Grandma\’s Tales

November 13, 2006

Think you can do this?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 9:14 pm

Here’s some amazing stuff. Take a sheet of paper, a pair of scissors and a chest of imagination. And this is what you get!


























October 9, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 6:42 pm

One of the students wrote this.

ma’m tanq 4 goin thru our papers nd guidein us….ur class was really great..u must’ve got tat 4m umptee number of people….still i cant stop tellin u nd d whole lot of people readin tis…it was d most lively class i’ve ever been in…i guess tats d same 4 d rest of ma frenz thr…eagerly awaitin ur next class ma’m…

I fell in love with it. A note like this tells me a host of things. But first, thank you for the kind words.

[1] I’m amazed at the way our teenagers have taken to this abbreviated version of English which I’m tempted to call SMSish.
[2] I appreciate the effort that goes into symbolising/abbreviating the language. The Sumerians and Egyptians (a complicated one called hieroglyphs) began writing in symbols. Their symbols matched the objects they were supposed to stand for. Over the millenniums that followed, the symbols were simplified and codified. Pictograms gave way to ideograms and then to letters with specific sounds. Letters were put together to form words and words were put together to form meaningful sentences. English went for the Roman script and has had its own evolution since Chaucer’s time – old English, middle English and Modern/Standard English.
[3] GenX is now giving the language a new version. Very astutely they discovered that the pronunciation did not have a one-to-one correspondence with the way words were spelt. It was all wrong! Why do you need silent letters? Why is “o” pronounced differently in “go” and “do”? So, they would set it right and use the new, improved version for personal correspondence.
[4] A mix of symbols and words, SMSish is uniquely phonetic. You take a word and replace it with a symbol or an abbreviation that you think is closer to the sound of the word as it is generally pronounced. “For you” becomes “4 u”.
[5] I have a theory or two on how/why our kids cottoned on to it. [a] In the early days of the Internet you paid for its use by the hour. Better finish your writing as quickly as you can. [b] SMS has to be done fast. That’s the whole idea behind it. S stands for “short”. [c] Who has the time to read anything any more? B brief r b O. [d] Hey, that’s what they are doing in the US, yaar!

Fine. Hats off for the innovation. But it has a couple of major problems. [1] To replace a word with its new phonetic symbol, you need to spell it correctly. “Four” can be 4 pretty easily, but 4m cannot stand for “from”, d cannot replace “the” and so on. If you are looking for words that sound the same, “ds” doesn’t qualify as “these”. So you are falling into the “no-correspondence” trap all over again. [2] You need to know the correct or standard pronunciation and the standard spelling of words. Only standard spelling can make it clear which word is being used. [3] In the absence of a uniform method of abbreviation, how is the note-receiver supposed to get the right word? For example, should “thank you” be written as “tanq” or “tan q”? What is “thr”?

There, that puts me in the Stone Age. Thank you.

Unless done with a lot of thinking and care, it all becomes a matter of guesswork. Or is that the fun part?

October 8, 2006

Grammar 6 Still in its domain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 1:30 pm

Today I begin another round of English classes for students preparing for their Law entrance exams. This is a class of about 35, perhaps the brightest school-leaving students in Chennai. Locking wits with them is something I look forward to. As a preliminary to the class we gave them topics to write essays on. I spent the morning reading some delightful student essays.

All of them write well, have a good understanding of the topic chosen. Years of writing essays under the watchful red ink of their English teachers has given them basic competence in putting their thoughts together in readable form. Great!

So it is surprising that some of the very good writers are careless about the word “its”. I assume they were in a dilemma at some point in their school years – “its” or “it’s”? And they have solved it easily. Like shedding their puppy fat as they entered their teens, they have simply shed the apostrophe. If it’s confusing , if you can’t get the hang of it, just throw it, man! Drop it on the wayside. Make it history!

Here are the samples:
After all its the government’s job
Its a foolish dream with no solid footing
Its almost time for the new dawn

As you know by now, all the three “its” here should be written as “it’s”. They all stand for “it is”.

The same student writes: “The true measure of a country lies in the happiness of its people, not in its growth rate.”  These are perfectly made “its”, both standing for “the country’s”.

I saw this in all the papers I went through. You can be sure this will figure prominently in my discussions this afternoon along with legal topics like “The Death Penalty” and “Sting Operations – Are they Legal?”

BTW, did you take the quiz in the previous blog?

Grammar 5 A Quiz

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 12:15 am

I caught another wall sign that went “Packer’s and Movers”. Is a fellow called Packer running a business with Movers? If not, the apostrophe has no place in this signboard.

