' Like in every other place in India?
  • 'Mustaches are popular.' Again, that's just as true in Kerala.
  • 'Women wear headscarves in temples, but are more modern outside' FFS. Isn't there a clothing difference in UK/US churches vs. on the street? Or in ANY formal setting vs. while getting groceries/attending college/catching a train?  
  • 'Men often wear button-down shirts in the street' I really supposed to take this seriously?
  • Oh, there IS a clueless stereotype about Punjabs: 'The turban is a symbol of pride. it's like a crown.' Joy
Like I said, it's lazy. You could have written more or less this exact same article using a few lithographs from the 1930s. It's uninteresting and uninterested in actually seeing what's there. I'm not interested in furthering some narrative of progress based on arbitrary standards like the number of cars or prevalence of Western clothing in any given Indian town. But I'm even less interested in—in fact, I'm bored to tears by— yet another instance where the shorthand for India is colour, fabric, turbans, faceless women, unusual transport, temples. And in the process you ALSO flatten out regional variation, dissent, protest, subcultures, and everything that makes a place unique within India. Why bother going to Punjab at all if this is what you have to show for it?   

But there is a small silver lining. At least there were no cows.
questioncurl: a bright red poppy against a textured concrete background (poppy concrete)
2017-05-10 02:45 pm
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Everything's sprouting

...except the sprouts, which are blighted by some kind of fungus.

  • an appreciable number of karela sprouts have emerged; i'm even more excited about this because I had karela for lunch yesterday, and remembered how much I like them. Also, they are just beautiful; delicate tendrils and shy yellow blossoms; even if they don't set fruit, the plant brings me enough joy
  • many, many tinda seedlings. hmm. I'm definitely not as excited about this, because the vegetable doesn't taste that great. Once or twice a year is fine for me. But who knows, it might wind up being a pretty plant also...
  • at least one each of the gol (round) and long lauki, which is impressive, given that there were only three seeds of each
  • the usual handful of kitchen spices—methi and coriander seeds, bits of ginger, garlic and turmeric, are all sprouting like mad.  
  • my partner had unearthed some long-forgotten tubers, which she calls kurka—we thought planting them might be worth a try and now at least two have pale green shoots and one has a little knot of five crinkled green leaves.
  • on the same principle, we planted 4-5 old pieces of ginger, which are also sprouting palely. Last year, the ginger never really took off. The turmeric plants put at the same time did very well and we got a couple of handfuls of tender turmeric root as a harvest, as well as leaves to cook fish in throughout the year, but the ginger always looked yellow and unhappy and just languished away... so I don't have high hopes from it.
Also, completely unexpectedly, we now have about 15-20 melon seedlings, and a whole pot full of tiny as-yet unidentified sprouts. Basically, we've been composting for a while, and it being summer, eating a LOT of melons, and I remember seeing a few seeds when we mixed the compost into the soil. I'd kept two pots filled with soil and compost aside, to transfer the hibiscus and harshingar into, but didn't have time to do anything about it all week. And now both are full of tiny melon seedlings! I just hope they make it through the summer...

questioncurl: a platter of food and fruits, with a notebook, on a blanket (food)
2017-05-07 12:49 pm


 I finally made it. It's not actually that complicated, and it's the perfect drink for this part of the summer when the dry heat feels like living in a dehydrater. It's sweet-tart and has all cooling* ingredients—raw mangoes, black salt, zeera and water. Only the sugar is warming.* Recipe behind the cut. 

glass jug and glass of bright yellow mango panna

Read more... )* Cooling/warming foods -- this is a concept from ayurveda/umami/other sorts of traditional sciences. Basically, every food has a cooling or warming property, which has nothing to do with whether it is actually hot or cold itself. It's the affect the food has on the body when eaten or spread etc. For example, sugar and ginger are warming -- they heat you up on the inside after you eat them. So do milk, turmeric, cinnamon and ripe mangoes. But yoghurt is cooling, as are cucumbers, melons, lemons, and spices like cumin and black salt. There must be lists of this stuff somewhere, but generally one learns it by osmosis ('don't eat mangoes in the middle of the day! don't you know they'll make your insides boil?')** and, eventually, starts being able to guess/infer the properties of foods that are new to you.
**this one will never be forgotten, because my sister literally was covered in boils after sneaking away to eat mangoes in the middle of a scorching summer afternoon
questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (Default)
2017-05-02 12:42 pm

Thank you!

