Thursday, September 29, 2011

The tough little bird.

Robert Krulwich has a great post on the Bar-tailed Godwit.

They are the only birds known to fly more than 7,000 miles nonstop, that means no food breaks, no water breaks, no sleep breaks, no pausing, just pushing through cyclones, storms, headwinds, flappity flap, flap for days and nights- and this is their championship season. In September and October, they leave Alaska, head straight for the ocean. Though they are land birds, and cannot fish or rest on the sea, they will cross most of the Pacific Ocean, and fly all the way to New Zealand. Many of them are young, and have never done this before.
Every year, between August and November, these birds wait for the cyclonic storms that generate favourable wind for southward departure. “Once they hit mid-passage, equatorial breezes slow and the bird has to beat his or her way south without much help. They burn half their body weight as they fly, and sleep, bird-style, by shutting down one side of the brain at a time. Past the equator, they bump into the southeasterly trade, which is the runner's equivalent of an uphill slog, pushing them west, so they have to navigate to keep on course.”

What an amazing feat! Why does this bird do this long-distance flying non-stop? What is the purpose of this whole exercise? A comment on the article explains “ If it is accustomed to a diet of a certain type and surroundings of a certain temperature and form that is nearly polar, it is unlikely to achieve this other than by traveling to nearly the opposite pole”.

What a tough little bird!

Three men and a baby

In the film, “Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell,” that was a hit in the ‘60s, an Italian woman (played by Gina Lollobrigida) sleeps with three American soldiers in the course of ten days, during the war. By the time she discovers she is pregnant, all three of them move back to the US. Not sure who is the father, she decides to get all three to support ‘his’ daughter. And all three keep remitting money to her.

I remember laughing quite a bit at the many comical situations in the movie.

But, as they say, life can be more dramatic than anything that a fiction writer can possibly imagine. As this news story in the Indian Express today illustrates:

The seven-year-old may not have a dad, but in the space meant for ‘father’s name’ on his birth certificate, there are three names — of the three men who allegedly raped his mother when she was 15.

…in the records of the primary school where the child studies, the ‘father’s name’ column has been kept blank. The extraordinary entry on his birth certificate came to light when the child was brought for admission to the school.

The panchayat that issued the birth certificate said they put the names of the three accused on it as the grandfather had told them one of them was the child’s father.

I can’t see anything funny in the movie, “ Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell” any more.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lady Divine, would you like some wine?

Christopher Hitchens, in an article three years back, writes about the obnoxious practice of restaurants trying to speed up the consumption of expensive wine by pouring it out into glasses that are still not empty.

The vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked is the very height of ..  bad manners. Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle. Indeed, so dulled have we become to the shame and disgrace of all this that I have actually seen waiters, having broken into the private conversation and emptied the flagon, ask insolently whether they should now bring another one. Imagine this same tactic being applied to the food
Once at a 5-star restaurant, I was playing host to a team from Finland. The steward, undermining my prerogative as the host, went directly to one of the ladies and asked her if she would like some wine and she said ‘yes, maybe some red wine”. The next thing I know he brings up a bottle of expensive wine, asks her if it is ok and pours it into her glass and offers some to the others too. After an hour or so, when food had been ordered, he goes again to the same lady and asks if she would like ‘some more red wine’. She says ok, and he opens up another bottle and pours out the wine.

At this point I was fuming. I excused myself from the table, went across to the manager and asked him how much the bottle of wine cost. Rs 6000 + taxes, he said. I blasted the hell out of him and said that the steward had no business to take the order directly from a guest and expect me to pay up. A compromise was reached that I would pay for only one of the bottles. I went out kicking and ranting and swore that I’ll never go there again.

Another common trick is to place some fancy foreign brand of mineral water (without the price tag of Rs 400) on the table and casually ask the foreign visitor if they would like some mineral water. Quite often, the Indian ‘host’ would feel awkward to stop this ‘transaction’ and end up paying good money for nothing.

If you must go these fancy restaurants, never forget the rule: Caveat emptor. And don’t hesitate to recommend an Indian red wine to a foreign guest.