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This week in New Household Members: We are Smart Homed! Well, a little bit anyway. My dad had an Amazon Echo speaker, which he really only used to ask the question "Alexa, how old is Mammootty?" Which is a great party trick, but he found he had no other use for it, so on a recent trip to Cochin, he passed it on to me. I did some research about stuff you can do with Alexa here in India, and while they range from ordering stuff on Amazon to booking a cab, I find myself using it for two things: 1) when I say "Alexa, good morning" she reads me the news from three different sources and ends with a weather report, which is a great way to start your day, especially if, like me, you don't get any newspapers. 2) I've discovered how much I miss having a steady stream of music in the background all day, and so I just call out "Alexa, play ambient music!" (Ambient or baroque is what I use to write to, it's easier when it's music without words and sort of gentle that you can tune in or out of.) but usually I have on a radio station called Radio Paradise, which has been a revelation.
The Echo can pull up music for you from both Amazon Prime music as well as TuneIn, which is an internet radio app that collates a bunch of different stations from around the world (including all of the Beeb), and when I searched online to find the best station on there for a work day, a bunch of people on forums said Radio Paradise was amazing. It is, actually, kind of amazing. We've had people over a lot the last week, and Radio Paradise has been the background score all through. They play a mix of jazz/rock/country and folk. Yesterday, the RJ said that Alexa had integrated Radio Paradise as one of the skills, so all I have to do now is say, "Alexa, play Radio Paradise" instead of "Alexa, on the TuneIn app open Radio Paradise." Oh, and I'm also very pleased with the fact that I can say, "Alexa, volume up!" from across the house and she does it. I have fully drunk of the Kool Aid, and K is so jealous despite the fact that he banished Alexa to my study because he "didn't want Jeff Bezos to listen to all our conversations" that he has built his own Alexa from scratch, which is very impressive, but not as nice as mine.
Oh, and if you're looking for a cool station to listen to at work, Radio Paradise is also streaming. It's not just algorithm driven music, it's real people choosing a playlist which means the music is all very good.
This week in New Fads: If you follow me on Instagram, you will have no doubt seen the extremely dorky video of me trying to hula hoop, while my friends Rosalyn and Janice manage it with ease and panache. However, it was great fun to do---Rosalyn brought over her hula hoop to show us, as she had just been converted into the cult by our friend Mrig in Goa. And I was so inspired, I made an impulsive drunk purchase and bought my own, which should arrive next week. I do like to TRY all the exercise forms possible, before I decide they're not for me. No one can say I don't have an open mind, I'm just very very lazy and also tend to lose patience if I'm not amazing at the new thing within the first two days. Hula hooping could totally be my new thing though. I'm optimistic.
Meanwhile, I've been sorta kinda doing yoga again with the help of an app called Down Dog, which I recommend highly. You can set your experience level, how long you want to do it for, what areas of your body you want to focus on and so on, and it's free! I got bored of our old yoga teacher, and this for about 12 to 20 minutes a day is more challenging, plus we don't have to make small talk. How soon before I completely forget how to talk to new people, do you think?
Last week in travel: Since we last spoke, I was in Cochin for a very brief trip to speak at the Krithi Lit Fest. I had a lovely session talking about women and mythology with Namita Gokhale, moderated by my friend (and sometimes editor) Manasi Subramaniam. Later that night, we all went out to dinner with my father, who took us to the Seagull Club in Fort Kochi, which I recommend to anyone in that area. So lovely, the restaurant has a sit out that's right over the water. Then the next day I came back to Delhi and I will be here for some time, even though little pangs about a holiday that is not lit fest or wedding related are happening. As soon as I finish my book!
Excerpt: Akash was keen to return to “normal life”. In 2008, he came out of the observation home on bail. He was 15. His parents had moved back to their village, Bhamrauli, on Pataudi road in Gurgaon. In 2010, he took his Class 10 board exam from an open school in Faridabad. “Then, we admitted him to a regular school in Faridabad for Classes 11 and 12, but a friend of Abhishek’s joined the school a few months after, told everyone about Akash’s past, and the principal asked us to take our son out,” said Kamlesh, his mother. The family made a few more attempts at returning him to school. “They always found out who I was and struck my name off the rolls,” said Akash.
Excerpt: Logging in for two hours of free Wi-Fi requires the user’s email address, which goes onto the Rose’s mailing list — and while people can log right back in, the expiration reminds them that it might be time to order another round. Servers circulate to ask if they can get something else for a customer tied to his electronic devices. And Wi-Fi service ends at 5:30 p.m., to signal that the workday has ended and dinner service is about to begin. [... ]Mr. Neroni tried extending the Wi-Fi until 7 one night, “as an experiment,” he said. “People looked up and figured we forgot to turn it off. And it was ‘Oh, boy,’ and a line of people carrying their open laptops into the dining room so they could keep working.”
Excerpt: The desire to live cheaply abroad while remaining part of a like-minded social group makes a certain amount of sense. But how can you be confident that a random collection of fellow travelers won’t undermine your productivity and happiness, to say nothing of being fun or intellectually stimulating? Maybe I just have a bad attitude, but in my experience, most people are a little annoying, even the ones with good hearts and minds. Think of any coffee shop you’ve been to and how elusive productivity can be—with patrons talking loudly, lingering at the register when there’s a line, piling their personal effects on adjacent tables that others might want to use.
Excerpt: Most people are (well aware that Robbie Coltrane isn’t actually as tall as Rubeus Hagrid. He’s playing a character, and with some simple movie magic, audiences can be led to believe that Coltrane is actually a half-giant wizard without a single shred of doubt. Still, though, seeing him out of costume seated beside a stunt double in a half-giant Hagrid suit doesn’t feel right. What’s worse is that the double is holding a dummy of Harry Potter, and Coltrane is gently rubbing its chin.
Excerpt: JACK: The way you know I’m great is that everyone keeps insisting how great I am.
REBECCA: How are you so perfect, babe?
JACK: Let’s do this activity before I die, which is absolutely going to happen.
I love this project called The Museum of Material Memory founded by Aanchal Malhotra which gets people to write in with their family keepsakes.
Excerpt: In those days, it was customary to include a cabinet for dolls in a bride’s wedding presents; this was at a time when most brides were no more than ten or twelve years old. The doll’s showcase possibly travelled with many child brides, across paddy fields and city by lanes, keeping pace with palanquins and jostling on boats across Bengal’s wide rivers. For these child brides, the doll’s showcase served as an antidote to homesickness, as a pacifier to deal with the pangs of separation at a tender age. In a strange new life, it was a vestige of the familiar and the known, a reminder of a home so far away. And though my grandmother was no child bride, custom demanded that a doll’s showcase follow her to her affinal home. Complete with a set of miniature silver utensils- the wooden showcase found pride of place in one corner of the marble floored drawing room in her new house. But my grandmother dreamt beyond the roles of domesticity that the young owner of such a showcase was generally relegated to. She wanted to fill this wooden cabinet, with its glass paned doors and rounded patterns, with dolls from across the world. And that’s just how it came to be.\