Friday, January 15, 2010


On the plane over, I saw a terrific Tamil movie, a piece of pure kitsch that could only be understood in its Tamil context. Quick Gun Murugan is a about a south Indian cowboy who is out to save cows, and to protect all vegetarians everywhere. There is a villainous gunslinger, one Rice Plate Reddy, who comes into town and forces the vegetarian restaurants to become non-veg. There is a gun duel, and Quick Gun Murugan is killed, but only in such a way as a Hindu hero can be.

He goes to heaven, where he meets sundry gods and goddesses, sees various versions of heaven, but insists that he needs a special pass to return to earth, for his business is unfinished. For this he needs a special paper, and he must pass through various heavenly offices (an Indian version of hell) until he receives a pass, but, by mistake (governmental of course), he returns to earth 20 years later, and in Mumbai rather than Tamil Nadu.

By this time, Rice Plate Reddy has struck it rich with a chain of fast food restaurants, McDosas, serving, of course, south India’s favorite food. But there are protests outside the restaurants that the dosas are being made with chicken or mutton fat. The bigger problem, however, is that the dosas don’t taste good. So Rice Plate Reddy tries to get his food scientists to perfect a better product, but to no avail. (He shoots them when they fail.) Finally exasperated, he turns to his henchman, and asks where one can find the perfect dosa. “Mommies,” they reply, and so he instructs his gang to kidnap ten mommies and torture them until they give up the perfect dosa recipe.

One of those kidnapped is Quick Gun’s sister-in-law. Quick Gun rides to the rescue (wearing a cowboy hat and leopard skin cowboy outfit), frees the mommies, and saves the day for the vegetarians. And that is the end of McDosas.

As I have often written before, India is a nation of extremes, great wealth and extreme poverty, the most horrific-seeming urban environments, and the most magnificent rural ones, but with people living in atrocious mudhuts that fall apart in the seasonal rains. There is greed and generosity, high culture generally shared and media culture that seems to hit new low lights weekly, democracy and corruption, tolerance and bigotry, all writ large. And everything exists side by side, in a kind of riotous pluralism I have seen nowhere else in the world.

Sathya watches an entire tv channel broadcast from the Tirumala Temple that features only Carnatic music and dance. There is another channel for folk music, and for soft-core Hindu preaching (there is this wonderful woman who mostly just smiles at us and who tells us not to build any houses but to inhabit fully those already there, like our bodies.)

Today, Nagaraj and I (with lots of help) went out to clean the yard and garden. His clothes are found scattered about, as he is not used to having a place to put them, and for that matter having anything more than he is wearing. Krishnammal is very proud that he already stands seventh in his class, though he would rather be tenth, as he believes that since tenth is the higher number, it would be better to be tenth. And together we planted zucchini, cucumbers, snakegourd, and ashgourd from my seed hoard, and Titan and Arikara sunflowers. I explained to him that the latter could reach 12-15’ tall, and follow the sun, but I don’t think he believed me. And, hey, what do I know? Maybe they’ll grow, or maybe they won’t, and one has to accept the fact that in the cosmic scheme of things, all we can rely upon are our intentions.


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