Now take the quiz. Is the apostrophe in the right place? If not, where should it be? Should it be there at all?

[1] Parking for two-wheeler’s only
[2] Please put back the tray’s
[3] New members entrance
[4] Teachers Day
[5] Readers Digest
[6] Seaside Cottage’s
[7] It need’nt be long
[8] Ladie’s hairdresser
[9] Childrens’ education
[10] Dear Mr. Steven’s
[11] This makes the customer’s live’s easier
[12] This belongs to a person who’s name begins with a “B”

I found all these in print. I did not make them up.

Write your answers in the space for comments.

October 5, 2006

Hair raising story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 10:04 pm

CavinKare, a cosmetics company has opened two chains of beauty parlours in Chennai. Green Trends, which opened first, began by charging customers a wee bit less than others in the market. It is unisex but with two separate areas for men and women. Only the billing is common.

After a year or so came Limelite. This is the swank, upmarket version of the earlier one. Here haircut and beauty treatments cost 36 to 50% more. What do you pay for? The welcome. An assistant gives you a cold towel and a glass of water when you enter. You sit on a very comfortable sofa to wait. You can choose between a male and a female beautician. You could have your hair done in a common area or opt for the privacy of a room. There are several rooms for various treatments (why are they called so?). You have choices like a steam bath, massage, body soak, etc. You are served tea, coffee or fruit juice.

Do you use the same stuff in both the places? I asked the manager. Absolutely, he assured me. Are the assistants here better trained or equipped to handle customers? I wanted to know. No, he said. They are all trained at the same place for the same duration. (But I suspect your head gets into experienced hands at Limelite). Are all the creams and lotions you use available in both the places? Yes, he insisted.

Why is there such a difference in charges? The brand madam. Now you will go tell your friends you get your hair done at Limelite. Shouldn’t you be paying for that?

The business model is similar to that of a consumer major selling varieties of bath/washing soap. Bath soap for every household, washing soap for every collar. Does a cake of cheaper soap have more soda and less oil? I don’t know. But I guess paying for a high-end variety which promises eternal beauty (film stars use them!) gives you bragging rights. You pay and then you talk about it.

It’s hair today, gone tomorrow. But hope remains.

October 4, 2006

Grammar – 4 The “s” syndrome

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 9:56 pm

Two groups of people in love with the apostrophe are school kids and sign painters. In between bouts of dreaming, the kids vaguely hear the teacher say something like, “apostrophe and ‘s'” and are convinced there is an apostrophe before every “s” on earth. They pledge to place the punctuation mark without fail. They carry out their promise with gusto. There, that’s an “s”! Come on, let’s place the apostrophe before it!
And you have absurdities like,

Jame’s, X-ma’s tree, its’self, apple’s (to indicate more than one apple), ladie’s and of course, the incurable disease of writing your’s. You also have the phrase “Please replace the book’s.”

Sign painters have their own collection of gems. One wayside vegetable vendor has an entire wall filled with this legend: Vegetable’s Shop. This can be right only if his mom had decided to call her defenceless child Vegetable. If the guy’s objective was to announce that he sold vegetables on this footpath, he needed neither the apostrophe nor the “s”. Just plain Vegetable shop. No, not Vegetables shop. (We will take this point up in another post.)

You can take it from me: There is no apostrophe in the word “yours”. Repeat after me: No apostrophe in “yours”. And no apostrophe in the other words in the same group: its, hers, his, theirs, ours. They are personal pronouns.

This is its feather. The feather is its.
You bought this book. This book is yours.
He won a prize. The prize is his.
She wrote a letter. The letter is hers.
This land is ours. These houses are theirs.
This pen is yours.
Yours sincerely, Geeta.

Now we know which “its” has an apostrophe (it is / it has). We also know which words do not have them.

Apart from adding itself to “its” what is the apostrophe supposed to do?
That’s in the next grammar post.

Question of the day: Does the word “days” need  an apostrophe?
Change the days parameter and you’ll see some amazing data about your inbound link graph. Why /Why not?

October 3, 2006

The enemy within

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 3:11 pm

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Amos who?
A mosquito.

And that mosquito is Aedes aegypti that injects the chik virus causing chikungunya. “Chikungunya” is derived from a Tanzanian word that describes the bending posture – a posture that a man adopts when doubling up with pain, the severe joint pain that accompanies Chikungunya fever.