 To Dreamwidth and [personal profile] pensnest  for sponsoring two months of paid time for me! I saw the notification first thing this morning and can't stop smiling! 
questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (Default)
2017-04-30 09:11 pm

Articles of interest

Vanishing Indian dog breeds 

Eight kg of mud make beautiful music

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be A Tiger

A day spent researching how to pee is a day less researching  the arctic ... And all because no one has the imagination to think that women might also be on the fieldwork team

Delhi's tree-based economy

questioncurl: a bright red poppy against a textured concrete background (poppy concrete)
2017-04-30 03:01 pm
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 I hit level 9 yesterday!

But...I think it took six months  to get there. I have very low hopes of getting to level 10 this year  
questioncurl: a shallow terracotta bowl with various green plants (garden)
2017-04-27 11:18 am
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things i want to do

In life, I feel like I've been revving my wheels, thinking of things I want to do, but not actually doing anything. Maybe making a list will help...

In the garden, we moved the plants back out onto the terrace but I want to repot a lot of them.
  • the gongura and peas need a deep pot, maybe the big blue one. it had five toris but only one seems to be surviving 
  • the hibiscus and harshringar saplings have to be put in three separate large pots -- old tomato ones can be repurposed for this
  • three giant aloe veras are vying for domination in a single pot, maybe i should give them all away...
  • the basil is continuing to take over the roof. at this point i just want to kill it off and plant new ones, in small, carefiully confined containers.
  • it rained last night. but no earthworms. I guess we'll have to wait till the monsoon...
In non-garden, non-work related things, the blog idea needs actual doing.  I also have just discovered that the Ngaio Marsh books are available to buy here, even though they are in omnibus editions that you have to buy online. Now i'm dreaming of getting them all quietly over the course of the year...

questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (Default)
2011-03-16 08:50 pm

Moon Phase Meme

You were born during a Third Quarter moon

This phase occurs in the middle of the moon's waning phases, after the full moon and before the new moon.

What it says about you: You like to make up your own mind.  You may find it hard to relate to mainstream opinions on issues, and you definitely don't always like what's popular.  You can work out solutions and give birth to big ideas when left to yourself, and other people will be impressed with your conclusions even if they're not sure how you arrived at them.
questioncurl: (feminism)
2011-03-08 08:33 pm

Video in honour of Women's Day


ETA: Since, again, it doesn't seem to be showing the video, please visit YouTube for the amazing song by Shubha Mudgal.

questioncurl: (queer)
2011-02-28 07:05 pm

Punished in life, death

In life, Swapna Mondal, 23, and Sucheta Mondal, 19, were tried by village courts and forbidden to meet. In death, they have been shunned by their community, their village refusing to perform their last rites and letting their bodies lie unclaimed in the morgue after they committed suicide.

At a time when the country is debating the acceptability of same-sex relationships, there have been signs of tolerance from Sonachura village in West Bengal’s Nandigram block, too. But those willing to recognise the relationship between cousins Swapna Mondal, 23, and Sucheta Mondal, 19 — among them is Swapna’s mother—- are greatly outnumbered by those who will not.

It’s now eight days since the two died and the police have given up on efforts to get the family to claim the bodies from Tamluk Hospital. Police and hospital authorities say they will wait a “couple of days more” before cremating them among unidentified bodies.

The relationship

Villagers say it started a couple of years ago when Sucheta was sent to take lessons from Swapna, a Class X dropout. To put an end to the relationship, which in a neighbour’s words was “ridiculous”, Sucheta was married off after consulting a village court. The two women were kept apart and most relatives held Swapna responsible and stopped visiting her house.

A month after the wedding, on February 19, when Sucheta was visiting her parents’ home, the two women sneaked out of the house and went to a paddy field far away. Their bodies were found the next morning, tied to each other with a towel at the waist. Swapna left a five-page suicide note, with the last few lines saying, “Please don’t be angry with me. I could not live without my love.”

Zero tolerance

Champa Mondal, the girls’ grandmother, rejects the idea of cremating he bodies after the “unnatural” relationship. “I have lost count of the number of times we warned them that their relationship was not natural. We summoned shalishi sabhas (village courts for summary trial) thrice and tried to make them see sense. We don’t want to have anything more to do with them,” says Champa Mondal, the girls’ grandmother.

Their uncle Sukumar Mondal, who was a part of the court, says, “What is the point in cremating the decomposed, stinking bodies?” Another uncle, Ajit Mondal, says, “Let the police do what they want. We wanted to give her (Sucheta) a good life. She chose to die.”


Swapna’s mother Chandmoni Mondal, 50, had stood up for her daughter’s “boyish attitude”, recognised that her daughter loved Sucheta “deeply” and regrets that she cannot cremate her.