One big fallout of the spread of Chikungunya is the explosion in the sale of mosquito repellents. Hit, Mortein and Baygon sprays are doing brisk business as do rub-on repellents and coils; the sales, no doubt boosted by the news that daytime bites are more dangerous (the airborne attackers hide in our homes during daytime). Hit has removed the roach component from the solution and sells cans that will kill mosquitoes and flies alone. Have roaches? Buy one meant for that. What will kill the roaches is ineffective in the face of smaller bills. And predictably, the prices have shot up.

What attracted me more was the MMR claim on the Mortein can. I thought MMR was an additional chemical that would wipe the vector off the face of the earth. Great, what is a little toxin if it will usher me into a mosquito-free world? I went out at once and got me a can. I was pleased I was up-to-date on chemical technology till Bharat Jayraj of Consumer Action Group laughed and told me that MMR stood for Mosquito Mortality Rate. I paid because this spray killed the creatures faster than others of its kind! Well…

I then bought an electronic mosquito trap. A mini version of the pest-o-flash you see in fast food joints and canteens. You drop the pellet in the slot and plug the contraption to the electric socket. Attracted by the smell, the critters are supposed to fly into the tiny cage and get electrocuted. Though they keep buzzing all over the place, I have not seen a single mosquito dead or alive on the floor of the cage. Either it is an efficient disposal system or we are expected to stand close to the plug point and sing inviting songs.

I also tried the new, improved version of the mosquito coil. Remember it is supposed to drive away, not kill, the enemy. Logically, I had to keep my windows open for them to leave, not an option in my area. What it drove away was my sleep since I got up choking and coughing because of the fumes, in the middle of the night. I hear a lot of people are affected similarly.

After spending a small fortune on coils and cans filled with harmful chemicals, I thought I would go the herbal way. I bought a book at the Indian Knowledge Systems which gives suggestions on “natural means” to beat enemies in nature. They actually work and they are harmless to humans but they come with one condition. Your rooms should be the size of an office cubicle. Anything bigger than 2 by 2, the enemy gets round one and two and three…

So I keep the house and surroundings free of stagnant water. I also use that old reliable: the mosquito net. Drop it down early in the evening, carry pieces of paper inside to kill the intruders, tuck yourself in and settle down to sleep. Your battle is won.

October 1, 2006

Grammar 3 – It’s a pain!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 11:12 am

A couple of days ago, CNN-IBN had splashed this line across the screen.
Bangalore loses it’s lungs! Someone obviously pointed out the gaffe and the offending apostrophe was withdrawn the next day when the same story was aired.

In Sabrina Buckwalter’s Earn While You Blog in TOI, I found this sentence. For ‘Nilu’, who hosts a site called Recursive Hypocrisy, a collection of critical views on current events, the money is on it’s way.

It’s time we put an end to our totally uncalled for cruelty to this defenseless little punctuation mark – the apostrophe. We will start with its use in this common, three-lettered word. When do we use “its” and where do we use “it’s”?

“Its” shows possession. (Did you take a good look? The word has no apostrophe in sight.) It is in the same league as my, your, his, her, their, our. It gives you the sense of “belongs to”. Its tail, the length of its nose, what is its speed?, its capacity is small and it will stay that way!” In all these examples, our victim “its” is followed by a noun (tail, nose, speed, capacity).

Yeah, that is the clue!If “its” is followed by a noun (or a word that is used as a noun), there is no apostrophe. The word “its” tells you the noun belongs to someone or something. Whose tail? The monkey’s tail. “Monkey’s tail” is now its tail. Whose nose? The statue’s nose. Statue’s nose is now its nose. So you know why “it’s lungs” is wrong and had to be quickly changed.

How did the apostrophe wiggle itself into “it’s”? Some smarties of the 16th century discovered that apostrophe meant “turning away” or “omission”. The printers went “hurray!” and began to use this elegant symbol to mark dropped letters. Remember Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d?

There. Drop a letter (or letters) and use the apostrophe to fill the gap. Just becuase I said this, don’t go dropping letters whenever you have a spelling problem and try to fill the gap with a convenient apostrophe. It will only be as good as the material used to hastily fill the potholes on our roads.

Back to “it’s”. This word has been created by omission. Remove the apostrophe and fill the gap and you have two words: it is or it has. Examples: It’s your turn (it is your turn). It’s been there forever (It has been there for ever).

Here are the rules: You add the apostrophe and write “it’s” when you want to say “it is or it has. If you are not looking for “it is” or “it has”, you just write “its”. That’s easy to remember, isn’t it?

People think the apostrophe rule for “its” disappears when they e-mail. No, it does not. Do not write “Its for this reason we have inserted the rule“. Take that fraction of a second to insert the symbol and write correctly, “It’s (it is) for this reason we have inserted the rule”.

Try filling these blanks: It’s or its?
This is entertainment at _____ best.
_______ best that we leave it like this.
I can hear you sigh: Thank God it’s over. No, it isn’t.
In the next one, we’ll attack the itch that makes you jab an apostrophe the minute you see an “s”. Itch # 1 – Yours

September 28, 2006

Grammar 2 – Up, up and away!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 10:18 pm

Amit Agarwal, I hear, gets paid for spotting errors. I am too, with two major differences.  My area of operation is different. What I get as fee is probably what Amit spends on making calls on a day.

Correcting English papers (from grade II to PhD) for more than a quarter century has not been without its  compensation. Some of those papers were written in a language that could only be called “creative”. Some were simply brilliant. What I have got from reading them is this: I have become skilled in finding mistakes (a tendency I need to keep in check as a mother-in-law).

I am “looking” for errors only in students’ papers.  The rest of the time, they seem to stare at me. Should I be picking on a couple of innocent mistakes while what is being said is original and relevant? That is the whole point. Sometimes errors mess up what the author means. As an author, you want to reach your thoughts to your readers, right?

Take the expression “double up” that is doing the rounds now.  As I said in Grammar 1,   someone comes up with an expression and others pick it up effortlessly. We are a trusting lot. We think, “Hey, that’s what I read in the paper yesterday, and that’s what I understood it to mean”, and the next time we write, hey presto, the phrase has found its way into our sentence.

Now, “double up” means “to bend suddenly, as in pain or laughter”. He doubled up in pain and fell to the ground.  So, what is it doing in this sentence? Politicians in the state double up as garba organisers. (TOI, 24 September). The sentence should be written without the pesky, two-lettered upstart “up”. Politicians in the state double up as garba organisers. Politicians double, triple and quadruple, have as many avatars as there are garba nights, but one rarely sees them “doubling up” in pain or shame. Of course, they might be doubling up in laughter, but that is in private.

“To double” means, among other things, “to be two things at the same time”. So a knife doubles as a butter spreader. You are a programmer who doubles as a stock broker; she is a teacher who doubles as a tourist guide. He is a mobile phone user who doubles as a social moron… you get the drift.

We make a similar mistake with “cope”. For some reason, everyone now adds the u-word to it. “I have learnt to cope up”, people sigh in speech and writing.  “Cope” means “to manage, sometimes with success”. Most of you are coping with a full-time job and raising hyper-active kids, aren’t you?

Learn to cope with this fact: “cope up” simply does not exist. Unless we are going in for some form of Indlish.

September 26, 2006

Gassing about

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 9:16 pm

Six months ago, my car went hybrid. It’s a Zen and took the second identity stoically. (Zen and the art of gas conversion?)

I had to do something about car fuel going up the express elevator. I talked to the guy at Lovato. With true gift of the gas he convinced me into thinking air in half an hour flat. “40% saving!” he said grandly after squiggling an A4 size full of diagrams. I fell for it. Not for the A4 size, the idea of going hybrid.

Let’s look at the economics. Within city limits, where you use the B and C more than the A, a litre of petrol might be worth 10 kms. If the price on that litre is Rs. 54/-, a km puts you back by 5 rupees 40 paise.

Gas on the other hand gives you only 8 kms per litre. But wait, the cost is approx. 28 rupees (how do I pay the 18 paise if I buy one litre?) which per km is Rs. 3.50. Is that 40%? Check on the calculator. I did.

Depending on the kms you cover per month, you will break even soon. That is, you recover the cost of the Rs. 20,000 you paid for the special cylinder made in Hyderabad and the regulator made in Italy.

Two factors govern this fuel economy for the consumer. In the six months since I loaded the gas cylinder on the car, petrol prices have gone up. And the gas price has gone up by 4 bucks. Is that to maintain the 40% saving at a constant level? The second is the number of kms you cover.

In case you are itching to ask, no, I don’t have a starting problem. I mean, I do, the car doesn’t. There is no hassle in switching from gas to petrol, petrol to gas.

What would make it really viable is easy availability of this cheaper fuel. I managed to find gas at the Royapettah outlet, which is 8 kms away from home. If I made the trip and came back empty-cylindered, I would have spent money on petrol. For nothing.

An auto driver told me he never gets it at the LIC outlet. At Guindy, my success rate is 75%.

If anyone is serious about promoting natural gas, the first thing they should do is open more outlets and make gas available everywhere.

(Natural gas is clean burning and produces significantly fewer harmful emissions than reformulated gasoline or diesel when used in natural gas vehicles. Are you on the green brigade?)

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