The village’s panchayat pradhan, Kalikrishna Pradhan, offered to pay for the cremation but says, “If the villagers don’t want it to happen, what can we do?” Referring to the state in which the bodies were found, he concedes, “It appears they were inseparable and loved each other like a man and a woman do.”

Swapna was the family’s breadwinner, her mother says. “She used to offer teach half the children of the village and earn a living for the family. Yet people in the village couldn’t accept relationship with Sucheta whom she loved deeply.” She says Swapna was also mocked for her attitude and wearing trousers. “At times she used to get upset. I asked her not to pay attention.”

What next

“I got people to coax the girls’ mothers to come and visit the hospital. I requested them in all possible ways to cremate the bodies. Swapna’s mother looked troubled but Sucheta’s mother seemed unconcerned,” says sub-inspector Animesh Chakraborty of Nandigram police station.

“The bodies have been lying in the morgue since the post-portem. We have been instructed to cremate the bodies as per legal procedure. We will wait for a couple of days more and cremate them along with unidentified bodies,” says a hospital source. The legal procedure is to hand over unclaimed bodies after a period of time to a dom (crematorium assistant).

Sappho, a Kolkata-based NGO that works for the LGBT community, is the process of forming a fact-finding panel.

questioncurl: (queer)
2011-02-27 11:58 pm
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Anti-TV9 Icon: Please use and share widely


ETA: Since the icon doesn't show up here, and I can't seem to fix it, please go to and download it directly from there!
questioncurl: (protest)
2011-02-27 11:38 pm

Public Protest against Homophobic TV9 Reports


Public Protest against Homophobic TV9 Reports


WHERE: TV9 Office,

21 Bhai Vir Singh Marg,

Near Gole Market, New Delhi

WHEN: 5pm, Monday, 28thFebruary, 2011


We, as concerned citizens, members of the queer community, and other human rights activists, are deeply disturbed by TV9 Telugu channel’s 22nd Feb 2011 broadcast that violated the basic rights and dignity of the LGBTQI community. Using private pictures, hidden-camera footage, and phone conversations, this broadcast made public the identities of some gay men without their consent. This was grossly invasive, unethical and violated the basic regulations of the National Broadcasting Association. Furthermore, News9, the TV9 English news channel in Bangalore, has continued to telecast a slightly edited version even after numerous protests against this news story.


TV9 conducted a ‘sting operation’ where they publicly named users of a social networking site and displayed their private photographs. They also recorded, and subsequently aired, phone-calls with these men in which their investigator asked leading questions relating to the private sexual preferences of the men. This broadcast has deeply and adversely impacted the lives of these individuals as well as all those who use such social networking sites as one of the few spaces available to the queer community to safely meet one another.  This report is the latest in a series of incidents where the media has acted unethically in its coverage of sexuality. The most recent similar incident was the “sting” at Aligarh Muslim University that led to the death of Dr Ramachandra Siras.


This broadcast is in violation of protocols that the channel has set for itself and also in serious violation of the code of ethics set by the News Broadcasters Association. Some of these violations include targeting a community by propagating and reinforcing homophobic attitudes which cause stigmatization and which might lead to acts of violence against that community.  

The people in charge of making decisions as part of TV9 should realise the repercussions of their unethical actions being faced by the members of the queer community – especially those whose identities have been made public. These repercussions are severe: violence from their families, discrimination at workplaces, and perpetuation of the idea that fear should define the everyday lives of queer people in India. The decision to talk about one’s sexuality should rest completely with the person concerned and no one else. Nobody has the right to make the sexual orientation of someone else public knowledge. Sensationalising the private lives and choices of any person or community for public viewership and titillation on a public medium is a matter which deserves deep censure.


The queer movement has received strong support from many media houses working in almost every Indian language in our fight for our rights and in the campaign against Sec 377. We urge our friends in the media to join us in protesting the unethical actions of TV9 and establish beyond any further doubt that the media in this country will stand by the LGBTQI community as the struggle for dignity and rights continues.


We demand:

·       That TV9 refrain from negative and homophobic portrayals of the queer and other marginalized communities.

·       That the replaying of the footage, raw, unedited, and unused, be stopped immediately

·       That a public apology be aired on the television channels concerned for these violations of the basic rights of the persons involved and the queer community at large.


We also urge fellow members of the queer community and our allies not to be intimidated by these reports. This protest is also to claim the spaces that are ours and state that violations of our dignity and rights will not be tolerated. We join similar protests in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.